October 25, 2011

Mike North: Hey, Buck, let me get my shot

One of the toughest tasks facing deer hunters is getting bucks to hold long enough to allow for a shot.

One of the toughest tasks facing deer hunters is getting bucks to hold long enough to allow for a shot.

When I'm on a hunt, it's common for me push deer out and only catch glimpses of them moving through the trees, which leaves me wondering if it was a buck and how many more deer I'm pushing out and not seeing at all.

In my years of hunting, I've come across a few methods that'll sometimes help hold deer in place a little longer:

Walk below, not above

Positioning yourself to walk beneath deer on a steep side hill may sound hard, but if there are some brush patches or other places you commonly see deer, try to circle below them.

Giving deer the high ground will often increase their comfort level quite a bit.

This past A-zone season, I came across two young bucks on one of my hunts -- a forked horn and a small spike. They were about 30 yards up the hill from me at the top of a brush patch and didn't seem to mind me down below them. We watched each other for nearly half an hour before I stood up and left to go hunt for a larger buck.

The following weekend, I came across the same two bucks on the same side of the canyon. This time, I was above them.

As soon as they saw me, they took off running through the bottom of the canyon. Even after all the quality time we shared the weekend before, they didn't want me looking down on them.

Don't make eye contact

Just remember the words of warning you were given on the Indiana Jones Disneyland ride through the Temple of the Forbidden Eye: "Look not into the eyes of the idol!"

That goes for deer, too.

When you're walking along and see that big buck in your peripheral vision, don't sneak a peek -- tempting as it might be -- until you're pulling your gun up to shoot. When you have your gun ready, then look to make sure he's the buck you want.

That's how I took an old forked horn last year while walking a trail into a meadow. I saw the bruiser out of the corner of my eye, but didn't look at him until I started to swing my gun up to shoot.

By not making eye contact, he didn't think I noticed him and was hoping I'd walk past.

He was wrong.

Wear clean clothes

I've mentioned before how important it is to control your smell when out in the field. For guys like me, that's a daunting task in the city, let alone out in the wilderness. But always keep a second change of clothes back at camp and buy a new hat before hunting season. Hats can trap a lot of your scent after sweating on a long hunt. If you do dirty your hat, dunk it in a waterhole to knock off some smell.

Also, try putting bay leaves or other nearby strong-smelling natural vegetation in your pocket. It can help mask your smell.

No sudden movements

When you see a deer you'd like to keep around a little longer don't act like a predator by rapidly reaching for your rifle or binoculars. Just make smooth, steady movements.

Let the buck make the first move. If he runs, then go into full predator mode. Grab for your gun, give chase, do whatever you have to do to tag it and bag it.

Don't let them see you

This is pretty self explanatory. Good camouflage patterns will help with this, as will avoiding clothing or other accessories that are reflective.

Hunt during the rut

When bucks start looking to attract does, they'll often take more chances and might not run when they encounter a hunter. This is an excellent time to capitalize and get a look at some big bucks that may have been hidden away most of the season.

If he does run, don't chase. Lay down for a few minutes, then slowly walk in his direction to try and get another look. Blacktail deer are the ghosts of the forest, and taking one down is always an adventure, but remember what worked last season, might get the job done again next time.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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