I will be the first to tell you that when I go after trophy whitetail,
he will have the odds in his favor. The main reason is I am
entering his domain, or a better way to put it, his home. I have
to do my homework and it is mostly a 365 day a year task.
So what are some of the means by which to try and even the odds up a
little? Well the first thing you have to do is find an area where
there is a mature buck. I have two private areas that are about
an hour apart from each other that I own and manage via QDM. I
also have a few other farms that I have secured permission to
hunt. They range in size from about 35 acres in size to a little
over 600. The 35 acre plot may be small compared to the others
but it boarders a 1200 acre farm that is strictly no hunting.
I usually have a good account of the bucks in the area, so from year to
year I can usually determine which has survived the season. The
best ways are through scouting, looking for shed in the spring as well
as talking to neighboring farmers. For example last year there
were two deer, a 150 plus class eight point and a 165 class 10 point,
which survived the hunting season. The eight point buck had
broken his left main beam off during the early November
timeframe. I know because the second week I had him broadside at
15 yards!! In late February the neighbor told me he saw him in a
picked corn field. The 165 class was seen by me as well as a
friend later in the year. Now if both of them made it through the
rest of the winter and spring I will know shortly. I have already
spotted one large bodied buck during late turkey season in May. I
would have to say that it is the 10 point based on his body size.
Talking to farmers is another way to quickly gain access. Many
farmers in the conversation will gladly offer you access to their
property in order to control the deer population. It also doesn't
hurt to ask, the worst they will say is no. If no thank them for
their time and cooperation, a pleasant conversation may sometimes get
you granted permission. If you do receive permission, show up a
couple times throughout the year to offer help. Just remember
that farmers carry a wealth of information as they are out in the
environment making a living.
If a piece of property is a new area with promise the first thing I do
is scout in late February and throughout March. This time of the
year allows me to quickly spot trails. If there is snow on the
ground you can easily make out deer tracks. But I like to go into
an area where the snow has recently melted. Trails are easily
marked by the disturbed leaves which were earlier blanketed by snow. I
mainly look for sheds but I also pay close attention to rubs. I
start out by scouting ridge lines which usually will turn up
rubs. I try and follow the rub lines in both directions.
These tell me where a buck was headed or which way he came from.
I hope to find thick areas near these which could be a bedding
area. The other extreme is finding a rub line within a short
distance of a field. These places can be staging areas for big
bucks which you will certainly want to make note of.
Once I have located a promising area or know of a buck survived the
first thing I do is try and figure him out. If it is a buck from
the previous year his actions usually are similar from year to
year. But this is no guarantee. If it is a new area I
usually try to figure him out in two ways. These two ways are
used in what I call the preparation phase which is around mid July
through August. In this period the buck's antlers are mature
enough where I can recognize him. The two methods I primarily use
are long range scouting and trail cameras.
Long range scanning is very effective and helps me pinpoint where the
buck is feeding. Main places I setup are hay and soybean
fields. I also go over my notes from earlier in the year to make
sure I scan those fields close to the noted staging areas. I also
jot down a reminder of the wind conditions during these scouting times
a field. This is important to me as it helps in determining where
to setup the trail cameras. By seeing how the bucks enter the
field I can get a pretty good idea of where they are coming from.
I then try and slip in during mid day hours as to not alert the
deer. I recommend you use caution in covering up your scent as
best as you possibly can. Mature deer are known for switching
travel routes and areas when they feel the slightest bit pressured. The
trail cameras which number up to four are set in areas of travel
corridors frequented by the buck. I check the cameras about every
week to two weeks.
When I have enough data from an area I remove the trail cameras and
move on to the next phase which is stand location. Based on all
the information collected from earlier in the year as well as the past
two months I determine where to place my stands. The stands
usually go up and are in place by the first week in September.
This gives the area plenty of time to settle down and any scent to
dissipate. I use hang on stands for the simple reasons they are
easy to setup and take down and are very quiet. On properties
that I own I love the ease of a screw in step like Cranford. It
only takes a minute to put one in and you can carry several in a pouch
and move up the tree quickly. I also try to clear as much debris
away from the path that I will take when walking to my stand.
This way I can minimize the noise, especially if I am approaching in
When hanging stands, where is the best place in a chosen area? If
it is on a ridge line or where two ridges meet I usually hang it on the
top of the northern or eastern facing slope. This is to take
advantage of the predominately southeast winds. But I will hang a
minimum of two stands to cover all wind directions. Fingers off a
ridge are great places because they usually entail some sort of
funnel. Funnel areas between several ridges are probably one of
my favorite spots. These areas are deer magnets when it comes to
the peak of pre rut.
Inside and outside corners are also good locations when hunting field
and wood edges. The main reason is it's a point where several
deer trails congregate. I especially find this true if the area
has an incline coming up from a stream or creek bed.
You can also change hunting factors to swing the odds in your
favor. If you find an area that has several trails or is too
large to cover from a single stand you may add obstructions. What
I mean by this is deer like to take the path of least resistance.
Just like you and me when we walk through the woods we like to take the
easiest path. Deer are no different. Take some debris,
brush, fallen tree limbs or small trees and obstruct the trails making
the deer travel closer to your stand.
Once stands are in place I have about three weeks to prepare for the
opening of the season and now I focus on my equipment. My bow I
will continue to shoot as I have been doing throughout the year but I
tend to pay more attention to my clothes and accessories. My
clothes are a real stickler point with me as you can ask my wife.
When the previous hunting season is over my clothes go into marine
watertight bags and then placed in resealable Rubbermaid tubs.
They are then secured in my hunting only area of the basement.
They are not removed until my preparation for the season.
For preparation I first run a cycle or two through the washer with
nothing more than a scent free/scent killing soap. This makes
sure that all previous soaps have been pretty much eliminated. I
then wash all my hunting clothes in the same scent killing
detergent. Once completed each load is then taken out into the
woods behind my house and hung up to dry. They are left there
even if it rains until season. If there is a chance of rain
immediately before a hunt I take them down and store them within the
Rubbermaid tubs still within the woods. If there is no rain the
day before a hunt I will go out and spray the clothes down with a scent
killing spray. I let them dry and then in the evening I will take
them down and place them in the watertight bags. I recommend the
marine type that fold over to seal. These are the type that
guides use on rafting expeditions. You can pick them up at any
sporting goods shop. These may be more expensive than plastic
garbage bags but you will never have to worry about the rubber coated
material tearing or ripping and they last several seasons.
My morning pre-hunt routine starts by rolling out of bed early. I
will first take a shower with a scent eliminating soap. I usually
lather and rinse a minimum of two times just to make certain that I
covered everything. Immediately after toweling off I will apply a
scent elimination gel and then use a scent elimination deodorant.
I then get dressed in clean clothes that I will travel in to my hunting
site. I make sure that I have all my essentials for the day which
include my food. I especially make sure that my vehicle was
filled with gas the day before. There is nothing worse than
having a gasoline odor reeking from your hands.
Upon arriving at my hunt site I turn off my vehicle and grab my bowcase
and the Rubbermaid tote of which contain the marine bags with clothes
in them. I walk a short distance from the truck and then remove the
Rubbermaid lid and turn it upside down on the ground. This is my
mat for which I will get dressed on. It doesn't sound like a big
deal early in the year when the ground is dry but just wait till you
perform the same routine later in the year with snow on the
ground. I then strip down and dress. A couple friends that
I hunt with thought I was nuts for dressing in cold weather later in
the season but after a few hunts they find themselves mimicking my
actions. Well my wife will never understand, as she knows I am
crazy, crazy for bowhunting that is. When finished I reseal the
bags and place them in the totes. I will then take a scent
elimination spray and douse myself from head to toe. I also
include my equipment as well, bow, binoculars and safety line. This
routine will virtually eliminate any foreign odor from contaminating
your clothes. I recognize there is no way to virtually eliminate
all odors but this is the routine that I have found best in 30 years of
If it is a long walk in I make sure that I do not overdress. The
secret is to move slowly to your stand in order to not work up a sweat
as well as not disturbing the area. The cleared path from the
preparation work a month earlier aids in a very quiet walk to the
stand. I also try to minimize using any type of light while
traveling to and from my stand.
Once on stand I give myself another good spray down of scent
elimination. While on stand I try and focus on as much deer
movement within my immediate area as possible. This allows me to
pinpoint areas that may be more productive then my current stand
location. If that is the case, I can quickly move my stand to
accommodate the new situation.
When do I move my stand, it all depends on the situation. If the
area is hot I try and move it immediately. You can sometimes get
away with a little noise. Once while moving a stand I mistakenly
made more noise than I wanted as the stand clanked against the tree
while lowering it. The sound must have sounded similar to a buck
fight cause when I reached the ground I turned around to notice a buck
standing within 20 yards. I was so intent on moving the stand
that the buck was able to approach without me hearing him.
While on stand, depending on the phase of the season, I have at least
two calls with me. During the early season I may only have a
grunt call with me. During the second week of October I pick up
the rattling antlers. My sequences at first are very light
to imitate sparing. But around the last week of October they
intensify to all out battle. I also will begin to use a doe
estrous can. I add the sniff wheeze to my arsenal which is a call
that is easy to master with just your mouth. I find this very
effective on large bucks. Last season I almost closed the door on
that big eight point early in the season. I was able to bring him
in to about 50 yards before a doe meandered in front of him. The
next meeting was the above mentioned "broken rack" encounter.
Regarding calls, I recommend using them sparingly. Too much is
never a good thing other then to educate deer. I also never like
to have a call hanging loosely around my neck. Experience will
tell you that awkward shot positions can sometimes lead to an errant
arrow as the call mysteriously finds its way between the bowstring at
full draw. Ouch!
How long to I stay on stand? It once again depends on the phase
of the rut and stand locations. Early season I tend to change
stand locations from morning to evening. If that is the case I
may stay on stand till 11 and then cautiously work my way back to the
truck and then re-evaluate the situation for the evening hunt before I
am back in stand no later than two o'clock. But once the third
week of October rolls around you can usually find me in stand all
day. I may once again change stand locations but I will be in the
woods all day. This routine usually stays the same right up until
gun season. After gun season has ended, in Ohio that is usually
the second week of December, I then will fall back to my early season
routine. Hopefully my buck tag has been filled by Thanksgiving!
Now what are my feelings on hunting a stand on consecutive days?
I believe that if you take precaution on entering and exiting your
stand it doesn't hurt. Yes the more you frequent an area the
higher the odds of maybe being busted. But if it is a hot area
the more your chances are to encounter that buck. Now I am not
recommending hunting the stand for three or four days straight.
In an area I will have at least two stand placements to account for the
wind or for slight changes in the terrain. Yes, I do wear scent
eliminating suits but that is no excuse for "forgetting the
wind". Wind direction and stand placement are an important and
integrated part of hunting.
Some stands are also intended to be day or evening stands only. I
find this to be truer with morning stands. I have a hot stand
that would be great in the morning but there is just no sure way of
approaching it with out getting busted. It is at the narrow end
of a valley. The deer usually bed in an area that no matter how I
approach it will get busted. However if the wind is out of the
north I have another stand that is a little over a hundred yards away
that is very easy to get into. Problem is the wind is
predominately from the southwest. That stand did produce for me
on my biggest buck to date, a 190 inch brute on opening morning of the
Hunt smart, throw in some luck and Dave grounds this trophy buck.
Once finished with a hunt I reverse the routine. Leaving an area
as cautiously as you approached is very important and will do no harm
to your future hunts in that area. Big bucks remember encounters
and a lazy exit may result in consequences.
Upon arriving at my truck I undress and place my clothes in another
resealable marine bag. These clothes are kept separate from any
that have not yet been worn. I will take these home and either
rewash them or hang them and douse them with scent elimination spray.
I would like to address a couple issues regarding QDM. I try my
best to manage the deer herds in my area and taking a few doe every
season is an important factor to overall management. When's the
best time to take a doe and which do I prefer. I have a neighbor
who loves deer meat so every year I try and harvest a doe early.
By early I mean the first week of the season. I will usually wait
until later in the morning as doe tend to bed later than bucks.
This enables me to concentrate on a buck up until that time. I
would hate to harvest a doe and then have a trophy buck amble by.
In Ohio you must physically tag a deer before attempting to harvest
another. I also try and pick out a doe that is two and a half
years old. This is because she hasn't reached maturity and
chances are will only produce one fawn. I will also try and
refrain from taking a doe late in the season. Reason being is
that if a mature doe has been bred you have just removed two additional
deer. Now this may be good for the overall deer population but
one or both of those unborn deer could possible be a trophy buck in the
My thoughts on spike bucks take on the fact that they are much too
young to determine potential. By the time a deer reaches two and
a half you can pretty much tell what his rack will be in the
future. And in Ohio since you can only harvest one buck a year, I
have a few friends who don't mind helping me cull an unwanted
buck. For instance last year I had a buck that was a three and a
half year old. He had nice width but only sported nine points,
nubs for brow tines and the mass just wasn't there. That buck is
no longer in the herd thanks to my friend and fellow evaluator for
Bowhunting.net, Jon Silks.
Fellow bowhunting.net Field Evaluator Jon Silks.
I hope I have supplied you with some good information on being able to
help pinpoint trophy bucks. One thing to remember is that you
can't find a good buck without doing a little home work. I also
stick to the motto that you can not harvest a buck unless you are in
the woods. By this I mean a warm bed is more inviting than a
cold, misty day in the woods. But I find just such a day to be
one of the most productive in the woods. Harvesting a buck on
such a day will give you more warmth and satisfaction then that
bed. I also believe that you have to have the mentality of eating
a tag. I certainly will not take a buck on the last day of the
season just to fill a tag and the only remote reason for doing it is in
the final minutes and a cull buck shows up.
In closing I firmly believe it is a good point to documents your
hunts. Factors like weather conditions and deer movements may aid
you in future hunts whether they are the next day or next year. I
find it interesting to go back over my notes from a previous hunting
season. It may lead to something forgotten that can actually seal
the deal on a trophy buck.