Many shy away from managed hunts because of the crowds of gun-toting hunters. These two men, however, don’t even blink: They simply adapt to make the pressure work for them.
Aaron Toups had laid claim to the stretch of woods around him by nestling in his tree stand long before the first rays of dawn vaulted over the horizon, but he saw something that would make most hunters cringe as the forests around him brightened.Orange shapes began moving about on the ground, and Toups knew what that meant.
“I had four guys walk by me,” the Lake Charles hunter said. “I had three vehicles drive down the road I was hunting on, and then drive back the other way.”
The riot was in full swing, as waves of hunters charged into Clear Creek Wildlife Management Area like ants over day-old road kill.
While most would mutter under their breath and think about where to move after having their area so molested, Toups just sat back and waited. He knew that they wouldn’t hunt long.
And he’d be ready when they were gone.
“They were all out of the woods by 9:30,” he said. “At 10:30, I killed a deer.”
Toups caught the spike easing through the woods after all the commotion died down, and that’s exactly what the lifelong “reserve” hunter knew would happen.
“By 9 o’clock, I bet you at least 80 percent of the hunters are out of their stands,” he said. “That’s what actually pushes a lot of deer to you. You’ve just got to wait.”
Many of these hunters walking out of the woods justify their short time on stands by explaining that they’re stalking, but Toups said that method just isn’t very effective — at least for those walking around.
“You’ll push three times as many deer as you’ll ever see walking,” he said.
That’s why Toups puts his time in, sitting in his stand and waiting for deer to be pushed by or begin moving after the racket. It’s a tactic that has produced a lot of meat for the freezer.
In 2000 alone, he knocked off six deer on Clear Creek (formerly Boise Vernon): a 10-point, two 8-points, a 7-pointer, a doe and a button. In 2004, he took an 8-point, a 3-point, two does and a button.
He’s also killed deer on Buckhorn, Attakapas and Spring Bayou WMAs, as well as Lake Ophelia National Wildlife Refuge.
The key is to understand that the woods will be crawling with hunters, and learn how to make that work in your favor.
“I’ve seen Clear Creek where there were 1,700 people in a morning,” Toups said. “But there’s 53,000 acres.”
That many people on a tract of land can make finding a suitable hunting spot tricky, but Toups really doesn’t have much trouble.
“I’ll get (to a stand site) at least an hour before it even thinks about getting daylight,” he said. “That’s just so I’m in my spot and let everything settle down before the other people come in.”
He also doesn’t just assume he’ll be able to hunt his primary choice.
“You can’t just have one spot,” Toups said. “You’ve got to be able to move around and adapt.”
Danny Kliebert of Grand Point agreed.
“We have seven or eight different spots to hunt,” Kliebert said.
However, his approach is a little different.
“We hunt crosses, like where there’s a creek and a couple of feeders,” Kliebert said. “That way, if someone is right where we want to hunt, we can pretty much hunt within 100, 150 yards of that area, no matter what.”
However, he and his buddies go to great lengths to avoid the crowds when they hunt Ben’s Creek, Union and Tunica WMAs.
“We walk as far as we can walk,” Klievert said. “Most people are going to hunt near the roads, so we want to be as far from them as possible. About 99.9 percent of the time, we’re farther than anyone else wants to go.”
However, they don’t simply show up and start walking: His group gets together for a bit of homework long before they drive to where they’ll hunt.
“We use a lot of satellite maps,” he said.
The maps are pored over to find exactly what they’re looking for: hardwood bottoms.
“We hunt all creek bottoms,” he said. “Management areas are all full of cutovers, and creek bottoms are the only areas that have standing hardwoods.”
They key not on the hardwoods, however, but on the travel areas to the acorns strewn about the flats.
“It’s hard to hunt feed trees because the deer are so schizo,” Kliebert said. “In Ben’s Creek, for instance, they’re totally on alert.”
The pressure that pushes the deer to be so hyper-alert allows Kleibert and his band of hunting partners to predict where they can most likely knock down deer.
“We hunt ambush points,” he said. “We’re on either side of the bottom.”
What they’re looking for are the transitions, where the thick cutovers and pine plantations meet the wide-open hardwoods along the creeks.
“Right along that transition is where your scrape lines are going to be,” Kliebert said.
Finding well-used game trails emerging into the bottoms can be effective, but Kliebert prefers a more-specific ambush point.
“We look for fingers where the cutovers and the creeks meet,” he said. “Or we might hunt a corner of the cutover.
“Those deer are gong to stay in the thick stuff as long as possible. We figure those deer have to come to the creeks to drink.”
To make the most of their efforts, Kliebert and his buddies work together.
“We hunt as a team,” he said.
The general rule is to hunt in pairs.
“We hunt two and two: We go down the same trail, and then one team goes one direction, and the other goes another,” Kliebert said. “But we stay pretty close to each other.”
For instance, if they identify several cutover fingers on their satellite maps, the teams might split up and hunt a couple of them in close proximity.
“I’ll go up one side of the corner 100 yards, and my buddy will go 100 yards up the other side,” he said. “We do a lot of planning.”
Other times, they’ll hunt the same cutover.
“If we’re hunting a big enough cutover, we might each get on a corner so that we can cover the entire area,” Kliebert said. “There are times when we can see each other: We might be 400 yards apart, but we can see each other.
“I can see somebody pick up their rifle, and I know the deer are starting to move.”
However, they don’t just show up the first day of the managed hunt and hit the woods.
“We drive up Wednesday, and bow hunt Thursday and Friday,” Kliebert said.
That allows them to check out the areas they found on the maps.
“We use the bowhunting to scout,” he said. “We bring in our stands on our backs, and when we find where we want to hunt, we put our stands up.”
However, they rarely return to those exact spots once rifle season opens.
“We rarely hunt the same spot twice,” Kliebert said. “When we bowhunt, we’ll see a buck right out of range, and Saturday morning, they’re gone.”
So they make small adjustments, allowing them to hunt the same general area without being in the same trees.
“We might not move 100 yards, but we always move,” Kliebert said.
They usually take a quick lunch break, but even then they put their heads together to see if they need to make a change.
“We come out for half an hour, 45 minutes and tell each other what we saw,” Kliebert said.
They never leave the WMAs for lunch: In fact, they don’t even move their trucks.
“A lot of times, if you leave and come back, there will be someone there,” Kliebert said. “We eat right at our trucks so no one else will think it’s an open area.”
But even when they’re in their stands, they make sure they can work together.
“We use two-way radios,” he said. “If someone has a deer slip by, they can call and tell me it’s heading my way.”
The radios also allow them to relieve the boredom of hours in a tree.
“We can call each other and talk quietly, crack a couple of jokes,” Kliebert said. “That gets your mind off hunting for a few minutes. After a couple of minutes of finding out what everyone else has done, you can get back to hunting.”
And the teamwork pays dividends on a regular basis.
“One of us will kill a deer,” he said.
Unlike Toups, however, they don’t head out at insanely early hours.
“We leave early, but not too early,” Kliebert said. “When we get to our stand, we barely need a flashlight.”
That’s not laziness: It’s a well-thought-out strategy.
“If we can get in a little later, we can stay later,” he said.
And staying in later than other hunters is absolutely key to their success because, like Toups, they know that the majority of other hunters will be heading back to their trucks by about 9 a.m.
“We try to … let people push the deer to us,” Kliebert said. “We shoot most of our deer between 9:30 and 10:30.”
And that’s when the deer begin to move like clockwork.
“Last year, we were fixin’ to get down (for lunch), but the deer started moving,” Kliebert said. “About 10 minutes to 11, I heard a grunt. At five minutes to 12, I shot a spike. At 12:05, I saw a doe. At 12:15, a 4-point walked by, and at 12:30 a 4- to 6-pointer moved past me.”
Both Kliebert and Toups are successful because they focus on the same key areas.
“When they start getting pressure, they’re going to start moving into the thickest stuff they can find,” Toups said. “As soon as the pressure gets on, I’ll move into the shorter pines or cutovers because I know that’s where they’re going.”
However, whereas Kliebert hunts edges of these hideaways, Toups often will hunt however he has to so he can be where the deer will be.
What he really likes to hunt is bedding areas.
“Your more dominant bucks will stay in that cutover,” Toups said. “They won’t ever come out and chase deer.”
At times, the deer will be laying up near a transition area, which allows Toups to climb trees. Other times, however, there isn’t a large tree to be found.
“I’ve hunted 40 feet up in a tree; I’ve hunted 5 feet off the ground; I’ve hunted on the ground,” he said. “It all depends on the cover, terrain and where I think the deer are going to be.”
If he has found a bedding area deep in a cutover, he looks for a nearby area he can ambush deer as they retreat to their bedrooms.
“If you can find an old logging road, you can hunt on the ground,” Toups said.
Once he locates a bedding area, he logs the spot on a Garmin GPS so he can easily make his way back in.
Using the GPS also allows him to find the shortest possible path to the area.
“Last year, I found a spot that was a half mile from the road the way I came in,” Toups said. “I walked back to my truck and rode around until I found the closest spot. I found a spot that was 3/10ths of mile from the area: Grant it, I had to wade chest deep through a slough, but it was closer.”
The best times to hunt bedding areas, he said, are when the moon is full and bright.
“I know the deer are going to be feeding all night, and if I can get in there early enough and wait on them, they’re going to be coming in there to bed down.”
Toups said patterns will emerge after a couple of years of hunting the same WMAs.
“Deer will follow the same trails, the same patterns, every time,” he said. “I’ve killed 14 deer out of one tree.”
What he likes to do is find where several well-used game trails meet near a bedding area.
“They’re going to come down those trails,” Toups said. “Somebody’s going to push them there.
“The more trails you can see, the better chances you’ll have of seeing a buck.”
The key to having success in the thickets is to understand that there won’t be all the buck sign found in the more-open woods and along transition lines.
“You don’t see the rubs; you don’t see the scrapes,” Toups said. “In that thick stuff, you might not see any buck sign at all, but I guarantee you they’re in there.”
Although both hunters like to kill bucks, they also aren’t that picky.
“A trophy is in the eye of the beholder,” Kliebert said. “If I shoot a doe, I’m happy.”
And that might be the best choice, since these are public areas that receive tons of pressure, but they’re fine with that.
“It’s a bigger challenge to kill deer on public land,” Toups said. “People these days don’t know how to hunt deer: They think building a big box stand and putting out corn is hunting. It’s not.
“It’s so much more (rewarding) when you actually sit there and kill a deer without all of that.”
Kliebert takes that notion ever further, hunting areas like Ben’s Creek that aren’t known for producing a lot of deer.
“I like the challenge when no one else can kill them,” he said. “The less I see, the more I hunt. Now, I’m going to be cursing and hating everybody around me, but I’m going to hunt more.”
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