Curiosity Killed The Deer
October 28, 2010
Odd strategies for drawing deer in close.
Another offbeat tactic to draw deer closer is "bucket hunting." Simply carry a plain, five-gallon bucket to your stand, place it in the middle of the nearest game trail and spray it with scent eliminator. More often than not, passing deer will notice the bucket's presence and investigate.
I regretted releasing the arrow immediately after touching the trigger. It was a good shot; that wasn't the problem. I should've been delighted to fill a tag. But the turkey I'd just whacked flopped 15 yards to the side and settled squarely in the middle of the deer trail I was hunting. A heap of feathers, sticking up like a warning beacon, now threatened to spook any incoming whitetails out of bow range.
It was an ideal evening for deer hunting. A bowhunter will know exactly what I mean when I say it was a "deery" night. It was sunny, crisp and cool, with absolutely no wind.
It was one of those eerily perfect nights when you expect to fill a tag. What's more, it was the last hour of shooting light, the period I call "magic time." It was all too good. I couldn't risk it. I decided to climb down and move the bird. But as I unclipped my harness, something rustled the willows behind me. I glanced over my shoulder and saw two does and four fawns heading my way. I hooked back up, sat down and watched something spectacular unfold.
During the next 45 minutes, 13 does wandered in and out of my set. Every deer noticed the turkey, acted agitated, but then walked up and investigated it. The spectacle was funnier than a Chaplin film. They'd stomp. They'd circle. They'd leap. A few deer even nudged the bird with their noses. Each doe had to investigate the mystery for herself.
Carrying a deer decoy while still-hunting can be an effective tactic. Place the decoy at the base of a tree to simulate a bedded deer. Then, hide yourself in some nearby brush and call softly to lure in deer. Using this method, you can move 100 yards or so every 30 minutes and cover a lot of ground.
If this was where my night ended, I'd have been satisfied. I bowhunt primarily to see interesting things in nature, and these 13 does had been pure entertainment. But the show wasn't over. The main act was just ahead.
Fifteen minutes after sundown, as the half-light of the setting sun crept past my tree, the three does standing by the turkey went on alert. All noses pointed south, so I turned to look. A hundred yards out, a bachelor group of bucks crested the hill. Three tall, mature racks were silhouetted by the slate-blue sky. They were walking away from my stand, along the river. Then, the largest buck, the one bringing up the rear, spied the pile of feathers by my tree and went on alert. I sat frozen in my stand, neither inhaling nor exhaling, and waited to see what they'd do next.
Clearly perturbed, the large buck took a few steps to the left, then to the right, and then slowly stomped his way in my direction with the other two bucks in tow.
Deer move slowly when cautious, so it felt like an eternity before he reached my area. But the point is (and I'm still celebrating it!) he reached my area. At 7:32 p.m., two minutes before legal hunting hours ended, this 131-inch 9-pointer stepped up to the bird, dipped his head to take a sniff and felt the sting of my Gold Tip Pro Hunter pinching his side. He ran 40 yards before piling up by a fallen cottonwood.
As I watched him go down, I thought to myself, "He's certainly not a cat, but curiosity is what killed that guy."
I came home inspired, not only because I'd filled two tags, but because I'd discovered a new strategy: Curiosity Hunting. When I finished hanging the deer, I fired up the Internet and searched for similar stories. I also asked several experienced bowhunters for their ideas. What I discovered is that there's a wealth of information out there about the inquisitiveness of whitetail deer. Here are a few out-of-the-box ideas for spicing up your bowhunting by playing on a deer's natural desire to investigate unusual situations:
Author Zeke Piper took this "curiosity buck" when it came in to check out a turkey he had harvested a couple hours earlier. The turkey died in the middle of the deer trail Pipher was hunting, and although he worried the carcass would scare deer away, he was surprised to learn it had the exact opposite affect.
Buckets & Apples: Two bowhunters I spoke with had interesting suggestions. Rich, an older bowhunter who was outsmarting deer before I was tying shoelaces, told me about "bucket hunting." Rich takes a white, five-gallon bucket with him when he hunts open spaces. Before he climbs into his stand, he sprays the bucket with scent eliminator and places it in the middle of the path. "I've had more deer walk up and investigate that ol' bucket than you'd believe," he said.
Matt, another friend, told a similar story, only he carries an apple, not a bucket. One afternoon about eight years ago, Matt planned to sit on stand all day. So, he packed a couple sandwiches, a bottle of water and an apple. Sometime in the afternoon, he finished the apple and threw the core into a cut bean field. An hour later, a doe and two fawns walked out of the trees, stuck their noses in the air and then followed the scent of apple right to the core. Matt often takes, eats, and tosses an apple when he hunts. "It doesn't work every time, but it's pulled in several deer for me," Matt stated. (Note: If you hunt in a state where baiting deer is illegal, check with the local game warden to make sure this tactic won't cause you to run afoul of the law.)
Decoy & Deer Calls: Another hunter mentioned tickling a deer's curiosity while still-hunting on the ground. He uses decoys and vocalizations as a means of intrigue. He carries his bow in a sling and a doe decoy (without legs) under his arm and quietly stalks (he'll go without boots if it's a quiet, calm day) about 100 yards before placing the resting doe decoy under a tree. He then tucks into some brush downwind and, for about 30 minutes, lets out a few soft doe bleats. If it's early in the season, he'll mix in a few fawn cries. This hunter has had both does and bucks walk in to investigate the scene.
Some have crept within bow range of
Shoot a Curiosity Arrow: One of the oddest, out-of-the-box suggestions I heard came from a bowhunter who has more trophies on his wall than family photos. He explained how one frustrating night he watched deer after deer take a wide path around his tree. As a last-ditch effort, he grabbed an arrow from his quiver, doused it with scent eliminator and then dipped the fletching into a bottle of all-season deer attractant. He picked out a clod of dirt in his lane, drew back and sank that arrow into the soil. Later that night, a couple deer caught the scent, spotted the arrow and, in the same manner my deer approached the turkey, cautiously stalked up to check things out.
One strategy that can help lure distant deer within bow range is using a "curiosity arrow." Douse the fletching of an arrow with an all-season attractant scent and stick in the ground in a shooting lane. A combination of scent and natural curiosity about the strange object will often draw deer in for a closer look.
Break and Throw Sticks: This idea seems so simple, but I've used this technique effectively dozens of times. Often, when the wind is light, I'll hear deer slipping through the forest near my stand, usually going from bed to feed, or vise-versa. Like anyone, I get frustrated when I know deer are close but I can't see them. One night I kept hearing deer, but they weren't coming in. So, in my discouragement, I tried something new.
I reached above my stand, grabbed a few dead branches from my tree and snapped them off one at a time, very quietly. Once I snapped a branch, I tossed it onto the ground, which at the time was covered with dry leaves. I accompanied the sound of twigs snapping with a few soft doe grunts. I did this three or four times, over about 10 minutes, and guess what happened? A young buck came in. Since then, I've started taking a few dry sticks up into the stand with me. Every now and then, when I hear movement, I'll give a few grunts or bleats and snap a couple twigs.
Rustling Brush or Dragging A Stick: Here's another idea that makes deer curious with ground noise. After I hoist my bow, I'll often employ my haul rope in one of two ways.
First, I'll tie a stick to the rope and lower it into some brush under my tree. My goal is to get it caught in the branches. Then, about once an hour, I'll make a few vocalizations (I prefer a soft doe grunt) and pull the rope to rustle the brush. During the rut, I'll do the same thing but use aggressive buck grunts instead of doe bleats and get assertive with my brush rustling. The sound of shaking branches and buck grunts mimics the sounds and activity of a buck making a rub.
A second idea for your haul rope involves tying a medium-sized stick to it and tossing it onto the ground, into leaves or thick grasses. Then, when you have a deer in the area that you're trying entice, make a few soft vocalizations and give a pull on that rope. The stick dragging a few feet across leaves or grass will help put a deer at ease. Deer will often spook when they hear a grunt or bleat but no ground noise. They don't need to see the other deer, but if they don't hear twigs snapping or leaves rustling, deer quickly become wary of vocalizations alone. (Note: Always spritz the branches with scent-eliminating spray. And as you experiment with these various strategies, avoid tainting the area with human odor.)
Nothing To Lose
These are just a few Curiosity Hunting ideas. I'm guessing that as you read this article, you've thought of a few more. In fact, you likely have a few in your toolbox already. The point is, keep growing and modifying your bowhunting strategies. What I'm really trying to say is, keep yourself curious enough to try new things. In many cases, I've employed these strategies in response to frustration or in a desperate attempt to lure in animals that almost certainly weren't going to come within bow range on their own. So, I really had nothing to lose -- and potentially everything to gain.
Walt Disney said it best: "We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious. And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
That's why we're in this sport, isn't it? To move forward, open new doors, and try new things. Don't be afraid to share your inquisitiveness with the deer you hunt.