Stick and String Strategies

by Phillip Gentry

Upstate Outdoors
September 13, 2019 - 9:33 am
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Stan Hawkins has been hunting deer in the woods around his Upstate South Carolina home since he was a youngster. He killed his first deer with a bow nearly 27 years ago and has learned much in his years of deer hunting about where big bucks prefer to hang out. 

One of his most memorable deer hunts occurred several years ago while turkey hunting. Hawkins bumped some good deer from a likely looking spot and made a mental note about the white oak grove he’d discovered that was neatly tucked into the corner of a cut over. He returned to the spot the following September with the intent of climbing a tree to hunt since the wind and falling acorns were in his favor. Finding no suitable tree to climb, he was relegated to sitting in a long forgotten metal ladder stand. 

Just before dark, a bachelor group of mature bucks entered the grove from the cut over. True to form, Hawkins managed to arrow a 4 ½ year old 11 point that scored 135 inches and had a 17 inch inside spread. Though he had done many things right to take the deer at just 14 yards, including scouting the area ahead of the season, ranging his targets well ahead of time, and using the wind and available cover to his advantage, he still feels luck was highly in his favor.

“I’ve had so many deer walk into and out of my life for no apparent reason” said Hawkins. “There’s a whole lot of stuff you can do to stack the odds, but when that big buck walks within range, when you get right down to it, the whole thing is based on luck.”

Two factors have to be considered when scouting for a mature buck to take with a bow. The first is that a mature buck won’t tolerate much intrusion into his home range. The second is that if you have or think you have a big buck patterned, his habits are likely to change as the season progresses due to food sources, hunting pressure and the onset of the rut.

“Scouting for bow hunting is much different than scouting for rifle hunting where you only need to get within gun rage to kill a deer,” said Hawkins. “You need to know exactly where that deer will walk so that you can get within bow range of him at some point to get the shot.”

Over the years, Hawkins has come to rely heavily on trail cameras for deer scouting. He suggests prospective bow hunters should put scouting cameras up on trails leading into and out of feeding or bedding areas rather than strictly in feeding areas. Early on in bow season, the bucks are still grouped up and a well placed camera can let you know what’s walking on your hunt land and what times they prefer to move.

“It’s hard to be successful scouting in person during the season,” said Hawkins, referring to his big buck location discovery while turkey hunting. “For me scouting is a year round process every time I’m in the woods”.

In order to minimize pressure, Hawkins rotates how he hunts his family’s property and roughly divide the area into east and west sections, alternating hunt sections in order to give the other areas time to rest.

“I also make it a point to hunt food sources in the afternoon and transition areas in the morning” he said. “Deer will change food sources 3 to 4 times during the season so it’s important to know what sources are available in the area you hunt and also know when the deer are using them—all without adding pressure by stomping up the woods.”

“I locate my acorn stands and honeysuckle patches before the season starts,” he said. “When those plants start to produce crops on non-hunting land around the house, I know it’s time to go to them on the hunting land.”

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Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM. You can also stream the show live or on podcast at 1063word.radio.com

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