Making Sense of Swamp Ground
There is something about water that hunters hate and whitetails love. Whitetails very well might love it because hunters hate it. I have to admit, I’m none too fond of walking through black muck and quick sand. In Pennsylvania and New York there is fewer places of vast swampland than places like Southern Michigan and Wisconsin. Cattail swamps are commonplace in those locations, and understanding how to scout them can save you a lot of time. One of the absolute best resources on this topic is Dan Infalt. Dan operates the website www.huntingbeast.com, a site dedicated to hunting highly pressured public marshes and hill country parcels. I highly reccommend checking out the information and wealth of knowledge Dan has to offer. The tactics popularized via the Hunting Beast forum and several videos on the subject, which Dan was an integral part of producing, can be put to use in any environment where these types of terrain exist. Deer use the same specific types of terrain even in different geographical locations because all deer are concerned about the same two things, survival and propagation, and the terrain features they take advantage of help them with both.
Using aerial photos you can begin to narrow down the locations which have a high probability of being used for bedding, and finding a bucks bedroom is the first step. This can help you to save time and energy in that you can begin to eliminate a fair portion of the marsh from your areas of focus.
In the attached aerial, you will see the transition line between the marsh and the timber which is outlined in green. The more mature timber indicates dryer ground and points of high ground jutting into the marsh are excellent places to hone in on when looking for buck beds. Possible buck bedding areas are indicated on the aerial photograph by red dots. While you are looking at transition lines along the marsh and the mainland, don’t forget to look for islands of high ground within the marsh. These island can be a large piece of timber which may hold multiple beds, or it could be a lone tree on a small spot of dry ground within the marsh that one lone buck bed is located under. (This area has a few examples of both.) Either way, all of these locations should be investigated.
The other thing you will want to zero in on when looking at the aerial photograph is pinch points and funnels created by changes in the terrain or vegetation. Subtle transition lines (marked in yellow on the photograph) can serve to funnel deer along or around terrain features. These can be good stand locations for the rut. A place where the swamp encroaches on the corner of an ag field can serve to pinch deer travel down to an area just 20 or 30 yards wide, easily covered by an archer in a well placed treestand during the rut. If these inside corners are off more secluded and remote fields, so much the better.
As you walk the transition line of the marsh and the timber, be aware of buck sign such as rubs and scrapes and large tracks entering or leaving the swamp. These can be indications that you are getting close to a bucks bedroom. In the off season, with snow on the ground, it is very easy to map the deer’s travel routes through the cattails and if you track a buck back to his bed, you will want to take the time to kneel in the bed and look around to determine what that buck can see, hear and smell. You will want to choose a tree that you will be able to get a stand in without being detected by a deer bedded at that location. This is where a GPS can come in handy as you can simply mark a “waypoint” and follow your path back to that location in the Fall.
You will also want to take note of the wind directions you can hunt this buck on. Determining the bucks entry and exit to the bedding location is important so you can manipulate an off wind to be able to get a shot at the animal before he enters your scent stream. A bedded buck may only move 50-100 yards in daylight, and so you need to be close to his bedding location in order to provide yourself with a chance to harvest that animal. To do this, paying close attention to details such as wind direction, how the swamp will hold heat and affect thermal activity throughout the day, or even modifying your gear to be as silent as possible is an absolute necessity. Likewise, determining your access route to your stand location is important. You may need to invest in a pair of hip boots, or in some extreme cases a kayak or canoe in order to access a piece of property from an alternative route to avoid walking through bedding areas and pushing deer deeper into the marsh.
Hunting marsh country is something that intimidated me for quite sometime. The vastness of a cattail marsh can feel overwhelming but if you begin to zero in on transition lines, points, islands and funnels you can “shrink” a large piece of marshland considerably. There is a reason why deer grow old in the marsh, and there is a reason why swamp bucks are legendary creatures.
Have you had success in marsh country? I would love to hear about the tactics you employ for scouting, locating and killing marsh bucks in your area, leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org