I received pictures yesterday of several big bucks from a friend and whitetail mentor of mine, North Idaho’s Troy Pottenger, one of two pro staffers in the West for Nextbuk Outdoors. This old Idaho mountain buck with a broadhead wound in his neck had the smallest rack of the bunch. Although Pottenger is after several higher scoring deer this early season in Idaho, he speaks with reverence about the heavy four-point, which he estimates would dress at 230 to 240 pounds.
Pottenger is a North Idaho whitetail ninja – rarely seen, heard, or smelled – and is the most dedicated and successful western whitetail hunter I know. He passes on more bucks during a season than some of us have shots at in a lifetime, and he captures almost all of it on video. This season, Troy’s 10-year-old son Tyson will help him film almost all of his hunts. The Pottengers will report in regularly from many public lands hunting areas throughout the season in both Washington and Idaho, providing lots of specific insights on current deer behavior, and also on tactics.
Why is Pottenger so successful? The 44-year-old has dedicated his life to patterning, filming, and taking trophy whitetail bucks from the woods and fields of Idaho and Washington, as well as from other states like Iowa, where he’ll hunt this late November. He is a master at patterning bucks between feeding and bedding areas and has been within bow range of nearly 20 four-point or better deer already in the early bow season. He owes his success to a variety of tactics born from experience and close observation, but above all Pottenger credits attention to wind and the way he approaches a buck’s bedding area to take a stand. I asked him to take a few minutes to overview his philosophies about patterning deer on a feed-to-bed pattern.
“Currently I am bowhunting very close to bedding areas both in the evenings and mornings. Bucks are purposely NOT moving great distances for feed and water if they can get away with it due to the heat right now, which is very typical of early season.
My philosophy on set ups based on winds and bedding areas on mature older bucks, 4.5 and older, is as follows: Mature older bucks almost always NEED a wind that they feel comfortable with before they will access a feeding area that they like. They will not throw caution to the wind, so to speak. So with that being said I only hunt stands/winds this time of the year that offer the bucks what they want but also allow me to be on the edge of their wind currents.
I often hang stands in conjunction with terrain features like bluffs, saddles, blow-downs, rocky outcroppings, etc., that help funnel the deer just past the wind I am sitting in yet that keeps the bucks from picking me up. Picture if you will the flow of a river where the main current of water intersects with an eddy. In my world of setting up on whitetails, I seek out these wind edges that coincide with great buck travel. Being 5 yards off in your set up can blow your entire hunt and for many days thereafter. Most of the time my set ups include long ridges and high saddles and big benches that deer use to move through cover.
Often these spots consist of long hikes in and out. Exit and entrance strategy are crucial. My approach in during the A.M. almost always equates to a back door approach because of where the buck is feeding and will be coming back from feed to bed. While in the evenings I take the front door entrance approach so I do not disturb any cover between the bucks bedding area and my stand site.”
Based on the bucks Pottenger is patterning, including a 170-class buck he sent me a video still of, the odds of seeing Pottenger with another 150-class or better whitetail are high, as always. Unlike some hunters I know whose egos occasionally get in the way of the truth, he admits to suffering a deflection from a branch and missing a velveted 6×7 clean on Aug. 31. He says he uses mistakes like this one as motivation for improvement and spends no time second-guessing or being negative about something that’s already happened. I suspect that philosophy would be useful in all aspects of the outdoors and beyond.