The Thick of It

Just a little bit of work now will guarantee trophy-buck success later in the season.

Most deer hunters live in the moment. They want to find and take big bucks this weekend. Generally they don’t think about taking a big buck at the end of the season until the last week of the season arrives.

By then, everyone else has thought about bagging an older-class buck, which means the hunting pressure on these whitetails will heat up.

However, if you become like a salmon running downstream when all the others run upstream, you can see and do things that the other salmon don’t.

For instance, if you’ll build several places to take a trophy buck at the end of the season now, then you’ll spot and have the opportunity to take those big bucks that the other end-of-the-season hunters never will see.

Here’s a look how to build an end-of-the-season trophy-buck hotspot.

Build it, they’ll come
To have a place where you can see and take a mature buck at the end of the season, you have to think like a big buck now. All season long, hunters will continue to hunt in the places where they’ve always hunted.

We already know that deer can pattern hunters probably more easily than hunters can pattern whitetails. Therefore, at the end of the season, you need to plan to hunt a place either no one else can hunt or has hunted during the season.

Also, don’t forget that an older age-class buck has an extremely sensitive nose and reacts severely to human odor. His ears respond adversely to human sounds.

That buck knows where you’ll set up and what you’ll do after the first or second week of deer season. His ability to detect human odor and remember where he’s smelled it enables him to go through the woods every night and learn where you’ve entered the woods, where you’ve hunted and where you’ve left the woods.

By the end of the season, that older age-class buck understands that you’ll more than likely hunt each weekend. To bag this buck, you’ll have to set up at a time in an area where he least expects you and can’t hear or smell you.

You need to create that big-buck hotspot now. Since we all know that older bucks hide in thick cover during daylight hours to survive, you need to create paths now into that thick cover and make hunting sites no one else knows exists and that the buck never has seen you traveling or smelled you.

Locate the thickest, clear-cut, briar patch, cane thicket or most-dense sections on your hunting property. Next, determine the direction of the prevailing wind in your area.

Much of the time in Louisiana, the wind will come from the northwest or north during the late season. Survey that thicket, and determine which way you have to go in it to approach it from either the south or the southeast to keep the wind in your face on the days you hunt. Then the buck won’t smell you.

Look for some type of landmark outside of the thicket such as a blown-down tree, an unusually large or misshapen tree or some other type of landmark you easily can identify at night.

Once you’ve pinpointed a landmark, crawl into the thicket about 10 to 20 yards before starting to cut a path to keep other hunters from spotting your trail, following it and causing bucks to spook because of the odor they’ve left.

Using a compass or a hand-held GPS, begin to cut a narrow path that you can walk along without touching any brush from just inside that thicket to the center of it. You want to cut this path a bit wider than your body so as not to have your clothing touching any brush as you walk down the path.

Once you arrive at the center of the thicket, cut a circle a little larger than the space you need to set up a ground blind. When you’ve completed clearing the circle for your ground blind, cut three shooting lanes that radiate from the center of your ground-blind site about 30 yards to the northwest, the north and the southwest. You don’t have to make these shooting lanes more than 2 or 3 feet wide or more than 30 yards long.

After preparing the site, leave it, and don’t plan to hunt it until the last week of the season with a favorable wind.

At the end of the season when your hunting area has wind conditions favorable to hunt your big-buck honeyhole, leave before daylight. Plan to arrive in the dark. Crawl in to that thick cover as quietly as possible, carrying your ground blind and following the trail to the ground-blind site you’ve created. Finally, set up your ground blind, and plan to spend the day there.

This strategy gives you a hunting site where no one else has hunted, with a wind direction that will prevent the deer from smelling you at a time when a deer doesn’t expect to find you there, since he’s not seen or smelled you going to that site.

By remaining in your ground blind until black dark, you drastically increase your odds for spotting a big buck moving in thick cover where he feels safe and unpressured.

The more of these big-buck, end-of-the-season hunting sites you build now, the greater the odds of your taking a buck of a lifetime at the end of the season.

Don’t wait until after deer season starts to build this big-buck hot spot. If you do, the noise of your construction efforts and that human odor you’ve left behind in that thick-cover hotspot will spook the buck you’ve hoped to bag from this region.

If you build a hotspot before bucks feel the effects of hunting pressure, you drastically increase your odds of taking a wall hanger.

Getting green
If you haven’t planted any green fields and want a unique place to hunt during the early season, start building green patches now, and continue to construct them until 2 weeks before the first frost.

“You can plant a green field hidey-hole beginning two weeks before bow season and still have a great place to deer hunt,” says Dr. Grant Woods, a nationally known wildlife biologist and researcher from Reedsville, Mo.

Woods likes to plant these small patches of green forage where a deer can get several mouths full of food before the animal moves on to a major green field or an agricultural crop. To create a patch, Woods uses a backpack leaf blower or a rake to clear the litter off the forest floor or an ATV with a small plow or a disc.

“Using my leaf blower, I’ll blow out a spot, about 20×20 feet, where I find sunlight hitting the forest floor,” Woods reports. “I’ll take 10-10-10 fertilizer and sow it over the cleared-out spot. Next, I’ll sow winter wheat, buck wheat, peas or any seeds that will germinate on top of the soil and produce a crop quickly after the first rain.”

Including the fertilizer and the seed, you’ll only have about $20 and 45 minutes of sweat equity invested in each green spot hunting place you create. Always try to plant your tiny green spots where your hunting buddies won’t find them. Think about how many of these small green-spot food plots you can develop, if you make one of these small food plots every time you go into the woods to scout before the season or hunt once deer season starts.

If you only hunt each green spot once or twice a season, you’ll have a good chance of taking a really-nice buck near these mini green fields.

You can continue to create these green spots up until two weeks before the first frost. While everyone else hunts the major green fields where the older-age-class bucks won’t go during daylight hours, you can hunt your small green spots where you’ll probably have nice bucks showing up early in the morning and/or late in the afternoon as they go to and from the green fields.

Learn everything you can about the region you want to turn into a last-minute hotspot, and then do a soil test. Just as you carefully have chosen where you’ll put your ground blind inside a thick-cover site, consider the prevailing wind before selecting where to plant your green spots.

When you’re creating these tiny green fields, always make sure you plant them so that the wind won’t blow your human odor to the deer as you approach your stand site. Remember, just because you’ve found some open ground on your hunting lease doesn’t mean that spot will produce a great green field for attracting and holding deer.

When choosing where to plant your hotspot, selectively pick the planting location. You’ll want to plant in a section of land where sunlight hits the ground. Also, use an aerial photo. Look for meadows, swampy places and pine plantations that have had third-row thinnings, and also consider ridges to define places where you want to create openings.

Pick out tree stand sites where you’ll want to set up. Never start creating mini-food plots or hotspots without giving thought as to how to hunt them, what kind of winds you’ll encounter, where you can hang tree stands, and where the closest thick-cover area is located relative to where you want to plant.

Even if you haven’t had the opportunity to plant the green fields you’ve hoped to before this deer season starts, you still can have success by planting green spots, finding the best places to place your tree stand and ground blind sites and cutting lanes to enable you to enter thick-cover areas without anyone seeing or following you.