Hunting Pressured Whitetails
By Noel Gandy
The mistake was made! I saw a good buck on his feet during daylight and made the mistake of telling my buddies. Due to the sheer excitement that I had experienced in seeing a shooter on this particular tract I let on that I practically had the buck in the bag. Anticipation for the next day’s hunt was diminished quickly, however, when I arrived at the parking area to two new hunter’s vehicles that had not been there any time prior while I’d been hunting this piece of ground. One buddy told his buddy, who told his buddy, who told his cousin’s uncle’s sister twice removed. My “foot in mouth” syndrome had acted up again and it was practically impossible for me to garner any expectations for the foreseeable future.
Every year the scenario described above seems to become more of the norm than the exception. Private land opportunities seem to be harder to come by than they did even a decade ago. Hunting leases, farming developments taking down timber, and other issues are creating the dilemma of having more hunters on less land. Many of Iowa’s hunters are forced to take their passions to our public land institutions which, quite frankly, can be a beast all on their own. The silver lining to all of the seemingly negative connotations of more hunters and less land is that you can hunt smart and still harvest a trophy whitetail in our great state with some work, willpower, and flexibility.
Several strategies can be implored when hunting deer who are experiencing tons of unnatural pressure due to human intrusion. We will call it unnatural pressure because things like farm equipment during harvest almost seem like second nature when it comes to a deer’s perception.
There are two major segments of hunters in our state: archers and shotgunners. While there are some who do both it is certain that we all fall into one category or the other. In that light, we will paint a picture on bettering our odds to harvest a mature whitetail under pressure.
Archery season seems to bring a little less pressure on the whitetail population due to the fact that there are traditionally fewer hunters in the field during this time. The story described above, however, was during archery season so there are still some challenges. The benefit to archery hunting in high pressure situations is that it is a long season and the rut occurs during its midst. While there were plenty of hunters out in “my” spot the day after the encounter all I had to do was wait two days to have it all to myself again. Why? The day the vehicles were there was Saturday. Generally speaking, there are many more hunters in the field Friday through Sunday. The “weekend warriors” are hitting it during these times due to work and family obligations.
How do we combat that? Hunt during low traffic times. Monday through Friday mornings can be really good hunting. The sweet spot in my opinion is Wednesday. During this midweek session the deer have had a chance to calm down from high pressure weekends and can get back to some resemblance of normalcy.
“What if the weekend is the only time I have to hunt?” My suggestion would be to go out early and often! If you’re heading into the woods then plan to be in your stand at least an hour before daylight. Those same hunters who had to work all week are usually a bit tougher to get out of bed on a Saturday morning. This lends itself to field infiltration at daylight or after. If you’re positioned well before daylight then deer activity could be higher at the daylight hour due to humans pushing them around.
Plan to sit in the stand during midday. The magical hours for hunting pressured deer are 11-2 during the middle of the day. The reasoning is simple: most hunters have an internal clock that strikes at 10:00 a.m. This is usually when a mass exodus from the woods occurs due to the call of nature, hunger pangs, or our kid’s soccer schedules. This unnatural fleeing from the field can possibly get deer on their feet and heading into the direction of your stand.
Hunter’s internal clocks often ding between 2 and 3 o’clock to let them know it’s time to head back to the field for the evening hunt. If you are positioned in your stand during these hours then the odds are a bit higher that a trophy could slip by your location in an attempt to escape the pressure.
As for the weekend hunter, Sunday afternoon can possibly be your best sit. Avid deer hunters are often fans of many sports: including football. Many outdoorsmen will gladly give up one afternoon afield for the chance to watch their team on Sunday evening thus leaving the woods a little more barren.
During Iowa’s shotgun seasons it is likely that ton of pressure is being put on our grassy fields, creeks, and ditches due to party hunting by the “orange army.” If you are not a part of one of these groups then I suggest that you go to where they are not. If stand hunting is your forte’ then head to where the deer want to be in escaping danger. This might include some easily overlooked space such as an overgrown farmstead or small block of timber. Deer are very intelligent and know to go where the people are not. Play the wind and be patient. Likely, the principals that you implore during archery season as far as timing go will still apply during high pressure gun season.
Be willing to go where other hunters are not willing to go. Ariel maps are easily attainable and they should be highly utilized. One way to find a place to hunt is to locate all of the access to an area and look to place a stand as far away from those areas as possible. Hunting away from the gate usually requires work which is something that not so many are willing to do. Therefore, foot traffic on the fringes is high and will drive deer toward the safety of the interior.
As you make the trek to find a big Iowa brute don’t be afraid to get creative. Advancements have been made in electric bicycles as well as other ride on vehicles. While these are not legal to use in every situation they can be a huge advantage where they are legal. I can highly recommend Rambo bikes (www.rambobikes.com) for their power, stealth, and accessories geared specifically towards hunters. Kayaks and canoes can also be a huge advantage where access is negated by water. These are quiet but efficient ways to enter a hunting area while remaining scent free.
Some areas are not conducive to treestand hunting: hunt from the ground. Don’t give up on an area simply because you can’t hang a treestand. Take time to create a natural blind. Don’t forget that a good backdrop within a ground blind is nearly as important as the cover that is immediately in front of the hunter. A hunter who breaks his outline is a step ahead. Playing the wind is always important in any situation but is especially important when a hunter is eye level with his quarry.
Finally, in the throes of avoiding the crowds, understand that bad weather can be a good friend. The hours immediately preceeding and following a weather front, especially the cold, lends itself to a deer’s natural tendency to get up and feed. Being in the deer woods during these strategic times can be climactic for the hunter. People are people and have a natural tendency to avoid bad weather. This is not encouragement to endure bad weather, and by no means should you ever put yourself in danger, but being close to your hunting area during these times can be beneficial.
As per the buck that was noted earlier: I hung around the camp fire and overheard the story that the buck I had spotted during a previous outing had been spotted but not killed. A hunter made the statement that he’d “be all over him” come the next weekend. He never got the opportunity because the combination of the rut being in full swing and the flexibility in my work schedule that week got the deer. The most recent information I had received allowed me to put another piece of the puzzle together in order to harvest the buck. The combination of hunting midday during the week allowed the opportunity that many can only dream about.
Iowa is full of hunting opportunities that many around the country covet. Your trophy could be under the next bush. You just have to be there! The old saying goes, “You can’t kill them sitting on the couch.” Get into the field for yourself and see just what kinds of hunting opportunities that Iowa has to offer.