Hunting Deer Where the Antelope Roam: Out in the Open
Waylay a trophy where typical cover is scarce.
AMID OPEN GRASSLANDS and vast cropfields, obvious whitetail cover consists of the few small woodlots, brushy draws, and timbered riverbottoms in the region. Figuring out where to hang your stand should be a no-brainer–except that the biggest bucks don’t get big by doing what’s obvious. They find subtle sanctuaries and slip through corridors most hunters overlook. Here are four you need to know:
CRP fields are among the first places big bucks go to escape hunters. And lots of hunters know this. But the prospect of hunting such huge unbroken blocks of cover, where deer could be anywhere, seems futile. However, according to Kansas outfitter Kirk Cherry of Tallgrass Outdoor Adventures (800-241-9122; tallgrasslodge.com), mature bucks typically funnel in and out of these areas along only one or two trails. “You just need to do a little preseason glassing to find out exactly which ones they use,” he says.
In featureless country, deer often use the faintest of dips in flat fields to hide practically in plain sight. Ditches, furrows, swales, and the subtlest saddles between hills or ridges form secret funnels for the biggest bucks. “Because these slight terrain changes are hard to pinpoint on topo maps,” says Cherry, “the best way to scout them is to look for tracks after a heavy rain.”
You might think a gate makes little difference to an animal that can leap a cattle fence with ease. But Cherry’s fellow Kansan Bill Suenram waits until just before a hunt to open a gate that has long been closed. “I’ve seen bucks immediately turn the gap into their personal highway,” says Suenram, the owner of Big Dog Outfitters (620-243-3263; bigdogoutfitter.com). “If you don’t own the property, talk to the landowner to keep tabs on newly opened gates or downed fences.”
Solitary trees on open ground between two patches of cover or in big CRP fields can be prime spots to ambush a big buck. According to Suenram, trophy whitetails seem to use them as both landmarks and spots to stop and scan their backtrail or check the exposed field ahead. “One of my guides last year killed a giant buck from a cottonwood that was the only tree in a square-mile section of grass.”