Head East Young Man
Growing up in a state that is plentiful with antelope, mule deer and elk, I have often taken the western hunting lifestyle and those opportunities for granted. As a kid in New Mexico, (and now living in Colorado) the chances of hunting whitetails were slim to none, I was often frustrated when I picked up the various popular hunting magazines and on every cover were titles such as “How Funnels Kill Big Bucks,” “The Best Place to Hang Your Treestand,” and of course “How To Kill Mature Bucks Every Year.” These whitetail focused articles were strewn with small bits of wisdom promising the reader that if they incorporated a few strategies and used a select brand of products, then they too could kill a monster whitetail buck. “ARGHHHHHHHH,” I would scream…. “What if you don’t hunt whitetails?” As a young hunter I wanted to connect with something that I actually hunted, not these pesky whitetail deer. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was in the minority and that 85-90% of hunters in the U.S. primarily hunt whitetails and turkeys rather than mule deer and elk as I did.
As I grew older I became enamored with the idea of hunting other species and immediately wanted to try my wits against these “legendary smart” old whitetail bucks I had read about. A few opportunities arose and I embarked on a quest to kill a mature whitetail buck emboldened with the overconfidence of having successfully harvested numerous mule deer, elk, and antelope with a bow….. How hard could it be?
VERY HARD …. Man was I wrong… and this is what I have learned over the past 15 years….
· Whitetail bucks are “every bit” as keyed up as the old hunting articles make them out to be, and whitetails in the south (Alabama, Georgia etc.) have even taken their skittish sensibilities to the next level.
· You cannot just hang a tree stand in the straightest tree located close to a pinch point… Stand placement is a fluid art form and is something a hunter is constantly observing and adjusting…. 15 yards can make all the difference.
· This marketing tall tale that you a hunter can just use a scent elimination product and “FORGET THE WIND jUST HUNT” is a total LIE! You can fool their eyes and you can fool their ears but you will never fool their nose! Selecting the right wind to hunt specific stands is CRUCIAL!
· Movement is the culprit for getting picked off in the tree stand, not your camo! Don’t believe the hype… research shows that deer see movement and therefore how much you are moving in the stand will dictate if you are getting busted in the tree rather than if you are wearing X or Y brand camo. While I do believe good camo helps break up a still hunter’s outline, honestly, camo patterns are a fashion statement FOR US, not the deer!
· Regardless of what hunting television has wrongly shown us, just because you crawl up a tree in a whitetail mecca like Kansas or Iowa, that does not mean you are going to kill a giant. You have to put in your time. In order to kill mature bucks that are born, live and die all in the same few square miles, a hunter has to put in their time in the stand. There is no substitute for a hunter’s ability to be patient and wait for the right conditions (like right before and after a cold front moves through) in order to hunt the perfect stand location and kill a mature buck.
· November is NOT the only time to kill big bucks. I had bought into the idea that the rut was the only time to get in a stand, and I was so wrong. While I do feel you will see the most deer movement during early to mid-November, as I have grown and matured as a whitetail hunter (and learned from other lifelong whitetail hunters) anytime can be the “best” time. Whether in the early season, hunting travel corridors between bedding and feeding areas, or all the way to the late season hunting in super cold temps over food sources, just getting out and putting in your time is the key…. with the right wind of course.
· Spot and stalk hunting for whitetails, a primary tactic for big game hunting in the west, is normally not conducive for bowhunting whitetails bucks. Although I actually have killed numerous whitetail bucks spotting them and then stalking into bow range, the topography, terrain, and vegetation in those areas was much more open than the typical mid-west river bottom or farm country that whitetail’s call home . This has nothing to do with the west vs. east riff that whitetail’s are so much smarter and alert than mule deer bucks and therefore you can’t stalk up to bow range on them…. POPPYCOCK! Typically whitetail habitat is thick with brush and cover and does not lend itself to quietly closing the distance on a snoozing buck… It has nothing to do with a whitetail’s intelligence or a muley buck’s lack of it.
· Lastly a western hunter has to learn to flip the SWITCH! The internal switch that programs him or her to constantly move and reposition from ridgeline to ridgeline in order to glass for a muley buck or call to a bull elk in the Rocky Mountains of the west. Here, in the sacred whitetail woods, a hunter must make the adjustment in their subconscious mind to sit, be quiet, be still, and most importantly be patient!
Even though I was in my mid 30’s before I ever climbed into a treestand, I am now consumed by the “chess match” that is matching wits with a mature whitetail buck. In my humble opinion, if you are one of the fortunate ones that fate and geography has placed you in the western states amidst herds of elk, mule deer and antelope, I strongly encourage you to look eastward and don’t underestimate the thrill that is hunting whitetail deer, it will make you a better hunter!