September 30, 2016
Consistently scoring on mature trophy whitetails can be a daunting task. While time in the woods is the most limiting factor for most hunters, there are many reasons why hunters don't punch a tag every year. However, there are some tactics that can greatly increase a hunter's chances.
Successful hunters exhibit a couple of key qualities that allow them to tag a great buck year in and out. Patience, quality scouting, scent control, fine tuning equipment and knowledge of whitetails are great attributes for deer hunters. Simply stated, put in your time in the stand. If you are able to sit all day long, do so. Pack a snack bag with water, and wear proper clothing for the weather conditions.
Very often the magic moment does not occur at daylight or dusk, especially during peak rut. Scouting efficiently enables hunters to focus efforts on premium, target-rich environments. Scent control and hunting the wind are other common denominators of successful hunters. Hanging a stand for each prevailing wind direction will up your chances of success.
Also, ensure bows/rifles/muzzleloaders are dialed in, and know your limitations. Maximum effective killing range for any of these sporting arms is critical for success. Practice shooting, ensuring you are comfortable and effective. Very often it comes down to one critical shot. When all the hard work has paid off and you have a monster buck standing in front of you, don't let your lack of shooting skill ruin your hunt.
Last, read as much as you can about whitetails and their patterns. Verse yourself on the rut and the different phases. Gather data on the viable food sources in your area, along with key land features that could harbor deer. Knowledge is power, and understanding what makes your quarry "tick" will put you at an advantage.
One of the most important factors in putting a trophy buck in the sights is strategic and efficient scouting. With the many facets and trials of life, many hunters have limited time in the woods. As such, making the best use of time is critical in finding and targeting larger bucks.
One way to quickly identify key areas is scouting from long range with binoculars; be cognizant of wind direction when slipping into position to glass food plots, pastures or fields. This can even be done when driving to and from work.
By staying at long distances, leaving deer-spooking scent in the area is eliminated. An hour or two after daylight and an hour or two before dark are the best times to catch deer in these open areas and on the edges of woodlines as well.
In recent years, game cameras have become popular for good reason, as they afford hunters instant feedback on the size and frequency of bucks in an area. There are even devices that allow hunters to access and review photos remotely from Smartphones/laptops.
Of course for cameras to be truly useful, hunters must position them properly; established deer trails are great starting points, as are isolated food sources. Another effective camera placement in the pre-rut can be placing cameras on mock scrapes.
Now every hunter loves to pull the card from cameras to see what has been visiting. However, visiting cameras leaves human scent, and that could result in bumping deer when entering and exiting. Try to limit camera visits to once a week or even less, and bear in mind that it is better to use multiple cameras in numerous likely locations. Also, high-traffic areas are not always the best locations; the larger bucks become larger because they stay hidden.
Finally, be sure to place cameras several weeks, or even a month or more, before the season. This provides more time for the camera to catch all bucks in the area, which helps in targeting the larger ones.
Learning the vocabulary of whitetails is a huge asset to consistently killing trophy bucks. In fact, challenging a dominant buck with vocalizations can be what seals the deal on a wallhanger. However, a lot of the time hunters are simply calling blind, producing realistic rut-like vocalizations and sequences to get the attention of unseen deer and pull them into range. To be successful though, hunters must know what to say and when to say it.
During pre-rut, hunters should stick with basic grunting — four to five single grunts with about two seconds between each grunt. Given the very low volume (sound) of deer talk, it doesn't hurt to call frequently; every 10 to 15 minutes is a safe bet. As the rut begins, try tending grunt sequences followed by a doe bleat. A buck hearing another suitor trailing a doe can be the medicine needed to pull him into gun/bow range. Adding buck "roars" and antler clicking can be real attention getters, as can the snort-wheeze.
Once contact has been made with a buck, maybe even eyes on him, calling tactics change gears. After getting the buck's attention, use tending grunts to get him to look for the intruder. When he starts heading in the right direction, go silent and make him look. If he seems disinterested, step up the calling series with louder and quicker grunts. If that fails, try a buck roar, followed by a snort-wheeze and end with a doe bleat. Start with the basics and only increase volume and emotion if needed to bring him closer for a shot. And be very careful when calling during the last 50 to 75 yards; deer can look up.
PATIENCE / PERSISTENCE
Time is very limited for many hunters today, so targeting the best times and locations, along with the persistence to hunt hard, are pretty much required for those targeting big bucks. Additionally, hunters must be able to withstand the elements during peak hunting times. This holds especially true during the peak rut, when cool temps and urges prompt all-day movement.
Warm, waterproof and windproof clothing is critical to sitting all day, as are water and snacks. A good book can also help take the edge off a long day sitting still. If an all-day hunt is impossible due to life commitments, hunters should at least maximize hunting time by staying as long as possible. The most successful hunters spend as much time as possible in a tree stand. Less patient hunters can score, but seldom with consistency.
After persistence to wait out the buck, patience must prevail so that hunters wait for the best possible shot. Hunters must stay calm and collected, at least to some degree, when laying eyes on a trophy. When adrenaline is pumping, simple holding of breath and counting backward from 15 can slow the heart rate enough to calm the nerves. Shooting too quickly could seriously lessen the odds of a good shot and clean harvest.
Hunters should also assess their surroundings, determining the bests areas that offer clear shooting lanes, as well as potential approaches.
Last, patience plays a key role in waiting on the right deer. With limited schedules and time in the stand, it can be a tough decision whether to let a 125-inch buck walk in hopes of seeing something bigger. Regardless of the decision, all that matters is that the hunter is happy with his or her decision.
Another aspect of persistence is not jumping from stand to stand. Hunters who have put in the time to do the research and the scouting, and determined the best place for a stand, must have confidence that they did everything correctly, particularly when pursuing big bucks. Large bucks are harder to find because they often stick to areas away from other deer. The overall numbers of sightings of deer may be lower, but he is still there. It is very common for a big buck to work a trail, scrape line or rub line on a three-day pattern.
The same holds true for late-winter food sources, especially during harder winters. Trophy deer, like does, have to eat to make it through winter, and good, isolated food sources always work, eventually. Stay put, and he will come.