Don’t bet on being unsinkable during whitetail season. That attitude didn’t work too well for the Titanic 104 years ago, and a laidback approach could create an iceberg moment — and spell disaster for your hunts this fall. There’s nothing wrong with being relaxed and calm during the hunt.
It could be the answer to defeating the very real iceberg of buck fever. But overlooking sound strategies, common sense, and banking on quickie shortcuts could steer you right back into the path of seasonal icebergs.
You’d think after three decades of bowhunting I would have learned to be on the lookout for an iceberg catastrophe during bow season.
Even though I have steered clear of the majority of disasters waiting to sink a hunt, there’s still the chance that being too comfortable in your hunting habits could lead you to look for a lifeboat halfway through the season.
Here are a few situations to consider when searching for smooth sailing and more success in the whitetail woods this fall.
Recon, Too Much Or Too Little
Instantaneous stimulation, it’s the addiction trend of the present with people unknowingly drifting into the attention deficit disorder realm with smartphone dependence. Research indicates this is becoming a real problem, but you don’t need research to confirm this. Look at yourself and look around you. Case closed.
Don’t let this craving for instant gratification sink your whitetail season. A need to continually check your trail cameras could be the iceberg of your season.
Modern whitetail bowhunters rely on trail camera surveillance like Fred Bear relied on a new shipment of sturdy fletching to guide his arrows. If you don’t have at least five cameras or more working for you, then you either hunt old school, or you simply don’t have the budget to embrace this revealing technology.
That alone could sink a hunt. Today you can find cameras for under $100. Put some of your garage junk on eBay, and then put the proceeds toward an investment in some cameras.
The iceberg arrives with those of you needing a fix by checking your cameras too often. By visiting them every other day, or even weekly, you begin to reverse roles. Instead of you patterning a whitetail, the whitetail patterns you.
Despite your best scent-elimination efforts and avoidance of primetime movement windows, whitetails still have an uncanny knack for knowing when humans invade their homelands. This is particularly evident as bowhunters step up their surveillance days before the opener. You can bet this scouting uptick doesn’t go unnoticed.
Begin by stocking your cameras with long-lasting lithium batteries and the greatest memory cache allowable.
This stretches the time between visits. Fourteen-year veteran outfitter Aaron Volkmar of Tails of the Hunt Outfitters suggests that you check your cameras sparingly — every other week.
He also stresses that if you have a mature, trophy-class buck patterned, skip the trail cameras altogether and avoid the area as much as possible until hunting season.
If you do need the photo intel to put together a plan, set your cameras where they can be easily accessed without invading bedding cover, or bumping deer when checking them. If two weeks between checks is just too long, look at camera models that send you image updates wirelessly.
The Moultrie Mobile works with any 2015 Moultrie or newer camera to transmit images instantaneously. The Bushnell Aggressor Wireless is another hands-off model to feed your addiction, but as you’ve probably surmised, costs go up exponentially with these smartphone-like services.
You only have to peek into any archery pro shop to see that bows have the sleek look of a new Lamborghini. Stickbows still adorn corner displays, but the real interest lies with compact bows, wild eccentrics, and flashy arrows.
There’s nothing wrong with shooting a fast bow and adorning it with precision accessories such as a drop-away rest and bright, accurate bowsights.
Nevertheless, as the technology races ahead, it’s still easy for a lumbering iceberg to grind any hunt to a halt as you may be depending too much on equipment, and too little on the real world of hunting.
It’s nothing these days to see bowhunters at your local range sending arrows on missions to smack targets at 80, 90 and 100 yards, or beyond. Shooting long range increases confidence and shooting ability, but it also causes some to make questionable decisions during a hunt.
The Pope and Young Club surveys all entrants, and their data indicates that the average shot for whitetail hunting is less than 20 yards.
There’s no surprise there, but if you can accurately shoot paper at 80 yards, should you be using that ability during the hunt as a crutch? Broadhead-tipped arrows will kill at those ranges, but other issues arise, questioning the ethics of long shots.
Small gusts of wind and unseen limbs may change the direction of an arrow. Flight time increases, allowing animals ample time to take another step, pivot, or jump the string. Any of these could result in a poor hit, or hopefully a complete miss.
Your own buck fever also comes into play. Shooting paper, unless during heated competition, is a completely different situation than staring at a whitetail buck.
Finally, any long shot requires several time-consuming steps including accurately ranging a target, dialing-in a bowsight, and paying attention to details in your shooting form.
All of these take additional moments of time. I don’t know about you, but most of my meetings with whitetails fall into the “brief-at-best” category.
Pre-rut bucks anxiously traipse down trails, and rutting bucks sprint through the woods. There’s nothing wrong with practicing long range, but if you want to avoid a disaster, dial back on distance and set up for fast, close action in the whitetail woods.
Stuck In A Rut
Some of you get too comfortable in hunting the same way year after year. Even with a crow’s-nest position, an iceberg might slip up on you and sink your ship.
For starters, have a variety of stands or ground blinds stationed to overcome any wind change or whitetail pattern change possible. Whitetails change their travel routes daily to optimize scent detection with alternating winds, and they simply change patterns when food sources shift.
Harvesting and frost force deer to abandon old patterns for new ones throughout the fall.
Besides deer varying their patterns, deer behavior also varies throughout the season. You may be wise to stay strapped to a tree outside of the rut, but when bucks begin hustling for honeys, you might be wiser to swap tactics.
Younger bucks especially drift into new territories, and a new pattern may emerge from a newcomer overnight. Adjust immediately to take advantage of the situation. Plus, we’ve all been in the woods when a rutting buck goes bonkers over a doe coming into estrus as he attempts to corner her in a hidden coulee.
If conditions, wind and terrain allow, why not slip out of your treestand to decrease the distance for a ground-based ambush? This holds particular value on a monster buck that surprisingly shows up with no prior history. He may be a drifter, and you’ll only get one chance at him before he returns home.
Other strategies to consider include adding a decoy to your game plan, engaging in aggressive calling, and hunting from the ground if no trees give you a platform for the perfect spot. There’s nothing wrong with an elevated, La-Z-Boy hunt, but being too comfortable could bring about an iceberg disaster.
Since my beginning bowhunting years were in the somewhat treeless environment of eastern South Dakota, I routinely found myself eye to eye with whitetails. Today I embrace the treestand popularity, but a big Kansas buck had me rethinking my strategy last year since it avoided any good treestand locations.
I popped up a ground blind, brushed it in, and waited for my chance. It never came, but a few days after I left Kansas, my friend killed that very buck out of the ground blind. It grossed more than 150 inches.
Eyes For The Rut Only
In most states, bowhunters get a lengthy season that extends from T-shirt attire to parka apparel. Yet despite this long window of hunting opportunity, you’ll see a spike in leave requests from employees in the November rut period.
There’s no need to bore you for the reason, since the spike in buck activity tells the story. Although buck activity peaks, erratic rut behavior dominates, and deer patterns may become unpredictable. Some may even border on bizarre.
Perhaps it’s time to put as much emphasis on early and late hunts as those with a breeding element?
Early season, specifically September and the first half of October, is characterized by bucks that focus on food and not the opposite sex. They often feed ravenously in shooting light, and follow patterns that a metrosexual could uncover the very first trip outside his urban environment.
That same philosophy works for late-season bucks looking to avoid becoming a pick-up during shed-antler season. Post-rut bucks need to pack on some of the 20 percent or more body weight they lost during the rut. They won’t get it all back, but a rigorous feeding regimen will help in pure survival.
In moderate weather, you likely will be tested to find bucks after several months of hunting pressure. That all changes if the mercury drops and the snow piles up. Even the savviest bucks will have to abandon a nocturnal feeding schedule to get all the calories required to avoid the Grim Reaper.
In either setting, trail cameras combined with diligent binocular time will reveal patterns for future traps. Set up a plan for every seasonal window, and narrow the odds of a tag-soup disaster.
Set Realistic Goals
Finally, don’t head afield with a TV-hunting attitude. Set realistic goals. You’re not hunting on “Fantasy Island.” It’s easy to get caught up in the TV and online world of monster bucks. Sure, monsters do exist, but you need to set goals based on actual data.
Your trail cameras and scouting missions will help you determine shooter bucks, but if you operate like most of us, you still have daydreams about a gnarly nontypical showing up right under your stand.
Sort out fact from fantasy. Start by reviewing all record-book data for the county where you hunt. Both Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett list the location of the kill, along with the date.
Some areas may have produced monster bucks years ago, while others are spitting them out with current regularity. Check to see if your area has the possibility for a trophy, and then evaluate your hunting ground to see if it has the required habitat to allow a buck to reach maturity.
Set your goals on that equation, and leave fantasy thoughts for…well, you can add your own ending here.
Two seasons ago, while hunting with Volkmar on one of his Tails of the Hunt Iowa properties, I slept restlessly with visions of 200-inch cornfield giants every night. Sightings of bucks nearing 170 points kept that dream a near reality.
But after a week of treestand duty, a 150-class buck positioned itself perfectly, mesmerized by a decoy. I shoved fantasy aside and drew my Mathews to embrace the reality of punching my tag. The brawny buck was a true trophy, and I avoided a Titanic-style ending to my season with a slam-dunk shot.