One thing I love about deer hunting is that you can always, always learn something new. And despite hunting for about 20 years so far, I’ve certainly still learned more than my fair share this season! Now that being said, one thing I’m trying to do a better job of is taking these lessons learned, immediately processing them and then quickly putting my learnings back into action. And just this past weekend, a hunt I went on highlighted what I believe was an important lesson I learned earlier this season, that I quickly turned around and applied on this hunt. So with the hope that my example might help a few of you in the last few days of 2011, here is a brief review of this past Friday’s hunt and the unique steps I took to try and make this night a success.
Mistake Made and Lesson Learned: More than ever, this year I’ve been trying to pay attention to how I get to and from my stands. Specifically doing so in a fashion that won’t spook deer. This became particularly top of mind about two weeks ago, when I spotted four bucks enter one of my corn fields right in front of a stand of mine. One of these bucks looked to be a shooter, and I knew I had to get out to that spot soon. So the next night, I trudged out across the cut corn field towards the Muddy Stand hanging on the edge of the woods. A hill rose up about 50 yards in front of the woods, so I was hidden from view of the woods until I crested this hill. Unfortunately, upon reaching the top of the rise I looked down to the edge of the woods and my treestand, only to be greeted with an explosion of white tails bounding off into the swamp. Literally 15-20 deer had been bedded right on the very edge of the woods and I never had a chance of getting to my stand undetected. This was the first time this year that these deer had bedded so close to the food, but given the late season patterns changing and the cut corn, I shouldn’t have been too surprised.
A Solution: So fast forward a week and a half later, I finally have the right wind and I wanted to try this field out again. My family had spotted a large group of deer heading out into this corn not a day or two earlier and I thought I could have a good chance if I could just get into position undetected. That being said, I knew a change of strategy was in order. You can see in the map above my old access route in red, which then ended at my tree stand marked by the red X. Essentially the ground to the west of the red X is very tall grass, swamp and thicket and the deer have been bedding in there heavily. This access route and stand worked wonderfully when the corn was standing and the deer weren’t bedded so close to the field, but that certainly wasn’t the case any longer.
After considering the options, I decided I would need to get creative. My solution was to travel along the southern edge of the corn field, by creeping just inside some tall swamp/grassy cover that bordered the crop field and paralleled the nearby creek. You can see my route in yellow on the map. The catch though, was that I would still stick out like a sore thumb if I just walked along the edge of the field or even in the grass. So I decided I would have to instead crawl on all fours just inside the edge of the grass until I reached a suitable location. So I did.
I crawled on hands and knees, through a very muddy sprawl of swampy grass for several hundred yards, while also carrying a muzzle loader, seat cushion, tripod, video camera, and all the other goodies you need to have in the field. Needless to say, it was a true joy…
After a long crawl, I finally reached my desired location, as marked by the yellow X above. This was the point where I finally could see across the field to where my stand hangs , which would allow me a shot if any deer should enter the corn where they had in the past. And upon finally reaching my destination, exhausted, muddy and wet kneed, I set up my camera, kicked back on the ground and settled in.
The Outcome: The rest of the evening was slightly less eventful and ultimately unsuccesful in regards to killing a big buck. BUT all was not lost, as my change in strategy did in fact result in a positive outcome. Later that evening I did end up seeing a handful of does cruise out in front of me and one deer at last light may have been a buck. If I had stuck to my usual entry strategy, I am confident I would have once again seen nothing but tails bounding away. But by making a quick adjustment and taking the more stealthy, albeit difficult, route I was able to enjoy a better hunt and ultimately could have had a chance at the buck of my dreams.
So while I still didn’t bag my buck, this change in strategy was certainly still one I’m happy I made. Being able to learn from mistakes made throughout the season and quickly act on lessons learned is, in my opinion, the true mark of a growing and improving hunter. And although I certainly can’t claim to be a great hunter, I’ll take “improving” any day.