October 21, 2022
By Josh Honeycutt
The last seconds of shooting light tick away. Then the floodgates open, and deer pour into the food plot. Now, you’re stuck, especially given the massive target buck you’ve been after all season is at 50 yards and closing. What do you do?
It can be difficult to exit a stand or blind when deer are still in the food plot. It’s something virtually every bowhunter deals with at some point, and the last thing you want to do is walk out and clear the field — educating the deer in the process.
Fortunately, there are ways to slip out of a food-plot ambush location without pressuring deer too much. These are your options.
Bank On It
The best solution is preemptive expectation and preparation. This will happen at some point. If you have the ability and resources, planning for this is the best way forward.
Consider planting screening cover to shield your entry and exit routes. Tall vegetation types around treestand and blind locations help, too. Basically, the goal is to prevent deer from seeing you as you travel from the base of the tree or blind, all the way back to your vehicle — or at least until you get well away from sensitive hunting areas. Using this concept allows you to climb down and walk out undetected, even if deer are nearby.
Those who choose to use this method have numerous options available to them. A good annual option is Egyptian wheat. It’s an invasive plant, but you don’t have to worry about it spreading or becoming an issue on your property. That said, you will have to plant it each year. And oftentimes, it isn’t as hardy as other options.
In contrast, giant Miscanthus is even taller and sturdier. It stands up to rain, snow, and wind much better and lasts longer. It’s also a perennial, meaning you won’t have to replant once it’s established.
In conjunction with planting strategic screening cover, using natural terrain features is great, too. Wadable creeks, ditches, drainages, ravines, and streams are perfect entry and exit routes that help shield you visually, as well as diminish your scent. Other visual barriers, such as the backsides of ridgelines and thick walls of cover, do the same. Use what’s available to you.
Another solution might seem counterintuitive. But if you’re playing cat-and-mouse with a big buck and the odds of him appearing in the fading moments of legal light are slim, it makes sense. In some instances, you’ll still be able to see well at the end of legal shooting light. This is especially true on cloudless days with a brighter moon phase or position. If you look around and no deer are in the open, or at least close enough to spook, go ahead and climb down.
Similarly, if it’s nearing the end of legal light, or you’ve already lost sight of your pins, it might pay off to pack up a smidge early. This is true even when deer are in sight but at a great distance, and you know they won’t reach bow range before quitting time. Climbing down a few minutes early when nothing is close to your stand can prevent a botched departure once deer get closer.
Hail A Taxi
Another good solution is to call someone who can drive to your stand and pick you up. This “soft push” won’t have as negative of an effect as your human form would. Asking someone with an ATV, tractor, or vehicle to drive in can greatly reduce pressure on deer. This will clear the field, with minimal long-term effects.
The best vehicle to use for this is whatever the local deer are used to seeing. Conditioning is key, and if they see a vehicle they recognize and don’t consider a threat, they are less likely to react negatively. It’s all about consistency.
Furthermore, it’s important to be as quiet as possible. Don’t talk to whomever picks you up until the doors are closed, windows are up, and deer can no longer hear you. Don’t allow them to associate human voices with vehicles.
For those who are hesitant about this method, I’ve used it for years, and my trail-camera photos confirm that deer re-enter food plots within minutes of my departure. Oftentimes, they merely run into the edge of cover and wait for us to leave. That said, don’t overuse this tactic. While it can be effective when needed, mature bucks might begin to catch on over time, especially if you mess up.
Use A 2-D Decoy
Some hunters deal with after-dark deer in the food plot, or elsewhere, so often that they keep lightweight 2-D decoys on them. Montana Decoy’s options are perfect for this use, as are those from Ultimate Predator Gear. Select one that works for you and where you hunt. For example, in cattle country, a 2-D cow decoy might work better. And of course, a whitetail decoy works anywhere.
When using a decoy, it’s important to match your gait to the decoy being used. Deer still see quite well after dark, so they might be able to view the profile of your decoy. It’s important to match the sound of your footsteps to that of the decoy being used. So if it’s a deer, walk like a deer; if it’s a cow or other selection, do the same.
Bark Like A Dog
If all else fails, and you don’t have someone to pick you up and can’t wait until deer leave, select a noise that’s natural to a deer’s environment. However, choose a spooking method with the least impact.
Start by mimicking something less frightening, such as a hawk, owl, or other nonthreatening animal. If that doesn’t spook deer off, perhaps try a bobcat, coyote, dog, or fox sound. Regardless of the chosen vocalization, start soft, and then get louder as needed. You don’t want deer to associate the sound directly with the tree or blind you’re sitting in.
Those who don’t want to draw attention to their location might place a remote unit somewhere nearby, but in a spot that still pushes deer away from you. Check your state and local hunting laws before doing so, as this tactic is prohibited in some areas.
Wait It Out
In contrast, if none of the above is an option, you’re left with one other solution. If you can’t leave before deer get close, or they appear suddenly as you’re packing up, it might require waiting. This could take two minutes or two hours — perhaps more. But if you’re dedicated to staying off their radar and you can’t deploy any of the above solutions, this might be your only choice. It doesn’t come without its drawbacks, though.
Waiting it out prevents deer from seeing or hearing you, but unlike the other tactics I’ve mentioned, this one still leaves a deer’s sense of smell in play, especially if they can get downwind of your setup and you aren’t hunting from an airtight, hard-sided box blind. Having hard stops, such as a river, brushpiles, or other obstacles, can provide peace of mind, though.
Overall, regardless of the selection made, the general rule is to refrain from spooking deer. Doing so is a mistake that will reduce the quality of your hunting spot, especially if it happens frequently over time. So, if deer are still in the food plot after dark, don’t sweat it. You have the tools to fix the problem.
The author is a diehard hunter and accomplished outdoor communicator who has chased game, big and small, all over North America.