How to hunt the entire season without burning out your best stands.
My bow was still hanging from the pull-up rope when I spotted a 151-inch 12-pointer trotting down the ridge.
When the buck paused at a mock scrape I had created for just that purpose, it gave me the few precious extra seconds I needed.
I unhooked the rope as fast as I could, draped it over the treestand seat and pulled an arrow from the quiver. Pressing the bow string against my body to minimize the pop, I nocked the arrow.
I got to full draw just as the buck turned to walk away. A mouth grunt stopped him, and I settled my pin on the vitals and let the arrow fly.
By the time he reached the top of the ridge, he was already doing a drunken, sideways run. A loud crash and some thrashing of dried leaves told me he was down for good.
Hunting from the outside in had worked yet again.
That was the first time I’d hunted that setup, and I hadn’t disturbed the stand since I put it up well before bow season. It felt like forever waiting until late October to hunt from it, but I’ve had too much success with this approach to ruin a good thing. Instead, I nibbled at the edges of the small Wisconsin woodlot before going in for what turned out to be the kill.
One of the most common mistakes hunters make is climbing into rut stands before the rut.
Then there’s the other extreme: guys who listen to the experts who counsel avoiding the woods entirely until the bucks are chasing. I couldn’t disagree more.
Hunting is something we look forward to all year, and it’s over in a blink of an eye. Throwing away a large portion of the season is, well, bull excrement.
The key is to find a balance between the two. Hunting from the outside in can deliver the best of both worlds. Outside-in hunting is all about giving deer the illusion of safety.
Contrary to what you might have heard, deer don’t abandon their home ranges when pressured. In fact, it’s almost impossible to drive them from their home range. They have no way of knowing that the widow doesn’t allow hunting on her farm just 4 miles to the south.
Pressured whitetails will shift their core areas, however. And since that’s where they spend the majority of daylight hours, it’s helpful to a hunter when a buck has a core area on his property.
Unless your hunting land is bigger than a square mile, it’s a safe bet every mature buck you’re after has a portion of his home range on another property. On large tracts, bucks living near the boundaries will spend time on neighboring land, too.
Since a buck’s core area is where it feels safest, too much pressure will make him look for a new one, quite possibly on a neighbor’s property.
Pressure also makes whitetails go nocturnal.
If you put a shock collar on your dog and zapped her every time she walked around in daylight, it wouldn’t take long for her to become a real night owl.
Hunting pressure is like that electronic zap to a deer, and it doesn’t take long for your buck to learn to avoid daytime movement.
While I don’t believe deer ever go exclusively nocturnal, anything that reduces the time they spend on their feet in daylight hinders your ability to take them.
That’s why it’s important to hunt productive stands in a manner that doesn’t change deer behavior.
To find the perfect balance, I begin each season hunting the outside.
That doesn’t mean I’m restricted to hunting only the edge of a property. I’ll hunt anywhere I can get to and from without disturbing the deer. Hunting the outside really means hunting near open food sources and at a distance from bedding areas.
That said, I’ve hunted property where mature bucks refused to enter open food sources until after dark. If that’s the case where you hunt, set up just far enough into the woods to be able to catch evening movement.
As the rut approaches and bucks start to get antsy, it’s time to move.
About two weeks from the chasing phase of the rut, move a little farther into a buck’s prime area. That’s when in-woods scrapes can really pay off. Even if you find scrapes deep in the woods before that two-week window, it’s important to remain patient and not hunt the core areas. Before then, even the vast majority of in-woods scrapes are worked after dark. Hunting them too early is much more likely to educate a buck than put him in your truck.
As the chase phase begins and continuing through the breeding phase, hunt near doe bedding areas, funnels between doe groups and deep woods water sources. While you risk disturbing deer by moving into their core area, this is the time of year when potential results outweigh the risks.
When you begin to move deeper into a buck’s core area, do so in stages. Move a little bit at a time and continue to hunt an area if you see good deer movement. If you’re not seeing anything or the action cools off, it’s time to move in a little farther.
Finally, when the rut is over, head back out to the more open food sources. Bucks lose anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of their body weight throughout the rut, so they need to eat.
The outside-in approach begins with selecting stands based on weighing risk versus possible reward. Hunt the stands where you risk disturbing a buck’s core area only when he’s at his most vulnerable — when your chance of reward is at its greatest.
If you blunder deep into his cover and hunt your best rut stands too early, chances are he’s going to pattern you long before you pattern him.
Play the outside-in game correctly, and you can stay in the game the entire season. That said, you most likely won’t need to, because you’ll be tagged out well before the season ends.
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This article was published in the September 2012 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.