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       As I write this column, I am just a few short weeks away from the close of my 53rd whitetail hunting season. Over half of a century of pursuing this wily creature has taught me countless hard-learned lessons about the challenges involved in being a consistently successful whitetail hunter, as well as teaching me volumes about the complex behavioral patterns that make this unique animal so vexing to hunt.
          I must confess that my formal whitetail hunting education did not really begin until I started bowhunting in 1973. Prior to that season, I had hunted only with a rifle, and in the heavily wooded forests of my home turf in central Minnesota the rules were very simple… If you could see the deer, you could kill it as long as you shot straight. 
          Once I began to hunt with my newly acquired recurve bow and arrows, the rules changed drastically. From that point on, I spent far more time observing the whitetail as it went about its daily business than I did killing it. However, that is when my advanced studies truly began as I earnestly scrutinized this special creature as I waited to get close enough to it for a shot. And as the seasons passed, each encounter with this crafty critter seemed to reveal another thin layer of its complex, behavioral onion.
          To assist me in my higher education, I read every article I could get my hands on about whitetail anatomy, behavior and habits. But as my experiences piled up season after season, I began to realize that a lot of what I read by the outdoor “experts” that were writing these articles seemed to be about their personal opinions more than scientific whitetail biology. Even a lot of the supposed scientific material (like deer do not see colors for an example) seemed to be based upon the opinion of the writer as they compared the whitetail to other species and human beings.
          Over the years, my personal experience has taught me that a lot of claims made by outdoor writers are often not always true, but in the end it depends upon what the whitetail thinks, not the outdoor writer… and very often those two realities are miles apart. The only sure and factual way to determine whether a written opinion is indeed a fact is to interview the whitetail; and to date, I have yet to learn of a single person that has actually done that.
          What I have learned is that each whitetail, like each human being, is different. By that I mean that if I rattle, use a grunt call or a doe bleat for an example, one deer will respond, another won’t even lift its head to look in my direction, even though it is clearly able to hear the noise being made. In order to get the desired reaction from my efforts, I must have the right deer, at the right time, in the right place, in the right mood. There is no guaranteed formula that will work every time for every deer.
          For year expert pundits have warned about the dangers of the scent of human urine, claiming that it will spook every whitetail within a country mile once they catch even a small whiff of it. Many hunters I know won’t go into the woods without a pee bottle to relieve their bladder, thereby keeping their stand urine free. Yet, based on the experiences of many hunters that I know and on my own encounters, I know that urine either from another animal or from a human being does not bother deer, bucks or does. But still, some folks choose to believe that peeing from a stand is the kiss of death for whitetail hunting success.
          I just read another article about a whitetail’s ability to see, an update if you will. Originally it was believed that deer could see only in black and white, but now that thinking is changing. The article claimed that deer can see in colors, especially the color blue. This claim is based upon the biological structure of the eye, by the number and size of the rods and cones as compared to a human eye. The one fact they can’t be sure of is the wiring that goes from the whitetails eye to its brain and how that brain interprets the message sent by that wiring. They know how that message translates in the human brain because the human can actually explain what they are seeing, however as I pointed out earlier, they have yet been able to ask a whitetail exactly what it can see. Their theories may indeed be correct, but in truth, their claims are just that, theories… because they really don’t know for sure. 

The only thing that I know for sure is that even after so many years of hunting whitetails, they still embarrass me every chance they get. The wily whitetail still continues to keep me in class by teaching me new lessons year after year. Even after 53 seasons of intense hunting do I consider myself to be a whitetail expert? My answer to that question is a resounding NO! After all, the only whitetail experts I have ever met all have four legs and bear a striking resemblance to the whitetail deer.

 

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