The sun was setting in the western sky when I decided to climb down from my treestand and call it a season. I had spent 70 hours perched in various stands over the past 15 days, but for the past hour I found it difficult to focus my thoughts. My fingers gently caressed the crossbow that was in my lap, but my attention was on the large 11-point buck that was lying 20 yards to my left. Only the small, crimson-colored spot behind his shoulder revealed the method of his demise.
As I approached the animal, I was overcome with the emotions that only another hunter can truly understand. The sun was setting on another successful season, but Lord willing tomorrow would be another day and the glorious journey would begin again.
Pursuing whitetails is an all year adventure for me. Admittedly big bucks are never far from my mind. What does it take to become a successful archery hunter? The one thing that separates the successful hunter from the hopeful hunter can be summed up in one word: commitment. If you’re committed to something, you’re going to pay special attention to it. The occasional archery hunter does not possess this quality to any great degree.
Archery season has recently closed over most of the whitetail’s range. Regardless of last season’s outcome now is the time to begin your “new season.” As odd as it may sound, this is your best chance to kill next season’s mature buck. This incredibly important period between the season’s end and spring “green up” will reveal many mysteries of the deer woods.
Probably the greatest misunderstanding among deer hunters surrounds the idea of patterning deer. This is rarely possible when dealing with bucks—at least to the point where you can set your watch by their movements. You will be much better served if you concentrate your efforts on patterning buck behaviors and tendencies within your hunting area. These will often remain consistent from season to season. This will give you the vision to interpret the big picture and allow you to foresee any changes before they transpire.
It will do you little good to chase the “hot” sign around your hunting area once the season begins. Events and food sources change daily. Once the fever pitch of the pre-rut arrives bucks are in perpetual motion. Trying to decipher their movement patterns is futile. No matter what you’ll always be one step behind them and waste valuable time moving your stands instead of actually hunting from them.
The successful archery hunter knows what the deer will do before they actually do it. Information obtained from the previous year’s postseason scouting will enable you to make educated decisions on stand placement, and when to hunt them. Finding rubs, scrapes, trails, and sheds along with actual deer sightings will allow the committed archer to form a successful game plan long before the next season opens. Documenting every detail will also increase your chances of success.
In my experience, the behavior I witness in one season will happen again in the next. If you observe deer moving at a particular time of the day, during a particular time of the season, you can bet that when those same conditions occur the following season they’ll do it again. It may take an entire hunting season to pinpoint the best possible stand location, but the dividends will be worth the wait.
The big 11-point that fell to my arrow at the beginning of this article is a great example of postseason scouting used in conjunction with in-season observation. I had discovered several large rubs during one of my postseason scouting forays. After several weeks of meticulously combing the area for the best possible stand sites, I decided on a tight funnel 100 yards from the location of the rubs. The funnel was only 30 yards wide with a pond on one side and a fenced cow pasture on the other. A well worn deer trail ran directly through its middle. The discovery of a right side shed that carried six long tines (within 50 yards of the funnel) was the clincher for me.
I hung a stand in early May and didn’t return until the first week of November. I realized that the stand should only be hunted with a west or southwest wind. I was able to hunt the funnel stand four times during the first part of November. I saw twelve different bucks and twenty-two doe from the stand. I never did kill a deer there, but what I learned was priceless.
On both days that there was a due west wind I saw a different trophy-caliber buck approach the funnel and then skirt the pond edge to avoid traversing the tight area. Lesser bucks and does had no problem walking through the funnel, but the big boys would have none of it. I ended up tagging out in a completely different area a few days later, but as soon as I had my buck at the taxidermist I was back at the funnel moving the stand to cover the pond edge.
It wouldn’t be until November of the following year that I’d visit this particular stand again. It was my fifteenth consecutive day of hunting, but it was the first time that I had the west wind I needed to hunt this stand. I had been in the stand for over eight hours when the big 11-point appeared on the scene. He cautiously made his way toward the funnel and then abruptly turned toward the pond. It was the last move he ever made.
There are no short cuts to becoming a successful archery hunter. Don’t wait until the season is upon you to pick up your crossbow and hit the woods. Now is the best time to prepare for the “new season.” Had it not been for postseason scouting, in conjunction with the on-stand observations, I never would have settled on that exact stand location. And although it took me a season to put it all together the process was expedited by the off-season legwork.Shop the hottest deals in hunting at Sportsman's Guide >