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Deer hunting in a wildlife reserve 

Everything you need to know

By Michel Therrien, professional hunting guide.

Why do certain hunters return empty-handed despite the presence of deer on their hunting grounds, while others routinely bring back the coveted prize?

As well as being a professional big game hunting guide, Michel Therrien is a formidable hunter and he’s ready to share his golden rules to maximize your chances of outsmarting those elusive deer.

Steve Deschênes | © Sépaq

Knowing and recognizing good natural passes

You can’t hunt in a forest like you would around cornfields or in front of apple trees near a village. It’s a well known fact that deer who live in large forest areas move about by using mountains as well as the various natural passes strategically located between optimum habitats. “Forest” type deer therefore have access to scattered grazing areas nearby and seek rest areas not far from food where they’ll feel protected and safe from predators. Consequently, they make use of what I call “transition zones,” through which they have to travel to seek food, to hide, and to escape. So even if your sector includes 20 km² of habitat, it's important to understand that deer do not occupy the territory uniformly. They’ll have their micro “optimum habitats” which the hunter will have to discover.

Please note that natural passes used by deer are not always located at the edge of a path, and the hunter must sometimes carry out reconnaissance activities beforehand to recognize them. As wildlife reserves now offer the Avenza Maps orientation tool, it has become a whole lot easier to move throughout the territory knowing exactly where you are while using this tool to identify deer trails, sleeping areas, rubbing posts, and other valuable clues. In the evening, cunning hunters can transfer this information to their maps and through logical deduction, begin analysing the habits of the deer under scrutiny. It's often from there that the passes in question will be discovered. The best time to spot, explore, and discover your zone is in the spring, just before the growth of the leaves that will later hinder the explorer's vision. Hunter “explorers” will look for rubbing posts, scrapes, and deer trails, then from there, they’ll start to plan upcoming hunting offensives by including the option of setting up a lookout station.

Émile David | © Sépaq
Émile David | © Sépaq
Émile David | © Sépaq
Beside | © Sépaq

Fruitful hunting at a baited site

For fruitful hunting, you must first install your baited site the right way. My first reflex is to set up a salt lick during summer and then see how the deer will use the surrounding forest to go toward the lick, then toward the bait.

Once this information is acquired from trails and deer traces, I study the prevailing wind and then set up my ambush site accordingly. The obvious goal is to avoid being detected through our scent by the deer that will come later when apples or feed are left on the site. So hunters must not have the wind at their back if their bait is in front of them, because if they make this mistake, they’ll be wasting their time while fouling the site.

Otherwise, for fruitful hunting on a baited site, the cache has to be well hidden in the forest and the trail leading to the cache must also be inconspicuous and at a minimal distance from where the deer roam. You have to stay silent in the cache and never frighten females unnecessarily, because eventually they'll attract males. I really like using tents, but these must be covered with branches to give them a natural visual appearance and to add weight on top so that the wind doesn't slam the sides of the tent.

I prefer to create natural caches on site by using available stumps, rocks, uprooted trees, and other natural elements conducive to an ambush. I close up the cache with chopped logs, a minimalist branch structure, and a natural roof made of branches and slabs of wood. By setting your cache up in advance, you’ll convince the unsuspecting deer that it’s part of their environment!

The use of an odour neutralizing spray made of cedar, fir, or spruce sap (according to the varieties on site) is a must to hide personal odours whenever you’re hunting deer.

Scrapes, rubbing posts, and more

I know that most hunters like to lie in wait in front of a baited site, but wildlife reserves offer several other possibilities because males often leave clues of their presence in these extensive territories.

The discovery of a fresh scrape or a series of fresh scrapes is a valuable indicator that quickly sets my heart pounding. I’ve harvested a number of sizeable males through sequences of grunt calls around a site where there were scrapes.

Furthermore, when I discover rub posts and when the time of year is conducive (after November 10), I use my deer horns to do some rattling. Hunters could cover a baited site at dusk or dawn, but between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., they could set up hunting stations elsewhere on the territory using grunt calls, rattling, and even furtive hunting if conditions allow it (silent ground).

Steve Deschênes | © Sépaq
Émile David | © Sépaq

Hunting as much as possible and using cameras to spot deer

Surveillance cameras can sometimes reveal that you’ve committed the blunder of the year by not being on hand at the right time. Indeed, surveillance cameras can show that a hunter arrived 15 minutes late or left 15 minutes too early, according to the photo taken of a vulnerable male with the time indicated right on it. This will surely tug the heart of any wannabe woodsman or woman for a good while!

Anticipating when a cervid will pass by is quite an art and sometimes you’ve got to rely on luck or at least on actions that will facilitate an encounter.

When mating season is in full swing and your deer lookout site is scattered with distracted females who are unprotective with their calves, everything is in place for the arrival of a male, regardless of the time of day.

So before deciding to leave a site, you must at the very least ask yourself if there are any remaining doubts about the potential presence of a cervid in the vicinity or about to appear before your very eyes. Patience is among the hunter’s greatest virtues, along with the sustained belief that the 10 seconds of happiness associated with the appearance of that long-awaited creature is bound to occur.

I hope you'll find my advice useful and I wish an excellent hunting season to one and all.

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