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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Whitetail Wisdom by Dan Schmidt

Reviewed by Steve Sorensen
Published by KP Books, Iola, Winsonsin, 2005; 224 pages, 12 chapters. Paperback.
"Most of these [celebrity hunters] are
merely blessed to have access to great
land and unpressured deer."
At last --
someone has said what I've long believed.
It's reading season. You may be about to while-away hours in a car or on a plane headed for vacation. Your derrière may find its way to a beach chair. Or, maybe you're looking for something to keep on the nightstand. Wherever you do your summer reading, the everyday hunter has some recommendations that should make you a better hunter.

"Whitetail Wisdom" by Dan Schmidt, editor of the top whitetail magazine Deer & Deer Hunting, is one of the few deer hunting manuals both simple enough and comprehensive enough to be called a true handbook. Its subtitle is "a Proven 12-Step Guide To Scouting Less and Hunting More." No question about it -- that gets the attention of any serious deer hunter who has lots of claims on his time.

Two big emphases in Whitetail Wisdom are key issues for me. One is the importance of a non-obsessive approach to deer hunting. That's not to say that Schmidt undervalues a serious game plan -- any knowledgeable hunter can list countless details that need to be analyzed and taken seriously. But Schmidt keeps hunting in its proper perspective. He recognizes that any hunter scratching out a living while raising a family doesn't have the time or money he'd like to devote to hunting.

Schmidt doesn't believe that big antlers -- or any other standards of deer hunting prowess -- are the measure of a hunter's worth. Nor does he believe deer hunting should be considered a sport. Sports are about numbers. He insists it's a pastime, "an activity that has been in our blood since Day 1."

In fact, Schmidt offers one statement that suggests the enormous respect he has for the everyday hunter in an age when many are obsessed with high-scoring antlers: "No hunter in North America, especially the so-called celebrities, could regularly kill mature deer from most of the properties most of us hunt.... Most of these guys are merely blessed to have access to great land and unpressured deer." At last -- someone has said what I've long believed.

His other emphasis is on enjoying freedoms -- freedom to appreciate all aspects of the hunt, freedom to hunt without the pressure of living up to someone else's standards of accomplishment, and the freedom of simplicity in an approach to hunting. The longer I hunt, the more important these freedoms are to me.

He has a minimalist approach I like. Figure it this way: if the editor of the number one whitetail magazine, a magazine that needs advertising dollars from all the new gizmos that some along, says that he favors a minimalist approach that leaves behind all but a few essentials, he's probably worth listening to. He prefers a few well-organized cargo pockets rather than a backpack overstuffed with gear that gets little or no use. A bonus of minimalism is the clearing of clutter from the mind.

What about the nuts and bolts of Schmidt's scouting-less-and-hunting-more strategy? He covers much more than I can mention in my limited space, but I'll itemize a few of his points. He brings what he calls a "5-point pyramid" to all scouting. It includes weather, food, habitat, human pressure and deer biology. A scouting effort that includes these basics will always outperform one that doesn't.

For the hunter from a crowded state such as Pennsylvania, Schmidt makes several points worth noting. He says that you won't find consistent success by pounding the same spot on the same property hunt after hunt. That's especially true today. He says the successful hunter should be acutely aware of how and where other hunters hunt -- again, true in a crowded state. And if someone finds your favorite spot, be patient and don't fret. He is just as likely to abandon it.

Schmidt has many tips I've never known anyone to offer. For example, he says that the seed pods on locust trees are an overlooked food source -- as are the leaves and twigs of aspen trees. And he says that the deer hunter should use a good guidebook to trees. (I've actually thought of that myself, and I own a couple of them.)

Available at a discount from, Whitetail Wisdom is a 224-page primer (complete with photos) on deer hunting that will school the hunter who's just getting started. It's also a digest of principles for the veteran with many seasons under his belt. And it's organized around a realistic philosophy of hunting that recognizes few hunters will become pros. Like any good guidebook, it's well-indexed and will give you many opportunities to thumb through for the information that almost guarantees you will become a better hunter. Order Whitetail Wisdom today!