Buckmasters Magazine

Game Changers

Game Changers

By Collected By Tim H. Martin

Buckmasters’ staffers share tips that have helped fill their tags.

THE TARSAL HOARDER (Jackie Bushman)

We can thank the good folks at Scent-Lok and Tink’s for developing scent-absorbing clothing, scent attractants and odor eliminators that fool a deer’s nose pretty doggone well. Today’s technology and improvements in hunting gear help us minimize odors and allow us to get closer to deer. But if you team the modern stuff with this good old-fashioned deer hunter’s tactic, it’s going to make things a lot tougher for the deer.

Something I’ve been doing since I first started deer hunting — long before scent technology arrived — is to put out deer tarsals. Those are the dark hocks located on the inside of every deer’s hind leg joint.

Nothing smells like a deer more than a deer. Whenever I manage to shoot a deer, whether a buck or a doe, it’s not going to the processor until I’ve removed the hocks and stuffed them into a plastic freezer bag.

I usually put one on the ground beneath my stand and attach another to a limb once I’ve settled in the tree. When hunting from a shooting house or ground blind, I put one in a window on the downwind side. I also like to rub the bill of my cap with the tarsal before I walk to my stand.

I recommend keeping tarsal glands in the freezer until it’s time to head to the field. If you do so, tell your wife, girlfriend or mother about it. They don’t take kindly to finding a bag of stinky deer hair while pulling out the frozen lasagna.

If you don’t want to risk a trip to the doghouse or can’t get your hands on a fresh hock, you can purchase one from Tink’s called Intruder Tarsal Gland Lure. It’s real and works like a charm.

Buckmasters cameraman Jimmy Little has been filming me for years, and he has seen how serious I am about using tarsals. He accuses me of being a tarsal collector, like one of those people on the hoarding show on the A&E cable channel.

All I can say in my defense is after 40-some years of watching them work, I really like the way tarsal glands cover my scent and attract big bucks.

So if you don’t mind being called a tarsal hoarder and aren’t afraid to sleep in the doghouse from time to time, this old-fashioned tip can be a game changer for you, too.

SEEING IS BELIEVING (Chris Chastain)

Half the battle with taking a bigger buck is simply knowing it exists. The Buckmasters film crew has used Moultrie trail cameras for many years, especially over active scrapes, to scout and see what’s what. These photos give us confidence that we’re not wasting time at locations where immature or undesirable bucks are making scrapes.

This has been a solid tactic for us during the rut, but some years the rut seems to be a little off. Such was the case last December, when Alabama’s bucks weren’t making scrapes like they normally do. You can’t photograph scrapes if the bucks aren’t making them, right? Wrong.

I’ve had the pleasure of filming Terry Rohm from Tink’s for many years. He taught me that even if the bucks aren’t scraping, you can trick them into posing for a trail camera. Terry makes mock scrapes using Tink’s Trophy Buck Lure and places cameras beside them in areas where bucks usually lay down sign. The bucks inspect the scrapes, even when rut action seems dead.

I used Terry’s tactic this past season in Alabama by setting up mock scrapes and trail cameras in multiple locations. Then I waited a week before checking them. When one of the cameras revealed a nice 10-pointer working my fake scrape, we knew exactly where to put our 2011 Buckmasters Sweepstakes Winner, John Nowak of Wausau, Wis. I videotaped John taking that buck on the first afternoon of his hunt.

GO WITH YOUR GUT (Mike Handley)

Going with your instincts is an important element of deer hunting.

Sure, experimenting in the field will sometimes result in flubs, but experimenting is the best way to learn what’s wildly successful, too. If I hadn’t acted on a whim as a fledgling bowhunter, I’d never have known that a bleat call can make a buck turn on a dime.

Recalling the first time I witnessed a buck do that takes me back to a blustery November trip to Pawnee County, Neb. I’d booked that hunt — also on a whim — with a relatively new outfitter, Tim Puhalla of Wild Things Outfitting, in 2002.

On the drive from the Lincoln Airport, Tim stopped for gas and I went inside the station to buy snacks. When I saw Primos’ can calls hanging alongside the gum and cigarettes, I chuckled to myself, “Only in Nebraska.”

My gut instinct told me to buy one, which I did, and I returned to the truck. I said to Tim, “If this silly thing doesn’t work, I’m only out $4, right?” I slid it in my jacket pocket and forgot about it.

The next morning, Tim directed me to a ladder stand on a ridge well traveled by deer — a natural corridor between a harvested cornfield and a stand of cedars where they bedded.

What a morning! By 10 a.m., I’d seen at least a dozen deer, including a decent buck just beyond bow range. Not an hour ticked by without a deer passing through my field of vision.

About 4 p.m., a doe burst out of the cedars directly in front of me and stood motionless right under my stand for 15 minutes, looking back the way she’d come. My eyes were glued to the same spot, and I attached the release to my bow string, just in case.

The doe finally ambled off down the ridge, and I began to relax.

No sooner had I let down my guard than a mule-faced buck burst from the cedars. His rack was bone-white and thick, and the tines were long — except for one, which appeared to have been broken. Even so, I knew those antlers would make the record book.

Instead of following the doe, however, it took a path that arced away from me. The buck was at 50 yards and getting farther by the second.

Desperate, I remembered the can call and slid one hand in my coat pocket to flip it. The muffled doe bleats caused the buck to raise its head and turn on a dime. In less than a minute, he was at 16 yards with a foot of Easton aluminum buried in his shoulder.

I had to pinch myself to believe what had happened.

“This is so cool!” I said aloud, lowering my bow to the ground.

Since then, I have used the little can to bring in several other bucks.

I suppose the moral of this story is, if you have a hunch something might work, just try it. My $4 whim has become one of my favorite Game Changers.

Game ChangersBUCK WHISPERING (Jimmy Little)

When Jimmy Little first described his Game Changer tactic, I thought he was playing a prank on me.

“I talk to deer,” he said, with a completely sincere face. “And not just deer, but any animal I’m after: bears, turkey, elk … even fish.”

I scratched my head and asked, “You mean, like a horse whisperer?”

“No, I don’t whisper.” He said. “I talk to ’em, just like me and you are talking right now.”

I tried not to laugh and said, “Okay, pretend a buck is coming down the hall and talk to it just like you would if you were in a hunting situation.”

Jimmy began to speak in a natural, non-menacing, yet authoritative tone. “Here, bucky, bucky, bucky, bucky. Come here to me now, bucky, bucky, bucky.”

I kept waiting for him to lose the straight face, point at me and yell, “Ha, ha! Gotcha!”

About that time, Buckmasters cameraman Chris Chastain emerged from his office and said, “Tim, he’s not kidding. We have it several times on video. It works.”

Jimmy then explained how God’s word in Genesis 2:26 and 2:28 gave us power and dominion over all Earth’s creatures, including deer.

Genesis 2:26 says, “Then God said, ‘… rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ ”

A longtime believer, this made perfect sense, but it was a tactic I’d never tried, nor even thought of.

Jimmy said, “You have to speak with authority, and with faith. Faith is the key.”

He described event after event in which animals behaved exactly as he commanded, including the double drop-tined Montana buck Jimmy talked in and filmed for Jackie Bushman in 2010.

“Of course, you don’t always get the animal.” Jimmy explained. “It’s up to you to make the shot, time things correctly and hope everything falls into place. But if you speak to the animal with authority and faith, they will obey. Try it and see.”

VIRTUALLY PERFECT PRACTICE (Ken Piper)

If I told you I’ve shot a thousand or more trophy bucks, you’d think I was either a poacher or a liar.

I’m neither, and although the vast majority of those bucks were shot in a virtual setting, that experience has done more for my real bowhunting than any other type of practice or expensive gear.

I’ve been shooting video hunting simulators since 1999. Not only are they a lot of fun, there is nothing that will prepare you better for drawing your bow on a monster buck.

If you’ve never seen these systems in action, check with your local archery shop. The only special equipment you need are inexpensive blunts for your arrows. A light for your sight helps, too.

A computer system controls a projector that shows video clips of live whitetails. You decide the right time to shoot and must overcome distractions like other deer, poor shot angles and obstacles. You have to take shot angle into consideration and aim accordingly. When you shoot, the computer stops the video and gives you a score.

While you’re having fun and learning about shot placement, you’re also developing muscle memory and conditioning your mind for the real thing. The more I shot the video, the less I had to think about drawing the bow, placing the pin on the vitals and making a smooth release.

I still get buck fever when I see a racked buck coming my way, but, thanks to the videos, my nerves no longer keep me from making a good shot. That’s a good thing, because when I looked up and saw a 206-inch buck heading my way on Nov. 7, 2004, I knew instantly I was seeing a buck of several lifetimes.

Routine took over, and my brain automatically began to take my body through my video habits. Without having to think, I set my feet, looked for a good opening, checked the release on the string and made a smooth draw to my cheek. When the buck stepped into the chosen opening, my 20-yard pin automatically settled just behind the shoulder blade, and my finger gently touched off the release.

Hunting and taking bucks is like anything else: The more you do it, the better you get. Video simulators have given me the experience of shooting countless bucks and made me a much better hunter. If you try one, it will be a Game Changer for you, too.

GOING SOUTHPAW (Tim H. Martin)

Thirty years ago, as a freshman at Auburn University, I signed up for ROTC Rifle Marksmanship as an elective course. Little did I know how many extra deer I would collect over my career from one tip taught by that Army instructor.

He showed me how to shoot targets located in the dead zone, a wide span behind and to the right of a right-handed shooter (behind and to the left for a left-handed shooter).

The instructor taught me what I call The Ol’ Southpaw Switch. This simply means I’ve learned to shoot a rifle by shouldering it on my left side, using my left eye and left trigger finger in a mirror image of my normal setup.

Try this test (Lefties, just do the opposite): Using an imaginary rifle, without moving below the waist, pretend a deer is directly behind you on your right side. Try to swing around for the shot. Can’t reach it, can you? Now try left-handed. See how much farther around you can shoot?

One of the best ways to practice this technique is with a pellet rifle. Plinking tin cans left-handed will quickly remove the awkwardness of using your opposite eye, shoulder and trigger finger. Even just a little practice will help shooting left-handed become second nature when it’s time to use a high-powered rifle or shotgun.

In 35 years of hunting, I’ve taken at least six bucks that would have escaped had I not learned this Game Changer. Once, I shot two does left-handed from Jackie Bushman’s box blind in Alabama. They appeared in the rear window on the right, which would have jammed most right-handers.

Just last season, I took a crafty 10-pointer with a muzzleloader that would have easily escaped had I not added this skill to my bag of tricks.

The buck was the last in a line of six stringing their way alongside a swampy creek. I was seated 30 feet up in a climbing stand, waiting for the bachelor group to pass into my shooting zone. The first five slipped past perfectly, right to left, with only the 10-pointer remaining.

That old buck’s sixth sense must’ve kicked in, because, without warning, it realized something wasn’t right, walked to the base of my tree, sniffed and stomped. As the others continued on, it bristled, backtracked and circled into my right-handed dead zone. I swapped shoulders and introduced Mr. Treesniffer to Mr. Thompson/Center.

Practice going southpaw (northpaw for you lefties) and I promise you’ll master it quickly and make your taxidermist richer.

Now if I could only learn to shoot a bow left-handed.

Game ChangersCURIOSITY KILLS BUCKS (Mark Oliver)

I think a lot of new hunters are intimidated by deer calls. We get bombarded with advice from hunting shows and magazine articles to the point we don’t even know where to begin. It sure used to overwhelm me.

It wasn’t until I got fed up with watching deer far out of bow or rifle range that I got motivated enough to pick up a few calls and start experimenting. After seeing deer respond with my own eyes, I began to gain confidence.

Has all the “grunt-snort-wheeze-rattle-bleat” talk confused you? Here’s what you do: Start out by using light grunt calls and watch a deer’s reaction.

More often than not, that’s all it takes to get their attention and bring them closer.

Deer are curious creatures. That weakness often gets them into trouble. When they hear a call, they often feel they have to investigate. Keep in mind the deer in Montana react to certain calls differently than deer might in Alabama. The only way to discover what works and to build confidence is to see it firsthand.

Keep it simple when starting out. I recommend calling to does, even if there’s not a buck in sight.

If you can persuade one or two nannies to come closer, your odds of bringing a buck into range increase dramatically, especially during the rut.

The trick is to figure out which call attracts the girls so they’ll lay down a natural scent trail leading the big boys to you.

After you’ve seen what light grunting can do, pick up the rattling antlers during the pre-rut and rut and just go for it. Rattling in white-tailed bucks is one of my favorite things in all of hunting.

One of the first times I tried rattling was on a burley old 8-pointer in Montana. We saw and filmed him at 400 yards the first day, and I tried to will that buck closer, but no dice. The next day, we spotted him working the river bottoms, again at four or five football fields away, looking for does. I’d had enough.

The next time out, I took a set of rattling antlers. I thrashed the antlers together for about 30 seconds and hoped the noise wouldn’t scare him away. To my surprise, the buck made a beeline toward me, pawed out a scrape and presented a much closer 120-yard shot. If I hadn’t tried, I would’ve never known how well rattling works.

After nearly 20 years of chasing Jackie Bushman and whitetails from Canada to Mexico with a video camera, I’ve learned to make friends with all the deer calls you see on the market. They actually work! And, if you’re willing to experiment, you’ll find out which tactics will be Game Changers for you.

GOOD VIBRATIONS (Larry Teague)

One thing that surprised me when I got serious about shooting years ago was how much a rifle barrel vibrates (oscillates, actually) at the shot. Mess with this vibration, and you change the rifle’s harmonics, often resulting in a miss.

This rapid oscillation also causes a rifle barrel to bounce when it’s rested on a hard surface like a blind’s window ledge or a metal stand rail, sending the bullet who knows where.

Hard-yoked rifle rests and shooting sticks also can mess with a rifle’s harmonics. No matter which rest you use, place the forearm, not the barrel, on the rest.

One rest I use often, the leather Owl Ear Straddle Bag from Protektor, droops over a blind’s window ledge. The bag is weighted with sand but isn’t too heavy or bulky to carry in a pack on short-distance hunts.

I was wishing I had that rest on a deer hunt in Kansas last December. We were hunting the Rim Rock Ranch in the southeastern part of the state. I was in a tower blind overlooking 200 acres of field bordered by hardwoods and a large wheat field. A rocky 50-foot embankment was to the east. In my hands was a pre-production Marlin X7S rifle, a stainless model that’s new this year.

I’d seen three bucks from this stand the previous day but let them pass, hoping for something bigger. It was the peak of the rut, with bucks actively chasing.

On the final day of the hunt, an 8-pointer emerged from a strip of trees at the base of the precipice 150 yards away.

There’s one shooting rest you always carry with you. I didn’t grip the forearm but let it rest in my hand flat against the aluminum window frame. It was instant lights out for the animal.

Learning how to support a firearm is an important yet often overlooked facet of deer hunting. If you’ll keep that in mind in the stand, it will increase your accuracy and become a Game Changer for you.

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

Copyright 2019 by Buckmasters, Ltd.

Copyright 2017 by Buckmasters, Ltd