How to Bow Hunt Big Mature Bucks Over Bait

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Even though it was 49 years ago, I still vividly remember shooting my first buck. I was in Lugerville, Wisconsin, a small community in the northern part of the state.

As I was proudly standing over my buck, with my dad, uncles and cousins congratulating me, my Uncle Louie called me a "lucky stiff." He had hunted many years without killing a buck.

In the years since 1957, I have harvested many small bucks and several large ones. I've also thought often about my uncle's comment. Luck does play an important part in the success of any hunt, but to harvest a mature whitetail with a bow also requires great thought in positioning yourself.

Each buck I shot was under different circumstances, but I always tried to build on that "lesson learned" to increase my chances for the next year. I am now convinced that harvesting a trophy whitetail with a bow is almost impossible unless extreme luck, preplanning and precautions are put in place.

It was not until the late 80s that I discovered tree stands. Before this time, if there was a likely spot, I would shimmy up a tree, sit on a limb and hope for the best. This method was not too comfortable for long periods of time and made for awkard shots. It was also always a challenge to stay in the tree without falling. However, hunting up high gave me more sightings and the harvest rate when up, as well as the understanding of how these deer function in their environment. The more deer I observed, the more I could see how they react to various conditions and situations.

When baiting (the use of feed) became legal, it was a good bet to bow hunt over corn, apples, beets, pumpkins, cabbage, and even green tomatoes. My typical pattern and tactic was to put up a tree stand, place some feed 15 to 20 yards out and hunt the stand. I would continue to bait, until the opportunity presented itself for a good shot. I wouldn't pass up many chances, as venison is a favorite meal in our house. I was always hoping for a chance at the "big boy," but I guess I never waited long enough.

Since retiring two years ago, I have sat for long hours, day after day. I've passed up many small deer, but again I wouldn't see the big bucks (even when I knew some were in the area). I contributed my lack of success to bad luck. But after analyzing my methods, I concluded I was not putting the odds in my favor. I figured that by baiting and getting the does to come in and leave their scent, the buck would follow; what better decoy and scent was there than a real live doe standing in front of me so the big buck would come charging in? I could march home and be the envy of everyone. This tactic is good but again extreme luck plays the biggest role.

These big, mature bucks get big because they are smart. They are wary animals whose senses are far sharper than ours. The greatest advantage is an incredible, powerful nose. They know human scent means danger!

I concluded if I can cut down their "smell advantage," still hunt over bait and sit in a tree stand, I can increase my odds. Scent blockers, scentless soaps, carbon suits do help, but don't fool yourself into thinking deer will never smell your presence; they will. However, there are several rules, that I believe if followed, will increase your odds and you will not be wasting your valuable hunting time.

Before I get into my rules, just keep in mind that these big guys are the four to eight-year-old dominant bucks that take no chances. I have observed (and quite likely you have, too) a mature buck at a distance that has circled the bait pile, picked up my scent and disappeared without ever coming into bow range, like the lyrics in The Thirty Point Buck, "there he was gone." I have left my stand feeling dejected and outsmarted, but somewhat excited because I came close to the big guy. But it takes only once for them to scent you and they will never, and I mean never, come back and eat your feed during daylight hours.

Here are my most important rules when bow hunting big bucks over bait:

1. Stand placement. I place my stand in a tree that will provide a good cover background like in a spruce tree with a lot of limbs. I do not want to be silhouetted like I may be in a limbless tree. I never stand with cover in front of me as it hinders my ability to get my bow up and shoot. I don't expect to shoot 360 degrees; rather, I settle for a very small window of a few feet to get a shot off. I do this because it automatically eliminates any movement trying to twist around, thereby eliminating any movement the buck can spot. I have only one possible alley to shoot through.

2. Bait Placement. I place my bait at least 50 to 80 yards from my stand. If I had a choice I would drop it from a helicopter to eliminate scent; this is where scent eliminators help. I do not expect to shoot a deer that far away, but it helps decrease the deer's chance of scenting me. They will almost always circle downwind of the bait, by at least fifty yards. When they do, they will pass within shooting range of me and can present a good quartering-away shot.

3. Pay Attention to the Wind. I never hunt the stand when the wind is drifting towards the bait pile. If the wind is in my back I will not stand there.

4. Hunt the Stand Infrequently. I hunt the stand once or twice at the most. After I bait, I stay away for at least 24 to 48 hours. This gives time to reduce my scent, have them find the bait, and have them feel safe to enter and eat. The third or fourth day, I sneak into my stand three to four hours before evening to help eliminate some of my scent I leave when entering. If they hear me come in, I usually start the process all over in another spot.

To reduce chances of the deer hearing me, I pick a spot away from the bedding area. I also never go to the bait pile, as tempting as it is, to investigate tracks, amount of bait consumed, etc., because I will leave my scent and a red flag alert. There will be plenty of time to do that after the buck is tagged. Is it a guarantee for me? No but I believe it will increase my chances.

5. Hunt the Long-Nose Doe. Lastly, I feel I must pass along my son Ben's advice. He believes that in order to increase the odds of harvesting a big buck, first spend some time hunting the six or seven-year-old long nose doe that lives in the area. She is as likely to bust you as the big dominant buck.

Good luck! It is great to be retired to have the time to hunt this method.


Baiting is a great way to

Baiting is a great way to hunt, imo but here in michigan we are allowed only 2 gallons at one time spread over a ten foot area so i am always running bait out it is kinda silly i wish we could put out a little more to keep from spreading scent all over every 2 days

groovy mike's picture

It is not legal to bait deer in New York State, but....

It is not legal to bait deer in New York State, its not even legal to feed them with no intent to hunt over the feed.  That said I am certainly in no way opposed to what you describe.  As long as a hunter is hunting ethically and legally we shouldn’t knock anyone’s method of huntingThe only hunting over placed bait I ever did was hunting bear over bait in teh state of Maine.  , I have tried it twice and while I did see one small bear, I never had a chance at a shooter bear.  You can find the details in a story I wrote called ‘Learning to Hunt Bear’ posted in the story section of this website.  

Some folks consider hunting over bait unethical even where it is legal, but where is the line between what is bait and what is not?  what is ethical or unethical as a hunting practice over bait (or food).  Is a food plot planted just for hunting any different than pouring corn on teh ground, or different than hunting for deer in a corn field that has already been harvested but still has plenty of corn on the ground dropped by the harvester?  What if the corn was planted and left standing to attract deer?  What if it was planted strictly for domestic animals and is being destroyed by deer?  How about in or near a commercial apple orchard or a wheat field?  How about in a grove or oak trees with the ground covered by acorns or beech trees dropping beechnuts?  No one would thing that is unethical or consider it baiting.  We hunt the game where the game is.  Game lives where they eat and sleep.  To propose that hunting over a naturally occurring food source is unethical is ridiculous in my humble opinion.  So what then is the definition of 'naturally occurring' ?  I'm getting way off track here but the bottom line is that I found teh article on huntig over bait interesting and I think teh concept is entirely ethical, even though it would be illegal for me to try it in my home state at this time.  

ndemiter's picture

i have been able to hunt over

i have been able to hunt over bait many times and have learned quite a bit about doing it effectively. For one, i learned to use LOTS of bait. I use sweet feed for horses and i go through 100 pounds every two weeks. I spread it out over a 25 foot diameter circle and rebait 2-3 times before the season. the molasses is so strong smelling it pulls in deer from far away. i also spend less than $8 for 50 pounds. so i use less than $80 of bait per year. and i can usually harvest my limit from one stand.

when setting up my stand location, i try to put something like a cliff or steep hill behind me that deer cannot travel on and i try to have the bait west of my location so the wind is frequently in my favor. this really helps on cutting down on spooking deer. and with bait, if you feed them, they will come. where i hunt, it's not hard finding a good location like i described.

it's really important to stay quiet in your stand when deer are coming in. in the early season, sound is your biggest enemy since the vegetation cover is usually so thick. early season is when i have my best luck baiting as well.

if you havn't tried baiting, i recommend it. it's usually a fast paced evening style hunt in which you expend very little energy.

hunter25's picture

This is an interesting

This is an interesting article about hunting over bait. Using bait in Colorado is illegal so I have never learned anything about hunting with it. I just assumed you put the bait out in front of your blind and waited for all the big bucks to come running just like in tv. This was very enlightening on the proper methods needed to bag the big one.

There is getting to be more and more controversy about using bait to hunt over but as long as it;s legal where you hunt I have no problem with it.

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