How to Fire Up Your Bear Baits

How to Fire Up Your Bear Baits

Get on location and give them the right things to eat and you’ll have bears hitting the bait in no time; here’s how.

By Bernie Barringer

I confess. I was playing a game on my phone as I sat in the treestand that early fall day. I had been glancing at my surroundings every few minutes, but really I didn’t expect to see a bear just yet. It was four hours before dark on the first day of the 2010 bear season. So the sight of a patch of black fur moving through the brush caught me a little off guard. Gulp! I swallowed hard as my adrenaline glands dumped their magic potion into my bloodstream. I reached down to tap my 14-year-old son Sterling on the shoulder.

“Bear coming!” I hissed in a half-whisper. We had only been in the stands for 40 minutes, yet Sterling was about to get an opportunity to see a bear, in the wild, up close and personal, for the first time. And his back pocket contained a bear tag. I hadn’t drawn this year; I was along for the moral support and to video anything exciting that might happen. And it was about to get really exciting!

The adrenaline surge continued as it took the bear 10 minutes of stealthy movement to close the last 20 yards to the bait. But this gave Sterling time to carefully get his bow off the hanger and in position for a shot. I recorded video as I watched through amazed eyes as my fidgety adolescent kept his cool while waiting for the right shot. His arrow flew true and the bear crashed through the brush for a short distance; then piled up within sight. Then Sterling fell apart.

Well… okay, we both fell apart. I admit, my knees were shaking as bad as his. See the video at the end of this story.

This had been a 40-minute bear hunt, and that is amazing in itself. But truthfully, this was only the culmination of doing a lot of things right over the course of several weeks. If you are going to shoot a bear over bait, you must first overcome the challenge of getting a cautious bear at the site during daylight. And that is a lot harder than most people think. A dozen years of serious bear hunting has taught me some things that have helped improve my odds. This was the third bear our family has bagged off that same bait site in the past six years. Let’s have a look at why I believe my system works.

Location, Location, Location

Bears have an amazing sense of smell and I have no doubt that they can sense a good-smelling bait from a half-mile downwind. But if you are not on location, they’ll never smell it in the first place. During the late summer and fall when we are baiting bears, the bruins have one thing on their mind… eating. They are in a state called hyperphagia which means they are gobbling up high-carbohydrate foods in order to store fat for the long winter months of inactivity. They often feed for 20 hours a day.

That means they are on their feet a lot, and travelling from place to place in their search for food. They follow terrain features like field edges, ridges and the shorelines of lakes, rivers and swamps. In more arid terrain, your bait needs to be within a mile of water. When bears are gorging themselves, they need a good long drink every day. If you choose your bait site using the prevailing wind direction, while taking into account these terrain features, you will get a bear to commit to your bait. Today’s technology has made this easier than ever. Aerial photos, such as those found on Google Earth, help you find these terrain features before you ever leave home. Forget about sign; you will not find much bear sign. Set on terrain.

Once you have determined your general location, you must move in and put your bait right on target in a more specific location. For this pinpoint accuracy, you need to take into account several things: The right tree for your stand (which needs to be comfortable too!), the proximity of heavy cover, and what I call the “Comfort Factor.” The Comfort Factor goes hand in hand with heavy cover. Bears are reluctant to cross open areas in the daylight. If you can locate the bait where they can stay in cover during their approach, they are more likely to come in during shooting hours. If you locate your bait in open timber for example, they may not be comfortable moving in on the bait until after dark. I like to pick out a place that has lots of ground cover near a large block of timber, and put my bait right in the thick stuff. This means a lot more work trimming a shooting lane to create a clear path from your treestand to the bait, but it is worth the trouble.

Calling All Bears

I hunt where there is a good deal of competition for the bears. Baiting is popular in this part of Minnesota. Plus most of my baits re near a large state forest that has a lot of hunting activity. I have found that one of the keys to success is to get the bears coming to your bait first. I am convinced that the first day or two after you put the bait out is going to make or break your hunt. Here’s an important thing to remember: The actual bait you use is secondary. Its job is to get them to come back over and over again. You have to get them there initially to be successful. For this reason, I pull out all the stops when I first put the bait out. Getting bears to visit your bait site is the biggest hurdle of all. Here are a few tips that will really get the bait fired up.

All year long I save used cooking oil, bacon grease, hamburger grease and so forth. We deep fry a lot of fish at our house and the used vegetable oil smells pretty good to a bear, especially when mixed with bacon grease. I use about a gallon of it when I first set each bait. I spice it up with Gold Rush, which smells fantastic. I splash it on trees and bushes and glug it out on the ground around the bait. The more it gets on the paws of the bears–and other animals such as coons, fox and squirrels–the better. They will track it all around, spreading the word for you.

Now I add some sweetness to the mix. I love Super Sweet Cherry Burst, it’s amazing. I have had great success with commercial bear sprays too, specifically Gold Mist and Blueberry. It really works. I spray it on the bushes where they will walk through it and get it on their fur, which will spread the word.

The Main Course

Once you overcome the difficulty of getting a bear to visit your site, you have to make them a regular. That is best done with a wide range of baits; however I start my baits with pastries. I get them from the local supermarkets and I have five deep freezers because I really stock up since I am usually running 6-8 baits for family and friends. Bears love pastries, but they need variety to keep them coming back on a regular pattern. With varying quantities, I use trail mix, candy, fruits and vegetables, and meat. I do not add the meat until the bait is getting hit every day. It spoils fast in the warm temperatures of baiting season. Spoiled meat with maggots crawling in it has little to no attraction to the bears.

I have a source for candies that is actually quite amazing. It’s a fellow that buys overruns from candy manufacturers and sells the sweets to bear hunters. He calls his business Lucky 7 Bear Bait. When I go there, I come home with some real goodies. I get trail mix by the 55-gallon barrel. I have brought home such things as 30–pound boxes of gummy bears, a steel drum of cookie dough, a drum of trail mix, a 50-pound box of candy corn… you get the idea. It all works and works well, but I can’t overstress that the variety is important. I am convinced that bears are a lot like people in that they get to the point where they have eaten so much sweet stuff that they feel kind of blah. They wouldn’t eat another piece of chocolate if you put it right in front of them. But the bait sites that have a wide range of tasty treats will hook them and hold them.

Say Cheese

Once my baits are being hit, I put Covert Scouting Camera on them to determine which bears are coming in and at what times. Be sure to secure the cameras in bear-proof boxes. These pictures are some of the most valuable information a bear baiter can have. You may find that you have a site that’s being cleaned up every day, but it is being hit by an aggressive sow with cubs which has driven the other bears off the bait. You might as well stop wasting your bait at that location. Sometimes you will find that you have a large bear that never comes to the bait in the daylight. The pictures will tell the story.

Here in Minnesota, the legal baiting period begins two to three weeks before the season opens on September 1st. By the time two weeks is up, I usually have a couple baits working really well, and hundreds of pictures of bears at them. These pictures tell me a wide range of stories about the bears visiting my sites: Both good stories and bad stories.

Trail camera pictures will also tell you what bait to hunt first, like the one Sterling and I set up on that opening day I referred to earlier. Out of six baits, I had two of what I considered “high percentage” baits that day. We chose the one we call the “beaver pond stand.” It is on the edge of an old, dried up beaver pond, and we had pictures of a bear hitting it in the daylight several times. We were anticipating the adrenaline rush that comes with baiting bears, and we got it. If you consider my suggestions and combine them with your own experience, I am sure you will soon experience an adrenaline rush of your own as you see the bruin of the forest closing in on you!

Watch Sterling’s Hunt here:

Is Ozonics the Missing Link?

Is Ozonics the Missing Link?

by Glenn Walker

My dad is old school, so naturally when I showed him the spot where I killed my buck, he was a bit surprised. “What… that doesn’t make sense, the west wind had to be at your back the entire time…”  I spent the rest of the afternoon doing something I haven’t had much chance to do, educating my dad.

More and more, advanced hunters are setting up their stands, not thinking of how they as hunters will use the wind, but rather, how will the buck use the wind? The more I hunt, read, and talk with other like-minded whitetail addicts, one thing continues to become clear- mature bucks prefer to travel with the wind quartering into their face. Old timers like my dad understand that whitetails live and die by the wind, comparing their #1 sense for survival to a human’s sight. That being said, we are also realizing that the sage advice of “sitting with the wind in your face” isn’t always the perfect solution.

Sitting with the wind at your back! Or in your ear! That’s crazy… right?! Crazy like a fox… with the help of Ozonics.

The Setup

No stand setup is ever perfect, and in fact, many are a gamble. I like to set my stands with a specific purpose. Maybe I’m looking for the right wind, temperatures, time of day, rut phase, etc… Look for a stand where you have the odds stacked in your favor, for that wise old buck to make his fatal move. The problem, this could go really wrong. The disastrous part is when the buck hears you coming in, or doesn’t walk exactly where you thought, and possibly winds you. One of my personal favorite stand setups is downwind of a thick doe bedding area, yet up above a nasty, steep drop-off to a swamp. Over the years this setup has worked well because in the right wind conditions, the bucks will scent check the bedding area from downwind, which means I am safe. But… at the same time, in the morning, with the thermal effect creating rising air off the slope, theoretically the buck can smell everything below him as well. In the evening, not a big deal, any scent I’m giving off will drop down into the uninhabitable swamp. But what if there’s deer in the swamp? Or what if he’s only showing up on my cameras in the morning? Or at night? Or…  There is so much out of the hunter’s control, now you can see where Ozonics comes in. Ozonics is the missing link in a scent free hunting plan.

Utilizing Ozonics

Scientifically proven to eliminate odors, ozone generating Ozonics can easily be utilized as soon as you step out of the truck. With the new Kinetic Backpack, your Ozonics unit can be used effectively while you quietly sneak in and out of your stand. And then, when on stand, remove the unit from the pack and place it in the tree or blind like you normally would. If you’re not already using Ozonics, or familiar with the science and their impressive results, be sure to visit their informative website at www.ozonicshunting.com to learn.

My good friend Tom Nelson, host of Cabela’s American Archer, is a loyal Ozonics disciple. Tom finds his perfect setup often by setting up a ground blind, where Ozonics is incredibly effective. “I utilize ground blinds in a lot of spots where no suitable trees are available. The trouble with ground blinds is that it is much harder to monitor the wind direction while enclosed within them. I make a point to check the wind direction every 30 minutes while hunting and adjust my Ozonics and the blind windows accordingly.” Nelson also added, “Before I even raise my bow up into my stand, or nock an arrow in my blind, I turn on my Ozonics. More than once I have had deer show up almost immediately, and had I not had the Ozonics turned on, I am sure I would have spooked the deer and ruined a good part of my hunt.

Don’t be limited this fall. Remember that the wind is the deer’s best friend, and with the help of Ozonics, you can find the perfect setup to exploit that wise old buck’s habits one last time. As always, good luck, be safe, have fun, and send us pictures of your giant buck!

Photos by Bill MCall

Face-Off: Headnet or Face Paint; Which is Better?

Face-Off: Headnet or Face Paint; Which is Better?

Each has advantages and disadvantages. If you have been using one and never considered the other, this list of pros and cons may change your mind.

By Bernie Barringer

My buddy Paul was sitting across the table from me eating dinner with his face completely covered with several colors of paint: black, brown, olive and tan. Other guys at that table started poking fun at the odd sight and Paul looked a little sheepish as he realized he had forgotten to remove the paint before sitting down to dinner.

But Paul made a pretty good comeback with some interesting statements that ring true about the importance of hiding the glow of your face from game animals. He believes that your face is often the first thing they see, so making your face blend in is just as important that any other kind of camouflage.

It got me thinking about the use of paint and a face mask and how important it is when hunting. There’s no doubt that covering your face will reduce the chances that a deer will stop and stare right at you—one of the worst case scenarios in hunting—and help us stay better concealed. Some people are advocates of painting the face and others are just as adamant that a mask of some sort is better. Let’s examine the pros and cons of each.

Painting the Face

Putting on face paint is fast and easy. Taking it off? Not so much.

Hunting in warm weather can make a facemask very uncomfortable, but some paint on the face will not be noticed. Another advantage is that it moves when you move. When you turn your head, there’s no extra movement from cloth moving, and no chance that a mask will impede your vision if you have to turn your head quickly.

Paint comes in several colors and you can choose a couple that will be a good match for the terrain you are hunting. Sitting in the shade of a tree, you can choose darker colors. When stalking in sagebrush, go with the light greens and tan. When hiding out in the shadows of a ground blind, paint your face all black.

Unless you are naturally dark skinned, your hands often give away your location, especially if they are moving. One advantage of face paint over a mask is the ability to put some on the back of your hands while you are at it.

One of the drawbacks of face paint—an area where a fabric mask has an edge–is in the area of reflection. Face paint may darken your face, but if the sun hits you just right, it cannot stop the sun from reflecting off your face, and in many cases the shiny paint makes the reflection even worse. This is especially true if the paint has been faded or partially removed by sweat. When looking for face paint, make sure you find a brand that doesn’t go on shiny, but has a dull finish to it.

Wearing a Face Mask

The biggest advantage I see in using a facemask is the ability to pull it off and be done with it. Getting the paint off your face can be pretty involved and requires a mirror, something I do not have handy in most of my hunting.

Another advantage is that a mask covers your ears and face when it’s chilly. Often I don’t want a hat pulled down over my ears to impair hearing, but one piece of fabric is just about right to cheep the frost out. Same goes for the cheeks and chin.

Another advantage is protection from bugs. Mosquitoes can be a serious problem in the early deer season or during a spring bear hunt. The mask at least partially protects the little bloodsuckers from getting to your skin. Black flies love to get behind your ears and bite you there. A facemask prevents this.

Some of the drawbacks of using a facemask include the fact that they can impair your hearing. If you choose to use a facemask, choose one of a soft fabric that doesn’t make any noise when you move your head.

Facemasks can be hot when hunting in warm weather, and some people feel a little claustrophobic when wearing one. This is multiplied when sweat is running down your cheeks. If it’s hot with no breeze at all, a facemask will not be a good choice.

Make sure your facemask doesn’t block your peripheral vision. Choose one that fits tight to the sides of your temples and doesn’t stay in place when you turn your head. If you can turn your head inside the mask, your vision will be blocked.

Here’s the biggest negative of all for bowhunters: A facemask can affect your anchor point. Most of us anchor to the side of our face in some way. I use a kisser button on the corner of my mouth. The fabric will change your anchor point and possibly be distracting at the moment of truth. I usually pull my facemask down before drawing the bow but sometimes there just isn’t time.

Hopefully this comparison will help you make a decision about which of these two options is best for you based on the conditions you are faced with when you hunt. Using either one will increase your odds of being in the deer woods undetected. I would love to hear your comments below on which you prefer.

Learn your bucks through the lens

Learn your bucks through the lens

The first two weeks of August are the first—and possibly the best—time to get a look at the deer in your area. This is when the hunting actually starts.

By Bernie Barringer

Late summer is an easy time for whitetail bucks. Food is everywhere, the hunting pressure is off, and the stress of growing antlers is winding down. Other than a few bugs and finding water every day, there’s not much for a buck to do.

Green crops, such as soybeans, clover and alfalfa are the preferred foods at this time, although deer will nibble on corn if it’s in the milk stage. Bucks that would never be caught in the daylight during the hunting season will be leisurely browsing in the fields an hour before dark. There a many things a hunter can learn from watching the deer this time of the year.

You can see some activity with binoculars, but to really get a good look at the deer and their surroundings, it’s a good idea to invest in a quality spotting scope with a window mount and a tripod. You can spend thousands on a spotting scope if you want, but a mid-priced scope such as the Nikon Prostaff series 20-60×80 will run $500-$600 and bring the deer up close for you. You will need to mount the scope solid, thus the need for the window mount when glassing a field from a high point on a road, or the tripod, when you have to walk to a vantage point and observe from a place you can conceal yourself.

Let’s take a look at some important things you can learn from watching these late summer deer in the fields.

Inventory

The first advantage you have is the ability to inventory the bucks. All bucks will not be visible every evening, but if you watch their preferred feeding area for a few days, you are most likely to get a look at the majority of the bucks in the area. This helps you understand the potential for the upcoming season. Keep in mind that bucks will move quite a bit during September, and some of your bucks will leave while others may come in, but knowing some generalities of the deer available to you will help you choose what caliber of buck you will want to hold out for come early hunting season.

Habits and entry points

It’s surprising how much knowledge about deer behavior can be had just by observing where and when the bucks enter the fields. One year I watched as a mature buck entered the alfalfa through a ditch that bisected the field. He would just appear at the point of the ditch and move cautiously out into the field whenever the wind direction allowed him to feel safe.

The following year, that buck was nowhere to be found, but a different mature buck was entering the field in exactly the same way. This pattern has been repeated through the years. Bucks have tendencies and comfort levels; they use the terrain in certain ways. Once you learn these tendencies and the points they prefer to enter the fields. You have a potential hunting spot for the opening days of the season.

Staging areas

Bigger bucks often enter the fields last. They will sometimes hang back where they can observe the deer already in the field, usually does and young bucks, through sight and smell. They will watch the body language of the deer in the open to determine the safety level of the field. The areas they hang out in I call Staging Areas. These are perfect places to hang a scouting camera. They are also excellent treestand locations for early season bowhunting.

Wind directions and Stand set-ups

Once you observe the deer for several evenings, you will notice that the bucks tend to enter the field in different places depending on wind direction and sky conditions. I have noticed that deer tend to avoid walking up a hill with the sun directly in their eyes. They will enter a field in a different location based on whether it’s overcast or sunny.

Wind direction is a key to where the deer enter the field. This is not to say that they will only move into the wind, but they will take advantage of the wind on the side of their face when they can. Evening thermals carry scent downhill, and the bucks will take advantage of that.

Having the knowledge of where the bucks tend to enter the field based on wind direction will be a huge advantage in choosing where to set your stands and which ones to hunt based on the prevailing wind directions of the day.

Behavior and Interactions

While most of the topics I have discussed to this point have the end goal of helping you shoot a buck you have spotted during August, there are advantages to glassing deer that just help us better understand the species. Watching deer and observing how they act, react and interact can be very educational.

The ways in which does interact can be very interesting. Over time, you can figure out which does are the dominant ones. One matriarchal doe is usually a leader, and often looks around more than the others; a sentry so to speak. The other does look to her for guidance.

Bucks will exhibit dominance tendencies as well. Often, when a mature buck enters the field, the other bucks will stare at him for a while. If he moves close to one of them, the subordinate buck will move off. Rarely do you see confrontations during this time, but the pecking order becomes clear if you are observant.

You can learn a lot from watching deer; the information you gather can help you understand the deer in your area much better, and it can also lead to a greater chance of shooting a nice buck in the early days of the archery season.

Walk In Whitetails

Walk In Whitetails

Gaining access to hunt can be a difficult task across much of North America these days, but programs in 25 states that open private lands to public hunting offer a place for anyone to hunt for free.

By Bernie Barringer

I came from a non-hunting family. In fact my parents wouldn’t even let me own a gun. I’m not sure if the concern was more about the gun, or about the thought of me with a gun, but at any rate, I bought a bow when I was 14 years old and it changed my life. This was the 1970’s and living in Iowa, all I had to do was ask a few farmers for permission to hunt and I had access  to more hunting land than I could possibly hunt on the limited time I had before and after school.

Those days are long gone. Today, unless a kid grows up in a hunting family, and better yet, a family with property, he’s going to have a hard time finding a place to shoot his first deer. Good deer hunting property is leased or owned for hunting, and just going out to ask for permission can still take place, but the success rate has become so low it’s not even worth trying in many areas. I hate the idea that deer hunting has become very difficult to get into for a youngster without a place to hunt.

Some areas have abundant public hunting land, but they are the exception, especially in the eastern half of the US. In many eastern and southern states, up to 95% of the land is privately owned. Many of these landowners are transplants from suburban areas who have little to no background with the outdoor lifestyle so they are not at all receptive to someone who comes knocking for permission to kill their deer.

Where are the kids going to hunt? And for many of us who do not own property, where are we going to hunt?

I have been fortunate that I have taken more than 20 out of state do-it-yourself road trip whitetail hunts in the last 15 years. I have begun to keep a careful watch on the access programs in many states that open private land to sportsmen.

My first introduction to this opportunity took place on a deer hunt in Kansas a few years ago. I was driving back to where my travel trailer was parked after a November morning hunt when a doe ran across the remote gravel road in front of me. I slammed on my brakes just in time to miss the huge buck that was following her. I grabbed my binoculars and watched them race over a hill in the tallgrass prairie. He was the kind of buck that makes your heart pound in your ears.

I spun around in the road and headed to the other side of the section to see where they might come out. But I found that they had disappeared into a brushy draw in the middle of the section. There was a white sign on the fence that stated “WIHA.” I was fully aware of the WIHA hunting lands because I had seen the pheasant and quail hunters working it with their dogs, but clearly I had been missing out on the deer hunting opportunities.

Kansas’s Walk in Hunting Access program is geared towards bird hunters, but the amount of excellent deer hunting to be found on these lands is mouth-watering. And it’s mostly overlooked. I have hunted Kansas many times since that trip, and before I go, I spend some time going over the WIHA brochure and the map of WIHA lands on the Dept. of Wildlife and Parks website.

I have since killed a nice buck on land in North Dakota designated Private Land Open to Sportsmen (PLOTS) and other states that have similar programs. Most Midwestern states now have a program that offers the landowners some compensation for allowing the public to hunt the land. In the Midwest and western whitetail states, these lands are primarily grasslands that provide bird hunting, but there are some amazing gems of deer hunting habitat on these properties and the deer hunting pressure is minimal in most cases.

In the Northeast, the programs are growing by leaps and bounds, with more and more land being enrolled each year. About half the states in the Northeastern US have a program of some sort that allows hunter access. These are not as much geared towards the shotgun toting crowd and many of these parcels offer excellent deer and turkey hunting. With so much of the East being held under private property, the public lands can be utterly overrun with hunters, yet the Voluntary Public Access lands are little known and lightly hunted in many areas.

In the Western US, these lands often fall under the heading of Block Management programs. Montana has tens of thousands of acres enrolled. Wyoming’s Private Land Public Wildlife (PLPW) is much the same. Much of the land in these two states is sagebrush with small creek bottoms running through it. You will really have to spend some time with a list of lands and aerial photos picking through these properties, but if you are diligent, you may find a gem of a property to hunt. Colorado’s Big Game Access Program (BGAC) has been off and on due to funding, but the eastern half of the state with its open prairies and center pivot irrigation systems is where most of the open land is found. If you like to spot and stalk whitetails and mule deer, this is a Mecca for doing so.

The Southeast is lagging behind in the availability of private land that’s open to public hunting. Texas and Louisiana each have a program, but none of the states to the east across the southern whitetail belt offer any program of this nature. Georgia recently received a $993,000 grant from the Federal Natural Resources Conservation Service which is intended to kick off their private land program by enrolling about 15,000 to 20,000 acres. In a part of the nation where much of the land is tied up in private ownership, timber leases where hunting is restricted, hunting clubs and urban sprawl, many more states should follow Georgia’s lead.

Most state wildlife agencies have a section of their website dedicated to these access programs, and many print brochures and in some cases maps and guidebooks to locating these lands. With the increasing number of sources for aerial photos online, in many cases you can now go to a state agency’s website look at aerial photos of each of the properties. If they do not have aerial photos included, you can go to Google Earth or Bing Maps and analyze each of these properties for likely looking habitat that might hold whitetails.

Of course there is no substitute for boots on the ground when it comes to scouting, you can eliminate the unproductive areas before hand and focus on the stuff that looks good. Chances are if it looks good, it is good, and it’s been my experience that it isn’t nearly has heavily targeted by deer hunters as the more well-known public lands.

One of the advantages, if you want to look at it that way, is that nearly all of these programs require foot traffic only. That means no motorized vehicles are allowed. I have found places a mile or more from the road that I am convinced I am the only deer hunter who sets foot in it prior to the gun season, and even then it gets little pressure. That’s partly because these places aren’t public knowledge and partly because it’s so darned hard to get a dead deer out of there. But if I find myself with a big buck on the ground, I am happy to figure out a way to get it back to the road. If that’s the worst problem I have, I will learn to live with it! I carry a large plastic sled and a two-wheeled deer cart with me, and I will use either one depending on the terrain and density of the cover.

And remember, this is private land and the landowner can make it as easy or as hard as he wants. In one case in North Dakota, I was hoofing it out of a large pasture with a stand, climbing sticks, my bow and a backpack full of gear when the landowner happened to be going by. He opened the gate when he saw me and allowed me to drive in, “just this once” to retrieve my gear. He seemed genuinely excited that I was out there trying to shoot one of those crop raiding deer.

Landowners have a lot to gain by allowing hunters on their land. Reducing crop depredation by deer is one of the reasons; this is especially true in the Midwest. In the South and East, some property owners just like the thought that a responsible hunter is keeping an eye on the place for them. And therein lies one of the biggest advantages of all for both hunters and landowners. The programs build strong communities and allow neighbors to be neighborly. These programs give hunters a chance to put on their best behavior and cast hunting in a positive light to a world that has mostly lost touch with consumptive use of wildlife.

Hunter recruitment and retention is one of the biggest challenges facing whitetail deer hunting across the US. The changing landscape of land ownership and urban sprawl has made free access more difficult than ever before. And free access to hunt is one of the cornerstones of the North American Conservation Model that has provided millions with opportunities to quality hunting that few other countries enjoy. As it becomes harder to find a place to hunt, the numbers of hunters dwindle and the urbanized culture of non-hunters and anti-hunters can make it more and more difficult to advance the model of wildlife conservation we value so much. In a day when far too many wildlife issues are decided at the ballot box rather than by biologists, the ability of new and experienced hunters to access lands to hunt is more important than it has ever been.

Fort more information, get the book, The Freelance Bowhunter: DIY strategies for the travelling whitetail hunter. The book is available for $19.99 plus $3.99 S&H or by mail; Bernie Barringer Outdoors, 9969 50th Ave, Brainerd, MN 56401.

Three Myths About Buck Rubs

Three Myths About Buck Rubs

A deer rubs his antlers on a small tree to mark his territory right? How complicated can that be? Well, here are some things that will shed new light on what rubs actually mean.

By Bernie Barringer

Outdoor writers like myself are always looking for new ideas and new things to write about. We are always analyzing what we see and trying to learn more from each nugget of bucks sign, mostly in the hopes that we can learn something which we can pass along to our readers in order to educate them and help them hunt more effectively. That’s all good.

The bad side of the coin is that we also tend to overthink and overanalyze things from time to time. In our zeal to learn more that we can write about, we sometimes read way too much into what we are seeing. I think that is true with much of what has been written in the outdoor magazines about rubs in the past 20-30 years. There are even books about how finding rubs lined up in one direction can lead you to your next big buck. Well, let’s just say that’s a stretch.

The advent of GPS collars that track the movement and activities of bucks 24/7 has added to our knowledge of deer behavior, but it has also turned some long-held beliefs into rubbish. Some of those beliefs are related to how deer make and use rubs. Here are three myths that we can put to rest.

Rubs are Territorial Markers

If bucks were patrolling a territory, making rubs to mark the edges of their range, the GPS tracking data would bear that out, but it does not. There is no evidence whatsoever that bucks even have a territory they try to protect in any way. They do have home ranges—areas where they spend the majority of their time—but they show no evidence that they try to protect that home range from other deer in any way.

That’s not to say that rubs are not forms of communication; however, because they are. When the bucks rub trees they deposit scent on them, which communicates to the other deer in the area the statement that, “I was here.” But really, not much more than that. It’s a way for deer to get to know each other better and have a feel for who is using the same areas they are using.

Velvet Shedding Rubs

Some deer authorities have surmised that different rubs at different times of the year and on different sizes of trees can be filed into certain categories, such as Velvet Shedding rubs, Signpost Rubs, even Rutting Rubs.

Possibly the most misunderstood is the belief that bucks use rubs to remove the velvet from their antlers. First, it’s important to understand that when the velvet dries, it will fall off whether they rub it on something or not. Secondly, if a buck is inclined to remove it, it wouldn’t make much sense for him to use the trunk of a small tree to remove it. Some bucks don’t seem to care much unless the velvet is hanging down impairing their vision, while others seem to aggressively work at tearing it off.

A friend once watched a full velvet whitetail walk by just out of range on September 5. He sat in a ground blind and watched that deer walk right up to a leafy bush and stick his antlers right into the brush. The buck twisted and turned the antlers in the brush, then slashed at it from side to side a few times, completely removing every trace of bloody velvet within 60 seconds.

Bucks may remove some of the velvet from their antlers by rubbing on tree trunks, but that’s not the preferred method.

Only Big Bucks Rub Big Trees

This has an element of fact in it because larger bucks do tend to rub larger trees than smaller bucks at time. But that’s about all there is to it. Biologists have theorized that one of the reasons bucks rub trees is to exercise their neck muscles for the battles that will occur during the rut. It stands to reason that a buck would choose a tree that has some flex too it so it “fights back” so to speak. Larger, stronger bucks would naturally choose thicker trees to create the exercise needed. Certainly, a tree that is really shredded was rubbed by a big buck because small bucks simply do not have the antler size and physical power to really tear up a tree the size of your wrist.

I have personally witnessed small and large bucks rub trees of any size. I have even seen them rub fenceposts and power poles that had no give at all to them. Some of these have been called signpost rubs. They can be rubbed by the biggest buck in the area one minute and then a spike the next. 

Signpost rubs are rubs that get used from year to year and are often on big trees. Seems like every deer that comes along, no matter the size, can resist giving it a stroke or two. These don’t seem to be chosen for any specific reason other than the fact that they are in a spot where a lot of deer go by. And that in itself has some value to the hunter.

So don’t read too much into what you see in a rub. In fact, if you really want to learn a lot about who is using a particular rub, put a game camera on it. Seeing is believing.

Aggressively Scouting and Hunting Public Land

Aggressively Scouting and Hunting Public Land

It’s not like being at home when you have all season to get it done. 

By Bernie Barringer

I settled into my stand before daylight with high hopes. I had arrived in Iowa the previous day with a coveted archery tag in my pocket and spent the day scouting out a large piece of public land. I had found this area in mid-afternoon and hung a stand. Within view were a dozen rubs and half that many scrapes. It looked like a natural funnel, and I planned to park myself there for the entire early-November day.

This was one of my first out-of-state road trips for whitetail, and I didn’t know it at the time, but I had made several mistakes. Now, having more than 20 of these trips under my belt, I do things a little differently.

About an hour after daylight I heard the distinct sound of two bucks fighting just over the crest of a hill to my north. I could hear the clashing and shoving clearly, they were only 100 yards away! But I never did see them; they left by another route and were unresponsive to my calling.

An hour later, a few does and a buck moved down a ridge to my west. They too ignored my pleading through the grunt tube. I began to lose confidence in my spot. Over the next few hours, what I had seen began to grind on me and soon I was on the ground checking things out. The two bucks had been fighting near what appeared to be a bedding area in a thick creek bottom. The trail on the ridge also led to that same bedding area.

I learned a hard lesson through that experience. During my day of scouting, I had been sneaking around like a cat, looking for some sign to set up on. When I found it, I set up and I was done. Over the years I have learned that this is a low-percentage way to go about killing a buck on public land. Nowadays, I want to know what’s over that hill. I want to know where the deer are bedding and feeding and what stage of the rut the deer are in. I also want to know I am in the best spot I can be. It’s a whole lot easier to park your butt in a stand and remain alert for an all-day sit if you have a high level of confidence in your spot.

Public land is different

So much of what we read nowadays and what we see on TV preaches minimal intrusion on private land, with the sanctuaries and inviolate areas that accompany well-managed hunting land. Those of us who hunt on public land do not have the same luxuries. Public land bucks are adept at patterning hunters and either move out or go nocturnal when they sense too much pressure. But how much pressure is too much? Humans use public land for everything from hunting squirrels to gathering berries and ginseng. Coon hunters run their dogs through the properties at night. Bowhunters walk regular paths to their stands morning and evenings. Bucks pattern them all and you should too. You need to avoid human activity as much as possible and to do that you need to know which areas are getting the most use.

It’s no secret that the best hunting on public land is far from the roads. That’s a given because the bucks move away from human intrusion, but they cannot totally avoid it, especially if there is no other place to go, and the does aren’t leaving. If the does are still around, the bucks won’t be far during the rut. And they have become somewhat conditioned to human scent. We have that going for us.

All these factors give us permission to learn the property intimately. You can limit your intrusion by spraying down with scent killer and keeping clean to minimize ground scent, but you cannot completely eliminate the clues to your presence. If you are going to learn the property, you will need to walk it out.

Scout aggressively

When I look at a new piece of property, I want to know as much as I can about it. I gather as much info as I can before I ever leave home. A call to a biologist or game warden can offer clues. Examining the property on Google Earth can show some potentially good areas, but you still have to burn the boot leather to learn the property.

Analyze trails and travel patterns. Where are they feeding and where are they bedding? Sometimes bedding areas can be hard to determine and you need to walk right in and bump the deer out before you find them. I hate doing that but it is part of the learning process. Once you have found it you do not need to intrude again, the bedding areas will be the same year after year, all other factors being equal. Land features that funnel deer movement will not change unless there is a significant change in landscape or food sources. The more you go back to the same properties in successive years, the less intrusive you will need to be.

Learn where the rubs and scrapes and rutting activity is found. But don’t make the same mistake I made those years ago in Iowa. Scout the surrounding area before hanging that stand. Rather than set up right over a bunch of scrapes, I have learned that it is often more successful to set up downwind of them to take advantage of the bucks that just scent-check them, or better yet, set up between the scrapes and the nearest bedding area so you increase your odds of connecting with a buck who leaves the bedding are right at last light to check his scrapes at night.

Trail Cameras are a big key to the puzzle

Trail cameras are a significant part of an aggressive hunting strategy. Photos give clues to the state of the rutting activity, the times the deer are moving, and most importantly, they allow you to take an inventory of the bucks in the area so you know what kind of potential is available to you. On one of my early road trips, I made the mistake of passing a 130-inch buck on day one when it turned out to be the biggest buck I saw all week. Heck I was in Kansas right? All the TV celebrities hold out for a 150 in Kansas right? As it turns out there wasn’t even a 140 on the property. A good trail camera inventory will really help with the decision-making process when a buck is in front of you.

If my hunt is in the early part of the season, my cameras are going to be placed on trails, but once the rutting activity starts, most of my cameras are on scrapes, although some will be left on trails in funneling areas. It is not uncommon for me to have 6-8 cameras operating on a couple hundred acres. It’s all part of an aggressive scouting and hunting strategy. I realize with all this activity, I am burning the place out within a week or so, but that’s what it takes to make it happen in a short time.

Mobile equipment

Aggressive hunt means bold moves that must be done quickly and quietly. This means light equipment that goes up and tears down easily, but there are trade-offs because comfort is important to get you through the long sits once you settle into the right location and you are there for the long haul. I will sacrifice the light weight of a smaller platform in a stand but I tend to put importance on a comfortable seat. The Hawk Kickback stand has become my favorite stand because it offers the rare combination of comfort and light weight.

Stackable sticks like the Hawk Helium sticks that nestle together and attach without any rattling noise offer a safe way to get up the tree yet they are easy to carry for long distances plus attach quickly and easily. I hate burning valuable daylight moving a stand, so the quicker I can get from tree “A” to tree “B” and get settled in, the better I like it. Under the right situation with the right tree species, a climbing stand can be the right tool for the job, but it seems most of the places I hunt don’t have the greatest trees to use a climber. When using a climber I seem to spend more time hunting for a tree and less time hunting deer.

Observation Stands and Bold Moves

On occasion, the first stand I put up is likely to be in an area where I can see a lot of activity. This may be on the edge of an open field or along a creek bottom where I can see a distance up and down the flat. This allows me to observe deer movement patterns for one or two sits, then I will pack up and move accordingly. A perfect example of this is my 2010 hunt in Iowa where I placed my stand overlooking a thick bedding area along a river on a large public area. I could see up and down the riverbank for some distance; I could also see through the open timber of the bottom in several directions.  I was well back away from the road and I sat there twice before I became convinced that my best bet was going to be a trail leading along the bottom of a steep bank about 75 yards to the east.

Here’s where a highly portable outfit comes in handy. I packed up my gear and moved my stand the 75 yards and killed a mature buck two mornings later. It seems like most road trips come to a point where you choose one spot that you decide is your best bet and you push all your chips into the middle in that one spot. Sometimes these take some very bold moves and push the envelope when it comes to wind direction and shot distance. These “all-in” stands are the kinds of places where I have killed my best bucks but they are rarely the place where I first hung my stand in that area. I have also found that once you finally settle on that one stand location that offers you the confidence you need to spend long hours there, you will find that some location to be good year after year.

Hunting aggressively on a public land DIY trip is nothing like hunting at home; using the same strategies you use when you have a long period of time to fill your tag will let you down. It’s important to keep a mindset that is totally different than you would when you have an entire season to hunt a property. You have to get it done quickly and that means moving aggressively and taking calculated risks that you wouldn’t make if you weren’t hunting under a deadline.

This coyote control package will help your deer herd

This coyote control package will help your deer herd

You know the coyotes are taking their toll on the deer on the properties you hunt. You know you should be doing something about reducing coyote numbers but if you really didn’t know where to start, here’s the perfect kit to get you going.

Serious hunters and land management experts know that maintaining a healthy deer herd is not just about food plots and waterholes.  To truly maximize your lands wild game potential, you must also manage your predator population. With their new Complete Land Management Predator Package, Dakotaline has streamlined this sometime intimidating and arduous process.  This kit has all of the tools a land manager may need to successfully manage predators on their property.

For most large predators, the foothold trap is the way to go. With a bit of bait, and a properly set trap, the coyote will walk in on a string, paying more attention to the setup than his steps, and be waiting for his moment of fate when you arrive back the next day. The Dakotaline Predator Management Package comes with everything you need to quickly and effectively set up the six included Bridger #1.75 traps.

Along with footholds, neck snares work well for large predators like for coyotes. Simply find the trail the animals are using, brush it in a bit to funnel their movement, and wait. The Dakotaline Predator Management Kit comes with everything you’ll need to run 12 neck snares.

Kris Hoffman, of Dakotaline had this to say about the package. “Whether you are dealing with coyotes, skunks, or raccoons raiding bird nests or beavers who are wreaking havoc on your trees – this Complete Land Management Predator Trapping Kit can do it all.  Use the footholds and make dirt hole sets, flat sets, and post sets for any predator and then use the snares to effectively cover trails predators are using in the area.”

The complete list of everything included in the Dakotaline Complete Land Management Predator Package follows. Valued at over $230 separately, this kit is available for only $189.95. With two instructional DVD’s and enough gear to run 18 traps, no predator will stand a chance on your property!

Included in the Dakotaline Complete Land Management Predator Package:

  • (6) #1.75 Bridger Regular Jaw Traps
  • (12) 60″ Dakotaline Versatile Snares (Good on coyotes, raccoon, beaver, and fox). These snares come with Dakotaline case hardened Lopro locks, #9 gauge swivels, support collars, and are made from 3/32″ 7 x 7 steel cable. Each snare is cleaned and dyed an earth tone black with our Dakotaline Trap & Dip. Just hammer the floating deer stop where your state requires and the snares are line-ready.
  • (12) Support Wires: Support wires have changed snaring. Years ago, trappers would look for a trail that went by a tree or a bush that they could hang their snare on. Their set locations were very limited. Now, with the advent of support wires, a trapper picks the best location on the trail, drives his support wire into the ground and hangs the snare.
  • Dirt Sifter
  • Package of 24 Pan Covers
  • Narrow Blade Trowel
  • Cold Creek 2 lb Trapline Hammer
  • (2) 1 oz lures: Drifter’s fate Predator Lure and Bold Choice Long Distance Call Lure
  • 8 oz Bottle of Red Fox Urine
  • Pint of Bait: Highway 61 Predator Bait (attractive to all predators)
  • Berkshire T-Top Driver
  • (12) Berkshire Cable Stakes
  • (12) 6 Gauge J-Hooks to connect the trap to the cable stakes
  • Redman Snare Tool: This implement is designed for you to put your support wire in the ground.
  • Instructional Snaring DVD: This 38 minute DVD that shows on the line snare instruction with lots of catches
  • Predator Trapping Problems & Solutions DVD with Slim Pedersen: Learn to trap predators from a legend! Slim has caught predators all across North America and you will see over two hours of action packed footage of coyote, bobcats, red fox and more!

This video is a great resource: Order HERE.

Find State Hunting Land Near You

Find State Hunting Land Near You

There are 50-million acres of public hunting land available to the whitetail hunter across the eastern 2/3 of the US. Learn how to find it in your area.

By Bernie Barringer

I grew up in a family without hunters, so when I became a deer hunter at age 14, I was mostly on my own in learning how to hunt and finding a place to hunt. Fortunately, growing up in small town Iowa, access to hunting land was fairly easy. A couple farmers in our church gave me permission to hunt, and I got even more land just by knocking on doors and asking. It was rare for a farmer to turn me down when I asked to hunt deer or trap raccoons.

Those days are gone. Hunter recruitment and retention is a serious problem in today’s world. The vast majority of people are growing up in urban areas with little knowledge of the outdoors as the small towns shrivel up. Large corporate farms have replaced the family farms of my childhood and habitat is sparse in much of the area I once hunted in rural Iowa.

Where are the kids going to hunt? I would hate to see hunting in the US go the way it has in Europe where it is reserved for those born into wealth and those few who are owners of hunting land. For hunting to continue to be healthy, youngsters and adults alike need a place within reach where they can hunt for free.

Fortunately, I am not the only one who has these concerns. Many state agencies have begun to address this issue in the past decade. The Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) routinely surveys state game agencies regarding trends, and one trend that has come to light is the interest in state game agencies to acquire more land for public hunting. Of the 29 states that responded to a 2015 survey, 20 reported that the amount of state-owned public hunting land had increased between 2005 and 2015. The increases are small, as land is expensive, but it all helps.

It might surprise you the states that offer the most state-owned public hunting land. Wisconsin has 7 million acres of public land, about 20 percent of the state’s land. This includes state wildlife areas and managed forest land that is open to public hunting. Florida comes in second, with 6.9 million acres, or 17 percent of the land area. Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania all offer about 4 million acres.

Not all of this land is whitetail habitat of course, but there’s enough available that most people can find a place to hunt. Other states lag sadly behind. Iowa, with its high-priced farmland for example, offers only 450,000 acres. Iowa, however has 99 counties, most of which have aggressive programs to purchase and manage lands for hunting. Much of it is targeted at pheasant and quail hunters, but there is a lot of terrific deer hunting found on these often small gems. Much of the county land in Iowa is found along rivers or prairies in parcels of 40-160 acres.

Iowa and Minnesota, like many other states, have recently implemented programs whereby private landowners can open their land to public hunting. North and South Dakota, and  Kansas have been on the leading edge of these programs. Kansas’ Walk-in Hunting Access (WIHA) program began in 1995 and now offers more than a million acres of private land where hunters can walk in and hunt. North Dakota’s Private Land Open to Sportsmen (PLOTS) program places hunters on nearly a million acres of land in a state where 93% of the property is in private ownership.

More states are seeing the value of increasing hunting access and the number of hunting licenses sold decrease. That puts the game agencies in a difficult spot when they need to increase the amount of state land while revenues are decreasing. Many states have some form of Habitat Stamp or additional fee where the revenues from these stamps are funneled directly into land acquisitions. Without these habitat fees, the amount of state land open to hunting would not be slowly increasing.

In most states, there is hunting land available, but more must be done. More land is needed within reach of a kid on a bicycle or a hunter who wants to hang a treestand and spend a few hours in the outdoors after work in the evening.

If your state agency is not working hard to increase hunting access, start putting pressure on them to do so. Programs that pay landowners to allow hunting on their property have been very successful and every state should have one. States, counties and even townships should be actively involved in acquiring good wildlife habitat when it comes up for sale. That means the funds need to be available when the opportunity presents itself, so programs should be in place for raising these funds.

States and counties should institute programs whereby landowners can get tax breaks for giving land or leaving it in their will. Above all, hunters like you and I should be actively spreading the word that more quality wildlife habitat open to hunting is needed and supporting programs that increase hunting land. The future of hunting for our children and grandchildren depend upon our efforts.

How to Succeed on a Bowhunting Road Trip

How to Succeed on a Bowhunting Road Trip

By Bernie Barringer

Ever since the advent of outdoor TV, hunters across the US have become more aware of the hunting possibilities for chasing whitetails in other states. It has become common knowledge in the past two decades that there are places where whitetail hunters see big bucks most every day that would be the buck of a lifetime in Michigan, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas or the Southeast. Midwestern states like Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri have earned a deserved reputation as destination states where hunters can go and have a chance at shooting a mature whitetail. There are some sleepers too, such as North Dakota, Tennessee, and Nebraska.

Hordes of hunters are applying to hunt these Midwestern meccas of whitetail hunting each year, but for many people, shelling out $3,500- $4,500 for a guided hunt, plus licenses and tips, is way over the top. Not even a consideration. Can a person hunt those places on a Do-it-Yourself basis? The answer is a resounding “YES!” But you better know what you are doing before you jump in the truck and head off towards Whitetail Heaven. Here are some tips that will dramatically increase your odds of success.

Know what you are getting into

Start by researching the states and familiarize yourself with their tag allocation process. It will take you three years of applying to draw a tag for the good zones in Iowa. Kansas and Illinois also have drawings for tags, but allow much more nonresident hunters so you can draw most every year in those states. States like Wisconsin, North Dakota and Missouri are still bargains with low prices tags and over-the-counter tag purchasing. Pricing varies a lot. By the time you buy two years of preference points for Iowa, the most sought after trophy state, and then purchase all the licenses and tags required, you will have about $700 invested before you ever leave the driveway. See the attached database for a huge head start in learning this part of the equation.

Do your homework

Today’s technology offers some amazing shortcuts to learning how and where to hunt. Google Earth and Bing Maps offer aerial photos of public hunting lands. The various States’ Departments of Natural Resources offer websites with lots of resources. Websites like bowhuntingroad.com offers lots of free resources and advice for the travelling hunter. Interactive forums like archerytalk.com give you a chance to ask questions of people within that state and others who have hunted there as nonresidents.

Those resources give you a great head start on finding a general area to hunt, and the aerial maps even help you narrow down specific stand sites that look good from the air, but you have to get out on the ground to really determine for sure if that is where you want to be. And that’s the final step to finding a great place to hunt… setting up in the right location.

The right spot

Once you have used all those resources and have decided where you are going to hunt, it’s time to burn the shoe leather and learn the land. You should have a checklist of places to examine and maps in your pocket. Now get out and look them over. Some public hunting areas get quite a bit of hunting pressure, but once you get a mile from the road, that pressure drops of drastically. Most hunters won’t lug a treestand that far, and they are afraid of the work of getting a big buck out. The bucks seem to know that and if you are willing to work harder than the average guy you can get away from the crowds.

Learn to travel light. Lightweight stands and equipment are important keys to reducing your workload. Don’t load down your back pack and choose light items to carry such as smaller binoculars and the Havalon line of knives which are much lighter than standard hunting knives.

Put trail cameras out to inventory the buck population so you know what you are working with. Check for rubs, scrapes and trails, and gather as much information as you can before putting your treestands out. I like to spend the first day doing more looking than sitting. I may even spend the first evening and morning in a new area just glassing or sitting in an observation stand. Later, I can sit on stand a lot longer if I have confidence that I am in the right spot. It takes time to find the exact right spot.

You will find that the first time you go to a new area, you spend more time learning, but as you continue to go back year after year, you will have a much better chance of bagging a mature buck. You have built a storehouse of knowledge about the area to draw from in your daily where-to-hunt-today decision-making process.

Cut costs where you can

One of the keys to making this work is to keep the costs down. Some motels will give you a weekly rate and often small-town motels in rural Midwestern states are pretty cheap. I like to pull a travel trailer so I have everything with me including cooking equipment.

It’s amazing how much you can cook in a motel room or camper if you think about it. A crockpot with a hot meal waiting for you at the end of a cold day is a welcome sight. Before leaving home, I freeze the entire contents of the meals in plastic containers, then pull one out in the morning and drop the whole frozen mass into the crockpot set on low heat when I leave in the morning. When the evening comes I arrive to find a hot meal ready and waiting for me. With a microwave and a toaster, you can make all kinds of meals.

Another way to cut costs if to go with a buddy who can help split the bills for motels and fuel costs. Make sure you get someone who is motivated and enthusiastic. You don’t what someone who you have to shake out of bed in the morning who will drag down your energy.

Above all, just do it. If you are happy to watch those guys killing big bucks on the Sportsman Channel, that’s fine, but if you really want to have a chance to put one on the back of your pickup truck, it is time to start researching and make it happen!

Small Suburban Property Gems

Small Suburban Property Gems

Small pockets of excellent whitetail habitat are found in nearly every community. Finding these little gems can provide excellent hunting for bucks that get little to no hunting pressure.

By Bernie Barringer

Driving through a suburban area, I was surprised to see a buck in my headlights. He was standing on the side of the road, looking for an opportunity to cross from one housing development to another, and man what a buck he was. The area was partially wooded with properties from two to five acres in size. There were small groups of unsold lots that were covered in trees with thick underbrush. It was the kind of place where a buck could grow old without fear of hunting pressure. His only worries were being hit by a car or chased by dogs.

I did some research and found that the property the buck had been leaving was owned by a real estate developer. The property bordered a small park with a walking trail. It was 15 acres he had not yet sold, and he gave me permission to hunt it over the phone. Just like that. “No one has ever asked before,” he said.

I never did shoot that particular buck but I got a lot of trail camera photos of him and two other nice bucks on the property. One of these days my hard work on that little gem of property is going to pay off. My friend Josh Runksmeier of Pequot Lakes, Minnesota had a similar thing happen to him; he located a huge buck in a large developed area with homes built in the woods, mostly on five acres pieces of real estate. His result was better than mine; he was fortunate enough to put that buck on his wall that same season.

Bucks are growing old and big in these areas where they get almost no hunting pressure. It’s a misfortune that good bucks are dying of old age. Here’s how to do your part to end it.

Walk It Out

A common theme in hunting these properties is being minimally intrusive with your presence and your scent. But I make an exception to that rule when I first acquire a piece of property. I like to cover it thoroughly and gather as much first hand information as I can. I want to know where the beds are located, how the deer are travelling the topography, what they are eating and where.

It’s a rare piece of property this small that has both a bedding and a feeding area. Usually you get one or the other, or neither. But that can be the case when you have good mast crops right on the property. When the acorns, locust pods and hazelnuts are on the ground, the bedding area and the feeding area may be all together in one place. That’s an ideal situation for a small property.

A lot of these small properties often tend to be transition areas between feeding and bedding locations. I have one that is a staging area near a crop field. The field is normally in alfalfa. It’s a great early season hunting spot because the bucks tend to hang out there for the last hour of daylight while the does move into the field.

These are all things I have learned from first exploring every inch of the property. Once you really get to know the property, you don’t have to do this again, but you do need to figure out what deer you have using the property.

The Night Shift

Many of these small woodlots surrounded by homes are a bedroom of sorts for the deer. They spend their time in the thicker areas of the property and then move out under the cover of darkness to forage in the surrounding yards. Picking up acorns off mowed lawns is something deer cannot resist, and they readily move about the properties once the lights of the homes go out. Scouting these bedding areas can be a problem, because you tend to bump the deer out into the open during the day, and that’s not good for keeping a low profile.

If you find yourself with permission to hunt one of these small properties that seems to be a bedding area, here’s an off-beat idea for scouting it out: do your prospecting at night. The deer are all out roaming the surrounding real estate, so you can freely walk through the bedding areas and mark the entry and exit trails with a GPS or by simply dropping a pin on your smartphone’s mapping app. Sneak back in during the day and hang your stands.

Take Inventory

The next thing you need to do is learn the potential. We need to find out what bucks are using the land and how often. I have found the best way to inventory the population is with game cameras monitoring trails and mineral licks. This two-pronged attack brings the deer to you with the mineral, and you go to the deer with the trail monitoring. The combination of the two assures that you get a picture of every deer on the property within a month or so.

This technique works the best if you start in the spring to early summer when the minerals are most attractive to the deer. Does and bucks alike use the mineral sites and you can watch the antlers grow throughout the summer. It is important to keep your intrusion and ground scent to a minimum. I recommend checking the cameras not more than once every two weeks, and once a month is better if you can stand to wait that long.

Keep in mind that the deer using such a small area will be in a state of flux. A buck may be nearby, but may only visit the area with the cameras a couple times a summer. Don’t be discouraged, sometimes the bucks that aren’t living on the property are easier to kill since the ones that actually spend the majority of their time on that patch of ground have the best chance to pattern you.

Don’t panic if you seem to be getting pictures of lots of does, but few bucks other than yearlings. There is nothing wrong with being in the home range of a bunch of does, because the time of the year will come when being around a lot of does is a very good thing.

Make Improvements

If you find that you have a bedding area on the property, you can make improvements to increase the attractiveness of it. Hinging trees and opening up the canopy to let more undergrowth thrive are two ways to do that, assuming you have permission to do so. Keep in mind that cutting trees can be one of the fastest ways to lose permission if the landowner doesn’t know exactly why you are doing it. Get approval in advance of making any significant changes to the property. The old saying that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission definitely does not apply here.

Another thing that I have found to be successful is making deer beds. Bucks like to lie with something at their back in an area they can have a view downwind. They don’t like to lie on sticks and pebbles so you can clean off the ground in a few areas and actually get the deer to use the specific beds you have created. Fallen logs or some of your hinge-cut trees make great backstops for self-made deer beds.

The more time you can get the deer to spend on your property the better your odds of bagging them. Improving bedding habitat is one of the best ways to do that.

Little things can make a big difference. I once had a big oak tree fall across one of the main trails on my small property during a summer storm. The deer funneled around it and eventually created a new network of trails that mostly took them off the property! By the time I realized what was going on I was losing much of my deer activity. I took a chainsaw and cut through a few limbs of that giant old tree, making a pathway through it, and soon the deer were back to their old ways.

No Trespassing

On that little 15-acre property by the park, I started getting pictures of does and small bucks right away, but I also got a picture of a kid on a mountain bike, a woman walking her dog, a guy that appeared to be mushroom hunting and another guy carrying a fishing rod. There is no question that deer living in these types of environments get somewhat acclimated to human scent but this was a little ridiculous. If I wanted to get any daylight activity from mature bucks, I needed to keep out the riffraff.

No Trespassing signs helped a little, but actually just spreading the word around the neighborhood that the land was private and entering it was against the law had the most affect. I met the woman with the dog on the road walking one day and I kindly explained to her that the land was not public land but the park was. She got the message.

Time to Hunt

Now that we have our property improved and scouted, we know it like the back of our hand. We know what bucks are using it and have a rough idea of when and where they are travelling through. We have a couple treestands up and we are ready to put an arrow in a buck. But hold on! Patience is critically important when the season opens.

The first year I hunted that new piece of property by the park, I watched as people came and went, walking through the park and sometimes on the property. I even had a trail camera stolen. One of the treestands I put up was on a heavily used trail along the top of a ridge only 60 yards from the park’s asphalt walking trail. It was obvious that the deer didn’t react with panic each time they encountered human scent; if they had they would be in a panic every day.

But I made the mistake of thinking that would allow me to get away with risks I wouldn’t take on other properties with less human activity. Looking back at that first year, the benefit of hindsight tells me that I significantly reduced my chances of bagging a mature buck by taking chances with the wind, and sneaking out to the stand after work when I really shouldn’t have been moving through the property. These deer get really good at determining if a person is out for a stroll or if they have more sinister intentions. I do not know how they know, but they seem to know.

Truth is you can wreck the fragile potential of a tiny property by making one mistake. I now have two stands on that 15 acres, one for a wind with some east to southeast to it and one for winds from the west and northwest. I don’t hunt them if the conditions are not perfect. No exceptions. One of my stands is only 100 yards from the road, but to approach it correctly, I walk all the way around through the park and enter from the opposite side. It’s about 1/3 of a mile of extra effort but one of these days it will make the difference between seeing a bobbing white tail versus a red arrow.

Small properties in the right locations can be amazing gems. You can increase your odds of getting a shot at a buck on that property by hunting it right. Tread lightly and always think of the deer activity on that property as a very fragile thing that can be broken easily. Consider this outlook each time you are drooling over a trail camera picture of a nice buck. Resolve to do it the right way; you will eventually be rewarded for your diligence.

The Successful DIY Mentality

The Successful DIY Mentality

You’re not hunting at home: The Four Parts of a Successful DIY Mentality

By Bernie Barringer

Hunting away from home presents some unique challenges. When you are hunting in your home area, you have an entire season to bag your buck and fill out your deer tags. But on a DIY road trip, you are hunting under a deadline; you have a limited amount of time to get the job done. The situation calls for an entirely different set of strategies and actions. We can break the hunt down into four separate factors that can significantly improve your chances of success.

Scout Thoroughly

Back home, you have a pretty good feel for the deer movement patterns. You know where they tend to bed and where they tend to feed and at least a general idea of how the move between the two. When you arrive at a new hunting area on a DIY hunt, you must learn as much as you can in a short period of time. The greatest mistake most hunters make is to climb into a stand too early. You may find an area that’s all torn up with rubs and scrapes or a beaten down deer trail and you can’t wait to get a treestand set up and start hunting. That can be a big mistake, because you may lack confidence in your spot. It’s a lot easier to sit all day when you have confidence in your spot, and that confidence comes only from thorough scouting.

Hunt Aggressively

Hand in hand with an exhaustive scouting is the desire to make important decisions on the fly and be very aggressive in your hunting. Back home, you would never walk right through a bedding area, but on a road trip you might need to know where the deer are bedding and what is available to you. Spray down the lower half of your body with Scent Killer to minimize your ground scent then go right in there to look it over.

Get some game cameras out and check them often so you have a good feel for the area’s potential. It’s hard to beat a game camera on a primary scrape with some fresh urine or an estrus lure. You must take calculated risks and force the issue. If you wait for the information to come to you, you may run out of time, you must go get it.

Hunt in Any Conditions

Rain or shine, you must be out there to make it happen. I have done more than 20 DIY road trip hunts in several states and it seems like it usually comes down to one or two stands where I feel like I am going to be successful if I just put in my time. Take the appropriate clothing for any conditions and gut out the tough times. Each time you hunt, you have a chance. If you are sitting in a motel waiting for the snow to stop or the wind to change, you are more than likely going to go home with an unfilled tag.

Be Mobile

Right along with hunting aggressively and hunting hard is the willingness to move quickly and adapt to changing conditions. On one hunt in Iowa, I felt like I was about 60 yards off target, so I climbed down and moved my entire set up the hill. I killed a mature buck the next morning from that tree and I would have helplessly watched him walk by if I had not moved. If you sense that you need to make a move, or feel that a wind switch may betray you, don’t wait, make your move NOW. Using equipment that is light and easy to put up and down is a real key to being mobile.

Keep these four factors in mind on your next DIY hunt and you will increase your odds of coming home with a buck in the back of the truck instead of a tag in your back pocket. For more info on DIY public land hunting, get a copy of the book The Freelance Bowhunter: DIY strategies for the travelling hunter.

10 Things you didn’t know about mosquitoes

10 Things you didn’t know about mosquitoes

Did you know that mosquitoes like beer drinkers and have a favorite color? Here are ten things I’ll bet you didn’t know.

By Bernie Barringer

Mosquitoes are some of the most annoying creatures on Earth. There are billions of them and they turn up where you least like them, which is pretty much everywhere they are found. Campers, fishermen and hunters spurn them as pests, but in some cases they can be much more than that by carrying deadly viruses. Next time you are sitting around the campfire, you can turn these pesky vermin into an interesting conversation by reciting these little-known facts about what many people jokingly refer to as their state bird.

Most mosquitoes are vegetarians. Some varieties never bite mammals at all; they prefer sugars found in plants. Of those subspecies that do bite, only the females suck your blood. They need the proteins found in blood to nurture their eggs to maturity. So only a relatively small proportion of the overall population are blood suckers. But it’s enough.

There are 3,500 varieties of mosquitoes worldwide. More than 150 have been identified in the United States. About 650 varieties have been found in Brazil. A relatively small number of these species are blood suckers.

Mosquitoes like beer drinkers. Human skin and breath emit hundreds of chemical compounds and many of them attract mosquitoes. But there’s one that has been shown to attract the pests more than any other. A study done in Africa on malaria-carrying mosquitoes found that they landed on people who drank beer far more often than on those who did not. Maybe it’s something in the blood.

They also like pregnant women. Pregnant women produce more carbon dioxide which attracts mosquitoes, plus the body temperature of pregnant women is slightly higher. This extra warmth has been shown to be an attractor.

They transmit at least five different diseases. Malaria is the most well known of mosquito-borne diseases, but cases of West Nile Virus are growing and may be the most dangerous in North America. The Zika virus is a growing threat that may overtake Malaria as the mosquitoes’ most threatening danger. Dengue fever is another disease transmitted by mosquitoes, as are yellow fever and encephalitis.

Mosquitoes hibernate. Most of the mosquitoes that survive the winter did so as eggs in the muddy bottom of some pond, but adult mosquitoes also can survive the winter if they can find a place to keep from freezing. Some caves, even in Minnesota, harbor millions of hibernating mosquitoes.

They have a favorite color. Well sort of. Studies have shown that some colors of clothing, especially black, red and dark blue, attracted more mosquitoes. Because they home in on heat, some of the colors may be attractive because they are darker and collect more heat than light colored clothing. Mosquitoes are also attracted to movement. The researchers also theorized that the mosquitoes could better sense the movement of darker colors.

They have a set of pumps in their head. The little blood suckers do their dirty deed by inserting a bundle of microneedles (the entire bundle is about the width of a human hair) into the skin. They use two tiny pumps inside their head to extract the blood through those needles.

They do not explode, sorry. Contrary to popular myth, you can’t make a mosquito explode by trapping its needle in your body. You’ve probably heard that by flexing your muscle you can keep them from pulling out and the blood just fills them up until they pop.

Nope. They have a nerve in their abdomen that triggers the pumps in their head to stop filling once their abdomen becomes engorged. Researchers were able to sever this tiny nerve in some individuals and those little suckers did overfill and explode. No doubt a satisfying moment.

You are allergic to their saliva. When they first insert their proboscis into your skin, they spit into you. Their saliva has an anticoagulant that keeps the blood from clotting while they suck it up. Compounds in this saliva trigger a release of histamine, which is part of your body’s defense system against allergies. This is what causes the swelling and itching.

The two most effective substances that repel mosquitoes are N,N-Diethyl-Meta-Toluamide, AKA DEET, and Permethrin. DEET is found in most mosquito repellent sprays, and Permethrin has been found to repel mosquitoes from clothes, tents and other fabrics even after going through the washing machine. Permethrin is also the active ingredient in the pads on a ThermaCELL, one of the most effective mosquito repellant devices available.

Now that you have a PhD in bloodsucking insect science, it may disappoint you to know there is still not much you can do about the pesky micro-critters. But at least you know more about mosquitoes than everyone else around the campfire.

Equipment for the Mobile Hunter

Equipment for the Mobile Hunter

Taking a bowhunting road trip can be intimidating. What should I take and what should I leave home? Here’s a crash course in making sure you have the right stuff and how to avoid loading the truck with things you won’t need.

By Bernie Barringer

On my first hunt to North Dakota I thought I had things pretty well dialed in before I left home. I had spent some time looking at several areas on Google Earth. I’d spoken with the biologist for one piece of state land and he confirmed that a cornfield planted in the food plot had a good number of deer using it. They intended to leave the corn in the field until spring. The area looked terrific with lots of trees and potential bedding areas near the food plot.

I was so confident when I arrived that I carried a treestand and sticks out to the food plot when I went out to scout it. There was find plenty of deer sign around the food plot, but there wasn’t a tree in sight that I could hang my stand in. There were small trees, crooked trees, tall skinny trees and cottonwoods too big to get my stick’s straps around. I had to carry all that stuff the ¾-mile back to the truck and start over.

I’ve seen similar situations in the western whitetail states too. The equipment that works perfectly in the hardwood forests I had hunted previously was mostly useless in that habitat.

Stands, Sticks, Ladders, Terrain and Trees

Hunting the way I do, long walks with quite a bit of equipment are the norm. There are places where a climbing stand is the perfect tool for the job to move in on a deer and get up quickly. But if you take a climbing stand on a hunt to North Dakota, Montana or Nebraska, you’ll most likely never take it out of the truck. You will need a ground blind and some ladder stands. I have learned that the equipment I take needs to match the hunting style and the terrain.

Throughout most of the hunting situations you’ll face, a climbing stand will have some use but I primarily use a hang-on stand and portable climbing sticks. I prefer the stackable sticks like the Hawk Helium models because they are stackable, lighter and much easier to carry through the woods.

There are trade-offs between comfort and weight. I tend to spend long hours in stands and I lean towards comfort over weight. It takes maybe an hour to walk the stand in to the site, in which I am working harder with a heavier stand, but I may sit in that stand 20-30 hours or more over the course of the hunt. I’ll opt for the hours of comfort every time. A comfortable stand helps me stay silent, motionless and focused.

Ground Blinds

I can’t remember the last time I went on a hunt without a ground blind in the truck and I use it quite a bit. Ground blinds do present some issues that must be overcome. Whitetails are notoriously fidgety around anything that just shows up in their living room. I try hard to hide the blind in some sort of cover, or even place it beside some piece of farm machinery or bush, or maybe tuck it between a couple cedars. Then brush it in well with natural vegetation to blend it in.

There are times and places where a blind is the only option you have. Once you put it out, leave it out. The more times the deer see it the sooner they will start to ignore it.

Inside my ground blind I have three important things that make a difference for me. The first is something to hold my bow in position so I can grab it quickly.

The second is a comfortable chair. Give me a good chair in which I can sit up high and straight. Stay away from those short, triangular torture chairs. I have a chair with a little table which folds out of the side of it, which leads me to the third important thing.

You need a place with

Ameristep Supernatural blind

in reach to put some important tools and gadgets. During the day I am using my phone, a rangefinder, a book, etc. In each case, you need a place within reach where you can quietly and quickly lay these things down to get ready for a shot. That little table attached to the side of my chair works perfectly for this.

How Many Stands Do You Need?

During a week-long hunt I will have an average of three stands in the woods at any given time. I’ve had as many as five but that’s rare and in fact, I usually only take 4-5 stands with me. The type of stands I have in the truck depend on the terrain and trees as I mentioned earlier. Heading to North Dakota or Montana, I’ll probably have two ladders, a hang-on and two ground blinds. Where hardwoods dominate the habitat, such as Iowa, Kansas, Ohio or Missouri, I will usually have four hang-ons, a climber and a ground blind.

Once you put your tag on that deer, you now have to gather up all your gear. It’s a good idea to keep that thought in mind as you spread your gear across the landscape. When I get my buck I am usually in a hurry to leave. It might be because I am more than ready to get home to my family, or it might be that I really want to get to the next state because the rut is in full swing. Either way, while I am putting gear in the woods, the thought of how fast I can get it out is on my mind.

Accessories

I used to take both a doe decoy and a buck decoy along but now I save space and I mostly only use the buck. I have not had many positive experiences using a doe decoy alone, in fact I have probably had more negative reactions to the doe decoy than positive. However, I use a buck decoy quite a bit and I’m learning more and more all the time how to use it properly. I’ve carried that thing back into some pretty inaccessible spots and I will continue to do so.

You’ll need to have some method of getting the deer out. In the back of my truck I usually have a 2-wheeled deer cart and a plastic sled. Lately I have fallen in love with the Crawler deer cart and I use it more and more.

Storing and Accessing Your Equipment

Sometimes when I get home from a hunting trip, it looks like someone swallowed the hunting department at a Cabela’s and puked it up in the back of my truck. It never starts out that way, but it seems to end up that way.

Since I carry a lot of gear, I like to load it into totes based on how it will be used. Treestand stuff goes in one tote; that includes things like hooks, bow hangers, camera arms, extra straps, etc. I label the tote “STANDS.”  Things like scents and lures, Scent Killer spray, scrape drippers and the like go into another tote labeled “SCENTS.” Another is labeled “TRAIL CAMERAS.” It includes cameras, extra batteries, security boxes, padlocks and the like.

Meat processing equipment goes in yet another labeled tote. This includes knives, wrapping paper, tape, extra gutting gloves, bone saw, a cutting board, markers, etc. This usually goes into the front of the truck bed with the coolers because I won’t need it every day.

Another tote includes cold weather gear such as extra gloves and hats, full face mask, balaclava, etc. I may or may not use the contents of that tote depending on the weather but I like to have it along in case the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Clothing

Today’s weather forecasts are much more accurate than ever before, but the forecasters can still get it wrong. I tend to over-pack clothing and usually that’s a good thing. During a couple weeks time in 2-3 states, you might be sitting in a treestand in temperatures from 20-70 degrees. That takes a wide variety of clothing. I tend to take things I can layer, which helps. I also try to wear different clothing for scouting and checking trail cameras whenever practical because I can work up a sweat while hustling around doing these walks.

It’s hard to overstate the value of a good set of quality rain gear. I have yet to find a set of rain gear that will keep me dry all day during a steady rain, but some of the better ones come close. I have two sets of merino wool base layers.

On long trips, doing laundry might be necessary. I carry some Scent Killer laundry detergent with me and use it to wash clothes in a Laundromat if needed. I hate going to town to do laundry when I could be doing other, seemingly more productive hunting-related tasks, but keeping clean and keeping my scent and body odor to a minimum is important to me so I tend to wash clothes more than some people might.

I carry three pairs of boots. Two are rubber boots, one without insulation and one with 1200 grams of Thinsulate for cold weather. I also use a pair of good leather hiking boots which I wear to and from the hunts and also at times when I have long walks that won’t involve any water crossing.

This article is condensed from one chapter in Bernie Barringer’s revealing book The Freelance Bowhunter: DIY strategies for the traveling whitetail hunter. The book can be purchased for $19.99 plus $3.99 S&H at www.bernieoutdoors.com or by sending a check to Bernie Barringer Outdoors, 9969 50th Ave, Brainerd, MN 56401.

 

What’s in Your Backpack?

There are a few things that I would never want to do without on a trip. One of them is a backpack with a few necessary items. Some of these I use every day and some of them are there for emergencies. The things I use most every day are deer call, rattling antlers, wind puffer bottle, gloves, warm hat, flashlight, headlight, binoculars and rangefinder. Other things that may come in handy also have a place in my pack such as toilet paper and wet wipes, a lighter or fire starter, deer scents, flagging tape, GPS, hand-warmers, gutting gloves, field dressing knife and extra SD cards for trail cameras. I tuck a plastic garbage bag into the corner of the pack somewhere so I can pull it out and use it to cover the pack if it starts to rain.

I never leave the truck without a camera. I take a lot of photos and I video my hunts whenever it is practical to do so. I’m sure you can see that my backpack is pretty full most of the time. I also like a backpack with straps on the back so I can attach a coat or a set of bib overalls to put on once I get to the stand.

 

Bowfishing Basics: Spring and Summer Fun

Bowfishing Basics: Spring and Summer Fun

By Bernie Barringer

Bowfishing equipment has evolved a lot since I started trying it out 40 years ago. There is some high-tec stuff out there, believe me. My favorite bowfishing set-up features a Ben Pearson recurve that I got out of the “Free” box at a garage sale. No kidding.

That’s one of the things that makes bowfishing so great: you can make it as simple or as complicated as you want, and anyone can easily get started in bowfishing. The shots are close; rarely over 25 feet, and a bow of just about any draw length or poundage will do.

You need to be stealthy, to choose locations carefully, and you need to be a good shot. And being a good shot is not as easy as it sounds. It takes beginning bowfishers a while to get used to the fact that you have to “shoot where they ain’t.” Because of the refraction as the light enters the water, fish appear to be a lot nearer the surface than they actually are. So when you see a carp cruising the shallows, you must aim well below it, if your arrow is to hit its mark.

Getting Started

My 45-pound recurve has been the perfect bow for me. Compound bows work too, but because of the let-off, they have to be drawn all the way back to shoot. This is a disadvantage because shots are often quick and with little warning. The advantage of a recurve, or one of the wheel-bows made for bowfishing without a let-off, is that you can draw and shoot much more quickly.

Arrows should be solid fiberglass, which gives them the sturdiness they need to take a pounding (they hit bottom a lot) and the extra weight gives them the kinetic energy they need to penetrate the water and then the fish. There are several different bowfishing tip designs, but they all have one primary feature: some sort of prongs to keep them from pulling back out of the fish; prongs which can be reversed so you can remove the fish from the arrow once you get it reeled in.

Reels are equally diverse. I started with a simple spool on which I hand-wound the line, and now I have a reel with a small crank that pulls all the line into a plastic jar. This set-up really works slick. My son Dawson uses a modified fishing reel that attaches to a mount on his bow. The simple spool reels are around $20 and the one I use is over $100, and there are good options at price points in between. All work, it just depends on how much you are willing to spend for convenience.

Where to find the fish

Many species of fish are legal to shoot with a bow. Carp, bowfin (also called dogfish), gar, buffalo and drum are among the most common. My experience is primarily with the common carp, since they are most abundant in Iowa and Minnesota where I have done most of my bowfishing. Plus, it is some of the best fish I have found to attract mink and raccoon to trap sets. You can have some success all year long, if you find yourself in the right place and the right time. But if you want consistent action, it takes place in the spring and early summer.

When the water warms up in late spring, carp move shallow to spawn. In most areas, this takes place when the water gets close to 70 degrees. In the upper Midwest, that’s usually late April to May.  Here in northern Minnesota, it may be later, and we had some fantastic carp shooting at Lake Manitoba in Canada during the first week of June while on a spring bear hunt. These carp may remain shallow where they are vulnerable to bowfishing for almost a month, but the best action will be in a window of opportunity of two weeks or less. When you hit it right, the action can be furious. The best spots are where you find the warmest water.

During summer, carp are again found in shallow, warm water where they slurp plants off the surface and cruise around looking for insects and dead baitfish to eat. Thus, you have a second window of opportunity. You are often shooting at their heads, which might be the only thing visible above muddy water. I also have seen pods of carp cruising the shallow bays of clear-water lakes during mid-summer, and have enjoyed good shooting under those conditions.

Typically, I shoot from the front of a boat with an electric trolling motor quietly pulling me through the shallows. However, I also have had a ball shooting while slowly walking the back bays where the water is warm. The carp are often lying just below the surface, sunning themselves, but they are extremely spooky, and you have to use a stealthy approach. Shots will generally be short. A 10-yard shot is a very long shot in bowfishing; the majority will be more like 15 feet. It takes some time to get good at hitting a target that close. Most bowhunters do not practice 10-foot shots, but it is a good idea to do so before you go after carp.

I cannot stress too much that the refraction of the light on the water makes the target look closer to the surface than it actually is, so you have to shoot below them to hit them. This is one thing that has to become second nature, and you will miss a few fish until you get on to it. My son Dawson missed his first nine shots one day before getting it dialed in. Then he figured it out and hit his next five in a row!

Carp shooting is so much fun that it has become a sport in itself for our family, and the fact that we are out getting trapping bait is a nice bonus. For us, the sport has two objectives: fun and fur. Give it a try, and see if you don’t get hooked like we did!

Win The Hunt Of A Lifetime in the Pope And Young Club

Win The Hunt Of A Lifetime in the Pope And Young Club

2017 Conservation Hunt-Drawing

Chatfield, MN – The Pope and Young Club is offering two exciting hunting adventures as part of the 2017 Pope and Young Club Conservation Hunt-Drawing. 100% of the funds raised through donations for hunt-draw tickets, will go directly to Pope and Young Club Conservation, Education and Outreach Programs. You could win the hunt of a lifetime while supporting the sport of bowhunting and our wonderful wildlife resources.

First Prize – 10-Day Trophy Yukon Moose Hunt with World-Renowned MacMillan River Adventures (Valued at $19,000!). Hunt 2.5 million acres of incredible wilderness country with one of North America’s most premier moose outfitters. Experience the hunt of a lifetime in a region with the highest density of Alaska-Yukon moose. This outfitter uses more than 20 established horse and boat camps in order to maintain versatility and peak hunting success.

Learn more at www.yukonhuntingoutfitters.com

Second Prize – 6-Day Trophy Archery Elk Hunt on Jack Creek Preserve (Valued at $6,000).

Experience some of the finest elk hunting this continent has to offer. Bordering the massive, remote 249,000-acre Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area, the Jack Creek Preserve ensures quality, unpressured hunting action. Best yet, this hunt is a do-it-yourself bowhunter’s dream that includes cabin facilities for comfortable, easy access to prime hunting areas. Transportation, food and license are the hunter’s responsibility. You must draw a permit to hunt this area, but the drawing success is usually 100-percent. Learn more at www.JackCreekPreserve.org

Tickets: $20 donation each or book of 6 for $100 donation.

To order, send check or money order to:             Pope and Young Club, 8742 County Rd. 414, Hannibal, MO 63401

Deadline to mail in ticket stub(s) is June 30, 2017. Drawing held July 15th, 2017. Void where prohibited by law. Need not be present to win. U.S. or Canadian funds accepted. Must be 18 years of age or older to purchase. Winners responsible for any applicable fees or taxes.

All proceeds used to support wildlife conservation, education and pro-bowhunting projects through the Conservation, Education, and Outreach Programs of the Pope and Young Club.

The Pope and Young Club is a non-profit North American conservation and bowhunting organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of bowhunting by striving to increase awareness and appreciation of bowhunting foundations, principles and values. The Pope and Young Club is focused on Fair Chase hunting ethics that support the ethical pursuit of free ranging, wild game animals without unfair advantage while promoting the conservation of both habitat and wildlife. The Club also maintains the universally recognized repository of records and statistics on North American big game animals harvested with a bow and arrow.

Contact the Pope & Young Club office at:

www.pope-young.org or P.O. Box 548, Chatfield, MN 55923, Ph: 507.867.4144

Dealing with Food Plot Pests

Dealing with Food Plot Pests

Rodents and other small mammals may be doing more damage to your food plots than you realize. Here’s how to alleviate the problems.

By Bernie Barringer

When most of us think about the reasons our food plots fail or thrive, we usually point to things like fertilizer, weather, soil types and timing of plantings. But there are factors working behind the scenes that can cause damage to your food plots. Critters large and small use these plots and some of them can cause significant reductions in the productivity of your efforts.

From insects to birds, food plots can be damaged from the moment the seed hits the ground until the usefulness of the forage is complete, but in many cases, small mammals are doing the most damage, and much of it is hard to see from the surface. Let’s take a look at a few of the primary culprits, examine the extent of the damage they do, and explain some actions that can be taken against them.

Pocket Gophers

Damage: Pocket gophers are abundant across much of the whitetail’s range and the mounds they make are a common sight. These mounds cover up small plants which will cause the plants to die. Pocket gophers feed on bulbs, roots and tubers and often consume brassicas from below, without much evidence from above, other than leaves turning brown from lack of moisture. Their tunnels channel needed rain water away from the surface to deep areas where it can’t do the plants much good.

Control: The best way to eliminate pocket gophers is to trap them. Several clutch-style traps have been developed specifically for catching gophers and are available at most any hardware stores or farm stores. I have caught them with several brands and styles of traps, but over time I have switched almost entirely to the EZ Set model. With these traps I have limited misses and most gophers die quickly and humanely in them.

Catching Pocket Gophers is quite easy once you learn where to set the traps. Here in Minnesota, they go to work as soon as the frost goes out of the ground in the spring, and that’s a great time to trap them. I plant brassicas around the first of August and as soon as the plants begin to show up, the pocket gophers arrive and I will once again remove problem individuals.

If you look closely at the gopher mounds, you will see that they form a line of sorts. The gophers pile dirt on the top of the ground as they clear out their tunnels and the mounds form a linear pattern.  It stands to reason that the mounds on the end of the line are the most active. If you set a trap at the right mound, you will normally catch the gopher within 24 hours. If you have trouble determining which mounds are the most recent, just put a footprint on each mound and come back the next day. There will be at least one new mound to trap.

The hole below the mound can be hard to find, but with experience, you can look at the shape of the mound and stick a probe right into the hole. Otherwise, just dig around until you find a soft spot and you will quickly find the associated tunnel. Clear out the tunnel with a small shovel or your hand. Set a trap and slide it inside the entrance to the tunnel. Within a foot of the surface, all tunnels will have a fork in them. Do not push your trap too far into the hole or it may be at the fork which will offer the gophers a chance to crawl right over it.

I stake down my traps not because I think the gopher may get away with my trap, but because a coyote or fox may find it and run off with the gopher and the trap. I like to cover the hole with a board so the tunnel is dark. This keeps predators out and offers the gopher a sense of security so he goes about his business without suspecting a trap.

Gophers are most active at night so check the traps early in the morning so you can dispatch any of the critters that did not quickly die in the traps. You will find that most strings of mounds are the domain of just one gopher, but occasionally you may catch two and even three from the same system of tunnels.

Ground Squirrels

Damage: One of the most common small mammals in the Midwest is the 13-lined ground squirrel. They seem to be everywhere; you’ll see them along roads and in any pasture. They are commonly called stripers or striped gophers, although they are not a member of the gopher family. They dig small holes which lead to underground tunnels where they sleep and store food. These holes are part of the problem they cause. The tunnels drop straight down before turning to the side, and a deer’s lower leg fits right in the tunnel. Deer can sustain serious leg injuries from stepping in one of these holes.

Additionally, the damage these critters cause to food plots comes in the fact that they love the small shoots of plants as they emerge, and these little vermin can kill hundreds of plants a day by nipping them off as soon as they come up. You may ask how much these 1/4-pound buggers can actually eat. The problem is found in the way they fill their overstuffed cheeks with succulent nodules and haul load after load of them back underground to their storage chambers. The damage can be extensive in some areas.

Control: Because these ground squirrels are active during the day, the best way to rid your food plot of them is to shoot them. My sons have enjoyed lying at the edge of the food plot with a scoped .22; the target practice on these little varmints is good preparation for hunting. They have excellent eyesight and will dive underground at the slightest movement. If you want to take a more utilitarian approach, a 12-guage loaded with birdshot will take them out from up to about 50 yards. When hit with a .22 anywhere but in the head, they normally dive in a hole and you don’t know for sure if you have killed them, but when hit with birdshot they are usually lying in a heap right there.

I have to admit I enjoy the challenge of hunting these pests, which adds to the pleasure of knowing I am doing something good for my food plot and my deer herd. This year I invested in a scoped .17 caliber rifle with a bipod and now I spend some warm spring afternoons sprawled out on the grass near my food plots, doing my part to rid the property of these pesky critters. The usual M.O. is to walk out to a food plot and observe where the ground squirrels dive underground when they see me coming. I set up with my crosshairs on the hole and wait patiently. Rarely do I have to wait more than 15 minutes before a little head pops up and mischievously looks around. Bang.

Raccoons, skunks and groundhogs

Damage: The only real food-plot crime committed by groundhogs, often called woodchucks, is they compete with the deer animals for the plants in the food plot. Skunks mess up food plots by digging for grubs and uprooting plants. Raccoons are also guilty of this and they can do some real damage to corn crops. While the amount of damage a family of raccoons may do to a large commercial corn farming operation may be negligible, once they get into the corn in a food plot, their nocturnal raids can cause significant damage.

Raccoons will pull down entire corn stalks and take one or two bites out of the ear of corn to gauge the stage of maturity. They love to eat the corn when it’s in the milk stage and there’s a short window where the bandits do the most damage. But their bites on each ear invite insects that can ruin the entire ear of corn. Plus the fact that the stalk is often broken off when pulled down means it will quickly die before the corn itself is mature.

Additionally, anyone who provides supplemental feed for deer or places piles of grain in front of scouting cameras to take inventory of the deer on their property knows how much raccoons can add to the costs of doing so. Raccoons are prolific and are common carriers of distemper and rabies so keeping their population at a manageable level is always a good idea.

Control: I don’t get too excited about removing groundhogs from my food plots because their damage is not significant unless the population gets out of hand. Still when opportunities arise to reduce their population, I do so just as I do the ground squirrels, by shooting them.

I primarily control raccoons during the fall trapping season when their pelts have some value. I hit my property pretty heavy with traps and snares for a couple weeks each fall to reduce their numbers. Outside of the trapping season, when I find that a skunk or raccoon is tearing up my food plot, I simply put out a box trap with something really good smelling in the back corner of it. This may surprise you, but a coon is a real sucker for a half-slice of bacon. Put the bacon in the back of the trap in a position where they can’t reach it with their dexterous front feet to pull it through the wire. Make them walk into the trap to get to the bait and they will oblige.

What to do with the problem animal once you have trapped it can be a dilemma. Many states prohibit the killing of raccoons and skunks outside of the trapping season. Some states offer permits for doing so but some require you to relocate the critter—give your problem to someone else—so make sure you check your state and local game laws so you don’t get yourself in trouble with the law.

If it’s legal to dispatch the problem animal, a shot to the noggin with a .22 takes care of it quickly and humanely. A syringe filled with poison mounted to the end of a broomstick then jabbed into their chest will put them down quickly as well, and is the only way I have found to consistently kill a skunk without it spraying.

While our food plots are intended to benefit deer, other critters benefit as well. Wholesale killing of all other animals using the plot is not the objective, but some diligence in reducing the population of food plot pests is an honorable goal. These simple tips should help you do so, with the added benefit of getting you out to enjoy the property during all times of the year.

The Problem with Poison

It might seem that putting out some poison might be the best way to deal with problem critters. Just place it and forget it; no more intrusion, no dealing with a carcass and a lot less effort. The danger in this approach comes with the fact that poison is indiscriminate. While it may kill a gopher or ground squirrel, it will also kill any other mammal that eats it, and many birds are susceptible to dying from poisons. Some kinds of poisons can be cumulative in the systems of animals. While a fox or bobcat may eat a mouse that dies from poisoning with little adverse affect, if the predator eats several poisoned mice over time, the poison may build up in its system and kill it.

Some states have strict regulations regarding the use of poisons for mammals. While there may be limited applications for poisons in removing problem animals, most of the time it is safer—and more likely to be legal—to shoot and trap the problem individuals. It makes sense to remove the specific problem critter rather than endanger others, some of which may be beneficial.

Seven Critical Tips for DIY Public Land Hunting

Seven Critical Tips for DIY Public Land Hunting

By Bernie Barringer

My first bowhunting road trip was a complete bust. In my defense, it took place more than 20 years ago, so I didn’t have the advantage of Google Earth, a scouting camera or looking at the weather on my smartphone. I basically went in blind, and my results showed it. I did see some does and small bucks, and I hunted hard and used some off-beat tactics. While I don’t remember much about that first out of state hunt in the early 1990’s, I do remember that I had no idea what I was doing compared to the strategic planning and hunting methods I use today.

In fact, one of my few memories from that first trip was lying on the berm of a ditch, my bow in the grass beside me, looking at deer filtering into a green hayfield 30 yards away. I remember wondering how I could possibly get to my knees and get my bow drawn on a buck without clearing the whole field. Poor planning on my part. They say lessons learned the hard way are lessons learned well. I have learned a lot, mostly by making mistakes.

I’ve come up with seven rules—things to do and not to do—that will help any DIY hunter be more successful. Adhering to these “do’s and don’ts” have helped significantly increase my success ratio. Two decades later, I am still making mistakes and still learning, but I’m coming home with a buck in the truck often enough to feel like I have some advice to pass along. I hope these seven tips help you connect on a DIY public land buck this year.

Do your homework

Before you ever pull out of the driveway, you should have a list of likely hunting spots. Online aerial photos help immensely when it comes to choosing hunting sites. Before I set off to a new area, I usually have a pretty good idea where I am going to spend much of my time. Things that look good on Google Earth are not always what they seem, but with some experience learning how deer use cover and terrain, anyone can shorten the scouting time by picking out likely looking spots from home.

I also call local biologists, game wardens and other parties to gather as much info as I can about the area. Biologists know if food plots have been planted on the public areas and they can offer information about deer populations, age structure, etc. A game warden can offer insight into the amount of hunting pressure an area gets. I have learned to ask not only about deer hunting pressure, but also about upland bird hunters, duck hunters, small game hunters and even if the coon hunters are running their dogs through the property at night.

Do your Scouting Diligence

Once you arrive, it can be tempting to hang a stand and start hunting as soon as you find a great looking spot. But you will be much better off to spend a day learning the property before actually hunting. Spend an evening with binoculars overlooking a feeding area, walk through the area trying to determine feeding and bedding patterns. Make note of great spots with sign or with the right terrain, depending on the time of the year and stage of the rut. I cannot overstate the value of knowing the property and how deer use it well.

Use your Scouting Cameras

Scouting Cameras are one of the most important components to my scouting and learning a property. I rely on them for two main purposes. The most obvious is learning how deer are using the property. A camera will tell you which direction deer are travelling at what time. It will show you where they are feeding and bedding. You can learn about the stage of the rut by observing the behavior of the bucks.

The second and just as important knowledge I get from cameras is an evaluation of what is on the property with regards to bucks and age structure. I have been known to pass up a 125-class buck on the first day of the hunt, then realize that it was the biggest deer I saw on camera or in person during eight days of hunting there. The decision of whether or not to shoot a deer that comes within range can be made a lot easier when you know what the potential will be. No sense holding out for a 140 if there aren’t any. Cameras placed on primary scrapes will inventory most every buck in the area within three days.

Hunt Only When it’s Time

There’s nothing worse than sitting in a stand wondering if you are in the right place or not. Should you be on the other side of that ridge? Closer to the feeding or bedding area? On a different trail? Sitting over an area that’s all tore up with rubs and scrapes?

Remember what I said about putting up a stand and getting in it too soon. Having confidence in your spot makes it a lot easier to stick it out for long periods, and confidence in your spot comes from thorough scouting. I can’t overstress the importance of not settling in for a long sit until you have done the scouting and learned as much as you can from cameras.

The urge to get in a tree and get to hunting can be very strong when you arrive at a new property, but don’t do it until it’s time. Once you have a thorough knowledge of the property, you can settle into a place where you will have the optimism needed to grind it out for long hours.

Stay Mobile and Flexible

The other side of that coin is the fact that things change and you must change with them. You cannot wait for the hunt to come to you, you have to stay aggressive. You have a very short time to make things happen, so you can’t overstay a spot when you have lost the confidence in it. Food sources can change overnight with harvesting of crops. Hunting pressure can move deer around and alter patterns. A cold front with its accompanying northwest wind can make any given stand unhuntable for 2-3 days.

You have to be very aware of what’s going on around you and react quickly to changing conditions. You need to have a backup plan for a major weather change. Stay attuned to the upcoming weather, and plan accordingly. I hate the sinking feeling of sitting in a stand one evening, looking at the weather and realizing I have no place to hunt in the morning due to changing conditions. Plan at least three sits ahead, and be ready to move a set on a moment’s notice.

Work Hard and Smart

Most people aren’t used to hunting hard for 7-10 days, which is the average amount of time I will spend on a DIY road trip. Most people hunt the weekends at home or maybe a couple evenings after work. Hunting from daylight to dark, moving stands, checking cameras, constantly analyzing conditions and deer behavior is foreign to the guy who just hunts a property from home and hunts when he feels like it. About halfway through the hunt, the temptation to hit the snooze button when the alarm goes off at 5:00 a.m. can be overwhelming. That’s especially true when you start to lose confidence in your efforts.

Chances are you laid out a pile of cash for a nonresident tag and you may only get one of these trips a year. You are going to regret it for months if you don’t give it your all. Work hard all day every day. Do the things necessary to keep your confidence up and your drive at a high level. Keep thinking ahead a day or two; try not to get into the habit of reacting to the changing conditions, but learn to get ahead of them and be ready. Today’s technology in the palm of our hands can be a huge help to us, but we have to use it.

Anticipate what’s coming and be ready for it. When that alarm rings, the feeling that you will be heading out to a spot that has a legitimate chance to produce a great buck is a feeling that will get you stepping into your hunting boots in the morning with excitement for what the day might bring.

Don’t Allow your Expectations to Get to High

One of the biggest mistakes made by travelling hunters these days is having unrealistic expectations. Outdoor TV has contributed to this, I believe. You watch two nice bucks get shot during a 30-minute show. If you don’t think about the background work that went into that short segment, you can get the wrong idea. The background work most likely was put in by an outfitter who knows the deer on his property well.

The first time I go to a new property to hunt, I like to think of it as a learning experience. If I shoot a buck, great, but if not, I don’t have grandiose dreams about driving home with a 150 in the back of the truck. That dream may become a reality someday, but it will likely be after you have hunted the property a few times, you really know it well, and you have past experiences to add to the well of knowledge you draw from when making your everyday decisions.

There’s no doubt in my mind that hunting the same property many times offers a significant advantage to the hunter. But there is something to be said for the adventure of trying new areas and hunting new properties. My hunting includes a mix. I love the excitement that comes with seeing what’s over the next hill, but that’s tempered with the fact that I like to shoot a buck once in a while too, and I know my odds are better when I am hunting familiar ground.

So my advice is to take what the hunt gives you. Don’t make the mistake of letting the expectations of others dictate what you shoot or do not shoot. This is your hunt. If you are happy shooting a 120-inch 3-year-old on the eighth day, then do it. If you would rather let that deer walk and eat tag sandwich, that’s your call. The key is to go into the hunt with realistic expectations. Even the best properties do not produce a mature buck for even the best DIY hunters every year.

Bears at the rubbing tree

Bears at the rubbing tree

by Bernie Barringer

I live in an area with lots and lots of bears. on the corner of my food plot is a scent marking tree (rubbing tree) that the bears have been using for the past couple years. I put a Covert Scouting Camera on it to shoot some photos and video of bears at this tree and I have thousands of videos. I put this short youtube selection together so you can get a feel for the amount of bears and activity that is found at this area.

 

5 Steps to a Successful DIY bowhunt

5 Steps to a Successful DIY bowhunt

Five Steps to Making Your Dream Bowhunt a Reality. You’ve always wanted to hunt deer in one of the destination states. You watch on TV each week as big bucks are shot but you really don’t have hunting like that where you live. Here’s a short course in how to get started on your dream bowhunt out of state.

By Bernie Barringer

Years ago, I was like you. I knew there was a lot of great bowhunting but it wasn’t where I lived. I had a gnawing desire to shoot a really nice buck, but I knew I was going to have to travel to do it. I didn’t,–really couldn’t–spend $4,000 on a guided hunt, so a DIY hunt it would have to be. I took the plunge and I have never regretted it. I have now done more than 20 bowhunting road trips for whitetails, some with great success and some were, shall we say, learning experiences. Allow me to give you a few nuggets of advice to put you on your way to a successful DIY out-of-state deer hunt.

Choose a State

The most logical place to start is to think wide and narrow down your search. First of all you need to decide where you want to go. That means you need to first pick a state and begin the process of getting a deer tag in that state. Some states sell nonresident deer tags over the counter, some require you to apply and may take a couple years to draw, so you better start now.

In my recent book The Freelance Bowhunter: DIY strategies for the travelling hunter, I give details on 16 of the top whitetail destination states. If you are starting out, this book is the best $20 you can invest in your success. In addition to getting a tag, other factors that will influence you decision on where to go will be if you know someone in the state that might allow you to stay there, distance you are willing to travel, and the amount of public land available to hunt.

Choose Some Properties

Once you have decided which state you are going to chase a big buck in, you need to spend some time looking over the options of specific properties where you can hunt. This could be state and county public land, Walk-In-Hunting land, even federal lands open to hunting. Each state has details on its website, and most include maps and even interactive aerial property photos. Powderhook [https://www.powderhook.com/] is also great resource for this. Spend some time with Google Earth and really look over a few properties until you find some that look appealing.

Make some calls

The next step in your research is to talk to some people with their boots on the ground. Start calling biologists for the area, game wardens, and any wildlife personnel that might have knowledge of the properties. Ask them specifics about the amount of hunting pressure, the deer population, the potential for shooting a mature buck and where the bedding and feeding areas are found. If there are food plots planted on the land, ask them what has been planted and if it will be harvested at some point or still be there when you arrive. This can make a big difference in finding the deer’s food source.

Work Hard

Once you arrive, you need to really scout the area out. That means a lot of walking and studying sign. It also means getting some trail cameras out and checking them regularly to find out what the deer are doing, where they are moving and what the potential is for a big buck.

When you are hunting at home, there are places where you wouldn’t just walk through, and you would try to avoid intruding on bedding areas and specific travel lanes. You do not have that option when you are on a road trip. Get out there and learn as much as you can, then put up some stands only when you feel like you have a handle on the patterns and potential of the area.

When I am on a DIY trip, I am not on vacation. I work really hard from sun to sun and that has proven successful for me.

Have Realistic Expectations

You are not going to shoot a buck like you see on TV every time you go on a hunt. Outdoor TV, with its back-to-back big buck episodes can give you the wrong impression about your chances. The more you do it the better you will become at it. And the more you keep going back to the same places over and over, the better your familiarity with the area becomes and your odds of being successful increase.

I hope you enjoy the satisfaction of bagging a buck on your dream hunt. I’ve done a lot of the research for you in my book The Freelance Bowhunter: Strategies for the Traveling Whitetail Hunter.

Five Great Road-Trips for a Velvet Whitetail

Five Great Road-Trips for a Velvet Whitetail

By Bernie Barringer

In the lives and “careers” of most deer hunters, a process takes place over time as the desires of a hunter mature. At first, just shooting a deer, any deer is satisfying. Then shooting a number of deer becomes a priority and the third stage of the process takes place when the hunter desires to bag a unique specimen of the species. That might mean holding out for a true giant, or it might mean travelling in order to have a chance at bagging a subspecies. Or it might mean the desire to collect a whitetail buck while it’s in velvet stage.

Whitetails across North America tend to shed their velvet during the first week in September. Sometimes the fuzz can come off during the last week of August, but the majority will become hard-antlered between September 1st and 7th. There are a handful of locations across North America where you can legally have a great chance of shooting a velvet buck at this time. These opportunities offer several positive aspects to the hunts. Not only does the season open early when the majority of the bucks have not yet shed their soft antler covering, but these bucks are in some of their most consistent and predictable patterns of the year. They are quite visible at this time of the year, plus they are focused on bedding and feeding every day. These bucks follow a daily routine that makes them very patternable.  Shooting one is about as close to a slam dunk as you can get in whitetail hunting. Here are my top five picks for getting a velvet buck for your trophy collection.

photo by Timothy Nebel

Public Land in North Dakota

North Dakota is a gold mine for the Do-it-Yourself bowhunter. Public land is abundant and there are still places where hunting permission will be granted on a handshake. Tens of thousands of acres of US Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) land surrounds the Missouri River and its reservoirs, and all of them are open to public hunting. Much of it is grassland, but food plots, shelterbelts and oak groves left over from century-old farmsteads attract whitetails.

Lake Sakakawea is a huge reservoir 125 miles long and almost the entire shoreline is ACOE land. You could spend a lifetime poking around looking for whitetails. Much of the area has a very low human population and little hunting pressure during archery season.

North Dakota also offers a program known as PLOTS: Private Land Open to Sportsmen. Landowners allow public access to their land through this program. The good news about PLOTS land is that no access by any type of vehicle is allowed. It’s walking only. The vast majority of this land is prairie that attracts bird hunters, but the hunter who does his homework can find small pockets of great whitetail habitat that rarely get hunted. Because it is walking access only, anything that is a mile or so from the nearest road may never see a deer hunter. Most locals have a place to hunt where they don’t have to hoof it so far. Surprisingly, few nonresident hunters take advantage of North Dakota’s whitetail opportunities. You will have to do your homework and be willing to work hard to bag a buck in North Dakota, but if you like the challenge of a DIY Road-trip, this could be the hunt for you.

A nonresident deer license is only $215. The archery season opens the Friday closest to September 1st each year.

Southeastern Montana

While the Northeastern part of Montana gets a lot of publicity for whitetail hunting, the Southeastern corner of the state has quietly been producing some really nice bucks. Because the season opens September 1st, there is a short window of opportunity to bag a velvet buck. This area has escaped the plague of Blue Tongue disease and winterkill that has caused a crash of the deer population in Northeastern Montana.

Look to the lowlands along the Powder River and Tongue River watersheds for numbers of whitetails and a quality of deer that will surprise even the seasoned bowhunting road-tripper.  This is arid country with river bottoms surrounded by sagebrush-covered hills. The deer bed in the cottonwood groves during the day and move out into the irrigated alfalfa fields to feed. Their patterns are very consistent and the sheer numbers of deer are striking. It is not unusual to see 50-plus deer per sitting. The first week in September last year I saw nine Pope & Young bucks in velvet during a four-hour evening sit in 90-degree heat.

The majority of the properties with good deer populations are leased by outfitters. Most outfitters offer hunts for whitetails and mule deer, plus antelope if you want to combine the two into one hunt. This is one of those hunts that every serious bowhunter should put on their “Must Do” list. It’s that good. I bagged a great 10-pointer in 2012 with Blue Rock Outfitters and I can’t wait to get back there.

Montana is proud of its nonresident hunting tags. The tags and licenses will set you back $552 for the any-deer tag. This allows you to shoot a whitetail or a mule deer. You must apply by March 15, but for this area you will draw every other year and sometimes in consecutive years. You can spring for the more expensive Elk/Deer combo license which guarantees you a deer tag; then if you do not hunt elk you can apply for a refund of the elk portion of the tag.

Forest Fringe Area of Alberta

Alberta has long been known to produce trophy whitetails due to its low hunting pressure the cold northern climate that dissuades all but the hardiest hunters during the frigid rifle season. But for bowhunters, Alberta is not at the top of their destination list. It should be on your list because of the opportunity to take a whopper in velvet during the first week of September. In fact, there some large areas designated primitive weapons only.

The licenses and fees are very reasonable at $196.57, but the catch is that nonresident hunters must be “hosted” by an Alberta resident. Unless you have a friend or family member in Alberta that has access to good hunting land, you must go with an outfitter. One other option is to trade a trip. You might find an Alberta resident that would be willing to host you in exchange for a hunt in your home area.

Southern Alberta is prairie land, the North is boreal forest, and the western part of the state is mountainous. Nestled between those areas is the “Forest Fringe”, commonly called the “Parkland” by Alberta residents. This combination of farms, open prairie and patches of “bush” is where you will find the best early season hunting. The deer tend to bed in the heavy cover of the timber blocks and feed in the open fields. They are quite visible and patternable in this flat country. Whitetail numbers are not high here but the quality makes up for the lack of quantity.

Occasionally, bucks will bed for the day in open fields and can be taken by spotting them in the morning, watching them bed, then putting the sneak on them when they have settled in. This is not a high percentage tactic but it is exhilarating and it sure beats sitting around camp all day. Bagging a mature whitetail this way is one of the most rewarding feelings in deer hunting.

Northeastern Wyoming

Much like southeastern Montana, this area in no way resembles typical whitetail country to the Midwestern or Eastern hunter. But the water and fertility of the land associated with the riparian areas produces whitetails in significant numbers, and the scarcity of local whitetail hunters allows them to get mature. This part of the west is not much of a secret any longer so outfitters have grabbed up the majority of the best ground. There are a few places where you can get permission to hunt but most of the landowners have figured out that people will pay to hunt the whitetails that they consider vermin. If you are willing to put in the time and knock on a lot of doors, you can find a place to hunt on your own.

Cottonwoods and alfalfa are the two main keys to whitetail location in the early season, although the bedding areas may be in a pine grove a mile or more from the feeding areas. It is common for whitetails to cross large areas while they make their way to the fields to feed in the afternoon. They commonly walk even two miles or more. This makes them very visible. A spotting scope is an essential tool for locating them. But once they are found, it’s a simple matter to get in position for their morning or evening trek that mostly takes place during the first two hours and the last two hours of daylight.

Wyoming’s archery deer season opens the first of September but you must apply for your tag each year before March 15. Drawing odds are very good and you will find a deer tag in your mailbox most years.

Western Kentucky

The western half of the state of Kentucky has earned a well-deserved reputation for being a quality whitetail destination. In the last two decades, the numbers of mature deer being shot by residents and nonresidents has been steadily rising. Offering an archery season opener that falls on the first Saturday in September, this Midwestern gem offers yet another opportunity to bag a great velvet buck and it’s a bargain at $190 for over-the-counter tags and licenses.

Adam Jablonski of Linesville, Pennsylvania travelled to central North Dakota and put an arrow through this great velvet 10-pointer on September 5, 2012. If you want to put your tag on a velvet-clad antler, North Dakota is one of the top five places to do it. Photo by Timothy Nebel

For hunters without the budget to spend on a fully outfitted hunt, this area offers an abundance of public land open to hunting. Western Kentucky features two expansive public areas in the 100,000-acre Land Between the Lakes Wildlife Management Area, and the 65,000-acre Peabody Wildlife Management Area. In addition to that, there are several smaller WMAs ranging in size from less than 1,000 acres to more than 8,000 acres. The area is well populated and you will not be alone on this public hunting ground, but if you are willing to do your legwork–get a mile or more off the road–you will find minimal hunting pressure.

Landowners are generally somewhat open to allowing bowhunters access to their property. Not so much for rifle hunters. While there are a handful of outfitters operating across the western part of the state, there is no shortage of private land that is not bound up by hunting leases.

Patterning these big woods bucks in September is not nearly as easy compared to what you’ll find out west.  Much of the acorn crop is on the ground and natural foods are abundant and spread out across the landscape. This is often thick and steep country so you will need to work hard to get your buck, but if you have a good plan and execute it well with hard work and determination, you will see some great deer.

The unique trophy of a velvet-antlered whitetail is one that can be found in only a handful of places. If you start your planning now you have a chance to get yours.

 

Kentucky

Season opener: First Saturday in September

Licenses and tags: OTC – $190

Website: http://fw.ky.gov/

 

North Dakota:

Season opener: Noon on the Friday nearest September 1.

Licenses and tags: OTC – $215

Website: http://gf.nd.gov/

 

Alberta

Season opener: September 1

Licenses and tags: Hosted – $196.57

Website: mywildalberta.com

 

Wyoming

Season Opener: September 1

Licenses and tags: Apply between January 1and March 15 – $338.50

Website: http://wgfd.wyo.gov/web2011/home.aspx

 

Montana

Season Opener: September 1

Licenses and Tags: Apply between January 1and March 15 – $552

Website: http://fwp.mt.gov/

South Dakota Bowhunters Seek to Limit Nonresident Hunters

South Dakota Bowhunters Seek to Limit Nonresident Hunters

In what can be characterized as an attack on nonresident deer hunters, the organization South Dakota Bowhunters, Inc. (SDBI) has petitioned the South Dakota Dept of Game, Fish and Parks to limit the number of nonresidents and increase tag fees to discourage nonresident hunters. The specific proposals are as follows:

1. “Eliminate Non-Resident (NR) Unlimited Archery permits.  Cap the NR archery permits at 8% of the resident archers.  In 2015 23,507 archery tags were sold to residents, 3,180 sold to non residents. By limiting to 8% it would drop the tags to 1,880 tags for nonresidents.  Also, implement a point system with a nominal point fee.  Other states charge $30-$50 for a deer point.  This is primarily geared to assist resident bowhunters who are often outnumbered on our public lands during archery seasons.  We continue to get reports from areas in eastern SD, along the Missouri River corridor and on public lands like the Custer National Forest about non-resident bowhunting pressure and it’s significance to the quality of experience resident bowhunters reap.  With growing media attention from outdoor media and television featuring SD and a burgeoning ‘outfitting’ industry our great state is seeing a significant increase in NR bowhunting pressure.  It’s widely known by traveling NR’s that if they don’t draw in another western state that they can simply drive to SD and pick up a deer or even antelope combination hunt on short notice.  This has a significant negative impact on SD Bowhunters in many areas of our state.”

I will address each of these issues separately. First of all, they are correct in assuming that the number of nonresident hunters is growing anywhere good whitetail deer hunting is found. Bowhunters, especially, are mobile and many have the money and the time to travel and hunt new areas. The rise in outdoor TV over the past 20 years has shown many hunters in states with poor quality deer hunting that there are greener pastures. South Dakota has been mostly insulated from this, as states like Iowa, Illinois, Kansas and Missouri get a lot more air time. Most states have welcomed the nonresident hunters because of the significant tourism dollars they bring to the states. Some even actively promote these nonresident hunting opportunities because of the influx of money brought into the states. The small increase in nonresident hunters in South Dakota is a fraction of what is seen in many other states that are known as “destination” states for deer hunters. What South Dakota hunters see as high pressure is nothing compared to what hunters see on public lands in Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri. If you want to see hunting pressure, visit the public lands in those states during the first three weeks of November. It will make South Dakota look deserted by comparison. Adding a drawing and a point system might actually increase pressure in the more desirable areas. The statement that the pressure is great along the Missouri river corridor is true because that’s some of the highest population areas and where most resident hunters also hunt. The average direct economic impact of a nonresident hunter is about $1,500, plus there is an indirect impact through jobs. With 3,180 nonresident deer hunters, that’s a direct economic impact of $4.77 million per year.

2. “Significantly increase non-resident Big Game permit fees.  Our NR big game permits are currently $286.  MT is $602, NE $600, IA $551, KS $442.50, CO $389, WY $312 and ND $277.  Plus you have to take into account Preference Point fees in many of those states and that runs it even higher in cost.  A significant increase in NR deer permit fees would generate revenue to off-set the loss of license fees cutting those tags would cause.  Again, the thinking is to reduce NR pressure significantly that puts undue pressure on public areas and cause direct competition with our resident deer hunters (particularly bowhunters).”
This is where the SDBI really loses their way. For starters they misrepresent the cost of a hunt in Nebraska at $600. Nonresidents can buy an over-the-counter (OTC) either sex tag in Nebraska for $242 and if you shoot a deer you can go buy a second one for the same price. Interestingly they leave off the bordering state of Minnesota, which offers nonresident tags for $165. Destination states Missouri and Wisconsin offer OTC tags costing much lower than South Dakota. All in all, South Dakota’s cost is about average for nonresident deer tags; and if you look at the comparative desire among hunters to travel there, it would be considered high for the quality of experience. Comparing it to Iowa, where about 20,000 nonresidents apply for the 6,000 nonresident tags each year, is not comparing apples to apples. Same with Kansas. The notion that an increased fee would offset the millions in economic impact brought in by nonresident hunters just doesn’t add up.
I fully understand the growth in nonresident hunting over the past 20 years. My book The Freelance Bowhunter addresses this issue and offers a guide to 16 of the most desired states and strategies for DIY hunters on a bowhunting road trip. My magazine and online columns on the subject have millions of readers. I can sympathize with the SDBI because I have experienced it first hand. But I don’t think limiting nonresident hunters and adding a drawing is the answer. The answer that both residents and nonresidents can live with is the addition of hunting opportunities. Work had to increase programs which offer deer hunting to the public on private land. At this point most of these programs are geared towards upland bird hunters. Some of them also feature good deer habitat. An increase in public land which offers quality deer hunting would be a big help in spreading out the hunting pressure. Abundant Army Corps land offers good deer hunting and some cooperation with the ACOE to increase the quality of deer habitat would also be a big help. Offer incentives for landowners to gift and bequeath land for public hunting. These are long-term solutions.
An attempt to simply reduce the number of nonresident hunters is harmful to the economy, to G&F funds and to relations with other states and their hunters. And it’s a short term solution that will have no real impact as more resident hunters migrate towards the areas where nonresidents would hunt, filling in the gaps. The best places to hunt will have the most hunters and if you remove some of the nonresidents, then resident hunters will move right in.
Pope & Young Certifies Four New World’s Records

Pope & Young Certifies Four New World’s Records

New World Record Animals And Historic Moments Highlighted The Pope And Young Club 30th Biennial Convention

The Pope & Young Club held its 30th biennial convention in St. Louis, Missouri, April 5-8, 2017 at the Union Station hotel. A stunning location, informative seminars, breath-taking mounts, new World Records and historic moments were the hallmarks for this P&Y gathering. The convention is always a great time to reunite with old friends, make new ones and celebrate of our shared love of bowhunting. The three-day celebration, held every two years, is where the Club honors the top big-game animals taken in North America over the past two-years and recognizes new bowhunting World Record animals.

The high point of the conventions Awards Banquet was the recognition of four new P&Y World Records;

Typical Coues deer, taken by Terry Edwards of San Carlos Arizona

Desert bighorn, taken by Tony Loop of Appling, Georgia

Shiras moose, taken by Bobby Hebert of Golden, Colorado

Typical American elk, taken Steve by Felix of Seeley Lake, Montana

The Recognition Banquet included a highlight of historic proportions with the induction of Kathleen Gardner and Anna Vorisek into the Club’s Fred Bear Society. Kathleen and Anna are the first female bowhunters ever inducted into this prestigious group. The Fred Bear Society was established in 2012 to recognize people who have made sizeable donations to the Pope and Young Club’s Trust Fund. Fred Bear established this fund in 1985 when he made the first contribution to begin the process that would ensure a long-lasting future for the Club from one generation to the next.

The large midway included many vendors of archery equipment and hunting outfitters offering attendees a chance to see the latest developments in gear and possibly book a hunt. Archery gear manufacturers in attendance included a few of the industry’s big names like Sitka, FeraDyne, Kuiu, Bear Archery and Lumenok, just to name a few.

Proceeds raised during the Convention through ticket sales, the Silent Auction and Live Auction benefit the Club’s Conservation, Education and Outreach fund. At the end of the final evening, the Pope & Young Club announced the next convention would be held in Omaha, Nebraska in 2019.

The Pope and Young Club is a non-profit North American conservation and bowhunting organization dedicated to the promotion and protect
ion of our bowhunting heritage, hunting ethics and wildlife conservation.  The Club also maintains the universally recognized repository for the records and statistics on North American big game animals harvested with a bow and arrow.

Contact the Pope & Young Club office at:

www.pope-young.org or P.O. Box 548, Chatfield, MN 55923, Ph: 507.867.4144

Media contact Rick Mowery at: rick@pope-young.org, Ph: 989.884.3800

Six Enduring Myths about Whitetail Hunting

Six Enduring Myths about Whitetail Hunting

Chances are you have been a believer in at least one of these myths. Here is some scientific evidence and common sense to debunk them. 

By Bernie Barringer

Some information has been passed down through the generations at hunting camps and in the pages of magazines. Today’s internet forums cause misinformation to be available to anyone at any time and sometimes it has the ring of truth. Here are six commonly-held beliefs that can be dismantled by using a little common sense and in some cases, new scientific findings.

Bucks only travel into the wind

You’ve probably heard variations on this one. Obviously, bucks cannot only travel into the wind otherwise they would be unable to go to food, water and secure cover when the wind is wrong. In some cases I have heard that bucks will put their nose into the wind when fleeing danger. In my experience, bucks are more likely to put distance between themselves and danger no matter what the wind direction. Once they feel the danger is past, they may head for secure cover.

Bucks will often travel with a tailwind. I have seen this behavior when they are moving out into an open field to feed. In several cases, a bachelor group of bucks I watched could be seen entering an alfalfa field in early fall each evening, and most times, they approached the field where they could see what was in front of them and smell what was behind them.

I have also see, and have scouting camera photos of bucks who prefer to approach their bedding area with a wind at their back. Bucks are individuals and will do what they have learned makes them feel safe. In many cases, that’s quartering into the wind, having the air currents hitting the side of their nose. Many bucks prefer this, but it’s not possible all that often, so they will do what they need to do to feel secure in their movements, using the wind direction in whatever way they can.

Big-racked bucks father big-racked bucks

A giant buck can be produced by the mating of a big buck and a doe with big antler genes. The doe has more to do with producing a giant than the buck’s father.

Clearly, this is partially true, but having the genes for big antlers in the father is only a small part of the equation. Bucks pass antler genes onto their doe fawns, which then pass them on to their male offspring. So a big buck is more likely to come from a doe that was descended from a big buck.

I have a friend who raises deer and I have learned a lot about antler genetics from him. He tells me that he can predict when a buck will blow up into a giant based on the genetics of the buck fawn’s mother. When he breeds a doe with big antler genes to a buck carrying big antler genes, that’s when the buck fawn is likely to become a giant because he has the genetics to do so from both sides.

Also keep in mind that big antlers are the result of age and nutrition. The buck’s mother is responsible for keeping the fawn fed and teaching it to search out quality food and minerals. She is also responsible to teach that buck fawn the survival strategies that will allow him to reach 5-6 years old when his rack can fully develop. So both in the genetics and in the behavior that creates a big antlered buck, a doe has much more responsibility than just the genetics of the  buck’s father.

White-tailed Deer do not see colors

This is a long held myth that seems to have trouble dying. I suppose it has so much traction because deer do not respond to hunter orange the way we expect them too. While florescent orange virtually glows to humans, deer seem to have hard time picking it out. This has led many hunters to believe that deer just see black, white and shades of gray.

Research began in the 1980’s that seemed to indicate that deer do see some colors. More recent research by the University of Washington and the University of Georgia began to reveal some very specific facts about what deer see. By dissecting a whitetails eyeball and putting it under a high-powered microscope, scientists were able to analyze the color vision in whitetails by looking at the rods and cones on the retina.

Rods collect light and cones interpret colors. By analyzing the specific kinds of cones in the deer’s eye, scientists discovered that deer do not see the red end of the spectrum visible to humans, but they see the blue end significantly better than we do. Colors like orange and red are subdued, but greens and blues are very visible to deer.

Humans have a UV filter on our eyes, which blocks out much of the blue light that can harm our eyesight over a lifetime. Because deer live much shorter lives, they do not need this filter. Between the lack of a UV filter and the number of cones that interpret blue light, a whitetail deer can see blue about 20 times better than humans can. If you are in a deer’s view wearing an orange vest and blue jeans, the orange would be a subdued color but the blue jeans would be extremely visible.

This buck spent most of its time miles away, but each October, it would show up on Rod Owen’s Missouri farm. He shot the buck when it arrived in 2015.

Mature bucks are homebodies

There’s been plenty of research using telemetry and more recently GPS tracking that seems to indicate that bucks stay in an area they know well, sometimes called a “home range” and many bucks have a very small “core area” where they spend the vast majority of their time. Some studies have shown that some bucks, as they age, tend to decrease their movements and their core area becomes smaller.

This sounds logical on the surface, and to the degree that the studies were carried out, it’s hard to argue with good scientific evidence. However, there are some significant problems with these generalizations. While a buck in ideal habitat may have everything he needs close by—secure cover, food and water—not every deer lives in such a utopia. Coyotes and wolves may run deer long distances. Hunting pressure may become so intense that a buck must move. Some bucks seem to have a wanderlust while others have a tendency to hunker down under pressure.

It’s easy to over generalize and forget that bucks, like humans are individuals, with individual “personalities.” We would like things to be simple so we could hunt them as if they are all the same, but that’s rarely how things are in the real world.

For many years I have done dozens of articles for national magazines on big bucks that have been shot. There are some surprises that come from all that data. Before the advent of scouting cameras, it was rare for a hunter to shoot a big buck of which he had prior knowledge. Most of the time, it was the first time he laid eyes on the giant. Upon interviewing these hunters who shot outsized trophy bucks after the woods became filled with scouting cameras, some things began to take place that changed my opinion.

I was surprised how many times I was hit with statements similar to this one, “I would never get a photo of that buck until the first of October then he would just show up on my property.”  Or this one, “After I shot the buck, a guy sent me a bunch of photos of the deer that were taken five [or six or seven] miles from where I shot it. He had been hunting it hard on his property.

I have become convinced that bucks like to settle into an area where they feel secure but as conditions change—be it food sources, predators, hunting pressure, etc.—they simply pick up and move out. Do they have a secondary home range? It would seem to be so. Could that secondary home range be the natal area where they grew up? Stands to reason that it might be since they spent the first year of their life learning it and all the security it offered. The more we know about home ranges the more we have to learn.

Get into your treestand well before daylight

Is it better to approach your stand in the dark of the morning or wait until it’s light enough to see? The author believes the latter is better.

My bowhunting mentor in the 1970s while I was in high school would always take me to my treestand two hours before daylight in the morning. It would give my scent time to dissipate was his reasoning. I followed this advice for many years.

But I started to become concerned that I was filling the area with scent for two hours rather than allowing it to dissipate. Plus, I was spooking a lot of deer on my way to the stand in the darkness. When travelling to and from my stand in the daylight it was much easier to use available cover to avoid being seen. Could it be old Jim was wrong about this?

I have started entering my stand site at first light, when I can see to make a quieter approach without artificial lighting. I can avoid stepping on noisy ground cover, and if I see a deer on the way in, I can stop and avoid spooking it. I often move to within 75 yards or so of my stand site in the dark, then wait until I have just enough light to close the final distance with much more stealth.

Bucks only visit scrapes at night

Here’s another one where science tells a small part of the story and has misled many hunters. There have been several studies done by placing scouting cameras at scrapes and analyzing the data on the times the scrapes were visited by bucks and does. Each of these studies showed that the photos of deer taken at scrapes were primarily at night, in fact, in most studies, 80 percent of the photos were taken under the cover of darkness.

Bucks will avoid exposing themselves to approach a scrape during the daylight unless they smell something that causes them to hook around and come right to it.

These studies miss one important component to the way bucks visit scrapes. During darkness, bucks feel comfortable strolling about checking scrapes as they go. They walk up to a scrape, take a sniff while getting their photo taken and then move on.

Not so during the daylight. Many primary scrapes—the ones that are likely to get checked several times by multiple bucks—are on the edge of fields adjacent to an open area such as a crop field or clearing. These primary scrapes will have an overhanging branch and be the center of attention until the chasing and breeding begins in earnest.

Bucks do not like to expose themselves to those open areas during the daylight, but during the last week in October and the first few days in November, when the scrapes are being checked, and the bucks are on their feet at any hour of the day, will they just abandon those scrapes until night time? I don’t think so. Whenever possible they will stay 20-40 yards back in the cover and scent-check the scrape from downwind. They will only hook around and approach the scrape if something compelling hits their nose. Only then do they get their photo taken. I have seen this behavior in person often enough to believe it is common.

So there are my opinions on why these six beliefs are myths. You are free to disagree. Comment below if you have something to add.

Your Best Bets for Truly Big Bears

Your Best Bets for Truly Big Bears

By Bernie Barringer

A look through the Boone & Crockett Record books reveals some interesting patterns about your chances of shooting a true giant black bear.

Outdoorsmen go through a progression of sorts during their lifetime. Most beginning fishermen, for example, are happy to catch a few fish and enjoy the excitement that comes with it. But as time goes on, they are not satisfied with a few bluegills, they want to catch a lot of fish. Then the progression goes to catching large fish of a particular species or trying more difficult methods of catching fish such as fly fishing.

Hunting is the same way. A deer hunter is thrilled to shoot his first deer, but sooner or later he finds that he has a fascination with shooting a mature buck, or with trying to shoot a deer with a bow rather than a rifle.

It stands to reason that bear hunters would go through the same progression. Many experienced bear hunters are either in search of color phase bears or a monster specimen. This article is for those of you who have a hankering to shoot a real whopper.

I have been fascinated by black bears all my life and I have been pursing them with a passion for more than a dozen years. I have put together a list of the top 10 places to shoot a really big black bear. I realize that some of you reading this will disagree with me, and have a place that you think should be included. I’ll certainly allow that you may disagree, but my list is backed up by the Boone & Crockett Club (B&C) records, so I at least have that going for me. Keep in mind that the total number of B&C bears produced in an area is not necessarily a good indicator of trophy potential. The percentage of B&C bears in the overall harvest is a better indicator of the area’s potential to produce a monster.

The B&C minimum score for a black bear is 21 inches. Of course it goes without saying that when booking an outfitter in one of these locations, you want to pick one that has a history of producing truly big bears. And you have to be willing to pass up a few big bears to have a chance at a true Boone & Crockett black bear. That’s not something everyone can do, but if your goal is a B&C black bear you have to be able to let the 20-inchers walk!

So here’s my list, and a little background on each location.

Top 10 Best Bets for Big Bears 

1) Prince of Wales Island and Kuiu Island, AK

These two islands produce whopper bears every year. They are remote and only a handful of outfitters take bears off these islands each year. Hunters here can afford to be selective. There is not a B&C bear around every corner, but you can expect to have a reasonable chance to sight one on your trip if you go there. These bears get big because of low hunting pressure, good genetics, a long feeding season and abundant food. If you want a chance to kill a B&C bear, it’s hard to beat these two islands off the coast of southeastern Alaska. The hunting here is primarily spot and stalk hunting on the beaches, although some bears are taken over bait.

2) Vancouver Island, Graham Island and Queen Charlotte Islands, BC

Our number two location has all the qualities of number one except that it gets a little more hunting pressure. Vancouver island in particular produces a lot of monster bears each year, and is more easily within reach of civilization, so access is a little better than number one. There are big bears on these islands and there are several outfitters who know how to put you on them. This is primarily spot and stalk hunting in logging cuts, and to a lesser degree on the beaches.

3) Northern Wisconsin

The sheer numbers of bears found in Northern Wisconsin are responsible for making this number 3. While the numbers are high, the actual harvest numbers are low due to a very limited number of bear permits each year, which means there is a good ratio of mature bears in the population. Prepare for a long wait if you want to hunt here: it normally takes 8-10 years of applying to draw a tag in the best zones. Most big bears are killed over bait, although a few are tracked down with hounds. Some of the best counties are Bayfield, Price, Sawyer, Marinette, Barron, Oconto, Rusk, and Langlade.

4) North Central Pennsylvania

This will come as a surprise to many people who do not consider Pennsylvania a bear hunting destination. But there are really big bears in this state. Baiting and hounds are not legal, which makes it very difficult to harvest a bear. Success rates are very low: the percentages some years can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Most bears are either shot incidentally by deer hunters or on large group drives. If you look at the list of the top end bears entered in the B&C record book, the letters PA come up a lot; more than most people would ever dream. Five of the top 10 and nine of the top 20 all-time record bears came from the Keystone state. The counties in the North Central part of the state are the best bets, with Lycoming having produced the most.

5) Riding and Duck Mountains, West Central Manitoba

The Western Part of Manitoba has a couple ranges of mountains that produce a large number of bears including some real monsters. Now these mountains are not what people from Colorado or Montana think of as mountains, but in a part of Canada that is mostly flat as a pancake, these are mountains. In addition to the large bears, they produce good numbers of color phase bears. This area offers great habitat for bears and it produces a lot of big bears because of the sheer overall numbers of bears taken. Outfitters here have huge exclusive territories and if they manage them well, their clients will bag a couple B&C melon-heads each and every year. When sitting over a bait in this part of Manitoba, you never know when a B&C bear is going to walk in. It can happen at any moment.

6) East Central Saskatchewan

The mountains in West Central Manitoba also reach over into Saskatchewan. So the same situation found in Manitoba is found in Saskatchewan. Lots of bears, and big bears too. There just isn’t quite as much of this near-perfect habitat on the west side of the shared border so Saskatchewan ranks slightly behind Manitoba in this area. Both of these provinces offer spring bear hunts which occur during the bear’s breeding season. Mature male bears will visit baits in the spring more readily when searching for females.

7) Peace River area of Alberta

This area is remote and very difficult to access. A small number of outfitters guide clients to bears here each year and the chances of laying eyes on a B&C bear are pretty good if you go to the time and expense it takes to put yourself in this area. Harvest is low not because the numbers of bears–the population is actually quite high and many areas offer a two-bear limit–but because the number of hunters is low. Mature bears are the norm not the exception. Most people come to this area with several tags in their pockets, since moose and elk are also popular targets. Hunters going to the area targeting these antlered species are well-advised to carry a bear tag because a really big one is liable to show itself at any moment.

8) North Western California

Once again low hunting pressure puts a spot on the map for big bruins. A long growing season helps too. There is a small pocket in the northwestern part of the state that produces a good number of big-headed bears, specifically Humboldt, Trinity and Mendocino Counties. It is an overlooked area for huge gorilla bears. Lots of color phase bears too; cinnamons, chocolates and blondes are common.

9) East Central Arizona

Some really big bears have come from the mountains of Central to East Central Arizona. Gila County produces quite a few of them and in fact ranks second all time in the number of B&C bears entered into the record books (46). That will surprise a lot of people but not those who live and hunt in that area. Nearly a year-round feeding season and lots of food is responsible for the exceptional growth, plus a low harvest.

10) Remote Northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba

The remote areas of these Central Canadian provinces produce some big bears. Much of this part of Canada is not accessible by road, so there is little hunting pressure. The bears get big because they have a chance to get old. You will most likely have to fly into a camp to encounter one of these bears, but you are also most likely to be the first human being they have ever seen. Many outfitters only kill one bear per bait each year in these remote areas, and they continue to produce monster bears year after year.

“Data for this article was compiled with assistance from Boone and Crockett Club’s on-line trophy database.  For information about this very valuable information service and other Boone and Crockett Club activities, please visit their web site at www.booneandcrockettclub.com or call 406/542-1888.”

B&C bears by state/province rank – Top 20 States/Provinces

1. Wisconsin black bear 427
2. Pennsylvania black bear 241      
3. Alaska black bear 209      
4. Saskatchewan black bear 192      
5. Manitoba black bear 135      
6. Minnesota black bear 135      
7. California black bear 131      
8. Arizona black bear 118      
9. Alberta black bear 107      
10. Colorado black bear 101      
11. North Carolina Black bear 95
12. British Columbia black bear 94      
13. Michigan black bear 89      
14. Ontario black bear 68      
15. Washington black bear 56      
16. Oregon black bear 50      
17. New York black bear 43      
18. New Mexico black bear 42      
19. Idaho black bear 40      
20. Wyoming black bear 40      

 

Top 20 B&C bears of all time

 

1. 23 10/16 Sanpete Co., UT Picked Up Cabela’s, Inc. 1975 1  
2. 23 7/16 Lycoming Co., PA Picked Up PA Game Comm. 1987 2                                
3. 23 5/16 Monroe Co., WI Picked Up Wade W. Brockman 2010 3                                
4. 23 3/16 Mendocino Co., CA Robert J. Shuttleworth, Jr. Robert J. Shuttleworth, Jr. 1993 4                                
5. 23 3/16 Fayette Co., PA Andrew Seman, Jr. Andrew Seman, Jr. 2005 4                              
6. 22 15/16 Monroe Co., PA Jeremy Kresge Jeremy Kresge 2004 6                                
7. 22 15/16 Bedford Co., PA Jesse L. Ritchey Jesse L. Ritchey 2006 6                                
8. 22 15/16 Kuiu Island, AK Craig D. Martin Craig D. Martin 1996 6                              
9. 22 14/16 McCreary, MB John J. Bathke John J. Bathke 1998 9                                
10. 22 14/16 Carbon Co., PA Brian J. Coxe Brian J. Coxe 2003 9                                
11. 22 13/16 Riding Mt., MB Robert J. Evans Robert J. Evans 2008 11                              
12. 22 13/16 Luzerne Co., PA Joseph E. Mindick Joseph E. Mindick 1998 11                                
13. 22 13/16 Ventura Co., CA Loren C. Nodolf Loren C. Nodolf 1990 11                              
14. 22 12/16 Pike Co., PA Douglas Kristiansen Douglas Kristiansen 2003 14                                
15. 22 11/16 Price Co., WI Joseph T. Brandl Joseph T. Brandl 2006 15                              
16. 22 11/16 Lehigh Co., PA Joseph W. Paulo Joseph W. Paulo 1997 15                                
17. 22 11/16 Newaygo Co., MI Donald R. Corrigan Donald R. Corrigan 2009 15                                
18. 22 11/16 Chippewa Co., WI Duane Helland Duane Helland 2003 15                                
19. 22 11/16 Bronson Lake, SK Stanley Benson Stanley Benson 1997 15                              
20. 22 11/16 Bradford Co., PA Chad M. Reed Chad M. Reed 1991 15                                

 

Counties producing the most B&C bears – top 20

 

1. Alaska Prince of Wales Island, AK black bear 116
2. Arizona Gila County, AZ black bear 46        
3. Wisconsin Bayfield County, WI black bear 33        
4. Wisconsin Price County, WI black bear 31        
5. North Carolina Hyde County, NC black bear 30        
6. Wisconsin Sawyer County, WI black bear 30        
7. Wisconsin Marinette County, WI black bear 27        
8. California Mendocino County, CA black bear 27        
9. Alaska Kuiu Island, AK black bear 25        
10. Wisconsin Barron County, WI black bear 24        
11. Wisconsin Oconto County, WI black bear 24        
12. Wisconsin Rusk County, WI black bear 24        
13. Pennsylvania Lycoming County, PA black bear 21        
14. Pennsylvania Bradford County, PA black bear 19        
15. Minnesota Cass County, MN black bear 19        
16. Wisconsin Langlade County, WI black bear 19        
17. Alberta Peace River, AB black bear 19        
18. Maine Aroostook County, ME black bear 18        
19. Wisconsin Burnett County, WI black bear 18        
20. Wisconsin Chippewa County, WI black bear 18      
New World Record Mule Deer is Official

New World Record Mule Deer is Official

Pope And Young Club Names New World Record Typical Mule Deer

On the 13th of August, 2016 under clear blue skies amidst the sagebrush of southeastern Nevada, Frank Cheeney, accompanied by his son Aaron, arrowed the largest typical mule deer ever taken with a bow.

“My son Aaron and I headed out a bit late that morning, and we began glassing the area as soon as we arrived,” said Frank Cheeney. “We spotted a bunch of bucks bedded down in a sagebrush flat and after some discussion (I use the word “discussion” lightly), Aaron decided that I needed to try to put a stalk on the bedded bucks in the hopes of getting a shot.  As we watched them, we noted that they were calm and looking in the opposite direction. Putting a stalk on a group of bucks with sagebrush as your only cover usually does not end well for the hunter, but Aaron felt strongly that I could put the sneak on them and end up with a good shot. I reluctantly kicked off my shoes and crouched down behind the taller brush and began my approach. As luck would have it, the breeze was blowing straight in my face as I headed towards the bucks. They seemed oblivious to my presence. As fate would have it, the biggest buck stood up from his bed. I drew my bow and with the deer in my sights I let the arrow fly.”

Frank went on to add, “I grew up in the outdoors hunting and trapping with my dad. He passed on his knowledge and love of hunting to me, and it has always been important to me to continue that tradition. In my family hunting has never been about killing a high-scoring trophy. We have always looked for nice bucks, but score has really never meant that much to us. It’s always been about the time spent together with friends and family preparing for and carrying out hunting activities. It’s about passing on skills and traditions that are a part of our heritage and way of life. It’s about sharing a campfire, good food and, even better, stories with family and neighbors. It’s about teaching my three kids to be ethical hunters and conservationist so that they can pass these same traditions on to their children.”

The first-ever Pope And Young Club Special Panel was convened during the Club’s 30th Biennial Convention in St. Louis, Missouri on Saturday, April 8th. Pope and Young Club Records Chairman, Ed Fanchin, called for the Special Panel to measure a potential World Record typical mule deer taken by Frank Cheeney of Pioche, Nevada in August of 2016.

“This was the first time the Pope and Young Club has used a Special Panel for verification of a potential World Record trophy,” said Ed Fanchin, Records Chairman for the Pope and Young Club. “The score was authenticated and this tremendous mule deer was declared the new Pope and Young Club World Record typical mule deer. Congratulations to Frank Cheeney and to the Nevada Department of Wildlife for using successful wildlife management practices. It’s great to know that deer of this caliber are still roaming the wilds of North America.”

Cheeney’s typical mule deer was measured by two separate panels, each having three highly experienced measurers and a Boone & Crockett representative. The resulting score of 205 6/8 tops the previous typical mule deer World Record scoring 205 0/8, making it the new Pope and Young Club World Record. The Special Panel event was filmed and posted on the Club’s Facebook page during the 30th Biennial Convention.

This incredible animal has been entered into the 31st Recording Period–the biennium representing entries accepted into the P&Y Records Program from January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2019. This is the first new and official Pope and Young Club World Record of the 31st Recording Period and the first-ever using the new procedure of calling for a Special Panel on potential World Records.

At the close of every biennial recording period, numerical awards and honorable mentions are awarded to the most outstanding bow-harvested animals in each species category that have been entered during this two-year recording period. New world’s records are verified and proclaimed, and awards are presented to these outstanding animals during the Pope and Young Club’s biennial convention and awards banquet.

The Pope and Young Club is a non-profit North American bowhunting and wildlife conservation organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of our bowhunting heritage and values, and to the welfare of wildlife and habitat. The Club also maintains the universally recognized repository for the records and statistics on North American big game animals harvested with a bow and arrow.

Three Camera Locations for Summer Deer Inventory

Three Camera Locations for Summer Deer Inventory

You want to know what deer you have using your property well before the hunting season begins in the fall. Placing cameras at these three locations will assure you get photos of the deer using the properties you hunt.

By Bernie Barringer

The deer season opens and you pick a stand in a great location for your opening day hunt. You have confidence in this spot so you climb in with optimism that you are going to see a buck. And you do. A buck approaches, but is it the buck you want to shoot? How does it compare to the other bucks on the property? If you are going to make a decision on what’s a shooter and what’s not a shooter, you need to have an inventory of all bucks likely to present you with an opportunity during the season, or you are just hunting blind.

Game cameras have changed the way we scout for deer. They not only reveal patterns of movement and habits, but they offer us an insight into the potential of any property to produce the buck on which we would be thrilled to pull the trigger. You can learn a whole lot about virtually every buck that is using a piece of property by the placement and monitoring of just three locations.

The Bedding Areas

While whitetail bedding can seem random at times, they do have certain bedding areas they prefer for the various weather variables. For example, in hot weather, they tend to seek out low, thick cover near water. At times, bucks like to be in the thick stuff and at others, especially when it is windy for example, they like to bed just below the crest of a hill so they can use their nose to protect them from behind and their eyes to see what’s in front of them. Learn the preferred bedding areas and get a camera or two on the trails that lead to these areas.

Avoid checking these cameras too often. I suggest once a month, because your ground scent and the possibility of spooking the deer out of the bedding area has the potential to undo what you are trying to learn in the first place. Check cameras right before a rain whenever possible.

Feeding Areas

Deer will feed in predictable locations in the summer. They love lush soybeans and will feed on them daily until the stems get large and woody, and then they will still feed some on the leaves but become less consistent. They relish green alfalfa and many other legumes and brassicas. They eat corn early when it just starts to come up, and then feed heavily on corn again when the ears are growing. A camera on an isolated fruit tree growing in an abandoned farm yard can produce some spectacular photos of late-summer bucks. Find the feed and you will find the deer.

Consider putting a camera with a plotwatcher feature on the edge of a field so you can monitor the entire field, not just the area right in front of the camera. Once again, do not check these cameras too often, but often enough to keep tabs on the deer’s feeding patterns. This camera location will give you a lot of clues about where to hunt during the early bow season.

Mineral Sites

I have saved the best for last; this one benefits your knowledge and the overall health of your deer. Start the mineral sites as soon as the antlers start to grow in the spring. Quality minerals will be sought out by both bucks and does. Good mineral has ingredients that benefit lactating does and antler growth, so all the deer benefit from it. A camera placed on a site with good mineral supplements will take a picture of every buck using the property at some point during the summer.

Replenish your minerals often to keep them coming back and change out the cards in your cameras each time you do. I guarantee you’ll feel like the season can’t come soon enough once you start seeing pictures of the bucks using the minerals.

The Four Parts of a Successful DIY Mentality

The Four Parts of a Successful DIY Mentality

By Bernie Barringer

Hunting away from home presents some unique challenges. When you are hunting in your home area, you have an entire season to bag your buck and fill out your deer tags. But on a DIY road trip, you are hunting under a deadline; you have a limited amount of time to get the job done. The situation calls for an entirely different set of strategies and actions. We can break the hunt down into four separate factors that can significantly improve your chances of success.

Scout Thoroughly

Back home, you have a pretty good feel for the deer movement patterns. You know where they tend to bed and where they tend to feed and at least a general idea of how the move between the two. When you arrive at a new hunting area on a DIY hunt, you must learn as much as you can in a short period of time. The greatest mistake most hunters make is to climb into a stand too early. You may find an area that’s all torn up with rubs and scrapes or a beaten down deer trail and you can’t wait to get a treestand set up and start hunting. That can be a big mistake, because you may lack confidence in your spot. It’s a lot easier to sit all day when you have confidence in your spot, and that confidence comes only from thorough scouting.

Hunt Aggressively

Hand in hand with an exhaustive scouting is the desire to make important decisions on the fly and be very aggressive in your hunting. Back home, you would never walk right through a bedding area, but on a road trip you might need to know where the deer are bedding and what is available to you. Spray down the lower half of your body with Scent Killer to minimize your ground scent then go right in there to look it over.

Get some game cameras out and check them often so you have a good feel for the area’s potential. It’s hard to beat a game camera on a primary scrape with some fresh urine or an estrus lure. You must take calculated risks and force the issue. If you wait for the information to come to you, you may run out of time, you must go get it.

Hunt in Any Conditions

Rain or shine, you must be out there to make it happen. I have done more than 20 DIY road trip hunts in several states and it seems like it usually comes down to one or two stands where I feel like I am going to be successful if I just put in my time. Take the appropriate clothing for any conditions and gut out the tough times. Each time you hunt, you have a chance. If you are sitting in a motel waiting for the snow to stop or the wind to change, you are more than likely going to go home with an unfilled tag.

Be Mobile

Right along with hunting aggressively and hunting hard is the willingness to move quickly and adapt to changing conditions. On one hunt in Iowa, I felt like I was about 60 yards off target, so I climbed down and moved my entire set up the hill. I killed a mature buck the next morning from that tree and I would have helplessly watched him walk by if I had not moved. If you sense that you need to make a move, or feel that a wind switch may betray you, don’t wait, make your move NOW. Using equipment that is light and easy to put up and down is a real key to being mobile.

Keep these four factors in mind on your next DIY hunt and you will increase your odds of coming home with a buck in the back of the truck instead of a tag in your back pocket.

 

Top Five DIY Bowhunting States

Top Five DIY Bowhunting States

By Bernie Barringer

My first bowhunting road trip was in 1993. I was living in Iowa and I travelled to northern Minnesota to bowhunt. Figure that one out. Iowa didn’t even have a nonresident deer season at that time. Today, about 20,000 applicants vie for the 6,000 nonresident Iowa buck tags each year. Being in the fishing business, I moved from Iowa to northern Minnesota in 2001, which set in motion a passion for travelling to bowhunt in other states.

I have since bowhunted whitetails in nearly a dozen states, some multiple times, and I have some favorites. I’ve had some great successes and some crushing failures, but along the way I have learned a lot and my passion for seeing what’s over the next hill burns as strong as ever. These days, I hunt from one to three other states every year. It’s hard to pick a short list of places I love hunting, but I would like to share with you my top five, and I will put them in no particular order, because your mileage may vary—the things that make one trip exciting for me may not mean as much to you.

Kentucky – Early Season

The archery season in Kentucky opens the first weekend in September. This offers a bowhunter the chance to get the jump on the seasons of most other states. The weather can be hot, but the deer are accustomed to it. They are typically in their late summer feeding patterns, often in loose bachelor groups and can be quite visible. These factors add up to some fantastic hunting opportunities. Tags are available over the counter.

Public land can be found in Kentucky, in fact there are some very large blocks of public land in the western third of the state, all of which offer good deer hunting. But some of the best hunting during early September will be found on private farms where the bucks are entering the soybeans and alfalfa fields in the evenings. Finding those bucks, then knocking on a few doors may get you permission to bowhunt a great place.

If you go, research the public land first so you have a backup in the event that you can’t find much private land to hunt. It’s not a bad idea to arrive a day or two before the season and spend evenings and mornings glassing. Hit the ground running, get some scouting cameras out, then get to hunting when you are ready.

Kansas

No list of top bowhunting states would be complete without Kansas. The state produces great bucks every year and has enough public hunting land to spread out the hunting pressure. Kansas recently reduced the number of nonresident tags, so you may not draw every year, but when you do have a tag in hand, there are plenty of places to hunt.

Kansas offers a Walk in Hunting Access (WIHA) program that adds lots of private land to the hunting opportunities. This land is primarily open which appeals to upland bird hunters, but there are some fantastic deer hunting spots if you take the time to do the research.

The majority of the whitetails are found in the eastern half of the state, which features the more traditional farmland habitat. But don’t overlook the prairies of western Kansas, some really big bucks live in out-of-the-way places.

Apply for Kansas tags in the spring. Most zones offer about a 75% chance of drawing. The best time to go is during the rut, but late season hunts offer excellent action as well.

Nebraska

You will find another early season opportunity in Nebraska, in 2015, the state moved its archery opening day to September 1, which offers a chance for bowhunters to take a buck in velvet. The state has been coming on with regard to the quality of the bucks found there, and it has escaped the worst of the disease outbreaks that have plagued other Midwestern states. Numbers are good and size is good as well.

Like Kansas, the eastern half of the state is mostly farmland, while the western half is open prairie, mixed with center pivot irrigation fields. Whitetails are found throughout the state, but numbers are highest in the east and along major rivers. Mule deer mix with whitetails in western Nebraska wherever habitats overlap. And here’s some great news. Your deer tag allows you to shoot either species.

Deer tags are available over the counter, and in addition to being good for either mule deer or whitetails, you can purchase two buck tags in most zones. Talk about options; there is a lot of opportunity. Public land is abundant enough to keep you busy, but getting permission to hunt private land is easier than you might think.

Iowa

Everyone has Iowa on their list of places they want to bowhunt, and for good reason. Iowa offers so much opportunity for excellent deer hunting and there is quite a bit of public land. Because the state only allows 6,000 nonresident tags, and the majority of those go to hunters who hunt with an outfitter, the hunting pressure on public land is well spread out. The state keeps cranking out big bucks year after year. While most of the world class B&C deer that come out of the state each year are shot off private land, the chance to shoot a 150 on public land is a real possibility for the hunter who works hard.

The best areas of the state for big deer are the southern third of the state, basically everything south of I-80 and then northwesten corner of the state. The Mississippi River corridor, along with the major tributaries, produce some giants each year too.

Here’s the real drawback for hunting Iowa, the cost and the wait. It will take 3-4 years of applying for a tag in the more desirable zones before you will be selected. Then the tag is going to set you back more than $550. The state would like you to send that money up front, but don’t take the bait. For at least the first two years, just pay the $50 for a preference point, then only send the entire amount when you have a realistic chance of drawing the tag. With licenses, fees and preference points, you are likely to have about $700 in tags lining your pockets when you finally hit the woods.

But it’s worth it. The first two weeks of November in Iowa is a magical time and place. At any moment, the deer of a lifetime may stroll within bow range.

Missouri

Missouri is a bargain for nonresident deer hunters. For about $250 you buy a deer tag over the counter that entitles you to two deer and two turkeys. Public land is abundant and well managed. Large blocks of public hunting land offer excellent hunting opportunities. The Department of Conservation plants food plots and makes habitat improvements. Most of these areas are large enough to offer seclusion for hunting pressure by getting a mile or more away from the roads. Several public hunting areas are managed as bowhunting only.

The one drawback about all this good news: It’s no secret. The state gets a lot of pressure from nonresident hunters, especially in the counties right along the Iowa border. The public hunting lands in the northern tier of counties see a lot of bowhunters hauling stands into the woods each year.

The northern half of the state produces the best hunting for mature bucks, but it has been hit by disease the past few years. It’s in the recovery process now, and hopefully will get better.

Those are my top five picks, all of which I have hunted extensively and I plan to go back again and again. Maybe I’ll bump into you out there. For more detailed information on DIY bowhunting road trips, check out my book The Freelance Bowhunter.

A Trailer for DIY Hunting

A Trailer for DIY Hunting

I have long thought it would be nice to have all my DIY hunting gear in one place—a trailer that would allow me to both store and haul gear. Here’s how I made one. 

By Bernie Barringer

Returning from a DIY hunting adventure in some state far away often found me with a big mess in the back of my truck. When I left home, everything was organized, but halfway through the trip it turned into a jumble. Loading and unloading a pickup for hunting trips seemed like a never-ending string of unnecessary work. Wouldn’t it be nice to have everything organized in a trailer, then just back up to it, hook up and go?

Over time I developed a plan in my mind, thinking about what I would like to have that would make my life easier when on a hunting trip. That plan came to fruition last fall when I bought a trailer, and during this winter when it became my project to convert it into a functioning hunting trailer to haul my gear and it has some additional features.

First I knew I wanted to be able to butcher a deer and keep the meat in good shape for the trip home, or the trip to my next hunting destination. One of the biggest issues I have run into on past hunts was shooting a deer on the first stop of a two- or three-state hunting trip. What to do with the head, hide and meat can be a real problem. I added a small chest freezer to the trailer. Once everything is frozen, even when the freezer is unplugged it will stay frozen for about two to three days depending on the outside temperature. If you open it, cut that time by about three hours each time you open it.

At other times, I found myself hunting far from a place to sleep. In western Nebraska, I came out of the woods at dark and my motel was more than an hour away. I needed to be back there well before daylight in the morning. I considered sleeping in my truck; but, at that point, the idea of having a bunk to crash in sounded much better than driving nearly three hours of the next eight.

These factors weighed into my choice to build a trailer just the way I wanted it. When looking for a trailer, I knew I wanted one with a ramp door in the back rather than the swinging barn doors. I don’t take an ATV on DIY hunts often, but when I do, I wanted to be able to put it in the trailer. Plus the ramp door just makes it easier to move stuff in and out of the trailer.

I finally settled on a 6-foot wide by 12-foot long trailer and bought it for $1500, about half the cost of a new one. The previous owner of the trailer used it to race go-carts. I first tore the old grubby shelving out and painted the interior an off-white color.

At Menards, I bought two kitchen cabinets, one is an overhead, the other a corner cabinet. These did not have any latches on the doors or drawer, so I bought latches and installed them so they would not come open on the roadway, allowing their contents to fall out onto the floor.

Each of the cabinets was installed in such a way that they were screwed to the vertical steel ribs of the trailer’s sidewall. The paneling is not strong enough to hold them. They nicely hold the accessories that I need on DIY hunts, it’s much easier than digging through totes.

Next, I installed the chest freezer in the front of the trailer, using a ratchet strap to keep it in place. The trailer had lighting but it was poor, so I went to an RV dealer and picked up some new LED overhead lights. I installed one in the middle of the roof and one over the top of the freezer so it’s easy to see the contents.

I installed a 12-volt Deep Cycle battery for DC power, and ran the lights to it. The lights and battery are connected to the truck’s battery when the truck is plugged into it, which keeps the deep cycle battery charged. I also installed an outlet strip which can be plugged into 110V AC power when I am parked where electricity is available. This also allows me to use a generator. I will probably install an onboard boat battery charger that will top off the battery each time it’s plugged into AC power.

On the driver’s side of the trailer wall, I installed some hooks for hanging clothing, an extension cord, etc. On the other side, I installed hooks into the angle iron that runs along the top of the wall. On these I hung three treestands and fastened them with bungee cords so they do not flop around during travel. I used a square carpet remnant—usually available at no cost or low cost at any carpet store—to protect each stand and the wall from vibration.

This trailer can be set up several ways. I tossed a large rug on the floor and put a cot along one wall. With a self-inflating pad and sleeping bag, this makes for a comfortable camp. I can use a small electric heater when the trailer is plugged in. If I find that I want to use propane heat in the future, I will need to add a vent of some sort, maybe a small window that I can open a little to get air circulation.

The other way the trailer can be set up involves a folding table with PVC pipes to make it taller. Having it at belly-button height makes it a lot easier to work on things. This table fastens to the wall and is perfect for cutting up and wrapping a deer.

Either the sleeping area or the butchering are can be folded out of the way to allow room for an ATV or a lot more gear. Right now it has plenty of room for my hunts, but I occasionally hunt with a buddy or two. In that case more room for gear would be needed.

So far I love the way I have this trailer set up, but I’m betting as I use it, I will find ways I want to tweak it. I regret that I didn’t paint the floor, but I can do that later. I have floodlights on the back that light up the area behind the trailer and ramp. I can see adding a winch to pull an elk into the trailer at some point. You never know where this will lead.