To harvest a white-tailed deer during the autumn months, conventional hunting wisdom often applies.
From the mesquite flats of Texas to the agricultural fields of Kansas to the rolling hills of Iowa and Illinois to the river bottoms of the Southland, the prescription is usually the same: Find – or provide – the food, hunt hard and smart during the rut, and don’t give up guarding a food plot until the season’s bitter end.
Many times, it all works out with the opportunity to unleash an arrow from a bow or to pull the trigger on a deer rifle sporting a .30-06 Springfield, a .270 Winchester or a 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge loaded into its chamber.
But sometimes it doesn’t work out since the truth is bucks – particularly those old hat-racked wise guys most of us seek – aren’t stupid, nor do they always play by the rule book of deer hunting’s conventional wisdom.
In fact, during the course of an autumn deer hunting campaign, it can actually pay off at times for hunters to throw the proverbial playbook out the back door and into the campfire.
Because sometimes, offbeat hunting tactics can actually save the day.
Take Fred Eichler for instance, the multi-show talent on both Outdoor Channel and Sportsman Channel. When I posed the question of whether he ever used offbeat tactics for whitetails, Eichler laughed, said yes and indicated sometimes he chooses public land over private hunting ground.
“It pays to not put all of your eggs in one basket,” said Eichler, who indicated that he grew up chasing whitetails, elk and mule deer on public ground.
“One of my guides (and a regular on Sportsman Channel’s Bowhunter TV program) Danny Farris, is a prime example of this,” added Eichler. “He has shot some monster whitetails on public land.
“In some of those places, he’s got access to a piece of (good) private ground. But while he may have one place figured out, he always goes and scouts something else out so that he always has something in his back pocket (for a Plan B kind of hunt).”
Sometimes, it isn’t the ownership of a piece of ground a hunter is actually hunting, but the tactics used on such land.
An example of that is the Heartland Bowhunter crew which annually produces one of the most popular deer hunting shows found on Outdoor Channel.
“Early season hunting has become one of our favorite times to hunt,” said Shawn Luchtel, co-host for the HB show along with Michael Hunsucker and others.
“We focus on food sources and pinch points as the deer travel (through spots),” he added. “I (actually) killed my biggest whitetail to date during the early season.”
Luchtel explains further: “The deer were traveling from bed to food in the evenings. In doing so, they were jumping a fence to get there.”
What’s an enterprising bowhunter to do when he makes such an observation on land he has permission to hunt?
“We went in, cut the fence, creating an open gap for them to walk through and basically funneled the majority of the deer through there on their way to the food source,” said Luchtel.
Including a bona-fide Midwestern bruiser of a buck that funneled right past Luchtel’s stand location.
Down in the heart of Texas, my longtime friend Charles Allen, the owner of the Knives of Alaska and DiamondBlade cutlery companies, also knows a thing or two about tagging a deer by being willing to think outside of the proverbial box.
A former wildlife biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Allen is an Alaskan lodge owner, an outdoors business entrepreneur and a longtime enthusiast of the whitetail hunting chase.
That much seems apparent when you visit his office, a spot filled with a variety of big game mounts … including one particular Texas white-tailed buck that left him up a creek.
Quite literally, I might add.
But instead of being there without the proverbial paddle, Allen found himself in such a spot on purpose with a pair of rattling horns in his hands, choosing to ignore the Lone Star State deer hunting wisdom of climbing into a ladder stand or a box blind and staying put.
This particular hunting strategy – in a place where hunting safety concerns will allow for it to take place – was actually set into motion years ago when Allen was one of the first to make synthetic rattling horns that most of the big box stores ended up carrying.
His strategy – again, where it is safe to do so – was to hike down a wet or dry creek bed for a distance of a few hundred yards, then to quietly crawl over the creek’s top edge and begin a rattling sequence. When all of that was done, he would sit and wait quietly for the next half hour.
“I found that to be deadly on deer because number one, they can’t see you; he doesn’t have a clue you’re there,” said Allen. “And number two, walking in a creek muffles your sound.
“Even if you’re walking in dry leaves, when you’re down in a creek below the ground’s level like that, it’s almost a pure silent way to hunt.”
Allen, who also has used the technique effectively while stalking giant brown bears near his Alaska Expedition Lodge on the banks of the Tsiu River, has taken several Texas whitetails while utilizing his creek-bed stalking technique.
One of those bucks was a huge wallhanger, a Trinity County whitetail that sported 13 points and had long main beams measuring out to more than 26 inches in length.
“It was (a day) right before Thanksgiving, (it) was at the end of the rut, (it) was about 85 degrees and the wind (was) blowing 20 miles per hour,” Allen recalled. “It was a horrible day to be hunting; I didn’t see a buck all day (until then).”
After working his way down a dry creek bed about 2 p.m. on that mid-November day, Allen eased up over the creek’s edge and began hitting the synthetic antlers together.
He wouldn’t have to wait long as the rattling sounds attracted the attention of a big buck bedding in some nearby tall grass.
“I started rattling and quickly caught some movement out of the corner of my eye,” said Allen. “And (suddenly) there he was standing there only 14 yards away. When I turned to shoot my rifle, he saw me move my head and he was off to races.”
Allen’s crosshairs quickly found the buck’s vitals and the heart shot rolled the deer for good.
If walking a creek bed quietly is one offbeat way to harvest a big whitetail, then another is to ditch the four-wheel motorized vehicle and go into a stand as quietly as possible.
The late Bob Brister, the longtime outdoor writer, once penned an epic hunting tale entitled El Ten about a nearly perfect mature 10-point buck that was giving him fits on a ranch located deep in the heart of South Texas.
How did Brister finally put his hunting tag on this ghostly Brush Country monarch with an eye-popping set of headbones?
By going to the extreme measure of having someone drop him off quietly on a back county road situated along the property’s distant edge. Brister then slipped and slithered his way undetected into the big buck’s home territory like a Navy SEAL on the prowl, eventually working his way into position to pull the trigger and seal the deal.
Teaching the lesson once again that when it comes to hunting trophy bucks, all silence is indeed golden, from eliminating the creak of a worn treestand to avoiding the metallic clank of a gun or bow on a stand’s edge to foregoing the use of an ATV or a pick-up truck.
Which might help to explain the quiet approach strategy for Outdoor Channel television personalities Ralph and Vickie Cianciarulo, an Illinois power-hunting couple who have come to incorporate the usage of fat-tire Rambo Bikes into their hunts.
While I had hoped to visit with them about all of this, alas, they are deep in the wilderness as this was being written. You know, hunters hunt and writers write.
Still, such a quiet approach and strategy has plenty of merit because TV star or not, a mature old buck is a mature old buck, no matter what part of the country he happens to live in.
Meaning, sometimes it pays to think outside of the box and the standardized whitetail hunting playbook, be willing to make the deer hunting version of an audible play call instead.