One thing I have grown to love about bow hunting over the last 10 years is the opportunity it provides to get out in the woods over the course of a three-month season and see new land.
I have spent most of my time chasing whitetails in classic farm country or on river bottoms, and now recently in more hills and bluffs that surround ag fields.
Each of these pieces offer their own set of challenges when trying to target mature deer. Whitetails can move differently depending on the terrain one hunts. It’s something I have watched firsthand the last handful of years. Now this coming fall, I’m going to try to learn another terrain feature by hunting more cattail swamps.
My offseason to this point has been dedicated to really pinpointing large swamps that will allow me to get off the beaten path quite a ways. That starts with a lot of aerial scouting and trying to find really big pieces.
One public area in particular that I found features more than 1,500 acres. It had seemingly everything I was hoping for—plenty of cattails, oak islands and water that should not only provide great habitat for deer, but also barriers that might deter a lot of other hunters and eliminate some pressure.
I had some time to scout this area in person on March 30. In about three hours, I confirmed some things I thought I knew from e-scouting and learned important details by actually getting out there.
The first order of business was getting off the mainland and onto the islands. Getting to these same spots in the fall will likely mean using waders, but there was still enough ice left at this time that allowed me access.
I wanted to examine the points off these islands where the timber juts into the cattails. All my research on hunting swamps pointed to these areas being great for potential bedding and also areas of entrance for deer going from bed to food should a buck have dry cover off those points to hunker down within the cattails.
One spot in particular that I needed to get to was a tiny island that sat as the southern tip of a string of three islands within the cattails. These areas are easy to pinpoint on a map — any bit of green within the cattails, no matter how small it is, should indicate areas of high ground.
That’s exactly what this was. The island was so small that it would never work to hunt on, but it had everything a big buck would want to bed in. There were still heads of acorns that had fallen from the handful of oaks here the previous year.
The top crest of the island was elevated above the cattails about five feet. Sure enough, right on the highest point was a couple of beds that had been worn pretty well to the ground that seemed to indicate good use.
A buck would be essentially bullet proof from here in a lot of ways. The water and cattails around him protect him from roaming predators. He’d be able to hear, smell or see almost anything coming.
On aerials, I could see the trail through the cattails that led from this tiny island to the mainland. My original plan was to hunt off of that, but that’s not happening. A buck here can see anybody coming along that transition for hundreds of yards.
My only hope would be that he exits his bed and heads onto another island to the north. I walked that trail back through the slough about 30 yards before reaching dry land again. Here, I continued to follow the trail to the point where I believe I could set up without him seeing me. Hopefully this puts me in the game on an evening hunt in the early season.
Not only did a few hours out scouting help me alter my gameplan, but it once again reminded me how amazing these animals area. They’re survivors, and the older they get, the better they become at it. It’s a humbling experience finding a buck bed and saying to yourself, “How in the world am I going to kill him from here?”
That’s kind of how I felt after finding this particular bed. The set-up I have targeted could work, but it’s hardly perfect. It’s about 150 yards away from the deer, and I’d like to be inside 100 to really feel good about trying to catch him in daylight.
I might be able to get closer when the leaves are on the trees in September. I won’t know that until I get in there and hunt it. That’s part of the intrigue.