Editor’s Note: Rocky Drake of Fayetteville, Tennessee, an avid deer hunter, has evolved throughout the different phases of deer hunting to become a master of the sport of bowhunting deer. He’ll tell us how to prepare for deer season before the season opens.
Trail cameras take a lot of the work out of scouting. A trail camera can show you the size of the deer on the property where you’ll be hunting. I generally put out four to six trail cameras on my hunting lands. In August, I put the cameras over salt licks and watering holes, because August in the South where I live is really hot, and those deer need that salt. I want to know what bucks are on the property, because I want to hunt the oldest bucks.
Each year, I’ll spot one or two bucks that I really want to hunt. I usually see more bucks than that, but I prefer to take only mature bucks. One season, I didn’t even shoot a buck. But the year before, I took two young bucks. You can’t always pick-out the buck you want to hunt, because when the rut starts, bucks will show-up on your trail cameras that you never may have seen earlier. Some years ago I took a wide-racked buck that I never got any pictures of on my trail camera; he just showed-up one afternoon, and I took him.
During the rut, I set-up my cameras in travel areas where I see a lot of deer activity coming into bottlenecks and pinch points. I’ll start spotting bucks that I don’t usually see on the property, once the rut begins. I don’t really like hunting the rut, because the bucks are so unpredictable. I like to hunt before and after the rut. When I’ve watched deer during the rut, and 10 or 15 does are out on the green field, the buck may come-out into that green field, pick-up a doe, cut her out of the herd and take her to a thick-cover area. Then I may not see that buck or doe again for 2 or 3 days. Or, a buck may be chasing a doe, and I can’t get him to stop long enough to take a shot at him. If you’re hunting with a rifle, the rut’s a great time to hunt. If you’re hunting with a bow, the rut’s a terrible time to hunt, in my opinion.
Once I decide on the buck I want to take, it’s hard to decide how to hunt him. About 2-years ago, I got a couple of photos of the biggest deer I’d ever seen on my property. I decided to try to hunt that buck, so I started hunting him in all the spots where I’d seen him on the trail camera. But he seemed to have vanished at the first of bow season. Then he showed-up again on my property, just as the rut started. Although I saw the deer several times, he’d either be chasing a doe or be out of bow range. This buck was such a nice-size buck that when I saw pictures of him on my trail camera, I made the decision that I wouldn’t shoot him, unless he was at 30 yards or less. One time I saw him at 35 yards, and another time I had him at 38. I hunted that buck the entire deer season, but I didn’t have a chance to take him until the last day of deer season. I finally closed the deal on that buck at 1:00 pm one day.
A buck like that can get under your skin. On the day I took this buck, I saw him out in a hayfield in the warmest part of the day. Because I knew he’d return to his bedding area, I circled-around in front of him, climbed beside a trail I knew he’d take and then waited for him to show-up. The secret to taking the buck was hunting him at a time of day I’d never hunted him before and from a stand I’d never hunted from previously.
To learn more about hunting deer, check out John E. Phillips’ book, available in Kindle and print versions, and soon to be available in Audible, “Whitetail Deer and the Hunters Who Take Big Bucks,” (http://amzn.to/2bYwYOK), or copy and paste this click into your browser.