It’s late in the season, and bucks have been smelling humans for four months. But louisianasportsman.com’s Widowmaker and others have strategies to make the late-season the best time of the year.
Russell Scarbrough got off work at 6 p.m., too late to actually do any hunting. But he went ahead and drove to the public tract of land he planned to hunt the next few days and slept in the truck.
The next morning, Scarbrough was up early and heading into the woods.
“I really had no clue where I was going to hunt,” he said.
Finding an ATV trail snaking along a bayou, the 34-year-old Berwick hunter started walking.
“I figured I would just take off walking and looking for sign and possibly jump some deer to get an idea of where they were hanging around,” Scarbrough said.
After walking a pretty good distance, movement caught his eye.
“I stopped and looked off into the woods, and saw three does that had been coming down a trail right to me,” he said.
Hunter and deer froze, each waiting for the other to make a mistake.
“We played the stare-down game for probably a minute or so, with the does bobbing their heads up and down trying to get me to move,” Scarbrough said.
Finally, the big lead doe simply turned around and walked back the way the three animals had come.
Scarbrough still remained perfectly still, letting the deer just walk away.
“I looked at my watch, and it was 7:15 a.m.,” he said.
Most hunters would have rolled their eyes, grumbled under their breath about busting deer and ruining a potential hot spot, and continued scouting. The man known to louisianasportsman.com readers as “Widowmaker,” however, couldn’t have been more excited.
“I knew exactly where I wanted to hunt the next morning,” Scarbrough said. “I knew right then that I was possibly going to shoot a deer.”
After placing the stand near the trail on which the does were walking, the die-hard hunter forced himself to look for another stand site instead of climbing and hoping the deer would walk back by.
The next morning, however, Scarbrough was sitting in the cluster of trees overlooking the game trail.
“When it gets to 7 a.m., I’m thinking, ‘It shouldn’t be long now,’” he said.
Moments later, he saw movement down the trail and, right on cue, three “familiar-looking” does came into view.
“I grabbed the bow and drew back as they passed,” Scarbrough said.
As soon as the largest doe reached a small opening in the underbrush, an arrow streaked to the target.
“She only went 30 yards after the shot,” he said.
The excited hunter sat back to wait, and glanced at his watch.
“It was 7:19 a.m.,” he said.
That hunt took place on Jan. 26, 2007, after the deer on this land had been subjected to almost four months of pressure.
Deer hunting is fairly easy when the season first opens, before every inch of the state is crawling with hunters. Just set up a stand, throw out some corn or find a natural feeding area, and your odds are pretty good that a deer will happen along.
That all changes as the season progresses, however. Deer smell humans everywhere, as hunters repeatedly sit in the same stands or walk around scouting out new hunting areas. All-terrain vehicles roar through the woods several times a day as hunters race back and forth to their stands.
All of the activity makes deer skittish, and it’s not long before they shut down.
Baton Rouge’s Derek Hudnall says that’s when you can pretty much forget food plots and big box stands on private land.
“Early in the season is when you start seeing a lot of deer in the food plots, but I’m a big believer in climbers, especially in the late season,” Hudnall said, adding that does often will continue to feed in green patches, but bucks will refuse to move into the open until it gets dark.
“How many times do you see a deer just inside the woods?” Hudnall asked. “You know it’s there, the does are looking at it, but (the bucks) know there’s something going on and won’t come out.”
So Hudnall believes in moving into the woods.
“You’ve got to get out of the food plots and get into their habitat,” he said.
Scarbrough said he and two buddies, Davie LeBlanc and Mike Robison of Berwick, learned that it wasn’t enough to just find an active trail and set up a stand.
“When we go in the woods, we’re going to walk, walk, walk until we find that sign,” he said. “We just walk excessively.”
The sign they’re looking for depends on what phase the deer are in. If the deer have already finished breeding, the trio look for feeding areas and bedding areas.
“Late in the season, after the rut, it’s all about the food,” Scarbrough said. “We find oaks still dropping or browse areas.”
However, finding some acorns on the ground or locating preferred browse isn’t enough. Scarbrough and his friends want to be sure deer are using the areas regularly.
“A lot of times we’re looking for deer droppings,” he said. “But when we’re talking about deer crap, it doesn’t even count unless we see three piles or more.”
They also spend considerable time analyzing tracks on trails leading to these areas.
“We’ll be down on our knees to see if they’re rounded or crisp,” Scarbrough said. “If those suckers are crisp, I know they’ve been through in the last few hours.”
Once such an area is targeted, Scarbrough said they don’t randomly pick a tree for a stand. Instead, they use a small bottle of powder to check the wind.
“You can take that powder and spray some powder out, and watch which way it goes,” he said. “Even on a bad wind, it might be skirting the trail.
“You can watch what the currents are doing: Thirty yards away, it might be cutting off to the side (of the trail).”
After he hangs a stand, however, Scarbrough realizes he’s probably not going to get a shot the first time he sits.
“The first hunt is what we call an observation hunt,” he said. “We’ll set up and watch those deer.”
If they walk under his stand, great. However, if the hunter sees them moving on another trail, Scarbrough will move the stand when the hunt’s over.
“We constantly adjust,” he explained. “We will pull a stand up and down every day, if that’s what we need to do.
“It’s a process of getting closer; it’s a non-stop chess game.”
Hudnall said he does the same.
“I never hunt the same stand twice,” he said. “I don’t want to do anything to make them change their habits.”
He believes that deer, especially bucks, will pick up on the fact that something is different, and will quickly begin using another trail.
“They might only move to the other side of the thicket or ridge, but they’ll move,” he said.
So Hudnall will regularly move his stand, continuing to focus on trails between bedding and feeding areas.
However, he said he never crowds bedding areas.
“It’s not hunting the bedding areas — it’s knowing where the bedding area is and catching them on the way there,” Hudnall said. “If you hunt too close to that bedding area, you’ll spook them.
“If you run them out of there, they’re liable to leave altogether, and you’ll never see them again.”
Hudnall focuses on setting up between those refuges and feeding areas and water sources.
“If I can set up where there’s a bedding area, feeding areas and water source within 100 yards from where I’m hunting, that’s optimal,” Hudnall said.
Pat Burleigh of New Roads said he likes to find bedding areas as far away from those areas most-easily accessed by other hunters, and then set up as close as he can without spooking deer.
“You can get back there real early and wait for other (hunter) activity to spook deer to you,” Burleigh said.
When the rut is on, it’s time to change tactics a bit, however.
Scarbrough will set up on active scrapes, taking a step to help up the odds of having a buck visit during the daylight hours: He hangs an Ultimate Scrape Dripper over a pawing.
“The thing only drips during the day — it’s temperature controlled,” he said. “That makes the hot scrape during the day, and it’s going to make that deer come to that scrape during the day trying to catch that doe.”
To make the most of this technique, however, Scarbrough and his buds use a long nylon cord to pull the dripper 10 feet or so above the ground so it’s not found by deer.
Hudnall and Burleigh said they note where scrape lines are located, but don’t necessarily set up on them.
“I don’t believe you can pattern rutting bucks,” Burleigh said. “They’re all over the place.”
Because this is the one time of the year when bucks really want to find does, this is the only time during the late season when Hudnall will actually move closer to green patches or corn feeders.
“Feeding areas are where the does are going to be,” he said.
However, he sticks with climbers so he can readily adjust.
Burleigh looks for open woods near the active scrape lines.
“I get as high in a tree as possible so I can see as much as I can,” he said. “The odds of seeing a traveling buck are better if you can see for a longer distance.”
Scent control is critical to Burleigh and Hudnall throughout the season, but becomes even more important after deer become edgy.
“I do all the normal things,” Burleigh said. “I bathe and use Scent-Lok.”
He even goes so far as to be careful how he clears shooting lanes.
“I wear plastic shooting gloves to cut shooting lanes,” Burleigh said. “You might not think you’re doing anything but you’re leaving scent if you use bare hands.”
Even with those precautions, the two hunters said they still play the wind heavily.
“I’ve done all of that, gone through all those things, and if there’s a slight breeze you’ll still get busted,” Burleigh said.
Scarbrough said he also believes scent control is vital, but he doesn’t worry about Scent-Lok suits and scent-killing sprays.
Instead, he relies on his little bottle of powder to allow him to set up downwind of his target area.
“You can smell like a horse, but as long as the wind’s not blowing down the trail, who cares?” Scarbrough said. “Whichever way the wind is bad, we ain’t looking that way.”
Hudnall and Burleigh said they also don’t do a lot of looking around after the season begins.
“A lot of people make the mistake of moving around too much and create that pressure,” Hudnall said. “I find the shortest way to my stand, and I don’t get down and do a lot of walking around.
“I find stand sites early, before the season starts.”
The strategy employed by Scarbrough and his buddies is completely contradictory: They’ll often spend time walking around trying to jump up deer, much as in the story about Scarbrough and the three does.
“Those deer are creatures of habit,” he said. “If I run into a deer, the first thing I do is look at my watch.”
That’s because he knows deer don’t use travel corridors haphazardly.
“If you jump deer on a trail at 8:20, you know they’ll be back,” Scarbrough said.
He immediately checks the wind and sets up a stand, waiting a full day before hunting it.
“They’ll come back through there that evening, and they’ll be more alert,” he said. “The next morning, they’ll come back through there and they’re not spooked.”
He said that’s been a tried-and-true tactic for his crew of hunters.
“I’m 100 percent convinced that eight out of 10 times, if you jump a deer and set a stand up, you’ll kill a deer the next day,” Scarbrough said.
Another key to the Scarbrough gang’s regular success is having plenty of stand options.
“We just got back from Arkansas, and I had 10 stands with me,” Scarbrough said. “Eight of them got put out.
“I don’t walk out the door without at least two stands.”
That allows him to move around without having to move stands, other than to adjust to where he’s seeing movement.
“I might have a stand six miles away, but I have options,” Scarbrough said.
A final key to success is to spend time in the woods.
“I spend more time in a tree in a month than most people do the entire season,” Scarbrough said.
He said he will often sit all day, taking snacks and sandwiches in the stand with him. If he’s not actually sitting a stand, he’s walking the woods to find other hotspots.
“If we gang up, it may be for an hour, but we scout all day long,” he said. “When we do get together, it’s a big discussion. We work together.”
And it’s hard to argue with their success, with the three-man group’s trip to Arkansas producing an 8-point, a 7-point, a 4-point and two spikes.
“We made 11 bow kills in 14 days in Arkansas,” Scarbrough said.
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