Hunting Bad Guys and Hunting Deer: One and the Same? Part I

By Craig Dougherty

Bill hunts things for a living, and not deer, ducks or some other critter. He is a chief warrant officer three in a military special mission’s unit; a guy who “conducts military targeting” for a living. Simply, he hunts “bad guys” — you know, the guys trying to kill us. He and his team of professionals are responsible for building the tactical intelligence picture for the finest fighting force in the world, including guys such as Chris Kyle of American Sniper fame. But he would just as soon hunt deer as hunt terrorists.

For security, I’m only allowed to use Bill’s first name. We met via email this past summer when he reached out to talk deer hunting. Nothing new about that. Deer hunters reach out to me every day, but not from Afghanistan. Despite the time difference and a few thousand miles, we developed a friendship based on our mutual fascination with deer hunting. One day, we were discussing hunting the rut, scrape hunting or some other deer thing when he uttered something that got my attention: “Hunting deer and hunting bad guys have a lot in common. You find out where they sleep, where they eat and when they have sex, and you make your plan from there.” Wow. I knew I had to meet this guy. I’ve spent a 35-year career hanging out with the best deer minds on the planet, but this was something different; hunting terrorists and hunting deer. It was time to learn something new, with Bill doing most of the teaching. We agreed to hold a Special Forces deer summit when he returned to the states. My son, Neil, would help us fill in the deer blanks.

The Basics: Eating, Sleeping and Sex 

Bill started with the basics. It seems terrorists are not that different from big bucks. When they are not making war, they typically hole up in remote locations. They move only when something forces them to move. Usually, they move when they want sex or need food, and that’s when they are most vulnerable —when they leave their hiding spots and bedrooms.

Eating Never underestimate the power of food. Bad guys run on their stomachs, and so do deer. Bad guys can’t hole up forever, and food is often what brings them out. They go someplace to eat or bring in supplies. Bill and his guys know that and are always on the lookout for a hungry terrorist doing something stupid for food. One of Bill’s favorite strategies is to control the movement of food into the secure areas inhabited by bad guys — starve ’em out of their holes, so to speak. Ray Scott of the Whitetail Institute figured this out in 1988, when he discovered how food plots could change the rules of whitetail engagement. His Imperial Whitetail Clover has been the backbone of the food plot industry since. Show me a good deer hunting property and I’ll show you a property with plenty of food plots. Deer use acorns, apples and all kinds of natural foods, but nothing beats a lush food plot. A good Imperial Whitetail Clover plot can produce tons of quality forage per acre each year. It helps bring’em out of their holes. Nothing can even come close.

Sleeping Bad guys, like deer, seek safety when they hole up. Their spider holes are typically off the beaten path somewhere in the mountains. In winter, they usually stay put until the passes clear. Like an old buck, when bedded, they are almost impossible to sneak up on, and they know how to sneak out the back door. They mostly move under the cover of darkness and don’t advertise their whereabouts. They also set up their mountain holes so it’s next to impossible to surprise them. They use the surrounding terrain to alert them to an approaching enemy. Sneaking up on a spider hole holding a nest of bad guys is not recommended in the terrorist-hunting business. The same goes for killing a bedded whitetail. It takes a special hunter to kill a whitetail in its bed. We don’t recommend it. Most of a whitetail’s day is spent in its bedroom. The key to finding where whitetails bed is finding where they can bed safely. They use every sense when they bed. Ever notice how deer will bed on the lee side of a ridge? That lets them see a good distance down the ridge while sampling the prevailing wind from behind and thermals from below. One sniff of danger and they are on their feet and over the ridge. The only thing left is an empty bed. If no ridges are handy, they typically bed in the toughest cover they can find. Neil and I create bedding cover for deer so we can use it to our advantage. Knowing where they will lay up in a specific wind lets us be in the right place when they get up to feed. We bulldoze brush and hinge-cut saplings to build bedding areas where we want them. We don’t want them bedding over on Farmer Joe’s place or anywhere else where they can get into trouble. If you control (or at least know) where they bed, you are halfway there. We set up the bedding areas so we can get to our stands without telling every deer in the area the hunt is on. If you can do that much, you’re doing well. We don’t want deer to hear us, smell us or even sense us in any way.

Sex If you’re going to kill a bad guy in bed, it will probably be with his sex partner. Just ask Bill. That’s when the bad guy’s guard is likely to be down. Bill was quick to dispel the myth that terrorists are a moral bunch and only have eyes for their spouses. Like a buck in the rut, the guys he hunts will attempt to breed any willing partners. Ask any whitetail hunter when he wants to hunt, and most will say during the rut. That’s when a buck’s guard is likely to be down. Nothing makes a smart old buck do stupid things like a breedable doe. There are untold volumes written on hunting the rut, but it’s interesting to see that bad guys and big bucks make mistakes for most of the same reasons. Our favorite time to hunt the rut is just before the actual breeding, or the “hunter’s rut.” Does aren’t quite ready, and bucks are all over the place, acting stupid. This happens just before the biological rut, when a doe has actually come into estrus and will let a buck breed her. So, there you have it: eating, sleeping and sex. It’s what makes the whitetail world go around (and apparently, some other worlds, too). If you know where and what a deer eats, where he sleeps and when he’s in the mood for sex, you pretty much have him. Just ask Bill. — Editor’s note: “Part II: Beyond the Basics: What the Special Forces Can Teach Us About Hunting Deer” will appear in the next issue of Whitetail News (Volume 27, No. 2)