Stalking is a very effective technique during the rut, if you know what you’re doing. Here are some tips from the man who creeped up on last season’s largest typical buck.
The hunter leaned against a tree, intently inspecting the surrounding woods and enjoying an apple.
The fruit was instantly forgotten, however, when the splashing of steps was heard. The hunter’s senses sizzled, and his eyes silently bored through the button brush to pick up movement that would give away the deer he just knew was walking through the bottom.
But there was nothing there; still, the splashing grew closer and closer.
Finally, he saw it.
“It looked like a dog or something,” said Marksville’s Allen Gaspard, his thick accent clearly marking his Cajun heritage.
A form low to the inches-deep water was slipping along, but it wasn’t a canine.
Gaspard knew that when he picked up the crown of antlers sitting atop the figure’s head.
It was massive, and Gaspard quickly realized the buck was doing something he’d heard about but had never seen.
“He was crawling through the water,” he explained. “I think he caught my scent, or maybe he smelled the apple.”
Breathing became difficult as Gaspard desperately looked for a hole in the tangle of button brush through which the deer was moving, but the buck veered away from him and slowly disappeared into the thicket.
“He was too far, and I couldn’t get the right shot on him,” he said.
Gaspard couldn’t believe it, but he also smiled to himself.
He had located the haunting grounds of the biggest buck he had ever seen, and he knew that it was just a matter of time before the deer was seen again.
The hunter quietly left the area, sharing the story with only three people.
“I told my boy, my daddy and my brother, but my brother doesn’t hunt,” Gaspard joked.
He returned to the area again a few days later, but with no success.
Gaspard returned every three or four days thereafter, looking for his trophy.
On Jan. 1, he saw a buck.
It wasn’t the big boy, but Gaspard put the nice 7-point on the ground.
Hunting protocol told him he should leave the area alone for a few days, but the draw was irresistible, so Gaspard returned on Jan. 2.
About ¼ mile from where he spotted the big buck, the 49-year-old hunter again heard something walking cautiously through the water.
Gaspard tensed, hoping that this would be the same deer.
It wasn’t, but the rack was beautiful.
“He walked right up on me,” Gaspard explained. “I was just standing against a tree, and he was maybe 15 yards from me.”
The temptation was too much, and Gaspard’s shoulder nestled into the stock of the little .30/30 Winchester.
Moments later, the deer was on the ground.
This time, Gaspard waited a few days to go back in the area.
That morning, he climbed into a stand and sat for a few hours.
But what he really wanted to do was creep through the area and try finding the buck.
Finally, he could stand it no more; Gaspard eased off the stand and began slipping through the soggy woods.
Only a couple hundred yards from his stand site, it happened.
“He saw me, and I saw him,” Gaspard said.
The buck was about 50 yards away in a thicket, standing right on the edge of the cover. It gave the excited hunter a quick look before turning to move deeper within the concealing button brush.
“He was a little far away, but I decided to take a shot,” Gaspard said.
The .30/30 was brought to bear on yet another deer, and the buck bolted as the gun coughed.
Gaspard didn’t pursue the deer immediately, but he didn’t keep still long, either.
“I waited about two or three minutes, and then I kept creeping along real slow,” he said.
Amazingly, Gaspard quickly caught up with the buck.
“He only went about 100 yards,” Gaspard said. “He was just standing there like nothing had happened. It looked like it had been browsing on some small branches.”
This time, the hunter remained unseen. Gaspard moved ever so slowly to get into position for a second shot.
“I got broadside of him,” he said.
The second shot ended the hunt.
When Gaspard found his prize, he was shocked to learn that the first shot had hit the deer. The bullet, fired as the deer turned away, had broken the buck’s pelvis.
There wasn’t much time to marvel at the stamina of such an animal, however.
Gaspard’s next discovery revealed just how huge the buck’s rack was.
The animal sported 13 scoreable points, and he could easily fit his forearm between the main beams. There was, in fact, room to move his arm back and forth several inches.
The deer was dragged back to the camp, and the celebration began in earnest.
It was the biggest deer Gaspard had ever killed or likely will ever kill again.
The 256-pound buck’s antlers green-scored 196 2/8 gross Boone & Crockett points.
After drying time and deductions, the score plummeted. But it was still the largest buck entered into the state’s Big Game Recognition Program.
The final score: 174 6/8 B&C points.
And no, it wasn’t scored as a non-typical. The antlers form a beautiful typical rack. They’re also absolutely massive.
Some hunters might shrug their shoulders, figuring anyone can kill big deer on private property that is properly managed for long enough.
However, Gaspard wouldn’t know anything about that.
His buck, along with the 7- and 8-pointers, came off of public property, namely a tract of school board land adjacent to Spring Bayou Wildlife Management Area in Avoyelles Parish.
And every one of them was killed while Gaspard was stalking, a technique for which he has become known.
Stalking, or “creeping” as Gaspard calls it, is something many try and quickly discard after they spook deer or simply never see anything.
But Gaspard said it can be one of the most effective and enjoyable ways to hunt during the rut.
“I cover more ground,” he said.
There’s more to it than simply strolling through the woods keeping a sharp eye out, however.
First, Gaspard doesn’t bother with it until the rut is in full swing.
“I don’t have much luck until the rut,” he said.
One reason is that bucks simply don’t move around as much during the daytime when they’re not searching for a mate.
The animals also are much more sensitive to their surroundings.
“They’re not as aware of what’s going on during the rut,” Gaspard said. “They don’t smell as well.”
That makes them much more vulnerable to hunters.
Although Gaspard believes their sense of smell is either diminished or simply ignored to a large degree during the rut, he still pays very close attention to wind direction.
“I want the wind in my face,” he said. “I usually go to the south, and try to get on the lee side of the wind.”
The reason for approaching an area from the south is simple — the prevailing winds during the winter have a northerly character.
“I’ve only become successful in the last 10 to 12 years. I think it’s because I started paying attention to that wind,” he said.
To further minimize the odds of being winded, Gaspard uses Scent Block spray before he goes into the woods. He also sprays down every two to three hours.
“I take one of those little bottles with me,” he said.
Gaspard doesn’t just enter any old area and begin walking from the south, however.
Instead, he puts some time in scouting to ensure there are bucks in the area.
He looks for the normal rutting signs, scrapes and hookings, and throws in droppings for good measure.
While most hunters salivate when hot scrapes or a line of fresh hookings is found, Gaspard ignores them once they’re located.
“Where we’ve got a lot of hunting pressure, you can’t rely on them,” he explained. “The deer are using them at night.”
There’s also the matter of competition from other hunters.
“Everybody’s going to be hunting that sign,” he said.
So why does he even bother searching for scrapes and hookings? Gaspard said the animals responsible for making the markings aren’t coming from miles away.
“You know those deer are in the area. You know to look in the places people don’t penetrate,” he said.
So once sign is located, Gaspard begins getting the lay of the land. That means finding thickets where bucks can lay up and move about without being too obvious.
“Most of the time, they’re going to follow some rough stuff or be right in it,” he pointed out. “They’re going to be in the thickest stuff they have.”
And if there’s water present, that’s even better.
“I like lake bottoms with button wood, willows and cypress,” he explained.
Bucks hang around this water because it provides an extremely effective security system.
“They feel secure in that water,” Gaspard said. “They can hear people walking in that water.”
That makes stalking in these areas very tricky, but Gaspard said the water on which deer rely to alert them of a hunter’s presence can be used equally as effectively by hunters who master the art of stalking these water-logged areas.
“You can hear them walking, too,” he said. “If they move through the water, you’ll hear them.”
This cat-and-mouse game isn’t for the hyperactive hunter, though.
“You’ve got to be patient,” Gaspard said. “You’ve got to like to just walk through the woods and enjoy life and gather your thoughts.”
That statement belies the real skill involved.
Gaspard begins by slowly moving into the area to be hunted, and then he stops by a tree.
“Every time you make a stop, try to stop behind something,” he said. “That way, if a deer walks by, he can’t see you.”
The wait can be fairly long, but Gaspard isn’t napping or idly contemplating life.
“You look real, real good as far as your eyes can see,” he said.
Gaspard uses a camouflage facemask or camo face paint to lower the risks of deer spotting him.
“I think they can see that face, especially on a white man,” he said.
Gaspard searches the area, familiarizing himself with the trees, bushes and thickets so he can quickly recognize if something new has appeared or has moved.
Once he’s comfortable with the fact that no deer are nearby, a process that can take five minutes or 25 minutes, Gaspard moves on.
How far he goes before stopping at another tree, however, is not set in stone.
“As long as I’m confident, I may go 25 to 50 yards,” he said. “Sometimes I go 10 to 15 steps and stop.”
It’s all instinct, but it’s designed to give the hunter a different perspective on the woods. Often, that little change in position reveals a deer that couldn’t be seen before.
“You see things at a different angle. You might move a little bit, and you can see him better,” Gaspard said.
This is particularly helpful when a deer is bedded down in the thickets.
“If he’s bedding, you have to practically walk on him to make him move,” he said.
While his goal is to catch deer unawares so he can get a look at them, his first sight of a deer is often the deer hustling away.
What he looks for in this case are antlers.
“If it’s a doe or a small buck, I don’t worry about going on,” Gaspard said.
A glimpse of big antlers, however, piques his interest.
There are two choices at this point: give up and come back later or continue and try to catch up with the buck.
There’s only one reason Gaspard doesn’t continue the hunt.
“I continue creeping unless the wind is not right,” he said. “They’ll stay in that area. They’ll go probably the farthest about 85 yards.
“They’ll stop two or three minutes, and continue moseying around.”
As every hunter knows, deer flee in two different ways.
The first is by walking, bounding or trotting away because they are unsure of their surroundings; the second is by vacating the area right now.
Gaspard said neither of these cases is particularly worrisome for him, as long as he’s walking into the wind.
“If the wind is right, I’ll make a hunt,” he said. “I’ll try to get in position to cut him off.”
If he continues, Gaspard’s decision on how to proceed depends entirely on the direction of the wind.
If the wind is blowing directly in his face, the stalk continues straight in the direction the buck fled.
“I won’t change anything; I’ll just keep going,” Gaspard explained.
If the wind direction is blowing across him to any degree, the hunter notes the direction in which the deer escaped and makes a slight detour to the downwind side.
“I try to get at least 100 yards off the trail and continually look to (the side on which the deer’s escape trail lies) in case I come across him again,” Gaspard said. “I want to come against him in an area where he’s out (of the thicket), and then I try not to spook him.”
This can be a delicate matter.
“I just watch them and try to get in position to get a shot,” he said.
Gaspard could bump a deer several times before giving up the chase for the day.
“I might keep on like that for maybe an hour until he gets my scent and takes off,” he explained.
That’s when the area is abandoned and left alone for several days.
Obviously, this kind of hunting is extremely slow.
“It’s like squirrel hunting, only slower,” Gaspard said. “In a four-hour hunt, I may cover maybe 350 yards.”
And hunters should be ready to jump bucks at which they never get shots.
“Ninety percent (of the deer) you’re not going to get, but there’s still that 10 percent,” he said.
Those might not be betting odds, but Gaspard knows some fine deer can be found in that 10 percent.
All he has to do for confirmation is look at his wall.
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