And he's looking right at you.
What do you do now?
A few years ago, we orchestrated a doe hunt early in the season at our hunting camp. I strolled casually out of the camp, walking down a 100-yard trail to my favorite ladder stand overlooking a green plot.
I didn't walk 50 yards, just enjoying the cool, crisp bluebird day, when I looked up to see two does standing right at the edge of the plot. They caught me right off and split out of sight.
I cautiously approached the plot, slipping up behind a big tree right on the corner of the open area. The two does were out in the middle of the green ryegrass grazing.
I kneeled on one knee, steadied my Browning A-Bolt and collected a nice, plump doe. I was back at camp in 15 minutes with the doe at the meat pole
Other hunters gathered, not believing I had taken the doe so quickly.
Certainly, these scenarios do not always play out this way. More often a white-tailed deer is so skittish they completely race out of the territory after spotting a hunter approaching the area.
The question is, what is the best approach to dealing with getting caught in the open by a deer?
Time to regroup
"The favored recommendation is to back off for awhile, regroup, then slip in more cautiously with extra alertness - or just abandon that stand for a couple of days until the incident cools down, hoping the deer has a short memory," Gary Starkey of Madison said.
Be sure to note the deer's route of exit, if possible. That may be a favored point of escape and a direction to check out for potential new hunting-stand locations.
"Anybody that deer hunts either early in the season with archery gear or later with a long-range rifle is going to get busted by a deer sooner or later," Starkey said. "This can easily happen when going to hunting stands or even more often trying to leave a stand at the end of a hunt. The success or failure of the incident is highly dependent on how you handle the situation."
"If you are approaching a stand or traversing through a hunting area, then first and foremost take your time and always proceed with keen awareness and caution going into the wind. If you go busting up into a food plot or noisily approach through the woods without being in stealth mode, then it is just a matter of time before you come face to face with a deer."
Starkey said your response to being busted is just as important as the deer's.
"Most hunters assume that if you bust a buck like this the game is up, but that is far from the reality," he said. "I guess the deer's reaction is all dependent upon how spooked they got. If you approach a hunting area and run into a deer, the best bet is to freeze in your tracks. Motion is the real mistake that kills most hunting situations, anyway, either in a stand or walking around.
"Many times I have just knelt down on the spot and had deer move on out without scaring away. If this happens, I wait several more minutes before moving on in case a wily buck should happen to give his backtracks one more look."
Multiple approach setups
This is not rocket science for most experienced deer hunters, but frankly we all tend to get a little lazy with it. Any deer-hunting book is going to tell hunters to have more than one avenue of approach to a hunting stand when at all possible. This gives the hunter more than one option for sneaking in.
Usually, the prime consideration for more than one way to a stand is to have the flexibility to play the wind right. Of course, if the wind is wrong for that stand to start with, then just alternate to another hunting area; there is no need to unnecessarily booger up a good hunting area, but it is a very common mistake made by deer hunters.
Very early preseason is the perfect time to trim down new approaches to stands. It may be hacking a path through a brush hedge to come in the back way, or cutting multiple, narrow trails in from different directions or angles. Have all this done well ahead of the actual hunting season.
"When I look to place a new hunting stand or I am scouting a possible tree stand location for a tote-in climber, I am always on the lookout for more than one way to get to the spot," Starkey said. "I prefer to slip in under cover or reduce the open approach to as quick a crossing as possible, such as the corner of habitat mix.
"I sure don't want to have to walk across an entire pasture or food plot out in the broad open, but I have done this well before full light. Even then, scent is the key to going unnoticed."
Walking up on a good buck can give a deer hunter a sinking feeling. The immediate thought is that the buck will never be seen again, but that simply is not the case in all scenarios.
Just remember to always approach any hunting area or stand location focusing on going slow and making deliberate movements. If you bump a buck, just hunker down and he'll likely move on. Watch the wind and your scent.
When in doubt, back out, but don't give up.