Lessons Learned

This past hunting season was one of my most successful ever. My 2005 journal chronicled 67 days of hard-core hunting in six states and one Canadian province. Leafing through it, I noted nine tactics I used that might be of help when you take to the woods next year.

1. USE SKINNY COVER I bowhunted from the ground for 15 days and still had some nerve-racking encounters with bucks. To pull this off, it's best to build a low, skinny blind that you can simply huddle behind. Better yet, just stand behind a tree as wide as your body. If you keep still and have the wind in your face, it's easy to hide from bucks without much cover. Keep in mind that old does will still bust you every time if you make a bad move.

2. SET UP A SHOT Don't choose a spot to bowhunt just because you'll see a bunch of deer there. Instead, set up where you're likely to get a shot at one. In Montana, I gave up 200 yards of visibility to hide on the ground 20 yards from the head of a weed-choked ditch. An eight-pointer walked into the ditch and disappeared, followed by a bigger 10. I drew. When the first buck stepped clear, I let him have it.

3. TAKE HIM Should I have waited for the 10-pointer to present a shot? Nah. When you have a P&Y buck dead to rights with your bow, shoot him and don't think twice. This is doubly true when you're on the ground, where a sudden change in wind direction can send deer running.

4. RATTLE A BOX One morning in Oklahoma, an old buck waded the Cimarron River and ducked into a tangle of scrub brush. My friend Kenny Perry hit his little rattle box. I'm a horn man and had always thought rattle boxes were gimmicks, but no longer. The gnarly eight-pointer popped out of the cover and trotted 400 yards right to us! Have horns or a box ready on every hunt in November and December. Pop off a rattle or two at a buck that's giving you the slip. You never know.

5. GRUNT AND SHOOT I let that eight-pointer keep coming to Perry's rattles--almost too close. At 120 yards he sensed trouble and turned. Perry grunted, and before he could finish the call, I flattened the beast with a 140-grain bullet. The second a buck goes from calm to alert, grunt hard. He'll stop every time, but only for a second. Be ready to shoot fast.

6. HUNT A DOE In Louisiana, I watched a doe run across a field and dive into a woodlot with a wildeyed six-pointer hot on her tail. I circled downwind of the spot where the two disappeared, snuck inside the treeline 30 yards and rattled. The six-pointer and a forkie zoomed right into view. I grunted. A small eight-point buck then came sauntering by, a mere 20 yards away. I passed him up, but I had a blast. Any time you spot a doe that obviously smells right, take advantage of it. She'll draw two, five or even more bucks (usually one or two shooters) until she goes into estrus. Hunt where she hangs out and you might see one of the big boys or even call a nice one in.

7. GO WHEN YOU CAN On the day I killed the biggest deer of my life, I had had flight problems in the morning and didn't get to camp in Saskatchewan until midday. Outfitter Grant Kuyers told me I was welcome to hang out at the lodge and rest, or he could motor me across the lake for a short hunt. I had an hour or so before dark. The 181-inch giant I shot showed up only 30 minutes after I had settled into my blind. I traveled a couple thousand miles, hunted a half hour and shot the biggest buck I'll probably ever kill. I can't make the point any clearer: Hunt every day, every hour and every minute that you can.

8. ADJUST YOUR STANDS I noticed while hunting in at least five different states this past season that on most afternoons many of the deer I saw moved toward crops on the same trail, or at least along the same general path. If the afternoon wind is right, let the first couple of does go by, then consider moving tighter to the hot trail with your climber, or sneak up for a better shot from the ground. Deer change trails every day, so reevaluate your strategy daily.

9. THINK SMALL For a week I hunted 15,000 acres in Alabama's Black Belt and didn't see a shooter. I moved on to that smaller Oklahoma ranch and killed that awesome eight-pointer on the second day. Why? The Alabama lease had been hunted hard every day for months, while nobody had set foot in that Okie canyon for weeks. If you want to see and shoot more good bucks, hunt where there's not much pressure.

My New Pet Deer Cartridge

Last season I tried a Model 700 CDL in 7mm Remington Ultra Mag. (RUM). Introduced in 2001, the 7mm RUM has never really caught on, but I'm betting it will over time.

The 140-grain Core-Lokt Ultra bullet sizzles through the air at 3,400 fps. Sightin 2 inches high at 100 yards and you'll be dead-on at 250 yards and only 3 inches low at 300. There's hardly any recoil. I shot four bucks with the loading and dropped them all virtually on the spot.

Take a New Approach

While hunting in Saskatchewan, I hopped into a boat with my guide and motored 15 chilly miles across Green Lake. I stepped out onto the bank and snuck 30 yards to my blind. Less than an hour later I shot a 22-pointer. Nobody had ever accessed that spot from the lake before. All the pressure had come from the main roads and quad trails 3 miles from the lake shore. Any time you can slip in and surprise deer from an unlikely direction, your odds soar. Use your imagination and a boat, a mountain bike...whatever.

Mike's Quick Tip

In addition to a thick chest and narrow hips, a mature buck has a gray or frosty-looking face. The thing I remember most about the 6½-year-old Oklahoma deer I shot last fall is how his face stood out like a white halo in the early morning sun.