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Last-Ditch Whitetails: Try This Radical Bowhunting Plan


Got an unpunched bow tag? Assemble a group over the holidays and close out the bow season in style.

by Mark Melotik

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Across most of North America we’re now down to the last few weeks of archery deer seasons, and if you’re still holding an unpunched bow tag things might be looking a little bleak. Maybe even downright desperate. Fear not.

Although I love it dearly and consider it one of my all-time favorite times to chase whitetails, the truth is bowhunting the late season is often a boom-or-bust proposition, with the “boom” part of the equation typically hovering around that 10 percent mark or so. And yes, that figure is coming from a bowhunter who is unusually optimistic by nature.

So how do you turn things around and infuse a little energy and excitement (and maybe a little warmth) into your late-season deer quest? One proven way is by following a rather unique stand-hunting strategy—first brought to my attention a few decades ago by a “think-outside-the-box” co-worker, longtime outdoor writer Jeff Murray. Murray had adapted the bowhunting strategy he called “Musical Chairs,” based on a similar plan used by his old northcountry gun-hunting clan, and he swore by its effectiveness for late-season bowhunting.winter bowhunting

Murray told me “Musical Chairs” requires two to six bowhunters, and a stretch of hunting land that, ideally, all participating hunters know more or less intimately. The basic premise of the plan is that all hunters begin their morning in treestands set up in a large circular pattern, (actually more like an oval), and then take turns climbing down and moving to another, predetermined stand/location, in an extremely orchestrated pattern. Hence the “Musical Chairs” moniker.As stated, the participating hunters take turns climbing down and making a move, and at very specific, predetermined times—so no more than one hunter is moving around at a time. And it’s important that, once down, hunters don’t rush in an attempt to “drive” deer, but rather pick along slowly, and merely “nudge” them. If all participants have knowledge of the area, stands can be set in time-honored escape routes.huntstand appAs you might guess, knowledge of the day’s forecasted winds is critical, which is where HuntStand is invaluable; if northern or southern winds are forecasted the circular pattern of stands should take on a more vertical, oval pattern, and if easterly or western winds are expected, a more horizontal oval makes most sense. Murray alleged that hunters should avoid hanging stands in, or moving through the “hole in the donut,” to encourage deer to maintain daily travel patterns.

Depending on the forecasted wind, and with opportunities for improvising when things change, Murray advised that all hunters use either the same clockwise, or counter-clockwise pattern as they make their moves. Here’s where HuntStand can provide valuable weather updates, and of course, if all participating hunters utilize a shared HuntStand Hunt Area, all will know the exact locations of all stand sites involved for maximum efficiency.

So what does this Musical Chairs strategy accomplish? Well, first and foremost, it keeps participating bowhunters in the woods (and warm!), it keeps them engaged and on their toes (literally), and if set up correctly, it keeps the local deer guessing (and moving), potentially offering opportunities lone bowhunters might never see.

Of course, nothing in the late season comes easily, and as you might guess, this strategy works best if you have extra stands set up well ahead of time. If your group is really motivated, it can also pay to have separate “circular” setups ready, which focus, say, on midday deer bedding areas, or on the area’s preferred food sources, which in bigwoods areas can mean recent slashings.

Holiday gatherings are a great time to assemble a small group of family and friends to give this plan a try, and who knows. It just might lead to a thrilling “bottom-of-the-ninth” bowhunting adventure, which results in the filling of a way-too-empty freezer—or maybe even two or three.whitetail deer in snow

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