Unintended Consequences: The Comedy and Tragedy of Smartphones in the Deer Woods

February 3, 2020 | by National Deer Alliance

In a December issue of our On Watch Newsletter, we asked NDA members to answer a few questions about their phone use when hunting and whether or not it has cost members an opportunity at a deer. The results, although maybe not surprising, speak for themselves.

Almost 90% of survey participants use their phones in the field, and 60% admit to using it to pass the time during slow periods. Overwhelmingly, most participants noted that they pack their phones primarily as a safety tool to stay connected to the outside world in case of emergency. Similarly, many participants noted that they use their phones to call for help to retrieve downed game. Still, some noted that they use their phones to communicate with fellow hunters – replacing the popular walkie-talkies of the past. Several participants also mentioned that they use smartphone mapping applications to navigate and mark their hunting locations, while others admitted to using phones to conduct business while on stand or simply to pass the time when the action is slow.

But, when asked if phone use ever impacted the hunt negatively, the majority (almost 85%) claimed that it did not. We're a little skeptical of this claim and suspect that either NDA members are highly vigilant while on stand, or they have the natural gift of excluding certain details while recounting their hunting adventures! Still, we did hear from some participants who had amusing and even heartbreaking stories of missed opportunities due to using a cellphone while hunting. One common theme was a ringing phone or buzzing text just as a shooter buck showed up in range, while many other participants admitted to looking up from the screen to find a deer had seemingly appeared out of thin air.

Roger S., of West Virginia, had one such incident of inopportune phone ringing. Roger let another hunter borrow his John Deere Gator to retrieve a downed bear. Meanwhile, Roger was in his treestand hunting for deer.

"At exactly 12:59 PM, a huge buck came up over the ridge and stopped to survey the flat I was on before coming on up.  At that exact time, my fellow hunter texted me to tell me they did not find the bear (the phone had not been silenced)," Roger explained. "Of course, that put the buck on alert, but really did not spook him. He came on up within 25 yards, and guess what - my fellow hunter texted me again to tell me where he had put the Gator keys.  The buck had heard all he wanted to at that time. Needles to say I was sick, so from then on, my phone goes along but is never turned on," Roger added. "It's a good thing my fellow hunter was not within bow range! We are still friends, however." 

Bret Z., of Massachusetts, was surprised when he looked up from his phone to see a shooter buck walking by his stand within 30 yards. Fortunately, Bret was still able to capitalize on the opportunity.

“That morning I decided to go out hunting with my bow. It was extremely foggy and quiet when I got to my stand. I wasn't in my stand very long, but I decided to take my phone out to text a friend that was hunting also,” Bret said. “I then looked up to see this 8-point buck walking by. He luckily didn't see me, so I slid my phone in my pocket and reached to get my bow, which was hanging next to me. At that point, he was at about 30 yards and I drew and released the arrow. It hit him perfectly, and he only ran about 40 yards and died.”

Bret provided a trail camera photo of that morning that shows both he and the buck in the same frame. Look closely and you’ll see Bret in his stand looking at his phone as the buck walks by.

“Even though that was a close call, I still tend to use my phone even though I probably shouldn't,” Bret added.

 Keep an eye on your inboxes every Wednesday morning for a new issue of On Watch featuring a new survey!