Finding a Buck Oasis
Keys to finding his bedroom
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). Our last blog I talked about these places I call “buck sanctuaries” and defined them as - a place of shelter that bucks gravitate to. In my experience hunting these leads to the highest degree of success, as you’re not targeting just one buck, but potentially many bucks using this one concentrated area (To get caught up for this article read about it HERE). Now we’re going to take it a step further, and look at strategies for this as well as finding and hunting the highest odds locations - the inner sanctum, the bedroom, or the sanctuary within a sanctuary I call buck oases. Many times I found that there are small spots of particular interest to bucks that can be further honed in and capitalized on, as all places in the sanctuary are not necessarily created equal.
FINDING THEM: First, we are assuming you’ve identified a buck sanctuary as defined above. Once you have, these steps will help you identify (starting from known sanctuaries) buck hotspots or higher success areas within the sanctuary.
1. Out of Season - scouting for an oasis or oases within a sanctuary should be done after season (if you must be intrusive by walking into it), or from a distance based on intel. If invading, winter and spring are the best times to enter the sanctuaries further looking for signs of a buck sanctum. Invade is a key word since you are busting into an area that you should not be and leaving telltale human scent and noise. Think of it as a burglar entering your room at home and how you would feel knowing this. Violated is a good word, and bucks are super sensitive to these sort of violations and do not tolerate them. If you happen to do this during the season, it’s game over, but doing it out of season allows for time for them to forget and feel comfortable using that area again in the fall when you return to hunt.
2. Pockets & Islands - usually an oasis is not on the edge of sanctuary but is in a very secluded part of it. If a person can walk the edge of your sanctuary, it stands to reason a wary buck will not likely bed there. Using topos or visually on the ground, look for terrain features that stand out. These could be stands of thick brush within a larger area of weeds, blow down trees, or other thick island features or pockets that seem thicker than the rest of the sanctuary.
3. Trails - one way to identify an oasis within a sanctuary is by simply finding an area multiple trails seem to lead to. Walking the perimeter of your sanctuary and following trails into it will help you pinpoint the one or more oasis within - the true destination. Usually there is an extra thick island or area of brush, or trees, or some contrasting element that these lead toward. Usually this is the bedding location of choice you are finding.
4. Beds & Rubs - Once you have located this oasis of terrain where trails lead, look for beds and rubs in close vicinity. You many times can find exact buck beds that are matted down, have scat in them, and many times are bare dirt due to heavy use. Also, a key tipoff is the presence of rubs within a few yards of this bed(s), although these are not always present. These areas often are a bit higher than the terrain around them (even if only a foot or two), giving the buck a dry place and visual advantage.
1. Starting Safe - if unsure how bucks are using your sanctuary, consider hunting the edge of it. This has to be tempered with your area, the time of year, and outside pressure. If it’s only you hunting it, you can play it safe and be less aggressive, especially in early season when there is no reason for the buck to relocate. However, if it’s pressured land, or getting close to the rut you may want to push it more knowing he could move any day and be off somewhere else chasing does or pushed elsewhere by intruding hunters. The goal is to get as close as possible so you can see him in daylight where he is comfortable moving. Use extreme caution and remember you will only get so many chances to invade and hunt the oasis. If you start on edge and see good daylight action, there may be no need to go further in. If not, then move closer to the identified oasis location within the sanctuary as conditions allow.
2. Mapping Routes - entry and exit routes are key to hunting within a sanctuary and invading an oasis. Even if you are doing a kamikaze - one time mission, you still have to get in without alerting deer. This takes mapping out routes to and from your chosen hunting location. Ideally this should be done in winter or spring, when your intrusion is least invasive. If you are doing this during season, utilize maps to help you find the least intrusive routes, which may not be the shortes or easiest. Consider wind, line of sight, and terrain features when trying to find your best entry and exit (example - a dry creek bed or ditch could help you gain access without being seen or heard). Also, realize these may not be the same route, and getting setup very early (at least an hour or maybe 2 before light) and leaving late (30 min - 1 hr after dark) are key in these areas to not spook the deer you are after. In sanctuary and oasis hunting, it is important to realize that a mature buck in particular will leave his bed late, and get to it early. So you must out-wait and outwit him so to not spook him and ruin your future chances. Another strategy I try to use is entering/exiting at a 90 degree angle to the wind and oasis access. This allows me to keep the area I disturb due to scent and sound to a minimum.
3. Theorize His Entry & Exit - another key point is to try to figure where the buck using the oasis is coming and going, or his routes. If your routes are great, but you run into him or are leaving scent for him to detect, then you kill your chances. Is he coming and going to a food source? Which one? What’s the most sheltered route for him to get there and back? Are there trails and rubs that give you clues on this? These things should all be considered when mapping your entry and exits as well.
4. Timing - not all locations are huntable in both the morning and evening. Some lend themselves better to one or the other, and this needs to be paid attention to for effectively hunting an oasis. It’s generally easier to access in the daylight for an evening hunt, but harder getting out in the dark. What works best for a least intrusive hunt? Does your route or ending location bring you close to a food destination, which could cause you to bust deer in the process (i.e. entering through a crop field in the morning would bust deer, but be fine in the evening before deer entered it, while exiting through the bedding area after dark works due to deer hopefully having exited it, but leaving through the field would bust deer). Realize this, you are trying to time their routes and movements with yours. Just a few minutes could mean running into them vs. not. Another aspect is timing the right weather conditions and time of year to hunt your oasis. If you are seeing hot sign you should hunt immediately when the next conditions allow and strike when the iron is hot. Many times I’ve experienced hunting a location with hot sign just a day or two too late, and totally miss the show. However, this must be tempered with being too gung-ho if waiting until late October, for example, would be a better odds hunt. Since you are hunting right on top of the deer when oasis hunting, you only get one or two chances, so make them count!
Next time we will look at 1 habit top-level hunters form that drastically improves their hunting skills and success, and will yours too.
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