Lesson from the Rut: Hunt When You Can


Sometimes it seems an outdoor writer's main goal in life is to make deer hunters second-guess themselves. Set up close to the bedding area today. But not too close. And don’t go in there tomorrow. Always sneak into your stand from downwind. Plan to hunt today because the moon’s good. Get there early. Stay all day.

Yeah, I’ve been guilty of writing all that stuff in some form at one time or another. But here are some stark realities for most hunters, me included:

  • Bedding areas aren’t always defined. If you’re surrounded by 300 acres of thicket, those stupid deer could be anywhere. In fact, one of the few concrete statements we can make about deer behavior is that sometimes, in some places, they’re unpredictable.
  • Of course you want to sneak into your stand from downwind. But what if you’ve only got one stand, and sneaking in downwind means trespassing on the neighbor, who is a known prick?
  • The moon may be great today, but the boss gives not one sliver of a damn about that. He says there is work to do.
  • Getting there early and staying all day is a good plan. Unless, of course, you can’t. The boss says no. The kids are projectile puking. Your wife's BFF is getting married for the third time, swears it's true love this go-round, and you'd better be there or else.

My dilemma on Friday was one of time. My buddy Kasidy was in from Idaho to bowhunt with us last week here in Kentucky, and I had to get him back to the airport on Friday. (Kasidy killed two deer, by the way.) Nashville International is two hours from home for me in a good, reliable vehicle; it's two and a half in my oil-burning pickup, since it gets to shaking at speeds over 65 miles per hour.

I dropped him off at the terminal and mashed the gas pedal for a fate-tempting voyage back up I-24. When I rolled up to the cabin at the farm, it was 4:45. The sun was setting, and it was getting cool outside. Deer would be on their feet. At that point, I almost didn’t hunt, figuring I’d just mess things up getting to the stand at that late hour.

But I went anyhow. I snuck into a lock-on stand (with a northeast wind in my face) over a winter wheat food plot, and had no more pulled my bow into the tree when the first deer, a spike, walked into the wheat. A doe and fawn followed shortly afterward. The spike lost all interest in the winter wheat and chased the doe across half the county and back.

That commotion attracted the attention of a bigger buck. When he walked into the field, I had but one thought, which I whispered to myself: "Ima shoot that son-of-a_____."

Some people take deep breaths or count to 10 to beat buck fever. I cuss.

Anyhow, like the Prom Queen noticing the jock and telling the fat kid to get lost, the hot doe abandoned the spike, walked up to the bigger buck and peed right there on my wheat field. Deer are strange.

A few minutes later, she trotted past my stand, him dragging behind like a slobbering drunk. I shot him at 30 steps. When I climbed down later, the spike was still standing in the field, staring at me, as if to say, “Thank you, Brantley. You just made tonight a little easier.”

I guess the moral of the story here is while we know deer hunting is supposed to be fun, it can be stressful. I'll always be guilty of agonizing over my hunting decisions. Where should I go today? Will the wind be right?

But sometimes you've only got an hour to hunt, and the only option is to just go with the flow and see how it works out.  

There’s an old saying about “not being able to kill one on the couch.” Danged if it isn’t true.