Against The Grain
October 28, 2010
Adverse winds and warm temps call for unconventional hunting tactics.
Strategies and well-executed game plans have been stressed to the point that many lose track of the pure adrenaline rush and spontaneous enjoyment of hunting. While some whitetail hunters religiously abide by the same strategies year to year, I tend to hunt more aggressively than needed, always dreaming and hoping for a little luck.
We all hear the same advice from experts, biologists, behaviorists and wildlife managers regarding the rut; stating which days are best to be in the field and what weather conditions are ideal, and when to call and when not to call. But the rut isn't an etched-in-stone phase that starts on a single date and ends on another. None of us should be surprised if peak rutting activity kicks up or lags a week or two outside of the most recent expert prediction.
Weather can be crucial to the game plan. When combined with the moon's lunar effect (the brightest night light in the world), archery hunters face two environmental issues that can't be controlled. Strategies that can be controlled include instinctive hunting skills, savvy learned from previous hunts; tracking, recognizing sign, weather predicting (yes, people are quite good at it), sharp tuned ears and scope-like eyes. Weather conditions can make or break a hunt, but shouldn't dictate hunting plans. Sometimes a plan simply needs to be altered to achieve success.
This past season, my hunting plans were altered in a way that went against all expert advice. Though it was a great time of year, the weather conditions were not cooperating and I was forced to go against the grain.
In the summer of 2005 I made plans to hunt in Rock Island County, Illinois. As a non-resident betting all of his chips on November 7-11, I could only hope the Illinois rut would bring the intensity of corn-fed bucks knocking antlers with subordinates and chasing the girls throughout midmornings.
My hosts for the hunt were Tom and Beau Carlson, proprietors of a bowhunting-only operation running four weeks until the December muzzleloader opening.
Checking the weather reports by Internet the preceding weeks and one last time before the day of departure, I only hoped there were inconsistencies in the forecast. Warmer than average temperatures and persistent winds were predicted each day on the five-day Internet calendar, with reports of up to 50 mph winds on Wednesday. A waxing or growing quarter moon would be in effect--something not entirely great for counting on consistent early morning and evening deer movement.
Despite these omens, I still had prime dates and five full days to hunt, I wasn't concerned. It was time to hunt hard.
The first night in camp, Tom Carlson's straightforward words rang loud and clear through the room of anxious hunters, "You're not here to necessarily see a lot of deer and bucks every day, you're here to get a chance at a buck of a lifetime. Be patient and trust that we'll put you on a trophy." His words practically sent shivers down my spine. There was no doubt I was going to put my trust in these guys in hopes of an enjoyable week and ultimately the opportunity to put my hands on some white gold.
The first morning found me perched 15 feet up a ladder stand in a row of timber skirting a cut cornfield well before sunrise broke. Content and happy to be hunting, with anxious thoughts of deer approaching one by one, I settled in for a comfortable wait. As the sun rose, trails to the glistening creek below could easily be seen. It appeared to be a good location. Minutes later, a flash of hide caught my attention in front. It was a meaty doe headed toward the ridge on the right side of my stand. The closer she came, the more I thought about shooting, but the fear of spooking a nearby buck concerned me. I let her pass and the rest of the morning passed uneventfully.
|Scent Free Hunting|
To hunt stands against the wind, scent control must properly be addressed. There are no cutting corners in this department. My clothes had been washed in scent eliminating detergent and stored in scent free containers. I showered in the mornings with scent-eliminating soap, shampoo and put on scent-free deodorant. My rubber boots, clothes and backpack were sprayed down prior to every hunt, and I carried a scent drag and popular estrus lure in my pack. I also always bring a bottle of scent eliminating spray to ensure scent is kept to a minimum on stand.
Prior to each hunt, archery hunters need to take every precaution available in attempt to outwit sharp sensed whitetails. Not only should clothes be washed in scent free detergents and stored in scent-free tubs, but also a bottle of scent-eliminating spray should always be included in a hunting pack.
I was picked up at 10:30 a.m. and returned to camp for a quick bite to eat. Back at the lodge, conversations with hunters indicated multiple buck sightings; some even caught on video camera, however, no shooters within reasonable bow range. It was good to hear there were bucks being sighted. I was back on stand by one o'clock, while other hunters leisurely waited out the warm temperatures back at camp. That evening, with one coyote spotted in the cornfield and one deer well out of range, it was an understatement to say that the hunt had been fairly quiet. I chalked it up to a day of getting familiar with the property. Four days remained and I was just getting started.
Against The Grain
The next morning with gusting winds and rut-suppressing warm temperatures, Beau and I discussed a change of plans that included a stand change. Beau prefers hunters to stay in the same stand for a minimum of two days so the area has a chance to produce. Though I only sat my first stand for two sits, Beau wanted to move me to a different stand for the next two days of hunting. I still had tr
ust in his stand placement, and climbed aboard my stand scent free and happy to oblige.
The stand I would be hunting was not situated perfectly for the wind that day, a scenario that would cause most experts to avoid the site. While stalking on the ground demands wind in your face, I'd venture to say that rule can be broken at times while hunting from stands and elevated positions. With a height advantage, scent often stays out of the reaches of a whitetail's nose. Besides, it never hurts to try something new.
Beau, who religiously plays the wind, had faith in this stand and though going against the grain, assured me that it was a great place to take a mature buck. He stressed that deer could approach from any direction and that behind me was a wide fingered patch of timber that separated two adjacent fields, a shallow ravine below created a perfect corridor for traveling deer. He also mentioned a higher ridge that could barely be seen on the opposite side, screened by thick oak trees and brush, making sneaky deer hard to spot. It was a prime location, one in which deer might approach from any direction. Perhaps I'd get lucky and have a deer come in from down wind.
On top of the windy conditions we knew we were in store for unusually warm weather. By 5 a.m. the temperatures had already reached the mid- '50s, and by midday were expected to reach the '70s. This factor, along with the moon's phase, called for midday hunts and staying on stand as much as possible. Although I had considered an all day sit, and entertained the idea of packing a lunch, I knew that if needed I had three hunting days remaining. We agreed I would hunt until 10:30 a.m., head in to make lunch and then get back as soon as possible. Wind was expected to blow eastwardly and in the same direction my stand was facing, overlooking a recently cut bean field and a healthy food plot of mixed clover and wild turnips to my right. It was a gamble with the wind, but an area that very likely received high activity as does and bucks hit the fields to feed. I had faith in Beau's scouting efforts and stand placement and, most importantly, I trusted him. He also had trust in me as I had taken every scent precaution to stay scent free.
|Coppers Creek Outfitters|
Operating near the Iowa border in the west-central part of Illinois, Coppers Creek Outfitters is a Mecca of whitetail habitat nestled in 3,000 acres of corn and bean fields and a surrounding hexagon shaped maze of wooded fingers consisting of oak groves, hickory, hedge, cherry and elm trees. Streams and creeks meander throughout the Carlson's property, providing ample water for resident deer. With the addition of well-placed clover and experimental New Zealand Grape and Wild Turnip food plots intended to peak the interest of hormonal bucks and does, that land is a whitetail bowhunting Mecca. Owning more than 60 years of farming experience and an intimate knowledge of the area, outfitters Tom and Beau Carlson and guide Derek Workman have more than 100 stand sites to choose from and they have plenty of land to keep hunters occupied. One interesting tactic that Beau relies on is the behavior of his show sheep. "Sheep are similar to deer and are hoofed animals. If the sheep are moving, so are the deer. Also, they have a very similar breeding period as deer, requiring cooler temperatures and shorter days. Naturally they want to be bred so the lambs are born in the spring and have an increased chance of survival. As the female sheep enter the breeding stage, I closely monitor the bucks'behavior on our property," stated Beau. If interested in booking a hunt with Coppers Creek Outfitters, contact Tom or Beau Carlson at: (309) 537-3245; www.copperscreek.com.
In the last four years Coppers Creek's Beau Carlson has helped make the Illinois bowhunting destination a turkey and whitetail hot spot.
Well before daylight I was situated within an old cherry tree, recessed slightly in the field's edge, hoping for morning activity. The next 5.5 hours I sat on stand hoping to spot a buck crossing or entering the field. Besides the sounds of fox squirrels and hedge apples falling from the trees, only the wind howling through the oaks could be heard. By 10:30 it was time to get down and meet Beau.
We arrived back at the lodge and Beau and I were on the same page. I made a couple quick sandwiches, stuffed them down and grabbed a couple bottles of water for the long day ahead. Beau also had a new strategy in mind for the evening hunt. Rather than drive to the powerline in the middle of the field, Beau was going to drop me off at the entrance of the field by the main road and told me to grab my scent line, freshen it up and walk the fence line toward the entrance of the field, along one side of the field edge and around
the perimeter of the food plot to the south side of my stand. I also planned to spray doe estrus scent about 30 yards in front of my stand on the ground for about a 15-yard length, enough to hold a bucks attention at close range.
At 11:30, Beau's truck thermometer read 69 degrees. The temperature was as predicted, unusually warm for November, and stalks were blowing across the fields. I got to my stand and was settled in by 15 minutes past noon. Luckily, no deer were seen while walking in and setting up.
By 3 p.m. the weather had cooled a bit and the wind was right on cue with Beau's prediction, blowing straight into the bean field. With a slightly overcast day, what seemed like an increased chance of spotting a buck heightened my attention.
About that time I began my routine blind calling cycle, starting with about a minute long rattling sequence, followed by a series of can calls, ending with various toned grunts. Some argue that blind calling is detrimental and educates deer. Maybe so, but I don't sit in stand steel eyed for nothing looking for deer all day. I consider myself to have good hearing and excellent eyesight for spotting deer. If no deer can be seen or heard, I'll attempt a blind-calling sequence. I also repeat the sequence every 20 to 30 minutes hoping that maybe a distant buck that responded to my rattling is now closer and within distance to hear my calls and pinpoint the direction of the sounds.
I was constantly swiveling toward my backside attempting to spot movement in the ravine or on the opposite ridge behind me. Strangely at 4:15 a sixth sense clicked and I turned back to take yet another look. A brown, ghostly shape could be see
n on the opposite ridge; a distinctive white tine visible. It was a shooter for sure and luckily he was upwind approaching as Beau had hinted could happen.
I quickly pulled my can call and grunt tube out and attempted to draw him to me, to no avail he drifted out of sight into the ravine below, only offering a few seconds of visual inspection. I didn't want to overcall, so I gave him a few minutes, hoping he would head uphill into the field for food. After a tense couple more minutes without seeing him, I though it was over, the buck drifting unaware out of my sight through the ravine below.
I decided to try to make something happen. I grabbed my rattle bag and went to town on it harder than I ever have before. I smacked it against the tree and vigorously pounded it between my hands for a solid minute hoping the buck would venture my way to inspect the ruckus.
With temperatures in the '70s during midday and a good draft of wind blowing in the wrong direction, the author (right) and outfitter Beau Carlson conjured a game plan to hunt against the wind. The reward was a monster typical 12-point with two non-typical points. He weighed 237 pounds on the hoof.
Minutes later, surprised and excited, I spotted him to my left side heading down the edge of the bean field practically right on top of where I dragged my scent line.
I prepared for the shot and only had one concern. He would cross directly downwind of my stand and the chance of him smelling me was a real possibility. I could only hope my scent line would help cover-up any human scent that might be blowing in his direction. I had pre-ranged distances earlier, but as he got closer to my 30-yard mark, I got buck fever and couldn't locate my reference. He seemed relaxed, but was veering out of bow range.
I grunted quietly and the buck paused briefly turning slightly back on his trail and continued directly along the dragline where I had exited the food plot. I had one more spot ranged at 40 yards and he was on track to hit it squarely. I drew my bow, settled my pin on the spot where he would cross and as he hit the grassy point, I triggered my release and almost instantly watched the buck burst into a flat-out sprint to the middle of the field. He stopped and turned directly toward me after making it a short 20 yards. Immediately I saw a crimson patch of blood flowing from his midsection. Within 20 seconds he was down and for the first time in my hunting career, I watched a buck drop, and only 40 yards from the hit site.
The 237-pound 12-point was by far my biggest buck to date and only the second whitetail I've ever taken. He's a bruiser with character I could only dream of and tines like swords. I was elated; what a hunt this had been. I experienced my first Midwest rut and despite hot temperatures and bad winds, I gambled and was rewarded.
Hunting against the wind might not be for everyone, but for me, the change of pace proved to be successful. We all know what works, but sometimes a different approach and a desire to keep hunting regardless of the conditions can pay surprising dividends. It just takes a bit of going against the grain.