Bowhunting Success Starts in the Bow Shop
Author: Eddie Webb, Real Deal Outdoors
Thoughts for success in the field.
So much time and effort go into chasing the mature whitetails, only to get one short window of opportunity. Let’s map out a few keys to success that are easily overlooked.
Accessing land is the first step in any pursuit, which can be a challenge. Once you have land to hunt, it’s time to put the boots on the ground. Hours of scouting, planning, mapping, running cameras, selecting stand locations, and hanging stands. are just part of the process. Now, we must deal with wind, weather, moon phases, and many other obstacles that can always affect the hunt. Let’s be honest, the best hunters put in the work that probably months before they ever take their weapon into the woods.
When spending months of prepping and planning, one can easily overlook their equipment. When the short window of opportunity finally presents itself on that buck of a lifetime, a well-tuned bow gives you the confidence needed to make the shot. For the past several years, hunters that frequent Real Deal Outdoors have had a lot of success, including FIVE world-class bucks in 2021 over 200 inches.
When I look at what they all had in common it’s a quality pro shop that makes sure their equipment is tuned and ready for the season ahead. It doesn’t matter what pro shop you use but find one you have confidence in and invest in your equipment and hunt. Properly tuned equipment, proper form, and practice will increase your odds at the moment of truth.
Many archers can set up their bow by installing arrow rests, sights, quivers, and assembling arrows. Tuning the bow starts with paper tuning as we look for the sweet spot, a perfect bullet hole! However, when it’s time to dial in your sights with broadheads, an improperly tuned bow will throw arrows all over the place.
So much more goes into that perfect tune; for instance, do you have the right spine arrow, does the bow have cam lean is the tiller correct? That’s just a few things that need to be looked at on the bow before you start adjusting your sights or arrow rest. Now let’s think about the sight you hit the orange aiming dot standing in the yard on flat ground. What some may not consider is if your 2nd and 3rd axis are off you miss that same dot by as much as a foot if you’re in a tree shooting at 35-45 degrees up or downhill.
The debate over expendables vs. fixed-blade broadheads may never cease but why is there a debate in the first place? Both broadheads serve a purpose and both will kill deer when the arrow finds its mark, Expandable are only designed if you have the right kinetic energy coming out of your setup. They will not do their job if you do not have enough kinetic energy to push them through a deer. Going to your local archery pro shop will help you find the correct draw weight, arrow spine and weight to help you find the best broadhead for your setup.
Fixed broadheads will not fly correctly if the wrong arrow was selected and or the bow is not perfectly tuned. This is where cam lean will play a huge factor. Many times, I will adjust the cam to get the perfect arrow flight, not move the rest.
My best tip for success is to find yourself a local pro shop that you have confidence in and that takes the extra time to help you fine-tune your bow and your form. There are a lot of good ones and a few bad ones, but once you find a good one, support them so they will always be there when you need them.
Never Mess with Muskox Bulls in the Rut!
Author: Dennis Dunn
When I invited my son, Bryant, to join me for the last week of August 2022, on a “do-it-ourselves,” Alaskan caribou hunt, I could never have guessed that the biggest excitement of our time together would revolve around a bull muskox, rather than a bull caribou!
Thanks to a friendly airboat transporter, we were able to pitch our camp on the far side of the Sag River, opposite the haul road, and about 40 miles south of Prudhoe Bay. While setting up our tents near the edge of the bluff above the river, we noticed a few stray caribou here and there — as well as three muskoxen out on the river plain below us. We’d been told we might see some, but that there would be no open season on them until 2023. Several days of hiking and glassing turned up a few more muskoxen in different places, but no mature caribou bulls worthy of hanging on a wall.
The fourth day, however, produced an adrenaline rush for me that I will never forget — neither in this life nor the next. I was sitting that afternoon on the edge of a little draw, upslope about 200 yards from the edge of the river plain. I suddenly heard the sound of hooves on gravel directly underneath me, and I quickly realized a muskox bull was headed straight up the little game trail I was seated right at the top of. Having my cell phone handy in an open jacket pocket, I managed to snap a picture of the beast as he reached a point just five or six yards below my still-sedentary posterior. The click of the camera lens turned him around, and — after spending about 15 seconds sparring with some nearby willow branches, much like a caribou bull in the velvet — he moseyed back down the trail, then turned and started walking further up the little canyon.
The thought immediately struck me that I might be able to get some really great video of the bull, if I kept out of sight and quickly scurried after him, being careful to stay out of sight until I figured I was probably more or less right above him again. My calculation proved to be on the money, but I’d NOT imagined he might head directly up the steep 45-degree slope to meet me! Only steps away from the edge of the bluff, I had just pushed the video record-button, when suddenly the big fellow popped up over the top, right in front of me — no more than 10 or 12 feet away. The camera was rolling, so to speak, but all of a sudden I was no longer focused on filming my “quarry.” I was focused like a laser beam on reviewing what options might be available to me, in the event of a full-on charge.
Escaping death or serious injury was now foremost on my mind. If the charge did come, I knew that running straight away from him out into the flat, wide-open tundra would very likely result in an ugly outcome. The thought occurred to me that, since his rear hooves were still below the edge of the bluff on the steep gravelly slope he had just ascended, the bull would probably not be able to launch his charge quite as quickly as if all four hooves had been resting on the same level terrain I was standing on. Hoping to defuse the situation, I made my best imitation of a dog bark. Showing no reaction whatsoever, the animal just stood there glowering at me. I thought of backing away from him slowly but then realized that my only real escape route — catapulting myself off the bluff, by shooting just past the side of his oncoming head — would no longer be a possibility. I realized I was on the horns of a dilemma, but the last thing I wanted to be on was the horns of an enraged muskox.
Since the dog bark had left my antagonist unimpressed and unwilling to turn around, I waved my arms over my head and let out as loud a yell as I could muster. With that, the bull lowered his head, and the charge was on. I believe he tried to hook me with his horns as I sailed past him into the void, but I felt nothing — other than a huge sense of relief as I landed about 30 feet below, lost my balance, and tumbled the rest of the way to the bottom of the ravine. Totally unhurt (by God’s Almighty grace), I popped to my feet and turned to look up at him. There he stood, fully silhouetted against the sky, staring down at me, just daring me to come to mess with him again.
As the reader can imagine, he didn’t need to teach me a second lesson. The muskox mating season was in full swing, and I had just been reminded that this was precisely the time for it. Later that evening, as my son and I were preparing and enjoying a Mountain House dinner outside our tent, two muskox bulls showed up and put on a fully half-hour-long rutting spectacle just 250 yards away. There was no doubt in my mind that one of the two protagonists was the one I’d become acquainted with earlier that day.
Charging each other again and again, the pair put on a display of rutting violence and ferocity exceeding anything either of us had ever witnessed before — even from the other horned or antlered species of North American big game. Needless to say, my cellphone video captured many segments of that awesome drama. Such film footage will forever remind me of the lesson I almost had to learn “the hard way.”
Baiting: Tools of the Trade from a Master Deer Baiter
Author: Ross Mellinger
The world we live in has become so filled with hate and judgment that it seems that truly nothing is off-limits anymore. The level of butthurt over success in anything is at an all-time high. People as individuals and others as part of platforms will stop at nothing to dissect a winner’s success, and furthermore, find some way to publicly shame or otherwise piss and moan about the level of that particular success versus their own inability to achieve the same themselves. The hunting world is no different. However, I’m going to break it down as nobody has before, so let’s dive right into it.
The greatest debate I see in the world of whitetail hunting is that of “Baiting.” I often times hunt using feed, but I certainly have no issue with those that don’t either. I also have my theories as to why there is so much hate towards those that use feed as a tool to hunt. Here is where this is likely to upset a lot of non-feeding hunters, but if those of you are man enough to fuss and gripe about it behind a keyboard or smartphone, then you can be man enough to listen to an intelligent counter-argument. Aside from the logical and obvious legal arguments in states where it is, my theories fall into three main categories….hear me out. If you complain about “Baiting” and are not legitimately a purist or naturalist of the sport, then you likely fall into AT LEAST one of the three following categories: 1) You’re just flat-out lazy. There, I said it!!! Just rip that band-aid right off!!! 2) You’re too cheap to spend the money, but have no problem pissing away your money on life’s other frivolous things such as alcohol, tobacco, video games, tattoos, fancy TVs, high-dollar clothing, restaurants, concerts, or anything else of life’s “Luxuries.” 3) You lack true dedication to a program such as feeding or “Baiting” to give it the attention to detail and devotion that it requires to be effective. Now many of you non-believers have just finished that last sentence and become immediately defensive or angry. Again, bear with me here, and let’s dive into this with a bit more detailed microscope.
I’m going to lay out my feeding/baiting regimen before we go any further, just so you have a solid understanding of where I come from in my argument. I’m not here to say that my approach is any better than anyone else’s, but before you begin to digest the magnitude of this, I know I am an extremist on the topic. Not everyone will experience the level of funding or dedication as me. I understand that. I target specifically mature animals that are known on a particular farm or region and this allows me to study and take inventory all year round. Having said that, my wife and I have taken a combined 29 Pope & Young whitetails in the last 10 years alone, and continue to do it primarily in a state that isn’t really recognized for that level of consistency. We aren’t special and we aren’t even what I consider “Gold standard” whitetail hunters, but we certainly have shared some success with what we do. I feed between 18-25 tons of feed per year and have done so for the majority of my adult life. I am 46 years old now. You read that correctly….18-25 TONS!!!! I also drop annually an additional 1500-2000 pounds of minerals. I also till and seed between 4-8 acres of food plots, but I also don’t ever hunt them anymore either. They are done solely for sanctuary reasons. Many of you will read that in disbelief. Yep, I DO NOT hunt my food plots. It’s a lot of work knowing I will NEVER hunt them each year. All this requires roughly 25 trail cameras to monitor this activity. It is a YEAR ROUND program, not just for a couple of weeks in the Fall of the year. I burn nearly all of my vacation from work dedicated to this as well as the actual hunting part of things. I sacrifice nearly every weekend as well to ensure it all gets done. I study maps weekly on identifying new areas and the potential access to minimize human intrusion. I access each spot ONLY between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm…EXCLUSIVELY….even in the Summer heat! After driving the side x side a reasonable distance, I physically carry the 100-pound feed bags to each site the last 50-100 yards of each setup – oftentimes several bags at once (whatever I feel will adequately last a 7-day period there, based on known activity). If it requires 500 pounds at one site, then that’s 500 pounds I physically put on my shoulders and carry in, bag after bag after bag….only after I previously loaded it by hand the first time into the side x side. I may do this for 6-10 different sites at a time on 3-5 different farms. Most of us can adequately do the math there to know that this is no easy task…and because of my level of commitment to it, it isn’t cheap either. A reasonable man can also see that it isn’t a hobby or fad, but rather a dedication to a lifestyle. In the end, I still have to know where to run my sites and how to access them while playing the wind and how to hang my stands in the right spot. It also allows me to know which deer in the area are mature and which are not and furthermore take inventory of new deer that move into or out of the areas. This program specifically is how I can firmly and legitimately make my claims to the aforementioned three main theories, as most of you will see just how involved my program is. Now, sit tight…I’m just getting started.
I hear the cries all the time, “That’s not REAL hunting!” That couldn’t be further from the truth, folks! Some of the world’s greatest apex predators use the same ambush-style method at known feeding areas as the preferred way to hunt. Do you know why they do??? BECAUSE IT WORKS!!! Think I’m wrong? Let’s examine how a coyote searches for prey. Bobcats? Yep…them too. Mountain lions? Grizzlies? Gators? You betcha! The ambush/feeding method has been around since the beginning of time. Let’s look at why baiting is no different than any other tool in a hunter’s bag of tricks. I use the term “tool” because that is EXACTLY what it is, and here is why I am correct:
Do you hunt from a treestand? It’s a tool, yet we don’t hear anyone fussing about that now, do we? Why do we hunt from a treestand??? Because it gives us an advantage over our prey. It gives us the upper hand as the predator.
Do you use a rifle with a scope? It too is a tool meant exclusively to give us an advantage…yet nobody cries over that as well. It’s a tool meant solely to give us the upper hand over our targeted animal.
Oh….and you use trail cameras? I have one word for you…..TOOL!
How about that side x side or 4-wheeler that’s sitting in your garage? Do you really expect me to believe that’s for recreation or yard work purposes only or for your kids or grandkids to ride around on the lawn? Listen carefully here when I say this…..TOOL!!!!
In my opinion, the baiting tool is an even more fair and more sincere approach than all the previously mentioned technologies because it requires WORK in addition to funding. I think we can all agree that work ethic is something this generation oftentimes lacks on many levels. This argument is no different.
I’ve seen time and time again that some of the world’s most successful hunters, regardless of their preferred style or method, were successful in life looooooong before we dissected and examined their way of hunting. Do you know why that’s the case? It’s all because of that same level of commitment, work, and financial dedication to be great at their craft. They worked a little harder…often times ALOT harder. They spent more money and time on that craft or job than their competitors did. In a nutshell, THEY JUST WANTED IT MORE!!! It’s that same level of success in life that fuels the hate fire in non-hunting-related activities, just as it doesn’t in this baiting topic. This world has become just a bunch of jealous haters that can’t stand the success of others.
When you look at it in its entirety, everyone has a platform and foundation for their own argument on the topic. However, in the end, it’s all about preference and dedication, whether it be financial or physical dedication. Hell, it’s even the PREFERRED method in bear hunting every Spring, yet here we are fussing daily on social media about feeding or baiting whitetail deer. I don’t even try to hide it. I’m proud of the work I put in. I know that with every bloody arrow, much sweat and backache have come long before the smile and success. I earned it. Luck had very little, if any, to do with it.
I can go on and on and on – forever arguing over the topic of tools, ie: scent-blocking clothing, fancy engineered broadheads, ground blinds, mapping apps for cell phones, etc. Let’s also not forget about the engineering marvels of our archery, crossbow, and firearms themselves! Now, ask yourself this….tell me which of those above-listed items brings out the hate and butthurt of social media hunters more than the topic of “Baiting.” Which one of those items or topics also requires the level of work and dedication that of a premier year-round feeding program? Now….having read all this, let’s be honest here…TRULY HONEST. If you are still upset that folks such as me and others bait and you don’t or won’t, which of the three aforementioned categories do YOU fall under???
Late-October is prime time to hunt scrapes and rubs
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.
Mississippi River Whitetails
The “Big Muddy” is producing big whitetails and there’s plenty of public land to hunt them.
By Bernie Barringer, photos by Bernie Barringer and Zach Ferenbaugh
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?
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.
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.
Blood Trailing Arrowed Bears
Why it’s different than blood trailing deer
By Bernie Barringer
My 16-year-old daughter Crystal was sitting in a treestand just below me and to my left. I saw a black spot in the bush behind the bait and tried to tap her on the shoulder to warn her, but she was leaning forward, a 20-guage youth model shotgun loaded with slugs across her lap. I couldn’t reach her so I whispered “bear coming!” But when I looked back up, the black spot was gone.
Just 15 minutes later, the black spot was back and she saw it too. Another 15 minutes elapsed before a bear was standing at the bait, cautiously looking around. Eventually he turned broadside and Crystal calmly sent a slug though the heart of her first bear. It disappeared, but the noise of its running soon ceased. We got down and walked along the ample blood trail through the thick underbrush to the bear, making comments about the incredible amount of blood we were seeing. When we arrived, we were amazed to see that our pantlegs were soaked in blood from the knees down. A shotgun slug through the heart can really make a mess.
If only all blood trails were so easy. But they are not. Certainly, an arrow through the middle of the heart can create the same scenario, I’ve seen it myself. But like most bowhunters, you and I probably aren’t aiming for the heart, we are aiming for the sure thing of a double-lung shot.
There are a lot of variables that go into blood trailing bears, but here are some really critical ones: Was there an exit wound and was that exit wound low on the body? Is the arrow still in the bear? Did the bear run away or just walk away? Is the diaphragm punctured? Did you hear a death moan? These are all important clues that will help you as you follow a blood trail to a dead bear.
Most bears do not go far compared to deer. Shoot a buck through both lungs and he’ll run full speed until he falls over, usually about 150 yards. Shoot a bear through both lungs and he’ll probably run 30-40 yards before stopping to see what happened to him. He may die right there, or he may just start walking. Walking causes them to use less oxygen so they can live much longer than a bear which just runs until it gets light-headed and falls over.
I once shot a 500-pound bear which just walked away and kept walking. We followed a blood trail for more than 400 yards, and by that time I was convinced that I had misjudged where my shot hit the bear. But when we finally recovered the bear, it was exactly as I thought, I had punctured the diaphragm and clipped the back of the nearside lung, the front of the off-side lung and even nicked the heart. But because this bear did not require much oxygen on his 400-yard stroll, he was able to live a lot longer than a bear that would have run hard.
I love death moans, not because I like the eerie sound, but because it offers me two important facts that really help in recovery: I know the bear is dead, and I know the direction and approximate distance of the bear. I will still follow the blood trail to the bear in most every case because just walking up to the body of a dead bear in the thick bush is normally a lot harder than it sounds.
To digress a moment, someday I guess I should do a column on death moans and try to learn some scientific evidence for what causes them, but for now, I will tell you that I’ve killed 30 bears with a bow and I believe I have heard the death moan 8 or 9 times. At this point I cannot explain why some bears do it and some do not.
In addition to the 30 bears I have killed, I have been in on the recovery of about 50 more so I have followed a lot of blood trails. I can tell you this without flinching, if you have a low wound where the arrow exited the bear’s body, your chance of finding an easy to follow blood trail is probably 10 times better than if the arrow is still in the bear with no exit wound. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: I’ll take two small holes in a bear over one big hole any time.
Keep this in mind when you are choosing your shot angles. I can think of two times when I executed a perfect double-lung shot on a bear which I was not able to recover, and both times it was because the arrow hit the off side leg bone or shoulder blade and did not exit.
Okay enough on that. Let’s assume you have blood trailed a few deer and compare what to look for in trailing a bear; much of which is quite a bit different than a deer. You’ve hit a bear and you’re on the blood trail; here’s what to look for.
A bear that’s shot through both lungs will have blood on both sides of the trail and also blood in the trail which is coming from the nose and mouth. Arrowed bears may not start out on an established bear trail, but any bear that still has his wits about him after about 15 seconds will be on a bear trail most every time. Here’s a really important image to keep in mind: When looking for blood on the sides, keep in mind that a bear’s fur is much like a paintbrush. As he walked through the brush, his body is moving aside the leaves and branches, and his fur is painting the undersides of the leaves as they are being brushed aside. This is an important source of information that many people miss.
That fur will also be painting the branches and stalks even if no blood is getting to the ground. Another place you will find this blood “painting” is when a bear crosses a downed log. I can think of a couple times I was able to find a bear even after the blood trail had ended; I circled the area, looking at every downed tree and log I could find and eventually found that the bear had doubled back, leaving a small streak of blood from his chest hair as he stepped over a log.
One drop of blood can lead to a bear, so don’t give up. I really prefer to trail with a partner who can stay at the last blood I found so I have a reference point. Too many cooks spoil the soup, and if there is a crowd, which there too often is, I ask them all to stay behind the person marking last blood. It’s also a good idea to mark the trail every so often to help you get a general line of travel, this is particularly true at night. Toilet paper works great for this because it is biodegradable. Please do not litter the woods with plastic flagging.
Be diligent in not getting too far away from last blood, move slowly and carefully and keep in mind that you’re not trailing a deer so you should be looking for different clues, and you’ll find your bear if it’s a dead bear. And if it’s not, go home and practice shooting until you have confidence that you can make a perfect double-lung shot at the next opportunity.
10 Things you didn’t know about mosquitoes
Did you know that mosquitoes like beer drinkers and have a favorite color? Here are ten things I’ll bet you didn’t know.
By Bernie Barringer
Mosquitoes are some of the most annoying creatures on Earth. There are billions of them and they turn up where you least like them, which is pretty much everywhere they are found. Campers, fishermen and hunters spurn them as pests, but in some cases they can be much more than that by carrying deadly viruses. Next time you are sitting around the campfire, you can turn these pesky vermin into an interesting conversation by reciting these little-known facts about what many people jokingly refer to as their state bird.
Most mosquitoes are vegetarians. Some varieties never bite mammals at all; they prefer sugars found in plants. Of those subspecies that do bite, only the females suck your blood. They need the proteins found in blood to nurture their eggs to maturity. So only a relatively small proportion of the overall population are blood suckers. But it’s enough.
There are 3,500 varieties of mosquitoes worldwide. More than 150 have been identified in the United States. About 650 varieties have been found in Brazil. A relatively small number of these species are blood suckers.
Mosquitoes like beer drinkers. Human skin and breath emit hundreds of chemical compounds and many of them attract mosquitoes. But there’s one that has been shown to attract the pests more than any other. A study done in Africa on malaria-carrying mosquitoes found that they landed on people who drank beer far more often than on those who did not. Maybe it’s something in the blood.
They also like pregnant women. Pregnant women produce more carbon dioxide which attracts mosquitoes, plus the body temperature of pregnant women is slightly higher. This extra warmth has been shown to be an attractor.
They transmit at least five different diseases. Malaria is the most well known of mosquito-borne diseases, but cases of West Nile Virus are growing and may be the most dangerous in North America. The Zika virus is a growing threat that may overtake Malaria as the mosquitoes’ most threatening danger. Dengue fever is another disease transmitted by mosquitoes, as are yellow fever and encephalitis.
Mosquitoes hibernate. Most of the mosquitoes that survive the winter did so as eggs in the muddy bottom of some pond, but adult mosquitoes also can survive the winter if they can find a place to keep from freezing. Some caves, even in Minnesota, harbor millions of hibernating mosquitoes.
They have a favorite color. Well sort of. Studies have shown that some colors of clothing, especially black, red and dark blue, attracted more mosquitoes. Because they home in on heat, some of the colors may be attractive because they are darker and collect more heat than light colored clothing. Mosquitoes are also attracted to movement. The researchers also theorized that the mosquitoes could better sense the movement of darker colors.
They have a set of pumps in their head. The little blood suckers do their dirty deed by inserting a bundle of microneedles (the entire bundle is about the width of a human hair) into the skin. They use two tiny pumps inside their head to extract the blood through those needles.
They do not explode, sorry. Contrary to popular myth, you can’t make a mosquito explode by trapping its needle in your body. You’ve probably heard that by flexing your muscle you can keep them from pulling out and the blood just fills them up until they pop.
Nope. They have a nerve in their abdomen that triggers the pumps in their head to stop filling once their abdomen becomes engorged. Researchers were able to sever this tiny nerve in some individuals and those little suckers did overfill and explode. No doubt a satisfying moment.
You are allergic to their saliva. When they first insert their proboscis into your skin, they spit into you. Their saliva has an anticoagulant that keeps the blood from clotting while they suck it up. Compounds in this saliva trigger a release of histamine, which is part of your body’s defense system against allergies. This is what causes the swelling and itching.
The two most effective substances that repel mosquitoes are N,N-Diethyl-Meta-Toluamide, AKA DEET, and Permethrin. DEET is found in most mosquito repellent sprays, and Permethrin has been found to repel mosquitoes from clothes, tents and other fabrics even after going through the washing machine. Permethrin is also the active ingredient in the pads on a ThermaCELL, one of the most effective mosquito repellant devices available.
Now that you have a PhD in bloodsucking insect science, it may disappoint you to know there is still not much you can do about the pesky micro-critters. But at least you know more about mosquitoes than everyone else around the campfire.
Bowhunters: Should you hunt with your quiver attached?
Quiver on or quiver off? By Bernie Barringer
The issue of shooting a bow with a quiver and arrows attached is a debate that has been hashed out over and over on social media and around campfires where ever bowhunters are found. Many say it comes down to personal preference, but I disagree. The right option for you should be based on your hunting style and the types of pursuit you engage in.
If you are exclusively a treestand or ground blind hunter, the ability to detach a quiver from your bow is a great option. You can place the extra arrows within reach because you know right where you’ll be and where they’ll be. You’re unlikely to get a follow up shot in these situations, but you just never know.
If you’re calling elk, spot and stalk hunting mule deer, pronghorn, bears or whitetails, the need to detach a quiver before shooting can be a significant hindrance. Shot opportunities often come quickly, and the motion, noise and time it takes to remove a quiver is going to cost you some shot opportunities, and maybe the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s not worth it.
Watch the video below where I discuss the options available and this will help you choose which option is best for you.
I’m giving away my Mathews bow and you could be the winner
I’m trying to grow my YouTube channel so I am giving away my bow to get new subscribers! Watch this short video for an explanation of how to get multiple entries into the drawing. Here’s the link to enter.
Whitetail.com Celebrates the Hunt Through Dedicated Hunting Social Media
Even at age 57, I frequent social media. Yeah, I’m one of those. While I don’t care for the triviality of some of its content, it’s been a powerful way for me to build and maintain an outdoor brand, as well as enjoy the inherent eye candy borne of the whitetail deer and other game animals. I’m an outdoorsman and, more specifically, a certified “deer on the brain” hunter – and the truth is, there are millions of people across North America who share my obsession.
About those millions; the approximately 19-million hunters are but a drop in the bucket compared to the quarter-billion Americans using social media today. Nonetheless, the hunting demographic represents a viable and passionate one.
The fact is, most hunters don’t care to see random selfies, closeups of someone’s Kung Pao Chicken, or political satire. On the contrary, they want images of gnarly antlers, game animals, wild landscapes, and deer camps – about anything that celebrates the hunting and outdoor lifestyle. More importantly, they don’t only want to stare at it, they like interacting with it. Nobody likes embracing the lifestyle like the lucky men and women who call hunting and the outdoors their sweet spot.
Countless hunting and outdoor-based social media sites and apps have come and gone. After all, it’s a tenuous and expensive endeavor. While a few still exist, most have gone by the wayside. No doubt, a social media platform built firmly around America’s number one game animal was in order; and inevitable.
The founders of Whitetail.com (or Whitetail, as it’s commonly referred to) understood the desirability of an interactive portal for hunters – particularly those pursuing whitetails in the fields, woodlots, and hills of North America.
It didn’t take the crew at Whitetail long to acknowledge the ever-growing elephant in the deer blind when it came to hunting and social media. Simply put, popular social media channels such as Instagram and Facebook have been unfriendly confines for hunters. Between negative badgering from anti-hunters to the inherent disconnect regarding the benefits of harvesting wild game, something was needed to level the playing field. If that wasn’t enough, the mainstream platforms boldly entered the cancel culture fray by decreasing engagement in the hunting niche and more recently, shutting down some successful hunting pages and groups.
The only way to truly combat these realities was to establish a digital safe space for hunters and outdoorsmen. This wasn’t a new concept for the folks at Whitetail, as they had envisioned the idea for years. What once started as a deer and deer hunting forum site years ago, Whitetail was transformed into an online social media community.
The Inclusive Safe Space
When asking the founders of Whitetail about their main purpose, the simple answer is that the portal represents a place for the hunting community to connect, learn, and share their field experiences. However, the main vision was more than that, specifically to provide a space where hunters could do so without backlash stemming from images of truck bed bucks, exit wounds, and firearms. Simply put, shadow-banning and retribution are not part of Whitetail’s business model or culture.
Whitetail.com offers safe-space social media interaction for hunters.
While whitetail hunters and outdoorsmen have a lot in common, there are many popular hunting methods out there. I think what I like best is that Whitetail embraces them all; from the Midwesterner sitting over a food plot to the Texas hunter setting up near a corn feeder; from those inhabiting box blinds to DIY public land junkies swinging from tree saddles. The need to discourage divisiveness in the hunting community is not lost of the Whitetail.com bunch.
The Beginning of Something Great
Still, in its infancy, Whitetail already is home to a bevy of interactive posts from hunters across the country. Here, imagery of grip and grins, raw wild game meat, and hunting humor are welcome. From trophy bucks to fork horns, the portal celebrates it all. Of the mere 6% of Americans that hunt, Whitetail.com welcomes anyone eaten up by the hunting way of life. Make no mistake, this is a place for hunters to gather, communicate, and learn. However, creating and maintaining a social media platform is a huge undertaking and Whitetail will continue to add great features and functionality.
When talking with and of the Whitetail.com founders, you will regularly hear the sentiment, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” Needless to say, I can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeve.
Above and Beyond the Social
Aside from interactive posts, Whitetail features a learning component, largely in the form of articles and videos featuring hunter spotlights, stories, tips, and hunting strategies. Here, written content and videos serve as an effective companion to the social aspects of the site. Both entertaining and educational, Whitetail’s content comes from notable sportsmen and women to everyday hunters.
In addition to interactive social media, Whitetail offers entertaining
and educational companion content.
To further celebrate the deer hunting and outdoor lifestyle, Whitetail features great giveaways, including great gear and hunting opportunities.
A Social Community First and Foremost
Amid the many hunting apps and platforms available these days, functionality abounds. There are apps offering mapping, camera image organization, optimal hunting times, and a slew of other nifty features. While Whitetail.com has a few tricks in their hip pocket, the chief goal remains; to maintain and grow a thriving online home for hunters.
With that, Whitetail’s model has less to do with follower counts and more to do with the interaction itself. It encourages safe-space sharing, camaraderie, and learning. Whitetail.com also acknowledges the simple fact that hardcore and onset hunters alike sometimes just want to gawk at big whitetails. We know that’s true.
Whitetail.com is built around deer and deer hunting, but
welcomes all hunters and sportsmen.
Whether you’re a seasoned hunting fanatic or merely testing the waters, there is a new home for you. The future of Whitetail.com is bright and the hope is that as many hunters as possible will join the journey. You’ll want to make the Whitetail.com community a frequent stop when on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
36 Bad Taxidermy Fails
This collection of horrible taxidermy mounts will make you cringe!
Super Spots for Finding Shed Antlers
There are some high-percentage spots where bucks are likely to drop antlers each year. Look in these locations during late winter to own more bone.
By Bernie Barringer
I found my first whitetail shed by accident in the late 1970’s. That shed kindled a spark in me that would grow through time. I have had some great fun shed hunting with family and friends and I can tell some rather bizarre stories to accompany some of the sheds I own.
Back in the 1980s I put a huge amount of time and energy into looking for sheds. I would wait until the snow melted off, then spend hours walking through areas in which I knew whitetails would winter. I picked up some really nice sheds and some matched sets; and even two matched sets of bucks that would make the B&C record book.
But things changed as shed hunting became more popular. Up until that point, I didn’t know of anyone else who was really serious about shed hunting and I never saw anyone else out looking for them. One day I was walking through a state park in Iowa, slowly moving down a well-used deer trail where a large herd of deer had wintered. I came to the top of a hill and spotted someone coming up the trail towards me. It was another shed hunter and he had the match to the shed I held in my right hand. I knew things would never be the same from that point on and I was right. From that point forward, I didn’t wait until all the sheds were on the ground before beginning my hunt, I began to hunt for them as soon as they started dropping.
It seems like I have seen a dozen magazine articles explaining that looking for sheds in late winter can help you shoot the buck that dropped those sheds when fall comes. Frankly, I think that’s a real stretch. While whitetails may retain much of their bedding and feeding areas through the winter in the southern US, that’s not the case in the northern half of the US and Canada, where cold, snowy winter weather causes the deer to bunch up around the available food. My primary motivations for shed hunting are simply because it’s fun and great exercise.
You don’t have to hunt shed antlers with the goal of gathering information about a particular buck in order to shoot that buck. Hunting shed antlers is a sport unto itself. I consider any information I gather purely a bonus. Allow me to offer some tips from a lifetime of experience that will help you find and appreciate the amazing shed antler.
Forget about Home Ranges
Because I started hunting shed antlers for the sake of the antlers themselves, I didn’t have any preconceived notions about their importance to my deer hunting. I believe that the connection between where you find the buck’s sheds and where you are likely to shoot that buck the following deer season is way overrated. This is particularly true where I live in the upper Midwest, where winter weather and available food dictate deer behavior and location.
The second largest matched set I found was found in Northern Iowa, more than five miles from where a friend shot the buck the following year. It missed making the Boone & Crockett book by less than an inch.
Deer need to eat every day, and they will go where the food is. In the winter when the antlers are dropping, the food may be miles away from where that buck spends the majority of his time in the fall. Which leads us to #2.
Find the Food
Wintering whitetails need high carbohydrate foods and they need them every day. Find the food and you will find the sheds. Remember the Mantra that finding sheds is all about the food. Figure out where the deer are feeding and then spend the majority of your time divided between their feeding and bedding areas. The antlers are more likely to fall off when they are feeding because they are moving about. Corn, soybeans, milo, wheat, turnips and other food plots are key to the winter whereabouts of whitetails. Anywhere acorns have not been cleaned up by late winter can be golden.
Pay special attention to the windswept hilltops both in farm areas and in the hardwoods. Snow blows off the hilltops and any lost grain from farming operations will be more accessible there. The big set of matched Iowa sheds I mentioned earlier? I found one side on top of a hill in the soybean stubble and the other side in a thick farm grove 200 yards away.
Winter Bedding Cover: Thermal and Solar
There are two kinds of areas in which bucks tend to bed during the winter. Solar bedding areas are the south sides of slopes that are somewhat open and allow the deer to bed in areas where the sun can warm them during the day. Thermal cover is the thickest, nastiest stuff they can find which they will use during cold, cloudy, windy and stormy weather. If you find these types of bedding areas within a short distance of a good food source, and you have a good number of bucks in the area, finding sheds could be like picking up Easter Eggs. You’ve hit the jackpot.
Connect the Dots
Of course the deer need to travel between the bedding areas and the food. Trails will develop between these areas and the obvious sign is easy to find and follow. The more snow the better. Get out early before the snow melts and find these trails for later use. A lot of sheds can be found on these connecting trails. Pay special attention to the areas where they have to jump over fences or downed logs, climb steep creek banks, etc. These areas tend to jar the sheds loose.
Look for the Other Side
Antlers occasionally fall of together, but that’s somewhat rare. I do believe; however, that that the buck will put quite a bit of effort into dislodging the other side because of the lopsided feeling he has with one antler. He will shake his head, rub the antler on trees and push it on the ground to work it off. If you find a nice shed, put an exhaustive effort into finding the other side. It’s probably close by.
“No Hunting” Doesn’t Always Mean No Shed Hunting
Some of the best shed hunting I found back 30 years ago when I started collecting bone was found in state, local and county parks where hunting was not allowed. Where these parks bordered crop fields on private land were often gold mines for shed antlers. The deer would feed in the fields but bed in the safety of the park. Most parks have laws against picking any kind of plant, but nothing about collecting shed antlers. The deer would be bunched up there in great numbers during the winter, which made them very fertile ground for shed hunting.
Use a Little Creativity
I have at times constructed a simple “trap” to help me find shed antlers. It consists of three posts placed in a “V” shape with some woven wire and bungee cords to hold the wire in place. I feed the deer in the narrow area so when the bucks eat the grain, their antlers are clicking and pushing on the wire. When the sheds are ready to drop, they will drop right there. Here’s a short video of how I do this.
While it is unlawful in some areas to construct or place a device that would cause the sheds to dislodge, there are ways to encourage the deer to drop their antlers where you can more easily find them. You can place feed in areas where it’s needed and the deer will congregate around these feeding areas, dropping their sheds at the feeding site, in nearby bedding areas and on the trails that connect it all. If you feed whitetails please do so responsibly, using a mix of quality feeds and do not introduce or cut off feed supplies during harsh winter conditions.
I enjoy feeding whitetails from fall through spring, I love collecting scouting camera photos of then, and appreciate the knowledge that I am helping the deer get through a tough winter in good condition. Another bonus is the way I sometimes feed them. I find a windfall or a pile of dead branches and dump the feed right into it. When the sheds are ready to fall off, they fall right there. Bucks must push their noses down into the brush to get to the feed, and often, the sheds are found right in the feed.
At times, hunting shed antlers can provide information that will help you with your deer hunting, mostly in the form of an inventory of the bucks that survived the previous hunting season. It gets me in the woods at a time of the year when there is little else going on outdoors. But even more important than that, it’s good exercise, great family fun and a way to enjoy one of the most remarkable things in nature; the amazing antler.
4 Tips for Whitetail Shed Hunting in 2022
By Patrick Long
Photo: BryanE on IStock
Shed hunting is a fun pastime that we can actually use to scout bucks and spend time with loved ones outdoors. It takes time and can be tough at times but it is super exciting when you find a shed, and even more so when you find a matching set.
If it has been said once it has been said a thousand times, but “miles make piles” when shed hunting. To find a lot of sheds, you just have to put in the work. Although there are a few things that you can do to improve your efficiency and make sure you are not missing sheds along the way. Here are five tips that you can use this year to find more sheds.
1 | Shed Hunt during the Right Time
Every state’s deer season ends at a different time, but if you want to find a good amount of sheds you should wait a while after the season is over. This also depends on where you plan to shed hunt.
If you want to shed hunt public land, you are going to have to go as early and often as you can, because everyone else will too. Just make sure bucks have actually started dropping their antlers before you go.
Although if you plan on shed hunting private land, I recommend leaving it be until at least the middle of February. By then most of the bucks around are dropping their antlers. If you are farther north, I recommend waiting until the snow melts in March before going out.
I go on at least two trips a year shed hunting on my private land. Your first trip will be the most fruitful. Then wait about another month and try again. This time you will be able to make sure you did not miss any from the former trip, and catch any sheds that bucks may have been holding during your first trip.
Other than the time of year, you will want to make sure you shed hunt during the right type of weather as well. Assuming the snow has cleared up, the best day for shed hunting would be a dark and gloomy day. This is probably going to be after a good rain.
This kind of weather just makes the color of whitetail antlers stick out from the regular brush. Ideally, that will help you find more sheds, but to be honest most of us shed hunt whenever we find the time.
Photo: Aaron J Hill on Pixels.com
2 | Bring the Right Gear
One of the best things about shed hunting is that you really do not need a whole lot of gear to do it. Of course, there are a few key pieces of gear that are going to make your job a whole lot easier though. Let’s go over a quick list of shed hunting gear that you may want to take with you.
- A Big Backpack – Hopefully you find a ton of sheds! If you do, you are going to need something to put them in or tie them to. There are plenty of backpacks out there that are good for shed hunting, and with the addition of a few gear ties, you can probably outfit your existing one to work well with sheds.
- Comfortable Boots – shed hunting is a whole lot of walking, so you better have comfortable shoes or boots. Otherwise, your trip is going to be cut short.
- Mapping System – this can be something like a hunting app that has a GPS tracking map. Then you can go through it and drop a pin everywhere you find a shed. This is a little above and beyond, but it can help a lot if you are using shed hunting as a scouting tool.
- Binoculars – like I said earlier, shed hunting is a lot of walking, but with a good set of binos, you can walk a lot less. If you have fields on your property, you can walk a ways to a vantage point and then glass over that field. Of course, you will still have to do plenty of moving to get different angles, but you may just be able to spot an antler without walking all the way through the field.
3 | Look In the Right Places
Great, so you are excited to go shed hunting, but where exactly are you supposed to look? Well without being too sarcastic, you should look where the deer are. The first areas you should look at are bedding areas and food sources.
These are areas that we commonly hunt, and if you were finding deer during the season, they are likely still there. Personally, I would double down on the feeding areas. After the rut is over, all deer have to focus on feeding and getting ready for winter. While it will technically be winter when you are hunting, deer will have been there weeks before trying to stock up.
The trails between food sources and bedding areas are also likely to have a few sheds. Bedding areas can be especially good for finding sheds. Deer are most likely to drop their antlers when they jar themselves, and getting up and down in a bed punches that ticket. Normally I would be wary of going into a bedding area, but deer are going to have all year to get over you spooking them so I say go for it.
After you cover those areas, you want to look in some more lucrative places. Again, you want to look in places that deer are going to have to jar themselves. This will hopefully make their antlers drop. Check places like creek bottoms, or fence lines they may jump over.
Photo: Trevor Brittingham on Pixabay.com
4 | Bring Someone Along
The best part of the outdoors is being outdoors with people you love. Shed hunting is the perfect opportunity to bring someone with you. It is an especially good time to bring someone outdoors that does not frequent the woods.
It is good fun to go shed hunting with your hunting buddies, but also try taking a buddy that is not super experienced, or your kids. Shed hunting is great for kids. It introduces them to the outdoors in a very safe way and is exciting enough to get them interested in whitetail and the outdoors.
Lastly, you should also bring your dog. Dogs are amazing at finding sheds. So much so that if you ever went with a tried and true shed dog, they would find probably three times as many sheds as you. Even if your dog is not trained as a shed dog, they are still fun to bring along.
All and all, shed hunting is a whole lot of fun and is a good tool for scouting. If you bring the right equipment, you can be out there as long as you like and find as many sheds as you and your buddies or kids can carry.
Year ‘Round Timeline for Scouting Cameras
If you put your trail cams away after hunting season you are missing out!
By Bernie Barringer
Most hunters stow their scouting cameras in the garage once the deer seasons close and don’t get them back out again until a couple weeks before the next season. That can be a big mistake. The information gathered from your cameras year-‘round can be valuable in many ways.
The key is putting those cameras in the right locations, and being intentional about moving them throughout the year to take advantage of opportunities for information-gathering. Let’s take a look at a few strategic camera placements through the seasons. Follow this advice and I believe you will agree that you have more pictures and more quality information to go on next time you head into the woods to hunt.
January Through March
I offer supplemental feed in the winter to help get my deer through the tough times. It gets cold here in Minnesota, and deer have a tough time getting through the often deep snow and nights that can drop to -40 during January and February.
I mostly use corn, and of course I have cameras on each of my feeding stations. This allows me to monitor the state of the herd’s health, the shedding of antlers and any issues I may have with predators.
By keeping an eye on the deer at this time, I have a good idea when the bucks have shed their headgear, and I like to get out there and retrieve it before the squirrels start working on the calcium- and phosphorous-rich nutrients found in the sheds.
Coyotes and wolves are a serious problem around here; these predators have no problem taking advantage of deer during their struggle to survive the harsh conditions. There’s nothing I can currently do about the wolves , but I do my share to reduce the fawn depredation by removing as many coyotes as I can by snaring and shooting them. When I get pictures of predators on my cameras, I move quickly and show no mercy.
Late March Through Early June
From spring into early summer, cameras placed at mineral sites will take photos of bucks as their antlers begin to grow. You will start to recognize characteristics of specific bucks which helps you learn which ones made it through the hunting seasons and the winter. You can watch the amazing antler growth that takes place at this time, and start to get an idea how much growth the bucks will be putting on during the upcoming three months.
Does visit the mineral sites, and when their fawns are 5-6 weeks old, they will accompany the does. This gives you a chance to inventory the deer population as a whole.
Late June through early August
I always have cameras on water during the summer. Those out-of-the-way ponds in the forest will get a lot of use, and that’s the place to get a look at the bucks. Keep in mind that these spots are potential hunting spots so don’t check the cameras too often. Too much intrusion can make the deer avoid these places or use extra caution around them come hunting season.
In midsummer, deer are using predictable patterns going from bedding to feeding areas. Trails are beginning to develop and these trails offer excellent opportunities to get photos of deer and learn their movements and timing.
Mid-August through Mid-September
By the end of August, hunting season is getting close, and I start to transition some of the cameras to their feeding sites. I learn which fields they are feeding in, and placing cameras on the feeding areas themselves will help me pattern where they are moving and what times they are coming through. Food plots, alfalfa, corn and soybeans are prime areas for feeding this time of the year.
The bucks are in their bachelor groups and it’s a fun time to get lots of photos of them as their antlers become fully mature and shed their velvet the first week of September. Keep in mind that the food sources may not be the most obvious ones. The deer feeding in alfalfa and soybeans are the most visible, but there may be a lot of deer also feeding on freshly fallen acorns, hazelnuts and other mast crops.
Be careful to observe which direction the deer are travelling any time you have cameras on trails. Look at the time on the photo and compare it to the direction of travel to determine where the deer are going to and coming from. Deer in the evening are normally leaving bedding areas and deer in the morning are approaching bedding areas. Knowing where these deer are spending the daylight hours will be important information later on, especially with regards to where the does tend to bed.
Another important area for cameras at this time are staging areas near food sources. While does and fawns often pile into the fields well before dark, mature bucks will hang back inside the edge of the woods observing the behavior of the deer in the field, often moving into the open in the last half hour of daylight. These areas where they stage before entering the field will normally be marked by rubs and tracks.
Extreme caution must be taken when checking the cameras at this time. I try to check them right before a rain, and get in there and get back out with a minimum of noise and I avoid wind directions that may be blowing my scent toward the bedding areas. The information can be invaluable when hunting season opens in a few weeks and you do not want to blow it at this time.
Late September Through October
Hunting seasons are opening and now we are relying on the cameras for more specific, up-to-date information. We can be a little more aggressive as we check the cameras, still taking whatever caution is feasible.
Through the second half of September and into the first half of October, the bachelor groups are breaking up and the cameras help you keep track of where the bucks are going. Trails associated with feeding patters seem to offer the best sites at this time, but by the second half of October, things will radically change.
By the middle of October, scrapes and rubs are showing up throughout my hunting areas and I am moving cameras as I see the transition being made from food-focused movements to breeding focused movements. By the end of October, most all my cameras are on scrapes. I use scrape drippers to monitor the deer visits and inventory the bucks. There is no better way to get a picture of all the bucks in the area than by having a camera on a primary scrape the end of October.
First Two Weeks of November
The rut if going into full swing and I put my cameras on the does. To find the bucks you must find the does; you need to know where they are bedding, where they are feeding and how they are travelling between the two areas. I have my cameras in doe bedding areas and on trails between doe bedding areas and trails leading to food sources. By now you have learned where the does are bedding based on your earlier photos.
The first two weeks of November is peak breeding time across most of the whitetail’s range in North America. The movements of bucks will seem totally random, and in a sense, they are, but they will be looking for does. Learn the areas the bucks like to chase does and get your cameras on them. Bucks tend to push does out of the bedding areas into open timber or surrounding fields. If you know where they prefer to spend the daylight hours, you have found an excellent place to concentrate your hunting efforts during the rut.
Second Half of November
Once the actual breeding is beginning to wind down, bucks spend a lot more time on their feet, putting on the miles in search of remaining does that may not have been bred yet. Trails between known bedding areas are key locations to waylay a buck with a camera and with a treestand. At this time, I am very aggressive about checking cameras, often checking the cards every day. I carry a tablet with me in my backpack and often check a couple cameras in the afternoon, using the information they contain to help me decide which stand to use for the evening hunt.
At this time, pinch points, sometimes referred to as funnels, are key locations to increase your odds of encountering a buck on the move. Scrapes have been all but ignored since early November, but they are getting a few hits again in the latter stages of the rut. I’ll have a couple cameras watching primary scrapes on the edges of fields near areas the does are frequently feeding.
If you still have a tag in your pocket, do not despair. When the rut is over and the weather turns cold, bucks once again settle into predictable patterns. They need high-carbohydrate foods to replenish fat reserves lost during the past few weeks of chaos. Find the food you will find the deer.
Standing corn or soybeans provide them with efficient sources of protein and carbs. The deer tend to group up around the available food and their daily routine allows us to put cameras on the trails leading to these food sources. If snow covers the ground, finding these trails can be embarrassingly easy. Angle your camera up or down the trail to make sure you get full shots of the deer. Make sure your cameras have good batteries in them, cold drains batteries.
At this time of the year I often put cameras right on the edges of bedding areas. Days are short and I will need to hang a stand as close to the beds as I safely can in order to waylay a buck before dark. Keep in mind during December the deer will bed in different locations based on the weather. On sunny days, they tend to bed on the south slopes of hills with open timber so they can soak up the sun’s warming rays. If it’s cloudy, windy and nasty, they will spend their days in thick thermal cover in low areas that protect them from the wind.
So if you are one of the hunters who have your cameras in the garage during part of the year, you are missing out on some excellent opportunities to know your deer better and learn more about their behavior. Be more intentional about moving your cameras to the right places at the right times, and you might be surprised how much it helps increase your odds of filling that buck tag in the fall.
Late season hunts: Perfect for pop-up ground blinds
Late season 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.
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.
Seven Critical Tips for DIY Public Land Hunting
By Bernie Barringer
My first bowhunting road trip was a complete bust. In my defense, it took place more than 25 years ago, so I didn’t have the advantage of Google Earth, a scouting camera or looking at the weather on my smartphone. I basically went in blind, and my results showed it. I did see some does and small bucks, and I hunted hard and used some off-beat tactics. While I don’t remember much about that first out of state hunt in the early 1990’s, I do remember that I had no idea what I was doing compared to the strategic planning and hunting methods I use today.
In fact, one of my few memories from that first trip was lying on the berm of a ditch, my bow in the grass beside me, looking at deer filtering into a green hayfield 30 yards away. I remember wondering how I could possibly get to my knees and get my bow drawn on a buck without clearing the whole field. Poor planning on my part. They say lessons learned the hard way are lessons learned well. I have learned a lot, mostly by making mistakes.
I’ve come up with seven rules—things to do and not to do—that will help any DIY hunter be more successful. Adhering to these “do’s and don’ts” have helped significantly increase my success ratio. Two decades later, I am still making mistakes and still learning, but I’m coming home with a buck in the truck often enough to feel like I have some advice to pass along. I hope these seven tips help you connect on a DIY public land buck this year.
Do your homework
Before you ever pull out of the driveway, you should have a list of likely hunting spots. Online aerial photos help immensely when it comes to choosing hunting sites. Before I set off to a new area, I usually have a pretty good idea where I am going to spend much of my time. Things that look good on Google Earth are not always what they seem, but with some experience learning how deer use cover and terrain, anyone can shorten the scouting time by picking out likely looking spots from home.
I also call local biologists, game wardens and other parties to gather as much info as I can about the area. Biologists know if food plots have been planted on the public areas and they can offer information about deer populations, age structure, etc. A game warden can offer insight into the amount of hunting pressure an area gets. I have learned to ask not only about deer hunting pressure, but also about upland bird hunters, duck hunters, small game hunters and even if the coon hunters are running their dogs through the property at night.
Do your Scouting Diligence
Once you arrive, it can be tempting to hang a stand and start hunting as soon as you find a great looking spot. But you will be much better off to spend a day learning the property before actually hunting. Spend an evening with binoculars overlooking a feeding area, walk through the area trying to determine feeding and bedding patterns. Make note of great spots with sign or with the right terrain, depending on the time of the year and stage of the rut. I cannot overstate the value of knowing the property and how deer use it well.
Use your Scouting Cameras
Scouting Cameras are one of the most important components to my scouting and learning a property. I rely on them for two main purposes. The most obvious is learning how deer are using the property. A camera will tell you which direction deer are travelling at what time. It will show you where they are feeding and bedding. You can learn about the stage of the rut by observing the behavior of the bucks.
The second and just as important knowledge I get from cameras is an evaluation of what is on the property with regards to bucks and age structure. I have been known to pass up a 125-class buck on the first day of the hunt, then realize that it was the biggest deer I saw on camera or in person during eight days of hunting there. The decision of whether or not to shoot a deer that comes within range can be made a lot easier when you know what the potential will be. No sense holding out for a 140 if there aren’t any. Cameras placed on primary scrapes will inventory most every buck in the area within three days.
Hunt Only When it’s Time
There’s nothing worse than sitting in a stand wondering if you are in the right place or not. Should you be on the other side of that ridge? Closer to the feeding or bedding area? On a different trail? Sitting over an area that’s all tore up with rubs and scrapes?
Remember what I said about putting up a stand and getting in it too soon. Having confidence in your spot makes it a lot easier to stick it out for long periods, and confidence in your spot comes from thorough scouting. I can’t overstress the importance of not settling in for a long sit until you have done the scouting and learned as much as you can from cameras.
The urge to get in a tree and get to hunting can be very strong when you arrive at a new property, but don’t do it until it’s time. Once you have a thorough knowledge of the property, you can settle into a place where you will have the optimism needed to grind it out for long hours.
Stay Mobile and Flexible
The other side of that coin is the fact that things change and you must change with them. You cannot wait for the hunt to come to you, you have to stay aggressive. You have a very short time to make things happen, so you can’t overstay a spot when you have lost the confidence in it. Food sources can change overnight with harvesting of crops. Hunting pressure can move deer around and alter patterns. A cold front with its accompanying northwest wind can make any given stand unhuntable for 2-3 days.
You have to be very aware of what’s going on around you and react quickly to changing conditions. You need to have a backup plan for a major weather change. Stay attuned to the upcoming weather, and plan accordingly. I hate the sinking feeling of sitting in a stand one evening, looking at the weather and realizing I have no place to hunt in the morning due to changing conditions. Plan at least three sits ahead, and be ready to move a set on a moment’s notice.
Work Hard and Smart
Most people aren’t used to hunting hard for 7-10 days, which is the average amount of time I will spend on a DIY road trip. Most people hunt the weekends at home or maybe a couple evenings after work. Hunting from daylight to dark, moving stands, checking cameras, constantly analyzing conditions and deer behavior is foreign to the guy who just hunts a property from home and hunts when he feels like it. About halfway through the hunt, the temptation to hit the snooze button when the alarm goes off at 5:00 a.m. can be overwhelming. That’s especially true when you start to lose confidence in your efforts.
Chances are you laid out a pile of cash for a nonresident tag and you may only get one of these trips a year. You are going to regret it for months if you don’t give it your all. Work hard all day every day. Do the things necessary to keep your confidence up and your drive at a high level. Keep thinking ahead a day or two; try not to get into the habit of reacting to the changing conditions, but learn to get ahead of them and be ready. Today’s technology in the palm of our hands can be a huge help to us, but we have to use it.
Anticipate what’s coming and be ready for it. When that alarm rings, the feeling that you will be heading out to a spot that has a legitimate chance to produce a great buck is a feeling that will get you stepping into your hunting boots in the morning with excitement for what the day might bring.
Don’t Allow your Expectations to Get too High
One of the biggest mistakes made by travelling hunters these days is having unrealistic expectations. Outdoor TV has contributed to this, I believe. You watch two nice bucks get shot during a 30-minute show. If you don’t think about the background work that went into that short segment, you can get the wrong idea. The background work most likely was put in by an outfitter who knows the deer on his property well.
The first time I go to a new property to hunt, I like to think of it as a learning experience. If I shoot a buck, great, but if not, I don’t have grandiose dreams about driving home with a 150 in the back of the truck. That dream may become a reality someday, but it will likely be after you have hunted the property a few times, you really know it well, and you have past experiences to add to the well of knowledge you draw from when making your everyday decisions.
There’s no doubt in my mind that hunting the same property many times offers a significant advantage to the hunter. But there is something to be said for the adventure of trying new areas and hunting new properties. My hunting includes a mix. I love the excitement that comes with seeing what’s over the next hill, but that’s tempered with the fact that I like to shoot a buck once in a while too, and I know my odds are better when I am hunting familiar ground.
So my advice is to take what the hunt gives you. Don’t make the mistake of letting the expectations of others dictate what you shoot or do not shoot. This is your hunt. If you are happy shooting a 120-inch 3-year-old on the eighth day, then do it. If you would rather let that deer walk and eat tag sandwich, that’s your call. The key is to go into the hunt with realistic expectations. Even the best properties do not produce a mature buck for even the best DIY hunters every year.
Scarecrows for Deer
By Tim Pearson
I’m not a writer, which is good because I can’t spell. I am a retired lineman. I have no computer skills; I doubt I could turn on the family computer. I’ve never tried, which makes my wife happy. Linemen didn’t need computers in my day. We turned wrenches and climbed poles. Now I am free to spend most of my time in the woods.
I wouldn’t say I even like hunting. I’d say it is a compulsive disorder that has me by the throat. If they print it I read it. If they make it I and can afford it, I buy it. I hunt bow season, rifle season, muzzle loader season and then bow season again. A typical deer season pretty much goes like this: I can see him and he’s big, but there is no possible shot. Once I hunted a big buck for 40+ hours, and then finally here he comes. Everything is looking good and I know he’s mine. My bow is pulled and he steps into my shooting lane. I am stunned. After investing 40 hours hunting this guy I now see he has broken off his left antler at his brow tine. By the time I regroup he’s out of the shooting lane.
After each season I try to improve my accuracy, my stands, tree trimming, and my equipment if needed. Basically I’m old school. I follow the KISS system. “Keep it simple stupid”. Hunt the wind, and you can’t kill them if you’re not out in your stand. I have 16 stands to choose from (and maintain).
One trick I thought of on a slow day at work 20+ years ago was to put an old shirt up at my two favorite gun stands, I use two medium sized branches, tape them together to make a cross. Install the shirt on the cross and position about where you would stick out of the box stand. I do this every year in late winter before the fawns are dropped. They will accept that shirt flopping around all of their life and so will their off spring. Around September 1st I’ll swing by each stand and spray my favorite gun oil liberally on the shirts. Then when I’m using the stand I just drop the scarecrow over the side. This exchanges the scarecrow for me now and the oil smell for my favorite gun of the day! I’ve gotten by with a lot more movement since using the scarecrows, and the downwind is also much more forgiving. Try it this winter on your favorite stand. I guarantee you won’t be lonely on opening day. There will be a guaranteed mouse nest in one of the sleeves.
I also have two ground blinds where I use scarecrows. I know what you’re thinking; now I’m wasting FOUR SHIRTS when I only own five. She’s going to go nuts if I wear the same shirt every day. If your partner is anything like mine, ask if you can have your wife’s throw away blouse (because she already wore it once) instead of cutting it up for rags. Wash it with your hunting soap. Then use a stick and tape two foot of rope (rope and tape are two of a lineman’s favorite things) to the middle of the stick. Pull the rope up through the scarecrow and tie it to the ground blind roof hardware. It’s a win-win for everyone.
So why am I spilling the beans now? Why not take this secret to my grave? Well I retired from linework, and like most men we are a pretty competitive bunch. We always took the big buck contest very serious. There’s no big buck contest for me anymore. I just have to please myself. And if I can get this article published, just think of all the latest and greatest stuff I could buy for next year’s hunt!! With my half anyway. The wife gets half for fixing my spelling.
2 Enormous Bucks, 2 Enormous Stories!
By Bernie Barringer
Get ready for two of the most bizarre deer hunting stories involving gigantic whitetail bucks. You really can’t make this stuff up, and the fact that they both happened basically at the same time, early in the 2021 deer seasons, with a lot of similarities, created a lot of confusion. Listen carefully because this is going to get really strange.
On September 11, Blake Keating of Kansas had the shock of his life when he checked a trail camera over a corn pile. Standing there big as life was the biggest buck he had ever seen. Like the biggest buck anyone had ever seen. Like world class. Like world record class. he’d never seen it before nor had a hint that it was alive. Kansas has an early muzzleloader season and you know right where Blake headed out and sure enough, he shot the buck a couple days later.
The buck scored over 300 inches as a nontypical. Yup, World Record size. But something nagged at Blake; there was a small hole in this deer’s ear. That nagging feeling became a roaring surge when the photos of the buck hit the internet. He was soon contacted by a deer farm 10 miles away from where the deer was shot; they kinda recognized that buck. Turns out they had been transferring some of their giant bucks between pens when one buck went missing. Now a buck like this is worth tens of thousands of dollars to the owners, maybe even as much as 100K for sales of semen and eventually the fee for someone who would pay a very large price to shoot this buck and take it home with them.
I’m not interested in discussing the motivations of people who shoot deer that have been kept as livestock and mount them to hang in their “Man” Cave. I don’t have any interest in doing that and I don’t fully grasp why someone would pay $20,000-$50,000 to kill one of those penned deer. But that’s not the point of this story. Blake thought he had hit the whitetail hunting lottery, killing a potential world record buck. He was legit in his hunt, and legal all the way. He was also heartbroken when he learned that the buck was an escapee from a deer farm.
It’s likely he will get to keep the buck, or get paid a big fee to return it. Either way, he has an amazing experience to tell his grandchildren about.
Now contrast that with an even more bizarre story that happened beginning on September 9, 2021.
A giant nontypical showed up on social media, reportedly shot in Kentucky by Derek Settle with a crossbow. Nearly 300 inches of antler on this one as well. He had legally checked it in as a Kentucky bow kill and he insisted on the details of the hunt; it was all on the up and up. He even had trail camera pics of the buck!
Derek’s fame was short lived, as within a couple days, word came out that the buck had been killed on a deer farm in Indiana. And the deer farm, Patoka River Whitetails, had the photos to prove it, and guess who was the happy hunter in the pictures with the penned deer? Yes, Derek Settle. This was a buck they had raised and was known as “White 352.”
He had killed the deer legally on the deer farm in Indiana, then took it to Kentucky and registered it as a Kentucky archery kill. Whether this is a violation of the Lacey Act is yet to be determined, but if it is, he’s in a lot more trouble than just a heaping helping of embarrassment and a few fines.
What’s really bizarre about this case is the head shaker that Derek could think he could get away with this. With the speed of gale force winds blowing a wildfire, info travels across the interweb with blinding speed. It only took a few hours before he was raked across the coals for trying to pull off such and idiotic stunt.
We’ll keep you posted as the final details come in, but in the meantime, Blake has a big buck to look at and a clean conscience, while Derek is lying awake at night wondering what will happen to him.
An October Hunt: Go Early or Go Late
By Bernie Barringer
Much has been said about the October “Lull.” It’s no secret that bucks are hard to find out and about during the daylight during this period of time; they spend the majority of the daylight hours in some shady thicket, waiting for the sun to set. The middle two weeks of October is simply a poor time to plan a bowhunting road trip. If, like most travelling hunters, you have only one or two weeks to do a DIY hunt, you probably don’t want to spend it during the middle of the month of October.
The first and last weeks of October; however, are a different story altogether. There are some significant advantages to going early and late in the month, not the least of which is the amount of hunting pressure. Parking lots of large public hunting areas which may be full of trucks with out-of-state license plates the first two weeks in November, may be entirely vacant during the month of October.
Let’s take a look at what these two weeks have to offer. As we dive into the details, you may want to consider adding an October DIY hunt to your schedule.
The first week in October brings some opening day bowhunting opportunities in several states. This is a chance to catch even mature bucks totally off guard. There has been very little disturbance in the deer woods and if you make your move with stealth, you might find a buck right in your lap with no idea he is being hunted.
Early October can find bucks still in bachelor groups, although they are likely to be more loosely connected than they were a month previous. At this time, the bucks are primarily focused on food and their movements are somewhat predictable, something that cannot be said of any time during November. Find the preferred food source and you will find the deer.
The preferred food source is not likely to be exactly where you would have found the deer in August. Bucks may still be using large fields of soybeans and alfalfa if they have not been cut, but they are likely to arrive in those fields after dark because the daylight hours are growing shorter. Instead, focus on smaller food sources near bedding cover.
Many state wildlife departments plant small food plots back away from the roads. These can be golden. Corn in particular is preferred at this time. Soybeans may be at that stage where the leaves are yellow and the beans are not dried, they may be getting some use, but not as much as other, more palatable food sources.
Apple trees are a magnet this time of the year. An abandoned orchard can be a focus of deer feeding at this time as the apples begin to drop. I know of an old farmstead with two apples trees and three pear trees that gets absolutely pounded at this time of the year. An oak ridge with an abundance of acorns can attract deer at any point during the day.
Never overlook water during warm spells. A secluded pond during a hot Early October afternoon may be just the ambush point you are looking for. Get a scouting camera on it and make your move according to what the photos tell you.
I love the last week in October. The first signs of the rut are appearing more and more by the day. Bucks are getting edgy and this offers several advantages to the DIY hunter.
This is the one time of the year when visits to scrapes take place in the daylight. It’s the one time when I consider hunting over an area all torn up with rubs and scrapes to be well worth it. During November, bucks will mostly visit scrapes under the cover of darkness, or cruise by downwind to scent-check the scrape. But during the last week in October, they are more likely to walk right up and give it a few strokes and a fresh dose of urine rubbed through the tarsal glands. Find an area with several active scrapes, set up downwind of it and put in your time.
Scents and lures work best in this pre-rut period. Mock scrapes or natural scrapes with a scrape dripper and some Active Scrape or Estrus lure will be checked out periodically. Bucks are feeling the urge at this time and are more likely to come to scent that they will be in a week when their nose is full of the real thing.
The end of October is a great time to use calling and rattling to bring in a buck. Bleats and grunts are sounds that appeal to a buck’s sense of curiosity. They are often just rutty enough to walk over and check out the source of the sound. Choose a good calling site where the deer cannot see the area around the source of the sound.
Calling or rattling may be just the right tactic to bring a buck out of his bed during the daylight. Set up on pathways that lead from the bedding area, using the wind to your advantage and rattle the antlers periodically during late day hours. Some gentle ticking of the antlers together may be enough, but don’t fear creating a racket by imitating an all-out brawl. Sometimes a lot of noise is what it takes to get their dander up and cause them to make a move.
The huge majority of DIY hunting trips take place during November; that’s not likely to change any time soon. Consider breaking the pattern to take advantage of the first and last weeks of October and the opportunities those weeks present. The rut, with its frenetic activity has its appeal, no doubt, but there are some real advantages to getting there ahead of the crowds. You just may find you have the woods, and the deer, to yourself.
Five Important Keys to Opening Day Success
By Bernie Barringer
Every bowhunter can relate to this scenario: You have watched a particular buck off and on all summer. He’s been quite visible in the fields feeding in the evenings and he’s even somewhat predictable in his habits. This could be the year you actually pattern a buck in the pre-season and shoot him on opening day or shortly thereafter. After all, you see it on TV and in magazines, it’s bound to work for you sometime.
Just a few short days before the season, he’s gone. He’s not in the field during the last hour of daylight, and he’s not even in the fields of nearby properties. You’ve checked them all. You’re sure-thing just turned into a bust. What happened?
During the month of September, bachelor groups of bucks begin to break down and bucks tend to relocate, but the chances are he hasn’t gone far when the bow season opens the middle of the month. He probably hasn’t “gone nocturnal” on you either. Unless some sort of pressure caused him to move out, he’s conducting business as usual, just a little differently than what you are looking for. When you were watching the sun go down on him during early August, what time was it? 8:30? 9:00? Now it’s mid-September and the sun is long gone at that time. He may be coming out at the same time, but the darkness just caught up to his patterns. There are still ways we can put ourselves within striking distance of him during the daylight. Let’s take a look at how to solve this puzzle.
Key #1 – Bucks are individuals
First of all we must talk a little bit about “patterning” to begin with. Some of the things I have seen in print would lead you to believe that bucks have some sort of internal alarm system that tells them where to go and what to do at any given time. In 40 years of bowhunting and observing whitetail behavior I am becoming more and more convinced that what we refer to as patterns are really overrated. Sure, individual bucks tend to bed in the same areas given the same environmental conditions, and they tend to feed where the best available food is found, but that’s about all that’s cast in stone.
It seems to me that bucks have an instinct to switch things up occasionally, because the ones who don’t are more likely to be turned into venison than those who do. A buck gets up from his bed, stretches a little and heads down the trail towards somewhere he knows he can get a bite to eat. He comes to a fork in the trail and instead of going left like he did for the past three days, he goes right. He doesn’t know why he went right, any more than the guy sitting in the stand wondering why he didn’t show that night. Some deer are fairly consistent, some are frustratingly random.
Trying to pattern deer is like pushing a rope. You simply can’t make any headway. It would help us all to put the idea of putting a deer on a specific schedule and think more in terms of trends and tendencies. We will be better off and a lot less frustrated if we do. If we think in terms of what the buck might do on any given evening based on the environmental conditions (temperature, wind speed and direction, etc.) we can get ahead of his movements better than we can if we concentrate on what he has been doing. Of course we are not going to throw out all our observations of his behaviors we have stored in our memory, but we should just view them as one small piece of the whole puzzle rather than the complete picture.
Key #2 – Mistakes can be deadly
Some deer are prone to be homebodies and some range widely. GPS studies have shown that some deer have very small home ranges and others travel quite a bit. One thing that these studies have shown us is that most bucks have at least two home ranges that they know well; they can exit one and enter another when they feel hunting pressure.
If you have a buck that disappears on you for a while, he may be in a secondary area. The worst thing you can do is get aggressive and try to move in and find out what happened. You want him to settle back into a comfortable mode when he arrives; if he smells you or sees more disturbances, it’s another strike against you.
If the buck figures out he is being hunted, you chances of putting your tag on him plummet. When he senses intrusion in the way of ground scent, sudden changes like the appearance of a trail camera or a bunch of cut branches, he may bug out for a few days. If he smells you directly or has a bad experience such as a situation that causes alarm, he may be done with that particular spot for the season.
It’s hard to sit tight when you really want to know what’s on that trail camera, but you are much better off to wait for a light rain that will smother your ground scent to go check it. There’s no faster way to kill a spot than to walk in and check your trail camera every day. Put the stands up early and trim shooting lanes well before the season.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to hunt a stand on opening day when the conditions are not right. Patience is critical. You may only have one chance, so you want to make sure you have the odds stacked in your favor. If the wind isn’t right, hunt somewhere else or don’t hunt at all.
Key #3 – Find the bedroom door
It pays to be familiar with the preferred bedding areas. An entire book could be written on how deer choose beds based on the conditions through the year. I couldn’t cover it all here, but I suggest you learn a basic understanding of how bucks like to bed where they can see in front of them and smell what’s behind them, which is what they tend to choose when the weather is pleasant. This might be just below the crest of a ridge where the wind is coming over the top, or tucked in behind a large fallen log. When the weather is bad, they tend to hole up in thick cover. This may be a thicket or a creek bottom. You get the idea.
Because the daylight hours are shortening, you have a better chance of contacting the buck in the daylight if you are close to where he spent the day. It’s a tricky proposition to get a stand as close to the bedding area as possible without giving yourself away, but these stands often pay off if they are hunted at the right time under the right conditions.
It goes without saying that these stands need to be in place well before you plan to hunt, but there is one other option. I have used this tactic just once and I was successful so I’ll pass it along. During the middle of the night when the deer were out feeding, I moved in and hung a stand along a bluff near where the deer were bedding in a creek bottom. The trail was getting a lot of use and my camera showed that my buck was using it regularly, both prior to sunset and at dawn.
I hung that stand by headlight and didn’t trim any shooting lanes or otherwise disturb the area. I got in and got out and I actually got lucky because a heavy dew was on the vegetation which really knocked down my scent. Get close to the bedroom if you can figure out a way to get away with it.
Key #4 – Stay back off the edge
Like anyone else, I am always tempted to set up right on the edge of the field when I know the deer are feeding in the field with regularity. I want to see what’s going on out there! But that’s rarely the best stand location unless the deer are feeling no pressure at all. While the does and young bucks may casually walk out into the field, the larger bucks tend to hold back until indications from the other deer give them a level of comfort. You have a better chance at them if you get back off the edge as well.
There are two specific things I look for when choosing where to hunt back off the edge of the field. What I call staging areas are places where the bucks will hang out for a while before entering the open spaces. Parallel trails follow the edges of the field sometimes for quite a distance.
A buck may arrive at a staging area well before dark, but choose not to enter the field until dark, or he may just hang up and patiently watch for a while. He can observe the body language of the deer in the field and enter when he feels secure.
These staging areas have a couple things common to them. First, they will have some visibility to the field itself. This may be a hillside where he can look down on the field or it may have a patch of more mature, open timber that allows him to observe the activity in the open area. Secondly, they will have sign. Bucks aren’t going to just stand there; they are going to do buck things, like scraping, sparring and especially rubbing. Rubs are a dead giveaway, lots of tracks are often found if the ground is conducive to leaving imprints. Sometimes if you are observant you will see where they have nibbled on plants and messed up the ground litter in their scuffles.
Parallel trails are usually very indistinct trails and often are very difficult to discern. Usually the brush right on the edge of the field is thicker because it gets more sunlight than the area just back under the canopy. Imagine yourself walking along the edge of the field from 20-30 yards off the edge, weaving your way through the trees, taking the path of least resistance. You are probably following a parallel trail. The more deer that use it the more obvious it becomes.
These trails are an often overlooked place to shoot a buck. Mature bucks like to walk along the edge of the field, scent checking the field for danger and to find out who happens to be out there
Key #5 – Be Patient
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m advocating patience with regard to hunting these opening day or early-season bucks. Like you, I’ve been waiting all year for this day but I have too many times been overcome by the temptation to get out there and make it happen. The results have usually been less than stellar. The times I have been successful have been the times I waited until the conditions were in my favor. I know the buck of my dreams is being patient right now; his life depends on it. I’ve learned to be patient too, because… well, the buck’s life depends on it.
Secondary Home Ranges
Many studies have shown that bucks have secondary home ranges. During the early fall as archery deer seasons are opening, there is a lot of food around and bucks can roam widely and not worry about their next meal. This is a prime time for them to disappear for a while. This is particularly true if they sense pressure or become unnerved by human activity. Hanging stands, checking trail cameras, spotlighting fields and general scouting activity can move them out.
I cannot prove it, but I suspect that the secondary home range is often their natal area. By that I mean the area where they spent their first year of life with their mother. Does have home ranges too and they tend to be very secure areas. Buck fawns learn how to hide and feel secure in these areas and the security features are imprinted on their minds. Most bucks disperse after their first year and set up housekeeping in a new area. But when they sense pressure, that secure feeling they get when they were younger is what they seek out.
Ever had a buck disappear on you and find out that someone had it on camera for the first time in a location five miles away? Ever had a buck just turn up in your area with no prior history? You may be looking at the secondary home range of that buck.
How to Get Fast Action on the Bear Baits
In some areas, you have a short time to get your baits working. Here are some strategies for firing them up fast and keeping the bears coming.
By Bernie Barringer
Here in Minnesota, the date you can bait bears is the Friday two weeks before opening day. Through the years 2000 until about 2013, I could draw a bear tag most every year in Minnesota’s Area 45, and several members of my family and friends would also draw tags. That was before the new law that limited the number of baits to three baits per license. The woods were full of bear baits to say the least.
I baited mostly on public land, and even though I would keep to lands outside of the state forests where the pressure was the worst, most every one of my baits had another bait within a mile or two of it. In order to get bears to my baits and hold them there so I didn’t lose them to another baiter, I developed specific techniques for these hyper-pressured situations. Even in areas with much less pressure, these techniques have stood the test of time and have helped me pull in more bears in a short time. Once I get the bears there, I can outcompete the other baiters with quality bait and lots of it, and by using strategies that minimize the odds of turning a bear nocturnal, but that’s a story for another time. Let’s talk about a few effective ways to get the bears on your baits quickly.
The Immense Value of Location
If you’ve read my past writings you know I feel how important location is. Being near water is key and if you can get your baits around natural food sources that ups your odds of getting them within nose range of your baits, because most bear find the baits with their nose first. Get upwind of a swamp where bears can spend the warm summer days and try to use funnels or pinch points, terrain features and edges that will direct a bear’s travel and put the bait in thick cover close to where the bears are already travelling.
There’s something to be said about establishing your site up high on a ridge if there is sufficient cover to make the bears feel comfortable coming to a bait in that area during daylight. Cool evening thermals will carry the sweet smells of your bait downhill in the evenings when the bears are most likely to be on their feet.
Over time, you may move your bait site a little as you learn more about how the bears use the area. One of my best baits was one in which I struggled to get bears to commit during daylight the first couple years. I moved it only about 50 yards higher up the hill and into thicker cover, and we killed many bears there over the next few years. These good bait sites get better every year and once you know you are on location, just put out the bait and use good luring strategy when you open the site and they will come piling in.
High, Low and In Between
When I drew my first Minnesota bear tag many years ago, I was living in Iowa, but I drove to a bear hunting seminar at the newly built Cabela’s store in Owatonna, Minnesota. I remember it well, because I was soaking up information like crazy since I knew relatively little about bear hunting. I remember the presenter stating the importance of dousing the entire bait site with used fryer oil so the bears would get it all over their feet and track it around. He used 10-15 gallons per bait when opening a bait!
I didn’t have access to that much fryer oil and I thought it seemed like overkill to use that much and I still do. However, the feet of the bear are an important part of “spreading the word” about your bait site and fyer oil is a good carrier. I came across Northwoods Bear Products’ Gold Rush concentrate a few years ago and now I use it in opening all of my baits no matter where I am baiting. I’m downright shocked at how this stuff works, there’s no other way to put it. One 4-ounce bottle of this super concentrated stuff will spike up 40 gallons of oil. I like to use about a gallon or two of fryer oil spiked with a couple capfuls of Gold Rush at each site. I splash it on the logs and the ground where the bears will walk. Incredibly this stuff last for days and even weeks with the right soil types.
I like to have a variety of smells to appeal to the individual preferences of each bear, and the feet of the bear are only one part of the equation. Getting some good smelling stuff up high really helps the smells travel long distance. A few pieces of bacon tossed up into the trees is good for this. Several companies make balls and blocks of sweetness that can be hung up in trees to get the smells moving around with the wind.
I carry a spray bottle of scent every time I visit the site and freshen the smell. The bears learn that a new fresh dose of good scent means fresh bait at the site. I tend to use scents like the Northwoods beaver castor in the spring, but fruit type smells in the fall such as Wild Cherry or Blueberry. Anise is always good of course but I think the bears become conditioned to it because so many people use it and it puts them on edge.
Over time I have learned the value of getting some scent on the body of the bear themselves. This is where the liquid spray scents are really effective. The more oily the spray, the better for longevity. Most people just spray these scents up in trees, on stumps and around the bait site. I pay special attention to where the bears will walk down the trails when entering and exiting the bait site. I liberally spray the leaves of bushes their fur will come into contact with. This puts lots of good smell all around the area right at the nose height of any other bears who happen to be in the area. The more the trails become established the easier it is to use this technique effectively and I carry a bottle with me each time I bait to renew the scent.
Get your trail cameras on the baits as soon as you put them out and let the bears tell you what they like. If you’re doing it right, you can have bears on your baits the first night and multiple bears visiting within a couple days.
I’m convinced that bears will seek out the source of stuff that smells good no matter if it is carried on the wind, the fur or on the feet of other bears. Additionally, I am certain that when bears smell another bear’s droppings, which they constantly do, they can tell if the other guy is eating better than they are. They’ll make an effort to find the source of the good eating and the smells of the area will help direct them right to your bait quickly. Then your quality bait and choice of location will keep them pinned down until opening day when you can turn them into a bear rug.
Do These 5 Things this summer to help you shoot a buck this fall
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
If you’re a deer, there are a lot of ways to die WARNING: Graphic photos
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.