The Hunting Audience: Tips for Whitetails on the River Bottom

It’s every whitetail hunter’s dream to spend their fall traveling the country, hunting deer in unique locations and employing a variety of different tactics. That’s exactly what popular YouTube channel The Hunting Public does every fall on its “Deer Tour.” This team of hunters spends almost every day outdoors from September through the post-season. They know a thing or two because they’ve seen a thing or two. To share the knowledge, we sit down with them after each stop and go into detail about what they learned from each hunt. Most of their travels focus on public land hunting (obviously), but these tips and tactics will come in handy for private land hunters as well.

For the first stop of the Deer Tour, the THP crew headed to Wyoming for a pre-season whitetail archery hunt with Aaron Warbritton at the bow. They chose the riverbed site, which provided the deer with ample bedding and diverse habitat. With these factors on their side, the next step was to find a good buck and get close, which is easier said than done. Here are three lessons they learned on their first hunt of the year.

Understand wind behavior in river bottoms

The crew arrived a few days before the season opener to explore public land. Finding adult bucks proved more difficult than expected, but they persevered and eventually found a river bottom full of canary grass and cottonwood trees hiding next to some rocky cliffs.

As they went exploring, they noticed they were pushing deer out of the ground. They struggled with light and variable winds that swirled and collected their scent into the river bottom mornings and evenings, even against the thermals.

“We’ve always started with the daily winds forecast by the weather in our favor,” says Warbritton. “But because it was light and changeable the wind might be good 80 per cent of the time but when it blows it’ll be up and down the river bottom and before you know it you’re smelling down there and deer out of the way, and as we film, that smell multiplies with each person.”

To counteract this, they decided to set up buttons on glass from a greater distance. This allowed their scent to carry, but did not hit the floors where deer were bedded. They leaned heavily on their vortex scopes morning and evening, trying to spot the movement of the deer from nearly a mile away.

They chose to scope from afar, knowing there weren’t many other hunters in the area. Through diligent glazing, they were able to learn deer patterns and movements. Without other hunters herding deer, their patterns probably wouldn’t change from day to day.

“Once you’ve found one, it’s not particularly difficult to keep track of and you’ll have it to yourself,” says Warbritton.

On the third day of the hunt, the crew decided to jump off the high pommel they were looking from and get closer. It wasn’t ideal to look through the canopy of the poplars below, so they could only see through patches in the ceiling. When the prevailing winds finally picked up, they were able to play on the river bottom without the wind blowing their scent to the deer.

Focus on mid-morning exercise

The crew learned that even in sweltering conditions, the best exercise was in the morning when the wind picked up. Deer stayed in bed after dawn, waiting for the daytime winds before heading to their noon roosting areas.

This goes against the common knowledge of most whitetail hunters, as dawn and last light movement seem to be the norm, but Warbritton has a theory as to why these riverbed whitetails took a different approach.

“I think it might be the dead silence of dawn,” he says. “They can see and hear everything around them and they are busy. When the wind blows, all of those senses are muted, making them less careful.”

The biggest souvenir? Don’t give up your hunt on calm mornings, but wait for the daytime wind to pick up. You will see more movement as deer shift their roosting areas for the day with a stable prevailing wind.

get aggressive

At some point you have to roll the dice and move in. THP

Warbritton and the crew spotted a handsome buck in the morning of the third day and followed it as far as they could until it settled on the river bottom among thick cattails and canary grass. Knowing that this buck was bedded within a 150 to 200 yard range enabled them to develop a plan for their evening hunt.

The challenge was that there was nothing to funnel the deer, they just meandered around feeding on natural grass. Upon reconnaissance the crew noticed that they preferred the stands of young poplars near the creek and when they got into these young poplars there were good bags of duvet. It wasn’t a big cover, but it was big enough to hold a deer or two.

When the evening hunt began, the daytime winds were about 15 miles per hour from the southeast, coming straight up the river. As Warbritton and cameraman Ted Zangerle descended into the ground, they flew directly downwind to the area where they last saw the buck. Their plan was to hang their tree saddle in a poplar forest overlooking the bed area, about 300 yards from where they last saw the buck.

As they neared the tree, they caught a glimpse of the buck feeding with a smaller buck where they expected it to come out of the roosting area. This gave them options.

Option A: Get up the tree with your saddles on and watch the bucks forage across the river bottom and hope for a shot.

Option B: Drop all saddle gear and try to get within reach, spot and stalk style.

If you’ve seen The Hunting Public before, you probably know which option you chose.

“We weren’t married to climbing a tree with our saddles (Option A),” says Warbritton. “Once we saw him we realized it might be possible to track him with the conditions we had. With the wind blowing straight from him to us we knew we didn’t have to worry about him picking up our scent and the wind was strong enough to drown out our ground noise as we approached.”

They dropped into a ditch and rushed to him as soon as they were out of sight. Walking on the bottom of the river made a lot of noise and crunch because of the drought, but as they predicted, the wind drowned out the noise.

Closing the gap, they surfaced at the edge of the ditch, using an old fallen tree as a back wall, and got within 70 yards of the feeding buck.

“He flew about 40 meters towards us, but I didn’t shoot,” says Warbritton. “I thought he was going to come closer, but he turned and fed back into the cattails and lay down.”

They decided to step back and glaze him from the downwind side. When the buck emerged with 20 minutes of legal light remaining, they ran back into the ditch and got a shot opportunity with 15 minutes of legal light remaining.

“If we went in with the attitude that we would have to hunt the tree, we would never have gotten a shot at it,” says Warbritton. “If it had been calm we would have had to line up and not be able to sneak up on him, but the wind allowed us to move.”

By reading the conditions on the fly, they were able to position themselves for a shooting opportunity. The wind (and the noise it made throughout the ground) played a big part in their decision to close the gap on this trestle, but another key was the ditch, which gave them enough elevation gain to get out of sight as they moved in to advise .

The lesson here is simple. Always be aware of your surroundings and conditions and take advantage of everything the landscape has to offer. There’s never going to be a “perfect” way to stalk a buck or slog your way down a gamepath, so be ready to change your game plan in the heat of the moment. Be willing to take the risk of stalking a buck when conditions are favorable, and don’t get stuck in a routine where you have the same game plan day after day. Sometimes you might make the wrong decision and be overly aggressive, but when the conditions are right, it’s better to be aggressive and give yourself a chance than to do nothing and never have a chance, says Warbritton.

Stay tuned throughout the season for more tips and tactics from the crew at The Hunting Public.

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