Perched in his tree stand, Fred Connor broke the silence of the crisp South Carolina morning by skillfully banging a pair of deer antlers together to ape the sound of two bucks in combat for the rights to a doe.
The silence returned and lasted for a couple of minutes before Fred made a grunting sound with a plastic tube caller in his mouth.
As he waited to make another call with his rattling horns, Fred saw the deer running towards his stand. At first glance, he knew it was a buck with forked antlers. He wasn^t sure how good the antlers were. The buck stopped about 100 yards from Fred^s stand and looked in his direction.
Fred made a couple of calls on his grunt caller because he didn^t want to take a chance on detection by rattling the horns and the buck took several steps in his direction. As the deer moved towards him, Fred evaluated the rack and decided it was not a deer he wanted to kill. It was either a six pointer or a small eight pointer. While most bowhunters would be delighted to have the opportunity to shoot this buck, Fred decided it was not a desirable trophy for him.
However, he decided to practice his rattling and grunting, a technique that he had just began using on the sprawling family plantation just outside the town of Eutawville in Orangeburg County.
Using his rattling horns and grunt call, Fred enticed the buck to within 15 feet of his tree stand where he could verify that there were eight tines on the small rack. It was a deer he could have taken -- even under the stricter-than-the-law rules he has set on the family plantation.
The rule is simply that only bucks with eight points or better can be taken on the 8,000 acres he controls. Also, while managing the land for quality rather than quantity, does and spike bucks are harvested. The idea behind this is to try to keep the does to bucks ratio at 4 to 1 and to eliminate the deer which have inferior genes -- spike bucks.
How does it work? When you take into consideration that this part of the state is not noted for producing large antlered deer, the results have been good. Last season five of the 8-point or better forked antler deer had spreads over 15 inches wide and one had a 23-inch spread. A whitetail deer with a 20-inch spread is considered an exceptional trophy anywhere in the United States, if the rack has sufficient girth and height to tines.
The deer with the small eight point rack isn^t the only multi-tined buck that Fred has passed up over the years. He has passed up many that would be the kill of a lifetime for most hunters. These were big deer with large racks. However, the reason for passing up these other deer was quite different. He declined to shoot at them because he did not have a sure-kill shot.
Fred is extremely cautious when it comes time to release an arrow in the direction of a deer. There isn^t a set of antlers in any woods that would induce him to take a hasty or ill-conceived shot.
With obvious pride, Fred remarked, "I have retrieved every deer that I have put an arrow in. I^ve passed up a lot of big deer because I didn^t have a clear shot or it was beyond the range where I feel comfortable. I don^t shoot at anything over 30 yards and I would rather shoot at 10 yards."
With these strong feelings, it is not surprising that Fred believes that the most important factor in becoming a successful bowhunter is to practice until you are proficient with the bow and arrow and then keep on practicing.
"With today^s compound bows and pin sights, the bow is a much more effective weapon than the recurve bows I used when I first started," he pointed out. "Still you have to shoot them until you know your limitations. And don^t just shoot at targets on the ground. You should practice shooting from various heights that you might be using in your stands. I^ve formed a little club of bowhunters and we have built a range in the woods and set up targets so that you are shooting under conditions you might run into while hunting. One of the targets is set so that you have to shoot between two trees that are 18 inches apart to hit the vital area. Another is set so that you have to shoot back around a tree behind where you are sitting in the stand. It is a good idea to get as much practice as possible and you want to practice under conditions you are going to find when hunting. It^s a rare situation when you have a wide-open, unobstructed shot at a deer."
The second most important factor in being a successful bowhunter, according to Connor, is scouting. Scouting is a year- round activity for Fred because he lives where he does most of his hunting. He keeps mental notes on the times and places where he sees deer as he moves around the plantation all during the year. Anytime he is in the woods, checking timber or for any other reason, he keeps and eye out for deer trails, especially those that are being heavily used. This gives him a general idea where the deer are living.
But about two weeks before the archery season opens he gets much more serious about his scouting. When he is on familiar ground, like his own plantation, he tries to ascertain that the deer are using the same trails they did the year before.
"Usually, deer will use the same trails year after year, but sometimes changing the crops planted in a field they are used to using will cause them to alter their traveling patterns," Fred said. "It takes something drastic for deer to change the trails they use, but sometimes they will do it."
Fred looks for likely bedding areas, but tries not to disturb deer in the bedding areas. He knows that undisturbed deer, not in the rut, do three things. They eat, bed down and travel to and from feeding and bedding areas. Fred knows that his best opportunity for success is to be able to ambush them while they are traveling between the feeding and bedding areas.
During his scouting, the primary things Fred is looking for is an intersection of two or more heavily used trails. These trails will be going either to or from feeding and bedding areas. Fred tries to spend enough time scouting before the season that he can establish trends on which trails deer use going to feeding areas and which ones they use returning to the bedding areas. They could be the same trails, but this is not necessarily so.
Wind direction is the primary factor in deer using different trails. A basic instinct of deer that many hunters ignore is undisturbed deer always walk into the wind. They may not walk straight into the wind, but they are only comfortable if they are at least quartering it.
A deer^s defenses are speed of foot for short distances, blending into the area where it lives, keen eye sight for moving objects, sharp sense of hearing with cone shaped ears and an outstanding sense of smell.
The most important one for the bowhunter is their sharp sense of smell, according to Fred.
The speed of foot doesn^t bother the bowhunter because he is going to be anchored in a stand. The natural camouflage of a deer is not a factor because the bowhunter is usually in a stand waiting for the deer to come. A deer stand puts the hunter above the area where deer look for danger and compensates for the keen eye sight. Being quiet on a deer stand is just common sense. That leaves the sense of smell.
There are two basic methods that Fred uses to deal with a deer^s sense of smell. In order of importance, they are:
1. Don^t allow yourself to get in a position where air currents flow from you to the likely area the deer will be using.
2. Use artificial or natural masking scents to disguise odors emitted from the body.
Not allowing yourself to get into a position where air currents flow from you to the deer is another way of saying select a stand site or sites that allow you to hunt into the wind.
On Fred^s property, the winds are influenced by Lake Marion and are predominantly out of the northeast. That doesn^t mean that the winds come out of the northeast every day during the bowhunting season, but the winds come from that direction enough that it is a consideration for selecting a deer stand site.
"When selecting a stand site, I look for intersecting deer trails and take into consideration the dominant wind direction," Fred pointed out. "If it is a heavily used trail and there are suitable trees available I will build a second stand that will allow me to hunt when the winds are coming from a direction other than the northeast."
Fred likes to build his stands about two weeks or more before the season opens to give deer a chance to become accustomed to seeing the stand.
Also, he attempts to limit alteration of the appearance of the tree in which he builds the stand as much as possible.
"You have to trim off a few branches to give yourself an unobstructed shot to the area where you expect to see a deer," Fred related. "If it is a stand on a heavily used trail, I^ll take a pair of pruning shears with me and just trim off a couple of branches each day. I don^t want the deer to see a sudden change in an area they have been looking at all of their lives.
"Another thing I will do if I think a stand is too open, I will cut saplings and tie them up around the tree stand to give me additional cover without obstructing my view or field of fire."
Fred believes that masking one^s scent is very important to the successful bowhunter.
"During the rut, I always use one of the commercial doe-in- heat scents," Fred said. "I^ll put it out on dabs of cotton around my tree stand. I^ve seen bucks come up and sniff it.
"I^ll also put fox scent on my boots to cover my scent when I^m walking to or from my stand.
"You don^t have to use commercial scents. There is a lot of natural vegetation around that will do the job. We have a weed in this area called rabbit tobacco that you can rub on your clothes to conceal your scent. I don^t know what the real name is, but it looks like tobacco.
"If you are hunting in an area where there are pine or cedar trees, you can break off branches and put the sap on your clothing. Use just about anything to cover your scent, but make sure the masking agent you are using is common in the area where you hunt. Pineapple juice might be a natural scent, but nobody grows pineapples in South Carolina. Deer have a keen sense of smell and anything foreign could cause them to alter their course, which is bad news for the bowhunter."
Fred also goes a step farther in masking his scent. On the night before he goes bowhunting he takes a bath in baking soda, which is a great absorber of odors. Many housewives have learned over the years that one of the best ways to reduce refrigerator odors is to put an open box of baking soda in the refrigerator.
Fred points out that there are several scent masking soaps on the market, but the primary ingredient is baking soda. Therefore, a budget conscious hunter can save a buck with the domestic product that might get him a buck.
Over the years, Fred has learned the feeding pattern of the deer where he hunts. He knows that in early fall the deer will be in corn and soy bean fields and has stands set up to intercept them between the bedding area and the feeding area. He also knows that after the first hard frost deer will be looking for acorns. In this part of South Carolina, deer prefer white oak and live oak acorns. During that time when deer are feeding on acorns, Fred moves away from the fields and into the woods to hunt deer. Of course, he has stands set up for this situation.
Towards the end of the season and after the acorns are gone, deer will return to the fields and start feeding on such cover crops as winter wheat and winter rye. Since these are the same fields the were planted in corn, Soya beans or some other crop when the season started, Fred has tree stands established to cover those fields.
When scouting, Fred keeps a sharp eye out for rubs and judges the size of the deer^s antlers by the size of the trees the bucks use for rubbing. If the deer uses a large sapling when there are several small saplings nearby he considers this a prime sign of a big buck.
In South Carolina, the rut starts in about the second week of October and peaks during the first week in November. During this time, he looks for scrapes and sets up stands in areas of primary scrapes. It is also a time when he attempts to call deer in with his rattling horns and grunt calls.
Fred Connor does most of his hunting from tree stands, but he has still hunted for deer with a bow. A couple of years ago, he saw several deer in a wide open field and in a little over an hour crept within shooting range of a doe.
"If the situation is right, I will stalk a deer, but the real percentages is in finding the right location and just waiting for the deer to come to you. That^s what bowhunting is all about."