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SOMETIMES, WHEN ALL STARS ALIGN, YOU MUST THROW OUT THE MOST BASIC RULES OF BOW-HUNTING
IF YOU HAVE watched any Drury Outdoors videos and television shows or read our tactics, you would probably recognize that our general philosophy for hunting old, mature bucks is to take a very low-impact approach to our hunting locations.
Mature whitetails are extremely savvy. They pick up on human intrusion very quickly and will change their habits just as fast. To have consistent success, you must carefully manage how much hunting pressure you apply to your property and how invasive that pressure is.
However, there are certain times when I like to get a little more aggressive. And in some cases — when the conditions are perfect — I will make a bold play.
WHEN STARS LINE UP:
On Nov. 6, 2010, cameraman Ryan Narup and I were in a situation that was just too good to play it safe.
Narup and I were hunting an Iowa farm that my brother Mark had been monitoring closely.
Mark had placed several Reconyx cameras on the property and captured pictures of a tremendous buck with long sweeping G2 and G3 points.
Mark had been watching this buck (which we dubbed No. 11, because that’s what the points look like from the side) for several years. The deer was obviously spending most of its time in a large block of timber.
This block of timber was between some lowland, bottom fields and tillable ridgetop fields. Granted, it was a pretty expansive block, but it was sandwiched between two huge corn fields. When the corn was standing, the buck was difficult to pattern. He just had too many options for bedding and feeding. But on Nov. 5, during the peak of the chasing phase of the rut, Narup and I drove by the ridgetop field to find it had been harvested.
This field was 60 or 70 acres of standing corn one day, and the next day it was gone. The deer had just had their available cover cut in half. We realized our odds of seeing a mature buck on the property had just sky-rocketed — for several reasons.
First, because of the shuffling of the deck, many of the deer had to look for new places to bed.
Second, harvesting the upper field created a much more likely scenario for the deer to feed in the ridge field rather than the lower fields. Whitetails, by nature, would rather browse the little fragments left on the ground during harvest than try and pull corn off the stalks.
I knew the feeding would be a lot more intense.
The final piece of the puzzle was the timing. It was the first week in November. If a bunch of does are coming into a big field to feed during that time of year, it will concentrate a substantial amount of estrus scent in the air.
The conditions were just about perfect for us to expect a mature buck to be nosing for does in and around that block of timber that led to the harvested corn field.
Narup and I decided that if there was ever a time to mash into that timber, it was the next morning.
THE BIG DECISION:
With a mature buck in the area, the chasing phase of the rut heating up, the available cover narrowed and a concentration of does and food, everything pointed to an aggressive plan of attack.
However, there was one problem: Pushing into the timber where the buck would likely be cruising for does meant losing our wind advantage. The battle would be against our ability to go undetected.
Even when Mark had hung the set, we knew it would be difficult to hunt the location because of the fields on each side of us. Even though they were separated by about 700 yards, we would be stuck between the two destination fields.
The location just didn’t lend itself to cutting off one wind direction. We had to hunt a 360-degree circle around the stand. Plus, this was a pretty new set that Mark had scouted, hung and trimmed.
When you are hunting a woodsy hub like that and you really don’t know it well, you also don’t know for sure what the right wind is. You don’t know what one direction to give up, so to speak. A cruising buck can come from almost any direction.
But the forecast was for cold temperatures near the freezing mark. Narup and I knew that there would be some deer on the feed, and having the big destination field that had just been harvested gave us some direction.
Deer hunting is about stacking the odds in your favor. We talk about it all the time: There is no magical science to success. Nobody will ever completely figure out a whitetail. What we do is try and stack the odds in our favor. And they were stacked for that spot. It was up to us to defeat the last variable — the wind.
Take it Slow to Stay Scent Free:
I’m a big proponent of not breaking a sweat when I walk in to a stand location. Sweating creates all sorts of odor problems. When I walk into a stand location I’ll crawl along like a turtle. I’ll also wear a minimum of clothing – usually a lightweight carbon-impregnated base layer. I carry my outer layer on my pack.
Of course you won’t completely eliminate or capture every molecule of odor but I will defend carbon-based scent control vehemently. It helps minimize odor and it is ofter the difference between getting the shot opportunity and blowing the whole gig. The deer might eventually figure out a human was nearby but they don’t know when or how far away you are. And that’s the difference between getting a shot with archery equipment and watching that deer slip by a distance.
Narup and I knew this was an aggressive play, so we went through extra precautions that morning.
We always take a shower with Scent Shield soap before we hunt. We also make sure all our clothes are cleaned with Scent Shield detergent. But we made extra sure that our boots and our accessories were stored outside away from any foreign odors. This is something that I think a lot of folks overlook. Items such as a camera bag can carry a lot of scent. Or, sometimes you overlook your wrist strap on your bow, or you might overlook your release aide. We made sure all of that type of stuff was put outside to air out all night. Then, in the morning, we sprayed it all down with Scent Shield’s Ti4 Titanium Scent Eliminator.
That morning, we woke up extra early. We went in under the cover of darkness. That’s important when you are hunting a morning set, especially in timber. It’s also important that you don’t overhunt a set. I think that was a key for us: Even though we knew this was a good spot, and we know it should produce, we had waited until the time was right.
We drove to the location and changed into our scent-free hunting clothes. I had on several layers of Scent Blocker Cold Fusion carbon technology that morning. Honestly, we try to double up the carbon layers any time when we’re in thick cover and we know we’re going to be in and around bedding areas or walking through prevalent travel zones.
The trail that we were walking in on was latent with scrapes. In fact, it might have been the most intense sign I have ever seen. The trail was just scrape after scrape the size of a pickup hood.
The whole time I was thinking, ‘Man, I hate to intrude, but this is just too good.’ I knew we had to go in and out undetected. We wore our carbon in and snuck in at a turtle’s pace to keep from breaking any sweat. At the stand, we silently climbed in and threw on a final layer of carbon clothing.
We didn’t use any lures or calling. The plan was to go completely incognito.
HOME RUN OR STRIKEOUT?
It was crisp cold that morning as we climbed into the stand. It had the feel of a morning when the deer would be on their feet. However, Narup and I sat for quite a while without seeing anything.
Finally, Narup broke our silent spell.
“Deer coming,” he whispered.
The moment I saw those giant G2s and G3s coming through the timber I knew which buck it was.
No. 11 walked directly into our set from the downwind side and stopped in a wide open area at 20 yards. It was perfect. He even came from my right side, which as a lefty, was into my hand.
Not a lot of hunters talk about that, but we really put a lot of effort into trying to get a deer to come into our shooting hand.
It makes a big difference for an archery hunter, because it’s just that much less movement that you have to go through. Plus, it’s easier to spin at the waist.
He stopped right where he needed to stop. He was almost perfectly broadside. It was like shooting a Glendel target. It was the shot every archery hunter prays for.
Turn the Table: Scent-Tracking Whitetails?
While tracking the No.11 buck, I kept catching hints of what smelled like a dead whitetail. Bucks that have been dead for a few hours have a peculiar odor, even though they haven’t begun to spoil. It’s not unlike the small of an arrow that has passed through a deer’s paunch.
During our 25 or 30 year history of bowhunting my brother Mark and I have found several hidden bucks with our noses. So the fact that I kept catching hints of that smell spurred me on. Don’t expect a strong odor though. In most cases it is just itty bitty whiffs. However, these whiffs are what led me to sit down and glass for the where I did.
Not only will being cognizant of this odor while blood trailing help you find deer, it also helps you understand what deer are smelling when they’re downwind of your stand at 400 or 500 yards.
I got to full draw, and settled in for the shot. Everything looked perfect … until I released the arrow.
An unseen branch caught the shaft and turned my home run hit into an Adam Wainwright curveball that sank into the buck’s midsection.
We could hardly believe what had just happened. We had gambled and played the odds. Our plan had played out perfectly, only to be caught unsuspecting by an unnoticed limb. I was so disappointed you could have fried an egg on my forehead.
After getting back to the house and talking to Mark, we decided that we needed to leave the deer overnight. With temperatures in the 30s. I knew the meat wouldn’t spoil. We would go back in the morning in hope for a quick recovery.
After a long sleepless night we headed back in to look for the deer. We got in quietly and inspected the hit sight looking for blood, but we didn’t have any luck.
We decided to split up and move slowly through the timber glassing for the expired buck. After about 30 minutes, I stopped on a ridge and sat down with my Nikons to glass the opposite side.
After a few minutes, I spotted the rear end of a deer in the foliage. It was him! He had died only 250 yards from the stand.
It was such a relief to get my hands around this Iowa giant. It was a great ending to a long history with that deer. And it was the perfect example of why it is sometimes wise to take a calculated gamble.
When the time is right — and this proved it — if you mash in on them and you’re very cognizant and careful about your scent control, it can turn into the best hunt of your life.
As co-owner of Drury Outdoors, Terry Drury produces several successful television series as well as an award-winning line of DVDs.
If you want to get Close Enough to Kill then your choice should always be: Robinson Outdoor Products – Scent Shield & Scent Blocker
Reprinted with thanks from Whitetails Close Enough to Kill – FW Media