How to Pattern Late Season Bucks

How to Pattern Late Season Bucks

Following the rigors of the rut, bucks need to replenish body condition and body fat. They instinctively know what food will bring them back into form. They revert to a very predictable daily pattern of feeding to bedding. Here’s a primer on how to take advantage of this window of opportunity

By Bernie Barringer

Despite the snow swirling around me, I pushed through the thick brush, spurred onward by an unfilled buck tag in my back pocket. Arriving at the edge of the field, I could see there were a few deer already feeding in the corn stubble, but neither of the two bucks I was after could be seen. I carefully climbed 20 feet up into my treestand, swept the snow from the seat and settled in. By the time I got my bow towed up on the haul rope, a buck appeared at the woods line and began to move across the field towards me. My plans for a long cold vigil suddenly changed and this buck’s appearance created a flood of optimism that this night might be the night. I love hunting the last days of archery season despite the nasty weather because I have so many good memories and successes to show for it.

Many states have bow and muzzleloader seasons that last beyond Christmas and well into January. Shooting a buck at this time is often thought of as a difficult task because the cover available and the habits of the deer are not what they were during the majority of the season. But getting within bow range of a buck at this time is a lot easier than you think if you know what to look for.

The key for me has been the understanding that the deer have different needs during cold weather than they do during the rest of the hunting season. Remember a few years ago, when the Adkins diet was a craze? People were losing weight by forsaking carbohydrates and consuming more protein. Now bear with me for a minute, I am not off on a rabbit trail, this has everything to do with late season deer hunting.

The Adkins diet is based on the differences between proteins and carbohydrates. In short, “carbs” are more easily stored by your body than protein. Protein is used to build muscle and is used up quite quickly by the body. Most proteins are not easily stored. Carbs on the other hand, are primarily composed of sugars, and your body is very good at converting carbs into storage for use at a later date. Storage, of course, is in the form of fat. Your body naturally wants to maintain what it’s got. Like most diets, this one starts to get hard when you begin craving the carbs your body is missing.

Whitetail deer crave certain foods too. Like your body and mine, a deer’s body sends messages to its brain that it needs certain nutrients, and the deer naturally seek out the foods which contain those nutrients. So a basic understanding of which foods in your area contain those nutrients can go a long way towards understanding where the bucks will be feeding on any given day.

There are three macronutrients that all humans and animals need: protein, carbohydrates and fats. Understanding when bucks crave these nutrients and where they will find them goes a long way towards figuring out their movement patterns, particularly during the late season when their patterns become quite predictable. By examining where the deer find what they need to eat on a daily basis, and where they bed, we can put together a pattern for intercepting them on their daily travels to and from these locations.

Why Deer Crave Protein and Carbs

Bucks eat little during the rut and they are on the move at all hours of the day. After the rut, bucks are run down. Their fat reserves are gone, and even their muscle mass is diminished. Nothing restores muscle faster that protein, and soybeans are loaded with protein. Field corn is very high in carbohydrates. Most mast crops are super high in carbohydrates and fat. Acorns, especially the meaty varieties like those from white oaks, offer a large dose of fat and carbs. Honey Locust pods are high in proteins and fats. You get the idea. The key to a whitetail in the late season is through his stomach.

High carb foods provide energy to create body heat. Corn fields left standing in December into early January will be swarmed by deer. In cut corn fields, deer will glean waste corn from the ground as long as it is available, and they can easily smell even a single kernel through a foot of snow.

Interestingly, deer can eat raw soybeans; which are toxic to humans and any animal with only one stomach. Because deer are ruminants, their stomach saturates the soybeans before they are regurgitated and chewed, which renders them digestible. Since soybeans provide quick energy through a combination of proteins and carbs, deer will often seek them out during the coldest weather. A stretch of below-zero weather will move deer off the corn and acorns and onto the soybeans because of the quick turnaround of energy they offer. During these periods of deep freeze weather, immediate energy is more important that storage of fat. Food plots of soybeans or late-standing soybean fields attract more deer than corn does during the harshest weather. When the weather moderates, they may move back to the high-carb food sources.

Standing cornfields offer a combination of bedding cover and feed. During mild stretches of the early winter, deer often stay in the corn around the clock. They feel safe in the cover and it provides protection from the wind as well as food within reach at all times.

So bucks are see

king out specific kinds of foods based on which foods are higher in either carbs or proteins and they will gravitate towards the food sources that offer the combination they need at that given time. But mature bucks especially do not blindly wander around looking for these foods, there are other factors involved.

Escape Cover

By the time the rut is over, most northern farm country is covered in a layer of snow and cold weather has set in. A buck’s daily activity pattern is a trade-off between security and the need for high-quality food. The need for sustenance often becomes so strong that they will take risks that they would not take at any other time during the year. You may see a buck feeding in a cut cornfield at 3:00 in the afternoon. But that will only be the case if there is escape cover nearby.

A mature buck will not feed in the open unless he feels secure and has an avenue of escape. The best places to find these afternoon feeders is where they have a brushy draw they can dive into at the hint of danger, or possibly a creek-bottom thicket along the edge of the field; I have even seen them disappear into a big field of tall cover such as switchgrass or scrub cedars.

If you can find these avenues of escape, you have the beginning of a pattern that could put that buck in your truck, because these bucks will often enter the field from this escape cover.

Thermal Cover and Bedding Areas

When not feeding, bucks need to feel secure in bedding areas that provide them protection from the elements. Thick cover offers protection from biting winter winds, and on cloudy or snowy days, most deer will be tucked in tight right in the middle of the thickest stuff around. And they will use the same beds day after day.

Mature bucks tend to bed on the south side of the cover, and they often lie with a fallen tree at their back to protect them from the cold north wind. You can recognize these buck beds in the snow because the dominant bucks will use the best position available and the rest of the deer will have to settle for second best. These beds will be larger of course and you will sometimes see large tracks and other evide

nces in the snow that a buck is using the bed.

Because thermal cover is dense, trails zigzag through it, but you can find where they exit the cover if you spend the time looking it over. The great thing about heavy thermal cover in the winter is that you can move in and bump the deer out of it, scout it out well, and they will be back using it in a short time because it is the only game in town. They need the benefits of this premiere cover and they will be back after one disturbance.

Solar Bedding Areas

The second most common bedding areas in the winter are south-facing open slopes that get a lot of sun. Whitetails tend to use these areas when there is little wind and they can soak up the sun’s warming rays. Look for open timber where the sun can get through. These areas will typically have a lot of beds because the deer will get up and move as the shadow of a tree falls on them. So they may actually use 3-4 beds during the course of the day.

Once again, even these open-wooded hillsides will often have a distinct trail leading from them. The deer tend to congregate in one area before leaving the area to feed.

Intercepting the Bucks

Now that we have established where they are likely to be feeding and bedding on a given day, it’s a much easier task to get in a position to intercept them between the two. Patterning deer during this time is about as close to a slam dunk as there is in whitetail hunting, especially when there is snow on the ground and nothing is left to the imagination. It’s all right there in plain sight.

Well-worn trails provide evidence of their travel patterns that can help the bowhunter decide where to set up an ambush. A ground blind along the edge or blended in with cornstalks right in the middle of the food is often the perfect spot. When setting up over a vast field, keep in mind that the tops of hills are often cleared of snow by the wind and offer deer the easiest access to the food.

It is very common for bucks to approach the field through the escape cover, and make their way out into the field cautiously. The most mature bucks will typically enter the field last.

A bowhunter must get up close and personal when in a treestand. That generally means setting up off the field a ways, back up the trail.  Often mature bucks will hang up for a while before entering the field. A bowhunter in a treestand 50 yards from the field’s edge may have the advantage of getting a shot at a buck that won’t expose himself in the open field before dark.

In summary, pay attention to the weather conditions and the temperature to make an educated guess on any given day as to where the deer are likely to be bedding. Factor in what food sources they might choose that day based on what their body would be calling for. Know your area ahead of time so you can predict where the bucks are likely to be that afternoon and move right in.

Hunting last minute whitetails is a game of making educated guesses as to where to be, and when. The more information you have, the more educated your guess will be. It’s a matter of upping your odds by putting all the pieces of the puzzle together: The right macronutrients, the right bedding areas and the ambush points between them.

The Science of Scents: How Well Can Deer Smell?

The Science of Scents: How Well Can Deer Smell?

The sense of smell among members of the deer family is legendary. In fact, it’s hard for humans to grasp. But recent research into the sense of smell of elk and whitetails finally puts some numbers to it.

By Bernie Barringer

I was aroused from my calm, patient state by a flicker of movement to my right. I slowly turned my head and saw a buck approaching at a slow walk. Suddenly at full alert, I started looking for an opportunity to get my bow off the hanger as the mature buck closed the distance. When he stopped and looked away, I got my bow in hand and ready to draw. This buck was really nice, and my heart began to pound.
When the buck was 15 yards away, he stopped and froze. His demeanor changed as he dropped his head to the ground and sniffed the trail in front of him. In an instant, he had gone from relaxed to tense. He paused for a few seconds and then took three steps backwards before turning, lowering his head, and disappearing into the forest.
Clearly he had smelled something that he didn’t like. I had had approached my stand that day from downwind–the opposite direction–so he couldn’t have smelled my ground scent. Then it hi

The deer’s sense of smell is truly amazing. My pant-leg brushed against this twig when I set the camera in place, the doe is smelling my scent on it.

t me. He had crossed the path where I had approached the stand… yesterday! He smelled my ground scent from 18 hours previous.

The ability of a deer to smell danger is legendary, and it stands at a level that we humans cannot even comprehend. It is so far above our ability to smell, it’s hard to get a grasp on what their world must be like each day as they interpret the world around them with their nose.
Fortunately, we know a lot more than ever about how deer smell. Let’s take a look at four things that give members of the deer family their amazing ability to smell what’s around them.

Smells are everywhere in the woods, but deer are curious about many smells and they can sort out individual smells from the combination of clutter and pinpoint scents that attract them.

The Long Snout

Members of the deer family and predators need their sense of smell to survive, so they are equipped with far more olfactory receptors than those animals that do not rely on their sense of smell. The long snout creates more room for special nerve cells that receive and interpret smells. It’s estimated that humans have about 5 million of these olfactory receptors, while members of the deer family, including elk and moose, have about 300 million. Bloodhounds have about 220 million.
Members of the deer family have something else going for them. Some of these olfactory receptors are specialized for certain scents. For example, research has shown that elk have certain sensory cells that are tuned into the chemical signature of wolf feces. It stands to reason that deer do as well. There is no scientific research to back it up, but whitetail deer may have receptors that specifically recognize the chemical signature of the bacteria that create human scent.

The Specialized Brain

The area of the brain dedicated to interpreting scent is larger in deer than in humans. The drawing of air across all those receptors in the snout sends signals to the primary olfactory cortex, which is in the temporal lobe of the brain.
Because this part of the brain is larger in animals that use their nose for survival, this creates an ability to interpret the smells that’s added to their ability to pick up all those smells with those 300-million receptors. This would suggest that using a cover scent of any kind would be futile, because a deer can simply sort the smells out. A hunter using deer urine to cover his scent smells like a hunter and deer urine to a deer, not just one or the other. While cover scents have little effectiveness, the ability to reduce (not necessarily eliminate) human scent with antibacterial soaps, detergents and sprays, anti-microbial Scent Killer, and carbon is proven science. The science of the deer’s smell would suggest that reducing human odor is worth the trouble, attempting to cover it up is not.

Deer can smell directionally because of the position and shape of their nostrils. This allows them to quickly determine the direction of danger, which they may or may not confirm by looking that direction before fleeing.

Smelling in Stereo

Members of the deer family also have broader lateral nostrils which allow them to detect smells directionally. Moose have the most pronounced application of this. This allows the animals to determine the direction of the source of the smell more readily. This is called “stereo olfaction,” and it allows members of the deer family to more quickly determine the source of danger.
You may have noticed a deer raise its head as it is smelling the air. The deer is flaring its nostrils while drawing air across the olfactory receptors in its snout. The animal can quickly determine what it’s smelling and the direction it’s coming from.

They Live by Their Nose

The fourth thing that helps members of the deer family survive is simply an increased awareness of the smells around them. We humans might not pay much attention to the scents coming in through our nose until it overpowers our other senses. We don’t think about smells much; until someone hands you a child with a dirty diaper, or you walk into a restaurant where they are frying bacon.
Contrast that to the life of a deer, which is focused on the smells coming through the nose 24-7. The other four senses take a back seat to the importance of smell in their everyday lives. We humans can increase our awareness of the smells around us just by paying attention to them. Have you ever smelled a rutted up buck before you saw him? How about a herd of elk? Using our ability to smell what’s around us is a skill that can be developed. After all, we are predators at heart.

Ground Blind Strategies for Late Hunts

Ground Blind Strategies for Late Hunts

Late season deer hunting is often characterized by harsh conditions. Ground blinds are the perfect solution in so many ways.

By Bernie Barringer

My son Dawson sat close beside me as we watched two does feed out into the hayfield 40 yards out of range. Dawson was 12 years old and in his hand was the bow he had practiced with for hours all summer. In his pocket was his very first archery deer tag. He so wanted to cut a notch into it. I think I was as eager as he was.

We had placed this blind in position on the edge of the alfalfa several weeks before. It took several days for the deer to get accustomed enough to the blind that they began to ignore it. When it came time to hunt the blind, we were both eager and ready.

Soon movement to our left distracted our attention away from the does. A forkhorn buck stepped out of the pines and into the field at 15 yards. The buck noticed movement and tensed up as Dawson drew his bow, but it was too late. Those hours of practice paid off; 20 minutes later we were dragging his first buck to the truck.

That was not my first experience with pop-up ground blinds and it certainly won’t be my last. I have used them at any time during the season, but lately, I have been relying on them more and more during the last few weeks of the bow season, when the cold wind cuts to the bone.

Ground blinds not only protect you from the elements, but they conceal your movements and you can make them very comfortable. An extreme example of this involves the deer my wife Cheri arrowed from one just last December.

Cheri has not hunted much, she has been too involved in raising five kids so I was the one who brings home the venison, but now our kids are older and she expressed an interest in shooting one of the deer that had been trudging through the snow to visit our food plot each evening.

She had been shooting her bow during the summer and fall, so I readied the ground blind for her like I would for any queen who appreciates the finer things in life. The ground blind offered carpeted floor, a comfortable chair and a small table to place her book and other things she may need. A half hour before she would enter the blind, I walked out and started a small propane heater for her.

That evening, I sat there beside her in relative comfort despite the near-zero temperatures and excitedly watched as she shot a nice doe to add to our freezer. Now, that’s hunting in style.

Here’s the deal with ground blinds. Whitetails are freaked out by them. Some people do not get past that problem, but there are ways to deal with it. You have to give it time.

Get it out early

When a big blob shows up right in their living room, whitetail deer take notice. While some animals don’t seem to be too bothered by the sudden appearance of a structure (mule deer and pronghorn for example, whitetails just don’t like it. It takes the deer about a week to settle down and get fully comfortable moving about close to the blind, especially if it is out in the open.

Put the blind out at least a couple weeks before you plan to hunt from it. Stake it down good to protect it from blowing away in a strong wind. I also take a piece of 2×4 lumber and block up the ceiling, otherwise it may collapse with a snowfall. Resist the temptation to hunt from the blind until the deer are casually moving about it, or you may have to start the wait all over.

Disguise it

It really helps them accept the blind if you blend it is with natural materials from the area. Cornstalks, pine boughs and long-stemmed grasses work great for this. You can also use these objects to cover some of the black window openings that seem to make the deer uneasy.

The best way I have found to help the deer accept the blind is to position it right neat some object that is already in position. A brushpile works excellent for this. In fact, I have at times piled brush near where I will eventually put a blind, so I can put the pop-up exactly where I want it when the time comes.

I have a friend who put the blind up near some abandoned farm machinery in the corner of a field and used a few branches to break up the outline of the blind. He killed a deer out of it that very night. That’s a rare case, but it does illustrate the effectiveness of putting the blind near some sort of “structure.”

Put in your time

Once the deer are moving or feeding around the blind, get there early and hunt it often. Wear black so you are well concealed within the blind. Only open the windows on the side you expect to shoot through, and do not open them any more than necessary. Too many open windows allow light to get into the blind and allow the deer’s amazing light gathering eyes to see you. Resist the temptation to open a window in the back so you can see behind you. The risk of having a deer see some silhouetted movement is too great.

A small heater is not a bad idea to keep you comfortable in harsh conditions. A piece of carpet or a pallet can get your feet up off the frozen ground and an ozone generator will go a long ways towards limiting your scent and containing it within the blind.

I have two blinds out right now and I will be hunting in one of them tonight. My confidence in them is very high, and if you use them properly in the late season, yours will be too.

Bump ‘em and Hunt ‘em: This unconventional tactic might just be the strategy you need to bag that nocturnal buck

Bump ‘em and Hunt ‘em: This unconventional tactic might just be the strategy you need to bag that nocturnal buck

By Bernie Barringer

It was early in my career as a serious whitetail bowhunter and I was checking out some public land in Northern Missouri. It was the first time I had hunted in Missouri and I was just figuring the game out. I picked a good looking spot, loaded my stand and all my gear on my back and headed out into the woods. When I came across a thick area, I found a group of scrapes and rubs and saw the flash of a white tail as a deer quietly bolted out of the area, threading his way through the trees. I decided it would be a good place to set up.

I put my treestand in a good-looking tree and settled in for the five hour wait until dark. About two hours later, I heard a buck snort really close. I had been winded. I quickly turned just in time to see a huge buck disappear into the brush. His rack was wider than his butt and I knew he was one of the largest bucks I had ever seen in the wild.

Suddenly I realized what had just happened. I had busted that buck out of his sanctuary, and he came sneaking back in with the wind in his face, assuming that whatever had spooked him would be gone. I began to wonder if I could actually use what I learned from this experience to my advantage, and over the years, I have.

Nocturnal bucks can be hunted with this aggressive tactic.

Some mature bucks have the game figured out. You may know of one who rarely ventures out of his sanctuary during daylight, and he won’t be caught chasing does in open areas during the rut. You have scouting camera pictures of him but you’ve never seen him in person. He has become almost unkillable by legal means. This buck has a bedding sanctuary that he trusts to keep him concealed. If you have an idea where he beds during the day, you have an option. It’s a late-season long shot–a swing for the fences so to speak–but it sometimes pays off in a big way. Carefully move into the sanctuary and bump the buck out of his bed, then set up a treestand and waylay him when he returns.

A mature buck’s bedding sanctuary is likely to be thick and very difficult to penetrate without spooking him. He has chosen this spot for specific reasons: he can use his senses of sight, smell and hearing to detect danger approaching from any direction. If he detects danger, he will move off. Most times he will return within two hours. This tactic is most successful if done during the middle of the day.

Bring your hunting equipment with you so you are ready to hunt. Carefully sneak into the sanctuary from the downwind side. Take your time, move quietly and use good binoculars to glass often as you move. He is likely to be in the thickest, most impenetrable spot within the area. When he becomes aware of you, he may sneak off or he may crash off, depending on how close you are when he detects you.  Ideally you want to see him move off. The more spooked he is, the less likely he will come back that day.

Once you have bumped him, spend at least 15 minutes carefully analyzing the immediate area. Find out where exactly he beds, where he moves around within the sanctuary, and analyze all trails that enter the sanctuary. What direction are the tracks leading? On which sides of the trees are the rubs? Gain confidence in knowing the exact spot he will return to bed.

If you see him leave and he doesnt appear too spooked, he will probably be back.

When the buck returns, he will circle 75-100 yards downwind of the bedding area to scent-check the area before entering. Then he will enter the bedding area on a trail with the wind in his face. Choose a trail that allows you to set up using this knowledge. You must position yourself to play the wind angle so you are not upwind of the buck when he circles downwind of the bedding area. Do your best to predict which way he will come in. Choose the exact right tree and get your treestand up as quickly but quietly as possible. When he comes back he will be on edge and moving with meticulous caution. You must be in the right place and very well concealed.

This tactic is a long shot that is best reserved for late in the season when all other possibilities have been exhausted. It has by far the best chance of succeeding on the first try.  If you do everything right, you may just kill the unkillable buck.

The Killing Tree: 4 Attributes of the Perfect Stand

The Killing Tree: 4 Attributes of the Perfect Stand

Some locations are good year after year. Finding the right tree based on land features that direct deer movement is an art, but once your find the right place, you annual success is bound to rise.  

By Bernie Barringer

Most hunters never see a Boone & Crockett scoring buck, much less have a chance to shoot one. Yet I have a bowhunting friend named Jim who shot two of them, one a typical and one a nontypical, only three years apart. What makes this feat even more impressive is the fact that he shot both of them, and a handful of other mature bucks, from the same tree.

He hit the treestand lottery in a way, finding a stand that is in a great location year after year. This location has a lot going for it, including a food source, terrain features that funnel deer movements and access that allows for minimal intrusion. I believe there are five attributes to the perfect treestand, one that produces sightings of big bucks year after year. Let’s have a look at these features.

Terrain

Certain things cause deer to move in certain ways. Topography is one of them. Ridges, creeks and rivers, ditches or draws, funnels, benches, swamps and even highways can influence deer movement. Sometimes these land features that influence deer movement can be subtle and sometimes they jump right off a map at you. You put a stand in there and here comes the deer. Yet, sometimes they are a mystery. Deer sometimes use the same trails for generations, but there is no clear feature of the land that would indicate why. Only the deer know why they use these areas, so don’t ask questions, just take advantage of the situation.

The stand where Jim killed those two B&C bucks has a drainage that funnels deer out of a park onto the surrounding farm fields. It’s a natural passage that allows the deer to remain concealed until they step out into the field and they take advantage of the terrain, which brings up feature number two.

Security

Mature bucks need to feel secure or you simply aren’t going to see them during the daylight. The killing tree is going to be in an area where the deer feel comfortable moving about. This means that you must offer them areas that are not violated for any reason other than trailing a deer that has been shot. You can go into these inviolate areas and look them over in the spring when you are shed antler hunting, but from two months before hunting season right through the season, no one goes in there for any reason.

The deer will use these inviolate areas for bedding and security. They will be buck magnets during the rut as the bucks cruise from one bedding area to another, checking for does coming into estrus. Your perfect stand site will take advantage of these areas without being too close to them. And the travel corridors from those sanctuaries to the areas where the deer feed must be as free of intrusion as possible.

Favorable Winds

 

Even the perfect stand site won’t do you much good if you can only hunt it in one particular wind. You might miss the majority of the rut waiting for the right wind. The best sites can be hunted in a variety of winds and tend to be forgiving of wind swirls. Stands on ridges tend to allow your scent to blow over the top of the deer. In the case of Jim’s stand, the draw tends to funnel evening wind currents out into the field where they dissipate. In the morning, the warming thermals take the scent up and away, and in the evening the cooling air is drawn down to the low ground where it is harmless.

Of course we take into consideration the importance of wind when choosing the stand site, but we must also consider the wind as we access the stand.

Free Access

This is the area where most hunters overlook. The killing tree must have a way to get into it and out of it without spooking deer. The perfect site isn’t going to work for many hunts if you can’t get to it without spooking deer, or you can’t get out of it without blowing deer out of a field. Smell is important so you must consider the wind direction, but you also must consider sound and sight. Can you get to the stand without making a bunch of commotion crunching through dry leaves or exposing yourself along the edge of a field? Big buck hunters who are consistently successful go to extremes to combat these issues. I know of one who planted a row of pine trees along the edge of his field so he could walk behind them concealed. In another case a hunter left a few rows of corn on the edge of the field to hide his approach.

Using a ditch is a perfect concealment tactic, and you can clean the leaves out to make it quiet. Take a chainsaw in the summer and cut down trees out of the ditch so you can walk in with a minimum of effort and noise. I once read that trails cut to the stands on the edges of food plots should not be made straight, but be cut so there is a curve at the end where the stand is located so deer can’t see you walking down the trail from a distance. Good idea.

The perfect treestand site, the one that will become your go-to location year after year can be hard to find and it can take some effort to develop. Sometimes it can be a mystery why some treestands seem to produce year after year, but most often, it’s a combination of these four factors that make a particular site the location for the perfect killing tree.

RULE THE RUT with these 3 overlooked tree stand sites

RULE THE RUT with these 3 overlooked tree stand sites

These three terrain features are quite common across much of the whitetail’s range, but few hunters look for them. Here’s how to find and capitalize on these overlooked locations.

By Bernie Barringer

All serious whitetail hunters live for that magical time of the year; those three weeks in November when something amazing can happen at any moment. Bucks are on their feet at any hour of the day or night. Things like core areas and home ranges become meaningless as the mature males of the species pant and sweat and grind out the hours, searching for receptive females in a frantic effort to procreate during this short period of frenzied rutting activity. There is no better time to shoot the biggest buck of your life.

You wait for this window of opportunity all year. Don’t spend it in the wrong spot.

I hate that I spent so much of my life sitting in the wrong tree, but that is the nature of learning. Back in the 1970’s growing up in Iowa, I had no idea the potential that I had available at my fingertips. While I lived in the wrong part of the state for consistently producing big bucks, the big bucks were within reach; only a couple hours’ drive away.

But it took a long time to figure out how to put one of them in front of me. I would find a beaten-down trail or an area torn up with rubs and scrapes; then put up a stand. By the 1990’s I was finally beginning to figure it out. I finally killed a couple really nice ones and today, I travel all around the Midwest looking for mature bucks every year. My frenzy of rushing from state to state, putting up and taking down stands, checking trail cameras and walking miles and miles looking for fresh activity resembles the buck’s rutting activity for those three magical weeks.

But I have learned to be more efficient, and because I mostly hunt public land, I often find that the best-looking, obvious spots already have a treestand when I get there, and in many cases, have so much sign of human activity that the mature bucks of the area have learned to avoid them.

Before hunting any area, I spend some time looking over aerial photographs on Google Earth to find potential stand sites. Then, upon arrival, I look them over in person, taking note of the sign and the lay of the land. I want to know that when I put up a stand, it will be in a location that I can sit for a long period of time and the only way a fidgety guy like me can park his butt in a treestand all day is by having a supreme confidence that I am in a really great spot.

Particularly on those public areas and other lands that get a fair amount of hunting pressure, that spot is likely to be a site that most other hunters wouldn’t recognize. Here are brief descriptions of three great hunting spots that most hunters would overlook.

River Bends

I killed a 6-year-old buck on public land in Iowa a couple years ago on the 12th day of my seven-day hunt. I found a lot of sign of deer activity on the outside of a large, sweeping river bend on the fifth day of the hunt. Once in a stand, I began to see deer movement including one nice shooter buck, but most of the movement was out of range, so I had to adjust a couple times.  I had moved my stand about 100 yards twice over the next few days before I settled on the exact spot where I killed that old warrior. The location was where the outside bend of a river swept up against a steep bluff, which funneled the deer movement into a narrow corridor. This was a river that the deer could easily cross, in fact they can cross any river if they want to bad enough, but they much preferred to take the long way around and a distinct trail developed on a shelf along the steep bank.

Deer, like all animals take the path of least resistance when travelling. They are looking for places that it is easy to walk and that’s where the trails develop. Any shelf along the riverbank from the top to the bottom of the step bluff will have a distinct trail on it, and it will have the tracks of not only deer, but those of raccoons, coyotes, and all critters that roam the forest, because they all prefer to travel the easy route.

This was a perfect place to intercept a buck that was pounding the pavement because it very naturally channeled the deer movement into a narrow area, an area where I could easily cover with a treestand in the right spot.

Jumpers

I kind of lucked onto this type of location. I happened to see a buck come out of the tip of a draw 100 yards away when I was sitting in a treestand in a bushy fencerow. I rattled at him, but after a short look towards me, he crossed the top of the hill and entered the point of a draw on the other side. After that morning’s hunt, I walked over there and was surprised to see a series of rubs and a small trail with several sets of big tracks in it. I realized that it was a perfect place for a buck to jump from one drainage to another with minimal exposure. He was only in the open for a very short period; it was an ideal shortcut.

Frankly I don’t know of very many people who hunt these places I came to identify as “Jumpers,” but they can be absolutely dynamite if you find one in the right spot. These drainages may be referred to as hollows, ditches, draws or ravines depending on the local jargon, They are all checked by bucks cruising for receptive does. The place where an arm of the ravine reaches out into a field near where an arm of the adjacent ravine comes out will be used as a crossing point for bucks moving from one to the other.

You absolutely have to burn the booth leather to find the good ones. Looking at an aerial photo will give you dozens of these to check out, and most will have little to no sign, but when you find the one the bucks really like to use, you will know it. Rubs, tracks and often a scrape or two will be the tip-off that you are in the right spot.

The wind can be tricky in these locations; it tends to swirl and dance and it will fool you often. Hunt these spots carefully and only with a light wind. One of my favorite places to hunt these is where the trail coming down the arm of the ravine intersects the main trail going down the middle of the ravine. This may be down the slope a distance where usually the wind is friendlier.

Field Corners

In keeping with the theme that bucks do not like to expose themselves in the open any more than is absolutely necessary, the corners of fields are another overlooked stand site. These are basic and simple locations, easy to identify on an aerial photo or a topographical map. Heck, you can even see them from the road many times. They are everywhere in farm country.

We are talking about the square corner of an open field that has woods on at least two sides of it. Because they do not like to cross open areas in the daylight, bucks will travel around the point, keeping just inside the woods. This creates a pinch point of sorts that concentrates their travel patterns. These pinch points up your odds of being within range of a buck by funneling their activity into a small area. Bucks also use them when scent-checking the field; they will cruise around the downwind side of a field to smell what does and other bucks may be in the field.

Interestingly, these places can have lots of sign or little to no sign and it doesn’t seem to make much difference during the rut. For some reason, I have seen these areas all torn up with rubs and scrapes or, on the other end of the spectrum, maybe just a very faint trail. The amount of sign in these areas seems to have no relation to the amount of travel they get when the bucks get on their feet and begin cruising.

I like to start monitoring these locations with trail cameras the end of October, which helps me learn which ones are getting the most use. I have found that if there is a lot of food in the area, say for example that the open field is corn stubble or alfalfa, the area will hold more does and be more conducive to bucks moving around the field corners. Once the field is plowed up and the does are feeding and bedding elsewhere, the amount of travel around the corner may drop off considerably.

Because I hunt mostly public lands which receive a lot of pressure from other hunters, I have found that the most obvious funnels, pinch points and areas with rutting sign get so much attention that the bucks soon learn to avoid them. If you learn to look for those less obvious points that concentrate the travel of cruising bucks, you can take advantage of not only the rut movement, but the tendencies of bucks to avoid the other hunters. This will help you put yourself in a much better position to bag a big one.

Using Google Earth and mapping apps

The advent of online aerial photography has been one of the greatest scouting tools ever. It has significantly changed the way hunters can research an area before ever seeing it in person. Great locations often jump right off the computer screen at you. These resources include online aerials such as Google Earth, Bing Maps and great apps for your device such as Scoutlook Weather and OnX maps. I have found that many of those locations only look good “on paper.” You have to get out there and walk them out, looking them over in person. Some of the spots that barely seemed worth a second look turned out to be some of my most consistent producers.

I believe one of the reasons that terrific spots on the screen turn out to be disappointments is because the aerial photography can’t show land relief well. Bucks travel based not only on terrain features such as woodlots and fields, but also on topography. You simply cannot read topography well on the computer screen. You have to have your feet on the ground to complete the puzzle.

For this reason, I recommend picking twice as many great looking spots from the computer screen as you think you will need. Some of them will disappoint upon arrival, but one or two of them may turn out to be the scene of your great elation when you walk up on the buck of a lifetime.

Every Deer Hunter Should Master These 3 Essential Calls

Every Deer Hunter Should Master These 3 Essential Calls

Using calls to bring in a buck can be hit or miss and many hunters just give up trying. But if you learn to use these three calls in the right place at the right time, you will be a believer.

By Bernie Barringer

It took me four years to draw the nonresident Iowa deer tag that had me sitting in a tree in the southeastern part of the state. I was positioned at the head of a steep ditch leading down into a woodlot, but I was surrounded on three sides by tall CRP grass. Typical of Iowa, it was a very windy day.

About 100 yards away, a buck’s head appeared above the tall grass and his headgear made my heart beat a little faster. The mature, thick-antlered 10-pointer was walking from right to left, heading to the next ravine. I pulled a call out of my pocket and put it to my mouth.

The Buck Roar

Now back up 20 years or so. It was in the early 80’s when I first heard a buck make the loud guttural grunt that has become known as the “roar” or “growl” depending on who is selling the call which tries to imitate that sound. Let’s just say it was the loudest, distinctive grunt I had ever heard. It was an aggressive sound and I knew it would bring in a big buck if I could make that sound. I spent years trying to imitate that sound with grunt tubes but nothing worked, mostly because they turned into a squeak when you try to get the volume you need. Then Primos introduced the “Buck Roar” and I finally had a call in my hand that could make that sound.

In order to overcome the rushing wind on that November day in Iowa, with a buck 100 yards away, I blew into the Buck Roar as hard as I could, “BLAAAAAAAAAT!” Just like in the movies, the buck turned and walked right to the base of my tree where I watched my arrow slice between the ribs of my largest buck to date.

This call has limited application, but when it’s right, it’s super effective. For mature bucks that are on the prowl looking for action, they simply cannot resist the urge to check out the source of the sound. The reason? Because bucks make this noise when they are in the presence of a doe in heat that just won’t let them mount her. This is a frustration sound bucks make when they are just hours, sometimes minutes from being able to breed. Any buck who hears this sound knows it means there is a hot doe in the vicinity and he is going to check it out.

Doe Bleats

Grunt tubes can imitate the sound of a doe bleat, but are better for just imitating the grunting vocalization of a deer. Deer hear these ordinary grunts every day and rarely pay much attention to them. Cut the can type calls that you turn over in your hand do the best job of imitating the drawn-out bleat that really gets a buck’s attention. It’s a variable-pitched wail made by does when they are in heat or in trouble. It’s a doe’s way of saying, “here I am, come over here.”

This sound will call in bucks you can see or can be used blind in an attempt to call in deer that might be in the area within hearing. I use this call from time to time whenever I am hunting near a bedding area. The key to this call, and any call for that matter, is using it in an area where there is ground cover or a terrain feature the deer cannot see over. If a deer can see the area around your stand and don’t see any deer that could have made the call, they are probably not going to come.

When the deer is coming, stop calling. Call again only if they show signs of losing interest or start moving away.

Rattle Right

Many hunters have had little to no success with rattling, and that’s usually due to one of two things. Rattling works poorly when there are few mature bucks around or if the buck-doe ratio is out of balance. You need to be in an area where there is a good number of mature bucks and there is a lot of competition for breeding. Where I live in Minnesota, does far outnumber bucks and there is little fighting and interaction between bucks during the breeding season. Every buck gets in on the action. I have had excellent luck bringing in bucks with rattling antlers in other states.

Bucks are remarkable in their ability to pinpoint the source of a sound. I can’t count the number of times I have rattled antlers and had a buck run literally right to the base of my tree. I groan at the memories of being caught with the rattling antlers in my hand when I first see a buck staring right at me, preventing me from getting off a shot. For this reason I have become more conservative in my rattling.

I no longer crash the antlers together for long periods, which increases the odds that a buck is going to sneak in and catch me off-guard. My typical sequence starts out with 15-30 seconds of light rattling in case any deer is nearby. Then after about five minutes, I give the rattling a little more gusto for 15-30 seconds. After another five minutes, I use 2-3 periods of about 5-7 seconds of rattling as hard as I can with about 30 seconds in between. If any deer are going to respond, this offers the best chance of attracting them without having them pinpoint your location.

Learn these three calls and you will find success with them if you use them in the right places at the right times. With all calling, make sure you are positioned in such a way that the deer have to come over there to find the source of the sound. Rattling in open hardwoods or flat ground with good visibility isn’t going to work well if the deer can simply look over there and don’t see a deer. I will go into that in more detail in a future column.

5 ways to stop a deer in your shooting lane without spooking it

5 ways to stop a deer in your shooting lane without spooking it

Shooting at a moving deer with a bow can be a big mistake, but trying to stop him can be just as risky. Here are some tips to bring him to a halt without alarm.

By Bernie Barringer

If you watch outdoor TV, you have seen it a hundred times. The show host is in a treestand and here comes a buck. The host needs to stop it for the shot so he or she lets out an “Uuuurp!” and the buck does one of three things, all of which are bad. Either the buck takes off, keeps walking, or slams on the brakes and stands there all tensed up, ready to take flight at the slightest sign of danger or the noise of a bowstring. That deer just went from relaxed to alert with the sound the hunter made, which is the perfect recipe for “ducking the string,” which is actually the process of loading the muscles for flight, but it usually means your arrow flies right over the buck’s back.

There must be a better way. Can we stop the deer in our shooting lane, right where we want them, without putting them on edge? Well, there are actually five better ways that I can think of. Try one of these.

Scented Key Wick

Hanging a key wick with some deer urine on it is the best way I know of to stop a deer without alarming them. I like to hang it about five feet high and right in the trail if possible. Every buck will stop and smell it, if only momentarily, but they will pause just long enough for you to get off your shot on a standing, relaxed deer.

I like the key wick because you can pull it off the branch and drop it into a sealed plastic bag; you don’t want it there when you are not.

Visual Distraction

Just about anything sitting in the trail that’s out of the ordinary may cause them to pause for a moment. I know of someone who uses a small orange surveyor’s flag. He claims a small bucket works too. Deer are curious animals, and any small man-made object free of human scent can work.

An Apple Core

This is not legal in all areas because some conservation officers might consider it baiting, so check your state and local laws before trying it. Eat an apple and drop the core on the ground where you want the deer to stop. Works every time. I’ve never had a deer walk right on by an apple core.

I usually eat the apple on the way to the stand and then drop the core before I climb the tree. You could eat the apple in the stand and then toss the core, but that has never worked for me; I guess I’m not that good at tossing it accurately because it usually rolls to a stop a few feet from where I would really like it to be.

Thread

A piece of black sewing thread stretched across a trail can be just what is needed to stop the deer. They feel the pressure, and although they usually push through after a moment, they will often pause just long enough for a shot because they feel something they cannot see, which confuses them momentarily. While this technique works, it has its shortcomings, which I found out the first time I used it. A buck came following a doe, which paused perfectly when she hit the string, then moved on through, breaking the string. Needless to say, the buck didn’t pause in my shooting lane.

Some Deer Hair

This is one of the best ways I have found to stop a deer, second only to the key wick. A handful of hair off a previously shot deer can be dropped right in the trail. Any deer that comes by just can’t seem to help themselves, they have to stop and have a sniff. Their head is down, they are stopped in your shooting lane and they are distracted while you draw your bow or raise your gun, settle your sights and shoot. Perfect.

The “Uuuurp!” might work, but don’t chance it. A grunt call in your mouth can work too, but then you… well, you have a grunt call in your mouth when you need to shoot. Use one of these much more effective ways to stop a deer and you will be shooting at a relaxed deer that is less likely to duck the string. That significantly increases the chances you will be eating that deer instead of talking about it.

Late October Whitetail Madness

Late October Whitetail Madness

Many hunters wait to hunt hard until the month of November when the bucks are running crazy and the rut is in full swing. That can be a mistake, because the last week in October can be one of the best times of the year to tag a mature buck.

By Bernie Barringer

I love the last week in October. The first signs of the rut are appearing more and more by the day. Bucks are getting edgy and this offers several advantages to the DIY hunter. Don’t get me wrong, I love the month of November too, and I’ll be somewhere hunting whitetails the first two weeks of November as long as I am physically able, but the end of October, in my opinion may be the most overlooked time period of the year to catch a big buck off guard.

Scrapes

This is the one time of the year when visits to scrapes take place in the daylight. It’s the one time when I consider hunting over an area all torn up with rubs and scrapes to be well worth it. During November, bucks will mostly visit scrapes under the cover of darkness, or cruise by downwind to scent-check the scrape. But during the last week in October, they are more likely to walk right up and give it a few strokes and a fresh dose of urine rubbed through the tarsal glands. Find an area with several active scrapes, set up downwind of it and put in your time.

One of the best ways to keep the bucks’ attention on a scrape is the addition of a scrape dripper that keeps the scent coming. A dripper allows a slow application of fresh deer lure to the scrape itself, and bucks really pay attention. This can be the difference between having a buck circle 30 yards downwind to scent check the scrape, versus walking right out in front of you and offering a shot. Scrapes with scent drippers are the perfect place to place a game camera, too. You will get a photo of most all bucks in the area within a few days, which allows you to inventory the deer.

Rubs

Rubs are more than just sign that a buck was there at one time. Rubs are signposts to which all deer pay attention. Rubs offer clues to the direction deer are travelling and they line up in such a way as to offer good information about the routes bucks prefer to take.

Signpost rubs offer the best chance to tag a buck of all, because they are visited often. Look for large rubs on big trees that show signs of frequent use. If you find these big signpost rubs near the edge of a food source, you have significantly increased your odds of finding the place the bucks will enter to food. It’s a great place to set up a stand.

Lures

Scents and lures work best in this pre-rut period. Mock scrapes or natural scrapes with a scrape dripper and some Active Scrape or Estrus lure will be checked out periodically. Bucks are feeling the urge at this time and are more likely to come to scent that they will be in a week when their nose is full of the real thing.

Remember what I said about the bucks circling downwind? They are reluctant to come to a primary scrape on the edge of an open field during the daylight, so they just scent-check the scrapes and don’t actually visit them unless something smells good enough to pull them in. A good lure can do just that.

Calling

The end of October is a great time to use calling and rattling to bring in a buck. Bleats and grunts are sounds that appeal to a buck’s sense of curiosity. They are often just rutty enough to walk over and check out the source of the sound. Choose a good calling site where the deer cannot see the area around the source of the sound.

Calling or rattling may be just the right tactic to bring a buck out of his bed during the daylight. Set up on pathways that lead from the bedding area, using the wind to your advantage and rattle the antlers periodically during late day hours. Some gentle ticking of the antlers together may be enough, but don’t fear creating a racket by imitating an all-out brawl. Sometimes a lot of noise is what it takes to get their dander up and cause them to make a move.

The huge majority of DIY hunting trips take place during November; that’s not likely to change any time soon. Consider breaking the pattern to take advantage of the last week of October and the opportunities it presents.  The rut, with its frenetic activity has its appeal, no doubt, but there are some real advantages to getting there ahead of the crowds. You just may find you have the woods, and the deer, to yourself.

How to Beat the October Lull, a week by week guide

How to Beat the October Lull, a week by week guide

Too many bowhunters stay home during October because the reputation of the “October Lull” has them discouraged. Here’s how to improve your success during each week of this maligned month.

By Bernie Barringer

In the past, I never really got serious about my deer hunting until the rut. I’m definitely not alone in that regard, many bowhunters ignore the opportunities the month has to offer. Certainly, it’s not like September when the bucks are visible and on predictable daily routines, or November, when the bucks are running around in a testosterone-induced stupor. But October has some advantages, although each week brings new challenges and opportunities.

Week 1

The thing I like most about the first week in November is the opportunity to hunt in pleasant conditions without mosquitoes. The early frosts have eliminated the pests and turned the woods colorful and it’s a great time to be outdoors. The deer hunting locations for me mainly revolves around food in the evening and bedding in the morning. The movements have some regularity to them and with the help of scouting cameras and observation; you can find a buck to target. Another advantage to this time is the solitude. Since most bowhunters are waiting for the rut, you can have the woods to yourself. It’s a great time to hunt the public land that will be full of hunters in November but will have few fresh boot prints in October.

Week 2

These advantages carry over into the second week, as well, but you can add food into the mix. Crops are being harvested and cut cornfields become magnets for the first week or so after they are harvested. Deer move into these fields because the acorns are getting cleaned up and the readily-available missed corn is easy pickings. Ears of high-carbohydrate lie on the ground in plain sight and deer migrate to these areas en-masse.

As the weather gets colder, bedding areas become more predictable. Overcast, windy or rainy weather sends the bucks into the thickets where they have some protection from the elements. Savvy hunters who know where these areas of thermal bedding cover are found can take advantage of the deer as they move out of the cover in the evening to feed, or back to the cover in the morning.

Week 3

By the third week in October, the effectiveness of calling and rattling is rising. Scrapes and rubs are everywhere, but not being checked often just yet; still, they are excellent places to make some noise. Setting up over early rut sign and rattling can be very effective at this time. The last two weeks of October and the first week of November are the only times when I feel that blind calling is effective enough to be worth trying. By blind calling, I mean making attracting noises without actually seeing a deer to call to.

Blind calling with a grunt call and rattling must be done from the right location, however. Avoid areas of open timber where the deer can see long distances. If they can see the area where the sound is coming from but don’t see a deer, they probably won’t come. A decoy can help, but better yet, put a barrier of some sort between you and where you expect the deer to be. Even a small rise in terrain that they can’t see over can be enough to make them walk over there to investigate the source of the calling or rattling.

Week 4

The success of calling and rattling continues to grow through the last week in October, but the real area of focus is the sign. Those scrapes that were mostly undisturbed during most of the moth are suddenly getting a lot of activity. Areas all torn up with scrapes and rubs can be excellent places to park yourself in a treestand for long hours during the end of the month.

Here’s a key tip, get downwind of the area, particularly if those scrapes are found along the edge of a field. Bucks avoid exposing themselves to open areas during the daylight and they are unlikely to walk right up to a scrape along the edge of a field unless something really attractive hits their nose. They will often work those scrapes from 30-40 yards downwind, from the cover whenever possible for them to do so. Keep this in mind when you choose the right tree for your stand.

The final week of October offers the best chance of the entire month to attract a buck with a good deer lure. I have had excellent success using a scrape dripper with some Special Golden Estrus or Active Scrape to keep fresh scent going into the scrape during daylight hours. Warm daytime weather causes the dripper to expand, making it drip scent into the scrape. Cool weather at night causes the scent to contract, pulling air back into the container where it stays until it warms up. The advantages of having fresh scent applied only during daylight are obvious.

So don’t give up on the maligned month of October. Sure this time period has some challenges, but if you focus on the advantages, you can be wrapping a tag around a buck before most hunters are getting serious about their hunting.

Is this a bigfoot?

Is this a bigfoot?

One of the biggest arguments put forward whenever the topic of bigfoots (bigfeet?) comes up goes something like this: “If bigfoot is out there, why doesn’t anyone get a trail camera photo of one?” Well that’s a good point and a possible discussion for another day. Along comes this photo. Of course doubters will say it’s something other than a bigfoot, like a bear out taking a walk on his back feet. Of course. How would the doubters explain the white on the fingernails/claws? Bears have a short tail, but they do have a tail, and it is normally visible. There’s no evidence of a tail in this photo.

I’m not going to get in the middle of this, but what do you think? How would you like to be in the treestand in the background? Would you shoot?

This buck’s luck finally ran out

This buck’s luck finally ran out

The Duck Mountains of western Manitoba is an amazing place with elk, moose, bears and whitetails among other things. I have been hunting bears with Tom Ainsworth at Grandview Outfitters for several years and if you have followed my writings and videos you have seen me shoot some real giants there. Tom owns 1600 acres which includes a lot of bush and pasture, but also some farm ground including a couple hundred acres of alfalfa. When bear hunting there in the fall, I have been impressed by the number of deer, including some nice bucks that I’ve seen feeding in those fields in the evenings.

This buck and one even larger is still out there.

One evening while sitting around dinner after a successful bear hunt, I was admiring some of the big bucks Tom’s clients had bagged during the rifle season. I asked him if he had ever considered offering early season bowhunts. He has great deer, the perfect place to hunt them in the early season, and with an early September opening day, the chance for hunters to shoot one in velvet. The conversation ended with me agreeing to be the guinea pig so to speak, I would come and hunt an early season deer with bow and see if there was the possibility for Tom to put together a quality bowhunt for a few hunters each year.

I arrived in August 2016 and shot a giant bear the first evening of my bear hunt which allowed me to spend the next few days hanging trail cameras and scouting for deer. I found several really nice shooter bucks including one which really turned my crank, a beautiful, symmetrical 10-point. After six days of hunting this buck, I named him Lucky because I saw him every day, but he was always just out of range, and one time he was about to step into range when some does blew my cover. Here’s a story about that and how he got the name Lucky. I ended up shooting a nice 130-class buck on a second trip there.

This is Lucky last year. Notice the brow tines are hooked forward.

So when I arrived on September 8, 2017, I had the buck I named Lucky in the back of my mind. Tom had already been getting some Covert scouting camera photos of some nice bucks and showed me one photo of two bucks in velvet from a few days before. One was a 130 class deer and the other was a big 10, possibly Lucky. He told me, “don’t shoot that one, shoot this one” as he pointed at the bigger of the two. I had just arrived after an 11 hour drive but he wanted me in a stand so I headed out even though it was already 6:15. We spooked deer off the field as we went out there on the 4-wheeler.

Within an hour, there were 20 or more deer scattered around the field, including some does and fawns right in front of me. An hour before dark, two bucks appeared a couple hundred yards away and started working my way. One was an eight, one was a 10-pointer and both were in full velvet. I have always wanted to shoot a buck in velvet and suddenly I forgot all about Lucky. I wanted this buck; and if he would come my way I was going to take a shot.

And come my way he did. He walked within 25 yards and stood broadside. Problem is there were a half-dozen other deer right in front of me as well. When I drew my bow, I was busted by too many eyes and ears, every deer was on high alert and staring right at me. As I settled the pin on the velvet 10-point, I knew I would need to aim a little low because he was wound really tight and he was going to explode at the slightest movement or noise. And he did. He dropped and the arrow went through the fleshy part of his neck right where it meets the shoulders.

The hooked brow tines are a dead giveaway that this is the same deer.

Disappointment washed over me as I watched him trot to the top of the hill 150 yards away and look back at me. Then he slowly walked out of sight. I was crushed because I knew it was a superficial wound. The following morning Tom and I did our diligence looking for him but never found a single drop of blood. He’ll be sore for a few days, but my hope of a velvet buck disappeared with him.

I hung six trail cameras that day and checked Tom’s cams with him. We found photos of another great 10-point buck that would go well over 160 I believe. Now I had some choices to make. This new buck would have to wait a day because I didn’t have a stand at this spot.

So I settled into the stand on the hayfield that evening an hour earlier and started seeing does, fawns and young bucks right away. I’ll bet I had two dozen deer within range during the next few hours. About an hour before dark, I was filming a cluster of deer right in front of me, when I saw two 8-points walk into the area so I put the camera on them. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I realized the big 10 had rolled right up on me. He was at 25 yards but there were a dozen other deer all within 20 yards of me and my bow was still on the hanger. I really had a problem.

Deer were chasing each other and feeding, so with great care I chose moments very carefully to move slowly and got the bow off the hanger. When I drew, several deer locked on me, but amazingly, the big 10 stuck his head down into the alfalfa so I put the sight pin on his ribs and touched off the shot. I had to shoot him quartering to me, but the arrow hit perfectly. He ran 100 yards then stopped and stood wobbly-legged. Soon his head sagged and he dropped into the alfalfa. I could see his head still up but I expected it to go down any second. But he stayed lying there looking around for ten minutes.

Then much to my shock he got up and walked into the bush. I could see the entry and exit wounds and it looked perfect. Totally baffling. Tom arrived and we followed the blood trail for a ways into the bush but we found a couple bloody beds where we had apparently bumped him so we backed out. Tom said, “The big ones die hard” and I had to agree. The following morning we took up the trail and found him dead.

After looking over last year’s photos and video of Lucky, I am convinced this is the same buck. He’s bigger of course and he green scored 161 gross. What a thrill to shoot a buck like that in the early bow season. There are several other big deer on Tom’s property, and he will be offering a small number of early season bowhunts. If you are interested, give him a ring at 204.546.2751. But please save a spot for me!

4 Off-beat Hunting Tactics  and Situational Strategies

4 Off-beat Hunting Tactics and Situational Strategies

Do what the other hunters haven’t even thought of to throw bucks off guard.

By Bernie Barringer

Most of us have one thing on our mind during the rut; being in a tree. We work hard at finding the right tree and spending as much time as we can there. This has developed over years of trial and error and being in the right tree at the right time is a proven method of getting your hands on a nice rack.

But there are times when being in a tree is not the best strategy. In fact there are some situations where some off-beat tactics will up your odds, if you know how to recognize these situations and capitalize on them when you see them. Let’s have a look at four situations where just sitting all day in one spot, not matter how good that spot looks, might not be the best strategy.

The Windy Day Walkabout

Mature bucks have learned to depend on all their senses. If one of their senses is diminished, it will affect their movement patterns. The wind is a perfect example of an environmental situation that will curtail movement. When the wind blows, everything is moving, which makes it more difficult for the deer to pick out danger with their eyes. The wind creates noise which decreases the deer’s ability to hear danger. And the wind causes the scent currents to rush and swirl, which makes it difficult for a deer to pick out the source of a smell.

On windy days, many mature bucks just hole up and wait it out. If they aren’t coming to you, you must go to them. It’s the perfect time to stalk slowly into their bedding areas and try to shoot one from the ground. All that wind can be used to your advantage, and allows you to get close enough to see them before they see you. Then you can move in for the shot.

This is a slow, painstaking process which cannot be rushed, but if you have a few known bedding areas, you can be in for some great action if you take your time, glass regularly, and move stealthily through them.

Bump and Hunt

We all know bucks that just don’t seem to show themselves during the daylight even during the rut. These nocturnal bucks become almost unkillable by legal means, but I have a strategy that just might work in the right situation. These bucks tend to bed in fairly predictable sanctuaries and with the use of trail cameras you can pinpoint the areas where they are spending the daylight hours. If you have their primary bedding are in mind, this strategy might just be the one that cracks their defenses.

Grab a lightweight stand and sticks like the HAWK Helium or a climber and approach the bedding area from the downwind. Carefully creep into the area until you move the buck out of his bed. Most often you will not see the buck other than a glimpse of his backside as he escapes, but that’s all you need. Most often you will just hear him sneaking away or even just find a bed he just left.

Now examine the area well and try to figure out which route he will take back into the bedding area based on the current wind direction and the terrain. Bucks are very predictable and cautious in how they approach their daytime sanctuaries. They tend to circle 50-70 yards downwind and then approach on a trail that allows them to enter the area with the wind quartering on the side of their nose.

Set your stand up on your best location guess and be ready. The buck is likely to be back within two hours. This is a long-shot of course and it will probably only work once; the first time you try it, so make sure things are right. I suggest you reserve it for that one deer that seems to be impossible to kill any other way. I have had this work for me one time and I have a friend that successfully pulled it off.

Fighting the Fog

I lived and hunted in northern Iowa for many years. This flat, open farm country lends itself to spot and stalking whitetails, but I learned there was another strategy that was even more important. Anytime I wake up before dawn on a November morning and see thick fog outside, I know I am not going to the treestand that day; I’m going to spend the morning in the seat of my truck.

Mature bucks tend to push hot does out into open areas where they can keep an eye on them and protect them from smaller bucks. When daylight breaks, they just bed down in the nearest cover. This may be a bushy fencerow, a grass waterway, a terrace or a small patch of trees out in a field. Usually these areas are fairly secluded, but not so much on foggy days.

In thick fog, these deer only have a general sense of where they are, and they will bed in much more vulnerable spots than they would otherwise, because the fog prevents them from seeing their surroundings. I’ve seen them bed in remarkably vulnerable places. I have a friend who was driving to work along a gravel road when he saw a big buck lying in the road ditch right outside his window. He drove forward over a small rise, got out and trotted down the opposite road ditch until he was across from the buck. He then stepped up on the roadway with his bow drawn and shot the wide-eyed150-class buck before he had a chance to get up.

As the fog lifts during the morning, I cruise around with a binoculars and spotting scope, checking out where the deer are bedded. Most foggy mornings I will find a buck or sometimes two that are in a spot where a stalk is possible. Often I will just see a doe or smaller buck standing beside a fencerow or small piece of cover, but that usually means I can find a larger buck by using the optics to examine the area. I then plan a stalk and try to get within bow range of the buck. I have shot some bucks this way and I have even more stories of close calls and failures, but I love this kind of hunting because it is so exhilarating and rewarding when it works.

Move in for the Kill

This is another offbeat tactic that only works in some situations and during the breeding phase of the rut. Once again, it’s a bit of a long-shot, but when the situation presents itself, it’s worth a try.We’ve all been in the situation where we had bucks chasing a doe all around us. They are running through the woods, sometimes half a dozen or more smaller bucks, harassing a doe that is nearly ready to breed. Most of this behavior is found among yearling and 2-year-old bucks because the older bucks usually won’t expose themselves in this way. The mature bucks often stay back and let the smaller bucks chase the does, then move in and run the smaller bucks off when the doe is ready to breed.

I can count several times that I have seen this chasing activity move off through the woods, then 20 minutes to a half hour later, along comes a bigger buck, trailing the action at a safe distance. I have learned to take advantage of this situation by moving quickly to get in on the action.

If you are seeing this chasing just out of range, think about all that great scent the doe is leaving in the area as she runs about. More bucks are sure to follow, and the chances that a larger buck is already aware of the situation are pretty good. Get moved over there before he arrives. I mean get your stand down and move quickly; get set up in a hurry to take advantage of the situation.

I even know of some areas of open timber where this chasing activity is very common and seems to take place quite often during the middle of November. I’ve sat in an area where I can glass these areas, watching for this activity. Then I grab a stand and rush down there to set up as quickly as possible.

These four tactics are off-beat and certainly depend on a specific situation, but they can make the difference between going home with a story or going home with a buck at the end of the day. Next time you are faced with one of these specific situations, consider that sitting in a tree might not be the only alternative for that particular time and place.

Don’t Blow it on Early Season Bow Bucks

Don’t Blow it on Early Season Bow Bucks

Patience is the key to success on opening day whitetails! By Bernie Barringer

Any serious whitetail hunter spends some time glassing fields on late summer evenings, admiring the whitetails that are so visible at that time of the year. They are actually quite easy to pattern because their movements are so predictable. Excitement builds because the opening day of bow season is a short time away.

So why is it that so few of those mature bucks are actually taken by bowhunters in the first few days of the early archery seasons? I believe there are four primary mistakes many bowhunters make which ruin their chances of bagging one of those bucks during the early fall. Let’s take a look at these so you don’t make the same mistakes.

Watch the Clock          

Summer days are long, especially in the northern half of the US. It’s common to be seeing whitetails in the hayfields or soybeans in broad daylight at 8:30 or 9:00 in the evening. What many hunters do not realize is that the daylight hours are getting shorter by 4-5 minutes per day. That’s nearly a half hour per week. Of course, half of that time is in the evening, so every week the sun is going down 15 minutes earlier.

A lot of hunters interpret deer movement in early fall as “starting to go nocturnal” when in reality, the deer are coming out at the same time; it’s just getting dark earlier. Yup that deer that was standing in the last rays of sunlight at 8:30, is three weeks later standing in full darkness at the same exact time. Failing to take this into account can cost you a chance at a big buck, which leads us to mistake number two.

Move Back

Too many hunters set up on the edge of the field expecting to get a shot at the bucks they saw a few weeks ago. In reality, those bucks aren’t likely to appear in the field during daylight. Not only is it getting dark sooner, but as the velvet comes off, the buck’s disposition begins to change. He’s becoming more cautious about showing himself, and he begins to hang up back in the woods for a while before cautiously moving out into the open field.

If your treestand is right at the edge of the field, you may not encounter him until it’s too dark to make a safe and ethical shot. By moving your ambush point back 50 yards from the field, you have a much better chance of getting a shot with enough daylight to see your sight pins. Follow the entry trail a ways back and look for sign: droppings, rubs, tracks milling about, and nibbled plants. These are indicators of the area where the bucks are biding their time before making a move. Here’s where your stand belongs.

Tree Trimming

Many a buck has escaped with his life because a hunter didn’t trim one little branch. In the early season there are lots of leaves on the trees and shrubbery or other vegetation at ground level can mess up your shot or prohibit you from getting a shot at all. Be ruthless with your lane-cutting. Deer are not at all alarmed by limbs and cuttings lying on the ground, so trim away. Try to have at least 3-4 good, clear shooting lanes.

Use a long pole saw to trim high branches and a clipper to nip saplings and large weeds along the ground. Wear gloves, boots and of course long pants to limit human scent left in the area. Try to do it at least a week before the season opens.

Wait Until the Wind is Right

Now you have a stand in position, the bucks are in a predictable pattern and you can’t wait to get in there and get it done. But wait! You may only get one chance and here is where most hunters blow it. Opening day arrives and the wind is not quite right but it’s the perfect setup. What difference can a little issue with wind direction hurt right? After all you are using good scent control and have the latest sprays and scent-control clothing. An overly optimistic reliance on scent control has saved the lives of a lot of deer. No matter what the marketers would like you to believe, there is no such thing as scent elimination, only scent reduction.

Reduce the temptation to hunt the stand until the conditions are perfect! You may only get one chance at this program that you have been working on for weeks. Do not make your move until the time is right and then go get it done. You will be glad you waited. I promise. That is the voice of experience speaking.

Get your binoculars out and go find a nice buck. If you can avoid these four mistakes, your chance of giving him a ride in your pickup just went way up!

Are Bucks Avoiding Your Treestands?

Are Bucks Avoiding Your Treestands?

Some recent research on whitetail movements suggests that bucks learn where your treestands are located and even more importantly, they tend to avoid those areas.

By Bernie Barringer

Most of us have been aware that sometimes we tip off a buck to our location. At times, the buck makes it clear to us that he’s “busted” us, but at other times, the buck may become aware of our presence by the slightest untimely movement, sound or wisp of human scent. In these cases he most likely sneaks away undetected, and we never knew we had a close encounter.

Just how much damage do these negative encounters do to our chances of shooting a buck from that particular location? That question has been answered in a very definite way by some solid scientific evidence aided by today’s GPS technology.

Clint McCoy, a graduate student at Auburn University, recently completed a study that tracked 37 bucks for an entire hunting season and compiled the data he collected into some very surprising conclusions.

Ten of these bucks were 4 years or older, nine were 3 years old, ten were two years old and eight were yearlings. Each was equipped with a GPS collar that tracked their exact location to within a few feet and reported the results every 30 minutes for three years. Those millions of data points were all taken on a 10 square mile study area in South Carolina so the bucks had plenty of room to roam. On this study area were about 100 food plots totaling 300 acres, 60 automatic feeders and 100 treestands.

Hunters were dropped off and picked up near their treestands. The hunting started on September 15 and ended November 22. It was recorded which stands had hunters in them and for how long. Each buck was tracked in relation to the hunters in the stands and specific attention was paid to what McCoy called a “Danger Zone” which was the distance a hunter could visually see from the treestand.

The results of this exhaustive study were quite revealing when it comes to the bucks’ awareness of the use of stands and their tendency to avoid those stands while hunters were present and for some time afterwards. It stands to reason that many of the stands were place in relation to the food plots. On August 24, one out of every three visits the bucks made to the food plots were during daylight. By November 22, the food plots were getting almost no daylight use.

The data showed that the bucks were four times more likely to walk through the danger zone at the beginning of the season than they were at the end. At the end of the season, the buck’s average location was 55 yards farther away from any treestand than it was at the beginning of the season.

The data also showed that the more times a stand was hunted, the more the deer avoided it. No surprise here. If, for example, you hunted a stand for 12 hours in any week, your chance of seeing any of the bucks was cut in half. This avoidance behavior lasted for an average of three days.

Surprisingly, there was little difference in the avoidance moves between mature bucks and yearlings; they all learned to avoid the stands quite quickly.

So what can we take away from this? Well the deer were tipped off to the presence of hunters in primarily three ways: Sounds, sight/movement, and scent. If we can reduce any of these three, we can increase our odds of seeing the bucks.

Sounds are the easiest to control. Entering and exiting the stands is the worst time for alerting deer with noise. Dry leaves, cracking twigs and jingling equipment must be avoided. Some hunters go so far as to clear a path to their stand with a rake. Make sure your equipment both while travelling to the stand and while on stand is deadly silent.

I was brought up with a strict regimen of going to the stand an hour before daylight in order to let our scent “dissipate,” I was told. I rarely do that these days. Consider waiting until daylight to walk to your stand. This is what I have been doing for several years and I believe I spook a lot less deer because I can walk much more quietly when I can see well, an artificial light source doesn’t tip off my presence, and there is a chance I might see a deer before he sees me and avoid a negative encounter.

Having deer see you approach the stand is a dead giveaway. Use the screen of a ditch, ridge, or thick cover to mask your entry. If you are cutting trails to a stand on the edge of a food plot, put a bend in the trail right at the end so any deer in the field cannot see you coming from a distance. Make the entry and exit strategies just as important as all the other factors in choosing your stand locations.

Wind currents can be the single most important factor in tipping deer off to your stand site. While we cannot entirely eliminate human odor, we can do things that will help reduce it. Spray down with Scent Killer on your pantlegs and boots so you minimize scent on the ground and on brush as you walk to your stand. Use antibacterial/antimicrobial soaps, shampoos and laundry detergents. These all help reduce your scent impact, but the most important factor is simply self control. If the wind isn’t right for a stand, just resist the temptation to hunt there no matter how badly you want to.

One could say that there really isn’t anything new as a result of this study, but at the very least it adds some solid scientific data to things we already suspected. The bucks are patterning us, and we had better take every precaution we can if we are going to beat them at this game.

Semi-Guided bear hunting success in Ontario

Semi-Guided bear hunting success in Ontario

A few years ago I met a young man who had just inherited a large bear hunting concession from his grandfather. I worked out a deal with him where I could have the first week of bear season exclusively to my group if I filled up the camp with friends. We do much of the baiting and hanging treestands, etc. We are also responsible for getting ourselves to and from the stands, getting our bear out, etc. In exchange for that we get a good deal on the hunts. I call it a semi-guided hunt for lack of a better term. I normally bring ten hunters but this year I had two back out at the last minute; one had back surgery and one had a broken ankle so we had eight hunters. Everyone saw bears every evening and we were done by the fourth day with all eight tagging a bear. I videoed my hunt as usual and my nephew Corban flew out from Oregon to be a part of the hunt this year. Because he came so far and because he’s probably on the hunt of a lifetime, I put him on the bait which had an old mature boar with what appears to be a P&Y head. He shot the bear the first night. He did a nice job with the video too. For more info on this hunt, visit Wilson’s Havik Lake Outfitters. I’ve got the first week booked up again for 2018.

Enjoy the two videos.

Three Top Opening Day Stand Sites for Mature Bucks

Three Top Opening Day Stand Sites for Mature Bucks

The early days of archery season are perhaps the best time of the year to pattern and shoot a buck. Here are the three best places to waylay an early-season whitetail buck.  

By Bernie Barringer

Opening weekend of archery season in many states opens at a time of change for the whitetail buck. Most seasons open in September or on October 1. In early September, the velvet comes off the antlers and the testosterone is beginning to rise. The bachelor groups are breaking up and the food sources are changing.

Some hunters love this time of the year because the deer are almost totally focused on the available food and are unmolested so their patterns are somewhat predictable. Others scorn this time of the year because the food sources can change rapidly and the bucks will move with the food.

The key to success during the early season is keeping on top of the food preferences and moving as the deer move. There are patterns available, and if you are diligent, you can get yourself in the right place at the right time. Here are three high-percentage stand sites for the early days of the bow season.

Observation Stands

Across the whitetail’s range, hunters are out in the late summer glassing fields, trying to get a glimpse of the buck they may be able to harvest come fall. This is an effective way to get a feel for the deer that live in an area, and helps us learn where they are feeding, but it only goes so far.

Many times the mature bucks will not enter a field in a position they can be seen from a distance. They may use a ditch, grassy waterway, or finger of trees to enter a field and avoid stepping fully into the open until the last moments of daylight.

Additionally, it’s common for the deer to change trails or entry points. Rather than pick one and hope for the best, it’s often better to place a stand in an area with high visibility of the entire field. A high corner, for example, would allow you to spend an evening on stand in an area that might offer a shot, but has a better chance of giving you a view of the most common entry points for the feeding deer.

I call these observation stands because they allow you to observe the activity from a distance, then make a more surgical, precise move once you know where and when your target buck is likely to appear.

Staging Areas

Bucks like to hang back and observe behavior in the field before entering. They will let the does and younger bucks move out into the field and feed. They will hang back and watch the body language of the deer in the field before they enter.

They choose staging areas where they can see the field at times, but primarily, they just hang out and wait to see if the deer already in the open are feeding calmly. These areas can be identified by the sign the bucks leave while loitering. Droppings, tracks, rubs and sometimes scrapes are signs of their presence.

These areas are one of the best places to shoot a big buck in the early season because they spend a considerable amount of time here during the last hour of daylight. Place your treestand where you can take advantage of the wind and do not hunt the stand until the wind is right. You may only get one chance to shoot a big buck in one of these areas, so make sure everything is right before you make your move.

Parallel Trails

Trails that follow the edge of a crop field can be hard to find because they do not get much use, but they can be just the ticket for an early season buck. Like the two sites already mentioned, these are the results of the mature bucks’ reluctance to enter the open during broad daylight.

Parallel trails will be from 20 feet to 30 yards inside the edge of the field and are indistinct trails so they are usually identified by a few tracks rather than the bare earth of a well-worn path.

Bucks use these trails to scent-check the field and to connect observation spots or staging areas. A buck may show up at the edge of the field an hour before he is ready to enter. These trails seem to give him something to do while he waits. Walking these trails gives him a sense of security and helps him determine if the “coast is clear” so to speak.

Most times these trails will be on the downwind side of the field, and since the deer tend to enter the field from the downwind side, they may cross an entry path. Where a parallel trail crosses and entry path is a good spot to set up a treestand on the downwind side. You may be back in the timber too far to have a clear view of the field yourself, but that’s a fair tradeoff for an increased chance of shooting a mature buck.

In all cases, no matter which one of these three stand sites you choose for the early days of the season, enter and exit the stand site carefully and use the wind to your advantage. The deer learn fast that they are being hunted so wait until everything is right and then move in to get the job done.

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.