By Dale Larson
Ground hunting is an effective proactive tactic to take the hunt to the buck.
The bruiser buck started to side-hill toward my stand. As I reached for my bow, flashbacks of past encounters started to run through my mind. I had seen this buck several times, and each time he detoured far enough from my stand to stay out of bow range.
I had contemplated relocating my stand on numerous occasions but still felt that I’d set up in the right spot. Coming back to my senses, I noticed the bruiser had settled in on the rub-strewn side-hill trail, which would give me a chip shot of 18 yards. At 60 yards, he stopped, looked down the slope, took a 90-degree right turn and slowly worked downhill away from any shot opportunity.
This type of missed shot opportunity plays out in front of our eyes each year. It’s hard to keep from second-guessing yourself; but rather than dwell on the past, shift gears and become more proactive in your hunting tactics.
In the above scenario, I could have crawled out of the security of my treestand, positioned a ground blind farther uphill, possibly creating the shot opportunity. But I couldn’t pull myself out of the perfectly concealed treestand. By not being proactive, I never got the chance to arrow that bruiser. How aggressive to be varies from situation to situation and can produce failures as well as successes. But the following proven proactive tactics just might earn you a shot opportunity you wouldn’t otherwise have had.
The elevated treestand platform might be our best defense from the whitetail’s senses, but there isn’t always a tree available. Many bowhunters are still skeptical of their chances at whitetails from the ground, but don’t make that mistake. It can be more challenging, but isn’t that why we bowhunt? The biggest benefit of the ground blind is its portability. And built-in scent control is an added bonus.
If you are a dyed-in-the-wool treestand hunter, get on the ground and try stalking or still-hunting. Nothing will get your thumper pounding any harder than getting eyeball-to-eyeball with a rutting buck. Still-hunting timber during the chase phase of the rut is hard to beat, with bucks pursuing does through leaves that even a deaf man could hear.
Move slowly and stop every few feet. Listen and glass the area, looking for the flicker of a tail or the shape of an ear. You cannot move too slowly or spend too much time observing. If the buck isn’t on a hot doe, he’s likely using the same tactics you are: walking, looking and listening — except he’s still-hunting does. If your hunting area is open enough for spot-and-stalk, spend time glassing for bedded or doe-tending bucks. Glass through the midday while other hunters are relaxing at camp.
I’m not talking about deer drives here, but subtle, easy pushes that move deer at a slow pace toward predictable escape routes can be very effective. Knowing your hunting area well enough to know how deer react to disturbance can put you in the right place at the right time. These pushes should target specific animals using escape routes that you’ve seen them use or suspect they use. One of my favorites is to allow my scent to push the deer without any other physical disturbance. When planning these easy pushes, consider setting up your shot for a returning buck — one that was pushed out and is returning to his lair. In small areas of cover, a buck will move out and circle back rather than leave the cover entirely.
You can actually channel deer to your position by cutting new travel trails, physically blocking existing trails, lowering fences, strategically placing human scent or parking a vehicle. Take advantage of a deer’s reaction to perceived danger or his habit of taking the path of least resistance.
Depending on hunting pressure, deer do and will pattern people or disturbance. Being aware of changed deer movement and determining the reason for the change will increase your success. Some things to consider are:
* Alter your normal hunting time; wait until daylight to access your stand, then sit through midday or all day.
* If you think that your stand site has been busted, position a stand site along the buck’s new pattern and place a dummy in the original stand.
* Instead of driving your vehicle to your normal parking spot and walking to your stand, have someone drop you off or even drive you to your stand and then drive off. Re-analyze entrance and exit trails to stand sites, making sure your movements are concealed.
* Do not rely on darkness for concealment; darkness gives hunters a false sense of security.
Hunting within your comfort zone can get you stuck in a rut and limit your success. Being proactive is sometimes thinking out of the box, but there are times that taking the hunt to the buck will be the only shot you get.
-- Reprinted from the November 2006 issue of Buckmasters Magazine