First off, I’ll start off by saying that I am your ordinary hunter. I do not portray myself as a Great White Hunter or anything to that standard. I do, however, take my Whitetail Hunting seriously, especially when it comes to Archery. Yes, I still use a firearm from time to time, that is how I was raised and ultimately is where my love for bow hunting began. I am an avid Public Land hunter and encourager every bow hunter in my circles to take advantage of the “Big Woods” opportunity that our area offers with public land hunting.
The “Big Woods” is rather tricky. Let’s define that setting first. I am talking about God’s country. No, not elk hunting out west, I am talking about valleys and hollows so deep you can’t physically walk through 70% of them. Ridge tops that seem to never end and around every corner has a drain going to a valley a mile away, with just as many drains on the other side leading to even more ridge tops. The BIG WOODS. Setting out into the Big Woods with a firearm is tough, let alone archery equipment. In today’s world of hunting, there are numerous of new hunters that have never experienced the challenge of hanging stands in these types of situations. My 5 steps are simple, doesn’t mean the results are simple, but ultimately, these 5 steps will increase your success on large tracks of Big Wood properties.
#1 – Scout Post Season. Yes – after Whitetail season has ended, get out and scout. Buy a good pair of walking boots, layer properly, pack plenty of water and some energy food and walk. First and foremost, the foliage is gone. You can see the hard hit trails easier than when the leaves are on and it doesn’t matter if you jump deer, you have plenty of time for them to calm back down. I would start with aerial photos, find your water source and where you think the “funnels” will be located. These trails are the trails that the deer will be using in October and November, when you will probably have your best chance at success the following season.
#2 – Find Your Water. This to me, provides an amazing advantage for hanging your trail cameras. Deer in the big woods have to drink just like deer in the AG fields. Find where they are drinking. Now, understand this, unless it is VERY secluded and sees MINIMUM traffic, you don’t want to find open water sources. Weary, mature Whitetails are going to drink from a puddle if they have to. I have found that MOST mature Whitetails will drink from a small pool of water in drain half way down a thick, tight valley, and in finding these areas, you knock two birds out with one stone. You found a funnel.
#3 Find Your Funnels – Deer in the big woods have an unlimited amount of choices as to where to move and where to go. Funnels are trickier here than ever. Find a funnel that is most likely to be used during the rut. Where is the ONE place that if a buck is cruising from Doe Group A to Doe Group B he HAS to travel through? The center of that “X” is going to be your best potential funnel. Now, there is a lot of debate on this, however, I have found that funnel is going to be up a drain, close to the top, where a buck can come off one ridge, dip down towards a saddle and cross over the next ridge. MOST of the time, in that drain, will be a secluded water source. It may even be a tiny bench, 12 feet wide, but it holds a tiny bit of water and provides enough cover for a weary buck to avoid the open hillside and slip through undetected. It may not look like the places you see on television of these hunters killing 180” bucks, but it is where your odds will increase when it comes to hunting big woods deer.
#4 – Forget Hunting The Wind. Now, I may get scrutinized for this, but I can promise you one thing. If you climb out of your stand every time the wind changes in the big woods, you are going to run out of stands to hunt. The deep valleys and hollows are never going to be true as to what your Weather Channel app tells you as far as wind direction. It is great to accept the wind is going to play a part in your hunt, and yes, use your scent eliminating products, however, the wind is going to constantly change on you. It is going to swirl, pick up and let off. The wind direction at your stand site will be totally opposite of the wind direction in hollow to your left and right. Just accept it. The best way I have found to compensate this, because deer in the big woods are going to come from all directions, is just be prepared for the unthinkable. Understand that deer are going to come at you from the direction you least expect and it isn’t going to be a perfect setup, no matter how hard you are going to try and make it that way. Any big wooded, mountainous Whitetail Hunter who has any experience will tell you this.
#5 – Hunt Where ATV’s Are Not Allowed. Maybe ATV/UTV’s are allowed on all your big wooded public land or private land. Go where ATV’s can’t go. Go where other hunters are not going to be willing to go. Go where, if you were a buck, you’d hangout to avoid any surprises. Yes, this means a large amount of walking, by the time you get there you’ll be sweating, blah blah blah. Well, you paid $300 for your scent eliminating clothing, boots and your scent eliminating sprays, so use them. Spray down before, during and after you get to your stand. The element of surprise will blow your mind in the big woods. You get a mature buck cruising past your stand, you are perched 18 feet up an old Oak tree, which is an area that buck has never encountered human danger, you just punched his card. He’s there because he hasn’t smelled you yet, he’s not expecting danger, he’s expecting danger in the area he just went around, taking the long way, to avoid the other hunters who hung their sets in a place that was easily accessible. Yes, Whitetails are smart. They can also be fooled. It is done thousands of times a year. Hunt where other hunters are not willing to hunt and you be rewarded.
Again, I am not claiming to be a Great White Hunter, nor am I saying these tips promise you the buck of your dreams. I am saying that I successfully harvest Whitetails in the big woods and these are the tactics I use, public and private land. This is all information I have gathered either eating a tag sandwich, or learning from the guys who have done it successfully for years. I encourage each and everyone of you to give me your feedback and to throw in suggestions as to what works for you or if any of these have not worked for you. Hunting is a constant battle of learning. The moment you stop learning is the moment you become a less successful hunter. Until next time, Happy “Big Woods” hunting ya’ll!