Trophy Belt Buckle

Stokes County produces plenty of big bucks, but hunters can apply lessons learned there anywhere in North Carolina.

Craig Holt

November 01, 2012 at 7:00 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Stokes County has become a hotbed for trophy deer hunting over the past 10 years.
Stokes County has become a hotbed for trophy deer hunting over the past 10 years.
Late October and early November present something of a challenge for deer hunters.

With the peak of the rut approaching, bucks are on the move 24/7, searching for receptive does. A problem develops because, while bucks arenít stationary, hunters for the most part are glued to one spot, sitting in tree stands or ground blinds.

Stalking deer in forests and fields may have made for exciting stories in James Fennimore Cooperís Leatherstocking Tales, but anyone who has read his accounts knows they were based more on his own fanciful imagination than knowledge of deer and how to hunt them.†

Oddly, more bucks are taken during the rut than any other time, and mostly by hunters hunkered down in stands. But success often isnít as much skill as it is being in the right place at the right time when a buck comes cruising, looking for amorous does.

So a hunter who finds himself in an area that deer frequent has an excellent chance of seeing some kind of antlers, big or small, if he has the patience to sit for long periods of time.

That said, hunters can increase their chances to hit the jackpot during this magical time. Discounting luck, three characteristics probably are the most helpful in getting a chance at a large-racked deer.

Pete Georges, the game-master at Singletree Gun & Plough, a wildly mountainous 4,000-acre portion of the Sauratown Mountain Range in Stokes County, is knowledgeable beyond his years when it comes to hunting the rut. He prepares the property each season for an influx of trophy-seeking clients, and he knows heís got a good situation.

"Youíve got to be in a place that doesnít receive a lot of hunting pressure (for bucks) and is capable of supporting a healthy deer herd ó and we have that both here," said Georges. "Weíre located in the buckle of the trophy belt,"

The property is managed under Quality Deer Management principles, which means hunters are restricted from shooting young bucks, but a good number of does are removed from the property each year.

The terrain in Stokes County doesnít lend itself to typical deer hunting. Away from the softly rolling hills of the piedmont, Singletree (336-593-2155) features deep hollows, soaring hills, rocky bluffs, high ridges, streams and cliffs. Mooreís Knob rises to the south, while the Dan River snakes through Sternís land. In a real stroke of luck for hunters, Singletree shares a border with 7,000-acre Hanging Rock State Park and the 1,000-acre Hammer/Stern Wilderness Preserve, neither which allow hunting

"The park is a wildlife sanctuary and a lot of deer move back and forth between this property and the park," Georges said. "Itís also nice that Hanging Rock Park and the preserve restrict access.

"The slopes (at Singletree) are a mixture of hardwoods, pines and fir trees, so the deer and wild turkeys have plenty of natural foods, such as acorns, to eat," said Georges, who as cleared and planted nearly a dozen food plots, ranging in size from a few hundred square feet to 1 Ĺ acres.

Johannah Stern, the owner of the property, is proud of the fact she keeps non-native material out of her food plots.

"Our deer plots and fields of native grasses and wildflowers are 100-percent organic seed and farmed following sustainable practices, using no fertilizer or pesticide," she said. "The fruit trees we plant are organic, and the nut and persimmon trees are transplanted on site."

Location is the real key to hunting success in Stokes County. In this respect, whitetail hunting is a lot like fishing ó no one is going to catch a 10-pound bass in a pond the size of a goldfish enclosure. Big deer must to be present in order for hunters to harvest them, no matter how attractive the habitat.

Two physical aspects help the herd in the northern part of the county remain capable of producing big bucks. Stokesí northern border joins Patrick County, Va., long known for its magnum deer, and the Dan River meanders across the landscape. The Dan, much narrower and filled with smallmouth bass at this elevation, is a natural funnel that directs deer toward the southeast from Virginia and vice versa.

"We find some of our largest deer and a lot of great buck sign along the riverís edges," Georges said. "Itís not hard to figure out, but some of our best stands are where the river is shallow, because deer like to cross the river where the waterís not too deep."

During a walk across the property last November, Georges pointed out a scrape line that ran parallel to the river for 100 yards and trees that had been rubbed by buck antlers for years, with some of the marks 4 Ĺ feet from the ground, indicating a massive whitetail.

"Itís not unusual for bucks here to weigh more than 200 pounds," he said.

Georges had several permanent stands about 100 yards off the river where the bottomland ends and the terrain becomes steep.

"The sides of these hills also have deer trails, and itís not a bad idea to put a stand along some of the trails, especially where there are white oaks," he said.

But for pre-rut, rut and post-rut hunting, Georges said food plots are top-notch deer magnets; Singletree has them scattered across the property.

"We have planted mostly whitetail clover, winter wheat and chicory," Georges said. "You want to have does near your stands, and the food plots pull in the does, and the bucks follow them.

"So hunting food plots is a good way to see a buck, especially when a hot doe comes into one of the fields," said Georges, who said mid-mornings and evenings in November are prime times to hunt food plots.

"If a food plot catches the morning sun, thereís something about a place warming up that seems to pull in the does, especially when itís cold and after the frost gets burned off," Georges said. "Of course, itís also a good idea, too, to be back in the woods in a tree stand, a hundred yards or so from a food plot."

During the rut, bucks donít lose all their caution, he said.

"Usually, you can find a trail circling a food plot," Georges said. "Bucks will cruise those trails downwind and check to see if a hot doe is in the field.

"This is something you can do anywhere thereís a food plot. A lot of times bucks, especially older bucks, will hang back until dark before they step out into an open field. If youíre back there in a stand away from the field, you may see him."

Georges said hunters also should check where rub lines and scrape lines enter and exit fields.

"Look for rubs on one side of trees," he said. "If you find a line of trees thatíve been rubbed, sometimes that means the bucks are walking toward the field. If the rubs are on the sides of trees leading away from a field, itís where the bucks are leaving the fields."

Of course, wind direction also is a key to hunting food plots.

"You donít want to check a field or get in a stand if you know youíre between a bedding area and the field," he said. "You scent will blow toward the deer coming to the field and itíll warn them. Most of the time, youíll never see deer youíve spooked that way."

Stokes is in the Northwestern deer section as far as regulations and seasons go. Blackpowder season runs Nov. 3-16 and gun season opens Nov. 17 and runs through New Yearís Day.

"Muzzle-loader season is a really good time to hunt for bucks up here because they havenít been shot at much," Georges said. "And itís prime rut time, too."

Hunters around the state can apply lessons from experts in this county that bridges the northern Piedmont and northwestern mountains.
Rubbed trees are found all along the banks of the Dan River, but itís food plots and acorns on higher ground that really attract deer in the fall.
Checking deer tracks at a food plot.
Mid-mornings and evenings in November are prime times to hunt food plots.
 

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