Water, Water, Everywhere

Chasing deer in a swamp is no picnic, but these two hunters know that those sloppy, wet areas hold a lot of deer — and some of the bucks grow big.

Julio Basas had seen some big rubs, and knew there should be a big deer hanging around the area. The Morgan City hunter also had seen a faint trail the buck was using — when the water was low enough to reveal damp soil. You see, Basas wasn’t hunting upland forests. He wasn’t even hunting bottomland hardwoods. No, he was hunting swampland in the Wax Lake area, and that meant water covered the ground and the buck’s trail most of the year.

However, Basas does his homework, scouting his hunting area thoroughly after each season, when the water is lowest. So he had zeroed in the buck’s home area.

“He would actually be in the middle of the swamp,” Basas said. “He spent almost all day in the swamp.

“Only at daybreak and dusk would he walk in and out.”

The diehard bowhunter carefully set up within a few yards of the trail so he could get a shot.

“The water had come up again, and I was actually hunting in knee-deep water,” he said.

Knowing that mature bucks can be easily spooked, Basas avoided the stand to let things settle.

He finally eased in well before daylight one morning, and climbed into the tree to wait.

As soft sunlight began turning the swamp from black to grey, Basas heard something walking through the water.

“I could hear him coming 50 yards away,” the hunter said. “By the time he got to me, it was right at daybreak. He came up behind me in a ditch that ran behind my stand.”

The deer wore a huge crown of antlers, but Basas could only hope the buck would move toward him so he could get a shot.

Basas knew the scrape had been covered by the rising water, but he was surprised to see the buck work the area.

“He still worked the overhead branches,” he said.

After about 30 minutes, the buck finally crossed the ditch.

“He worked another overhead branch 5 yards from my stand,” Basas said.

A well-placed arrow sent the buck running, and soon Basas was standing over a buck that later scored 142 3/8 Pope & Young.

The opportunity to take that kind of buck is what keeps Basas slopping through muck and water each year. It’s not easy, but Basas and Baton Rouge hunting buddy Mark Saltz know that swamps hold a lot of deer, and that some of the bucks live long enough to grow impressive racks.

The trick is to know how to hunt them.

There are basically two philosophies on swamp hunting, and Basas and Saltz illustrate both approaches.

The first is to get in the middle of a swamp without regard to the water that can rise higher than a man’s knees. That’s what Basas does for most of the season, but he’s not focusing on the wide-open swamp that most people think about.

“The big deer really like the security of a real thick swamp,” he explained. “They have a lot of places to hide.

“They’ll run through those open swamps whenever they’re being chased, but they live in the thicker swamps.”

So he looks for small rises or short ridges way back in the swamps on which underbrush can survive.

“If you find a thicker swamp where it grows up with cut grass and briars, that’s where the bucks live,” Basas said. “You’ll walk through the water, and all of a sudden it might not be as big as a car, but there will be a little rise.

“The bucks will bed in there because they can hear anything coming.”

Once he’s found an area he’s confident a buck is using, Basas will carefully plan stand locations. Yep, he usually sets up multiple stands around one area.

“When I killed that 142, I had actually set up four stands in the same area, all within an 80-yard circle,” he said. “I had one on both sides of the trail for wind direction, and then put a couple of others in case I needed to move.”

The two extra stands were necessary because the deer wasn’t just using one trail.

“They’ll use two or three trails,” he said.

So he pays very close attention to where deer travel while he’s in a stand.

“If I see them use one trail a couple of times, I’ll put a stand there,” he said. “I don’t take down the original stand because they might use a trail for a week or two, and then they might move back to that first trail.”

Basas uses lock-ons with climbing sticks.

“Lock-ons are great, but if you’re climbing down and they hear it, they’re gone for a while,” he said. “They’ll eventually come back, but you’ve spooked him.”

Although finding larger trees often can be a challenge in these thicker areas, Basas said he likes to get at least 20 feet above the ground.

“I’ve just noticed when you’re lower in the tree, they really pick you off,” he said. “The worst thing you can see is a buck walking up to you, and it’s like they’re looking right at you.”

He said he also gets into his stand at least 45 minutes, but preferably an hour, before daylight.

“The bucks are usually up on the ridges (at night) chasing does or feeding, so you want to beat him to the stand,” Basas said.

However, he gives himself plenty of time to make the journey for two reasons.

“You have to still hunt going to your stand,” Basas explained. “I’ve sat half an hour waiting for a group of does to feed off. You don’t want to spook deer and have them start blowing.”

The extra time also is important because of the water through which Basas often has to walk.

“The water works both ways: You can hear deer coming, but they can also hear you,” he said.

So he eases through the water to minimize splashing, wearing knee boots when the water isn’t too deep, and switching to hip boots if he’s in a deeper area.

He also will prepare trails across any ridges so he doesn’t crunch leaves and sticks.

“I’ll take a rake and rake my path in,” he said.

Saltz, on the other hand, spends most of his time on the spoil banks and ridges along the bayous crisscrossing the swamps he hunts.

“I hardly ever go 40 yards from my boat,” he said.

Game trails help him narrow down where he’ll hunt, but the most-used trails are just clues to where bucks will be.

“The bigger, heavier trails — these are usually (used by) the does and yearlings,” Saltz said. “Five to 15 yards from those trials, you might only see a few tracks, but those are usually where the bucks travel.”

He locates likely hunting areas from his boat.

“I drive the boat real slow, and look for trails coming out of the water,” Saltz said. “At low tide, you can see where deer are crossing (the bayous). They’re always crossing the same spots.”

He often stops to look at the direction of the tracks.

“I try to figure out if they’re coming in the morning or the afternoon,” he said.

Travel trails can be found all over the place, but Saltz said he wants to find a convergence of game trails near some feature that funnels deer.

“I like to see five or six trails,” he said.

But, like Basas, Saltz ignores those trails that meander through the more-open areas.

“In a swamp, it’s easy to know where the deer are — any thick place, places people can’t hang a tree stand,” Saltz said.

Of course, this means hunting on the ground. That’s not a problem for Saltz, who has seen too many friends injured falling from tree stands.

So he simply eases into these likely bedding areas, and forms a comfortable sitting area, even though there’s often some water on the ground even on these ridges.

“I don’t use a bucket to sit on,” Saltz said. “I just use a small butt pad just to keep my butt from getting wet.”

He also likes to sit against something to break up his outline.

“I look for a tree, brush or a root ball,” Saltz said, noting that always uses a Leafy Wear jacket to help break up his silhouette.

How close he sets up to a trail depends upon the cover.

“If it’s open enough, I want 20 yards, but most of it’s so thick I’m making no more than 9-yard shots,” Saltz said.

Sitting flat on the ground presents a challenge just making a good shot, but Saltz said he’s confident in his ability.

“I can shoot on my butt, left and right, and on my knees,” he said. “I practice at the range to do that.”

If the area he’s chosen to hunt is too thick, Saltz uses a small pruning shear to provide openings through which he can shoot an arrow.

“I don’t make shooting lanes,” he explained. “I just cut a limb here or there so that I’m shooting through small holes.”

These holes are often only a few inches in diameter.

Like Basas, Saltz feels the advantage of hunting such damp areas is that deer rarely can sneak up on you.

“You listen for them in the water,” he said. “But even better than that, you see the ripples.”

When the rut begins, Basas joins Saltz hunting on the ground in ridge tickets.

“The bucks stay on the ridges running does during the rut,” Basas said. “They’re running ridges, and they’re everywhere the does are.”

He said hunting the thickets on the ridges makes for exciting hunts.

“It’s usually so thick you can actually get so close to the deer,” Basas said. “We’ve had deer pass by that you could almost reach out and slap them.”

That makes scent control a major issue.

“A lot of hunters don’t take scent control seriously,” Saltz said. “They think because it’s hot outside for us, the deer are miserable, but they’re acclimated.”

That allows the deer to smell just as well when it’s warm as when it’s cold, so these accomplished swamp hunters take no chances.

“I don’t go scouting without showering with No-Scent and brushing my teeth with No-Scent,” Basas said. “It’s all or nothing.”

Basas said that, even though he’s wearing rubber knee or hip boots, he ensures his footwear is covered by Scent-Loc clothing.

Saltz is probably more fanatical about the issue.

“I’m a pain in the ass about it,” Saltz admitted. “If it’s cold, I’ve got three layers of Scent-Loc on.”

But he doesn’t stop there.

“I don’t wear my hunting clothes inside the truck,” Saltz said. “I keep them in Scent-Loc bags inside plastic tubes.

“And I don’t wear my boots anywhere but hunting.”

He even worries about his scent on his bow, GPS and compass.

“I wipe down every hard surface with Robinson scent wipes, and if it’s not a hard surface I use the sprays,” Saltz said. “I even wipe all my arrows and the vanes down.”

And he never puts on his outer layer of clothing until he reaches his hunting location.

Both hunters also believe in spending hours and hours waiting on deer to pass.

“I see most of my deer between 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.,” Saltz said. “I take a sandwich, snacks, some water, and I sit all day.”

The largest buck Saltz has taken scored in the 110s P&Y, but he said he had an opportunity several years ago to match Basas’ big kill.

“I was hunting an area, and he came in at 11:10 a.m.,” Saltz said. “I shot him, and the arrow passed through his brisket.”

When the arrow struck, the buck dug in and bolted to the side — right into a willow tree.

“He hit the tree, and I think he’s dead: He’s stumbling around, and I started shaking,” Saltz said. “He looked like he had an oak tree on his head.”

But the buck continued to walk away, and quickly Saltz panicked.

“I realized he’s not going down, so I’m trying to get a shot at him,” he said. “I finally did a Hail Mary trying to hit him in the neck.”

The shot missed, and the buck disappeared into the swamp.

Saltz and his buddies never found the buck, and that illustrates possibly the most-challenging part of swamp hunting — tracking deer.

Saltz said he’s really handicapped because he can’t differentiate reds and greens, so he often has to rely on friends to come help.

But Basas, who doesn’t suffers from color-blindness, said finding deer in a swamp is a whole different ballgame than tracking in upland areas.

The biggest problem is that deer usually hit the water, and that means there will be no blood trail on the ground.

“You have to look on branches,” Basas said.

But often all you are left with are signs of a deer’s passing through the water, which means hunters have to get out of the stand quickly.

“You have to just look down where the water is muddy,” Basas explained. “You can’t wait three or four hours to track them because all you may have are muddy tracks, and that doesn’t last too long.”

Even watching the direction a deer flees is difficult in the thickets Basas and Saltz hunt because visibility is so limited.

That’s why Saltz carries a compass.

“I take a compass reading on the last place I saw the deer,” he said. “I then find my arrow, and stick it in the ground to mark that spot.”

However, the water through which the deer often flee limits mortally wounded deer’s ability to put space between them and a hunter.

“They usually don’t go far because it’s harder for them to run than on dry land,” Basas said.

That doesn’t make it any easier to actually put your hands on a dead deer, however, because most of the carcass will be covered by water.

“You don’t see the whole deer,” Basas said. “All you see is a small patch of hair in the water.”

Mosquitoes are another challenge, but Saltz said he uses ThermaCELLs to drive off the blood-thirsty insects. However, he uses them sparingly.

“I turn it on, and as soon as it kills everything, I turn it off,” he said.

Basas still hasn’t been sold on ThermaCELLS.

“I can smell it, and I just don’t want to take the chance of a deer smelling it,” he said. “I spray all of my clothing with permethrin the night before I hunt, and that really works well.”

He also ensures he wears a hood and gloves.

But when mosquitoes are really bad, he turns to Avon’s Bug Guard Plus.

“It’s like Skin So Soft, but it’s unscented,” Basas said.

So why do these hunters continue to brave the water and mosquitoes?

Saltz said that’s easy.

“It’s different. It’s fun,” he said. “It’s just a different challenge.

“Variety is the spice of life.”

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply