Adapt or Die: A New Approach To Whitetail Hunting

October 22, 2021 | Will Cooper

Author: Joe Kavanaugh


Ok, I know… The title is a bit dramatic. Par for the course for anyone that knows me.

But the title couldn’t be more spot on for changing tactics in hunting and more specifically Whitetail Deer hunting. The old-time ways of hanging one stand and sitting every available night are long gone… for some of us anyways. This probably doesn’t include the people that have endless acres of food plots and box stands that are nicer than most New York City apartments, especially now! 


You said what? 

For most of us die hard hunters, who have the pleasure of hunting public ground, we need to get creative to not only out smart old bucks, but we must outsmart our fellow hunters as well.  So here we go… this is just one thing I’ve changed over the last couple years and recently it’s paid off huge. The most important thing to take away from this is to think outside the box, or just be open to a different style of hunting.

It started for me when a good buddy of mine, Neil, who is a very accomplished bow hunter, told me I needed to be open to hunting areas that didn’t have trees. I was a little taken back, “so you’re going to tell me, I can shoot big deer, but you don’t need to have the perfect tree and a brand new $400 tree stand!? All jokes aside, he was serious. He saw the way I hunted out west and that’s the way he’s killed most of his “booner” bucks, from the ground. We aren’t talking ground blinds with fancy chairs. We are talking about laying on the ground in a tuff of grass with maybe a few weeds you ripped up on the walk in.



It took me a couple years to put this plan into action, but when I did, it worked great. Minus the growing pains of getting picked off by deer because I couldn’t be still. But once I found out that I didn’t need to see a country mile and focus on the deer that were close to me, it started to work… and really changed the way I approached new areas.

One example is last fall, I had a great creek bottom, with several great stand locations. I had seen a few solid bucks but never got a great opportunity. One morning the wind was completely wrong, and part of me wanted to give it a go anyway. That’s why you spent the money on Ozonics or that’s why you wash your clothes in scent away soap, etc., crept into my mind. You get the point! BUT, I knew it wasn’t smart and I decided to glass the creek bottom from a half mile or so away. Just like a thought, several big bucks where pushing does right by my stand, most of which was down wind… I would have blown them out.

Unfortunately, the wind was going to be the same direction all day and into the evening. I didn’t feel like taking another night off from hunting… even though the truck was nice! But “you can’t kill them from the truck".  So, I conjured up a game plan which meant I was going to sit on the ground. What I didn’t consider, was the field grass was shorter than a golf course… but I had brought a few cedar limbs with me, and I walked in the grassing flats. I set up down wind of the creek bottom about 100 yards and I hoped the deer would feed out into the pasture like they have done in the morning.


My secret weapon

I did bring a secret weapon with me, since the bucks were chasing and the rut was full swing, I brought a buck and a doe decoy. Nothing special, just the folding ones. It was comical to look at once I set them up, but I just needed something to take the attention of the deer as I was drawing my bow.


Just like that

Just like I had planned a buck came out and check my decoys out and turned away… I was shocked, well not really cause my set up wasn’t great. I rattled at him, nothing… he seemed to want nothing to do with it. My hopes were about done when I caught movement with 20 minutes left of shooting light. It was that same buck and he was coming damn near directly behind me. Fortunately, he was locked into the decoys and paid me no mind, even though I was in the wide open. Once he broke the 40-yard mark, he realized those paper decoys weren’t what he thought, and he started to parallel me. At 38 yards I came to full draw, he had no clue, and his day(life) was done seconds later.


A buck to not forget with a new method!
Long story short, don't be afraid to try new things and set aside old methods.  This method may seem crazy, but it's something new that the deer may not be used to and catch them off guard.  I know it's not standard to go sit in the middle of a field, but it can pay off in the end! As you can see, I was hesitant at first, but it definitely paid off.  I now have a full freezer and a great buck on the wall.  
A BIG buck in the back of the truck calls for a cold one with the boys. 
About the Author: Joe Kavanaugh
I was fortunate that my Dad got me into hunting at an early age. I started bow hunting at the age of 12 and have been hooked ever since. I would hunt as much as possible around our house in central Minnesota . When I moved to Denver several years ago, my mindset shifted towards bow hunting and became a much bigger part of my life. Now I find myself spending more time thinking and researching hunting than I care to admit. I love early season high-country Mule Deer… But Whitetails is a close second. My next bucket list hunt is definitely getting my Dad to join me on an Elk Hunt in Colorado. My most memorable hunt was last year with my Dad. We snuck in on a bedded Mule Deer that had a couple does with him. We were able to get above them, and we both popped over the edge of the ridge. I ranged the buck at 55 yards...and my Dad smoked him. We watched the buck tip over… it was amazing and something I'll never forget!