Editor’s Note: Longtime, avid bowhunter Terry Drury of Missouri, the president of Drury Marketing, produces videos for Drury Outdoors and is an active member of PSE and Mossy Oak’s Pro Hunt Teams. Terry still shoots his reliable PSE Dream Season X-Force bow.
The first step is to have the right geography. You can’t kill a Pope & Young (P&Y) buck if he’s not there. So, you’ve got to go to an area somewhere in the country or in your region that homes a sanctuary that allows deer to grow and pass into an upper-age class. I’m lucky to have taken a number of my P&Y bucks in the Midwest where I hunt Illinois, Kansas and Iowa. All these states have a general firearms season that comes in after the peak of the rut. Therefore, a larger percentage of the deer carry over into upper-age classes because they aren’t moving so much as when the rut’s on, and hunters don’t see or harvest near as many bucks. The timing of the rut and the limit of bucks that can be harvested during gun season in any state will dictate how many deer pass on to the older-age classes. Also, both Illinois and Iowa require hunters to only hunt with shotguns or primitive weapons. Therefore, hunters don’t kill the deer there at long ranges, and more older-age-class bucks will carry over. To hunt big deer, they’ve got to be there. To grow big deer, they must grow into the older-age classes. I’m talking about 3-1/2, 4-1/2, 5-1/2-year-old and/or older bucks.
Bow season starts ahead of gun season in Midwestern states. Calling works better in bow season, and we do a lot of observation of the deer before we move into the area where we hunt. Really a bowhunter to be successful needs to make a year-round search to discover a good deer. After the season, you need to try to find shed antlers, see deer in the velvet, take trail monitor pictures and sit and observe deer movement. Countless hours go into deciding where each individual stand needs to hang.
I also like to hunt an individual deer and not just go deer hunting. My brother Terry, who’s also on PSE’s Pro Hunt Team and my partner in the video business, and I generally get onto a buck in one of two ways: we’ll either see him visually, or we’ll find his sign. The best sign my brother Terry and I both look for and love are big deer tracks. Big tracks don’t lie. If you find a good, heavy track of the right length, probably 5 inches or so from tip to dewclaw, you know you’re talking about a mature, heavyweight deer. We’ve killed a lot of deer by simply pinpointing their tracks. If you know he’s walked there once, chances are he’ll walk there again, if you understand why he’s traveled through that place.
Once I’ve identified the state and the county I plan to hunt, I narrow my focus to determining a piece of ground there to hunt. I like to focus on observing deer movement more than anything else to select the best stand site to bowhunt and bag big bucks. In addition, the area has to have two critical characteristics: the right amount of cover and the correct amount of food. Also important to success in bagging a P&Y buck is the lack of human intrusion into a property. We’ve seen some wonderful pieces of property before, but if the deer there are getting the tar hunted out of them, we don’t even bother to try to hunt them ourselves. One thing you want to avoid when you’re trying to have the opportunity to take nice deer is other people messing you up. You’ll mess yourself up enough, and you certainly don’t need John Q. Public coming-through and messing-up your deer hunting. The three elements I look for to hunt big bucks are low-impact areas with heavy cover and good food sources.
We try to locate lands to hunt that others don’t. We find our hunting lands by networking. A lot of land we hunt we’ve gained the opportunity to hunt there either through relationships at coffee shops or by helping farmers. We’ve found this strategy to have a domino effect: you talk to one farmer, and then he talks to his friend and so on. You can also put an ad in the newspaper to lease ground. Where we hunt in Illinois, we’ve got about 1,000 acres that Terry partially owns, and we lease the rest of it. We’ve got good relationships with the surrounding landowners.
We also have the same situation in Iowa. I own part of that land, and we lease the other part. We manage those properties to try to harvest the best deer we can. If you look at the way Texas has handled its deer herd, you can see that state is 25 to 30 years ahead of the rest of the country. And of course, everybody wants to hunt in Texas, because Texas takes managing its deerherd to the extreme. Texas hunters don’t shoot deer until the deer have reached 5 or 6 years of age. The state has low-impact hunting on huge tracts of ground. Try to apply that type of deer management to your hunting area – whether you have 80 or 500 acres. Allow the young deer to grow, and don’t harvest them until they’ve reached 5 or 6 years of age. Plant some food plots, try to not interfere with the deer by going in there and bumping them out all the time, and put minerals out for the deer. If you do everything you possibly can do, you will improve your hunting.
To learn more about Mark and Terry Drury and Drury Outdoors, visit http://www.druryoutdoors.com/. For more information about PSE’s bows, go to http://pse-archery.com, and for information about Mossy Oak, check out http://www.mossyoak.com/.
To read more of John Phillips’ articles on hunting, fishing, cooking, and all outdoors pursuits (including more expert tips from the Drurys), check out his author page and article archives here on Outdoor Hub.
Images courtesy John Phillips/Night Hawk Publications