50 Fall Hunting Tips

Enjoy your best season yet with hunting tips from this guide to hunting deer, turkeys, dove, pheasant, geese and ducks.

Hoof Prints

Elk tracks look like very large deer tracks, and a mature bull’s prints will be much larger than those left by female or juvenile elk.

Photo Courtesy Skyhorse Publishing

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1001 Hunting Tips (Skyhorse Publishing, 2010) by Lamar Underwood and Nate Matthews is an all-encompassing and easy-to-read guide based on what these two outdoorsmen have learned after years of experience. Learn the best tactics, times to hunt, gear to bring and what to do once game has been taken with these nuggets of hunting wisdom, secrets and techniques. The following 50 hunting tips have been excerpted from the book. 

Deer hunting tips

#37. Hunt All Three Phases of the Rut 

A good deer hunter knows that there is not just one rut, but three. The first, called the pre-rut, occurs in early October, when mature, four- and five-year-old does first come into estrus. The second, known as the peak or primary rut, runs from late October to the last week of November, and is when the majority of female deer come into heat. The third, called the post-rut or late rut, takes place twenty-eight days after the end of the primary rut, as does that were not bred during October and November come back into estrus. These pre- and post-rut phases do not last long. Look for a sudden explosion of fresh buck sign, then hunt hard for several days using techniques, such as rattling, that take advantage of the increased aggression triggered by competition for a limited number of willing does.

#49. Let Blood Color Tell You How Fast to Follow a Wounded Buck 

Blood trails don’t just tell you the direction a wounded deer is moving. They can also provide good information about where on its body you shot the animal, and how quickly you should follow its trail. Bright red blood is full of oxygen and often means you’ve hit your deer in the lungs. Deer hit this way don’t go far, so you can pursue them quickly. Dark red or purple blood may indicate a gut shot. If you find such blood, particularly in conjunction with bits of intestinal fat, and there’s no precipitation forecast that could wash away or obscure the trail, consider giving the animal time to bed down and stiffen up before looking for a follow-up shot. Gut-shot deer often run long distances if they’re chased immediately after being wounded.

#72. Set up Multiple Stands to Beat the Wind 

A good way to compensate for changing wind directions is to have multiple stands set up over a single site. If the wind shifts while you’re sitting in one of them, simply change stands so that you’re sitting downwind of where you think deer will appear.

#74. Moon Up, Whitetails Moving 

Living, as I do, adjacent to a sizable stretch of forest many whitetails call home, I have been able to observe a particular whitetail habit you can count on with absolute assurance: An early-rising moon in the late afternoon sky triggers early whitetail movement. They do not bother waiting until dark to begin their foraging. And, of course, the early full moon is the best of all.

#76. Find Bucks in a Startled Herd by Counting Raised Tails 

If you spook a group of deer while hunting in heavy cover, look to see if all of them have raised their tails. Does use this white flag to signal danger more often than bucks do when startled. If you see a deer running with its tail down, chances are good you’ve found a buck.

#79. Don’t Scare Big Bucks out of Bedding Sites 

If you’ve located a good buck before the season, resist the urge to hunt him in his bedding site. This is almost certain to drive a wary trophy animal out of the area. Instead, hunt the travel zones between his bedding and feeding spots.

The Hearst Corporation, Deer Hunter’s Almanac: A Complete Guide to Finding, Taking, and Preparing America’s Premier Game Animal, 1996 

#83. Gauge How Well Your Stand Is Hidden Using Black-and-White Images 

A good way to tell if your stand or blind is well concealed is to photograph yourself sitting in it during the exact hours of the day you think you’ll be hunting from it. Use a digital camera, and convert your images from color to black-and-white using the image-processing program on your computer. Deer are colorblind, so these black-and-white images will give you a good idea of the patterns, shapes, and tones that seem out of place. If you and your stand are easily recognizable, reconfigure its position and make sure that it is not too bright or too dark compared to its surroundings.

#87. Don’t Hang Your Stand Where You Find the Most Sign 

Areas chock-full of deer trails, droppings, rubs, and beds are not always the best places to hang your stand. The abundance of sign could mean that the area is being used as a sanctuary—a place where deer congregate before heading out to feed, or where they bed down during the middle of the day. Since deer spend a great deal of time in such places, they become very familiar with them and will be sensitive to unusual sounds, smells, and sights. It can be extremely difficult to camouflage your presence under such conditions.

#91. Sit Your Stand in the Morning When Hunting Hot Weather 

Whitetails are more active than normal during the night when the weather is unseasonably warm, and will stay bedded down in well-shaded cover that’s close to a water source during the heat of the day. They may start moving again as the temperature starts dropping early in the evening, but when it’s really hot the air won’t begin to cool until well after darkness. The best time of the day to hunt deer during hot weather is during the first two hours of shooting light in the morning, when the air is coolest and you can catch your quarry moving from where they’ve been feeding to where they’ll bed during daylight.

#94. Watch a Feeding Deer’s Tail 

Feeding deer always twitch their tails immediately before raising their heads to look around. If you immediately freeze when you see this motion, you’ll be much less likely to alert the animal to your presence. Continue your stalk when the animal puts its head back down to feed.

Elk hunting tips

#167. Hunt ahead of the Storm Fronts 

Elk and deer have an uncanny sense for knowing when the weather is turning bad, and often feed more heavily in advance of a major storm. So track weather conditions and plan to be on your hunting ground in the days before a big storm.

#169. Secure Your Elk’s Carcass on Steep Slopes 

If an elk you’ve shot falls on the side of a steep slope, your first action after making sure the animal is dead should always be to secure the carcass to a solid anchor, such as a tree trunk, using a stout length of rope. The last thing you want is for the animal’s body to slide downhill, which could damage the meat and/or put it at the bottom of a ravine where you’ll have to work twice as hard to pack it out.

#170. Catch Elk Moving from Their Food to Their Beds 

The worst time to still-hunt for elk is at midday, when they will be bedded down in thick cover that they’ve chosen because it is impossible to approach without them seeing or smelling you. You’ll have more luck spotting them before they spot you if you still-hunt during the early morning and late afternoon, when elk are moving from the meadows and clearings where they feed to the heavy evergreen cover where they often prefer to bed, and vice versa.

#174. Skin Your Elk Quickly to Preserve Its Flavor 

Always quarter and remove the hide as soon as possible after you shoot a large animal, such as an elk. Otherwise its massive body will not lose heat quickly enough to prevent the meat from spoiling in all but the coldest weather.

#177. How to Recognize Elk Tracks 

Elk tracks look like very large deer tracks, and a mature bull’s prints will be much larger than those left by female or juvenile elk. Make sure that you do not confuse elk tracks with those left by moose or cows. Cow tracks are rounded and do not look much like those of a deer, and moose tracks are longer and narrower than those left by elk. Study a guidebook (or this illustration of elk tracks) before you hunt to avoid this problem.

Wild turkey hunting tips

#489. Learn to Shoot Turkeys from Both Shoulders 

One of the most difficult situations in turkey hunting is having a bird sneak up behind you when you’re sitting at the base of a tree. It can be extremely difficult to twist your body around far enough to make an accurate shot, and it’s nearly impossible if the bird is behind your right shoulder if you’re a right-handed shooter (and vice versa if you shoot with your left hand forward). It’s a good idea to practice shooting your turkey gun from your opposite shoulder before the season starts. If you’re comfortable taking shots this way your chances of getting a bead on a turkey without spooking it will improve dramatically.

#490. Control the Volume of Your Box Call 

If you're working a gobbler with a box call and he hangs up in the distance, you may be calling too strongly. Box calls are notoriously loud; the tom may think the hen you're imitating is closer to him than you want, and will often stop and wait, thinking that she will come to him. One way to get him moving is to reduce the volume of your call. Hold the call upside down, with the handle on the bottom, and slide your thumb up the sides to increase pressure on the call and gradually dampen the vibration. The gobbler will think the hen is moving away from him and may give chase.

#495. The Best Place to Set Up on a Roosted Gobbler 

If you’ve done your scouting homework, you’ll often know where a gobbler has roosted for the night. If you’ve done your extra credit, you’ll know where he goes after he flies down. The best place to set up to call him in the morning will be between these two places, about 100 to 200 yards away from his tree (distance depending on how well leafed out the trees are). Get there well before first light, and sneak in as quietly as you can. Roosted birds are alert to unusual sounds and can pick up movements even in very dark conditions.

#497. Locating Roosting Gobblers 

When your calling or scouting has located a roosting area (and you’ve been careful not to spook the birds!), you’ll hear them fly up into the trees—big wings flopping, a great deal of noise. Be aware, however, that they don’t pick the limb they wish to roost on from the ground, then fly up to it. It’s after they are in the trees that they move around to a favored spot to spend the night. 

#500. Get Ready to Shoot When a Tom Shuts Up 

If a gobbling turkey falls silent, don’t assume right away that he’s lost interest. Resist the temptation to crank him back up with the call. Instead, get your gun ready. When turkeys shut up, it often means they’re on the way to you.

— Philip Bourjaily, The Field & Stream Turkey Hunting Handbook, 1999 

#510. Bust a Roosted Flock in the Fall 

The most common tactic used by fall turkey hunters is to find and then scatter a flock of the birds and then sit down to call them back in. Turkeys will naturally want to regroup, and if you call well enough to imitate a lost bird, they will use you as a homing beacon. One good way to find a flock to bust is to identify where the birds roost. Scout the woods for large hardwood trees with lots of fresh droppings at their bases, and head out the evening before you plan to hunt to listen for the sounds the birds make as they fly up for the night. Creep into the woods before sunrise the next day, and then rush the flock as soon as it flies down.

#513. Don’t Waste Time on Henned-up Birds When You Can Hunt Somewhere Else 

If you’ve got lots of land to hunt, don’t waste time trying to bring in turkeys that aren’t that interested in your calling. When a bird gobbles once in response to your calls but won’t move any closer after 15 to 20 minutes, it’s likely he’s still with hens. Make a mental note of your location, then move on to search for another, lonelier bird who will respond with more enthusiasm. Later, however, if you still haven’t filled your tag, return to the spot you were calling in when you first heard him gobble and try calling again. His hens may now be on their nests, and he’ll be wondering what happened to the one that wouldn’t come see him earlier in the morning.

#516. Why Gobblers Are Easy to Miss 

How do hunters miss a big target like a wild turkey standing within 30 yards? My personal pet theory (and I’ve done it myself!) is that the shooter is so enthralled by the scene before him that he raises his head from the gunstock just slightly. Do that, and you’ll miss every time.

#525. Stop Calling to Attract a Tough Tom 

One way to bring in a difficult gobbler is to avoid calling at him at all. Let him know there’s a hen in the area by flapping a turkey wing and scratching in the leaves at your feet, then shut up. Yelping in response to his gobbles may only encourage him to stay put because he thinks the hen you’re imitating is interested in him, which would normally mean she’s heading his way (hens usually move toward gobblers, not the other way around). If you don’t call at all he’ll wonder what he’s doing wrong, and may come closer so that he can attract your attention using visual rather than auditory means.

#526. Don’t Call in the Fall like You’d Call in the Spring 

In the fall, gobblers, jakes, and hens all gather in separate flocks. Calling like a hen to fall gobblers brings no response; to upset the pecking order, you need to be a new gobbler. Same thing with jakes and hens.

Geese and duck hunting tips

#602. Don’t Be a “Skybuster”  

A “skybuster” is the most hated person on any marsh or field where there’s duck or goose hunting. The Skybuster blazes away at birds that are clearly out of range, thereby frightening the birds away from the area and ruining chances others might have had on the incoming birds.

#606. You’ve Got to Lead Them  

The legendary duck hunter George Bird Grinnell is often referenced for his famous quote, “Shoot ahead of them . . . Shoot farther ahead of them . . . Shoot still farther ahead of them.” And it’s a fact: Most ducks are missed by not leading enough.

#608. Beating the Crowds in Public Hunting  

Ducks quickly wise up to blinds on public hunting areas. You score more ducks if you seek out remote corners that see much less pressure. Use just a half dozen or so decoys and call only enough to get passing birds’ interest.

#610. The Magic of Calling Your Birds  

“To the avid waterfowler, no moment of truth can match the instant when a flock first responds to his call and decoys, the time when this wild, free bird of unsurpassed grace begins a descent from the sky down to gun range. It is a stirring spectacle . . .”

—Grits Gresham, The Complete Wildfowler, 1973 

#616. Your Face Is a Dead Give-away  

When using layout blinds in most duck and goose setups, you’ve got to do something about your shining face. To incoming ducks, it will stand out like a neon sign. Wear a face mask or dab on some camo makeup.

#617. The Most Effective Way to Set out Goose Decoys  

Veteran Maryland call-maker Sean Mann guides early season duck and goose hunting in Alberta and is one of the most successful and experienced in the business. He told DU’s Wade Bourne, in a tip for the DU Web site: “To finish more geese when hunting over a field spread, set decoys 10 feet apart (three long steps), and face them in random directions. This set provides a natural, relaxed look, and it also offers incoming birds plenty of landing room inside the spread. By setting my decoys so far apart, I use half the number I used to. I can set up and tear down faster, and most of all, the geese work better. Our hunts are much more productive than when I set decoys closer together. Less really can be more.”

#619. Birds in Flight: Looks Are Deceiving  

Because they are big, Canada Geese appear to be slow in flight, compared to ducks. And because of their long tails, pheasants appear to be slower than they really are. Swing your gun properly, lead the bird, and keep swinging as you pull the trigger. Or you’ll be shaking your head, wondering how you missed.

#621. Layout Blinds Take Getting Used To  

When using a layout blind, before the birds start flying take some time to try practicing the move it takes to rise into a shooting position. It takes some getting used to. If you don’t practice it, you may not be in a good position with your face well down on the gun during the first critical seconds when it’s time to take ’em!

#625. Layout Blinds: You’re Part of the Action  

You’re lying in a field, totally hidden right among the decoys. No brushy blind, no boat, no pit blind, no elaborate box blind, no blind on stilts. Instead, you’re tucked comfortably into a well-camouflaged layout blind, made further invisible by attaching brush to the blind’s convenient straps and holders. You’re wearing camo yourself, including a hat and mask. Even your gun is camouflaged. Unlike hunting from a brush blind where you have to keep your face down—and thereby miss part of the spectacle of flying birds on the way in—you’re seeing the whole show, from the time birds appear in the distance, until they come right into your face. There’s nothing like it!

Dove hunting tips

#760. Those “Power Line” Doves  

When you see doves sitting on power lines, you’re not going to stop your truck and start blazing away. The sight is, however, a true indicator that doves are using fields in the area. Keep a close watch as the afternoon progresses and see if you can spot the fields they are using and the routes to and from resting areas and waterholes.

#763. Marker Trees: Where Doves Fly Most  

Doves often use prominent, single trees as a sort of intersection guidepost when crossing large expanses of fields. They fly past these positions frequently before fanning out for other sections of the fields. Sometimes these “markers” can be a low clump of small trees at an intersection of fence rows. If you can pick out one of these sites in your scouting, you should have great shooting.

#767. Those Tough Overhead Shots  

One of the toughest shots in dove hunting occurs on a bird flying straight overhead. It’s hard to get your gun barrel ahead of one of these speedsters and keep it moving—and still be able to see the bird. Most of the people who are good at making this kind of shot preach the gospel of having the barrel overtake the bird in a rapid swing, then pulling the trigger just as the barrel blots out the bird. Of course, you have to keep that barrel moving (rapidly!), even after the trigger pull. Whatever you do, it’s a tough shot.

#768. A Box of Shells, a Limit of Birds  

Wherever you go, you’ll hear it said that shooting a limit of doves (usually twelve birds) with a box of twenty-five shells is the mark of a really good shooter. In my view, it all depends. If a lot of birds are flying, and you’re a cherry-picker, taking only the easiest shots, bagging a limit of birds with a box of shells is no big deal. If a lot of the shots you’re getting are long, high and far out and on strong, fast birds—the kind you get in the later half of the dove seasons—you might even consider yourself lucky to bag a limit of birds with two boxes.

#769. Wear Camo for Dove Hunting  

Yes, when there’s a heavy flight of birds in the area, with plenty of chances to get some shots, you can bag your share of doves wearing just about any kind of shirt—as long as it’s not white or solid black. But in normal conditions—and especially in tough conditions when not many birds are coming your way—you’ll do a lot better by wearing at least a camo shirt and hat, and even better with camo trousers. Especially after opening day, and especially during the second seasons, doves can be skittish, veering off at the sight of a crouching figure in the bushes.

#770. Dove Hunting’s Finest Moment  

For this old hunter, the finest moments—with images I can replay in my thoughts with great clarity—are those when five or more doves come slanting in from a side angle, then fly directly across my position. If you’re ever going to bag a double, this is the moment. You usually settle for one, of course. And the sight of those sleek, beautiful birds in full flight over the field will come back to you often.

#772. Be Alert for Killdeer  

Killdeer—those swooping, swerving, and constantly screaming dark-grey birds with pointed wings—are usually very much a part of the terrain where doves are found. If you mistake one for a dove and shoot it, you may face a fine. Be alert and learn to recognize these birds that can look remarkably like doves at times.

#773. Eye Protection Is a Must in Dove Hunting  

When dove season opens, chances are the sun will be bright, and seeds and all kinds of dry bits of trash will be blowing around. You’ll be looking skyward constantly, and there’s always a possibility of a stay shot pellet dropping on your stand—and into your eye. You need protection! Yes, sunglasses are a must. You might need two pair, one with lenses for cloudy days, another for the more-typical bright days.

#783. The Toughest Shot of Them All  

Perhaps the toughest shot in all upland gunning occurs when a dove, riding a tailwind, flying high, whips across your stand. Some of these birds actually rock their bodies from side-to-side, seemingly sensing your column of shot whistling past. This is prime-time, great shooting.

#786. Shoot Lighter-kicking Loads  

Dove hunters should know that the 1-ounce “Dove and Quail” loads you see for $3 a box at the marts in August are loaded to almost 1,300 fps to ensure that they’ll cycle in autoloaders. Spend a few more dollars and shoot light trap loads instead. When you’re wearing no more padding than a camo T-shirt, 1-ounce target loads at 1,180 fps deliver excellent patterns and less bang for the buck, which is what we’re after. If you want speed, try International target loads, which are quite fast at 1,325 fps, but low-recoil thanks to their 7/8-ounce payload.

—Philip Bourjaily, “Reducing Recoil, Part I,” Field & Stream 


This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from 1001 Hunting Tips: The Ultimate Guide to Successfully Taking Deer, Big and Small Game, Upland Birds and Waterfowl by Lamar Underwood and Nate Matthews, published by Skyhorse Publishing, 2010.