Structure Hunting For Your BuckBy Jack Payne
It was Halloween before my first opportunity on a buck came along. Well actually, my first since opening night when I blew a wide-open shot. The rut was just hitting full stride and I had mapped out what I thought was a few strategic locations.
Each location was enhanced with a scent from Buck Fever. Scent was placed in film canisters in a 270-degree near circle and a dragline drenched in Buck Fever trailed the last hundred yards to my stand and from film canister to film canister.
The early morning quietness was broken by a grunt and the slow crunching of leaves. Sure enough, a buck was working the scent line. I hit my deer grunter call from Away Products; the buck took notice and slowly continued onward.
The buck would walk a few steps, grunt, raise his head up and sniff the air. It quickly became obvious that the buck would travel into my lap following the dragline. I was sitting in my Lone Wolf Stand that was hung just that morning.
Using my Ten Point Crossbow I was able to shoot sitting down. The Carbon Express shaft tipped with the Muzzy head found its mark. Buck number one was down for the count.
Thinking back over the years on why some stand locations produced better than others brought me to my fishing days. I love structure fishing and after analyzing my most productive spots, it was quick to see that I applied my fishing structure knowledge to deer hunting.
Fish use travel routes and have a deep-water sanctuary from cold fronts and when spooked. Deer use certain travel paths and have a prime bedding area that they call home. Migration routes are used to travel primarily from a bedding area to a feeding area.
The longer the migration route, the more exposed the deer is for the taking. The shorter the route, the closer to the bedding area one must sit. The best migration routes encompass two types of structure.
A thick cattail marsh bordering a set of pines is one example. Another is a clear cut bordering a thick set of pines or a swamp, or possibly an oak grove. A cornfield or a bean field bordering thick cover is another good example.
A deer’s sanctuary is its prime bedding area. A good bedding area can be a thick grove of pines, a cedar swamp, a cattail bog or often times in southern Michigan an isolated patch of cover. In the farm country, these small parcels might be only a quarter acre to an acre in size.
The best migration routes have something unique about them. In fishing, you look for the breaks or the objects on this path from the deep water to the shallows. In hunting these objects could be a small finger of trees that stick out. It might be a small inside turn or cup that is formed by the change of terrain or ground cover. Any type of change is a potential spot for a stand.
An inside corner or an outside corner where two types of ground meet is perfect. Deer love to follow edges and if both types of terrain have something that the deer needs, then more deer will be using it. A stand of oaks bordering a young clear cut offers two types of food and the young clear cut doubles up as a bedding ground.
An overlooked piece of structure, especially in southern Michigan, is the usage of a ditch or gullies. These two types of structure allow movement of deer to be nearly invisible—very critical when hunting thin cover or near open areas.
In hilly areas, deer love to run the edge of a gully where they are completely out of sight from danger on the flats or they use the bottoms and play the ever-changing wind currents to their advantage.
A young clear cut has plenty of lush grasses and many new buds in the fall. Finding a secondary food source close to a primary food source is critical. Weather conditions can alter a food source being used. Hunting pressure will alter a preferred food source.
Trail cameras are the same as underwater cameras to many anglers. Both show fish or game. While I do not own an underwater camera I do own one trail camera. This camera gets moved each week and is fun in showing you an actual photo.
A cheap and fast way to determine if deer are using your trails is with thread. Run a piece of thread across a likely trail keeping it high enough so that a coon or other small animal will not break it.
Often the direction of the broken thread points in the direction that the deer traveled. In an hour you can mark or thread a dozen trails. This is something that should be used all season. It is a great way to scout a new stand location before actually sitting up on it.
Deer using a cornfield, a bean field or an open oak stand that is full of hunter scent will make these deer very nocturnal. The deer will feed on a safer food source until full darkness provides a safety blanket.
Waterways are fun to hunt. A river or even small creeks that you can jump across are great pieces of structure to hunt. Streams twist and turn creating natural pinch points. Follow a stream and mark each time that the stream takes a hard turn. Hang a few ribbons in the tree and after the second or third hard turn you should be able to spot a location where a stand would be able to watch both of these hard turns or points.
Spawning fish are often the easiest fish to catch and deer hunting during the rut is often the best time to harvest a deer. Bucks concentrate on the small groups of does. Locating the small family groups of does will attract a buck.
If you think shooting a doe is easy, you can be mislead quickly. A doe with a yearling is constantly on the alert for danger. One wrong movement, one whiff of your scent and she will stomp her foot and snort for the next 100 or 200 yards.
Protect your areas, slide in quietly and don’t over hunt a particular stand. Whatever you do, don’t spook the does. I know of a few hunters who scare the does away from their stands. I want as many does filtering through my area as possible. The bucks will show up if the does are there and if you are hunting the travel routes or near the bedding areas.
Hunting open fields requires a change of strategy. Bucks have a tendency to hang back until darkness takes over. They also love to stage or watch over the field from a safe distance.
Instead of hunting the field’s edge, try hunting back a few yards. Find an inside corner and go back 20 yards. You can still see the field; you might be able to shoot the field’s edge but most important, you can see any buck that is hanging back.
Just like in fishing where an angler can alter a travel route, a hunter can do the same. Blocking a trail with fallen limbs will force the deer around the obstacle. This is one trick that we use a lot.
If you can force the deer to funnel through a location that is more desirable to you, the higher your odds increase. Anything that slows down a deer’s speed, makes the deer stop or turn is effective. Just remember to wear gloves when altering the terrain.
During the rut, scent is huge. As a matter of fact, making mock scrapes before the season starts and continuing throughout the season is an easy and very effective technique.
During the season we try and find an active scrape line or at least an area with sufficient deer traveling through. The best mock scrapes will have a licking branch, so look for a bush or a limb that a deer can reach. One option is that you can snap a branch downward, just don’t cut it off.
Saturate both the ground and the licking branch with scent. This is where I like the scent from Buck Fever. It comes in a large bottle and really works great on the draglines and the mock scrapes. Be extremely careful with your scent; the idea is to lure in a deer, not give away your presence.
Think of deer hunting as you would when fishing. Find the edges, corners, change of elevation, areas where two types of terrain meet and your success will rapidly climb. Points and corners offer great ambush locations, and hunting between two bends of a stream will funnel deer within range nearly every time.
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