by Mark Hicks
A sea of cattails doesn’t look like a good spot to hunt deer. That’s why big bucks bed there–and why whitetail fanatic Dan Infalt of Rome, Wis., has these giants virtually all to himself. Of the two dozen Pope and Young bucks he’s taken, half have come from public wetlands that other hunters waltzed right past on their way to higher ground. “The woods and fields surrounding marshlands look great,” he says, “but the biggest bucks don’t go there until nightfall. To tag them, you’ve got to get your feet wet.” This is his step-by-step plan.
#1 – Find a Dry Bed
Typically, marsh bucks bed in the cattails during the day and feed on oak ridges or nearby agricultural fields at night. Infalt searches the wetland for tiny islands of dry ground just high enough to support brush and a few trees. This is where trophy bucks take refuge. Large tracks and copious rubs confirm a spot as a big buck’s bedroom.
#2 – Hang a Stand on the Exit Route
Because a mature buck won’t leave his sanctuary until darkness nears, look for a tree on the marsh island where you can hang a stand just downwind of the buck’s exit route. Often that means setting up only 50 or 60 yards from the buck’s bed. Infalt locates as many wetland bedding areas, exit routes, and corresponding stand trees as he can at least 30 days before the season. Once it opens, however, if there’s a heavy rainfall in the forecast that will wash his scent away, he can scout a new spot and hunt it the next day. He sits each stand only once or twice per season. “It’s impossible to eliminate all human scent,” he explains. “If you don’t kill the buck the first time, the game’s usually over.”
#3 – Sneak in Silently
When it’s time to hunt, Infalt slips toward the bedding area at midday as the buck dozes and sets up silently, using a lightweight, strap-on Lone Wolf stand and climbing sticks. He rarely ascends farther than 10 feet; otherwise, a buck so close is apt to spot him from bed. “The key is to get just high enough to shoot over the cattails and underbrush,” he says.
Then it’s a waiting game. And it’s a long wait. Nine times out of 10 it isn’t until just before dark that a big swamp buck finally stands up to stretch his legs, moves toward the edge of the marsh island, and steps into easy shooting range–making the lengthy vigil well worth it.