Offbeat Deer Tactics

Having trouble finding deer or getting shots at those you do find? Check out these tips.

A turkey feather dangling in the wind near a well-used deer trail will often cause passing deer to stop long enough for you to shoot. Photo by Bennett Kirkpatrick

There is more than one way to "skin a cat"; this same principle holds true for hunting deer. Most deer stories cover hunting the rut, scrapes, rubs, stand placement, raffling, grunt calls, food sources, scents and strategy. These subjects need to be covered, but there are other subjects that Game & Fish deer hunters need to be aware of, too. Tips that I have used, and ones gathered from successful deer hunters, sometimes boggle the mind. Some of these tips are listed below.

Deer are inquisitive by nature and will react to certain new elements in their environment - if they are not frightened. Try this on your next hunt: Take along a portable AM radio. Tune it to a weak station or to white-noise static and set the volume on low-to-medium.

Don't laugh. It sounds strange, but if you hang the radio on a limb just off a good deer trail within easy view and range of your stand, many deer will stop to investigate. Deer don't know what is making this sound, and curiosity makes them seek it out. This unusual strategy has been the downfall of many a buck.

This may not, strictly speaking, be an offbeat tactic, but so few hunters systematically look at what's around them that it deserves mention. Most of us have heard stories about deer that just suddenly appear 20 yards from a hunter's stand. Deer are very good at quietly moving through the woods, but they can't materialize out of thin air, and the best way to see more deer is to examine the brush around you carefully as you sit.

Anytime you see movement back in the woods, check it out; it just might be the Mr. Big that you have been waiting for. The same goes for horizontal lines. Not many trees grow parallel to the ground. When you spot a horizontal line in the woods, give it close scrutiny. The chances are high that it is a deer. When you look into cover, there's a natural tendency for your eyes to stop at the edge of the cover. Force yourself to look into the cover as far as you can see.

Also, buy the best optics you can afford. A good quality scope can add as much as 15 minutes more shooting time to your early-morning or late-evening hunts when low light situations exist. Older bucks didn't get old by being stupid. They know they are safe from hunters when it is dark at night. Pre-dawn and late evening, when light conditions are marginal but legal shooting hours are still in effect, are prime times to catch a trophy buck slipping to or from his bedding area. He feels safe because he doesn't think a hunter can see him. A good set of binoculars will let you look back into the trees to see deer waiting for darkness to enter a field.

In the early part of the 20th Century, in lightly hunted areas of the West, cowboys would attach a white handkerchief to trees or sagebrush to attract antelopes into range. Whitetails tend to see white objects as a warning sign, but that doesn't mean they aren't interested in investigating subtle changes in their environment. Try attaching a turkey wing feather to a string and tying it on a limb beside a well-used deer trail. The fluttering of the feather attracts a deer's attention; it will stand still, observing the feather long enough for you to have an easy stationary target. This works best if you already have a good idea of the movement pattern of the deer - and when you tie the turkey feather in a position that will give you a good shot if the deer stops there.

It's a rare hunter who doesn't feel compelled to tell his taxidermist how his trophy buck was killed. Thus, taxidermists at the very least hear a good many deer stories, and sometimes patterns emerge. In checking with a taxidermy shop, I discovered that a surprisingly high percentage of the trophy bucks they mount were killed between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Most deer hunters are taking a nap or eating lunch during these hours. It's not hard to imagine, especially during the rut, that many older bucks have a very good idea where the hunters are once they start leaving their stands. A hunter who stays put and keeps still near a known bedding area has a chance at these nice deer.

Except for wading very shallow, narrow creeks to cross to the other side, at least 99 percent of human hunters will not wade into water. If you're lucky enough to hunt near an open wetland or swamp and can't figure out where the deer disappear to during the hunting season, head for the water.

Use a strap-on seat attached to a tree out in the water in a swampy area for a stand. Focus on spots where there are humps of land nearby with deer trails on them, preferably near where two or more deer trails enter a swamp. A pair of hip boots will keep you dry, and in shallow water, you can sit with your feet on the ground; this will allow you to stand to make odd-angle shots if necessary.

Deer that are not alarmed will often stop when they hear a noise that they can't quite place. By whistling between your teeth at a slow-moving deer, you can often cause them to stop momentarily. While they stop to see where the unusual sound came from, you have a stationary shot. You do need to be ready to shoot, because the deer will be looking for the source of the noise and will probably home in on you soon. Few deer will bolt at the sound of a soft whistle, so if you are ready, you have little to lose.

Using a grunt tube on a buck can create a similar effect. Sometimes they will ignore a grunt, but often they will stop, and sometimes they will move toward the grunt. Again, they seldom simply run away from a grunt.

This tactic is one you might want to wait until the last week of the season to use, for obvious reasons.

Most avid deer hunters have a small patch of woods that they have located and that is called a 'bedding area'; the place is thick, and there is no way to hunt it without pushing deer out in front of you.

Use a climbing stand to climb high on a tree located where you can see a goodly portion of one end of the bedding area. Let some time pass, and then have one of your hunting buddies enter the opposite end to ramble through the thicket at a snail's pace. Every few yards, the driver should blow on a whistle; this will not only push deer out in front of the driver, it will also let you know exactly where he is located. Only shoot shots that are clear of the bedding area and away from any possibility of injuring the driver.

A friend of mine

had a monster buck that had given him the slip two times. He could see bits and pieces of the deer from his tree stand but could never get a clear shot in the thicket. Once you scare a buck out of his bedding spot, the odds are poor that he will return nearby in the near future, so my friend tried everything he could think of before trying this drive method. On the last day of the season, my friend had a partner drive the small patch of woods. The partner had been plowing through the thick mass of trees and vines for only a few minutes when Mr. Big decided he had had enough of this foolishness and bolted out in the open for the stander in the tree stand to get a clear shot.

Regular hunting methods had proved fruitless, yet this off-the-wall tactic worked like a charm.

Some of these tactics seem a little odd, but before you write them off as ludicrous, give them a try. You just might like the results you get!

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