Like most whitetail hunters, Brian Bice normally stand hunts. But it was a cold, rainy day during the late segment of Illinois’s gun season and he figured bucks might not move much in the nasty weather. He decided to try to jump up a buck.
“With the rain, I thought it might be a good day to try to walk up a buck. I could move quietly and the deer wouldn’t be likely to hear me. I also figured with the cold, wet weather they’d be bedded down and I probably wouldn’t see much if I just sat on a stand.”
Working along a strip of timber and thick brush between two fields, Bice came upon a huge buck bedded just a few dozen yards away. Raising the shotgun to his shoulder, he fired one slug, and then a second as the buck tried to race away.
Both shots found their mark and the buck fell just 30 yards from where he’d jumped it. One of the biggest non-typicals ever killed in Illinois, Bice’s 27-point buck scored 256 1/8 net B&C. The deer was aged at 6 ½ years and had 29 and 30 inch main beams, an outside spread of over two feet, and 65 inches of abnormal points.
Bice is modest about his accomplishment. “I was just hoping I could kick a good buck up out of a brush pile or tall grass. I was just messing around, really.”
Now I won’t promise you a buck like Bice’s, needless to say. But trying to jump shoot a buck like he did can be a good tactic to use, especially in the latter part of the season when mature bucks tend to hunker down and hide when people walk near them.
That’s what an 8-pointer did the first time I tried the tactic of jump-shooting bucks on a hunt in South Dakota years ago. I surprised the buck along a creek where he was bedded, but didn’t see him at first.
When I paused to search my surroundings for deer movement in nearby hills, the buck suddenly lurched out of his bed just 40 yards away. A quick shot connected and the heavy-bodied deer dropped on the spot. The next day on that 2-buck hunt, I found an 11-pointer hunkered down in a side pocket along a ridge. With two shots from my Melvin Forbes ’06 Ultralight, I filled my second tag, again by jump hunting.
That trip demonstrated how exciting jump hunting can be. It’s a good tactic to turn to for a change of pace if you’re tired of sitting rock-still on stand 8-10 hours a day. It’s also especially valuable for areas that are new to you. The method lets you move moderately fast and cover a lot of ground to discover where the best habitat is and learn about the area for future hunts. It’s also good late in the season when pressure has moved deer around on your home turf and you’re not really sure where the bucks have holed up.
Still hunting is a popular tactic. But few hunters try jump shooting. Instead of moving through the woods slowly, walk at a faster pace, like a forester or hiker might. Sometimes this nonchalant demeanor will let you get amazingly close to big deer. (Just ask Bice!)
The buck might simply freeze, figuring you’re not dangerous. But usually at the last minute, it will burst out. That’s your chance.
Raise your gun quickly and try to get a shot off as the deer is standing up, but before it runs. If the deer is running before you get your gun up but you have a clear shot at the vitals, pull ahead and squeeze the trigger right as the gun swings in front of the deer’s chest. Make sure there’s a solid background behind the deer that will stop the bullet or slug if you miss.
Good spots to try jump shooting include creek bottoms, benches and side hills along mountains, ridges, brushy hollows and swamps. Hunt through dense vegetation such as laurel, greenbrier, plum thickets and blackberry brambles or skirt the edges of these areas if they’re too thick to penetrate. Pay special attention to deadfalls and brush piles, pausing there to unnerve and flush out skulking bucks.
Set your scope on its lowest power or use a red dot sight. Carry the gun at the ready port arms position in front of your chest. As you walk, scan the habitat broadly and watch for movement or patches of solid gray. Be ready for a buck to jump up just like you’d prepare for a flushing grouse.
The instant you see a deer, raise the gun to full mount position, butt against your shoulder, cheek down, eyes on the crosshairs or red dot. Don’t worry about trophy quality If it’s a doe or small buck and you only want a mature buck, simply lower the gun. If you’re willing to settle for any legal deer, take the shot at this point if it’s safe and clear.
You may get lucky and get a shot off at the deer in its bed. More likely, you’ll be firing as it stands up.
Time the shot to the moment it gets to its feet and aim at or just behind the shoulder. If the deer is running before you can get on it, swing with the buck’s body like you would on a pheasant, then pull ahead of it. Squeeze the trigger smoothly the second your crosshairs see daylight in front of the buck’s chest. By the time the gun fires, the deer will run into the bullet.
If the animal takes off directly away, don’t take the shot. There’s too much risk of wounding it.
No, I would never jump hunt every time out. But this little-used technique is a good tactic to have in your bag of tricks for times when your go-to methods fail to produce.