by Cole Daniels
Hunting dense forests is unlike hunting anywhere else. Last season, I spent one late autumn day hunting a funnel I know well. I saw several deer and even a few nice bucks. But not the buck I was looking for. Over dinner that evening my hunting partner described where he set up his hanging stand early that morning. He was unknowingly just one hundred yards away from me. He saw plenty of deer that day too. But not one flash of an antler. I know the trail deer take to my stand and I’m positive these deer were moving past him at around fifty yards. Still, the thick forest prevented him from seeing any bucks.
Hunting timber is a different game than many hunters are used to. Agricultural fields and rolling prairies allow hunters to see deer for hundreds of yards. Woodland hunters may not see a deer until it is within forty or fifty yards. It takes a special set of skills and tools to successfully hunt deer in the woods.
The deep woods isn’t the place for pretty bolt rifles. Your looking for fast action, short barreled rifles. Lever actions are great for forest hunting. They are easy to swing around branches and shells can be cycled through them efficiently.
Low Power Scopes
I’ve often heard stories of hunters pulling up their guns to shoot close range deer only to struggle to find them in the lens. Often the mistake is leaving the scope on high power at the rifle range and never adjusting in the field. A scope with a low minimum power is highly beneficial in the woods. A two or three power is best, four power will do the job. Anything higher than that and you’re asking for trouble. See through scope mounts allow you to use the scope or iron sights for even faster target acquisition on moving deer.
Once you’re in stand, get out your shooting sticks and be sure any other necessary gear is ready. Trim any branches that may impede a shot. Look through the scope to be sure the lens is clean are ready to go. Most importantly, have a plan in place before a deer shows himself. You typically don’t have a lot of time to make a decision in the woods. If your goal is to put meat in the freezer, then by all means shoot the first deer you see. If you’re looking for a wall hanger, be prepared to let deer walk. It’s impossible to shoot a bruiser if your tag is hanging on a young deer. However, it is a good idea to practice on the deer you plan to pass up. Put your crosshairs on them and follow them through your field of vision. Pay attention to where they stop. Those are likely to be the same places your target deer will stop. Be sure to have a clear shot into those areas.
Eyes On The Prize
Being alert is key to successful deep woods hunting. You may not see deer for hours or even days, then suddenly they will appear like ghosts. If you’re not paying attention, there is a good possibility you will miss your chance. Reading or playing games on your phone is a great way to pass the time, but be sure to look up every five or ten seconds. In some stretches of woodland habitat deer may only be visible for 30 seconds or so. I’ll glance every ten seconds and take a long scan of my entire area every five or ten minutes. A lot of hunters don’t think binoculars are necessary in the thick woods. But I find them very helpful for picking out parts of deer that may be bedded near me. Whether it’s a flash of antler or flick of an ear or tail, binocs help. I like binoculars with a large objective lens for big woods hunting. The objective lens is the second number. For example in 10 x 50 binoculars, the “50” is the objective lens size. The bigger the number, the bigger the lens. A large lens size lets in more light and allows you to see detail easier. That’s a big help in the big woods.
Hunting in heavy forests is a lot of fun. Because of the hard to hunt habitat, deer often grow well into maturity. You never know if the sound of footsteps heading your way is a fawn, a doe, or a giant buck until they are within range.