Debunking deer-hunting myths

by Gord Ellis | October 18, 2022
Deer Hunting Cartoon

Those of us who are deer hunters all have pet theories we toss around. Some are based on fact, a few on experience, and many on what I call old yarns. Fact is, there are some deer “truths” that get tossed around every fall that don’t always stand the test of the hunt. Here are my thoughts on some common deer-hunting myths.

1. You can’t make noise and kill a buck

Deer are masters of the world they live in and are keenly aware of unusual sounds. So, a human cough, playing music on your phone, or talking loudly on a walkie talkie is usually a deal breaker. Yet not all noise a hunter makes in the wood is bad. If you have ever heard deer walk in the woods, you know they make noise. Especially in leaf litter. A buck will also crack sticks and thrash brush as it moves. I’ve experienced several instances when a buck has approached my position as I’ve stalked through the bush, making more noise than expected. Whether the deer thinks it is another deer or is just curious is hard to say. Don’t assume a cracked stick on the ground will send all animals running. Sometimes, a deer will simply act outside of the ordinary lines. One memorable time, a group of us were extracting a large buck from the bush with an ATV and not being quiet about it. Two different times, a yearling buck approached us as we were pulling the deer out. This was not an urban deer. We were way back in the bush. I often wonder what that little buck thought was going on.

2. If a buck gets your wind, the hunt is over

Deer have an incredible sense of smell. Most of the time, when they smell a hunter, they hit the road fast. Yet I’ve had enough experiences with bucks sneaking up on me from a downwind position to conclude it is not always the end of a hunt. Like many hunters, I do wear scent-absorbing clothing and will even add masking or cover scents. The less you smell like a human the better. So, if the wind does swing on you, don’t assume your chance of success has disappeared. If a deer gets your scent, and snorts off through the woods, it may not be gone for good. Several times I’ve had bucks sneak back from the same direction they winded me. Do they forget, or is it some weird reverse deer psychology? Only the deer know for sure. Bottom line is this: control your scent and watch the wind, but never give up on the hunt.

3. Big grunt, big deer

It is quite incredible how much the deer-calling game has grown in hunting. Just three decades ago, deer calling as a hunting technique really didn’t exist. Now, grunt tubes are a common piece of hunting equipment. There are many calls to choose from, but the most popular seem to be the deep, throaty grunts that imitate a dominant buck. The thinking is that it will call in the largest animals. While that could be, my experience is the deep grunt tubes are less attractive to many bucks than thin, reedier sounding ones. In other words, if you are trying to attract the largest number of bucks, don’t use a call that might intimidate. Believe me, a big buck will come running if he thinks some pencil-neck deer is sneaking into his harem.

4. Bucks go dark once the hunt starts

The arrival of the trail camera has been a mixed blessing for many hunters. On the plus side, we can see what is happening in the areas where we hunt when we are not there. On the downside, it can be depressing to see all those deer romping around in the dark. That night stalking seems especially pronounced after the hunt begins. But are big bucks only moving at night once the hunt is on? While it can seem that way, keep in mind where a lot of these cameras are located. Most hunters place them on their hunting sites, often near an opening, field, or food plot. Deer are good at detecting areas where humans are frequenting and will get wary. Big bucks — particularly those chasing does — will be on the move during the day. They just won’t be roaming around in the open and in known hunting areas. At least not consistently. This is when you might want to slip into the back woods and take a seat against a tree in a swamp. While not as comfortable as blind or tree stand, the hunter who really wants to turn the tables of a big buck might want to get away from the usual spots. Deep in the woods is the place to be to find daytime bucks during the hunt.

5. Human urine scares deer

Pee jars are common in blinds and tree stands for various reasons. I am not recommending doing otherwise here. But many years ago, on an American hunting show, I saw a very compelling case against the need to contain human urine. The host ate a big steak, smoked a cigar, and then went to his stand. He needed to urinate and did so in a jar. He then dumped those contents onto the ground below his stand. Bad for business…right? Well. As he would also show, a buck arrived about a half hour later and started sniffing the ground. Later on, another buck arrived and did the same thing. Don’t turn your stand into a bathroom, but don’t assume that you have defiled your stand because you had too much coffee.

headshot of Senior Editor Gord Ellis

Deer are the wiliest and most challenging animal in Ontario. Keep focused and stay in the game, even when you think it’s over. You might be surprised how fast your luck can change.

Originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS Magazine

Senior Editor Gord Ellis is a journalist, radio broadcaster, photographer, and professional angler based in Thunder Bay.
Reach Gord at:; Twitter: @GordEllis.

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