Get Wet to Hunt Southeastern Whitetail Deer

Tips for killing a mature whitetail deer in swamps and wetlands

The key to killing a mature whitetail deer is hunting where they live. Seems obvious, but most people avoid the places that are most likely to hold them. They set up on the fringes of cover or over food plots and hope for the best. Once in awhile someone gets lucky, but more often than not deer hunters harvest deer that are 2 1/2 years old or younger. You can be the exception if you get wet to find mature whitetails.


The southeast is filled with swamps and wetlands. When most people think of these places they picture snakes, alligators and mosquitos. None of these are any fun. Each can be deadly. With a little caution and a good bug repellent none of them will bother you. 

Alligators will usually avoid you at all cost. It would be different if you were swimming but while wading you look like a giant to them. Most of the alligators you see while hunting in swamps will be little ones, less than 7 feet. There is plenty of food for little alligators. The big ones prefer places with deeper water and more food. If they do not see you or stay put make a little noise to get their attention. If it does not leave then give it plenty of room as you wade by.

Snakes are by far the most dangerous thing in swamps and wetlands. That said there is no reason to fear them either. Ninety nine out of a hundred times the snake will leave the area before you even see it. If a snake gets close to you use your walking stick to keep it away. Do not play with snakes. Once the temperature starts to drop both snakes and alligators will disappear.

Mosquitos are the biggest headache you will find in wetlands and swamps. The movement used to swat them away will draw a deer attention directly to you. To keep them away I wear a mesh bug suit while moving. I do not like bug spray due to the smell. Once I have reached my hunting spot I turn on a Themacell. It truly works as advertised. Once it has heated up the mosquito's will be forgotten.

Getting lost or hurt is by far the most dangerous part of hunting in swamps or wetlands. On a GPS plot your vehicle or the spot that you enter the swamp. These areas get dark early and it is easy to get lost in them. Carry with you a walking stick. It will help you probe the ground in areas you can not see. It is also handy to remove cob-webs. Wade slowly. If you rush, even on dry ground, you are likely to twist your ankle or worse.

Hunt the Hot Spots

In swamps and wetlands there are little islands that the deer flock to. Try to find these dry areas and the trails that lead to them. It is best to not go onto the island as this is where the deer are bedded up. Instead find a major deer trail that has rubs along it. Set up where you can overlook the trail and a staging area on the island. Often multiple rubs will be visible along the edge of the island.

With binoculars check the islands for water oaks. Deer will stage in these areas before and after they walk through the water. Just make sure you are downwind from these areas.

Do not climb high up a tree in swamps. Often you will be able to see less once you go higher than 10 feet. Wetlands are usually different. A tall pine tree that overlooks the tall grass is your best bet. Use a climbing tree stand to get up as high as possible. That way you can look down into the grass. When you spot the grass moving strangely concentrate on the area. As a deer moves through it will make wakes.

Hunting wet areas require you to use your ears as much as your eyes. Often you will hear the splash, splash sound that deer make as they walk through water before you see them. If you have never heard deer moving through water you will be surprised at how much noise they make. Even when they are moving slow and cautious deer are loud when they walk.

While in a swamp limit your rattling and grunt calling. Sound travels along way in these quiet areas. If you do use them keep the volume down. In wetlands with alot of tall grass sound does not go as far. The problem with using calls in here is that the deer can be anywhere. If they pinpoint the noise coming from a huge blob up a tree that has never been there before you can bet all you will see is the white tail waving good bye.

After the shot

Recovery of an animal in wetlands and swamps present challenges unlike any other place. In wetlands the tall grass will prevent seeing very far. A deer with heavy blood loss will be easy enough to follow through the grass. Blood will often be high up off the ground as they make their way through the thick stuff. Many times, while blood trailing you will trip over the deer before you actually see it.

Swamp land is just the opposite. The chances are the deer will run through water. Most of the blood that falls will be in water. The trick here is to watch the direction the deer is walking. Give it plenty of time to expire before taking up the blood trail. Unless you watch it fall in sight give it a full hour. Then go to the spot of the shot. Look for sign that will tell you what kind of shot you made. This is no place to bump a wounded deer so if the evidence looks like a marginal shot (gut shot) then you need to back out for several more hours. When you are positive that the deer is dead start blood trailing it. Look for blood on trees and stumps. Mark every spot with biodegradable flagging tape. Every few steps look ahead for antler tips or a leg that might stick up out of the water. Often this will be all that is visible in the water.

Other wet areas

Small creek bottoms draw deer like magnets. They are hard to hunt though. The thick brush on each side makes it hard to get a clean shot. The best creeks for mature whitetails are the ones that have more brush and weeds than water.

Take a boat across ponds and lakes to get to areas that other hunters do not access. Get there very early. Set up on a trail. Wait for other hunters to push the deer to you. Deer will escape to the side of a lake furthest from a road. Lakes and ponds are much better if they are surrounded by cattails.

A mature southeastern whitetail deer can be hunted successfully if you go get them. Up your odds by hunting the wettest area you can find. Your hard work will be rewarded back at camp when your hunting buddies stare in envy as your trophy hangs next to their 1 1/2 year old deer. 

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Debra Brown
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Posted on Nov 6, 2009