Bowhunters: Should you hunt with your quiver attached?

Bowhunters: Should you hunt with your quiver attached?

Quiver on or quiver off? By Bernie Barringer

The issue of shooting a bow with a quiver and arrows attached is a debate that has been hashed out over and over on social media and around campfires where ever bowhunters are found. Many say it comes down to personal preference, but I disagree. The right option for you should be based on your hunting style and the types of pursuit you engage in.

If you are exclusively a treestand or ground blind hunter, the ability to detach a quiver from your bow is a great option. You can place the extra arrows within reach because you know right where you’ll be and where they’ll be. You’re unlikely to get a follow up shot in these situations, but you just never know.

If you’re calling elk, spot and stalk hunting mule deer, pronghorn, bears or whitetails, the need to detach a quiver before shooting can be a significant hindrance. Shot opportunities often come quickly, and the motion, noise and time it takes to remove a quiver is going to cost you some shot opportunities, and maybe the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s not worth it.

Watch the video below where I discuss the options available and this will help you choose which option is best for you.

Whitetail.com Celebrates the Hunt Through Dedicated Hunting Social Media

Whitetail.com Celebrates the Hunt Through Dedicated Hunting Social Media

Even at age 57, I frequent social media. Yeah, I’m one of those. While I don’t care for the triviality of some of its content, it’s been a powerful way for me to build and maintain an outdoor brand, as well as enjoy the inherent eye candy borne of the whitetail deer and other game animals. I’m an outdoorsman and, more specifically, a certified “deer on the brain” hunter – and the truth is, there are millions of people across North America who share my obsession.  

About those millions; the approximately 19-million hunters are but a drop in the bucket compared to the quarter-billion Americans using social media today. Nonetheless, the hunting demographic represents a viable and passionate one.

The fact is, most hunters don’t care to see random selfies, closeups of someone’s Kung Pao Chicken, or political satire. On the contrary, they want images of gnarly antlers, game animals, wild landscapes, and deer camps – about anything that celebrates the hunting and outdoor lifestyle. More importantly, they don’t only want to stare at it, they like interacting with it. Nobody likes embracing the lifestyle like the lucky men and women who call hunting and the outdoors their sweet spot.

Countless hunting and outdoor-based social media sites and apps have come and gone. After all, it’s a tenuous and expensive endeavor. While a few still exist, most have gone by the wayside. No doubt, a social media platform built firmly around America’s number one game animal was in order; and inevitable.

Enter Whitetail.com.

The founders of Whitetail.com (or Whitetail, as it’s commonly referred to) understood the desirability of an interactive portal for hunters – particularly those pursuing whitetails in the fields, woodlots, and hills of North America.

It didn’t take the crew at Whitetail long to acknowledge the ever-growing elephant in the deer blind when it came to hunting and social media. Simply put, popular social media channels such as Instagram and Facebook have been unfriendly confines for hunters. Between negative badgering from anti-hunters to the inherent disconnect regarding the benefits of harvesting wild game, something was needed to level the playing field. If that wasn’t enough, the mainstream platforms boldly entered the cancel culture fray by decreasing engagement in the hunting niche and more recently, shutting down some successful hunting pages and groups.

The only way to truly combat these realities was to establish a digital safe space for hunters and outdoorsmen. This wasn’t a new concept for the folks at Whitetail, as they had envisioned the idea for years. What once started as a deer and deer hunting forum site years ago, Whitetail was transformed into an online social media community.

The Inclusive Safe Space

When asking the founders of Whitetail about their main purpose, the simple answer is that the portal represents a place for the hunting community to connect, learn, and share their field experiences. However, the main vision was more than that, specifically to provide a space where hunters could do so without backlash stemming from images of truck bed bucks, exit wounds, and firearms. Simply put, shadow-banning and retribution are not part of Whitetail’s business model or culture.

Whitetail.com offers safe-space social media interaction for hunters.

While whitetail hunters and outdoorsmen have a lot in common, there are many popular hunting methods out there. I think what I like best is that Whitetail embraces them all; from the Midwesterner sitting over a food plot to the Texas hunter setting up near a corn feeder; from those inhabiting box blinds to DIY public land junkies swinging from tree saddles. The need to discourage divisiveness in the hunting community is not lost of the Whitetail.com bunch.

The Beginning of Something Great

Still, in its infancy, Whitetail already is home to a bevy of interactive posts from hunters across the country. Here, imagery of grip and grins, raw wild game meat, and hunting humor are welcome. From trophy bucks to fork horns, the portal celebrates it all. Of the mere 6% of Americans that hunt, Whitetail.com welcomes anyone eaten up by the hunting way of life. Make no mistake, this is a place for hunters to gather, communicate, and learn. However, creating and maintaining a social media platform is a huge undertaking and Whitetail will continue to add great features and functionality.

When talking with and of the Whitetail.com founders, you will regularly hear the sentiment, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” Needless to say, I can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeve.

Above and Beyond the Social

Aside from interactive posts, Whitetail features a learning component, largely in the form of articles and videos featuring hunter spotlights, stories, tips, and hunting strategies. Here, written content and videos serve as an effective companion to the social aspects of the site. Both entertaining and educational, Whitetail’s content comes from notable sportsmen and women to everyday hunters. 

In addition to interactive social media, Whitetail offers entertaining

and educational companion content.

To further celebrate the deer hunting and outdoor lifestyle, Whitetail features great giveaways, including great gear and hunting opportunities. 

A Social Community First and Foremost

Amid the many hunting apps and platforms available these days, functionality abounds. There are apps offering mapping, camera image organization, optimal hunting times, and a slew of other nifty features. While Whitetail.com has a few tricks in their hip pocket, the chief goal remains; to maintain and grow a thriving online home for hunters.  

With that, Whitetail’s model has less to do with follower counts and more to do with the interaction itself. It encourages safe-space sharing, camaraderie, and learning. Whitetail.com also acknowledges the simple fact that hardcore and onset hunters alike sometimes just want to gawk at big whitetails. We know that’s true. 

Whitetail.com is built around deer and deer hunting, but

 welcomes all hunters and sportsmen.

Whether you’re a seasoned hunting fanatic or merely testing the waters, there is a new home for you. The future of Whitetail.com is bright and the hope is that as many hunters as possible will join the journey. You’ll want to make the Whitetail.com community a frequent stop when on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.

Super Spots for Finding Shed Antlers

Super Spots for Finding Shed Antlers

There are some high-percentage spots where bucks are likely to drop antlers each year. Look in these locations during late winter to own more bone.

By Bernie Barringer

I found my first whitetail shed by accident in the late 1970’s. That shed kindled a spark in me that would grow through time. I have had some great fun shed hunting with family and friends and I can tell some rather bizarre stories to accompany some of the sheds I own.

Back in the 1980s I put a huge amount of time and energy into looking for sheds. I would wait until the snow melted off, then spend hours walking through areas in which I knew whitetails would winter. I picked up some really nice sheds and some matched sets; and even two matched sets of bucks that would make the B&C record book.

But things changed as shed hunting became more popular. Up until that point, I didn’t know of anyone else who was really serious about shed hunting and I never saw anyone else out looking for them.  One day I was walking through a state park in Iowa, slowly moving down a well-used deer trail where a large herd of deer had wintered. I came to the top of a hill and spotted someone coming up the trail towards me. It was another shed hunter and he had the match to the shed I held in my right hand. I knew things would never be the same from that point on and I was right. From that point forward, I didn’t wait until all the sheds were on the ground before beginning my hunt, I began to hunt for them as soon as they started dropping.

It seems like I have seen a dozen magazine articles explaining that looking for sheds in late winter can help you shoot the buck that dropped those sheds when fall comes. Frankly, I think that’s a real stretch. While whitetails may retain much of their bedding and feeding areas through the winter in the southern US, that’s not the case in the northern half of the US and Canada, where cold, snowy winter weather causes the deer to bunch up around the available food. My primary motivations for shed hunting are simply because it’s fun and great exercise.

You don’t have to hunt shed antlers with the goal of gathering information about a particular buck in order to shoot that buck. Hunting shed antlers is a sport unto itself. I consider any information I gather purely a bonus. Allow me to offer some tips from a lifetime of experience that will help you find and appreciate the amazing shed antler.

Forget about Home Ranges

Because I started hunting shed antlers for the sake of the antlers themselves, I didn’t have any preconceived notions about their importance to my deer hunting. I believe that the connection between where you find the buck’s sheds and where you are likely to shoot that buck the following deer season is way overrated. This is particularly true where I live in the upper Midwest, where winter weather and available food dictate deer behavior and location.

The second largest matched set I found was found in Northern Iowa, more than five miles from where a friend shot the buck the following year. It missed making the Boone & Crockett book by less than an inch.

Deer need to eat every day, and they will go where the food is. In the winter when the antlers are dropping, the food may be miles away from where that buck spends the majority of his time in the fall. Which leads us to #2.

Find the Food

Wintering whitetails need high carbohydrate foods and they need them every day. Find the food and you will find the sheds. Remember the Mantra that finding sheds is all about the food. Figure out where the deer are feeding and then spend the majority of your time divided between their feeding and bedding areas. The antlers are more likely to fall off when they are feeding because they are moving about. Corn, soybeans, milo, wheat, turnips and other food plots are key to the winter whereabouts of whitetails. Anywhere acorns have not been cleaned up by late winter can be golden.

Pay special attention to the windswept hilltops both in farm areas and in the hardwoods. Snow blows off the hilltops and any lost grain from farming operations will be more accessible there. The big set of matched Iowa sheds I mentioned earlier? I found one side on top of a hill in the soybean stubble and the other side in a thick farm grove 200 yards away.

Winter Bedding Cover: Thermal and Solar

There are two kinds of areas in which bucks tend to bed during the winter. Solar bedding areas are the south sides of slopes that are somewhat open and allow the deer to bed in areas where the sun can warm them during the day. Thermal cover is the thickest, nastiest stuff they can find which they will use during cold, cloudy, windy and stormy weather. If you find these types of bedding areas within a short distance of a good food source, and you have a good number of bucks in the area, finding sheds could be like picking up Easter Eggs. You’ve hit the jackpot.

Connect the Dots

Of course the deer need to travel between the bedding areas and the food. Trails will develop between these areas and the obvious sign is easy to find and follow. The more snow the better. Get out early before the snow melts and find these trails for later use. A lot of sheds can be found on these connecting trails. Pay special attention to the areas where they have to jump over fences or downed logs, climb steep creek banks, etc. These areas tend to jar the sheds loose.

Look for the Other Side

Antlers occasionally fall of together, but that’s somewhat rare. I do believe; however, that that the buck will put quite a bit of effort into dislodging the other side because of the lopsided feeling he has with one antler. He will shake his head, rub the antler on trees and push it on the ground to work it off. If you find a nice shed, put an exhaustive effort into finding the other side. It’s probably close by.

“No Hunting” Doesn’t Always Mean No Shed Hunting

Some of the best shed hunting I found back 30 years ago when I started collecting bone was found in state, local and county parks where hunting was not allowed. Where these parks bordered crop fields on private land were often gold mines for shed antlers. The deer would feed in the fields but bed in the safety of the park. Most parks have laws against picking any kind of plant, but nothing about collecting shed antlers. The deer would be bunched up there in great numbers during the winter, which made them very fertile ground for shed hunting.

Use a Little Creativity

I have at times constructed a simple “trap” to help me find shed antlers. It consists of three posts placed in a “V” shape with some woven wire and bungee cords to hold the wire in place. I feed the deer in the narrow area so when the bucks eat the grain, their antlers are clicking and pushing on the wire. When the sheds are ready to drop, they will drop right there. Here’s a short video of how I do this.

While it is unlawful in some areas to construct or place a device that would cause the sheds to dislodge, there are ways to encourage the deer to drop their antlers where you can more easily find them. You can place feed in areas where it’s needed and the deer will congregate around these feeding areas, dropping their sheds at the feeding site, in nearby bedding areas and on the trails that connect it all. If you feed whitetails please do so responsibly, using a mix of quality feeds and do not introduce or cut off feed supplies during harsh winter conditions.

I enjoy feeding whitetails from fall through spring, I love collecting scouting camera photos of then, and appreciate the knowledge that I am helping the deer get through a tough winter in good condition. Another bonus is the way I sometimes feed them. I find a windfall or a pile of dead branches and dump the feed right into it. When the sheds are ready to fall off, they fall right there.  Bucks must push their noses down into the brush to get to the feed, and often, the sheds are found right in the feed.

At times, hunting shed antlers can provide information that will help you with your deer hunting, mostly in the form of an inventory of the bucks that survived the previous hunting season. It gets me in the woods at a time of the year when there is little else going on outdoors. But even more important than that, it’s good exercise, great family fun and a way to enjoy one of the most remarkable things in nature; the amazing antler.

4 Tips for Whitetail Shed Hunting in 2022

4 Tips for Whitetail Shed Hunting in 2022

By Patrick Long

Photo: BryanE on IStock

Shed hunting is a fun pastime that we can actually use to scout bucks and spend time with loved ones outdoors. It takes time and can be tough at times but it is super exciting when you find a shed, and even more so when you find a matching set. 

If it has been said once it has been said a thousand times, but “miles make piles” when shed hunting. To find a lot of sheds, you just have to put in the work. Although there are a few things that you can do to improve your efficiency and make sure you are not missing sheds along the way. Here are five tips that you can use this year to find more sheds.

1 | Shed Hunt during the Right Time

Every state’s deer season ends at a different time, but if you want to find a good amount of sheds you should wait a while after the season is over. This also depends on where you plan to shed hunt. 

If you want to shed hunt public land, you are going to have to go as early and often as you can, because everyone else will too. Just make sure bucks have actually started dropping their antlers before you go.

Although if you plan on shed hunting private land, I recommend leaving it be until at least the middle of February. By then most of the bucks around are dropping their antlers. If you are farther north, I recommend waiting until the snow melts in March before going out. 

I go on at least two trips a year shed hunting on my private land. Your first trip will be the most fruitful. Then wait about another month and try again. This time you will be able to make sure you did not miss any from the former trip, and catch any sheds that bucks may have been holding during your first trip.

Other than the time of year, you will want to make sure you shed hunt during the right type of weather as well. Assuming the snow has cleared up, the best day for shed hunting would be a dark and gloomy day. This is probably going to be after a good rain.

This kind of weather just makes the color of whitetail antlers stick out from the regular brush. Ideally, that will help you find more sheds, but to be honest most of us shed hunt whenever we find the time.

Photo: Aaron J Hill on Pixels.com

2 | Bring the Right Gear

One of the best things about shed hunting is that you really do not need a whole lot of gear to do it. Of course, there are a few key pieces of gear that are going to make your job a whole lot easier though. Let’s go over a quick list of shed hunting gear that you may want to take with you.

  • A Big Backpack – Hopefully you find a ton of sheds! If you do, you are going to need something to put them in or tie them to. There are plenty of backpacks out there that are good for shed hunting, and with the addition of a few gear ties, you can probably outfit your existing one to work well with sheds.
  • Comfortable Boots – shed hunting is a whole lot of walking, so you better have comfortable shoes or boots. Otherwise, your trip is going to be cut short.
  • Mapping System – this can be something like a hunting app that has a GPS tracking map. Then you can go through it and drop a pin everywhere you find a shed. This is a little above and beyond, but it can help a lot if you are using shed hunting as a scouting tool.
  • Binoculars – like I said earlier, shed hunting is a lot of walking, but with a good set of binos, you can walk a lot less. If you have fields on your property, you can walk a ways to a vantage point and then glass over that field. Of course, you will still have to do plenty of moving to get different angles, but you may just be able to spot an antler without walking all the way through the field.

3 | Look In the Right Places

Great, so you are excited to go shed hunting, but where exactly are you supposed to look? Well without being too sarcastic, you should look where the deer are. The first areas you should look at are bedding areas and food sources. 

These are areas that we commonly hunt, and if you were finding deer during the season, they are likely still there. Personally, I would double down on the feeding areas. After the rut is over, all deer have to focus on feeding and getting ready for winter. While it will technically be winter when you are hunting, deer will have been there weeks before trying to stock up. 

The trails between food sources and bedding areas are also likely to have a few sheds. Bedding areas can be especially good for finding sheds. Deer are most likely to drop their antlers when they jar themselves, and getting up and down in a bed punches that ticket. Normally I would be wary of going into a bedding area, but deer are going to have all year to get over you spooking them so I say go for it.

After you cover those areas, you want to look in some more lucrative places. Again, you want to look in places that deer are going to have to jar themselves. This will hopefully make their antlers drop. Check places like creek bottoms, or fence lines they may jump over.  

Photo: Trevor Brittingham on Pixabay.com

4 | Bring Someone Along

The best part of the outdoors is being outdoors with people you love. Shed hunting is the perfect opportunity to bring someone with you. It is an especially good time to bring someone outdoors that does not frequent the woods. 

It is good fun to go shed hunting with your hunting buddies, but also try taking a buddy that is not super experienced, or your kids. Shed hunting is great for kids. It introduces them to the outdoors in a very safe way and is exciting enough to get them interested in whitetail and the outdoors.

Lastly, you should also bring your dog. Dogs are amazing at finding sheds. So much so that if you ever went with a tried and true shed dog, they would find probably three times as many sheds as you. Even if your dog is not trained as a shed dog, they are still fun to bring along.

All and all, shed hunting is a whole lot of fun and is a good tool for scouting. If you bring the right equipment, you can be out there as long as you like and find as many sheds as you and your buddies or kids can carry.

Year ‘Round Timeline for Scouting Cameras

Year ‘Round Timeline for Scouting Cameras

If you put your trail cams away after hunting season you are missing out!

By Bernie Barringer

Most hunters stow their scouting cameras in the garage once the deer seasons close and don’t get them back out again until a couple weeks before the next season. That can be a big mistake. The information gathered from your cameras year-‘round can be valuable in many ways.

The key is putting those cameras in the right locations, and being intentional about moving them throughout the year to take advantage of opportunities for information-gathering.  Let’s take a look at a few strategic camera placements through the seasons. Follow this advice and I believe you will agree that you have more pictures and more quality information to go on next time you head into the woods to hunt.

January Through March

I offer supplemental feed in the winter to help get my deer through the tough times. It gets cold here in Minnesota, and deer have a tough time getting through the often deep snow and nights that can drop to -40 during January and February.

I mostly use corn, and of course I have cameras on each of my feeding stations. This allows me to monitor the state of the herd’s health, the shedding of antlers and any issues I may have with predators.

By keeping an eye on the deer at this time, I have a good idea when the bucks have shed their headgear, and I like to get out there and retrieve it before the squirrels start working on the calcium- and phosphorous-rich nutrients found in the sheds.

Coyotes and wolves are a serious problem around here; these predators have no problem taking advantage of deer during their struggle to survive the harsh conditions. There’s nothing I can currently do about the wolves , but I do my share to reduce the fawn depredation by removing as many coyotes as I can by snaring and shooting them. When I get pictures of predators on my cameras, I move quickly and show no mercy.

Late March Through Early June

From spring into early summer, cameras placed at mineral sites will take photos of bucks as their antlers begin to grow. You will start to recognize characteristics of specific bucks which helps you learn which ones made it through the hunting seasons and the winter. You can watch the amazing antler growth that takes place at this time, and start to get an idea how much growth the bucks will be putting on during the upcoming three months.

Does visit the mineral sites, and when their fawns are 5-6 weeks old, they will accompany the does. This gives you a chance to inventory the deer population as a whole.

Late June through early August

I always have cameras on water during the summer. Those out-of-the-way ponds in the forest will get a lot of use, and that’s the place to get a look at the bucks. Keep in mind that these spots are potential hunting spots so don’t check the cameras too often. Too much intrusion can make the deer avoid these places or use extra caution around them come hunting season.

In midsummer, deer are using predictable patterns going from bedding to feeding areas. Trails are beginning to develop and these trails offer excellent opportunities to get photos of deer and learn their movements and timing.

Mid-August through Mid-September

By the end of August, hunting season is getting close, and I start to transition some of the cameras to their feeding sites. I learn which fields they are feeding in, and placing cameras on the feeding areas themselves will help me pattern where they are moving and what times they are coming through. Food plots, alfalfa, corn and soybeans are prime areas for feeding this time of the year.

The bucks are in their bachelor groups and it’s a fun time to get lots of photos of them as their antlers become fully mature and shed their velvet the first week of September. Keep in mind that the food sources may not be the most obvious ones. The deer feeding in alfalfa and soybeans are the most visible, but there may be a lot of deer also feeding on freshly fallen acorns, hazelnuts and other mast crops.

Be careful to observe which direction the deer are travelling any time you have cameras on trails. Look at the time on the photo and compare it to the direction of travel to determine where the deer are going to and coming from. Deer in the evening are normally leaving bedding areas and deer in the morning are approaching bedding areas. Knowing where these deer are spending the daylight hours will be important information later on, especially with regards to where the does tend to bed.

Another important area for cameras at this time are staging areas near food sources. While does and fawns often pile into the fields well before dark, mature bucks will hang back inside the edge of the woods observing the behavior of the deer in the field, often moving into the open in the last half hour of daylight. These areas where they stage before entering the field will normally be marked by rubs and tracks.

Extreme caution must be taken when checking the cameras at this time. I try to check them right before a rain, and get in there and get back out with a minimum of noise and I avoid wind directions that may be blowing my scent toward the bedding areas. The information can be invaluable when hunting season opens in a few weeks and you do not want to blow it at this time.

Late September Through October

Hunting seasons are opening and now we are relying on the cameras for more specific, up-to-date information. We can be a little more aggressive as we check the cameras, still taking whatever caution is feasible.

Through the second half of September and into the first half of October, the bachelor groups are breaking up and the cameras help you keep track of where the bucks are going. Trails associated with feeding patters seem to offer the best sites at this time, but by the second half of October, things will radically change.

By the middle of October, scrapes and rubs are showing up throughout my hunting areas and I am moving cameras as I see the transition being made from food-focused movements to breeding focused movements.  By the end of October, most all my cameras are on scrapes. I use scrape drippers to monitor the deer visits and inventory the bucks. There is no better way to get a picture of all the bucks in the area than by having a camera on a primary scrape the end of October.

First Two Weeks of November

The rut if going into full swing and I put my cameras on the does. To find the bucks you must find the does; you need to know where they are bedding, where they are feeding and how they are travelling between the two areas. I have my cameras in doe bedding areas and on trails between doe bedding areas and trails leading to food sources. By now you have learned where the does are bedding based on your earlier photos.

The first two weeks of November is peak breeding time across most of the whitetail’s range in North America. The movements of bucks will seem totally random, and in a sense, they are, but they will be looking for does. Learn the areas the bucks like to chase does and get your cameras on them. Bucks tend to push does out of the bedding areas into open timber or surrounding fields. If you know where they prefer to spend the daylight hours, you have found an excellent place to concentrate your hunting efforts during the rut.

Second Half of November

Once the actual breeding is beginning to wind down, bucks spend a lot more time on their feet, putting on the miles in search of remaining does that may not have been bred yet. Trails between known bedding areas are key locations to waylay a buck with a camera and with a treestand. At this time, I am very aggressive about checking cameras, often checking the cards every day. I carry a tablet with me in my backpack and often check a couple cameras in the afternoon, using the information they contain to help me decide which stand to use for the evening hunt.

At this time, pinch points, sometimes referred to as funnels, are key locations to increase your odds of encountering a buck on the move. Scrapes have been all but ignored since early November, but they are getting a few hits again in the latter stages of the rut. I’ll have a couple cameras watching primary scrapes on the edges of fields near areas the does are frequently feeding.

December

If you still have a tag in your pocket, do not despair. When the rut is over and the weather turns cold, bucks once again settle into predictable patterns. They need high-carbohydrate foods to replenish fat reserves lost during the past few weeks of chaos. Find the food you will find the deer.

Standing corn or soybeans provide them with efficient sources of protein and carbs. The deer tend to group up around the available food and their daily routine allows us to put cameras on the trails leading to these food sources. If snow covers the ground, finding these trails can be embarrassingly easy. Angle your camera up or down the trail to make sure you get full shots of the deer. Make sure your cameras have good batteries in them, cold drains batteries.

At this time of the year I often put cameras right on the edges of bedding areas. Days are short and I will need to hang a stand as close to the beds as I safely can in order to waylay a buck before dark. Keep in mind during December the deer will bed in different locations based on the weather. On sunny days, they tend to bed on the south slopes of hills with open timber so they can soak up the sun’s warming rays. If it’s cloudy, windy and nasty, they will spend their days in thick thermal cover in low areas that protect them from the wind.

So if you are one of the hunters who have your cameras in the garage during part of the year, you are missing out on some excellent opportunities to know your deer better and learn more about their behavior. Be more intentional about moving your cameras to the right places at the right times, and you might be surprised how much it helps increase your odds of filling that buck tag in the fall. 

Late season hunts: Perfect for pop-up ground blinds

Late season hunts: Perfect for pop-up ground blinds

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Blind-2-1024x683.jpg

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Blind-3-1024x683.jpg

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.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Blind-1-1024x683.jpg

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.

Seven Critical Tips for DIY Public Land Hunting

Seven Critical Tips for DIY Public Land Hunting

By Bernie Barringer

My first bowhunting road trip was a complete bust. In my defense, it took place more than 25 years ago, so I didn’t have the advantage of Google Earth, a scouting camera or looking at the weather on my smartphone. I basically went in blind, and my results showed it. I did see some does and small bucks, and I hunted hard and used some off-beat tactics. While I don’t remember much about that first out of state hunt in the early 1990’s, I do remember that I had no idea what I was doing compared to the strategic planning and hunting methods I use today.

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

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

Do your homework

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

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

Do your Scouting Diligence

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

Use your Scouting Cameras

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

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

Hunt Only When it’s Time

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

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

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

Stay Mobile and Flexible

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

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

Work Hard and Smart

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

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

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

Don’t Allow your Expectations to Get too High

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

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

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

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

Scarecrows for Deer

Scarecrows for Deer

By Tim Pearson

I’m not a writer, which is good because I can’t spell. I am a retired lineman. I have no computer skills; I doubt I could turn on the family computer. I’ve never tried, which makes my wife happy. Linemen didn’t need computers in my day. We turned wrenches and climbed poles. Now I am free to spend most of my time in the woods.


I wouldn’t say I even like hunting. I’d say it is a compulsive disorder that has me by the throat. If they print it I read it. If they make it I and can afford it, I buy it. I hunt bow season, rifle season, muzzle loader season and then bow season again. A typical deer season pretty much goes like this: I can see him and he’s big, but there is no possible shot. Once I hunted a big buck for 40+ hours, and then finally here he comes. Everything is looking good and I know he’s mine. My bow is pulled and he steps into my shooting lane. I am stunned. After investing 40 hours hunting this guy I now see he has broken off his left antler at his brow tine. By the time I regroup he’s out of the shooting lane.


After each season I try to improve my accuracy, my stands, tree trimming, and my equipment if needed. Basically I’m old school. I follow the KISS system. “Keep it simple stupid”. Hunt the wind, and you can’t kill them if you’re not out in your stand. I have 16 stands to choose from (and maintain).

 
One trick I thought of on a slow day at work 20+ years ago was to put an old shirt up at my two  favorite gun stands, I use two medium sized branches, tape them together to make a cross. Install the shirt on the cross and position about where you would stick out of the box stand. I do this every year in late winter before the fawns are dropped. They will accept that shirt flopping around all of their life and so will their off spring. Around September 1st I’ll swing by each stand and spray my favorite gun oil liberally on the shirts. Then when I’m using the stand I just drop the scarecrow over the side. This exchanges the scarecrow for me now and the oil smell for my favorite gun of the day! I’ve gotten by with a lot more movement since using the scarecrows, and the downwind is also much more forgiving. Try it this winter on your favorite stand. I guarantee you won’t be lonely on opening day. There will be a guaranteed mouse nest in one of the sleeves.

I also have two ground blinds where I use scarecrows. I know what you’re thinking; now I’m wasting FOUR SHIRTS when I only own five. She’s going to go nuts if I wear the same shirt every day. If your partner is anything like mine, ask if you can have your wife’s throw away blouse (because she already wore it once) instead of cutting it up for rags. Wash it with your hunting soap. Then use a stick and tape two foot of rope (rope and tape are two of a lineman’s favorite things) to the middle of the stick. Pull the rope up through the scarecrow and tie it to the ground blind roof hardware. It’s a win-win for everyone.

So why am I spilling the beans now? Why not take this secret to my grave? Well I retired from linework, and like most men we are a pretty competitive bunch. We always took the big buck contest very serious. There’s no big buck contest for me anymore. I just have to please myself. And if I can get this article published, just think of all the latest and greatest stuff I could buy for next year’s hunt!!  With my half anyway. The wife gets half for fixing my spelling.

2 Enormous Bucks, 2 Enormous Stories!

2 Enormous Bucks, 2 Enormous Stories!

By Bernie Barringer

Get ready for two of the most bizarre deer hunting stories involving gigantic whitetail bucks. You really can’t make this stuff up, and the fact that they both happened basically at the same time, early in the 2021 deer seasons, with a lot of similarities, created a lot of confusion. Listen carefully because this is going to get really strange.

On September 11, Blake Keating of Kansas had the shock of his life when he checked a trail camera over a corn pile. Standing there big as life was the biggest buck he had ever seen. Like the biggest buck anyone had ever seen. Like world class. Like world record class. he’d never seen it before nor had a hint that it was alive. Kansas has an early muzzleloader season and you know right where Blake headed out and sure enough, he shot the buck a couple days later.

The buck scored over 300 inches as a nontypical. Yup, World Record size. But something nagged at Blake; there was a small hole in this deer’s ear. That nagging feeling became a roaring surge when the photos of the buck hit the internet. He was soon contacted by a deer farm 10 miles away from where the deer was shot; they kinda recognized that buck. Turns out they had been transferring some of their giant bucks between pens when one buck went missing. Now a buck like this is worth tens of thousands of dollars to the owners, maybe even as much as 100K for sales of semen and eventually the fee for someone who would pay a very large price to shoot this buck and take it home with them.

I’m not interested in discussing the motivations of people who shoot deer that have been kept as livestock and mount them to hang in their “Man” Cave. I don’t have any interest in doing that and I don’t fully grasp why someone would pay $20,000-$50,000 to kill one of those penned deer. But that’s not the point of this story. Blake thought he had hit the whitetail hunting lottery, killing a potential world record buck. He was legit in his hunt, and legal all the way. He was also heartbroken when he learned that the buck was an escapee from a deer farm.

It’s likely he will get to keep the buck, or get paid a big fee to return it. Either way, he has an amazing experience to tell his grandchildren about.

Now contrast that with an even more bizarre story that happened beginning on September 9, 2021.

A giant nontypical showed up on social media, reportedly shot in Kentucky by Derek Settle with a crossbow. Nearly 300 inches of antler on this one as well. He had legally checked it in as a Kentucky bow kill and he insisted on the details of the hunt; it was all on the up and up. He even had trail camera pics of the buck!

Derek’s fame was short lived, as within a couple days, word came out that the buck had been killed on a deer farm in Indiana. And the deer farm, Patoka River Whitetails, had the photos to prove it, and guess who was the happy hunter in the pictures with the penned deer? Yes, Derek Settle. This was a buck they had raised and was known as “White 352.”

He had killed the deer legally on the deer farm in Indiana, then took it to Kentucky and registered it as a Kentucky archery kill. Whether this is a violation of the Lacey Act is yet to be determined, but if it is, he’s in a lot more trouble than just a heaping helping of embarrassment and a few fines.

What’s really bizarre about this case is the head shaker that Derek could think he could get away with this. With the speed of gale force winds blowing a wildfire, info travels across the interweb with blinding speed. It only took a few hours before he was raked across the coals for trying to pull off such and idiotic stunt.

We’ll keep you posted as the final details come in, but in the meantime, Blake has a big buck to look at and a clean conscience, while Derek is lying awake at night wondering what will happen to him.

An October Hunt: Go Early or Go Late

An October Hunt: Go Early or Go Late

By Bernie Barringer

Much has been said about the October “Lull.” It’s no secret that bucks are hard to find out and about during the daylight during this period of time; they spend the majority of the daylight hours in some shady thicket, waiting for the sun to set. The middle two weeks of October is simply a poor time to plan a bowhunting road trip. If, like most travelling hunters, you have only one or two weeks to do a DIY hunt, you probably don’t want to spend it during the middle of the month of October.

The first and last weeks of October; however, are a different story altogether. There are some significant advantages to going early and late in the month, not the least of which is the amount of hunting pressure. Parking lots of large public hunting areas which may be full of trucks with out-of-state license plates the first two weeks in November, may be entirely vacant during the month of October.

Let’s take a look at what these two weeks have to offer. As we dive into the details, you may want to consider adding an October DIY hunt to your schedule.

Go Early

The first week in October brings some opening day bowhunting opportunities in several states. This is a chance to catch even mature bucks totally off guard. There has been very little disturbance in the deer woods and if you make your move with stealth, you might find a buck right in your lap with no idea he is being hunted.

Early October can find bucks still in bachelor groups, although they are likely to be more loosely connected than they were a month previous. At this time, the bucks are primarily focused on food and their movements are somewhat predictable, something that cannot be said of any time during November. Find the preferred food source and you will find the deer.

The preferred food source is not likely to be exactly where you would have found the deer in August. Bucks may still be using large fields of soybeans and alfalfa if they have not been cut, but they are likely to arrive in those fields after dark because the daylight hours are growing shorter. Instead, focus on smaller food sources near bedding cover.

Many state wildlife departments plant small food plots back away from the roads. These can be golden. Corn in particular is preferred at this time. Soybeans may be at that stage where the leaves are yellow and the beans are not dried, they may be getting some use, but not as much as other, more palatable food sources.

Apple trees are a magnet this time of the year. An abandoned orchard can be a focus of deer feeding at this time as the apples begin to drop. I know of an old farmstead with two apples trees and three pear trees that gets absolutely pounded at this time of the year. An oak ridge with an abundance of acorns can attract deer at any point during the day.

Never overlook water during warm spells. A secluded pond during a hot Early October afternoon may be just the ambush point you are looking for. Get a scouting camera on it and make your move according to what the photos tell you.

Go Late

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.

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. 

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.

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 first and last weeks of October and the opportunities those weeks present.  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.

Five Important Keys to Opening Day Success

Five Important Keys to Opening Day Success

By Bernie Barringer

Every bowhunter can relate to this scenario: You have watched a particular buck off and on all summer. He’s been quite visible in the fields feeding in the evenings and he’s even somewhat predictable in his habits. This could be the year you actually pattern a buck in the pre-season and shoot him on opening day or shortly thereafter. After all, you see it on TV and in magazines, it’s bound to work for you sometime.

Just a few short days before the season, he’s gone. He’s not in the field during the last hour of daylight, and he’s not even in the fields of nearby properties. You’ve checked them all. You’re sure-thing just turned into a bust. What happened?

During the month of September, bachelor groups of bucks begin to break down and bucks tend to relocate, but the chances are he hasn’t gone far when the bow season opens the middle of the month. He probably hasn’t “gone nocturnal” on you either. Unless some sort of pressure caused him to move out, he’s conducting business as usual, just a little differently than what you are looking for. When you were watching the sun go down on him during early August, what time was it? 8:30? 9:00? Now it’s mid-September and the sun is long gone at that time. He may be coming out at the same time, but the darkness just caught up to his patterns. There are still ways we can put ourselves within striking distance of him during the daylight. Let’s take a look at how to solve this puzzle.

Key #1 – Bucks are individuals

First of all we must talk a little bit about “patterning” to begin with. Some of the things I have seen in print would lead you to believe that bucks have some sort of internal alarm system that tells them where to go and what to do at any given time. In 40 years of bowhunting and observing whitetail behavior I am becoming more and more convinced that what we refer to as patterns are really overrated. Sure, individual bucks tend to bed in the same areas given the same environmental conditions, and they tend to feed where the best available food is found, but that’s about all that’s cast in stone.

It seems to me that bucks have an instinct to switch things up occasionally, because the ones who don’t are more likely to be turned into venison than those who do. A buck gets up from his bed, stretches a little and heads down the trail towards somewhere he knows he can get a bite to eat. He comes to a fork in the trail and instead of going left like he did for the past three days, he goes right. He doesn’t know why he went right, any more than the guy sitting in the stand wondering why he didn’t show that night. Some deer are fairly consistent, some are frustratingly random.  

Trying to pattern deer is like pushing a rope. You simply can’t make any headway. It would help us all to put the idea of putting a deer on a specific schedule and think more in terms of trends and tendencies. We will be better off and a lot less frustrated if we do. If we think in terms of what the buck might do on any given evening based on the environmental conditions (temperature, wind speed and direction, etc.) we can get ahead of his movements better than we can if we concentrate on what he has been doing. Of course we are not going to throw out all our observations of his behaviors we have stored in our memory, but we should just view them as one small piece of the whole puzzle rather than the complete picture.

Key #2 – Mistakes can be deadly

Some deer are prone to be homebodies and some range widely. GPS studies have shown that some deer have very small home ranges and others travel quite a bit. One thing that these studies have shown us is that most bucks have at least two home ranges that they know well; they can exit one and enter another when they feel hunting pressure.

If you have a buck that disappears on you for a while, he may be in a secondary area. The worst thing you can do is get aggressive and try to move in and find out what happened. You want him to settle back into a comfortable mode when he arrives; if he smells you or sees more disturbances, it’s another strike against you.

If the buck figures out he is being hunted, you chances of putting your tag on him plummet. When he senses intrusion in the way of ground scent, sudden changes like the appearance of a trail camera or a bunch of cut branches, he may bug out for a few days. If he smells you directly or has a bad experience such as a situation that causes alarm, he may be done with that particular spot for the season.

It’s hard to sit tight when you really want to know what’s on that trail camera, but you are much better off to wait for a light rain that will smother your ground scent to go check it. There’s no faster way to kill a spot than to walk in and check your trail camera every day. Put the stands up early and trim shooting lanes well before the season.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to hunt a stand on opening day when the conditions are not right. Patience is critical. You may only have one chance, so you want to make sure you have the odds stacked in your favor. If the wind isn’t right, hunt somewhere else or don’t hunt at all.

Key #3 – Find the bedroom door

It pays to be familiar with the preferred bedding areas. An entire book could be written on how deer choose beds based on the conditions through the year. I couldn’t cover it all here, but I suggest you learn a basic understanding of how bucks like to bed where they can see in front of them and smell what’s behind them, which is what they tend to choose when the weather is pleasant. This might be just below the crest of a ridge where the wind is coming over the top, or tucked in behind a large fallen log. When the weather is bad, they tend to hole up in thick cover. This may be a thicket or a creek bottom. You get the idea.

Because the daylight hours are shortening, you have a better chance of contacting the buck in the daylight if you are close to where he spent the day. It’s a tricky proposition to get a stand as close to the bedding area as possible without giving yourself away, but these stands often pay off if they are hunted at the right time under the right conditions.

It goes without saying that these stands need to be in place well before you plan to hunt, but there is one other option. I have used this tactic just once and I was successful so I’ll pass it along. During the middle of the night when the deer were out feeding, I moved in and hung a stand along a bluff near where the deer were bedding in a creek bottom. The trail was getting a lot of use and my camera showed that my buck was using it regularly, both prior to sunset and at dawn.

I hung that stand by headlight and didn’t trim any shooting lanes or otherwise disturb the area. I got in and got out and I actually got lucky because a heavy dew was on the vegetation which really knocked down my scent. Get close to the bedroom if you can figure out a way to get away with it.

Key #4 – Stay back off the edge

Like anyone else, I am always tempted to set up right on the edge of the field when I know the deer are feeding in the field with regularity. I want to see what’s going on out there! But that’s rarely the best stand location unless the deer are feeling no pressure at all. While the does and young bucks may casually walk out into the field, the larger bucks tend to hold back until indications from the other deer give them a level of comfort. You have a better chance at them if you get back off the edge as well.

There are two specific things I look for when choosing where to hunt back off the edge of the field. What I call staging areas are places where the bucks will hang out for a while before entering the open spaces. Parallel trails follow the edges of the field sometimes for quite a distance.

A buck may arrive at a staging area well before dark, but choose not to enter the field until dark, or he may just hang up and patiently watch for a while. He can observe the body language of the deer in the field and enter when he feels secure.

These staging areas have a couple things common to them. First, they will have some visibility to the field itself. This may be a hillside where he can look down on the field or it may have a patch of more mature, open timber that allows him to observe the activity in the open area. Secondly, they will have sign. Bucks aren’t going to just stand there; they are going to do buck things, like scraping, sparring and especially rubbing. Rubs are a dead giveaway, lots of tracks are often found if the ground is conducive to leaving imprints. Sometimes if you are observant you will see where they have nibbled on plants and messed up the ground litter in their scuffles.

Parallel trails are usually very indistinct trails and often are very difficult to discern. Usually the brush right on the edge of the field is thicker because it gets more sunlight than the area just back under the canopy. Imagine yourself walking along the edge of the field from 20-30 yards off the edge, weaving your way through the trees, taking the path of least resistance. You are probably following a parallel trail. The more deer that use it the more obvious it becomes.

These trails are an often overlooked place to shoot a buck. Mature bucks like to walk along the edge of the field, scent checking the field for danger and to find out who happens to be out there

Key #5 – Be Patient

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m advocating patience with regard to hunting these opening day or early-season bucks. Like you, I’ve been waiting all year for this day but I have too many times been overcome by the temptation to get out there and make it happen. The results have usually been less than stellar. The times I have been successful have been the times I waited until the conditions were in my favor. I know the buck of my dreams is being patient right now; his life depends on it. I’ve learned to be patient too, because… well, the buck’s life depends on it.

Secondary Home Ranges

Many studies have shown that bucks have secondary home ranges. During the early fall as archery deer seasons are opening, there is a lot of food around and bucks can roam widely and not worry about their next meal. This is a prime time for them to disappear for a while. This is particularly true if they sense pressure or become unnerved by human activity. Hanging stands, checking trail cameras, spotlighting fields and general scouting activity can move them out.

I cannot prove it, but I suspect that the secondary home range is often their natal area. By that I mean the area where they spent their first year of life with their mother. Does have home ranges too and they tend to be very secure areas. Buck fawns learn how to hide and feel secure in these areas and the security features are imprinted on their minds. Most bucks disperse after their first year and set up housekeeping in a new area. But when they sense pressure, that secure feeling they get when they were younger is what they seek out.

Ever had a buck disappear on you and find out that someone had it on camera for the first time in a location five miles away? Ever had a buck just turn up in your area with no prior history? You may be looking at the secondary home range of that buck.

How to Get Fast Action on the Bear Baits

How to Get Fast Action on the Bear Baits

In some areas, you have a short time to get your baits working. Here are some strategies for firing them up fast and keeping the bears coming.

By Bernie Barringer

Here in Minnesota, the date you can bait bears is the Friday two weeks before opening day. Through the years 2000 until about 2013, I could draw a bear tag most every year in Minnesota’s Area 45, and several members of my family and friends would also draw tags. That was before the new law that limited the number of baits to three baits per license. The woods were full of bear baits to say the least.

I baited mostly on public land, and even though I would keep to lands outside of the state forests where the pressure was the worst, most every one of my baits had another bait within a mile or two of it. In order to get bears to my baits and hold them there so I didn’t lose them to another baiter, I developed specific techniques for these hyper-pressured situations. Even in areas with much less pressure, these techniques have stood the test of time and have helped me pull in more bears in a short time. Once I get the bears there, I can outcompete the other baiters with quality bait and lots of it, and by using strategies that minimize the odds of turning a bear nocturnal, but that’s a story for another time. Let’s talk about a few effective ways to get the bears on your baits quickly.

The Immense Value of Location

If you’ve read my past writings you know I feel how important location is. Being near water is key and if you can get your baits around natural food sources that ups your odds of getting them within nose range of your baits, because most bear find the baits with their nose first. Get upwind of a swamp where bears can spend the warm summer days and try to use funnels or pinch points, terrain features and edges that will direct a bear’s travel and put the bait in thick cover close to where the bears are already travelling.

There’s something to be said about establishing your site up high on a ridge if there is sufficient cover to make the bears feel comfortable coming to a bait in that area during daylight. Cool evening thermals will carry the sweet smells of your bait downhill in the evenings when the bears are most likely to be on their feet.

Over time, you may move your bait site a little as you learn more about how the bears use the area. One of my best baits was one in which I struggled to get bears to commit during daylight the first couple years. I moved it only about 50 yards higher up the hill and into thicker cover, and we killed many bears there over the next few years. These good bait sites get better every year and once you know you are on location, just put out the bait and use good luring strategy when you open the site and they will come piling in.

High, Low and In Between

When I drew my first Minnesota bear tag many years ago, I was living in Iowa, but I drove to a bear hunting seminar at the newly built Cabela’s store in Owatonna, Minnesota. I remember it well, because I was soaking up information like crazy since I knew relatively little about bear hunting. I remember the presenter stating the importance of dousing the entire bait site with used fryer oil so the bears would get it all over their feet and track it around. He used 10-15 gallons per bait when opening a bait!

I didn’t have access to that much fryer oil and I thought it seemed like overkill to use that much and I still do. However, the feet of the bear are an important part of “spreading the word” about your bait site and fyer oil is a good carrier. I came across Northwoods Bear Products’ Gold Rush concentrate a few years ago and now I use it in opening all of my baits no matter where I am baiting. I’m downright shocked at how this stuff works, there’s no other way to put it. One 4-ounce bottle of this super concentrated stuff will spike up 40 gallons of oil. I like to use about a gallon or two of fryer oil spiked with a couple capfuls of Gold Rush at each site. I splash it on the logs and the ground where the bears will walk. Incredibly this stuff last for days and even weeks with the right soil types.

I like to have a variety of smells to appeal to the individual preferences of each bear, and the feet of the bear are only one part of the equation. Getting some good smelling stuff up high really helps the smells travel long distance. A few pieces of bacon tossed up into the trees is good for this. Several companies make balls and blocks of sweetness that can be hung up in trees to get the smells moving around with the wind.

I carry a spray bottle of scent every time I visit the site and freshen the smell. The bears learn that a new fresh dose of good scent means fresh bait at the site. I tend to use scents like the Northwoods beaver castor in the spring, but fruit type smells in the fall such as Wild Cherry or Blueberry. Anise is always good of course but I think the bears become conditioned to it because so many people use it and it puts them on edge.

Over time I have learned the value of getting some scent on the body of the bear themselves. This is where the liquid spray scents are really effective. The more oily the spray, the better for longevity. Most people just spray these scents up in trees, on stumps and around the bait site. I pay special attention to where the bears will walk down the trails when entering and exiting the bait site. I liberally spray the leaves of bushes their fur will come into contact with. This puts lots of good smell all around the area right at the nose height of any other bears who happen to be in the area. The more the trails become established the easier it is to use this technique effectively and I carry a bottle with me each time I bait to renew the scent.

Get your trail cameras on the baits as soon as you put them out and let the bears tell you what they like. If you’re doing it right, you can have bears on your baits the first night and multiple bears visiting within a couple days.

I’m convinced that bears will seek out the source of stuff that smells good no matter if it is carried on the wind, the fur or on the feet of other bears. Additionally, I am certain that when bears smell another bear’s droppings, which they constantly do, they can tell if the other guy is eating better than they are. They’ll make an effort to find the source of the good eating and the smells of the area will help direct them right to your bait quickly. Then your quality bait and choice of location will keep them pinned down until opening day when you can turn them into a bear rug.

Do These 5 Things this summer to help you shoot a buck this fall

Do These 5 Things this summer to help you shoot a buck this fall

You can increase your chances of shooting a nice buck this fall by doing some preliminary work in the summer.

By Bernie Barringer

Like most deer hunters, I think about whitetails year ‘round, but most of my preparation activity is done just before the season opens and most years I hunt from opening day right through the final bell. However, I have found that there are a few things I can do during the summer months that will significantly up my odds of shooting a buck in the fall.

Now, I like summer fishing as much as the next guy, but I will spend a couple weekends on deer hunting in the summer and it pays off big time. I encourage you to take some time to do these five tasks and I think you will agree that they are well worth it.

Trim shooting lanes

Saplings and brush grows up around your treestands every year. If you wait till the last minute to trim it, you may alert the deer to your presence. They know their woods intimately, and some fresh cut trees lying around right before the season opens might put a mature buck on edge.

In the summer, you don’t have to worry about drops of sweat on the ground and you can pile the trimmings in a way that will move the deer past your stand. Using a pile of brush to gently guide movements only works if it has been done well ahead of time. It’s worth doing.

Improve bedding areas

My friend and Iowa big buck nut Jon Tharp taught me this one. Jon does his hinge cutting to improve the amount of sunlight getting to the forest floor in the winter, but in the summer, he actually creates deer beds. That’s right, individual beds where he wants the deer to lie down.

Bucks do not like to lay on sticks and stones, so you can make a nice bed with a rake by clearing out a small area. Bucks like to put their back against some kind of structure just like a big bass, so deer beds are best made with some kind of cover next to it. A downed log or deadfall tree is great; a brushpile works as well.

Bucks will bed where they feel secure and you can create a feeling of security for them that will keep them from wandering over to the neighbors by making a group of individual beds that allow them to see what’s in front of them and have a barricade behind them. By doing several at differing angles, you allow the buck to use the one he prefers in various wind directions.

Plant a throw-and-grow brassica food plot

You don’t have to be a farmer to plant a food plot. There are a couple that work very well with little effort. You can till up a small clearing in the woods and rake in some brassica seeds. The best time to do this is early August right before a rain. Once the sugar beets, turnips, radishes and rape gets established, it will grow there without much traffic. These plants become more palatable after a hard frost turns the starches in them to sugar. Then the deer pile into them during the early archery season.

Another easy plot can be created by raking these seeds right between the rows of corn in front of your treestand. With simple permission, most farmers will allow this. When the corn is harvested, the brassicas are sitting there ready for the hungry deer. These little secret spots are often at their peak in perfect timing for the October archery seasons.

Keep those scouting cameras working

Far too many hunters wait until just before hunting season to put out their scouting cameras. I have a half-dozen cameras working all summer. I have them on mineral sites and in bedding areas. Not only is it fun to watch the bucks’ antlers grow and the fawns rapid daily maturing, but you can learn a lot about the deers’ preferred travel corridors. This is important information that will help you pattern the deer later on.

In the summer, you can be a little more aggressive about moving about in areas the deer are using. While you might never consider violating a buck’s sanctuary during the fall, you can safely check a camera in there every couple weeks. Spray down with Scent Killer to reduce your intrusion and check the cameras no more than twice a month.

Additionally, cameras help keep tabs on which bucks are in the area. By taking an inventory of them, you can make a “hit list” or at least have a feel for the property’s potential. Without a knowledge of what bucks are living in the area, you might decide to hold out for a 140 class buck or better when there aren’t any.  Don’t put the cameras away.

Spend time behind a spotting scope

By the end of July, bucks have their headgear nearly fully grown. At this time, they may be more visible during daylight than any other time of the year. They readily feed on soybeans and alfalfa during the last couple hours of daylight. Find a high point where you can mount a spotting scope to your truck’s window and watch their evening movements into the fields. This will help you keep track of the bucks and where they like to enter the field in the prevailing conditions. Take not of the wind direction and where the bucks enter the fields during these conditions. This info will help you choose stand locations.

Bachelor groups of bucks are together at this time and nothing makes your heart beat faster than seeing a bunch of nice bucks together in a field you will be hunting in just a few weeks.

So don’t spend all your time lying by the pool in the summer. You could be missing out on some enjoyable work that could pay off in a big way when the season rolls around.

Bear Hunters and their Questionable Judgment

Bear Hunters and their Questionable Judgment

The darkness had settled over the Canadian wilderness. Light rain began to fall. We were following the blood trail of a bear I had just shot. It was my first time ever hunting bears. What did I know about tracking a bear in the dark? Wait, what did I know about bears at all?

Most of my life I had just run from bears. I didn’t even bother with playing dead. Playing dead was far too close to the real thing for my liking. There had been the bear looking in our basement window in Minnesota. My mother’s scream brought me out of the shower faster than my towel could follow, bringing another scream from my already frightened mom. Then there was the bear prowling around the outhouse in mountains of Montana and the bears blocking the path while out running. But in none of those experiences had I ever purposely angered the bear. Now I had put an arrow through one and I was pretty sure he had no intentions of extending any offers of friendship…and it was dark.

It was only a few weeks earlier that my father-in-law had called and told me I was going hunting with him. I don’t remember that there was a question involved, but he had good judgment and knew what he was doing. He had let me marry his daughter after all.

I fancied myself a fairly experienced hunter. I had shot a few deer, plenty of squirrels, and a handful of stumps that appeared rather aggressive in the early dawn on opening day. I would be fine. But then he said I would be hunting with a bow. Apparently his judgment was waning with old age.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect on the hunt. I had two competing visions of bear hunting in my mind. The first vision revolved around a crazed mountain man stalking a grizzly with only a knife between his teeth and a Chuck Norris eye-squint (both of which are deadly, by the way). The second conception involves a hunter sitting by a dumpster full of candy, and then shooting the poor creature when it isn’t looking. I was soon to learn that neither idea was anywhere near accurate. There is much more work to do in bear hunting than I had imagined, even including all my eye squinting practice.

Bear hunting starts with topographical maps. Then moves to road scouting, hiking paths, setting baits, watching trail cameras, refilling baits, comparing pictures, refilling baits, agonizing over why the filthy varmints don’t come in before sunset, refilling baits, sitting in a stand, being afraid to get out of the stand after sunset, refilling baits, shooting a bear, tracking a bear, hauling the bear out of some impenetrable crevice he chose to curse you with, cleaning, skinning, quartering, and butchering a bear, and then saving up scraps for refilling baits next year. That is all there is to it. Simple.

But when I first began I had no idea what to expect, and that was a good thing. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have gone. A week before leaving for the hunt, I went over to my in-laws to figure out the gear I would need. I utilized the time to show off some of my archery skills I had perfected over the previous couple of weeks.

“I have been shooting a few times a day at various distances.” I told my father-in-law, trying to keep my boasting voice to a minimum. I was pretty impressed by my progress and so was he. After watching me shoot, he even recommended I take the suction cups off and start practicing with a real bow. Again, his judgment was waning.

Driving into the northwoods and setting up camp is an experience in itself. Fall in southern Canada can be gorgeous. The leaves are showing off their final colors before falling. The lakes are clear and cool. The darkness of the wildness interrupted by the evening campfire is incomparable. Of course you also have to put on every piece of clothing you own in order to keep from freezing to death in your tent, but that is a worthy price to pay. The northwoods are beautiful even when they are trying to kill you.

There were three of us in camp, my father-in-law, my brother-in-law, and myself. I soon came to realize that I had been brought along on this trip for one of two reasons. At first I figured they needed someone with a keen wit and nearly inexhaustible outdoor expertise, which I obviously contributed to this hunting party. But the truth hit me after I saw how much food they were feeding me every day. I was the bait.

Climbing into the stand the first evening, I prepared myself for the evening. I had been honing my mountain man skills in the weeks leading up to our hunting trip and knew all the potential problems which could arise. One of the reasons I have been able to survive in the midst of nearly insurmountable odds is that I am a realist when it comes to potential negative outcomes. It is as though I can take stock of any situation, visualize what could go wrong, and then worry appropriately. I like to consider it my superpower.

For example, a bear could climb the tree. I could fall out of the tree. I could miss the bear and have it climb the tree while I was fumbling with another arrow. Or worse, I could actually shoot a bear and have to climb out of the tree knowing full well there was a disgruntled bear below me. For all these reasons I insisted that my father-in-law sit in another stand nearby. That way if a bear started climbing the tree after me he could put an end to the situation. I would rather go by his arrow than by an angry bear any day.

I am an extremely patient person, but even I wasn’t ready for the long, silent wait. I had finished off all the snacks I had brought, and most of my father-in-law’s. I was beginning to wish I could switch places with the bears, given that they had a barrel of bait they could dig into. “How long have we been waiting? Isn’t it almost dusk?” I whispered. My father-in-law looked at his watch and mouthed the time. I grimaced and shook my head. The poor guy had let his watch battery die. There is no way we could have only been up there for 25 minutes.

 An indeterminable amount of time passed of snackless, cramped, nervous anticipation. And then my greatest fear came true. A bear actually walked out into the clearing. I glanced over to the other stand and got an excited nod from the guy in charge. “He must be pretty hungry as well,” I thought. I would have filled my tag with a porcupine had it meant I could get out of the stand.

I slowly drew my bow and took aim. As expected, I was calm, steady, and composed with icy precision and released my arrow as my sight bounced along the side of the mass of black fur.

I am not exactly sure what happened at that point since the bear didn’t stick around to explain it to me, but I do know I had upset him. My father-in-law was surprisingly excited, probably because he finally got to stand up and work out the cramps in his legs. I couldn’t blame him; it takes a lot practice to get to my level of mental fortitude.

But then he started to climb out of the stand, talking gibberish about finding the bear. Obviously senility had quickly overtaken him. “Well…just to remind you…” I said slowly, in case he was having a difficult time processing my words, “there is an angry bear down there. I think we should just wait it out till morning.” My wise counsel was quickly vetoed and I was forced to follow him down or remain in the tree by myself.

And that is how I found myself standing in the rain and darkness with nothing but a weak flashlight, a bow, and the realization of the series of very poor life choices which had brought me to this moment, namely, believing my father-in-law when he said this would be a good idea. But, being the thoughtful son-in-law that I am, I offered to stay at the truck and honk the horn at regular intervals so that my father-in-law would be able to find his way back. Yet my sacrificial offer was brushed aside and we traipsed into the woods.

There is more to the story, but the most pertinent facts can be summarized here. We were able to find the bear the next morning wedged in between two boulders, half submerged in a frigid lake, obviously having crawled there out of spite. But I can humbly say that the greatest accomplishment was my ability to make sure my father-in-law, Bernie Barringer, was able to survive another bear hunt. His judgment is questionable, after all.

Take a Whitetail Hunting Road Trip

Take a Whitetail Hunting Road Trip

Ever have a hankering to see new country and hunt deer where the big ones live?  Heed this advice to fill your thirst for a DIY public land adventure.

By Bernie Barringer

Imagine it’s the 1990’s and you’re sitting in front of your TV in North Carolina, Michigan or Pennsylvania, watching a young Michael Waddell shoot a huge buck in the Midwest. You’re thinking, I could never hope to shoot a buck like that where I live. Many wide-eyed people had no idea mature bucks were available in good numbers, but these sights kindled a desire in hunters to experience it for themselves. The growth of outdoor TV and online videos created an interest in hunting whitetails in the destination states that has snowballed into a massive empire of outfitters and high-priced nonresident tags over the past couple decades. And the reason comes down to this: the grass actually is greener over there. According to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, more than 3 million nonresident hunting tags are sold each year. That’s triple the number of traveling hunters since the advent of outdoor TV and YouTube. There’s a tidal wave of people traveling to hunt.

Some people would rather hire an outfitter to experience excellent hunting, but others aren’t willing to pay the high price or prefer the satisfaction that comes with going it alone. I’ve done 25 DIY public land bow-hunting trips in eight states since 2006 and I’ve learned a thing or two about being successful in what I have termed, “Freelance Bowhunting.” If you’re interested in the challenge and thrill that comes with public land hunting in a state where you may bag a buck bigger than you’d ever shoot where you live, listen up, I have some advice that will help you make the decisions necessary to have a trip to remember.

But before loading the truck, you must first ask yourself a few questions, the most important of which is, “What do I want to get out of this?” Your ultimate goal may be to shoot a buck bigger than you’ll shoot at home. Or it may be to simply experience something new, see new scenery and try new things. Your goal may be to just enjoy some time away from home with friends or it may be to learn a new style of hunting that you can employ to make you a better hunter where you live. Maybe you would like to go hunt where the weather is a lot different than you’re accustomed to. These are all possibilities and no one can answer these questions for you.

Pick a State

            The first choice you must make has to do with how much money you’re willing to put into this adventure. The second has to do with how long you’re willing to wait for a tag.

Some states offer over-the-counter (OTC) nonresident whitetail deer tags, but others require an application process and a wait. Most hunting zones in Kansas can be drawn every other year, for example. Same for Montana and Wyoming. Iowa is the most extreme case; more than 20,000 nonresident hunters apply for the 6,000 tags each year. To draw an archery tag in the most desirable zones will take 3-5 years off applying and accumulating preference points. Your final costs to be fully licensed will run upwards of $750. Iowa has the goods and hunters continue to pay up.

Generally, states that have the most desirable whitetail hunting offer limited entry for nonresidents and higher license fees. And let’s face it, most people don’t go to the trouble and cost of an out-of-state hunt for a yearling buck or a fat doe. Antlers are the draw, like it or not. States that produce the most B&C and P&Y bucks have the most to offer the nonresident hunter.

I spent a lot of hours going through Pope & Young statistics by county in the 16 states I consider to be “destination” states. I mapped those counties within each state and published the results in my book The Freelance Bowhunter. What I found was there are areas of each state that produce the most big bucks. These were also the areas where the buck tags are most desirable and difficult to draw. But there are some interesting pockets of great deer hunting that are not common knowledge and don’t get the press. And some of them are in states with OTC tags. Doing your research is worth the time.

Elbow Room

Missouri is an example of a state with abundant public deer hunting land, and with an OTC tag at a bargain price of $225, it allows the hunter to take two deer (one antlered) and two turkeys. Because of this, the public hunting areas get a lot of nonresident pressure, particularly those near the Iowa border. I’ve pulled into a parking lot of a public hunting area in the Show-Me state and counted a dozen trucks with license plates from half a dozen different states. Ohio would be another state that falls into a similar category. There is lots of public land, good numbers of mature bucks and high numbers of hunters.

States like North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Nebraska offer good hunting with reasonable OTC tags, and enough land to find some elbow room if you work at it. The ratio of public hunting land in comparison to the number of hunters is in the favor of the traveling hunter. On the other extreme is Illinois, where public land is crowded and tags are expensive. Want a sleeper? Indiana. Cheap deer tags, good numbers of mature bucks and decent amount of public land which is mostly broken up into small state and county management areas, plus some large federal areas along rivers and reservoirs. It’s not in the top ten of most traveling hunters’ lists but it deserves another look.

Here’s another tip: Some states have programs into which private landowners can enroll their land as public hunting areas. Examples of these are the block management areas of Montana, Private Land Open to Sportsmen (PLOTS) of North Dakota, Walk-In Hunting Areas (WIHA) of Kansas, and many others, you get the idea. While most of these programs are designed to provide upland bird hunting opportunities, they really benefit the deer hunter who is willing to spend some time on aerial photos to find the honey-holes.

Once your research has helped you narrow down the state and some public areas within the state, the best way to learn about the hunting pressure and the opportunities is to make some calls. Talk to land managers, biologists and game wardens. They’ll have a feel for things like the quality of the hunting, the amount of local and nonresident pressure found there and of course even things like if food plots have been planted and deer population cycles.

Peak Times

There are a lot of options and locations. In my opinion, the best hunts fall into three categories, early season bowhunts, rut hunts and late season bow or muzzleloader hunts. Each of them have their appeal, and trade-offs. Rut hunts on public land can be when you see the most hunting pressure. However, the first two weeks of November provide the best opportunity of the year in the Midwest to catch a mature buck on its feet during the daylight, and everyone loves the action associated with the rut.

Despite the numbers of nonresident hunters in the Midwestern at that time, you’ll find me in the woods, because it’s so worth it. I have learned to analyze where most hunters spend their time and how bucks adapt to it, which has helped me find holes in the pressure that the deer know about.

Another peak time is the late season. Many states have archery and muzzleloader seasons that run until the end of December and even into January. In the northern Midwest and great lakes states, harsh weather and snow cause the deer to bunch up around the available food and their patterns become quite predictable as they seek out the high-carbohydrate foods that they need to keep warm in these environments. This presents the hunter who’s willing to bundle up and brave the elements with some high-percentage hunting opportunities.

Possibly the most overlooked peak time for a bowhunting road trip is the early season in many states. Kentucky, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota are among the states that offer archery deer seasons opening on or about the first of September. At this time the deer are quite visible; they’re focused on daily food to bed routines; and they’re not thinking about hunters. A savvy hunter can arrive a couple days prior to the season to scout and catch a buck completely unaware on opening day.

It’s one of my favorite times to hunt because of the sheer number of deer that can be seen and of course the opportunity to scout and hunt in shirtsleeves. Plus there’s always the chance to shoot a buck before he loses his velvet, something that’s on the bucket list of many traveling hunters.

Near or far?

 If you’re from the eastern half of the US, a hunt in the Great Plains States can really scratch your itch for experiencing an entirely new kind of hunt. Hanging a stand in a 300-year-old Montana cottonwood the diameter of a VW beetle while watching 60 deer feed in the alfalfa isn’t something you’ll experience many other places. Likewise, a hunt in the snarly crooked trees of a North Dakota Shelterbelt can be quite an experience because it’s so difficult to find a tree to hang a stand. I learned this the hard way when I first went to North Dakota to hunt the Army Corps of Engineers public land surrounding the Missouri River reservoirs. Ground blinds turned out to be key along with a ladder stand that can be fastened to just about any crooked tree. Another reason to do your research before you go.

And of course the hardwood forests of the states bordering the Mississippi River can offer a challenge to learn deer movements, but once you get a handle on how these deer use terrain, you can park yourself in a stand in a good spot for hours upon hours with the knowledge that the biggest buck you’ve ever seen in your life could walk within range at any moment.

Don’t overlook the value of crossing a nearby state border for a weekend hunt. You may or may not live in a good deer hunting state, so why not just hop over next door for a hunt in a new area. This may give you the opportunity to scout more and also may offer you the chance at a weekend hunt rather than using up a week of vacation to travel far and wide.

Just do it

Here’s the best piece of advice I can give you: Just go. Do some research and pick a spot to go. Your first trip may not produce a buck, but if you go with an attitude that you’re going to enjoy the experience and learn some things, you will be successful. And if you decide to keep going, your odds of coming home with a nice buck in the back of the truck go up each time you hit the road on a DIY public land hunt.

SIDEBAR: The Freelance Bowhunter The author’s 200-page book The Freelance Bowhunter: DIY Strategies for the Traveling Hunter contains loads of information about finding and hunting mature bucks away from home, especially for those who want to do it on a budget. It also contains details for the nonresident hunter on 16 destination hunting states. Click the cover to see more.

2021 Spring Subscriber drawing underway

2021 Spring Subscriber drawing underway

We’re giving away a custom built Mathews V3 and you could be the one customizing and owning it!


A Mathews V3 bow could be yours and all you have to do is enter the drawing!
You will customize the bow yourself!


ENTER HERE

1) Choose right or left handed
2) Choose 27-inch or 31-inch axle to axle
3) Choose draw length and weight
4) Choose colors of string, serving, limbs, riser, etc. 

(Does not include accessories such as quiver, sight and so forth.)

Get multiple entries!

1) Get one entry into the drawing for subscribing to The Bowhunting Road YouTube channel
2) Get another entry into the drawing for subscribing to the Bucks, Bulls & Bears eblast
3) Get a third entry for liking our Facebook Page
4) Get more entries for subscribing your friends. You get one additional entry for every valid email address you provide! No limit. Share THIS LINK with as many hunting buddies as possible!
Sometimes big bucks are just lucky

Sometimes big bucks are just lucky

In the fall of 2020, a 230-inch whitetail was taken at Illinois Connection Outfitters that was likely one of the largest if not the largest buck taken in the state of Illinois during the 2020 deer season. Doug Benefield, the owner of Illinois Connection, said they had been chasing the buck for 3 years. “We are not entirely sure how old the buck was, but he first showed up on camera a few years ago.  We figured he was 7 or 8 years old at the time he was shot by my client, Jay Culpepper,” Benefield explained.

From the moment the buck showed up on camera, Benefield put him on the hit list but it took several years to connect the dots. “The truth is this buck continued to get lucky over the years,” Benefield explained. “Multiple times this buck was within 60 or 70 yards of a hunter, but the deer never presented a shot. We would see him on camera and a hunter would see him and then he would disappear for a while. A buck like that is difficult to kill.”

Many hunters think that by the time a buck is 7 or 8 years old, it will start to go downhill but that is not always the case. “What we have found here in Illinois is that if a buck has the proper nutrition and good genetics, it can have an amazing rack at 7 or 8 years of age,” Benefield noted. “This particular buck was a a 7×5 one year, a 7×7 the next year and this past year when he was killed, he was an amazing 20-pointer. He truly is a one-of-a-kind buck.”

To hear the rest of this amazing story, click the link and listen to the Drop-Tine Report Podcast.

https://redneckblinds.com/blogs/hunting/the-230-inch-illinois-giant

Top 10 YouTube hunting channels you need to subscribe to

Top 10 YouTube hunting channels you need to subscribe to

Cable TV and then satellite TV changed everything in the 1990’s and then exploded in the 2000’s. Now it’s run its course and YouTube has taken over the hunting video scene. If you have been living under a rock, you maybe don’t realize that there are a LOT of people making a LOT of money producing really good YouTube videos. And there are a LOT of wannabes trying to get a foot in the door.

YouTube will not monetize a new channel until it has 1,000 subscribers and 40,000 hours of watch time in one year. And most channels never make it. A tiny fraction of them do. Last rumor I heard was that there are about 10,000 hunting YouTube channels right now trying to reach the monetization number. Less than 1% will make it. But some make it big.

Some of the big TV shows have gotten into the YouTube revolution, but let’s focus on independent producers who do it because they love to hunt. Here’s my list of the Top 10 YouTube hunting channels you need to subscribe to. In no particular order.

Deer Meat for Dinner

Rob Arrington is an all around nice guy with a cute family who fishes and hunts and shares the game and fish with his family and friends. Rob is the king of Catch-Clean-Cook videos. He is a prolific producer with 2.5 million subscribers. Deer Meat for Dinner is a wildly successful channel because he’s a likable, genuine guy and he pumps out the videos 2-3 times a week!

HUSHIN

Western big game hunting videos done right are what these guys are famous for. They have a loyal following because they produce good content and seem to have a knack for getting great hunting shots on video. HUSHIN stands for Hunting/fishing but it’s about 80% hunting. Their following is about 366,000 subscribers.

Whitetail Habitat Solutions

This fast-growing channel focusses on improving and hunting private land. Jeff Sturgis keeps coming up with new topics and he’s clearly very knowledgeable about property management and killing big whitetails on well-managed properties. Whitetail Habitat Solutions has 155,000 satisfied subscribers.

THE BOWHUNTING ROAD

This fast-growing channel focusses on two distinct niches and produces excellent videos pertaining to DIY public land deer hunting and bear hunting. It’s the best channel on YouTube for black bear hunting information and instructional material. Bernie Barringer, the man behind it has 30 years of experience in DIY public land whitetail hunting, and it shows through Bowhunting Road channel. When he talks about how to kill bucks on public land, people listen. He’s also known nationally as an expert on hunting black bears. 21,000 subscribers, 11 million views and growing.

The Untamed

Speaking of bear hunting, these guys produce some amazing content on hunting bears with hounds. They are also down-to-earth folks who just go hunting, mostly in West Virginia and keep it real. They kill some good whitetail bucks from the ground as well. The Untamed channel has 105,000 subscribers.

SEEK ONE

If you want to see some seriously ginormous bucks killed in suburban settings, SEEK ONE is the channel for you. It’s unreal the number of big bucks these guys have put on the ground hunting in basically in the backyards of people living in Atlanta. They have taken road trips to other cities and shot some giants to prove it can be done anywhere. They have 460,000 subscribers.

Tim Wells Bow Hunter

Okay Tim Wells may be a little off balance and that’s part of his appeal. From shooting doves and ducks out of the air with a bow without sights, to killing huge whitetails and everything from trapping to African safaris, Tim is engaging. He’s one of the best barebow archers ever and a predator to the bone. It’s hard to look away. over 745,000 subscribers agree.

The Hunting Public

Okay if you haven’t heard about this channel you are definitely living under a rock. Going from 0 to 350,000 subscribers in only three years, these likable guys just go hunting, mostly deer and turkeys, and take along the viewers for every step of the way. It’s mostly public land, mostly DIY and mostly for fun. The Hunting Public is the fastest growing hunting channel I know of and there’s no end in sight.

Do it Yourself Hunter

If travelling around the country, sleeping in the truck and trying to kill bucks in several states on a skinny-wallet budget appeals to you, Do it Yourself Hunter is a channel that will appeal to you. It’s a recent upstart with only 6,000 subscribers but growth is inevitable. Lots of southeastern deer hunting content here, with forays to the destination whitetail states and some turkey hunting videos mixed in.

The Element

Here’s another small but growing channel you might want to check out. The Element only has 12,000 subscribers, but it’s growing because it features a couple fun-loving hunting buddies who travel across the southwest and Midwest hunting whitetails, mostly on public land. They kill a nice buck often enough to keep it interesting, and have a knack for producing visually appealing content.

These are channels you want to be a part of because they have the stuff you want. Click on the link for each one and hit the subscribe button. You’ll be glad you did. And of course, if you have a favorite hunting channel that’s not listed in the top 10, leave a link in the comment below so readers can check it out!

For the fun of it: Shed Hunting for the Sake of Shed Hunting

For the fun of it: Shed Hunting for the Sake of Shed Hunting

By Bernie Barringer

I found my first shed antler–a six-point right side–in 1979 while setting raccoon traps on a public hunting area in Northern Iowa. I was fascinated by what I found, partly because I had never seen a giant buck like that in person, and partly because I had just been introduced to the incredible cycle of growth, shedding and regrowth that takes place each year.  It’s a fascinating process that appears nowhere else in nature.

Within ten years I was a shed hunting addict and I had found dozens of them, including a matched set that would have easily made the Boone & Crockett record books. I learned a lot from the sheds I found, but one of the things I learned may surprise you. I believe the connection between where you find a buck’s shed antler in relation to where you are likely to shoot him during the hunting season is way overrated. This is particularly true in the northern half of the US and Canada.

One matched set I found provides a perfect illustration. I’d been watching a large group of deer that were feeding each evening in a field of soybean stubble. Of the two dozen deer I was seeing, six were bucks and two were big ten-pointers. One late February day, I could clearly see the big, blocky body of one deer that had no antlers and one of the ten-point bucks was nowhere to be found. I knew it was go time.

I headed into the thick grove of trees where the deer had been bedding and within five minutes found the deer’s left side. I looked for another hour with no success on the other side. A week later, I found the other side on top of a hill where the snow had blown off, allowing the deer to glean what soybeans they could find on the bare ground. The matched set would just miss B&C.

Fast forward to the next winter. I was at an antler scoring event 20 miles away when a guy walked in with a 168-inch 10-point buck he’d shot during that fall season. I recognized it immediately; it was the deer that had shed those antlers in the soybean field. Chatting with the hunter who shot it, I was surprised to learn that he had been hunting the buck on his property for three years and had lots of encounters with the deer. He was shocked to find out that I had picked up its sheds more than seven miles away for his property.

I could name another dozen similar situations. During the harsh winters in the upper Midwest and Canada, deer must totally concentrate on two things: Secure bedding cover and food. Nothing else really matters to them. They will find the best food source, even if they must go long distances to find it.

Where I now live in Minnesota, deer tend to group up during the winter. These are often termed “yards.” Dozens of deer will be found in a small area where there is food and they can pack down the trails in deep snow to help them escape predators.

Finding one of these yards is like striking gold for a shed hunter. It can be like picking up Easter eggs. Finding those sheds is fun, but there’s no relationship to where the buck which dropped them spends the remainder of the year.

The one thing that can be learned from picking up shed antlers in this environment is the knowledge of which bucks survived the hunting seasons. Most of the time, if a buck drops his antlers, it’s likely he survived the winter, because they normally drop antlers when the most difficult part of the winter is over. Those -30 to -40 nights in January and early February are the toughest. The majority of sheds drop between February 15 and March 15. By March 15, a few thaws are exposing more browse and most deer that are still alive will make it until spring greenup.

Even though not much can be learned from picking up dropped deer antlers, there are plenty of reasons to get out and find some bone. Hunting shed antlers is a great opportunity to get outdoors at a time of the year when there is little else to do. It’s great fun for the whole family, and it provides an excellent opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise.

The places you will find sheds in the north are all related to food and the nearby cover where deer feel secure. They have little to do with rutting activity or fall movement patterns. Still, you may learn a lot about deer behavior from looking for shed antlers, even if it’s not the kind of knowledge that will necessarily lead you to a buck during the hunting season. Just being among deer and around the fascinating phenomenon of antler growth, shedding and regeneration is enough.

How to Capitalize on Late Season Weather Fronts

How to Capitalize on Late Season Weather Fronts

Harsh weather of the late season can cause hunters to stay at home. That’s a shame because late season weather fronts can be golden for the hunter who is willing to brave the conditions.

By Bernie Barringer

When I was young I was fortunate to have a neighbor who was a bowhunter. He became somewhat of a mentor to me as he took me out bowhunting many mornings and evenings until I got a driver’s license and was able to transport myself to the areas I hunted. During one of these drives, he made a statement one time that has stuck with me through the 45 years I have been toting a bow into the whitetail woods. “When the deer are on their feet, you need to stay put and let them come to you,” he said. “But when the deer are bedded, that’s when you should be going to them.”

He’s gone now, but after all these decades, this seeming overly simplistic advice has become the cornerstone of my late season hunting strategies. The advice to stay in the stand when the deer are moving and feeding is solid, but most hunters don’t follow the second part of the equation; the part where you go on the offensive and go to the deer when they are bedded down. This advice is never more true than during a late season when the deer are hunkered down in thick cover waiting out a snowstorm.

Get Your Sneak On

If a deer can have a puzzled look on its face, this doe had one as she looked up from her bed and saw me hunkered down in the swirling snow only 12 feet away. She looked as if she simply couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She didn’t even get up as I moved off. I didn’t find the buck I was after on that particular outing, but I learned something. Deer just aren’t accustomed to seeing hunters out in their thick bedding areas during a blizzard.

But think about it; what better time to still hunt through thick bedding cover than when the deer’s ability to detect your sound scent and sight is diminished? When the weather is nasty, bucks head to the creek bottom thickets, standing corn and cattail sloughs where they can hunker down out of the wind to wait out the storm.

Moving through these areas with great caution can put you shockingly close to a mature buck. In addition to their diminished ability to detect danger due to the conditions, they tend to let their guard down. Deer are so unaccustomed to seeing a person in there during these times that they often pause upon recognizing you, giving you enough time to get off a shot.

This is especially true in cattail sloughs and in standing corn fields. I have shot deer in their beds from 2-3 yards when they had no clue I was on the planet. Move slowly with the wind in your face as much as possible, picking your way along, step by painstaking step. Visualize everything around you looking for parts of deer and movements such as the flicker of an ear or turn of a head. You won’t see whole deer, you’ll see parts of them, then you can plan your final approach.

Strategic Stand Sits

We’ve all noticed that the deer pile into the feeding areas whenever a storm ends in the afternoon. I once watched this phenomenon from the seat of my pickup, but these days, I want to be in the stand as the storm ends. Today’s technology puts radar right at our fingertips. By viewing the radar on a phone or tablet, we can predict the moment the snow will end and I want to be in the stand when that happens.

By heading to a stand positioned over a food source a half hour before the snow quits, I have allowed my tracks and most of my ground scent to be covered up by snow, and I am position to strike when the deer appear. All this, of course, takes some planning ahead of time. Glassing and using scouting cameras will tell you where the deer are most likely to appear in the fields.

Additionally, knowing the bedding areas the deer use during harsh weather fronts also gives you an advantage. In the winter, deer use two primary kinds of bedding areas. I call them thermal bedding areas and solar bedding areas. The thermal areas are the ones I mentioned earlier where the deer tuck in out of the wind in the thick stuff during cloudy, windy and snow or rainy conditions. Solar bedding areas are preferred during sunny days even when the thermometer drops to the bottom.

Following a storm, a cold front usually moves in with high blue skies and northwest winds. Deer will find a south-facing slope where they can take advantage of the sun’s warming rays while the wind blows over the top of them. I’ll find beds right on the back side of a ridge. The bucks like to bed here because they can smell what’s behind them and see the area in front of them. These areas usually have little to no thick ground cover because of tree canopy, so the deer can get plenty of sun.

Scouting is easy as pie during the late season, the deer cannot hide their comings and goings.

Knowing if the deer are more likely to be bedding in a solar bedding area or a thermal bedding area—and knowing where these areas are located–will be a big advantage in your decision of where to set up to ambush them on their way to their evening feeding spots.

Know Where to Go

In the winter, deer need to eat a lot to create the body heat necessary for survival. That means they will take chances with daylight feeding patterns they wouldn’t take when the living is easy in the early season. You may see mature bucks feeding in open fields fully two hours before dark, which is the middle of the afternoon where I hunt in the upper Midwest.

High carbohydrate foods such as corn are very important to the health of the deer in any area and they will seek them out during harsh weather.

These deer may be pawing down through the snow to get to alfalfa or clover if there is nothing else available. But if they can find high-carb foods, that’s where they will gather. Picked cornfields are deer magnets during the late season because corn is high in carbohydrates. Bucks need loads of carbohydrates to replenish fat reserves lost during the rigors of the rut so they will head for areas that have corn when it’s available or search out the remaining mast crop that may still be available. To most of us in whitetail country, when we talk about mast, that means acorns. Find any place where the acorns aren’t cleaned up and you will find deer there at any hour of the day.

Soybeans have carbohydrates but also high levels or protein, which can be more readily converted to energy than carbs, which are more easily stored as fat. When the weather is so bad that the deer are basically a day-to-day survival mode, soybeans are a boon to them.

Take the example of the huge 197-inch Illinois typical shot by Steve Niemerg. This is a hunter who took the term “Die-hard” to a whole new level. A blizzard hit while Steve and his friend Justin were out bowhunting the first week in January. Rather than head for the truck, he stuck it out, but didn’t see any shooter deer. When he got back to his truck, he discovered it was stuck in a snowbank and wouldn’t move. Walking to a farmhouse, Steve and Justin were welcomed by a local who put him them for two nights until the front moved through and the snow stopped blowing.

Did Steve dig out his truck and go home when the storm ended? Nope, he knew just where he and Justin wanted to be: sitting in a stand overlooking some standing soybeans. That day he was rewarded with a world class Illinois giant which will forever be known as the “Blizzard Buck” in the annals of Illinois deer hunting history.

Steve Niemerg shot this world class Illinois giant when it walked into a soybean field following a late season blizzard. Photo courtesy of Steve Niemerg.

It’s Lonely Out There

Steve’s story took place on private land managed for whitetails, but for those of us who hunt mostly public land, this late-season hunting of weather fronts has another significant advantage. The throngs of hunters who were moving over the landscape during November are now at home in the recliner with a hot chocolate in one hand and a remote control in the other.

You are likely to have most public hunting land entirely to yourself if you are willing to brave the harsh conditions. During much of the season, the advice to go deep on public land to avoid the crowds is good advice. But during the late season, you will find more success hunting the edges of the land anywhere it abuts private farmland where food is available for the hungry deer herd.

The author with a buck shot while sneaking through a bedding area during a snowstorm. Hunting in the winter has a very different feel to it, and success rates are high because the deer are more predictable and vulnerable than any other time of the season.

Scouting these snow-covered areas is ridiculously easy: find the tracks and trails and you find the deer. They can’t hide what they are doing, it’s written there for all to see. Put some scouting cameras out to verify the makers of the trails and then set up a stand accordingly.

If you find yourself with an unfilled tag and the weatherman is predicting a front coming through your area, don’t be one of the remote punchers, be one of the few tag punchers who take advantage of the conditions.

Here are the Top 10 DIY Public Land Whitetail Hunts

Here are the Top 10 DIY Public Land Whitetail Hunts

These ten destinations offer great public land hunting and a chance to bring home something to make your taxidermist happy.

By Bernie Barringer

Everyone who travels to hunt whitetails seems to have a favorite place to go. I’ve bowhunted whitetails in more than a dozen states and I have some places I just can’t wait to get back to. You might be surprised that I have included them here, but I don’t mind if I see you out there, I’ll just have to try to outwork you. I’ve narrowed down ten of my top destinations for a DIY road trip whitetail hunt.

Some of these are well-known destinations, others not so much. Each offers different scenery and a different experience. So here is my top ten in no particular order.

Kansas WIHA

The Walk In Hunting Access (WIHA) program in Kansas is primarily geared at upland bird hunting, and most of the land is more suitable to quail and pheasants than to deer, but the amount of excellent deer habitat enrolled in this program is quite remarkable when you really dig into it. WIHA is a program whereby landowners can enroll their land and receive a small payment for allowing the public to hunt. WIHA properties change some from year to year, but most years, about 100,000 acres are enrolled.

It takes some investigative work, mostly through satellite photography online, but you can find some excellent deer hunting that’s open to the public; just show up and start hunting. Look for creek bottoms, shelterbelts and wooded areas near crop fields to find the bucks. Kansas department of Wildlife and Parks offers maps of the areas, and produces a printed booklet each year with maps showing the WIHA areas.

Kansas is proud of their nonresident deer tags, hunting privileges will set you back nearly $500. You must apply in the spring but drawing odds are nearly 100% in most zones.

The author loves to find out of-the-way places to hunt. He took this representative buck on WIHA land in Kansas. His stand was nearly two miles from the nearest road.

Wayne National Forest, Ohio

When you think of a National Forest, you might think of huge blocks of uninterrupted timber and difficult big woods hunting. The Wayne National Forest in Southeast Ohio doesn’t fit that description at all. Its 244,000 acres (yes you read that right) is fragmented into hundreds of small properties bordered by private lands. Some of the private lands are forested and some of which are farmland. You can see the potential here just by understanding how often bucks like to bed in cover then move out into the crops and hayfields to feed.

The areas are characterized by hills covered in oak and hickory forests where nice bucks like to run the ridges and valleys where they chase does through the brushy lowland. Hunting pressure can be high in some areas, but because of the sheer size of the area and the immense number of broken up public hunting properties in sizes from half a square mile to a couple dozen square miles, hunters can find a place to hunt without competition. Some really good bucks come out of these areas each year, and if you work hard to find an out-of-the way nugget of good, unpressured habitat, you can expect to see some bucks in the 130 range and possibly up to 150.

Shane Allen travels from Kentucky each year to hunt with a muzzleloader in the Wayne National Forest in southeast Ohio. In 2015, he was rewarded with this 189-inch gross nontypical buck from public land within the national forest. Photo courtesy of Shane Allen

Access is best through the trail system in the larger blocks of timber. Horseback riding, hiking and ATV trails all penetrate the timber, but get most of their use during the summer. Some of the many campgrounds are kept open through the fall for hunters and dispersed camping is also allowed, meaning you can camp where you can pull an RV off the road or set up a tent in a remote area.

Ohio’s Nonresident tags and licenses are available over the counter and are still a bargain but are on a scale where they increase every year until they reach $248 in 2020.

Wisconsin’s Managed Forest Law

Everyone knows about the state of Wisconsin’s ability to produce big bucks, including the number one county in the nation for producing Boone & Crockett bucks, Buffalo County. But few people know about this little-known program that allows landowners to put their land into Managed Forest designation. This program offers incentives to landowners to wisely manage their forested land. Landowners can designate the land open to hunting, and many do. They can close up to 320 acres to hunting, which they can either lease out, deny any hunting privileges or allow hunting on a permission basis. Because there are public financial incentives going to the landowner, it stands to reason that the public should get some benefit.

Any landowner who has more than 320 acres in the program must allow the public to hunt the remainder. This opens up a lot of land to public hunting, and some of it has great potential to produce some nice bucks for the hunter willing to find it and work out a plan. Because the details of this program are not well known, hunting pressure is generally light. Start at dnr.wi.gov and with a little work you can find your own little honey-hole.

Nonresident tags and licenses are available over the counter and will run you about $160.

Missouri River, North Dakota

The entire state of North Dakota is rebounding from low deer numbers and now’s a good time to go hunt one of the most overlooked gems in whitetail hunting. The state has an abundance of public land and a lot of it rarely gets hunted outside a few days during the rifle season. There’s plenty of elbow room for bowhunters, and in fact the areas I hunt I have rarely seen another hunter in a week of chasing deer during the bow season.

One of the biggest keys to getting away from other hunters is the incredible amount of public hunting land owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers which line both sides of the Missouri River and its reservoirs. In some places it’s a mile wide and in others just a couple hundred yards wide. Much of it is leased to local landowners who farm it in exchange for leaving some of the crops overwinter to benefit wildlife.

From Lake Oahe to the south, upstream along the river to the dam at Sakakawea is excellent whitetail habitat interspersed with dry prairie, so you’ll have to pick your spot. Lake Sakakawea is 177 miles long and both sides are almost entirely bordered by public hunting land. The hunting along the lake and the river to the west takes place in shelterbelts where small, snarly trees make it difficult to hang a stand so most hunting is done with ladder stands and ground blinds.

Nonresident deer licenses in North Dakota are unlimited for bowhunters and on a draw system for firearms hunters. A license will set you back only $270.

Mississippi River Bottoms, IA, WI, MN, IL

If you think of the well-known counties that produce giant bucks in southwest Wisconsin, southeast Minnesota, northeast Iowa, and western Illinois, you will notice they all have one thing in common: the Mississippi River. The flood plain and the many islands of the upper Mississippi, North America’s greatest river, have little hunting pressure for one primary reason. They are hard to access.

A whole lot of people would sure like to keep this quiet, but the Iowa DNR has recently started checking boat ramps along the river during deer season to get a feel for just how many people are hunting and killing bucks on the islands, sloughs and backwaters of the river.

Some of the hunting can be done without a boat, as roads come within reach of the river’s great habitat, but there’s risk in this too.  You might have the perfect stand set-up only to discover that rains have flooded the area when it comes time to hunt.

For sure, bucks retreat to these islands when the guns start blazing in the surrounding lands. And of course all the bordering states do not have firearms seasons that start at the same time, so with a little thought you can figure out just how great the opportunity is here.

There is a distinct line down the middle of the main river channel that determines state boundaries and you’ll need to be careful you don’t cross over that line if you are not properly licensed in more than one state. A GPS with a mapping program will show the line. Most of the floodplain and islands are under jurisdiction of the US Army Corps of Engineers, but there are state and county public hunting areas along both sides of the river as well.

Iowa’s deer licensing will hack your wallet for nearly $600 plus at least a couple preference points at $50 each. Tags in Minnesota and Wisconsin are available OTC and Illinois has an application process but usually has leftover tags available.

Northern Missouri Archery Only Areas

A .5% sales tax fund that goes right into wildlife habitat and management has been a great thing for the state of Missouri. It really shows in the number and quality of public hunting lands in the state. The northern half of the state and the counties along the Missouri river which cuts through the middle of the state produce by far the most record book bucks. Large public hunting lands are found in the northern counties, and some of them are designated for bowhunting only. If you are looking for a rut hunt in a quality state where the properties do not get hammered during rifle season, this is it.

Because of the funds available, many food plots are planted back in these properties and access roads, while gated off, offer easy walking to the food plots. Finding the right treestand might mean a hike through steep country, but the deer have what they need without leaving the property.

There’s one problem in all this: A lot of people know about it. Many locals hunt the properties, but their activities are mostly limited to the edges where they can access their stands evening and weekends. If you are willing to penetrate deeper into these properties, which means hauling your gear over some rough country—and hauling your deer out while soaked in sweat—this might be for you.

Most parking lots and access points around the areas will have trucks parked in them during the rut and they may have license plates from Florida to Oregon (I’ve seen both). You’ll have to work hard to find a place with some elbow room, but the bucks are there if you put in your time and bust your hump. Get on the Missouri Department of Conservation website to find a list of these areas and maps of each. Deer tags and licenses are OTC and will cost you $225.

Western Kentucky WMAs

If you can stand the heat, Kentucky offers one of the best opportunities in the USA to shoot a buck in velvet. An early September opening day means it will likely be hot so there’s no leaving a shot deer for a morning recovery. The good news is this: The deer are often on very predictable feeding and bedding patterns. Soybeans and alfalfa fields bordering public properties, and crops often planted on the properties themselves offer a great chance to shoot a buck with fuzzy antlers during the first week of the season before the velvet is scrubbed off and the bachelor groups break up, causing their patterns to be more difficult to figure out.

Tim Young went to western Kentucky in hopes of scoring on a velvet whitetail buck the first week of the season. His dreams were fulfilled better than he could have hoped with this 195-inch gross typical.

Several large state-owned public hunting properties and a handful of small ones are found in the western corner of the state. The most notable is the Land Between the Lakes recreation area which has more than 100,000 acres within the Bluegrass State. A hunting license and a deer tag are $260 and can be bought over the counter.

Black Hills, South Dakota and Wyoming

Elk and antelope are the primary animals that come to mind when a person thinks of hunting the Black Hills, but whitetails are abundant and often overlooked. The entire Black Hills National Forest is 2.3 million acres and about 70 percent of it is public hunting. That should keep you busy for a while. I’ll give you a tip that will help you narrow it down: about 20 percent of it is in Wyoming, but some of the best whitetail hunting is within that state.

There are 30 developed campgrounds and dispersed camping is allowed on most of the National Forest. EHD wiped out much of the mature buck population in 2011 and 2012, but biologists tell me they have been seeing more 2- to 3-year old bucks in the last couple years than they were even before the disease went through. That’s great news for the next few years.

Much of the hunting in Wyoming takes place along the edges of the forest where throngs of deer move into the irrigated alfalfa fields to feed in the evenings. Many landowners aren’t too fond of these deer and they might let you hunt their land if they haven’t leased it to an outfitter. You won’t find many 150 and up bucks in these areas, they rarely get that big, but the 125-135 class bucks are abundant.

Apply for a Wyoming tag ($342) in late spring and you will draw about every other year, sometimes in consecutive years. South Dakota has an application process as well, but tags ($195) are unlimited.

Iowa’s Large Reservoirs

Lakes Rathbun, Red Rock and Saylorville all have abundant public hunting land surrounding them. This includes Army Corps land, state land and in some cases county conservation board public hunting properties are adjacent to it.

There is floodplain and in many cases creeks that flow into the lakes, many of which come down off timbered hills and valleys rich with big bucks that get a lot less hunting pressure than you might think.

Some of the stuff is pretty hard to get to, and best accessed with a boat. Drive the boat a mile up the lake and get out on shore to access your stand. You’ll likely be the only hunter within some distance. It’s a bit of extra work, but if you find that golden nugget of an area, it will all be worth it. Bowhunters excel here: The rut can be crazy back in these places. You are in Iowa, after all. Nuff said.

With all permits in hand including the cost of preference points, it’s going to take you three years and about $700 before you take to the field with a buck and a doe tag in your pocket.

Lake McConaughy, Nebraska

Another large reservoir surrounded by tons of public land. The upper reaches of the lake were underwater for many years, then a drought created thousands of acres of habitat for the deer. Recently the lake levels have come back, but the habitat along the feeder streams on the western end of this reservoir is full of good food and nice bucks. The 2,500-acre Clear Creek area is the largest.

Many states allow camping in public hunting areas, either in the parking lots or dispersed camping in National Forest lands. It’s a great way to save money on lodging and have a comfortable base to hunt from.

It’s hard to hunt (notice a recurring theme here) because there are many small streams that must be crossed to get to some of the best backcountry where hunting pressure is minimal.

Truth is hunting pressure is relatively minimal throughout when compared to other areas in the Midwest and east. There’s very little population in this area and your biggest challenge may be finding lodging within an hour of where you are hunting. If you don’t mind a little company, the eastern end of the lake offers hunting in areas that are used by campers and picnickers during the summer. They close to camping in the fall, but deer hunters can walk in an access pretty decent deer hunting.

It’ll cost a nonresident $229 to hunt in Nebraska. That’s a bargain because you can shoot two bucks and the tags include both whitetail and mule deer, which are fairly common in the upland areas.

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 taking the risk of 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.

Unreal Quest for a Barebow Bison

Unreal Quest for a Barebow Bison

Editor’s Note: This came from Dennis Dunn, who is most probably the most accomplished barebow archery hunter ever to walk this earth. He was the first to bag all 29 North American big game species with a bare bow (no sights or aiming devices.) He is now in his 80’s and trying to raise all his 29 animals into the Pope & Young record book. A lofty goal indeed. Here’s his account of a grueling hunt for a P&Y bison.

by Dennis Dunn –

I just returned from Arizona after one of the most remarkable hunting adventures of my lifetime.   For 66 days, total — in unbroken stints of 35 and then 31 days— I spent the summer of 2020 self-quarantining in a Double Bull blind, in an upright chair, for 12 hours a day. 

My goal was to harvest with my recurve and a wood arrow a true “Pumpkinhead” old bison bull near the end of his life.  I wasn’t sure my 80-year-old spine was going to survive the endurance marathon, but somehow it managed.   Over the past dozen years or so, virtually all of the House Rock bison herd has migrated up onto the Kaibab Plateau and into the northern half of the Grand Canyon National Park — where, of course, they can’t be hunted.  Because the herd has grown to over 1200, by Park Service estimates, both Arizona Game & Fish and the Service encourage hunting for them from blinds over salt  — situated in close proximity to the northern Park boundary. 

The various salt locations are stretched out over about 25 miles on an East/West  axis, more or less parallel to the boundary.  They are all maintained by a phenomenal outfitter named Russ Jacoby, of Flagstaff, AZ.   The bison are hunted virtually year-round, and almost all the bison killed are taken from blinds now; thus the animals are very afraid of being outside the Park.  “Spot & Stalk” is impossible because they get shot at all the time, and most of their visits to the salts are nocturnal.  Occasionally, however, they give in to their craving for salt, make a mistake, and sneak across the boundary during daylight hours — especially when it is very hot, or during the dark-of-the-moon periods.  That is what provides the patient hunter an occasional opportunity. 

AZG&F advertises the hunt in their Regs as one of the toughest hunts in the State — and definitely not for everyone.   During my 66-day “sit,” I passed up several lesser Pope & Young bulls, holding out for one of Boone & Crockett quality.  The one I ended up harvesting on August 11th (three days before my tag was to expire) grossed green 115 1/8th, B & C, so it is not quite going to make that Records Book, but it will score high up in the P &Y Records.  The harvest of this trophy bull now puts me within one, single species-“upgrade” of the first-ever, BAREBOW, all Pope-&-Young Super Slam.  Tom Hoffman, Jack Frost, Walt Palmer, Randy Liljenquist, and Edwin DeYoung have all recorded all 29 species in the P & Y Records, but no one has ever done it without yardage sight-pins attached to their bows for aiming. 

Being now in my ninth decade of life, I realize I’m in a race with Father Time.  Next year — with God’s blessing — I hope to harvest a trophy-quality Alaska Barren Ground Caribou, to complete my quest.  It will be my eighth hunt for that species.   The bull pictured below weighed nearly 2000 pounds (in the estimate of Russ Jacoby).  With God’s guiding hand, my Suzanne St. Charles’ fir arrow (800 grains and tipped with a 225-grain Tuffhead broadhead) transfixed both lungs and completely severed the pulmonary artery in between them.  As a result, the bull suffered instant, massive, internal bleeding and died within seconds — traveling only 18 yards.  Providential assistance?  You bet!  I’ll accept it anytime it’s offered.

Seven Critical Tips for DIY Public Land Hunting

Seven Critical Tips for DIY Public Land Hunting

By Bernie Barringer

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

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

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

Do your homework

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

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

Do your Scouting Diligence

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

Use your Scouting Cameras

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

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

Hunt Only When it’s Time

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

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

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

Stay Mobile and Flexible

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

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

Work Hard and Smart

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

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

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

Don’t Allow your Expectations to Get to High

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

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

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

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

13 of the most bizarre deer mounts you’ve ever seen!

13 of the most bizarre deer mounts you’ve ever seen!

There’s a big difference between good taxidermy and great taxidermy. there’s also a category of taxidermy that’s not so good, and then there’s a level that makes you say, “Why would anyone do that with their deer!” The following photos are dedicated to that category. Some of them are really not so bad, and in fact kinda creative, but others are downright disgusting. Here goes, but be forewarned, you can’t unsee them once you look!

Okay let’s start with one that’s only mildly creepy. This buck is mouthing, and tongueing a cob of corn. Doesn’t look like he’s trying to eat it, and I can’t go any farther than that.
This is actually just kinda weird, until you see the closeup below.
Ummm… NO!
Who comes up with an idea like this one and why?
Okay gotta admit this is pretty strange but actually kinda cool if you have a place for it. But where is he going to land?
Just plain messed up.
First of all you need a guy with a buck who wants to do this with his mount, then you need a taxidermist who is willing to do it, then you end up with this. Not for me.
At first you might think this is just the north end of a southbound deer, but it’s even more disturbing than that.
Yes this was actually for sale. Can’t imagine your little girl not loving her new dollhouse!
In keeping with the “things that shouldn’t be put into a deer mount” theme, this one’s just as messed up.
Some people will find this amusing, and some may really like it. Take my advice, put this in your man cave not in a part of the house your wife frequents.
I get what they’re trying to do here, but blood on a mount is never a good thing.
At least there’s no blood, but who wants to mount a buck shown licking itself? I think in general, most people do not want to see a tongue when they see a deer mount. What a way to ruin a fantastic buck!
Okay I’ll leave you with this one so the sight of those others will be put aside and allow you to sleep tonight. Really not a bad idea for a mount and might actually work in the right environment. A little bizarre, yes, but not necessarily in a bad way.
Six Reasons You Have Never Shot a Booner

Six Reasons You Have Never Shot a Booner

If killing a B&C buck were just luck, then why have several people done it multiple times? Here’s some advice that may shake up the way you look at hunting for giant bucks.

By Bernie Barringer

A tiny fraction of whitetail hunters have taken a buck that scores over 170 typical or 195 nontypical, the minimums for entry into the Boone & Crockett record book. Many hunters feel like it’s just a stroke of luck to have a buck that size walk by, and often, that’s all there was to it. However, that doesn’t explain why some hunters kill them with a shocking degree of regularity. Several hunters have killed multiple B&C bucks over the years, which proves they are probably doing things a little different than you and I when they take to the whitetail woods. In talking to them, I have come up with a list in no particular order of six things they are doing that you’re probably not doing.

You are not hunting where the Booners live

This may seem obvious, but you have to hunt where there are. You don’t have to live there, but if you don’t have Booners where you live you must go to them–or move to where they are found. Tim Young packed up and moved to Iowa and has shot two giants there and one on a roadtrip to Kentucky. Scott Buckley packed up his family and construction business and moved to southern Iowa, where he has killed several 170-class bucks on public land.

Scott Buckley hunts mostly public land and credits his ability to shoot huge bucks to his willingness to go where other hunters won’t go.

Rod Owen, Adam Hays, Stan Potts and Ben Rising travel extensively to find and shoot big bucks in states other than their own. They may hunt leased or permission land, but that land may be far from home, and it contains giant bucks. “You have to find them first,” says Adam Hays, who has taken nine Booners including four over 200 inches. “Your best bet for finding a giant will be near sanctuaries where there is no or very limited hunting. These areas will be close to city limits, parks, industrial zones, wildlife refuges and even large tracts of land that allow no hunting. Hunting a specific animal will make you hunt harder and smarter also, just knowing he’s there!”

Rod Owen agrees. “Killing a Booner isn’t the hardest part, the hardest part is finding one.” Ben Rising has shot four Booners in the last two years. He says he often spends more time looking for a buck and getting access to hunt where the buck lives than actually hunting him.  Scott Buckley seeks big bucks in areas other hunters aren’t willing to go and sets his sights on individuals.

Rod Owen shot two Booners in 2016, one in Kansas and one in Missouri. He refuses to hunt a stand until the conditions are perfect.

You don’t understand how fickle big bucks can be

You can’t take chances with human intrusion, checking scouting cameras too often, or hunting in the wrong winds. To shoot a Booner you must do everything right, and get lucky too. Patience is the key. Rod Owen tells about how he waited weeks for the perfect conditions to hunt a giant buck, but the wind switched so he immediately got out of the stand a RAN all the way back to his truck. He later killed the giant from that very stand.

“People go overboard trying to get intel on these big bucks and end up hurting themselves in the long run,”  according to Ben Rising. They “dig too deep” he says, risking alerting the deer that he’s being hunted. According to Adam Hays, patience is the #1 key. “Sometimes the most difficult part of hunting a big buck is actually not hunting him at all,” he says. “having the patience and the discipline to wait until everything is perfect before diving in for the kill.” Successful Booner hunters don’t push it too hard, they make strategic, surgical moves.

Ben Rising shot two Booners in 2015 and two in 2016. He says people push big bucks too hard in their excitement to learn more about them. Don’t dig too deep and alert them.

You are not willing to do whatever it takes

You are spending your time watching Monday Night Football, you’re hanging out with buddies, you’re fishing when the big buck killers are scouting. The hunters who shoot Booners make sacrifices, they are consumed by the pursuit and learning everything they can about the deer and the land they inhabit. The drive to shoot giant deer is at a level far above the average deer hunter. “There are hunters and there are killers,” says Rising. “The drive has to be far greater if you are going to consistently kill big ones.”

Scott Buckley crosses streams and thickets on public land that stops most hunters in their tracks. Getting beyond barriers that hinder the everyday hunters puts him into bigger public land bucks.

With his truck stuck in a snowdrift. Steve Niemerg waited out a blizzard in a farmer’s house for two days, then instead of going home when the blizzard quit, he went hunting and killed a giant Booner that very evening. Killing multiple Booners can take over your life. Not just hunting them but hours of scouting, more time scouting, in fact, than actually hunting. “Killing mature deer is all about predicting what he will do before he ever does it,” Hays says. “The only way to do this is through scouting. I want to know where he eats, drinks, sleeps, breeds and how he gets back and forth from all the above.”

Steve Niemerg’s truck was stuck in a snowdrift so he had to wait out the blizzard in a nearby farmhouse. He’s a do-whatever-it-takes hunter so when the blizzard was over, he went hunting instead of going home. He was rewarded with this giant.

You are not hunting during the peak times

There are a few specific short periods each year when most Booners are shot. Hays is a big believer in the moon’s position as an influence of big buck movement. Rising says that paying attention to all weather factors and waiting for the right moment is key. Hays claims that a wind direction that’s good for the buck, but bad for you, can be the best time to hunt. “For me, the Holy Grail of whitetail hunting is finding a big buck’s weak spot,” he says. “Somewhere along his travel pattern where I can get within bow range of him while he’s using the wind to his advantage.”

When a peak time arrives, you must put the rest of your life on hold. You might be surprised to discover that most of these true giants were not shot during the rut. Most big buck killers agree that they prefer to kill Booners before the chaos of the rut arrives and the deer are in more predictable patterns.

You are not passing big bucks

Those 170-, 180- and 200-class bucks were once 150 bucks. If you aren’t willing to pass up a 4-year-old 150, you will probably never shoot a 6-year-old 180. A friend in southern Iowa who owns a large farm told me he kicked a guy out of their hunting group because he wouldn’t pass up the 4-year-olds that most people would drool over. Passing up bucks that would make you the envy of your friends is possibly the hardest hurdle for most deer hunters to get over.

“People like Adam Hays and me have learned not to smoke the tag on the first 4-year-old 160 that comes by,” says Rising. “We only have one tag in Ohio.” That’s a tough hurdle for most hunters to get over. If you are happy with a 150-160 then so be it, but if you want to kill bucks approaching 200, you will have to let them walk.

Adam Hays has killed nine B&C bucks. He’s obviously doing something different than the average hunter. He says finding them and getting access to hunt them is the hardest part.

Another important part of this equation is to understand and recognize which deer are younger and have the potential to become giants. The only way to do that is to study the bucks themselves and analyze age, score and potential of every buck you see.

You are taking shortcuts

Most hunters rely too much on gimmicks and don’t go to the extremes necessary. You may be choosing great stand locations, but aren’t choosing your entry and exit routes wisely enough. You aren’t using discipline to wait for perfect conditions. These big buck killers are scent control fanatics, but they don’t use that as an excuse to take shortcuts with the wind. They all agree that scent control is an honorable goal, but the belief that you can totally eliminate your human scent and ignore good woodsmanship is a ticket to forkhorn land.

Hanging a treestand during the rain, letting those cameras sit for weeks and only checking them with the right wind, having the patience to wait until everything is precisely right, these are the characteristics of a person who kills multiple Booners. Hunting mature bucks is all about strategic moves at the right time in the right place. There are no shortcuts, you must make every move with precision.

Tim Young will go wherever it takes to find a big buck. First he moved to Iowa to be where the big bucks lived, then he travelled all the way to Kentucky prior to the Iowa season and shot this 190-class buck in velvet.

Six Strategies Summarized

  1. You have to hunt where giant bucks are found. Either travel there or move there. The more big bucks are available, the better your odds.
  2. You cannot take chances with giant bucks. They have the game figured out and you must play by their rules. If you tip them off that they are being hunted, your odds of killing them just plummeted.
  3. You have to go farther and work harder than the other guy. Killing big bucks takes time and it needs to be a high priority you your life. Anyone who starts to think about hunting just before the season opens doesn’t have a chance of consistently killing giants.
  4. You need an understanding of peak times and the weather conditions that give you the edge. Understand wind and thermals along with bedding and movement patterns. The rut can be a great time to kill a Booner, but big buck movements can be random. Most consistent big buck killers prefer to hunt them before and after the rut.
  5. You must be willing to give a pass to lesser bucks. Self control is paramount. If you are hunting to impress friends, you may be shooting big bucks with the potential to become giants before their time. You must do this for yourself, not for others.
  6. You can’t cut corners in any way. Truly big bucks are masters at survival and know all the tricks. You must learn to play the game by their rules and win by their rules.
Black Bear Hunting (and eating)

Black Bear Hunting (and eating)

By Jaden Bales, Wyoming Wildlife Federation

Spring brings green-up, rushing rivers, and first rays of sunlight that warms one’s bones. In the west, it is the first opportunity for many sportsmen to shake off the winter cobwebs and start hunting species with spring seasons. Though the vast majority of the United States have seasons available in the fall, there are eight western states (Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming) where one species stands to provide the largest and most challenging spring harvest of all – the black bear. 

Black bears have reaped the rewards of the North American model of wildlife conservation as much or more than many other big game species. In a live interview with Wyoming Wildlife Federation, the Western Bear Foundation’s President, Joe Kondelis pointed out it’s one of the few species in North America where population levels may be higher than pre-European contact. The abundance of bears, the delicious table fare they provide, and the challenge to the sportsmen pursuing them all make black bears an excellent spring hunting opportunity. 

People may balk at the idea of eating an animal known to be a predator – it’s often a reflection of how humans have identified bears as having human-like qualities. The extreme anthropomorphization of black bears may have prevented folks from looking at the species as table fare, but those who have tried a well-done bear recipe will agree – black bear meat is excellent. 

Being closely related to the pig family, black bears are used in various pork-like recipes, like pulled pork sandwiches, cured hams, and grilled tenderloin. Summer sausages, salami, and pepperoni are incredible uses of bear meat for people wanting to take their at-home charcuterie skills to the next level. It’s popular to cook bear meat “low and slow” due to the higher fat content and necessity for bear meat to reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees, as a preventative for trichinosis.*

Not only does harvesting a bear lend delicious meat to the dinner table, but the challenge of pursuing a spring bear is incredibly rewarding. In all western states with a bear season, folks go after black bears via spot and stalk methods. Generally, this includes grabbing a high vantage point that overlooks a bear’s primary food source and waiting, usually multiple days, until a boar or sow without cubs feeds into a position to make a clean shot.

Early in the spring in western states, bears are coming out of winter dens in search of the highest quality and most readily available nutrition they can find – fresh grasses. The grass comes up near water sources and snow line. It’s the kind of feed that would make the most conscientious grass-fed beef rancher jealous. As spring moves along, bears feed on other naturally occurring plants like skunk cabbage roots and wild onions. Towards the end of spring and early summer, bears can be found cruising elk calving and doe fawning sites in search of a larger, easy-to-capture meal.

In a few western states, like Alaska, Wyoming, and Idaho, it’s also allowed to bait bears as a method of hunting. Bear baiting is highly regulated with strong guidelines for the hunters choosing this method but can be extremely effective. Bear baiting generally begins days, if not a couple of weeks prior to hunting for bears and involves incredible amounts of time commitment to keep the bait-site stocked and maintained. Not to mention, the sites can be a decent hike from any available roadway. 

The areas where bear-baiting is allowed usually have a significant surplus of bears to be harvested. Plus, the commitment it takes for hunters to be successful while baiting allows many people sitting bait sites to be very selective in their take of a big black bear. As Joe Kondelis also points out, bear genders are difficult to distinguish. Baits give hunters an opportunity to identify larger boars to harvest. More boars can be removed with fewer impacts on the future population of bears in that area, as well as making a great trophy and yielding more meat for the freezer. 

At the end of the day, any chance to get outdoors this spring seems like a welcome opportunity in these COVID-19 restricted times. Spring bear hunting offers the perfect chance to social distance, watch the bright yellow flowers of skunk cabbage bloom, and enjoy the challenge of taking a bear. Heck, successful hunters may just cut down on some trips to the l grocery store with a freezer full of high-quality game meat to-boot.