Posted October 29, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Almy: Finding special areas for hunting

Gerald Almy

By Gerald Almy -- sports@nvdaily.com

For the serious whitetail hunter, discovering a special spot that offers a mature buck everything he wants in a small area is like finding a rare gem. Sometimes you stumble upon them. Other times they're the final reward for lots of research time spent pouring over topographical maps and aerial photographs and in-the-field foot work.

I call these special spots multiple attraction areas (MAA's). They are unique locations that have everything a reclusive old buck needs in a tight, compact area so he doesn't have to travel much and expose himself to danger.

Pinpoint a small, isolated spot with abundant sign, thick cover, food, water and a variety of habitat types edging together and you've potentially found a MAA. Sure the buck will leave this small area sometimes. But he'll spend the majority of daylight hours in this special hideout.

And the bigger the buck, the smaller the area he might hole up in. Dr. Mickey Hellickson did a study of 96 radio-collared wild deer in Texas and found the older the buck, the smaller the core area it occupied. This might consist of as little as 100-250 acres. The MAA is an even smaller part of that core, often just 5-15 acres where the deer finds just about everything he needs.

If you find such a gem, follow these precautions. First of all, don't tell anyone else about it. These spots are too small to share. There's likely just one big buck there. Secondly, don't bump the deer out by hunting too aggressively.

I've successfully used three methods to go after the deer in these special spots. Start with the least-aggressive and gradually work into the bolder, more brazen approaches.
Tactic One. Catch him coming and going. An MAA will hold your buck most of the time, but he'll venture out some to find more or different foods, display his antlers to does and other bucks in the area, and make scrapes and rubs.

After identifying the MAA and its boundaries, carefully walk the outside edges of it. Search for thinly-outlined trails, rubs or scuffled leaves showing where the buck enters and exits.

Backtrack 75-150 yards and hang a stand. Hunt this location very early, very late, and only when the wind is perfect.

Tactic Two. Entice him out with calls. Try this during the pre-rut when testosterone levels rise. He'll be most responsive then.

Blow a few soft contact grunts, wait ten minutes. Next try 6-12 trailing grunts spaced two seconds apart, followed by a softer, higher-pitched doe bleat. Wait 20 minutes and then lightly tick antlers together or shake a rattle bag. As a last resort, try a full-fledged rattling sequence, pounding the ground, raking tree trunks and making a racket.

Tactic Three. Gently drive him to a waiting hunter. Try to carefully nudge the buck out without totally frightening him. If the ploy fails, he'll likely come back within a day or two.
To execute this tactic, find where thick cover, a draw or depression offers his best escape route. Set up down or crosswind and send another person in so their scent blows towards the buck. He should walk a few steps, then linger, gradually covering the entire area until he gently nudges the buck out.

If one of these tactics works, avoid having a raucous celebration on the spot. Instead, quietly drag the trophy out, and then do your celebrating.

Chances are there's another old buck nearby that will want to take over this prime core spot. Let him slip in and claim it. Then you'll know just how to go after him next year.

Locating MAAs

Use a combination of Google Earth, topo maps and careful scouting to search for MAAs. Also check out places where you've spotted or bumped big bucks before.

To determine if they qualify, make sure they have these key elements in a compact space.

Isolation. Secluded and remote with minimal human traffic or hunting pressure.
Cover. Thicker the better--look for saplings, blow-downs, dense shrub growth, vines and briers.

Food. Secondary foods such as honeysuckle, greenbrier, raspberry, plum and browse, plus major night foods like crops and food plots a short distance away.

Water. There should be a stream, spring, bog or pond either in the area itself or close by with a ditch or brush line for secure travel to reach it.

Edge. The more varied types of topography and vegetation that come together the better-hardwood/pine, mature timber/clear-cut, foothills/valley, ditch/flatland, hollow/ridge, etc.

Danger Detectability. Look for a bench or knoll that offers visibility, a setup where wind currents blow scent from likely approach routes, or brush so thick that noise will alert him. The better a buck can use sight, scent and hearing to detect danger, the more likely he'll make that spot his home.

-- Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.

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