According to the weatherman, it’s going to rain this weekend.
So what’s new, right? In a fall season with a building El Nino out in the Pacific, I guess we had all better get used to more cloudy days and wet weather.
But the truth be told, when the local whitetail turf turns muddy in mid October, I never seem to mind. Except for the mosquitoes, perhaps.
Because the muddy mess can actually help pave the way towards this big buck hunter’s annual dream of finding, hunting, and cashing in his golden ticket for a genuine Muy Grande whitetail.
Why is that? Because when the local landscape is wet, big bucks simply can’t hide their daily movement, even if it’s in the dark. And sometimes, even in this era of modern trail cameras from companies like Browning, obtaining some old school Intel — like tracks in the mud — can still help a bowhunter unravel a big buck’s carefully laid out plans in the woods.
Especially when that antlered Mr. Big has found a secluded staging area to hole up in until another evening of darkness falls.
What’s a staging area you ask? Aside from being a topic that I’ve written about several times down through the years, it’s one of the best tricks that a mid-October bowhunter can have up his camouflaged Sitka Gear sleeve.
“That’s a spot where mature bucks will often congregate in the late afternoon and evening hours between their feeding areas and their bedding areas,” said my pal Jim Lillis, a local bow bender for many years with a good number of trophy bucks on the wall.
“While does and younger bucks will often come into a feeding area in the last hour or two of daylight, early on in October, the best bucks will often hold back a hundred or two hundred yards away until darkness finally falls.”
While most Texas deer hunters rely heavily on feeders for the bulk of their deer hunting success, the smartest bucks — and often the biggest — are sometimes cagey enough to avoid such areas early on in the year.
Which is why evening staging areas a couple of hundred yards away can be such a big buck key this month.
But not the only key, mind you, especially when you’re hearing steady noise of acorns hitting the ground.
“We’ve got a good number of burr oaks around here, the ones that drop big acorns,” said Lillis, the longtime Sherman resident and retired Ducks Unlimited senior regional director. “And of course, there are also plenty of red oaks and the occasional white oak.”
The key in all of this is to find the right oak tree, the one that is luring in the most deer on your property. Lillis said that is usually something that is revealed by actually witnessing deer chowing down on the sweet nuts or finding cut acorn hulls under the oak tree.
“When you find the right one, I’d probably not hunt on that exact tree with a treestand,” said Lillis. “Instead, you’ll want to figure out what direction they come in from, the travel routes they use to get there, and then set up a stand on the trails that lead into the oak tree that they are feeding under.”
Today, that often involves the wise use of a game camera that helps a hunter figure out the movement patterns of a particular buck. But believe it or not, bowhunters cashed in their big buck tickets for many years before the advent of game cameras in the woods.
Take the whitetail rich location that I hunted years ago with my good friend Steve Lewandowski, a former Denison resident who now runs a church camp in the pineywoods of southeastern Alabama.
Prior to either of us owning a single game camera, Lewey and I diligently scouted out our hunting property, one where we had no corn feeders in play. Instead, we deer hunted the old fashioned way, finding where the deer were moving, where they were feeding, where they were bedding, and where they were staging.
On one mild October day, I found myself perched up in a ladder stand on the property, eagerly guarding a spot that I just knew harbored a good whitetail. With tracks, cut acorn hulls, and even a rub or two, I was confident that this unseen buck would soon show himself.
And that’s exactly what happened too, late one morning during the so-called October lull, one that had plenty of acorns — including a few sweet nuts of the white oak variety — steadily hitting the ground.
The only problem is that I saw little deer movement that morning. Until, that is, a solid 10-point buck scoring somewhere between 140 and 150 inches was suddenly standing in a shooting lane less than 30 yards away.
As I came back to full draw, I must admit that it felt really good to have figured things out, especially in the old school, pre-camera days where woodsmanship really mattered.
I wish I could show you a photo of that Pope & Young Club record book contender. But unfortunately, there was another lesson that I dutifully learned that day as I knelt by a sapling and unscrewed my Easton arrow from the Muzzy broadhead that it was attached to.
That lesson is this, that no matter how diligent you’ve been in figuring out the daily patterns of big buck movement where you hunt, there’s still one truth that trumps all of the rest.
And that’s the need to put your arrow through a buck’s boiler room, not missing an inch low like I did and tagging a small tree instead.
Which reminds me - anyone have a good recipe for roast sapling?