When I asked the older gentleman where he'd taken these two outstanding deer, he smiled.
"I took both deer at a wildlife management area — the 8-point on Saturday and the 12-point on Sunday," he said.
My brain nearly stripped a gear just thinking about what he'd said. Because I'd never seen bucks this size come from public lands, I thought the older hunter must have lied.
When I observed that I couldn't believe he'd taken those two bucks on public ground, the elderly outdoorsman smiled and made a statement even more unbelievable than his admission of taking the two trophy bucks in a place where anyone could hunt.
"These are two of the best bucks I've ever taken from a wildlife management area," he said. "However, every season, I usually take one to three really good bucks from WMAs."
As I questioned the man more, he only reluctantly shared his secrets for successfully hunting public-land bucks.
"Taking older-age-class bucks on public lands is easy," the old man explained.
There are only a few things a hunter must do, he said, to be successful:
• don't hunt public lands until the end of the season because by then hunters will have harvested all the younger bucks, leaving only the older, smarter bucks.
• hunt really-thick cover where no one in his right mind wants to hunt. Perhaps you only can see 20 yards in these areas.
• pack a lunch, plan to get into your stand before daylight, and don't come down from that stand until black dark.
The old man explained that his technique worked because all the other hunters in the woods move all day long in the open areas. Since the season almost had come to an end, they felt that the more they moved and the more ground they covered, the greater their odds for taking a buck.
"The hunters are moving, the deer are moving, and I'm the only thing that's sitting still," he explained. "The bucks know that to survive, they've got to stay in that thick cover, and they probably won't encounter a hunter in there.
"Even if a hunter jumps a buck in a patch of cover on public land, that buck will go to the closest patch of thick cover he can find after he's been spooked.
"Therefore, my odds are drastically increased for taking the best buck on the property if I'm sitting still in thick cover while the deer and the other hunters are moving all around me."
Overlooking the Obvious
Woodsmanship includes the ability to know and understand what's going on in the woods, seeing what other hunters don't see and thinking like an older-age-class buck.
If someone were to ask me to select the best woodsman I've ever known, I'd have to pick Jerry Simmons, a longtime, avid bowhunter and the inventor of the Interceptor and the Landshark broadheads that many Louisiana hunters enjoy shooting.
Simmons bowhunts on wildlife management areas at the first of the season before gun season arrives. On many WMAs, the first weekend of bow season will have almost as much hunting pressure as the opening weekend of gun season. Still, Simmons takes a buck almost every opening weekend.
"Some years ago, I hunted the first day of bow season on a WMA," Simmons said. "I'd found a place that I felt certain would produce a buck. However, another hunter wandered into my area, spooked the deer and blew my hunt plan.
"On my way out of the woods, I found a white oak acorn tree not 50 yards from the road that had plenty of deer droppings under it and empty acorn hulls where the deer had been feeding."
Simmons thought about that acorn tree all afternoon and came to the conclusion that deer fed on those acorns at night because of the traffic all day long on the main road that went through the WMA. As Simmons drove to the WMA the next morning, he began to think like a buck.
"The road had plenty of traffic before daylight as hunters came to the WMA to try to get into the woods to hunt at first light," Simmons explains. "Even the latecomers would all be in the woods by 8 a.m., but from 8-11 a.m., there was no one on the road. All the hunters who plan to hunt that day are either hunting or dragging their deer out."
Simmons decided that a buck could feed under that white oak tree close to the road in the late morning because no hunters hunted in that region. He parked his vehicle about 200 yards up the road from the tree, walked down the road and climbed into his tree stand about 15 yards from the white oak tree.
"All morning long, I watched cars go up and down the road," Simmons recalls. "When the sun came up, and late hunters came to the woods, I'm sure they thought I'd either lost my mind, or I was the dumbest bowhunter they'd ever seen.
"However, by 7 a.m., no traffic was on the road at all. At 8:15 a.m., a really nice 8-point came into my area to feed on the white oak acorns. I was able to draw and take the shot.
"Instead of bolting and running back into the woods, the buck ran straight for the main road, turned, stayed about 10 yards inside the woods and dropped. I climbed out of my tree, went back to my truck, drove to where the buck had fallen and only had to drag the deer 10 yards to load him into my truck."
Simmons had left the woods before the other hunters started traveling the main road for their lunch break.
The next weekend, Simmons went to the same spot, used the same tactic, waved at many of the same hunters just after daylight, took a 6-point buck from the same stand and had left the woods by 9:30 a.m.
"Most hunters think that to take a big buck on private land, you have to go deep into the woods," Simmons reports. "For that reason, the property that's least hunted will be the first 100 to 200 yards of a major road system.
"The least amount of hunting pressure exerted on this strip of woods is at midmorning and midafternoon when hunters are hunting deep in the woods. If you can find a food source close to the road to hunt at those two times, you can often take a buck that the other hunters never see."
Create a Flow Chart
Making a flow chart will help you understand more about how you can bag public-land bucks. The flow chart will tell you where the better bucks have to live.
To create a flow chart, purchase the best map you can buy of any public-hunting area you want to hunt. Mark all the roads in yellow as well as all the right-of-ways, fields, green fields, power lines and open-timber areas.
Also, color the creek bottoms and the edges of any riverbanks, lakes, ponds and/or bayous that have open ground on them in yellow.
Next, mark the bottlenecks and pinch points where everyone knows the deer will go in yellow and any other places on that property where hunters hunt.
You've eliminated the sections of the hunting property where a buck can't survive. Now you can start your scouting program in the areas not marked in yellow because you know the bucks must live there.
More than any other factor, hunting pressure dictates where older-age-class bucks live. They don't travel in the same places where does and younger bucks do because they know they can't survive there.
The Best Hunting Aid
To take an older-age-class buck on public lands, you need a quality, hand-held GPS receiver that will enable you to navigate to your stand site well before daylight and from your tree stand back to your vehicle after dark.
The majority of hunters who hunt public lands like to go to their stands during that first 45 minutes of daylight so they can see where they're going and know how to return to their vehicles. They also will leave their stands about 45 minutes before dark to keep from getting lost returning to their vehicles.
But if you learn to use a hand-held GPS receiver system, you can:
• move to your stand well before daylight, when many other hunters come into the woods.
• hunt from that stand until the last rays of daylight slide under the cover of darkness.
• use your GPS receiver to find your way back to your tree stand or your vehicle if you take a buck and have to blood-trail him after dark.
• mark the buck's spot as a waypoint, and use your GPS receiver to guide you and your friends back to your buck and then to the truck after you've recovered your deer if you have to leave the buck after you've found him to go back and get friends to help you drag him out.
• mark hunting sites in thick cover and to return to those same hunting sites without having to leave flagging tape or any type of trail that other hunters may spot.
Two types of hunters take deer from public-hunting lands each season: lucky hunters and the hunters who prepare for their hunts carefully and hunt where other hunters don't.
A lucky hunter will take a buck every few years. The hunter who hunts where others don't consistently will take more and bigger bucks every year from public lands on Louisiana's 48 WMAs and more than 1 million acres of public lands.