By John E. Phillips
There are a lot of deer hunters in the Cotton State who are very good at what they do. For the most part, however they garner little acclaim outside of their immediate circle of hunting buddies. But every so often, one of these sportsmen performs a feat that does attract more attention. Terry Holt of Warrior falls in that classification. For most of his outdoor career, he flew under everyone’s radar while taking big bucks year after year. That anonymity came to a halt last deer season. After all, when you bag a 14-point buck that grosses 178 3/8 Boone and Crockett Club (B&C) points, it is hard to keep it a secret.
Though the hunter considered this a virtual chip shot, he took his time, aimed carefully at the big whitetail and squeezed the trigger. The deer was less than 30 yards from him by that time.
At first, the shot didn’t seem to affect the buck. The hunter thought he had missed the deer. Still, everything about the shot had felt right, and Holt could not believe the buck did not go down. The deer continued to walk another 60 yards, so Holt mounted the rifle once more and readied for a second shot.
“Then I noticed the buck’s back legs starting to buckle, and he just laid down,” Holt observed. “That’s when I realized my first shot had hit where I’d aimed.”
Holt slowly climbed the 50 feet down out of his tree stand, taking extra care with each step and handhold because of the excitement he felt.
“As I walked up to the buck, I could tell he was huge,” Holt recalled. “The deer weighed 225 pounds. The antlers were massive, and I knew I’d finally bagged the buck of my dreams.”
Indeed, it was one of the largest typical bucks ever taken in Alabama, and if the score holds up to official B&C scrutiny, the deer will be sitting at No. 3 on the state’s all-time list. Though this is a buck of a lifetime, killing it was no fluke for Terry Holt. In the same county just a week earlier, on Dec. 23, the hunter had taken a 10-pointer. That deer weighed 185 pounds and scored over 160 points B&C!
Most of us have to get lucky to take a big deer. That is because we either don’t have the time or dedication to do the scouting to find a buck and then pattern it. Thus we end up trusting more to our instincts and luck. That can sporadically get you a shot at a deer of some type, but it is not a true game plan.
On the other hand, Terry Holt knew big deer lived on the land he was hunting because he’d seen this buck three or four times before he shot it.
“I spotted this deer during bow season and again the opening day of rifle season,” Holt reported. “But I never had a shot at him. He was in such a small area that I didn’t believe anyone else knew the buck was there.”
Holt’s time in the woods scouting and hunting has provided him with a lot of knowledge about Cotton State bucks. In turn, he has used this information to create an overall game plan for taking trophy animals. Granted, you always have to be flexible, since whitetails can be unpredictable. But following Terry Holt’s lead shortens the odds that you will end up in the same patch of terrain that the trophy-sized bucks use.
In Alabama, most private-land hunters concentrate on green fields, setting up with a clear view on these expanses and trusting to the vegetation in them to bring the deer in. That is not how Holt does it.
“I’ve never had any luck hunting planted green fields,” he noted. “I’ve found the best places to hunt are either bottlenecks, the edges of agricultural and sage fields, or other types of openings.”
The monster buck he took this past season proves his point. He shot the animal near the edge of a field – or more correctly, a 20-acre clearcut.
When most of us go deer hunting, we’re looking for any buck that is legal for the area we are hunting in. We are acting a lot like first-time quail hunters. When the covey flushes and we see a lot of birds in the air, instinctively we start blasting away in that general direction. In other words, shooting “up amongst them” and hoping something falls.
A veteran wingshooter knows that by picking out a single bird and concentrating on it for the shot, his success rate goes way up. Terry Holt employs this same theory when deer hunting. He doesn’t trust luck and hunt just any buck. He usually has spotted the buck he intends to take at least once or twice and knows where the buck lives and when the buck moves.
When deer hunting, most of us seem to have the philosophy that if we can see a buck at 100 yards we can see him better at 50 yards Thus, we generally end up putting our stands too close to where we think the deer will appear.
Here again, Holt literally takes a different view. He places his stand at least 100 yards away from the places he expects to see a buck in. That may seem rather odd, since we have just established that he avoids open fields and expanses of woods for his hunting. If he targets small areas of thick cover, it would seem impossible to have a 100-yard shot at a buck, wouldn’t it?
The response to that is simple. He picks out the sanctuary areas that are likely to hold the older bucks for his hunting, but never actually enters them. That is, once he locates such a sanctuary, he then looks for the trails leading into and out of it, and patterns the movement of the buck as it goes to feeding areas. Then he can set up his stand for a longer shot covering the trails.
As mentioned earlier, these stand locations are not going to be on the perimeter of the open fields
either. He picks sites back in the trees, away from the edges.
Surprisingly, this hunter doesn’t use a scope on his rifle for these longer shots.
“I’ve seen hunters often miss bucks when they have problems with their scopes. I also have found that deer are much harder to pick up in a scope than they are with open sights.
“Accurately shooting with a scope when a buck is moving is difficult. If I see a buck trailing a doe, then I can lead the buck using an open sight, just like I lead a dove with my shotgun in a dove field.
“A few years ago, when I was hunting on some leased land, I shot a buck at 297 steps. That buck was trailing a doe, and I shot about a foot in front of him. I hit him in the neck and instantly put him down. I just prefer to shoot open sights.”
Terry Holt emphasized the point that once a sanctuary is located, he makes every effort not to violate it. Granted, as most of us find out in many aspects of life, temptation is a strong motivator. We are like kids looking at candy in a glass jar – the urge to get our hands on the sweets just seems to grow. If we fall victim to such urges in the deer woods and plow into the sanctuary thickets, we are likely to never see the bigger bucks that hide there. They probably smell or hear us long before we can spot them.
You can also violate a sanctuary unintentionally. If you hunt near such an area when the wind direction is wrong, then the breeze can carry human odor into the sanctuary.
Another advantage of paying attention to sanctuaries is that it takes a lot of pressure off the hunter. Since Holt hunts regions other hunters don’t, he feels he can afford to let some bucks walk until they reach the older age-classes and have larger antlers and heavier body weights.
“I saw a nice 10-point in the same area where I took the big 14-point buck last season,” Holt said. “But I’ve let him keep on growing. I know he’ll be even bigger this season.”
“I was about 50 feet high in a tree when this buck came out less than 30 yards from me,” Holt pointed out in regard to his B&C bruiser. “I like to hunt as high as I can climb to prevent deer from smelling me. I was so high in the tree that I didn’t believe there was any way the buck could have smelled my human odor.
Of course, getting higher can be a bit uneasy.
“When I’m in a tree, I always wear a safety harness,” Holt said, echoing common sense. “When I’m that high off the ground, I know I need to be as safe as I possibly can be. I feel a lot more comfortable.”
His logic regarding odors is sound as well. When you hunt low, your aroma has an opportunity to swirl around, bounce off trees and rocks, and encounter other wind currents, leaving plenty of opportunities for the smell to reach the wrong nostrils.
“By hunting high in the tree, I can make sure that my odor will be over the heads of the deer,” Holt said. “The odor will have an opportunity to disseminate and break up over a wide area before it comes to the ground. Even if the deer smells human odor downwind of me, the deer don’t have the foggiest notion of where I am.”
As noted earlier, the big buck came within 30 yards of Holt’s stand – much closer than the hunter expected. Yet the buck never smelled, saw or heard Holt, because the stand was high and downwind of the deer.
“I put this buck urine on cotton balls all the way around my stand,” Holt explained. “I try to put these scent stations out about waist-high.”
Holt observed that most of the older-age-class bucks he’s taken have come in from downwind of his scent stations in aggressive postures, with their ears laid back and the hairs on their backs bristled up.
He also uses calls. On the day Holt bagged the B&C buck, he used a grunt call to attract the buck.
“After I blew, I heard something coming from behind me. The buck had his head down and was trotting toward the edge of the field. He came out on the edge of the field, looked to his left, took two steps and then looked to his right. When he stopped, I squeezed the trigger.”
“Since I work at night, I get to hunt during the day,” Holt commented. “However, I never hunt during the early morning, as I’ve learned I don’t ever see anything but does at first light. I’ve found that the most-productive time for me is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.”
As with any rule, of course, there are exceptions.
“On the day I took the 14 pointer, I’d stayed in the tree until 4:30 p.m.,” the hunter added.
Back when he was involved in the deer lease, Holt gained some clues on timing when hunters on or around the property began heading out of the woods between 8:30 and 11 each morning.
“I noticed that when the other hunters were leaving the woods, I started seeing deer,” Holt pointed out. “I was convinced that the other hunters actually drove bucks to me.”
Of course, there is no guarantee that following Terry Holt’s advice is going to put a monster buck in your sights. But it is a safe bet that it is going to improve your odds for seeing more bucks, putting some venison in the freezer and maybe adding a trophy mount to the den wall.
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