While each state has different game laws, hunting over bait is illegal in all states. Hunters should always consult the game laws in any state they plan to hunt. With my legal spiel out of the way, I need to add that some people are vehemently opposed to hunting whitetails with the aid of bait. However, for those interested in hunting a deer feeder, I have included some tips to use and a few pitfalls to avoid.
First and foremost, killing a mature buck from a first-year feeder is pretty tricky. Most deer feeders resemble old moonshine stills more than vessels to feed wildlife. Because of that, it takes time for the deer herd to settle down around what is essentially a giant scarecrow. Now hunting an area that has been feeding deer with feeders for generations is a different ball game for a hunting group. However, slapping a deer feeder on the edge of the woods right before the season opener is not likely to produce many big bucks encounters right off the rip.
Once a deer feeder location has been established and most deer feel reasonably comfortable around the feeder, you must take extraordinary caution hunting the site, or you risk highly educating the deer. I believe that many deer feeders, corn piles, food plots, and other food sources that draw deer can quickly become human avoidance 101 for deer. I’m also inclined to believe that most food sources get pressured way more than hunters realize, and often the mature bucks are on to the tactic far sooner than we realize. This applies to new-fangled feeders, oak flats, and all other food sources that might move the needle within the herd.
Although the next tip is related to the previous, it is so important that it is worth highlighting. Entry and exit routes are critical to hunters’ success. Without good entry and exit, we can ruin our chances at a mature animal on our way to the stand for the first time. Conversely, with exceptional entry and exit routes, we can often hunt a deer multiple times before the gig ends. You can make use of popular hunting apps that can help you pinpoint the ideal entry and exit routes. Hunting a feeder is no different, and anytime you hunt food in the afternoon, exiting can be tricky at best.
Over the years, I have been forced on many occasions to stay hours after dark to avoid bumping a buck I am pursuing. This is especially true when hunting destination food sources like bean fields. When hunting a feeder, there will be times you should wait until the deer clear out before you exit, which can mean waiting a while. There are also some other unique circumstances when it would be beneficial for a hunting group to leave well before dark.
Instead of waiting it out, doing soft bumps can be a very smart move. For example, a fellow member from your hunting group can slowly creep in on a 4-wheeler to push the deer off. If you are hunting alone, coyote howls can be a much softer bump than just walking out of your hide. If legal in your state, you could even set up an electronic predator call to create disturbance enough so that you can get out without being found out
We don’t have to hunt on top of the feeder. In the Midwest, where I frequently hunt and probably most places, for example, I would advise trying to ambush that target buck before he gets to the feeder. This allows me to bump fewer deer while coming, going, and hunting. In addition, those our hunting group bumps haven’t been educated at the deer feeder. Plus, mature bucks will almost always enter a deer feeder from downwind, and even when they aren’t planning a snack, they regularly scent-check areas like deer feeders, doe bedding, and the like. This often occurs when they are searching for estrous does.
I’m a big fan of building small water holes in strategic areas. I’ve used kiddy pools, small livestock tanks, and old tires to create a tiny drinking hole that may increase my odds. I often place these small watering holes between a known buck’s bedding area and food sources. In the fall, you can catch a big buck wetting his whistle before the evening feed. The same concept can apply to a deer feeder, and it can increase your odds of success. You can find more useful tricks shared by hunting enthusiasts on hunting apps.
This next tip is all about location, location, location. Take great care when you are selecting a location for a deer feeder, corn pile, or food plot. Setting it up in a spot with good travel routes and secure feeling transitions will promote more daylight activity. It’s also critical that we think about prevailing winds when setting up a deer feeder. In short, place the feeder, corn pile, or food plot in a location that is in our favor, not the deer’s. A reliable hunting app can help you determine the ideal location as well as secure routes.
Finally, just because you have a deer feeder or two doesn’t mean you must hunt them. Feeders can be great for just inventory purposes. I almost always feed deer on properties that I hunt in states in which it is legal. However, I usually don’t hunt directly over a deer feeder or other deer feed sites as I find it’s much easier to kill a mature whitetail on his way there and intercept them on a travel route; it usually makes exiting much simpler. Our hunting group also prefers not having to fool large numbers of deer and backing away from food, and hunting those secondary and tertiary trails means fewer eyes and noses to avoid.
Regardless of your hunting style and preferences, I hope this fall is filled with friends and family in the great outdoors. For more such practical tips, download our hunting app!
By John Kirby