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Bird hunters and bucks: bird hunters in the field flush more than pheasants.

THERE EXISTS IN THE bowhunting world a one-day-only opportunity to hunt displaced bucks--It's called the opening day of pheasant season.

I discovered this phenomenon quite by accident. It was opening day of pheasant season in Iowa, and I'd made the decision to leave my German Shorthair at home in favor of my bow. I arrived at my hunting area only to find another hunter already in the woods. Rather than crowd into this small timber, I decided to head to another stand that was right for the steady north wind. This second spot was a ground blind in a thin strip of timber located on private property and sandwiched between large tracts of public hunting ground popular with bird hunters.

The morning started pretty slow; I saw only a yearling buck and a few songbirds. Then, at 8 a.m. (opening time for pheasants in Iowa), things got interesting. The first shot rang out shortly after the hour from the south, followed by shots from the north. Within a few minutes the first deer sprinted into the timber and skidded to a stop in front of my blind. The 2 1/2year-old 8-point panted heavily as he looked frantically about for pursuers. He wasn't the buck I was looking for, so I just sat back and watched the show. And what a show it was. Over the next two hours deer poured past me from both the north and the south.

Opening day of pheasant season is a prime bowhunting opportunity for a number of reasons, the greatest being that the normally reclusive and nocturnal mature bucks are suddenly displaced and moving around in broad daylight. And, a displaced buck is a vulnerable buck.

Never being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I make a point to bowhunt on the pheasant opener every year. On opening day this year I was settled comfortably in a treestand hung in a thin ribbon of trees that guard a drainage ditch. From over the hill to the west I could hear car doors slamming and hunters calling their dogs. It was time to get ready. It didn't take long before a lone buck came streaking over the hill. He stopped when he reached the drainage ditch I inhabited. He looked back to check for signs of pursuit and, finding none, started walking quickly my way. A couple soft grunts stopped him momentarily at 12 yards, and a well-placed arrow sealed the 3 1/2-year-old buck's fate.

Where to Hunt

In order to take advantage of the pheasant-hunter effect, you have to be where there are pheasant hunters. A good starting place is to find public hunting land known to hold pheasants. Once you've located a likely spot, take a drive around it. Look for escape routes or travel corridors. Pay attention to how deer move on the properties, and look for terrain features that will funnel deer.

I like to hunt on private ground adjacent to public ground. This involves knocking on a few doors, so be prepared to put your best foot forward. Surprisingly, land next to public ground often receives little hunting pressure, and since it usually doesn't look like typical deer habitat, it often gets overlooked. A useful tool if you're not familiar with an area is a plat map. Plat maps provide a wealth of information about land ownership. Each plat book covers a county and is broken down into townships. Within these pages the map shows property ownership and boundaries. Plats also show who lives in each house, and has address and phone listings for most landowners.

I used aerial photos and a plat map to locate the drainage ditch mentioned earlier. After finding a promising CRP field, I used the aerial photos to identify all likely escape routes. Luckily, the CRP was surrounded by open cropland, except for the one small drainage which connected to a larger piece of timber. Using the plat map, I was able to identify the owner of the land containing the drainage ditch. I contacted the landowner, and with a respectful request I was granted permission to hunt his property.

Planning the Hunt

Now that you have a place to hunt, an aerial photo and a topographical map are also great aids in planning the hunt. From the aerial photo you can get a good idea of where the pheasant hunters will start their hunt. Look for parking lots and roadside parking areas; the hunters will work out from there. Then, look at what is in the opposite direction; this is where the deer are going to go. Obviously, you'll want to set up somewhere in between the hunters and the escaping deer. Once you've got this figured out, it's time to do some fieldwork. Walk the edges of the property and look for trails and escape cover. Young deer may run pell-mell in front of the advancing skirmish line of hunters, but the mature bucks will try to avoid being seen by slinking away through any available cover.

How to Hunt

When selecting a stand site, consider the wind and have several options to accommodate any wind direction. Visibility is another important factor. A couple of years back, while bowhunting the pheasant opener, I spotted a mature buck and a doe slipping out of an adjacent field ahead of pheasant hunters. The deer cautiously worked their way along a terrace in an unpicked soybean field. With their tails tucked tight, they continuously checked their back trail until they reached the middle of the field. They surveyed the area until they were satisfied it was safe, and then they bedded against the brushy terrace. The terrace provided excellent stalking cover, and I was able to sneak within 10 yards. Upon rising over the terrace, the doe spotted me, snorted, took one jump, and stopped broadside. The buck gave me no such opportunity and was over the next terrace in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, that buck was hit and killed by a car later that month. His 9-point rack gross-scored 155 inches.

That buck taught me another lesson. Deer, especially mature bucks, do not like to be out running around in broad daylight and will re-bed in the first safe spot they find. This is another reason I like hunting private ground--the pressure is lighter and the deer feel safe bedding down, giving you an opportunity to stalk them.

Stands along travel routes are obvious choices for catching bucks as they move from feeding to bedding sites. Sometimes a preferred travel route for deer is the same as their escape route, but sometimes it isn't. One compromise is to set up on the travel route with a good view of the escape route. From that vantage you can stalk or head off a fleeing buck. If the escape route is not visible, you may need to set up later while the bird hunters are moving.

Hunt Safely

An important consideration when taking advantage of the pheasant opener is safety. Total concealment is good for getting close to deer, but you'll want to be seen by bird hunters. A blaze-orange hat would be considered the minimum, and I wear both an orange cap and vest. On the rare occasion that bird hunters approach my stand, I am easily seen and able to avoid a potentially dangerous situation. It is also a good idea to ask the landowner who else has permission to hunt on the land. This will give you an idea of how many people to expect in the field, and you can helpfully guide those "lost" individuals who were not granted permission back to where they belong.

Opportunity can knock at the strangest times, but bowhunting for deer on the opening day of pheasant season is an opportunity you can count on every year.

The author is a resident of Weeping Water, Nebraska.
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Author:Martin, Stephen J.
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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