This a guest post from Andy May, a new contributor for Wired To Hunt and an experienced and very successful whitetail hunter from Michigan. To learn more about Andy and how he has success on highly pressured deer, check out our 2013 feature on how he gets the job done. – MK
By Andy May
It was a cool late October evening and I had finally got the wind I was looking for to hunt one of my most anticipated spots – a downwind side of a doe bedding area which also was a yearly scraping area that heats up typically in late October. It’s one of those magical spots that has a lot going on. But this 25 acre parcel is also surrounded by immense hunting pressure. From a high perched treestand I can see five raised box blinds and several other treestands across the cattail marsh.
That day though, a 15 degree temperature drop and light but steady winds made conditions and timing perfect for me to try this location. After a quick shower at work and a high speed approach to the farm I found myself 25 feet up into my tree. In the next hour I passed up three bucks, two of which were 2.5 year olds. As light faded I saw a buck coming from the swamp. This buck, a heavy antlered mature 8 point, moved very deliberately, constantly examining his surroundings before taking each step.
I sat motionless watching the buck hoping he would offer a good shot. Unlike the immature bucks before him he walked in and checked the scrape from 30 yards downwind before approaching. By the time he started his J hook approach I had silently drawn my bow and released my arrow. After a 500 yard track job from a mediocre hit, I found my buck. The buck was aged at 4.5 years old, rare for the area I was hunting.
The Power of a First Sit
Over the years I’ve come to realize the effectiveness of waiting for perfect conditions to hunt a stand location for the first time. The 2008 deer season did nothing but solidify my confidence in this approach. In 2008 I shot four mature bucks from three different states, all of which were my first time hunting that particular stand. Over 75% of the bucks I’ve taken have also been taking on the first sit in that location (and all the photos in this blog post are examples of some of those first sit bucks). Now don’t get me wrong, you just can’t set up on any old deer sign, hunt it one time, and shoot a nice buck. Proper scouting, appropriate stand placement, perfect entrance/exit routes and most importantly waiting for the absolute best time frame and conditions are the key.
On small properties you have to determine when that particular area will have the best potential for an encounter with an older buck and ONLY hunt it then, no matter how excited you are to get in. Some areas tend to be more attractive to bucks early season while some heat up closer to the pre rut or even rut phases of the season. Determining this information is very important. It may take you a couple seasons to really get a handle on this. Crop rotations, mast crops and fruit bearing trees can also dramatically effect this so attention to detail is a must.
I have found funnels between doe bedding areas, downwind sides of doe bedding area, and my favorite…the buck’s bedroom to be the most effective for taking a mature buck on your first sit.
It’s very tempting to hunt a brushy funnel connecting two doe bedding areas during October, but by doing so you would be educating the mature bucks and doe families in the area that they are being hunted. By staying out until at least Halloween or early November and particularly a day when the cold temps and good wind line up you are hunting it the best time the first time.
Hunting a rut funnel throughout early- mid October will do nothing but degrade your chance of success in November so use discipline to stay out and wait for those perfect cold temps and wind to make your first hunt the best quality hunt possible. The same goes for downwind sides of bedding areas. These spots tend to heat up in early November in the midwest, can be dynamite all through November and even during the lock down portion of the rut.
If you can find the buck’s actual bed you have a solid chance of an encounter with him if you access your location and set up silently. This tactic is actually most effective outside the rut and can be used during the early season as well as the so called “lull” time of year. Again I suggest waiting for good conditions before diving into these setups. I have had good success hunting buck bedding locations during late October and first two weeks of November also but once the does come into estrous it becomes more hit and miss.
I believe this is where 90 percent of hunters ruin their chances. Many hunters are good at picking out quality locations. It’s easy to know you’ve found a good spot when you come across one but where most hunters fail is thinking about their access to and from their stand in detail. You have to be able to enter and exit without alerting deer. If you find yourself constantly bumping deer you either need to reassess your access or change your tree location. I’ve had to give up on the perfect stand location before and opt for a more approachable tree to be able to get in undetected.
I believe that mature bucks bust us on our way in/out way more than we ever know. They just slip out the back way or wait for the cover of darkness and we assume we’ve gotten in/out undetected because we didn’t see or hear a deer bust out of the area. On the hunt mentioned above I was running late because of work obligations. I got to my location with about three hours of hunting light left and I had a 150 yard walk through the timber to the edge of the swamp. The leaves were dry and crunchy and I sounded like an elephant coming through the woods. Instead of walking straight to my stand hoping to capitalize on the last few hours of hunting light I tiptoed at a snail’s pace making as little noise as possible. It took me the better part of an hour to reach my stand with only an hour and a half of shooting light left.
I am positive my stand was located within 100 yards of bedded deer. If I had walked at normal pace directly to my stand the game would have been over. The mature buck would have most likely heard me and exited the bedding area the other way or just sat tight until well after dark ruining my chances at him for that night and most likely any night the rest of the season in that location. Instead, the quiet slow approach allowed me to capitalize on that first high quality sit.
I’m a firm believer in early access for morning hunts in most situations. There are situations where a grey light access might be an advantage but for the most part I like to be in my tree settled 1-2 hours before the first hint of light shows in the sky. This has helped me minimize spooking deer on my entry. More simply I try to access where the deer aren’t at that particular time.
I am an aggressive hunter by nature. I am more apt to try to make things happen than to just sit back and wait. By selective aggression, I mean being aggressive when the time is right. Many times the right move is to sit back and be patient, but often you have a very short window when action is hot and if you don’t make your move…you missed your opportunity.
An instance of selective aggression allowed me to harvest a beautiful 10 point in Illinois in 2008 and again this year in 2015. A spring scouting trip had us set up with 13 dynamite rut stands. Our anticipation was high as we made the eight hour drive talking the whole way about who would sit in which stand. Well it took a day and a half to realize we were early. The deer were still in an early season pattern and our long anticipated rut set ups were getting no action what so ever. In fact three out of four guys got skunked the first day.
Day two I slapped a stand on my back and started scouting. I walked the edge of a CRP field and located a good transition route circling a CRP field headed towards an oak ridge 200 yards away. Assuming deer were still on a bed to feed pattern I got set up in my tree on an inside corner of a CRP field headed to the oak ridge. After two hours of sitting I wondered if I was in the right spot when I looked down and there stood a beautiful 130 class 10 point at 5 yards. He had snuck up on me but was completely oblivious that I was 25 feet straight over his head. I waited for what seemed like 10 minutes as he looked over the CRP field. When he felt the coast was clear he started into the field. I arrowed the buck at six yards as he was headed towards the oak ridge to feed on acorns.
This buck was taken as a direct result of being aggressive when the time was right. Had I not been proactive and tried to make things happen I would have went home with nothing but my tag. Staying mobile is key to this hunt and it allowed me a fresh sit in a brand new area on a current pattern the deer were on. You have to be able to set up on current sign when you see it and catch the buck off guard on that first sit. By passing by hot sign or ignoring the current pattern and walking to a pre set stand in the wrong spot you’re missing the opportunity to hunt that buck where his is right now. The sign is there, you just have to figure it out. Hunt it now, because he may not be tomorrow.
Even though I’ve praised the effectiveness of sitting one time, I do believe there are times when you can hunt a spot maybe 2-4 times and it still be effective. If your access is good you may get away with a few more hunts. You just have to determine for yourself if you think your location was compromised through scouting and decide from there. I know that when I adopted the way of thinking that a mature buck WILL know that I was in a particular spot, thus being mobile and hunting new spots, my success has gone up tremendously. I keep the element of surprise in my favor because let’s face it, a mature buck is 100 times better at figuring us out than we are at figuring out him.
I don’t have the luxury of hunting big private acreage and the areas I hunt tend to have higher than normal hunting pressure. By scouting more and hunting stands less often I have increased my success in targeting older age class bucks. Locate the bucks you’re after, wait for the prime time and perfect conditions, get in undetected, and your success will increase dramatically.
– Andy May