Six Tips for Better
There's a lot more to deer hunting
BY MIKE ROUX
There was no need to worry about the cold. It wasn't a bone-chilling cold, but rather the kind of cold that wraps itself around you. Smarter folks were still at home in warm beds. But not me. I was 30 feet up in an oak tree, facing the wind, sitting on a hard, cold metal tree stand.
Many people consider me a bit crazy for enduring the weather that accompanies fall and early winter. But my quest for large bucks is a driving force and if I wasn't having fun, I wouldn't be doing it. Bowhunting is a passion.
On this day, that buck was coming in parallel to the trail and about 30 yards downwind of it. I had positioned my stand for exactly this move. I knew the does and yearlings would use the trail. I had bet the buck wouldn't. His path would take him behind my tree. I slowly turned my back to the buck and methodically raised my bow. I listened as he made his way toward me. He passed my tree at about 15 yards. It had been very windy that morning, and I had been grunting loudly. I now used the grunt call to stop the buck. One short, soft grunt planted him like a block of granite.
Many things cross your mind as you anchor, aim and release an arrow at a mature buck. Many things must be right. A few more must be perfect. This split second culminates many months of preparation and planning. As the arrow left the bow string, all the time and effort that it took to get to that point paid off.
Let's look at some ways to help make your hunt successful.
Bowhunting for deer requires quite a bit of preparation time. Few are lucky enough to step into the timber for the first time and stick a big buck. Pre-season scouting is essential, and I don't mean in September. Walks in the woods in September can cause more harm than good. You'll probably alert the buck to your presence and make him nervous even before the season starts.
Scouting should begin during the previous season and be completed by midsummer. Your stand location should be chosen and your stand in place by July. Deer are creatures of habit. Seldom do I find new trails where I hunt. Rubs are often in the same locations and quite often on the same trees. Scrape lines are usually consistent year after year.
Bucks are much easier to pattern early in the season, before the rut begins. When scouting for buck sign, especially in the spring and early summer, don't look for lots of tracks. An area that has an abundance of tracks and droppings probably holds mature does and their offspring. This time of year, bucks are not likely to be with the females. Places with a high density of deer sign are not likely to include the sign of a mature buck.
It is a good idea, however, to remember where those spots are
located. According to noted white-tailed deer biologist C.J. Winand, "Areas of concentrated deer droppings indicate either a bedding or feeding area. Knowing where does live can come in handy."
As the rut begins, bucks alter their patterns to find does. If you plan to hunt the rut, move into an area that holds numerous female deer. The bucks will come.
Another good piece of scouting advice is to keep in mind the agricultural status of your hunting area. Deer movement will change markedly if an area that was standing corn last year is planted in soybeans this year. We all know the advantage that deer have in standing corn. Their routes and the level of their nocturnal behavior will change if this advantage is eliminated by the planting of a shorter crop. Be aware in the spring of what crops are present. This will help you predict how the deer might adapt to them.
Finally, keep in mind that scouting is never done. Every trip you make into the woods should give you more information about the deer. Physical traits of the land itself can change between seasons. Scouting gives you better awareness of your area. This is the deer's home. You should try to know it as well as he does.
Much has been written in recent years about attracting deer with sound. Antler rattling and deer calling are not new tactics. They are, however, relatively new to the general public.
The grunt call is a universal, year-round sound that puts deer at ease and triggers their curiosity. Some grunts are merely contact calls. They are a form of vocal communication between deer. Other grunts may be in a more challenging form, like when two dominant bucks meet. Still other grunt sounds are made by deer who are in a breeding mood.
Grunting is, by far, the most effective method of calling deer into your archery shooting radius, but it is not the only audible tool the bowhunter has at his disposal.
Antler rattling has taken its place in the deer hunting history books. Native American paintings depict antler rattling long before the Europeans arrived. Antlers are not the only rattling devices that have been used to imitate a buck fight. Synthetic materials such as plastic and fiberglass have been made into antler rattles. Dowel rods in cloth bags are available and now small plastic "rattle boxes" are being produced.
The key to rattling is timing. Let's use some logic. If dominant bucks are with estrogen-laden females during the peak rut, will they lead those prime does to a fight between two other males? Probably not. On the other hand, would a buck seek out other fighting males during the pre-rut when the order of dominance is being established? Probably so. Bottom line: rattle during the pre-rut. During the actual rut, leave your rattling tools at home and depend on your grunt call.
Here's another important factor that deserves our attention. The only way you're going to fool deer consistently is to beat their nose. Their nose is their number one means of survival. With all the natural and manufactured fragrances you can buy, positioning is still the
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most critical factor. Your strongest cologne won't spook a buck if the wind prevents him from smelling it.
We should break the scents into two separate categories; attracting scents and cover scents.
Attracting scents are those aromas that, when picked up by a deer's olfactory glands, cause the deer to instinctively seek out the source of the odor. The two basic types of attracting scents are food and sex scents.
These types of deer attractants should be used sparingly. We've probably all seen videos where the hunter liberally applies the liquid "doe in heat" all over his body. This is something you should never do with an attracting scent. A deer's nose is like radar. He can pinpoint the source of a smell from quite some distance. If you're the source of that smell, he'll pinpoint you.
My advice for using attracting scents is to keep them light. An abnormal amount of a natural scent is just as damaging as an unnatural scent. Keep in mind that a deer's nose is super-sensitive, and go easy on these products. Use a few drops on a drag rag or around a mock scrape. Your worst mistake with attracting scents is over use.
When using a cover scent, you don't have to be quite so cautious. Cover scents come in a variety of "flavors." Red fox urine is good if there are lots of foxes in your area. Cedar is good if there are cedar trees around. Any natural scent will help cover your unnatural scent. The important thing is that it should be a scent the deer recognizes, but that doesn't alarm him.
The best aroma I've found for a cover scent is one that exists almost everywhere. Some call it "damp dirt." Others call it "fresh earth" or "natural ground." Regardless of its name, this scent effectively covers yours, without alarming the animal. But remember, no amount of cover scent or attracting scent will make up for consistent mistakes with the wind.
Every bowhunter knows the basics of how to choose a stand site. We all know that the prevailing wind is critical. But another tip about moving air involves the "thermals" associated with warm air movement up a hill. Conversely, as it cools it moves downhill. Your scent particles will be carried by this moving air. As you place your stand and determine if it will be a morning or an evening site, remember the thermals.
All too often hunters place their stands directly on trails or directly over scrapes. This is not always an advisable tactic. Many female and young deer will use the trail routinely. A buck however, will quite often parallel the trail from several yards downwind. As you search for a good stand site, check closely for secondary, paralleling trails. Such trails may be where the bucks travel.
Scrape hunting is not an exact science either. Putting your stand within easy bow range of an active or a mock scrape will sometimes be successful. More often than not, a mature buck will approach from downwind. He'll examine the area with his nose, from a distance. The best bet remains in placing your stand about 30 to 40 yards downwind of the scrape. This won't always work, but it certainly increases your odds.
The key word to keep in mind when placing your stand is edge.
"Where CRP or grain fields meet the timber is where 90 percent of deer activity will occur," says Winand. "Most hot trails will probably parallel the edge, about 20 to 30 yards inside the timber. That's where your stand should be for a chance at a buck."
Most frequently the females and young deer will enter a field first, to feed. The buck or bucks will lag behind, waiting for the cover of darkness before joining the other deer in the field. These "off-the-edge" trails are where they'll stop
and wait. That's where you should have a stand.
The home-range of a deer is partially determined by edge. Deer will move to new areas for many reasons, but as a general rule, the more edge the smaller the home-range. If deer must travel long distances between edge areas, they will, thus increasing the area they call home.
Knowing a deer's preference for edge can help you locate your buck. "Compared to other deer, a quality buck is a totally different species from a behavior standpoint," Winand said. "They are difficult to pattern, and there are always environmental intangibles to consider."
The bottom line for stand placement is to find the area that deer use, and use the natural surroundings and conditions to your advantage.
Bow and Arrow
Many say the broadhead is the most important component of the hunting archer's equipment. Because this object is the first thing that actually comes in contact with the deer, that idea may be well founded. Choosing a broadhead can be difficult. There are more hunting points out there than we have species to shoot them at.
Your broadhead should be chosen to fit your exact needs. Some things to consider first are: type of bow, composition of arrow, size of game and cost. There are some areas where I'll settle for average. Not so with my archery gear. I strive for the very best I can find. Carbon arrows have proven to me to be superior to aluminum. Not only does their decreased diameter increase speed, but they are much more resilient and forgiving than aluminum.
Propelling these high-performance projectiles is where your system will be completed. Finding the right bow to hunt deer with is as much fun as it is important. Keep one point foremost in your mind as you shop and decide on a bow. Buy a bow that's comfortable for you. Don't let public opinion, your buddy's advice or slick advertising affect your judgment.
You should look for a bow that delivers high speed and superior power. Look for a bow that will shoot your arrows at more than 240 feet per second. I recommend limb-forward positioning and an adjustable grip. I suggest a bow that allows you the option of different let-offs. I also want a lightweight, well-balanced bow.
The most important factor that will increase both your enjoyment of bowhunting and the satisfaction that you glean from the sport is the attitude that you carry with you into the woods. No one appreciates a blood-thirsty slob who ignores the law and turns his back on hunting ethics. Anti-hunting groups feed on this.
"Perseverance and patience must be top priorities for a bowhunter," said Quincy's Greg Nixon. "These priorities are also virtues that are to be admired. A bowhunter should be focused on the experience he has as he blends in with nature, not what he can put on the wall."
Finally, let's add that tradition is a big part of this sport. Even though you are out there alone, this is not an individual sport. Every time you set foot in the field with a bow in your hand, you take with you time, effort, money, sweat, tears and the mystique that hundreds of years of archery evolution has given us.
You represent what many consider to be the purest form of hunting.