By Tony J. Peterson
I don’t know how often I talk to bowhunters who only set one or two stands for the entire season, but it’s pretty frequent. I do realize that not everyone can afford 20 setups, has to time to get that many up, or has the acreage on which to do so. But even on small properties with a limited budget, most of us could have at least a few different ambush sites ready to go.
The thing about the hunters with limited sets is that it’s easy to rely on those stands the majority of the time we spend in the woods. This is a gun hunter’s strategy, and it’s nothing more than a cross-your-fingers-and-pray tactic for bowhunters.
Most of us, especially in October, would do much better to move a few of our stands or hang some new sets. Here’s why.
Field edges are great, until they aren’t. Just like most grouse hunters walk easy trails, most bowhunters want to sit on the food sources that are easy to get to and will provide a wide open view. The problem, of course, is that eventually the deer get wise to the most likely spots where they’ll encounter hunters and they avoid them during daylight hours. If you don’t believe that, head out to a chunk of public ground that gets a fair amount of hunting pressure and sit a field edge in it. I’ll bet you’re not blown away by the deer activity.
This dedication to a dead program comes from a few different places for many of us. Some of it is just pure laziness. Some of it is a lack of insight on where to go to find the deer. And some of it is the reality that when the rut starts to ramp up, those dead field edge stands might come alive again. That’s the best-case scenario, and it involves sand-bagging October, which can be a much better month for deer hunting than we like to give it credit for.
Commit Without Committing
When my field-edge gimme stands go quiet, I start to look for current deer activity in two different ways. The first is scouting, but I’m always cautious of blindly walking through the woods during the season to find the freshest sign. I’ll do it, if necessary, but much prefer to take a more calculated approach.
The first step is to backtrack off the food sources that are no longer producing sightings. If the deer are still filling their bellies there at night, there is a staging area somewhere that should treat you well.
If the sign has dwindled, it means the deer are probably off to other buffets. This necessitates a new approach, which will involve hunting and observation. I do this all the time on public land, and it might take me a few nights of watching and several stand sites to move right on top of the deer, but that’s okay. It takes time to figure out what is going on in the woods.
The best bet is to make a few hunches on where the deer probably are and then slip in for a hang-and-hunt. You’ll be able to watch what’s going on in the cover and react accordingly to your sightings. You might, also, arrow a buck if your hunch is correct.
If that seems like too much work or you don’t have the stands to make it happen, don’t fret. You can observe plenty from a natural ground blind in the right spot as well. I do this some in the deciduous forests of my home state of Minnesota but find it much easier when I head to more open ground. This might be in a farther western state, or it just might be in Iowa or Missouri where picked crop fields and limited cover give me the chance to glass plenty of acreage while hunting.
This observation strategy will help put you in the right spot, but the reality is you’ve also got to accept a new kind of ambush site – the tight-quarters stand or blind. The best deer spots, at least where pressured whitetails are concerned, aren’t in the wide open spaces. They are tucked into the cover where you won’t get to watch a buck walk in for 300 yards.
You’ll instead have limited views and limited shooting opportunities, but you’ll be where the bucks are comfortable and that matters. This is also the kind of spot where you’ll hear a buck ghosting through, or catch a glimpse of him, and you’ll be able to call him in with a few contact grunts or maybe a snort-wheeze. When a buck is where he feels secure, he is usually responsive to the right calling.
You just need to find where that spot is and get in to hunt him. It’s not easy and I can promise you it won’t be a field-edge deal, but with the right amount of work and instinct, you can put yourself on a deer after your easy setups have gone cold.