I’ve killed exactly two does and one whitetail buck with my bow. I’ve killed a few more with rifle and shotgun, but honestly, I’m still a novice. And I love it! It’s the process of becoming better and learning that is so enjoyable to me. So, don’t take this article as advice from a pro-whitetail dude. It’s just what struck me as interesting and worthwhile to write about.
When you read this, a lot of you will say, ” Of course, I already know all that.” And I did too, kind of. See, at my level of experience, a lot of the deer activity I’ve witnessed hasn’t repeated itself often enough that I’ve pinned it down as a recurring action. There’s no substitute for spending time hunting.
You can read every article and listen to every podcast, but until you personally see a deer do said action or you have a deer encounter after a move you make, these things won’t stick in your head. Below are the things I noticed or did that are now burned in my memory.
The property I hunt in Wisconsin is hilly, so I hunt a lot of spots where three or four ridgetops come together, forming a pinch or funnel. I spent my first 4.5 days in the same one. I know, I may have overhunted it, but the action was good until the last day. What those nearly 50 hours watching the same zone did afford me was noticing patterns in the deer movement through it.
Out of the twenty deer I saw in that time, only one forker buck actually walked the top of the ridge where the main topographical intersection is. Every other deer, buck or doe, would take a trail 20 to 40 yards off of the top of the ridge as they moved parallel to the top. And once their path came to the main intersection they would always cut the corner, again, off of the top, versus walking the main ridge top. In addition to this, nearly all of the deer would walk on the downwind side of the ridge.
At these ridgetop junctions I was hunting, there’s a trail that parallels every ridge on both sides of the ridge. I was set up on the downwind side of the pinches, but not so far that I couldn’t shoot to the upwind side. Guess what? The deer like to travel the downwind side of the ridge, so I often had deer traveling the same side of the ridge that I was on, but they would be lower down the hill and consequently, downwind. Luckily for me, this terrain is steep, and a deer twenty yards below me on the hill could be as many as 50 feet below me in elevation.
Most days I hunted up there, I had at least a 5-mile-an-hour wind, and often it was in excess of 10 mph. As evidenced by the many deer that traveled below me, this was plenty of wind to blow my scent right over the top of them. Sidenote: I drink plenty of water and coffee on stand and thus pee a lot. Several times I had deer downwind, within 20 yards of fresh—less than an hour old—urine, with no negative effects. Some deer would lift their nose, signifying they caught the smell but would just return to doing whatever it was they were doing moments later.
The property I hunt is big woods. We have zero agriculture on it. One neighbor has about 40 acres of soybeans and corn, but that is it. So, finding edges can be difficult. But, in recent years we’ve cut a lot of timber, and so have some of the neighbors. These cuts, where they abut the mature forest, make for great edge.
I noticed this first as I was hunting my beloved oak flat, a four-acre flat bench, littered with old white oaks, with a giant community scrape right in the middle. During the two days I sat there, nearly every buck that passed through the oak flat traveled the edge of the oak flat that borders a neighbor’s 6-year-old clearcut. That got me to hunt the edge near the other neighbor’s standing corn, and between two nights at that location, I saw three does, a small buck, and the 10-pointer I shot at.
My plan, in the beginning, was to volume hunt my ridgetop intersection funnels. This meant all-day sits, but after four of those, I definitely knew that the afternoons were producing less activity than the mornings. That got me to start hunting the evenings in the bottoms, and the move produced me getting a shot and a few days later laying eyes on the biggest buck I’ve ever seen on the hoof.
Hunting the bottoms of the property put me closer to the cut soybean and standing corn field. From there I could observe that the deer were still feeding on the soybeans and they were coming and going from the corn. It was mostly does but I was hunting the rut, so it was only a matter of time until the bucks rolled through.
What the weather app says the wind is doing and what it actually is doing can be two different things, especially in hill country. This year I made notes of every wind condition and how it was compared to the forecasted wind condition. If I encounter those same forecasted weather conditions next year, I’ll at least know what the wind is actually doing in some of my stand locations.
I place trail cameras where I think a lot of deer will move by them. I also hunt in those same places for the same reason. While hunting within bowshot of several cameras, I saw deer after deer pass within just a few yards of these cameras and never get their picture taken.
One day on a ridge junction, I watched three does and two bucks all pass within bowrange of my camera but never step right in front of it. Just before daylight, a buck pushed a doe right in front of it. But I’m guessing that because of their speed, the camera missed them. Another day, while sitting in the oak flat, I saw 12 deer total. Only one doe got her photo taken!
This is all to say that cameras give me an idea of the deer around and maybe even an idea of the general direction of travel at certain times, but they are far from giving me enough information to base hunting decisions on.
I had at least ten easy shots on does during my ten days of hunting. I passed on all of them. Why? I really don’t know. But a couple of thoughts come to mind. I feel like it’s going to spoil the rest of my sit. But that’s not true. I can wait until the hunt is over to gut her and drag her out. And a fresh doe laying on the ground can only help; she’s putting fresh doe scent into the world the entire time.
Another reason might have been that there’s a nagging suspicion that a doe is not good enough for TV. That’s stupid. Like I said earlier, I’ve only shot a handful of deer with my bow. I want to be a better bowhunter. I need to practice shooting deer. I can shoot four does with the allotted tags. My experience as a novice bowhunter is what I’m trying to capture on film, so why not show the practice? Maybe if I had shot a doe on day two, I would’ve had the cool on day six to execute the shot on my buck.
I did everything right to give myself an opportunity, but I did not do enough to execute a good shot. It would have only been my second buck, and fourth deer total, with a bow. My nerves got the best of me, and instead of adjusting to the broadside position the deer was in, I shot him for the quartering-to position he had been in only seconds earlier. Had I taken just a little more time, maybe I would have noticed the new angle and adjusted my shot placement.
After I hit my buck and had exhausted the human-powered search, I called in a deer-recovery service that uses scent hounds. They had no luck. The footage of my deer after the shot gave me the idea that it was a lethal shot. (He had staggered and flicked his tail for two minutes and then bedded down.) So the next day I hired a thermal drone service to come help me find my buck.
Within half an hour, we knew just about where every deer was within 400 acres. Ninety minutes later, we knew of every deer in dang near a square mile. While it was still daylight, the operator could find the deer using thermal imaging but then switch over to the regular camera, punch in, and tell me if it was a doe or buck. Had I asked, I’m sure he could’ve told me how big of a buck. All of this happened from an altitude of 400 feet, which, as far as I could tell, was not impacting the deer. It is an amazing technology, and I believe it is a great tool for finding a dead or wounded deer, but it could be very easily used to cheat what we know as ethical fair chase hunting.