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Changing Tactics for Post Leaf-Drop Deer Season By Stephen Ward

Muzzle Loader Spike 2013The past two weeks have shown much change on the mountains I call home, the leaves were still thick on the trees two weeks ago and the deer knew it.  Because of such, my treestand that was placed prior to Archery season had been a great spot to have up close meetings with deer, often having as many as 5 deer wandering below me amongst the oak trees on the ridge; looking as it were for something that they were accustomed from getting at that location most years, acorns.  But a non-existent acorn crop and a few sharp chills, hard rains and some high winds changed everything during the first two weeks of November, casting like a snowstorm of colorful leaves across the ground and stripping the trees and bushes of all cover.  The deer knew this too.

Because of this change, it was time to change my strategy and realize that my early fall deer stand was now relatively useless except to perhaps catch a stray deer crossing over a vast expanse of mountainside which now had no cover except tall vertical trees, and few deer in their right mind except for a few hornless youngsters would folly into that trek once the sounds of muzzle loaders were heard.  So, what next?

The next ridge over was the answer.  It was as simple as that. Where my initial stand position was chosen for more acorn / food source location patterning, my new choice was going to be secure cover access path to and from the creek area, which the next ridge over provided as there was a mixture of thick patches of mountain laurel and pines there scattered in with some beech trees and a few oaks, the low mountain laurel giving cover to the ingress and egress the deer would chose to make from the top of the mountain down to the lower creek areas.

One thing I like to do is to leave my early season treestand in place, it kind of gives a distraction and familiarity for the bucks who already KNOW its’ there; keeps their focus on it; and this is why I like to have a permanent Lok-On type stand with a ladder for early season placement, then switch to a climbing stand for late season that I can move about and adapt to the new patterns of post leaf-drop and buck in rut conditions.  I rely heavily on being able to TRICK bucks into thinking I’m in one place, when actually pulled off a fast set-up of a climbing stand the morning of a hunt and surprising the heck out of them by being in a new location.

So it was last Friday morning; the day before Rifle season set in, the last day of muzzleloader.  I had carried my climbing stand up the mountain and set it up on a nice sized tree on the east side of the north-south running down ridge coming off the mountain, there was a slight wind from the north west, the creek was to my west and I set my climber on this tree right at the edge of where the mountain laurel started, which hid my treestand when in the low position, and an evergreen pine tree adjacent helped to hide it when escalated up the tree with its branches.   From up there, I could see over the other RUCK N BUCKside of the ridge and down toward the creek, a smattering of mountain laurel covering the winding trail that was somewhat evident weaving through them up the mountain to a location just about 30 feet to my west where I had placed some doe in Estrus scent and a few soaked hangers of Buck Stop brand Ruckin’ Buck Dominant Buck Urine prior to making my ascent up the tree. (  I KNOW this scent works from past experiences during the rut, had a huge buck actually charge me one morning a few years ago over the placement of it in HIS area and it seems to bring in even the curious does.  At 7:02 am there came a young doe up the trail from the creek and then its twin sister.  They stopped just feet away from my hung scent pads and then walked quietly right under my treestand, and then cut out and up to the southeast climbing the mountain in some of that tall treed section of forest with little cover.  Exactly! Just what I expected would venture out there!  But I was pleased that they had come my way and left behind a fresh scent trail of doe scent, even if not the type that makes a bucks neck bulge and nostrils flare.  Patience and another hour and 30 minutes passed then I heard the more cautious sound of yet another deer working its way up the ridge with some weight to it.  Peering through pine limbs and mountain laurel, trying to locate the picture with the sound, I finally was able to see a brown body working its way up towards me, following a path that would be taking him past me at about 30 feet to my west, right towards my deer scent buck lure.  And there are the horns, two spikes about 7 inches long each. I’m not impressed with THAT, but then, I don’t EAT antlers and I always make sure that there is going to be meat in the freezer FIRST.  OK, so we have a buck entering the killing zone!  I watched from above as he moved up through the laurel, and then he stopped and stretched out just about even with me, extending his neck and nose toward the scent that was yet 12 feet ahead of him.  The double percussion sound of a muzzleloader exploded and a 50 slug punched a hole through its left rib cage and angled close to its heart and blew out the other side.  The buck staggered with impact, then ran almost half bent for a bit then crashed to the ground.  There would be meat in the freezer for sure this winter and this early buck of about 160 lbs would now give me the chance to focus the rest of the season on TROPHY RACK without fear of not getting one at all, as many hunters unfortunately do during a year.  Living in a state that gives you the opportunity to hunt more than one buck a year is priceless.


Good hunting to all of you this year!  May your freezers be filled and your walls be adorned.

Stephen Ward

Kevin Paulson

Kevin Paulson is the Founder and CEO of His passion for Hunting began at the age of 5 hunting alongside of his father. Kevin has followed his dreams through outfitting, conservation work, videography and hunting trips around the world.

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