In the real world, where most of us live, whitetail deer are hunted on public land or small farms. Few of the hunting shows you watch on television tell the whole story. The result is that after watching, us real hunters are left wondering why we can’t find whitetail bucks like those the host and his wife just whacked out in some wide open green field.
You know, like I do, that on public land and small properties most of us are regulated to hunt on, seeing a monster buck stroll out in an open pasture to graze is about as likely as seeing Britney Spears at your local McDonalds. Of course, out West where public hunting and private properties are typically larger, and when there is minimal hunting pressure, you might see this happen in early bow or even rifle season. Don’t expect it when the woods are filled with pumpkin colored humans.
The point I am trying to make is that to increase your chances of nailing a respectable whitetail on public land you are going to have to hunt very hard, be very lucky or both. A truck full of attractant scents, supplemental feeds and five layers of clothing that won’t let your vile body odor escape guarantees nothing. Knowing the areas the deer use, the times they use them and understanding how the activities of other hunters influence both will mean a great deal.
Our family hunting camp is located only two hours from Washington, D.C. Surprisingly, it is still in a very remote area. We only own 100 acres and are bordered on each side by other hunting clubs that own and hunt on properties about the same size. Luckily, we all border 15,000 acres of public hunting. Occasionally, a nice deer will be taken on the private properties but it’s unusual because there is about one hunter for every 10 acres.
During the first three days of rifle season, which is during the rut here in West Virginia, the public hunting land is full of hunters too—especially within a half mile of access roads. On opening day a few hunters will get lucky while bucks are bouncing around like a pinball from one hunter to another and a few will sometimes tag out. After that first morning, most of the wiser bucks have retreated to heavy cover to escape the invasion of the pumpkin people. They hold up in and around this cover most of the day waiting for dark to continue their woman chasing ways.
That’s why I typically wait until the fourth day, which is always Thanksgiving Day in West Virginia, to venture on to public land looking for antlers. Last year was a good example. On the evening of the fourth day I set up near an old clear cut on public land. I was in a thicket where you couldn’t see 30 yards and seated about 20 feet from a scrape line. About an hour before dark a nice buck slipped in right on top of me.
My sister took a similar approach. I had found a good rub and scrape line in a wide flat covered with mature oaks, bordering a thicket. This section of ground is always hunted hard during the first three days of season because it is flat easy walking and within a mile of the end of the public land access road. Sis slipped in there on the last day of our two week season and I doubt there was another hunter within a mile of her.
About 9:30 a.m. she was still-hunting along the base of a low ridge when she saw a buck side-hilling her way. He was undoubtedly trying to cross the path of a hot doe because he was moving to fast too be foraging for acorns. She set up in some laurels and when he stepped out at about 30 yards she whacked him with her .308. No, he is not what I would call a monster buck but at 4 1/2 years old he was mature and a fine specimen of a public land whitetail in West Virginia.
Toward the end of season, hunting areas that other hunters have given up on is one method that can be effective but another is working small, organized drives. Several hunters slowly moving through dense cover can often dislodge a wise old buck that thinks his hiding spot is safe from the pumpkin hoards that work independently. A trick here is to work small sections, keep drivers in sight of each other and make sure that you have more hunters on stand than on the move.
Just because it happens on TV doesn’t mean it can happen to you on old man Walker’s farm or on your favorite public land ground. TV hosts are pressured to produce quality footage in the least amount of time possible. That’s how they make their money and to do this they seek out areas with strictly controlled access that utilize a strong deer management program. For average folks like you and I, a big buck hunt like this costs, big bucks.