One of the best pieces of cover for holding late-season bucks is a blowdown. With vegetation sparse at this time, the animals feel secure hunkered down next to a tangle of branches, which provides the perfect camouflage for a gnarly rack. Even more so if saplings, greenbrier, honeysuckle, or grapevines are growing up between the limbs. Location is also important. This time of year, blowdowns are best in two spots–on the sides of hills and in stream bottoms.
You may already know from experience which deadfalls on your property hold bucks now. If not, speed scout before your hunt. Binoculars can help you check from a distance. If there’s snow, look for large tracks leading toward these lairs. Once you’ve located several potential targets, watch the Weather Channel. When you get a crosswind, make your move.
Deer on benches and side slopes usually face downhill. They watch below and rely on downslope afternoon thermals to alert their nose to danger from above. It’s the perfect situation for you to approach from the side. Use any available cover to sneak into view of a promising blowdown. Then glass to see if you can pick out a buck. If you can slip a bullet in between the branches, go for it. If not, sneak closer until you get a clear shot, belly-crawling if you have to.
If you can’t see a buck, even though scouting, tracks, or past experiences indicate that one could be there, move in. Hold your gun at port arms, and walk up for a jump shot. Often you can nail him just as he stands up. That’s your easiest and best option.
In creekbottoms, a buck will typically bed facing downwind, watching for danger out front while the wind tells of trouble from behind. When the breeze blows across the creek, you can sneak along its course, where cover is usually plentiful.
Glass ahead, checking every promising blowdown. Again, if you can’t spot the deer, walk in for a possible snap shot–and hope you shoot as well as Brian Bice did back in 1992. Stalking along an Illinois creekbottom on a rainy December day, Bice took a 61⁄2-year-old, 256-inch 27-pointer that was bedded next to a blowdown in thick brush. With a clear opening, Bice fired once, and then again as the buck jumped up. Both shots connected. It was the No. 3 Illinois nontypical at the time.
Deer like Bice’s make me tremble every time I approach a good blowdown.