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All-terrain bucks: hunt land features, and you'll find yourself in the best deer sign.

My "growing-up" process as a whitetail hunter has been a tough-row-to-hoe. Not having come from a deer hunting family. I didn't really have a mentor to show me the ropes. As a teenager in the early '70s, I became fascinated with the "new-fangled" compound bows that had only recently hit the market.

My high school principal had purchased a six-wheeled Allen compound and when he brought it to school to let everyone in his science class see and shoot it. I was hooked. Working at a gas station in the summer after my ninth grade year, I saved up enough money to buy a Jennings compound bow and accessories. After shooting my new gear throughout the summer, the cool winds of autumn began to usher in the opening of bow season. It was only natural that I'd become interested in taking my bow-shooting efforts to a higher level. Enter my initiation into bowhunting 101.

Having no one to teach me woodsman-ship skills or deer hunting tactics, my early efforts in the deer woods were a real circus. As I reflect back on those days. I realize that I probably came closer to killing myself than a deer. The only information I had gleaned about deer hunting had come from the reading of an occasional magazine article, or from word-of-mouth conversations with a few of the old local "wood rats." It seemed that finding and hunting over deer "sign" was the key to success. So this is what I did for many years.

I did not kill a deer with my bow until my fourth season of hunting if you could call it that. For these first few years, I probably spent more time hunting for rubs and scrapes than for deer themselves. I plainly remember that the discovery of a scrape could seriously elevate my blood pressure and adrenaline level. After all, these magical spots were the work of one of the most mystical and elusive creatures in my narrow deer hunting world--a whitetail buck.

As I slowly grew as an outdoorsman, I began to gather knowledge that went beyond the basics. Everything began to come together to form the "big picture" about the way deer lived and moved in relation to their surroundings. Even though my experience was starting to steer me toward a much more rounded approach to deer hunting, I was so ingrained with the basic rules that I couldn't bring myself to change my approach.

For years, I continued to stumble along in the "old ways"-hunting for and over rubs and scrapes. I occasionally had my day in the sun, but you know what they say about that, "even a blind sow finds an acorn once in awhile." However, I knew deep inside that there was a lot more to it than the simple, and fairly unproductive approach that I was utilizing. It was at age 20 when I was blessed with an act of good fortune that would change my bowhunting life forever. I had acquired hunting access to a utopian piece of property and it was there that my real apprenticeship in the deer woods began.

Getting Hard-Core

When I acquired access to that magical property, I knew that I had to take full advantage of such a golden opportunity. This lightly hunted 2,000 acres of prime habitat was literally crawling with deer, and it was a well-known fact that the property supported a fair number of large-antlered bucks. Having taken only one branch-antlered buck at this point in my hunting career, I was hungry for more. The problem was that I knew that I wasn't equipped with the woods savvy to fully reap the rewards that were right in my hands. I was determined to change this fact.


During the first year that I bowhunted the property I went wild. Due to my job as a construction worker, I was able to take a leave from work, so I hunted nearly seven-days a week for the entire bow season--October through December. To say that this experience changed me as an outdoorsman and archery hunter would be an understatement. To put it plainly, having basically lived with a healthy deer herd in a healthy habitat for an entire Autumn, I'd come a long ways toward putting together the pieces of a previously confusing puzzle. Also, it was during that first year on the property that I bow-killed my first record-class buck. This only served to further fuel the fire inside me that was already burning out of control.

Effective Transitions

The property that I was hunting had a rich mixture of diverse habitat. Though there were no agricultural crops for the deer to utilize, the natural habitat was rich and productive. From fertile bottomland to wooded uplands, the topography and vegetation varied greatly.


As I became a student of the deer and their habitat, I began to get a real feel for how the terrain and vegetation dictated the movement patterns of the deer. Where they fed, bedded, traveled and rutted revolved around two main factors--the "lay of the land" and the "changing of the seasons." The terrain factor remained constant, while the weather was an extreme variable. However, both factors were interrelated because of how and where the deer would move on any day.

Since I could depend on the terrain to remain constant, I decided to focus the brunt of my learning efforts in the other direction. After all, I'd already developed a strong realization of the fact that all the deer sign that I'd been taught to focus on was placed where it was because of the terrain. In other words; rubs, scrapes and trails were where they were because of the lay of the land, not in spite of it. When I put this in perspective with the fact that the widely varied vegetation of the area (which also affected deer movement) grew where it did because of the terrain, I got an even greater appreciation for the importance of the lay of the land. Finally, when I started to put all this into perspective with the vegetative changes that occurred with the changing of the seasons, I was really, sincerely, realistically and finally starting to get a complete picture of how, where, why and when deer move in relation to their surroundings--whoa, what a mouthful!

Taking Control of Terrain

By my second year on the property, I was starting to get the confidence to apply what I was learning. As the scale began to slowly shift from failure to success in my ability to make good decisions about placing myself in productive hunting situations, I began to "go out on a limb" in relation to my efforts to learn that the movement patterns of bucks, especially mature ones, were controlled by terrain. A particular experience really put me "out in left field," further helping me to separate myself from traditional hunting tactics, times and places.

A particular wooded ridgeline that I'd been hunting for some time was getting the best of me; I mean I was spending a lot of time there in various locations with relatively little to show for my efforts. Fully aware of the fact that large bucks were frequenting the area, I desperately wanted to get one of these bucks within bow-range. Finally, knowing full well that there had to be a terrain feature somewhere that would pinch deer movement, I took a full day to slowly and effectively foot-scout the expansive ridgeline.


One particular spot along the ridgeline finally jumped out at me. On opposite sides of the ridge, two different deep hollows headed out directly across from each other. Knowing that deer prefer to walk around the head of a hollow rather than cross it, I saw the potential of the location. Though there wasn't any concentration of rubs or scrapes on the ridgeline in this area, I knew that rutting bucks would surely be funneled through this location on their random wanderings. Quickly preparing a stand site, I vacated the area.

Three mornings later, I found myself quietly perched in my ridgeline stand as the eastern sky turned orange. It was early November and the rut was starting to rock. As the woods began to take shape around me, I had a good feeling about my chances. I simply knew that things were going to hop.

Shortly after sunrise, I heard the shuffle of leaves and the unmistakable "urp-urp" of a buck. A 125-class eight-point hurried by my location, clearly on a mission. Determined to hold out for a big buck, I sat back and simply soaked-up the action. And so began the finest day of bowhunting I've ever had. By the end of the day, I'd seen more than two-dozen does and eight different bucks. Two of the bucks were shooters, one being a real whopper. Now I never fired a shot, but that's another story for another time. However, I did start a long-term relationship with a spot where some gentle, yet noticable terrain features came together to form an unobtrusive looking bowhunting location that would produce four record-class bucks for me in the next three years.

Reversing Tactics

As I look back on my learning curve of woods savvy, I realize that I had things backwards. Instead of telling me that rubs and scrapes were where I should hunt, I wish someone had told me to try and figure out why the rubs and scrapes were in the places they were. If such had been the case, maybe I'd have learned much sooner how deer movement is defined by the lay of the land.

Today, I love to go to new places and bowhunt various terrain and habitat. Sure, the sight of a massive rub or scrape the size of a car-hood still elevates my blood pressure, however, what really sends me is something like this: I'm in the rolling farm country of central Ohio (or Minnesota or Illinois) and I'm on no certain time schedule, bow in hand. The whitetail rut is in full-gear and I've got a large amount of new country to scout. My second day afield, while slipping through a wide pasture I find a large rub on a brushy fence-line that is hidden from all roads by surrounding hills. Both ends of the fence-line terminate in distant, wooded hollows. These hollows originate from the creek bottom that is dominated by agricultural crops, and a large pasture dissects the hollows. As soon as I see the hidden, brushy fence-line, I realize that the vegetative and topographic lay of the land has come together to form a potential hotspot for ambushing rutting bucks that are using the fence-line as a shortcut between the two areas of cover on both sides of the pasture. Sure, all the big rut sign is in the creek-bottom and hollows, and yes, this is where the average archery hunter would choose to hunt. Yet past experience points me toward this most unusual stand site. Knowing that I'm going out on a limb, I place a stand on the pasture fence-line, planning on following my gut feeling about this one.



A few days later, I slide into my odor elimination suit, slip into my fence-line stand, and sit all day. Not a single deer passes by, though I see some in the distance near the wooded areas. My resolve is sorely tested as I climb down for the evening trek out. Should I pull this stand or stick with instinct and see if my feelings about this unusual combination of terrain and cover will pay dividends? As I review the setup in my head, I know that this spot has the main ingredients to draw a rutting buck. A low-lying travel route between two areas of high deer usage, and just enough linear cover to make a mature buck feel secure, I'd stick it out here.

The following morning finds me in the same fence-line stand. About 9:30 I saw large antlers coming. Whether it was the owner of the nearby big rub, or simply another vagrant passing through the area, I cared not.

The shot was perfect and a few short minutes later, I wrapped my hands around massive antlers. Satisfaction flowed over me as I realized that I was savvy enough to recognize subtle terrain features that held such potential for harvesting a trophy. Inside I knew that learning to read the lay of the land certainly was the most deadly weapon that I could ever bring to the woods!
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Author:Claypool, Eddie
Publication:Petersen's Bowhunting
Date:Nov 1, 2005
Previous Article:Scrape hunting: the real deal! Never disregard the active signs of a mature buck.
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