Duck Tactics for Bucks

Hunt flooded timber to increase your buck haul this season.

To take an older, mature buck, you need to set up where he least expects you at a time when he least expects to see you. Leave no trail as you go into the woods or exit the woods. One of America’s greatest guerrilla fighters, Francis Marion of Georgetown, S.C., known as the Swamp Fox, led a band of rag-tag, unpaid American freedom fighters who kept the British at bay. Marion and his men would attack and then vanish, leaving no trail in the swamp.

The Baratarians also practiced this same tactic. They would attack ships out in the Gulf of Mexico and then retreat into the swamps, leaving no trace of where they had come from or where they had gone.

When you enter the water with waders, canoes or johnboats and hunt from the water back toward the land, you have a tremendous advantage over the deer. The deer don’t expect danger to come from the water.

Donning waders, paddling a boat before daylight and having a ground blind or a tree stand out in the water all spell major hassles that most hunters won’t go through to hunt a deer. However, if you’re willing to do what the duck hunters do, you often can take the deer that other hunters never see.

Know the Advantages

If you’re lucky enough to see an older age-class buck along a flood plain, you’ll notice he seems to appear and then vanish, much like the Swamp Fox. You’ll find these bucks extremely difficult, but not impossible, to hunt.

If you understand how water, mosquitoes, and the fear of the unknown offered protection to the Swamp Fox and his men more than 200 years ago, you can see how deer use water to vanish from hunters today.

In high school and college, I hunted several days a week on the 8,500-acre Tombigbee Hunting Club that included a portion of Alabama’s Tombigbee River, which flooded every year and created a swamp. I learned that the biggest bucks would get their feet wet, and especially later in the season, they’d often stay wet up to their bellies.

Louisiana bucks will do this too. Many will spend the entire season in the water and away from hunters in daylight hours. If you want to take these mature, hunter-savvy bucks, you’ll have to employ the surprise-and-vanish tactics of the Swamp Fox to get close enough to down these water bucks.

Hunters who get out of their comfort zones and hunt flood plains will have opportunities to bag wise old bucks. Since deer pattern hunters much more effectively than hunters pattern deer, a trophy buck knows:


• hunters usually hunt where they’ve always hunted;


• hunters will leave scent trails and make noise going to and from their stands,


• hunters generally won’t hunt more than 1/4-mile away from access roads;


• hunters won’t hunt in the water; and

• water offers food, sanctuary and the safest place a mature buck can live during hunting season’s daylight hours.


Productive Water Stand

Most of us don’t hunt out in the water because we’re more interested in keeping our feet dry and hunting deer with the least possible amount of hassle. However, to take an older, bigger buck, you must work for him.

To determine the best place for an exceptional tree stand site, study the area you hunt. Search for spots where no one will want to put a tree stand. Learn how to reach and leave that place without deer or hunters seeing you.

I particularly like a treestand site over water in river-bottom drainages. Two different methods will aid you in getting to a water stand: You can buddy-hunt with a small boat, or you can wear waders.

If your hunting club, lease or WMA has an oxbow lake, a beaver pond or a backwater slough close by, use some type of portable boat or canoe to get you and your partner’s tree stands to the places to set them up.

Paddle to a tree standing out in the water. Have your hunting friend lock on his tree stand, climb the tree and attach his safety belt once he is up the tree. Then, you paddle to the second stand site, pull the boat onshore, hide the boat under brush or bushes, and wade out to your tree stand site wearing either hip or thigh-high waders and carrying your tree stand. After the hunt ends, and you come out of your stand, retrieve the boat, and pick up the other hunter.

By using this strategy, you:


• leave no scent in the area you plan to hunt,


• can watch the water’s edge, generally a natural deer-migration route — especially if you find acorns floating on the edge of the water,


• will surprise the deer, since they don’t expect to see hunters in trees over water,


• will find other hunters coming to hunt that region often will drive deer to you if they come by land,


• can unload any deer you bag into the boat or canoe and transport it out easily to your vehicle.


Even if you don’t have access to a portable boat or a small canoe, you can wear hip boots or chest waders to move out into the water well away from the bank and place your tree stand to hunt.

I enjoy hunting in a beaver swamp late in the season in flooded timber regions full of white oak and red oak acorns. When the rains come in late December and the beaver ponds overflow their banks, the acorns laying on the forest floor will float to the surface.

One morning, I had climbed in my tree stand about an hour before the day had enough light to shoot. In the stillness of the morning, I could hear wood ducks whistling through the trees and splashing in the beaver slough as they landed. I also heard the noisy quacking of mallard ducks dropping into the standing timber and feeding on the floating acorns.

As the light increased, dripping water and popping nuts became the loudest sounds in the area. Using my binoculars, I looked for the deer. Searching through the mist rising from the swamp, I spotted four does knee-deep in the water feeding on the acorns. Behind the does, I saw another deer with its head behind a big cypress tree.

Then when a wood duck flew into the swamp like a World War II fighter pilot and splashed not 20 yards from the deer standing near the cypress, the animal jerked its head back. I saw a flash of ivory. I studied the buck through my binoculars. Although he only had 6 points, he sported wide and heavy antlers.

Because a breeze blew from the shore out across the beaver pond, I knew the deer couldn’t smell me. I waited for a better shot. When the second wood duck flew in and landed in the same area as the first wood duck, the 6-point backed away from the cypress tree and fed down the slough toward me.

The buck stopped between two sweet gum trees and presented a front shoulder shot. As the cross-hairs found the spot I’d searched for, I squeezed the trigger.

At the explosion of the rifle, ducks took to the air, and does splashed down the slough. However, the 6-point stayed in the water where he last had stood. That same water stand produced bucks for me six out of the eight years I hunted that property. I never saw another hunter in that part of the woods.

Learn Water Tactics

“Once when I hunted a back-water area along the Mississippi River near Natchez, I noticed something in the water that totally surprised me,” Will Primos of Primos Game Calls recalls. “As I looked closely out in the water, I could see five deer, two of them bucks, with a swarm of mosquitoes around them.

“However, only their heads were above water. I’m convinced these deer stayed in the water not only to dodge bowhunters in the early season but also to escape the mosquitoes.

“When I hunt a flood plain, I often find the biggest bucks in the water, not only in the early season but in the late season as well, even when the water’s cold.”

Deer will cross water and often stand in it to avoid hunting pressure. However, many hunters don’t know that mature bucks will bed out in the water during daylight hours.

“One season I hunted a large buck that often would go out into a flooded timber swamp,” Primos says. “But I never could find the spot where the deer came out of the swamp.

“Although I assumed the buck couldn’t remain in the water all day, I never saw the buck in the daytime.

“One morning I put on my waders, followed the deer trail into the slough, made a straight-line path from where the deer trail entered the water and waded across the flooded timber.

“I spotted a big cypress log laying half-submerged in the water, and was shocked when a big buck jumped up and ran. I waded out to the log and made a surprising discovery. I found deer droppings all over the top of the log, and decided that the older buck spent most of his daylight time living on top of that log in the water.Here the buck could stand up, stretch, turn around and go to the bathroom without having to get back into the water.

“That fine buck taught me that often older-age-class bucks will live on a small dry spot in flooded timber in the daylight and only come to shore at night.”

You’re probably wondering how and what deer eat in the water. Generally some of the biggest and oldest oak trees grow in highly-fertile river-bottom swamps. When the river floods, the current in the center of the river pushes the acorns that have floated up from the flooded lands back into the dead-water swamp areas. Often deer will find more acorns in water than on dry land. Deer also feed on grasses growing in mud at the bases of trees and on shrubs and bushes growing above the water line.

Other experts have discovered the value of hunting wetlands. Dick Kirby, the creator of Quaker Boy Calls, enjoys hunting swamp bucks all over the nation.

“Anywhere you find a river system that floods, you can use swamp-hunting tactics to bag nice bucks,” he said.

Mark Drury, the creator of MAD Calls and the co-owner of Drury Outdoor Productions, hunts water bucks primarily in Missouri and Illinois, but his water techniques will pay off in Louisiana, too.

“When a river floods and pushes water back into the woods, deer will funnel around the ends of these sloughs,” he said. “Imagine a 12-lane highway barricaded except for two lanes. All the cars going in both directions must pass through those two lanes.

“You can expect this same type of traffic jam with deer when woodlands flood, and you hunt at the end of a slough that protrudes deep into a woodlot.”


Hunt the High Spots

High places such as islands, the tops of ridges and large logs above the water line provide places for deer to bed in swamps. But for the deer to live their lives in wetlands, they must have food, water, a dry site to bed, a way to travel through the wetlands and a place to breed.

While scouting one day, I discovered a major deer trail going into the water, walked around this flooded-timber area and saw where the trail came out of the water. Wearing my waders, I entered the water and found a ridge about knee-high that crossed the swamp.

The next summer when the water receded, I scouted the swamp and saw that the deer had created a path across an old beaver dam the width of the swamp. When the fall rains came and covered the beaver dam, the deer continued to walk that same trail, the most-shallow place for them to cross this wide expanse of flooded timber.

The following deer season, I put my tree stand in a water oak tree, 75 yards away from either bank and less than 30 yards from the beaver dam. My stand faced northwest, the direction of the prevailing wind, which blew in my face and carried my scent away from the beaver dam and out toward the main river. By driving my vehicle to the edge of the river and wading quietly to my tree stand about 400 yards away, I left no odor and made little noise.

That season I arrowed two bucks as they crossed the beaver dam, and learned another advantage to hunting water. The deer floated, which made my retrieving them much easier than dragging them on dry land.

Hunt Scrapes in Water

Scout a flood plain before it floods to locate traditional scrapes and rubs. Even after the water rises, you may find the overhanging branches on which bucks have left the scents from their eyes, noses and mouths above water.

Mature bucks will continue to visit these same historical scrapes after the land floods. When hunting over these water scrapes, you won’t leave any human odor for the bucks to detect.

Equipment Choices

The British Regulars didn’t follow the Swamp Fox and his men into the Peedee and the Santee swamps because they had no trails to follow into and out of the unfamiliar waters. The fear of getting lost in a swamp and staying lost may prevent bowhunters from going into flooded timber.

However, with a hand-held GPS receiver, you can venture into a swamp or flooded area, mark stand sites in the water as waypoints and return to your vehicle by day or night without becoming lost. You also can use Bright Eyes fluorescent thumbtacks to identify your stand sites in the dark.

To hunt flooded timber, wear insulated waders, or use some type of boat. I prefer a canoe because I can load it with my treestand, daypack, bow or gun and other equipment. I’ll use my GPS to guide me and paddle straight to my tree-stand site. Once at my stand site, I’ll throw lightweight camouflage netting over my canoe to keep deer from spotting it.

I always put up my treestand, generally a lightweight fixed-position one, at least the day before I plan to hunt, and use screw-in or strap-on type steps. Any time I place a treestand, climb in a treestand or hunt from a treestand, I wear a safety harness like the Seat of the Pants safety harness that has a lineman’s belt as part of it.

Just like you won’t go into a tree stand without a safety harness, never wade or paddle into a swamp without wearing a personal flotation device. I recommend Sospenders, a lightweight, comfortable, flat, neck-and-chest life preserver that feels like you’re wearing a pair of suspenders. If you step into a stump hole or a beaver run when wading or perhaps fall out of your canoe or your treestand, you simply pull a cord on the Sospenders to inflate the life jacket. I also take two Surefire waterproof flashlights and extra batteries with me.

If you’re hunting in high-pressure regions, you can expect the deer to move early in the mornings, coming from the land to their bedding areas out in the water. Then late in the afternoon when they leave their bedding spots, they’ll move onshore to feed. Also, they may move in the middle of the day from one location to another while most hunters eat lunch.

If you’ll make the extra effort to hunt where no one else does in wetlands, you’ll encounter and take those older-age-class bucks that no one else ever even sees. You’ll have to use extreme tactics for success, just like Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, did to help win freedom for our nation. n

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