The mist began to rise off the backwater slough, as I heard the eerie whistling of the wood ducks feeding on the acorns floating on the surface as I sat in my nearby tree stand. When I’d scouted this area earlier, I’d found a deer trail near flooded timber and set my stand where beavers had dammed-up the creek. I had reached my stand site without leaving a scent trail and had the proper wind direction to keep from spooking deer. Here’s what I learned about muzzleloader hunting deer from a tree stand in a flooded bottom.
Hold Your Shot When Muzzleloading:
As I sat in my tree stand and felt the rain, I spotted a deer in the water about 50-yards away and watched as it fed down the slough, coming toward me. I lifted my CVA .50-caliber rifle to my shoulder and put my thumb on the hammer. Although I knew I could make the shot, I decided to pass. Instead I prepared as though I planned to take the shot without really taking it – kind of like catch-and-release fishing. I reasoned that this area had to have a bigger deer in it. Then later five does showed-up on the edge of the pond where the buck had fed. After taking a short nap, I awoke to see an 8-point buck just 30-yards away, chomping on chestnut oak acorns he’d found floating on the edge of the water. I reminded myself to not rush the shot. Often I get in too-big a hurry to make the shot and either spook the deer before my shot or miss the deer, because I haven’t taken the time required to prepare for the shot. I went through my mental checklist, and the buck moved behind a big beech tree, leaving only his nose and antlers visible. Finally, the buck took a few steps, presenting me with a full shoulder view, and I fired. Spinning around, the buck ran into the water about 30-yards away and fell over into the water with a big splash, leaving only his side and antlers visible above the surface.
To find the best tree-stand sites in any area you’re hunting with your muzzleloader, study aerial photographs beforehand. Once you’ve marked off the boundaries of your hunting land with a highlighter, next use a different color of highlighter to color in the sections of land where you know you won’t find deer, including pastures, ponds and areas where most other hunters hunt. Studying a map will help you reduce the region you need to scout by 50 percent or more. Next, with a different color of highlighter, mark the obvious places where you expect to find deer movement – like bottlenecks, the edges of agricultural fields, clearcuts, saddles, mountains, thick-cover areas and hardwood bottoms. Mark any-other sites you think logically will hold deer. Concentrate your hunting in the likely-looking places, and locate your tree-stand sites there. Although today, muzzleloading hunters can shoot at about the same distances that conventional rifle hunters do, instead of taking a stand that will allow you to shoot at the maximum effective range of your blackpowder rifle, try to get within 50 or 60 yards of where you expect the deer to appear. Or, hunt thick cover that offers shots no longer than 30 yards. Many hunters will pick open places to hunt, thereby forcing the older-age-class bucks into the thick-cover regions. Although you only may have limited visibility in this thick cover, you’ll have a better chance of seeing numbers of deer there.
By John E. Phillips, outdoor writer and muzzleloading enthusiast.