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Deer hold the advantage so far this season

November 17, 2016
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

The current big game hunting season has been rather slow to date. The warm weather systems, combined with a lack of snow cover, have provided deer with a true home-field advantage.

I've been in the woods nearly every day since the season opener, at times only for an hour or two. Despite putting in my share of time, I've seen only a single buck, which I kicked off the bed on the opening day of the season. I was handcuffed when a doe burst from under the the snow heavy boughs. I wheeled on it, as a big buck bounded into the balsams in the opposite direction and disappeared. In such conditions, deer have the upper hand (or hoof).

Every week, I check in with a variety of local and regional big buck contests that are hosted by sport shops, lumber companies and watering holes from across the region. These annual "sportsman's lotteries" provide a snapshot of the season to date. So far, the results have been rather meager across the board, with most sources reporting about two or three entries a week, until this week.

Article Photos

This 16-point non-typical buck weighing 200 pounds was taken by Paul?Smith’s College junior Nick Georgelas.
(Photo — Michael Wallace)

In Saranac Lake, the Trudeau Big Buck Contest at the Blue Line Sport Shop has recorded only a single entry each week. However, it has been the most consistent contest report until now. This week, their take doubled again, with two bucks entered. However, one of those entries was an exceptional Adirondack whitetail.

It was taken by Nick Georgelas, a junior at Paul Smith's College. Reportedly, he "grunted" the buck out of the safety of a thick swamp. The 200-pound, 16-point, non-typical buck had drop tines and a palmated rack. It is a true "racker."

Although a single big buck does not indicate a trend, four out of five contests I follow have reported a significant increase in entries over the past week.

There have also been more than a half-dozen accidents involving deer and vehicles in the past week. Obviously, deer are now on the move. Scrapes and rubs are now evident almost everywhere, as bucks wander about looking for receptive does.

It's time to get out and stay out. Find a fresh scrap-line, set up shop downwind and wait for your opportunity. Despite the very best scents, calls, game cameras and other such hunting contraptions, the only sure way to get your buck is to get your butt off the couch and into the woods.


Preparation, patience and persistence

While whitetail deer have a distinct advantage in the pursuit we call the hunt, there are a number of time-tested techniques that can turn the odds in your favor.

Cleanliness is not only close to holiness, it is also the only way you'll ever get close to a buck. Their keen sense of smell is their best defense. They usually pick up your scent well before they see you. And when they scent you, you'll never know it, because they'll be long gone before you even get a glimpse.

There's a reason whitetails are known as "ghosts of the north woods." It's because they can disappear into thin air or blend into the forest background undetected.


Wind and whitetails

Wind is the whitetail's best friend, and its worst enemy. Wind direction also dictates where the deer will concentrate their activity. They prefer a slight to moderate wind which allows them to scent what may be up ahead. They can scent danger from over a quarter-mile distant.

They also use the wind to locate other deer, to avoid predators and to locate food. They often bed down with their back to the wind so they can watch for predators while scenting anything approaching from behind.

Wind direction and velocity also determine where deer will concentrate their activities. Strong winds will decrease deer activity, and when winds exceed 17 miles per hour, their defenses cannot register scents. It will put them down until the weather turns.

Although their keen sense of scent is remarkable, it isn't fool proof. In fact, their sense of smell can actually be used against them during the rut, with products such as Rickard's Doe in Heat, Tink's Buck Bomb and similar deer lures that can draw them into the danger zone.

In addition to playing the wind properly, hunters should also take steps to eliminate or reduce their scent by bathing with scent-free soap, before using cover scents. It also helps to store all hunting gear in scent-free containers. I keep a batch of fresh balsam boughs in my clothes containers.


Stay on the hunt

Move slowly and don't move until you're sure you've visually scanned the entire layout of your hunting area. Remember that each step will open up a whole new view.

Don't let your guard down. One of the most important aspects of hunting deer is to remain focused on the task at hand. Hunt as if you are being hunted.

Concentrate and look for parts of the deer. Focus on a shiny, black hoof, the twitch of an ear or the black dot of a glossy nose. It may be the flicker of a tail or a glint of a shiny rack or the sway of a back bone.

Study each feature, and use them to fill in the blanks. Experience is the only way to learn how to shoot well. Shooting is a skill that must be maintained. Practice, practice, practice in practical situations. If you use a tree stand, practice shooting from the stand.



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