Late October Whitetail Madness

Late October Whitetail Madness

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

By Bernie Barringer

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

Scrapes

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

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

Rubs

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

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

Lures

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

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

Calling

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

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

Consider breaking the pattern to take advantage of the last week of October and the opportunities it presents.  The rut, with its frenetic activity has its appeal, no doubt, but there are some real advantages to getting there ahead of the crowds. You just may find you have the woods, and the deer, to yourself.

Scrapes and rubs are key to October success

Scrapes and rubs are key to October success

Most of October is an overlooked time for gathering information that will be valuable later on, and Late October is the one time of the year when focusing on scrapes and rubs can pay off big.

By Bernie Barringer

The month of October is maligned by bowhunters everywhere as the months where the bucks disappear into thin air. It’s a transition period between the time when they are in the visible, predictable patterns of September, and the rutting chaos of November. During October, the bucks are largely nocturnal, the bachelor groups have broken up and the food sources are changing. Farm crops are being harvested; acorns, chestnuts and hazelnuts are available for short periods as they fall and are cleaned up. Living is easy for the deer and their movements are minimal and erratic.

Should you stay home during October? Absolutely not. There are times when being in a stand can be very productive, and there are other projects that can be done during this month that will increase your odds of bagging a buck later on.

The first half of October is a time when bucks are doing a lot of rubbing. These rubs provide important clues to their travel and preferred bedding areas. As a buck rises in late afternoon, he stretches and gets his juices flowing by chafing up a couple trees nearby. He may hit several trees on his way to feed. These can provide clues to help you find his beds because rubs are directional. Follow a line of rubs backwards and you will eventually end up where the buck likes to seclude himself during the daylight hours.

You might find a great place to set up and waylay that buck, but at least you will find some places to set scouting cameras and get a look at him. The information gathered will also help you learn more about the timing and direction of his movements. You can put a marker on each of the rubs using your Scoutlook weather app. A pattern will emerge right on your screen.

October is the month of scraping. New scrapes appear every day as the bucks’ testosterone levels rise. The last two weeks of October is peak time for scraping. Primary scrapes can be found under overhanging branches on the edges of open areas. These will have fresh tracks in them most every day. It’s a great time to inventory the bucks in your area with a camera.

I like to put scrape drippers on these scrapes and arm them with a Covert scouting camera. Bucks cannot resist visiting these scrapes when there is fresh new scent in them. Within three days, you are likely to have a photo of most every buck in the area. If you see daylight activity, make your move immediately.

If I find an area all torn up with rubs and scrapes during late October, you can be sure I will be hanging a stand nearby. By the time the rut is in full swing, these scrapes will get little attention, so I want to take advantage while the getting is good.

Interestingly, many studies have been done by biologists in an effort to learn how and when bucks use scrapes. They have found that by putting cameras covering the scrapes, they get photos of bucks mostly under cover of darkness. In fact some studies have shown that visits to scrapes by mature bucks will be as much as 90% at night.

I have found a flaw in these studies; however, I am convinced that the bucks are scent checking these scrapes during the daylight, but they aren’t having they picture taken. Mature bucks do not like to expose themselves on the open edge of a field—which is where most of the scrapes are found—during the daylight. So if the wind allows, they scent-check the scrape from downwind 10-30 yards, depending on the cover. Only if they smell something that arouses their urges or their curiosity will they move right onto the scrape.

This offers the hunter a unique opportunity to set up and take advantage of this behavior. Set up your stand downwind of the scrape. Additionally, adding some fresh scent to the scrape while hunting it can make a big difference. The buck may move to the scrape rather than skirting it. Use your Scoutlook weather app to mark the scrape locations, then look at the scent cone to determine the best tree for a stand.

I have fallen in love with the last week of October for hunting over scrapes and rubs, While most of my DIY road trips for whitetails have focused on the first two weeks of November, these days, I find myself leaving home to be in position to hunt a day or two before Halloween. It allows me to scout quickly and find an area that reeks of rutting activity and get right into a tree to hunt. This is something I wouldn’t do during November.

The last week of the month is also the best time of the year for calling and rattling in my opinion. Bucks in the Midwestern states where I do most of my hunting seem to come to rattling during this time better than any other time. And those scraping area are great places to rattle. The bucks come running in expecting to find some action in an area they already know is a buck hangout.

It is embarrassing how long it took me to figure out why I would see deer in the distance when I was sitting in a tree over a rutting area. Here was an area all torn to pieces right in front of me, but I would catch a glimpse of a buck moving through the trees 40-50 yards away, and they were just moving through. Once I figured out that they were moving through downwind of the scrapes, the light bulb went on. I now use a scent to spike up the scrapes and any time I see a buck, I hit the grunt call a few times in an effort to turn him towards me. It doesn’t always work, but it has brought a buck within range often enough to keep me trying it.

The chance to beat the crowds is one of the greatest advantages to hunting the last week in October. In the past dozen years, outdoor television has created a hunger for big bucks away from home, and a large number of hunters are taking whitetail hunting road trips each season. I hunt mostly public land in several states each year, and I find that the first full weekend in November is when the parking lots start to fill up. Most people have a week or two off from work so they hunt hard for two weekends and a week. By starting my hunt the end of October, I put myself in position to be driving to my next destination with a buck in the back of the truck before the competition arrives in full force. 

The next time the month of October finds you discouraged, try my advice on gathering information and hunting over rubs and scrapes. You, too, may soon find yourself excited to be leaving home a few days earlier than the remainder of the DIY crowd.

5 Reasons to Hunt October

5 Reasons to Hunt October

The “October Lull” has a bad rep. But there are some very good reasons not to overlook this time of the year. by Bernie Barringer

A large number of bowhunters take the month of October off, which is great for those of us who don’t. While the there are good reasons most hunters do not see as many deer during this pre-rut month,  there are some compelling times and places to be in the woods during the month of October. Here are five that might make you rethink your October complacency.

Since so few hunters take October seriously, you may be all alone out there. October may be the single best time to hunt public land because there is little pressure putting the deer on edge. There may be a few people out and about on the weekends, but you might find that you have normally busy areas of public hunting properties all to yourself in October.

Hunting pressure definitely causes deer to change their behavior patterns. Once they begin to feel pressure, many mature bucks go underground and won’t be caught out during daylight. Hunting in October gives us a chance to target them before they feel the heat. They can still be in fairly predictable fall feeding and bedding patterns, which leads us to reason number two.

Predictable Movements

October is a time of ease for most bucks. Food is everywhere and the bedding areas are mostly undisturbed. Acorns are still around in abundance, cut corn and soybean fields offer easy to reach food, alfalfa is still green.

The daily lives of a buck might be to rise in late afternoon, hang out with the guys a little, make a few rubs and maybe sniff a scrape. He may do a little sparring with other bucks and then make his way towards the food source where he arrives with a half hour or so of daylight left. He’ll probably hang out just inside the woods until nearly full dark before exposing himself in the open, which gives a hunter the perfect opportunity to connect with him just inside the woods.

In the morning, he works his way back to his preferred bedding cover without much urgency, nibbling at browse along the way. Then he will spend his days in cover chewing his cud and only rising to stretch and relieve himself occasionally before going through his routine again in the late afternoon. It’s a pretty good time for a savvy hunter to figure out the pattern and waylay a mature buck who has no idea he’s being hunted.

Enjoy the Autumn

The living is pretty easy for us hunters too. Another great reason to hunt October is to get out and enjoy pleasant fall weather while gathering information for upcoming rut. Evenings are delightful in a treestand at this time of the year. Mosquitoes have succumbed to frost and the colorful leaves are pleasant to the eye. Mornings are cool but not shivering-in-your-boots cold. It’s just a great time to enjoy some of the things we love about hunting and being outdoors to observe nature and its natural goings on.

You can learn a lot that will help you better hunt the upcoming rut as well. October offers you a chance to inventory the deer in your area and get a feel for where the does are bedding. This knowledge will be valuable come the helter-skelter activity of the rut. You have to get out there among the deer to gain this knowledge.

Calling and Rattling

The second half of October is arguably the best time of the year to use calling and rattling to bring in a buck. Testosterone is surging and bucks are on edge as the urges of the upcoming rut are beginning to run through their veins.

The success rates of using combinations of grunt calls and rattling antlers can be at its peak in late October. Bucks come running with more abandon than at any other time of the year. Find a good spot with lots of ground cover near a bedding area and do some calling sequences. Make sure you are set up where the buck can’t see a long ways, but must come close to investigate the source of the sound.

The largest buck my son Ben shot with a bow was taken under these exact circumstances. We set up at the point of a wooded draw where it cut into an alfalfa field. At the bottom of the draw was a thick creek bottom; perfect bedding cover. I put out a buck decoy and Ben concealed himself 20 yards downwind of the decoy while I rattled. Almost immediately, a buck came strutting up out of the bottom and challenged the decoy. Less than 10 minutes into the sequence, he had the 10-pointer on the ground.

Sign Success

By the last week in October, scrapes and rubs are a central part of the area deer’s lives. This pre-rut period is the time of the year when scrapes are visited in the daylight and rubs are being worked often. I don’t hunt sign just for sign’s sake very much, but the last week in October is the one time when it’s definitely worth the effort.

When you’ve found an area all torn up with scrapes and rubs, the hunting can be good there both mornings and evenings. Set up downwind and use some good scent such as Trails End #307 or use a scrape dripper with Active Scrape lure in it. Spicing up the scrapes with good quality scent works very well during this time of the annual cycle. Many bucks will circle to wind-check the area from downwind so be sure you set up your stand accordingly.

If you can’t find the scrapes and rubs in the right situation to set up a good ambush, create your own. Mock scrapes with fresh scent work just as well—sometimes better–than the real thing. Use a pocket knife to forge imitation rubs. The local bucks feel compelled to investigate.

So don’t spend October on the recliner in anticipation of November. These five reasons should be incentive enough to get out there and tag a buck before the masses fill the woods.

The DIY Hunting Trailer

The DIY Hunting Trailer

By Bernie Barringer

I rolled into my driveway late at night, exhausted from long hours of driving. Fourteen days earlier when I had left home on Halloween, my pickup truck was neatly organized, with stands, sticks and equipment stacked in place. Accessories had been packed neatly in Rubbermaid totes. But as I dropped the tailgate and looked into the back of the truck by the beam of the yard-light, my first thought was that someone ate a Cabela’s store and puked it up in the back of my Ford.

And I had to deal with it right away. Somewhere near the bottom of that mess was a buck, wrapped up in a tarp with three bags of ice inside it. It was going to be a long night. There must be a better way.

Events like this started me on the path to thinking about a trailer that could be used for my DIY hunting adventures. Over time I developed a plan in my mind, thinking about what I would like to have that would make my life easier when on a hunting trip. That plan came to fruition last fall when I bought a trailer, and during this winter when it became my project to convert it into a functioning trailer to haul my hunting gear with some additional features.

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

In the past I have used a travel trailer to camp in, and that helped solve some of the issues. I put a small chest freezer in the front of the camper and butchered a deer right there. But I have found myself less often taking a camper on these trips. It seems to be harder and harder to find a place to camp during the hunting season. Problems with water and sewer freezing are no small matter. I wanted a utility trailer with a freezer in it and a place to butcher a deer, at least to quarter it.

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

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

I looked at new trailers, but decided my budget would be better suited to a good used one so I started looking online. I hadn’t really thought much about a side door except that I knew I wanted one. Most of these trailers have a side entry door on the curb side. When I found one that had a door on the driver’s side, I knew that’s what I wanted. It’s a lot easier to just walk back from the truck and open the door when you do not have to walk all the way around. I find that I am grabbing something quick out of the trailer so often that this has proven to be a good choice.

I finally settled on a 6-foot wide by 12-foot long trailer and bought it. This past winter, my buddy Ron offered me the use of his heated shop to pull the trailer indoors and remodel it the way I wanted it to be. I was grateful for that as the temperature dipped to -18 during the week I worked on the trailer in his shop.

The previous owner of the trailer used it to race go-carts. I first tore the old grubby shelving out and painted the interior an off-white color. At Menards, I bought two kitchen cabinets, one is an overhead, the other a corner cabinet. These did not have any latches on the doors or drawer, so I bought latches and installed them so they would not come open on the roadway, allowing their contents to fall out onto the floor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aggressive strike rut hunting

Aggressive strike rut hunting

This aggressive strategy might just put you within range of a big mature whitetail

By Bernie Barringer

If you have hunted during the rut for very long, you have probably been in one of those situations where you are right in the middle of the rutting action. Bucks chasing does all around you, grunting, fighting, you know the drill. It is one of the things we hunters all live for; to be right smack in the thick of it when a hot doe is right around your stand and the bucks are going bonkers. You’ve probably been there at one time or another.

I’ll bet you didn’t screw it up as bad as I did.

The first time it happened to me I learned a very important lesson. Here’s my sad tale: I had been sitting in a tree in what I thought was a great funnel since daylight and it was nearing noon. I was getting hungry and drowsy so I decided to head back home to get something to eat, take a nap for 2-3 hours; then come back out for a couple hours in the evening. Suddenly, the crunching of dry leaves under the hooves of a deer signaled that something was bearing down on me. A big doe came by at a trot, head hanging, tongue lolling about. I knew what that meant. I grabbed my bow off the hanger. Within 60 seconds, there were four bucks chasing that doe all around me. Two of them were yearlings, and two were 2 1/2-year old 8-pointers. I watched with amusement for a few minutes as they dogged the doe all over and then I sat back down as they headed over the hill and out of sight.

Within 15 minutes, my growling stomach got the best of me and I began to climb down. Since I was alone on private property, I left everything in the tree so I didn’t have to carry it out and then back in with me a couple hours later.  About halfway down the tree, I heard the familiar hoof-beats again. But this time I was shocked to see a 160-class 10-pointer make a few circles through the area with his nose to the ground before disappearing over the hill in the direction the doe left. I clung to the climbing sticks with the most horrible sinking feeling in my gut you can imagine. I’d had a terrific buck 10 yards from my tree no less than three times and there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing of course, other than resolve to never to let that happen again.

They say lessons learned the hard way are lessons learned well. I learned some painful lessons from that experience; lessons that I have used to create some strategies that you too can use to bag a big buck during the peak of the rut.

You probably think I am going to say, “Stay in your treestand.” And in fact if you happen to find yourself in the middle of some chasing activity like I described, then staying in your treestand is good advice. But why wait to get lucky and hope to get in the middle of chasing action? Can you go to the chasing location and get a piece of the action? I say yes, and here’s how.

Pinpoint Rutting Areas

If you pay attention, you will find that these rutting areas become somewhat predictable. They are usually near bedding areas and occur often in more open timber or the edges of fields. I theorize that cruising bucks tend to travel downwind of known bedding areas to check for does that are coming into heat. If they get a sniff of something that gives them a tingle, they move into the bedding area and get the does on their feet. Any doe that seems close to breeding is going to be chased relentlessly from that point until the actual breeding occurs.

Bucks tend to push these does toward more open areas where they can keep an eye on them and defend them from subordinate bucks. This makes them more visible than at any other time of the year. This window of opportunity usually lasts only a week to at most 10 days each year, but we all know how exciting hunting at this time can be.

Get to know the bedding areas well before the rut starts. Keep a log of them and also look for observation points where these areas can be viewed from a distance.  Use aerial photography such as Google Earth to identify good rutting areas. Go check them out ahead of time and make note of each of the areas that look good.

Plan Your Strategy

When the rut kicks into high gear, go park yourself in one of these observation areas and with some good glass, carefully pick it apart. Good binoculars are important, and if you can watch the areas from your vehicle, nothing beats a good spotting scope with a window mount. The key is to be ready for action when you see chasing. You want to be able to grab your stuff and go within seconds.

Once you find the deer, you are going to grab a minimum of equipment. A treestand, your weapon, a haul rope, and a grunt call in your pocket are the only things you need. You will see the deer chasing and you must carefully watch their behavior and their exact routes through the area. The hot doe’s scent is going to linger for a few hours and you want to take advantage of her travel patterns so focus on her route. If she runs along a creek bank or fencerow, take note of it. Where does she circle and dodge. Pay attention to specific features that help you remember the key areas. Count fenceposts or note a fallen log. Things can look different from a distance, especially through binoculars so use at least two points of reference.

Over time you will learn the kinds of terrain they like to use for this and you can predict where they will come back. If there is a bowl-like depression of a couple acres in a section of open timber, it can be a good rutting area year after year. A corner of a harvest crop field with thick cover on two sides is dynamite. Keep in mind that for the best rutting areas, there will normally be a bedding area nearby.

Often you may only see small bits of evidence rather than a full-out chase going on. Many times you will see a doe standing alone, panting. Chances are there are bucks watching her from the nearby cover. Possibly you will just see a couple yearling bucks running around with their nose to the ground. An orphaned fawn by itself is an indicator that its mother is preoccupied.

Go Get Them

Once you have established that there is rutting action going on, you need to move quickly. Most of the time it is best to move in behind them, and that is what I concentrate on. On rare occasions I have been able to predict where they are going and get in ahead of them. But that is a real longshot so I generally focus my attention to the known factors, such as all the doe-in-heat scent that was just left in an area, and distinct travel lanes through the location.

I have used a light treestand and a pocket full of screw-in tree steps to quickly get in a tree in the area, but now I use a climber almost exclusively because it is much faster. By now you have chosen the best area and the deer have disappeared over the hill or out of sight. You must get in and get up fast and I mean run if you have to. They may be back in an hour or they may be back in five minutes. The faster you can be ready to shoot, the better off you are. Don’t worry about the sounds you are making, other than to avoid metal clanking of any sort. It goes against your judgment at first to go crashing through the woods running on dry leaves, but the deer are doing the same thing and they won’t notice your commotion.

Give it a Chance to Work

This tactic probably seems like a longshot and at times it is, but keep in mind that good rutting areas are used year after year, and the deer will be chasing for hours. They may be a half mile away by the time you get set up, but they might be on their way back to you. You just never know. I have seen them come back through often enough to have a lot of confidence in this strategy. You also have the confidence that you are sitting in a good spot that is saturated with the sweet smell of estrus. That doe has left a trail to you that can be followed by any buck for quite a long time.

The buck you shoot may be one of the ones that was chasing the doe you saw, or it may be another buck entirely that has not even made an appearance in the area, but is following with his nose to the ground. That’s the buck that will be attracted to rattling or calling. If you have been set up for an hour or so and haven’t seen any action, it’s time to add to the olfactory enticement with some sound. That’s where the grunt call comes in. I also use a RattleBox that attaches to my leg and can be used with one hand.

This year, when the rut nears its peak and the chasing begins, consider going to them rather than waiting long hours for them to come to you. Plan ahead to pinpoint those key rutting areas, plan your strategy, be mobile and move quickly; then move in for the kill.

Hunting the Final Approach

Hunting the Final Approach

Don’t wait until the early season bucks hit the field in the evening, the best place to kill one is before they step into the open

By Bernie Barringer

The buck in my spotting scope was not a giant by any means. His thick, stubby 10-point frame would maybe go 130 tops. But for this part of north-central Minnesota where more than 80% of bucks are shot when they are yearlings, just seeing a 4-year-old buck is a rare occurrence indeed. What made this buck appealing was the predictability of his habits. I had seen him more than a dozen times in the same alfalfa field on late summer evenings. I felt I had a reasonable chance of shooting him in the first days of the season.

I had to take a couple weeks off in early September to chase bears, and when I returned, it was September 15, the evening before Minnesota’s archery season opener. I headed out to the field with anticipation and parked in my normal spot, scanning the field with a window-mounted spotting scope. By the last minutes of daylight, a half-dozen does had worked their way well out into the middle of the field, but the buck was nowhere to be found. My heart sank with the deepening darkness. I waited until I couldn’t see through the scope and then decided to head for home.

I drove the end of the dead-end road and turned around, and as I passed the field on my way back out and turned to go back on the blacktop, my headlights swept across the alfalfa one more time. But wait, now there was one more set of glowing eyes! I skidded to a stop and put my binoculars to my eyes; sure enough my buck in the headlights. He was standing in the corner of the field surveying the area before stepping out.  I glanced down at the clock in my truck: 8:30.

That’s when it hit me. He was right on schedule! I had been seeing him at about 8:30 since August when the sun was well above the trees at that time. He hadn’t changed his pattern, the shorter daylight hours had just caught up to him.

I never did shoot that buck, but I learned a valuable lesson from him. Earlier sunsets combined with a more nervous demeanor due to the shedding of velvet makes the bucks a little tougher to kill. Once the velvet comes off, they often spend quite a bit of time hanging back in the cover, observing their surroundings before venturing out into the open. Shooting them right at the edge of the field may not be the best option. A better option may be setting up back in the trees a ways in order to get a shot as they make their final approach. I’ve learned that there are three ways to up your odds of killing an early season buck using these regular patterns to your advantage. I’ll list them in a good, better and best order.

Good: Find the bedding area

In order to waylay a buck between the bedding area and the feeding area, you must first figure out with a reasonable degree of certainty where the preferred bedding areas are located. Bucks will often bed in the same general area each late summer and early fall day unless some environmental change moves them. That may be rain, high winds or human pressure. Each of these will cause the bucks to seek out alternate bedding cover. But if you can find the most preferred sites, it becomes much easier to determine their travel lanes to the food sources.

Primary evidence will be trails of course and rubs along these trails. I like to actually see the beds, the droppings and all the things associated with the bedding sites, and I am not afraid to bump the deer one time to do it. I find that the first hand knowledge gives me confidence in my set-up. I would suggest doing this at least 2-3 weeks before you are going to hunt. The closer to hunting it is the riskier it is.

Deer are accustomed to getting bumped in the summer by berry pickers, woodcutters, ATVs, etc. In mid- to late-summer I may even place a trail camera there which I will come back and retrieve in about a week.

Once you find the bedding area, it’s a simple matter to pick the best looking travel lane and set up on it. Stay just far enough from the bedding area that you can get in and out without tipping them off and make sure your wind is not going towards them. This technique allows you to have the best chance of seeing the deer in the daylight. But picking the exact right travel lane can be a bit of a longshot.

Better: Set Up on the Staging Area

Mature bucks become very good at letting smaller bucks and does run interference for them. They love to hang up 30-50 yards back in the timber and observe as the other deer move out into the field. Some people believe they are waiting for dark and that may be the case some times, but more often I believe they are just observing the behavior and body language of the deer already in the field.

They like to use semi-open areas where they can see around them well, and out into the field. These areas are obvious once you know what to look for. The bucks spend their waiting time alternating between standing still while staring, while occasionally nibbling on branches and rubbing trees. As fall wears on, some of these areas will have a lot of scrapes, and in fact, some of the scrapes start to show up soon after the velvet is shed.

Another clue that will help you determine where the bucks are entering the field is the sign left on the plants themselves. Does and immature deer tend to hit the open edge of the field and trot out into it 15 yards or so before beginning to feed. Not so much with mature bucks. They like to stand right at the edge of the field and nibble a little before walking out into the open. This sign will show on the alfalfa or soybeans.

When deer are feeding on standing corn, this difference is not so obvious because the deer feel more secure due to the standing cover. Then start feeding on the first ears of corn they see. The locations deer enter into cornfields are quite obvious because of this.

Trail cameras in these staging areas will help you determine the bucks that are using them and their timing. Resist the temptation to check them every day. Minimizing scent in these areas is critical.

Once you have determined the staging areas where the bucks are spending their last 30 minutes of daylight, you have to pick the right tree. Use the wind to your advantage and make a commitment to yourself not to jump the gun. It may take a few days to get the right wind but chances are you are going to have only a small number of opportunities to get the job done. Don’t take chances with the wind in this situation or all your hard work will have gone for nothing.

In these situations I do not hunt very high. It always seems that if I get over 15-18 feet, visibility becomes a problem. Thick cover in the canopy of trees makes it tough to see around you. Position yourself so you can see out in the field if possible; at the very least, have a good view of the surrounding woods in all directions. That usually means a 25-foot high stand will risk putting you out of commission.

Once you have picked your tree and put up your stand, make sure you get it trimmed out well. With leaves still on the trees and the thicker canopy associated with field edges, having enough shooting lanes can be a problem. Plus, the deer are more likely to be moving through the area, maybe milling around, rather than walking down an established trail. Clear several shooting lanes and keep in mind that these bucks often walk through the thick stuff adjacent to the trail the does are using.

When the time is right to hunt the stand, get there early in the afternoon to let your ground scent dissipate. Deer are going to filter through the area; it is critical not to spook them before the bucks arrive. 

Best: Plant a Secure Food Plot

Not everyone can do this but it is definitely the “Best” way to target these early season bucks. Instead of waiting for them to go to the food, you can bring the food to them. Tiny food plots placed in known staging areas can be dynamite. These plots can be anywhere from a half-acre to the size of your living room.

The advantages of these mini-plots are many. First, you can put them where you want the deer to be, even picking the tree you want for your stand and putting the plot upwind of it. Put up two stands for two different wind directions if you want.

Secondly, you can keep the deer right where you want them longer, which increases your odds of getting the shot you want. Rather than milling around the areas while you are trying to find an open shooting lane, they are right in front of you, staying put, as they feed. You aren’t shifting around 180 degrees in your stand to get a shot at a buck that came in behind you, because the buck is standing where you want him.

Third, the choice morsels in the food plot tend to distract the deer from what is going on around them. This can be very helpful in getting a bow drawn, or allowing you to stand for a shot if you prefer to do so.

And finally, the bucks tend to arrive earlier at these little food gems, increasing your chances of getting a shot in the daylight. Once they have had a few positive experiences with these staging area plots, they gain an increased comfort level and tend to spend a significant amount of daylight there.

Many seed companies produce blends of plants that are perfect for early season food plots. Check with them and pick the blend that is best for your area.

Every situation is different and the terrain and conditions where you hunt are not going to be the same as mine. In northern Minnesota, the amount of daylight hours changes by about 3-4 minutes per day in late summer through early fall. That’s about a half hour every two weeks. Chances are it’s not that dramatic where you live. But for sure, the increasingly early sunset times are eating up your chances of getting a buck within range during daylight, so choose from one of these good, better or best tactics and get your buck on his final approach.

Bring bears to your baits quickly and keep them there

Bring bears to your baits quickly and keep them there

Getting bears to hit your baits is just the first step; keeping them there is another step. Heed this advice to increase your odds of success.

By Bernie Barringer

I’m convinced the most important factor in shooting a bear over bait for us DIY bear hunters is getting the bears associated with your bait quickly; then giving them a reason to keep coming back. This is especially true when you have a limited time to bait bears. If you are on a road trip, say you’ve drawn a tag in another state and you arrive to bear hunt, you’ve got to make things happen in a hurry before your timeline runs out.

I’ve learned some things that help through years of baiting here in Minnesota where we’re allowed to start baiting only a couple weeks before opening day of the season. Around here, particularly on public land, there’s a mass rush to get bait into the woods on the opening day of baiting. If you’re gonna get the bears on your baits you better do it right away and you better do it right the first time. Or someone else is going to be skinning the bear you could have shot.

A small handful of people choose to wait until the pressure is off when most other hunters have given up, but that’s risky as is illustrated by the fact that nearly 80% of bears harvested in Minnesota each year are harvested during the first week of the season.

I do bear hunting seminars at several sports shows each year and one of the questions that comes up at nearly every one of them has to do with hunters who get a couple bears hitting the bait for a week to ten days, then lose them. Happens all the time; it used to happen to me a lot. Usually it’s blamed on natural foods such as acorns which tend to drop in great numbers right around the opening of bear season. But I believe it’s more than just natural foods.

Let’s explore some aspects of my system that has significantly improved my odds of getting bears on my baits as opposed to the baits of other hunters, and kept the bears associated with my sites.

Out of all the variables that influence how quickly bears find your baits you might be surprised to learn that I believe location is the most important; even more important than lures. Now don’t think for one second I am devaluing the role of quality lures, but bear with me for a moment.

Bears travel in somewhat predictable patterns. They don’t often just wander aimlessly about the landscape. They tend to follow edges, such as shorelines, steep bluffs, tree-lines and even field borders. They also travel ridges, particularly mature males will go from point A to point B on the spine of a ridge. Look at it this way, if you’re a big old male bear who’s headed somewhere important, like where the food is found, are you going to push yourself through a thick swamp or get up on a hardwood ridge where the canopy allows you to move with relative ease? These ridges are great places to encounter big bears, especially if they have thick escape cover along at least one side that allows the bear to quickly duck out of sight. Add this to the fact that these ridges are most likely where you will find food such as acorns and beech nuts.

Those thick swamps and beaver ponds are really important to the bears, they are great places to lounge around when they aren’t feeding, and the water offers them a way to cool off and take in the liquids necessary to digest the huge amounts of calories they are taking in during the late summer and fall.

A good analogy that relates to this important location factor would be something familiar to any deer hunter who chooses a stand location for a rut hunt. Deer hunters know that bucks will be on their feet looking for does during the rut, so in order to increase our chances of encountering one up close, we choose deer hunting locations that funnel their movements down into pinch points, which increase our odds of being within range of these cruising bucks. Choosing a bear bait location for fast action is much the same. We are picking spots that increase the odds that a bear is going to come close by our bait site sooner rather than later.

So if you haven’t added two plus two and gotten four yet, I’ll tell you straight up that ridges between swamps or beaver ponds are dynamite bait site locations. But there is another important component to this. Bears, especially mature males, prefer not to expose themselves to open areas during the daylight. You need place your actual bait in some thick cover that allows the bear to comfortably approach the site without crossing an open canopy or field for every long. My best bait sites on the sides of ridges between swamps (or a swamp and another obstruction), where the ground vegetation is fairly thick and at least as tall as the biggest bear’s back.

Once you’ve found a couple ideal bait sites, you’re going to add the bait and lure it up good with some great scents that the bear cannot resist. Let’s talk about lures first.

I have used several different scent strategies over the years to draw bears to the baits. I’ve thrown Jell-O packets into the trees, I’ve done honey burns and bacon burns and other old favorites of bear hunters. But a few years ago I was introduced to a product called Gold Rush, which is an amazing, potent scent that is super concentrated and can be added to used fryer oil. That’s right, it’s a concentrate; you mix about an ounce or two of it with five gallons of oil and it smells fantastic, plus it carries well. All of my baits now get Gold Rush when I open them for the first time of the year.

I will also use Northwoods Bear Products sprays every time I put out bait. I like the fruity smells like blueberry, cherry, raspberry, etc. That’s probably more personal preference than anything but they work so I stick with what I know works. Once the bears are coming in, trails begin to develop and I like to spray the bushes on the sides of the trails so the bears get the sweet smells on their fur and carry it off with them.

The kinds of baits you use are critically important to keeping bears coming back to your baits often and filling them up. We don’t want a bear to have a few bites and then move off, we want him to fill his gut and then go lay up in a nearby swamp to sleep it off. That way he’ll be right nearby when he gets hungry again.

Bears are individuals and some prefer some baits over others, but I have never met a bear that didn’t like pastries. They fill the bear up and have the high-carbohydrate and calorie content the bears are looking for. But you can “over-sugar” the bears. I believe that’s a big part of why bear baiters begin to lose their bears after a week or so. The bears need a mixture of other baits to hold them. I like to add fruits, meat and trail mix. These are the things that bears really will appreciate when they start to feel as if they are taking in too many sweets.

Meats are not legal in all states, but if you can use them, beef trimmings from a supermarket or butcher shop are fantastic for bringing the bears to your bait over and over. Bears like the meat fresh. I do not add the meats until the baits are getting hit every day, because they spoil quickly. If I am not baiting a site often, say just once every 5-7 days, I will freeze the meat into a big block and then put it out frozen which gives it another couple days of freshness.

Trail mix has the ability to mimic natural foods and is the one bait I have found that can offset the trouble created by the mast crops that are producing right about the time the bear hunting season opens. Granola is another good option, which is nearly as good. Trail mix and granola seem to hold bears very well once they begin to cut back on their sweets intake. Over time, you’ll find that the bears are eating more trail mix and a lower percentage of pastries.

Success rates in states that use bear baiting as a bear harvest management tool usually run around 30%, so bear baiting is not a slam dunk by any measure. And it’s really hard work. But you can beat the odds. Be diligent in finding the right location, use the right attracting scents the right way, and use baits that offer a variety of the things the bears love, and you can significantly increase your odds of being in the 30% who are enjoying bear roasts and sausage along with a bear rug, rather than the 70% who end up eating tag sandwich.

7 Critical Tips for DIY Public Land Hunters

7 Critical Tips for DIY Public Land Hunters

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.

Find the Killing Tree

Find the Killing Tree

By Bernie Barringer

I’d found this spot the previous year but I didn’t hunt it correctly. The location was a narrow stretch of trees connecting two larger woodlots along the banks of a large river. The area surrounding it was a couple hundred acres of tall native grasses. It’s the kind of spot that jumps off the screen at you when you see it on Google Earth. It’s what I call a classic rut funnel.

Despite the fact that it is on Kansas state public hunting land, I was the only one hunting it because of the difficulty in getting more than a mile and a half back into it, and of course, the prospect of getting a buck out of there. If this spot was within a half-mile of the road, I probably wouldn’t be alone in there.

My trail camera was regularly getting photos of two nice shooters and a third buck that looked marginal. The third one was a ten-pointer with a kicker that looked to be a 3-year-old with amazing potential. He was often running with a big mature 8-point that had a thick, muscular chest and a wide, dark rack with long tines. That eight was the kind of buck you don’t see often on public land in any state, but this was a big area, far from human activity, so I wasn’t surprised.

The afternoon of November 6, 2013 the wind was right for this spot. It was nearing dark when I heard the noise of a deer walking through the tall, dry grass to the south. I tossed a loud grunt his way and suddenly he crashed towards me on a dead run, stopping at the base of my tree. I am always amazed at how perfectly they can pinpoint the source of a sound. I didn’t even have time to get my bow off the holder.

This buck was clearly the 10-point with the kicker. As he stood at the base of my treestand directly below me, I had a moment to analyze him in person for the first time. He was definitely young; in fact, I decided he may be only two years old. And I had him on camera several times accompanied by the big eight. He began to trot away just as I heard another noise in the dry grass. I grabbed my bow and drew it. Sure enough, the big eight stepped into view at 28 yards. He was what I call a “no-brainer;” he looked downright majestic with his chocolate rack and heavy, bull-like body.

I instinctively grunted him to a stop and sent an arrow on its way. I could see the Lumenok pinned to his rib cage as he tore off into the tall grass and then heard him crash about 10 seconds later. The hunt was a result of being in the right place at the right time, with the emphasis strongly on the Right Place.

Find The Killing Tree

That’s not the only great location I know of. Some of them are only good with certain crop rotations or other annual changes; and some of them are good every year. What makes them great is that the deer will always do what deer have always done with relation to certain terrain features when all other factors are equal. Cameras will help you find these spots to some degree, but to really pinpoint these little hunting gold mines, there’s no substitute for in-person experience; you need to hunt them to really figure them out.

We started with a broad approach and worked our way down; from choosing the right state, to choosing the best areas within that state and on to picking the properties where we will hunt. Now that we are on site, we are going to choose our specific hunting location, right down to which tree we are going to use to kill that big buck.

In my years of hunting public land in so many states, I have found that the entire process almost always comes down to one or two specific locations. After all the work is done before the trip, and the scouting, trail camera checking, hunting and observation takes place in the first few days of the hunt, it always seems to focus down on one, sometimes two, specific spots where I go all in. Usually there is one place where I decide to push all my chips into the middle and live or die there. Choosing this spot is all about confidence.

The Confidence Factor

When I first started doing these DIY road trips, I would arrive at a location and I couldn’t wait to get in a tree and start hunting. I often would find an area all tore up with rubs and scrapes and I would put up a stand and start hunting it. That proved to be an ineffective method of hunting. One of the reasons was a lack of confidence in the spot.

I’d be sitting in that great looking spot and I would hear bucks fighting just over the ridge from me, or I’d see a buck cruise down the crest of a saddle a hundred yards away, or maybe I’d see a line of does working down a trail out of range and I would wonder what’s over that ridge… is it a spot better than the one I’m in? I would quickly lose confidence in my spot and I would spend time looking for other spots when I should have been hunting. I would invariably end up going back at the end of the hunt to take that first stand down and realize it wasn’t in that good of a spot after all.

Before I ever put up the first stand these days, I want to fully know the area. I want to know what is over that ridge. I want to know what’s on that saddle and I want to know where those does were going. Then when I finally choose my spot to hunt, I can climb in the stand with the confidence that I am in a good spot and I’m not continually second-guessing myself. Nothing makes it harder to stay on stand all day than a lack of confidence in your location.

The Value of Scouting

There is no substitute for covering a lot of ground on foot. Put on a good pair of comfortable boots and put on some miles. I carry a backpack with trail cameras, some granola bars and drinks, deer scents, GPS, camera and lane trimming tools.

Back home you probably have deer hunting land that you try to manage. You are somewhat familiar with the deer’s tendencies on that land. You know where the bedding areas are and you stay out of them. You may even have areas that are considered inviolate that you never set foot into. If you are on a DIY hunt in a new area you have none of those luxuries. You need to find those places, and sometimes identifying them means taking risks that you would never consider on property that you hunt all the time.

You have to hunt and scout aggressively. You’ll bust some deer out of their beds. I hate that, but if you are going to learn the lay of the land it’s a fact of life. They may or may not be back the next day, but over time they will be back there; it’s a preferred bedding area for a reason. Deer on public lands are more accustomed to being bumped, then quickly going back to their normal patterns than most people realize. Walking a creek or ditch while looking for a crossing is a good way to intersect trails. These crossings often turn out to be good stand locations.

I use lures in scrapes and put cameras over them. I like the scrape drippers made by Wildlife Research Center and I use their Active Scrape lure and Special Golden Estrus to get the deer in front of my cameras. It’s hard to beat using a trail camera on a big scrape with fresh urine or quality deer lures when it comes to getting a quick inventory of the bucks on the property.

Observation Stands

I rarely hunt the first day I arrive at a new location. I usually try to find a vantage point where I can observe activity through binoculars during the evening hours. There is so much more information to be gathered by observation than by getting in a tree that first day. You’ll see how much hunting pressure the area is getting, if any. You’ll be able to observe the stage of the rut by observing deer movements. You might even find a great stand site by observing where the deer activity is concentrated.

Even when I do put up the first stand, it’s likely to be what I call an “observation stand” meaning that it is in a location where I can see a distance. This may be the edge of a field where I can see the entire field, or it may be on top of a ridge where I can observe deer traffic before actually moving the stand right onto a more specific location.

We all want to get in the stand and hunt right away, but trust me, a more methodical approach will pay off in the long run. If you go back to this same property in future years, you will have much of the actual legwork done so you can attack much sooner. But for the first time, not taking time to familiarize yourself with the area is a recipe for failure.

I like to start with one stand near an area that I can see visible feeding activity. I want to know where the does are spending most of their time on any rut hunt. In many cases that stand will be on the edge of a field or food plot. The observations from that stand will usually lead me to move it to an entry trail, a staging area or a trail that parallels the edge of the field where bucks will work inside the woods to scent check the does. Once I have the stand and equipment out there, I have a lot less work to do when it comes time to move it to a more specific location.

One time I put a stand right on top of an oak ridge because the deer’s movements were not readily identifiable even though they were feeding all through the area. Following the first evening in that stand, I could clearly see which direction the majority of them came from and I moved the stand down the ridge 100 yards and filled my tag the next evening.

Setting on Sign and Instinct

Because you have never been to the area before, you have little choice but to make your stand placement decisions on a combination of sign and instinct. The easiest part of that equation of course is the sign. You want to find not just sign but fresh sign. Fresh rubs, scrapes that are getting worked, evidence of feeding such as plants nipped off and ears of corn pulled off the stalks, fresh beds, fresh tracks in the trails; these are all evidence of recent activity that helps you gain confidence that you are in the right spot.

First person observation is the way to read the sign and to do that you need to get out there and cover the ground. Get to know the area well, and you will have a much better view of the overall picture, which will help you in your decision making process about where exactly you are going to spend your valuable hunting time.

The more you do this, the more you will have gut feelings about certain things you see. There is no substitute for time in the woods and experience. When you find yourself looking around you and saying, “This place just feels right.” Then you will know you’re well on your way. The instincts that make you great at choosing great spots must be developed over time. The more time you spend at it, the better you become.

10 Steps to Success: Bowhunting Public Land Whitetails

10 Steps to Success: Bowhunting Public Land Whitetails

by Bernie Barringer

A road trip to a new area on a DIY public land hunt can be very intimidating. Consider these ten points that will up your odds of success.

The clashing of antlers in the creek bottom set my heart to pounding. I quickly put my binoculars up to my eyes but I could see nothing through the brush despite my 20-foot-up position. The noise was coming from a bedding area 70 yards away and it was clear two bucks were duking it out down there. I was deep into a public hunting area in Central Iowa, and I had put many long hours in several tree stands waiting for the right moment. Not to mention the three year wait it took just to draw the tag. This day it was an hour after daylight and I had planned to spend the entire day in this particular perch.

Suddenly, two deer came crashing toward me, a 3- year-old 8-point followed by a heavy, mature buck with thick shoulders and a muscular neck. The younger buck raced on by but the larger one stopped in a shooting lane 40 yards away. His rack looked small sitting on top of the body of a big old warrior. I had a split-second decision to make; I had passed up larger bucks earlier in the hunt, and this is not the kind of rack I dream of taking home with me when I come to Iowa. On the other hand, it was the 12th day of a 7-day hunt. I still had Kansas and Missouri tags in my pocket and November was slipping away. I settled the pin and touched it off.

Going to a new area and hunting on public land is a huge step. Most bowhunters are intimidated by the thought of just loading the gear in the truck and taking off cross-country to hunt a place sight unseen. They needn’t be. Here are a few steps that will increase your odds of being successful.

  1. Choose the right state. There are many variables you must consider when deciding where to hunt; the distance from home, trophy potential, availability of public land, cost of the tag, time it takes to draw a tag, and competition among hunters. If you need a couple years to save for the trip, start buying preference points in Iowa right now. If you want an over-the-counter tag for this year, consider states like Wisconsin, Missouri, North Dakota or Kentucky. Kansas, Illinois and South Dakota have application processes but you can get a tag every year in most zones. Learn the process and then choose the state that’s right for you.
  2. Choose an area within a state. Several states have Walk-in areas that are private land open to sportsmen. Some states have state forests or areas with large amounts of public hunting land. In fact, there are great trophy potential areas in many states but only in small sections of the state. Do your research to find the areas with a large amount of huntable land. The Boone & Crockett club’s Trophy Search function on their website allows you to search for the best counties in each state. Hunting forums for the various states are good places to ask questions. Bowhuntingroad.com, a site dedicated to road-trip hunters, offers helpful reviews of each state with maps of the best counties. I can be helpful to call the state’s deer biologist.
  3. Begin to narrow down a specific hunting area within that section of the state using Google Earth, topo maps and state DNR websites. Most states’ DNR websites have maps of each public hunting area. Compare them with aerial photography and start looking for stand locations that look good “on paper.” They don’t always look the same when you get on the ground but I have found some terrific rutting funnel locations before I ever left home.
  4. Once you arrive, do your footwork. Put your walking boots on and walk it out, searching for clues to current deer patterns and behavior. You need to take risks that you wouldn’t otherwise take hunting at home. You would never walk right through a bedding area or carefully search out a core area if you plan to hunt a piece of property for an entire season, but if you are only going to be there a few days, you need to know the area intimately, and the only way to do that is to get up close and personal. You are looking for the right tree; the tree you will eventually kill your buck out of. The only way to do that is to eliminate all the other trees! Keep in mind that you are not just looking for a great spot, but you are also eliminating spots, so the more you walk the more confidence you will have in the spots you finally choose.
  5. Utilize trail cameras. As soon as you arrive and get your boots on the ground you should be looking for places to put trail cameras and inventory the deer population. Trail cams also help you learn travel patterns. Pictures will help you figure out the stage of the rut, or where the deer are in their daily feed to bed patterns if it is not during the rut. I put cams on trails, rubs, scrapes, waterholes, bedding areas and field edges. It is not uncommon for me to have ten cameras out the first few days. When I feel like I have gathered the information needed, I cut back to just a couple that can be checked every day. On public land you may lose cameras to theft. It’s a fact of life and I try to just look at them as overhead expenses. Like a tank of gas, you just have to go get more when you run low.
  6. Don’t get in a stand too soon. It’s very tempting to get up in a tree when you find a spot that looks promising. But what if there is an even better spot just over the hill? It’s a lot easier to park yourself for an entire day in a spot when you have confidence that you are in not just a good spot, but the best spot. I like to spend the first evening after arriving sitting on a high point with a spotting scope. I watch the deer movement patterns and gather information about the deer population in the area. At times I may just gather information for a day and a half before I ever climb a tree. Resist the temptation to put up a stand at the first place you find that looks really good.
  7. Go deep. The vast majority of the local hunting pressure on public lands is within a half mile of the road. You will have to work your tail off to get to the best stuff. You must decide if you are on vacation or if you are going to hustle and bust your hump to get a buck. This is especially true after a week of getting up early and moving stands, checking trail cams, and working hard every day. Are you going to be lazy and hunt that stand in a marginal wind, or are you going to hustle out there and put another one up for the day’s wind direction? You will get out of your hunt what you put into it. Only you can decide how hard you are willing to work, and only you can push yourself to put forth the extra effort it takes to be successful.
  8. Cut costs on lodging and food. I have found creative ways to cut costs so I can hunt more. I have stayed in small-town motels that offered me a week for $200. I had to pay the $200 even if I shot my buck the first day to get this deal but it works. I have a travel trailer that I stay in at times. I spent the 12-day Iowa hunt I mentioned earlier living in my trailer in a buddy’s driveway. I have a small chest freezer in the trailer filled with food for the trip, and it was filled with venison on the way home. I have stayed at a Bible camp that rents out their cabins during the fall, and I have even camped in a tent. Eating out at a restaurant will add hundreds of dollars to your trip. I like my hot meals and I have learned methods to keep my motivation up by eating well. Most days, a crock pot full of chili, a roast, stew or even BBQ ribs is waiting for me when I come back after a long, cold day in a stand. A container with a frozen roast and all the trimmings can be dropped in the crock pot in the morning, and by the time I get back in the evening the motel room smells delicious. A cold roast sandwich makes for a nice snack the next day. I admit that despite the fact I walk miles and generate a lot of sweat on these trips, it’s no weight loss program for me because I eat like a king.
  9. Don’t set your standards too high. Keep in mind that what you see on outdoor TV is not what you are going to face when on a DIY hunt in a new area. You have no guide who knows the area and can put you in a great spot from the moment you arrive. It’s difficult to go to a new area, learn what you can in a short amount of time, and then shoot a buck. Very difficult, in fact. Your goal the first time you go to a new area should be to learn as much as possible and hopefully put yourself in position to shoot a representative buck. Put your grand dreams of shooting a 150 aside. It could happen, but it probably won’t the first year. My number one goal the first time I go to a new area is to learn as much as possible and enjoy the experience with no regrets.
  10. Keep going back. Once you find an area that has the potential to produce the quality of buck you are seeking, endeavor to keep learning that area. Each time you return you have a memory bank of experiences that allow you to hunt more effectively. I love the challenge of going to new places and trying to figure them out; but the reality is that I have been more successful by going back to the same places time after time. The learning curve is much shorter the following year. You no longer have to walk through the bedding areas, you already know where they are. You can sneak in and put up a stand rather than plowing around looking for the right tree. After I have learned an area, I can hold out for that wall-hanger because I have confidence in the areas in which I am hunting. There will always be changes because of weather differences, crop rotations, hunting pressure and other factors, but your memory bank is full of information that you learned previously which will help you sort it all out.

While dragging that huge Iowa buck out of the steep ravine and strapping him to a deer cart for the mile tote out to my pickup, I realized just how heavy and mature he was. His formerly 8-points were reduced to six when he broke his brow tines off. But I had gone to Iowa, spent several days learning and hunting on public land, and shot a mature buck. That’s something that gives me a lot of satisfaction, even if the buck is not record-book quality. 

If you are a hunter who has always had a hankering to go on a bowhunting adventure in a new area, don’t be intimidated by the seeming magnitude of it. Break it down into pieces and follow these ten steps. You might just come home with the buck of a lifetime.

Dream Hunt: Cariboo Mountain Black Bears

Dream Hunt: Cariboo Mountain Black Bears

This was truly an amazing hunt in an amazing place. Spot & Stalk black bear hunting with a bow is a tall challenge. I shot the 43rd bear I saw in 6 days of hunting.

By Bernie Barringer

What makes a dream trip for a die-hard bear hunter? I suppose a dream trip is different things to different people. To you, it might be an exotic hunt in a far off place, or the opportunity to shoot the biggest bear of your life, or maybe the chance to experience new sights, sounds and smells while bear hunting. A dream trip for me may be a combination of several of those things.

If a dream trip for you means a rustic lodge in the heart of stunning mountain scenery, seeing multiple bears a day, waking up to loons calling, catching a rainbow trout on literally every cast, and moose steaks on the grill, then read on, because I found your dream trip.

The accommodations and meals were terrific on this hunt. Moose was on the menu a lot and the cabins were superior with great views of the lake.

My trip to Eureka Peak Lodge in the Cariboo Mountains of British Columbia was first and foremost a bear hunt. I shot the 43rd bear I saw. I’ll relate the events of shooting that bear in a moment, but since this trip was so much more than just a bear hunt, let me tell you the story from the beginning.

Just getting to Eureka Peak Lodge is an adventure in itself. I was in four airports during my trip, and the airplane that flew me into Williams Lake, BC was a small one. Let’s just say that every seat is a window seat! From Williams Lake, I was driven nearly three hours back into the mountains, about half of it on winding gravel roads.  I was told I would typically see my first bears on the drive to the lodge. I saw three.

Like so many of my spring bear hunts, this one was characterized by rain. It rained six of the seven days of my hunt. The outfitter, Stu Maitland, expressed that we I would see the majority of bears when the sun was out, and that proved to be true. When the sun would peek through the clouds the bears would appear.

The days were spent exploring old logging roads, glassing clearcuts and hiking trails, looking for a bear in a good position for a stalk.

My first day hunting with my guide Joe Morhart was rainy nearly the entire day. We hunted from breakfast until 5:00 p.m. when we headed in to have supper. Our cook Cherie had seen four bears on her drive down to her house about an hour away. One of them was a cinnamon that she had seen on the entrance to a deactivated logging road just a few miles from the lodge.

After a great dinner, we headed back out to hunt for a few hours until dark and our first stop was that logging road. It had been more than an hour since Cherie saw the bear but Joe said the bears don’t move far when they are feeding, so we should go have a look. We walked about 200 yards down the old logging road when we came to a fast-flowing stream. I looked up on the other side and sure enough there was a cinnamon bear. He moved out into the open 60 yards away, and if I was hunting with a rifle instead of a bow, my hunt would have been over right there. But with the stream in between us, we couldn’t get close enough for a shot and my cinnamon moved out of sight.

I need to relate how disappointing this was for me. You see I have this silly idea that I want to shoot what I call a “Grand Slam of Color Bears.”  My grand slam would be each of the four major color groups: Blonde, chocolate, black and cinnamon. I need the blonde and cinnamon to complete the slam. One of the primary reasons I booked a hunt in this area was because they have a large number of color phase bears in this geographical region. So I was really disappointed to let this cinnamon get away, but it was only the first day.

The next few days were spent cruising logging roads, glassing the logging cuts, and walking deactivated logging roads. In the spring, bears love to graze on the lush greens that are found along the roads. The woods are thick with little sunlight getting to the forest floor, so the food is found wherever the sun can get through. That means along roads and in logged off areas referred to as “Cut Blocks.”

The best way to encounter a lot of bears is to cover a lot of ground; that means driving a lot of these roads. If you see a bear, you slam on the brakes and plan your stalk. We alternated that strategy with hiking down roads that had been removed from use. These roads grow up into grass, dandelions and clovers, the exact things bears love in the spring. It was a nice combination of exploring these old roads in the pickup, mixed with hiking up the slopes and glassing. It’s quite a fun way to hunt. 

The bears proved Stu’s theory right. It rained off and on, mostly on, for the next five days, but when the sun would peek out, we would start seeing bears. Some of the bears bolted off into the brush when we saw them, and some were sows with cubs. Some were in position where we could make a stalk but they were smaller specimens and after all I was looking for a cinnamon or a blonde. We attempted a stalk on a handful of big ones as the week wore on and the list of bears I would not shoot began to shrink. Steve, another hunter in camp who was bowhunting Grizzlies with Stu as his guide, came back to camp one evening with photos of both a blonde and a cinnamon and of course they teased me to no end about that.

On the fifth evening Joe told me we were going to go on a “grand adventure” the following day. He was not kidding. We drove two hours to the shore of Quesnel Lake and loaded Joe’s ATV on the front of an 18-foot jet boat. Lake Quesnel is the deepest lake in North America at 2300 feet deep and that thought was with me as we headed across the lake with the “Quad” in the front of the boat. The scenery was stunning and it was nice to finally have the rain clouds lift so I could see the snow-capped mountains in the distance.

Loading up the Quad for a grand adventure on the other side of Quesnel Lake was quite an experience. The scenery is breathtaking.

We spent the day about six miles up the lake on Joe’s registered trapline. We cruised logging roads and glassed cut blocks again, and since there is no road access to this area, I was a little bewildered about how they built the logging roads and hauled the logs out. Joe explained that the trucks and equipment is hauled up there on barges, and the logs are strapped together in big rafts and floated down the lake with tugboats.

We stopped off for a few moments at a pristine mountain lake and ate our lunch, then pushed a canoe out into the lake and did a little trout fishing. There were so many times I just had to pause a moment to drink in the gorgeous scenic views.

When we saw a big black one feeding across a valley, we had to make a try for it. But we came to a river that was pretty high from all the rain. Joe took one look and said we could make it so we plunged in with the Quad. About half way across, the quad began to lose its footing but Joe gunned it and we hit the opposite bank. I had to bail off the quad as it seemed like it was going to tip over backward going up the steep bank. Climbing back on the quad after Joe got it up on level ground all I could think about was how we were going to get back across, especially if we had a big bear with us.

We didn’t have to worry about that problem because when we got to the area, the bear was gone and we never did see him again. We spent a few hours hiking and glassing that side of the river before coming back across. We did find a couple moose shed antlers while looking for bears. Now you have to realize that there was a small falls and then rapids about 20 yards downstream from the river crossing. I was not looking forward to trying to get back across that river.

This time it was worse. When the quad lost its footing in the middle of the river we began to be swept downstream and the quad turned sideways. Somehow Joe kept it upright while we were swept up against the boulders on the opposite shore and I grabbed my bow and climbed out onto the rocks just above the falls. Joe tossed me my back pack with my cameras and then gunned it, making his way upstream against the raging current to a point where he could get his wheels on dry ground. We were both wet up to the crotch with the cold, snow-melt water but happy to be safe. Grand adventure, you aren’t kidding.

Finding a pair of moose sheds was a nice bonus.

After a long day of hunting in this remote area, we headed back to the rocky beach were we had left the boat. We discovered that the wind had come up during the day, splashing over the transom of the beached boat, filling it with water and sinking it to the bottom. It took a lot of bailing but we got it back afloat and got the motor started. We got back to the lodge well after midnight and I had to get a fire going or suffer hiking in wet boots all day the following day. Finally, I fell exhausted into bed.

The following day was the final day of my hunt and I had decided I needed to shoot the first representative bear I see. I didn’t want to go home without a bear; the time for being picky was over. We saw some smaller ones and attempted a stalk on a nice big black. But the swirling mountain winds betrayed us.

Rainbow trout fishing was fast and furious. We pulled off the road at one spot and caught about a fish per minute for 30 minutes just standing on a beaver dam.

Early in the afternoon, we were heading towards an area with more logging roads we had not hunted before, when we rounded the corner and there was a bear on the side of the road. It was not a really big one, but it looked like it had good potential for a stalk. In fact, it just moved off the road a short distance and sat there.

Earlier in the week, I had given my rangefinder to Joe and asked him to use it to give me a range right before I shot. I had also asked him to video the shot. But when we bailed out of the truck, I grabbed my bow and in the excitement, Joe forgot both the rangefinder and the video camera.

The bear made a half circle and came back to the side of the road. It was clear he wanted to cross, so we started sneaking up the road, trying not to make too much noise crunching in the gravel. The bear came to the edge of the road again, but soon disappeared. We hurried a little farther and sure enough, he appeared at the side of the road and I drew my bow. I asked Joe the range and that’s when he realized he would have to guess. He said “40 yards,” and then suddenly the bear was moving across the road. Joe tried to stop him with a call but I had to shoot at the bear as he was walking quickly and I didn’t lead him enough so the arrow zipped through him just behind the rib cage.

I shot a nice representative bear on the last day of the hunt. It was the 43rd bear I saw.

I hate that feeling, but Joe was convinced we would get this bear. He said the bear would run about 100 yards and hang up. We drove down the road a little ways and then Joe said, “let’s go in right here.” Well I was skeptical but I have learned never to guide the guide. Sure enough, we got about 50 yards into the thick bush and Joe threw up his rifle and said he could see the bear through the scope. The bear was sitting there sniffing the wound on his side when I crept within range and put the finishing shot into him. Another lesson in trusting your guide.

We just wanted to get around this cow moose with two calves, but she got very aggressive and actually slammed into the truck twice before we got by.

This truly was a dream trip for me. The natural beauty of the Cariboo Mountains, the incredible fishing, the accommodations, the food and of course, the hunting were all terrific. With the benefit of hindsight, I should have bought the second tag (this is a two-bear area) and shot the cinnamon with a rifle on the first night, then bowhunted for the second one. I’m not complaining too much though, because I have an excuse to go back.

Information: Eureka Peak Lodge and Outfitters

877-538-6566

adventure@eurekapeak.com

5 Benefits of Mineral Licks

5 Benefits of Mineral Licks

Supplemental minerals have many benefits to the deer in your area, including some that most hunters are not aware of.

By Bernie Barringer

These days, it seems that everyone wants bucks with big antlers on their property. The sellers of mineral supplements have fed into this by telling potential customers what they want to hear. Ever see a package of deer mineral with a small buck on the front? Nope; the photos are all of giant nontypicals. Sensationalism sells.

Truth is, the right minerals can help the overall health of your deer, but the relationship between how much commercially produced mineral a buck eats and the size of his antlers is not as great as we would all like. Several studies have shown that feeding minerals to deer has little effect on the size of their antlers, unless the soils of that area are significantly deficient in calcium and phosphorous.

            Don’t throw out your bag of supplemental deer mineral just yet. There are several reasons to establish a mineral lick on your property. These mineral sites benefit not only bucks, but does and fawns; and they have some benefits to the hunter as well.

Bone Strength

            The annual growth of antlers is extremely hard on bucks. Those amazing bone growths on the head of a mature buck grow in about 100 days each year and while growing, they rob the buck’s body of nutrients it needs to have a strong skeletal system. Not only are all the nutrients taken in going to the growth of the antlers, but their body robs nutrients from the bone structure and directs them to the antler growth.

            The summer antler growing season is a dangerous time for bucks as their skeleton is weak and prone to breakage. They don’t move more than necessary and they avoid severe physical activity that could break a bone. Supplemental nutrients help the buck’s skeleton remain strong during this time.

Does and Fawns

            One of the ways dairy farmers increase their milk production is the addition of key nutrients and minerals. Minerals can do the same for deer. Healthy does raise healthy fawns, and the more milk they produce, the faster the fawns will grow, which helps them avoid predators. Improved growth rates in fawns can be tied to overall health as adult bucks and does as well.

            Studies have shows that healthy does with plenty of nutrients have increased reproductive efficiency. I am sure you have noticed that some does have only one fawn, some have two, and at times, three fawns are seen. This is tied more to diet and overall health than genetics. While most yearlings that breed have just one fawn, does having their second births more often have two or three fawns if they have plenty of minerals in their diet.

Bucks Hang Around

            Most mineral formulations taste good and the deer relish them for their taste in addition to their cravings for the nutrients. This may cause bucks to remain in the area rather than seek satisfaction elsewhere, like the neighbor’s property for example.

Having everything a buck needs on your property includes food, water, secure cover, predator control and of course a diet that includes all the nutrients they need. By providing all these things, you reduced the chances that your bucks are going to stray off the property into areas where they may be shot before they have a chance to fully mature.

Disease Prevention

Diseases such as EHD and Chronic Wasting Disease is on the mind of every hunter. It’s long been known that healthy deer have a better chance of fighting off disease. But one company is taking that even further. Ani-Logics produces a mineral supplement that contains minerals that help boost the deer’s immune system. They add Manganese, Copper, Zinc and Selenium which they say strengthens the animal’s ability to fight off bacterial and viral infections. A probiotic also helps the deer utilize feedstuffs which allows the body more energy to build antlers, body mass and immune function.

Camera Inventory

            One of the best ways a mineral lick on your property can help the hunter is the ability to monitor deer. A scouting camera set over the mineral site will keep a running tab of all the bucks on your property and help you monitor their growth. Virtually every buck that cruises through that area will stop for a moment and check out the mineral site, which gives you an opportunity to get a photo and observe the deer.

            So you can see that supplemental minerals are about much more than just adding inches to a buck’s headgear. The right mineral will improve the overall health of all the deer on your property; that goes for deer of both sexes and all ages.

Annual Trail Camera Timeline

Annual Trail Camera Timeline

Don’t put your scouting cameras away after the season! Here’s a calendar showing where your cameras should be placed throughout the year to help you learn more about the deer and increase your odds of bagging a big one next season.

By Bernie Barringer

Once thought of as a way monitor deer movements, thus the name “trail camera,” the use of game cameras has become a sport in and of itself. Camera users have come up with all kinds of creative ways to use the cameras to monitor wildlife activity and learn more about all kinds of animals. Yet most deer hunters still bring the cameras out before the season and store them away after the hunt is over. That can be a mistake, because the more you learn about deer year-around, the better your chances of shooting one come fall. Invest in some quality Covert scouting cameras and put them to work for you all year. Let’s take a look at a ways to strategically place the cameras through the year.

January-April

Once the hunting season is over, I move my cameras to feeding sites. The winter weather concentrates the deer in areas where there is food available. I usually have a couple sites I put out feed which allows me to get photos of the area’s deer. Otherwise, cameras can be placed on food plots and bedding areas. Trails in the snow become obvious and are easier to monitor with the cameras.

Here’s another bonus to having your cameras in the woods this time of the year: You can monitor the shedding of antlers. Knowing when the bone hits the ground allows you to get out there and pick up the sheds before others get to them. I start seeing bucks without antler in numbers by the end of January, and the majority of the antlers are on the ground by the first or second week in March.

Having a mineral site with a trail camera on it during the summer will ensure you get photos of most of the bucks in your area.

May-August

This is the time of the year to put your cameras on mineral sites. Most all of the deer in the area will visit sites laced with a good mineral attractant. Some will show up regularly, some only a couple times a month, but if your cameras aren’t out there you won’t get a look at the deer. I use mineral and keep it replenished each time I check the cameras, usually about twice a month. It has worked very good for me and it really helps me inventory all the bucks in my area.

By the end of August, hunting season is getting close, and I start to transition some of the cameras to trails around their feeding sites. I learn which fields they are feeding in, and placing cameras on the trails will help me patter where they are moving and what times they are coming through. This information can be invaluable when hunting season opens in a few weeks.

By the end of summer into early September, find the food and you find the deer.

September-October

By the first of September I have all my cameras on trails related to the food sources. 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. Archery season here in Minnesota opens the middle of September, and it’s hard to overstate the value of the placement of the cameras during the first half of the month.

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 patterns 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.

November

By the first week in November, 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.

Putting your cameras on active scrapes during late October will offer plenty of opportunities to get photos of the bucks.

The first three 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.

One mistake many people make during this time of the year is checking the cameras too often. You’re seeing nice bucks every time to pull the SD cards and you really want to get back in there and look at it again. However, for best results, you want to minimize intrusion into these areas so you do not change the does’ patterns and lose the information you have gained. Resist the temptation to check the cameras until you really need the info to make an informed decision on where to hunt.

By the last ten days of November, the rut is winding down. At this time you should have your cameras on pinch point and travel corridors where the bucks will be moving through, looking for the last remaining does that have not been bred. Pick places that up your odds of catching one of these bucks on their feet. The scrapes that have been ignored for the past two weeks get some more attention too.

December

The rut is over and the focus is back on the food. Deer are looking for high-carbohydrate foods to replenish fat reserves lost during the rut. They need to combat the cold and their bodies are craving the carbs found in corn and whatever acorns may be left. Cut corn fields and standing crops are the best places to find the deer, both bucks and does. They are once again grouped up and deer of all ages and stature will be found together around the best food sources.

After the season is over, the deer will find the food again, particularly high-carbohydrate foods like corn. Winter is a good time to learn which bucks made it through the season and monitor the shedding of their antlers.

At this time the deer will also bed in predictable places. On sunny days, they tend to choose south slopes of hills near food sources where they can soak up the solar energy. On nasty, cold or cloudy days they tend to head for the thickest cover around. Either way, they need to feed every day and the trails leading to the food sources are where you cameras should be located. This will help you learn which deer made it through the season and which did not. It will also help you fill that last minute bow tag if you are still carrying one in your pocket.

So if you have put your cameras away for the year, dig them back out and get them out in the right locations. It’s great fun, great exercise and you’ll be amazed at the great information you will gather.

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.

Top Five DIY Bowhunts

Top Five DIY Bowhunts


By Bernie Barringer

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

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

Kentucky – Early Season

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

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

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

Kansas

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

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

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

Nebraska

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

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

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

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

Iowa

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

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

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

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

Missouri

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

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

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

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

Special Panel Scoring: P&Y Names New World Record Non-Typical Whitetail

Special Panel Scoring: P&Y Names New World Record Non-Typical Whitetail

Chatfield, MN – On Friday, March 1st, the Pope and Young Club convened a Special Panel of Judges in Omaha, Nebraska for a potential P&Y World Record non-typical whitetail. Luke Brewster’s incredible buck was shot in Illinois during the 2018 archery season. Measurers present for the Special Panel were Eli Randall, Gil Hernandez, Jack Reneau, Ken Witt, Ricky Krueger, Kyle Lehr, Stan Zirbel and Panel Chairman, Ed Fanchin. With a final score of 327 7/8″, Luke’s buck was confirmed as the new P&Y World Record non-typical whitetail. This buck surpasses the previous World Record non-typical whitetail shot by Michael Beatty in 2000 by over 33 inches.

“The Brewster buck has been verified as the new Pope and Young World Record with a score of 327 7/8,” said Eli Randall, Director of Records for the Pope and Young Club. “The two panels consisted of seven measurers and was overseen by the Panel Chairman. This group represented over 217 years of combined measuring experience. After over eight hours, this incredible whitetails score became official. Congratulations to Luke and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for practicing sound wildlife management.”

“I headed to Omaha with a good feeling but still a tad nervous on how the scorers were going to make calls,” said Luke Brewster. “I knew it was scored very conservatively on the initial entry form by measurer Tim Walmsley, but you never know. After a day and a half of waiting in anticipation, Eli Randall informed me of the new panel verified score. I was sent into shock once again as the score increased 7 2/8” from the original entry. Unbelievable. All I can say is that I’m very blessed.”

“Congratulations to Luke Brewster on the largest hunter taken whitetail in history,” said Justin Spring, Director of Big Game Records for Boone & Crockett. “All hunter conservationists should take great pride in the fact that in the face of the challenges to our wildlife, we continue to see more robust populations than ever before, thanks to the North American model. There couldn’t be a more deserving hunter to be attached to the Brewster buck, which is now an iconic legacy of whitetail deer in North America.”

This incredible animal has been entered into the 32nd Recording Period–the biennium representing entries accepted into the P&Y Records Program from January 1, 2019, to December 31, 2021. At the close of every biennial recording period, numerical awards and honorable mentions are awarded to the most outstanding bow-harvested animals in each species category that have been entered during this two-year recording period. New world’s records are verified and proclaimed, and awards are presented to these outstanding animals during the Pope and Young Club’s biennial convention and awards banquet.

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

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

The Four Parts of a Successful DIY Mentality

The Four Parts of a Successful DIY Mentality

By Bernie Barringer

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

Scout Thoroughly

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

Hunt Aggressively

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

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

Hunt in Any Conditions

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

Be Mobile

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

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

For more details, see the author’s book “The Freelance Bowhunter

A Well-Traveled Grizzly Bear’s 5,000-Mile Journey

A Well-Traveled Grizzly Bear’s 5,000-Mile Journey

Courtesy Idaho Public Radio

One grizzly bear’s incredible 5,000-mile journey across Montana and Idaho has scientists re-thinking what they know about the animals.

Ethyl the grizzly bear was 19 years old when she started out on her epic journey over 5,000 miles in two years.CREDIT U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

Ethyl the grizzly bear walked from Kalispell, Mont. west toward Coeur d’Alene and back east toward Missoula. She covered thousands of miles of mountainous terrain in just two years, and scientists are still trying to figure out why.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly bear recovery coordinator Chris Servheen says Ethyl’s story began when she was first captured in 2006 east of Kalispell, Mont.

“She was eating apples near somebody’s house,” Servheen says. “To keep her out of trouble, we captured her and moved her. She basically stayed right in that same area, she stayed out of trouble.”ListenListening…5:03Click play to hear Samantha Wright’s conversation with Chris Servheen.

They captured her again in 2012 along with her cub, close to the first site, again eating apples. She was moved again, this time about 30 miles away, and biologists put a tracking collar on Ethyl. Servheen says that’s when 19-year-old Ethyl’s epic journey began.

“She started traveling all through the northern continental divide grizzly bear ecosystem.” Her collar recorded a distance of about 2,800 miles between the individual locations, which are recorded every six hours. Servheen says, “she certainly went a lot farther than that, because those are just straight line distances, so she probably went well over 5,000 miles in two years. She sure covered a lot of ground.”

Here’s a map of Ethyl’s movements over the last two years, as tracked by her radio collar.CREDIT U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

Servheen has been studying bears for 34 years. He says Ethyl’s is the longest journey he’s ever seen undertaken by a grizzly bear. “She was in really remote country quite a bit of the time, and then sometimes she was very close to people,” says Servheen. But he says Ethyl never had a run in with humans, and she crossed several roads and highways without incident.

The big question is why was she traveling so far from her home range. Servheen says scientists don’t have a clue. “She was minding her own business, just looking around. Why she did this and what she was looking for, we don’t know, it’s a mystery. She’s a traveling bear, that’s for sure.”

He says Ethyl took a strange route, too. “It’s almost like she was looking for something, but I have no idea what she would be looking for,” Servheen says. “I just can’t explain it. It’s a new one on us.”

Ethyl’s remarkable journey is teaching scientists new things about bears. Servheen says she’s taught him “that we need to know more about how bears move across the landscape.”

He says biologists learn something new every time they collar a bear. But “Ethyl’s movements really don’t fit into any previous pattern we’ve seen before,” says Servheen. “Whether this is something that happens more often than we think, I suspect not. I think what Ethyl was doing was something unique to her and why she was doing it, there’s no real rational reason that we can understand why she did this.” But, he says, “it’s good to have a little mystery out there.”

Servheen says Ethyl’s collar fell off this year, so they’re not sure where she is now. But he hopes she’s sound asleep in some warm den “somewhere up in the mountains under the snow. I hope that when she comes out next spring she settles down and continues to live successfully, and has cubs.”

Do you have an opinion on what caused this bear to travel so far? Leave your comment below.

3 Ways to Thief-Proof Your Scouting Cameras

3 Ways to Thief-Proof Your Scouting Cameras

Possibly the only thing that hurts worse than losing a trail camera to a thief is losing the information it contained. Here are three ways to minimize your losses.

By Bernie Barringer

            The sick feeling in the pit of my stomach turned into anger as I stood there looking at the tree my scouting camera had been attached to the previous day. I hate losing a trail camera to a thief, but trail cameras can be replaced. What really made me angry was losing the information contained on the SD card. I was hundreds of miles from home on a DIY deer hunting trip.

The cameras I put out were a huge part of my decision-making process regarding where I would hang my stands and hunt. I had just lost an entire 24 hours of information about the deer in this area. That really hurts.

I run a lot of scouting cameras, it’s almost like a sport in itself for me. I use them not only for deer hunting, but for bear hunting, property surveillance, wildlife viewing, even predator monitoring and control. I put them in areas where I don’t expect anyone to every find one, and at times I put them in areas where I figure others will see them and hope they leave them alone. Still, the number of cameras I have had stolen over the years could be counted on my fingers. However, I have begun to take some precautions to avoid losing them to thieves. Here are three ways to minimize your losses.

Go Covert

One of the easiest ways to cut losses is to simply use cameras that are harder to see and hide them better. There are three primary kinds of flashes for night photos, white flash, infrared and black flash. Black flash cameras do not have a flash that is visible to the eye. Both white flash and IR cameras have lights that can be seen by anyone who happens to be looking the right direction when they take a photo.

Larger cameras are easier to spot than smaller ones. Many companies are making very small camera bodies that are not much bigger than your hand. Small black flash cameras are difficult to detect, but I go one step farther. I will use a small bungee cord to secure a leafy branch over the camera, just leaving enough opening for the sensor, the lens and the flash. They become difficult to see unless someone is actively searching for them.

Put Them Out of Reach

One of the most effective ways to thwart thieves is to put the camera up where they cannot reach it. I like to hang the camera at least ten feet off the ground and point it downward to monitor the area. Some people might be able to shinny ten feet up into a tree to get the camera, but most won’t.

There are several companies that make mounts for cameras that work in this way. The two I have used are the Covert Tree-60 and the Stic-N-Pic.

Here’s how I go about it. I carry a climbing stick to the location I want to put the camera. Just one. I can strap the climbing stick to the tree, climb up it, and reach at least ten feet off the ground to mount my camera. When I am done, I just take the stick out with me. It’s not a totally fool proof way to get the camera out of reach, but it works. Here’s a video showing how I do this.

Putting cameras up high comes with another advantage: deer do not seemed to notice the flash at all. I have seen some deer become alarmed by a white flash at eye level, but I have never seen a case where a deer reacted in a negative way to a flash ten feet up.

Lock Them Up

Most camera companies are now making lock boxes for their cameras. This was at first a response to the fact that bears like to chew on scouting cameras, but it works equally well to discourage the camera thief. These steel boxes can be bolted to a tree and then the camera is locked securely inside the box. Here’s a video of how I use these at bear baits.

The disadvantages of this strategy include the extra weight of carrying the steel boxes with you, and the extra tools needed to fasten it to the tree. I have a separate backpack that I use which contains these boxes, lag bolts, padlocks and a cordless screwdriver with a socket. (Putting a screw in a tree on public land is not legal in some states; it is your responsibility to know the laws.)

I use the cordless screwdriver to fasten the box to the tree with lag screws, insert the camera and then lock it up. It’s really not that much extra work and this makes it very difficult for any would-be thief to make off with your camera unless the creep returns with a saw and cuts down the tree.

With a little extra effort, you can protect your cameras from thieves and get the photos you desire. Each of these three methods has its time and place.

6 ways Spring Scouting Means Big Fall Bucks

6 ways Spring Scouting Means Big Fall Bucks

A serious hunter’s work is never done. Springtime is one of the best times of the year to get out in the woods and learn some things about your hunting area that you couldn’t learn at any other time of the year.

By Bernie Barringer

Springtime is not just for fishing and turkey hunting. Serious whitetail hunters crave opportunities to learn more about whitetails year-‘round, and I’m one of them. Those first nice days of spring when the snow melts off and the woods are coming alive with life once again are great times to get out to the properties you hunt and look them over. You will be surprised at what you will learn. Here are six reasons I like prospecting for bucks in the springtime.

Spring scouting helps me learn how deer use terrain features. During the fall, leaves are dropping, which covers up a lot of the sign. Trails that are indistinct during the late summer and fall are glaringly obvious during the spring before plant growth is working against you. Deer tend to follow the same terrain features generation after generation, and the springtime is the best time to get out there and see where the well-worn trails are found. You will not only learn things about their travel patterns on that particular property, but you will learn things about how deer use the topography and terrain that will help you diagnose the movement on other properties.

Scrapes, rubs and other rut sign is still there and easy to see. Now is the time to spend analyzing how the rubs are laid out in a specific pattern. In the fall, you walk right by them because you want to spend your time hunting. In the spring, you can really work the puzzle out. Take note of which side of the tree they are on and see if several rubs line up with the markings on the same side of the tree. You have just found a buck’s travel way.

Signpost rubs and groupings of scrapes show you where a buck spends a lot of his time. Collections of several rubs in one small area may indicate a preferred bedding area.  Bucks tend to rub a few trees when they rise from their beds in the afternoon, and their sanctuaries will often have several dozen rubs in less than an acre. A spot like this could be a gold mine come fall.

In the spring, you can walk right into the bedding areas and sanctuaries without worry about damaging your hunting prospects. You would never walk right into the deer’s bedding area during the hunting season for fear of moving the bucks entirely out of the area. No such worry in the spring because your intrusion will be long forgotten by the season. Wade right in and look it over good. Make some improvements by hinging a couple trees and piling up brush. I know one hunter who carries a bag of grass seed and seeds good bedding cover as he scouts these areas.

Combine your scouting with shed antler hunting. Keep in mind that the place a buck drops his antlers may have little to do with his fall patterns, because his winter patterns revolve around food, whereas the fall patterns revolve more around interactions with does and other bucks. But picking up shed is fun and it allows you to get an idea which bucks made it through the winter.

Spring is the time to put out mineral licks. I put out mineral as soon as the show is off the ground and the deer use the mineral licks all through the spring and summer. The mineral not only offers the deer healthy diet enhancement, but it allows you to inventory the deer with trail cameras placed at these mineral sites. One good mineral lick maintained regularly should be on each piece of property, and for large properties over 300 acres, two sites is even better.

Once you have found great looking places to hunt with lots of deer activity, put up some treestands. Putting up stands and trimming shooting lanes in the spring offers the chance to spend the necessary time in the woods without the worry of leaving human scent all over the area. By putting up stands early, there is plenty of time for the scent intrusion to dissipate. Your cuttings, tracks, trimmings and markings are long forgotten by fall. You may have found a place that will be a great hunting location year after year, now is the time to get a stand in position and take advantage of it.

So take some time out from fishing or turkey hunting this spring and get into the woods. The work you do now might make the difference between holding a nice buck in a photograph versus holding an unfilled tag come next fall.

The Science of Scents: How Well Can Deer Smell?

The Science of Scents: How Well Can Deer Smell?

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

By Bernie Barringer

I was aroused from my calm, patient state by a flicker of movement to my right. I slowly turned my head and saw a buck approaching at a slow walk. Suddenly at full alert, I started looking for an opportunity to get my bow off the hanger as the mature buck closed the distance. When he stopped and looked away, I got my bow in hand and ready to draw. This buck was really nice, and my heart began to pound.

When the buck was 15 yards away, he stopped and froze. His demeanor changed as he dropped his head to the ground and sniffed the trail in front of him. In an instant, he had gone from relaxed to tense. He paused for a few seconds and then took three steps backwards before turning, lowering his head, and disappearing into the forest.

Clearly he had smelled something that he didn’t like. I had had approached my stand that day from downwind–the opposite direction–so he couldn’t have smelled my ground scent. Then it hit me. He had crossed the path where I had approached the stand yesterday! He smelled my ground scent from 18 hour previous.

The ability of a deer to smell danger is legendary, and it stands at a level that we humans cannot even comprehend. It is so far above our ability to smell, it’s hard to get a grasp on what their world must be like each day as they interpret the world around them with their nose.

Fortunately, we know a lot more than ever about how deer smell. Let’s take a look at four things that give members of the deer family their amazing ability to smell what’s around them.

The Long Snout

Members of the deer family and predators need their sense of smell to survive, so they are equipped with far more olfactory receptors than those animals that do not rely on their sense of smell. The long snout creates more room for special nerve cells that receive and interpret smells. It’s estimated that humans have about 5 million of these olfactory receptors, while members of the deer family, including elk and moose, have about 300 million. Bloodhounds have about 220 million.

Members of the deer family have something else going for them. Some of these olfactory receptors are specialized for certain scents. For example, research has shown that elk have certain sensory cells that are tuned into the chemical signature of wolf feces. It stands to reason that deer do as well. There is no scientific research to back it up, but whitetail deer may have receptors that specifically recognize the chemical signature of the bacteria that create human scent.

Deer also have a vomeronasal organ (Jacobson’s Organ) on the roof of their mouth that adds another dimension to their ability to smell. This organ actually allows them to smell particles in the air that comes through their mouth. 

The Specialized Brain

The area of the brain dedicated to interpreting scent is larger in deer than in humans. The drawing of air across all those receptors in the snout sends signals to the primary olfactory cortex, which is in the temporal lobe of the brain.

Because this part of the brain is larger in animals that use their nose for survival, this creates an ability to interpret the smells that’s added to their ability to pick up all those smells with those 300-million receptors. This would suggest that using a cover scent of any kind would be futile, because a deer can simply sort the smells out. A hunter using deer urine to cover his scent smells like a hunter and deer urine to a deer, not just one or the other.

While cover scents have little effectiveness, the ability to reduce human scent with antibacterial soaps, detergents and sprays, anti-microbial Scent Killer, and carbon is proven science. The science of the deer’s smell would suggest that reducing human odor is worth the trouble, attempting to cover it up is not.

Smelling in Stereo

Members of the deer family also have broader lateral nostrils which allow them to detect smells directionally. Moose have the most pronounced application of this. This allows the animals to determine the direction of the source of the smell more readily. This is called “stereo olfaction,” and it allows members of the deer family to more quickly determine the source of danger.

You may have noticed a deer raise its head as it is smelling the air. The deer is flaring its nostrils while drawing air across the olfactory receptors in its snout. The animal can quickly determine what it’s smelling and the direction it’s coming from.

They Live by Their Nose

The fourth thing that helps members of the deer family survive is simply an increased awareness of the smells around them. We humans might not pay much attention to the scents coming in through our nose until it overpowers our other senses. We don’t think about smells much; until someone hands you a child with a dirty diaper, or you walk into a restaurant where they are frying bacon.

Contrast that to the life of a deer, which is focused on the smells coming through the nose 24-7. The other four senses take a back seat to the importance of smell in their everyday lives. We humans can increase our awareness of the smells around us just by paying attention to them. Have you ever smelled a rutted up buck before you saw him? How about a herd of elk? Using our ability to smell what’s around us is a skill that can be developed. After all, we are predators at heart.

Wisconsin DNR to alter bear hunting model

Wisconsin DNR to alter bear hunting model

MADISON — The Department of Natural Resources will issue slightly more bear hunting permits this year in Douglas and parts of six surrounding counties despite an estimated decline in the bear population.

The DNR Board on Wednesday, Jan. 23, approved issuing 2,440 bear hunting permits up from 2,135 in Zone D, which includes all of Douglas, Burnett and Washburn counties and parts of Bayfield, Ashland, Barron and Polk counties.

DNR staff is using a new model that estimates bear population and the impacts hunting will have on the population in years ahead.

“The old model was an accounting function … We’re a lot more confident in the new model,” Scott Walter, a DNR large carnivore specialist told the DNR Board.

The new model factors in hunter success rates, harvest registration numbers, property and agricultural damage reports and nuisance complaints.

Hunting is one of the key tools the DNR uses to manage the state’s bear population estimated to total 24,000, up from approximately 9,000 in 1989.

Balancing the interests of hunters, farmers, property owners and the condition of other resources is an ongoing challenge in setting annual hunting permit levels that also ensures maintaining a healthy bear population in the state, Walter said.

Bears’ reproduction rates are slow with sows typically bearing one to three cubs every other year. When overhunted, the population can take years to recover, Walter said.

Zone D has more bears than any of the state’s four management zones, but higher harvest quotas in recent years there have resulted in a slight decline in the population, Walter noted.

However, the DNR will increase the number of Zone D hunting permits as the DNR believes the the area’s bear population can sustain an estimated 1,300 bears harvested this year.

Last year, hunters had 50.5 percent success rate in taking 1,170 bears. Based on the number of permits issued and a slightly lower success rate, based on recent trends, hunters would take 1,300 bears this year, according to DNR estimates.

Statewide, hunters last year had a 28 percent success rate as 3,628 bears were harvested and 12,970 permits were issued.

This year, permits statewide will decrease to 11,595 and the DNR maintains the bear population can sustain a harvest quota of 3,835.up from last year’s harvest total.

The overall decrease in permits is due largely to a 25 percent reduction in Zone A, which includes the southern half of Ashland County and parts of Iron, Sawyer, Rusk, Taylor and all of Price counties.

The DNR believed the bear population to be stable in Zone A but the new estimating model it’s now using indicated the population had been in decline for several years, Walter said.

The DNR will issue will issue 1,590 permits this year in Zone A compared to 2,130 last year.

The DNR considers the status of black bears to be “abundant” across the northern one-third of the state and “common” in the areas across much of the central part of Wisconsin.

While the DNR has being selling fewer hunting licenses overall, interest in bear hunting has “skyrocketed” in recent years with 125,000 people applying for licenses or preference points.

The current wait time to obtain a license is about eight years, Walter said.

There’s an annual drawing for licenses and a system that allows individuals to accumulate preference points increases the odds of getting one.

To avoid losing accumulated preference points, individuals need to apply for a license or a preference point at least once every three years.

Contact the DNR at 888-936-7463, or contact the DNR Service Center to check on your accumulated preference points.

DNR staff will present a new bear management plan in April that will give the DNR Board a 10-year look ahead at the state’s bear population, its health, distribution and impacts of hunting and disease.

Control Coyotes to Improve Deer Hunting – Part 2

Control Coyotes to Improve Deer Hunting – Part 2

Coyotes kill a lot of deer. Studies have shown that up to 74% of the fawns in some areas are eaten by coyotes. Here’s what you can do about it on your hunting area.  

By Bernie Barringer

In the first part of this two part series we looked at the affects of coyotes on deer populations and their effect on hunting. The results are quite shocking as we discovered several studies which show alarming mortality rates of fawns due to coyote depredation. We also learned that coyotes are very mobile and fill in the vacant areas quickly so control must be consistent and as widespread as possible.

Coyote control simply means killing as many as possible. Harsh as that may sound, you can’t kill them all, and the remaining coyotes are less susceptible to disease which they might pass on to other animals, so killing some of them is good for the entire ecosystem as a whole. Plus trapping is a good excuse to get outdoors and learn more about the world around us. And good quality coyote pelts are worth going after. They will definitely pay for your gas and equipment at the least.

Trapping

Coyotes are notoriously difficult to trap if specific precautions are not taken. The coyote has the entire world to roam, and you must make him place his foot into a one-inch circle. Not an easy task, for sure, especially when you consider their amazing ability to smell your presence. Scent free tactics are imperative.

Their Achilles heel is their curiosity. They smell fresh urine or scent from another canine and they just have to check it out. Scent post sets and dirthole sets are the two most common trap sets for catching coyotes because they take advantage of this chink in their armor.

These sets take advantage of the coyote’s propensity to pee on any unusual object. A scent post set is placed near any outstanding feature that a coyote might see as a place to mark. It might be a corner post, a single corn stalk at the corner of a field, a rock or even a tuft of grass that looks out of place. A trap can be buried near these with dirt sifted over it and some fresh lure.

Dirthole sets are simply a small hole with a bit of bait in it with a trap set in front. Lure is also used to call the coyote to the area, and when he puts a foot out to hook the bait out of the hole, you have him. For more specific details on how to make these and other coyote sets, check out YouTube videos on trapping or visit the forums at trapperman.com, where the regulars there are always willing to help out a beginner.

Snaring

Catching coyotes in snares is one of the most effective ways of controlling them, especially in the winter when their fur is prime and their movements are somewhat predictable. Trails develop in the snow and catching a coyote can be as simple as hanging a snare over the trail. I pile trimmings and bones from deer I have shot along with carcasses from other animals I have trapped to make a bait pile and the coyotes are soon regulars at the bait. Trails develop like the spokes of a wheel and the snow shows me where to hang the snares in the narrow, necked-down areas of these trails.

Snares should be about 10 inches in diameter and about 6-10 inches off the ground. They must be mounted so they are rigid about the snare lock so they close quickly and firmly. Most coyotes will be caught around the neck and die quickly and humanely as they tangle on the nearby brush or saplings.

Predator calling

Getting out and calling coyotes to the gun is a favorite sport among hunters across the nation. It pays to spend some time practicing and learning from instructional books, videos or a mentor before tackling this challenge or you may just educate the coyotes in your area and make them harder to kill.

Setting up with the wind in your favor is key to being successful. Most callers start out with a locating call of some sort, like a young coyote howler for example. If you get a response to the howler, start a dying rabbit scream and be ready for some action. They may come in hard and fast or they may sneak in so you have to be ready for anything. Guns such as a .223, .22-250 or .243 are common choices, and some callers use shotguns in thick cover.

Calling coyotes is packed with adrenaline and it is effective. But once you call one and don’t shoot it, they wise up quickly, so do it right the first time.

Hire a trapper

If you do not have the time or the inclination to kill the coyotes on your own, it’s most likely not too hard to find someone to do it for you. There are active trappers across North America and most are willing to come and trap for free during the prime fur season if the pelts are worthwhile. During the off season or in areas with poor fur quality, you are going to have to pay them some gas money or offer a bounty. In most cases, trappers will agree to take coyotes if you also allow them to set raccoon, mink, bobcat, fox or beaver traps as well to make it worth their while. Get to know their needs and you can build a relationship that will benefit everyone involved.

Make sure you communicate closely with them about the rules of your property or you may have them coming through to check traps when you are in the treestand. Trapping season is hunting season so make sure you make prior arrangements as to trap checking times.

Coyote control is a long term endeavor. You must do it every year and get as many as you can. It can be hard work, but studies have consistently shown that reducing coyote populations can significantly increase your fawn survival rates, and one of those fawns may be the next big buck you hang on your wall.

Control Coyotes to Improve Deer Hunting – Part 1

Control Coyotes to Improve Deer Hunting – Part 1

In many areas, coyotes kill a lot of deer, particularly fawns. Just how big is the impact? Some studies show coyote depredation is probably much more damaging than you think.  

By Bernie Barringer

Just about anyone who has hunted for long has seen a coyote enter a field and clear it of deer just by its presence. You may have noticed a deer fleeing through the woods with a coyote hot on its tail. These are all indicators that coyotes have an impact not only on deer populations but on deer hunting itself. But just how bad is it?

In this first part of a two-part series I will look at some studies that have been done to illustrate how coyotes affect deer populations, and in part two, I will offer some advice about what you can do about it and how much affect your efforts are likely to have.

Coyotes do kill adult deer, and they often kill healthy bucks and does. Coyotes hunt individually and in packs. When they are in packs is when they are the most lethal to adult deer, especially when other environmental conditions, such as deep snow, can be used to their advantage. In fact, a 2013 study of moose mortality in Ontario showed that coyotes were a significant predator on moose, which are four times the size of whitetails.

But where coyotes do their most damage is during the fawning season. There is a myth that newborn fawns do not have an odor so predators cannot find them. Bears find them, bobcats find them and wolves find them. But coyotes are far and away the most lethal predator on whitetail fawns. There are many scientific studies to back this up.

A study on an island off the coast of Maine determined that 74% of the fawns in one year were eaten by coyotes. A Texas study showed a 72% fawn mortality rate attributed to coyotes. A New Brunswick study showed 47% in one year and in more farming country, the numbers were lower but still significant; Iowa and Illinois studies showed mortality due to coyotes at over 51%. A study in the northern forest area of Minnesota showed that of all the fawn mortality that was recorded, 49% were killed by coyotes and 51% by wolves. Bear kills were not recorded because normally the remains, if there are any, of fawns eaten by bears are not found.

So if you have any doubts that coyotes are putting the hurt on the deer population where you hunt, you can put those doubts to rest. Coyotes are killing your deer.

In order to see if more fawns could be produced by keeping coyotes away, a large fence was erected at a research facility in Georgia. This 10-year study involved the construction of a fence around a 98-acre area that provided good fawning habitat for whitetails. The fence was four foot tall so coyotes could not get over it and buried in the ground far enough that the coyotes could not dig under it. GPS collars on the deer showed that the does quickly learned to go into this coyote exclusion area to avoid predation and have their fawns.

This study showed two predictable results over ten years: Number one, the number of fawns that made it to reproductive age significantly increased. And Number two, hunting success also increased in and near the exclusion area.

Not many of us could build a 4-foot high fence around our hunting land, so we must resort to other options. Killing coyotes is the most obvious, and it is effective if done over time and consistently, but there are drawbacks.

Coyotes cover a lot of ground. Some of them have huge home ranges, dozens of square miles, and they are opportunists at finding areas with good game populations. You may trap or shoot every single coyote from your hunting property, but you will get your neighbor’s coyotes as they fill in the gaps.

One Georgia study revealed some interesting results by removing coyotes on two wildlife management areas, one had a deer density of 55 deer per square mile and the other had a density of 22 deer per square mile. Professional trappers removed 15 coyotes from the larger and nine coyotes from the smaller one. Fawn survival increased at first but then leveled right off.

How many coyotes do you need to take and for how long? A South Carolina study provides some insight. Hundreds of coyotes were killed on three separate 8,000-acre areas. Fawn survival went way up at first, but then began to decline over the four-year study. It seems the coyotes were finding the area fertile ground with little competition, and moving in about as fast as the trappers could catch them.

This might seem like a hopeless situation, but really it’s not. You can have an impact even on small properties if you control coyotes to the best of your ability and keep them controlled as long as possible. Just stay after them and you will save some fawns, even if you cannot save them all. Get your neighbors involved and it will be even more effective for you.

Fur prices on good quality coyote pelts are not bad right now, so the incentive to trap and shoot them during the winter is there, but control must be a year ‘round effort.

In part two of this series I will offer some advice on getting started in coyote control through trapping, snaring and predator calling. Killing coyotes is not just good for deer, it’s good fun too and it’s another excuse to spend some time outdoors.

Pope & Young Club Names New World Record Non-Typical Mule Deer

Pope & Young Club Names New World Record Non-Typical Mule Deer

On Wednesday, January 9th, the Pope and Young Club convened a Special Panel of Judges in Regina, Saskatchewan for a potential P&Y World Record non-typical mule deer. Dennis Bennett’s enormous buck has a 5 by 5 typical frame with 15 abnormal points on each side with a gross score of 303 0/8. The buck was shot near the Arm River on October 1st, 2018. Measurers present at the Special Panel were Michael Halirewich, Glen Sellsted, Patrick McKenzie, and Eli Randall. With a final score of 291 1/8″, Dennis’s buck was confirmed as the new P&Y non-typical World Record mule deer. This buck surpasses the previous World Record non-typical mule deer shot by Kenneth Plank in 1987 by 16 and 2/8 inches.

“It was a pleasure to be part of the panel recognizing this beautiful non-typical mule deer from Saskatchewan as a New World Record,” stated Eli Randall, Records Director for the Pope and Young Club. “The pictures of this deer do not do it justice. This 291 1/8″ giant will be a must see at our convention in Omaha, Nebraska April 10th – 13th, 2019.”

Dennis started early on the morning of October 1st in search of the big non-typical. Dennis got to within 44 yards when the big non-typical was startled by another smaller buck bedded close by. Dennis was not ready for a shot and watched as the bucks bounded away up the hill into some trees.

Dennis returned later in the afternoon, giving the buck time to settle down. Soon Dennis spotted him close to where he had left him that morning.  The buck was bedded in a small depression in buck brush near the top of the hill. The stalk was close to 300 yards, and the wind had changed which allowed Dennis to follow the fence line along the top of the hill and get within 37 yards. The buck was now standing broadside, Dennis ranged as the deer browsed with his head down. The shot was on a steep angle, and the arrow hit a bit high. The deer dropped in its tracks and rolled down the hill about 50 yards.

This incredible animal has been entered into the 31st Recording Period–the biennium representing entries accepted into the P&Y Records Program from January 1, 2017, to December 31, 2018. At the close of every biennial recording period, numerical awards and honorable mentions are awarded to the most outstanding bow-harvested animals in each species category that have been entered during this two-year recording period. New world’s records are verified and proclaimed, and awards are presented to these outstanding animals during the Pope and Young Club’s biennial convention and awards banquet.

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

My 7 favorite new products introduced at the 2019 ATA show

My 7 favorite new products introduced at the 2019 ATA show

By Bernie Barringer

Scent free dryer sheets

This one comes from the “Why hasn’t anyone done that before?” department. Well the reason no one has introduced a scent free dryer sheet before is because the nature of dryer sheets makes it difficult to do so, but Wildlife Research Center recently got the chemistry right and now we have a dryer sheet to throw in with our hunting clothing that removes static without making them smell like the perfume counter at the mall. Here’s a video about it and two more new products. www.wildlife.com

Hunter safety systems Ultra-Lite harness

HSS has several levels of safety harnesses from the popular pro series with its pockets and straps which help the hunter keep his gear within quick reach to more bare bones models. The Ultra-Lite is designed for the guy who covers long distances and goes deep into public land on foot. Weighing in at a mere 2.9 lbs., the Ultra-Lite is the lightest and most flexible harness on the market. It is the ideal harness for anyone who has to travel a long distance to the treestand or who prefers to feel unencumbered while staying safe. The Ultra-Lite comes standard with ElimiShield Scent Control Technology and is available in Realtree Xtra for a suggested retail price of $99.99. www.hssvest.com

A cell phone scouting camera for under $300?

Leave it to Covert to come up with a high-quality cell phone camera that retails at $299, by far the best value of any camera of this quality available. The 4G LTE E-1 camera will appeal to a lot of people. They did it without sacrificing photo quality in lens and sensor. The camera lacks some of the features of the higher end cameras such as the ability to change settings from home with a cell phone app. But the quality of photos it takes remains the same as their cameras costing $150 more. It will either text or email you a low-res photo as it takes them, and saves a high-res photo on the SD card. Watch this video about it. www.covertscoutingcameras.com

Deer lure from your own urine

Time will tell if this product is a serious player in the business of deer lures. What’s better than fresh urine as a deer attractant? It doesn’t get any fresher than when it comes straight from your own bladder. Mix your own urine in a bottle with a doe-in heat lure formula and you have fresh doe in heat deer lure according to the folks at Scent Relief. I’ll just pass this info along and let you decide for yourself. They do not have a website yet.

 

Scent Lok Hundo youth camo and Elite:1

Most of the time children’s hunting clothing has been hand-downs and poor fitting at best. Scent Lok set out to change that with their Hundo series. Its great clothing priced at $100 per piece for jacket, pants and base layers. It has seams that can be removed at the sleeves and pantlegs so the child can grow into it. Keeping kids comfortable in the field is one way to get them hooked on hunting for life and these items of clothing are designed to help. Scent Lok also released a high-end line to compete with the likes of KUIU and Sitka. For the hunter who is not afraid to pay up for high quality clothing, the Elite:1 line is really nice stuff for the hunt of a lifetime. Video herewww.scentlok.com

Check out this moveable camera

The live feed video camera from Whitetail’r can be put anywhere within Bluetooth range of your phone and you can control the camera from an app on your smartphone. You can move the camera all around to explore different angles right from your phone. It will also take photos. See more on this video

More improvements to the Lone Wolf treestand

Lone Wolf for many years has been a very popular treestand and sticks system used by DIY public land hunters who walk long distances from the access points and desire to stay mobile. A couple new features have been added including a coating that reduces noise and a new system for anchoring the seat solid. It’s a lot easer to watch than to explain so check out this video.

Find the Killing Tree on Public Land

Find the Killing Tree on Public Land

By Bernie Barringer

I’d found this spot the previous year but I didn’t hunt it correctly. The location was a narrow stretch of trees connecting two larger woodlots along the banks of a large river. The area surrounding it was a couple hundred acres of tall native grasses. It’s the kind of spot that jumps off the screen at you when you see it on Google Earth. It’s what I call a classic rut funnel.

Despite the fact that it is on Kansas state public hunting land, I was the only one hunting it because of the difficulty in getting more than a mile and a half back into it, and of course, the prospect of getting a buck out of there. If this spot was within a half-mile of the road, I probably wouldn’t be alone in there.

My trail camera was regularly getting photos of two nice shooters and a third buck that looked marginal. The third one was a ten-pointer with a kicker that looked to be a 3-year-old with amazing potential. He was often running with a big mature 8-point that had a thick, muscular chest and a wide, dark rack with long tines. That eight was the kind of buck you don’t see often on public land in any state, but this was a big area, far from human activity, so I wasn’t surprised.

The afternoon of November 6, the wind was right for this spot. It was nearing dark when I heard the noise of a deer walking through the tall, dry grass to the south. I tossed a loud grunt his way and suddenly he crashed towards me on a dead run, stopping at the base of my tree. I am always amazed at how perfectly they can pinpoint the source of a sound. I didn’t even have time to get my bow off the holder.

This buck was clearly the 10-point with the kicker. As he stood at the base of my treestand directly below me, I had a moment to analyze him in person for the first time. He was definitely young; in fact, I decided he may be only two years old. And I had him on camera several times accompanied by the big eight. He began to trot away just as I heard another noise in the dry grass. I grabbed my bow and drew it. Sure enough, the big eight stepped into view at 28 yards. He was what I call a “no-brainer;” he looked downright majestic with his chocolate rack and heavy, bull-like body.

I instinctively grunted him to a stop and sent an arrow on its way. I could see the Lumenok pinned to his rib cage as he tore off into the tall grass and then heard him crash about 10 seconds later. The hunt was a result of being in the right place at the right time, with the emphasis strongly on the Right Place.

Find The Killing Tree

That’s not the only great location I know of. Some of them are only good with certain crop rotations or other annual changes; and some of them are good every year. What makes them great is that the deer will always do what deer have always done with relation to certain terrain features when all other factors are equal. Cameras will help you find these spots to some degree, but to really pinpoint these little hunting gold mines, there’s no substitute for in-person experience; you need to hunt them to really figure them out.

We started with a broad approach and worked our way down; from choosing the right state, to choosing the best areas within that state and on to picking the properties where we will hunt. Now that we are on site, we are going to choose our specific hunting location, right down to which tree we are going to use to kill that big buck.

In my years of hunting public land in so many states, I have found that the entire process almost always comes down to one or two specific locations. After all the work is done before the trip, and the scouting, trail camera checking, hunting and observation takes place in the first few days of the hunt, it always seems to focus down on one, sometimes two, specific spots where I go all in. Usually there is one place where I decide to push all my chips into the middle and live or die there. Choosing this spot is all about confidence.

The Confidence Factor

When I first started doing these DIY road trips, I would arrive at a location and I couldn’t wait to get in a tree and start hunting. I often would find an area all tore up with rubs and scrapes and I would put up a stand and start hunting it. That proved to be an ineffective method of hunting. One of the reasons was a lack of confidence in the spot.

I’d be sitting in that great looking spot and I would hear bucks fighting just over the ridge from me, or I’d see a buck cruise down the crest of a saddle a hundred yards away, or maybe I’d see a line of does working down a trail out of range and I would wonder what’s over that ridge… is it a spot better than the one I’m in? I would quickly lose confidence in my spot and I would spend time looking for other spots when I should have been hunting. I would invariably end up going back at the end of the hunt to take that first stand down and realize it wasn’t in that good of a spot after all.

Before I ever put up the first stand these days, I want to fully know the area. I want to know what is over that ridge. I want to know what’s on that saddle and I want to know where those does were going. Then when I finally choose my spot to hunt, I can climb in the stand with the confidence that I am in a good spot and I’m not continually second-guessing myself. Nothing makes it harder to stay on stand all day than a lack of confidence in your location.

The Value of Scouting

There is no substitute for covering a lot of ground on foot. Put on a good pair of comfortable boots and put on some miles. I carry a backpack with trail cameras, some granola bars and drinks, deer scents, GPS, camera and lane trimming tools.

Back home you probably have deer hunting land that you try to manage. You are somewhat familiar with the deer’s tendencies on that land. You know where the bedding areas are and you stay out of them. You may even have areas that are considered inviolate that you never set foot into. If you are on a DIY hunt in a new area you have none of those luxuries. You need to find those places, and sometimes identifying them means taking risks that you would never consider on property that you hunt all the time.

You have to hunt and scout aggressively. You’ll bust some deer out of their beds. I hate that, but if you are going to learn the lay of the land it’s a fact of life. They may or may not be back the next day, but over time they will be back there; it’s a preferred bedding area for a reason. Deer on public lands are more accustomed to being bumped, then quickly going back to their normal patterns than most people realize. Walking a creek or ditch while looking for a crossing is a good way to intersect trails. These crossings often turn out to be good stand locations.

I use lures in scrapes and put cameras over them. I like the scrape drippers made by Wildlife Research Center and I use their Active Scrape lure and Special Golden Estrus to get the deer in front of my cameras. It’s hard to beat using a trail camera on a big scrape with fresh urine or quality deer lures when it comes to getting a quick inventory of the bucks on the property.

Observation Stands

I rarely hunt the first day I arrive at a new location. I usually try to find a vantage point where I can observe activity through binoculars during the evening hours. There is so much more information to be gathered by observation than by getting in a tree that first day. You’ll see how much hunting pressure the area is getting, if any. You’ll be able to observe the stage of the rut by observing deer movements. You might even find a great stand site by observing where the deer activity is concentrated.

Even when I do put up the first stand, it’s likely to be what I call an “observation stand” meaning that it is in a location where I can see a distance. This may be the edge of a field where I can see the entire field, or it may be on top of a ridge where I can observe deer traffic before actually moving the stand right onto a more specific location.

We all want to get in the stand and hunt right away, but trust me, a more methodical approach will pay off in the long run. If you go back to this same property in future years, you will have much of the actual legwork done so you can attack much sooner. But for the first time, not taking time to familiarize yourself with the area is a recipe for failure.

I like to start with one stand near an area that I can see visible feeding activity. I want to know where the does are spending most of their time on any rut hunt. In many cases that stand will be on the edge of a field or food plot. The observations from that stand will usually lead me to move it to an entry trail, a staging area or a trail that parallels the edge of the field where bucks will work inside the woods to scent check the does. Once I have the stand and equipment out there, I have a lot less work to do when it comes time to move it to a more specific location.

One time I put a stand right on top of an oak ridge because the deer’s movements were not readily identifiable even though they were feeding all through the area. Following the first evening in that stand, I could clearly see which direction the majority of them came from and I moved the stand down the ridge 100 yards and filled my tag the next evening.

Setting on Sign and Instinct

Because you have never been to the area before, you have little choice but to make your stand placement decisions on a combination of sign and instinct. The easiest part of that equation of course is the sign. You want to find not just sign but fresh sign. Fresh rubs, scrapes that are getting worked, evidence of feeding such as plants nipped off and ears of corn pulled off the stalks, fresh beds, fresh tracks in the trails; these are all evidence of recent activity that helps you gain confidence that you are in the right spot.

First person observation is the way to read the sign and to do that you need to get out there and cover the ground. Get to know the area well, and you will have a much better view of the overall picture, which will help you in your decision making process about where exactly you are going to spend your valuable hunting time.

The more you do this, the more you will have gut feelings about certain things you see. There is no substitute for time in the woods and experience. When you find yourself looking around you and saying, “This place just feels right.” Then you will know you’re well on your way. The instincts that make you great at choosing great spots must be developed over time. The more time you spend at it, the better you become.

Plan Your Next Successful Hunt Right Now

Plan Your Next Successful Hunt Right Now

By Bernie Barringer

I’d been sitting in a tree by a trail that led to a bedding area composed of willows on a riverbank. A steep hill was 100 yards to the west and I was surrounded by rubs and scrapes. I had spent two mornings and an evening in this spot, with a great deal of confidence. It looked good and felt good.

The morning before, I watched a string of six does and a yearling buck walk a trail 60 yards to the west. I had considered that trail for my stand, but frankly, the one I was sitting in just looked a lot better. Over the next two sits, I continued to see deer using that other trail. I also had the frustration of watching a nice 10-point buck work a scrape just out of range. I decided to move my stand 60 yards so I could cover that trail. I didn’t fully understand why, but for some reason that’s where the most activity seemed to be. By all outward appearances, the place I was sitting should have been the right spot, but I moved anyway.

The following morning, and hour after daylight, I could hear two bucks fighting down by the river. They were in the bedding area, and if I had been in the stand I had abandoned the previous day, I would have been able to see them. I silently cursed my luck for moving. But my disappointment would be short-lived.

Suddenly, a 3-year-old eight pointer came running up the bank and raced by my stand. It was followed by a heavy-bodied buck with dark fur, thick shoulders and a big gray head. A buck much older than you would expect to see on public land. He crossed the trail at a right angle then stopped at 40 yards perfectly broadside, looking momentarily for the younger buck he had just vanquished. My arrow sliced through both lungs before I could hardly even fully grasp the situation or think about the shot. It happened so fast and I was in automatic mode.

I’d been hunting three different public properties in that area for 12 days, and that subtle move of the treestand made the difference. I had drawn a tag for that state, researched the public land opportunities, chosen a small number of places to look at, finally settled on three of them, and eventually, picked the exact right tree. That’s what being a successful freelance bowhunter is all about.

The positive outcome of that hunt was the result of a doing lot of homework. I’d spent a lot of time the previous winter doing research on this piece of public land, which included talking a local hunter who gave me a lot of good information, reading what I could on the state DNR’s website, speaking to a biologist and game warden on the phone and gazing at aerial photos on Google Earth.

Choosing a Hunting Location

This is the one component of the puzzle where the decision is made before you ever leave home, and winter is the time to do it. You first have to decide where you want to go. Some states offer tags over the counter, some require you to apply and choose a zone, and yet others require you to apply for several years before you will draw. Make a list of the states you would like to someday hunt and start applying for tags or preference points. You will need to understand the terms relating to tags and drawings and this article offers of ton of info. 

For the sake of argument, let’s say you have drawn a tag or want to hunt an OTC state. The first thing you should do is start with internet research.  There is a lot of information on this site that will help you make decisions about the public areas too. Spend some time researching public areas on the state game departments’ websites.

Large national forums such as Archery Talk, Bowhunting.com, Bowsite.com and others offer a large pool of people who can offer up good answers to specific questions.

State Hunting Forums

It seems there are hunting forums for each and every state. Some of them are very active and others not so much. Find the ones for each of the states you have an interest in and then start visiting them. Sometimes the locals can be a little harsh when you start asking for information, but if you establish a relationship, you can often find some good info and there always seems to be a couple guys with knowledge and a helpful attitude.

Avoid asking general questions such as, “I have an Iowa tag, which public hunting areas are good?” All that will do is make people think you are trying to use them to do the research that you should be doing yourself. A much better question would be “Has anyone hunted the Shimek State Forest… can you tell me how much bowhunting pressure to expect there the first two weeks of November?” That question will probably get a helpful response.

State Wildlife Agencies and Aerial Photos

Of course, it is important to spend time on the state DNR website and learn about the public hunting areas. Most states have maps of their public areas. It seems to work best for me to compare these maps with Google Earth aerial photos. I like to look at the borders of the areas to see what the property lines look like. What does the land on the other side of the property line look like? Is it open farm ground or maybe urban area? I have hunted a couple pieces of public land that had some really well managed private land adjacent to it. On Google Earth you will see what to look for: Food plots, clearings, streams, sometimes even shooting houses or treestands. Once you have seen a well-managed deer sanctuary on Google Earth, you will begin to recognize what to look for.

In one case I was looking over a nice-looking piece of public land, when I discovered that the northern border of the property was a stream. The DNR had planted a large clover lot along the stream, but it was a mile and a half from the nearest road. I liked what I was seeing already, but it was about to get a lot better. On the other side of that stream was a large block of timber that had a few openings cut into it. In those openings were green plots, and they were way too small to be farm fields. Tractor trails connected the food plots and ATV trails showed where the stand sites could be approached. Clearly this place was being managed for whitetail hunting. A look at the land records for that area showed that the land was owned by a well-known television hunting couple. Think the potential for that piece of public land might be a little better than average?

Record Keeping Organization Statistics

The Boone & Crockett Club website offers a feature that allows you to search out the best states and the best counties within those states that have produced the Boone & Crockett Bucks. It’s called Trophy Search and it’s a great tool for the freelance hunter. You can sort their records according to the criteria you select. They charge $50 per year to use the tool, and it is well worth it. Spend the $50 and then spend some time searching through their records. It can be quite revealing. The Pope & Young Club offers a CD of all their records. I use the entire set of records in an Excel file so I can sort by state, size, county, etc. It’s not quite as easy to use as the B&C trophy search website, but the information is there if you take the time to mine it out. These two tools will help you discover trends that will help you understand which area of each state has the best potential to produce mature bucks.

Speaking with Biologists

Finding a person with boots on the ground in any area can be one of the best ways to flesh out your options. In fact, some conversations can be very revealing. It might contain a reference like this, “We have been doing a lot of work planting food plots on Public Area X this summer and the deer are really piling into it.” That’s good stuff right there.

Speaking in person with a state, federal or county employee can keep you from making a big mistake too. In one case I called a biologist who looked at his calendar and said, “We’ll be doing a huge prescribed burn on that area that week, we’ll be burning 600 acres of switchgrass so there will be a lot of personnel, trucks and smoke on that public area for about four days that week.” He kept me from making a big mistake.

In another case, a biologist once told me that the area I had been looking at took a huge hit from EHD that summer, but the next county over didn’t get hit as hard. He also told me that the two public areas in that county held some nice bucks and don’t receive much pressure except during shotgun season.

Don’t be afraid to call and ask specific questions. These people are public servants and your license fees pay their salary. Talking to you is part of their job so use them as a resource. You can find their phone number on the state Wildlife Agency website. Sometimes it takes a while to track down the biologist because they are often in the field every day. Winter is usually the best time to catch them in the office with time to talk.

If you have had a desire to hunt whitetails in another state, the work you put in now will have a lot to do with your success in the fall. There’s no time like the present time to get started.

For more detailed information on hunting out of state, see the author’s new book The Freelance Bowhunter: DIY strategies for the travelling hunter which is available HERE.

How to smoke a venison ham

How to smoke a venison ham

This not just another venison recipe, it’s a new way to look at cooking an entire hindquarter of venison. Check it out.

By Bernie Barringer

My wife shot a young doe and the tender meat had me looking for something new to try with the venison. A trophy is in the eye of the beholder and this deer was a trophy for the two of us, but it left me with some decisions to make. We eat a lot of wild game at our house, in fact, our five kids grew up on it. I am always trying something new and experimenting because to me that’s part of the thrill of the harvest. I usually make the hindquarters of deer into roast to be cooked in the slow-cooker. They are mouthwatering and tasty the way I make them.

The hindquarters of a young deer like this one are tender and I often make them into steaks, because half of them are too small for a roast and the entire “ham” makes a mighty big roast. Six pounds of roast is more than we need at this point in our life. So I decided to try something new this time; smoke the entire ham.

I would have to experiment with the amount of heat and time since I had never done this before. I also like to have the smoker full when I use it; since I wasn’t making any sausage out of this deer I got a dozen turkey legs (they are cheap and make a good lunch for me) and added them to the mix.

What I did was not a true ham. To make your venison into a true ham you would need to cure it for hours in a brine with salt, spices, pickling spices, etc.  which is a lot more time and work than I wanted to go into with this experiment. That process may be next on my list, and if you want to go that route there are plenty of online resources for curing a ham.

I coated the hams with salt and seasoning salt. I tend to use Lawry’s Seasoned Salt on most kinds of beef and venison when I am grilling, but when I am cooking pork I really prefer Johnny’s Seasoning Salt. I decided to use the Johnny’s with this project. As you can see by the video I was very generous with the salt and seasoning. Coat the meat really good inside and out. If you have a meat injector, use it!

I started the smoker at 155 degrees because I felt that’s the internal temperature I would want for the ham to be done. Because it was so cold in my unheated garage, it would have taken probably 12 hours to finish it at that temperature, and since I was planning to have it for supper, I cranked up the heat to 180 which got it done in 8 hours. If I had to do it again, I would start earlier in the day and go with the 12 hours at 155.

The project turned out fantastic. The ham is tender and has an amazing smoky flavor. It makes terrific sandwiches when sliced, and I have also just carved chunks from it and ate it like it was jerky although it is more tender than jerky.

I really encourage you hunters to try this on your venison. I think you will be happy with the results. I know I will definitely be doing it again. Watch the video below to see the visual of how I did this.

 

Late Season Bucks: Don’t Make Tag Soup Just Yet

Late Season Bucks: Don’t Make Tag Soup Just Yet

Don’t despair if you still haven’t wrapped your tag around a buck. This is one of the best times of the year to hunt if you can handle the harsh weather.

By Bernie Barringer

Here I am with a deer tag in my pocket and it’s almost Christmas. It’s not the first time I let this happen and I am sure it won’t be the last. In fact, I tend to be rather indifferent about shooting a deer until winter hits, unless a great opportunity presents itself. The harsh weather of winter offers one of the best times of the year to catch a buck with his guard down.

I love hunting the last days of archery season despite the nasty weather because I have so many good memories and successes to show for it. Many states have bow and muzzleloader seasons that last beyond Christmas and well into January. The key to success for me has been the understanding that the deer have different needs during cold weather than they do during the rest of the hunting season. The key is finding standing farm crops that offer the nutrients they crave at this time of the year.

After the rut, bucks are run down. Their fat reserves are gone, and even their muscle mass is diminished. Nothing restores muscle faster that protein, and soybeans are loaded with protein. Field corn is very high in carbohydrates, which help restore fat reserves. Most mast crops are super high in carbohydrates and fat.

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

Since soybeans provide quick energy through a combination of proteins and carbs, deer will often seek them out during the coldest weather. A stretch of below-zero weather will move deer off the corn and acorns and onto the soybeans because of the quick turnaround of energy they offer. During these periods of deep freeze weather, immediate energy for body heat is more important that storage of fat. Food plots of soybeans or late-standing soybean fields attract more deer than corn does during the harshest weather. When the weather moderates, they may move back to the high-carb food sources.

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

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

Well-worn trails provide evidence of travel patterns that can help the bowhunter decide where to set up an ambush. A ground blind along the edge or blended in with cornstalks right in the middle of the food is often the perfect spot.

It is very common for bucks to approach the field through thick cover, and make their way out into the field cautiously. The most mature bucks will typically enter the field last; they hang back and watch the posture and actions of the does which enter the fields first.

For me, getting on these bucks involves a two-part plan. The first stand I set up when I find a field with a lot of deer using it is what I call an observation stand. I will put the stand up on the downwind side of the field where I can see a large area. I am not so concerned about being within range of the deer, my primary objective is to see where they are coming into the field.

Once I get a handle on where the bucks are most likely to enter the field, it’s time to strike. I like to set up about 50 yards back off the edge of the field on the downwind side of the trail they are using. Usually the trails are obvious because they can’t hide what they are doing when snow covers the ground.

Because the mature bucks tend to come out last, the downwind approach is critical because it allows the does and smaller bucks to move by you without catching your wind. The target bucks will take their time and hang back off the edge of the field, right where you are set up.

So if you are like me and have hung onto your tag until the last minute; don’t despair, just bundle up and grind it out. Find the foods and you will find the deer.