Taking Piedmont Bucks In South Carolina
October 04, 2010
Piedmont deer expert Ken Roddey believes time in the woods is a key to success. Trophy bucks don't make many mistakes, and you have to be there when they do. (December 2005)
Ken Roddey and his son, Seth, with some of Roddey's trophy bucks.
Photo by Bennett Kirkpatrick
Clouds floated overhead at the Wilderness Hunt Club in a place the club members called "the intersection." Ken Roddey climbed 20 feet up in a tree, and settled in for an afternoon hunt.
The rut was in full swing in the Piedmont and it was a "doe day," so the stage was set. It wasn't long before Roddey spotted movement -- a doe stepped into sight. He watched her for a while to see if a buck was following her. Eventually, seeing no antlers, Roddey decided he needed some meat for the freezer and shot the doe.
His attention was on the downed doe, but suddenly he realized that another deer was not too far out in front of his stand. When he focused on the deer, his adrenaline went into high gear.
He counted eight long points on a massive rack. When Roddey fired, the deer was almost in spitting distance at a scant 10 yards. The buck tipped the scales at 165 pounds. In what turned out to be a perfect afternoon, Roddey had killed a pair of whitetails -- one of each sex.
Although perfect days can happen to any hunter, they tend to occur more often for hunters who work hard, hunt whenever they can, and who pay attention to detail.
Rock Hill's Ken Roddey is such a hunter. Although he hunts several other states in addition to South Carolina, he believes that the fundamentals of hunting a trophy whitetail are basically the same wherever you hunt.
The first fundamental is scouting. Like many of the most successful hunters, he scouts anytime he is in the woods, and he tries to be in the woods a good deal. Part of his strategy for big deer involves how he hunts the rut, so signs that a given area is in a mature buck's breeding range are of particular interest.
For example, he is on constant lookout for big rubs that are higher than usual on a large tree. Rubs like this are made in a trophy buck's home territory. Even if the rub is from last year, it is well worth your attention, Roddey believes, as big bucks will quite often use the same area year after year.
During the deer season, a large scrape that is free of leaves, and shows signs of fresh use, is another thing to look for.
He also scouts during other times of the year while doing other things. When he hunts turkeys in the spring, he looks for deer sign. In the fall, he uses binoculars to check to see which oak trees have a good crop of acorns. Any types of acorns are good, though, of course, white oak nuts are the sweetest and best. Fruits such as persimmon, grapes, locust, apples and pears are favorite deer foods, too. Does flock to fruit trees and bucks will search for them there.
Even among hunters who have seen sign and know the food sources the deer are using sometimes miss an important next step in Roddey's hunting process during the rut: They don't actually hunt enough.
"I don't care how good the sign is, you have to physically be there when the trophy buck makes a mistake and shows up during daylight. It takes time and patience in the woods to accomplish this," he said.
Roddey tries to take a week off during the rut to hunt.
"The more time you have to hunt, the more dramatically you increase your odds to kill a trophy. The person who only can hunt one time a week can rarely compete with a hunter who can hunt every day," he noted.
During that week, he focuses on known sign, but he avoids hunting the same tree twice. As the week progresses, if he hasn't killed a buck, he'll choose stand sites that are closer and closer to where he believes the deer are bedding.
And stand selection is another key element in his strategy, particularly as over the years he has come to hunt more and more with a compound bow, even during rifle season.
"I like to get up close and personal on a deer; it really excites me when they get within 25 yards, which is the maximum range that I will let an arrow fly," he said. "I like to climb 20 to 25 feet up in a straight tree that is free of poison ivy and that has some cover from another tree to better camouflage my position and reduce the chance of my being scented. A cedar next to a pine is a good choice for a cover tree."
Ideally, he doesn't cut any shooting lanes, but rather chooses a tree that will give multiple chances for a shot.
Hunters who are members of hunt clubs that plant food plots can factor in the importance of the food plots for the deer that they are hunting.
"On most of the deer clubs I am a member of, we plant food plots consisting of wheat, clover and dwarf essex rape," Roddey said. "Long rectangular plots give more 'edge' and are generally more productive than square ones. Binoculars can help you pinpoint where deer enter and exit a field. Get close enough to these spots to climb a tree for an easy shot, but don't try to get too close; a few yards too far is better than an inch too close. Hunters who use rifles don't have to be quite as precise about stand location as bowhunters do."
During the critical rut period, Roddey gets a picture of where the deer are feeding (including the feeding patterns of the does) and where they are bedding, and the travel corridors between the feeding and bedding spots. Travel patterns, sign and actual deer sightings all factor heavily into his decision about where to put a stand. The better you understand the movements of the deer as they use the land, the more effective you will be at choosing a stand site where you hunt.
Roddey also factors in the wind, both in choosing the stand site itself and in approaching the stand.
"When approaching my hunting site, I come in from downwind, and get there as quickly and quietly as possible. Wind in the woods is a freaky thing; it will blow from almost every point on the compass during the course of a day. The prevailing wind is the one to observe as you approach your stand site; climbing over 20 feet high in your chosen tree will practically eliminate scent as a problem," he said.
He also suggests that hunters remember that air currents rise during the early morning hours, and they fall during the late evening. Take this into consideration when choosing a stand site. Some places are a better choice for a morning hunt
and others are a better choice as the sun goes down.
Partly because of his desire not to have the deer pattern him, and partly because of wind considerations, Roddey changes stand locations frequently -- far more often than the average hunter. Not surprisingly, he prefers climbing stands to permanent stands because they increase his mobility and that, he believes, increases his effectiveness.
Again, the "effective" part of this strategy doesn't come from randomly moving the stand. What makes it effective is knowing the hunting area and the habits of the deer well enough to have several good spots in mind, and have reasons to hunt one stand on one day, and another on another day.
For Roddey, the hunt moves from scouting to stand selection, but of course, doesn't end there. In addition to considering the prevailing winds when he approaches his stand, and to trying to get in and out of his stand quickly and quietly to minimize the disturbance he makes, he also pays attention to a number of small things.
For example, he wears rubber boots when hunting to minimize his own scent trail. Like almost all modern whitetail hunters, he uses full camo, but he also pays attention to minimizing his movement in the stand, up to and including drawing his bow.
Interestingly, he does not use attractant scents. Although many hunters have used them to good effect, Roddey said, "Very seldom do I use scents. I have spooked more deer while they are being put in place than I have killed with them."
As we enter the late stage of the season, keeping Roddey's philosophy in mind can be helpful on a couple of levels. First, as much as deer activity is curtailed in December, hunter activity declines even faster. To kill a buck, you have to hunt the buck. Second, the sign and activity you do see, whether or not it results in a trophy on any given hunt, can help lay the foundation for your next hunt, or even next year.