Early season bowhunting is a time to harvest does for the freezer, but also a time to target trophy bucks that have not been pressured. Here’s how one Mississippi hunter figures out where they are, where they’re going and how they’re going to get there — and where he can ambush them.
Steve Brown anxiously awaited the day he could hunt one of his choice stands and target a big buck. He knew the intricacies of the buck’s whereabouts, including its bedding and feeding areas, as well as the best location to intercept it. He just needed an easterly to northeasterly wind to hunt the stand.
Then, the opportunity arrived, almost without warning, with little time to get to the stand — but time or weather conditions wait for no man. One day, around 2 p.m., the wind shifted and started blowing from the direction he needed to hunt the stand properly.
“As soon as I saw that the wind direction had changed in my favor, I called my godson, Jake Beck, and told him to meet me so that he could film the hunt,” said Brown, president of the Mississippi Bowhunters Association. “I was hunting an area that was a working cattle ranch with small thickets, hayfields and grass, surrounded by houses, without much hunting pressure.”
Patterning the buck
Brown, who hails from Starkville, knew where the buck was bedding and spending its time during the day, and he’d patterned him coming through a hole in the neighbor’s fence as he made his way to an oak ridge.
“I climbed up the tree, and Jake climbed up and got below me to film the hunt,” Brown said. “Just before dark, a small buck fed towards my stand, and then the big buck came in behind him and fed right down the ridge to me.
“The buck fed within range about 30 minutes before dark, and I pulled a fine bead on him and let the arrow fly.”
“Thwack!” The arrow smacked the buck right behind the shoulder, and the deer disappeared in an instant. After the shot, it started raining, so Brown got down and found blood and took a compass reading and marked the deer’s direction. The shot was true and fatal, but he backed out to return in the morning so he wouldn’t push the deer too hard.
“We returned the next morning and found the buck about 80 yards from where we spotted the blood trail,” Brown said. “I didn’t want to lose a good buck, so we just did the smart thing and came back the next day.”
The 10-point buck scored 157 points and was the best Mississippi bowkill for the veteran hunter and guide.
Scouting trophy bucks
“Hunting deer with a bow is year-round for me,” said Brown. “I choose to bowhunt all season, and I start scouting in late June, using game cameras in travel corridors. We also do supplemental feeding and use mineral licks to help keep track of the deer. We get a lot of pictures of young bucks and does, and sometimes, I follow those bucks for 5 to 6 years and target the good bucks when they reach maturity.”
Brown wants to know where they’re sleeping, eating and going to water. He puts cameras in and around water sources, creeks, streamside management zones and anywhere they travel frequently.
“I love the early bow season patterns,” Brown said. “The secret for me is to figure out where they are bedding. You can use Google Earth to view timber, landscape and focus on one, two or three bucks. Before the acorns start falling, the bucks will be on a late-summer, early fall pattern. They’ll bed in the same vicinity every day and have a routine we can exploit.”
Brown goes a step farther than most people, using 20 to 25 trail cameras across his hunting areas and learning nearly every move the bucks make.
“I’ll use the trail cameras to find out the times and direction he’s going to travel,” he said. “I have several persimmon trees marked, as well as white oaks and other food sources. I’ll employ the cameras along break lines that deer and bucks use to get water or food.
Stand setups, placement
“I love to hunt transition areas and pinch points and set up ambush points to intercept them on their way to where the acorns or fruit are falling,” Brown said. “I make my living guiding and taking hunters, and I’ve learned a few things in hunting deer, especially mature bucks, all around the country. One of the most-important things I’ve learned is to minimize your presence in the woods where the bucks live.”
During summer and into fall, Brown visits his camera sites sparingly to keep human scent and intrusion to a minimum.
“When I do check my cameras, I’ll usually go in during the hottest part of the day when the deer are bedded down and not moving,” he said. “I’ll check those cameras between noon and 2 p.m., so I won’t spook any deer.”
Keeping disturbance to a minimum
With the advent of modern game cameras with cell-phone capability, hunters can see when the deer come through an area by the time the pictures were taken and sent to a computer or cell phone. This allows Brown to further pattern the deer’s travel routes and timing, though nothing is ever certain. The biggest thing about the cameras is that it helps keep human intrusion to a minimum. After you complete the initial work, you might not have to disturb the deer until you actual go in to hunt them.
“Although stand placement is a key part of the equation in harvesting mature bucks, concealment of the stand is just as important,” Brown said. “Here in Mississippi, you can’t just put up a ground blind and hunt from it like you might in other states; you’ve got to cover it up and blend it in. I’m still active and in good shape, so I prefer hunting from an elevated tree stand.
“I climb pretty high in the trees and hide my stands in cover. I don’t want the stand to be obvious to the deer — or other hunters. I’ll primarily use a lock-on stand with stick ladders or a portable stand if I have to move around an area due to a change in deer movement.”
“I have lost some friends due to tree-stand accidents and know some others who have sustained permanent damage from falls, so I’m going to practice safety first when hanging stands or hunting from stands,” Brown said. “I’ll put on a safety harness and climb the tree and hang a tether above the stand so that I can climb with a Lifeline tether on the entire time I’m climbing the tree or hunting from the stand until I get back to the ground.”
Riding the wind
Brown is meticulous about every aspect of hunting trophy bucks, from locating them, learning their movements and travel routine to the available bedding areas and current food sources, but there’s one thing that is most important after everything else has been done.
“No matter what buck I’m after, or how bad I want to hunt that buck from a particular stand, wind direction is the most-important factor in my plans to hunt a certain buck or stand,” Brown said. “I’m not going to spend all summer and fall finding and patterning a buck just to hunt that stand and have him smell me if the wind is wrong. It only takes one mistake to miss out on an opportunity at a mature, trophy buck.”
Brown doesn’t use any special clothes, scent attractants or scent control when bowhunting, though he does like to keep his scent to a minimum. There’s just no way you can guarantee that a buck that comes in downwind will not smell you. He’s just not going to take the risk.
“I do wash my clothes in scent-free soap, but there’s only one sure way to fool a deer’s nose, and that’s to be downwind of him,” Brown said.
“During October I’m going to concentrate on hunting mature bucks, and if I’m locked down on a good buck, I’m not going to hunt does or shoot them in that area,” Brown said. “Now, my family loves to eat venison, and I’ll shoot does for meat, but I typically don’t harvest them during the early season.”
Brown does advocate that hunters harvest does for population control and will even do some of that himself in October in areas where he has a high deer population where but no bucks in his sights, or in an area where there’s just not any good bucks.
“Sometimes, if the wind is wrong on a certain stand, or if it changes after I’ve planned to hunt one of the stands that I have targeted for trophy bucks, I’ll hunt one of my ‘doe stands’ in another area, to harvest some meat for the table,” Brown said.
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