As the whitetail buck attempted to cut off the estrous doe, he was definitely on a course for an arrow interception, but his bounding trot would make for a challenging shot. Would he pause on his own below my treestand, or was now the time to make the buck stand still? When the buck passed through my shooting lane, I drew and belched out a doe bleat.
I'd seen bucks stop many times on TV hunting shows using the odd sound. It also worked for me, but a little too well.
Instead of pausing, the buck locked up in a stance that looked as if he was preparing for a NASA liftoff to a far-off galaxy. I cut loose the arrow, but as you might have guessed, the buck became nearly two feet shorter in his pre-launch crouch to flee the current real estate. Jumping the string was as real as the federal government's deficit as I tried to figure out why that tactic had worked so well on television but not in my world.
That hunt took place many moons ago, and since then I've continually tried to put a plan in place to make a buck pause on its own in a shooting lane of my choosing. Calls can work, but they can also make an already paranoid buck schizophrenic. A subtle approach is best when you want a buck to stop for a textbook archery shot.
A Whitetail's World
Whitetails know their world better than you know the nightstand beside your bed. They have an exceptional understanding of all sounds, movement, and woodland matters surrounding them. If it looks, sounds, or smells out of place, whitetails rarely stand around long enough to fathom the situation.
And regardless of how much you crank up your bow, you'll be on the losing end of speeding your arrow along fast enough to catch up to a fleeing whitetail. Fast bows burn along at 320 fps, but the speed of sound is 1,125 fps, giving any whitetail a heads up if it hears the launch of your arrow.
Sure, we're only talking about fractions of a second, but if background noise doesn't veil the bow's sound, it's often just enough time for a deer to react to it.
That's why you don't want to introduce anything spooky into your shot equation moments before the shot, including odd bleats from above. Instead, consider stopping a buck naturally in a shooting lane of your choosing.
Veteran South Dakota bowhunter and outfitter Mark Bauer has been in pursuit of whitetails for 25 years.
Of that quarter century, he's been outfitting for 14 years under the title of Martin Creek Outfitters. His years of hunting and guiding experience have taught him one thing: Shot placement is critical when using a primitive weapon, and a standing deer offers the highest probability a bowhunter has to make a good shot.
"It's a game of inches, and that one step forward brings a deer's leg back, or you could hit a deer too far back," Bauer said. "And then you toss in buck fever. I don't see too many good results on hunters shooting at moving deer. How often does the weekend bowhunter practice on moving deer anyway?"
Bauer stresses to his hunters that a standing shot is best. Nevertheless, he doesn't encourage stopping deer in a fashion that creates questions in a deer's mind. Sure, a whitetail may stop, but are you creating another disastrous outcome: jumping the string and putting the speed of sound into play?
"In my opinion, deer jump the string more than we realize," Bauer noted. "It's been my experience that if you're bowhunting and you stop a deer that turns to look at you beyond 20 yards, it will most likely hear the bow and jump the string."
Take the risk out of stopping a buck. Instead of using your voice, use your highly developed brain to stop a buck, without any alarming side effects.
Mock Scrapes and Scents
In brief, you want to create inquisitiveness, not anxiety, when attempting to stop a buck. To do that, consider stopping a buck by using natural attractions, whitetail nosiness, or a novelty. Keep fear out of the equation and you'll have a much higher chance of your arrow reaching a deer that's still standing, rather than ducking.
Scrapes meet that naturally occurring designation, plus they stop deer by using the natural interest whitetails have for the smell of urine. Adding a scrape to your stand or blind location should be a top priority if one doesn't already exist. Whitetail bucks and does rarely miss a scrape. The pawed-out area with the addition of urine almost always causes a deer to pause, sniff, and even get busy freshening the scraped area.
This creates a window of opportunity to range and draw while a buck has his attention directed on another chore.
The basics to making a mock scrape are simple, but the location takes a bit more thought. First, consider where you'll be when launching an arrow, the path of deer travel, and the angle you'd like to have the deer standing at for the shot.
Now look for a tree with an overhanging branch or a location to zip-tie a licking branch into place, and you have the location for your mock scrape. Deer begin making scrapes in early fall, so you can make your scrape in late summer and activate it with a scent dripper just prior to your hunting window.
"I use mock scrapes a lot. It's the best way to stop a buck for an ideal shot," Bauer said.
Another tactic Bauer uses to make a buck stop at a scrape is to cover the scrape up. Kicking leaves and other duff to cover a scrape spurs a buck into clearing the area to again reveal the dirt. As a buck paws out the debris, it once again gives you a shot at him while he is distracted with the task at hand.
Lastly, even if you don't have an existing scrape to work with or no trees nearby under which to make a mock scrape, you can add scent to the area. Convenient scent bottles topped with spray nozzles allow you to broadcast the artificial presence of another deer across a larger area, and give a buck a reason to stop and smell the urine-soaked roses. Spray it on vegetation at nose level in your shooting lane of choice.
Another natural way to get a buck to stand for a shot is by altering deer trails, especially if your stand sits at the junction of several trails. If you want to make a buck pause, you can do so by creating a detour, diversion, or even a blockade in the location of your choosing. Even if you only have a single trail running past your ambush location, a blockage or narrowing of that trail may be just the barrier required for a deer-pausing moment.
Using limbs, branches, logs and even portable livestock fences, you can block flanking trails and make your primary trail the obvious route. But don't stop there. Make sure that you create sudden turns and narrow the trail. This will make a deer turn and pause as it maneuvers and weaves its way past your stand.
The best shooting opportunity forces any passing deer to quarter away at some point during the encounter. When the buck hits the corner and focuses his vision away from you, it's time for you to drop the string. Obviously, this tactic won't work in the wide-open environment of a Great Plains pasture, but in dense woodlands, it could be just the ticket to buying you an extra second or two for a standing shot.
"I use trail blockages as a two-fold tactic," Bauer explained. "If the trail splits, I block the second exit trail and leave the trail with a quartering-away shot as the only option. In most cases, I simply drag a couple of logs out and prop them up to force a buck to turn, and by making the passage narrow, it oftentimes causes the deer to pause for an ideal quartering-away shot."
Are you surprised to see calls even brought up, given the questionable effectiveness of the bleat I tried using to stop the buck in the beginning of this article? Calls work, but a deer's highly receptive ears can pinpoint sound to within a few feet, ground level or airborne. That said, several companies have sought to provide treestand hunters with calls that you can operate from above, but the sound is delivered below.
This focuses attention on the ground instead of your elevated position. Flextone's new Ground Grunt'r Deer Call does just that with its extension hose that runs all the way to a ground location. Of course, digital calls run by remote also can add a deer-stopping grunt at the press of a button. Unfortunately, many states don't allow electronic calls to be used during big game seasons.
You don't necessarily have to avoid calls, but consider these aspects before tooting your horn. First, how much background din is occurring? Rustling leaves and branches, plus the whooshing sound of the wind through the trees, can obscure your call enough to possibly eliminate a buck from pinpointing the sound.
A soft grunt in these conditions may make a buck stop to see if it really heard what it perceived to be a grunt. Second, if you grunt or bleat while a buck is beyond 50 yards, preferably at 80 yards or more, it could be just the right stimulus to bring the buck to you with a short stop to survey the surroundings for another deer. Bauer also has a bit of advice for call-shy hunters attempting to avoid the dreaded string jump.
"Over the years, I've had better luck whistling to make a buck pause," Bauer said. "I don't blow a big whistle, just a short, soft, shrill whistle. I don't know if they think it's a bird or something else, but it doesn't alarm them. They usually stop in their tracks to analyze the sound. If you're already at full draw, it gives you precious seconds to get your shot off on an unsuspecting buck."
Nutrition, Nutrients & Water
Does anything grab your attention like the smell of a burger on a grill, or the tantalizing wafting of camp coffee in the air? These dining and beverage options could also play a pivotal role in your game to stop a buck for the shot. Of course, they need whitetail tailoring for success. First, consider mini food plots at your ambush site.
You'll need some sunlight for a plot to grow, so this may not work in all locations, but a small plot of clover, chicory, or even turnips could bring a buck to a screeching halt along any trail. You can plant by hand simply by scratching the dirt with a hoe, hand seeding, and then praying for a summer shower.
Scratching in a mineral site also creates a guaranteed distraction most deer will be hard-pressed to miss. Minerals and supplements serve double duty as not only a stopping point, but also as a way to boost the overall health of your local deer herd. Minerals can aid in antler growth, doe well-being, and even parasite control with the right product.
Look for supplements with high doses of calcium and phosphorous in a 2-to-1 ratio. Be sure to check state regulations, as minerals near a hunting site could be considered baiting.
A small waterhole can also stop a deer during the heat of the early season or the athleticism of the rut. Whitetails need about three to four quarts of water daily for survival, and if your stand is near a spring, a seep or even if you add a water source, it could easily sidetrack a buck long enough for a shot. Small, commercial water tanks could hold your liquid resource, or a layer of bentonite in the bottom of a pit could capture any regionalized runoff.
"If you're hunting in a draw with a spring in it, contain the water for a can't-miss stopping point," Bauer said. "I have one draw that has a small spring in it. Every fall, I take a shovel in there and clean out a 36-inch-diameter hole and dam up one end. It makes a small pool, and I can't tell you how many times I've had clients hunt that area and tell me that every deer that passed by stopped there for a drink."
Decoys and Curiosity
Used correctly on deer that haven't been burned, decoys can attract, distract, and stop a buck for a guaranteed shot. Decoys should be placed where deer can see them without a surprise meeting. And since bucks generally approach a buck decoy from the front and a doe decoy from the rear, situate the corresponding doe or buck decoy to give you the best shot.
Bauer has found them to be especially helpful in attracting deer along the edges of large cornfields near his eastern South Dakota hunting operation.
Lastly, Bauer wanted to share one last discovery he has noted over the years. He's not sure why, but regardless if he's tilling for a small woodland food plot or even hoeing up an area of dead grass in his yard, he finds deer hoofprints in the freshly turned earth.
"It doesn't matter the time of year, whenever I turn over ground and leave bare earth, deer beeline to the location," Bauer said. "I suspect it is a curiosity factor, but if you can roll over a small piece of ground near your treestand, it may be the best and most natural technique of all for stopping a buck cold without concern."
Every ambush location has its unique hunting particulars, but one aspect is universal: Getting a buck to stop is imperative for the highest degree of shooting success. Stop that buck without causing alarm, and even your buck fever will have a difficult time spoiling your hunt.
Used correctly on deer that haven't been burned, decoys can attract, distract, and stop a buck for a guaranteed shot.
Using the more natural approach to get a buck to stop for a shot will result in more scenes like this one for you.
A small plot of clover, chicory, or even turnips could bring a buck to a screeching halt along any trail.
A soft grunt in breezy conditions may make a buck stop to see if it really heard what it perceived to be a grunt.
Use limbs, logs, and even portable livestock fences to block flanking trails and make your trail the obvious route. Also, create sudden narrow turns to make a deer pause as it weaves its way past your stand.
Whitetails rarely miss a scrape. The pawed-out area almost always causes deer to pause. This creates a window of opportunity to draw and shoot while a buck has his attention directed on another chore.