Heavy Consequential Hunting Pressure Areas…
Heavy consequential hunting pressure, (HCHP) is what I defined as when there are between 10 and 30 bowhunters per square mile and nearly double those numbers during gun season and when most if not all of them target any legal antlered buck. This type of pressure has a direct influence on; not only how many bucks survive beyond their first set of antlers but how many survive beyond buttons, the areas and amount of time they move in during daylight hours, and how they react to any human intrusion. In HCHP areas if you are pursuing a particular buck, if you are fortunate enough to get an opportunity at him, a single mistake will likely determine the fate of your entire season, because in such areas you’re fortunate to get one opportunity per season let alone a second.
As most of you know, Michigan has always topped the list of states when it comes to licensed bowhunter numbers. Depending on the year we are number two or three in licensed gun hunters. And we are nearly at the bottom of the list of states when it comes to Pope & Young and Boone & Crockett entries per licensed hunters in both books.
Michigan doesn’t have exclusivity on HCHP areas. Other states with extremely high hunter numbers per amount of land mass and with areas of HCHP are Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Indiana. Anyone notice that these states are all northeast of the Mississippi River where general populations are high. Head west of the Mississippi River and hunter numbers and hunting pressure, drop like a rock.
When there are lots of hunters targeting every antlered buck and many targeting any deer, you have what I term as heavy consequential hunting pressure. In these areas deer must learn quickly how to evade hunters otherwise they suffer consequences by getting wounded or killed, and trust me, as humans we do not have exclusivity on the desire to survive.
Let’s survey the most common categories where mistakes are made by hunters in HCHP areas.
Hunters have had success for eons by simply hunting downwind of where they expect an opportunity, but it is an undisputed fact that when bucks are pursuing estrous does during the rut-phases, they can come from unexpected directions, often putting them downwind. It is also very common for other deer to meander by prior to, or be with, the one you want to take and any one of them winding you can ruin the hunt.
Activated carbon is still far and away, the most adsorptive substance used in the hunting industry. The exact same technology is used in ours and every other military in the worlds chemical warfare suits to adsorb chemical molecules before they can reach a soldiers skin. And literally thousands of industrial, household and vehicle filtration applications use similar activated carbon technology.
We are constantly emitting body odor in the form of gaseous and liquid molecules and a properly cared for activated carbon lined suit has the capability of adsorbing all types and sizes of those molecules. Anti-microbial undergarments wore against the skin will aid in the scent elimination process by killing bacteria, but they do little if anything in adsorbing odor from the dead bacteria or any of the many other types of odor molecules we emit.
A properly cared for Scent Lok carbon lined exterior suit, gloves, and headcover, worn in conjunction with scent free rubber boots and a frequently washed fanny or backpack will keep your human odor so minimal that scent detection will become a thing of the past. During the 30-plus years I bowhunted without this regimen there were certain types of terrain features that through trial and error I learned never to set-up in due to constantly changing wind thermals and swirling winds. And occasionally my best rut locations would go unhunted during an entire season because the wind direction required for them, never occurred on my days off work. In the 15-years since using a strict scent free regimen, no place is off limits and wind direction is a non-factor to me.
There are many skeptics concerning carbon clothing and its effectiveness because they have either owned it and got winded, they had acquaintances that did, or they read something negative on a blog or talk forum by someone that had no idea what they were talking about. Whenever I have had the opportunity to have an intelligent conversation with anyone that actually bowhunts, that has used carbon clothing and continued to get winded, there was always a chink in their care for it or in another portion of the total regimen. A carbon suit is not a magic bullet and without proper care of it and used in conjunction with a total scent free regimen, you will get winded. It is that simple. Unless someone wants to discuss a possible mistake they may be making, the topic of carbon-lined clothing and its effectiveness is not up for discussion with me.
This topic is rarely mentioned in the outdoor media because where most nationally recognized bowhunters hunt, they have little if any competition. HCHP affects deer movements more that any other factor, PERIOD, and not paying attention to, and reacting to it, is a costly mistake.
Whenever scouting or hunting, all pertinent information about other hunters locations such as; quality of location, treestand placement, the locations security cover, shooting lanes, are they hunting short crop field edges, do they bait, etc. should be noted. You can estimate the competence level of other hunters by checking out their hunting locations. Most often they will not be much of a threat, and simply act as deer deflectors, but you must learn their habits and adjust your locations, seasonal, and daily hunting time frame around them.
Public land parcels in southern Michigan receive insanity levels of HCHP. In such areas it is common for remote hard to access areas to be the only places a mature buck will feel comfortable moving during daylight hours. For any realistic opportunity at a good buck, you must access these remote areas where few if any other hunters are willing to go because it requires too much work. Accessing these areas will require; waders, hip boots, canoe, boat, or crawling on your hands and knees through brush. These methods of access can get you to islands, into dry areas within wet marshes, across streams and rivers to otherwise inaccessible areas, or to openings surrounded by dense cover that you might see on an aerial photo.
In HCHP areas, remote areas that require an over the top effort to access are often the only places where a mature buck will feel comfortable moving during daylight hours. Think about it, if every single hunter were trying to kill you, where would you feel comfortable moving in the daylight. You have to think as though you are the one getting hunted.
On many occasions, after scouting a piece of public land I have abandoned it because its layout or terrain features would not allow me to access areas that other hunters wouldn’t consider or put forth the work effort to go to. I don’t like to hunt, just to say I’m hunting.
Most hunters do their scouting and tree preparation prior to and during season and mature bucks don’t have the thought process to differentiate between scouting and hunting and simply react to the sudden influx of human activity by avoiding the area or most often, turning nocturnal. Over molesting an area during pre-season can totally shut down all daytime activity by mature bucks, negating any chance of early season success.
True, you have no control over the competition and how they scout, and most frequently they will mess things up no matter how careful you are. That is why getting away from them to remote areas is the best plan.
During the rut phases, mature buck testosterone levels rise and they begin moving some during daylight hours. For the most part they abandon their previous nighttime bedding to feeding area routines in search of estrous does, making most pre-season set-ups rather worthless, because they were set-up on visual summer traffic.
Limit pre-season scouting to setting-up a couple trees for the first few days of season, and do it in a single day’s intrusion. Make sure the locations have confirmed buck sign such as rubs, large tracks, or possibly active scrapes, and get out and stay out until opening day.
Since well over half of the Pope & Young entries are taken during the rut phases, most scouting and tree preparation should be done during post-season while looking at sign left from the previous rut such as scrape areas, licking branches, rub-lines or clusters, converging runways, etc.
During post-season you can scout as often and prepare as many trees as you want without fear of altering fall movement patterns. The surrounding area and trees during the rut phases will also look similar to what you are looking at during post season, indicating how much cover your set-ups will offer at crunch time.
Hunting rut phase locations during the lull (between the first few days of season and the pre rut) is a huge mistake because it will alter doe traffic during a time when mature bucks are primarily nocturnal.
In HCHP areas realistic chances at mature bucks during the lull are extremely rare. If you have limited locations to hunt and you feel you must hunt, sit in a tree in your yard, or social hunt with a buddy and mess up his area.
Another option is to have secondary locations where your entries, exits, and on-stand time will not affect deer traffic in your rut phase hunting locations. Since all buck traffic during the rut phases revolves around unmolested doe traffic, rut phase locations should be left totally alone until then, so the doe traffic at them is not altered.
It is cold hard fact that in HCHP areas mature deer look for hunters in trees and unlike what is seen on TV and in video’s, they don’t stick around and wonder what you are, they immediately spook. This has a direct correlation on location preparation concerning; shooting lanes, tree preparation, and stand height. Setting-up too low, too exposed, and in inferior trees are common mistakes.
Early in the season trees offer foliage and background cover, negating the need to hunt high, but by the rut phases most trees have lost their foliage. When setting up a rut phase tree, go higher or pick a tree with a lot of wood in the form of crotches or large branches at your hunting height in an attempt to offer cover or get out of the deer’s peripheral vision. My preference is 25 feet or higher. This height will create poor shot angles and practicing and re-sighting from a similar height is advised.
Most other hunter locations I have seen in the field have been far too low and exposed, and in many instances they would have been better off with a well concealed ground blind made from natural surroundings.
Hunting short crop field edges are great if you want to see deer or take subordinate bucks and doe’s. Unfortunately, if you are pursuing mature bucks in HCHP areas, this type of hunting is most often a waste of time. While big bucks are commonly taken along short crop fields on TV and in video’s, keep in mind where they hunt. Anyone that consistently takes mature bucks from perimeters of short crop fields is not hunting in a HCHP area. It is that simple.
For consistent success in HCHP areas you must commit to hunting locations that offer perimeter and transition security cover to and from secure bedding areas.
Most deer movements occur in the mornings and evenings, so of course that is when most hunters hunt. Mature bucks everywhere naturally have a midday movement pattern during the rut phases and it is a mistake not to occasionally try to take advantage of it.
Rut phase movements by a mature buck in a HCHP area will usually be as follows: He will stage within cover or move into his secure bedding area before first light and loiter or bed. If a doe passes, she will be checked for receptivity, and if in estrous she will be pursued. If nothing of interest passes during the morning, utilizing the best available cover, he will scent check his core area during midday (11 am to 3 pm) and either take up chase or bed down until dark.
Not all areas are suitable for midday hunting, in fact, few are. Unless with an estrus doe on her unpredictable route, a buck will transition through the best available cover when scent checking his core area, making vulnerable open areas relatively worthless as midday locations.
This midday movement during the rut phases is often a mature buck’s only point of vulnerability. I use a 20% rule. Twenty percent of my on-stand time in Michigan is during midday during the rut phases. Midday hunting is a boring yet lethal method that is often talked about, but rarely practiced.
During the rut-phases and whenever hunting at a destination area such as at an active scrape area, or a mast or fruit tree a common mistake are morning entry times. A mature buck will usually move into these areas before daylight and if your entry is just prior to daylight, and he is there, you will spook the buck you are pursuing, and likely never know it.
All morning rut phase hunts and any small destination area located within security cover should have very early arrival times. In such locations it is recommended to be set-up and quiet at least an hour and a half prior to the crack of dawn.
In HCHP areas the overly aggressive use of tactics such as rattling, calling, scents, and decoys are also common mistakes. Many hunters try to replicate what they see on TV and in videos, assuming that deer everywhere behave in a similar manner. The aggressive tactics seen on TV and in video’s may work great in managed or lightly hunted areas with multiple mature bucks, but not in HCHP areas where deer rarely if ever hear those aggressive sounds. Keep noise tactics within the realm of believability for the areas herd composition.
While I have taken several mature bucks during the first few days of season with subtle sparring or calling sounds, my most consistent results have been during the rut phases.
Using cover scents that don’t fit the area or sex scents that don’t fit the time of season can lower the odds of an opportunity. For scents to work best, they must be used in moderation, in the right places, and during the proper time of season.
While I had success with decoys in Michigan in the early 1990s, I rarely use them in HCHP areas anymore. It is common for does to spook from decoys and when they do they rarely keep it a secret letting every deer within hearing distance know something is not right by snorting and pounding the ground. Since all buck traffic during the rut revolves around doe traffic, and bucks are primarily nocturnal prior to then, decoy use is not advised in HCHP areas. Decoys have worked awesome on my travels to states with low hunter densities and many mature bucks vying for breeding rights.
In HCHP areas most mature bucks likely have previous wounds and have heard or seen every trick in the book, making them very cautious when and if they respond to a tactic.
For tactics to work with any consistency, your location must offer perimeter and transition security cover, otherwise a mature buck will hang-up out of distance, view the area, and leave when another deer is not seen.
I am going to ruffle some feathers here since about every hunter likes to know what bucks inhabit their area and motion cameras are without question the best way of finding out. However using motion cameras at your hunting location can be detrimental to success.
For those hunting HCHP areas, think about it. A camera has to be set-up, and then checked periodically. This requires several intrusions at your hunting location and every intrusion will in some way affect that locations traffic. If you have to use a camera, set them up in areas away from your hunting locations, not at them. Also in HCHP areas, you better own a few because some will get stolen.
By far, the best pictures are those with you holding onto a set of antlers attached to the animal that grew them.
If any of these mistakes sound familiar, try correcting them. I believe you will be happy with the results.
John Eberhart is an accomplished big-buck bowhunter from Michigan that specializes in heavy consequential hunting pressure areas. To enrich your bowhunting skills John Eberhart produced a 3 volume instructional DVD series titled “Bowhunting Pressured Whitetails” and an instructional archery DVD titled “Archery Mechanics.” He has also authored the books “Bowhunting Pressured Whitetails” and “Precision Bowhunting” and has a new book out titled “Bowhunting Whitetails The Eberhart Way.” They are available at: www.deer-john.net or www.eberhartsbowhunting.com