Hunting Tips

Shortcuts to help you tag out or fill a game bag.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

DEER

LET IT RAIN
Look for sheds after a rain. Rain softens and loosens antlers that are almost ready to drop off.

HOW BIG?
Judging the mass of a buck's antlers is tough. One trick is to compare the rack's thickness to the deer's eye, which is about 3 to 31/2 inches in circumference.

HUNT THE THICKETS
Cedar, pine and spruce thickets are top spots to find a buck during heavy rain or snow. Deer can stay almost dry in these locations and escape easily.

WAIT FOR A BREAK
A major snowstorm or hard, cold rain will make deer bed down until it passes. Time your trip so that you're in the woods the minute the bad weather breaks. Deer will move heavily then.

GET OFF THE FIELD
Don't waste time watching fields during firearms season. Instead, backtrack into the woods and find "staging areas" where deer gather and mill about before entering the field after legal shooting hours.

BUSH WHACKER
When tracking deer after a fresh snowfall, you can judge the spread of the deer's rack by how wide an area is knocked off vegetation as the deer moves through thick cover.

TROPHY COUNTRY
Don't hunt areas with heavy deer populations if you're looking for a trophy. Chances are a big buck won't be there. Low to moderate densities hold more large bucks because there are ample food supplies and hunting pressure is typically lighter.

THE EARS HAVE IT
Judge the length of a deer's tines by comparing them with the deer's ears-about six to seven inches. If the tines are an inch or two longer than that and the rack has enough mass, he's a shooter.

SUN TO YOUR BACK
When choosing your stand location, pick a spot where most approaching deer will have to look into the sun. This makes it tougher for them to see you, but easier for you to watch them.

WARM REFUGES
In cold, blustery weather, look to south-facing slopes where deer are protected from harsh north winds and receive more warm afternoon sunlight to ward off the chill. The steeper the hill, the better, because the sun stays more directly on the deer.

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NO HURRY
Never shoot the first buck that walks out into a field or down a trail unless you're sure he's the best you can find in the area. Typically, younger animals traveling with older animals move out of cover first. The biggest bucks come last.

WHAT'S ITS WEIGHT?
Want to know the approximate weight of your deer on the hoof? Multiply the field-dressed weight by 1.3.

DEER NOISE
Walk like a deer as you approach your tree stand. Move 10 or 20 steps, then pause. Move again, then pause. You'll be less likely to alarm your quarry this way even if they hear you in the dark.

PRE-RUT BEST
Many hunters think the rut is the hot time to tag a trophy. But the one- to two-week period before the rut is the best time to kill an older age-class deer. Few does are ready to mate then, but bucks are fired up with high testosterone levels and searching.

SOUND OFF
Forgot your grunt tube? Use your throat and diaphragm to mimic grunts and bleats. Huff the sound up from your lungs and throat so it sounds realistic.

MIND THE MOON
During a full moon, hunt from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. That's when prime big-buck activity will take place, especially near the peak of the rut.

HEAD FOR COVER
Focus on the thickest, roughest cover available after opening day. Find fresh sign and hang a portable stand, put on two- or three-man drives or jump bucks up out of the thickets and be prepared to take them on the run.

TROPHY CARE
Never drag a deer by its back legs if you plan to take it to a taxidermist. This will damage the cape and make it difficult to get a good mount.

WEATHER GUIDES
Choose your hunting method according to the weather. If it's overcast or a light rain or snow is falling, still-hunting is a hot tactic. If it's a bright, sunny day and leaves e crunchy, take a stand and hope that the deer will come to you.

RATTLE TIME
For best results, rattle before or after the peak of the rut. During the actual breeding phase, dominant bucks will be hunkered down with a doe and won't want to go investigate the sounds of other bucks fighting.

FORSAKE FIELDS
Don't try to hunt stands near the edges of fields in the morning. If you do, you might spook game that was already there. Save these for evening hunts.

CHASE FLIES AWAY
Ground black pepper sprinkled liberally on the flesh of your skinned or field-dressed deer helps drive away flies when the meat is hung in camp.

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WESTERN BIG GAME

EXTRA ARMOR
Wear leather gloves and knee pads when hunting for mule deer and antelope to protect your hands and knees from cactus spines and thorns during stalks.

SAGE SCENT
The best cover scent for hunting mule deer and antelope in the prairies and lowlands is free for the taking right at your feet. Grab a sprig of sagebrush and rub it on your clothes, boots and hats.

SHOOT IT NOW
Experienced Western hunters steady themselves as best they can, place their crosshairs on an animal's vitals, then squeeze the trigger instantly. Don't waste time thinking or steadying your breath. You might start worrying and pull the shot or the animal might leave.

STALK PATIENCE
Make sure your quarry has either bedded down or slowed to feed before you begin a stalk. If the animal is moving, it could be gone before you arrive within shooting range.

LENGTH VS. MASS
Don't forget mass when judging antelope. A heavy 15-incher could make the book, while a spindly-horned 16-incher might fall short.

HUNT DIM LIGHT
Focus your hunting efforts on the first and last few hours of daylight. Animals are less wary during low-light conditions and you can sneak in closer.

PRONG POINTER
If a buck's prong juts out an inch or more above the ears, raise your bow or rifle. You've found a keeper.

CURIOUS MULEYS
Blow a predator call if you can't see all the cover down in a ravine or coulee and you think a muley might be bedded there. Bucks will often rise to look around, offering a shot.

FORK SAVVY
If you want a high-scoring mule deer, forget about a 30-inch spread. Instead, look for a buck whose rack has two deep forks on each side and appears to have mass. That's the key to a high-scoring buck.

SLOPE STRATEGY
In the early season, check out east- and north-facing slopes. They stay cooler and moister with more shade. In the late season and in bitter cold, sun-drenched south slopes attract elk for the warmth they offer.

FREE FROM FROST
Check remote meadows tucked way back in timber to see whether the frost has been broken. If it has, watch that area at first light and again just before dusk.

SENSING GAME
Use all your senses when elk hunting-eyes to spot animals, ears to hear cows chirping, bulls bugling or branches snapping and your nose. Elk have a distinct "barnyard" odor and bulls smell particularly pungent when close.

ELK SHORTCUTS
One type of terrain you never want to overlook is a saddle. Elk use these dips in ridgelines to move from one basin to the next in their natural daily travels and also when pushed by hunters.

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**BEARS **

EARLY BRUINS
Look for the earliest spring bears on north-facing slopes, which is where they den. After it warms up a bit, look to south slopes and lower elevations because the snow melts faster there and that's where grasses emerge first.

ROAD RUNS
Logging roads are magnets for bears. They offer some of the earliest grassy spots in spring, and later they're lush with berries along the edges because of the extra sunlight that reaches them.

BOARS OUT EARLY
Hunt early in the spring for the biggest boars. Not as many animals are out then, but those you find prowling around will likely be huge.

CHECK THE LEGS
If a bear's legs look long, it's probably a youngster. If its body seems to almost touch the ground and the legs appear short, it's a brute. Take him.

EAR PLACEMENT
If a bear's ears poke up on top of its head, you're looking at a small animal. If they seem to come out of the sides, it's a mature bear.

GO ACROSS
If you're floating a river and spot a bear, pull off on the opposite side and shoot across. You'll have a clearer shot and can watch the bear after it's hit.

BEAR PUSH
Drives can work great for bears if you choose extremely thick cover such as swamps and overgrown clear-cuts. Scout beforehand for fresh sign, then move very slowly as you make the drive.

FATTENED UP
For the heaviest bears, hunt in the fall. A bear can add 30 percent to its body weight from spring through early fall.

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WATERFOWL

FREEZE-PROOF REEDS
Duck-call reeds sometimes freeze or stick in frigid weather. Prevent gum-ups by using a product made to deter rain buildup on windshields. A few drops rubbed on the reed with a cloth make it less likely to stick.

CORK CAMO
You can use a wine-bottle cork to camouflage your face when duck or goose hunting. Singe the end of the cork with a lighter or match, then rub the black residue on your face to "flatten" the shiny spots.

THIMBLE TRICK
Plucking feathers, wet or dry, is easier if you wear a rubber thimble like the ones used by bank tellers for counting currency.

UPLAND BIRDS

DOUBLE UP
Take full advantage of a double barrel by using two different sizes of shot. Put No. 71/2 or 8 shot in the first barrel with less choke for birds that get up close and No. 5 or 6 shot in the tighter-choked barrel for game that gets up farther out.

ONE AT A TIME
A rising covey of quail looks like a solid mass, but it's not. Don't get flustered and shoot into the group, thinking you can't miss. Focus on one bird that's close and flying straight away or at a slight angle. If you drop it, mentally mark the spot and then try for a second bird.

HUNT THE SNOW
Other than opening day, no time is more productive for pheasants than the morning after a fresh snowfall. Birds will sit tight and you can approach fairly close for easier shots.

OPEN THE PATTERN
Use a gun with little or no choke when hunting ruffed grouse, which tend to flush at 5 to 20 yards in thick cover. Skeet or improved cylinder with 71/2 or 8 shot is the best combination.

PHEASANT PATCHES
Forget the fields for pheasants in the late season. Look for small, isolated pockets of dense cover such as plum thickets, brushy draws or bogs with cattails and reeds.

RELOAD FIRST
When a covey of quail flushes, often one or two bir are out then, but those you find prowling around will likely be huge.

CHECK THE LEGS
If a bear's legs look long, it's probably a youngster. If its body seems to almost touch the ground and the legs appear short, it's a brute. Take him.

EAR PLACEMENT
If a bear's ears poke up on top of its head, you're looking at a small animal. If they seem to come out of the sides, it's a mature bear.

GO ACROSS
If you're floating a river and spot a bear, pull off on the opposite side and shoot across. You'll have a clearer shot and can watch the bear after it's hit.

BEAR PUSH
Drives can work great for bears if you choose extremely thick cover such as swamps and overgrown clear-cuts. Scout beforehand for fresh sign, then move very slowly as you make the drive.

FATTENED UP
For the heaviest bears, hunt in the fall. A bear can add 30 percent to its body weight from spring through early fall.

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WATERFOWL

FREEZE-PROOF REEDS
Duck-call reeds sometimes freeze or stick in frigid weather. Prevent gum-ups by using a product made to deter rain buildup on windshields. A few drops rubbed on the reed with a cloth make it less likely to stick.

CORK CAMO
You can use a wine-bottle cork to camouflage your face when duck or goose hunting. Singe the end of the cork with a lighter or match, then rub the black residue on your face to "flatten" the shiny spots.

THIMBLE TRICK
Plucking feathers, wet or dry, is easier if you wear a rubber thimble like the ones used by bank tellers for counting currency.

UPLAND BIRDS

DOUBLE UP
Take full advantage of a double barrel by using two different sizes of shot. Put No. 71/2 or 8 shot in the first barrel with less choke for birds that get up close and No. 5 or 6 shot in the tighter-choked barrel for game that gets up farther out.

ONE AT A TIME
A rising covey of quail looks like a solid mass, but it's not. Don't get flustered and shoot into the group, thinking you can't miss. Focus on one bird that's close and flying straight away or at a slight angle. If you drop it, mentally mark the spot and then try for a second bird.

HUNT THE SNOW
Other than opening day, no time is more productive for pheasants than the morning after a fresh snowfall. Birds will sit tight and you can approach fairly close for easier shots.

OPEN THE PATTERN
Use a gun with little or no choke when hunting ruffed grouse, which tend to flush at 5 to 20 yards in thick cover. Skeet or improved cylinder with 71/2 or 8 shot is the best combination.

PHEASANT PATCHES
Forget the fields for pheasants in the late season. Look for small, isolated pockets of dense cover such as plum thickets, brushy draws or bogs with cattails and reeds.

RELOAD FIRST
When a covey of quail flushes, often one or two bir