It's no secret that mature bucks like thick stuff, but finding success when Jungle Hunting requires some know-how.
It was a cold October morning and shortly after 8 o’clock when my mind began to drift. I had been sitting motionless for several hours and hadn’t even seen a bird or a squirrel. The boredom of monotony grabbed me, and I checked my cell phone for messages. Since I had my phone out, I decided to play Texas Hold’Em. I knew it didn’t really matter anyway, I wasn’t going to see a deer this late in the morning. I was hunting a trail leading back to a bedding area, and if I was going to see the buck I was hunting, surely it would have been right at daylight.
Two years earlier, I was hunting the same trail 250 yards away and had a large buck walk under my climbing stand. The problem was he came under my stand 30 minutes before daylight. So for the time being, it was Texas Hold’Em.
It wasn’t long before movement caught my eye, and I glanced down to my left. A deer was coming my way and when it stepped out from behind a bush, my jaw literally dropped. It was a big 10-pointer, and he was only 12 yards away. My heart raced and as soon as the buck’s head went behind a tree, I put down my cell phone. The buck wasn’t wasting any time and moved quickly down the trail toward me. He finally stopped 6 yards from the tree I had climbed. The buck was on my immediate left and since I am left-handed, he was in the worst possible position for a shot.
As the buck took a step directly toward me, he smelled the Bow Hunter’s Fatal Obsession deer scent I had put out around my stand. He stopped, smelled it and raised his head and looked behind him. In one motion, I stood up, pivoted my body and came to full draw. It was the fastest I had ever stood and drawn in more than 30 years of bowhunting.
I tried to place my top pin on the buck, but I had no shot. There was a canopy of limbs and leaves between us, and there was no way I could get an arrow through it. The buck took a step and once again smelled the scent. The buck was standing in the exact spot I had stood before daylight when I was trying to decide which tree to climb
I saw a small hole in the canopy directly between the buck’s shoulders and decided to take the shot. Since I was shooting so close and virtually straight down, I knew my arrow’s path would be slightly under my line of sight, so I placed the top pin of my sight on a leaf just above the small hole in the canopy. I touched the release and in an instant, the mature 10-pointer was down. It was a perfect shot.
Even though I took this deer with a bow, the methods I used apply to everyone. Just because I chose to use a bow and someone else might choose to use a gun doesn’t mean the methods won’t work. I feel using these methods of hunting will prove more successful when gun hunting. I call my method “Jungle Hunting,” and it applies to the river swamps and mixed-hardwood regions of the South. Jungle Hunting success relies on several factors.
Sign Interpretation: Accurately reading deer sign is one of the most important factors when looking for “Jungle Bucks.” I know there are some hunters who say “our woods are so thick, the deer eat and bed in the same place.” This is just not the case in Georgia swamps and hardwoods, especially prior to the rut. Bucks are going to move throughout their vast territory, and as a hunter, you have to find the buck’s sign and put together the pieces of the puzzle.
A good example is from my hunting club in Laurens County. One of the largest rubs on the entire club was less than 10 yards from the highway next to an open field. Another large rub on the same trail was more than a quarter of a mile away on the edge of the hardwoods that joined an overgrown pine thicket. Which one of these areas would you hunt? This is actually a trick question. You can’t decide which one to hunt on the amount of information I provided. I hunted the buck’s trail in both of these areas and had two 8-pointers and a mature 7-pointer in bow range on the rub next to the highway. I saw nothing on the trail to the rub next to the thicket. The key is you have to hunt the freshest sign no matter where it is.
Fresh rubs, scrapes, tracks and trails are things you need to look for when determining where to hunt. If this year is anything like the last few years, you need to look for water as well. The drought caused all of the areas I usually hunt to be devoid of game. I did not even see any squirrels in those areas. The animals had to have water, and they all left to go find it. I had to do the same in my search for deer, and when I found water, I found the deer.
Location: Hunt thick stuff! Simply put, that is where the best and freshest deer sign is located. If you like to sit and look a long way, Jungle Hunting is not for you. To up the odds of killing a nice deer, try Jungle Hunting. I often sit in a thick area where I can’t see more than 30 yards. The deer sign dictates where I sit. I use a Lone Wolf climbing tree stand and will often walk until I see good sign. I check the wind and go up a tree and hunt right there.
Many people say your best chance to kill a mature buck is the first time you hunt an area. Using my climbing stand, every time I hunt is the first time I hunt an area.
Once you learn your property, you will know where deer like to bed, feed and travel. I noticed deer like to follow certain terrain features like sloughs, edges and depressions. These are all areas you need to investigate and let the deer sign dictate where you sit. Watch the wind when setting up.
Cover is also important, especially for bowhunters. If you don’t have adequate cover, you need to hunt higher. There is no magic number as to how high you need to climb when you have little cover, but in thick areas, just higher than 20 feet has proven high enough for me.
Minimizing Your Impact: Every time you walk in the woods, you leave human scent. Be scent conscious and try not to touch anything. Always wear a head net or head cover and rubber boots to minimize scent dispersion. Military snipers even wear turtleneck shirts to keep their skin particle dispersion to a minimum. I also use Bowhunter’s Fatal Obsession sprayed on my pants legs and boots to help mask my odor. It would take an entire article to cover scent management, but these few tips will greatly reduce your scent dispersion.
How you walk through the woods is important also. Try not to cross deer trails. Walk parallel to trails and preferably on the downwind side. I’ve seen Dennis Lewis identify and walk a half mile out of the way just so he would not cross a buck’s trail. That is one of the many reasons Dennis has five Pope & Youngs from Georgia.
I carry a turkey-hunting diaphragm in my fanny pack for afternoon hunts. When walking through the dry leaves, there is virtually no way to stay quiet. I cluck on the diaphragm when I stop, and it has worked extremely well at getting close to deer. You can’t walk with a cadence like a human, you have to break up your steps into two or three at a time and then a brief stop.
You need to avoid deer as much as possible when walking. Binoculars can help with this tremendously. If you can see trails or sign from a distance, steer clear. Keeping your scent away from these areas is very important in keeping the element of surprise.
There is a fine line between not scouting enough and scouting too much. An example came from last year when I found a good trail that had multiple big rubs. I marked the spot on my GPS and waited for a northwest wind. It was longer than a week before I had the wind I needed to get into the area undetected. It took almost 30 minutes to walk the 549 yards from the truck to the tree I had previously selected to hunt. I was directly over the buck’s trail in a small thicket between two dried-up sloughs.
Shortly after daylight, I saw a good buck coming down the trail, but he veered to my right. I stood ready for a shot, but the buck never reappeared.
After a few hours of wondering why the buck turned and didn’t come down his trail, I climbed down and circled back to where the buck had gone. Glassing with my binoculars, I could see the buck’s trail forked, and he just happened to choose the right trail that morning. I hadn’t misread the sign, I just didn’t get the entire picture. I would be ready for him the next time I hunted there, but I did not get another northwest wind for 10 more days. I hunted him two more times with no luck. I didn’t get the buck, but a rifle hunter would have been dragging him back to the truck.
Preparation: One thing about hunting in such tight quarters, the deer might get up on you quickly, and you must be ready to shoot. In the opening example when I was using my phone, it may have appeared I wasn’t ready to shoot, but that is not the case. I had my release already hooked to my bow (which I held vertically) and I had my left foot slightly behind my right foot when the deer appeared. This allowed me to stand, draw and shoot without having to set my feet because they were already set.
I had my quiver attached to my hand climber beside my left hip and the top inside arrow in my quiver was my No. 1 arrow. Once the arrow was removed, the quiver acts as a shelf for a ThermaCELL, a grunt, or in this case, a cell phone. My No. 2 arrow is on the bottom of the quiver, so if I remove it, nothing falls from “my shelf.” All of this is just part of preparation.
Gun hunters have a little more leeway, but being prepared to shoot is just as important. The last buck I shot with a rifle was in the mid 1990s, and he was a wide-racked 8-pointer. The buck came in quickly on my left side, and the only choice I had was to shoot him right-handed. I had never fired a gun right-handed before but at only 10 yards, who could miss?
A tree blocked a behind-the-shoulder shot, and the only shot I had was directly through his shoulder. I squeezed the trigger, and the buck ran like he had been stuck with a hot poker. To make a long story short, a trail camera picture a week later showed I hit the buck above the vitals, and it was a non-fatal wound. This incident taught me a good lesson about close-quarter hunting with a rifle. You must be prepared for any kind of shot, and you must have the correct equipment.
My Remington .270 was shooting a 130-grain bullet at just faster than 3,000 feet per second. The Federal Hi-Shok bullets I was shooting that day were not designed for optimal performance at that speed and did not transfer much energy (it did not mushroom).
If you are a gun hunter and decide to give Jungle Hunting a try, you need a bullet/gun combination that is accurate and can efficiently transfer energy at close ranges. Nothing against the magnums and the fast calibers, but I think at close ranges, you will get better performance out of a slower caliber that can transfer more energy to the target. A heavier bullet may or may not be enough. I’ll leave the caliber debate to others who are more qualified, but I sure would have loved to have had a 150-grain soft point that morning.
Since you’ll most likely be hunting in thick cover, you need to use anything possible to detect oncoming deer. If you hear squirrel bark, focus on that area. If you hear a bird calling, focus on that area. If you do this enough, you can learn the differences between animal calls. Squirrels have two barks, one for predators and one for “something else.” You are concerned with the “something else” call. Birds are the same. Learn their calls, and it gives you a tremendous advantage when in the thick stuff.
I mentioned using binoculars as a scouting aid earlier, but they also have another role while hunting. I use them to see the little twigs and vines that might be difficult to see with the naked eye. You have to know where the holes to shoot through are before it starts getting dark, and it is often difficult to see those little twigs and vines with the naked eye. As the light is fading, you should already know where you can shoot and where you can’t.
I don’t know how many deer I might have killed over the years if I had used the Jungle Hunting method with a firearm. An example comes from last year. It was only a few days after getting the nice 10-pointer, and I had a perfect southeast wind to hunt an area I had nick named “Buck Lane.” I despise southeast winds, but that is the only wind I can hunt this one area. And I don’t call it “Buck Lane” because I see a lot of squirrels either.
Before I was even settled in my Lone Wolf, I had a 2 1/2-year-old 7-pointer come investigate the sound of my climbing. He came right down the trail I was hunting.
A short while later, a young 8-pointer came in on my left and browsed around at 15 yards. Thirty minutes later, a doe came from my right and was on the trail the 7-pointer used. Five minutes after she passed by, I heard a deep grunt. As I turned and looked, a heavy-racked 10-pointer stepped out at 30 yards. Here he came following the doe. My heart almost exploded, because I knew if he followed the doe, he would be only 5 yards from my tree. At 15 yards out, he looked to his right, and I came to full draw. There were a few sweetgum limbs blocking the buck’s vital area, so I just rested the pin on the buck’s white throat patch until he made a couple more steps, and I could shoot. My trigger finger was buried behind the trigger on my release as I waited for him to move. But he didn’t move! After around 45 seconds, I started wondering what was going on as the buck just looked around licking his nose.
All of a sudden, the buck whirled around and went back the way he came. I tried a grunt to stop him, but he was determined to leave the area. I was left still at full draw with nothing but a memory. However, the message here is that a firearm would have put him on the ground.
Jungle Hunting can be feast or famine. If you are noisy or can’t interpret deer sign, you won’t see anything. If you learn to read sign and move through the woods undetected, you just might get that big buck you’ve been after. And not only will you have your trophy, you’ll have a close encounter with a Jungle Buck that will last you a lifetime.
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