October 28, 2010
Add eye-level tactics to your bag of whitetail tricks.
By John Eberhart, Chris Eberhart
Without question, we prefer hanging high in a tree from a tree sling while bowhunting.
However, the ability to adjust to ever changing circumstances is a virtue in archery hunting and we do not limit ourselves to this method. In fact, in many circumstances it must be considered a disadvantage.
In our combined 65 years of bowhunting, we have encountered hundreds of tree stands 10 to 14 feet high in trees that offer minimal cover. Living in a state with extreme hunting pressure, we have a hard time imagining a good buck being taken from such stands. A whitetail's peripheral vision is keen and in most areas we hunt mature deer that actually look for hunters in trees. On hunts in less pressured areas, we have not witnessed this type of behavior.
If the specific hunting location doesn't offer sufficient trees to hunt from properly, we will hunt from the ground. When hunting from the ground at eye level, we are more apt to get noticed without proper concealment.
In 2003, John took a 12-point while hanging in a tree-saddle 30 feet up in a crooked oak. While the property owner and his cousin were helping John drag his trophy out, they asked where John was sitting. After seeing the tree with the steps still in it, they could not believe that anyone would hunt that high. We had seen several of their stands and couldn't believe they could hunt that low and exposed and still be successful. Their stands were on average about 12 feet off the ground. Their cousin had moderate success while hunting excellent locations, but complained about getting picked off a lot. The point is that they would be better off hunting higher and less exposed or hunting from the ground if they were afraid of heights, which many hunters are and do not want to admit.
In some situations, hunting from the ground is the only option. Clear-cuts, cattail marshes, wet swampy areas with interspersed dead trees, CRP fields and standing corn are the most common places where huntable trees are simply not available. While all of these locations are likely bedding areas, the clear-cuts, standing corn, and CRP fields will also be likely feeding areas.
Marshes and swamps should be scouted and set up during early spring. They will have travel routes through them that look like a maze of highways. The off-season scouting time will allow you to spend as much time as needed without fear of spooking deer. Wet swamps will often have small dry islands that are perfect bedding locations. The runways through the tall stuff generally remain the same year after year. The only exception would be during years with an overabundance of rain that leaves no dry ground.
Entry and exit points will often have available trees, however, the runways are usually 20 to 40 yards apart. Hunting the edge puts you in a situation where only one or two runways can be targeted. More often than not, several runways will merge in the interior and that is where you want to be. Multiple sign is always preferred over singular sign.
Pick a spot 15 yards to the side of the most converging runways. In that spot, clear out a three-foot circle down to the bare dirt. Make two 18-inch wide lanes in a V shape to the runways by bending over the cattails or weeds 12 inches off the ground. Do not clear these lanes down to the bare dirt. They should be about four yards apart where they meet the runways. One lane is a sight lane, and the other a shooting lane.
While practicing extreme scent control, revisit this location prior to the season and prepare it for hunting. During inclement weather (rainy or windy conditions) is the best time to do the final touch up. You want the lanes to look as natural as possible so they do not attract attention. Do not return again until you are ready to hunt.
Hunt from a quiet folding chair and set up where little movement is required for a shot. It is important to wear a light beige camo or solid color that matches the surroundings, because dark camouflage patterns will likely cause deer to look down the lane and notice you. When a target animal passes by the visual lane, draw and be ready when he enters the shooting lane.
A marsh grass or corn-colored pop up blind will also work in this location. If one is used, make sure it has been set up outside in a shaded area for at least a week prior to using it. This will get rid of new fabric odors. Set it up during your preparation trip to allow the deer to get used to it. We hunt these spots the first couple days of season prior to any hunting pressure, and during the rut phases when mature bucks are moving more during daylight.
About an hour and a half before daylight is the best time to access these locations.
Early arrivals will keep you from spooking deer returning to bed down prior to daylight. Also, due to the excellent cover, bucks will scour the interior runways in pursuit of estrus does during the rut phases. When hunting during the rut phases, stay until at least midday, or all day if you can. It is practically impossible to sneak into such a spot for an afternoon hunt and remain undetected.
Standing cornfields are another excellent location. They offer excellent cover, protection from the wind, and food. Large standing cornfields are known bedding areas for deer. We have found that in agricultural areas that offer limited bedding areas when the crops are down, standing cornfields are the preferred bedding areas. In northern areas with a lot of timber, the cornfields are usually smaller and do not get used as bedding areas as frequently as they do in larger agricultural areas.
We hunt standing cornfields in a couple different ways. Our first option is stalking back and forth through the corn during inclement weather, and the other is ambush hunting from the ground. Prior to setting up a ground blind, make sure you have permission from the farmer, because you will likely have to knock some stalks of corn down. Prepare a spot just like you did for the cattail marsh. Find a spot where several runways merge and follow the same hunting procedure as noted with marshlands. You can use the cornstalks you cut for the visual and shooting lanes as blind material, or use a pop-up blind in a light-colored camouflage. Obviously cornfield ground blinds must be set up during pre-season.
Many cornfields have fencerows, lone oaks, swales, fingers of tall grass or weedy areas that are too wet or difficult to farm. Any combination of these can create a specific travel route through or along the edge of a cornfield. Even without those features, deer will usually have defined routes through the corn. Those routes will often lead to specific locations where the field edge meets with the best available transition cover for exiting the corn.
utes from corn to other cover are excellent locations. A standing- corn edge is one of the few places that we will hunt a field edge. A good example is the inside corner of a field Chris hunts. The corner offers excellent transition cover when the field is in standing corn, and there are always active scrapes in that corner during the rut phases. When the scrapes become active, this location can only be described with superlatives.
Swales surrounded by corn should be checked for travel routes and later in the season for scrape activity. Swales should be hunted in the mornings while catching deer coming in to bed, and an extremely early arrival time is required. Unless the swales are large, your entry for an evening hunt would spook the deer you are pursuing.
Food mast trees, such as oaks surrounded by corn, are excellent locations and can be hunted both mornings and evenings, with the evening hunts requiring a stealthy entrance. Hunting from a tree that offers cover would be our preference, but once the leaves are gone and you are silhouetted against an open sky, a ground blind is the best option.
Fencerows or brushy areas between cornfields are excellent travel routes due to the excellent perimeter cover and quick exit routes, but if there are no trees tall enough offering good cover, then hunt from the ground.
We will not hunt along cornfield edges that border short crop fields or open areas, whether they have fencerows or not. Our success rate when hunting along perimeters of open areas has been poor in pressured areas.
Clear-cuts between three- and 10- years-old should show deer activity. The tops provide great cover and the thick young clear-cuts provide cover and browse. John's youngest son, Joe, shot a nice eight-point in such a location. The clear-cut was right next to where Joe parked and did not offer any suitable trees to hunt from, so he concentrated his efforts on the woods farther back on the property. There was a runway through the clear-cut, along which more and more rubs kept appearing. With this spot in mind, Joe borrowed a pop-up blind from dad, set it up about 20 yards from the runway and hid it in an old pile of slash. Barely settled into the tent, he looked up and noticed a nice buck walking steadily down the runway. The buck covered the remaining distance quickly and offered a 20-yard broadside shot. Joe's shot was true and the buck dashed about 40 yards before toppling in a heap. Joe's adjustment to the ground proved a good decision.
Ground blinds in wooded areas should become part of the natural surroundings for some time prior to the hunt. Anything suddenly out of place in a whitetails world can get extra scrutiny, making it more difficult to get off a shot.
Ground blinds set up in the woods should utilize natural ground cover to make them as inconspicuous as possible. Fallen trees and their root systems, old dead branches and trees and brush from cleared shooting lanes can be utilized as blind material. Camo mesh or 3-D fabric can be used for added cover.
In 2004, John took an eight-point in a primary scrape area on state land from a pop-up blind. Five acres of thick autumn olive bushes surrounded the small open scrape area. The bushes were so dense that while scouting the previous spring he had to occasionally get on his hands and knees and crawl down some of the runways. The lack of any trees made the decision to use a pop-up blind a rather simple one.
That day November 11, at 11 a.m., the buck walked right through the middle of the small opening and stopped to freshen a scrape only eight yards away.
Scent control is a factor that must be considered on the ground because you are at a whitetail's level and so is your odor. We take advantage of technology and wouldn't even consider hunting from the ground without an activated scent control suit, headcover, rubber boots and anything else we had with us being recently washed in a non-scent detergent. You cannot always count on deer coming in from upwind, no matter how well you think you know them, and any deer. Even a doe can spoil your chances at a good buck.
Editors note: The books "Precision Bowhunting" and "Bowhunting Pressured Whitetails," by John and Chris Eberhart are available at: Amazon.com and deer-john.net.