5 Steps to Kill- Part I

Posted on December 18, 2013

Steps 1 and 2 in our “5 Steps to Kill” series. Make sure you check back next week for steps 3-5!

5 Steps to Kill

Follow this simple plan to line out where to shoot next year’s buck. 

By Steve Bartylla

Unraveling this buck’s patterns during the post season was key to the author arrowing him the first time in the stand.

Unraveling this buck’s patterns during the post season was key to the author arrowing him the first time in the stand.

I was pumped. Just that quick, I was convinced that I would kill the buck I wanted most on the property. All the pieces had fallen in place and the game plan was formed. That felt pretty good, considering it was January and deer season was still eight months away.

Nine months later, I was climbing into the stand I’d hung all those months ago. Not even settled in yet, I heard the telltale sounds of a trotting buck approaching fast. It would be a race to see if I could get ready to pull off the shot swift enough.

Luckily, just as the buck started trotting away, I reached the finish line of being fully drawn. Mouthing a grunt, I stopped him. Almost simultaneously checking on the aiming dot and settling the pin of my IQ sight, I made a quick torque correction before sending the arrow into flight. The torque correction worked and my shot was true.

When contemplating how this article should be presented, I thought hard about how many bucks I credit to various winter and spring activities. Truth be told, I can’t even come up with an exact number, but it’s safe to say that it’s more than 25 percent of all the bucks I’ve ever arrowed. For all us do-it-yourselfers out there, that’s a significant number.

In most dedicated hunters’ minds, that only leaves two questions: What specific winter and spring activities are most important, and how do we effectively accomplish these feats? That, my friends, is precisely what we will be covering.

By the time scrapes like this are found during season, it’s typically too late. Off season allows you to be set up and ready before they even think about creating scrapes that season.

By the time scrapes like this are found during season, it’s typically too late. Off season allows you to be set up and ready before they even think about creating scrapes that season.

Step 1: Post-Season Scouting

The first obvious step is post-season scouting. The first few months after season closes is the ideal time to tear apart a property.

The longer I hunt the more firmly I believe in not disturbing the deer as much as practically possible. Not only do undisturbed deer move more during daylight, but they also stay in the hunting area. Face it, after driving the buck you’re trying to kill off your hunting grounds, it becomes pretty tough to arrow him. That makes the months right before and during season touchy times to scout.

So long as a little common sense and discipline are used, these are not serious concerns during the post-season. Feel free to tear apart a piece of ground, but just do it in one or two concentrated blasts. Instead of spending one day a week over a couple of months foot-scouting the depths of the woods, do it all in one or two separate blasts. That way, even if they shift off the property, odds are extremely high that they’ll come back. It’s when they are driven from a property repeatedly that one risks doing long-term harm.

Another bonus is that leaf-off has occurred in most areas. Because the new growth that comes with spring has yet to occur, the overwhelming majority of last fall’s rut sign is not only still visible, but it stands out like a sore thumb.

When trying to determine how bucks use an area, those rut signs are really important. No, hunters can’t go from one scrape to another and determine which buck made it, but they can easily string the scrapes together after they’ve all been made. When scrapes can be strung together along a trail from a ridge point, on down to the river bottom, only to dump into the field, chances are good that you just identified how the buck gets from bedding to feeding.

Speaking of scrapes, post-season is when I decide what scrapes to hunt next fall. The majority of scrapes made are hit once or twice and never revisited. Even the minority of scrapes that are tended regularly receive most of their attention after dark. Because of all this, finding and hunting fresh scrapes is a risky proposition.

Post-season scouting is my secret to most of my scrape hunting success. At this time, I can accurately gauge how much attention the scrapes received the previous fall. If there isn’t much more than a pawed spot of ground, I’m moving on to the next one. If the scrape either offers an overly large pawed area or has a bowled shape appearance from repeated workings, it is a promising location. Odds are strong that the hardest worked scrapes last fall will be the hardest worked next fall, as well.

Speaking of location, after finding a well-worn scrape, location is the next key. The seriously worked scrapes around doe bedding areas, high deer-traffic locations within the woods and those along natural deer-travel corridors, such as rivers and creeks, all offer higher odds of daylight visits.

When one finds heavily used scrapes in areas such as these, one has found a scrape worthy of hunting next season. That’s assuming the licking branch is still in decent shape. If not, one can always attach a new one with a few nails or a little wire.

Step 2: Hanging Stands

This is also the time to hang and trim those scrape stands. Doing so minimizes disturbances when it matters. With that done, all you must do is wait for the peak scraping phase to arrive, slip in and hunt. You have just effectively targeted the best scrape, as well as kept deer ignorant to your hunting activities until it’s too late.

Of course, scrape stands aren’t the only ones that should be hung and prepped during the post-season. Stands along field edges or around food plots are generally pretty low impact to get up and ready. You can get by putting them in during the season, but I always strive to get all my in-woods stand work done now.

In-woods stands generally require more trimming and create more disturbances getting to. Because of that, it’s my top priority to get them done each season. Again, doing so this far in advance of hunting simply keeps deer ignorant of our hunting plans.

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