By P.J. Reilly
A well thought out plan of action will increase your chances for a big buck.
Ever watch a pro football game and notice the coach on the sidelines carrying a large multicolored card? That’s his game plan. Every team has one for every game, and it covers everything: offense, defense and special teams. It’s what the coach believes is the recipe for success on any given Sunday.
It’s not an ironclad plan. It can be modified as the game wears on and something isn’t working, or there’s an opportunity to exploit an unanticipated weakness in the other team.
Hunters can benefit from taking the same approach to deer season.
Come up with a plan that covers every aspect of the game — stand placement, hunting locations, scent control, calling and lures. Some facets of the plan should never change, while others should be fluid.
Obviously, the goal is to put you in the right place at the right time to send an arrow or bullet through the vitals of a big buck. But without a plan, you’ll likely never achieve that goal.
SET A GOAL
The first part of your plan should be deciding what you want from the coming season. Maybe you have your heart set on taking a particular buck. Maybe you’ll take any buck of a certain size or age. Or maybe you’ll take any deer that comes within bow range. It’s your season. Hunt for whatever makes you happy. And when an opportunity arises to take the deer you want, do so without hesitation.
Many hunters want to shoot a big buck, but they shoot the first buck that comes within range, which is usually a junior. I can tell you from experience, you will never shoot a big buck if you always shoot a small one. Decide what you want and stick to that goal. If shooting any buck makes you happy, that’s okay, too.
Bowhunters, because they’re hunting animals going about their daily activities, count on deer being creatures of habit. We plan on deer using the same trails, food plots and bedding areas over and over when we set up our stands and blinds. The truth is, we tend to be creatures of habit ourselves — and that can keep us from punching tags.
How many times have you gone into the woods, found a good deer trail and set up a treestand or ground blind within bow range? Then, you hunted that spot over and over from the first day of the season until the last. You could be doing more harm than good.
Try to hunt a setup when deer activity in the area is at its peak. Maybe that’s early in the season when deer are following their summer patterns, or maybe it’s later on when bucks are cruising for does. Either way, there are times when every stand is more productive. If you hunting the same setup time and again, you could cause deer to change their patterns and avoid the area. A mature buck often has zero tolerance for human intrusion.
Most of us hunt the same properties every year and know where to find deer during every part of the season. Set up multiple stand locations to follow that movement.
Designate stands or blinds for early season, for the rut and for the late season. Pick spots to hunt travel corridors between bedding and feeding areas. By moving around, not only will you stay on the deer, but you’ll keep from burning out a particular spot. For detailed information about over-hunting stands, check out David Hart’s article titled “Who’s Patterning Who” in this issue.
I once had permission to hunt a 7-acre patch of timber on a Pennsylvania farm near my home. It was a beautiful piece of woods that connected a large tract of public hunting ground to private farm fields. That hilltop was the perfect place to ambush bucks cruising during the seeking phase of the rut.
I hunted the heck out of it starting the first day of the season. Then I watched deer activity dwindle to nothing as the season progressed. I’m sure I was the reason the deer changed routes.
Eventually, I learned to stay away from that locale until later in the season, which encouraged the deer to use it heavily. I hunted only when I saw evidence of rutting activity. That’s when the bigger bucks really started to fall.
Where you hunt is one aspect of your game plan that you have to be willing to change. If you’re sitting in a stand and see a buck repeatedly using a certain trail or patch of timber, don’t be a spectator. Go find a spot in that area ASAP. If he’s there, get after him. His pattern will most likely change if you wait.
The same goes for the sudden appearance of red hot sign. When you find a new scrape that’s clearly being used regularly, set up shop nearby.
While I was hunting with Doug Doty’s Illinois Whitetail Services LLC in November 2011, Doty found fresh scrapes, rubs and tons of tracks in and around a thin strip of timber next to a standing cornfield.
He didn’t have any stands in there, but the sign told him someone needed to hunt the strip immediately. That someone was me.
I carried a climbing stand into the patch before daylight the next day, found a suitable tree and shinnied up. At 6:45, I arrowed a thick-necked 8-pointer that had followed my estrous-doe scent trail into a clearing 17 yards from my tree. We saw an opportunity during the game and promptly turned it into a score.
Also when it comes to stands, include multiple setups in your game plan to account for different winds. It does no good to hunt the perfect spot if the wind is blowing your scent to approaching deer.
That’s not a problem provided the wind always blows in your favor. When it doesn’t, those who have single setups often press their luck and hunt the spot anyway.
Stick to the game plan. Either establish multiple sites so you can hunt a spot during any wind, or stay out of it when the wind is wrong.
CALLS AND SCENTS
Calls and scents are great tools when used properly. Used improperly, they’re among the best tag preservers out there.
Many of the products you see in magazines and on TV are designed to be used during the rut. Growler-type calls, rattling antlers and doe-in-heat scents are tools that rely heavily on a buck’s mating drive and habits. Nevertheless, when opening day arrives, far too many hunters carry snort-wheeze calls into the woods and put down a trail of estrous doe urine. They’re usually the folks who later say, “Those things don’t work.”
There are calls and scents you can use early. Straight doe pee sprayed on your boots, doe grunts and light (social) buck grunting all can attract deer early in the season.
Your game plan should include using the right calls and scents for a given time of year.
I leave calls and scents at home until the rut, since my game plan is to keep deer relaxed. I don’t want a buck to come in alert, even if it thinks its looking for another deer. I’d much rather take a shot at a browsing deer that’s completely at ease.
That changes during the rut. That’s when a lovesick buck is prone to act stupidly in response to a scent or a call.
Even then, start light and increase the use and intensity of calls and scents as the rut builds.
The growl is a super-aggressive call bucks make when they are in high rut fever. Growler calls are among the hottest selling calls on the market, but it’s probably not wise to blow one the first time a scrape shows up near your stand. Save it for peak chasing time and use a traditional buck-grunt call at other times.
One of my favorite rut tactics is using a scent drag doused with estrous doe urine. If a buck circles your stand looking for a hot doe, the big boy’s nose can lead him right into one of your shooting lanes.
Your scent is just as important as deer scent, and your game plan should include a strict scent-control regimen. There are skeptics who think they can stash their hunting clothes in the garage between hunts and hit the woods without showering after a full day of work. You might get lucky, but the guy who does not practice scent control gets busted far more than the scent-conscious fanatic.
A whitetail’s number one defense is its nose. You won’t beat it 100 percent of the time no matter what you do, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
Wash your hunting clothes in scent-eliminating detergent. Store them in a bag or tub that will keep foreign odors like gasoline and food from reaching them.
Shower with unscented soap and shampoo before every hunt, and when you get to the woods, spray everything you wear and carry a scent-killing spray.
Stick to this regimen. It’s easy to get lazy about scent control as a season wears on and you get tired.
Read Recent Articles:
• The Anniversary Bucks: If you’re going hunting on your wedding anniversary, you might as well make it count.
• 15 Days to 15 Minutes: When it comes to taking bucks, it’s all about location.
• Who’s Patterning Who? Change your routine to see more bucks.
This article was published in the October 2012 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.