May 05, 2022
By Fred Eichler
Although not necessarily a whitetail destination, the South has a lot to offer when it comes to whitetail deer hunting. You just may have to adjust your strategy, gear, and expectations a bit.
Don’t get me wrong, occasionally there are some whoppers that come out of the South, but as a rule, you shouldn’t count on it.
As a boy, I grew up hunting hard-pressured whitetails on public land in north Florida. After 35 years of living in the West, I have now become spoiled by hunting whitetails in Colorado and nearby Midwestern states, where it is not uncommon to see multiple whitetail bucks every sit. Another plus is the bucks in this part of the country are traditionally much larger in both body and antler size. The more open country in the Midwest also usually means more stable wind conditions, which is just another advantage to all hunters, but especially us traditional bowhunters.
Despite all these advantages, I still enjoy heading to sweet tea and boiled peanut country when I can. Partially because I still love the South, but also because I enjoy the beautiful little hard-to-hunt whitetails found there.
This past season, I headed to South Carolina to hunt with my buddy and President of Montana Decoy, CJ Davis. I went in the middle of October, and the weather was hot. So hot that mosquitoes almost forced me out of the stand the first evening — reminder number-one that I was back in the South. So was the fact that I didn’t see a deer.
The next day I did not forget my Thermacell, so I wasn’t swatting mosquitoes, but my deer sightings still remained at zero. CJ, however, was averaging seeing two deer a sit. I’m still not sure if that is because he was putting himself in a better spot, or if I had become rusty at picking out the small, elusive deer in the thick brush.
I did, however, hear a few deer blow at me my third sit, which is another tough thing about hunting down south. The hot and humid weather makes you sweat, and no amount of specialized clothing or cover spray can get rid of sweaty human smell. When the wind isn’t blowing in the thick brush, your scent tends to just pool up around you in a wide, 360-degree radius, eliminating the chance of a deer coming into bow range. The other difficulty is that since you can often only see 20 to 30 yards in the thick cover, it’s very important to make sure your clothing, gear, and bow are super quiet, because once you do see a deer, odds are it’s already in range.
Besides the heat, humidity, and lack of much wind, we also had a full moon to deal with, which made most of the deer action we were seeing on the trail cameras occur in the middle of the night.
On the last two days, the deer started moving a little better and I almost had a shot at a spike that just wouldn’t give me the angle I wanted. I also had a small 3x3 or 2x2 that things just didn’t come together on, and I had a doe that managed to keep brush between us, even though she walked by me at under 20 yards.
On the last morning of my hunt, I spotted a nice buck that looked huge as it fed past me, eating white oak acorns. His antlers were a beautiful light-brown color, and his body looked dark in the shade of the trees.
As I watched him feed, I slowly lifted my recurve from its hanger. He bracketed himself in the thick trees and gave me a perfect broadside shot. My Muzzy-tipped Easton arrow arched through the trees, and I heard a thud but didn’t see my arrow connect, so I started to doubt my shot. Was the thud my arrow hitting a dead log, a stick in the mud, or the deer? I wondered.
I called CJ because I was my usual nervous wreck after a shot and couldn’t tell him much, other than I had shot and had no idea what had happened. After he got done laughing at me, we waited a while and eased in to see what we could find. We easily found where the buck had been standing, as he kicked up leaves when leaving fast. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my arrow or any blood.
We eased into the brush about 40 yards, continuing to search for blood and my arrow, when CJ loudly called out that he had found blood. I asked how much and if it looked good while walking toward him, and he responded that there was quite a bit on the buck lying dead in front of him.
For those looking to travel and try something different, check out one of the Southern states for a hunt. There are some great public-land options in the South. Or for a reasonable price, you can usually get a guided hunt for about half the price of a guided Midwest whitetail hunt. While I ended up killing a beautiful buck on my hunt with CJ, I would have been just as happy with a small buck, a doe, or no deer at all. If that works for you, try a hunt down south. If nothing else, it can help bring you back to reality if you are used to hunting big bucks in one of the more popular whitetail states. Just make sure you bring something for mosquitoes, as well as rubber boots and some lightweight camouflage. I would also make sure everything from your clothing to your bow is whisper-quiet, or you may struggle to fill your tag.