Going into the game, every football team has a plan. But teams that go into the locker room down 21-0 at halftime better revise their second-half plans.
Bowhunting whitetails requires the same flexibility. After months of scouting, you should have a good idea where to set up early in the season. But if you don’t tag your buck by the time the rut approaches, you might need to hunt more aggressively. That’s also a good option late in an out-of-state hunt when you can’t remain patient.
Bucks can get careless during the rut as their raging hormones overpower their usual wariness. The fall turns magical when bucks are fired up and ready to go but does have not yet entered estrus. That’s when bowhunters should call aggressively, especially with a decoy.
Rattling, coupled with grunting, can reel in fired-up bucks looking to dominate the woods. Try to mimic a young buck by using higher-pitched grunts and thinner rattling antlers. You just might incite a big buck to storm in to chase off inferior rivals.
A well-placed buck decoy can help set up your shot. The buck will approach the decoy from downwind and face it head-on. Therefore, place your decoy facing you from upwind of your site, perhaps 30 to 40 yards away. Ideally, the buck will walk between you and the decoy, presenting a quartering-away shot as it passes you to confront the decoy.
Another aggressive tactic is hunting near – or even inside – a doe’s bedding areas. Does often bed together, so you’ll have several eyes, noses and ears to fool, which means risky hunting. But when bucks are ready to breed, they want to be near does. Setups near their bedroom early in the rut give you a good chance of seeing a buck. Set up well before daylight and leave after dark to minimize disturbances. You must also kick your scent-control regimen up a notch, and hunt only favorable winds or you’ll spook lots of deer.
Most bowhunters prefer elevated stands to reduce the chances of deer seeing and smelling them, but you’ll have no choice but to hunt from the ground when deer hide in CRP grass, cattails or brushy areas with no large trees. You must be extra careful when drawing your bow, but don’t freak out about ground hunting. It beats hunting from an elevated stand with no deer in sight.
Another good time to hunt from the ground is when you see a buck tending a doe in a field. Bucks often push does into the open to keep them away from other bucks. You might see a breeding pair bedded in CRP grass or overgrown pastures, or a harvested crop field. To have a chance at such bucks, you might have to belly-crawl into range, seeking cover behind every bush, sapling and tuft of grass. It’s risky, but that’s the nature of go-for-broke bowhunts.
A final “all-in” option is to persuade a partner to bump deer your way. You might try that on the final day of your out-of-state hunt, or when a buck is with a doe and you can’t get close enough to shoot. Send your partner upwind of the buck a good ways. Ideally, your partner will give the buck a subtle nudge, and not send it high-tailing over the horizon.
While your partner is bumping deer, you’re set up in a pinch point or along an escape trail along the buck’s predicted flight path. Deer usually take a different route than you expect, especially during the rut. But that buck might just follow the trail right to you, especially if you know the territory and deer movements. You might have to stop it with a mouth bleat, but what could be better than shooting a bruiser on a subtle drive at the 11thhour?
All bowhunters hope their scouting pays off and the buck of a lifetime simply walks under their stand. But when conditions warrant, you can do more than hope. Get aggressive. You might just punch your buck tag.