If your bowhunting has been hot the last few years and you’ve been seeing enough bucks to keep you happy, stick to your script. If not, it’s time to change things up a bit. You don’t have to make drastic changes to spice up your routine; some tweaks here and there will do the trick. One of the following might be just what you need to turn your luck and shoot a big buck.
Find A Better Tree
If you repeatedly jump animals on the way in to a treestand, it’s probably time to look for a more convenient and accessible tree in the area, perhaps a bit closer to an old log road or trail. Whenever possible, sneak to a treestand along the edge of a pasture where few deer are apt to move. A creek or shallow river, especially one with steep banks, can make for a great hidden and whisper-quiet travel lane into an area. After you slip into the woods in stealth mode, look for a nearby tree where you can creep up from the water and slip into your stand undetected.
You might have to sneak into a stand several times before you know whether or not the access works. Your ultimate goal is to find trees for stands where you rarely, if ever, spook a deer on the way in.
50-Yard Pressure Move
On a South Carolina hunt property, a recent study of GPS-collared deer found two things. First, if a buck detected a hunter in a stand just one time, he would often avoid that stand for the next three days. Second, toward the end of a long season, if a person had hunted regularly from the same stand for days and weeks, a mature buck would skirt the stand at an average distance of 55 yards, taking him out of slam-dunk bow range.
Based on those findings, consider the following tweaks. First, scatter a couple more treestands in your hunting woods to not overhunt a given spot. Second, late in the season pull some stands and move them 40 to 50 yards in the direction where you have been seeing the most deer activity. If a buck skirts your stand, you might surprise him from your new setup and get a chip shot.
Most hunters blow their grunt calls too lightly, especially when “blind calling” from a treestand with no deer in sight. I think the thought is that talking too loudly might spook a buck. But that generally isn’t the case. In fact, you need to call louder and more aggressively sometimes, especially in the rut when deer are most vocal. Make it a point to grunt at almost every buck or doe you see crossing a field or slipping down a ridge 80 yards or more outside of your effective bow range. Vary the volume of your grunts until a deer throws up his or her head and looks your way.
Who Needs Pictures?
If you’re into cameras, keep them as part of your scouting and hunting strategy, but don’t become so dependent on them that you miss opportunities. If you find hot sign in an area or just have a gut feeling that a big buck is active there, don’t be afraid to move in, hang a stand and hunt even if you haven’t gotten any pictures close by. You might end up shooting a buck on a hunch – the old-school way – and that’s cool.
Noted biologist Mickey Hellickson conducted the ultimate rattling study with radio-collared wild bucks years ago. He found that the best time to rattle in numbers of bucks is during peak rut. But the pre-rut, which begins in mid-October in most areas, might be a better time to rattle in a big, mature deer. You won’t attract as many bucks when you rattle in October, but it only takes one big boy.
Mix up your scent strategy. Place some doe-in-heat near your stand, and then hang a wick or two juiced with tarsal/buck urine nearby. The “hard” pre-rut, from Halloween and into the first week of November, is the best time to do it. That’s when bucks are aggressive and on the prowl, and the does are really starting to smell right.
Scrape Hunting: Stay Mobile
Don’t waste any more time at unproductive scrapes. When the serious scraping begins, cover ground and find as many pawed-up spots as you can. Monitor the scrapes with both ground scouting and trail cameras, and lock in on ridges and bottoms where bucks are actively moving and digging. If bucks are rutting hot and heavy in a spot, you’ll smell them. Play the wind, set a stand and hunt. If you don’t see much after two sits, move to the next best-looking scrapes until you hit pay dirt.
The best day to bowhunt is any day you can get off work. But if you have some flexibility, shoot for mid-week days, especially if you hunt public land. Saturdays and Sundays have the most hunting pressure, with Fridays close behind as many people make it a long weekend. On Mondays, the bucks are skittish and secretive, having been pushed around all weekend. By Tuesday, some bucks start to poke their heads back out and begin to sneak around the woods. They get bolder yet on Wednesday and Thursday, which are my favorite days to hunt.