The not-so-secret steps to self-hunt whitetail success
Is there a formula that, when properly applied, can consistently ensure the do-it-yourself bowhunter success on mature whitetail bucks? OK, now that I've got you thinking -- and probably sneering -- can we talk?
Would you, could you, believe me when I say I've proven the answer to the aforementioned question a definite yes? Kaboom! I can hear the fireworks going off in your head right now. Surely you wonder, "Who is this clown, and how dumb must he be to make such a ridiculous statement?" Well, give me a chance to explain, and then see if you're still with me.
I did not come from a hunting background and had few mentors to teach me about the outdoors. Most of what I learned, I learned on my own. I bought my first bow and accessories in 1975 with money I made from working at a gas station after school. With it, I took my first deer in 1979, at age 20, on public land. It took me until 1988 to tag my first trophy whitetail. At that point in life, I was married with children and working as a construction worker. But that first book buck lit a fire in my soul, and thus began a passionate struggle to achieve consistent, top-end bowhunting success on low-budget, self-guided excursions.
Now that you understand my bowhunting past, I think that you will agree I'm a classic example of the average American bowhunter -- no silver spoons here. That established, let's look at the claim that I made earlier: There is a formula any bowhunter can apply that will allow him to consistently harvest mature whitetail bucks with a bow. I've proven this to be true. I've lived it, to the tune of 35 trophy whitetails. You can succeed too -- if you want it badly enough.
To make things as simple as possible, many years ago I broke down my pursuit of mature whitetail bucks into four categories. There's no rocket science here. So, what are these four simple categories? Here they are:
1) The area you hunt.
2) When you hunt.
3) The exact locations you hunt.
4) Sealing the deal.
So, what's the big news here? Nothing really; once again, it's not the understanding of the approach that will get you there, it's the successful application that separates the "wannas" from the "bes."
How hard are you willing to work to achieve this goal? Do you have enough passionate desire to get the job done? Are you enough of a stickler for detail to leave no parts of the puzzle unsolved? Are you a diligent student of deer, their habits and habitat? It takes all this, and much more, to achieve such a lofty goal. Do it all, do it right, and you will enjoy consistent success on mature whitetail bucks -- case closed.
Part I: The Right Area
If you live in an area where mature whitetail bucks abound, count your blessings and simply move on to Part II. On the other hand, if you're like me and live in an area where record-class bucks are rare, read on.
Even the most economically challenged hunters can travel a reasonable distance to bowhunt. I know this to be true, because I've done it. Even in the areas of our country where whitetail quality is poor, excellent opportunity is no more than a few hours away. Just drive. You don't need an outfitter; there is ground to be accessed -- find it! Do the homework, load your gear in your truck and go; it's that simple!
Additionally, do whatever it takes during the off-season to ensure your ability to accomplish this goal. Work extra hours, pay bills ahead and stockpile time off from work. Prepare your family for the temporary leave of absence that will occur at your household each November. Otherwise, you may as well drop out of the game right here.
Try to make at least one pre-season trip to your hunting area to scout and prepare stand sites.
Part II: The Right Time
Are you ready for a bombshell here? The secret hunting dates are Nov. 5-25. Surprised? I think not. This is the simplest part of the equation; not much to tell here. I'm sure you understand these dates and what they represent to the hardcore whitetail bowhunter. For the rookies out there, it's the rut!
To greatly enhance the effectiveness of the two-week hunt you must make during these critical dates (three weeks are even better), make a weekend trip to the area in October to scout and hang treestands. You should also visit your hotspot in late January for a post-season scouting trip and again during the spring to hunt turkeys and hunt shed antlers in the mornings and evenings. Work on access and landowner relations during midday.
Finally, no discussion of the right time would be complete without addressing the issue of time on stand. During these gonzo times of the whitetail rut, anything is possible at any time. Being the average guy you are, reality dictates you will probably only have two weeks to conduct your hardcore November hunt. So, get started toward your destination on a Friday evening after work and plan on not returning home until Sunday evening, 16 days later. Time is your most precious resource here. Maximize it!
Rubs like this are a sure sign you're in the right place! You can't kill big bucks where there aren't any big bucks. Get yourself into a productive area.
Drive straight through to your destination and get your butt into a treestand before daylight Saturday. Spend at least 10 days of your hunt on stand from dawn to dark. Can you handle it? You certainly should, and here's why: I have a rule concerning time on stand during the peak of the rut. For every five to seven days I remain on stand all day (good spot, right conditions), I get one "extra" chance at a book buck. Think about how significant that is. Invest in comfortable treestands and get a good backpack to carry extra clothes, food, water and a book. Discipline yourself mentally and physically, and once again, get'er done -- no whining!
Part III: The Right Spot
Now we've come to the part of the equation where things get a little bit touchy. Here's where we throw a variable into the mix -- woods savvy. Here, we're talking about the exact spots you choose to plant your butt. If you're an accomplished outdoorsman, this will seem like old hat -- consider yourself blessed to be able to pick excellent hides. For those of you who don't consider yourself to be "Captain Deer," don't bail out here. You can still get it done. Since you've already selected a productive area, you've gone a long way towards making this part of the job easy. Simply being in an excellent area will make any bowhunter look good!
Get topographic maps of the property and use them in conjunction with aerial photos and Google Earth to look for features that channel deer movement. Look for possible food sources, bedding areas, open areas and areas of thick cover. Don't be intimidated. Make tactical decisions and put them into action. Be very flexible and improvise if necessary. If conditions dictate, be prepared to move a stand quickly and quietly. In the case of this two-week hunt, you've placed all your eggs in one basket; go early, stay late, hunt long and hard and go for broke. "Endure" and "persevere," then all the other hunters will "revere" your prowess!
When hunting during the November rut, stay on stand all day and stay alert. Take extra food, water and clothes so you can be comfortable. Don't forget a grunt tube and rattling antlers so you are prepared to call a distant buck into range.
Part IV: Realizing the Dream
Now that you've accomplished three of the four steps to success, you'd better get ready because you'll certainly find yourself faced with part four soon. Yes, it's inevitable; you're going to be looking at some big bone. What then? Will you come out of the encounter a hero or a zero? After all the work, money and hope you've invested, will you be satisfied to drop the ball? Do you really hunt like "it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game?" Not hardly. You're a he-man, hunting stud, right? You're gonna take home some big bone, right? Let's finish this masterpiece.
Most everything involved in the first three parts of this equation are logistics that can be physically supplied and applied. But now you're up against the one intangible for which there is no blanket solution. When everything leading up to this moment has been done well and the time to kill rushes upon us, how will we perform? Every situation is different, and anyone involved in one of these adrenalin-packed moments is subject to react in any way.
I can tell you from 25-plus years spent bowhunting big-antlered whitetail bucks that failure to effectively complete this final part of the equation has caused more heartache than I care to admit. The massive adrenaline rush buck fever produces has had a devastating effect on my nervous system more times than I care to recall. When I look back at the many opportunities on giant bucks that I've blown, I feel my entire body tense up. It makes me sick.
This moment of truth is what we strive for, dream about and lust after. Somehow, it must be tamed, using its potent effects for our gain. It has taken me years to master some techniques for performing well under pressure, but here are a few things I work on:
Do the necessary homework to make sure you'll be focusing your hunting
efforts in an area that has an ample supply of good bucks.
First, convince yourself the inevitable adrenaline rush will empower you, not debilitate you. When it comes time for me to pull the string on a trophy buck, I've learned to use the "power surge" I'm experiencing to pull my 70-pound Mathews bow as slowly and effortlessly as imaginable. I turn my adrenaline rush into a tremendous helpmate, not a hindrance.
Second, practice with your bow from a treestand, while wearing your hunting clothes, and shoot at 3-D deer targets with big antlers. Climb into your stand, sit down, slowly rise and handle your bow, slowly come to full draw, then take one shot at your target -- make the shot perfect every time. Visualize success. With me, this type of practice forms a deeply ingrained mental and physical pattern in my sub-conscious mind. Thus programmed, I'm much more likely to make good decisions when under the influence of buck fever.
Third, shoot some does in October! Execute these harvests perfectly, with clean, one-shot kills. This will prepare you for the big event that will surely come a few weeks later.
Fourth, at the beginning of each whitetail season, meditate upon this fact: If I do not make a clean kill shot on the beast, I'm not really much more than a glorified nature observer! Furthermore, if I blow an opportunity on a monster buck, all I will take home is a story about the big one that got away, and there's very little satisfaction in that. I will not be an observer and storyteller. I will be a hunter!
Summing It Up
Maybe attempting to break down such a difficult pursuit into a four-part equation is a gross example of oversimplification. Then again, maybe it's not. If you'll start at the beginning of this formula and slowly learn how to master each step, I guarantee you'll be surprised where you end up. Just remember to leave a few big ones out there for me.