When it’s time to make a mid-season move, it’s all about surprise.
In spite of our best whitetail preparations, events sometimes conspire against us. But the main problem isn’t that setbacks occur; it’s how we react to them. A prime example is the hot stand that suddenly goes cold. Some hunters hang in there because of fond memories. Others are afraid to relocate for fear of not finding a better alternative. Still others are clueless to the principles of making a move and get stuck in neutral.
If I’m correct, most hunters fall into the last category. Even though time might be running out, you can still control your destiny. All you need are a few handy accessories and a game plan that answers three simple questions: when should you move, where should you move to and how should you move?
When to Move
Because we only get so many days to hunt, we must spend that time wisely. Time is precious and should never be squandered. That’s why it’s essential to know when “when” is. Following are three observations:
1) “When” is when you begin to see fewer and fewer deer. Bowhunting expert Mike Weaver is adamant that it’s entirely possible to hunt the same stand repeatedly, as long as deer traffic remains constant. But a telltale clue that chances are plummeting are fewer and fewer deer sightings. “It could be you tipping them off,” he said. “Or it could be a subtle change in a food pattern. Or hunting pressure in your area that you might not be aware of could be re-routing deer.” Whatever the reason, a steady decline in deer sightings means it’s time to get out of Dodge.
2) “When” is when all you see are adolescent deer and you’re hunting for a mature buck.
3) “When” is when you just blew a shot at a nice buck. With very few exceptions, you’re not going to see that buck again at the same spot.
Where to Move
You have several options for determining where to relocate during the hunting season. Since you’re reading this for October hunting, let’s focus on the early part of the rut. If none of my stands are producing, chances are the bucks in the immediate area aren’t on the prowl yet. This is generally a time for patience, not panic.
Still, the pre-rut is too valuable to waste on an unproductive spot. So if you aren’t seeing many deer, and you’re not hunting a funnel, the first place to consider is a localized food source. Last fall, for example, Minnesota bowhunter Jason Wilson arrowed a handsome 150-class buck by hunting a small clump of apple trees. Granted, it was located along a natural travel route, but the wild apples hung tenaciously to branches through several frosts, and deer of all ages knew about it.
During dry years, a prolific oak stand can pull deer from near and far, as can species such as aspen shoots within clear-cuts in the north country.
Another pre-rut maneuver is to hunt an established rub line. I like to hunt old rubs just before they’re renewed; there’s no better way to catch a rutting buck right before he hits his peak testosterone. Trouble is, this only works if the rub line is linear, meaning it should follow a natural boundary such as a ridge line, swamp or field edge.
Another place to relocate if you have nothing going is an established community scrape. Bucks of all ages (and does, too) visit these hubs of activity to monitor the stages of the rut. Though these super-scrapes aren’t exactly plentiful, once you find one, it’s capable of producing year after year. If you have this wild card up your sleeve, and there’s no hot sign surrounding it, go ahead and hang a treestand nearby and wait for something good to happen.
Finally, an excellent relocation option is where you can intercept a buck making and maintaining fresh scrapes. The first hot scrapes of the year typically show up just downwind from where the first hot does bed. The key is being able to penetrate the area with supreme stealth.
How to Move
Take careful consideration, reflection and introspection before relocating during the hunting season. In spite of your best efforts, there’s always a good chance that moving stands will disrupt deer movement and put whitetails on the defensive. But drastic times call for drastic measures, so let’s get down to the dirty details.
For starters, no matter how panicky I get, I refuse to invade a promising area unless the elements are ideal. I’m talking about a strong wind or moderate to heavy rain — or both. Foul weather suppresses deer movement because it prevents them from using all of their senses. That’s precisely when I want to be in the woods setting my new traps. With Mother Nature in a bad mood, I can slip into many hotspots that otherwise would be completely off limits.
But what if the forecast calls for balmy weather? Improvise and make your move after dark. I learned this lesson from whitetail outfitter extraordinaire Steve Shoop with J&S Trophy Hunts. Shoop does whatever it takes to make his bowhunts successful, and that often includes moving stands in pitch black darkness. “Deer are different creatures after dark,” he told me. “I’ve had them walk within a few yards of me and not spook one bit. They seem to be in their element when they can see and you can’t. So if one of my stands is a little off, I’ll wait ’til dark to make my move. The dark is a great equalizer.”
By dark, we’re talking Steve-Shoop-dark: closer to midnight than sunset. That way you won’t burn out any hunting areas, since most deer won’t be close enough to notice. Indeed, the real key to these nighttime forays is the likelihood of deer feeding and bedding in classic nighttime habitat — low, open areas, where high-protein vegetation grows lush — the opposite of where we hunt during daylight hours.
Now for the move. To begin with, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised at how effective pruning shooting lanes can be in the dark. “You’d think pruning would be impossible when it’s dark,” Shoop says. “But the opposite is true: Artificial light won’t let you miss a single limb or tree branch, which happens a lot more than bowhunters realize when they prepare stands during the day.”
For equipment, you’ll need a broadbeam headlamp to free up both hands; a streaming flashlight or spotlight; a full-body safety harness; reflective tacks for marking precise access routes to and from the stand; an extension pole pruner; a camp saw; and, hopefully, an assistant.
Standard rules for pruning apply here. Always clip vegetation at ground level and cover the area with leaves; cover small trees that you can’t cut at the ground with dirt; make the lane wide enough to be able to stop a buck; and wear gloves to control scent. If you aren’t able to lasso a partner, hang a light at bow height above your stand and work your way out to the trail(s).
A final caveat on moving stands is avoiding CTR (compulsive treestand relocation). When you manage to see a nice buck from your stand that’s just out of range, make sure the buck is using a trail and there’s a suitable tree nearby to cover the trail. Otherwise, you could be moving to No Man’s Land for no good reason.
You always hate to have to make a move during the hunting season. That’s a time for hunting, not scouting. But sometimes it’s inevitable. When that time comes, you know the drill.
For information on hunting trophy bucks with Steve Shoop, or to learn how to move in on the big ones, contact J&S Trophy Hunts at (641) 724-9150 or on the web at www.jstrophyhunts.com
This article was published in the October 2007 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.