Sunday, July 26, 2015

Deer Hunting: Build a Strategy For Success

Like most hunters, I make sure I am very well prepared for Deer season. I have trail cameras placed, stands hung, other spots scouted and I practice religiously with my bow. What I feel I do different than most hunters, is put a very strict strategy together that will dictate what stands I hunt and when I hunt them. It’s almost like an offensive coordinators play calling sheet. They have certain plays for certain situations in the game because they know those plays are more likely to work. Here is an example of my season strategy.
October 1st (Michigan Bow Opener)-October 7th
                  During the first week of October I put myself on food sources like food plots or wild fruits. I find that a lot of deer have yet to be restricted to crops or acorns because most of the forage is still green and wild fruit is still dropping. This is a great opportunity to knock down a doe for freezer meat or get a shot at a buck that is still coming off his summer routine.
                         October 8th-October 20th (The Lull)
Nocturnal Buck checking a scrape
made during the false rut.
                 This time of season, some hunters refer to as the lull, can be very confusing and demoralizing. You can set almost every day without seeing a buck. Not to say they are not around, but bucks tend to stick to a nocturnal regiment during this time. If I’m not trying to fill a doe tag, which this time of the season is great for, I like to hunt just outside of a bucks bedding area. I look for clumps of rubs that indicate a buck may be close by and using the area. I will pick a tree that puts the wind in my favor and I will usually only hunt those spots in the morning. If lucky, you can catch a buck slipping back into his bedding area after feeding all night.
October 21st-October 30th (False Rut)
                As if the woods was completely rid of bucks all together, one day the woods comes to life with rubs and scrapes everywhere, almost as if appearing overnight. By this time, some of the mature does will have come into an early estrus. The number of mature does you have in your area will affect how aggressive this early rut is. If you land right in this early rut or even miss it by a day or two, I suggest using an estrus urine drag just outside of a bucks bedding area or setup on a does travel route to a food source. You could strike the attention of bucks trying to capitalize on this early estrus cycle, which usually lasts no more than 48 hours.
                Once the mature does have passed through their first estrus cycle, bucks will start to get amped up for the main rut. Scrapes will be made almost daily and rubs will begin to pop up everywhere. This is a great time to use social calls like grunts and territorial scents like buck urine. Because I know most does will not come into heat again until the main rut, I post myself on rub lines leading in and out of known bedding areas as bucks begin to move more frequently during daylight hours.
October 31st (Holloween)-November 6th (Seeking)
                Halloween is probably my favorite day to hunt as for me it marks the start of the rut and I know the most chaotic days are just around the corner. My favorite setup for Halloween would be a funnel usually on a marsh. Bucks will use these pinch points as they travel to seek does. Although no does will come into estrus for about ten days, bucks will be on their feet moving and looking.

                I also like to hunt the outer edges of a food sources where bucks will routinely try to cut the track of a receptive doe as she goes to eat. Acorn ridges usually offer a great vantage point to call from when a buck appears at a distance. Once you see a buck roaming, it’s wise to let out a couple soft grunts or even a rattle sequence. Bucks are very territorial during this phase and will come to almost anything that mimics a receptive doe or a challenging buck.
                                                                                                                November 7th-14th (Chasing)
Buck moving during mid day (2:47 pm)
              The chasing phase is what some people consider the peak rut because this is when the deer woods erupt. Bucks are unpredictable and sometimes abandon their home range to seek receptive does. During this chaotic phase, I like to be on an oak ridge where does are known to feed. During this time bucks are typically reluctant to eat as the only thing they have on their mind is breeding.

Another great tactic I use for this phase is posting up right outside of a known bedding area used by does. You can guarantee bucks already know the does are there and they will frequent these areas as they wait for the does to come into estrus.
November 15th-20th (Tending/Breeding)
             This is about the time does come into estrus and begin to let bucks breed them. Often times, bucks will stick with a doe for up to 36 hours before she comes into heat. He may breed her multiple times before seeking another receptive doe.

During this phase, I target the does and then shoot the buck. Food sources are great areas. Even with the chaos, a doe will still feed. A tending buck will drop his guard to protect and tend a doe. This is a great time to capitalize on a nice buck that may have evaded you all season.
                           November 21st-30th (Post Rut)
Author with a Big Woods buck harvested
during the Michigan Rifle season
                About the time most does have been bread, bucks will begin to seek other does that may be receptive. You may see scrapes open back up from bucks checking to see if any does have visited them. This is also the time where bucks will begin to replenish the weight they had lost during the Rut.
              During this phase I like to continue hunting over food sources or just outside bedding areas. As bucks eat to replenish their strength they will mildly continue to checks bedding and feeding areas for any does that may still be receptive.
December 1st-End of season
             The later part of the season for me consists of freezing my butt off and hunting over food sources. Although there is a mild rut due to some does not being bread in the first rut, deer are heavily concentrated on preparing for the winter. They must put on a substantial amount of body weight that will get them through the winter.

Acorn ridges are great if the snow is not too overbearing. Deer will feed on acorns until either there are no more or they can’t get to them. Ground blinds in thick cedar swamps are ideal when snow is too heavy for deer to dig for acorns. It gives deer shelter and usually some food. Thick logging cuts where the tops of trees are left exposed are great areas to get high and hunt travel routes leading into the cuts.
              Although some of these dates overlap and vary in some instances, this is my general guideline that I stick to in order to stay on top of the ever changing deer season. It’s very important to plan ahead rather than hunt the same stand or blind from season start to end. There are ways to be successful every day of the season. Being prepared and having a game plan tailored to the changing phases has helped me and will help you be successful.