Pennsylvania’s Steve Dancho is a former Western hunting guide who has worked for Game & Fish Departments from Maine to Texas, and he knows what it takes to harvest a trophy animal on public land. It takes a holistic hunting approach just to get the opportunity to harvest a mature buck or bull.
“People get stuck considering one or two factors like wind direction or food source, but there are a lot more things that need to be addressed if you want to consistently kill mature animals,” he said. “I hunt a lot of public land, so one thing I consider is where the other hunters will be.”
Going deeper into the timber and working harder than others is the foundation of his plan. During his guiding days it was nothing for him to spend two weeks 20 miles deep in the Bitterroot Wilderness. so starting earlier, going farther and hunting smarter is not a problem.
When hunting public land he considers the prevailing wind, current food sources, topography, hunting traffic and more before planning. First is to identify an area with good food sources and easy access for other hunters. He identifies the parking areas, then selects funnels and saddles deer will use when pushed by the hunters.
And, he’s not just talking about early morning deer pushed by the sound and motion of the hunters moving to their spots. He also considers how the human odor they spread will influence deer movement.
“Most hunters think about wind direction,” he said. “But you also should consider the thermals. In the morning, scent rises with the temperature. In the evening thermals push scent lower as the day cools back down.”
So, in the morning deer will not only be spooked by odor when downwind from a hunter, but the ridges or benches downwind and above the hunter can be contaminated. This is a big consideration for treestand placement, but he also thinks about it when still hunting, which, as a self-described “aggressive” hunter, Dancho does a lot.
“This year was typical,” he said. “We had a great acorn year and I focused on areas with some white oak flats. On opening morning I came in from about two miles above where I knew the hunters would be and set up in a funnel. I was in the stand by 3:30 a.m. There’s one reason I love Sleeping Indian wool – I can sit in the cold, early morning darkness for hours waiting on the dawn and stay warm the whole time.”
By 9 a.m. a few does had come through, but he’d scouted the area and had trail camera pictures of some good bucks, so he hit the ground and slowly still hunted and glassing the timbered ridges. Midday he spotted a doe locked down by a spike buck, so he moved on to the next ridge up.
“Finally about 4 p.m. I spot a doe a hundred yards away – we were in the lockdown phase so I knew there’d be a buck with her – and finally he stands up and I pop him.”
We mentioned the “going farther/hunting harder” part of Dancho’s plan. It took him and a friend four hours to drag the buck more than two miles to the nearest road. There are public land bucks that die of old age because of the short cuts and lack of dedication many hunters possess, but that’s OK for Dancho. He enjoys the extra mile.