If you’re a still-hunter stuck on land next to a dog-hunting club, don’t despair. Let the hounds work in your favor.
Hunting with hounds is a Southern tradition that dates to the early 19th century, and North Carolina is no exception, yet public pressure continues to brew against deer hunting with dogs across the state.
Deer hunters regularly complain about their neighbors allowing regular dog passage through their hunting lands, but those same hunters may get closer to tagging a big buck because of the consistent hunting pressure from neighboring dog-hunting clubs.
The the western half of North Carolina, still hunters don’t have issues with dogs running through their property because it’s prohibited. With the exception of a few counties along the dividing line between the Eastern and Central deer sections, all hunting with dogs is in the coastal plain in the Eastern section.
There’s no doubt that constant pressure on deer will disrupt their daily travel movements. Richie Warden, a veteran hunter from Lee County, understands the effects that dog pressure has on big bucks.
“Big, mature bucks will go nocturnal in an area that has significant dog pressure. The added pressure stresses the deer and makes them change their travel habits, making it hard on us,” he said. “They are already hard enough to kill as it is!”
Ward is not new to hunting around clubs that run dogs; in fact, he spent most of his younger years hunting the thick swamps of Robeson, Bladen and Columbus counties in and around his families’ dog-driving clubs. While he has always preferred still-hunting, most of his clubs’ members were fully equipped with blue tick and Walker hounds capable of running a deer to exhaustion. But Ward and members of his family took many nice bucks that were consistently plagued by a daily dose of hound-hunting madness.
“Mature bucks will quickly key in on the additional activity in the woods from 4-wheelers, off-road trucks, and the dogs and hunters themselves,” he said. “They associate with the new scents and sounds that haven’t been there all summer. When dog clubs run every day in the same places, they are really hurting themselves and helping out their neighbors more.”
Ward tagged many nice bucks on his dog clubs by finding the places bucks went when the pressure increased.
“Deer will seek out less-pressured areas. Hunting can get better for still-hunters when dog pressure increases in an area,” he said.
Joey Nicoll, a Brunswick County resident, is an avid dog hunter who has killed many nice bucks still-hunting within earshot of his dog hunting grounds.
“I love to hear the dogs off in the distance running hard behind a buck, but seeing them trying to slip by without being noticed is even better,” he said. “I have killed several nice bucks trying to slip out of the action myself.”
Still-hunters can benefit from dog hunters immensely. Just as soon as you put pressure on our dog club’s lands, the big, mature bucks will slip into the low pressure areas that are exactly where the still-hunters are sitting and waiting.
Geography plays in important role in the typical dog drive. Hunting clubs using dogs want to be able to get in front of the deer being run, so they usually try to run only in blocks they can completely surround with hunters. This leaves most of the swamps and areas with poor access as a refuge away from the dog-driving activities. Deer don’t get to be 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 years old by being stupid; they can elude hunters on even the most controlled hunts.
“We have a block in our club that practically is a sanctuary for us. It is real hard to access, and we cannot effectively hunt it with dogs,” Nicoll said. “Many of our nice bucks will slip into this area when we start running dogs.”
While many big bucks will move out of their home range, it doesn’t mean they will not come back. Nicoll validates this fact routinely on his club’s land.
“Our trail cameras tell us these bucks will leave and then come right back shortly afterwards — but sometimes they don’t come back,” he said.
Occasionally, the refuge area for bucks trying to get away from dog-hunting activity is on neighboring property, and many of those bucks don’t make it back. They either find something the like better on the next tract over, or they find a hunter who is cocked and loaded.
“Our neighbors like it when we start running dogs. They will start killing some real nice bucks that we have pushed to them,” he said.
Deer go on alert as soon as they hear the dogs barking. A collection of hunters entering the woods and the barking dogs will quickly disrupt the natural order. Deer will immediately respond, looking to leave — especially mature bucks that have been around the block for a few years.
Over the years, Nicoll has learned to set up in areas that almost always get a visit from an escapee with large antlers, an his years of experience have allowed him to pinpoint a good escape route.
“Bucks learn to use escape routes that are different from their normal travel and feeding trails. If they used a trail safely once before, they will often travel that very same trail again when pressured by dogs,” he said.
Experience on the property during dog drives will pay big dividends for the savvy hunter. In addition, Nicoll will set up in places adjacent to dog blocks where he has a wide field of view.
“I prefer to see as far as possible. They will slip out at different places, but I like to hunt in cutovers, down canals or open stands of hardwood or pine,” he said.
Swamps and other types of water courses are great places, too. Nicoll will set up either adjacent to water or within water courses that narrow down in the flood plain. Besides being a good place to see a buck, the properties of water helps hunters detect approaching game.
“You can hear and see them coming easier in the water, and a big buck may travel right down the run of the swamp itself,” Nicoll said.
Deer will instinctively use water to mask their scent, making it tough for dogs to follow their scent.
Even though North Carolina hunters remain divided between hunters that use hounds and still-hunters, both groups can coexist and both have opportunities at killing nice bucks on their hunting grounds.
“You may get messed up some during a chase when our dogs cross the line, but a still-hunter can really benefit hunting next to a dog-driving club,” Nicoll said.
As soon as the dogs start barking, remain seated and stay alert because a wall-hanger might show up at any given time without any indication they are on a perilous journey.