My first encounter with a swamp buck was a real fiasco. Some buddies and I had bought an old hunting shack on the shores of Bear Lake, which is really just a big, sprawling, shallow marsh ringed with cattails.
We used the shack for our base camp for duck hunting. But at night, when we would often sit around the fire outside and relive the day’s hunt, I would hear deer sloshing around in the cattails, so I decided to have a go at them.
One morning, when the others went duck hunting, I pulled on waders, grabbed the old Herter’s recurve I was shooting at the time and waded out into the cattails. I found the deer trails easily enough and I followed a trail until I came to a spot where the trail I was following intersected with another. I backed off into the cattails a few yards and just stood there waiting for it to get light. Pretty scientific huh?
In the darkness I could hear deer moving all around me in the cattails and when it got light enough to shoot I was pumped up and expecting action. Shortly, I heard something splashing towards me down the trail I had walked in on. My heart was pounding and despite the fact that I had been standing in muck and shallow water for nearly an hour in fairly cold temperatures, I was suddenly very warm. Closer and closer the sound came until it seemed like it was right in front of me on the trail, but strain as I might, I could not see the deer.
Sounds Are Misleading
When the critter started to chitter, I knew why I could not see the deer; my deer was a raccoon. In fact, a lot of the commotion I heard that first morning was not made by deer at all, but by raccoons, muskrats and who knows what. But just about the time I was thinking it was time to pull the plug on this misguided mission, I heard something else coming down that same trail. I was half expecting another raccoon, so I was not really prepared for the initial sight of the buck. He might have been a 10-pointer, or an 8-, or maybe just a fork, I don’t know — all I know is that suddenly, not FIVE yards in front of me, there was a buck!
I panicked, jerked that string back and the buck froze in mid-stride and stared at this strange creature standing in his cattails. About the time I dropped the string that buck exploded, literally throwing mud in my face as he spun around and went splashing back the way he had come from. Of course I missed, but that early experience in the cattails of Bear Lake has led to my hunting swamps from one end of this country to another.
For years I thought that a swamp buck was a buck, which headed for the mucky places when hunting pressure got heavy, but spent the rest of the year high and dry. I was wrong. There are deer, which spend most of their lives with their hooves in the mud.
I once killed a 6-year-old buck on the Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Aberdeen, S.D. Sand Lake NWR is a 17-mile-long, narrow, shallow marsh comprised mainly of acre after acre of cattails and phragmites. It is one of the most daunting places I have ever hunted.
Buck Is Angus Black
That buck weighed 237 pounds dressed and was as black as an Angus from his belly to his hooves. When I got him home I tried to wash the mud off with a garden hose before taking pictures, but the mud would not rinse. So I got one of those stiff bristle brooms you use to sweep the garage floor and scrubbed away with that for awhile. I gave up because that mud was not coming off. That buck’s hair was stained black forever from a lifetime of living in the muck.
Some deer, of course, do use swamps mainly as escape cover during the gun seasons when hunting pressure is intense, but unless you happen to be bowhunting during a firearms season, this won’t affect you much.
Of more importance to the bowhunter are those deer, which live in or at least frequent swamps during the archery deer season. I’m convinced that there is a lot more deer inhabiting these wet places than most hunters suspect. Why shouldn’t they be there? Wet places provide deer with the two things they need to survive and that is good cover and lots of nutritious food.
You can’t beat a swamp when it comes to cover. It doesn’t matter if you are talking a cattail marsh up north, a cedar swamp in the northeast or one of those nasty, low water, snake infested, gator-holes they call swamps in the south. All provide deer with lots of security.
Deer learn in a hurry where they are disturbed by human beings and where they are not. Swamps are one of those places where they are not.
Swamps Offer Great Cover
As a young man I did a lot of trapping, much of it in swamps for muskrat, mink, raccoon and beaver. Many times as I slowly punt-poled my canoe through narrow, twisting channels in the shallow, cattail choked marsh I trapped, I would see a deer, usually a buck, standing with just his head sticking out of the cattails. These deer would just watch as I passed. As long as I did not stop, the deer would nearly always stand its ground, often within just a few yards of my canoe. It is almost as if these deer, which live in the swamp are more curious about man than they are afraid, probably because they have had so few negative experiences with hunters.
I mentioned that most of the deer that I would see on my trapping excursions in the swamp were bucks and most of the bucks were bigger bucks. It’s not that does do not inhabit the swamps, they do, but even in areas where the buck-to-doe ratio is lopsided in favor of the females, I have always seen more bucks than does in the swamps. I do not have an explanation for this, but my hunch is that because bucks tend to be loners and are more naturally secretive than the more gregarious does, they are more attracted to the swamps.
Then too, nature has a way of providing best for those who bear the young. In any habitat, does inhabit the choicest parcels.
In Part 2, you will learn more about how to harvest a swamp buck.
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Gary Clancy writes a weekly column for sportsmansguide.com. Gary has hunted whitetail deer in 20 different states and provinces. He has harvested many record-book animals, and presented hunting seminars from Tennessee to Wisconsin. Gary also has authored or co-authored six hunting books, four on whitetail hunting.