Streamline Your Hunting Season

Posted on November 9, 2011

Tired of guessing what deer are doing? Well, don’t. Follow these rules, and you’ll enjoy better action.

bow hunterBy Jason Herbert

My head hung low as I climbed into the car to go home. After slaving over this property all summer, I had big plans of putting my tag on one of the shooter bucks that must live somewhere on the property, although I had yet to see proof of one.

Three documented cases of poison ivy, countless hours away from home toiling in the food plots, sweat-laden days hanging stands, cutting trails and more money spent that I care to mention—all in preparation for this, the opening weekend of Michigan’s bow season. I had just gained permission to hunt this pristine river bottom in early June. Now, it was the third evening, and I was going home empty-handed.

I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. My food plots were lush and plentiful. My stands were hung with clockwork precision, seemingly taking every detail into account. My entry and access routes were efficient and effective. My scent-control was tight, and even if it wasn’t, the wind was in my favor. What had I done wrong?

I needed advice, so I called my friend Lee Gatzke, who put it plain and simple.

“Are there acorns near you?” he asked. “If so, hunt the oaks near bedding areas.”

Ohio Buck Hunt

Justin Hollandsworth waited until the winds were just perfect to set up on this great Ohio buck. He killed him on the first try. Photo courtesy of Justin Hollandsworth.

Rule #1: Hunt the Preferred Food

Wow! I thought. So simple, yet so profound. Why would deer leave their favorite food source near the security of their bedding cover, only to wander into the open during shooting light and into a man-made food plot?

I immediately switched my strategy, grabbed my climber and headed into the hardwoods. I remember calling Lee later on that night. I was covered up in does and had my first visual confirmation of a shooter buck—a heavy-racked 8-point with a broken G2 and a whole lot of attitude. I could tell by the way he walked that he was the boss. I had trail camera pictures of a few smaller 1 ½- and 2 ½-year-olds, but he was the first and only shooter I had seen.

Looking back, hunting over my food plots in the early season was a waste of time. Delicious and appealing as they may be, my manicured food plots couldn’t hold a candle to the deer’s true culinary weakness: acorns. This particular season, the acorns were abundant. There were areas on this property where I could roller skate on them.

Rule #2: Make Use of Poor Hunting Situations

A few weeks passed, and the acorn frenzy had died down. It would have continued a while longer, but a solid week of strong windstorms helped prematurely drop the survivors. I was left with some more tough decisions. I hate to miss a hunt, but at times, it was simply too windy to go out at all. I’ve learned from many meaningless sits that deer do not move well when the wind gets above 20 mph.

I called Justin Hollandsworth, in Ohio, to pick his brain. Justin has taken several Pope & Young bucks, and I really value his opinion. He mentioned that in really windy situations, he doesn’t hunt, but he doesn’t just sit home, either. He puts on some miles checking cameras, moving stands, glassing fields and other behind-the-scenes tasks in preparation for the next hunt. (This is also a great time to get re-acquainted with the long-lost family at home and catch up on the ever-growing “honey-do” list.)

Justin is a big believer in the moon phase chart, as well. He treats poor-movement phases in the same manner. He likes to make sure all the loose ends are tied up so that when he does hunt, it’s worth his time.

buck hunting

Jarrod Erdody, of Blood Brothers Outdoors, stayed mobile and flexible throughout the season, which allowed him to connect on this nice Illinois buck.

Rule #3: Know the Best Buck Core Area

In the middle to the end of the month, the poorly named “October lull” takes place. I don’t believe in this “lull.” This is the sacred time of year many big buck serial killers are waiting for. This is when a properly patterned mature buck can be killed during daylight hours before he starts to leave the property as he cruises for does.

Most big bucks will ramp up their scraping activity and start to rub a bit more. They’ll start in their core areas and expand to doe bedding areas. The bucks are constantly trying to establish their dominance. If the opportunity presents itself, they won’t turn away an estrous doe.

To accurately identify a mature buck’s core area, a lot of post-season scouting needs to be done. Since I lined up this property in June, I had no chance to do proper post-season scouting, so this portion of the season was hard for me. This fall, I plan to have a technical plan for exactly when and where I’ll hunt during this magical time. My advice: Stay out of it until absolutely necessary.

Rule #4: Hunt Smart

Near the end of the month, I started to think about my food plots again. If I wanted to kill a mature buck, Lee advised me not to sit directly on them. The bucks will start to get on their feet a bit to look for does, and undisturbed food plots are a great place to find them this time of year. Most of the “huntable” buck movement will be in the early evening, and chances are that a buck isn’t going to show up in the plot before dark. So, I chose to sit along trails leading to the food plots.

I had the perfect spot in mind, and in early November, I thought it was going to happen. I could hear three different bucks dogging some poor doe in the nearby bedding cover. I was perfectly placed along a trail and in between two popular food plots. The problem was that they weren’t concerned about using trails. Most of the evening, the deer were running back and forth, and I saw little more than a flash of brown or an antler tip to keep my sanity.

At one point, I got into a “snort-wheeze” standoff with what appeared to be the biggest buck. He had to make a tough decision: to show himself, with the wind in my face, and blindly offer me a chip shot, or stay hidden and hope for a wind shift. Needless to say, he got old by being smart. I never got a shot that night. I did have a great encounter, though.

Hunt the food plots smart. Don’t sit right on them. Allow the does, fawns and young bucks to eat there with confidence. When the time is right, a properly placed stand near a food plot might just payoff. In a high-pressure situation, a mature buck will rarely show up in a food plot during shooting hours.

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