Buckmasters Magazine

The Long Haul

The Long Haul

By Joe Blake

The more time you spend in the woods, the better your odds for success.

The cold, north wind continued stinging my face, just as it had throughout the day. Intermittent waves of sleet and snow didn’t make things any easier as I continued to scan the Minnesota woodlot. The discomfort caused me to question the wisdom of remaining in the stand, but the whitetails had been on the move ahead of this cold front, so I vowed to persevere until the last minute.

After a midafternoon stretch and snack, I felt a bit refreshed. I lifted my longbow from its resting place and drew back several times, simulating different shots. After returning the bent stick to its hanger, I turned just in time to see a big doe trot down the oak ridge.

I scarcely had time to retrieve the weapon before she skidded to a stop almost directly beneath my stand! Obviously nervous, the big whitetail kept looking behind her. I couldn’t see anything in the swirling snow, and she finally trotted off to the east.

Long minutes passed, and the woodlot grew darker until shooting light was almost gone.

I reluctantly began to pack up my gear for the long walk back to the truck. That’s when I heard the distant but unmistakable grunt of an amorous buck.

Quickly retrieving the bow, I scanned the woods and was rewarded by the sight of a mature buck trotting down the ridge, nose to the ground, following the scent left by his reluctant girlfriend.

The cold and discomfort of an all-day treestand vigil melted away, and as the buck trotted past my ambush, I swung my stickbow to follow and grunted to stop him at point-blank range. I sent a wooden arrow through his liver and off-side lung.

I slipped out of my stand and looped around to the truck as quietly as possible. I returned at first light to claim my prize, which had fallen just over the ridge.

It was my biggest buck ever — a trophy I would never have arrowed had I not stayed in the woods that long, miserably, cold day.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, if you’re looking to tag big bucks is the hunter who spends the most time in the woods usually brings home the venison.

Spending a lot of time in the woods sometimes means sitting all day. Staying in the woods from dark to dark requires three things: confidence, comfort and desire.

Having confidence in the whitetail woods is a product of scouting.

If you spend time in your hunting areas throughout the year, you will know where the deer are and where they are likely to be at any given time of day and at any given point of the season.

Sitting in a treestand or ground blind and hoping to see something is not confidence, and it does little to help you prepare for long vigils.

I found a killer bottleneck while turkey hunting in Kansas some years back and couldn’t wait for November to hang a portable stand in one of the big oaks guarding the corner.

Sign was marginal, but an outside fence corner, coupled with a steep creek bank, left no doubt this ambush would show me bucks once they started cruising during the pre-rut.

The first day in the stand, I saw a handful of deer and no shooter bucks, but my confidence never wavered. I continued to hunt from that stand and have been rewarded for my faith many times.

Over the years, I’ve hunted that stand from daylight until dark eight times. Twice I had slow days with minimal deer sightings, but during the other six day-long vigils, I saw 19 record-book bucks, including a pair of 180-class animals that came tantalizingly close before melting away without offering shots.

Because I’m confident in this ambush, I have no problem putting in long hours there.

That’s the kind of faith you need in your all-day hotspots.

Sitting all day is difficult under the best of circumstances, but it’s impossible if you’re uncomfortable. Being comfortable means staying warm and dry in any conditions, and it means carrying a pack with food, water and other essentials.

If you can’t physically handle the strain of sitting in a treestand all day, consider moving to the ground.

I do a lot of my hunting from ground blinds nowadays. They’re perfect for all-day hunting. They’re roomy, quiet and offer the best concealment available. They also offer some protection from the elements.

I’ve sat from before daylight until after dark in one of my Double Bull blinds while hunting deer, turkeys and antelope. Of course, the perfect blind also needs a comfortable, quiet seat. I turn to either my Primos Magnum hunting stool or my HuntMore 360 stool. Both are comfortable for extended sits, with the 360 offering the advantage of silent movement for shooting in all directions.

Of course, I still spend a considerable amount of time aloft while deer hunting, and I’ve found that nothing compares to a ladder stand when it comes to all-day hunts.

Ladder stands are roomier than lock-ons and climbers, and they tend to be quieter and more comfortable. While not as portable, ladder stands can be used in swamps and thickets where mature bucks like to spend most of their time and there are few climbable trees.

I began using double ladder stands when I took my son Ryan into the woods, and now I often use a double during solo trips. The added room really makes a difference for all-day hunting.

Another product I use in cold weather is a Heater Body Suit. The Heater Body Suit completely surrounds the hunter, creating an insulating layer of warm air, even in the nastiest weather — the kind of weather that’s bad for deer hunters but great for deer hunting.

While hunting all day is a physical test, few hunters realize the real battle is mental.

A few long sits in a stand help you realize what you need to pack to be comfortable, but if you don’t really want to be there, you’ll never make it all day.

Desire isn’t something you can buy, nor is it something you can teach.

Back when I played organized sports, my coaches preached that desire is a deciding factor in success. The same is true for hunting.

Successful hunters have the desire to hunt hard, to spend time in the woods and to persevere over the long haul.

Some years ago, I shot the biggest doe I’ve ever put on a scale, pulling the needle down to an impressive field-dressed weight of nearly 170 pounds.

I arrowed that deer at point-blank range with my stickbow on the next-to-the-last day of the North Dakota bow season. That was four-plus months after I started chasing deer in late August.

The desire to be in the woods, the desire to be close to nature and the desire to be a successful bowhunter made it easy to sit in a treestand on that cold December day.

If you make yourself comfortable and have the desire to fill your tag, you can sit all day, too.

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This article was published in the November 2010 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.

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