November 24, 2014
One of the most common questions bowhunters ask me is, "What the real secret is to killing big bucks?"
Since they are asking, I can safely assume that those inquisitive folks don't have access to unbelievable deer ground or savings accounts that would rival a Saudi oil prince. Ruling out prime ground and paying-to-play where 200-inchers are common, the answer is almost always the same — time.
The hunters who put in more time scouting, prepping for the season, and actually hunting, tend to be the most successful. This is true year-round, but especially important right now. With the rut in full swing and the dreaded lock-down stage just around the corner, the time of the day you punch in and out of your stands can make all of the difference.
Unfortunately, it's not that easy to hunt for hours and hours, day after day. Most bowhunters don't have it in them despite the chest thumping at the local pro shop. So, a better answer to the original question might just be, "Put in as much time as you can stomach (and then maybe a few hours more)."
To help you max out your ambush time, consider these 10 tips:
As a born-and-raised Minnesotan, I have an aversion to blind calling. I've spent too many years hunting a poorly aged deer herd (with badly skewed sex ratios to boot) to believe blind calling is the answer to most of my deer-less sits. That being said, right now I'm not averse to livening things up with a calling session every hour or so.
This can be especially beneficial on the mental front during the often dull midday hours. If you need some excitement, reward yourself by banging a set of antlers together or blowing Louis Armstrong-style on your grunt tube.
Teaming up with a trusted hunting partner can help in a litany of ways, not the least of which is that it'll encourage you to hunt harder. Getting reports of deer movement from a buddy can bolster your own enthusiasm, and there isn't anything wrong with a little friendly competition provided it doesn't get ugly.
If you're looking to stay fired up enough to put in the necessary amount of time, it might simply take a friend in the woods with you. This can also go for filming hunts where you'll have someone to commiserate with throughout the day.
My favorite treestands are those that weigh next to nothing because I often have to hike quite a ways to find the best spots. This is okay for most of the year because my sits aren't usually longer than four hours. This time of year, though, I opt for climbing stands and even ladder stands more often than not. Both generally offer a higher degree of comfort, which keeps me in the woods longer.
Although I hate ladder stands
because they are the least portable stands and quite frankly, a pain-in-the-butt to set up, they reign supreme when dark-to-dark sits
are in order. If you're trying to rack up major time in a tiny portable stand with a 1/4-inch thick seat, you're going to be miserable. Instead, splurge on one over-sized stand that feels more like a recliner than a church pew and ride out the gray days of November in comfort.
Bowhunting whitetails can take you on an emotional roller coaster where it's much more common to be frustrated than ecstatic. Keeping a positive attitude is hard, especially during those stretches where the deer have your number. At the risk of sounding too hippie-ish, the reality is that attitude and the mental game are a huge part of successful bowhunting.
You need to believe that at any minute a buck could come in and change your fortunes, because it's true. The more you're smiling in the woods, the longer you'll stay there. Adopt a negative attitude, though, and you'll be home on the couch before you know it (still not killing big bucks).
Mid-November is all about the big bucks, unfortunately there aren't that many mature bucks when compared to other deer, and other critters. I've never been shy about my love for fall turkeys
, and one of the things I love about fall turkey hunting is that it can be good all day long. The chance to call in a flock of longbeards while waiting out a mature buck is enough to get me to sit longer.
Ditto for having an antlerless tag and a little space left in the chest freezer. If you've got the chance to piggy-back hunting opportunities on your deer hunts, go for it — it'll keep you out and hunting longer.
Lower Your Standards
One of the reasons we shed so many young bowhunters from our numbers after working so hard to recruit them is that they often get afflicted with trophy fever. These newbies want big bucks and so that's what they hunt. Then they quit after a few years of eating tag soup because it's too hard.
This occurs all over through our ranks, and if you're having trouble mustering the willingness to sit long hours, it could be due to a lack of confidence in the right deer coming by. If that sounds like you, consider lowering your standards and hunting for fun instead of inches of antler. This changes everything when you hear approaching footfalls, and can be a blast.
I'm a minimalist at heart. Much of the year I don't even carry a pack, let alone a call. This time of the year, though, I do carry a pack, and it's stuffed to the gills. For instance, I'm a coffee addict and can't fathom not toting along at least a travel mug when I head out in the morning. There is nothing better than taking a sip of hot coffee after a couple of hours into the stand.
I also carry snacks and a camera. The camera comes out if something worth photographing happens, the snacks come out when the stomach growls or the monotony starts to melt my brain. If you need a book to sit longer, take a book. If knitting is your thing, then... you probably don't deer hunt. All kidding aside, my point is to bring along what you need to stay in stand longer.
Prime Real Estate
Now is not the time to play it safe. Instead, you should be logging hours in your best stands and blinds, whether they are on a field edge or nestled right on top of the best bedding area on the farm. Get to the spot you think about all year when fantasizing about tall-racked cruisers and get ready.
Being in your best spot does wonders for confidence, and believing the right deer will wander by has a way of keeping you in stand longer in a self-fulfilling-prophesy sort of way.
A well-packed pack is a good thing for treestands, but even better for ground blind hunts where you can move around more. Hub-style blinds
are ideal for rut hunts provided you've seasoned them for a few weeks in your hotspot.
Being able to stretch your legs out or take a midday nap, if necessary, is a lifesaver during long sits and ground blinds are ideal. Ground blinds also give you the chance to hunt rut-friendly places like CRP fields and cattail sloughs, where treestands aren't much of an option.
It's called a lost art, but still-hunting is alive and well with some hunters. If you don't believe that, you don't hunt enough public land where random hunters wander by with their Rambo-sized knives hanging from their belts and their Buck Commander facepaint
caked on thick. If committing to a treestand all day sounds like torture, consider breaking up the day with a still-hunt.
This is a better idea if you've got some wind blowing or some wet weather passing through
. Pick a route along a ridge or through an old homestead and go molasses-slow while glassing often. There is nothing better than stopping to take in your surroundings while still-hunting and coming upon a deer that has no idea you're so close. Better yet is arrowing a deer using this tactic.