Whether a sika hunting rookie or veteran, the
following are a compilation of, what I think, are the
best info, hints and tips that will help you bag one of
these most worthy critters. Remember, nothing here
is “cast in stone.”
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Sika Stag, Please
When is the rut? The peak occurs around the third week in October. I like to hunt late
September and early October best as stag movement really increases then.
Canoes and Kayaks. The marshes that sika like so much are interlaced with rivers,
creeks and guts. Why not utilize a boat as they can get you into places that many hunters
can’t get to. You can cover a lot of territory and see a lot of interesting things out there
besides. This mode of travel might even help you find some great duck hunting spots as
Look for sign. Stags mark areas with wallows; the equivalent of a whitetail’s scrape.
They are normally found on islands, tumps, fingers of land that are slightly elevated above
the marshy part of their habitat. These muddy holes average one to two feet in diameter
and stink as the stags often urinate in them then wallow or roll just like bull elk do. During
the heavy rut you can often smell the stags before you see them. They also thrash and rub
bushes and pine saplings. Trails are easy to find and follow in a marsh.
Listen for bugling. This gives you great advantage in knowing where the stags like to
hang out if trophy racks are your cup of tea. The best times to listen are sunrise and
sunset especially on cold days. High temperatures tend to shut them up.
Use vocalizations. Sikas are very vocal deer and you can call in males and females
alike. In calling stags you appeal to 1) dominance and 2) sexual drive. As in this article’s
opening story, challenge a stag with a bugle and you’ll find out quickly if he thinks he’s the
baddest stag in the phrag. In hunting sikas through the years, I’ve found that you usually
can’t call a stag 300 or 400 yards across a marsh. So, you need to move to the stag’s core
area which, often times, is a thick phrag or briar bed. It’s important to be quiet and not
blow the stag out of the area. Once you get set up close to his bedroom, a challenging
bugle can get him to close the distance quickly looking to make contact with the intruding
stag. Use some “hind talk” and you may sweet-talk him in. Hinds and calves also respond
to all of the sounds. You can team up with a friend; one calling with the other out front.
Always be cognizant of wind direction when setting up. Distances can vary depending on
the weapon used.
Best time of day to hunt? Sikas like to move early in the morning and at last light.
Make sure you early and stay until legal shooting time. During the rut, however, stags are
active all day. The best stags this writer has taken have been cruising at mid day. When
out there it’s good to use a GPS or compass as those Dorchester marshes all look the
same at night and even sometimes during the day.
Make friends with Google Earth. The satellite images available now are invaluable
in helping you understand a lot about the vegetation features in the territory you are
hunting in. Small islands of vegetation, phragmites beds, openings in heavy cover and mud
flats will be very apparent.
Hunt in or near phragmites beds. You’ve seen this stuff called “phrag” or common
reed. The leaves are about 2” wide and 20” long. In August it develops multi-branched,
feathery-looking plumes at the top of a stem which grows to a height of 10’ to 12’. It
normally grows in various-size beds, often out-competing other marsh plants. It spreads
by seed dispersal as well as by a rhizome or an under –the-surface root system. These
dense beds provide travel corridors and resting cover that sikas absolutely love. Fight your
way into one of them and you’ll see what I mean. Especially during the rut, stags love to
cruise these beds in search for hinds in estrus. Find a tree/s inside a bed and you’ll surely
see deer although there are not many openings. Station yourself between two beds and
you’ve found a great spot as they move from one bed to the other.
Still hunting works. Sneaking along quietly in heavy cover can put you face to face
with them quite frequently. A subtle splash here and there along with some low-volume
vocalizations sounds quite natural and can actually draw a deer to you. Make sure to move
into the wind to avoid blowing your cover. They spend most of their lives not able to see
more than 20 yards in front of them. You can definitely use this fact to your advantage.
Extreme high tides and storms. It pays to listen to the weather report as unusually
high water levels will temporarily move sikas onto higher ground. Change your tactics and
hunt the islands and higher ground in these conditions. Frozen marshes with a lot of ice
will do the same.
Food changes in late winter. Primary food sources get in short supply as the end of
hunting season draws near. Most of the hard and soft mast is consumed. So, look for
secondary food sources as evidenced by droppings and browsing. I’ve even seen them
eating Holly’s late in the year.
They like to stick tight. Sikas seem to prefer to hide rather than jump and run. Over
the years this has proved itself many times. Once a group of us stopped to take rest. For
ten minutes we talked, quenched our thirst and munched on whatever we had. Much to
everyone’s surprise, two sikas erupted from under a myrtle bush barely five yards away
as we moved out to resume hunting. With that said, don’t pass up clumps of vegetation
and be ready.
Sika decoys??? They work the same as whitetail decoys and for the same purposes.
In the right situation, especially where the decoy can be seen for a long distance like on
the edge of a needle grass / short grass marsh, stags will trot right to them. Give it a try.
Rattling…for sikas…why not??? Male sikas are constantly establishing dominance
just like all mammals do. Sikas know exactly what that antler clattering sound is and their
curiosity to see “who’s scrapping now” often gets the best of them. The reason for this
technique is the same as rattling for whitetails.
Have fun despite the mosquitoes. Do yourself a favor and invest in a ThermaCELL.
They will keep the mosquitoes off which keeps you from making a lot of unnecessary
motion. The light smell doesn’t seem to bother them. The next best thing is a Bug Tamer
jacket. I often use both.
What about ground blinds. Don’t be afraid to use them because they work fine on
sikas. Normal precautions must be taken however. Make sure they’re scent free and you
place it downwind. Unlike with turkey hunting, it helps to have shoot- through netting
covering the openings. It also helps to brush it up and/or tuck it in some vegetation.
Driving the marshes. Using shotguns to walk and drive the marshes is a productive
method of harvesting this species.
How about scents and lures? The jury’s out on this one as I don’t think enough
hunters have experimented enough with them to give a definitive yea or nay. If they
have…no ones talking. One good sika hunter I know told me he once had sikas licking the
leaves that he had sprayed apple flavored foam on.
Foot gear. Knee or hip boots are needed depending on the water levels in your hunting
Camo. If you’re hunting from the ground then its good to match the habitat. Otherwise
being still, being scent free and playing the wind is much more important.
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