Buckmasters Magazine

Western Whitetails

Western Whitetails

By Fred Eichler

As whitetails continue to adapt to mule deer country, so must the hunters who pursue them.

The monster whitetail had five long, heavy points on each side of his rack. With a trembling hand, I slowly lifted my recurve bow off the hook. Luke Robb, a friend and one of the guides who works for me, was sitting in a stand just above with a camera. He whispered, “That’s a big buck!” Unfortunately, it was out of range as it walked through the corn stubble.

I tried a doe bleat, but the buck ignored it. I decided to snort-wheeze and see if he would react to that. Luke kept filming as I gave my best effort at challenging this animal to a fight. The buck stopped, looked our direction, then turned 90 degrees and started walking toward us.

The big 170-class buck closed the distance to about 25 yards. He was walking behind a big tree limb when he caught our scent and bolted across the field, leaving me shaking so badly I had to sit down to keep from falling out of the treestand.

The story doesn’t end sadly, however. A few days later, I shot a 145-inch buck for a segment of “Easton Bowhunting TV” we were filming.

While none of that sounds remarkable, I was pretty happy considering we weren’t in one of the country’s stereotypical whitetail hotspots. We were in Colorado.

When most hunters think of white-tailed deer, they think of the plentiful opportunities of the Eastern states or the giants found in the Midwest.

Although many Western states are known for trophy mule deer, they’re gaining status as trophy whitetail destinations, too. Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho are home to both trophy mule deer and whitetails.

The West is still predominantly mule deer country, but whitetails have infiltrated via the lower elevation river drainages, creek bottoms and farmland found in these states.

The whitetails have adapted and now coexist with mule deer in the same habitat. This occasionally results in crossbreeding, which can result in a deer with traits of both species. Since whitetails are more aggressive than mule deer, crossbreeding is usually the result of a whitetail buck breeding a mule deer doe.

In some Western states, your deer tag is good for either species, a huge plus for hunters wanting a crack at whichever species offers the best shot opportunity.

For Western whitetails, it’s important to realize tactics can be different from those used to tag their eastern cousins.

For example, with the exception of those living near fertile farm ground, Western whitetails often cover more country than Eastern deer. This is often due to weather, food availability and terrain. What it means for hunters is the deer you see today might be five miles away tomorrow.

A big advantage to hunting out West is the increased visibility along the river bottoms and waterways where most whitetails are found.

That means optics are even more important for the Western whitetail hunter. A good spotting scope and some 10-power binoculars are a must-have when I’m after whitetails out West. By glassing from a distance, you can observe trails and bedding and feeding areas without alerting the deer they’re being hunted.

Another big difference between hunting whitetails in the West versus the East or Midwest is cover. Cottonwood trees are the most common broadleaf tree out West where whitetails are found. Although they provide some cover for a treestand in the early fall, once the leaves drop, they leave a bowhunter standing out like a sore thumb.

I often tie up brush using baling wire or twine. Adding cover to your stand can help break up your outline. Well constructed ground blinds or pop-up blinds that have been brushed in work well along trails or in areas where there are no trees to hang a stand.

I prefer to hunt out of a treestand where possible, but the disadvantage to cottonwood trees is they are usually large-trunked and rarely straight, so finding a good tree is like hitting the lottery. Be prepared with extra chains or straps to get hang-on stands into large or tilted trees.

Check with your treestand manufacturer to keep from voiding your warranty and putting yourself in a dangerous situation. Always wear a safety vest and use a safety line when setting your stand and when getting in or out of your stand. The biggest whitetail on four hooves is not worth risking your life over.

A benefit to hunting the West’s open-country whitetails is you can see how the deer react to calling and rattling.

When using calls in the East, I feel blind. Whether rattling, grunting or bleating, I don’t know if a deer is around or not.

Out West, I’m usually calling or rattling at a specific deer. I can gauge his reaction to the calls because I can see him. That’s a huge advantage. If the call I’m using isn’t getting the buck’s attention, I can try something else.

The monster buck in the beginning of this article didn’t react at all when I bleated at him, but the snort-wheeze brought him right in. I would have never known the deer was there in the East, let alone have been able to try different calls until I found one that worked.

Another tidbit to know about hunting whitetails out West is that mule deer don’t make scrapes. If you find a scrape out West, it was made by a whitetail.

So if you’re looking for something a little different for your next whitetail hunt, don’t overlook the Western states.

Remember that although whitetails in the West are easier to see, they’re still the same elusive, sharp-eyed, sound-sensitive, wind-checking critters found east of the Rocky Mountains.

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This article was published in the July 2011 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.

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