Learn to pick out the parts and pieces of deer to see more whitetails.
By Tom Fegely
One of the basics of winning a game of whitetail hide-and-seek is to detect the animal before it sees you.
Truth be known, thousands of deer escape the meat pole each season because things happen the other way around. They see (or hear or smell) hunters before hunters see or hear them. Many hapless hunters have no idea they may have bumped a buck or alerted a doe that might easily have been in their sights seconds or minutes later.
So you’re not seeing as many bucks and does as you’d like, even though you know they’re there? What follows are some tips on how to change your luck.
Some aspects of deer hunting are teachable, but developing the skills necessary for piecing together deer parts into deer wholes is largely an experiential process. Many walks in the deer woods or afternoons perched in treestands during the off-season helped my sons and wife learn to pick out bits and pieces of deer from the tangles, timber, scrub, swamp, understory and tall-grass fields.
A common oversight of mentors is failing to teach newcomers what to look for besides the obvious. For example, focusing a binocular and taking time to study a v-shaped form in the brush 50 yards away may reveal it’s an antler tip, not twigs as may have first been thought. Although shotgun or rifle scopes can help, a binocular with 8x or 10x magnification is required for studying stumps (bedded deer); twigs and small limbs (antlers); squirrel tails (twitching ears); sunlit leaves shivering in the wind (flicks of a deer’s tail); a horizontal line in the woods (a deer’s back); or other objects that hint of the presence of a deer.
As for the importance of binoculars, I don’t leave home without them. My 10x compacts are ready at all times and serve dual purposes. As a growing number of states are imposing antler restrictions, it’s doubly important to get a good look at your target before taking aim.
On an Alabama hunt several winters ago, I settled into my treestand a half hour before legal shooting time, only to discover that I’d left my binocular back at the Explorer. My 20-minute round-trip to the truck paid off in a strange way when, about an hour later, what appeared to be an 8-point buck poked its nose from the woods 150 yards across a cotton field. Before centering the buck in my scope, I studied it through the 10x glass as it posed broadside.
I was about to raise my rifle and take aim when it shifted its body and turned its head my direction. That’s when I noted it had but a bump for a left beam. It was broken 3 inches above the pedicle, probably during a fight or a collision with a vehicle, although the large right antler held a perfect four points.
Had I not had been offered a view via my binocular, I’d probably have shot the single-beamed deer and wouldn’t have discovered the broken antler until it was too late.
Of course, before you can scope deer you’ve got to find them. The best way to encounter deer is to go where less adventurous hunters fear to tread — the briars, brambles and wood’s edge thickets.
Such jungles, including 2- to 4-year-old, second-growth clearcuts or simply the dense cover of raspberry, honeysuckle, autumn olive, sumac, high grasses and shrubs, are intimidating. Except for occasional drives, such thickets often go untouched by hunters. That’s another reason deer like them so much.
Wandering through dense patches isn’t all that enjoyable. Briars grab your clothes, steal your cap and prick your hide. Dead limbs invite tripping and snap loudly underfoot, and other impenetrable vegetation runs interference. Whitetails, however, can slither into these spots to browse and bed with little problem, often hiding like cottontails.
Scouting your hunting grounds a few days before the season opener will pay off in locating the fresh trails linking the feeding and bedding areas, but big bucks feel secure in thickets, especially after the season debut when the open spaces where most hunters tread are no longer inviting. Deer know they can feed under the cover of darkness, then slip back to their feeding grounds unmolested as dawn approaches.
Penetrating such an area is a hunter’s biggest problem. Indeed, invading buck hideaways might be the last thing you want to do. Instead, find a passage route to the edge of the thick cover and set up a stand. Don’t take the chance of entering a bedding area, as one or two encounters are all it might take to push the deer to some other location.
Seeing more deer need not be a mystery. Changing your luck can be as simple as getting into the places other hunters avoid and relying on a binocular to help pick out the “parts” of bucks lurking in the thick stuff.
This article was published in the August 2005 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.