As a young man and an average hunter, I was always amazed that some hunters were always the ones at the check station or skinning rack with the largest bucks - or with bucks at all! The same guys, time after time! Were they able to hunt virgin land, with huge whitetails abundant? Not in my case! At that point, I was hunting public land, a military reservation in southeastern Georgia.
What was their secret? Was there a secret? Or, could it be the dreaded "oh, he is just a lucky hunter"?
Driven to find out, I asked questions of everyone I could who I viewed as a successful hunter. I began to piece together certain common traits and habits, related to scouting, stand placement, scent control, equipment issues, rifle or bow selection and so on. Every one of the hunters I "pestered" did not place the same value on all of the aforementioned issues - but one trait began to have a very common thread... read on to find out what that was and the "secret" that began to allow me to see and harvest larger bucks!
In order to get you "there", I have to back up a bit. I had an uncle who was one of these "lucky hunters". As was my way, he also fell under the radar of my inquisitiveness. We lived quite a ways apart and did not hunt together, but when I was able, I would pick his brain about issues far and wide concerning hunting - whitetail deer in particular! Back in those days - as was not uncommon - I hunted with a 30/30 rifle. I began to question him about shot placement, velocities, what he thought the best deer rifle was and so on. Apparently, he may have gotten enough of the conversation, because he ended it with an abrupt "Son, listen to me. It ain't what you shoot 'em with, it is where you shoot them. I will tell you something else you may want to listen to... if you ain't in the tree and you ain't paying attention, you ain't gonna shoot one". As quickly as he started, the speech was over. Mulling this over, I realized that almost everyone I had ever questioned had this trait on their "list" of most important things to consider when you went on a hunt - the ability to sit for long periods of time and stay focused on the stand.
Left to ponder that statement (which was the last wisdom he offered me, as cancer took him shortly after that), I began to concentrate on what he said. Sure, I moved on eventually from the 30/30, settling in the end for a well used .243 (which I still use to this day).
One thought, however, reverberated in my brain. "If you ain't in the tree and you ain't paying attention, you ain't gonna shoot one"!
I thought about the reasons I did not stay in the stand longer during each hunt. I started to do everything I could to make time spent in the tree more comfortable. Even with a limited budget, I moved up to a more comfortable tree stand - back in those days, our stands were homemade, heavy and uncomfortable. I upgraded my clothing and boots - one of the primary reasons for getting down in those days was the cold. I managed my time and exertion getting into the stand so I did not work up a sweat and then cool down drastically. I made sure I was well rested so that fatigue was not an issue. I began to take a snack and a small thermos of coffee so I could have a mid-morning respite. (Here is a hint within a hint - the coffee is not the greatest idea in the world - if you go that route, have a place to sit your cup down immediately if a buck walks out while you have the cup in your hand! Yes, that is from a hard learned lesson - clamping the cup between your knees is not conducive to accuracy with a bow and arrow!) I engineered a rest for the bow or rifle so that it was immediately available but I did not have to hold it at all times. I devised "scanning grids" in my mind, breaking the scenery up into blocks that were constantly and methodically examined - this lessened some of the boredom that at times will overtake a hunter.
As time went by, I found I was able to stay in the stand longer each morning and get back into the stand earlier each afternoon. I recall vividly the first buck I ever took - it was 10:30 or so in the morning, which was much longer that I would have ever stayed in the stand before. It was a small 7 point buck that followed a few does into a clearing - to this day, the 12" rack (OK, maybe it was 10") stands as one of the best "trophies" I ever took. I also recall very vividly the largest whitetail I ever saw in the wild. I was bow hunting in South Carolina and the season had just opened. Deer hunting season in the lowcountry of SC begins in the middle of August. I got in the stand at 4:00 PM and it was 95 degrees that day. With 5 hours to hunt and wringing with sweat, I settled into a lock-on stand that was nestled in a 100 yard strip of woods that ran between 2 corn fields. Taking just a moment to rest before pulling the bow up (no more than 2-3 minutes had passed), I hear a commotion in the woods below me and my first thought was "who is out scouting in this heat?". Wrong. No more than 50 yards from me, 2 bucks walked up the trail that split just as it reached my stand. Both were tremendous bucks, but the first one was so large I barely even glanced at the one in the rear. They were in velvet, of course, so that makes them appear much larger than they are, but I would conservatively estimate the first one at a 150 - 160 class buck. As a young man, this is no more than breathtaking. (Heck, it would be breathtaking today!). OK, buck coming up the trail - where is the bow? Oh, yeah, hadn't pulled it up yet, remember?? Nonetheless, there was no harvest of that buck that day - so back to the main point: stay long in the morning, get up early in the afternoon and be ready! During that time period in SC, most guys were getting into the stands at 6:00 PM or so.
Of course, there are still no excuses for poor scent management, scouting, shot placement, reaction times, etc. To be a true, repetitive sucessful whitetail deer man or woman, you have to be able to manage all aspects of hunting. The one thing that has helped me over the years, I think, has been the ability to remain on the stand for longer periods of time and remain ready so that when an opportunity presents itself, you can take advantage of it!
Get in early in the morning or afternoon, get settled in and get comfortable, be dressed appropriately and remain alert. See if this does not help augment all you already know and practice about deer hunting - I beleive that you will find the hunt more enjoyable and you will see more wildlife. The main goal, however, is to see more deer. Once this goal is accomplished, you can begin to study them more closely, weed out the smaller bucks and wait for Mr. Big to cross your path!
Best of luck to you. Hunt safe and hunt smart!