The 2014 deer season is over, and if you hunted hard but didn’t shoot a big deer, I have some ideas why:

You hunted a poor area. You’ll never shoot a big buck if you hunt where no big bucks live. Sounds elementary, but it’s not. If you’ve hunted a farm or woods for many years and have killed plenty of small to decent bucks but have never seen a monster, you need to look for new ground to hunt. A different farm or woods 20 to 50 to 100 miles down the road may have little pressure and better habitat, especially better year-round food sources for deer. Get permission and your odds of shooting a big deer go way up. It’s worth it if you can afford to pay a lease fee.

Ninety-five percent of the giant bucks we post on BIG DEER every year are killed on PRIVATE land. But if you are forced by circumstances to hunt public, that is okay. TIP: Start now to look for small, out of the way blocks of state ground that get less pressure than larger tracts. They are out there, but it takes work to find them.

Look, I know that finding and keeping a good place to hunt is difficult these days. But the fact remains that you won’t kill a monster if you keep hunting where no monsters live, so try.

You didn’t scout smart. You are busy w/work, kids, etc., but you’ve got to make time to scout more before this fall. Start by studying hard-copy and digital maps and aerials of your land—concentrate and try to predict where mature bucks will bed, travel and eat. A couple evenings a week starting in early summer, glass your area for bucks growing antlers. In late July and August, drive to your spot more times to glass for bucks in fields and learn their summer patterns. Take your kids with you and make it family time.

If you’re not using trail cameras (set them out in late summer and keep them running throughout the season) start this year. With some 90 percent of the giants posted on BIG DEER, the hunters had one or more cam images of the bucks.

You were too aggressive. When bow season opens, your instinct is plow onto your spot and start hunting hard as hell. Whoa, man, take it easy. Let’s say you bow and gun hunt the same property, like most people do. This summer, set some stands on the fringes of the land for archery hunting; as the season progresses and the rut comes on, start to get more aggressive and move farther inland, to ridges and bottoms with hot rubs and scrapes. This way you don’t overly pressure a spot too early and blow bucks out and turn them nocturnal. 

You were too passive. But you have to be “creatively aggressive,” like I’ve said on TV many times. If you sit back on the fringes too much and hunt with the mindset “I can’t spook any deer, I can’t spook deer” you’ll hunt too passively and miss opportunities. Scout as you hunt each day and be on the lookout for fresh trails, rubs, any big-buck sign. Think creatively and move into a spot when your gut tells you the time is right. Anytime from October 25 on—when the rut really starts to pick up steam– if you see a 150-plus buck using an area (or get a cam pic of him) move in and hunt him, don’t be passive.

209 webYou just didn’t get lucky. On November 9, 2010, I killed the 209” giant you see here in the picture, a buck I’m sure I’ll never top. I didn’t scout the Canadian bush, I relied on my buddy Grant Kuypers (one of the best outfitters in Saskatchewan) to put me in a good spot that day. First to admit I do anything great or special—I got lucky. But I do refer back to Point 1: I put myself in a place where world-class deer live, so in that regard I helped to make that luck.

Also, note the date. Without a doubt, the best days to get lucky and kill a giant in most parts of North America are November 8-12 each fall, when big bucks rut out of their gourd. If you can get off work those days, you increase your odds at least double.

Finally, I hunted deer hard for more than 30 years before I ever saw a 200-inch buck. It’s like anything in life: The more you work hard and put in your time, the better the odds that one day you’ll get lucky.

Print this post, tack it up in your man cave/hunting room and refer to it often as motivation to make your upcoming 2015 season your best ever.