September 21, 2015
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It’s easy to assume television hunters like Pat and Nicole Reeve of Driven have unlimited time to set stands and scout, but nothing could be further from the truth. By mid-August, their schedule is demanding enough that whatever whitetail work they haven’t finished is likely to go unfinished. Because of this, they’ve learned to develop a year-long whitetail plan that leans heavily on early pre-season work to alleviate the need to do anything other than a little granular fine-tuning once the season closes in.
Like all dedicated whitetail hunters, the husband-and-wife team never really stop once the season comes to a close. They transition right into shed hunting and the ever-important winter scouting. Pat credits winter and early spring walks with revealing a wealth of valuable clues about deer travel and potential stand sites. To put it bluntly he says, “We walk every inch of our deer ground during winter scouting sessions. Last season’s buck sign is still visible and much easier to spot thanks to the lack of foliage. I realize that nearly all bowhunters have busy lives, but any time you can carve out in the winter or early spring to just try to learn your deer property is time well spent.”
For Reeve, the clues deciphered during those early scouting sessions help him figure out where to set up stands and blinds, but he doesn’t stop there. “As soon as the snow melts we are thinking about how to build food plots and watering holes around potential stand sites, and even where to plant apple trees and other fruit-bearing trees. I call these things my ‘drawing cards,’ and every stand I hunt has several of them.”
Adding food and water into a location that bucks already want to travel is the key to consistent success, and it’s something that Reeves is serious about. He has built several waterholes on various properties, and is a student of food plots. If you’ve got the ground and the means, following his advice about sprucing up quality ambush spots with a leafy buffet and a source of H20 is a good idea, but what if you don’t?
Everyman Drawing Cards
It’s common amongst hunters who spend their fall on public land, or permission-granted private parcels, to not be able to alter their hunting ground. Those hunters can still benefit from spring scouting and summer planning and should always be thinking about drawing cards. For example, if you can find a spot where an oak-dotted ridge terminates at the corner of an alfalfa field, you’re doing well. Even better is if there is a small depression that collects rainwater runoff, which gives the deer three options for food and water. In other words, a place that you haven’t set up at all might still feature three drawing cards if you know what to look for.
Reeve also explains that the same hunter who is spending his time on someone else’s land can do a few other things to create extra drawing cards. He breaks down a prime example by saying, “If I can’t build food plots or dig ponds on a certain property, I’ll find an agricultural field I want to hunt and then create some licking branches, or if the landowner will allow it, a rubbing tree. Little things like that can simply increase your odds of getting a buck to commit to your treestand.”
Even with as many drawing cards around their stands as possible, both Pat and Nicole make it a point to remain truly observant every time they are on stand. The reason, Pat explains is simple, “Sometimes we’re wrong about how the deer are going to use our ground. We might think a food plot at the north end is perfect and that we’ll draw deer from the neighbors’ properties, yet we’ll observe the exact opposite and realize all of the deer using the plot are coming from our ground. The same goes for building ponds. Sometimes those water holes won’t produce buck sightings, and we need to fill them in and start over. It’s a constant process of observation and adaptation.”
If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. It’s also necessary to not only try to grow a few mature bucks, but to consistently tag them. Whether you’re a landowner yourself or hunting ground through permission or public access, you can take the Reeves’ strategy to heart. It takes a lot of work to be successful in the deer woods, and it’s a process that never ends.
Of course, who would want it to?