Hunting Big Game Hunting Deer Hunting

The No Excuses Deer Hunting Season

There are plenty of ways to screw up a perfectly good deer season. Don’t let one of these 27 miscues get the best of you
whitetail rut
This buck is ready for the rut, are you? John Hafner

You’d almost forgotten last deer season, hadn’t you? Then a few weeks ago, your buddy got his shoulder mount back from the taxidermist and was texting you trail camera photos of all the good bucks under his stands. Looks like he’s in for another awesome year.

But all of his bragging reopened the old wounds from last November. Now you have flashbacks of bucks snorting in the distance and dreams of arrows stuck in trees. Those haunting words from your cousin—“I don’t see no blood”—are stuck in your head like the lyrics to a bad pop country tune.

Spend more than a weekend in the deer woods and you’re bound to screw up a few opportunities. You can make excuses and then repeat the mistakes this year. Or you can learn from them. We’re going to help you have a season without excuses, because we’re facing them down right here and now.

Excuse 1: I Hit No Man’s Land

I’d lay odds that a hit high in the chest results in more lost deer with a bow than all other marginal hits combined. Contrary to the popular “no man’s land” myth, there is no gap between a whitetail‘s lungs and its spine, but the spine does sit lower in a deer’s chest than many hunters realize. That’s why at first, this hit can look pretty good. But the arrow zips either through the backstraps or the upper edges of the scapulae (which are surprisingly easy to penetrate). The telltale sign of a high hit will be bits of sticky meat on the arrow and a bright-red blood trail that fades quickly. Deer usually survive this type of hit (read our ultimate guide on where to shoot a deer).

Most high hits are the result of nervous, string-jumping whitetails and steep shot angles taken from a high treestand. So, remember this: Bad as a high hit is, a low hit usually means a dead deer. As long as your broadhead penetrates just above the white fur line, it will find vitals, and the shot is usually fatal.

I like to aim at whitetails as if they were 5 yards closer than the actual range. Some bowhunters call that “cheating low,” but it helps me put more venison in the freezer, and I don’t consider it cheating at all. —Will Brantley

Excuse 2: Dang Neighbors Killed All the Good Ones

I don’t know your neighbors, but I know this: The lengths of BS spun at a buck pole will usually out-measure the inches of antler hung on it. Deer hunters love to tell tales and, dare I say it, stretch the truth. It’s easy to assume that big buck you’ve been watching is dead when you aren’t seeing it anymore.But big bucks get big because they have played this game before. Odds are much higher that the deer isn’t dead. It could be tucked away with a doe or on a walk looking for one. There’s plenty of data highlighting how little some bucks actually move during the rut, but that same research shows that some bucks travel a long, long way from home.

The fact is this: Killing a big buck is hard, and so the odds of your neighbors killing every single one in the area are slim to none. Until you see a dead buck with a neighbor’s tag on it, keep hunting him. —Tony Hansen

buck following a doe in a field
Early estrous does can create crazy rut action sooner in the season than you might expect. Lance Krueger

Excuse 3: I Didn’t Want to Pressure My Best Spots Until Prime Time

With hunting pressure at ridiculous levels on every neighboring parcel to the ground I hunt, I knew I needed to do what I had written about so many times before: Let the hunting pressure on nearby land push deer into my area. I would only hunt when “prime time” arrived. That thinking made me miss my window of opportunity entirely.

I pulled a trail camera card on October 28, my first foray into the thick of the timber. It was jammed up with daylight photos of three different shooter bucks that had been regular travelers past my favorite stand over the previous 10 days. The last couple of photos recorded the bucks as blurs as they dashed by in hot pursuit of some early-cycling does.

And that was that.

Those bucks spent the next two weeks in various stages of hot doe heaven (known to us sorry saps as “lockdown”), and I never laid eyes on any of them. Gun season opened, hunting pressure tripled, and daylight movement ceased. My season was over before I had even started hunting.

It is sage advice to pick and choose those times when you hunt your very best spots. But I had taken that to an extreme and left myself without enough time to hunt. I’d also ignored an important fact: The very best hunting of the rut happens when the first few does begin to cycle. That can occur any time after the second week of October—especially in areas with a skewed doe-to-buck ratio.

Yes, it makes sense to exercise caution when you’re hunting a mature buck. But to kill the deer you’re after, you have to go hunting. —T.H.

Excuse 4: I Mowed All of My Fields Right Before the Season and Still Didn’t See Any Deer

Mowing those woolly fields so you can shoot across them is standard preseason prep for a lot of hunters. It’s also one of the single worst things you can do for the wildlife habitat on your hunting property. “Daylight deer movement in a field is most consistent when the vegetation structure is 4 to 5 feet tall, and less if the structure is less than 2 feet tall,” says Craig Harper, professor of wildlife management for the University of Tennessee, and a frequent speaker for the Quality Deer Management Association.

In addition to cover, old-field habitat can provide an incredible food source. But that’s only if the right stuff is growing. Repeated mowing stimulates the growth of grasses like tall fescue and brome grass, which are of virtually no use to wildlife. Periodic burning or disking, to maintain early successional growth and keep a field from becoming a young forest, tends to stimulate the growth of forbs. “In most fields, you can almost count on at least 500 pounds of dry matter [forage] per acre,” Harper says. “We have recorded as many as 4,000 pounds of forage per acre. There’s potentially a lot for a deer to eat in an old field throughout the season, including the winter rosettes of various forbs like old field aster and goldenrod, and especially blackberry leaves.”

If you can’t burn or disk and must mow, do it in the winter. In the late summer, mowing a few strategic shooting or travel lanes through your field might not hurt—but you’ll have better hunting if you turn the tractor off and leave the rest of that thicket right where it is. —W.B.

cell phone with bullet holes in the screen
Keep getting busted by deer? Put the phone away. Jeff Wilson

Excuse 5: I Have the Wind Right, But I Keep Getting Busted

You got caught taking a treestand selfie, didn’t you? It seems these days, everyone is trying to film their hunt or update their Instagram feed from the tree. That means they’re not sitting still. “People underestimate how well a deer can see,” says Kerry Wix, a professional videographer who’s filmed hunts for some of the biggest names in outdoor television. “That’s why I think it’s easier to teach a hunter to run a camera than to teach a videographer how to hunt. If you can’t read a deer’s body language, you’re going to screw up and move at the wrong time. I like to follow the 10-foot rule: If a big deer is walking through the timber, you can plan on him going about 10 feet before he stops again to look and listen. That’s when you make your adjustments, because when he’s standing still, you’d better not move a muscle.”

If you just want to kill a buck, leave the camera at home and the phone on silent in your pocket. —W.B.

Excuse 6: It Was Too Dark to See Through the Peep Sight on My Bow

Late one September evening last season, I watched the 10-point I’d been hunting ease through the timber toward my stand. By the time he was 20 yards away, I had eight minutes of legal light left—but it was too dark to see through my peep sight when I drew.

We might practice shooting from long range, while seated, and from treestands, but few of us practice shooting in the low light whitetails prefer. To be clear, I’m not talking about Hail Mary arrows in the dark—but if a big buck is standing in bow range and it’s legal to shoot him, don’t you want every advantage? Try this.

Take a Look: Large-aperture peep sights might give up some long-range precision, but they allow for maximum visibility in low light. That’s what a whitetail hunter wants. As you’re positioning your peep before the season, draw your bow and close your eyes. When you open, you should be staring right through it, at your pins. If you have to move your head at all to see it, keep tweaking its placement—and don’t serve it in until it’s perfect. This way, you can skyline the peep aperture, hit your secondary anchor point (see below), and take the shot, confident you’re lined up, even if the peep itself is tough to see.

Double Anchor: In good light, a peep sight makes shooting easier. But many bowhunters are too dependent on them. It’s perfectly possible to shoot good groups without a peep, especially inside 30 yards. I prefer to establish a couple of consistent anchor points (a kisser button on the string helps) that become instinctive.

Practice Late: Wait until 15 minutes after sunset to begin your evening practice. Move your target out of the open front lawn and into the woods. As it gets darker, check your peep against the skylight and keep on shooting until it’s too dark to see the target. That’s usually about 30 minutes after sunset. Another benefit of this drill is that it trains your eye to pick out detail on a dark target.

What about that 10-point I mentioned? I did just this: raised my bow up to find my peep in the skylight. Then I lowered it slowly, and hit my secondary anchor point. I put my fiber-optic pin, which I could see clearly, behind the buck’s shoulder, which I could also see. I released the arrow and listened to that buck fall dead 75 yards away. —W.B.

bow hunter hiking through woods
Hiking away from roads is a good plan, unless you get to your spot late and blow out deer. Dustin Lutt / Rockhouse Motion

Excuse 7: I Walked a Mile Into Public Land and Still Didn’t See a Buck

I’ve got two words for you: Apple watch. Get one and turn it on fitness tracking mode. Then tell me how far you really walked. Odds are it wasn’t a full mile from the road. And even if it was, did all that walking actually put you in an area where there are unpressured deer?

And what route did you take when walking that mile in? Did you stomp through multiple bedding areas on your way? Did you leave early enough that you weren’t pushing deer out as they returned to their bed?

Distance is nothing more than a measurement. Walking a mile in just for the sake of distance doesn’t guarantee that you will be hunting in a spot with more deer. If you really want to kill deer on public land—especially those that see heavy hunting pressure—you must walk with a purpose. You have to be heading to an area that others aren’t pressuring and that deer are utilizing, and you have to get there without alerting the deer that you intend to hunt. That spot might be 50 yards from the truck, near the parking lot, because everyone else has been overlooking it. But more likely, it’s going to be a spot that no other hunters are willing to hike to.

READ NEXT: Inside the Mind of the Big Buck Serial Killer

And it’s not only about distance. A mile stroll through open hardwoods isn’t so bad, but slogging 400 yards through a cattail marsh is more than enough to deter most other hunters. —T.H.

outhouse with hunter gear beside it
Don't waste your morning hunt by running back to camp. Jeff Wilson

Excuse 8: Nature Called and Ruined My Hunt

I have nothing but contempt for someone who would end a morning’s hunt with a trip back to camp because they are afraid to crap in the leaves. My dad put up with a lot of mistakes when I was young and building my bedrock of hunting skills. But when it came to pooping in the woods, he would accept nothing short of 100 percent mastery. I’m thankful for that because several times now in my hunting career, I’ve climbed out of my stand, walked a hundred yards downwind to answer nature’s call, and then settled right back in to shoot a deer shortly after. If ever you need to take a dump in the woods, there are only three rules to know: Always bring a little more toilet paper than you think you’ll need. Always bring your gun. Avoid garments with hoods. —W.B.

Excuse 9: I Bought a Fancy New Timed Feeder, but the Big Bucks Didn’t Come To It

It’s because that feeder scares the sin out of them, especially if you just plunked it out in a field a month before the season. Even in South Texas, where everyone uses them, feeders aren’t magic. Charles Coker, owner of T/C Outfitters near Hondo, Texas, manages thousands of acres of free-range whitetail habitat and runs dozens of feeders. His clients kill some giant bucks—but they’re rarely standing near the feeders themselves.

“What draws them close is the does,” Coker says. “But we run our feeders year-round. You’re not attracting much the first year you put a feeder up—and really, it takes a generation or two of deer before they really start hitting them. And even then, the big bucks won’t usually hit them until after dark.”

The lesson? If you’re trying to lure in a buck with bait, you’re probably better off pouring it on the ground. —W.B.

Excuse 10: My Neighbor Hung a Stand Facing Right Onto My Property

I’m sure he did, because you’ve killed a few good ones and word travels fast in deer country.

You aren’t alone. It’s happened to me, and to celebrity hunters like Lee Lakosky and Mark Drury too.

My solution? I’ve employed a number of tactics, including stapling 12-foot-high sheets of plastic to close off shooting lanes the trespassers had cut into my property. I think my best work was placing a battery-operated clock radio in a nearby, vacant pop-up blind and setting it to go off at 7 on opening morning.

Others, like Lakosky and Drury, have taken slightly more tactful approaches.

Listen to either of them speak on the topic (or read one of their books) and you’ll find a common theme: They use that pressure to their advantage. Lakosky, for example, almost never hunts the timbered areas of his properties. Instead, he creates food plots in areas well away from overzealous neighbors and leaves the core areas of his properties as pressure-free sanctuaries. Deer will move into these safe havens (and away from the pressured property lines) and visit the secure food plots in daylight. —T.H.

Excuse 11: I’m a Big-Buck Hunter and Only Shoot Mature Animals

I’ve used this excuse myself a time or two. But then I realized something: I didn’t really know what a mature buck was. I also started to understand that if I was waiting for 5-year-olds in Michigan, I might never kill another buck, because fewer than 5 percent of the bucks in the state ever reach that age.

Habitat guru Jeff Sturgis, a former resident of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, learned to deer hunt in an area that not only has a low whitetail density, but also harsh winters and poor nutrition.

“A lot of guys are judging age by antler size. So, if they live in an area like the U.P., they have no idea that a 100-inch 8-point could well be 5 years old,” Sturgis says. “Other guys live in areas with all the ingredients for big, old bucks, but the hunting pressure means very few of them ever see age 4. In both situations, you have to know what you’re hunting in order to set realistic, attainable goals.” The National Deer Association created an excellent video on estimating a buck’s age, which you can watch below. —T.H.

Excuse 12: There Were Too Many (or Not Enough) Acorns Last Year

A bumper crop of acorns does not mean deer will eat them only under cover of darkness. Nor does it mean that they will simply lie down under a single oak and wait for the nuts to fall into their mouths. Deer are browsers, and by nature, they move around while feeding. In years of heavy mast, you need to spend time on the best oak ridge you have access to, play the wind, and learn how deer are using the food source.

READ NEXT: How to Hunt Whitetails on the Acorn Crop This Fall

In years where acorns are scarce, you simply need to remember this one fact: Deer eat lots of things. So, the oaks didn’t produce this year. So what? Does that mean you’ll soon see the decaying remains of whitetails that starved to death? Of course not. The deer will find other food. You should too. —T.H.

does and fawn grazing for acorns
Acorns don’t last long. Just because it's a heavy mast year doesn't mean deer completely avoid other food sources. Lance Krueger

Excuse 13: The Insurance Lobby is Killing All the Deer

Here’s a fact: Insurance companies have no sway in deer management. If the insurance companies are part of a Farm Bureau, like the one I work for in Michigan, then sure, their policy staff have regular conversations with state wildlife managers, usually on the issue of disease or crop damage. Is that because they don’t want to pay out premiums for cars damaged in deer collisions? Um, no. And if you don’t believe me, you should learn what it is that an actuary does, how insurance premiums are regulated by law, and why premiums in areas with lots of deer are higher than in areas where there aren’t many deer. —T.H.

Excuse 14: The Rut Sucked. I Sat in a Stand All Day and Didn’t See a Deer

One midmorning in Tennessee a few Novembers ago, my buddy and I jumped a giant buck that was bedded with a doe in a drainage ditch below the pond in the landowner’s front yard. She ran 70 yards and stopped to look at us. He did the same, and would’ve been easy pickings had either of us been holding a gun. Instead, we were in my truck, on our way to pick up a (much smaller) buck that I’d killed that morning with a bow. But the visual memory of that monster stuck with me. Some hunters seem to think bucks disappear to a mythical place after they lock down with does when, frequently, they’re just hiding in the most inconspicuous patches of cover they can find near their usual food sources and bedding areas.

If you’re sitting in a stand and seeing deer, my advice during the rut is always to stay put and be patient. But if you’re holding a gun and tired of watching only squirrels, a single-man drive isn’t a bad plan. I like slipping around those little thickets—fencerows, pond dams, abandoned homesteads—on breezy, drizzly days, when I can keep silent and work the wind. The deer might see you first—but if you’re doing it right, you’ll be close, and there will be some confusion. Often, the does you jump will run a ways and stop—and the bucks they’re dragging behind usually won’t leave them. You just might have time for a quick shot. —W.B.

Excuse 15: I Never Had a Good Shot

My buddy Kyle enjoys hunting big deer in prime locations. He especially loves to do so when I’m stuck at work or hunting an area that’s not exactly, um, prime. He used to send me trail camera images and brag of seeing giant bucks and action-packed sits. But that’s as far as the gloating would go, because he’d never kill anything.

He would have shooter bucks in range but would never release an arrow because he “just didn’t have a shot.” Translation: He was passing on good shots for perfect ones. And in whitetail hunting, that just doesn’t work. I gave Kyle some advice: Stop watching those deer and start shooting them.

Last year, during a dream trip to Iowa, I saw him clear that hurdle. Big time.

On a frosty November morning, the giant buck we’d been hunting showed up, moving quickly on a lane that would pass within bow range of Kyle’s stand (I was also in the tree, running a video camera). There was no time to think. Kyle drew, and when the buck stepped out, it wasn’t quite broadside. He could have waited for the deer to take a few steps and give him an ideal, quartering-away shot. Instead, he bleated, the deer stopped, and Kyle popped both lungs right then and there.

The shot angle may not have been perfect—but that buck was perfectly dead. —T.H.

Read Next: How to Hunt the Right Place at the Right Time

Excuse 16: I Hit a Limb (or the Trunk) of a Giant Tree

arrow head embedded in a tree branch
A little situational awareness before the shot can help prevent a broadhead buried in a tree limb. Jeff Wilson

The buck was broadside at 18 steps. I could see his third beam sweeping upward, adding a good 30 to 40 inches to what was already an impressive frame. I put the crosshairs of the crossbow scope on the crease behind the buck’s shoulder, took a steady rest against the trunk of the massive oak tree I was perched in, and squeezed the trigger.

A split second later, I watched the buck dash off as a trickle of blood ran down my chin. This isn’t the basic “I missed because my arrow hit a limb” tale. No, I missed because the limb on the crossbow had smashed into the trunk beside me as it fired.

It happens every year. Unseen limbs. Wispy twigs. Even giant, sturdy oaks. We think we have a clear shot and the arrow—or bullet, bow cam, or crossbow limb—hits something unintended on the way. Had I taken just a moment to make sure my limbs would clear, I’d have killed that buck. Instead, I got a little cocky and ended my season with another excuse. —T.H.

Excuse 17: My Food Plots Dried Up

When I first started hunting, I had never heard of a food plot. I hunted deer that were feeding in my neighbor’s hayfield. As I broadened my horizons, I started to hunt public lands in other states, and I’d target oak groves that were dropping acorns, clear-cuts full of greenbrier, and brushy areas that didn’t seem to have a stitch of food but held plenty of deer.

If your food plots tank this season, don’t worry about it. I’d wager that the local deer herd won’t die of starvation just because your purple-top turnips failed to germinate. Get out and scout. Find what deer are feeding on. Hang a stand and kill a deer. Yes, it really is that simple. —T.H.

Excuse 18: My Dead Bucks Keep Shrinking

How is it that every “140” you shoot ends up measuring 115? Probably because social media has skewed our idea of what a big deer looks like because it’s caused us to assign arbitrary minimum scores for social acceptance. A lot of those 140s your buddies are claiming on Facebook are actually 115s too, because a 115-inch 8-point will usually be wider than his ears, sport tall tines, and be tempting to shoot. Many hunters are happy with such a buck, until they measure it. That’s depressing.

Even here in western Kentucky, where the experts say big bucks live behind every tree, I rarely see more than a couple of true 140-plus deer on the hoof in the course of a four-and-a-half-month season.

But when one of them steps out, there’s no mistaking it. —W.B.

Excuse 19: I Never See My Trail-Camera Monsters

deer hiding in brush
Change your tactics depending on the times you’re getting trail-cam shots. Donald M. Jones

If every trail cam pic you have of those big-antlered bucks is taken in the middle of the darkest night, it tells you something. Those deer are nocturnal, and it may be due to the pressure you’re placing on the area—or the overall hunting pressure in general. Truth is, a strictly nocturnal buck can be almost impossible to kill. The rut, combined with an incoming cold front, can sometimes bring the big boys out during daylight hours, but it’s far from a slam-dunk.

If you’re capturing photos just prior to or after daylight, then you’ll need to do a little recon and move closer to the buck’s bedding areas to catch him in daylight. The good news is that you’re onto a buck that’s huntable. The bad news is, now you’ve got to move on that deer without spooking him.

This is an ideal time to hang a stand and hunt it the very same day. Slip in during the day and pick a spot where you don’t have to cut big branches or leave scent across major deer trails. You have a good chance of ambushing him that evening when he leaves his bed. And what if you’ve got daylight pics of your buck but have never seen him while hunting? Might be time to put the cell phone away and pay closer attention. —T.H.

Excuse 20: The Neighbors Fired Up Lynyrd Skynyrd Right at Prime Time

lynyrd skynyrd casette tape
If the neighbors ruin a hunt, just keep at it and remember: deer season is about having fun. Jeff Wilson

Labor Day weekend is the archery opener in Kentucky. Three seasons ago, my neighbors decided to celebrate America’s workforce with a little Southern rock and a custom sound system. I was amazed at how clearly I could hear it from my treestand, 500 yards away. The big 8-point feeding right toward me at 50 yards heard it too and hauled ass before Ronnie Van Zant could say “big wheels.”

Wasn’t much I could do but laugh—and remember that some of my best hunting spots are close to houses, where the deer are used to hearing the sounds of people. Yeah, my evening was ruined, but the season wasn’t. In fact, I hunted that same stand a week later and killed my best bow buck to date. —W.B.

Excuse 21: The Buck of My Dreams Took Off Before I Could Dial in My Scope Turrets

Being a proficient marksman at long range is an admirable skill, but the long-range craze is changing the way some folks think about hunting-rifle setups—and not always for the better. Most whitetails in the East and Midwest are shot inside 100 yards, and with few exceptions, 300 yards will be a really long shot. For that, your classic old 3–9×40 scope is lighter, faster, and way simpler to use than a long-range tube with turrets. I’d argue that makes it better. —W.B.

Excuse 22: All the Bucks Were Locked Down with Does

two hunters dragging a deer through forest
Deer sightings can be few during the late rut, but it’s a great time to kill a giant buck. Lance Krueger

This was the exact scenario I faced during my first visit to Kansas a few seasons ago. The half-dozen bucks we’d seen from the truck were standing guard over hot does in the middle of the prairie. It was the peak of lockdown, and we weren’t seeing many deer from our stands. It seemed like the odds of getting a buck to within bow range were impossible. Yet guide Wade Shults offered some straight­forward advice: “If you want to kill a big one, this is the time to do it,” he said. “But you’ll need to be there when the right one walks by.”

Shults was exactly right. I saw very few deer. But when I did see a doe, a giant buck was right on her tail. She pulled him past my stand, and he had absolutely no idea what had happened when I drilled a broadhead behind its shoulder.

Hunting the lockdown phase of the rut means hour upon hour of boredom interrupted by moments of pure chaos. Really, you’re targeting doe movement. When bucks are locked down with does, they are not leaving them. The does might not move for days, but eventually, they will stir. You simply have to be there, and be ready, when they finally arrive. —T.H.

Excuse 23: I Hit a Deer With My AR But Couldn’t Find a Drop of Blood.

I keep a couple AR-15s around the house, ready to answer the call when zombies come staggering up the road or a coyote trots across the pasture. Most of my buddies have ARs too, and at some point, we’ve all taken them deer hunting. I’ve lost count of the number of “I hit him perfect, but he ran 500 yards and didn’t bleed a drop” stories I’ve heard as a result.

Yes, you can get an AR-15 in some effective deer calibers. But the overwhelming majority of casual AR owners have a rifle chambered in 5.56mm/.223 Remington, and so that’s what they use. Will a .223 kill a deer with proper bullet placement? It’s of course been established that it will, and yes, there are better big-game bullets for .22 centerfires than ever before. It’s just that there are so many much better calibers that work fine with an old-school soft point. If you have an AR, you probably have something like a .270 or .30-06 in the safe too. It might not look as cool, but for deer killing, it works one hell of a lot better. —W.B.

Excuse 24: My Broadhead Didn’t Open.

This is a simple excuse to eliminate. Stop shooting mechanical broadheads. Or if you do shoot a mechanical broadhead, make sure you’re going with the best option available. Earlier this year, OL gear editor Scott Einsmann did an in-depth test of the best broadheads for deer. With the help of Cody Greenwood of The TradLab, he tested 23 of the top broadheads on the market for accuracy, durability, sharpness, wound channel, and a push-force measurement. For mechanicals, he found that the G5 Deadmeat V2 and the Sevr 2.0 were standouts. But more and more hunters are switching back to quality fixed blade broadheads to maximize penetration. In that regard, it’s hard to beat the Ironwill S100.

Read Next: Best Broadheads for Deer

Excuse 25: I Can’t Afford an Out-Of-State Hunting Trip

You probably can’t because you have to make that $500 a month truck payment. Or you spent all your “play” money on that brand-new side-by-side. Or maybe you just can’t live without Game of Thrones, so you’re popping about $100 a month into cable.

All of those things are nice. And all of them are choices you’ve made. Me? I drive an F-150 with nearly a quarter of a million miles on it. And I fully intend to see what it looks like when the odometer hits 500,000. I’m hoping it happens while I’m on an out-of-state hunting trip.

I’ve hunted in at least two states every fall for about the last dozen years. I’ve never spent more than $1,500 on any of those outings, and that usually includes tags (the exceptions being Iowa and Kansas, where tag prices top $500). I usually stay in a cheap rental cabin with a kitchen because making meals is cheaper than paying someone else to do it. If you can put aside $1,500 a year, you can enjoy a weeklong hunt in a prime location. I hunt plenty of public land, but I also have had decent luck gaining permission with a simple knock on a door and a handshake. —T.H.

Excuse 26: I Hunt Thick Cover and Don’t Need a Scope on My Slug Gun

Compared to centerfire rifles, shotguns aren’t all that accurate. So why would you make them even less so by using iron sights? A low-magnification scope atop a full rifle slug barrel is perfect for sending slugs precisely through baseball-size holes in the brush. A scope is far superior to open sights in low light, and for most hunters, it’s just as fast. There’s no good reason not to use one. —T.H.

Excuse 27: I’m Old-School and Don’t Have Any of the Food Plots, Trail Cameras, or Other Crap People are Talking About

If you intentionally limit yourself to a recurve bow and hunting from the ground for the added challenge, then props to you. But you probably won’t kill as many deer as the guy using an aluminum treestand and modern compound bow. Equipment and tactics evolve and improve, and the hunters that evolve with them are more successful. Food plots and trail cameras work. Planting a food plot requires a lot of effort, though, and a new stable of trail cameras isn’t cheap. Savvy hunters do what they’re able. Maybe it’s planting a quarter acre of turnips instead of 2 acres of alfalfa, or buying three base-model cameras in lieu of five cellular ones.

Of course, if you really would rather avoid all that newfangled “crap” that makes hunting easier and more enjoyable, go for it. It’s a convenient excuse to have alongside that bowl of tag soup. —T.H.

No Excuses Deer Hunting Gear

These time-tested gear items will help you punch tags and avoid excuses this deer season.

Best Budget Rifle: Mossberg Patriot Predator

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The hands-down winner in our test of the best best budget hunting rifles was the Mossberg Patriot Predator. The specific model Tyler Freel evaluated features a Strata camo synthetic stock and an earthy olive-colored Cerakote finish on the bolt, barrel, and receiver. More than just looks, this rifle is feature-rich, well-finished, and somehow can be had for less than $500. Its best groups with factory ammo averaged 1.442 inches, which was the best of the test.

Best Budget Scope for Deer: Hawke Vantage 30 WA IR 2.5-10×50

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Bright, affordable, and extremely versatile, this scope won’t win long-distance shooting medals, but it will place bullets in deer country with confidence. Read our review of the best scopes for deer hunting.

Best Budget Cellular Trail Camera: Moultrie Mobile Edge

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In our test of the best cellular trail cameras, the Moultrie Mobile Edge was the clear standout. It performs like a high-end camera, pairs with an incredibly powerful app that’s easy to use, and it only costs about $100.

Best Budget Compound Bow: Bear Resurgence

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The binary cam system in this compound is a powerful, well-designed engine. It’s also one that’s budget friendly. And speaking of cost, the mid-range price for this bow makes it a solid choice for bowhunters of all levels. The fact that you get decent accessories with it for that price, makes it an even better choice. Read our review of the best compound bows for the money.

Best Budget Crossbow: Centerpoint Wrath 430

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Centerpoint and Ravin are sister companies, and you’ll see a lot of Ravin technology in Centerpoints. The Wrath 430 is at the upper end of what I’d call a budget bow at an $800 MSRP—retail prices are lower. It shot a 400-grain bolt at 408 fps in our test of the best crossbows for the money. It averaged 3.27 inch groups at 50 yards.

And the Worst Excuse of All: I’m Too Busy to Take Out a New Deer Hunter

We’re all busy in the fall. But hunter numbers are declining nationally, and it’s going to require veteran hunters taking new adult hunters out into the field to preserve our hunting culture and heritage. And taking someone new doesn’t meant that you have to sacrifice your own hunting. It’s not like you have to give up your planned week of vacation during the rut. Start by finding the right mentee. This should be someone who’s really driven to get into hunting, but isn’t quite sure how to get started. Your prospective mentee should be willing to scout, spend time at the range, and most importantly, have passed hunter safety class. You shouldn’t be holding this new hunter’s hand through the entire process, simply advising them along the way. Then take them along with you to hang treestands or check trail cameras or scout a new piece of public land. Even better, get them to help you out on some food plot or habitat work.

You’ll have a lot more fun mentoring a new hunter than you’d probably expect. Then set aside a weekend to get your mentee on a hunt that has a high success rate. Does and young bucks are ideal for new hunters. In a perfect scenario, you’d hunt a spot that the two of you had scouted together.

If all that still sounds too time intensive, read this list: 21 Ways to Recruit New People Into Hunting and Fishing Even the small things, like giving a new hunter your old riflescope, can help recruit more people into our ranks.