Blower Bucks: Think outside the box for suburban, backyard deer.
How to use a leaf blower to improve your chances at a big buck.
I’m lucky to have access to some suburban wooded tracts in the outskirts of Atlanta. We all know about the quality of bucks holed up in these pockets and ribbons of woods. An oasis of wildlife habitat nestled between neighborhoods and businesses can hold a world-class buck.
A couple years ago I began trying to up my game to increase my odds of killing one of these older-age-class bucks. I thought I would share a few tricks and tactics that have worked for me. Some of these ideas may work well on your traditional hunting land, but I believe they are almost no-brainers if you are hunting in close quarters to a busy neighborhood.
The leaf blower may well be my favorite tool for hunting. If forced to choose between grunt call, rattling horns, doe-in-heat scent or leaf blower, I choose the one that most draws in deer—the leaf blower. A blower used properly is a great way to get deer in bow range. You might be thinking, a leaf blower… why would I go into my hunting area, especially where I’m hunting a mature buck, and crank up a leaf blower?
Given the nature of where I hunt in the suburbs, the sound of a leaf blower is heard on most every fall hunt. If hunting on weekends, it is a sound that never seems to stop, so it is not at all a foreign sound to the local deer herd. It finally dawned on me to put this annoying sound to work for me.
I use the blower to create two things—trails and cleared spots on the ground. For trails, I have them going from my parking area to each stand location, and I try to cover a couple of wind directions. I may also prune some limbs that stick out in the trail, and I also kick out of the way any fallen tree limbs. Of course, what this does is decrease sound and scent on my way in. It is also great on moonlit mornings because I can easily find my way down the trail without a flash light.
For scent-control alone, it is worth the blower work. You may, like me, follow all scent-control measures but still have deer sometimes bust you off the trail you walked in on. Volatile compounds are released by crushed leaves, and I believe think deer can smell these compounds that normally are not released when small critters or a hoof steps on them. But when stepped on by a big 200-lb. boot, the leaves might release a compound with an odor detected by a deer’s nose. If this is true, all the scent-control methods in the world are is not going help, but by having less or few leaves, you just decreased another scent-control issue.
The trails, when leaf free, also provide a great way to monitor traffic. I like to see the direction of the prints. Use this in combination of when deer are in front of your trail camera, and you have the beginnings of a bedding and food-source pattern.
You are not just making the trails for you, but also for the deer. Deer absolutely love to use these leaf-blown trails, and this might just be the little trick that brings a big buck into range.
I have in a few spots with a maze of trails going from one stand to the others. Trails that don’t get used are obvious, and I will abandon those stands. I use the intel to my advantage on what stands to hunt.
Beside trails, you can use a blower to create openings. These are like instant food plots if you are in acorn country. Also there is a ton of moisture under the leaves. If you can find a place that gets three to four hours of sun, there are many seeds or blends that are shade tolerant that will grow in these cleared areas. I like ryegrass as one that is easiest to establish. However most of my “plots” are simply acorn honey holes.
The timing on blowing is the following… You need to start soon. The first time you blow an area is the most work. I like to get this bulk of the work done before the season. This first step clears all old leaves, and it is also great time to trim overhanging limbs. The second time is after a good leaf fall. This of course depends on weather and species of tree. I try to blow and not hunt for a few days, but as seen in the trail-cameras pictures of my blowing and a big buck that night, many times the curious nature of deer will have them coming in soon after you blow.
I know it seems I’m making a big deal about this, but for these acorn areas, I have learned the hard way you need to stay after it. Getting rid of the bulk of old leaves is key for “preserving” the acorns. If they are allowed to sit in thick leaf pile, they will begin to sprout. Trust me, the deer do not eat the sprouted acorns. This will pay big dividends with multiple blowings.
While I killed a good buck off of the early season acorns, I also shot a doe on Jan. 31 last year (in north Fulton County, which is open to bowhunting until Jan. 31). The doe came to acorns that had fallen months before but were still good because they did not have the moisture to sprout. The deer flocked to those acorns late in the season. Even in the fall when acorns are falling, deer will walk past acorns sitting in the leaf litter to get to exposed acorns.
Blowing is also great if you need to change stand sites once acorns are falling well. I blow under a few trees and know quickly if the tree is dropping enough acorns or not. When I find a good producing oak tree, I will blow a big circle around it, and then stick my stand on the downwind side of this exposed acorn flat.
Another tip I discovered hunting suburban deer is that I see more deer between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. than right after daylight. I think it is best to hunt your way into the stand on the quiet blown trails instead of going in a hour before daylight. I call it the school-bus effect. The deer seem to prefer to move after the hustle and bustle. Most people are gone to school or off to work by 8:30. I truly believe these deer have learned to wait a couple of hours before going to feed.
Another tip is something I’ve observed about scent—specifically, urine. I will admit, I continue to buy doe-in-heat and cover scents. However, I have had the most luck using what God has provided me—good ’ol human urine. If you want to stir the pot around a campfire, tell everyone it’s a good idea to pee in a scrape, or it’s ok to just go right out of the deer stand. Back when I was in the wildlife program at UGA, one of the research leaders in deer-scent communication told me that outside of a few pheromones that dissipate quickly, human urine and deer urine very similar. Now, don’t go peeing around every bush like my Lab, especially if you had spicy foods or if you’re not properly hydrated. But it kills me to see people go through a big effort to have a pee bottle in the tree. I have had so many deer come smell after I went, and not once have I had a deer blow and leave.
Deer are curious by nature, and remember this it is always about positive and negative response. If a blower and clearing means finding good acorns easily, and there’s no negative response the deer associate with the disturbance, the deer will learn to come right back or not be bothered by the noise at all. It is the same with curious smells. Think about these things when you try these tactics. I try to always think things through and create positive rather than negative reinforcement. The goal is to draw these suburban deer into the range of my Mathews.
Learn as you go, but most of all have patience and be confident. I have to admit my patience and confidence was running thin last September. I had tons of pics of a buck named Wally. I hunted hard—four hunts in the opening week of bow season, and no sightings. I thought I had Wally patterned. Now I second-guessed my blowing of the area. Had I hunted it too hard, was it the right wind, and was he actually bedding between my stand and a road only 150 yards away as I had thought?
My plan came together with an hour left on the last day I would be able to hunt for three weeks. He got up out of his bed at 11 a.m. long after all the morning traffic had died down. He was eating acorns in the blown area when I let the arrow fly. What a sense of accomplishment to have the plan work out. Hopefully you will find the same success this year with some of these outside-the-box tactics.
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