These news headlines brought to you by these fine sponsors:
Sat, 07 Nov 2020 00:44:10 EST
click on the picture to enlarge
The recent "Hunter's Moon" on Halloween sure brings up fine memories for me. A key timeframe for me regarding the annual whitetail rut is Halloween and the first two weeks of November. What is known as the pre-rut phase, when bucks begin to break away from their bachelor groups and start setting up a territory and developing scrapes (worked up circular patterns in the earth, usually associated with a tree or bush with overhanging branches that they lick and rub their scent glands on), usually begins in early October. Some hunters get thrilled with hunting near buck-rubs (where the bucks rub bark of off saplings with their antlers) and rub-lines (a series of rubs), but for me, buck-rubs are an indicator of bucks in the area, and sometimes careful study can give an idea of how big some bucks are in that vicinity, but not necessarily a place I want to setup near. (I'm old school and don't use or rely on trail-cams).
I do, however, frequently setup my stands and blinds in the vicinity of scrapes, especially very large scrapes which are indicative of several bucks paying their respects to this spot on a regular basis. My favorite time to be near the vicinity of these bigger scrapes is when Halloween eases in as this marks the ending of the pre-rut phase and the does begin to become more receptive to actions of amorous bucks, and thus the actual rut starts up, with it peaking within the next two weeks.
Generally I prefer to setup with a visual of a big scrape, but not right next to it, because I want to access the stand or blind without bumping into or spooking any bucks coming in to freshen up the scrape, and I rely on using various deer vocalizations to bring bucks into bow/crossbow range. What I like most about the Halloween timeframe is that while the actual rut is beginning, not many does are all that receptive to a buck's advances, (unlike the peak when many does are receptive) and bucks will more often respond to my calling efforts, in the hopes of an early date.
This means the "doe in estrus" bleat cans that are simple to use, can begin to pay dividends. One call that I use the most throughout the pre-rut and actual rut is a H.S. "True Talker" that is a simple rubber tube which has the ability to cover the entire deer repertoire by simply pressing on a certain part of the concave portion, and tone (indicating deer-age-class, both buck and doe) can also be quickly imitated. With practice, this call can be operated by second thought, just like blowing on a musical instrument. A deer call and a binocular are among my most important tools for bagging deer, next to my hunting arm.
One Halloween-timeframe found me carefully approaching a ladder-stand I had setup within 80 yards of a large scrape. Although various bucks visit and work such scrapes 24 hours a day, I've had my most success hunting near big scrapes in the afternoon, with most of my shots occurring just before dark. I had also avoided using this stand until Halloween (combined with the perfect wind direction and calling conditions). It was an hour before dark when I spotted the first buck showing up at the scrape underneath an ancient wild apple tree. He was actually a spectacular (and mature) 5-point featuring a nice spread, mass and antler height with large forks, and he sure perked my interest (I like "freaky" racks), with me calling by using intermittent "young" buck grunts to irritate the heck out of him, and thus draw him into range of my crossbow. Although he looked my way whenever I called, the big 5-pointer seemed to be at peace with the world and in no mood for a scrap, as yet. He eventually moved off and disappeared into the heavy cover.
The next big scrape visitor arrived about a half hour before dark and I believed at first review, he was a nice 8-pointer, but he would later prove to be a 7-pointer as he was missing a busted off brow tine. The 7-pointer dug at the scrape with his front hooves, and then started euphorically working his head up into the overhanging branches. I watched through my binocular, and when the buck decided to pause for a moment, I let out a "young buck" grunt. The buck immediately snapped his head in my direction and remained still as a statue and I didn't make a peep (I do not call when a deer is looking directly my way, as they can uncannily peg an exact position the sound comes from).
Like the 5-pointer before him, the buck turned away and started to move on, that is when I let out a long plaintive doe bleat, and backed it up with two short, young-buck grunts. The buck did an abrupt about face and stared long and hard in my direction, and something told me he was coming, even though he banked to his left and melted away into the cover. What I didn't realize was how fast he really was coming in. In one second he was disappearing into the cover at an off angle, and just a few seconds later he had covered more than 70 yards and suddenly reappeared just 10 yards away and closing at a ground covering amble. Unlike the big 5-pointer, this buck was in a scrappy mood.
When the buck had first disappeared, my instincts told me to get ready, and I was just removing my Darton crossbow from a peg where I had it hanging by its cocking stirrup, when the buck suddenly reappeared with his ears flattened against his head and back-hair standing straight up, and I froze in my movement. Anyone who thinks deer don't look up, better think again, and I waited until the buck's head disappeared behind a bush to complete shouldering my crossbow. The buck passed underneath me with his left antler-tip missing the ladder portion of my stand by just a few inches, and I began the automatic process of where to aim and when to shoot. I much prefer a slightly quartering away angle when especially using arrows and crossbow bolts from above, to achieve the most cutting trauma through both lungs and trying for a complete pass-through. This ups the ante on putting deer down for the count quickly, as well as creates a more evident blood-trail for following up.
I can tell you for a fact that whitetails can hear safeties go off when they are standing only 12 feet away from the base of your ladder stand. At the sound of the subtle metallic click, the buck snapped his head up and looked directly at me, and that is when the crossbow bolt made a complete, angling pass through from high on the back of his left ribcage, to making an exit out the crease just behind his right shoulder. The buck exploded out and disappeared into heavy cover, and I was certain I heard him crashing down just a few seconds later.
I lowered my crossbow with a cord, and climbed down to assess the situation. The bolt was buried into hard clay nearly up to its fletching which was covered with frothy lung blood. I hadn't covered but a few yards on the blood-trail when I heard a deer flush ahead of me. I was certain the buck I had just shot was down due to the distinct evidence and that this had been another deer, possibly another buck responding to my calling from the opposite direction, that I had just bumped into.
I decided to play it safe, however, and backed off and hunkered down for a spell, just in case. I could hear a thunderstorm rumbling in from the west as darkness soon enveloped me. As the storm neared my position, I could tell it was going to be a real gully-wumper and I experienced a truly Halloween moment. Up in this eastern sky was an orange-tinted full moon, while on the western horizon I had lightning bolts streaking everywhere in an amazing electrical display to the loud accompaniment of the cracks and booms of thunder. Some raccoons also got into a loud squalling fight in some nearby standing corn to add to the surreal moment.
Knowing the blood trail was going to be washed away soon, I went with my instincts and assumed that the buck was down for the count, and soon found him as such (per a flashlight) less than 40 yards from my ladder-stand. It obviously had been another deer flushing, because the 7-pointer had very quickly succumbed to the hit.
By the time I tagged, field-dressed and dragged the hefty buck out to where I could access him with my truck, raindrops large enough to be swatted with a ping-pong paddle began pelting me, but I needed a little cooling off from my exertion at that point anyway.
From Halloween on through the first two weeks of November, local whitetail hunting with archery tackle truly works for me! It is a spectacular autumn timeframe I live for.