Veteran deer hunter Mark McPhail eased towards his stand during a late-season hunt when a buck suddenly appeared on the other end of his green field and stood as still as a statue. As the buck stared him down with a piercing gaze, McPhail froze a second.
“I just dropped down and crawled to the stand, and he didn’t know what I was,” McPhail said. “He saw me, but all he knew was that I wasn’t a two-legged animal/man.
“When I got that shoot house between me and the deer, I climbed into it and put my gun out and scoped him and saw that he was a taker,” McPhail said. “The buck was about 150 to 160 yards out there, and it may sound weird, but if you’re on all fours the deer don’t know you’re a human.”
As the rifle roared another trophy buck bit the dust, and McPhail had notched another kill.
Have you ever known a hunter who consistently kills good bucks every year, no matter the weather or circumstances? Mark McPhail is such a person. Year after year he brings in the big bucks, the kind most people in this part of the world only dream about. And there’s a reason for that, and it came from years of studying, hunting and learning the trophy buck’s habits.
Dead dear don’t grow antlers
“Playing detective and figuring out how to get him is what I enjoy, and it’s almost sad when you do get him because dead deer don’t grow antlers,” McPhail said. “If they don’t reach the age of maturity they’ll never reach their potential.
“My favorite hunting is from a portable stand 25 to 30 feet up a pine or boundary tree overlooking a cutover,” McPhail said. “I like to get up there 20 to 25 minutes before the break of day and then be able to scope the terrain a half to three quarters of a mile.
“When the sun comes up you can spot them at long distances, and the animal never knows you’re there,” he said. “If you can get between them and a food source, then you can get them. Hunting under these conditions is all natural and not spooky, and you can pick your spots. You can also see what kind of deer you have in there if you hunt it two to three mornings in a row without game cameras. “
Shoot houses and long lanes
“The further you are away from the deer you’ll be less likely to spook them, and if you can keep your distance from them you’ll see more and learn more about them,” McPhail said. “Nowadays I’ll spend a lot of time in my shoot houses watching deer cross lanes. If the rut is in full swing, you can catch the doe crossing the lanes with a buck in toe, and multiple lanes give you time to catch them as they pass through the next one.
“I shoot a Ruger 7MM Mag with a quality scope,” McPhail said. “I’ve used that rifle and Ruger scope mounts, and they’ve never let me down once since 1987 even when I dropped it in the Rocky Mountains.
“I never had a good scope until I started trophy hunting, but a good scope can change your hunting and last a lifetime,” McPhail said. “I bought a 3 x 12 power Swarovski, and it’s enabled me to see what’s out there in the waning minutes of the day, and sometimes I pass on deer because I can see them better.”
Another advantage of hunting long distances occurs during the rut.
“When you’re watching long distances and see lots of deer action, you can actually move closer to the action the next day if they’re crossing in one area,” McPhail said. “Sometimes all it takes is persistence, but if they’re out of range you can cut the distance down by hunting out of a portable stand closer to them.”
And on a few occasions, McPhail has had those magical rutting days when deer appear almost anywhere and everywhere.
“Have you ever had a day kind of like when you’re crappie or bass fishing and you suddenly get into them, and they’re biting like crazy?” McPhail asked. “I’ve had a few days where I had 13 to 16 bucks come by in a 20- to 25-minute period.”
Try a few of McPhail’s tips and tricks and you just might harvest a late season trophy buck yourself.
Call Mike Giles at 601-917-3898 or email email@example.com.