Becoming a Student of White-tailed Deer, Part 2

By Steve Bartylla

In the first installment, of this two-part series, we discussed the important roles that scouting, interpreting sign and studying deer play in increasing our chances of harvesting mature whitetails. We compared these endeavors to building the foundation for our house of knowledge.

Click Here for 1st part – Becoming a Student of Whitetail Deer Part 1

In this piece, the closing chapter of this brief series, we must identify the remaining tools necessary to achieve the completion of our project. What we now must strive for are avenues that complement the knowledge we derive from our observations in the field.

Admitting Our Limitations

“ One of the best ways we as hunters have to take our knowledge to “the next level” is to realize we don’t know everything about whitetails ” – Steve Bartylla  

Whitetail Photos Deer 1
Deer #1: Trail monitors are yet another means of increasing our knowledge of white-tailed deer. This photo, along with the other included in this piece, was taken with the combination of a TM1500 infrared trail monitor equipped with a TM35-1 Camera Kit manufactured by Goodson & Associates.

Let me begin this exploration by recalling an experience I had that has shaped the way I view the subject of becoming a student of white-tailed deer. I’ve recalled this tail countless times before and will undoubtedly continue for years to come due to the pure accuracy it holds.

While attending a fox trapping seminar, at the tender age of twelve, I overheard one of the few truths this life has to offer.

==> An old-timer was talking with a group of trappers after the show had concluded. Eventually, they began comparing notes on each of their previous year’s totals.

==> As it turned out, the Old Timer had actually caught considerably more fox than the seminar speaker.

==> Upon hearing this, one of the group queried the Old Timer on why he had even bothered showing up. After all, it was apparent that he was a more skilled trapper that the presenter himself. His words still ring of truth in my ears.

“I don’t care if you only caught one fox last year,” He replied, “you are doing something different than I am and I can learn something from you.”

Truer words I have never heard, it is a smart person that can learn from their failures, as well as their successes. It is a brilliant person that can learn equally well from the experiences of others.

Deer #2: Just makes me wish it was bow season.

Far too many of us seasoned hunters believe that we know all there is to know about harvesting whitetails. One of the things I’ve observed over the years is that, although the majority of consistently successful bowhunters possess a high level of confidence, most readily admit that they still have a lot left to learn. As well they should. Few of the top whitetail researchers believe they have done much more than scratch the surface of truly understanding many of the intricacies of whitetail behavior, communication, and interrelationships.

If the scientists, who devote their lives to solving the mysteries of white-tailed deer, often under a controlled environment that hunters can never hope to achieve, don’t pretend to totally understand a whitetail’s world, how can we as hunters?

Deer #3: Trail Master units provide the hunter the ability to track the entire antler growing process for a specific whitetail.

One of the best ways we as hunters have to take our knowledge to “the next level” is to realize we don’t know everything about whitetails, we will never know everything and we won’t even come close without allowing others to help us in our quest for knowledge.

One of the things that make whitetails so intriguing is that they don’t always follow the rules. Every time we have them figured out, they decide to change the rules on us. And isn’t that what makes chasing whitetails so rewarding? If it were simple, if they all followed the rules, it just wouldn’t be as much fun.

Attending Seminars & Speaking With Other Hunters – I have the opportunity …….

Deer #4: By tracking the reproductive success of the resident does it is possible to obtain valuable information regarding the health and vitality of the resident whitetails.

Once we have reached the point where we are willing to allow others to help us, sharing ideas with other hunters can be an invaluable source of information. I am lucky in the sense that, through conducting seminars and manning booths at deer shows, I have the opportunity to speak with many of the fellow speakers as well as the attendees. Although many are looking to me for answers, in actuality, I often feel that it is I that is the beneficiary of these discussions. Every conversation provides an opportunity to explore their techniques, successes, failures, and, most importantly, what they believe they have learned from them. 

Instructional Videos

Another great way to increase our knowledge base is by watching videos. A high-quality bowhunting video has the capability of bringing the viewer into the field with them in a manner unparalleled by any method short of accompanying the makers on a trip into the field.

Deer #5: Through strategic placement, we can gather data on a myriad on topics, such as which deer are actually hitting our mineral deposits.

The problem that I see with the video market today is that the viewer is rarely certain of the quality of the production that they are about to view. What I most often want to see is a high quality, biologically sound, instructional video. They are out there, but far to frequently it seems that finding the holy grail would be an easier pursuit. However, once located they are outstanding learning tools that can present a wealth of information in one single sitting. 

Reading, The Lost Pursuit

An unfortunate side effect of today’s society is that the time most people spend reading is getting to be less and less with each passing generation. When I was in grade school I used to spend countless hours reading every book on trapping and hunting I could get my hands on. Now, I see grade school kids spending countless hours playing video games and far too many adults turning into couch potatoes. These mind-numbing pursuits are an unfortunate reality and certainly do little to increase our knowledge on anything worthwhile.

One of the many things that are being lost in these endeavors is a wealth of invaluable information pertaining to white-tailed deer and hunting tactics.

What follows is a shortlist of recommended reading and why:

  1. Seasons of the Whitetail, this is by far the best four-part series of books dedicated to increasing the reader’s knowledge of white-tailed deer biology I have ever read. I consider John J. Ozoga’s knowledge of white-tailed deer behavior to rank among the top five of all time. He truly has a gift for taking highly scientific information and presenting it in an easy to understand manner. Seasons of the Whitetail consists of Whitetail Spring, Summer, Autumn, & Fall. They may be purchased separately or as a set for $105.00 (both prices include shipping) from
  2. Steps along the Hunter’s Path, Volume 1 is Glenn Helgeland’s compilation of the seminars presented at his Target Communications? series of deer & turkey shows. This book contains chapters from some of the nation’s top deer and turkey hunters. Regardless of your level of expertise, it is virtually impossible not to pick up a wealth of valuable techniques from this hard-hitting book.  Steps along the Hunter’s Path, Volume 1 retails for $19.95 and can be purchased by contacting Target Communication at:1-800-324-3337 
  3. Deer & Deer Hunting boasts two of my favorite writers, John J. Ozoga and Charlie Alzheimer. Together they consistently present biologically sound data on whitetails in a manner that is unparalleled in their market. Pat Durkin is one of the most amazing editors in this business. I can’t imagine how he consistently comes up with as many interesting editorials as he does. At times it seems like he writes for every publication in the world. It is almost impossible to pick up a newspaper in Wisconsin without running into one of his columns. I have never seen anyone that has as much to say about deer hunting as he does and I, for one, listen to his every word. For Deer & Deer Hunting subscriptions call: 1-715-445-2214
  4. North American Whitetail, if you’re into trophy bucks, this magazine tracks them like no other. They also present a wealth of knowledge on harvesting and managing these rare animals. Besides this, it presents the added bonus of editorials by Gordon Whittington, an all-around nice guy, treat to read, and an extremely knowledgeable and effective whitetail hunter. For North American Whitetail subscriptions call: 1-770-953-9222
  5. Bow & Arrow Hunting, the first on my shortlist of magazines that are not exclusively devoted to the pursuit of deer hunting. John Sloan, Jim Dougherty, and Chuck Adams need I really say any more. Also, the editor, Bob Torres, likes to play mind games with people, I’ve always liked that in a person. If you haven’t checked out this publication in the last year, you probably won’t recognize it. Bob has really done a great job of dramatically upgrading it. For Bow & Arrow Hunting subscriptions call: 1-800-999-9718
  6. Bowhunter, one of the tightest, best-published magazines available on the market and I’m not just talking hunting publications. They spend a little less time on whitetails and more time on other big game animals than the others listed above. However, the articles on whitetails are almost always outstanding pieces. Dwight Schuh has an amazing gift for writing. He did a piece on loneliness that made me want to go on a solo camping trip in the middle of February. To garner that kind of desire from someone living in Wisconsin speaks volumes. For Bowhunter subscriptions call: 1-800-829-3340 

Infrared Trail Monitors

What discussion on increasing a person knowledge on white-tailed deer would be complete without mentioning infrared trail monitors? These tools have the capability of shedding years from the normal amount of time required to build a solid knowledge base on whitetails. Nothing has the ability to allow you to gather as much information on the composition of a local whitetail population and their movement patterns than infrared trail monitors. And if you’re talking the ultimate in flexibility and quality you’re talking Trail MasterR.

These little beauties allow us to glimpse whitetail activity that would require countless hours of sitting in the woods to achieve. Through strategically placing units along trails and around preferred food sources, it is possible to gather information on buck/doe ratios, doe/fawn ratios, the age structure of the local deer, social behavior, feeding times, feeding preferences and countless other activities.

Two or three units are generally enough to keep tabs on deer residing in an area as big as one square mile. They really are one of the finest methods available for managing and building knowledge on white-tailed deer.


Through admitting our limitations, picking the brains of others, watching instructional videos, reading solid information and using trail monitors, we can go along way in building upon our foundation of knowledge on white-tailed deer. Don’t look for quick fixes and guaranteed results, they don’t exist. An open mind and hard work are our biggest assets. If we use them we can go far. Ignore them and we’re about as far as we’re going to get already.

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