By Mark Kenyon

Each year I bowhunt my heart out from October 1st through November 14th, fervently attempting to bag a mature buck here in my home state of Michigan before the dreaded gun season opener. You see, I have nothing against those who gun hunt (I do too), but I know that once the orange army of about 700,000 hits the woods, my chances of seeing a mature buck plummet. Hundreds of thousands of deer are killed, and those that survive have now become nearly nocturnal and infinitely more difficult to hunt. Many of my bowhunting friends refer to November 15th as the worst day of the year. I personally wouldn’t go that far, but it definitely can take a toll on a hunter’s chances of success during the rest of the year.

With that in mind, I’ve taken a slightly unique approach to hunting the gun season on my main property in Michigan, to better help me grow and hunt big bucks. This approach allows me to increase the number of local bucks that survive the gun season and maximizes my chances of success on one of these deer in the late season. I like to call this the “Gun Season Sanctuary” strategy.

What Is the “Gun Season Sanctuary” Strategy?

I have two goals during firearm season when employing my GSS (Gun Season Sanctuary). As mentioned above, I want to help as many bucks as possible survive the firearm season and I then want to have a chance to kill one of them during the later portion of the season. By increasing the number of bucks that survive gun season, I am inherently increasing the number of bucks that survive to live another year. By getting more bucks through to another year of growth, I’m essentially improving the ability of this property to “grow big bucks”. As a product of this increased survival rate in my area, I also have a better chance of hunting and harvesting one of these deer myself!

That said, to achieve these goals I turn my main hunting property into a sanctuary from November 15 – November 30. I have created what I believe is a whitetail mecca, and during gun season deer on surrounding properties flock to this farm to escape the pressure of other hunters and to take advantage of the plentiful, food, water, and cover.

If my plan works as it should, my property will be a refuge for bucks during the firearm season, resulting in them avoiding other properties that are being hunted. Then once they are on my property and have survived firearm season, I have a better chance of harvesting them myself.

How Have I Created A Gun Season Sanctuary?

My GSS is a two part formula. One part lack of pressure, one part habitat.

Let’s talk pressure first

Remove Pressure: When gun season arrives in Michigan, hundreds of thousands of hunters hit the woods and instantly a whitetail’s world is turned upside down. Almost every property for miles will be inundated with hunters and immediately deer search out security and refuge from these orange, stinking humans flinging lead at them. What do these deer look for when it comes to security? Most importantly, a lack of humans!

That said, to make sure my property is the sanctuary whitetails are looking for, I remove almost all human pressure during the firearm season. I won’t hunt opening day, opening weekend, or any of the days immediately following. Yes, I know that not hunting opening day on my best property with a gun may result in me missing a chance at a buck. But I believe the upside of helping multiple current or future mature bucks make it through the firearm season is worth that risk.

I may make an occasional exception to check a trailcam or possibly get a hunt or two on the fringes of the property later in the season. But I relegate any pressure to weekdays, when the chances of there being other hunters on the neighboring properties are lowest. I do not want to bump a buck off my property and have him killed next door.

photo (26)

Now with all this being the case, I still do like to get out and hunt with a firearm. I just focus my time in other areas, where I’m not as management focused.

Excellent November Habitat: The second piece of my GSS strategy is habitat. With no pressure on this property during gun season, deer will flock to it out of necessity. This is great and a tremendous first step, but I also want to have the kind of habitat that will encourage whitetails to want to stick around even after the pressure is gone. I do this by making sure that this property provides excellent food, cover and water specifically during this timeframe of late November.

Water is covered, as this property contains a creek, a very wet swamp, and a small pond. Food and cover though have involved more work on my part.

photo (27)

When it comes to food, I’ve planted three different food plots in forages that should be attractive and nutritious during this timeframe. These plots were all planted in Whitetail Institute forages, one being in Winter Greens, one in Pure Attraction, and one in Whitetail Oats Plus. These three acres of lush food should function as a wonderful cherry on top of the 45 acres of cut corn already providing plentiful food to the residing population of deer. For more details on my food plots you can visit this post from earlier this year — > My 2013 Food Plots the Designs Placement Purpose and Hunting Strategies for Each

As to cover, this property is blessed with a couple things going for it. Most importantly, this property includes a 20-30 acre swamp, which I have converted into the primary sanctuary. I never enter the swamp, and throughout the year deer bed, feed and socialize safely within it’s borders. This swamp continues to serve that same purpose during the firearm season, and with many more deer utilizing it’s safety and cover. In addition to this swamp though, I’ve also utilized the technique of “hinge cutting” to create multiple extra thick bedding areas in several areas bordering the swamp. My goal here was to increase the amount of cover available during the later part of the year, and I believe I have achieved that. For more info on how I used hinge cutting, visit this article –> Hinge Cutting To Hold and Hunt Mature Bucks

Concluding Thoughts

Most years after gun season in Michigan, big bucks completely drop off the map and encounters almost fall to zero. But with my GSS in place, the 2012 late season still resulted in excitement.

As evidence of that claim, post gun season I still managed to see four different mature bucks on this property! Additionally, in 2013 my property was home to more mature bucks than ever before, and I have to credit some of that to the fact that my GSS aided the survival of many of these bucks.

That said, with a little self control and hard work, gun season doesn’t need to mean the demise of the top bucks you’re hunting. If you keep your pressure low and provide terrific habitat, despite the orange army, you might just be able to improve your chances of growing and hunting big bucks in the future.

My Gun Season Sanctuary is hard at work as we speak, as it’s Day 4 of the 2013 firearm season in Michigan. Only time will tell, but hopefully in a few weeks I’ll have good news to report and big bucks still in the area!