Getting a perfectly broadside shot doesn’t have to be an accident.
Some hunters always seem to get a buck. Even when conditions are tough, it’s a given you’ll return one afternoon or evening to find them sitting on the tailgate, calmly sipping a cup of coffee, while admiring the nice set of antlers on the deer in the truck bed.
That kind of success doesn’t come as a result of luck. If you want to be that hunter, you have to put in a lot of work ahead of time — and you have to build a better deer trap.
Tom Johnson is one of those hunters. Johnson hunts whitetails all over the country, including in his home state of Michigan, and often on public land.
He says it’s the little details like how he hangs a stand and how a buck approaches the setup that make the difference. When everything is set up right, any buck that steps into his trap is dead.
“Many people don’t pay much attention to where they hang a stand,” Johnson said. ”They choose a tree and hope a buck walks within range. When a buck does come in, it’s a gamble whether or not it will present a shot. I make sure I can shoot in as many directions as possible without leaving myself exposed. Finding the perfect killing tree can be difficult, but it’s worth spending a lot of time finding and hanging a stand in the right tree.”
Johnson calls his setups traps because there are almost no naturally perfect deer hunting setups.
Even a stand in the best location requires work to make it better. The key, he says, is to persuade a buck to walk where you want him to.
“Deer like to take the path of least resistance, so I create the path for them,” he said. ”Then I cut large shooting lanes. Many hunters are afraid to cut large lanes, thinking it will spook bucks. I’ve been very successful by being aggressive, removing all potential obstacles and creating some in places I don’t want a buck to go.”
One of his favorite tactics is to force a buck to walk behind his tree, and then behind brush before it steps into a shooting lane.
“I draw when the buck steps behind my tree,” he said. ”I try to have a little cover between me and the deer so I can shift around for the shot just before he walks into my shooting lane.”
Johnson does a lot of trimming to create a perfect setup.
“I spend considerable time pruning and cutting limbs,” he said. ”A few years ago, I cut a huge lane in some thick brush where I knew a buck was traveling. I knew I might spook the buck, but I also knew it was the only chance I had. When the buck showed up, he walked right into my trap. He stepped into my lane before he noticed all the cut limbs. He turned around to bolt, but it was too late.
“Yes, I had altered the landscape so much that it spooked the buck, but if I hadn’t cleared the large lanes and moved the brush around, I wouldn’t have taken him,” he continued. “My rule of thumb is to be aggressive when it comes to creating shooting lanes and traps to force a buck where I want him.”
Johnson said another key is to keep deer from walking directly under your stand.
“I never want a deer directly below me,” Johnson said with a laugh. “Too often, the buck or doe will smell my steps, look up at me or, at the very least, walk by without presenting a good shot.
“I put enough brush and limbs under my stand so the buck has to circle wide, giving me a shot. There are times this spooks deer as well, especially if I am near their bedding area and they walk the trail a lot. In most cases, I get away with it and tag a buck because of the changes I make.”
Sometimes there isn’t enough vegetation available to manipulate a deer’s behavior, but that doesn’t mean you have to rely on luck.
Mark Luster of Iowa uses a woven wire fence to influence deer movement when hunting ridges or food plots on private land. A strategically placed gap gets bucks to go right where he wants them.
“When I used big trees or large hay bales to alter a buck’s path, he sometimes flipped out,” Luster said. “When I use fence, he quickly adjusts. I believe it’s because he can see through the fence. A buck wants to be able to see where he is going, but he still wants the path of least resistance. When I put up a wire fence, he takes the gap every time, giving me a broadside shot if my stand is placed in the right location. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth the effort.”
Changing the landscape is one way to set a trap. Another way is to use mock scrapes. If you’ve tried them, you probably experienced mixed results. Just like putting up a stand, you have to do a little extra to get the most out of a mock scrape.
Fred Abbas of A-Way Hunting Products in Michigan has come up with a system to trap bucks using scrapes. Abbas has more state record book entries than any other person, so it’s safe to say he knows what he’s doing.
“I let bucks tell me where to hunt by putting out up to 10 mock scrapes per hunting area about a month and a half before season opens,” Abbas said. “Bucks seem to travel where there are elevation changes, so I often put scrapes near ridges and other areas I think they’re frequenting.
“I wait two weeks before I return to check them, looking for the ones that received the most activity,” he continued. “I freshen the scrapes that have seen a lot of action and ignore the scrapes that aren’t hit. The bucks tell me which scrapes they want to use.”
Abbas uses an ammonia kosher salt concoction to draw the deer to his scrapes. They like the salt in the mix, so they come back repeatedly to eat the salt and freshen the scrape.
The attractant brings them in, but Abbas says it’s the location that’s most important. When a scrape gets worked heavily, he knows it’s in the right location.
“When one deer starts using the scrape, all the deer in the area start using it,” he said. “Before long the scrape is very large.”
About mid-September, Abbas switches from his salt mixture to an actual deer scent. Regardless of what brand you use, he recommends changing scents as the season progresses. This keeps the deer curious.
“I think deer get bored with the same scent repeatedly,” Abbas said. “Switching keeps them interested.”
Once a scrape is established, Abbas said the trails leading to it become pronounced. Eventually the area takes on the appearance of a spoked wagon wheel with the scrape at the center.
“When that happens, we rake all the trails down to bare dirt,” Abbas said. “Then we saturate the paths for several feet in each direction. With the ground soft and muddy, we can see what trails the bucks are using by the size of their track. We have learned that a big buck will use the same path to the scrape daily. Armed with that knowledge, we know exactly where to hang a stand.”
Instead of setting up right over the scrape, Abbas said he likes to hang stands within sight but not right on top of it.
“It’s no secret bucks like to visit scrapes at night, so we hang stands farther back on the trail where the buck will likely stage before visiting the scrape,” he said. “By being a safe distance from the scrape, we have a decent chance of seeing the buck in daylight.”
He advises watching for new scrapes near the original. When that happens, he makes another scrape right by the new one.
“As the rut approaches, a dominant buck often makes another scrape,” he said. “We respond by making yet another. This forces the buck to move during daylight hours. We call these cluster scrapes. Recently, I put three scents out the day before I killed a buck. He was hanging around the scrape, trying to figure out all the different scents. It cost him his life.”
Regardless how you manipulate a setup to bring a buck to an exact location, trapping bucks takes time and effort. Those who put in the work often get the most bucks – and get to drink coffee on the tailgate while other hunters trust their luck.
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This article was published in the September 2015 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.