October 28, 2010
Piecing Together The New Property Puzzle
The author shot this nice 10 pointer after just a few days of hunting a new property. After passing on this buck once, he came back to his senses and decided not to let another opportunity walk on by.
After accepting an editorial position with BOWHUNTING in the spring of 2007 I needed to relocate. The move brought me to north central Minnesota and I found myself over four hours away from the farm that I had been bowhunting since I was 15. The 540-acre fallback crutch that I had relied on heavily to get my whitetail fix was now a weekend-only option.
My search for some closer-to-home hunting land started with public land and ended up in some depressing conclusions. The areas I walked were full of permanent deer stands and easily accessed from roadways. After failing at finding a secret public honey-hole, I started tapping into a pool of relatives and family friends that might turn up something. Through some incredibly good fortune I was given permission to hunt a distant relatives' 160-acre farm that only had two other archery hunters occasionally using it.
Starting From Scratch
After talking to the landowner about the layout of the property I knew that I needed to get out there and burn some boot leather. A quick web search revealed some aerial photos that I used to get an idea of what the neighboring properties consisted of. I've never been able to pinpoint funnels or potential stand sites with too much consistency using topographic maps and aerial photos. I've always preferred getting out and taking a good luck around, but those tools have definitely helped me find food sources or bedding areas on properties I didn't have permission to enter. This knowledge gives me a slight edge in knowing how "my" deer will be influenced by what the neighbors have to offer.
Early in April, with snow still on the ground I set out for a scouting trip. An old overgrown homestead greeted me at one of the two access points (the other was a minimum maintenance road that comprised the back boundary).
Soon enough I found myself standing next to a large cattail slough that bordered an agricultural field. Coming from an area that was loaded with fertile soil and abundant crops left me unprepared for how important the bean field on my new property would be simply because of the general lack of quality food sources in the area.
After scouting the edge of the slough and the crop field I continued on through the property to see that a second smaller slough bordered the back of the field. It looked like decent bedding cover with very few trees around it. Overall, the first 80 acres had the food and some bedding cover, but left a lot to be desired in the stand set-up department.
The second 80-acre parcel offered more hope for an aerial attack. The piece was basically a long rectangle bordered with mature trees. The interior of the property featured two small hayfields that were bisected by another large slough that had a small man-made pond in it.
The exact layout of the land isn't quite as important as what the property had to offer, which was three bedding areas (the cattail sloughs), three obvious feeding areas (agricultural fields) and a water source (the pond). Although my initial scouting trip didn't reveal too much encouraging buck sign, I did find a few areas that had enough rubs to convince me they were staging areas. In addition to the obvious attractions, the point in which the two parcels connected was an unbelievable funnel that linked most of the prime bedding cover to the bean field.
I had found a few stand sites during my initial visit and didn't want to push my luck so I'ˆsteered clear of the property during the spring and early summer.
Buck sign reveals subtle clues to travel routes. The author likes to find thick areas with several rubs in one spot indicating a staging area. These are often located in cover that borders feeding areas.
In the beginning of July I finally gave in and broke out the spotting scope and camouflage. July is fairly early in the antler growth department, but a buck's potential can still be judged by that time. Plus, even though I love finding big tracks and rubs, nothing substitutes actually laying eyes on a bruiser.
My anticipation level was high as I settled into the woods on the edge of the first and most secluded hayfield. The evening progressed and the field filled up with deer that were about as calm as whitetails get. At sunset two nice bucks trotted out from beyond the pond. A quick inspection through the spotting scope revealed a buck that looked to be impressively wide, and one that had antlers that were growing skyward. I had no doubt that both of them would be shooters by the time the season opened. I backed out quietly before the deer had a chance to feed my way.
The next time I returned to watch the field it was early August and the thought of what the two bucks were turning into had kept me awake more than a few nights. Another cloud of mosquitoes and another barrage of deer making their way into the field greeted me soon after settling in for the evening. The insects made the scouting uncomfortable because I had forsaken the use of bug spray to stay as scent free as possible.
Every new deer that entered the field commanded all of my attention because I really wanted to see the two big boys from the month before. They never showed then, or any of the next six nights that I spent watching all of the fields on the property. What did show several times though, was a really nice 10 pointer that looked like he would end up right around 130 inches. Three shooters on 160 acres was plenty encouraging, but I couldn't help but wonder where the two big ones had snuck off to. Either way, spending hours staring through a spotting scope had allowed me to get a grip on what the deer were doing and where they liked to travel in the evenings.
The last few weeks before the archery season opened were pure torture. There was nothing I wanted more than to spend every night watching the deer, but history had taught me that it's pretty easy to overdo my presence when nice bucks are concerned. In mid-August I hung a stand on the edge of the far hayfield and one over the pond in the middle slough. Both were hung to be hunted during some sort of west wind. Normally I try and get my stands set earlier but with this new property I didn't know what the deer were doing so I was forced to wait. Due to work obligations an
d just life in general I didn't get all of the stands hung that I wanted to, and the funnel mentioned earlier was left untapped.
Spring scouting is a great way to learn property. Ambitious archers can cover as much ground as they like in an attempt to learn about the local deer herd without the fear of turning deer nocturnal or ruining future hunting.
After spending opening weekend hunting in southern Minnesota I headed back to the North Country. The first time that I hunted the new property I made my way to the pond stand as the skies darkened and the wind picked up. I had my fingers crossed that the storm would make its way to somewhere that would be a little less detrimental to my health, but it wasn't meant to be. Halfway up the tree lightning flashed overhead and thunder quickly followed. Hastily climbing down I was met with a serious rainstorm.
The option to sit a stand was gone so I decided to still-hunt. I wasn't exactly thrilled about moving through the property that I had so carefully tried not to disturb, but Mother Nature deals us some undesirable hands.
Slowly I snuck along just inside of the woods looking through a veil of raindrops for any hint of a deer. The temperature dropped and I was quickly soaked to the bone. My only hope was that the deer had made their way out into the bean field to feed in the rain.
Upon reaching the funnel that I had neglected to hang a stand in I looked out upon the beans and my eyes disgustedly fell upon five bucks feeding. Through my binoculars I took in a sight that I couldn't quite believe, a wide racked 12 pointer was feeding with a tall-racked eight pointer and three young bucks. Unbelievably I had run smack dab into the bucks I had been looking for since early July.
With light fading I devised a plan to belly crawl along a sparse fence line to see if I could close the distance. In utter disbelief I narrowed the gap slowly and surely on the two bigger bucks. Taking the range one last time I found the wider, bigger buck at a distance of exactly 40 yards. The story of how I had stalked and shot a huge buck in a torrential downpour was already being formed in my mind as I started to slowly draw. A snort from somewhere beyond my focus caused both of the big bucks to take off running, following the younger bucks that had foiled my attempt. Slumping back down into the wet grass, I quietly reflected on how close I had come. I knew that my chances of ever seeing those two bucks again had just dropped significantly.
A Crazy Decision?
The next few days the weather cleared off and I sat the stand overlooking the pond. The first night I was covered in does and a few young bucks that put on quite a show sparring their way around the pond.
When shooting light finally faded away I found myself with a new dilemma. The dark shapes of deer in the field were everywhere and I needed to get rid of them. Having heard that barking like a dog will work to push them out of an area, and quite frankly not having a lot of options, I let fly with my best "mean dog" barks. The deer stood at attention for a few seconds before bolting back into the woods.
I quickly scrambled down the tree and made my way toward the bean field where the same dilemma greeted me. The darkening skyline revealed more deer silhouettes so I mustered up another canine impression and cleared that field as well.
The next evening found me perched above the pond. An uneventful sit wound down until last light when the nice 10 pointer from the summer entered the hayfield. He passed my stand and offered me a long, but doable shot that I elected to pass on for some insane reason.
Greed over the two larger bucks had caused me to let a deer walk that I had no business passing on. Almost immediately, regret over my decision sunk in. He was the only deer that came out that night. Once out of range I watched him walk through the funnel that haunted me nightly. I had been too busy (lazy) to hang a stand in that spot, and it really hit home that night.
Later in the week I was determined to hang a stand and sit the funnel. The wind was right and I had just enough time to run to the spot and quickly attach a hang-on stand to one of the straight poplar trees that grew just 20 yards away from the tightest pinch-point of the funnel.
Once the stand was hung I settled in and immediately noticed a lone doe fawn feeding in the woods. I watched her browsing away until almost the end of shooting light. With just a few minutes left I stood up knowing I was in the "now or never" time of the night.
No sooner had I stood up than movement to my right revealed a nice buck walking in fast, his eyes focused beyond me to the bean field. At 20 yards he stopped to assess the situation and I let an arrow fly. The whole encounter lasted only a few seconds.
Quietly sneaking out of the area on shaky legs I walked back to the homestead to try and round up some tracking help. Almost immediately it started to rain. I knew the blood trail was quickly being washed away so I drove down to the stand and started trailing the deer by myself. It was obvious that I had gotten a complete pass-through and that my time was running out on an easy blood trail. Through some sincere reluctance I conceded another round to Mother Nature and left the woods.
At first light my friend Ryan and I started to work a grid pattern through the woods and in short order we stumbled upon the beautiful 10-point that I had passed on earlier in the week.
Carefully trying not to disturb the deer while working on learning their typical patterns lead to some outstanding deer hunting for me on a property that I had just started to figure out. By covering as much ground as possible through scouting and then carefully observing the deer in their summer patterns I was able to come up with a hunting strategy that resulted in a shot at a nice buck on a brand new property.