October 25, 2017
These five spots are sure to prove worth exploring when the pressured bucks on your hunting grounds seem to disappear.
Should I set up watch on a timbered ridge or in the cornfield below? That thought was going through my mind as I mulled options on locating whitetails that, prior to the season, had not been shy about appearing in full view.
Even with the rut charging ahead, bucks had withdrawn into secluded hideouts from my hunting pressure and that of neighboring hunters.
Because whitetails rarely abandon a home territory, I knew the big boys were likely close, hugging shadows and holing up in overlooked hideouts. I just had to decipher their whereabouts to adjust my ambush.
When the pressure is on and your whitetail sightings drop, start looking in those cottontail hidey holes for a chance at your missing buck.
1. WETLAND SAFE PLACES
Whether you call them swamps, bogs, sloughs or marshes, the deer call them home. Wetlands of various makeups are scattered throughout whitetail country. Reeds, cattails, willows and associated vegetation create an impenetrable fortress that whitetails relish for escape cover. Look for this cover in lowlands, on the periphery of riparian zones and along lake edges.
It doesn't take large acres of wetland to provide safety. One day a buddy and I were hunting along a river and looked off a steep bank into a cattail pocket only to be surprised by the explosive escape of a giant non-typical buck. The pocket of cover was less than 50 feet wide. Had we not been able to look down into the patch, we never would have seen the buck!
Hunting a wetland can be difficult due to the dense nature of the habitat. Deer drives are an option (where legal), but like we discovered on that big non-typical, running bucks are hard to hit as they explode out of cover.
It's better to scout the fringes of these marshy hideouts and locate the most heavily used trail. Set up a downwind watch and wait for the resident to reveal himself. If you're impatient, find a good vantage point and attempt to call a buck to the edge for a clear shot.
2. ABANDONED HOMESTEAD HIDEAWAYS
Dating back to the settlement era, much of whitetail country is marked with the remnants of homesteads, old farmhouses, and abandoned outbuildings.
Mother Nature has taken over these sites with a vengeance, creating ideal escape cover along with browse possibilities mixed in. Plus, in some rare cases you'll find orchards and lost garden plots still providing incentives for local whitetails to pay a visit.
Since these locales are generally micro in size you'll need to hunt them with a tiptoe mindset. Determine where deer will be traveling to and from with the help of trail cameras and onsite scouting.
It's best not to venture too far into a site as one bump could cause a buck to abandon ship and seek sanctuary elsewhere. Once you have an idea of deer travel patterns, decide how close you can set up based on the available cover.
You may need to set up on a tree edge 100 yards away, or you could simply grab a chair and peek out of an old farmhouse window for your chance at a new tenant.
3. THICK OR STEEP RETREATS
This category is a no-brainer. Bucks look for steep terrain and the thickest jungle around to avoid detection. Steepness gives a buck the ability to watch from a high vantage point for danger and possibly detect danger through breezes, and the sounds of ascending threats.
Thickness does the same except for the disadvantage of no sight, but since whitetails evolved in a forest environment they trust their noses and ears.
As in so many other whitetail habitats, you'll likely have to find travel corridors leaving these nasty terrain features and ambush them away from the security. Or will you? One strategy I've employed over the years is to watch the forecast, even hourly changes like you can find on hunting apps like ScoutLook Weather, and when conditions are right, invade.
Don't assault the cover, but still-hunt into the edges of these fortresses with the help of breezy, snowy and drizzly weather events.
The conditions give you cover and a slow-motion approach allows you to creep in close. You may discover rutting activity has him straying from cover or you can employ deer calls to lure the buck into a clear shooting lane.
4. STANDING CROP REFUGES
Croplands vary through the range of whitetails, but standing crops like corn, sorghum and even a variety of cover crops provide whitetails with another option to disappear when the pressure is on.
Cropland cover is dense, food is found onsite, and when it's dry and breezeless the deer can hear every attempt at a break-in.
Don't let the negatives chase you off. Standing crops have characteristic flaws giving you the advantage. All fields have edges and whitetails follow them when traveling.
The real key to finding success in a sea of crops is to look for uniqueness. Getting a bird's-eye, Google-Earth view will reveal even more. Natural openings, fences, hedgerows and other features creating lines or openings offer ambush points within the interior, or along the edge.
Also, scout for interior flood zones where crops drowned out or where it was too wet to plant. Whitetails use these for snacking and traveling. You can focus on them for ambush opportunities.
On windy days, particularly in standing corn, you can slip into a downwind edge and slowly walk the rows peering in to spot bedded deer. Bowhunters have used this tactic successfully for years by donning cornfield-colored camouflage.
5. THE TALL GRASS FORT
Finally, think "Little House On The Prairie." Every corner of whitetail country holds some prairie, meadows or pastures that may be overgrown. Whether it is a woodland glade of just a couple of acres or a rolling valley extending a half-mile in length, whitetails find solace in the tall grass.
Of course, the open habitat may not be grass at all. It could simply be an unused feedlot overrun with weeds. Nevertheless, these habitat zones, large or small, attract pressured bucks. They also attract bucks that have met up with an estrous doe and are looking for a love haven.
Pre-season scouting can reveal these oases. Be on the lookout for private estates that don't harbor livestock, or even land managers that embrace a rotation philosophy that gives some meadows a rest from livestock grazing.
You have two choices when it comes to hunting the tall grass. You can wait on an edge for a deer to stand with an exit mindset. Or you can aggressively stalk a bedded buck when breezy or wet conditions give you an edge.
A savvy way to dupe a buck is to utilize a folding, photo-realistic decoy of a buck or doe. Montana Decoy has several whitetail models that are lightweight, easy to deploy, and will fool bucks in any setting.
As for my earlier hunting dilemma, I opted to hunt a high, thicket-ridden ridge that sloped to cornfields on each side. After several attempts at all-day-sitting, I spotted antlers emerging from a brush pocket and realized I only had seconds to shoot.
The buck stopped in another opening, 25 yards from my tree stand, and I had my Mathews at full draw. Luckily, the mature buck was in no hurry and spent a few extra seconds sniffing for does or acorns. I dropped the string and watched as the buck bolted in a feeble escape attempt.
By giving up edges and moving to where a hunch led me, I had discovered the hideout of a pressured buck. Do some freelancing combined with snooping to find pressured buck haunts in your own zip code.