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Think Small For Big Bucks at Cabela's

Think Small For Big Bucks

Author: Michael Hanback

If you live virtually anywhere east of the Mississippi River, the crack at a trophy whitetail is just a short drive away.

Big whitetail are worth the effort.
A soaring number of Pope & Young bucks (and even the occasional Boone & Crockett candidate) live like kings in small covers under our noses. Here's how to find and hunt 'em.

Lots of Deer
From Maine to Georgia, 10- to 25-acre home sites in fast-developing suburbs and rural areas hold lots of whitetails (sometimes way too many deer). Biologists say you'll find the biggest, healthiest bucks in areas with fewer than 30 deer per square mile. The best lots are diverse, mostly hardwoods interspersed with thickets, pines and creeks.

Dogs bark, kids yell, commuters fire up their SUVS. . . Whitetails could not care less as they stroll across driveways and browse azaleas and fruit trees in backyards. But the deer are still wild. If you spot a buck and walk away, he'll stand there. But move toward the deer and he'll spook and run.

An old buck's home range may encompass 25 to 50 or more lots. Your job is to pin down when and where he's feeding, bedding or passing through the lot where you've got permission. To that end, beginning in September, check for white or red oaks dropping acorns. Since a lot is small, forget about trying to decipher a rub line into the mast. Just look for a cluster of rubbed saplings-the bigger the better-on an oak ridge or flat. Deep, splayed, 3-inch tracks seal the deal that a good buck is feeding there.

Look for a little swamp, thicket, weedy ditch-it doesn't take much cover to hide a big buck. Check a bedding site for large tracks and droppings and rubs as thick as your bicep. Scout for trails that link acorns and thickets. Note what I call "freeways" that cut from one lot to the next. You'll find the most deer runs on the sides of ridges and in hollows and creek bottoms.

On a hunting day, you've got to slip into a lot without blowing deer out the other end. Be smart and devise a plan. Say there's an old cutover a half-mile west of a tree stand you set on an oak flat. Okay, one afternoon after work, play the wind and sneak into the spot from the east or south side. You won't bump deer coming to the lot from their bedding area. On a morning hunt, predict where deer feed and mingle at night-maybe in a clover field or oak bottom 3 lots over-and take an offside route into a stand near a bedding thicket.

In early November watch a freeway. A rutting buck with a 140-class rack might run smack down the trail, coming off the next lot to scent-check does in your area and on down the line. Play the wind and hang a bow stand 20 yards or so off a trail. If it's legal and safe to hunt your lot with a shotgun or muzzleloader, back off 60 yards or so. Better yet, set up where you can cover 2 or more trails, which doubles your odds of spotting a buck.

Buck Blocks
In suburbs and rural areas 40 miles or so outside cities and towns, 50- to 200-acre blocks of woods laced with thickets are great places to hunt. They are small enough to concentrate and funnel whitetails, yet large enough for multiple stand sites. Many linear strips connect crop fields, pastures and larger woodlands.

Blocks are larger than the lots we just talked about, so rather than merely passing through them, deer spend more time inside them, munching acorns, browsing honeysuckle or bedding in thickets. But still, a block may be only a small segment of a buck's home range, so you need to find out when he's in your timber.

Scout for falling acorns and bedding thickets. Look for big tracks, rubs and maybe even the first scrapes. With the sign in mind, set a few tree stands to overlook hollows, ridge points and creek crossings. Regardless of the size of a habitat, a mature buck travels through funnels, around points and across creeks, especially those rimmed with cover. Since deer move into and out of the timber all the time, coming and going from bed to feed, your funnel stands are apt to produce in either the morning or the afternoon. Hunt the perches on a rotational pattern every few days to minimize your scent and presence in an area.

Good camo is essential for a successful hunt
Let's say you spot a P&Y buck cruising your block several days in October. Well, when the rut erupts a few weeks later, that buck is sure to leave. You might spot him chasing a doe 2 miles away! But hang tight if you're seeing does every day. While the buck is gone another 8- or 10-pointer might cruise past one of your stands, hot after those untended gals. There's a good chance your target buck will circle back to the block.

Small-Farm Bucks
Crops, thickets, woodlots, creeks. . . Farms with 200 to 500 mixed acres provide some of the best whitetail anywhere in the country. Once a symbol of rural America, many family farms now sit on the sprawling outskirts of Eastern suburbia. You might drive past one of the big-buck hotspots every day on your way to work. Why not stop and ask for permission? If you can swing it, try to lease the sole hunting rights.

On a small farm, a buck has food, cover and does at his beck and call. Why would he go anywhere else? If the pressure is light, not just one but maybe 3 or 4 good bucks should live there year-round.

On late-summer evenings, glass a corn or bean field for a trophy coming to feed and showboat for does. Study where the big guy comes out of the surrounding woods. Then one day at lunchtime hustle over to the edge and hang a tree stand for an ambush.

Try to stick a good buck from a field-side perch in September or October, when he's still on a tight bed-to-feed pattern. If you don't get him by the time blackpowder or modern-gun season rolls around you'll probably have to head back into the bordering woods and thickets.

Sneak into the cover. The buck is close by, but where? Well, a satellite thicket on a ridge a half-mile or so from a crop field would be my bet. The buck may bed in the cover, or he might stage there before hitting a grain field after dark.

Check the edge of a thicket for fresh tracks, rubs and scrapes. Look for a nearby draw, saddle or creek crossing that wends toward a field. Play the wind and set a stand in the funnel. Your chances of shooting a big buck in that little spot are pretty darn good.

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