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Whitetail Hotspots: The Southeast

This region's biggest bucks hang where many hunters never expect to find them.

There are no big bucks here," I said with surprising authority for one who had yet to hunt as Dad and I scouted the woods near our Maryland home prior to my first deer season. No sooner had I said the words, the largest buck I'd ever seen bolted at 40 yards, its mesmerizing rack gliding through the air before it disappeared so quickly I almost thought I'd imagined it. That was 1988. More than 20 years later, this near backyard-buck scenario remains common throughout the Southeast as some of the region's biggest bucks live in small, close-to-home woodlots and patches of cover where many hunters never expect to find them. Seasons would pass, yet every time I hit that stretch of woods, I'd look to where that brown-gray ghost had once stood, willing it to reappear. That heart-racing experience and those that followed certainly led to some bias over my enjoyment of hunting the Southeast.

That buck taught me one of my first lessons-never let down your guard, as deer will stand right there and let you pass, remaining unseen unless you get too close for comfort. It's a fine strategy amid ample cover. The region is packed with dense terrain and agricultural and edge areas where millions of deer thrive.

The 200-plus-yard shots of the West are rare in my treasured little stretch of states. Whether hunting in Maryland or as far south as Alabama, I'm lucky to see 100 yards, even from a treestand, either because of thick cover or my proximity to urban sprawl. My first 8-pointer was taken in a shotgun-only county in Maryland-maybe 200 yards from my 1988 "initiation buck." (I never could stray far from that area.) I had a good idea where the buck came from, but with woods so thick it was just there, 75 yards away, standing motionless and surveying the area before starting to feed on browse and what was left of the coveted fall acorns. Had it been at 76 or 77 yards, I doubt I would have seen it. I fired Dad's old 16-gauge Remington 870-with no modern rifled slug barrel, by the way, which was how all our rural buddies shotgun-hunted then.

As for tactics, treestands were a given, positioned in choice patches of woods, over fields and food plots and amid the deer-occupied farms and forests of the suburbs, providing some prime close-to-home opportunities. But I learned that while a stand could elevate me from sight, help prevent my being scented and provide vantage points over travel routes and funnels, I sometimes could see farther from the ground. So I hunted my share of ground spots, sitting against an oak tree or amongst small pine clusters surrounded by gray squirrels and the occasional woodpecker. Pine thickets, in particular, ignited both anticipation and frustration because I knew the deer were in there. If I found the right patch I could maybe catch a glimpse of a good buck, though the cover was generally too good a security blanket for the big ones to leave, at least on my daytime watch. Still-hunting stepped up the excitement, but having to stalk right on top of deer to see them was often a challenge many avoided in thicker areas. The terrain is one reason hunting deer with dogs is a centuries-old tradition in the Southeast, where a handful of states still permit it because of how early laws were written.

While the Southeast might not produce leading numbers of record-book whitetails, it offers plentiful opportunities for big-buck encounters. My own back yard, Charles County, Md., stole the limelight in November 2006 when Bill Crutchfield Jr. took the new non-typical state record 20 minutes from where my dad, brother and I were hunting. At 2681/8 Boone and Crockett inches, the buck is the largest non-typical ever taken on the East Coast and is now part of NRA's Great American Whitetail Collection of top-scoring replica trophy mounts.

While few of us get to intercept a true monster, you'll see your share of deer. Whitetail populations of 5,000-10,000 may have been the norm in the early 1900s, but thanks to modern deer management, relatively mild weather and high reproduction rates, many states have populations of 1 million or more, sending most fish-and-game agencies on a quest to stabilize their herds. This means longer hunting seasons and liberal bag limits, particularly on antlerless deer. For years, family and friends have stocked their freezers while also assisting with local "Hunters for the Hungry" efforts, a proud tradition in the Southeast.

The most obvious bonus that comes with a long season is, of course, a long season. But dig deeper-as in the Deep South-and uncover additional opportunities for hunting the rut, which typically occurs later the farther south you go. While most does in the northern part of the region are bred in November, breeding down south happens in December and January.

For something unique, hunt South Carolina, which boasts the longest season nationwide while offering the rare opportunity to take a buck in velvet. Just be prepared for hot temperatures and insects. Many areas open August 15, with some not even posting limits on antlered deer during its one-deer-a-day season.

If you just want to experience being overrun with deer while enjoying a big change of scenery, trade in the diversity of trees, streams and thickets of states like Maryland for the longleaf pine and live oak forests, plantations, crop fields and pine savannahs of Georgia. Or better yet, go to Alabama, which claims a whopping 2.8 million whitetails and allows one antlered and two antlerless deer per day. Or cross into Mississippi, where 2 million more deer await.

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1 Response to Whitetail Hotspots: The Southeast

Chris kyle wrote:
February 17, 2012

I really enjoy hunting I was married 2 years ago and my father-n-law has me hooked I really love hunting in tennessee where I'm from and reading this article has only made me more excited!