By Andy May
Not every hunter out there can take a week or two of vacation for hunting. As lucky as I am to have my job, it unfortunately does not offer me extended time off to chase my hunting dreams. But still, last year I was able to harvest five nice bucks throughout the season over the course of a number of short hunts and using a simple but effective approach to maximize the time I did have.
If you have limited time to hunt, you too can still experience some success hunting and traveling for whitetails – it just takes a little extra planning and thought. As an example of how this can be done, here’s the blueprint of my 2015 dear season.
Early Season Travel: I unfortunately was not able to capitalize on any opportunities during my 2015 early-season trip, but I did get on several great deer. I had glassed a 150″ buck in northern Ohio several times the week before the season and while it took some searching around to find a nice buck feeding in daylight, the effort almost paid off. I felt really confident that I was going to get an opportunity at that buck but unfortunately the farmer picked opening evening to cut his crops. The buck did not show.
Opening Day in Home State: A quick midday spot-check of a secluded apple tree revealed several sets of tracks, one set in particular was quite large and definitely made by a mature deer. The midday weather was windy so I was able to sneak in and check for the sign that I was looking for. In this situation my plan was simple. If the sign wasn’t there, I wouldn’t hunt the spot. I set up that evening and at last light I had my opportunity. It looked like a great shot into my target buck, but for some unexplainable reason I was unable to recover him. I searched for days for that buck but I can only hope that somehow he made it. That buck and that hunt still haunt me.
Season timing tactic: I was able to get the most recent information by spot-checking this area just before the hunt. I normally wouldn’t recommend doing that, but in this case I was either going to hunt it with the right sign or not hunt it with the wrong sign.
Mid-October Home: Mid October brought another weekend hunt that luckily timed perfectly with a moderate drop in temperatures. I hunted in an area that in the past had good action between October 10 and October 15. Using this knowledge I sat in a tree that gave me the wind advantage that I needed. I arrowed a solid block with an hour of daylight left.
Season timing tactic: Utilize past history to know when certain areas tend to heat up and then take into account the impacts that certain weather patterns might have to increase the odds of good movement. These two factors, in my case, made this a very high value sit.
Mid-October Travel: The following weekend some friends and I took a brief road trip out of state. It definitely wasn’t an ideal time for this kind of trip, but it was the only time we had where all three of us could go together and that was the most important thing for us. Although we have shot several nice deer on past trips like this, it’s more about just being with friends then actually wrapping a tag around a big buck. Most of our traditional spots in this area are set up for rut hunting in funnels and downwind sides of bedding areas, but since we were about two weeks early, our strategies needed to be adjusted appropriately. After two days of very little action I zeroed in on a thick bedding area near a dried-up riverbed, where there were a few pools of standing water located in the deeper holes. Shortly after my mobile set up I noticed two nice bucks sparring on the edge of the bedding area and working their way towards the water. After a quick drink they started working their way back into the cover. A light rattling sequence brought a nice nine point in to investigate and a little too close to my position. I sunk an arrow into his vitals at 36 yards.
Season Timing tactic: The deer were not moving far from their bedding areas so I set up near buck bedding cover to capitalize on the last few minutes of daylight movement.
Early November Travel: With only three days to spend out of state, we made another long drive for a highly anticipated hunt. Warm temperatures had plagued the early part of November but a cold snap was hitting on November 6 and I found myself sitting in a familiar spot at a ditch crossing eight hours away from my home. The weather was right, the wind was right, and I had strong rising thermals that would keep me essentially scent free until the last three or four hours of the day. I didn’t need that long though, because after first light a handful of does and fawns started filtering down the hill from the adjacent crop fields. A nice heavy 12 point was closely following. It was the first morning of the first day but I was more than happy to get a chance at this buck especially with such a time constraint.
Season Timing Tactic: Sitting in a high-traffic funnel, during peak cruising phase, that was also enhanced by a cold snap after several days of warm weather, made this a very high value sit.
Mid-November Travel: This can be a frustrating time of year, depending on where you’re hunting. In many places the bucks are in lockdown and in places that get high-pressure the deer have been hunted very hard for at least two weeks. Now in another location, I had a great funnel stand in between a lake and small pond that I hadn’t sat all year. I was simply waiting for the right conditions to sit this highly anticipated spot. I was looking for a morning hunt with south winds and high-pressure to take advantage of the rising thermals. I had finally gotten those conditions and I snuck into the stand well before daylight. I was blessed with a boom of deer activity through the first hour of daylight. I passed on a decent eight point twice in the first hour and at 8:05 AM a nice heavy 10 point offered me a gimme shot at 6 yards.
Season timing tactic: Don’t try to force a low percentage sit in your best spots. Wait until conditions are perfect and then strike.
Mid-November Home #2: The following weekend I was able to get out for an all-day sit back at home. I sat in a spot that I had been successful in past years during the “lock-down” phase of the rut. It consists of a thick brushy river bottom where bucks tend to push does into seclusion to breed them. Often you will find them on little peninsulas of land all by themselves with a hot doe. I spotted this buck with a doe at 11:00 AM out in the river bottom. They were several hundred yards away so I quickly climbed down out of my tree and repositioned myself about 200 yards closer to them. I misjudged just how far away they were though, as I climbed into my tree and noticed they were a mere 40 yards away. Luckily I was able to get into my tree undetected and make a killing shot.
Season timing tactic: With prior knowledge that this was a popular breeding area I planned an all- day sit during the “lock-down” phase of the rut. I got a visual of a great buck at a distance and decided to get aggressive and relocate closer to him. Had I not done this, who knows if I would’ve ever gotten an opportunity?
2015 totals allowed me 19 sits in a treestand (most of which were 3-4 hour sits), and over the course of those sits, as you just read, I was able to harvest five good bucks. I am not a great hunter, but with smart planning I was still able to enjoy some success. Even though I wasn’t able to get out as much as I would’ve liked, I was flexible with when I could hunt, which allowed me to capitalize on conditions and timing that produced very high quality sits.
So if work or family interferes with you getting as much time in the woods as you’d like, consider tactics like these and it might help you make the most of the hunts that you get.
– Andy May
For more stories and advice from Andy, click here.