October 12, 2021
It's a sickening feeling when you come within inches of the goal, only to fail. Many a “shooter” buck has walked by a bowhunter unscathed. This is true even for deer that were within range but didn’t offer shot opportunities. Such is life for dedicated bowhunters.
If every archer got a shot at each buck they saw, their trophy rooms would look a lot different. Unfortunately, not all hunters take advantage of all the tools at their disposal to increase the number of shot opportunities they get.
The Perfect Shot Angle
An untold number of campfire discussions have centered on what the perfect archery shot looks like. Some say it’s broadside. Others prefer deer to be slightly quartering away. Either one works, but most people prefer the latter.
“Buckventures” co-host Jeff Danker is part of that crowd. Tim Andrus of “Rush Outdoors” and Dan Infalt of “The Hunting Beast” agree. All three encourage those who take the quartering-away opportunity to aim for the exit, though, which is on or just behind the opposite shoulder.
Of course, it’s always best to take the first ethical opportunity that you get. “In a perfect world, I like a quartering-away shot,” Infalt said. “It’s not always reality, though. There is a certain balance of patience while waiting for a shot opportunity, versus the need to get a shot off. I rarely wait for the perfect shot, but rather the first ethical shot I fully believe will result in a clean kill. Generally, for me, that means broadside to quartering away.”
Here are some of the different methods hunters use to help position deer for the best possible shot opportunity.
No. 1 — Decoys
Hunters have been using decoys for decades, and it can be a big buck’s kryptonite. Not only can it lure in deer from long distances, it can also pose them almost exactly the way you want them. There are two primary reasons for this.
First, dominant bucks typically confront their challengers head-on. The same is true for their responses to buck decoys. Because of this, it’s good practice to place these so that they are quartering slightly toward your setup. When a mature buck bristles up and walks in, he should give you a broadside or quartering-away opportunity as he approaches the decoy head-on.
It’s important to note that younger, more subordinate bucks tend to approach decoys from the rear, if at all. You might witness them exhibit nonthreatening postures, and then nose up to the side or back half of the deke.
Bucks behave differently around doe decoys, though. They almost always approach from the rear. This is true whether they are dominant or subordinate. Therefore, if using an antlerless decoy, position it so that it is slightly quartering away.
No. 2 — Scrapes
Deer pee on the ground, so other deer can visit it later and give it a good sniff. That’s how scrapes work in simplest terms, at least. In their most complex form, scrapes serve as highly active communication centers where deer share information on health, social status, receptiveness, and more. This makes it a significant method for stopping deer when they come within a short distance of it. Once established, deer remember where these are located, and the stench ought to capture the attention of unknowing deer that travel downwind of the scrape.
While I wouldn’t hunt over a scrape just for the sake of hunting over it, when located in the right place, it certainly serves the purpose. If located in a spot that already looks promising, why not use it to your advantage?
No. 3 — Mock Scrapes
Those who don’t locate real scrapes around their stand location of choice might consider making fake ones. Also known as mock scrapes, these look just like the real thing, and once adopted by deer, become indistinguishable from the real deal.
Jumpstarting a mock scrape isn’t easy, though. It needs to check all the right boxes. First, it must be in a good location deer commonly travel. Second, it should have plenty of exposed soil — make it as big as you dare. Third, ensure a licking branch hangs over the center of the scrape. Put it at the right height. When possible, angle the limb slightly toward you. This won’t guarantee deer hit it head-on, but it might encourage some bucks to do so.
No. 4 — Scrape Trees
This is the same concept as creating a mock scrape, but with the ability to place it where there isn’t already a tree to create a scrape under. Using this method allows hunters to put mock scrapes exactly where they want them. That’s a powerful tactic.
This requires more work, though. For long-term plans, plant a live tree. For a short-term solution, merely cut one and bury a few feet of trunk in the ground. Either way, be sure there is a sturdy enough limb — at head height — to serve as a licking branch. In fact, it helps if there are at least two (or more) branches on different sides. This allows for additional scrapes, and these serve as backups in case one gets broken.
Angle the primary licking branch back toward the main stand or blind location. Once the tree is planted, create a mock scrape as done under any other tree. Where legal, jumpstart the exposed soil with either real or synthetic deer urine.
No. 5 — Existing Rub Lines
All rub lines aren’t created equal. Pay little attention to rubs along food sources, but definitely put stock in those within or near bedding cover. Well-used rub lines are indicative of frequent buck travel. When setting up close enough to bedding areas to intercept that movement, it can be a great way to fill a tag.
When doing this, it’s imperative to set up on the downwind side of the trail these rubs are along. Don’t get too close to them — about 10-20 yards is a good distance range. When possible, set up so the rub facing is perpendicular to your profile, as deer will most likely approach the rubs straight on.
Make sure you know what time of day deer are using these rub lines, too. Rub lines that face bedding areas are most likely being made as deer leave their bedding areas in the afternoon. Rub lines that face food sources are most likely created when going back to bed in the morning. Within cover, if rub facings dot the entire area, and point in all directions, it’s either a bedding area, staging area, or high-traffic intersection.
No. 6 — Rubbing Posts
While these haven’t taken the hunting world by storm (yet), rubbing posts are becoming more mainstream. Most of these are vertical, but horizontal rubbing posts are gaining steam. When placed correctly, the latter option is better for posing deer.
These posts are almost always small logs that have been cut and then secured to two nearby trees, or posts that are driven into the ground. While many different species of tree will work for this, it’s best to choose one that deer commonly make rubs on in your area. Then, make it as “sappy” as possible.
It is important to note that deer don’t naturally make horizontal rubs. This will be a learned behavior for them, but once it takes off in a given area, deer really seem to hit them. Again, where legal, it might not hurt to add some forehead gland scent to the mix to entice deer to begin using it.
No 7 — Strategic Kill Plots
Not all food plots are capable of posing deer for shot opportunities. Large plots, as well as medium and smaller-sized rectangular, round, and square ones aren’t very adept at it either. But small micro (kill) plots of certain shapes certainly are.
Many times, when deer enter a food plot, they want to see if other deer are present. We see this behavior when deer walk at least to the point where they can see the remainder of the open area.
The best shapes are designed in such a manner that doesn’t allow deer to see the entire plot from any given location. Instead, they are planted in such a manner (or shape) that takes advantage of a whitetail’s curiosity. The best shapes for this include T, U, V, J, L, K, turkey foot, figure eight, etc. These and more have two things in common: They don’t allow deer to see the entire plot at once, and they also have vertexes (pinch points) where hunters can intercept the bulk of deer movement.
The best way to obtain these shapes is to start with a field that’s already overgrown with briars, grasses, and other early successional habitat. Then, mow out the desired shape, leaving the taller cover around it. If the field is already completely mowed, plant the desired shape with the preferred food plot species.
Then, outside of that border, plant the remainder of the open area in Egyptian wheat, little or big bluestem, prairie cordgrass, sorghum Sudan grass, or switchgrass. Standing corn is another option, if you want the additional food source.
No. 8 — Strategic Ag Plantings
While it isn’t a common practice, strategic ag plantings can be another way to encourage deer to offer a shot. Generally, when feeding, deer traverse crops by walking with the rows — not against them. To take advantage of this, plant crops so that rows are perpendicular to ground blinds and treestands.
No. 9 — Pinch Points
Traditional pinch points are classic ways to get that ethical shot opportunity everyone looks for. Bottlenecks, fence gaps, ditch crossings, water crossings, saddles, and other areas where deer traffic condenses down are solid spots to get that opportune shot.
No. 10 — Trail Manipulation
Manipulating trails so that deer are forced to do what you want is an excellent route to success. You can even keep them from coming too close to a treestand — or your scent trail or scent cone — by using this approach. Fallen trees are great for influencing deer to go one way or another. Blocking trails with brush to detour deer is another tool.
No. 11 — Bait and Minerals
Where legal, these are certainly an option. Bait has its place as a means to get deer to stop for a shot opportunity. Shelled corn, minerals, and other attractants work just fine.
Posing Yourself (Correctly)
Getting whitetails to offer a shot is only half the battle. Posing yourself is also part of getting the job done. Danker encourages bowhunters to consider all scenarios that could happen, mentally prepare for those, but still focus on the plan you’ve set in motion.
Infalt concurs, and the righty believes the treestand setup itself is equally important. “I want my stand facing the deer with them passing by on my left, if possible,” he said. “But I won’t cross deer trails to achieve that, and can usually pivot and shoot deer easily on my right, too, as long as I see them coming and slowly adjust. On some occasions, the stand can’t face the deer due to the lean of the tree, or branches, and rather than being on the side of the tree where your profile sticks out, I face it straight away from the incoming deer and shoot around the tree.”
Elevation is important, too. Those who’ve hunted from treestands understand just how much impact elevation can have on a shot. The higher in a tree (or sharper the shot incline), the smaller the vitals become in relation to target size. Because of that, staying below 20 feet increases your odds of making a double-lung shot.
There are many blunders hunters can make when implementing these strategies. Most of these require on-the-ground work, and leaving behind scent is the king of mistakes. Always wear gloves.
Walking around is another mistake. This leaves ground scent, even if you are wearing rubber boots. Scent isn’t just transferred via contact. It falls to the ground. On private land, and when possible, drive an ATV, bike, truck, or some other semi-enclosed vehicle to reduce the amount of scent left behind.
Also, do things as far in advance of the hunt as possible. “Guys wait too long to do these setups,” Andrus said. “The earlier the better. Yeah, it is hot. But it will be better in the long run.”
Of course, get the work in a given area done all at once. “Don’t keep going back and scenting up the area to work on the setup,” Infalt said. “Refreshening mock scrapes, or checking cameras, does more damage with scent than never having a spot for the deer to stop at in the first place.”
When heading afield, be careful not to be seen, heard, or smelled. There are plenty of other ways you can mess things up, especially on the day of the hunt. Danker stresses caution in all that you do, even when merely walking to your stand. The last 100 yards of your approach are the most critical. Be as quiet and stealthy as possible.
The author lives in the hills of Kentucky, spending his time hunting critters and working full-time handling all things media.