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

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

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

By Bernie Barringer

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

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

Trim shooting lanes

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

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

Improve bedding areas

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

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

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

Plant a throw-and-grow brassica food plot

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

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

Keep those scouting cameras working

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

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

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

Spend time behind a spotting scope

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

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

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

Bear Hunters and their Questionable Judgment

Bear Hunters and their Questionable Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take a Whitetail Hunting Road Trip

Take a Whitetail Hunting Road Trip

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

By Bernie Barringer

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

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

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

Pick a State

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

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

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

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

Elbow Room

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

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

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

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

Peak Times

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

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

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

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

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

Near or far?

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

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

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

Just do it

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

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

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Sometimes big bucks are just lucky

Sometimes big bucks are just lucky

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 YouTube hunting channels you need to subscribe to

Top 10 YouTube hunting channels you need to subscribe to

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

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

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

Deer Meat for Dinner

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

HUSHIN

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

Whitetail Habitat Solutions

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

THE BOWHUNTING ROAD

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

The Untamed

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

SEEK ONE

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

Tim Wells Bow Hunter

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

The Hunting Public

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

Do it Yourself Hunter

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

The Element

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

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

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

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

By Bernie Barringer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Capitalize on Late Season Weather Fronts

How to Capitalize on Late Season Weather Fronts

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

By Bernie Barringer

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

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

Get Your Sneak On

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

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

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

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

Strategic Stand Sits

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know Where to Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Lonely Out There

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the Top 10 DIY Public Land Whitetail Hunts

Here are the Top 10 DIY Public Land Whitetail Hunts

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

By Bernie Barringer

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

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

Kansas WIHA

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

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

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

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

Wayne National Forest, Ohio

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

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

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

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

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

Wisconsin’s Managed Forest Law

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

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

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

Missouri River, North Dakota

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

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

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

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

Mississippi River Bottoms, IA, WI, MN, IL

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Missouri Archery Only Areas

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

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

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

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

Western Kentucky WMAs

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

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

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

Black Hills, South Dakota and Wyoming

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

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

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

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

Iowa’s Large Reservoirs

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

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

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

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

Lake McConaughy, Nebraska

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Bernie Barringer

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

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

Scented Key Wick

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

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

Visual Distraction

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

An Apple Core

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

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

Thread

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

Some Deer Hair

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

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

Unreal Quest for a Barebow Bison

Unreal Quest for a Barebow Bison

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

by Dennis Dunn –

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

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

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

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

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

Seven Critical Tips for DIY Public Land Hunting

Seven Critical Tips for DIY Public Land Hunting

By Bernie Barringer

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

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

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

Do your homework

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

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

Do your Scouting Diligence

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

Use your Scouting Cameras

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

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

Hunt Only When it’s Time

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

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

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

Stay Mobile and Flexible

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

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

Work Hard and Smart

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

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

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

Don’t Allow your Expectations to Get to High

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six Reasons You Have Never Shot a Booner

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

By Bernie Barringer

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

You are not hunting where the Booners live

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

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

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

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

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

You don’t understand how fickle big bucks can be

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

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

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

You are not willing to do whatever it takes

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

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

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

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

You are not hunting during the peak times

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

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

You are not passing big bucks

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

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

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

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

You are taking shortcuts

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

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

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

Six Strategies Summarized

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

Black Bear Hunting (and eating)

By Jaden Bales, Wyoming Wildlife Federation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Facts about Whitetail Buck Excursions

5 Facts about Whitetail Buck Excursions

Ever wonder why that mysterious buck showed up on your trail camera but you never saw him again? Or why one of your regular bucks just disappears for a few days? Some recent research into the travel patterns of whitetail bucks casts some light on these events.

By Bernie Barringer

The largest buck I ever saw in the wild was observed one day during the rut. He moved out across a CRP field and I never saw him again. None of the hunters in the area knew of him and even the owner of the land had never seen him before. Where did he come from? Where did he go? These questions have often puzzled me when it comes to buck movement, but findings from research in the past few years shows that bucks routinely take off from their home ranges and head out across the countryside.

Studies on collared bucks conducted in Maryland, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Texas have offered up similar statistics about bucks taking off cross country for a while.   Biologists have labeled these trips “excursions.” Here are the answers to five obvious questions about buck excursions.

Research using radio collars have shown that bucks take significant vacations from their home ranges, especially during the rut. Having an unknown buck show up on your trail camera is a sign that a buck is on the move.

When do they go?

Telemetry and GPS collars have shown that most bucks take occasional excursions throughout the year. While older bucks tend to have smaller home ranges that they know intimately, they do take more excursions. They occasionally leave their home ranges during the summer, but more and longer excursions take place during the rut.

At times, heavy hunting pressure may cause the bucks to move, but the studies show that is not common. In fact most bucks that feel hunting pressure tend to hold tight in areas they know intimately, they just go nocturnal.

What time are they moving?

During the rut, the majority of these excursions tend to take place during the day. In fact, the Maryland study showed that 73% of the bucks were moving in the daylight hours. This is opposed to their movements while in their home ranges, when they moved very little until the cover of darkness masked their travels.

This is clearly good news for hunters who remain on stand all day. Bucks are on their feet during shooting hours and they are found in areas where they have poor knowledge of the escape cover.

Where do they go?

Some of the bucks seemed to have areas that were almost like a secondary home range, but the number was low. I would theorize that if a buck was pushed out of his home range, he would move to an area that he knew well, such as his natal area. He spent the first year of his life in his mother’s home range learning how to avoid danger, so it stands to reason that this would be an area he might move to if he felt pressured.

Surprisingly, three of the collared deer in the Maryland study went to the exact same small woodlot several times during the breeding season. These bucks came from different areas but ended up in the same place, suggesting that they knew where the does were found.

How long are they gone?

The studies have shown that there is a wide range of lengths to the excursions. Some bucks travelled significant distances, eight miles or more, in just 12 hours, while other bucks were gone for as much as 11 days. It’s difficult to say why there is such a difference in lengths. I suppose a buck that took an excursion during the rut and found a couple receptive does would be gone from his home range for as long as his breeding urges were successfully met. Others may have sensed hunting pressure or ran into danger from predators or found it difficult to find food in a new area so they returned more quickly.

Collaring bucks has led to knowledge of their movements and dispelled some old myths about their behavior. Photo courtesy of the University of Georgia.

Another important factor is the individuality of bucks. Some are more aggressive, some are more timid. Some respond to danger differently than others. Some have the wanderlust, and some didn’t take any significant excursions at all. Every buck has a “personality.”

Why Excursions?

Biologically, excursions do not make a lot of sense from a survival of the species standpoint; excursions add danger to a buck’s life, at least not on the surface. But from the standpoint of genetics, there are viable reasons. Biologist James Tomblin, who conducted the Maryland study, theorized that the travelling deer contributed to increased genetic variability, which could improve long-term whitetail population health.

So if the buck you have been dreaming about suddenly disappears for a few days, don’t be alarmed, he will most likely be back. And if you happen to see an unfamiliar buck show up on your hunting property, you might want to move on him fast, because he may head for home at any time. 

The biggest typical whitetail ever to walk the earth?

The biggest typical whitetail ever to walk the earth?

By Bernie Barringer

Hundreds of factors must come together in one shining moment for a buck to reach world record caliber. A long line of big antler genetics must funnel down through the generations into one female deer. This doe must have hit the genetic lottery with a series of big buck sires in the females of her family tree. Then she must breed with a gigantic buck and she must produce a buck fawn, otherwise, all this genetic information will have to be delayed one more year.

Then, of course, this buck fawn must escape the myriad pitfalls that lay out before him. He must escape coyotes, cars, farm equipment and of course hunters. He must live an idyllic lifestyle in comfort with excellent nutrition readily available, and he must do this for five or six years. If all these things come together, out walks a buck carrying a rack larger than the millions and millions of bucks who have come before him.

This all happened on a ranch in Nebraska in the 1950s. A rancher who will remain unnamed had seen three gigantic bucks on his property during the fall of 1958. There was no hunting in Nebraska at that time, the first modern day hunting season for whitetails would not occur until the following fall of 1959. Whitetails had been off limits for half a century and they were expanding their population. The age structure was balanced, with many mature bucks.

In the spring of 1959, this rancher was tending to his cows, which were calving at the time. He walked into a patch of brush to retrieve a newborn calf and discovered two gigantic shed antlers lying a few feet apart. He later sawed off the back of the burrs so they would fit flat against a wall and screwed them above a doorway in a back room of his farmhouse. There they hung for many years.

In the mid-1990s, an outfitter named Tim Condict was talking to ranchers in the area about leasing land for hunting when he asked a rancher if he had any big racks or shed antlers lying around. The rancher said, “No, but the neighbor across the way has a set you aren’t going to believe. I’ve seen the big bucks in the Cabela’s store and they ain’t got nuthin’ like this one!”

That led Tim to the set of sheds that would become known as The General, the largest typical sheds of all time. Details of the transaction which caused those antlers to leave the farmhouse for the first time in 37 years are not known, but the gigantic buck would finally become known to serious whitetail collectors and big buck lovers.

The buck’s main beams are both over 32 inches and mass measurements are as high as 7-1/2. When mounted in a position that they look natural, they have an inside spread of nearly 24 inches. As it is, the buck scored 240 gross typical and nearly 219 net, more than five inches larger than the current Saskatchewan world record held by Milo Hanson. But the shrinking effects of a warm, dry Nebraska farmhouse have taken a large toll. No one, of course, knows exactly how much, but many antler collectors have some estimates.

Antler collector Dick Idol said about the buck, “It’s hardly fair to compare such a rack to a recently harvested one kept indoors from the time of skinning for the short 60-day drying period and then officially measured for the record book. Just in shrinkage alone, these Nebraska sheds could easily have lost as much as 6 to 8 inches in total measurement, especially in this type of rack, which still has 32-plus-inch main beams and a conservative inside spread of nearly 24 inches. Another 8 to 10 inches overall, which this buck conceivably lost, would have put him at 226 1/8 to 228 1/8 net, had the antlers been measured soon after being found back in 1959.”

There have been some other giant sheds found that would be contenders for the world record if the buck was shot by a hunter. The “Kansas King” theoretically scores 217 as a typical with a spread credit included. One of side a giant Iowa buck was found that scored 112 typical. Even with a small spread credit of 20 inches you are looking at a 244 gross typical. It makes you wonder what might have been. And is there a buck out there now that hit the genetic lottery? One as big or bigger than The General?

Lessons Learned From a Bear Den

Lessons Learned From a Bear Den

By Bernie Barringer

My buddy Rick called me one day in December and said he had found a bear in a den along a river bank. He’d been setting snares for fox and coyotes when he came across a set of large bear tracks in the snow, so he followed them and discovered the den. Looking into the large hole, he could see the bear.

I got very excited about it because I had never found a bear in a den before and I had always thought it would be cool to put a trail camera on a bear den to see what I could learn. I have a lot of experience hunting bears, I am a field editor for Bear Hunting Magazine and I have an appetite to learn more about this creature that has fascinated me since I was a teenager.

Rick took me out to show me the den and I hung a Covert Scouting Camera on a tree right near the mouth of the den. I set the camera to take 30-second videos on a 5-minute timer each time movement triggered the camera. After mounting the camera, I slowly crept up the mound of dirt in front of the hole and I was surprised to see the bear looking at me. I snapped a couple quick photos and hustled out of the area.

The hole was about 40 inches in diameter, and the bear was curled up about five feet below the entrance. I was surprised that there was nothing between the bear and the cold air. Temperatures of 30-40 below zero are common here in January and February, so I was intrigued that the bear had not made any effort to block the entrance of the hole.

About the end of February, we had an unusually warm spell with temperatures well above freezing so I headed out to check the camera. I changed the SD card and then crept up again to look into the den. Sure enough, the bear was looking right up at me. That’s a little unnerving looking a bear right in the eye from about eight feet away.

I discovered that the bear had poked his head out of the den and looked around every day during this warm spell. At one point, he came all the way to the top of the dirt mound, but the video showed clearly that he could barely stand. The bear was an adult male and quite large, probably at least 350 pounds even after not eating for about four months. I discovered that the camera was pointed a little off from where I would like, so when the temperatures dropped back to near zero, I crept back out there and hung a second camera facing more up the hill above the den hole.

By the time the middle of March rolled around, the days were getting warmer and the snow had melted. I wanted to go get the cameras, but when I went out there, I could see through binoculars that the bear was lying near the mouth of the den only a few feet from the cameras. I decided to play it safe and I waited until April 19 to retrieve the camera, when I felt confident that the bear would be gone.

Sure enough, he was gone and the hole had collapsed. I had more than 350 short videos of the bear coming out of the hole on warm days and moving about. As you can see by the accompanying video, he started out very wobbly, but within a few days of moving around the mouth of the den, he was back up to speed. I learned a lot, and most surprising to me was that the bear was so easy to wake up, and came out of the hole most every day for about three weeks before he actually left the den for good. I trust you will enjoy the video and find it a learning experience as I have.

New Archery World Record Black Bear

New Archery World Record Black Bear

Pope and Young Club Names New World Record Black Bear During Special Panel

Chatfield, MN – On Saturday, February 8th, the Pope and Young Club convened a Special Panel of Judges in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, during the Great American Outdoors Show, for a potential P&Y World Record Black Bear. Jeff Melillos’ massive bear scored 23 5/16 and is now the largest bow-harvested black bear in North America. The bear was shot in Morris County, New Jersey, on October 14th, 2019. Measurers present at the Special Panel were Dan Lynch, of Pennsylvania, P&Y Director of Records, Eli Randall, Terry Mollett of Pennsylvania, and Timothy Walsh of New Jersey. With a final score of 23 5/16, Jeff’s bear was confirmed as the new P&Y World Record Black Bear. This bear surpasses the previous World Record shot by Robert J. Shuttleworth Jr., taken in Mendocino County, California, on September 4th, 1993, with a score of 23 3/16.

“It has been an inspiring journey, to say the least,” said Jeff Melillo. “New Jersey, my home state, has its First-Ever World Record Animal! Many years ago, I read an article in Outdoor Life Magazine stating that the New World Record Black Bear will most likely come from New Jersey. They were spot on, and I never doubted it for one second. I’m very grateful that I get to be a part of all this. Pursuing bears with bow and arrow is a passion of mine. I’d also like to recognize the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife for the outstanding effort they put into the management of New Jersey Black Bears. The dedication from our biologists, technicians, and Conservation Officers, make this all possible. I’d also like to give a big thanks to United Bow Hunters of New Jersey. Their organization had a lot to do with getting a bowhunting season for New Jersey black bears. Without their efforts, I would not be writing this.”

You can see the life-size mount of this incredible animal at the P&Y Annual Convention in Virginia, March 26th – 28th, as part of the Bass Pro/Cabela’s Trophy Tower. The largest display of World Record, North American, bow-harvested, big-game animals ever assembled. For Convention information, go to https://www.pope-young.org/convention/default.asp.

To register, go to http://tools.eventpower.com/web_site/68/PYC-Convention-Registration.

Panel Measurers – (LtoR) Dan Lynch, Eli Randall, P&Y Records Director, Terry Mollet and Timothy Walsh

“I knew I was going to be looking at an impressive Black Bear skull, as it was officially measured at over 23 inches and weighed in at 700 pounds,” said Eli Randall, Records Director for the Pope and Young Club. “I was not prepared for the amount of mass the skull possessed, not only was the skull huge, but the bone structure was the heaviest I had ever seen. Congratulations to Jeff Melillo on harvesting this outstanding black bear. This is a true testament to the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and a shining beacon of what can be accomplished with efforts and funds being dedicated to wildlife.”

This World Record Black Bear has been entered into the 32nd recording period representing entries accepted into the P&Y Records Program from January 1st, 2019, to December 31st, 2020. 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 bear on the right is the bear of a lifetime. 500 pounds and a B&C skull. The bear on the left is what a world record looks like in comparison.

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.

Contact the Pope and Young Club office at:

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

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

Whitetails of the Northern Mississippi River

Whitetails of the Northern Mississippi River

The “Big Muddy” is producing big whitetails and there’s plenty of public land to hunt them.

By Bernie Barringer

Take a look at the areas of the Midwest which consistently produce big whitetail bucks and you’ll find some similarities. Winona and Houston counties in the far southeastern part of Minnesota have produced more Pope & Young bucks per square mile than any other counties in Minnesota. Just across the border into Iowa is Allamakee County which has produced the most P&Y bucks of any county in the famously whitetail-rich Hawkeye State. Just east of there in Wisconsin, you’ll find Buffalo County which has produced far and away more Boone & Crockett and P&Y bucks than any other county in North America. Just across the southern border into Illinois, is Jo Daviess county, a place well known for big bucks. Farther south in Illinois is the area of the state that is known as the “Golden Triangle” of big bucks among serious Trophy deer hunters. It consists of Pike, Adams, Schuyler and Brown counties. Back to the west again are Clark, Pike, Lincoln, St. Charles and St. Louis counties in Missouri. Starting to notice a pattern?

Here’s an example of a buck that’s found in these areas if a hunter is willing to put in the extra effort to get into out of the way places. Photo by Zach Ferenbaugh

What you’ve just read is a list of the majority of the top counties in North America which consistently produce record book bucks; and it might surprise you to find that they all have one thing in common: The Mississippi River.  This is no coincidence. In fact, it’s one of the best kept secrets in whitetail deer hunting, and to make it even more appealing, there’s an abundance of public hunting land all along the Mighty Mississippi where anyone can hunt whitetails without an outfitter or guide.

The best of this is found along the river from St. Paul, Minnesota to St. Louis, Missouri. The river has been forever altered by the lock and dam system which creates floodplain and islands, most of which fall under the jurisdiction of the US Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Land on either—and sometimes both–sides of the river has been set aside and protected from development. Because this is federally owned land, most anything that isn’t within the boundaries of a wildlife reserve or a park is open to hunting by the public.

Few deer hunters—including many locals–fully understand the opportunities available here. Part of the reason it’s overlooked is the difficulty of access. Roads are limited and often muddy after rains. Many excellent hunting areas are accessible only by boat. Overall, it’s a challenging place to hunt, but of course all deer hunters know that the more challenging it is, the better the odds that bucks are growing old back in there out of reach of all but the most dedicated hunters.

The Upper Mississippi Fish & Wildlife Refuge borders more than 260 miles of the River from Minnesota and borders most of Iowa and the northern half of Illinois. Dozens of state- and county-owned public hunting areas create even more access points. Generally, the ACOE owns land near the dams while lands between the dams are owned by other agencies. Any of these can hold good deer hunting; and for the most part, it gets less hunting pressure by deer hunters than the properties away from the river.

The key to having hunting success is finding the right elevations and the food. Lower islands and floodplains are often characterized by large silver maple trees with little understory due to the frequent flooding. Deer travel through these areas, but find little food or bedding cover. Look for islands and shorelines with higher elevations, and you will find oaks and hickory along with their associated food. Because these higher elevation islands rarely flood, they can be well covered with forbs and the kinds of lush browse that deer look for to utilize both as food and bedding cover.

Dozens of tributaries empty into the big river, most of which offer deltas that feature excellent deer habitat. Many of these are a mix between private farmland and wooded plains; ideal deer habitat. Accessing these areas can be difficult, but the use of a boat, canoe or Kayak can put a hunter into some prime areas that few other hunters will ever see.

The upper part of the river bordering Minnesota and Wisconsin tends to be characterized by more sandy bottom, with some limestone outcroppings, in fact some of it can be waded, and getting to hunting areas most people don’t go is as simple as crossing a barrier of some sort such as a creek. It’s surprising how many deer live on the islands. Imagine being able to do a DIY public land hunt in the famous Buffalo County, Wisconsin where nearly 80% of the farmland is leased by outfitters.

Photo by Zach Ferenbaugh

The areas bordering Illinois and Missouri tend to be silt and mud, with large backwater areas that see few if any deer hunting pressure. If you are looking for elbow room (and there’s platy of it) you’ll need a boat to hunt with any significant degree of success away from hunting pressure. In Pike County, Illinois are found some of the most famous and successful whitetail outfitters, and you can hunt right in their back yard for free.

Some of the best places to hunt are areas where the fertile croplands surrounding the river meet with the public forested lands. Much of the upper river is characterized by steep bluffs right down to the river’s edge, but where the river widens, crops are often planted for miles along the river, while a narrow strip of publicly owned timber separating the water from the fields creates a travel corridor for cruising bucks. These places can be excellent spots to park yourself in a treestand for long hours during the first two weeks of November.

Swimming and wading are normal parts of the daily lives of deer which live here. They routinely cross from island to island, and often bed on islands and feed on shore. Deer drives are one effective way to hunt these islands during the firearms season, and some of them are known hotspots. But many islands have little deer hunting activity prior to the gun seasons.

Because this deer hunting opportunity is under-utilized, the state wildlife agencies have little data on the number of deer being taken from the islands. But the state game departments are learning just how much hunting success is taking place here by the few hunters who are in the know. The Iowa DNR has lately been putting personnel at the boat ramps during the firearms seasons to inventory deer that are coming from the islands in the hopes of getting more detailed data on the amount of deer hunting and success rates.

So much land is available that it can seem overwhelming, so you must break it down. The best way to start is to look at maps of the public land and compare them with aerial photography and topographical maps to determine the amount of cover and the potential for the areas to have mast-producing trees. Crop fields can be easily spotted on satellite photos. Funnels and pinch points along the river’s edge will jump out at you. Then it’s just a matter of getting out there and looking it over.

Study the maps and regulations carefully. Some areas are designated waterfowl feeding and resting areas and have closures to all hunting on certain dates. The extra effort it takes to hunt these areas effectively limits the number of hunters who are willing to go through the trouble. This is good news for those who put in the extra effort. Quality deer are available and they get little to no pressure in some areas, both islands and shorelines.

The public lands of the upper Mississippi River are possibly the most overlooked hunting opportunity in the Midwest both for its seclusion and for its trophy potential. It’s not just for fishing any more.

Proper Licensing for Mississippi River Border States

Nonresident whitetail tags for Minnesota, Wisconsin and Missouri are available over the counter. Obtaining an Illinois or Iowa nonresident tag will require an application. The number of Illinois tags usually outnumbers applicants, so a tag can be acquired each year, but the zones along the Mississippi River in Iowa will require 2-4 preference points to draw for archery seasons, and slightly fewer for firearms seasons.

State boundaries run right down the middle of the original river channel and are clearly marked on federal and state hunting area maps. Hunters need to be careful to be sure they are hunting on lands where they are properly licensed.

Resources:

Upper Mississippi Fish & Wildlife Refuge:

https://www.fws.gov/refuge/upper_mississippi_river/map.html

US Army Corps of Engineers Hunting:

http://www.mvr.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/Mississippi-River-Project/Recreation/Fishing-Hunting/

Smoking a venison ham

Smoking 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 her first deer in 32 years. But she shot a deer in the first half hour of hunting this fall.

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 crockpot. 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.

Top 10 DIY Whitetail Hunts

Top 10 DIY Whitetail Hunts

These 10 destinations offer great public land hunting and a chance to bring home something to make your taxidermist happy.

By Bernie Barringer

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

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

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

Kansas WIHA

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

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

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

Wayne National Forest, Ohio

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

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

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

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

Wisconsin’s Managed Forest Law

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

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

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

Missouri River, North Dakota

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

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

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

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

Mississippi River Bottoms, IA, WI, MN, IL

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Missouri Archery Only Areas

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

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

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

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

Western Kentucky WMAs

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

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

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

Black Hills, South Dakota and Wyoming

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

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

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

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

Iowa’s Large Reservoirs

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

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

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

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

Lake McConaughy, Nebraska

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

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

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

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

Late Season Hunts: Why Ground Blinds are Great

Late Season Hunts: Why Ground Blinds are Great

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

By Bernie Barringer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get it out early

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

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

Disguise it

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

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

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

Put in your time

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

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

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

Late season bucks

Late season bucks

The rut and the gun seasons are over, and gone with them is the helter-skelter buck movement. Now the deer are focused on the available food; they need to replace fat reserves. In the opinion of many deer hunters, it’s the best time of the year to shoot a big buck… if you can take the cold.

By Bernie Barringer

Many bowhunters consider the early season the best time to hunt deer, and with good reason. The deer at that time are undisturbed, they can be found in somewhat predictable daily movement patterns and the weather is nice for sitting in a treestand. The rut and the gun seasons open up and the normal patterns go out the door. Bucks are running around helter skelter and hunters either figure out how to take advantage of the conditions, or just sit home and wait it out.

The majority of bowhunters who have an unfilled tag in their pocket just hang it up and wait until the following year to go after it again. That’s a big mistake. When the gun seasons end, most states offer late season bowhunting that lasts until the end of the year, and in some cases, well into January. When the gun hunters go home to watch football, the deer quickly return to daily patterns that involve taking in lots of calories. The rut is hard on them, especially the bucks which have significantly depleted their summer fat reserves and they will need to return themselves to good condition as soon as possible in order to survive the harsh winter conditions.

If you can find standing corn or any other easily available food source that is high in carbohydrates, you have found a gold mine for late season whitetails.

In my opinion, the bucks can be found in their most predictable patterns of the year at this time. They need high-carbohydrate foods; they need a lot of them and they will focus on food at this time even at the risk of exposing themselves more during daylight than at any other time of the year. If you can find where they are bedding and where they are feeding, you can easily capitalize on this situation by ambushing them in between the two places.

Glassing and Patterning

One of the best ways to discover their daily movement is by long-range observation. A good spotting scope or at least a good pair of binoculars is an important tool to monitor their movements. The deer will have to cross open areas to get to the feed in the evening and back to the bedding areas in the mornings. Often, the deer are feeding in open areas such as harvested crop fields, food plots and open timber with mast crops on the ground. Their visibility allows you to pinpoint where they are entering the fields. Spend some time with some good glass and you will have a good idea where to set up by learning where the bedding areas might be.

The feeding areas may change from day to day, but if there is food available, the buck will be back. Just because he is a no-show on any given evening doesn’t mean he has left the area. If there are does and small bucks still using the fields, he is nearby. There’s a good chance he has just chosen a different bedding area for that particular day so it pays to understand why bucks choose to bed where they do.

Bedding areas: Thermal cover and solar cover

Bucks will use two primary types of cover to bed in during the day. On sunny days, they will most likely be bedded on the south sides of slopes where they can take advantage of the sun’s warming rays. When the weather is bad, say cloudy and windy or snow is coming down, they are more likely to be found in the thickest snarliest cover around. Knowing where these two types of cover are found will help you choose the stand location where you will eventually waylay the buck.

They key of course is to get as close to the bedding area as you can without tipping them off to your presence. Too many hunters observe where the buck tends to enter the field and then set up a stand on the edge of the field right where he enters. That can work, but more often, the buck may hang up off the field edge for a while before entering. By finding the trail he uses from the bedding cover he has chosen for that day and setting up on the trail, you significantly increase your odds of getting a shot at the buck well before dark.

Dealing with Cold Conditions

The nastier the weather the more the deer move and the earlier in the day they move. That’s bad news and good news for the hunter. Days are short in the late season, so bad weather can influence deer to move earlier, which improves the odds that they are going to walk by your stand during legal shooting hours. That’s the good news.

Ground blinds help solve the issue of staying warm and secure, but they must be hidden well or the deer will not tolerate their presence.

The bad news is that the couple hours spent on stand at this time of the year can be downright brutal. Aching toes and shivering shoulders can make a hunter long for the early season. There are ways to beat the cold, including hand and foot warmers, body bags—which are like sleeping bags that allow you to unzip and ready for a shot with a minimum of noise and motion. Some of these even have heater elements built into them.

I have begun to use ground blinds more and more for late season hunting. They keep the wind off you and if you really want to add comfort you can add a small propane space heater such as the ones used for ice fishing. One drawback of ground blinds is the need to put them out early and hide them well by covering them with things that are natural to the area. A ground blind just plopped down in the open will make the deer uneasy, often for a week or more. You must hide them well in order to have success with them quickly.

Deer seek out any available food and will focus on it until it is gone. You must move quickly to get on these feeding patterns and capitalize before the deer change their daily routines.

So if you have an unfilled tag in your pocket, you might be tempted to watch a football game from the warm couch instead of getting out there where the opportunity to bag a big buck or at least secure some venison awaits. Once you are rewarded for toughing it out in the late season, you will look forward to the late season when the last minute bow bucks are vulnerable to the savvy but tough hunter.

5 Tips for All-Day Sits

5 Tips for All-Day Sits

Sitting all day during the peak of the rut can be very productive, but very boring. Here are five tips to make it more bearable and improve your odds of being ready when the big one shows up.

By Bernie Barringer

I’m a pretty high strung person. Sitting still for long periods has always come hard for me. Three hours is a long sit for me and four hours seems like an eternity. But I have forced myself into some long vigils because I know the payoff can be terrific. The axiom that you can’t kill them from the couch seems like a tired old saying but it rings true when it comes to hunting mature whitetails during the rut.

There is a window of opportunity for whitetail hunters when mature bucks are on their feet during the day and constantly on the move. If you can park yourself in a high-percentage spot to contact one of these cruising bucks, you will up your odds greatly. In most of whitetail country, where the rut is a frenzy of activity during early November, the window of opportunity we want to take advantage of is the 5-7 days of peak movement before the so-called lockdown phase. These few days have bucks in a tongue-wagging, hoof-pounding fury. They are on the move, following terrain contours, checking doe bedding and feeding areas, interacting with other bucks, working scrapes, and generally carousing. It’s a wonderful time to be in a treestand. If you are in the right spot.

  1. Confidence is Key

For me, having confidence in my spot is the most important factor in keeping me there. If I feel very strongly that I am in the right spot, and something good could happen at any moment, I can not only stay on stand, but stay focused and alert for much longer. Confidence is gained by knowing your surroundings. You can’t know you are in the right spot unless you know what the other spots are like. If you don’t know what is just over that ridge 200 yards away, how can you know that you are in the right spot? You have to spend the time on foot learning the area, looking at the directions of the tracks, analyzing the terrain contours, finding the bedding areas and the travel corridors. You don’t do that the day of the hunt, you need to do that with time for evidence of your presence to dissipate. Trail cameras can be key to this, but nothing works better than really burning the boot leather and walking it out.

2) Comfort is Critical

Some stands are more comfortable that others and my favorites are the ones like the Millennium that you have to fight to stay awake in. If I can’t truly relax it is going to be a really long day. I like a stand that you can fold the seat up and stand for a while with plenty of room on the platform. I tend to stand up and stretch for about ten minutes out of every hour.

It goes without saying that dressing properly is important. Dress in layers so you can take things off as the day warms up and put them back on as the day cools down in the evening. Fleece is a perfect under-layer when covered with a windproof outer layer. There are many fabrics and systems available today that make staying warm through varying daily temperatures easier than ever.

Another way to keep warm is to move. It is amazing how much an aggressive rattling sequence will warm up your arms and torso. Of course, seeing a buck come in to the rattling will make you instantly forget the cold, so the benefits are two-fold.


My buddy Chris Dunkin was the beneficiary of a long sit on stand. Something terrific can happen at any time but you have to be there to take advantage of it.

3) Don’t Let Boredom Break You Down

It took me a long time before I would read on stand. I always feared that I would get caught with a book in my hand instead of a bow when a buck appeared. But I now have a plan. I position my pack in such a way that I can carefully close the book and drop it into the open pack. Same is true for a phone or a tablet. I have a plan about how I will get my bow off the hanger and get it into position for a shot. I have gone through this plan many times in my mind so when a buck appears, I can do it without looking and without thinking about it so I can fully concentrate on the actions and demeanor of the deer. Usually, you will have some warning… you will hear a grunt or some crunching in the leaves. Get ready before you see the deer! It’s far better to be ready to shoot with a 6-pointer in front of you than to not be ready with a big one passing quickly through. Things can happen really fast, and it might be the only chance you have that day, or it might be the chance of a lifetime. Don’t blow it! Have a plan, know your plan, and practice your plan.

4) What’s for Lunch?

Having some food along serves several purposes. Food helps you fight off the cold, food helps you stave off boredom and food is fun. It’s nice to look forward to savoring a candy bar at some point during the day. I don’t want to overload with sugar, but it is good to have some high carb foods which produce energy and body heat. Granola bars are a good choice, so is trail mix. Jerky is easy to pack and keep, plus it keeps you occupied for longer. There are meals that heat up with chemical heaters so you can enjoy a hot can of soup or even hot chocolate of coffee. There is nothing like a can of hot tomato soup for lunch on a cold day in the treestand. I am so grateful to the people who came up with that idea.

5) Bladder Breaks

If you drink much you are going to have to relieve yourself. I do not believe that whitetail deer fear the smell of urine. In fact, I believe urine, especially fresh urine, is a great attractor for whitetails. I have literally tens of thousands of trail camera photos of deer taken over scrapes that have been anointed with my own fresh urine. Now having said that, I do not want fresh urine around my treestand, but I do not believe in most cases I need to carry a bottle to hold it. I generally will quietly climb down and move off a ways to urinate. If there is a scrape nearby, it’s the perfect place to make a deposit.

So when the bucks are making tracks at all hours of the day and night, you have to be out there to make it happen. Stay comfortable, be prepared and above all, choose a site in which you have a supreme degree of confidence. If I am in a spot where I believe there is a realistic chance that a mature buck might show up at any moment, I can sit there for a long, long time. Find a spot like that and you can too.

Top 5 DIY Rut Hunts

Top 5 DIY Rut Hunts

By Bernie Barringer

As a travelling DIY hunter, I am always in search of the next mature buck, no matter where he lives. That has taken me to several states all through the hunting season, from opening day till the final days of the season in a state far from home. But there is one thing for sure, you will find me in one of a handful of places during the first two weeks of November.

Because you are reading this magazine, I do not have to explain the lure of the rut to both hunter and hunted. Sitting in a great spot with confidence boiling over, knowing that at any moment, a rut crazed buck may trot right up to me with tongue hanging out, is a heart-quickening passion that I don’t expect to be fully satiated at any point in the foreseeable future.

I could easily list two dozen great places to spend your hard-earned vacation during Sweet November, but I have narrowed it down to my top five in no particular order. If you choose one of these areas, you may just run into me out there somewhere during November. I’ll be the guy with the glassy look in his eye, hustling towards the next rendezvous with destiny; acting like the clock is ticking way too fast on that special time of the year. Because it is.

Central North Dakota

This would not be on the top five-list of very many whitetail hunters, but that’s one of the things that makes it so good. There are tens of thousands of acres of public hunting land along each side of the Missouri River system from The Sakakawea dam to Bismarck. I have literally hunted it hard for an entire week without seeing another bowhunter.

Oh, there are other hunters out and about, you will recognize them by the shotguns and the long pheasant tail feathers poking out of their vest pockets. The whitetail habitat is scattered, but once you find it, you will be surprised at the number and quality of bucks that use it.

Don’t take a climbing stand. The tree you want to be in is likely to be a 200-year-old cottonwood as big around as a VW or a snarly willow. Ladders and ground blinds will give you more options. Deer numbers are low, but slowly recovering after some bouts with disease and a couple rough winters. When the population is back I’ll be back there too. Tags are available over the counter.

Northern Missouri

The northern two tiers of counties along Iowa’s border offer a mixed bag of positives and negatives. There is abundant public land available; the Missouri Dept. of Conservation takes good care of it, planting food plots and managing it well. Disease has knocked the population down recently, but good bucks are still available.  You can camp for free in the parking lots of the various hunting areas, in fact some have pit toilets, campfire rings and picnic tables. Good bucks are available, with a realistic chance to see a real eye popper, but just about everyone knows about it.

The areas near the access points get hunted hard, and there are enough hard-working hunters willing to go the extra mile that even the back-in hollows and ridges see some foot traffic and the occasional treestand. But the bucks are there and they are found in numbers and size enough to make it worthwhile to elbow yourself right in with the rest.

A couple times to avoid are the late-October to early-November youth rifle season which adds a lot of pressure to the public areas, and the opening day of rifle season which usually falls just after the middle of the month. Over-the-counter tags are a bargain at $250, which allows you to shoot two deer and two turkeys. (There’s talk lately about raising nonresident tag fees).

Southeast Kansas

Just a quick look through the Boone & Crockett record book will tell you all you need to know about this area. It’s world class when it comes to producing top end bucks. While most of the other areas in my top five offer a realistic chance to shoot a mature buck better than you can probably shoot at home, this area offers you a chance to find the photo of a Booner on your scouting camera SD card.

There is a good representation of public hunting land, but even better, there is a lot of land enrolled in the Walk in Hunting Access (WIHA) program. It’s surprising the quality of land that local farmers have opened to public hunting, and it doesn’t get the hunting pressure that’s found on state or federal public land. You must apply for a deer tag in Kansas, but you will draw every other year, and maybe the first year.

Southern Iowa

I have been lucky in Iowa. I have drawn an archery tag for the top zones with only two preference points five straight times. I have hunted Iowa every third year since I started applying. Many hunters wait longer, but three points will almost guarantee you a tag. Iowa is land of the giants and there’s a long line to take part in the rut there.

The southern portion of the state separated by interstate 80 is where the big bucks are consistently found. There are pockets all over the state that produce world-class whitetails, notably the northeast corner of the state, but for my money, I want to be south of I-80 and most of the time, east of I-35. Because the state limits the number of nonresident tags to 6,000 the public land is not by any means overrun with nonresident hunters.

You will find some hunting pressure from both resident and nonresident hunters on the state and federal public land. The state land is often broken up into small parcels, but the Federal land mostly surrounds the large reservoirs and the banks of the Mississippi River. If you do your research, are willing to grind out some long walks, and have some backup areas, you can put yourself in position to take home a buck that will make your in-laws do a double take when they see it on your wall. Iowa is proud of their deer hunting and the license fees show it. With all fees including preference points, it will set you back $650-$750 all told.

Southeast Ohio

Here’s another surprise to many people. There are huge acreages of public hunting land in Southeast Ohio. Some of the forests are large enough that few people ever see the interior of them despite the fact that hunting pressure can be very high. That may lead you to believe that the biggest bucks are found miles from the road.

That would be only partially true, but your best bet may be to get along the edges of the public land where it meets the crop fields. This may require a long walk if you cannot find a landowner to give you permission to cross their fence. But it will be worth it. This part of Ohio consistently produces numbers of Pope & Young bucks and enough Booners to keep you on the edge of your seat during long hours in the treestand. Tags are available over the counter at license vendors for only $179.

As I mentioned earlier, this is by no means a complete list, but if you are considering an out-of-state DIY hunt, these five are excellent starting points.

3 Dynamite Decoy Set Ups for the Rut

3 Dynamite Decoy Set Ups for the Rut

By Bernie Barringer

Many hunters have a negative view of using a decoy in their deer hunting. There are a couple reasons this is the case: It’s a lot of extra work to haul it to your hunting area and set it up. Many people have used decoys and had a negative response from deer while using them.

I was once one of those hunters, but I now use a decoy quite a few times each year, especially during the rut. So I suppose my first task is to convince you that using decoys are worth the extra effort and trouble. Here are four quick reasons I am a firm believer in the use of the right decoys in the right places at the right time. First, a decoy can bring a buck across a field that may be well out of range. Secondly, a decoy will focus the attention of the buck away from the hunter. This is huge advantage when calling or rattling. Third, a deer already in the field may give a buck the confidence it needs to enter the field before dark. And fourth, a decoy can be a great tool to position a deer for a shot.

Each of the three decoy setups I am about to describe have been refined by my experience to take advantage of those four factors. Each of these setups uses a buck decoy, and two of them include a doe decoy with the buck. I have had too many bad experiences with doe decoys alone, so I never use a doe decoy unless it is positioned with a buck decoy. Bucks and does alike are alarmed by stationary doe decoys, but when a resident doe comes across a doe (the decoy) who will not communicate or acknowledge her presence, it freaks her out. The encounter usually becomes a foot-stomping, snorting, tail-flagging affair within a few moments of the encounter. This puts the other deer in the area on alert.

The vast majority of times I use a decoy setup will be at the edge of a field or clearing of some sort. So here are the three decoy set-ups I use the most and the explanations of why I believe they work so well.

The One-Horned Wonder

I cannot take credit for the idea of using a buck decoy with only one antler, but I have been using it for 20-plus years and it has been a game changer for me. I hate to use the word “always” but in that two decades of using this method, I have never had a buck that didn’t approach the decoy from the side missing the antler. A buck approaching this decoy moves towards its weakness, which is a big advantage in causing the buck to turn broadside for a shot.

Prior to using a decoy with one antler, bucks would almost always begin to circle downwind of the decoy. Small bucks such as yearlings who are curious about the decoy may still circle downwind at a distance, but if they decide to close in, they too usually work around to the side without the antler before approaching.

I position the decoy so he is looking towards the bottom of my treestand. Larger bucks—three years and older—will normally bristle up at the sight of the decoy and walk stiff-legged towards the buck’s head, this turns their attention away from you so you can draw your bow, and puts them broadside within bow range. Perfect.

About to Mount

This ruse involves the use of a doe decoy and a buck decoy right behind her. I put him as close as I can get him to the doe, and I like a buck decoy that’s large enough to put his head on top of her rump which creates the illusion that he is about to mount her. Any mature buck who sees this cannot resist coming in hard and fast. In fact, most of the times I have had a buck actually attack the buck decoy involved this particular setup.

When setting this up, keep in mind that an approaching buck is coming in with the objective of breaking up the couple. He most likely will approach towards the space between the deer. I have seen them walk up and use their antlers to nudge the buck decoy in the shoulder or the neck. In one case, a younger buck simply tried shoulder the buck decoy off to the side and get between the two to mount the doe.

I generally set the decoys up quartering towards me with the wind at their back if possible. Bucks that tend to circle around the decoys to get a sniff will be moving towards your position, but with their full attention focused away from you and on the decoy. It’s hard to imagine a better position to be in for a bowhunter.

Since mature bucks typically run right up to this setup, you’ll need to be ready to get a shot off quickly. If they do not contact the decoy early in the encounter, they begin to circle and quickly become alarmed if there is no acknowledgement of their presence. While this fake-out really brings them running, it is the quickest one to break down when the buck figures out something is wrong. Usually the first indication that something is wrong takes place when they get downwind of the decoys and their nose isn’t confirming what their eyes are seeing.  Take your first shot opportunity.

The Pin-Down

I came up with the idea for this setup because I had seen the real thing so often. When a doe is about ready to breed, a buck will often try to push her out into an open area where he can keep an eye on her and more easily defend her from other bucks. That’s why you see bucks standing with does out in the middle of open fields in farm country during the peak of the rut. When the doe lies down to rest, he will stand there for long periods just staring at her.

The doe’s nature is to lie down beside something such as a grassy fencerow, a brushpile or the edge of the field. This habit makes the edge of a field the perfect scenario for setting up this simulation. I use a decoy without legs so she sits nicely on the ground in the grass, then position the buck decoy about ten yards from her. I want the buck within 30 yards of my position so I am offered a nice easy shot.

Smaller bucks seem to be leary of this frame-up and will mostly circle the area at a distance. Sometimes they will be bold enough to approach either the doe or the buck and stretch out their neck for a sniff, but it seems like they are mostly satisfied with looking it over for a while before leaving.

Larger bucks will approach the buck decoy much the same way as they do the One-Horned Wonder. For this reason I use only one antler to help position the buck. They tend to focus their attention on the buck decoy and pay little attention to the doe decoy. I suppose they instinctively know they have to deal with the buck to get to the doe. Of course, if it’s a shooter buck, I never let them get a chance to seal the deal so I do not really know how this scenario would play out to the end.

I love calling and rattling over this phony breeding scenario. Once a buck comes to the call, he sees the decoys and forgets all about the source of the sound. Stop calling the moment his eyes lock onto the decoy. He’s all yours if you want him, just take the first available broadside shot.

If you are a skeptic about decoying deer, these three decoy setups will change your mind. Experiment on your own with additional ideas. I am still learning as I go, and I suspect I will continue to tweak my decoy techniques in the future. I expect to shoot a big buck over a decoy every year, and I am successful doing so just often enough to keep me doing it. Once you have had a big buck walk within range all bristled up and breathing hard, you will be as addicted to using them as I am.

ODOR CONTROL

A whitetail buck trusts his eyes, but he lives or dies by his nose. If he smells human scent on your decoy, your opportunity for a shot is over. Same is true if the decoy smells like your garage or the back of your truck. I use two methods of overcoming the deer’s tendency to circle downwind of a decoy. Number one, I spray the decoy down with Scent Killer to removed foreign odors. Secondly, I add some scent. Two things I have done with success are hanging a key wick soaked in deer urine and attaching a tarsal gland to the decoy. I use a string to attach either one to the tail of the deer or hang it around the neck. Either seems to work equally well and may be just enough to put the buck at ease.

I often use a drag rag soaked in doe-in-heat lure as I walk to the stand site, then simply attach the drag rag to the tail of the decoy when I arrive.

POSTURE & MOVEMENT

One of the biggest drawbacks to presenting a convincing illusion is the lack of movement or action in the decoys. One way to overcome this is to position the tail at half-mast. This seems to create the ruse of action. If your decoy allows, position the ears in an aggressive attitude, Or face one forward and the other backwards, which is another way to create illusion of action.

Yet another way to create actual movement is to hang something on the rear of the decoy near or on the tail. You don’t want something that will flap around in the wind and look unnatural; you just need the slightest movement to be convincing. A key-wick with scent, a small piece of white cloth or even a square of toilet paper that moves subtly in the breeze is enough. Go with the low-key approach, less is better when it comes to movement. Deer move in very predictable ways and unnatural movement is worse than no movement at all.

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.