WHITETAIL TACTICS – By Fred Bear
The Master Offers Some Little-Known Tips For Whitetail Success -1977
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I THINK MOST HUNTERS, whether devotees of the rifle or the bow, are in agreement that there are very few trophies more coveted than that first whitetail that “makes the book.”

There are no shortcuts to trophy hunting. The confidence and positive attitude so necessary for success requires dedication, time and, yes, hard work. The latter, however, can be compared to being head judge in a beauty contest – while classed as work, it certainly has its high points and a sustained interest level.

Many books and countless articles have been written on the subject of hunting the elusive whitetail. Rather than rehash the basic hunting tactics that can be read about in many other such sources, I will here dwell a bit on factors which perhaps are not usually stressed enough.

Fred Bear, founder and president of Bear Archery, takes a break while scouting for new territory.

For example, the movement of deer from bed grounds to feeding areas and back again is a daily occurrence under normal circumstances, and along this trail the success or failure of a bowhunter lies. In periods other than the rutting moon, understanding this route and the time element involved is the secret of success.

What motivates deer to move or bed down, other than satisfying their hunger? Why do all deer in an area start to move to or from feeding areas at almost the same time? The main reason for this is the temperature, or, more correctly, the changing of it. A deer’s very existence depends on the constant use of its well-tuned senses and probably the keenest of these is the sense of smell. The message that it is time to eat is received not merely by his stomach, but also through his nose. He moves to and from feed and bed on air currents. The motivation is a thermal air drift, caused by the changing temperatures.

Two Hunters, two bucks - a good average on whitetails.  After you have downed one, the work begins.

During the day, the thermal air drift is to higher ground due to the warming trend. As the weather cools towards evening, a reversal takes place and the drift is to lower ground. Deer move daily before these reversals take place. They move toward the lower feeding grounds while the thermal air currents are traveling upward. This affords them the knowledge of any impending danger ahead. By the same token, they start moving to the higher bedding ground in early morning before the reversal, while the direction of the drift is still downward. Any hunter who has sat in a blind in the evening near a meadow or corn field has experienced this reversal – like a cold, clammy hand – as the thermal drift settled around him.

In comparatively flat country, a marsh, swamp, pond or larger body of water acts the same as a low meadow, ravine, canyon or flat below higher, rougher or more timbered areas. That is, the thermal flow is toward them during the evening and hours of darkness and away from them as the air warms during daylight. Deer normally bed on slightly higher ground due to the rising air drift which affords them advance warning of anything approaching from below.

In choosing a bed ground, they invariably will pick a southerly exposure, at least partially, meaning either south, southeast or southwest, to obtain some benefit of warmth as they rest. This choice may be altered if foul or extremely adverse weather such as high wind, rain or snow comes in from these directions. They may then choose the lee side of a slope to obtain a break from the elements. Keeping this in mind, the hunter may save many fruitless hours by not hunting slopes that parallel the storm direction, as both sides of such slopes are hit directly by the bad weather. So, let thermal air currents and prevailing winds govern your choice of hunting elevations while still-hunting, or in the placement of blinds while watching.

While still-hunting or sneaking is the most challenging and exciting form of deer hunting, by far the majority of archers depend upon blinds or stands for ultimate success. The reason of course is the limited accurate range of the bow, which, when combined with the deer’s natural protective screen of finely honed senses, makes a close approach in the open extremely difficult.

In recent years, laws have been amended to allow bowhunting from elevated blinds in a majority of our states. The use of windfalls or portable tree platforms, or – as is the practice in Texas – the use of man-made towers, if located and used properly, is a tremendous equalizer in overcoming the odds against success. However, contrary to what many people think, it does not insure you the choice of any animal in the area. The placement and use must not be haphazard.

One distinct advantage the elevated stand offers is that it normally allows the flow of the hunter’s scent above any approaching animal. Also, because of the way their heads are set on the necks, deer seldom raise their heads at a sharp angle. Moreover, they are not inclined to look up, because in their normal range they have no natural enemies which attack from above. They often ignore movement or sound overhead, apparently believing it to be branches rubbing in the breeze or the movement of a bird or squirrel. Precautions are necessary, however, to insure retaining the advantage of elevation.

From what I have experienced in the past few seasons, during which the use of elevated tree stands has greatly expanded in legality and popularity, one should not count on a deer never looking up. These animals have survived for eons, often on the very fringes of civilization, by their ability to learn. It is my belief that within the foreseeable future one of the advantages of the elevated blind will be largely negated by most of our deer, especially the trophy bucks, looking upward as they move along.

For this reason, you should choose your background for a tree stand carefully as you would for a blind on ground level. If you silhouette yourself against the skyline you’re asking to be seen prematurely with any movement you make. The higher your elevation above eye level, of course, the less this is true, but many states have a stipulation on total elevation varying between six and fifteen feet.

A large-trunked tree or one with heavy foliaged limbs behind you will help blend your camouflage-suited figure into the trunk. If you choose to take your stand in a tree at the top of a rise, don’t place yourself in a direct line with any trails coming toward you. You might be fifteen feet above the trail, but because of the slope of the hill, the angle of vision of any animal approaching from below would be higher than usual and it might be looking right at you.

Caution should be exercised in removing branches and brush to clear shooting lanes near the approach to a stand. Deer are cautious of new breaks on a well-known route and sometimes will shy around them.

It is most important to try plenty of practice shots from your chosen stand before you hunt from it. It is unbelievable how often very close shots at deer from an elevated stand fly harmlessly over their backs. The angle will fool even the experienced shooter unless he is prepared to compensate properly for it. This can only be accomplished by practice shots from that position. I make it a habit to carry a couple of blunt arrows in my bowquiver, and each time I finish a watching period I shoot them at a fallen leaf or other mark before descending from my perch. If you don’t do this your chances of missing that nice buck when he does come along are great.

Fred Bear in 1974 field testing the Bear Alaskan in western Ontario.

All in all, this method of hunting is the most effective one for deer. I’ve had numerous animals within twenty feet of my stand with no realization whatsoever of my presence.

If your heart is set on an encounter with a trophy buck, you must first find his home territory, and this will not necessarily be in or on the fringe of the highest concentration of deer in the area. Scrapes are the best indication of a buck’s presence and the approach of the rut, during which time he is more vulnerable. Scrapes are just what the word implies – spots where the ground cover is pawed or scraped away exposing the dark soil, much like a fresh garden plot ready for planting. These can be a few feet to a few yards in diameter.

The earliest scrapes your scouting turns up are usually along the edges of cover, on or near defined trails, and mark the buck’s territory. These scrapes will often be beside a small tree where the buck has stripped off the bark in the process of polishing his antlers and preparing for the battles to come. The scrape may also be under the limbs of a tree or branches of a large bush showing signs of being severely thrashed by the buck’s rack.

Don’t be satisfied to settle down near the first scrapes found. Later scrapes will be made as the rut approaches its peak. These scrapes will be in or near heavier cover and usually off the regular trails. They will be larger and more defined than the boundary scrapes and will retain the strong scent the buck has left there.

Erecting a tree stand near the latter spots can really pay off. Don’t make the mistake of positioning your stand too close to the scrape. Get back fifteen or twenty yards, where you can cover the most likely approach lanes as well as the scrape itself. This will give you the possibility of a side-angle shot which is the easiest to make. Even though you’ll be elevated, be sure to take the prevailing wind drift into account and choose a spot downwind of the key area, the same as you would for a ground-level blind. Otherwise, a tricky air current could betray you at just the wrong moment. A little scent at ground level can be used to overpower whatever wisps of your odor linger, but don’t overdo it. Sweet apple cider seems to work as well as any commercial scent, even in areas where there are no apples.

Fred Bear with a Michigan whitetail. Some tips he gives for this kind of success are a well-elevated stand in a large-trunked tree and lots of tree-stand practice shots

Once a stand is erected in such a location, don’t spend any more time scouting or milling about that immediate area. Leave too much of your scent behind and a smart buck will not come in. On those occasions when you hunt from the stand, approach it quickly from the direction opposite the hot spot, climb up immediately, and then remain quiet. No smoking, no candy bars, no fidgeting around if you are really serious about getting a crack at “old rockin’ chair.” One bit of carelessness can overdo all your careful preparations and, even with you well-positioned, elevated blind, you’ll need all the breaks you can get in reducing a trophy whitetail to meat in the pot and a bow rack on the wall. <—<<

You should choose the site of your tree stand with as much care as you would for a blind on ground level says Bear.

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According to the author, a tree skinned of its bark is a sure sign your are in a buck's home territoryThe hunter above found a natural tree stand

The hunter above found a natural tree stand