Public land hunting can be challenging, but this hunter consistently puts deer on the ground in the Kisatchie National Forest. Here’s how he does it.
Some people dream of hunting every day of the season, but not Kisatchie’s Charles Boles.
It’s simply not an issue of whether or not he’s going to hunt.“I hunt every day,” Boles said. “I work my job around so I can come in at 10 a.m.
“I hunt every day until 10.”
His stomping grounds of choice are within the 98,000 acres of the Kisatchie District of the Kisatchie National Forest in Natchitoches Parish.
Which is convenient, since that’s also where he works. Boles is a wildlife technician on the public forest, responsible for all manner of habitat and wildlife work.
But during the hunting season, his focus is on killing deer.
“My wife will be the first to tell you that if you need me to do anything, call before Oct. 1,” Boles chuckled.
And over the years, he’s killed a lot of deer, and some very nice bucks, from the woods of the national forest.
“I killed a 20-inch 9-point,” he said of a kill in the early 1990s. “It weighed 205 pounds.
“That was probably the biggest.”
Boles was “born and raised in downtown Kisatchie,” so he’s intimately familiar with the surrounding forests.
That gives him a leg up, but he said the average hunter has a very good shot of killing a deer on the Kisatchie District.
“There are plenty of deer here,” he said.
The early season provides the best opportunity to down a deer for those who haven’t spent a lot of time scouting.
“I’ve killed three deer — two does and a buck — this year with my bow,” he said. “I eat what I kill, so I want to get some meat.”
But after he’s lined his freezer, the lifelong hunter gets pretty selective.
“I’m after horns from now on,” Boles said.
That works out pretty well, since by Thanksgiving deer are in the rut.
That’s when the big boys come out to play, leaving the sanctuaries in which they hide during daylight hours when their hormones aren’t raging.
Boles said he doesn’t want to kill any does or yearling bucks at that point — he simply watches them pass his stand site, enjoying the experience.
When a rack buck steps into range, however, Boles is ready.
However, it’s not as easy as simply climbing into a tree and waiting a buck out.
After all, this is public land.
“The deer have been hunted pretty hard by that time,” Boles explained. “They are pretty spooked.”
That’s when hunting gets tough, and Boles really has to knuckle down.
He’s learned how to work around the heavy hunting pressure.
The first thing he does is learn where the crowds are.
“After the season opener, it’s pretty calm out there,” he said. “But there are places where hunters congregate.”
Boles uses the first half of the season, when he’s looking for meat, to gauge what sections of woods have the most pressure.
“They change every year,” he said. “You have to get out and learn them.”
He also talks with other locals “to make sure I can stay away from them, and they can stay away from me.”
While he’s scouting out where to hunt, Boles also pays close attention to how much human traffic has been in the area.
“I look at the woodrows (along the edge of main roads) for well-beaten-out trails,” he explained. “I look for flagging leading off the main roads.
“I pay attention to vehicle traffic.”
And when he’s on stand, he doesn’t simply ignore shots around him — he logs them for future reference.
“If I hear a lot of shooting around me, even if I don’t see anyone, I know that’s an area that has a lot of pressure,” Boles said.
And it doesn’t matter if the hunting pressure is from those chasing deer, squirrels or rabbits.
“Those deer don’t know that they’re hunting squirrels or rabbits or whatever,” Boles said. “They just know there’s humans (in the area), and that’s danger.”
While he sometimes gets surprised, most times other hunters head to predictable areas.
“They tend to go to the bottoms where its pretty and nice,” Boles said. “Just about every hunter looks for that.”
And that’s not a bad choice during the rut.
“Those deer like those bottoms during the rut because they can see other deer better,” he said.
While he will hunt over scrapes and rub lines during the early season, he scraps those plans when bucks are chasing does through the woods.
Instead, Boles looks for concentrations of does.
“Those bucks are going to be where the does are,” he said.
He pays close attention to feeding areas, looking for signs that does have been frequenting them.
That could be a challenge this year, however.
“The hurricane (Rita) has blown a lot of acorns out of the trees, and the drought has prolonged the drop for the acorns that are still in the trees,” Boles said.
“A lot of acorns should have already fallen, but it’s still hanging on.”
However, that could be beneficial because it could concentrate does around those trees that are dropping their nuts.
Boles doesn’t hunt the actual feeding sites, however. Instead, he backs off so he can catch deer moving in when it’s meal time.
“I strictly hunt trails and open areas where I can see a lot,” Boles said.
While he wants to set up near well-used trails, he doesn’t focus his energy staring at the paths.
“When the rut starts, (the bucks) are not going to use those trails — they’re going to go where the does go,” he explained.
That’s the importance of setting up on a pine ridge or other area adjacent to travel corridors: It allows Boles to see through the woods, catching bucks as they follow does.
Even when Boles is set up near a bottom, he makes an extra effort to determine where others are focusing their efforts.
“If you know hunters are on the north side, the south side and the east side, you want to hunt on the west corner of the bottom,” he said. “Naturally, the deer are going to be on that west corner.
“Those other hunters are pushing deer out of the bottom into those pockets. I look for those little pockets where there’s no pressure.”
By mid December, however, Boles abandons the bottoms while most other hunters continue setting up there.
That’s a big mistake.
“In reality, deer are up in the thickets and hills during the daylight hours,” he said. “They slip down into the bottoms at night, except for the rut.”
Another hassle when hunting the national forest is the fact that dog hunting is allowed, and it’s still very popular in North Louisiana.
“Oh yeah, there’s still a lot of it up here,” Boles said.
Many still hunters try and use the pressure to their advantage.
“A lot of hunters set up on the edge of where they know dogs are being run, and try to catch a deer sneaking away from the dogs,” Boles said.
However, Boles said it’s difficult to do that because of how they hunt.
“They run the dogs into a thicket, hoping to move deer out,” he said. “Then they try to catch bucks slipping out the sides.”
That means hunters quickly surround an area being run so they can cut off escaping deer.
So Boles said he’s very careful to stay away from them.
“I try to avoid them at all costs,” he said. “It’s for safety reasons — a 30-06 or .270 round travels a long way before it hits a tree.”
He said that’s why he never hunts on the ground during dog season.
“You’ve got a bunch of bullets that are subject to flying by you (if you’re on the ground),” he said.
But Boles also is careful when he’s traveling to and from his hunting areas.
“You’re apt to get run over real quick in a vehicle because they’re trying to get around a ridge to cut (deer) off,” he said.
Fortunately, there are areas that seem to draw dog hunters year after year.
“Generally where they figure a deer is bedded is what they want,” Boles said. “Those are the areas they like to make punches.”
Fortunately, the Kisatchie District allows dog hunting only for a few days at a time.
“Basically, between Dec. 10 and Jan. 15 there’s dog hunting, but it’s scattered,” Boles said.
After the first couple of open dog dates, he said he can still kill deer in areas through which dogs have been run.
“Give it three or four days, and yeah, you can move back in,” he said.
It doesn’t take many dog runs, however, for deer to wise up.
“After two or three times of (running dogs), those bucks are going to pretty much move on,” Boles said.
He doesn’t put a lot of stock in grunts and attracting scents, but he has learned that rattling can produce.
“I’ve learned a lot about rattling in the last 10 years,” he said.
Early in the season, the best bet is to just tickle the rattling antlers together.
“They’re not really fighting at that time,” Boles said. “They’re just sort of feeling each other out.”
When the rut begins, however, Boles said it’s time to get nasty with the rattling horns.
“In the rut, you need to get real aggressive,” he said. “In fact, when your in the rut, you need to put some welding gloves or something like that on because you’ve got to get with it.”
He only rattles when he’s hunting from a climber, however.
“I wouldn’t do it (on the ground) for anything in the world,” he said. “When you’re on public land, there’s other people out there.
“You’re holding those horns eye level or chest level, and from a distance it kind of looks like an old buck rubbing a tree or something.”
An antsy hunter easing through the woods could mistakenly think he’s seeing a real buck in the brush.
“They could send a shot out in the hopes that they get that buck,” Boles said.
When the rut winds down, the rattling horns pretty much go back in the bag because bucks aren’t fighting any longer.
That’s when Boles turns back to hunting bedding areas — thickets where bucks find plenty of cover.
There’s plenty of thickets from which to choose, too.
“We try to burn between 26,000 and 28,000 acres on the district every year,” Boles said. “When we burn, it really clears the area out. It grows back in high-nutrition browse.”
That means a specific area is burned every three or four years, and that’s plenty of time for thickets to pop up.
“If we don’t get to a place in three to five years, it grows into good bedding habitat,” he said.
The Red Dirt Wildlife Management Area and the Kisatchie District’s Kisatchie Hills Wilderness area are particularly good places to find deer-attracting thickets.
“We never burn that wilderness area,” Boles said.
The Cunningham Brake area south of Flora also has some excellent hunting.
Ironically, Boles often hunts fairly close to the main roads and trails.
“Most people want to go deep (into the woods),” he said. “If you push deep into the woods, that’s where the most pressure is. They’re pushing deer out of those areas.”
“A lot of my deer have been killed 300 to 500 yards from main roads.”
Boles said he doesn’t just set up willy nilly once he’s found a likely thicket, however.
“I look for trails going in and out of thickets,” he said.
Not just any trail will do.
He wants a well-used trail, but he also wants to know which way deer are moving on the trail.
“I’m looking at the direction of travel,” Boles said. “That will tell you if the traffic is mostly in or out.”
That allows him to tailor his hunts for the situation.
“If it’s hot, you know that deer are going to come out of the thickets at night and go back in the morning,” he said. “So if you’re hunting in the morning, you want to hunt a trial that is entering the thicket.
“If you’re hunting in the evening, you want to set up on a trail moving out of the thicket.”
Once the weather turns cool, however, Boles reverses his strategy.
“They’re bedding up all night,” he said.
Exactly how he hunts a particular trail depends upon his weapon and which type of trail (exit or entry) he’s set up on.
“If I’m bow hunting, I’ll probably be right close to the thicket on the exit,” Boles said. “If I’m planning on a deer coming into the thicket, I’d want to get farther off of it.”
By pulling back from the thicket while hunting entry points, Boles is able to ambush deer before they get anywhere close to the cover of the tangle of vegetation.
If he’s rifle hunting, Boles prefers to set up on both situations as far away as possible.
“I’m confident with a 200-yard shot with my gun,” he said. “I want to be as far away as possible and still see the trails.”
That allows him to watch young bucks and does pass without much of a chance of getting busted.
“You want to stay far enough off that trail that you don’t alert deer you’d rather not harvest,” Boles said. “That big buck is watching deer ahead of it.
“If you get busted and deer start acting nervous, that buck is going to back on out of there.”
Two of the most important factors in Boles’ hunting center around containing and minimizing his scent.
“The No. 1 thing I know before I go into the woods is the wind direction, and if it’s steady,” he said. “One of the biggest mistakes people make is not knowing what the wind is doing.”
Once he’s determined the direction the wind is blowing, Boles makes sure he approaches his hunting area from the downwind side.
“I try never to cross through what I’m hunting,” he said.
To facilitate that strategy, Boles has several trees chosen that allow him to hunt under any wind condition without walking through the best area.
But the hunter also takes measures to minimize his scent.
He doesn’t use store-bought cover scents because he feels that many are unreliable at best and down-right counterproductive at worst.
Instead, he uses natural scents found in the woods he hunts.
“I use a lot of things out in the woods to cover my scent,” he said. “All you’ve got to do is go through the woods and crumble up stuff and smell it.
“You’ll find something with a strong smell that is natural to the area.”
Pine needles and other leaves are prime examples.
“I actually just grind it into my clothes,” Boles said.
If he’s using hunting pants with large side pockets, he also carries the homemade scent with him.
“I crumble up some of that, and put it in my pocket and leave it there,” Boles said.
But he also believes that hunting high in trees is another must.
“I usually hunt about 30 feet up,” he said.
Such dizzying heights are particularly necessary when the barometric pressure is low.
“You know when you drive through an area and see the fog holding in ditches and depressions? That’s because the pressure is low,” Boles said. “Your scent is going to do just like that fog and sink to the ground.
“When the barometric pressure is low, you need to get as high as you can.”
Although human scent is still going to reach the ground even from 30 feet, Boles said it will be far from the stand site by then.
“At 30 feet, it might be 300 yards before the scent reaches the ground,” he explained. “The higher you are the better.”
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