Tips While Hunting Whitetails at Heartland Lodge Outfitters

Here are a few general tips I’ve compiled that will increase your opportunity at a trophy deer while hunting at the Heartland Lodge Outfitters. When it comes to trophy deer hunting, the smallest detail can make all the difference between a successful or unsuccessful hunt!

Illinois buck during muzzleloader seasonGetting To Your Stand..

  • Do not slam truck doors when entering or exiting the field. Depending on the farm your hunting guides could be dropping you off within a few hundred yards of bedded deer. On a calm morning a door slam can be heard for 100’s of yards away alerting every deer in the area putting them on high alert.
  • When opening and closing any bag or bow case out in the field, go as slowly and quietly as possible. A quick unveiling zipper is probably the most unnatural noise a deer can hear 30 minutes before light.
  • When walking to and from the stand…Take a deep breath and go in as quietly and slowly as possible. There is no rush to get to the stand! Take your time and get in as stealthy as possible. There is no advantage to rushing in and getting up in the tree as quickly as you can when shooting light is still 30-45 mins away. Take your time and ease in, you’ll scare less and see more!
  • Utilize your flashlight as sporadically as possible when going into your morning stand. Try to use the least amount of light you can to find your stand in the mornings. If you do not have a low power light try to cover the end of the flashlight with your hand or sleeve. Light from a high powered flashlight can be seen from miles around.
  • If you are hunting over a food source on an evening hunt, if possible, wait until the guide pulls up with their vehicle to scare the deer rather than getting down and spooking the deer off.
  • When you get to your stand location and tie off your weapon to the pull up rope, go directly up the tree. The longer you wait at the base of your stand the more ground scent you are dispersing around you.
  • Be cognizant of your scent trail on the way into your stand, especially the last 50 yards. Several times, hunters have been just micro-seconds away from pulling the trigger and a buck will cross their foot trail and without hesitation, be gone forever.

December Firearm HuntsCalling From Your Stand Location

  • Use your calls sparsely if at all. Check with your guide before hand to see what he recommends. Sometimes calling during the wrong time frame can send the deer in the opposite direction. Other times, such as early November, rattling and grunting can be highly affective if you are in the right location.
  • Another factor that needs to be considered when you call is the location of the deer and your wind direction. 9 out of 10 times a mature buck will try and get downwind of the call, especially when you rattle. I would not advise calling to a buck that is downwind or can easily get downwind of your location because you are more than likely going to get busted. It’s not unusual to get a second chance at a buck in the same stand if he doesn’t know you’re there the first go around.
  • Rarely does a buck come charging into the call. Typically, they will take their time, carefully evaluating the area, taking a few steps, pausing for minutes at a time-listening and looking for the other deer. It is at this time, when the hunter needs to be on edge, being as still as possible. As soon as you get done calling, get in a comfortable position with bow in hand.
  • Do not call at smaller bucks or does to see how they react. It will only educate deer and potentially lead to unnecessarily getting busted by other deer in the area.

Treestand Questions

deer hunting tips

  • We use a combination of different treestands and blinds. We have lock ons, ladderstands, ground blinds, permanent blinds and soft shell elevated blinds. If you have a stand preference, please let us know ahead of time.
  • Safety harnesses are required while hunting out of a treestand. You will also need to bring the strap that goes around the tree as well. The majority of our lock on sets will have lifelines on them.
  • 95% of the lock on treestands have 20′ climbing sticks. Most of the stands will be set at approximately 18′ so they are easy to get in and out of as safely as possible. We determine our treestand height by the amount of back cover. Sometimes our stands will be lower or higher depending on terrain, background cover and the direction of travel we expect the deer to be traveling. One of my most consistent treestand locations is a stand that sits in a “V” of a tree only about 10′ off the ground!
  • All of the stands should have a bow hook and pull up rope. (not a bad idea to bring an extra of each)
  • Although sitting all day can be mentally challenging, it will increase your odds significantly at the opportunity at a trophy deer. Even though deer activity may be slow during the midday, it helps reduce scent from your boots going to and from the stand. Especially during the rut, hunting all day will increase your odds of success when bucks chase and cruise practically at any time of the day. The cooks will prepare a sack lunch for you if you choose to sit all day.
  • All of the treestands are marked with reflectors or orange marking tape.
  • You will not be in the same treestand throughout the entire week. The guide will determine your stand location in accordance to wind direction, recent scouting, thermals, barometric pressure and other factors.

Recommendations For Gear & Clothing

  • Bring the least amount of gear that you need to the stand. Try to fit everything into a small pack or into your pockets. A lot of gear leads to more scent, more noise/commotion at the stand, and more unnecessary weight going to and from the stand. An Alaskan brush pack isn’t necessary.
  • Quality insulated rubber boots are highly recommended. They help to control scent and will keep your feet dry. I’m partial to Lacrosse but there are several quality boot companies that work sufficiently.
  • Keep all snacks in a sealed bag to help reduce scent. Also if your snack of choice comes in a noisy wrapper, replace the wrapper with a Ziploc baggie to help reduce noise. If you choose to sit all day, our cooks will prepare a sack lunch for you that will have more than enough to last through the day.
  • When you plan a trip anywhere in the Midwest make sure to bring a variety of clothing as weather conditions can change sporadically from day to day. Staying comfortable on stand will keep you more focused on the hunt and in the stand longer.
  • Be sure to bring at least one layer of rain proof pants and a jacket. Sometimes it’s best to wear the rain suites under a layer of fleece or some other type of clothing due to the fact that most rain jackets/pants have a tendency to be very loud.
  • Have your safety harness prearranged so when you get dressed in the field it goes on smoothly and as quietly as possible. When hooking up the strap to the tree, be careful not to hit the metal buckle up against any other metal object. Wrapping the metal carabiner clip with hockey tape will reduce the metallic sound if it hits the stand or any hard object. (Most of the lock-on stands will have life lines, but you will still need the strap that goes around the tree once you are in the stand.)
  • Scent control is key. Staying as scent-free as possible can make the difference between a good hunt and a great hunt. Guides will put you in the best stand location with the prevailing wind, but weather conditions can change without warning, and swirling winds can be challenging to hunt in. So try to do the best you can to keep your hunting clothes as scent free as possible. We recommend that you do not wear the boots you plan on hunting in, around the lodge or in the guide vehicles. Do not drink or eat in the clothes you are going to be wearing out in the field. Keep your hunting clothes separate from your regular clothes and if possible in an air tight, scent free bag.
  • We recommend using some type of scent-control spray for your clothes and boots. This will help control human scent. Often overlooked places to spray down include your bow grip, release, arrows, grunt tube, binoculars, rangefinder, belt buckle, watch, safety harness, and even your phone case (if it’s waterproof). It’s hard to overdo scent control!
  • Fixed blade broadheads are recommended. We’ve seen to many crazy things happen with mechanicals!

What Determines a Successful Hunt?

I saved the most determining factor in a successful hunt for last; a hunter’s mentality. We have had thousands of whitetail hunters from across the world come through the lodge over the last 25+ years of outfitting in Pike and Calhoun Counties. Several have harvested their “buck of a lifetime” and yet, even more have been unsuccessful in filling their tag. However, the vast majority of our whitetail hunters that hunt at the lodge “experience” a hunt of a lifetime whether they harvest a whitetail or not. Harvesting a free range, world-class whitetail is the cherry on top.

Hunting trophy whitetails often gets attributed to the likes of riding a roller coaster with several highs and lows in between. I like to think it’s more comparable to the drop lift ride when your dangling at the top and don’t know exactly when you’ll be hurling 600 feet towards the earth at 100 mph, but you know at some point in time, you’re going to experience a few heart throbbing moments of shear fear/ adrenaline. In the whitetail world, no one knows if those few moments of time are coming in 5 seconds, 5 minutes or 5 days. In the deer stand, I always feel like I’m at the top, waiting with a quiet diligence, for those few seconds of unforgettable moments that transpire when you encounter a true, world-class whitetail. Moments that you’ll carry with you and replay in your head for the rest of your life. Just a few moments in time that drive whitetail hunters to go to sometimes unimaginable lengths to get a chance at experiencing. Getting a chance  to experience that thrill ride is what we’re all about here at the lodge. We do our best to stack the odds in your favor to experience that true hunt of a lifetime.

Have Faith in Your Guide

There’s nobody else that wants to get you on a big buck more than your guide! They know their farm and the best stand locations to put you on a trophy buck. Mature bucks are a different breed of deer. They behave, travel, and act differently than other deer. A mature buck may travel through one day and not travel through the same area until two or three days later, or he may return a few hours later. That’s what makes deer hunting so special, all the different variables that can go into the hunt that can affect the outcome are numerous. When it all comes together and you get an opportunity at a trophy whitetail, the feeling of overwhelming satisfaction and accomplishment creates a memory that will last a lifetime. Putting time in the stand, staying determined, being positive, and paying attention to the smallest of details are all keys to having an opportunity at a trophy buck at Heartland. Good luck!!

Zach Jumps

Last Updated: January 19th, 2021

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