Don’t shy away from deer-hunting in ‘rough’ territory


Rough territory is a reality for traditional archery hunters

One definition for “rough” In Webster’s Dictionary is “rugged, overgrown ground.” What better way to describe a place you’d find deer?

Hunters often fall into the trap of wanting the ideal location to set up. Their perfect spot includes a lush food plot, comfortable stand and easy access to allow vehicular removal of harvested deer. There’s nothing wrong with that. But unfortunately, many members of the deer-hunting community don’t have these luxuries. Here’s what reality looks like for many hunters.

Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to have a friend and co-worker who purchased rural hunting property. He developed it with perimeter roads, food plots and shooting lanes and even built a second home. It was a good run, and we took some good deer there.

Fast forward a few years to a new reality. We no longer worked together — he had moved on to another job — and we lost contact through the years. And as a traditional archery hunter, restrictive range became a greater factor for me. Most traditional archers would agree that 25 yards is the maximum reasonable range.

Overlooked areas

Time was spent prospecting for potential hunting spots, including locations that would have been ruled out earlier when hunting with firearms. They were better candidates for traditional archery tactics. Some had yielded waterfowl-hunting success. But the fact that they were great options for deer hunting had been overlooked.

Hunting low-lying swampland that is interspersed with winding streams, beaver dams and standing water is a surefire way to see more deer. It is amazing how water and mud can affect deer movement and discourage hunter movement. Deer use beaver dams as roadways to cross the water, and they tend to move parallel to standing water and streams. Hunters can use these tendencies to increase their chances at collecting more venison.

Out-of-the-way places as deer hotspots should be obvious. Access is not easy, often involving difficult treks through mud and water to reach dry land. A favorite place might be overgrown with privet hedge, honeysuckle and scrub brush. Deer trails are like tunnels winding through the foliage. On several occasions, trailing bowshot deer involved stooping and crawling through these tunnels. Bushwhacking through such territory might not be advisable during gun season. It is remarkable how easily deer can navigate through dense foliage.

A different mindset

Look for large numbers of deer tracks in the soft ground around creek bottoms or exposed, swampy areas. (Picture by L. Woodrow Ross)

This rough kind of hunting is not for the weak or timid. It is tiring and takes patience and extensive scouting to find the right location. Due to the variables, hunting from a climbing stand is often a good option. Hunting close to deer trails requires good scent control and often, changing locations.

If you choose to pursue this type of hunting, topographical maps and Google Earth are helpful sources of information. If you view potential hunting locations on these apps, you can home in on spots off of the beaten path. A good bet is to stay alert for deer sign when trapping or hunting small game. Sometimes, a few hundred yards can be enough to get away from the crowd.

A favorite spot of mine is a jungle of dense vegetation along a river. It is a maze of ponds, small streams and beaver ponds. It is also close to a small town. Voices and street noise can be heard from the stand.

The payoff makes the rough stuff worth it

A hunting buddy, Josh Lanier, has a blog titled “Wildcat Creek Journal.” In it, he makes a statement about fishing that applies equally to places I hunt.

“There is just something about fishing (or hunting) in those hard-to-get-to places that intrigues me. I have often found that the rougher it is to bushwhack your way through, the greater the chances there will be a good payoff for your efforts.”

Recovering deer in this type of environment is always difficult. Often, after field dressing, it results in dragging deer through mud, water and muck. Then comes getting to highway transportation and a trip to the processor.

Lanier shared a conversation about hunting in the mountains of South Carolina’s Jocassee Gorges. He had hunted unsuccessfully in an area, but the fourth trip yielded a fat, 4-point buck with his recurve bow. He was deep into the rugged mountain terrain.

Often, good deer-hunting areas can be reached with the help of a canoe or kayak. The mobility of such vessels and the ability to use a climbing stand can help get you into the right spot. (Picture by L. Woodrow Ross)

“After an extensive search through the laurel and brush, I was able to recover the deer,” he said. “That is when the real work began. Bringing something as heavy as a deer out of a thick ravine is hard work and calls for a lot of pulling, lifting and dragging. I have often found that any measurable amount of success in the outdoors comes with a price.”

Trials and rewards

Deer are at home in thick, hard-to-reach places. Getting in there with them gives hunters a chance for a nice reward. (Picture by L. Woodrow Ross)

Trailing bow-shot deer in difficult places often results in hours of bending and crawling through dense foliage and trailing until blood sign disappears. Then, a grid search is often necessary to locate the quarry. It is amazing how difficult it can be in dense foliage to find a deer that has traveled less than 100 yards.

These hunts are very demanding, the best and the worst of conditions. It lends itself to bowhunting but can be equally effective for those who hunt with firearms. It is an exciting challenge that nature presents. When we accept that challenge and succeed, against all odds, it is very rewarding.

Definitely not a walk in the park

A typical day hunting in “rough” deer country involves getting up early in the morning and driving to your destination. Next may come launching a canoe and paddling to an area in the dark, disembarking and bushwhacking for some distance, or a long walk in hip boots or waders.

You may cross a beaver dam before finally locating and climbing your selected tree. Next, you might screw hooks into the tree for a backpack with your necessary gear. Then, you sit and wait for the deer. Each rustle of a leaf, ripple of the water or errant sound speeds up the heartbeat. As dawn begins to glow in the east, every stump or log takes on the shape of a deer. But staring intently, they soon change into a part of the landscape.

Getting off the beaten path often involves hunting in some difficult areas, but that makes success even sweeter. (Picture by L. Woodrow Ross)

If you have chosen wisely, the site will soon be visited by an elusive whitetail. It is always amazing to look away for a moment, then look back and see a deer standing in plain sight. No sound betrays their presence, and their coming has a mysterious quality that never gets old.

Rough hunting often leads to rough tracking

This is a critical time requiring extreme caution. The drawing of a bow or lifting of a firearm requires motion, and this can draw the deer’s attention. The best scenario is to wait for the deer to focus its attention away from your location. A favorite tactic of Ryan Gill, a bowhunter and author, is to allow the deer to slightly pass your stand. Its attention is focused on where it’s headed, not where it’s been. Increasing the difficulty of  success, Gill often hunts from ground level.

With good luck, you reach full draw, undetected. At the moment of release — if the arrow hits a vital spot — you have a good chance for success. Unfortunately, arrows kill from blood loss, and this is not often instantaneous. What this means to the archery hunter is that the recovery may be difficult and time-consuming. This is especially true in dense vegetation, and it makes success even more sweet.

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