GON’s Deer Hunt Challenge, The Results
Four hunters in very good set-ups, three strike out while one could have filled his tags.
Let’s talk reality hunting.
A lot of our subscribers hunt just like me, on pine-infested timberland. My hunting club has a decent deer population, and it receives some moderate hunting pressure. So, how would two expert deer hunters approach this piece of property and where would they hunt? We invited John Seginak and John Stanley to scout our land August 14, hang three stands apiece and then return to hunt November 2-3. Those scouting results are on the opposite page, and we reported in the November issue why these two experts picked the three stands they did.
For the hunt, I would be sitting the Seginak No. 3 stand. I approached the stand from the club’s main road. As you can see by the map this area has a lot of deer trails, but we felt like approaching from the road was the best way in, even though I would be walking parallel to a heavy deer trail.
“If you’ve got to give up something, I’d rather give up a well-defined trail than a small one,” said Seginak.
There were much smaller trails, where mature deer are more likely to use, paralleling the edge of the clearcut. Approaching from the west was not possible because of a gully.
The walk in was in open hardwoods, so I was careful not to rub against small saplings. To avoid laying down unnecessary scent, I wore hip waders, a suggestion from Seginak. Offering more protection than just rubber boots, I felt pretty darn scent free from the waist down.
“I’ve done really good wearing hip waders,” said Seginak. “People say also feel that there’s no way to get 100 percent scent free.”
Before daylight a light, southwest wind was blowing, which was good for approaching the stand. I was in the tree by 5:50 a.m. and getting situated when a deer, 20 yards behind me, ran off. I believe it was coming up that same trail I’d just walked in on and it either heard me or saw me in the tree. I’d like to think my hip waders worked to contain much of my scent. I sat tight in the stand for 12 hours, and that was the only deer report I could muster.
Meanwhile, Seginak was in Seginak No. 1, the stand where we felt like we could kill a mature buck.
At 6:42 a.m. Seginak watched a doe move past, then at 6:45, on a separate trail, a 2 1/2-year-old 8-pointer came by moving south to north. At 10:15 a spike moved past the stand north to south.
“I noticed on both bucks that neither of the tarsal glands were stained,” said Seginak.
By 11:15 a.m. the wind had changed from a steady, light northwest wind to a swirling mess coming from all directions. Fortunately, this stand was set up on top of a high knoll where it wouldn’t interfere with deer coming up the knoll toward the stand. I, too, was hunting in a stand where swirling winds wouldn’t hurt me.
On day two, I went back to Seginak No. 3, while John elected not to hunt Seginak No. 1 again.
“Seginak No. 1 was specifically set up for that searching stage where bucks were on the move going from bedding area to bedding area or food source to food source looking for a concentration of does, looking for something coming into heat,” said Seginak. “I didn’t even think mature bucks were in the searching stage. I thought they were in the making-scrapes stage. I think they just started laying down a lot of scrapes the week before and the week we hunted. We saw no evidence of bucks chasing.”
Seginak said when the chasing stage begins you’ll find scuffed-up pine needles and big tracks behind little tracks on the roads.
Seginak couldn’t wait to get in his climber at Seginak No. 2. This was one of only two areas where we found white oaks with acorns.
“The wind was swirling,” said Seginak. “White oaks were dropping. There were two big scrapes at the white oak that had urine in them.
“At noon a huge doe came from the north. Her nose was so long she looked old enough to vote.”
Seginak and I had agreed we were going to shoot a doe after 4 p.m.
“The doe headed east.”
East was toward me in Seginak No. 3, but I didn’t see a deer all day.
“At 12:47 a mature doe came from the road, urinated in the scrape and headed east,” said Seginak. “At 1 p.m. another mature doe came in, this one from the northeast and headed east. At 1:32 p.m. a yearling 4-pointer came from the west southwest and headed southeast. His tarsals were not stained. At 1:50 p.m. I got busted by a doe at 30 yards while trying to focus the camera. It came from the west, blew 20 times and headed toward Florida.”
Seginak actually had photos of most of these deer, but we just didn’t have room to run them.
After dark Seginak asked me, said Seginak. “They acted like there was extreme hunting pressure already on them. You, Bailey and Stanley all bumped deer before daylight. Again, another indication there was hunting pressure. They’re moving around before daylight and laying down about shooting time.”
To further nail down Seginak’s point, we hunted during a new moon, a time when Seginak was looking for good activity from daylight until 9:30 and then late in the afternoon.
“That’s another reason I didn’t want to get near anybody’s permanent stand,” said Seginak. “I knew there was going to be pressure.”
The stand I hunted was clean.
“I can’t honestly explain why you didn’t see anything,” said Seginak. “You were set up for a variety of reasons: deer coming back from where I was hunting (Seginak No. 2) or between us where we found a few acorns, to get into that clearcut to bed and then going to other way to eat acorns. And, it was a funnel.”
I asked Seginak what would be his plan if he were going to continue hunting the property the rest of the season.
“I would find a late-season food source where there’s not an “X” on the map even close,” said Seginak. “The gold mine would be a lone water oak that’s eat up with acorns, or a honeysuckle patch in the clearcuts or planted pines in the thickest place you can find.
“You want to get up in a tripod or something high and look down in that stuff because they’re not going to come out, the mature ones.”
Here’s the kicker.
“It’ll be very difficult to get a 5 1/2 under those circumstances,” said Seginak. “The places you need to scout are the places they’ll be bedded. You do the scouting for a late-season food source the year before or before the season. If I knew we were going to be hunting in late season, I would have looked for a spot on our scouting day.”
However, if you just want to shoot some freezer meat, Seginak offers some final advice.
“I would take a chance of going in and finding one of these excellent food sources in thick stuff, let it lay a week and go back and hunt it. If there’s any way you can find a place on a knoll where any wind direction won’t hurt you, it’s money.”
John Stanley’s Hunt Challenge, By Brad Bailey
John Stanley chose the option of returning to the club in October ahead of the hunt for a second look and the opportunity to make any last-minute changes. On October 26, John and I scouted the property again. The buck sign we found served to confirm that he had selected good locations. We walked in to the Stanley 1 stand location and found a three-foot-wide scrape within 30 yards of the red oak he planned to hunt. Just inside the treeline to the east of his stand, we found another large scrape and a rub. Overall, we found about 10 scrapes and 25 or so rubs in the drain where Stanley 1 was located, and along the creek. We decided to move Stanley 2 about 200 yards farther up the creek to a higher vantage from which to watch the cutover. We hung stands and left the property. We were ready.
On November 3, we parked just off the main road into the property. John would hunt the Stanley 1 location, and I would be at the new Stanley 2. We would both be watching big expanses of chop and edge, hoping to see bucks on the move as the rut kicked in. Stanley 3 had fewer of the qualities John likes in a stand location and was unhunted.
In preparing to hunt, John removed his boots and other hunting gear from a plastic tote lined with baking soda and pine branches. “My rubber hunting boots have never touched anything other than the ground I hunt on and the inside of my Rubbermaid container,” he said.
John sprayed his rubber boots, pants and coat with a scent-killer spray. Before he entered the woods, he broke off small pine limbs and rubbed them over his pants, coat — even his hair — s a pine cover scent. John takes chlorophyll tablets during hunting season to help control body odor, and he chews Clorets gum while he is in the stand to help clear his breath.
John’s pack contained a grunt call, a bleat call and rattling horns.
“I keep my bleat, horns and grunt call all hanging and ready in case I see a shooter out of bow range,” said John. If I see a buck that’s going away, I’ll usually bleat or grunt first. If that doesn’t work, I’ll tickle the tines and maybe rake the tree, and then get more aggressive rattling if I can’t turn him.”
John and I both moved deer on our way to our stands. We spent 12 hours in our stands watching the cutover, and on the first day saw no deer. As I climbed down, deer ran in circles in the creek bottom behind me, but I couldn’t see them.
On the second day, John had tree bark fall into his eye, and he had to leave the woods at 10:30 a.m. after seeing no deer. I also zeroed.
In fairness to John, we note that another club member shot a 2 1/2-year-old 8-pointer five days before our hunt that ran into the area near his stand, and there was significant hunter activity trailing the buck.
“After seeing the property, I can say that it has one big thing going for it as far as big-buck potential — good cover,” said John. “In looking at a new piece of property that’s one of the first things I look for — bedding cover, and the thickest stuff around where a big buck would feel comfortable.
“If I could hunt the property next year and wanted to attempt to kill a good buck, I’d put on my briar pants after deer season and spend several weekends walking in all the clearcuts and briar patches looking for bedding areas and funnels. All of those tree-lined drains in the cuts have potential for stand sites in which to kill a good deer as it travels the edges. Big bucks like edges in thick cover. I would check out every drain, and then I would cut trails into the ones with potential and go ahead and hang stands as high as possible, making sure I had several trails for each potential wind direction. I might even cut trails through the cuts (not damaging the pines, of course) and attempt to alter deer movement. That would probably mean you would have to be back out in the summer to trim them out, but the majority of the work would be done when the weather was cool. Good entry trails where you can be quiet getting into these areas are a must as you’ll be near their bedding areas. The only problem is that the deer will use the trails, too.
“Doing this would definitely put you in the driver’s seat come next deer season with the added benefit of being able to hunt areas that 98 percent of the other hunters simply wouldn’t go to the trouble to prepare for hunting.”
It’s reality hunting at its best. Nobody pulled the trigger, but I took away some valuable lessons from the assignment. One, summer scouting really does work, as was shown in the results from Seginak No. 2. And two, if you’re a member of a heavily hunted club, you may want to reconsider where, when and why you hunt the places you do.
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