November 03, 2015
Dogs barking, kids screaming and horses whinnying isn't the silence you envision in the whitetail woods. My treestand location, within arrow distance of an occupied ranch house, offered all of the above. It also was the preferred bedding cover for several mature bucks on the property I had the privilege to hunt. Instead of grumbling about the less than pristine conditions, I shooed the dog following me and climbed high into my treestand for a quick hunt.
Whitetails now inhabit all of the lower 48 states with various subspecies and varying densities. That means you'll find whitetails habituating nearly every habitat available giving you more than enough locations to snoop for your next buck. If your traditional hotspot has come up dry, consider nosing around in a location you wouldn't give a second glance for your next trophy.
BESIDE THE SWINGSET
Don't overlook your urban backyard. Cities and suburbs host a high deer density. Refuge status, manicured lawns, award-winning shrubbery and lush gardens all attract whitetails. As deer and car collisions increase, some reaching more than 500 per year in metropolitan areas, city managers are employing hunters to help curb the deer population
In many communities you'll be forced to use archery gear and you'll likely need to attend an urban hunter education class for certification. Since managers want to decrease overall density, you could be a candidate for extra doe tags as the result. This would allow you to not only hunt for a trophy, but fill your freezer and those of needy neighbors.
You may be able to set a treestand up in a backyard, but look for wooded waterways coursing through neighborhoods, industrial zones with surrounding brush and large nature parks that may hold large number of deer.
BEHIND THE FARM
When you think of trophy whitetails, you think of farms. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of a busy farmyard may be good starting point, but if your farm begins to lack in sightings, move back to the barn.
Abandoned farmsteads are always a top priority on places to look, but more than once my friends and I busted a giant from a small hedgerow behind an active farming operation. Many farms were blessed with shelterbelts and those narrow jungles also attract bucks that may be on the run from a traditional woodland hideout. Plus, once crops move to bins, the barren landscape puts whitetails on the hunt for any good cover and the overgrown tangles around a farm could be the key.
Final locations I always scout are tractor graveyards. Most farms have a stash of old equipment and junk behind the building site. These are oftentimes overgrown and deer may seek out the safety of the weeds, plus a windbreak in the form of an old combine. Since the junk is hard to distinguish, you can prop a ground blind up just about anywhere against an old piece of equipment.
If whitetails are holing up near a farm, look for a pattern and then try to get into ambush position when deer are out feeding or when barnyard activity can cover your move. There's nothing like the rumble of a tractor in a feedlot to grab the attention of a wily buck as you slip into ambush position.
IN THE DUCK DECOYS
Scattered across the realm of the whitetail world, you'll find wetlands in varying size and wetness. Willows, reeds, cattails and other marsh vegetation make up wetlands and many of the areas include dry islands where whitetails slog through the muck to seek a hideout.
Use hunting programs like ScoutLook Weather with its Google Earth interface to zoom in and detect trails and dry habitat used for bedding cover. Once you find a likely pattern, look for a way to intercept bucks as they enter or leave the sanctuary. You may be lucky and locate a good tree, but it's more likely you'll have to employ a ground blind. You may also have to move into the cover a few yards to hide that ground blind.
If you do use a commercial blind, be sure to get it in early and camouflage it to the best of your ability with native vegetation on the downwind side of a trail. Fortunately, wetlands are a factory for growing great natural cover.
IGNORE THE TRAFFIC
A variety of studies show that wildlife isn't afraid of highway traffic. In fact, many species embrace a highway because despite the hum of traffic, most humans don't wander in the zone paralleling a road. Start by looking for deer crossing signs.
Deer crossing signs are placed in consistent locations of car and deer collisions, and where highway crews routinely collect carcasses from recent collisions. They also work for hunters since they clearly point out deer crossing locations that have proven to be consistent over time with collisions as the evidence.
Hollows, coulees, rivers and creeks rank high on the department of transportation sign detail. Whitetails follow these depressions for ease in travel and concealment within ribbons of cover.
Depending on the amount of traffic along a route you'll likely want to move into the woods and away from commuter distractions. Deer often hustle to cross once they near a road thus possibly causing you to rush a shot. If you set up 100 or 200 yards away from the pavement deer may actually pause to assess what's going on ahead with the traffic flow. Look for heavily used trails, consider employing a mock scrape to stop a buck and get ready to listen to the flow of traffic on your next hunt.
Open country could be harvested cornfield, a grazed pasture or a Western sagebrush flat. Regardless of the definition of open country in your zip code, pay close attention to these desert environments. When the pressure increases in the woods and river bottoms bucks may slink away to hide in an old fence row cutting across a picked soybean field.
Watch these possible contenders at sunrise and sunset to spot bucks sneaking in or out. Mark the location or travel route, and pray for wind to cover your stalk.
As for my ranch location I was gaining my confidence back after running off the dog. About 15 minutes before shooting light was finished I spied a buck leaving a tangle of brush. He was on course to pass out of bow range, but I gave him a soft grunt and it was the motivation to navigate closer to my perch. As he passed by at 18 yards I was already at full draw with my Mathews bow and ended the hunt abruptly with a broadhead into the vitals. As I field-dressed the buck the wayward ranch dog found its way back to me, but this time I let him have a ringside seat.