strategically target a buck at his most shootable moment.
His guard is down, and your chances are up at one exact moment: when he beds. If you can be there at this exact time, the odds of taking him drastically increase. However, this is easier said than done. Knowing when is one thing, figuring out where and how to get there, that’s another thing altogether. So get out the bedtime story and a glass of warm milk, let’s look at essential factors to tuck in a buck and how you can successfully use this fill your freezer and puck a rack on the wall.
Factor #1: Hunt in the morning - Through my 27 years hunting I’ve heard a lot of things about when and where you should hunt, one being that you should avoid hunting in the morning. Why? Well many approaches to wood lots in the Midwest require you going through a food source (i.e. field, etc.), thus spooking the deer you’re trying to hunt. Very counterproductive. However, over the last few years I’ve become more fond of morning hunts than ever, and actually favor them over evening hunts. I’ve put some pieces together that have helped me avoid the above hunting folly, and have experienced much more success hunting mornings as a result. In short, I’ve figured out how you can tuck in a buck as he returns from his nighttime wanderings. This is especially true early on (the first few days of hunting season) or during pre-rut as bucks are getting more active, are apt to get more careless, but aren’t as random as there are during the full out rut. None of this is displayed better than a successful 2018 hunt of mine on a buck we’ll call “the Big 9.”
Factor #2: Know where he plays at night - most likely there is a nearby food source, such as an ag field, or white oak stand where most deer will head at night. Identifying this is key so you know where he is most likely coming from as he goes back to bed. This is easy to scout mid day by looking for fresh big tracks and fresh scrapes along field edges or in open timber with little likelihood of spooking any deer. If you’re not totally sure, think about the most likely destination for deer. This usually centers around food, or finding does (which will usually be around food).
The Big 9: While scouting in mid October on some public Michigan ground my father and I noticed some of the hottest sign we have ever seen. A long active scrapline followed a swamp edge from a nearby corn field, and the immediate area was also scattered with huge fresh rubs and tracks. It was apparent that several bucks, and at least one large buck, were highly active in the area and using this swamp edge as a travel corridor from the corn field (A.K.A. where he was playing at night) to their daytime bedding area.
Factor #3: Know where he is headed to bed - Where does the sign point? What is the thickest area around? These are big indicators of where he is bedding that will help you determine his destination. The more you can hone in the better as this will get you in the ballpark of where you can shoot him. However, be cautious as you don’t want to blow him out and ruin the whole setup with scouting that is too intrusive.
The Big 9: It was fairly obvious that several bucks were using the thick swampy area east of the field as their lair. Heavy trails went into the area, and the rest of the woods surrounding it did not offer enough cover for deer to bed. Further, we concluded any buck would bed at least 200 yards from the field since the scrapeline continued that far. This gave a narrow region to possibly ambush a buck.
Factor #4: Know the wind he will head there. Another thing to consider is what wind direction a buck will bed in that particular location. Bucks do not necessarily use the same beds all the time, want to have the wind in their favor when they approach a bed, as well as while bedded. So, try to figure out which wind is in his best favor to get to this bedding location - this is when you should try to hunt it. Since he will most often curl downwind of his favored bedding location before he enters it, knowing this can help you setup in the right location to catch him while still remaining downwind of his approach.
The Big 9: A prevailing southwest wind made a great scenario to catch a buck as he approached the west to east running swamp edge. Sign, and common sense told me this wind would allow me to setup somewhere just south of the swamp edge and hopefully his exact route.
Factor #5: Know his most likely travel route - Putting the pieces together now becomes the main objective. If there are numerous trails into the bedding area, you’ve got to pick the right spot, the exact trail he will choose to enter his core bedding area. How do you know? Obviously fresh tracks, rubs, or fresh scrapes will help you in this choice. However, sometimes there are several options to choose from, and if you choose poorly you may miss your opportunity.
The Big 9: Over twenty fresh scrapes led in a straight line along the edge of the swamp from the field edge. This was a no-brainer situation that told me somewhere along this line would be the perfect setup and a buck’s usual path of choice.
Factor #6: Find a gate, or super funnel - When there are multiple trails or ambush points, sometimes you may need to push a bit further back into cover to find a point where all these trails come together. The goal is to find one tree, that covers all or as many possible entrance trails. A “gate” or “super funnel” I call this is a location where terrain, impassible brush, or other features strongly steer deer through one tight location. Almost like a doorway to their bedding cover. I’ve found several of these over the years, and once you find one you’ll learn what to look for. Do your best to find one of these and be on the downwind edge. Even if there is not a perfect tree, find something and make it work. It is far better to be in an OK tree where you can cover everything, than a treestand friendly tree that allows a buck to travel outside of your range.
The Big 9: Some thick cover to the south, the edge of the swamp, the heavy scrapeline, and two intersecting trails all came together in one triangle making one spot obvious to set up in. This was about as close to a super funnel as they come, and would nicely steer deer within 12-15 yards of a nice oak tree I found that had good cover.
Factor #7: Have backdoor access - A backdoor, or side access route is essential if you are going to pull off tucking in a buck. You can’t just take any route, or the easiest route through an open field or you risk booting him before you even have a chance. Be willing to walk extra distance, sweat a little more, and search for this access route that safely gets you in and out. It should be downwind of where he is coming from and going. Ideally, it is perpendicular to the path he is taking, so the only time you are near his route is when you get to your stand location.
The Big 9: A long walk through timber that led to the ambush point allowed me to access the stand undetected with a south or southwest wind. It kept me as far as possible away from his nighttime play area, and put me in a perfect position to slip in without crossing his route and allowing any scent contamination. I was in well before light when I silently slipped in on October 20th.
Factor #8: Have the right day - All the pieces might be in place, but if you don’t have the right day you won’t catch him. This can be a bit of luck as he may not use this bed every day, but hunting the hot spot super funnel you’ve found on the first day wind allows is the best chance you’ll probably have. Also, the first time you hunt a stand is always your highest odds hunt due to the least contamination or pressure, so don’t push it and blow your chances on a day with questionable wind direction. If you have to set a stand separate of hunting, try to pick a day with rain or high winds to disguise your presence.
The Big 9: Conditions were perfect for my hunt. The night prior I set my stand at the super funnel scrapeline when winds were high and from the perfect southwest direction. There was really no way for anything nearby to see, scent, or hear me. Also, with the winds being so high I figured it would calm overnight (which it did), and that bucks would be antsy to get back out and cruise once the winds died. This perfect combination led to a Big 9 trotting past my stand 15 minutes after daylight, a quick grunt to stop him, and a lethal 12 yard shot that had him tipping over 35 yards later. It all came together perfectly as I “tucked in a buck” returning to his bedroom (WATCH FOOTAGE OF THIS HUNT: CLICK HERE!)
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