Opening day of the archery season had finally arrived as I settled in for an enjoyable hunt. Not long after the birds started chirping I noticed a mature eight pointer with split brow tines materializing in the field 200 yards in front of me. My heart jumped a couple beats, and I realized his path would take him directly to my stand. I went into overdrive getting ready for the opportunity. When the distance closed to 50 yards another smaller buck challenged him to a fight then both bucks veered off and out of range.
My adrenalin was still pumping as I gathered my composure. Reflecting back on the hunt, it was amazing to see this type of mature animal. I was hunting on the edge of a small five-acre woodlot surrounded by agricultural and grass lands. That little pocket of woods has habitually been overlooked by others but has provided me with many hunting memories.
Hunting woodlots across the Midwest has been one of my favorite techniques. Woodlots and whitetails just go together. Chasing mature bucks in the woodlots takes a tactical approach to be successful. While hunting whitetails in the small confines, it is necessary to take the extra steps towards keeping your presence hidden.
When a buck reaches maturity they tend to keep core areas that are the same from year to year. The places they hide during the previous season kept them alive therefore they keep using the same core areas. For this reason, Ken McIntosh, professional guide from Midwest Woodlots indicates that he, “Watches deer year-round. When hunters tell me what they see I really listen to them.”
McIntosh indicated that he wants details about each hunter’s experience. Furthermore it is important to write everything down. Mature deer use similar areas from year to year. These details pay off for future hunts and even future hunting seasons. Even if that particular buck is killed, that location will likely hold whitetails during future years.
Trail cameras have further helped hunters understand what age structure of bucks is using their woodlots. If a hunter has not located mature deer in a woods prior to season the likelihood of one entering later is slim. Of course the peak of the rut can always pull bucks from miles away. Year-round surveillance gives a hunter the edge of understanding which bucks survived after the season. But most importantly it gives a hunter intimate knowledge of how all deer, bucks and does, use the property. This will come in handy during the different phases of the deer season.
Wind & Whitetails
If I only had one woodlot to hunt I would have four stands situated on each side to ensure I could hunt regardless of the wind. Luckily, I don’t have that problem. But it is very important to keep the wind in your favor. Once a mature buck has been disturbed he becomes tougher to kill. McIntosh ensures the bucks he hunts are unpressured because, “No one will ever walk on the upwards side (upwind) of the woods.” He eliminates ground scent by driving hunters in and out. This gives him the ability to provide total scent control.
In small chunks of habitat, it is critical to practice the highest degree of scent control. Don’t give him a reason to find out that you are hunting him. This extends not only to your stand location but also how you get into and out of your location. Eliminate your wind from blowing into the woodlot upon entering and if deer are in the fields when leaving don’t let your scent blow to their noses either. This means you’ll need to have a game plan together with different paths to enter/exit. Although this seems extreme, these extra preparation steps go a long way towards a successful season.
Hunting the Edge
When I think about woodlots I also consider the miles of agricultural or grass fields surrounding the area. This adds dynamic to the situation. Whitetails can easily be bedding in the corn and moving towards the acorn flats to eat in the evening. But if you know a good buck is resting his head inside a woodlot it is best to proceed with caution. McIntosh’s suggestion is to, “Don’t go into the woods.” Instead hunt the outer edges and trails leading towards the woodlot. Entering the woods will just push him into another woodlot that holds other hunters. If you keep yourself hidden he will eventually come out for food or girls. And until then you’ve kept him safe within your house.
Staying clear is a tough decision for a hunter to make. But since mature bucks keep similar core areas from year to year even if you’re unable to kill him the opportunity will arise in upcoming hunts/years.
Think Small to Score Big
Just because the habitat is small doesn’t mean it will be easy to hunt. Small woodlots can turn cold in a matter of seconds. With a small piece of habitat whitetails are often situated in the prime location to spot danger from afar. Along with a mature buck finding a prime bedroom, the addition of limited pressure makes the woodlot stand out even further. Tiny patches of timber and brush can be easily overlooked. These spots can be killer especially with whitetails pinpointed into such a small spot.
Assessing a woodlots potential is a necessary evil. During the preceding months before and even during season the best way to understand the potential is through long range glassing and trail cameras. These small parcels will only take a few disruptions before they go flat. But during off season it’s time to spend the necessary time scouting every corner. Just because it is a square woodlot from the outside doesn’t mean the habit within the edges is the same. There are big reasons why whitetails use the terrain. It’s necessary to figure this out; food, water, cover, does, limited hunting pressure, or something else.
One of my best woodlots today is a square 30 acre woodlot. Upon my first investigation I could not understand why it was so productive. But later I realized this was an unpressured section that had not seen a hunter in several years. With that knowledge I proceeded with extreme caution, keeping the essence of security within the confines of the four corners. In all when thinking about woodlots, think small to score big.
To learn more about taking a trophy whitetail at Midwest Woodlots LLC visit www.kenmcintoshoutdoors.com.
Jason Cousino scored big on this woodlot whitetail. Photo courtesy of Brian Miller
Fact BoxWoodlots and whitetails just go together. Chasing mature bucks in the woodlots takes a tactical approach to be successful.