This hunter doesn’t have a lot of time to scout, so he uses timers to know when to be in the woods.
The day had aged by only about 15 minutes when the buck appeared about 40 yards from the stand.
“It had been raining the two days before, so it was wet,” Cliff Hampton said. “I never heard him.”
Normally, he would have been excited to simply see a buck, but this was a big one — and Hampton glanced down at his hunting equipment with frustration.
In the Jonesboro hunter’s lap was a recurve bow, even though it was the second week of the muzzleloader season.
“He stepped out, and I realized what an idiot I was not to have a muzzleloader,” Hampton said of the Oct. 29, 2002, hunt.
It’s not that he doesn’t like to bow hunt; he’s avid about it.
However, it’s not every day that Hampton gets a shot at a buck this size.
As these thoughts shot through his head, something happened that made Hampton’s heart race ever faster.
The buck turned and began walking directly toward his stand.
“He actually walked directly under me and leaned against the tree I was in,” Hampton explained. “I actually stood up and looked at the deer’s back between my boots.”
A few seconds later, the rack buck continued along the game trail until it was about 12 yards away. It then paused and turned its head away from the hunter, who was concealed 18 feet above the ground.
“That’s when I shot him,” Hampton said.
The deer bolted, and Hampton could do little but sit down and calm himself — he knew that he had just shot a deer any hunter would be proud of, and he’d done it with a recurve.
An hour later, Hampton met up with a couple of good buddies, who also happen to be excellent trackers, and went in search of the buck.
Hampton was confident of his shot, especially since there was some blood and his arrow was nowhere to be found.
But he began to worry when the deer didn’t turn up quickly and the job of trailing the buck became a matter of patience and sharp eyes.
“We tracked him for three hours,” Hampton said. “It got down to a little droplet or two.
And then the blood disappeared near a pond, and the hunter began to fret.
He and his buddies spread out, looking for any sign of the deer.
“One of my friends yelled out that he had found my arrow,” Hampton said.
That gave him renewed hope that the deer was nearby, so he eased farther around a bend in the pond.
“When I looked around the bend, I could see him in the middle of the pond,” Hampton said. “It was floating waist-deep in the pond. You could see the rib cage and part of the stomach.”
His excited calls quickly brought his buddies running.
“One of them asked me how we were going to get him, and I said, ‘Hold this bow and these arrows, and I’ll show you how,’” Hampton said. “I had to wade out there to get it.”
What he dragged to the bank was a 220-pound buck that had a beautiful 19-inch rack sporting 11 points.
“It was a main-frame 8, and it had one sticker off each of the G2s,” Hampton said. “There also was another kicker.
“It was a full-grown man.”
Hampton and his buddies marveled at the deer’s stamina, since it had run a long, long way despite a well-placed shot.
“The arrow entered in the back of the chest on the left side, went under the heart and stopped just inside the skin on the other side,” Hampton said.
The lack of blood was explained because there was no exit hole.
“For it to bleed, it had to come out of the entry hole,” he explained.
The typical rack eventually scored 128 7/8, and placed as the third-largest bow-killed buck entered into the Louisiana Big Game Recognition Program for the 2002-03 season.
Amazingly, the buck was killed with no scouting. Hampton had been in the woods very little during the preceding weeks because of his job, which requires extensive travel.
In fact, he had just returned from a business trip two days earlier, and anxiously waited for the rains to stop before going to his stand.
So was the kill just luck? Was he just in the right place at the right time?
You see, Hampton had a reason why he sat that particular stand that morning.
He has years of experience on the land, so he knows where all of the traditional crossings lie.
And the particular stand he was sitting that morning had been a good one.
“I had killed some off that stand before. There’s always been some big bucks in there,” Hampton said.
That still doesn’t explain why he was so confident he would spot deer from that spot on that morning.
His secret weapon comes in the form of infrared timers, which he sets up along trails to keep track of activity.
“I use three of them,” Hampton said. “I use them at different stands, and I move them around.”
The devices are similar to the cameras that have become so popular today — they log whenever something passes through the infrared beam shining across a trail.
The difference, of course, is that there is no photographic evidence of what tripped the timer.
Hampton doesn’t mind not knowing if the deer tripping the timers are does or bucks — he is satisfied that the trail is hot.
“I’m a little dubious of that flash going off anyway,” he said of the use of cameras.
The trip timers, however, offer plenty of data upon which Hampton bases his stand decisions.
“They tell you the exact day and time the timer was tripped,” he said.
This information provides Hampton knowledge even scouting can’t.
“I know when I check it exactly when the deer are crossing there,” he said.
So when Hampton returned from his business trip on Oct. 27, he slipped into the woods and grabbed his timers.
And then he waited for the rain to abate.
“I don’t believe in hunting in the rain (when bow hunting) because you risk losing deer,” Hampton said.
While the rains fell, however, the hunter reviewed the timers, and discovered that one stand would be perfect for a morning hunt.
“The timer told me there was a lot of morning traffic,” he said.
So that’s how Hampton ended up getting the shot at the big buck.
The timers have helped Hampton form an understanding that some trails are used only during one particular time of day.
“At certain stands they’re going to move through in the mornings, and at some of the stands they move through in the evenings,” he said.
This was illustrated over the course of several seasons while hunting a particularly productive stand.
“I hunted one stand for four years and killed six deer off of it, and I never saw a deer in the morning,” he said. “I couldn’t figure it out.”
That’s when he began using the timers, which soon revealed why he never saw deer from the stand in the morning.
“I got a timer and there were no deer moving through the trail in the mornings,” Hampton said. “I just thought about all those mornings I wasted sitting that stand.”
Now, he knows that the most-productive time to be in that stand site is during the evening.
However, he doesn’t just pick a trail and slap a timer on it — Hampton carefully considers his stand sites and ensures that the timers are placed to maximize their effectiveness.
The first consideration when setting out timers is that the trail show recent signs of usage, which mainly means fresh tracks and possibly droppings.
Once Hampton finds such a well-used trail, he looks around at the habitat to decide where he’ll have the best chances of success.
“In October, you’ve got to stay away from the real pretty bottoms because the mosquitoes will carry you off,” he said. “They’re terrible.”
What he looks for is any ridge that the trail is crossing, but what he mainly demands from a stand site is that thickets are located nearby.
“All of my stands are close to real thick thickets,” Hampton explained. “I think bucks live in that.”
He pointed to the big deer he arrowed last October as proof of this.
“When he walked across the opening where I was, he was heading into a thicket you don’t want to walk in,” Hampton said. “I think he just stayed out a little bit too long.”
The timers are set up as unobtrusively as possible so deer don’t notice anything new along the trails.
“The beam reaches something like 60 feet, so I set them up 15 to 20 feet off the trail,” he explained. “I keep it far enough away that they can’t be seen.”
Obviously, he clips any limbs or leaves that might move in the wind and set off the timer, giving him false readings.
It’s also critical that timers be set up so that only deer will trip them.
“I put them about 2 1/2 to 3 feet off the ground. It won’t pick up small critters that way,” Hampton said.
The timers are checked every week or so, and they are moved if there is only sporadic activity.
“I’m looking for some type of consistency, some type of pattern,” Hampton said.
Once he finds a trail that is being used at the same time of day by a number of deer, he moves a stand into the area.
This die-hard hunter keeps five stands in the woods, and he always sets up on the southeast side of the game trails so he’s, by and large, downwind when deer walk past.
“Usually your dominant winds will be out of the northwest or the north because you have those fronts blowing through,” Hampton said.
In keeping with his core belief that deer shouldn’t know he’s in the woods, Hampton relies on lock-on stands.
“I use lock-ons and those stick ladders,” he said. “You don’t have to trim a lot of limbs to hunt; you just run those stick ladders through the limbs and strap on the stand.
“You have plenty of cover.”
To minimize the chances of getting busted, Hampton also hunts relatively high.
“I use three 6-foot sticks, so I’m 18 feet up,” he said.
That matches the height at which he practices at home, so he doesn’t have to make any adjustments.
“When I practice at home, I shoot off my house, which is 18 feet,” Hampton said.
Once he determines which trails are heavily used and how he’s going to set up a stand, all he has to do is be very careful when approaching the area.
“I usually try to have a lane trimmed out so I don’t make too much noise or touch anything on my way in,” Hampton said.
These trails often are long, and sometimes winding.
“I never cross the trail that they’re using,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve got to walk out of the way to avoid that particular area you know they’re going to be crossing.”
Hampton also wears rubber boats to ensure that he doesn’t leave his scent with every step.
That’s not the only precaution he takes to minimize his scent, however.
“I use very scent-proof clothes,” Hampton explained.
This isn’t in the form of Scent-Lok-type suits, however.
“It’s just too hot in October for that,” he said. “I use the very lightest-weight camouflage in October.”
To cover his odor, he turns to a tried-and-true technique.
“I use lots and lots of baking soda,” Hampton said. “I think that’s something a lot of people overlook.”
Baking soda is added when he washes his hunting clothes, effectively removing any scent, and then the camo is moved to boxes for storage.
“I throw them in boxes with pine limbs and cedar limbs. I believe in that natural scent,” he said.
To top it off, he carries scent-neutralizing spray that he applies periodically while in the woods.
Such attention to detail has paid off over the years, with the crowning success being his 200-pound 11-point he shot last season with his recurve.