By Greg Staggs
I turned and idled gently up the drive, palms getting clammy even as my breathing became shallower. Easing my truck to a stop, I quietly reached down and turned off the ignition and allowed the silence to envelope me. Going over my planned routine seemed to settle me a bit, and I took one last deep breath and opened the door. I had been thinking about this moment for weeks and it was finally here. Sliding off my seat, I walked as confidently as I could up to the door, knocked and asked if my date was ready.
First dates in high school probably provided as much nervous anticipation as anything I would experience for the first part of my life… until I started bowhunting. Today, I still idle gently into my parking spot. My palms may not be as clammy, but my senses are definitely heightened as adrenaline courses through my veins, thinking about the possibilities, the “what-ifs”… And my planned routine? It’s down to a science.
Chasing whitetails across the Midwest in September and October is truly a love of my life these days. Here are three things that have become a part of my routine that’s led to years of punched tags and filled freezers early in the season.
- Scout with a light footprint. Amazingly enough, I don’t spend a lot of time in the woods in the summer. Most of my whitetail hunting is done on public land with miles of corn and soybeans backing up to the woods. I’ve spent many a night tucked into a fence row on the opposite side of a field glassing to identify which corners the deer are using to enter the fields.
- Stay away as much as possible. If I can place a trail camera there on one visit and retrieve a card from it a month later, it’s harder for the deer to pattern me but I’m gaining valuable reconnaissance the whole time I wasn’t there. Taking it a step further, even my trail-camera placement leaves little presence. Ever walked into the woods and noticed a camera staring at you at eye-level? It can be obtrusive and stick out like a sore thumb. I’ve had deer think the same thing; I can tell by their reactions I’ve captured. A lot of times these days – especially on public land – I’ll take a lightweight climber with me and angle my camera down from twelve feet or so. It also keeps honest people honest, as my Dad used to say.
- Hunt with a light footprint. The first couple months of archery seasons in the Midwest can be downright hot. Deer don’t like to travel any farther than they have to, which means they’ll often bed less than 100 yards inside the woodline. If you plan to dive deeper in the woods this time of year, plan on bumping some deer. I’d rather sneak in and out of the edge a few times than blunder up once and alert every deer in the woods to your presence – especially a full month ahead of that magical November time-frame.
Greg Staggs is the former back-page columnist for Inside Archery, and his writing regularly appears in such magazines as Outdoor Life and Petersen’s Bowhunting. Staggs loves introducing his two boys to all things outdoors, including fishing, trapping, canoeing and camping, and has been chasing turkeys and big game exclusively with archery equipment for over 20 years.