Author: Kevin A. Gardner
The feeling of fall has made its grand entry a bit early this year in the Western states. Cool evenings and crisp mornings are just around the corner. Ever shrinking daylight, corn stubble, and golden fields of oats signal just how close winter’s grip is tightening on the land. As though it were a trigger mechanism on a breeding gun, the change has signaled the magic of the rut. Completely insane behavior on the part of Deer, Elk and Mountain Sheep will be status quo in the following months. Inventories seem to be at an adequate level, with herd health in relatively good condition overall.
The stage is set for Hunt 2006. What part will you play in the scene? Well, if your looking for a modest trophy whitetail buck, your script, should be as follows.
I can’t stress enough the importance of getting out early and pre-season scouting. No other animal I have ever studied reacts like the curious yet high-strung whitetail deer. He is a complacent animal in his ritualistic use of home range. He can be most predictable in his travels when studied and not interfered with. When you can identify his “core” area, and visit it undetected, you have placed yourself in a position for the very best opportunity to harvest him, IF you can play the part correctly.
Core area: The area of which the animal centers his life around. Most often identified by a clearly marked rub area, pawed up soil, nipped overhead branches, raked brush and a strong smell of urine in the ground.
Many smaller rubs or scrapes may surround this area. It will often have several trails that lead to it from feeding and bedding areas. Consider it his mailbox. Again the word ‘undetected” comes to mind, as I describe how to observe the quarry. If you don’t feel that a visual observation can be made with enough accuracy to pinpoint the core area, and you must approach it to determine its validity as such, a good pair of waders and some rubber gloves will help you remain scent-silent. Smelling the earth for odor of urine will be telltale of the legitimacy of the core. I recommend however that you collect a specimen of the ground and place it in a baggie to be studied off site for odors. The same would apply to a bedding area. This is true among not only deer, but elk as well. When you can train your nose to the essence of the animal, you have sharpened a sense that can be as beneficial as 20/20 vision to the hunter.
Once you establish the core, you now need to monitor it regularly. If you are an archery hunter, you have one great advantage the rifle hunter will not have, and that is a silent weapon. I will tell you right now that come the first shots of opening day a lot of the science changes in whitetail hunting. This core observation will be the rifle hunter’s frontline offense for the first morning. If utilizing a treestand that will be a permanent fixture, the time to have constructed it is past. The animal will be disrupted by this placement and can abandon the core. Add equipment, such as treestand’s, post-hunting season for best results. Come the afternoon of the first day, with the great intrusion the animals will be feeling, drives of bedding areas will be the next offensive move. The preseason scout will have an advantage here in knowing and having studied the escape routes used by the animal.
Escape routes will often lead to the thickest of cover. The Whitetail being as skittish as they are can and will hold tight as a grouse in thick cover. They will, when necessary, rise from their hiding spot and silently circle the intruder and be virtually undetected in the process. The best way to Drive these escape and hiding areas is with drivers close enough to observe each other when moving through them. As the animal tries to circle, it encounters yet another driver. Great success can be enjoyed when using this practice. Safety must however be considered due to the close quarters of the drivers.
Once the first days of the season have come and gone, with most of the novice hunter’s back at their routine lives, the science must change again. Now the animal has the extreme upper hand and you must have a better plan. The most effective method to hunt post-pressured whiteails, that I know of, is the slow and I mean s-l-o-w and methodical stalk hunting. Nocturnal travel is now the rule for the animal, so tracking is the tool that foils the rule. Identifying the buck in the scouting time by his individual track will now be your way of locating the right animal. Finding his feeding haunt and trailing him slowly to his bed will be your objective. He can and will camouflage himself. He is very aware of the antlers he wears from all viewpoints. They are a weapon, a fighting tool, a mating pass, as well as a calling card to anything that predates him. He knows the good and the bad of carrying them on his head. He does know exactly how to hide them from you as you approach him. Close quarter shots will be the rule again as he will exercise care not to blow his cover as you silently approach. Accept this fact, he will know you are there, and work with it in mind.
Success can be within every hunter’s realm of experience, if they know and use the science that is taught in these articles. I don’t think it takes a biologist to find animals, and it certainly doesn’t take a naturalist to find tracks and sign. This can be done by anyone driven by success that will put in the time to learn. One other thing for certain, if you have ever read any other articles I have written, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the theme is always scouting.