By Cody Altizer
I remember this particular hunt like it was yesterday. It was first archery season (I was hunting with a crossbow) and I was sitting in a ground blind with my dad, who offered to video tape the hunt. The acorn crop was enough to get us excited, and we were sitting between an oak flat and doe bedding area. Since it was my first archery season, I didn’t know what to expect, I just hoped to have an up close encounter.
It was early season and the temperatures were a little above normal, but the temperatures were cool enough in the early morning I still had high hopes for some action. About 9:00 am, as the temperatures were starting to warm, I spotted movement to my East; a doe and her fawn, following a trail that would eventually take them right past our ground blind. Everything seemed perfect. It wasn’t.
Cruising along clueless to our existence, the momma doe suddenly locked up. Put her nose to the ground, inhaled a deep breath of human odor, and blew out of there and took my first legitimate shot at a bow harvest with her. She had crossed our entrance route, picked up our scent and busted us.
Hunting pressured deer isn’t very much fun. Trust me. However, hunting unpressured deer is a lot of fun. Trust me. Over the years I’ve learned a lot of different strategies and techniques to help reduce the pressure you put on your deer herd, but such a topic would be entirely too long for a blog post. So below are a couple of my favorite tips on how to keep the deer you’re hunting from knowing they’re being hunted.
Like it or not, when you’re in a treestand or ground blind hunting whitetails, you are pressuring them. It’s not a fun thing to think about, but it’s the honest to goodness truth. That being said, you can’t put pressure on your deer when you’re not hunting them. I know, I know. You probably think I am crazy and suggesting that you not hunt, but that’s not at all the case. Simply hunt at the most opportune times and be as efficient as possible.
This past year my brother harvested the biggest deer shot off our property in as long as it’s been in the Altizer name; which is more than some 40 years. It was a giant 148” 15 pointer that we knew very well. It was very tempting to dive right in after him as soon as bow season opened, but I knew that would do more harm than good. He was a 4.5 year old buck, and had slipped past hunters with ease his entire life. He regularly visited our clover food plot during the early season, but only at night.
It was tempting to try and catch him in the morning on his way back to bed during October, but the risk of educating him to my existence was far too great. Instead, I opted out of nearly every available morning hunt last season. In fact, during the entire month of October and the first week of November, I think I only hunted 3 mornings. This kept the pressure off the giant buck and he continued to feel safe feeding in our food plot. In mid-November, my brother shot him at 60 yards with his muzzleloader as he was making his way back to bed. Fighting off the temptation to hunt a mature buck can be the greatest tactic you can employ to increase your chances of actually harvesting him.
The story I told to introduce this blog is a classic example of sloppy hunting and lazily planning your entry route. My dad and I knowingly walked over the trail we were hoping the deer would use, but it was the easiest way to get to the blind, so that was the route we took.
To successfully hunt and harvest old, mature whitetails, how you get to and from your stand is equally as important as your stand location. If you’re constantly bumping deer to and from your hunting location, it’s time to find a new way to access your stand site. It may take a little extra effort or creativity, but accessing your stand site undetected is critical to harvesting mature deer.
I like to let the topography hide my existence when accessing a stand if possible. A steep drainage ditch allows me to access one of my favorite food plots undetected. I can also duck back in the ditch to get back to camp without alerting deer to my presence. Creek beds and ravines are also good choices.
If Mother Nature didn’t provide a good enough entry or exit route, then create one yourself. This could be as simple as using a chainsaw to fell some trees, or there are several plant species that you can plant to screen off your existence.
For 2012, I plan on screening off my clover plot with Egyptian wheat. My main clover food plot is literally 35 yards from my hunting camp, so the sight of the camp, and human activity, puts deer on high alert. So, this past spring I planted some Egyptian wheat, which should grow to at least 8 feet tall to keep the deer from seeing the camp and thus feel more secure in feeding in the food plot during day time hours. The Egyptian wheat will also let me sneak past the food plot to other stand sites in the morning, and return to camp without bumping deer out of the food plot in the afternoon.
Also keep in mind wind direction when accessing a stand. Just because you’re not in a stand doesn’t mean the deer can’t still smell you. If your scent is blowing right to your hunting location while you are on your way to stand, you’ll likely bump the deer out of the area before you even get there.
While there are numerous keys to limiting pressure on whitetails, by taking these aforementioned factors into account this season you’ll be off to a great start!