The Master's Plan: Bowhunting Tips From A Pope and Young Prodigy

A bowhunter with 39 P&Y; whitetails reveals his strategy.

Not too far from the North Carolina line, a few miles up the blacktop on SR 220 in Bassett, Virginia, Mike Weaver's day was coming to a close. On this particular day he had rebuilt two transmissions, re-cored a radiator and replaced a half-dozen worn fan belts. Few of the people who stop in to pick up their cars realize that this soft-spoken 49-year-old is anything other than a good mechanic. Only those closest to Weaver know that he has an astounding 39 whitetails logged in the Pope and Young Club's record book--most of which were harvested in Virginia, a state not noted for producing trophy whitetails. After closing shop, Weaver took the time to share his formula for success. Here's what he had to say.

Getting Started

In late summer, Weaver glasses fields and open forests in a dogged quest to find a good buck. He explains that you can't just hunt where you think a big buck is; you have to find and pattern one early. In the mornings and evenings Weaver sits in places where he can glass for bucks. By the time the season opens, he'll usually have patterned several bucks that interest him. He maps out their home ranges and records where they enter feeding areas and where he thinks they bed.

When he feels he has closed in on locations that good bucks are using, he hangs his tree stands. He does it during the middle of the day, when deer are likely bedded some distance away.

Around mid-September, Weaver begins to search for pre-rut sign, with rubs being of particular interest. A buck's first rubs of the season are generally inconspicuous. Bucks are not yet aggressive enough to rub on large saplings. Such sign helps Weaver get to know bucks he would like to hunt. At the same time, he also pays close attention to old rubs from the previous season. They usually mean there's a good chance bucks will again frequent the area.

Weaver scouts like he hunts. He wears freshly laundered clothes (washed in unscented detergent) and rubber boots. He uses a walking stick to move brush and limbs away from his path in order to keep his scent from being detected.

Weaver is adamant about positioning stands where opportunities are maximized. He doesn't just key in on individual buck patterns and rut sign; He also looks for funnels and travel corridors that will force a target buck to pass within range. He sets stands on different sides of the same travel corridors and bottlenecks so that he can hunt the areas regardless of which way the wind is blowing.

Weaver places his lock-on stands as high as the overhanging limbs will allow. He feels that a lofty position puts him out of a deer's direct line of sight and diffuses his scent.

Uncommon Resolve

If Weaver has a secret to his success, it's persistence. When he thinks he understands the ramblings of a particular trophy animal, he literally hunts from daylight until dark in one location. When inclement weather sets in, he can still be found settled in for the duration. Weaver is confident that his ability to hang tough on stand from sunup to sundown has resulted in a significant number of his trophies. In fact, when asked the best time to hunt a stand, Weaver simply replies, "Many experts subscribe to the notion that the best time is the first time. In my opinion, the best time to hunt a stand is when a trophy happens by, whether that's the first or the fifth day."

But dogged determination isn't all Weaver is about. He is also a firm believer that knowledge is power. If things aren't happening, he is not afraid to climb down from his stand and start scouting. If he finds that a grove of white oaks a quarter mile away is drawing deer, he'll set up right there and sit tight.

Often, however, Weaver can figure out what's going on by looking in his hunting journal. After each day in the field he diligently records how many deer he saw, the weather conditions and any other pertinent observations. By reviewing what bucks did in the same areas in previous years, Weaver has been able to pattern deer he is currently hunting.

Sometimes you have to make things happen, believes Weaver. For such times he totes along a pair of rattling antlers. Early in the season, Weaver simply tickles the antlers together to mimic the light sparring bucks are doing at this time in order to establish their pecking order. But when the rut is in full swing, he rattles aggressively.

He also uses drag-rags to leave scent trails to his stand locations when he is planning to rattle. He uses only natural scent products.

Low-Impact Hunting

Weaver showers with unscented soaps and shampoos; he stores his hunting clothes in unscented garbage bags with a few branches from a pine; and he places liberal amounts of baking soda inside his footwear. When hunting he only wears clothes that were just washed in unscented detergent; he liberally applies dirt-scented cover spray; and he pays very close attention to prevailing winds. He doesn't hunt a stand if the wind is variable.

Weaver uses routes to and from his stands that won't spook deer off feeding areas or out of bedding areas. He believes that bucks will take being spooked a few times in travel corridors but they won't tolerate being bumped from their bedding areas. If they are frightened out of feeding areas, they will return, but not until long after dark and any hunters are gone.

Sealing the Deal

After persistence, the ability to take advantage of an opportunity is what sets very successful hunters apart from moderately successful hunters, points out Weaver. He practices shooting from elevated stands all summer in preparation for the steep shot-angle his lofty deer stands afford. And he uses 3-D targets to make his practice scenario as realistic as possible.

"Accurate arrow placement at the moment of truth is difficult for even the most seasoned archer, so year-round practice is essential. You have to be able to shoot fast and accurately under pressure or you are wasting your time in the field. Emotion and second-guessing have no place when it comes to making a shot on a good buck," says Weaver.

So now Weaver is out of his blue overalls and in his camouflage jumpsuit perched high somewhere in a bottleneck. Whether a buck comes through this evening or tomorrow or three days from now, Weaver will be there ready and waiting.

Gear Essentials

After more than 30 years of bending a bow, Weaver's gear list has been narrowed to only those products that perform. He prefers shooting fingers, because then there is no release to forget. He shoots a 43-inch (axle-to-axle) Hoyt compound bow with a plunger-style rest. His 2514 aluminum shafts are fletched with 5-inch, five-degree helical feathers. Weaver opts for fixed-blade broadheads over mechanicals because "they are already open."

One tech convenience Weaver admits depending on is his range finder. For camouflage, Weaver uses modern patterns. He feels that a hunter should change patterns when the leaves turn and again when they fall.

Weaver uses only natural antlers for rattling simply because they have always worked for him.

As grunt calls go, he firmly believes that two calls are better than one. According to Weaver, making use of a pair of calls imitates two bucks preparing to fight it out over a willing doe.

When choosing a tree stand, Weaver disregards weight, price and gadgets; he focuses on features that keep him comfortable all day. He looks for a roomy seat, expansive platforms, generous legroom and rock-solid stability.