Keys to putting yourself where they are
One of the biggest challenges to success, especially in large tracts of land and public hunting areas, is putting yourself where the bucks are (not just where they occasionally travel). I call these a buck sanctuaries - a place of shelter that bucks gravitate to. In my experience, this leads to the highest degree of success, even though it can be risky. Maybe it's a new piece of land to you, or a fresh area of public you’re exploring, but either way finding one of these is the best way to maximize your encounters and success. Many popular trends today center around targeting one buck. That can be a very challenging task (borderline impossible in many cases - especially public land) and honestly isn’t a high success tactic. On extensively managed private land, and rare cases on public, yes it is possible. However, the odds of most of us being able to accomplish this are very low (TV shows where hosts manage thousands of acres of pristine private land have aided in this false perception of whitetail hunting, and even they have a list of bucks they will take and usually do not hunt just one). A much higher odds tactic I’ve found is identifying the core area where these bucks live - a buck sanctuary - and putting yourself in a position to take advantage of any mature buck that is using it. Many times there is more than one if you find the right spot. So here’s the list of what I look for to find a buck sanctuary.
Note: A sanctuary does not need all of these characteristics, but the more they have the better chance they will be a great sanctuary for bucks.
Characteristic #1: The Right Size. For a sanctuary to potentially hold multiple bucks, and therefore increase the odds of you running into one you want to take, you need to find a big enough area that can hold them, but not so big that it becomes difficult to hunt. One buck can bed or live in a wide variety of small out of the way places, but we’re not looking for a low-odds location of hunting one buck. We want an area that can hold multiple bucks, or that multiple bucks use extensively throughout the hunting season. Actually, a buck sanctuary will get better as hunting season goes by many times due to hunting pressure in exterior areas. In my experience the best size pieces to look for that fit this criteria are between 5 and 15 acres, with 20 acres being a max. Again, too small and it cannot hold more than one buck, and your odds go down due to your pressure making more of an impact. Too high, and managing your hunt in this area becomes hard as your options get spread thin. If you find a spot that is bigger than this, look for an oasis within the sanctuary that is much smaller that you can focus on (more on this in my next article).
Characteristic #2: Hard to Access. Much has been touted about “hard to access” areas, to the point it sounds a bit cliche. However, cliches become what they are for a reason: they are often times true. Finding a spot that is the right size (#1), and very hard to access for hunters increases your chances that it could be a buck sanctuary. These could be deep on public land, or an overlooked spot right by the road. They could change from year to year as well due to other factors (including local crops, and hunters shifting in and out of areas). However, the harder to access they are, the better chance they will not have human intrusion which is what you are looking for. If you scout an area, and see signs of human intrusion, move on. This will not be a sanctuary worth your time. Look for barriers like water, super thick “unhuntable” cover, or areas that don’t have good trees for treestands as most people don’t want to bowhunt on the ground. If you find it hard to get there, and it’s a lot of hard work, this is an indication it is hard to access and worth considering.
Characteristic #3: Impenetrable Cover. Next, is the cover so think it is
hard for a human to penetrate it? This is key #3, as bucks will feel very comfortable being where you can’t go. If you can see more than 10 yards into it, then it’s probably not thick enough. Having a good visual barrier is key, and will also work to your advantage. If you cannot see them, then they cannot see you. This allows you to access the sanctuary unseen and only left to worry about your scent and sound. Thick brush, cattails, weeds/grass, and early stage clearcut type undergrowth can create such cover. Again, if your natural human reaction is to avoid it, that should be telling the hunter in you not to.
Characteristic #4: Escape Routes. Bucks always want escape routes and will bed accordingly. These can be difficult to find, but can be a piece of the puzzle to helping you discover a buck sanctuary. Ditches, creeks, or other small bodies of water a buck can easily swim are favorite places to bed. With these at their back, they can easily and quickly cross these barriers which they know will stop your pursuit. Other escape routes might be hard to identify, but will involve something that will keep you from being able to follow their escape. Some include extremely thick hedge-like cover, tangles of vine, and walls of downed brush or timber.
Characteristic #5: Near a Food Source. Some of the best sanctuaries I’ve found include the above, and are also very close to a high quality food source that is largely undisturbed. Agricultural fields top the list, but don’t overlook stands of white oak just off or even within a sanctuary. These food sources provide easy access for bucks not only to food, but also the does that frequent them. When the rut hits does will attract bucks, and your sanctuary will explode with activity. This compounds the beauty of a sanctuary with a good food source nearby.
Characteristic #6: Concealed Travel Corridors. As bucks move toward the food source at night, and back from it in the morning, they need sufficient cover to feel safe enough to move during daylight (when you can ambush him). The whole sanctuary area you’ve identified might not be thick enough for this, so look for corridors of thicker brush, low areas, or a combination of things like this a buck could follow to and from his bedding location. The more of these above factors you can identify in one area, the more likely this could be a buck sanctuary and a great place to hunt.
Next time we’ll talk about the setup, and finding a the final key to success - a sanctuary within a sanctuary, or buck oases.
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