4 Tips for Spotting Deer Before They Spot You

Bowhunting Featured

Deer are experts at blending into their environment. They’ve even been called the “grey ghost” for their ability to elude hunters.

If you want to harvest a deer this year, spotting them well before they’re under your stand is an important skill. After all, you don’t want a deer to catch you unprepared.

With a few tips and practice, you can spot more deer, which will lead to filled tags and eventful hunts. Once you’ve detected your quarry, you can prepare for the shot and hopefully seize the opportunity.

Look for Movement

A motionless deer is very hard to see, but even slight movement can give it away. A flick of a tail, a turn of the head or a few steps is all you need to zero-in on a deer’s position. Photo Credit: John Hafner

Fred Bear, one of the greatest bowhunters of all time, left a wealth of wisdom in his writing. One of those pieces is the “10 Commandments of Bowhunting.” Commandment Two says, “Don’t look for deer; look for movement (and remember, it’s what they’re looking for, too).”

A motionless deer is very hard to see, but even slight movement can give it away. A flick of a tail, a turn of the head or a few steps is all you need to zero-in on a deer’s position. It will take practice, but in time, your eyes will pick out movement near and far.

Don’t Look for the Whole Deer

In thick vegetation, a leg, tail or torso might be the only thing visible. Even a slight ear twitch can give away the position of a deer. Photo Credit: John Hafner

If you’re just looking for deer while hunting, you’re missing a lot of action. In thick vegetation, a leg, tail or torso might be the only thing visible. Also, it’s sometimes easier to spot certain parts of deer. For example, the white patches on a deer’s face and rump are easily identified among the wood’s dark backdrop. The horizontal line created by the deer’s body is another giveaway, because most of the surrounding environment features vertical lines.

Rely on Your Deer Locating Tools

Binoculars have many uses, but you’ll be sure to employ them if you catch a bit of movement or see a shape that might be a deer. Simply use your binoculars to confirm your suspicion. Photo Credit: John Hafner

Imagine if you had the superpower to zoom-in your vision to see distant objects. Binoculars give you that superpower, and you can buy them at any archery shop (who needs radioactive spiders to make you super?).

Binoculars have many uses, but you’ll be sure to employ them if you catch a bit of movement or see a shape that might be a deer. Simply use your binoculars to confirm your suspicion.

Binoculars are also handy if you live in an area that has antler point restrictions. You can dial-in and confirm if a buck is legal to harvest by counting points and judging the deer’s age.

Even though binoculars are excellent for looking at deer far away, they can also help you see deer hidden nearby in thick cover. To look for animals in thick vegetation, adjust the focus ring on your binoculars as you scan. By manipulating the focus, you’ll pick apart levels of cover and possibly bring a hidden deer into focus.

Shot Preparation

Start getting ready for the shot based on your assumptions, but be flexible. Deer can change direction for no apparent reason. Photo Credit: John Hafner

Once you see a deer coming your way, carefully track it with your eyes. Deer will naturally take the path of least resistance that still provides them with cover. You can use this information and your knowledge of deer trails to anticipate how the deer will approach your position.

Start getting ready for the shot based on your assumptions, but be flexible. Deer can change direction for no apparent reason. For a right-handed archer, keep your left shoulder pointed in the direction you are shooting – have your arrow nocked and the release aid on the string.

Look for openings where you can stop the deer, and where your arrow will have a clear path to the vitals. Once you have a shot opportunity, it’s up to you to make a well-executed shot.

Think you can spot deer like a pro? Take our quiz to put your skills to the test!


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