Hunting Big Bucks in Close Quarters

Posted on February 2, 2021



Although it makes for sensational reading when we learn of someone’s uncanny hunting exploits and their ability to sneak within spitting distance of an unsuspecting buck, seldom if ever is this accomplished solely on the basis of hunting prowess. – RGB



Dawn’s first light was a murky gray, diffused by fog and heavy overcast. A sea of white shrouded the vestal forest providing an open book in which to discover the coming and going of the wooded occupants, chiefly the track of a fine white-tailed buck. Melting snow from the evening’s storm rained down from every bough and tree limb. Other than the faint sounds of these annoying drippings, the woods were eerily silent. I made my way along the sidehill of an open hardwood, a location where one could see for nearly a hundred yards. This was certainly not the place where I expected to encounter a deer – years of experience had taught me that. But I was not looking for a deer per say, rather, I was searching for his imprint descending off the ridge from whence his night-time travels had occurred, likely leading into a morass of tightly grown whips, balsams, and blow downs.

And on this morning, I would not be denied as there, as fresh as a hot loaf of bread cooling on the windowsill, was a set of slots belonging to a very large buck. Had I been here five minutes prior, this hunt would have been over almost before it began. Eager as a boxed-upped beagle with the smell of rabbits in the air, I set off on the trail. As expected, the path wound down into the tightly knit labyrinth of balsams, whips, and blow downs, reducing visibility to a mere twenty yards at best.

Around one obstacle after another the trail led. With each new vista I would pause to scrutinize the least little opening. Forty-five minutes into this game of cat-and-mouse, just as I had rounded the end of a blow down, there he stood, staring back at me, and not fifteen yards distant. Only his head, neck, part of his broad shoulders and that wonderful crown of horns filled the opening. Instinctively, my gun began its elevated march toward the shoulder, safe off, but before the stock ever hit the wool of my coat, the buck gave a blow and disappeared all in a single bound.



The proverbial words of the legendary still-hunter, T.S. Van Dyke are so painfully accurate when he writes:

“These you follow…using all your care, skill, eyesight, and caution about noise, moving not over half a mile an hour, working each foot toe first through the snow so as to feel any possible stick or brush that may crack beneath it, easing off any twig that could possibly scratch on your clothes, and looking, looking, looking oh so keenly! You reap at last a common reward of honest, patient toil-a sight of two sets of long plunging jumps leading away from two fresh warm beds. The sun smiles sweetly as ever down through the bracing air; the lonely pines are as dignified and solemn as usual; the luxuriant briers embrace your trousers as fraternally as ever; and the old logs and stumps loom up around you more smiling and bigger than before. But sight or sound of venison there is none, and you are the sole being in a dreary microcosm of snow, brush, briers, stumps, logs, and dead trees.”


The Thicker, The Quicker

I am frequently asked, “Why do you hunt with pump action carbine?” My response is simple: Ninety-nine percent of my shots are in tight quarters. They are taken at under fifty yards distance, and usually at a moving target where reaction time is critical. It’s the right tool for the job.



Why do I choose to hunt in terrain where navigation requires the athleticism of a Navy SEAL, the finesse of a ballroom dancer, the vision of a great horned owl, the patience of Job and by days end makes you feel more like a corkscrew than a human being? Trust me, it is not due to an over inflated need to punish myself a little, or to go where no man has gone before. The reason lies chiefly in this one fact alone: that is where the buck spends a great deal of his daylight hours. If I’m to succeed at getting my buck I must go to him, as it is quite unlikely that he will come to me.

If you are one of those hunters that have to see out for a hundred yards or more, is prone to claustrophobia, doesn’t like to crawl, high step or hurdle, has a bent on covering a lot of ground in a short amount of time, find it necessary to prepare yourself prior to taking the shot, or are slow to evaluate and acquire your target, then this type of terrain certainly won’t fit your fancy. It can be related to jungle warfare, but the deer has no gun and won’t be shooting back at you.

Frank Forester describes it like this:



“Here there is no work for the featherbred city hunter, the curled darling of soft dames. Here the true foot, the stout arm, the keen eye and the instinctive prescience of the forester and mountaineer, are needed; here it will be seen who is, and who is not the woodsman, by the surest test of all-the only sure test-of true sportsmanship and lore in venerie, who can best set a-foot the wild deer of the hills, who bring him to bay or to soil most speedily, who ring aloud his death halloo, and bear the spoils in triumph to his shanty, to feast on the rich loin while weakly and unskilled rivals slink supperless to bed.”


Up Close and Personal

The buck’s trail wound haphazardly into his secluded domain, and once again I found myself immersed in an awful tangle where a step backward was required for every two steps of forward progress. It perplexes me even now to imagine how an animal of this size – 300 pounds on the hoof – with a set of wide-branching antlers, could penetrate the likes of this patch of woods, or would even want to for that matter. But his slots were undeniable; he was indeed here somewhere and here is where I must find the metaphoric ‘needle in the haystack’.



The stillness of the air was deathly silent, not even the hint of a fickle breeze was felt. I first found it quite odd to see the upper limbs of an immature sapling swishing back and forth thirty yards away while the rest of the native vegetation remained statuesquely still.

From behind the concealing screen of three cedar trees I strained to see what the cause of this was, but to no avail; it was just too thick. It wasn’t until I heard the pig like grunt emanating from the base of the rocking tree that I determined the culprit.

Elated, yet perplexed as to how I would be able to reach my desired prize without giving away my presence, I had a whole new set of circumstances to unravel. After careful deliberation, I opted to methodically move to my right into a sea of chest-high whips and make an attempt to silently sail through them, which would ultimately provide the least resistance and most inconspicuous path to my prey.



Each step, every breath, and all movement were now a calculated effort. Up close encounters require nerves of steel with a concentrated mental focus on the job at hand.  Just as I was about to place my toe into the abyss, the whips began to part like the Red Sea when Moses stretched forth his hands and uttered, “Behold the salvation of the Lord.” Closer the movement came and still I was not able to identify the beast. Then, at approximately ten yards distance, the buck poked his head up in the fashion of a submarine periscope breaking the water’s surface to get a visual. My sights were trained on this magnificent ten-pointer, but I held fast, not wanting to mar such a fine head by shooting him between the peekers. Feeling confident that all was secure, the buck proceeded to walk broadside to me for a few yards and once again stopped. Able to now visually pick a spot behind his muscular shoulder in which to thread a projectile without interference, I ended this high drama.


Spitting Distance

Although it makes for sensational reading when we learn of someone’s uncanny hunting exploits and their ability to sneak within spitting distance of an unsuspecting buck, seldom if ever is this accomplished solely on the basis of hunting prowess. Is it possible to get that close? Absolutely, but this accomplishment has more to do with the thickness of the terrain, quietness of the ground cover and the whitetails curiosity. Short of some atmospheric condition such as high wind, driving rain or other competing noise, a whitetail is not going to miss the sound of something approaching, regardless of how quiet you may think you are.



One of many examples of this came while I was photographing early one fall morning. Two bucks were feeding in a field within close proximity to each other and were unaware of me in my photo blind. Suddenly, they both jerked their heads up and looked in the direction of the woods-line 75 yards away. With ears cocked forward, and without moving a muscle, both of these bucks continued to stare in that direction for several moments. Although I could not see or hear anything, I too was curious as to what had their attention. After what seemed like an eternity, finally, out paraded another buck to also feed. It wasn’t until the pair had made visual contact with the new arrival before they relaxed and went back to feeding. That demonstration provided me with a real appreciation of just how sensitive a deer’s hearing is, the distance it can hear, and its ability to differentiate the kind of noises emanating from their environment.



Buck hunting in close quarters is indeed a classical exercise in freedom and a return to fundamentals that are instinctively basic and right… I personally wouldn’t have it any other way.


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Posted in: Whitetail Deer