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Deer Hunting for Road Warriors

By on November 1, 2017
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Don’t have much time off the road to hunt? No problem, you can still get your buck

By: MIKE HANBACK, WARRENTON, VIRGINIA

If you’re lucky, you’ll have one weekend or maybe two to get off the road and into the woods this fall. That doesn’t leave much time for planning and scouting, but no worries. We’ve designed this plan for you weekend warriors, to help you score some venison for the freezer and a rack for the wall.

Where to Hunt

With only a few days to try and get a buck, you need to maximize your odds. Go sometime during the whitetail rut, which begins in early November and extends into early December, in most states. During this month-long breeding season, bucks and does are active and on the move, and you need to be out there.

Bowhunting is fun, but when time is limited your odds of getting a deer triple when you use a firearm. In most places, a center-fire rifle is legal (see sidebar); but in a few states like Iowa and Illinois, you’ll need a shotgun with slugs or a muzzleloader.

Where to Go

Private land with light to moderate hunting pressure is always best. Maybe one of your buddies owns a block of woods near your home; or maybe your spouse’s boss has a small farm in the county. You get the idea. Ask around, and see if you can obtain permission to hunt the land for a few days.

The great thing about whitetail hunting is that it doesn’t take a lot of land to hold a lot of deer. Twenty to 75 acres in the right spot, with ample food and cover habitat for the animals, is all you need for a good hunt.

If private land is not an option, check Google for a wildlife management area or state or national forest near you. There will be more people and pressure on public land, especially during gun deer season, but don’t let that deter you. Millions of deer and thousands of good bucks are shot on public areas across the nation each season.

Scout from the Road

You can start planning and scouting during breaks and rest stops while you’re working on the road. Study images of your hunting land on a tablet using Google Earth, or go old-school, and check aerial and topographical maps.

Study the lay of fields where deer will feed, and edges of woods where they travel. Check for dark cover—grown-up fields, cedar stands, beaver swamps—where bucks bed and hide. Search for strips of woods, draws, streams and the like that connect feeding and bedding areas; some bucks and does will travel in those funnels.

Something a lot of hunters don’t realize and often overlook is the importance of studying and analyzing maps and imagery. You can eliminate up to 50% of marginal deer habitat before you ever step foot on a hunting spot. Then, when you can swing a day off, you’re ready to drive out and ground scout the other 50% of the habitat where the deer will be.

hanback-2Recon Day

Map reading is the precursor, and then a day of “speed scouting” a week or so before your hunt will increase your chances of getting a deer two-fold. Slip on scent-free rubber boots and hike the land, preferably at midday when deer are bedded. Refer to your maps and hit those spots that looked the best.

Walk the edges of fields, checking for trails that wind back into thickets. Drop into a creek bottom and look for freshly rubbed trees that bucks worked with their racks. Check for freshly pawed scrapes that reek of buck urine and rut musk. Find deep, splayed, three-inch tracks on a trail and guess what? You’ve stumbled into some corner of a mature buck’s core living area, and that’s obviously a great spot to hunt.

Here’s a simple tip never to forget: When your hunting time is limited, you can never go wrong by setting up near a food source where deer are feeding right now. You’ll find the heaviest buck sign near feed such as alfalfa, corn, soybeans or acorns falling on a ridge or in a bottom. Hunt nearby.

Hunt Smart & Hard

One November day, I bumped into a young man wrestling with a freshly shot buck on a state forest. “Let me give you a hand,” I said, reaching down and grabbing half the rack. “Nice deer.”

We dragged and the guy yapped, “Man, I can’t believe my luck. I work all the time and don’t have much time to hunt. I’d never been in these woods before. I got here two days ago, poked around and found fresh rubs and scrapes on that oak ridge over there. Yesterday I hunted all day and saw a lot of does, so I figured a buck must be around. I went back this morning and boom, this buck cruised by!”

The fellow did it right. He located a public-hunting spot near home and made the effort to go when he could. Once there, he scouted a bit, found a spot with fresh buck sign and went for it. He didn’t get antsy and walk all over the woods or waste time back at his truck during lunchtime. For two days, he hunted a good spot with buck sign every minute that he could.

Do that and you too, might drive home with a buck in the bed of your personal truck one day soon. Good luck!

 

Gear Up for Weekend!

Here is what you will need:

License and deer tag: Regulations vary. Check your state wildlife department’s website for the exact permits you need, which you can generally purchase on-line.

Rifle: I recommend one of these calibers for whitetails—7mm-08, .270 or .30-06. Top your rifle with a 3X-9X scope. Buy two boxes of 140- or 150-grain ammunition. Spend a day at the range sighting-in and practicing.

Binoculars: A full-size set of 10-power binocs is best. In the woods, use them a lot. When you see a buck before he sees you, you’re way ahead of the game.

Camo and Blaze Orange: Deer are essentially colorblind, so any clothing is okay. In gun season, most states require a Blaze Orange cap, vest or both.

Daypack: Includes sharp knife, rope, headlamp/flashlight, compass, small first-aid kit, protein bars and snacks, water bottle. Thin rubber gloves for field-dressing a deer—think positive!

Optional but Recommended: Grunt call—if you see a buck trotting through the woods, blow a sharp grunt or two, and most of the time he’ll stop long enough for a shot. Bottle of doe-in-heat scent and wicks—when you hunt for a rutting buck. It never hurts to smell like a hot doe, so set a couple of scent-soaked wicks near the tree or blind where you’re set up and watching. Hang wicks on limbs about six feet off the ground, so air currents can carry and spread the smell through the woods.

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