Sunday, October 29, 2006
Want to tag more deer? Make them feel safe
Sanctuary. The word conjures up a place of comfort and safety. A place where one can go to escape the pressures of day-to-day living. And these days, it's a place where whitetails spent a considerable time of their daylight hours.
When it comes to successful deer hunting, I make it a point to provide the deer I am hunting with a sort of "safety" zone. This safety zone, or sanctuary, is a very special place I keep off-limits to hunting. It is a place where deer can go about their daily activities without fear of intrusion.
Deer in the north country thrive best in areas with young forests and brush where they feed on buds, branches, fresh grass and green leaves that are close to the ground. They also do well on the fringes of active farmlands, provided they have adequate cover for protection. And, it is protection — or a sanctuary — that is a key element of whitetail management.
A sanctuary doesn't necessarily have to be a large plot of real estate. A safety zone can be as small as a few acres or as large as a few hundred acres.
Without a place they can call their own, deer on your back forty will quickly move out to find unpressured territory or simply turn nocturnal. Once that happens, your chances on seeing a mature animal dramatically decreases.
I've seen and heard of hunters employing deer drives from the first day of rifle season to the last. You should consider deer drives through bedding areas — or their safe zones — off-limits. Deer drives generally only benefit your neighbor as you push deer to their property or section of woods.
Yes, you can kill deer by this method, but why would one want to disrupt and quickly ruin an area where deer tend to remain safe? I believe good deer hunting, from year to year, revolves around maintaining a stable population. And one way to move deer off your property is by constant deer drives, frequent stalking and placing deer stands too close to bedding areas.
Normally, spooked whitetails do not travel far. In fact, they may not move than 100 yards. Extreme harassment, however, will generally will push deer out of their home range and most certainly their bedding and safe zones. Unfortunately, once adult bucks get pushed out of their home territory, they generally do not survive.
Yes, there are times when you can carefully hunt a bedding area without spooking deer, but those times are few and far between. Even experienced hunters try not to hunt sanctuaries where deer bed, and when they do, they take a big chance that the wind can change directions and quickly spoil their hunt.
The simple fact of the matter is, whitetails do not tolerate hunting pressure, and big, mature whitetails will go into a purely survival, defensive mode when any type of human presence is detected.
The secret to successfully tagging a whitetail using the concept of establishing one or more sanctuaries is concentrating your efforts along the fringes. Set up multiple stands for various wind conditions overlooking traveling areas from bedding to feeding. Some stands may only be morning stands, some stands may be evening watches, and some stands may serve as both morning and evening watches.
In general, deer moving out of these secure zones exhibit no signs of pressure. Deer can be viewed while they are completely relaxed. Seldom will you scope a deer running. Deer traveling from bedding to feeding from a sanctuary are generally walking and grazing. The only time you may see a deer running from a sanctuary is during the chase phase of the rut in which bucks and does play hard-to-get, and smaller, subordinate bucks get bullied about by dominant males.
Lately, many hunters utilizing the concept of Quality Deer Management will plant food plots on the outer edges of sanctuaries. As deer approach these food plots, they feed with less stress as the food plots are within a bound or two from protective cover.
Food plots can be planted so that the prevailing wind and sun plays in your favor. Whether you plant mix crops, blended clover, chicory or brassica, let the deer come to you.
So, why chase deer? Wouldn't you much rather shoot at deer standing still or slowly moving? Providing deer safe zones or sanctuaries, especially adjacent to food plots, might help you tag either more deer or more mature deer.