Anyone who knows me — except perhaps my late mother, who for some reason always thought I was a really good boy — will tell you that I am something of a rule breaker. For some reason my mind works this way: Someone tells me something should be a certain way “just because,” and my first thought is, “How come?” If someone says you should hunt in a specified manner, I ask, “Says who?”
Some examples. A cardinal rule of treestand whitetail hunting is, after accessing your stand by a predetermined route designed to minimize the chances of a deer smelling you, to stay in your stand, no matter what. And, generally speaking, this is a solid rule of thumb. But had I not violated it one frosty October morning when I spotted a dandy buck trolling a hundred yards away with no intention of passing close, I would never have tagged him. After quickly assessing the situation, I bailed out of my stand like it was on fire, vectored down a brushy creek channel to a spot where I thought the buck might pass by, and set up quickly behind a fallen log. Indeed, the buck did walk by at 37 steps, so intent on whatever his mind was thinking he forgot to look to his left. He never suspected an arrow was on its way until it was far too late.
Another time, completely by luck, I spotted a dandy 8-point bedded in a cut cornfield. I was glassing from the farm road to the edge of the woods a half mile off when I saw the sun glint off his antler tips. That’s all I could see of him, but there was no hesitation. Set a stand on the field corner and hope he walked by at dusk, or attack? You’re kidding, right? I got the wind right and used a small hill in the field and the thigh-high cornstalks as cover, and after an hour of muddy, grimy slipping and sliding found myself within 40 yards of the buck. I hit him with the rangefinder, came to full draw, and mooed like a cow as loudly as I could. He stood up to see what I was, but before his knees locked him in the upright position my broadhead had zipped through his ribs. He green-scored 162 2/8.
It’s much easier to be aggressive when packing a rifle or a muzzleloader, for obvious reasons. But how about this one? I was hunting a very fancy farm managed primarily for waterfowl, but they had a lot of deer and wanted to see if our group could do something about thinning the herd a bit. The rut was rocking and I was set up in a shooting house that faced a huge cut cornfield. Behind me was a deep, wooded slough. We were allowed a buck and a doe. About 10 a.m., after not seeing much, I could hear the splashing long before I saw hair as they ran my way. Through the trees came a big doe at full gallop, with a stud 8-point 125 yards behind her running hell-bent for election. No way were they going to slow down or stop, so when the doe paused briefly to catch her breath maybe 50 yards behind my stand, I folded her with a 150-grain Winchester Ballistic Silvertip fired from a Browning A-Bolt chambered in .30-06. I gambled that the buck was so intent on losing the love of his life that he’d never even acknowledge the rifle shot. And he never slowed down until he got right up to the doe, when he commenced to slam on the brakes to check her out. I doubt he heard the next shot, either.
Now, I’m not saying that all of a sudden you should forget about the basic tenets of hunting. Truth be told, I am a firm believer in low-impact whitetail hunting, whether it be with a bow or a firearm, whether hunting from a stand or stalking on foot. The key is to get into a comfortable shooting range of the animal without it knowing you are anywhere on the planet. But the more time you spend afield, the more you begin to recognize those special moments when opportunity comes knocking. When it does, you often only have a few seconds to make a decision. Stay or go? Be still or attack? Follow the rule book or take a chance, breaking the rules and going for greatness? Risk all for a chance at success, or be content to passively hope everything will work out?
I call it controlled aggression. That means being smart, but not being afraid to trust your instincts and go for it. Set a stand in the right place, accessing and egressing it in a low-impact manner so you can hunt it again, but if a stud comes by and is about to walk out of your life forever, doing something unconventional to try to get the shot. That doesn’t mean being stupid, it just means trying to make it happen to the best of your ability and without adversely impacting the chances of others in your hunting party.
With bucks often riding the oblivion express with a big testosterone overload, there are times when they become tone deaf to their surroundings. This makes the rut the best time to take such a gamble.
Rules? What rules?