By Bill Winke
I get a lot of questions about deer hunting on my website. In fact, I have answered 16,000 of them in the past 12 years. Yes, you read that right. So, don’t try to find the site and send me a question; I am burned out! But, through it all, I have gotten a pretty good idea of what bowhunters want to know. One of the most common questions I get (other than, “Where should I sit tomorrow?”) is “How do I get down and away from an evening stand without spooking deer?” This is especially relevant when hunting near a feeding area.
You have a few options. You can climb down and spook the deer, you can wait some undetermined amount of time hoping they’ll drift off, you can try to sneak out somehow, or you can arrange a diversion to bump them off without spooking them directly.
Obviously, educating a buck you’d like to shoot is a big mistake, but it may be tempting to just climb down and spook the deer if they are just does. It would seem harmless enough, and I know many people, myself included, who have done this. It is a slippery slope, however.
Suppose you spook a doe as you climb down. She will identify that tree as dangerous. She will be reluctant to come out into that area in daylight again anytime soon. Her body language will tell the other deer to beware also. When she does finally begin to trust the spot again, she is likely to stop and tense up, maybe stomp her hoof and stare at the stand or blind for long periods. I have seen this way too often. Spooking any deer near your stands or blinds is the beginning of the end for that spot.
You really need an exit strategy that is bulletproof. Here are a few possible options.
Make a Quick Exit
When the end of legal shooting time arrives, get down and get out of there immediately. Some guys I know like to hang around to see what comes out, or they take their time packing up their gear. I am bolting just as soon as my watch tells me legal time is over. Nothing is gained by waiting on stand one minute longer. If the coast is clear, get out and get out fast.
Wait Them Out
When a deer traps you on stand, you have several options. Waiting is one of them. Keep in mind that in some states you have to case your bow or padlock the cam or string to render it temporarily unusable at the end of legal shooting time. I know guys who will wait more than an hour for nearby deer to drift off before sneaking away. This is OK when hunting in places that deer only pass through, but it is a poor option when hunting where deer are likely to hang around for hours (a feeding area in the evening or a bedding area in the morning).
Arrange a Diversion
When hunting an evening feeding area, you may as well just plan on being trapped and arrange a diversion to coincide with the time you want to climb down. Someone driving into the field in a vehicle or ATV will move deer off more naturally than a person climbing down from a tree, or out of a blind, only a few yards away. My buddies and I do this many times each season, and it works great.
You may wonder how often you can get away with this. I once hunted the same small bean field three evenings in a row. Each evening, I had a friend drive in with his truck and bump the deer off. On the second and third evenings, just as many deer came out, and just as early, as they did the day before. The previous two bumps weren’t enough to sour them on that spot. I am not sure how many times in a row we could have done this before the deer slowed in using the spot, but I bet it would have been a surprisingly high number.
Spook Them Naturally
Some days, you don’t have a friend who can come by and bump them off. You are on your own, living by your own wits. You need to find a way to make the deer uncomfortable enough to leave without actually spooking them. Throwing sticks will work sometimes, but the deer usually just ignore them.
I’ve had moderate success by lowering my bow to the ground and lightly bouncing it up and down in the dry leaves, but when it didn’t work, it only brought them closer! Even when it worked, I didn’t like it because I was drawing attention to my tree, something I would like to avoid.
Some hunters like to use a predator call or coyote howler to startle nearby deer. I don’t like this idea because, again, it draws too much attention to my tree. This will make anything I do next even more difficult. The only time this makes sense is when you use a remote unit that is located in the brush nearby. That would work, but be careful to first make sure it is legal in your state.
I’ve often thought that a remote-control monster truck hiding in the weeds along a small field would be a great way to run the deer off. I think that would work very well, too, but like the remote coyote howler, you need to make sure it is legal first.
I’ve gotten away with sneaking out many times after dark when deer were 50 yards away or farther. As long as they didn’t see me actually climb down, I was usually able to slip away by walking very quietly. If they were closer, this would rarely work because it was too easy for them to hear me. Try to always put your ladder or steps on the side of the tree away from the open field and select a tree near brush or a dip so you can be out of sight immediately.
You can even plant a screen of tall grasses and thick trees to sneak behind if you own the land. This can be very effective.
Sneaking out becomes a lot tougher at midday because the deer can see you so much easier. I have done it, but only when I used the terrain to my advantage. I was out of sight behind the roll of the land by the time my feet touched the ground.
Many bowhunters are careful about the route they take to their stands, but they don’t worry about the way they leave. The path you take back to your vehicle is also important if you hope to hunt that spot again anytime soon. Take advantage of creeks, bodies of water, cover and dips in the terrain to stay hidden.
After a morning hunt, go out of your way to skirt bedding areas widely, and stay clear of feeding areas after an evening hunt.
Every time you bump a deer, you reduce your chances for success. You can bump a lot of them very quickly after legal shooting time if you aren’t careful. Getting out cleanly is an art, one that you should take very seriously.