7 Killer Bowhunting Tactics: Waterholes

Pat Reeve has several killer ideas he looks for or puts into place for better bowhunting.

Pat Reeve has several killer ideas he looks for or puts into place for better bowhunting.

Every time my wife, Nicole, and I set up a stand in a tree or on the ground, we look for ways to make that location the best it can be. We try to enhance each stand location by making sure there are one or more calling cards available to deer.

By Pat Reeve

What is a calling card? It’s some type of object or contrivance that will entice a deer to come close to your stand and offer you a shot. Because we bowhunt so much, we have to get close. A calling card can be natural or man-made, visual or airborne — such as scent. Sometimes, one calling card is all you need. Other times, it might be smart to have several.

We always try to think about the different aspects of each situation and try to offer calling cards that fit those circumstances. Many hunters don’t think about doing extra things to enhance their stand locations. They simply find a good spot along a trail in the woods or maybe just inside the woods on the edge of a food plot, and they put up their stands and hope a big buck will come by. But if you can do something to entice a buck to come within 20 or 30 yards of your tree stand or ground blind, why not do it?

There are many examples of calling cards: waterholes, rubs, scrapes, licking branches, small interior food plots, minerals, apple trees and other fruit bear- ing trees, and decoys. Nicole and I use most of these throughout the season, and we’ve had enough success to know they work.

Even though water sources are fairly abundant in most of the places Nicole and I hunt, deer are a lot like humans. They’ll take the path of least resistance and go to the most convenient and safe spot to get a drink. On properties where we do a lot of hunting for mature bucks, we frequently build waterholes in the timber and close to bedding areas, where bucks feel comfortable coming in and getting a drink during daylight. We also like to build small, isolated water- holes in flattened areas on ridge tops.

Waterholes come in all sizes, shapes and locations, and may be man-made or natural.

Waterholes come in all sizes, shapes and locations, and may be man-made or natural.

Most hunters think you have to build a pond or wa- terhole in low areas where you have natural drainage. Not true. Most of the waterholes we build are small, scooped-out depressions about the size of a trampo- line where the rainwater and runoff can gather. These holes are shaped roughly like a cereal bowl. The edge of the bank pools and collects water and rainfall. You really don’t want a lot of runoff anyway because in times of heavy rain, runoff can easily blow out your pond and ruin it.

Using a small dozer, I like to build our ponds in flatter areas where there is no runoff. That’s one reason we like ridge tops so much. Normally, a small waterhole will collect enough rain during summer to fill up and stay full during hunting season. Some evaporation always occurs, but as the waterline recedes, deer follow the taper of the bank down to the water’s edge.

You can build a waterhole one day and have deer using it the next if you have a fresh rain. I’ve seen that happen many times. Deer love to play around waterholes and splash around in the water, much like children. Time after time, I’ve seen mature bucks use old, stagnant waterholes where the putrid-looking water has been sitting for months. Often, you’ll find a clear running creek nearby. I don’t know why deer prefer stagnant water to clean water, but they definitely do.

Through the years, Nicole and I have killed a lot of nice bucks in several states hunting over water holes, in the early season and during the rut. Deer can go without food for an indefinite period, but they can’t go without water, especially during the rut, when bucks are running themselves ragged. Bucks must have water on a regular basis or they’ll get dehydrated. Smart bucks also know that does get thirsty, too. Does tend to frequent waterholes as much as bucks do, particularly secluded little ponds located close to bedding areas.

WATCH: For even better hunting around waterholes, learn about the wind:

Bucks also like to cool down in water on warm days. I’ve seen several bucks walk into small waterholes and just stand there. With their thick winter coats, they tend to overheat quickly on unseasonably warm days. That cold water helps them cool off and rehydrate.

Several companies make waterproof liners for small ponds for landscaping. If you live in an area where the soil is too rocky or sandy to build a viable waterhole, liners work extremely well. You can also buy molded plastic pools in various shapes. One drawback to these pre-shaped pools is that deer don’t like having to step down into them. So using a waterproof liner or tarp where the angle is gradual is much preferred. If you use a liner, make sure you cover it well with soil. Also, if you have an existing waterhole of this type that starts leaking, the mineral bentonite can be put in the water and used to seal any holes. Bentonite is a natu- ral clay-like mineral that can be bought in bags and is harmless to water and wildlife.

As a rule, I’d say that on an average 100-acre farm, you should have at least two waterholes, if not three. My good friend Tom Indrebo of Bluff Country Outfitters in Buffalo County, Wis., is a master at building small, isolated waterholes. He’ll sometimes have two on the same ridge. He’s discovered from his trail camera photos that certain deer have definite preferences for going to the same waterhole day after day. There might be another small pond just over the ridge 150 yards away where other deer prefer to go for a drink.

Nicole and I try to set up multiple stands over each waterhole we hunt so that we can take advantage of various wind conditions. Having several good options is extremely important. If you haven’t already done it, build a few waterholes on your property, and make them part of your overall management program.

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from “Trophy Whitetails with Pat and Nicole Reeve: Tips and Tactics From the Driven Team,” which is available at www.shopdeerhunting.com.


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