by Will Allen
Every studious deer hunter knows what it takes for a whitetail buck to maximize his antler potential. Genetics, nutrition, and age are the keys to big bucks. But having big bucks on a property and effectively hunting them are two different things. In my opinion, the best way to kill a mature buck is to prevent pressuring him. Deer sense hunter pressure and head for greener pastures when hunters work an area to hard. This goes for public and private property. The most successful public land hunters go where other hunters don’t. There are exceptions. But as general rule it is nearly impossible to hunt truly unpressured deer on public land in most places because the properties are simply not big enough.
On private property you can control hunter pressure to a certain extent. Limiting the amount of hunters on a given property is a good start. A few years ago a disgruntled hunter said to me, “the ten of us had the entire hundred acres covered and not one of us got a deer.” It never occurred to him that perhaps ten people hunting one hundred acres was a little too much pressure.
Another big step is to keep truck and ATV traffic to a minimum. Every autumn I see trucks parked along the edges of forests hundreds of yards from the road. Those hunters obviously don’t want to walk any further than they need to get to their stand. But at what cost? Keeping your vehicle parked along the road or just inside the property boundaries and walking in is the best way to prevent over pressuring deer.
Speaking of walking in, being scent free is no longer a secret. Rubber boots and scent-proof clothing are now required equipment for bow hunters. These days scent free gear is affordable for anyone so there is really no excuse to not suit up properly. Cutting away a good trail to your stand will also pay off. Every time you brush up against a tree or bush you are leaving scent behind. Having clear trails will limit the amount of scent you leave behind. A few trail markers won’t hurt either. Just get them in well before the season starts. If they get you to your stand without wandering around the woods, they are worth it.
The stands you hunt are also important. Every bow hunter should have a good stand for every wind direction. Some will work for a few different directions depending on terrain and land features. I have a stand that is perfect for a north or west wind, but awful for a south or east wind. I have another stand a few hundred yards away that is perfect for an east or south wind. This allows me to hunt any wind by placing just two stands. The best way to ruin a stand is to hunt it when the wind isn’t right. It may take weeks before a mature buck will frequent the area again if he feels threatened. Even if your second or third stand isn’t as good as your first, you need to leave a stand alone if the wind isn’t right.
A lot of hunters talk about letting a stand cool off. That is, they won’t hunt the same stand twice in a row. At face value, this sounds like a good idea. But some people don’t have enough stand sites to avoid it. In my opinion, the wind is far more important. If you have to hike through a property to get to an alternate stand just for the sake of hunting a different stand, is it really worth doing? If I’m seeing the deer I’m looking for, I’ll keep hunting the same stand as long as the wind is right.
Keeping pressure to a minimum is vital for getting close to big bucks. You can make a few mistakes and still kill young deer. But if a wall hanger is what you seek, tread lightly this season.