Have you ever had the feeling that something good was about to happen? That was the feeling I had on Oct. 20 of last year. It was the first cold morning I had hunted, and the familiar chill of exhilaration bit at my clothing. I had patiently waited for the right wind and the right time to hunt one of my favorite hunting locations, a spot that I had named “Buck Lane.”
I was so anxious with anticipation that I did not even sit in my Lone Wolf climbing stand. Instead, I opted to stand the entire time. Shortly after daylight, I heard the familiar sound of rustling leaves from beating hooves, and it was coming directly toward me. I saw a flash of antler through the brush and immediately drew my Obsession Lethal Force.
The buck was coming in fast, and I grunted loudly with my mouth to stop him. It only took a couple of seconds for me to determine that he was a shooter, but he was quartering sharply toward me. This is not the shot I wanted, but standing at only 12 yards, it was now or never. I settled my sight pin in front and above the buck’s shoulder to get a good exit, but I had a problem. Not knowing where the noise came from, the buck had turned his head and was looking in the direction from which he had just come. The buck’s face was blocking my shot. After what seemed like an eternity, the buck swung his head back forward, and I touched my release. My arrow was true, and after a great blood trail, I had taken the first buck ever killed with the new Bipolar broadhead.
One of the main factors that played a role in this successful hunt was planning. Before the season even started, I had a plan.
This past hunting season was a little different for me because I was involved with the 2012-2013 Bowhunter Challenge, which is run through www.forums.gon.com. It is a yearly bowhunting contest, and last year, it was comprised of 46 three-member teams. I joined up with a pair of bowhunting legends, Lee Johnson and Rodney Mays. They are bowhunting machines, and I just couldn’t let them down. They had won the contest the previous three years, and their third member, Blake Fulbright, couldn’t enter the contest last year. They chose me to take his place, and it was a big pair of shoes to fill.
Lee, Rodney and I talked about our strategy prior to the season and what kind of deer it would probably take to win the contest. We talked about the best times to fill our tags, and we were all on the same page from a team standpoint. But where I come from, talk is cheap. I knew they would get their deer, but could I get mine?
I designed a plan for the season, and it paid dividends. You should plan your hunting season as well. Here are a few suggestions that might help.
Inventory The Herd
One thing that can help plan your season is to get an inventory of your deer. You can do this by glassing the fields late in the day during the summer, but a more accurate inventory is from the use of trail cameras. I had been using trail cameras to inventory my herd for years before I started the Spy Cam in 2001. One thing I have learned is that all trail cameras are not the same. They have come a long way since the CamTrakkers of the middle 1990s. There are three things I look for in a trail camera: battery life, trigger speed and impact on game. A camera that doesn’t spook game is much more important than if it has a 10 megapixel picture.
Battery Life: I currently use both Bushnell cameras and Wild Game Innovation Black Out trail cameras. Both of these cameras have tremendous battery life, and depending on the temperature and conditions, they can last up to a year without having to change batteries.
Trigger Speed: Taking pictures of a buck’s hocks as he walks by doesn’t do you a whole lot of good. Cameras with a slow trigger speed are useless for trail use but can be used on food sources or scrapes. Make sure any camera you purchase has a favorable review and a fast trigger speed.
Impact on Game: If you have a regular IR flash camera and you like to use the video feature like I do, the odds are high that you are spooking mature deer. I have never gotten multiple videos of a mature buck on the same trail using a standard IR flash camera. I know it happens, but not on my properties. Back in the day when the cameras used a standard flash, I would get pictures of mature bucks walking down the same trail every night. That changed when the cameras started having IR flashes and the flashes became videos. I have video of several good bucks coming unglued when they saw the IR beams. I will now only set my regular IR flash cameras to take still pictures on trails and scrapes. These cameras can be used to video on food sources as I have conditioned my deer to its use on a gravity protein feeder. That is the only way I would recommend their use as a hunting tool using the video feature.
The Black Out camera, on the other hand, doesn’t spook mature deer and can be used effectively on trails and scrapes in both picture and video settings. If you want to have as little impact on game as possible, any of the Black IR flash cameras would be a good choice.
Limb Trimming & Stand Hanging
Another preseason preparation is trimming shooting lanes. Ideally, I like to do this in late January after the season, but last season I cut my shooting lanes in late July and August. If I have a really good location that consistently produces deer sightings, I’ll put up a lock-on while I’m trimming.
Deciding the best place to put up a lock-on before the season even starts can be difficult. If you have a consistent food source with a thick bedding area close by, place your stand in between the two. You have to make sure you don’t hunt that stand on a wind that blows your scent toward the thicket or the food source. It must be hunted in a cross wind and from the downwind side.
Other places that might warrant an early season stand are edges within hardwoods or a swamp. An edge in a swamp could be along the edge of a slough, next to a beaver dam, on an old firebreak or skidder trail or even a slight depression from water run-off. Always check around big fallen trees in thickets as deer tend to walk around each end of the tree. A trail like that would potentially be a good trail during the rut.
I put four stands up to hunt a big 10-pointer I had seen the previous year. I had four lock-on stands on his trail from the previous year and only hunted one of them once. The wind was just not conducive to hunt the area. When I am hunting a particular deer like this, I won’t shoot a doe from that stand. Stands like this are usually hundreds of yards from a road and located in some pretty thick brush. Getting a doe out from these locations would certainly compromise my setup.
Always remember that any stand you put up early might be a terrible stand once the season starts. Let the deer sign and activity dictate where you hunt. I have put up lock-ons many times and never even hunted them because there wasn’t any deer sign around them.
When I put up a lock-on stand, I take a compass reading at each stand location and write it down so I can better utilize the wind direction. If the wind has shifted, and I can’t hunt that lock-on, I might hunt a climbing stand on the opposite side of the trail from where the stand is located. I might not be 20 yards from my stand, but the wind dictates where to sit. This is where scouting during the season comes into play. Use some time you would usually spend on hunting to scout for fresh deer sign. Deer move during daylight hours almost every day, they just do it in places where we aren’t. Find the sign, and you find the deer. Having lock-ons already positioned in good locations makes it that much easier when you do find good deer sign.
One important part of planning your season is deciding when to hunt and where. The opening story is a good example of waiting until the right time to hunt an area, but that doesn’t happen very often. Each year, there are many more examples of picking the wrong time to hunt an area.
A good example of hunting a good area at the wrong time was early in bow season last year. The deer were hammering the raining sawtooth oaks around my food plots. From my trail-cam pictures, I had several nice bucks that were visiting those sawtooths in the mornings shortly after daylight. It was a slam dunk. All I had to do was get in my lock-on undetected, and one of those shooter bucks would be coming by.
I got into my stand well before shooting light to get there before the deer arrived. Soon after daylight, the deer began emerging from the thicket to eat those big, sweet acorns, but the shooter bucks never showed. I chose not to shoot any of the seven deer I saw that morning, because I was waiting on Mr. Big.
As I left the field, I pulled the card from my camera overlooking the sawtooths. I had pictures of the shooter bucks taken five minutes before I got into the stand. I had bumped the bucks from the field and didn’t even know it. I never saw or got a picture of the biggest buck the entire rest of the season. My plan was a good plan, but it failed. Sometimes the best plans just don’t work. This is why we call it hunting and not killing.
Early in bow season, I planned ahead for late-season hunts. We all know how challenging late-season deer can be, so anything to increase your chances is a very good thing. I planted two or three small food plots on the edges of thickets and put a lock-on stand on each plot. I even put two lock-on stands on one plot to account for different wind directions. My plans were simple. Late in the season, I would put cameras on these plots and monitor the deer activity. I wouldn’t hunt these plots until late in the season after the rut when the food sources started dwindling down. I was counting on these spots producing since they would have no pressure on them. I tagged a doe this way.
As an additional plan, I put a ground blind just off the highway on my lease in a thick bottom along a small creek drain. I cut a shooting lane to the drain and raked out a path from the highway to the blind. I would be able to hunt this for an hour or two before work and still get to work on time. As it turned out, I only hunted the blind one time and did not see anything. I believe it was the first time I’ve ever hunted in ironed slacks, a dress shirt and a leather jacket.
If I had been hunting that blind every morning before work like that, I do think I would have had a good chance of taking a late-season doe as they followed that creek drain back to their bedding area.
The point is that I had a spot I could hit quickly if need be. Think about your hunting situation. Do you have a spot you can hit quickly before work? Are you leaving hunting opportunity on the table?
Plan Your Hunting Days Now
Lee, Rodney and I discussed when our rut usually occurred and our greatest likelihood of when we would see good bucks out searching for does. Lee hunts in DeKalb County about 8 miles from where Rodney hunts. He told me he hasn’t ever seen a mature buck searching for does after Nov. 10, and that the rut is often over by early November. Lee says his individual hunting properties are just different and the rut is slightly earlier than what is listed on the GON Rut Map. Lee is self-employed and owns Johnson and Son Gutters. He didn’t get to take a vacation to hunt, but he has the luxury to hunt almost every afternoon.
Rodney hunts primarily in Carroll and DeKalb counties and took a vacation to hunt from the last of October through Nov. 10. He said the rut on his hunting property is completely different than from where Lee hunts. Rodney said the weather doesn’t matter on his hunting property, the dates on the calendar are what seem to matter the most to him.
One of the most crucial hunting decisions I made last year was when to take vacation from work. I chose to be off when I have had the most success with rattling and calling, the late pre-rut. I chose to hunt from Oct. 17-24 and half way between the new moon and a first quarter moon. In hindsight, I started just a few days early. It was during this week that I was fortunate enough to get the buck in the opening paragraph.
Planning your schedule around the rut is an important part of being in the right place at the right time. Being a pharmacist, I can say with 100 percent certainty that I have never killed a good buck while I was filling prescriptions. You can’t kill them if you don’t hunt at the right times, and anytime during the rut is the right time.
What this means is you need to pinpoint when the rut is occurring on your hunting property. The GON Rut Map is a great start, but also confer with other hunters in your area when the rut will occur.
I have even talked to Randy Nix at Po Boy’s Meat Market in Dublin about what he is seeing. When the bucks start moving, you can bet your local deer processor will know it.
Last season turned out to be one of my best seasons here in Laurens County. I had seven mature bucks in bow range and was able to take my largest buck ever in Georgia. But even more importantly, Rodney and Lee got their limit of good bucks and our Team Fatal Obsession took first place in the Bowhunter Challenge.
With some preseason planning and hard work, you too could end up in the right place at the right time. And if you have a team in this year’s Bowhunter Challenge, who knows, you just might win it all. Just make sure you plan ahead because it will take some nice bucks to get you the victory. Just ask Team Lethal Trio.