The sun was setting in the western sky when I decided to climb down from my treestand and call it a season. I had spent 70 hours perched in various stands over the past 15 days, but for the past hour I found it difficult to focus my thoughts. My fingers gently caressed the crossbow that was in my lap, but my attention was on the large 11-point buck that was lying 20 yards to my left. Only the small, crimson-colored spot behind its shoulder revealed the method of his demise. As I approached the animal, I was overcome with the emotions that only another hunter can truly understand. The sun was setting on another successful season, but Lord willing, tomorrow would be another day and the glorious journey would begin again.
Pursuing whitetails is an all-year obsession for me. Admittedly big bucks are never far from my mind. Regardless of last season’s outcome, now is the time to begin the “next season.” As odd as it may sound, this is your best chance to kill next season’s buck. This incredibly important period between the season’s end and spring “green up” will reveal many mysteries of the deer woods. Once the season is over, concerns about bumping deer from their sanctuaries is a non-issue. Being able to stand beside a buck’s actual bed and figure out why it chose that particular location is valuable information for next year. You can learn more from these experiences than you can from a thousand trail camera photos. But that doesn’t mean you should pack away your cameras, though. I recommend keeping them out year-round. Any information, regardless of the time of the year it was gathered, is good information. Also, trail cameras are a great way to keep tabs on which deer are still carrying their antlers and which are not when you begin your hunt for sheds.
“The successful bowhunter knows what the deer will do before they actually do it.”
Probably the greatest misunderstanding among deer hunters surrounds the idea of patterning deer. This is rarely possible when dealing with bucks—at least to the point where you can set your watch by their movements. You will be much better served if you concentrate your efforts on patterning buck behaviors and tendencies within your hunting area. These will often remain consistent from season to season. This will give you the vision to interpret the big picture and allow you to foresee any changes before they transpire. In my experience, the behavior I witness in one season will happen again in the next. If you observe deer moving at a particular time of the day, during a particular time of the season, you can bet that when those same conditions occur the following season, they’ll do it again. It may take an entire hunting season to pinpoint the best possible stand location, but the dividends will be worth the wait.
It will do you little good to chase the “hot” sign around your hunting area once the season begins. Events and food sources change daily. Once the fever pitch of the prerut arrives, bucks are in perpetual motion. Trying to decipher their movement patterns at this time is futile. No matter what, you’ll always be one step behind them and wasting valuable time moving your stands instead of actually hunting from them. The successful bowhunter knows what the deer will do before they actually do it. Information obtained from the previous year’s postseason scouting will enable you to make educated decisions on stand placement and when to hunt them. Finding rubs, scrapes, trails, and sheds along with actual deer sightings will allow the committed archer to form a successful game plan long before the next season opens. Documenting every detail will also increase your chances of success.
Using minerals and supplemental feeding is another investment you can make during the spring months that can pay big dividends the following year. They both can increase the health of the local deer herd and have a positive impact on survival. The benefit will be larger racks next fall. Both tactics can be effective at concentrating deer so that you can get better trail camera photos as well, while at the same time helping to “unlock” the genetic potential of your deer herd, well before new antlers even start to develop. Imagine you have a gas tank with the needle resting on empty. That’s symbolic of where a whitetail’s health is coming out of the winter months. Minerals and supplemental feeding can provide that extra boost to push that needle upward at a quicker rate, whereas, without them, it might take longer for a deer to fill its tank, so to speak. After all, antler development takes place only after a buck’s physical requirements are met; after the gas tank is full. Minerals and supplemental feeding increase the amount of overflow that goes toward fueling antler growth. There really should be no off season if you’re serious about pursuing whitetails with archery equipment. Regardless of your finances and available spare time, there are opportunities that can be pursued in the deer woods 365 days a year that can directly affect your success the following season.
The big 11-point that fell to my arrow at the beginning of this article is a great example of postseason scouting used in conjunction with in-season observation. I had discovered several large rubs during one of my postseasons scouting forays. After several weeks of meticulously combing the area for the best possible stand sites, I decided on a tight funnel 100 yards from the location of the rubs. The funnel was only 30 yards wide with a pond on one side and a fenced cow pasture on the other. A well-worn deer trail ran directly through its middle. The discovery of a right side shed that carried six long tines (within 50 yards of the funnel) was the clincher for me.
I hung a stand in early May and didn’t return until the first week of November. I realized that the stand should be hunted only with a west or southwest wind. I was able to hunt the funnel stand four times during the first part of November. I saw twelve different bucks and twentytwo doe from the stand. I never did kill a deer there, but what I learned was priceless. On both days that there was a due west wind, I saw a different trophy-caliber buck approach the funnel and then skirt the pond edge to avoid traversing the tight area. Lesser bucks and does had no problem walking through the funnel, but the big boys would have none of it. I ended up tagging out in a completely different area a few days later; but as soon as I had my buck at the taxidermist, I was back at the funnel moving the stand to cover the pond edge.
It wouldn’t be until November of the following year that I’d visit this particular stand again. It was my fifteenth consecutive day of hunting, but it was the first time that I had the west wind I needed to hunt this stand. I had been in the stand for over eight hours when the big 11-point appeared on the scene. He cautiously made his way toward the funnel and then abruptly turned toward the pond. It was the last move he ever made. There are no short cuts to becoming a successful archery hunter. Don’t wait until the season is upon you to pick up your bow and hit the woods. Now is the best time to prepare for the “next season.” Had it not been for postseason scouting in conjunction with the on-stand observations, I never would have settled on that exact stand location. And although it took me a season to put it all together, the process was expedited by the off-season legwork. Long seasons, trail cameras, and a better grasp of whitetail management have done a great job of keeping hunters in the game for longer periods of time. Spring is no longer considered the off season. Start gearing up now to put the odds in your favor next year. These are the glory days of bowhunting, and you don’t want to miss a single moment.
By Todd Bromley