Your username in your online hunting forum is something like “lungbuster78” or “huntaholic.” You spent $50 on parachute cord just so you could weave your own bow lanyard. There are two different brands of scent-free deodorant in your bathroom drawer. You intentionally step in cow paddies when walking across a pasture.
Problem is, for all the time and effort you’ve spent sharpening broadheads and hammering that life-size target in the backyard, there’s one pesky aspect of bowhunting for a mature whitetail buck that keeps getting in your way.
You can’t get close enough to kill him.
To be clear, trying to kill a mature whitetail buck with a stick is hardly a high-percentage pursuit. More often than not, you will walk out of the woods empty-handed, sometimes because of factors well beyond your control. But the good news is that there are a number of things you can control that will improve your odds of getting a viable bowshot at a mature buck.
These are not advanced concepts. In fact, they’re fundamental. But we’ve found that these are the difference-makers between those bowhunters who talk about killing big deer and those bowhunters who actually do so on a consistent basis.
So close the distance between you and your wall-hanger then unleash your inner killer. Here are some bowhunting tactics for closing the distance on trophy bucks.
PICK YOUR PERCH
Stand selection is absolutely critical to closing the distance between you and the buck of your lifetime, and several factors come into play during the early season.
In September and October, bucks are ramping up their calorie intake in preparation for the upcoming rut and winter. They’ll be spending a lot more time feeding, which means they will be “patternable” as they move from secure bedding areas to fields and food plots around dusk and from the fields to bed at — or, more likely, before — sunup.
This is where your knowledge of terrain will come into play. In most cases, it’s true that whitetails will use the path of least resistance — as long as that path doesn’t sacrifice security. They will utilize transition areas to move from one area to another without exposing themselves. Look for areas where an old stand of timber meets a younger, thicker stand of trees or a line of understory cuts through the woods between a bedding area and a food resource. These setups tend to be prime travel corridors for deer. Again, keep in mind that mature bucks will often move parallel to the obvious travel corridors, often farther back into cover and almost always downwind of primary trails.
When possible, arm yourself with multiple stand options that work for morning or evening hunts. One of the worst mistakes you can make in the early season is to over-hunt your best setups when the conditions aren’t right. Take into account prevailing wind direction, your options for accessing your stand and whether the setup works better for a morning or evening hunt when you’re hanging your stands. It’s not a bad idea to have at least one climbing stand on hand to allow for mobility at a moment’s notice.
The reality of successfully and consistently pursuing mature bucks with stick and string is that nothing comes easy. In deciding on stand placement, the best places to sit are often some of the hardest spots to access. Thick cover will be common, and in more cases than not, you’ll need to cut shooting lanes. If you’re in the habit of picking the straightest tree you can find, or if you don’t own a pair of clippers and a limb saw, then you’re probably guilty of some degree of laziness when it comes to stand placement.
THE WIND’S YOUR FRIEND
Whitetails use their noses like bowhunters use their eyes and ears. In that regard, it’s critical that the wind be at the top of your list when considering which stand location to use on a given day and how to access it.
That said, there’s more to playing the wind that making sure it’s not at your back when you’re walking into the woods. If the wind direction is perfect for you, then you can lay a bet that it is wrong for the buck you’re hunting, at least with regard to your chosen stand setup. It’s not always advantageous to select a stand location that is directly downwind from the anticipated travel route of your deer. When was the last time you witnessed a mature buck walking directly downwind? Instead, consider a stand location on a travel corridor with a slight crosswind. You’ll be giving up a little bit here, but you might be gaining a lot.
Remember, mature bucks use the wind for more than just avoiding predators. They use the wind to find other bucks and seek out doe groups. The also rely on their noses to decide which route to feeding or bedding areas is the most advantageous. As the rut approaches and bucks are beginning to cruise in search of hot does, it’s worthwhile to consider stand locations over travel corridors on the downwind side of popular food plots or crop fields. You can bet that wary bucks are going to scout these forage resources on the downwind side to see if any hot does are feeding in them.
Perhaps the most important concept relating to wind direction, however, is to know when not to hunt a given location. If the wind is wrong, a good bowhunter has the discipline to back out. To ignore an undesirable wind is to risk ruining a good stand location for the rest of the season.
LEARN AND ADAPT
Finally, and almost without exception, I’ve found that consistently successful bowhunters display two qualities:
- First, they learn something every time they go afield. The truth about bowhunting is that if your only measure of a successful hunt is a dead deer, then you’re going to have a whole lot more bad days than good days. You need to find a way to make every hunt valuable. This season, make it your goal to pick up at least one piece of useable knowledge every time you hunt — regardless of whether you see a single deer — and write it down. Whether it be a new bedding location, a tree beginning to drop its fruit or a place where another hunter’s been parking his truck and entering the woods, this nugget of information can add to your overall arsenal and put you in a better position to capitalize.
- Second, good bowhunters adapt. They seldom hunt the same stand setup over and over again. They view the season as a long game of chess, and as they continue to add to their knowledge of their hunting ground and the bucks that inhabit it, they alter their game plan accordingly. Closing the distance between yourself and a mature whitetail is not all that complicated, but it takes commitment, discipline and hard work. Employ these concepts consistently this season, and you’ll improve your chances of becoming a killer!