My alarm clock sounded at 4:30 a.m. on Nov. 4 last season. The weather man called for a southeast wind and temperatures in the low 50s. This was perfect for the spot I had chosen to hunt. I could approach the bedding area from the northwest and quietly slip up a cypress tree in my Lone Wolf climber.
I was now overlooking a dried-up wet-weather pond that was choked with saw grass and cattails, a place I felt held several bedded deer due to the sign in the area. I waited for enough daylight to see approximately 40 yards in any direction. I slowly lowered my antlers, which were attached to my pull-up rope, to the ground and began a light sparring match. After tickling the antlers for about 20 seconds, I let out a few soft grunts and then a very aggressive snort-wheeze. In a matter of minutes I heard a limb crack in the dry pond. I grabbed my PSE bow, stood up and turned around to face the pond.
After several minutes of not seeing or hearing anything else, I convinced myself I was hearing things, so I turned to sit back down. As soon as my derriere touched my seat, I heard a buck grunt. I looked over my shoulder to see a big buck walking straight toward me, and what a set of brow tines! He was 40 yards and closing fast.
The buck stopped and was staring into the woods under me. He raised his nose to test the wind, and I felt the breeze hit the back of my neck. He smelled a rat, or I should say me. The buck immediately took a step backward and turned to go back into his bedding area. I still had my bow in my hand, so I drew, turned and grunted with my voice to stop the buck. He locked up in a quartering-away angle and raised his head to look up at me, but the Muzzy-tipped arrow with Archers flame-lighted nock was already on its way.
A gun hunter asked me once: “How would you hunt if you still hunted with a rifle?” I said, “The same way.” Just because so many gun hunters like to climb 30 feet and see 300 yards doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea, even if the bucks are in rut mode.
A rifle and a bullet and a bow and broadhead are only tools of the trade. You must be a good enough woodsman to put yourself in a position to use your tools. However, as a bowhunter, I must get much closer to the actual deer to get a shot. This is far from a hindrance. To date, I’ve got seven bucks on GON’s Georgia’s Best Bow Bucks list that score better than the 125-inch minimum. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for No. 8 this season.
Whether you gun hunt or bowhunt during the rut, there are a few key ingredients that’ll help put a buck in close when he’s got breeding on his mind.
Hunt With a Climber: Hunting with a climber lets you hunt new, non-contaminated areas. The above story unfolded from a climber.
During the season, many hunters will walk all over an area, go to the truck and return with a lock-on stand and sticks, or a ladder stand. They’ll sweat up the area and maybe trim a few limbs with the thought of returning a few days later to kill a big buck. It’s not likely going to happen.
How many times have you heard a fellow hunter say, “Can’t hunt my stand today. The wind is wrong.” These are the same hunters who stink up an area and expect to hunt it for a mature buck a few days later.
There is nothing wrong with lock-ons and ladder stands. They have their places, but they should be put up way before season, or better yet at the end of last season where good buck sign was present.
If I’m not sure where I’m going to hunt, or if I feel the deer have changed patterns recently, I’ll get to the woods about noon. Then, I’ll put my climber on my back and start slipping, keeping the wind in my face. As soon as I find good sign, I’ll go right up a tree, not stinking up the surrounding area.
When you hunt from a climber, it’s always good to put your back facing the direction you expect the deer to come. That doesn’t seem logical to the normal gun mentality of being able to see hundreds of yards. Now you tell us to face away from where we expect the buck to come from?
By facing away from the deer, the tree trunk acts as cover. It also puts you in a position to allow the deer to get broadside or slightly past you for a quartering-away shot, which is best.
Using a climbing stand allows you to approach your hunting spot from any direction and in any wind condition. Climbing stands also give hunters the advantage of moving as the trails, scrapes, tracks and food sources dictate. It is much better to be an excellent woodsman and an average marksman than it is to be an excellent marksman and a poor woodsman. You can’t shoot what you can’t see.
Calling Bucks: How many turkeys do you think you would kill if you took no calls and just went and sat in the woods and waited for one to just walk by? And turkeys can’t smell you, and they are not nocturnal at all. Yet, it’s amazing how many deer hunters go sit in the woods and play the waiting game in hopes a nocturnal big buck, which has a keen sense of smell, will leave his bed and just happen to walk by before dark and not smell you. Most big bucks that smell you will turn and leave the area before you ever know they were in town.
The pre-rut is the very best time to kill a mature buck. Look at it this way. The bucks are ready to breed, but the does are not yet receptive. Therefore, bucks are more likely to respond to the chance to fight another buck that’s invading their home range or bedding area. If a buck is in full rut, and locked down with a doe, it’s much less likely to respond to any sort of calling. Why would it? It’s already got what it wants.
Hunters must have confidence to call to bucks. The most underrated call is the snort wheeze. This is a vocalization a buck uses to tell every other buck within hearing distance this is his area, and he will defend it. It is the same principle as gobbling at a gobbler.
Rattling is another great way to call in a mature buck. Although some find it hard to believe, I use the antlers off a McKenzie deer target. They sound more realistic than anything I have tried in the woods.
As a taxidermist I get to handle lots of antlers, sheds, broken racks, big racks and small. When you have two sheds off the skull plate and rattle them together they have a much higher pitch than antlers still attached to the skull on a 200-lb. deer. The McKenzie antlers sound as close to two live bucks with their racks still attached as anything I personally have tried.
I tie the antlers 24 inches apart and then tie a loop in the middle so they hang at equal length. I spray them with scent, let them down with my pull-up rope and rattle them together on the ground while I am in the tree.
The biggest advantage of this is I can rattle one handed. Try that with a pair of shed antlers or even a rattle bag. Sooner or later if you rattle enough in the more traditional way you will get busted with your antlers in your hands.
You can contact your local archery club, and they usually have these synthetic antlers lying around that have broken off deer targets. Drill a hole from the bottom of the pedical up through the antler base, and use a heavy-duty small cord, such as parachute cord, to tie together.
I called McKenzie and told them of the success I was having using their product and suggested they sell the synthetic antlers as a separate package. Being a very good customer of their taxidermy mannequin business, I thought they might put some on the market. I pretty much got the response, “Surely, you can’t be serious,” so I left it at that. Necessity is always the mother of invention.
Hunt Tight To a Bedding Thicket: Most gun hunters think if they get where they can see the most area they will be better off. You must remember that once a buck reaches 3 1/2 years of age he becomes primarily nocturnal whether he’s a victim of hunting pressure or not. This means there’s a very small window of opportunity when a buck is going to be very far away from his bedroom during the daylight hours. You’ll need to hunt close enough to the bedding area, without being detected, that the buck can hear you rattling and calling. I am a big believer in hunting the bedding area from the downwind side and trying to call and entice a buck from his bed.
Hunting gobblers with a gobbler decoy taught me how to hunt big bucks. In the spring, gobblers set territories and strut zones. The combination of a gobble tube and a gobbler decoy acts as a challenge to a gobbler that’s already claimed that piece of dirt as his own. Challengers face swift and severe consequences or become the new king of the hill.
Mature bucks are the same way. They put down scrape lines and establish territories in the fall. By hunting bedding areas, where most of your bucks will be in daylight hours, even during the pre-rut and rut, you up the odds of putting a nice mount on the wall. When you add calling to your arsenal, the odds rise again.
Study your hunting property, and learn your major bedding areas. Visit these areas from a safe distance until you are ready to hunt, and learn how to approach them on any given wind.
Learn to hunt that favorite spot under any condition. You don’t have to be where you can see a country mile. You only have to be where you can see the buck. And when he arrives, you should nail him. He’ll likely be in bow range.
Common Scents: A mature buck’s nose is his best defense. It’s so good that no matter how much you try to eliminate your human scent, there is no way for a hunter to become scent free, period. This is why you should check the wind before hunting an area. If a mature buck gets downwind from you, it’s likely that you won’t kill him that day.
However, there are different ways to use deer scents to your advantage. Two of the more common things hunters do are to make mock scrapes and create scent posts with drippers.
My favorite all-season scent is Bowhunters Fatal Obsession, and I’ll use it for my four favorite scent methods. The most common way for me to use scent is to spray my rattling antlers before I let them down.
Secondly, I use a drag rag and pull it in behind me on my way to the tree. You never know when a buck will cut my back trail and get a good whiff of the scent.
Third, I like to go straight to my tree instead of walking around my tree and jeopardizing the perimeter of my hunting area with human scent. I’ll distribute Bowhunters Fatal Obsession by pouring it into a bottle cap and broadcasting it 360 degrees around my stand.
Lastly, I hunt with a small spray bottle filled with scent so I can mist it into the air just in case a buck is circling downwind.
There is one other scent trick that’s worth a shot. While wearing rubber gloves and rubber boots, go to the woods and cut off an overhanging licking branch from an active scrape. Then, collect some soil from the scrape. Go into another buck’s territory, and place your licking branch on top of his branch, and put the soil in his scrape.
Sometimes this will drive the other buck crazy, and he will aggressively rework his scrape and many times will hang out close by to challenge the intruder.
The only drawback to any attractant scent is the wind is carrying your scent in the same direction. So practice good personal hygiene, and keep as scent free as is humanly possible.
I watched as the lighted nock on my arrow disappeared behind the buck’s right shoulder. As he bolted away I could see it shinning brightly against the green palmettos around my stand. I sat back down only to see my right leg start to do its best Elvis impression, and it quickly migrated north to the rest of my body. After waiting about 30 minutes, I climbed down to inspect my arrow. If you don’t hear or see the deer go down, wait a minimum of 30 minutes.
The sign was great, and I took up the trail. I found my buck about 75 yards away as he tried to get back to his bedding area.
I personally don’t have super private property to hunt. I have taken all my bucks surrounded by gun hunters or in gun/bow clubs. When you tote your gun to the woods this month in search of a rutting buck, you can hunt where you can see or you can hunt where you can see bucks.
Remember to hunt new, fresh areas tight to bedding cover, use common scents and don’t be afraid to call up a buck.