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Beating Bucks With Offbeat Tactics

bow hunting tacticsWhat bowhunter can fail to be impressed by a guy who consistently bags trophy whitetails? Nothing impresses me more than local hunters who score regularly near home, especially when home is not a nationally known hotspot for big bucks.

Don’t get me wrong; you can’t take big bucks where there are none. The deer hunting is very good within the 40-mile radius of Johnny Webber’s southeastern Indiana home, but local harvest rates and success ratios haven’t reached the kind of numbers that bring trophy hunters to the area from far and wide. Webber has ventured outside that area to hunt whitetails on only a few occasions, and every one of the 14 trophies he has taken with his bow has come from inside that 40-mile radius.

Webber has mastered the fundamentals and exercises a great deal of discipline applying them. At the same time, he has developed his own style of hunting that occasionally entails employing highly unorthodox tactics.

The Sweat

First, there’s the knowledge. Webber eats, drinks, and breathes deer hunting. He studies whitetails and is fascinated with their behavior. He once obtained a state permit and purchased a whitetail buck, which he kept in a penned area on his property, observing it for more than a year. He can bore a wildlife biologist to tears with his detailed knowledge of the natural history of whitetails, their habits, their preferences, their behavior.

He scouts like a madman, year-round, constantly seeking information about the whereabouts of good bucks and property on which to hunt them. He concentrates on the late summer, when even big bucks in velvet can often be seen in crop fields or meadows during the late afternoon and evening hours.

He knows when the deer will favor alfalfa, when they’ll go for soybeans, and when they’ll abandon the soybeans for white oak acorns. He does whatever it takes to gain access to prime hunting land, often doing favors for landowners, bartering his services as a guide, or leasing properties to hunt. Whenever possible, he puts in food plots.

He studies sign, and can usually distinguish the tracks, and often the rubs, of individual bucks that interest him.

By the time the season opens, Webber has normally identified half a dozen or so bucks he wants to go after come opening day. He has a good idea, if not certain knowledge, of where they bed and where they feed, and how they move between bedding and feeding areas. He hangs his stands early.

“I never hang a stand in an area just because it looks good,” he once confided. “When I hang a stand somewhere, it’s because I have good reason to believe, from direct observations or from sign, that a buck I want is in that area and travels by that stand on occasion.”

Webber hunts from opening day to the end of Indiana’s season in January, but he focuses his efforts on the first week of bow season and into the rut, concentrating on late October through mid-November. He’ll stay in a tree from first light until dark when the time is right and the conditions are promising.

He plays the wind carefully and chooses different stands for early morning or late afternoon. He’s careful about scent control, but his regimen is usually limited to showering with non-scented soap, putting skunk or fox urine on his boots, and occasionally, sparingly using a doe-in-heat scent.

The Inspiration

Many of Webber’s tactics would appear a little unconventional to most bowhunters, and some would seem downright bizarre to almost all of them.

Like getting high, for instance. Many hunters believe in getting at least 15 feet off the ground, but Webber is a great believer in getting much higher than that, often climbing 30 feet or more. He’s comfortable with heights, and he’s convinced that the higher he is, the less likely deer are to see him or catch his scent. At the same time, the higher vantage point often enables him to effectively scout while hunting. More than once he’s spotted a buck in the distance from his lofty vantage point and placed a stand in that area to intercept the buck the next time it came that way.

There are some disadvantages to climbing more than 25 feet, including the steep shot angle and increased safety concerns. Webber does it routinely, though, and he practices shooting his bow from an elevated platform in his yard to simulate the shots he expects to get from his stands.

Webber observes rub and scrape lines, but he never hunts them, except incidentally.

“The doe-to-buck ratio is just too high in this area,” Webber opines. “Bucks don’t need to visit scrapes regularly, at least during daylight hours, because there are so many does that as soon as the bucks start getting active near the rut, there are does going to them.”

Instead he checks rubs and scrapes simply to get an indication of how and when big bucks are using an area. Similarly, he rarely uses attractants of any kind, and never rattles, believing these tactics are effective only in areas where doe-to-buck ratios are in good balance. He does grunt call frequently, especially when hunting the rut.

If he doesn’t hunt scrapes or rub lines, and doesn’t bring bucks in with scent or by rattling, how does he get within bow range of trophy bucks? Grunting sometimes does the trick, but Webber says he hunts bedding areas or food sources.

“Does often bed down in or very close to beans, alfalfa, corn, clover or other food sources. Close to the rut, bucks will stay close to them. I set up in thickets or other likely spots very close to the food sources in the evening during the rut. Mornings, I hunt trails or funnels in thick areas very close to bedding spots. I get there early and try to catch them returning to their beds at first light.”

Next: Early Season Strategies

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