Are you too conservative? In order to consistently tag top-heavy whitetails, sometimes you have to take off the gloves and hit mature bucks with aggressive hunting strategies that push the edge of the envelope.
As a result, many of us are often so afraid of messing up or making a costly mistake that we inevitably knock ourselves out of tagging a wall-hanger. In other words, we become too complacent and conservative with our hunting tactics and techniques. If you really want to bust massive-racked bruisers on a consistent basis, then you'd better be ready to turn up the juice and see what shakes loose. On that note, here are some hardcore hunting strategies that will enable you to take a proactive approach that is somewhat aggressive, but highly effective on mature bucks with intimidating headgear.
In many cases, textbook hunting tactics and standard setups are probably not going to get the job done. For good reason, veteran bucks that have masterfully learned how to stay just under our radar can move through their environment like faint shadows or ghosts. As hunters, we have to respect their keen senses and ability to "disappear" seemingly without a trace. However, this profound respect and personal admiration can also lead us to hunt far too conservatively.
Being afraid to utilize calls, scents, decoys and aggressive setups throughout the season is a major mistake that drastically reduces the chances of connecting with top-heavy bucks. In addition, relying solely on the same old ambush setups that are conservatively located between feeding and bedding areas also can be very unproductive. The mindset of always playing it safe and only hunting inside of your comfort zone is exactly what helps keep long-tined shooters in the woods and off your trophy wall.
When you stop and think about it, most successful big buck hunters have one thing in common that separates them from the rest of the pack. It's not just fast-shooting bows or primetime hunting spots that have allowed them to collect so much bone over the years. For the most part, it's the fact that these hunters are willing to take calculated risks and chances every time they climb into their stands. In order to maximize their overall success in the field, they rely on aggressive strategies and hard-hitting setups that really push things to the limit.
UTILIZE ASSERTIVE CALLING STRATEGIES
Without question, a deer call is the one weapon in your hunting arsenal that should never be overlooked or underutilized. In fact, it's really an equalizer that can effectively be used to coax an out-of-reach or long-distance buck right beneath your stand. We all know that a few yards is often the difference between punching a tag and telling a sad story about the one that somehow narrowly escaped.
Unfortunately, many hunters wait until just before or actually during the rut to start using their deer calls. This is a major mistake, because whitetails are vocal throughout the entire year and will respond to calling. The trick is learning to recognize exactly when to use a particular vocalization. Allowing current deer behavior to dictate how and when you call is a crucial piece of the calling puzzle. Next, it's extremely important to identify and correctly read a mature buck's body language after making a particular call. In many cases, a buck's initial response will tell you exactly what he is wanting or needs to hear.
As mentioned earlier, matching your calling techniques with the current behavior, mood and transitional phase of whitetails is the key to success. Tone and volume can also make a big difference in how a buck reacts to your calling. Beginning with soft and subtle vocalizations before gradually working your way up to loud and aggressive is usually a good strategy. At first, try to be just loud enough for a buck to hear you and watch how he reacts. With this method, you're basically taking a buck's temperature and matching your calling tactics accordingly.
For example, during early segments of the season, a buck may respond favorably to a non-threatening social grunt. This will sometimes trigger a shooter buck's curiosity, which can make him want to come in closer to investigate the situation. However, if a standard grunt seems to physically agitate a buck, then throw a little gasoline on the fire by adding some swagger to your calling. Forceful grunts or even a challenging snort wheeze may cause a mature brawler to bristle up and march straight to your stand with his ears laid back.
Depending on the transitional period, a series of estrous doe bleats or tending grunts could be just what the doctor ordered. Once again, the ability to match your calling with the current transitional phase, hunting conditions and particular mood of the buck you're hunting will make all the difference in the world. Simply taking a chance and not being afraid to use your calls will allow you to be more assertive and generate more shot opportunities over a typical season.
INITIATE A VISUAL ATTACK
In recent years, there has been a lot more coverage of decoying tactics appearing on many of the hunting shows. For good reason, a well-placed decoy can be a super buck's ktyp-tonite. The mere presence basket-racked intruder intruder has ability to make a tall-tined bruiser go straight into attack-and-destroy mode. in the past, I've personally watched several bone-headed giants bristle up and aggressively strut across wide-open fields to challenge my decoy, which helped create shot opportunities that previously were not available.
Consequently, there are several major advantages that decoys provide to hunters who are willing to pack them into the field. For example, a veteran buck that responds to your calling will typically approach your setup with extreme caution. Paranoid shooters that are naturally cautious will often circle around and approach your setup with the wind in their favor. However, a strategically placed decoy provides a visual confirmation for mature bucks that will calm their nerves and bring them straight to your setup.
Furthermore, decoys also provide a visual distraction that keeps a buck's eyes on the prize and not on the hunter. When a buck is relaxed and preoccupied, it makes it much easier to draw your bow and take a good shot. Decoys can also add an unmatched degree of realism to your setup and are capable of pulling bucks in from long distances, especially when hunting open areas that offer high visibility.
In order to maximize success, allow the current transitional phase and deer behavior to dictate your decoying strategies. A single buck decoy with a non-threatening posture coupled with social grunts can be highly effective during the early segments of season when bucks are traveling together in bachelor groups. As the pre-rut period progresses and bucks become more territorial, an antlered decoy with its ears laid back will enable you to take a more aggressive approach.
Once the actual breeding transition of the rut begins, an intruder buck coupled with a hot doe decoy can really provoke a brawler by attacking his ego. This setup can really be deadly when combined with some estrous scent on the ground and calling sequences that consist of urgent doe bleats and buck tending grunts. A dominant buck will not be able to stand the sights, smells and sounds of realistic setups like these, especially on his turf.
In other situations, one slick-headed decoy positioned along high-traffic doe zones like bedding areas, primary feeding sites and major travel corridors can be very productive. This setup can be more inviting for mature bucks that are not necessarily looking for a confrontation, but are actively cruising and searching for receptive does. Again, the decoying setup that you choose should be customized and matched with the deer behavior you're observing along with the current transitional phase.
HUNT THE DANGER ZONE
With monster bucks, you can't be afraid to push the envelope sometimes by hunting on the edge or even inside of the danger zone. Safe and conservative setups positioned along travel corridors that connect feeding and bedding areas will not always be your best bet. These locations can be red-hot during the cruising and breeding phases of the rut but very unproductive throughout the rest of the season. Most veteran bucks that have a few years of dodging arrows and bullets under their racks will primarily use these routes well before daylight and after dark.
Consequently, this is why hunters typically only observe small bucks and does from these locations throughout most of the season. Over the years, I have routinely relied on trail cameras to monitor travel-route setups. As a result, it was obvious the areas that received moderate to intense outside hunting pressure were used almost exclusively after dark by mature shooters. These strict and notorious nocturnal patterns can completely eliminate any possible shot opportunities.
If you find yourself in the middle of a nocturnal nightmare, then wake up and aggressively switch gears by strategically changing setups and hunting tactics. For morning hunt setups, hang a cluster of trail-cameras around the edges of big-buck bedding areas. This high-impact surveillance technique enables you to assess antler size, establish a predictable pattern and effectively choose the best stand location. Positioning a time-lapse camera beneath your setup will also tell you exactly what passes by your treestand along with the prime-time activity periods.
Another possible option is to hunt right in the middle of the danger zone by actually breeching a buck's core daytime living area from the backside. Massive-racked bucks that are carrying a lot of bone naturally feel safe inside heavily covered thickets. They will often enter these nasty entanglements well before daylight and safely bed down for the day, which completely shatters your window of opportunity with most conventional setups.
However, quietly sneaking through the backdoor and hanging a stand just inside of the thick sanctuary's perimeter will give you a fighting chance. This aggressive and risky strategy can be deadly and highly effective, because nocturnal monsters will routinely sneak off their beds to stretch and browse during the mid-morning to early-afternoon hours. It's also possible to utilize soft and subtle buck grunts to pull a curious shooter into close range with these danger zone setups. Hunter success rates with this strategy will largely depend on the ability to quietly enter and exit stand locations without disturbing the area.
PUSH WIND LIMITATIONS
Undoubtedly, most successful hunters try to neutralize alarming odors and hunt with the wind in their favor. The only problem is that the majority of top-heavy bucks also move with their noses in the wind. As a result, stand locations that play a particular wind direction might not be very productive for hunters. Fortunately, there are a couple of tricks you can pull that will enable you to exploit scent-cautious bucks by pushing the limitations of the wind.
It's very rare for thick-racked shooters to walk in perfectly straight lines when traveling to and from their primary feeding and bedding areas. On the other hand, experienced bucks will make every effort to move with the wind in their faces. This is exactly why you need to strategically set your stands near pivot points, which are locations where bucks have to suddenly switch directions due to natural barriers or simply to reach their destination. These key areas basically place bucks in vulnerable situations, because they momentarily have to walk short distances without the wind in their favor.
Natural barriers that can alter travel routes such as steep cliff-lines, brush-choked ditches, deep creeks, wide rivers, or open areas where mature bucks feel unsafe are great pivot points. Wind-savvy whitetails will have to temporarily change directions and skirt around these barriers or obstacles. Setting up stands along these short pivotal transitional strips gives you a major advantage, because mature bucks are forced to move through these areas without the wind in their favor.
A second lethal option is simply to hang high-rise stands directly behind pivot points or areas where bucks need to switch travel directions. This move creates a rare situation where both you and the buck technically have the wind in your favor. Stands that are set around 20 feet or higher will help keep your scent safely above a shooter's nose when the wind swirls or suddenly switches at the wrong time. Both of these aggressive setups will enable you to transform a buck's strength into a weakness that can be exploited.
At the end of the day, it's going to take aggressive and hard-hitting strategies like these to consistently slam top-heavy bucks into the dirt. Sometimes we just have to be bold and take calculated risks that will give us an edge over hard-to-handle giants with extra-long tines. Hunting too conservatively and being afraid to make a move can ultimately lead to a big bowl of tag soup and a lot of empty wall space. Remember, the key to success this season will be your ability to hunt aggressively while strategically pushing the envelope to the maximum limit. Now, get out there and make something happen!
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|Publication:||North American Whitetail|
|Date:||Jul 25, 2012|
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