A Foolproof Plan
10-step strategy for pre-rut bucks.
The rut isn’t the only good time to bag a buck. In September and early October, whitetails are still locked into their late-summer feeding patterns. This 10-step plan is designed to help you take advantage of their routine trek from bedding to feeding areas.
1.Spend a few evenings glassing for deer in a field of alfalfa, clover or cut corn. If you hunt mostly timbered terrain, glass for does and bucks that feed and mingle at dusk in a clear-cut, power-line right-of-way…you get the picture. Your goal is twofold: to locate at least one good buck, and to pinpoint the spot where that brute most often pops out of the cover.
2.Do your glassing, but don’t get lulled into the no-impact, “stay out of a buck’s turf or you’ll spook him” strategy recommended by some of today’s deer-hunting gurus. I feel strongly that at some point you need to go in and evaluate the terrain and sign where deer travel from bed to feed. If you don’t, how in the world will you know where to hang a stand?
Scout one day around noon, when whitetails are bedded back in the woods and thickets. Walk across a field or cutover to a spot where you’ve watched a buck step out of the cover. Check the wind direction; if it’s blowing into the open area or at least parallel to it, sneak 50 to 100 yards back into the woods. Don’t go much deeper than that or you’re apt to bump deer.
Scout the fringes for trails. Look for a thin ridge, ditch or edge that might funnel deer. Look closer still for an “inner terrain,” a creek crossing, fence corner or the like, that might further squeeze a buck through the area. Keep an eye out for rubs and tracks.
3. You can never, I repeat never, go wrong by locating a stand near mast that falls, heaping and fresh, 50 to 100 yards off a field or cutover. Most does and bucks will stop to nibble the acorns or soft mast before heading out to a main feeding area after dark. Try to find one or two trees that will rain nuts when the season opens (white oaks are best).
4. Many hunters pack in a tree stand and fling it into the first big tree that looks good. Not me. After about 30 minutes of speed scouting, I hurry out of the woods, go home and study all my maps and aerials. I evaluate the cover, sign and mast I found in the transition zone between feeding and bedding areas. Then I try to piece things together and predict deer movements.
5.A few days before the bow opener, I sneak back in a second time to set a stand for afternoon hunting. (I can almost hear the no-impact clan howling now, but I don’t care because this “low-impact” strategy works.) Again, I go at midday and enter the woods from the food-source side when the wind is right. I head for a spot where I’ve concluded that my chances for an ambush are high. I check to make sure deer are still running the same trails, and I monitor the status of mast trees.
Then I look around for a stout tree on the downwind side of a doe trail or funnel. I back up 30 yards, kneel and check the tree from a deer’s perspective. If it offers adequate background cover, bingo! 6.Try to lock your stand on a tree so it faces the food source. Most deer will come from the woods and thickets, and by keeping the tree between you and them, you’ll be that much harder to see. If you shoot right-handed, always try to set up where deer will pass within 30 yards to your left. This will enable you to draw and shoot with little movement as a buck quarters past.
With the leaves still thick on the trees, you might actually be able to see and shoot best by hunting only 16 to 18 feet high. Be doubly sure the wind is right and steady if you hunt low. Trim at least three good shooting lanes to the sides and in front of your stand. Get out of there and let the spot rest for a couple of days.
7. When you go back to hunt, access your stand from the food-source side, and make sure the wind quaarters out of the woods. Climb into your perch by 2 p.m. or so, especially if you hunt in the Midwest or West, where whitetails tend to get up and move to feeding areas early.
8. If, as the afternoon fades, some does have tipped past, but you haven’t spotted a buck, don’t get down, get ready. A big deer often comes late and quickly to a crop field or mast tree, especially on a warm day. Take your bow off its hanger and listen for his stiff-legged gait behind you.
A buck ghosting past your stand in the twilight often looks like he is farther away than he really is. Don’t risk taking too long of a shot, but on the other hand, don’t let a shooter slip by at 25 or 30 yards.
9.When a buck is broadside or quartering away, tuck a sight pin behind his front leg and on the lower third of his chest. If he ducks to run when the string twangs, your arrow should still strike the middle or top of his lungs. If the deer doesn’t drop you’ll make an even better shot, low in the lungs and heart. If you double-lung a buck and see him fall, go get him. But when a deer bolts into thick foliage and you’re not so sure about the shot, wait at least two hours before tracking. Come back with a buddy and big, powerful lights.
A buck might wheel and run back toward a bedding area on a doe trail, so check there for blood. It is no wives’ tale that wounded deer often run downhill and toward water. I shot a buck last fall and found him floating in a creek in the foot of a draw a quarter-mile from my stand. 10. On all those evenings when shooting light wanes and you’re left with a full quiver, sit awhile. Who knows, you might spot a whopper buck. When the coast is clear, slip out of your stand. By now you should have mapped out an exit route that will take you away from the feeding area. Leave without spooking deer and your chances of arrowing a buck are still good when you come back.