With slow deer movement and near record highs in the first of November, it was time to figure out a game plan. The 2016 Pennsylvania archery season was well underway and had produced very few mature buck sightings. The public land spots I had hunted in previous years did not produce the sights or signs I was hoping to see the first week of November. Pre-season scouting had revealed several mature bucks in the area, but they had disappeared since the beginning of the season. With the best part of the season upon me, I did not have any spots in which I felt confident in killing a mature buck. So, instead of hunting a spot I was not confident in, I took a day off and covered miles of public land, trying to find that one hot-spot where I knew I could kill a buck.
On the scouting mission, I covered all the potential locations where I thought mature bucks may hang out. Many of the hot areas the year before were completely absent of fresh sign. Through all the miles of hiking and scouting, I found only one small area with several fresh scrapes and an abundance of mature buck rubs. Feeling confident in this spot, I gave it a few days to settle down and then returned for an afternoon hunt. I had not even made it up the tree when I heard the sound of a buck chasing a doe quickly approaching. To my dismay, it was only a spike in tail, but knowing a hot doe was in the area boosted my confidence even more. Before I even had a chance to sit down, a mature buck came down the hill on his way to the base of my stand. Moments later, a well-placed shot at 7 yards produced one of my best public archery bucks to date. On that hunt, I had found the hot spot.
While hunting public land, one of the biggest keys to success is hunting the freshest sign possible. Throughout the course of the fall, a deer’s pattern changes on a week-to-week or even day-to-day basis. With higher amounts of hunting pressure, deer can be easily bumped off their regular routine to find security. Even in unpressured areas, deer patterns will adjust as food sources change and the foliage begins to fall. As they change, it’s crucial to adapt to and hunt where the deer are, not where they used to be.
We have all found one of those areas where every tree within sight is shredded, fresh scrapes litter the ground, and the trails are worn down to only bare mud. When setting up in an area like this, our anticipation and confidence for the sit grows substantially, and in return, so does success. Likewise, we all have sat in stands where we have little confidence because of either a lack of deer sightings or lack of sign altogether. Usually, when your confidence is low on the spot, so is your success rate. Being complacent in an area where they have little confidence is one of the biggest mistakes made by hunters. When you don’t have confidence in an area, take the time you set aside for a morning or evening hunt, and instead, scout until you find a spot where you are confident. The odds of success are higher when being in the right spot for five minutes than in the wrong spot for five days.
A hot spot can come in many forms, but you just know it when you see it. When looking for a higher number of deer, I try to identify the most active primary food source the deer are using. Many times, a hot spot can be as simple as a cluster of oaks that are raining down acorns for a several days. When trying to target a mature buck, big, fresh rubs are the easiest indicator, but be cautious, as sometimes these are made during the cover of darkness. When trying to identify hot spots for a mature buck, it’s crucial to be able to identify a rub that was made two days previously verses two weeks ago. The bottom line when trying to find a hot spot comes down to finding signs that makes you excited to hunt there. If the area you found seems to be “hot” and builds your confidence, then trust your gut and hunt it.
My goal for each sit is to have high confidence in killing a deer. Throughout the course of an archery season, I will hunt approximately 30 sits and be in 25 different trees. In order to hunt so many different spots, you must first have many different areas to choose from. Pre-season scouting and recalling information from previous years can help you have a running list of potential spots to check throughout the course of the season. Many times, I will have an idea of where I want to hunt but will scout around until I find the hottest sign within that area. My style of hunting is very aggressive, but I found it has led to a lot of my success, particularly on public land. When targeting a specific buck, the aggressive approach may not be the best option because the risk of bumping deer out of the area is much higher. But, from my experience, being aggressive and putting yourself in high opportunity spots will consistently put you in front of more deer than sitting back and waiting for something to happen.
Throughout the course of the fall, we are only blessed with so many opportunities to climb a tree. For the highest likelihood of harvesting a deer, you need to have confidence every single minute you’re out. It’s easy to sit back and wait on some of the tried and true spots that seem to produce year after year, but even the most tried and true spots can and will eventually run dry. Rather than sitting back, waiting for deer to come back into the area you are hunting, make something happen this fall. Even if you don’t find a hot spot every time you go afield, you will see new areas, find new potential spots, and at the very least, identify where the deer are not. By searching for hot spots this fall, you will better utilize your time spent in a tree, build your confidence, and increase your odds of success.