John's Journal... Entry 224, Day 1
HOW TO BECOME A VERSATILE DEER HUNTER
Editor's Note: Successful deer hunting involves problem solving and decision making. But to consistently succeed, you must know when to change strategies and why to abandon a hunt plan and have the flexibility to institute those changes. Weather, hunting pressure, the availability of food, the rut and your intuition all determine how, when and where you should hunt. You must be versatile.
A few years ago I stalk-hunted at White Oak Plantation near Tuskegee, Alabama. The 500-acre area I had to hunt had a road surrounding it. Since I had three days to hunt, I decided to stalk the road the first day to determine as much as I could about the perimeter of the property. Then I could make a more-informed decision about the most-productive places to hunt.
My hunt began in the early afternoon. I slowly slipped down the road until nearly dark. When I arrived at the backside of the property, I found good deer habitat like hardwood bottoms, thickets and clearcuts. As the light faded, I had to quickly walk down this part of the road rather than slowly stalk it as I normally would.
Back at camp that night, I began to think about my next day's hunt. More than likely everyone who hunted that same block of woods in the afternoon had had to hurry down the backside of the property and not hunt it thoroughly. If the hunters went down the road in the morning, they wouldn't reach the backside of the property until 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. Since all the hunters went into the property the same way and traveled down the road in the same direction, I assumed the land's backside probably had had the least amount of hunting pressure at first light.
Also because of the availability of plenty of acorns in the region for the deer to feed on and numbers of briar thickets and cut-overs where the deer could bed, I decided the most deer movement should occur on the backside of the property at daylight when the deer moved out of the thickets and started to feed on the acorns. The animals fed from daylight until 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. and then returned to the thickets before the hunters sneaked down the road at 10:00 or 11:00 a.m.
Instead of stalking down the road the next morning as most hunters had done, I went to the backside of the property before daylight to a stand site I'd picked out the afternoon before on the edge of a creek bottom in an acorn flat. While on my stand waiting on the first rays of daylight, I had an uncomfortable feeling I hadn't taken a stand in the best place.
Most hunters when stand hunting don't sit in one spot long enough to take a deer. However, I didn't want to move simply for the sake of moving. I'd also planned to hunt a transition area where a 3-year-old clearcut dropped off a hill into a hardwood bottom bordered by a stream at some time during my three-day stay. A narrow strip of woods there formed a bottleneck and provided a productive feeding site -- the hardwood bottom -- close to a bedding site -- the clearcut.
Because I'd learned the intuitive side of my brain often made better decisions than the reasoning side of my brain, I often followed my hunches when hunting. On this day, I left the creek bottom just as day broke and hurried to the edge of the clearcut. This time the spot felt right.
Part of versatility is willingly changing plans even though reason dictates you should take another course. A hunter must learn to listen to his instincts and make decisions based on his intuition. A bass fisherman often realizes when he throws a lure next to one specific lily pad that a bass will strike the bait at that spot. Many deer hunters have learned to tap into that same type of intuitive sense. It enables them to find just the right site in the woods to take a stand. I knew that on this day in this place I'd take a buck. The night before I'd predicted to the other hunters at the lodge that I'd have a buck by 12:00 noon.
As the forest floor lightened up with the first rays of sunlight, I saw deer at a distance but only the shapes of their bodies. But then with my binoculars, I spotted ivory-crowned heads. White Oak permitted sportsmen to bag only 8-point bucks or better, and I couldn't get close enough to two of these well-antlered deer to identify the number of points on their racks. I knew that my faith in this spot was justified. Whether I bagged a buck or not, I'd made the right decision. If I hadn't abandoned the first hunt site, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to watch these deer.
I waited patiently as the four bucks -- two spikes and two 8-points -- fed down the edge of the creek. Fifty yards from my stand I watched the two older bucks lock horns in combat. Through my riflescope, I found the larger buck. I let the crosshairs come to rest just in front of the point of his front shoulder. When the older buck had pushed the younger buck down to his knees, my rifle reported. I had my buck.
Knowing when to change hunting strategies was the key to my success. Since I hadn't stalked the backside of the property, I could have stalk hunted that region on the second morning of my hunt instead of taking a stand. I might or might not have seen the deer, because most often when I stalk hunted I concentrated on looking for places to take a stand. Sometimes I find stalk hunting for deer more productive than stand hunting. However, when I saw the area I chose to stand and realized the deer hadn't had any hunting pressure in that region at the time of day I planned to hunt, I decided to abandon my stalk-hunting strategies and take a stand.
But simply taking a stand does not result in a successful hunt. If you stand in the wrong place, you won't bag the deer. Oftentimes the intuitive part of your brain may pick a better stand site than your conscious reasoning side will. However, you may find learning to trust the intuitive side of your brain very difficult, because often it conflicts with the reasonable side of your brain. But by having the adaptability to abandon my first stand because of a notion I had, I stood ready in the right place at the right time to bag my buck.
Some hunters adopt one style of deer hunting and only will hunt deer using that technique. Some prefer only to stand-hunt, while others will stalk-hunt. Other sportsmen only will hunt deer by using man drives. They believe in the one tactic they have chosen and try to take bucks utilizing only this method. However, the consistently-successful hunter knows how, where, when and why to change strategies to make the tactic match the hunting conditions on the day he plans to hunt. The deer hunter who wants to increase his odds of bagging a buck on every outing will let the weather conditions, the terrain and the amount of hunting pressure determine where, when and how he hunts. Let's look at what often dictates the most-productive style of hunting on any given day.