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Deer Lessons

A Deer Hunting Article

Written by T.R. Michels


I had left the house a quarter of a mile away an hour earlier and approached my stand from downwind. I climbed into the stand in the darkness, knowing the does and fawns used the brushy area next to the golden rod patch in front of me as a nighttime bedding area. I hoped I could get into the stand without the deer seeing or hearing me. With a mild west wind and my charcoal scent elimination suit on I was confident they would not smell me.

I had been watching the buck that visited the area for several weeks, patterning his movements along the rub route I discovered in early October. I had seen him coming across the hayfield one evening but there was no place to set up for him. In early November I began to see him in the mornings on the rub route back to his bedding area. There were three different stands along the back route and I was confident I could get close to him once the rut was in full swing.

A half hour after I got into my stand, the does and fawns came out of the brush, stopping for a last bite before they returned to their daytime bedding areas. The doe with one fawn might have seen my leg shaking with the cold and stood twenty yards to my right, stamping her foot, trying to get me to give myself away. I held still and she eventually joined the other deer to feed.

I watched the deer for the next half hour, the fawns eating and playing intermittently. This was ideal, I had several live decoys to attract the buck right in front of me. The does eventually moved toward the four lane road, crossed the driveway and disappeared. I watched them go and then looked back at the golden rod patch. There were two yearling does standing in the old road at the end of the field. Curious as to their reaction I picked up my rattling racks and slammed them together loudly then ground them together, simulating two bucks fighting. The yearlings didn't even look up. They just continued licking each other.

I watched then rattled again. A four point buck appeared across the field looking my way. I raised my binoculars to get a better look. He looked intently in my direction and then toward the does. I swung my binoculars to the old road expecting to see the does watching the buck. What I saw made my heart stop. Fifty yards away, coming in on a rope, was the big eight point buck. The sun was above the trees now and the sky was crystal clear. The buck moved slowly, muscles rolling under a layer of fat. His neck was swollen twice normal size and glistened in the sun. His high, wide rack looked larger than I remembered. This was the boss, the most dominant of the two older bucks that regularly traveled the area.

I swung my binoculars back to the small four point, probably the son of the eight point, just in time to see him turn tail, jump the four strand barbed wire fence and leave. He didn't want anything to do with his father when there were does nearby. I had seen him get kicked by the eight pointer in May. He knew who was boss. I brought the binoculars back to the eight point and watched as he walked toward me. My left leg began to shake uncontrollably, whether from the cold, excitement or both I didn't know. I willed my leg to quit because I didn't want the buck to notice, but it still shook. My mouth was dry, the adrenaline streaming through my veins.

As the buck got closer I lowered my binoculars. When he got to the spot where the doe had stamped her hoof earlier I knew he would smell the excess interdigital scent she left behind. I hoped it wouldn't alarm him. When he reached the spot he lowered his head and smelled the ground. I fully expected him to turn tail and run but he didn't. He stood, facing head on, then turned sideways and offered a perfect shot at his right shoulder twenty yards away. There was nothing between us but air. As he looked across the field where the four pointer had been I raised my left arm, brought my right hand to my cheek and mentally said, "You're mine." Then I lowered my hands.

He stood a while longer then walked into the golden rods. When he was thirty yards out I grabbed my racks and rattled again. He stopped and looked back, searching for the buck's he thought he heard. I blew my Haydel's grunt call to turn him. He looked a moment longer then kept moving. I rattled again. This time he began to trot. I rattled louder, thinking he hadn't heard the rattling. The buck began to trot, disappearing in the golden rods, only his rack visible in the morning sun. When he reached the fence he jumped it and went out of sight. I never fired a shot.

No, I hadn't had a serious case of buck fever. But many of my hunting buddies thought I suffered from serious mental malady. I hadn't even been carrying my Darton Viper. It was in the garage at home. I was doing what I had been for the last few years, researching whitetails. I never carried a bow, only my pocket camera. I didn't want to kill any of the deer. I wanted to continue to study them under actual hunting conditions every day from the beginning of the bow season in September until it ended in December. Let's see what I learned from the deer.

I had previously rattled the buck in on two different occasions. The first time he was with a doe showing all the signs of estrus. He was a quarter mile away and showed little interest in my rattling before I lost sight of him. I continued to rattle loudly every ten minutes, searching the area around me for any other buck willing to respond. As I prepared to leave my stand I took one last look around in front of me. I didn't look behind because there was a farmhouse thirty yards away. My mistake. As I got up and turned around I saw the eight pointer, and he saw me. He had stepped into the woods and had come in from downwind, taking twenty minutes to cover a quarter mile. All I saw after he spotted me was a large white tail, politely waving good-bye.

Lesson 1
When using scents, calls or rattling give the buck time to respond, and be prepared for other bucks you may not be aware of to respond.

Lesson 2
Look all around your stand before leaving and expect bucks to come in from downwind. The second time I rattled the eight pointer I was sitting in a stand along his rub route near a scrape. I had no idea he was in the area but knew he traveled the area late in the evening from east to west during the pre-rut. With the rut is full swing I was confident what time and which direction he would be traveling. I setup my stand ten yards from his rub route in a bottleneck. I had been rattling about fifteen minutes when he showed up. He came in right when I expected him, shortly before sundown. But he came in from the west and traveled east. I didn't see him until it was too late, and I didn't have a shot until he was out of range.

Lesson 3
Know the normal travel route of the buck and hunt along it, preferably in a bottleneck.

Lesson 4
During the rut buck movement is unpredictable, be prepared for bucks at all hours and from any direction. The last time I rattled the buck was in the golden rod patch. It was during the rut. Because I had spent numerous hours watching the area I knew the buck traveled earlier in the evening and later in the morning than usual in his search for does. I had seen the buck chasing a doe the morning before and I knew she was close to estrus and the buck would either stay near her or return.

Lesson 5
Buck's often travel later in the morning and earlier in the evening than normal during the rut. I knew the does often fed in the golden rod patch before returning to their beds

Lesson 6
During the rut hunt known doe use areas. The does were in the field while the bucks were in the vicinity.

Lesson 7
Live decoys will attract other deer, or at least make them feel secure. When I rattled, both the four point and the eight point buck responded. If I had been interested in taking any buck I might have tried to bring in the four pointer and given myself away to the eight pointer.

Lesson 8
When using rattling, scents or calls realize that more than one buck may respond, stay alert and carefully check the area before choosing which deer to shoot. When the eight point came in he was in no hurry and he was suspicious. When I rattled while he was leaving he got nervous. He was learning that if he didn't see or smell other bucks when he heard rattling there was something wrong.

Lesson 9
Don't rattle the same buck too many times, they learn fast.

Lesson 10
Don't rattle the same buck more than twice from the same stand.

The more time I spend researching whitetails the more I learn. The more I learn about whitetails the more I realize how little I really know. But it sure is fun learning, and I can't think of a better job description than being in the woods 6-7 hours a day all through deer season. Now if I can only convince the wife I need to take three months off to research elk and turkey again.