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Scouting for Trophy Whitetail During the Season


In late October of 2007 I found myself confined to 160 acre tract of ground lying in the Salt River Bottoms of Northern Missouri with an archery tag that had yet to be filled. Although my instincts told me to continue to climb into treestands until a trophy buck waltzed within bowrange I knew it was time for me to make it happen. As whitetail hunters we have to take the time to make it happen by setting aside time to reanalyze our current strategies, reaccess the land tract we are hunting, and seek out trophy buck sign so that we can bag a trophy whitetail buck. Rather than hunting on October 29 I took the entire day and a cool drink and lunch and slowly walked out the entire 160 acres I thought I knew so well in search of trophy buck sign. Although bucks were doing some rubbing and the rut was a week away sign wasn’t as strong I what I really wanted to see.

When I scout during the season I am a big fan of rubs. I believe rubs are the most important clue to discovering a trophy whitetail other than actual sightings of trophy bucks. Its true that big bucks and small bucks make small rubs and scrapes but its very unusual for any small buck to construct a big rub and especially construction of a big rub line or line of big rubs. Small bucks just simply don’t do it. Years ago Roger Raglin produced a video entitled “Plenty of Big Bucks to Spare.” If you haven’t watched it you need to get on Raglin’s website and get it. What most hunters don’t realize is that there are many more big bucks in the woods that we realize. In fact in 1995 I purchased a 200 acre tract of ground in Northern Missouri that was a mess of dense cover and draws and briars and everything big bucks need to hold up for a season without being confronted by a human being. At time of purchase my partner asked me. “How many big bucks do you think are on this piece of ground?” I replied, “At least a dozen.” My partner laughed in my face but at the end of the season between my buddies and I we harvested 6 trophy bucks and two of them were over 160 inches. Proof that when provided the “right” cover certain land tracts can hold a dozen or dozens of trophy bucks. The reason its so hard to believe is that the big boys are mostly nocturnal until the rut. Its like during non rut conditions they disappear or live in holes in the ground. All the while they are there and near impossible to harvest during nonrut conditions without some pure “outhouse luck”.

Irregardless, on October 29th, 2007 I took the day to scout every inch of the 160 acres. During the 10 hour expedition I found 3 locations that held rublines on big trees however I knew with the corn still standing in the field my efforts to arrow one of the 3 would be tough. One area I entitled the “Black Oak Oasis”. This location was a circle of mature black oaks throwing acorns to the forest floor heavily. Oddly enough the entire oasis was surrounded by dense swamp cover. Some too dense to walk through. This is an example of a transition zone. A location where the terrain abruptly turns from one type of cover to another. Usually these transition zones are creates by logging efforts from years past. Deer were bedding in the dense cover but in the evening they were foraging on the acorns lying under the mature black oaks. This area contained several huge rubs as big as the tops of legs, but the problem it presented was the hunter (I) had to walk through the bed area to get to the oak oasis which made entry for evening hunts virtually impossible and as someone who works in the morning I very seldom get to hunt in the morning and frankly just don’t like hunting in the morning. I marked a tree and limblighted the ambush location to a dried up riverbed so that I could make my entry below the view of the deer lying in the bed area for most of the route to the stand site. I hung my Ole Man Climber and left the area to rest as I kicked up several deer scouting it out. However I knew this area would be vital to my success just days from now.

The second area I found was a telephone line running right through the middle of the standing cornfield where the landowner was unable to plant. What it created was a road the deer were using to walk through the corn undetected and without resistance to standing cornstalks. Many mature tracks existed and the area literally looked like a petting zoo. Thousands of deertracks lied in the sloppy muddy lane, however my thoughts were that probably most of the activity was taking place at night. In this location I hung a stand also but it was my least favorite of the three locations I found on my day of scouting.

The third location I discovered was in the corner of the standing cornfield. Deer often exit and enter the fields in the corner in an effort to detect field activity at a single glance. From a corner an animal can detect activity in a field a lot more easily than entering from just out of the long permiter of the field. Corners of fields and inside the corners of fields are places where big bucks enter and skirt fields to avoid detection, often leaving scrapes and big rubs as calling cards to does and signs of dominance to does coming into heat. About 50 yards inside the corner of the cornfield in the woods I found a huge rub accompanied by an active scrape. Without walking any further I peered back into the timber and could see big rubs and scrapes every 50 yards coming towards the cornfield. This immediately told me a big bruiser was using this route to checkout the cornfield and socialize with does in the herd during nocturnal hours. Because the rubs were so big I called this area the Telephone Pole Buck Rub Setup. I grabbed another Ole Man Climber, cut shooting lanes the best I could without giving away my presence and began to hunt the three areas in a manner I call musical chairs.

Musical chairs is a technique wherein the hunter has placed several stands on a farm and hunts from them in a rotational manner dependent upon wind directions, time of day, etc. Musical chairs keeps a hunter from overhunting one given area enough to give away his or her position to potential trophy whitetail bucks in the area. Although I am a huge fan of Ole Man Treestands I don’t say this for a “commercial plug”. Prior to the season I obtained 6 Ole Man Climbers and set them about the farm I was hunting. Mainly because I feel the Ole Man Treestand is the most comfortable in the industry with the webbed seat and with all the upgrades to the new Ole Man Climbers they are simply outmatched. If you can afford to purchase a team of Ole Man Climbers then do it and play musical chairs with them. Although its true you can buy one climber and hunt wherever you want I don’t like carrying them in and out every time I hunt. I would rather leave several in the woods hanging around my chosen ambush sites so all I have to do is walk up to my chosen stand site, take a step up and start climbing into a location without making a ton of noise. The Ole Man Treestand is built to last forever and of all the climbers I have ever seen they are borderline indestructible. They don’t rot or require much maintenance. Although its not suggested I leave mine hanging on my favorite stand locations year round.

So here I was with a fleet of Ole Man Climbers carefully set with three of them positioned at the three new places I felt I had a legitament chance at harvesting a monster whitetail buck. Now the last thing to do was to decide where I wanted to start. On October 30 (the next day) I almost went to the “Black Oak Oasis” however when I entered the area I kicked up too many deer to feel confident to hunt the location the same night. Myles Keller once said one of the most important things about choosing a treestand location is being able to get to and from the location undetected by whitetails. I ended my walk into the oasis and walked to the Telephone Pole Buck Rub Setup. Once I arrived their my climber was setup and waiting for me on the tree so I climbed 30 feet into the air and began to guard the closest rub to the cornfield accompanied by fresh scrape. My thoughts were that the animal was arriving at the rub and scrape, working them both and then heading to the cornfield so I stayed just outside bowrange from the rub and scrape knowing the animal would walk right by me after he was done working the mating site. That was my mistake. Near dark the a monster 170 inch plus buck waltzed in following a smaller buck and a handful of does and worked the rub and the scrape for what seemed like an eternity. The longer he worked it the longer it got. The problem was I couldn’t get a clear shot to the rub and scrape. A mistake I will never make again. When setting up on the closest big rub and scrape zone closest to the foodsource always be aggressive and get close enough to shot the darn thing. Otherwise you’ll be forced to sit and watch him work the rub and scrape until its too dark to shoot which is just what I had to do that night. Then to avoid detection I sat in the climber a good 30 minutes after dark making sure I wouldn’t spook the animal when I exited the area. I sprayed the climber down with Hunter Specialties Human Scent Neutralizer and left the stand hanging in hopes I could make an adjustment the following day to take the Boone and Crockett animal.

The next day I made a move to place me within 20 yards of the big rub and scrape just knowing the animal would be strapped to the back of my four wheeler at the end of the evening. That night the combine entered the field 30 minutes after I did and combined corn within bowrange of me most of the afternoon and evening. An hour before dark the combine stopped but I knew the farm activity would force the deer to move later than usual which probably meant another evening of me not being able to get a shot during legal shooting hours. However despite the combine intrusion the monster came right back into the rub and scrape. Problem was I missed the shot. I was heartbroken but also realized my efforts of taking an entire day just to scout during the season had presented me with a shot at probably the biggest buck of my life. Missing an animal like that just strips you of something all true archers pride themselves on. I haven’t been the same yet. Its as close to a family death as I can explain. I was really that sick about it. If you ask someone who has ever missed a true monster whitetail with a bow they will tell you it does hurt the toughest of hearts. I hunted the area several more nights in denial but deer numbers began to decrease. I had overhunted the area and hurt it when I walked the area out making sure I hadn’t wounded the big deer. The gig was up at that location, however luckily my fleet of Ole Man Climbers still hung undisturbed and ready for my visit to each of them.

Again I have watched my friends spent thousands of dollars on guns, bows, etc. and skimp on the very treestand they plan to hunt from. Who wants to hunt from some uncomfortable small platform heavy low dollar treestand in a world of discomfort season after season. If your gonna harvest big bucks you have to invest in a stand that you can sit in and be comfortable. As the largest whitetail outfitter in the nation I can’t say all my treestands are Ole Man however if Ole Man would wave a magic and change all my stand to Ole Man I would do so in a heartbeat. With over 1000 treestands hanging on 50,000 acres all I can do is purchase Ole Man stands each year until I get everything switched over to Ole Man. The roost portable stand they offer is simply unmatched to all other portables, their ladder stands are nothing short of heaven, and their climbers are the best in the world especially if you can afford an aluminum one that weighs 8 pounds less. Anyway don’t skimp on treestand selection. You don’t have 1000 to replace. The average hunter has a half a dozen stands. Change them out and get comfortable so you can harvest that monster whitetail. With the roost portable hangon and ladderstands they offer a chain attach rather than a ratchet strap that can rot and break. The webbed seat is so comfortable you can’t feel it under you beind. The foot rest places the stand just beneath the comforts of a lazy boy recliner. Seat and body holding structures aren’t made of fabric that rodents eat or that elements rot. They just last forever, and you just can’t beat em. I believe so strongly in Ole Man products I personally won’t hunt from anything else. Let me add as an outfitter I’ve hunted and used about every deerstand you can imagine. I’ve literally tried them all. The only thing that was ever comparable was Ed Pool’s Blackwater Creek stand entitled Bouejacks, which Ole Man had bought the rights to now.

Having convinced myself that I had overhunted and ruined the Telephone Pole Buck Rub Setup I sat home and felt sorry for myself for a few days and then after getting off the “pity pot” I packed my backpack up again, did some shooting, and began to plan a hunt into the “Black Oak Oasis” which I spoke of earlier in the article. A location holding mature black oaks about 150 yards in circumference surrounded by dense swamp terrain located on the Salt River in Northern Missouri. My first entry into this location was well planned. During the AM hours it had rained which made my walk to the location one wherein I could be very quiet as leaves were now wet and not crunchy which would have ultimately given my entrance to the location away. I used the riverbed the best I could to make it to the trail markers leading to the Ole Man Climber I knew would be waiting on me. Quietly I climbed up the mighty blackoak trunk and pulled up my 300 win mag with one pull up rope and pulled up my backpack with the other pull up rope. You’ll find all my climbers are equipped with two pullup ropes as I take the “kitchen sink” when I go hunting. As customary I secured my safety harness, hung my gun, hung my backpack, prayed, pulled out my Bible and read 6 verses from the 12th Chapter of Luke. I usually read my Bible on stand and between verses look the area over for approaching whitetails. It builds my spiritual relationship with the Lord and its also entertaining and keeps me in the stand longer making each outdoor experience a spiritual outing. After only 6 verses of Luke or about 10 minutes I caught movement 150 yards South of my position. The body was that of a huge deer but its rack was hard to judge through the dense swamp cover as he hadn’t made it into the sparser black oak oasis yet. Being the type A personality I am I wasn’t about to give him the chance to do so either. I touched off a shot through a small window in the treetops and dropped the 160 inch monster in his tracks. And I do mean “in his tracks”. I climbed down the tree, strolled over to the monster whitetail and thanked God for the biggest deer of my life.

Call it what you want. Divine intervention, luck, right place right time, etc. The truth is as a result of utilizing a quality treestand, and dedicating one entire day to scouting my area, I should have harvested a Boone and Crockett deer with a bow, and did take a 160 inch deer with my rifle. Deer patterns change throughout the year. Take the time to read deersign and perform scouting trips during the season so you can enjoy like experiences as I did in 2007. The dividends will be huge.

Darrin Bradley

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