Coyotes kill a lot of deer. Studies have shown that up to 74% of the fawns in some areas are eaten by coyotes. Here’s what you can do about it on your hunting area.
By Bernie Barringer
In the first part of this two part series we looked at the affects of coyotes on deer populations and their effect on hunting. The results are quite shocking as we discovered several studies which show alarming mortality rates of fawns due to coyote depredation. We also learned that coyotes are very mobile and fill in the vacant areas quickly so control must be consistent and as widespread as possible.
Coyote control simply means killing as many as possible. Harsh as that may sound, you can’t kill them all, and the remaining coyotes are less susceptible to disease which they might pass on to other animals, so killing some of them is good for the entire ecosystem as a whole. Plus trapping is a good excuse to get outdoors and learn more about the world around us. And good quality coyote pelts are worth going after. They will definitely pay for your gas and equipment at the least.
Coyotes are notoriously difficult to trap if specific precautions are not taken. The coyote has the entire world to roam, and you must make him place his foot into a one-inch circle. Not an easy task, for sure, especially when you consider their amazing ability to smell your presence. Scent free tactics are imperative.
Their Achilles heel is their curiosity. They smell fresh urine or scent from another canine and they just have to check it out. Scent post sets and dirthole sets are the two most common trap sets for catching coyotes because they take advantage of this chink in their armor.
These sets take advantage of the coyote’s propensity to pee on any unusual object. A scent post set is placed near any outstanding feature that a coyote might see as a place to mark. It might be a corner post, a single corn stalk at the corner of a field, a rock or even a tuft of grass that looks out of place. A trap can be buried near these with dirt sifted over it and some fresh lure.
Dirthole sets are simply a small hole with a bit of bait in it with a trap set in front. Lure is also used to call the coyote to the area, and when he puts a foot out to hook the bait out of the hole, you have him. For more specific details on how to make these and other coyote sets, check out YouTube videos on trapping or visit the forums at trapperman.com, where the regulars there are always willing to help out a beginner.
Catching coyotes in snares is one of the most effective ways of controlling them, especially in the winter when their fur is prime and their movements are somewhat predictable. Trails develop in the snow and catching a coyote can be as simple as hanging a snare over the trail. I pile trimmings and bones from deer I have shot along with carcasses from other animals I have trapped to make a bait pile and the coyotes are soon regulars at the bait. Trails develop like the spokes of a wheel and the snow shows me where to hang the snares in the narrow, necked-down areas of these trails.
Snares should be about 10 inches in diameter and about 6-10 inches off the ground. They must be mounted so they are rigid about the snare lock so they close quickly and firmly. Most coyotes will be caught around the neck and die quickly and humanely as they tangle on the nearby brush or saplings.
Getting out and calling coyotes to the gun is a favorite sport among hunters across the nation. It pays to spend some time practicing and learning from instructional books, videos or a mentor before tackling this challenge or you may just educate the coyotes in your area and make them harder to kill.
Setting up with the wind in your favor is key to being successful. Most callers start out with a locating call of some sort, like a young coyote howler for example. If you get a response to the howler, start a dying rabbit scream and be ready for some action. They may come in hard and fast or they may sneak in so you have to be ready for anything. Guns such as a .223, .22-250 or .243 are common choices, and some callers use shotguns in thick cover.
Calling coyotes is packed with adrenaline and it is effective. But once you call one and don’t shoot it, they wise up quickly, so do it right the first time.
Hire a trapper
If you do not have the time or the inclination to kill the coyotes on your own, it’s most likely not too hard to find someone to do it for you. There are active trappers across North America and most are willing to come and trap for free during the prime fur season if the pelts are worthwhile. During the off season or in areas with poor fur quality, you are going to have to pay them some gas money or offer a bounty. In most cases, trappers will agree to take coyotes if you also allow them to set raccoon, mink, bobcat, fox or beaver traps as well to make it worth their while. Get to know their needs and you can build a relationship that will benefit everyone involved.
Make sure you communicate closely with them about the rules of your property or you may have them coming through to check traps when you are in the treestand. Trapping season is hunting season so make sure you make prior arrangements as to trap checking times.
Coyote control is a long term endeavor. You must do it every year and get as many as you can. It can be hard work, but studies have consistently shown that reducing coyote populations can significantly increase your fawn survival rates, and one of those fawns may be the next big buck you hang on your wall.
In many areas, coyotes kill a lot of deer, particularly fawns. Just how big is the impact? Some studies show coyote depredation is probably much more damaging than you think.
By Bernie Barringer
Just about anyone who has hunted for long has seen a coyote enter a field and clear it of deer just by its presence. You may have noticed a deer fleeing through the woods with a coyote hot on its tail. These are all indicators that coyotes have an impact not only on deer populations but on deer hunting itself. But just how bad is it?
In this first part of a two-part series I will look at some studies that have been done to illustrate how coyotes affect deer populations, and in part two, I will offer some advice about what you can do about it and how much affect your efforts are likely to have.
Coyotes do kill adult deer, and they often kill healthy bucks and does. Coyotes hunt individually and in packs. When they are in packs is when they are the most lethal to adult deer, especially when other environmental conditions, such as deep snow, can be used to their advantage. In fact, a 2013 study of moose mortality in Ontario showed that coyotes were a significant predator on moose, which are four times the size of whitetails.
But where coyotes do their most damage is during the fawning season. There is a myth that newborn fawns do not have an odor so predators cannot find them. Bears find them, bobcats find them and wolves find them. But coyotes are far and away the most lethal predator on whitetail fawns. There are many scientific studies to back this up.
A study on an island off the coast of Maine determined that 74% of the fawns in one year were eaten by coyotes. A Texas study showed a 72% fawn mortality rate attributed to coyotes. A New Brunswick study showed 47% in one year and in more farming country, the numbers were lower but still significant; Iowa and Illinois studies showed mortality due to coyotes at over 51%. A study in the northern forest area of Minnesota showed that of all the fawn mortality that was recorded, 49% were killed by coyotes and 51% by wolves. Bear kills were not recorded because normally the remains, if there are any, of fawns eaten by bears are not found.
So if you have any doubts that coyotes are putting the hurt on the deer population where you hunt, you can put those doubts to rest. Coyotes are killing your deer.
In order to see if more fawns could be produced by keeping coyotes away, a large fence was erected at a research facility in Georgia. This 10-year study involved the construction of a fence around a 98-acre area that provided good fawning habitat for whitetails. The fence was four foot tall so coyotes could not get over it and buried in the ground far enough that the coyotes could not dig under it. GPS collars on the deer showed that the does quickly learned to go into this coyote exclusion area to avoid predation and have their fawns.
This study showed two predictable results over ten years: Number one, the number of fawns that made it to reproductive age significantly increased. And Number two, hunting success also increased in and near the exclusion area.
Not many of us could build a 4-foot high fence around our hunting land, so we must resort to other options. Killing coyotes is the most obvious, and it is effective if done over time and consistently, but there are drawbacks.
Coyotes cover a lot of ground. Some of them have huge home ranges, dozens of square miles, and they are opportunists at finding areas with good game populations. You may trap or shoot every single coyote from your hunting property, but you will get your neighbor’s coyotes as they fill in the gaps.
One Georgia study revealed some interesting results by removing coyotes on two wildlife management areas, one had a deer density of 55 deer per square mile and the other had a density of 22 deer per square mile. Professional trappers removed 15 coyotes from the larger and nine coyotes from the smaller one. Fawn survival increased at first but then leveled right off.
How many coyotes do you need to take and for how long? A South Carolina study provides some insight. Hundreds of coyotes were killed on three separate 8,000-acre areas. Fawn survival went way up at first, but then began to decline over the four-year study. It seems the coyotes were finding the area fertile ground with little competition, and moving in about as fast as the trappers could catch them.
This might seem like a hopeless situation, but really it’s not. You can have an impact even on small properties if you control coyotes to the best of your ability and keep them controlled as long as possible. Just stay after them and you will save some fawns, even if you cannot save them all. Get your neighbors involved and it will be even more effective for you.
Fur prices on good quality coyote pelts are not bad right now, so the incentive to trap and shoot them during the winter is there, but control must be a year ‘round effort.
In part two of this series I will offer some advice on getting started in coyote control through trapping, snaring and predator calling. Killing coyotes is not just good for deer, it’s good fun too and it’s another excuse to spend some time outdoors.
On Wednesday, January 9th, the Pope and Young Club convened a Special Panel of Judges in Regina, Saskatchewan for a potential P&Y World Record non-typical mule deer. Dennis Bennett’s enormous buck has a 5 by 5 typical frame with 15 abnormal points on each side with a gross score of 303 0/8. The buck was shot near the Arm River on October 1st, 2018. Measurers present at the Special Panel were Michael Halirewich, Glen Sellsted, Patrick McKenzie, and Eli Randall. With a final score of 291 1/8″, Dennis’s buck was confirmed as the new P&Y non-typical World Record mule deer. This buck surpasses the previous World Record non-typical mule deer shot by Kenneth Plank in 1987 by 16 and 2/8 inches.
“It was a pleasure to be part of the panel recognizing this beautiful non-typical mule deer from Saskatchewan as a New World Record,” stated Eli Randall, Records Director for the Pope and Young Club. “The pictures of this deer do not do it justice. This 291 1/8″ giant will be a must see at our convention in Omaha, Nebraska April 10th – 13th, 2019.”
Dennis started early on the morning of October 1st in search of the big non-typical. Dennis got to within 44 yards when the big non-typical was startled by another smaller buck bedded close by. Dennis was not ready for a shot and watched as the bucks bounded away up the hill into some trees.
Dennis returned later in the afternoon, giving the buck time to settle down. Soon Dennis spotted him close to where he had left him that morning. The buck was bedded in a small depression in buck brush near the top of the hill. The stalk was close to 300 yards, and the wind had changed which allowed Dennis to follow the fence line along the top of the hill and get within 37 yards. The buck was now standing broadside, Dennis ranged as the deer browsed with his head down. The shot was on a steep angle, and the arrow hit a bit high. The deer dropped in its tracks and rolled down the hill about 50 yards.
This incredible animal has been entered into the 31st Recording Period–the biennium representing entries accepted into the P&Y Records Program from January 1, 2017, to December 31, 2018. At the close of every biennial recording period, numerical awards and honorable mentions are awarded to the most outstanding bow-harvested animals in each species category that have been entered during this two-year recording period. New world’s records are verified and proclaimed, and awards are presented to these outstanding animals during the Pope and Young Club’s biennial convention and awards banquet.
The Pope and Young Club is a non-profit North American bowhunting and wildlife conservation organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of our bowhunting heritage and values and the welfare of wildlife and habitat. The Club also maintains the universally recognized repository for the records and statistics on North American big game animals harvested with a bow and arrow.
By Bernie Barringer
Scent free dryer sheets
This one comes from the “Why hasn’t anyone done that before?” department. Well the reason no one has introduced a scent free dryer sheet before is because the nature of dryer sheets makes it difficult to do so, but Wildlife Research Center recently got the chemistry right and now we have a dryer sheet to throw in with our hunting clothing that removes static without making them smell like the perfume counter at the mall. Here’s a video about it and two more new products. www.wildlife.com
Hunter safety systems Ultra-Lite harness
HSS has several levels of safety harnesses from the popular pro series with its pockets and straps which help the hunter keep his gear within quick reach to more bare bones models. The Ultra-Lite is designed for the guy who covers long distances and goes deep into public land on foot. Weighing in at a mere 2.9 lbs., the Ultra-Lite is the lightest and most flexible harness on the market. It is the ideal harness for anyone who has to travel a long distance to the treestand or who prefers to feel unencumbered while staying safe. The Ultra-Lite comes standard with ElimiShield Scent Control Technology and is available in Realtree Xtra for a suggested retail price of $99.99. www.hssvest.com
A cell phone scouting camera for under $300?
Leave it to Covert to come up with a high-quality cell phone camera that retails at $299, by far the best value of any camera of this quality available. The 4G LTE E-1 camera will appeal to a lot of people. They did it without sacrificing photo quality in lens and sensor. The camera lacks some of the features of the higher end cameras such as the ability to change settings from home with a cell phone app. But the quality of photos it takes remains the same as their cameras costing $150 more. It will either text or email you a low-res photo as it takes them, and saves a high-res photo on the SD card. Watch this video about it. www.covertscoutingcameras.com
Deer lure from your own urine
Time will tell if this product is a serious player in the business of deer lures. What’s better than fresh urine as a deer attractant? It doesn’t get any fresher than when it comes straight from your own bladder. Mix your own urine in a bottle with a doe-in heat lure formula and you have fresh doe in heat deer lure according to the folks at Scent Relief. I’ll just pass this info along and let you decide for yourself. They do not have a website yet.
Scent Lok Hundo youth camo and Elite:1
Most of the time children’s hunting clothing has been hand-downs and poor fitting at best. Scent Lok set out to change that with their Hundo series. Its great clothing priced at $100 per piece for jacket, pants and base layers. It has seams that can be removed at the sleeves and pantlegs so the child can grow into it. Keeping kids comfortable in the field is one way to get them hooked on hunting for life and these items of clothing are designed to help. Scent Lok also released a high-end line to compete with the likes of KUIU and Sitka. For the hunter who is not afraid to pay up for high quality clothing, the Elite:1 line is really nice stuff for the hunt of a lifetime. Video here. www.scentlok.com
Check out this moveable camera
The live feed video camera from Whitetail’r can be put anywhere within Bluetooth range of your phone and you can control the camera from an app on your smartphone. You can move the camera all around to explore different angles right from your phone. It will also take photos. See more on this video
More improvements to the Lone Wolf treestand
Lone Wolf for many years has been a very popular treestand and sticks system used by DIY public land hunters who walk long distances from the access points and desire to stay mobile. A couple new features have been added including a coating that reduces noise and a new system for anchoring the seat solid. It’s a lot easer to watch than to explain so check out this video.
By Bernie Barringer
I’d found this spot the previous year but I didn’t hunt it correctly. The location was a narrow stretch of trees connecting two larger woodlots along the banks of a large river. The area surrounding it was a couple hundred acres of tall native grasses. It’s the kind of spot that jumps off the screen at you when you see it on Google Earth. It’s what I call a classic rut funnel.
Despite the fact that it is on Kansas state public hunting land, I was the only one hunting it because of the difficulty in getting more than a mile and a half back into it, and of course, the prospect of getting a buck out of there. If this spot was within a half-mile of the road, I probably wouldn’t be alone in there.
My trail camera was regularly getting photos of two nice shooters and a third buck that looked marginal. The third one was a ten-pointer with a kicker that looked to be a 3-year-old with amazing potential. He was often running with a big mature 8-point that had a thick, muscular chest and a wide, dark rack with long tines. That eight was the kind of buck you don’t see often on public land in any state, but this was a big area, far from human activity, so I wasn’t surprised.
The afternoon of November 6, the wind was right for this spot. It was nearing dark when I heard the noise of a deer walking through the tall, dry grass to the south. I tossed a loud grunt his way and suddenly he crashed towards me on a dead run, stopping at the base of my tree. I am always amazed at how perfectly they can pinpoint the source of a sound. I didn’t even have time to get my bow off the holder.
This buck was clearly the 10-point with the kicker. As he stood at the base of my treestand directly below me, I had a moment to analyze him in person for the first time. He was definitely young; in fact, I decided he may be only two years old. And I had him on camera several times accompanied by the big eight. He began to trot away just as I heard another noise in the dry grass. I grabbed my bow and drew it. Sure enough, the big eight stepped into view at 28 yards. He was what I call a “no-brainer;” he looked downright majestic with his chocolate rack and heavy, bull-like body.
I instinctively grunted him to a stop and sent an arrow on its way. I could see the Lumenok pinned to his rib cage as he tore off into the tall grass and then heard him crash about 10 seconds later. The hunt was a result of being in the right place at the right time, with the emphasis strongly on the Right Place.
Find The Killing Tree
That’s not the only great location I know of. Some of them are only good with certain crop rotations or other annual changes; and some of them are good every year. What makes them great is that the deer will always do what deer have always done with relation to certain terrain features when all other factors are equal. Cameras will help you find these spots to some degree, but to really pinpoint these little hunting gold mines, there’s no substitute for in-person experience; you need to hunt them to really figure them out.
We started with a broad approach and worked our way down; from choosing the right state, to choosing the best areas within that state and on to picking the properties where we will hunt. Now that we are on site, we are going to choose our specific hunting location, right down to which tree we are going to use to kill that big buck.
In my years of hunting public land in so many states, I have found that the entire process almost always comes down to one or two specific locations. After all the work is done before the trip, and the scouting, trail camera checking, hunting and observation takes place in the first few days of the hunt, it always seems to focus down on one, sometimes two, specific spots where I go all in. Usually there is one place where I decide to push all my chips into the middle and live or die there. Choosing this spot is all about confidence.
The Confidence Factor
When I first started doing these DIY road trips, I would arrive at a location and I couldn’t wait to get in a tree and start hunting. I often would find an area all tore up with rubs and scrapes and I would put up a stand and start hunting it. That proved to be an ineffective method of hunting. One of the reasons was a lack of confidence in the spot.
I’d be sitting in that great looking spot and I would hear bucks fighting just over the ridge from me, or I’d see a buck cruise down the crest of a saddle a hundred yards away, or maybe I’d see a line of does working down a trail out of range and I would wonder what’s over that ridge… is it a spot better than the one I’m in? I would quickly lose confidence in my spot and I would spend time looking for other spots when I should have been hunting. I would invariably end up going back at the end of the hunt to take that first stand down and realize it wasn’t in that good of a spot after all.
Before I ever put up the first stand these days, I want to fully know the area. I want to know what is over that ridge. I want to know what’s on that saddle and I want to know where those does were going. Then when I finally choose my spot to hunt, I can climb in the stand with the confidence that I am in a good spot and I’m not continually second-guessing myself. Nothing makes it harder to stay on stand all day than a lack of confidence in your location.
The Value of Scouting
There is no substitute for covering a lot of ground on foot. Put on a good pair of comfortable boots and put on some miles. I carry a backpack with trail cameras, some granola bars and drinks, deer scents, GPS, camera and lane trimming tools.
Back home you probably have deer hunting land that you try to manage. You are somewhat familiar with the deer’s tendencies on that land. You know where the bedding areas are and you stay out of them. You may even have areas that are considered inviolate that you never set foot into. If you are on a DIY hunt in a new area you have none of those luxuries. You need to find those places, and sometimes identifying them means taking risks that you would never consider on property that you hunt all the time.
You have to hunt and scout aggressively. You’ll bust some deer out of their beds. I hate that, but if you are going to learn the lay of the land it’s a fact of life. They may or may not be back the next day, but over time they will be back there; it’s a preferred bedding area for a reason. Deer on public lands are more accustomed to being bumped, then quickly going back to their normal patterns than most people realize. Walking a creek or ditch while looking for a crossing is a good way to intersect trails. These crossings often turn out to be good stand locations.
I use lures in scrapes and put cameras over them. I like the scrape drippers made by Wildlife Research Center and I use their Active Scrape lure and Special Golden Estrus to get the deer in front of my cameras. It’s hard to beat using a trail camera on a big scrape with fresh urine or quality deer lures when it comes to getting a quick inventory of the bucks on the property.
I rarely hunt the first day I arrive at a new location. I usually try to find a vantage point where I can observe activity through binoculars during the evening hours. There is so much more information to be gathered by observation than by getting in a tree that first day. You’ll see how much hunting pressure the area is getting, if any. You’ll be able to observe the stage of the rut by observing deer movements. You might even find a great stand site by observing where the deer activity is concentrated.
Even when I do put up the first stand, it’s likely to be what I call an “observation stand” meaning that it is in a location where I can see a distance. This may be the edge of a field where I can see the entire field, or it may be on top of a ridge where I can observe deer traffic before actually moving the stand right onto a more specific location.
We all want to get in the stand and hunt right away, but trust me, a more methodical approach will pay off in the long run. If you go back to this same property in future years, you will have much of the actual legwork done so you can attack much sooner. But for the first time, not taking time to familiarize yourself with the area is a recipe for failure.
I like to start with one stand near an area that I can see visible feeding activity. I want to know where the does are spending most of their time on any rut hunt. In many cases that stand will be on the edge of a field or food plot. The observations from that stand will usually lead me to move it to an entry trail, a staging area or a trail that parallels the edge of the field where bucks will work inside the woods to scent check the does. Once I have the stand and equipment out there, I have a lot less work to do when it comes time to move it to a more specific location.
One time I put a stand right on top of an oak ridge because the deer’s movements were not readily identifiable even though they were feeding all through the area. Following the first evening in that stand, I could clearly see which direction the majority of them came from and I moved the stand down the ridge 100 yards and filled my tag the next evening.
Setting on Sign and Instinct
Because you have never been to the area before, you have little choice but to make your stand placement decisions on a combination of sign and instinct. The easiest part of that equation of course is the sign. You want to find not just sign but fresh sign. Fresh rubs, scrapes that are getting worked, evidence of feeding such as plants nipped off and ears of corn pulled off the stalks, fresh beds, fresh tracks in the trails; these are all evidence of recent activity that helps you gain confidence that you are in the right spot.
First person observation is the way to read the sign and to do that you need to get out there and cover the ground. Get to know the area well, and you will have a much better view of the overall picture, which will help you in your decision making process about where exactly you are going to spend your valuable hunting time.
The more you do this, the more you will have gut feelings about certain things you see. There is no substitute for time in the woods and experience. When you find yourself looking around you and saying, “This place just feels right.” Then you will know you’re well on your way. The instincts that make you great at choosing great spots must be developed over time. The more time you spend at it, the better you become.
By Bernie Barringer
I’d been sitting in a tree by a trail that led to a bedding area composed of willows on a riverbank. A steep hill was 100 yards to the west and I was surrounded by rubs and scrapes. I had spent two mornings and an evening in this spot, with a great deal of confidence. It looked good and felt good.
The morning before, I watched a string of six does and a yearling buck walk a trail 60 yards to the west. I had considered that trail for my stand, but frankly, the one I was sitting in just looked a lot better. Over the next two sits, I continued to see deer using that other trail. I also had the frustration of watching a nice 10-point buck work a scrape just out of range. I decided to move my stand 60 yards so I could cover that trail. I didn’t fully understand why, but for some reason that’s where the most activity seemed to be. By all outward appearances, the place I was sitting should have been the right spot, but I moved anyway.
The following morning, and hour after daylight, I could hear two bucks fighting down by the river. They were in the bedding area, and if I had been in the stand I had abandoned the previous day, I would have been able to see them. I silently cursed my luck for moving. But my disappointment would be short-lived.
Suddenly, a 3-year-old eight pointer came running up the bank and raced by my stand. It was followed by a heavy-bodied buck with dark fur, thick shoulders and a big gray head. A buck much older than you would expect to see on public land. He crossed the trail at a right angle then stopped at 40 yards perfectly broadside, looking momentarily for the younger buck he had just vanquished. My arrow sliced through both lungs before I could hardly even fully grasp the situation or think about the shot. It happened so fast and I was in automatic mode.
I’d been hunting three different public properties in that area for 12 days, and that subtle move of the treestand made the difference. I had drawn a tag for that state, researched the public land opportunities, chosen a small number of places to look at, finally settled on three of them, and eventually, picked the exact right tree. That’s what being a successful freelance bowhunter is all about.
The positive outcome of that hunt was the result of a doing lot of homework. I’d spent a lot of time the previous winter doing research on this piece of public land, which included talking a local hunter who gave me a lot of good information, reading what I could on the state DNR’s website, speaking to a biologist and game warden on the phone and gazing at aerial photos on Google Earth.
Choosing a Hunting Location
This is the one component of the puzzle where the decision is made before you ever leave home, and winter is the time to do it. You first have to decide where you want to go. Some states offer tags over the counter, some require you to apply and choose a zone, and yet others require you to apply for several years before you will draw. Make a list of the states you would like to someday hunt and start applying for tags or preference points. You will need to understand the terms relating to tags and drawings and this article offers of ton of info.
For the sake of argument, let’s say you have drawn a tag or want to hunt an OTC state. The first thing you should do is start with internet research. There is a lot of information on this site that will help you make decisions about the public areas too. Spend some time researching public areas on the state game departments’ websites.
Large national forums such as Archery Talk, Bowhunting.com, Bowsite.com and others offer a large pool of people who can offer up good answers to specific questions.
State Hunting Forums
It seems there are hunting forums for each and every state. Some of them are very active and others not so much. Find the ones for each of the states you have an interest in and then start visiting them. Sometimes the locals can be a little harsh when you start asking for information, but if you establish a relationship, you can often find some good info and there always seems to be a couple guys with knowledge and a helpful attitude.
Avoid asking general questions such as, “I have an Iowa tag, which public hunting areas are good?” All that will do is make people think you are trying to use them to do the research that you should be doing yourself. A much better question would be “Has anyone hunted the Shimek State Forest… can you tell me how much bowhunting pressure to expect there the first two weeks of November?” That question will probably get a helpful response.
State Wildlife Agencies and Aerial Photos
Of course, it is important to spend time on the state DNR website and learn about the public hunting areas. Most states have maps of their public areas. It seems to work best for me to compare these maps with Google Earth aerial photos. I like to look at the borders of the areas to see what the property lines look like. What does the land on the other side of the property line look like? Is it open farm ground or maybe urban area? I have hunted a couple pieces of public land that had some really well managed private land adjacent to it. On Google Earth you will see what to look for: Food plots, clearings, streams, sometimes even shooting houses or treestands. Once you have seen a well-managed deer sanctuary on Google Earth, you will begin to recognize what to look for.
In one case I was looking over a nice-looking piece of public land, when I discovered that the northern border of the property was a stream. The DNR had planted a large clover lot along the stream, but it was a mile and a half from the nearest road. I liked what I was seeing already, but it was about to get a lot better. On the other side of that stream was a large block of timber that had a few openings cut into it. In those openings were green plots, and they were way too small to be farm fields. Tractor trails connected the food plots and ATV trails showed where the stand sites could be approached. Clearly this place was being managed for whitetail hunting. A look at the land records for that area showed that the land was owned by a well-known television hunting couple. Think the potential for that piece of public land might be a little better than average?
Record Keeping Organization Statistics
The Boone & Crockett Club website offers a feature that allows you to search out the best states and the best counties within those states that have produced the Boone & Crockett Bucks. It’s called Trophy Search and it’s a great tool for the freelance hunter. You can sort their records according to the criteria you select. They charge $50 per year to use the tool, and it is well worth it. Spend the $50 and then spend some time searching through their records. It can be quite revealing. The Pope & Young Club offers a CD of all their records. I use the entire set of records in an Excel file so I can sort by state, size, county, etc. It’s not quite as easy to use as the B&C trophy search website, but the information is there if you take the time to mine it out. These two tools will help you discover trends that will help you understand which area of each state has the best potential to produce mature bucks.
Speaking with Biologists
Finding a person with boots on the ground in any area can be one of the best ways to flesh out your options. In fact, some conversations can be very revealing. It might contain a reference like this, “We have been doing a lot of work planting food plots on Public Area X this summer and the deer are really piling into it.” That’s good stuff right there.
Speaking in person with a state, federal or county employee can keep you from making a big mistake too. In one case I called a biologist who looked at his calendar and said, “We’ll be doing a huge prescribed burn on that area that week, we’ll be burning 600 acres of switchgrass so there will be a lot of personnel, trucks and smoke on that public area for about four days that week.” He kept me from making a big mistake.
In another case, a biologist once told me that the area I had been looking at took a huge hit from EHD that summer, but the next county over didn’t get hit as hard. He also told me that the two public areas in that county held some nice bucks and don’t receive much pressure except during shotgun season.
Don’t be afraid to call and ask specific questions. These people are public servants and your license fees pay their salary. Talking to you is part of their job so use them as a resource. You can find their phone number on the state Wildlife Agency website. Sometimes it takes a while to track down the biologist because they are often in the field every day. Winter is usually the best time to catch them in the office with time to talk.
If you have had a desire to hunt whitetails in another state, the work you put in now will have a lot to do with your success in the fall. There’s no time like the present time to get started.
For more detailed information on hunting out of state, see the author’s new book The Freelance Bowhunter: DIY strategies for the travelling hunter which is available HERE.
This not just another venison recipe, it’s a new way to look at cooking an entire hindquarter of venison. Check it out.
By Bernie Barringer
My wife shot a young doe and the tender meat had me looking for something new to try with the venison. A trophy is in the eye of the beholder and this deer was a trophy for the two of us, but it left me with some decisions to make. We eat a lot of wild game at our house, in fact, our five kids grew up on it. I am always trying something new and experimenting because to me that’s part of the thrill of the harvest. I usually make the hindquarters of deer into roast to be cooked in the slow-cooker. They are mouthwatering and tasty the way I make them.
The hindquarters of a young deer like this one are tender and I often make them into steaks, because half of them are too small for a roast and the entire “ham” makes a mighty big roast. Six pounds of roast is more than we need at this point in our life. So I decided to try something new this time; smoke the entire ham.
I would have to experiment with the amount of heat and time since I had never done this before. I also like to have the smoker full when I use it; since I wasn’t making any sausage out of this deer I got a dozen turkey legs (they are cheap and make a good lunch for me) and added them to the mix.
What I did was not a true ham. To make your venison into a true ham you would need to cure it for hours in a brine with salt, spices, pickling spices, etc. which is a lot more time and work than I wanted to go into with this experiment. That process may be next on my list, and if you want to go that route there are plenty of online resources for curing a ham.
I coated the hams with salt and seasoning salt. I tend to use Lawry’s Seasoned Salt on most kinds of beef and venison when I am grilling, but when I am cooking pork I really prefer Johnny’s Seasoning Salt. I decided to use the Johnny’s with this project. As you can see by the video I was very generous with the salt and seasoning. Coat the meat really good inside and out. If you have a meat injector, use it!
I started the smoker at 155 degrees because I felt that’s the internal temperature I would want for the ham to be done. Because it was so cold in my unheated garage, it would have taken probably 12 hours to finish it at that temperature, and since I was planning to have it for supper, I cranked up the heat to 180 which got it done in 8 hours. If I had to do it again, I would start earlier in the day and go with the 12 hours at 155.
The project turned out fantastic. The ham is tender and has an amazing smoky flavor. It makes terrific sandwiches when sliced, and I have also just carved chunks from it and ate it like it was jerky although it is more tender than jerky.
I really encourage you hunters to try this on your venison. I think you will be happy with the results. I know I will definitely be doing it again. Watch the video below to see the visual of how I did this.
Don’t despair if you still haven’t wrapped your tag around a buck. This is one of the best times of the year to hunt if you can handle the harsh weather.
By Bernie Barringer
Here I am with a deer tag in my pocket and it’s almost Christmas. It’s not the first time I let this happen and I am sure it won’t be the last. In fact, I tend to be rather indifferent about shooting a deer until winter hits, unless a great opportunity presents itself. The harsh weather of winter offers one of the best times of the year to catch a buck with his guard down.
I love hunting the last days of archery season despite the nasty weather because I have so many good memories and successes to show for it. Many states have bow and muzzleloader seasons that last beyond Christmas and well into January. The key to success for me has been the understanding that the deer have different needs during cold weather than they do during the rest of the hunting season. The key is finding standing farm crops that offer the nutrients they crave at this time of the year.
After the rut, bucks are run down. Their fat reserves are gone, and even their muscle mass is diminished. Nothing restores muscle faster that protein, and soybeans are loaded with protein. Field corn is very high in carbohydrates, which help restore fat reserves. Most mast crops are super high in carbohydrates and fat.
Corn fields left standing in December into early January will be swarmed by deer. In cut corn fields, deer will glean waste corn from the ground as long as it is available, and they can easily smell even a single kernel through a foot of snow.
Since soybeans provide quick energy through a combination of proteins and carbs, deer will often seek them out during the coldest weather. A stretch of below-zero weather will move deer off the corn and acorns and onto the soybeans because of the quick turnaround of energy they offer. During these periods of deep freeze weather, immediate energy for body heat is more important that storage of fat. Food plots of soybeans or late-standing soybean fields attract more deer than corn does during the harshest weather. When the weather moderates, they may move back to the high-carb food sources.
When not feeding, bucks need to feel secure in bedding areas that provide them protection from the elements. Thick cover offers protection from biting winter winds, and on cloudy or snowy days, most deer will be tucked in tight right in the middle of the thickest stuff around. And they will use the same beds day after day.
The second most common bedding areas in the winter are south-facing open slopes that get a lot of sun. Whitetails tend to use these areas when there is little wind and they can soak up the sun’s warming rays. Look for open timber where the sun can get through. These areas will typically have a lot of beds because the deer will get up and move as the shadow of a tree falls on them. So they may actually use 3-4 beds during the course of the day.
Well-worn trails provide evidence of travel patterns that can help the bowhunter decide where to set up an ambush. A ground blind along the edge or blended in with cornstalks right in the middle of the food is often the perfect spot.
It is very common for bucks to approach the field through thick cover, and make their way out into the field cautiously. The most mature bucks will typically enter the field last; they hang back and watch the posture and actions of the does which enter the fields first.
For me, getting on these bucks involves a two-part plan. The first stand I set up when I find a field with a lot of deer using it is what I call an observation stand. I will put the stand up on the downwind side of the field where I can see a large area. I am not so concerned about being within range of the deer, my primary objective is to see where they are coming into the field.
Once I get a handle on where the bucks are most likely to enter the field, it’s time to strike. I like to set up about 50 yards back off the edge of the field on the downwind side of the trail they are using. Usually the trails are obvious because they can’t hide what they are doing when snow covers the ground.
Because the mature bucks tend to come out last, the downwind approach is critical because it allows the does and smaller bucks to move by you without catching your wind. The target bucks will take their time and hang back off the edge of the field, right where you are set up.
So if you are like me and have hung onto your tag until the last minute; don’t despair, just bundle up and grind it out. Find the foods and you will find the deer.
By Tex McDonald
There is always the question should I purchase a new rifle just cause it’s soon to be deer season again? Should I just stick with Ole Faithful “Betsy?” Is there an extra hole in my gun cupboard that needs filling? Can I just tell the “Wife” that controls the finances that ole Betsy is done wore out and I just have to get this new one that’s on sale for near half price? What a dilemma this can turn out to be.
This problem is pretty simple for me most times. I’ve only bought a few brand-new rifles in my life. A new model 1895 Marlin in 45-70 in the early 1970’s when they first came out again. A Buffalo Bill commemorative model 94 in 1972 at a clearance sale, and a new Model 1892 Winchester in .44 magnum, takedown a few years back. That’s just three new ones for me. I’ve traded or bought and sold well over 1,000 rifles, shotguns and handguns over the years. All used, in various conditions, some just to resell, some to keep as part of a collection and some to give away to young folks, fundraising banquets and special friends and family members. A good number I sold were estate collections that I got a fair value for the remaining family.
This year for the annual Manitoulin Island Ontario deer hunt, I decided to use one of the older rifles I had and try and get a deer with it. I initially bought this fine rifle in 1995 from Rob Sheppard and his dad Ron. Rob wanted to use the money to buy an ole Mazda pickup. I said the gun will outlast that pickup for sure. Now this turned out to be a very special rifle. It was a model 1865 Spencer rifle made in 1865. It’s one of only 3,000 that were made. Of that number, 2,000 were sent to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts National Guard and most of the other 1,000 went to Canadian Troops. This particular rifle was used by the Queens Own Rifles to fight with in 1866 in battles along the Niagara escarpment against the Fenians. The rifle is marked with the “WD” and big broad arrow to show it was used by the military. It was chambered for 56-50 rimfire spencer cartridges. It has a seven shot tube in the butt stock and is a lever action.
Spencer was one of the first repeating lever guns out there that were made in any quantity. They started in 1857 and got it perfected in 1859. It was in production by 1860 in a small frame version. The U.S. Army purchased 45,733 of these 1860 carbines, then an additional 18,959 Model 1865 carbines as well and also 30,502 carbines made by Burnside. That’s a pile of Spencers. Most of these were all for Northern troops in the civil war. While mine is not a civil war souvenir it has a far greater place in Canadian history as well as the fact that it was one of only 3,000 made in that model the 1865 rifle.
A few years later (1998) I was in Boise Idaho visiting with my friend John Taffin and one day he was tied up doing something or other and I had asked him if there were any old gun shops around that may have some parts for the older guns. He gave me good directions and in an old shop I found a replacement block for my rifle. The intent was to alter it so I could shoot centerfire ammo rather than the obsolete rimfire ammo.
Well as some things go this project set on the back burner till this year. I contacted my gunsmith buddy “Buck” and asked him if he could alter the spare block for me. He said yes and I drove over with the rifle and spare block. I told him I would like to take a deer with it this fall or perhaps a bear. I left the block with him after the measurements were taken and came back home. He called after he had the block done and I brought the rifle back for the final fitting. I left it there with him. He had a few other problems to sort out once he got to the fitting and it was a much larger job than we both anticipated. I got a call on a Tuesday night it was ready. Ed Hable and I went down to pick it up. Buck says try it and then we can talk about the bill. I had left some primed cases there for him to test fire to be sure it was working ok. That evening I received three boxes of spencer ammo. It’s loaded in Indiana using Starline brass and a 340 grain FP lead bullet. A couple days later we tried it out and it grouped pretty good for me at 25 yards.
While doing some research on this rifle I made contact with Rob Greive who is the curator for the Queens Own Rifles Museum at Casa Loma in Toronto. He indicated he would like the rifle for the museum. I was going down that way in September to bring my wife Heidi to the Toronto Airport so we set up a date of September 30 to meet and go to the Oshawa gun club and do some shooting. Rob got two of his friends Boris and Les to sign us in and we commenced to shooting. Boris did best by far. He shot a three shot group at 50 yards that you could cover with a Looney. That’s some shooting. I made up my mind then to do a bit more practicing and use it this November.
The trigger pull on this rifle is very heavy, in fact it’s 12 pounds and that takes some getting used to. The first day hunting with my ole buddy Randy Noble I had a tough time seeing the front sight. It’s the regular barley corn style of the period. So at lunch time I asked Miranda (Randy’s daughter) if she had any nail polish in her purse. She frowned and said “no.” I said could you find me some and I prefer bright pink. She thought I was joking till I told her it was to put a small dab on the front sight. Well after lunch I had three bottes to choose from. I settled for “07 Cherry Smash” by Sally Hansen, Crackle Overcoat.
Well it sure made things easier to see with that dab of Pink. Tuesday afternoon at 2:30 or so a spike buck came out by me to feed on some corn I had put out. After a bit I had a reasonable shot at 52 yards. (I had checked the distance earlier) that was about as far as I wanted to shoot. The gun went CLICK and no bang, I re-cocked it and again CLICK and the deer is getting spooky, CLICK one more time and this time the deer turned for a perfect shot. I said a quick prayer and pulled the trigger the fourth time and there was a bang. The deer made one jump and was out of sight. Randy came by with his 4 wheeler and took a quick look. I was out of the stand by then for a look as well. The deer only ran about 20 yards and was laying there stone dead. That’s the most excitement I had hunting for a while and very satisfying. I could hazard a pretty reliable guess and say I was the only person in Ontario if not Canada to shoot a deer this fall with an Original 1865 Spencer Rifle! Really. There are lots of the ole carbines floating around but the rifles are scarce as hen’s teeth.
The fact that the rifle is 153 years old was not a problem doing the job for me. I would not shoot it at a much longer distance as I feel the killing power may not be sufficient at 100 yards but more so is my eyesight is not so good as it once was and that makes it harder to see the iron sights with this old one. The powder charge in the 56-50 cartridge puts it above the old 44-40 and close to the .44 Magnum so it does pack a fair wallop. Of course accuracy plays a big part in harvesting any type of game.
Now I have to start considering the deer hunt of 2019, hmmm. Well I have a bit of a plan and that’s to hopefully use a .44 Evans. That’s a unique rifle as well. If its in good shooting shape by then it will be the number one choice and if not, then it would likely be a .41 Swiss Vetterli in 10.4 x 42R that I had converted from rimfire to centerfire. Both rifles are 1860’s vintage and are pleasant to shoot. They, like the Spencer, represent the early age of the repeating rifle and the demise of the single shots. Back 150-160 years ago no one had even heard of a CNC machine and a good bit of the fitting and parts making was all done by hand but the quality shows today that these are still functioning, working models of these early inventors.
If I had a brand new vintage firearm in the original box that had never once been fired I would maybe not be the first to fire it. If the vintage rifle had been shot before then by all means I would shoot it again providing it’s in good enough mechanical condition. One of my mottos is: “IF YOU OWN IT, THEN SHOOT IT”
Texas is the Owner Operator of Texas and Sons Guides and Outfitters since 1972, specializing in Black Bear Hunts with Bow, Muzzleloader, Shotgun and Rifle in Northern Ontario Canada. See www.texasandsons.com for more info.
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 fed and housed 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.
Possibly the most difficult decision a DIY bowhunter has to make during the course of a constantly changing season is whether to push on or to move on. Here are some tips for making the right decision.
By Bernie Barringer
I’d waited three years to draw this Iowa tag, so I was really torn when I received the news. It was October 31, 2013 and I had been in Iowa a few days; I was getting nice bucks from 140-160 on trail cameras. The daytime buck movement was just starting to heat up. So when my wife called and informed me that her mother had died, and the funeral would be on Saturday, my whole world was thrown into a tailspin.
“If you want me to come home, I will come, just say the word.” I meant those words when I said them, just as much as she meant the words she said to me when she told me to stay and hunt. I guess that’s part of why this marriage has lasted for 35 years.
This may be an extreme case, but you don’t have to find out a family member has passed away to be faced with what I believe is the most difficult choice in DIY hunting away from home: Should I stick it out a few more days or should I bail out on this plan and move on to potentially greener pastures? In 20 plus DIY bowhunting road trips, I have been faced with that decision dozens of times, and often, I hate to admit it, I zigged when I should have zagged.
Most often when faced with this decision I am not looking at the option of just packing up to go home with my tail between my legs. I am more likely choosing whether or not to resort to a plan B that is already in place; a move to another hunting location that I have already researched.
Knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em is a decision that can be different on every hunt and may change during any moment of any hunt. There are some basic guidelines I have learned to help me make the decision.
I left Kansas early one time because the November forecast was for several days with highs in the 80s with south winds. South winds were terrible for the stands I had in place, and try as I might, couldn’t seem to find good locations for that wind direction. I wasn’t seeing much buck movement during the day and with hot weather coming, I felt my chances were better elsewhere. I spent a sweaty day packing up all my gear and headed to North Dakota.
I arrived in North Dakota two days later during a blizzard. The trail cameras I’d left there earlier in the year showed great daytime movement and I started immediately seeing chasing activity at all times of the day. It was one time when I made the right choice.
Long stretches of rainy weather can influence you to move as well, and in some cases, extreme cold or wind could cause the deer to hole up for a few days. Keep an eye on the forecast and make the best decision you can with as much information as you can gather.
Today’s technology allows you to get an accurate long-term forecast at the touch of a finger. Radar shows what’s coming and when. Some good examples of excellent hunting weather apps are MyRadar, Accuweather, and Scoutlook Weather (my favorite).
I have been to places where I was getting more trail camera photos of other hunters than I was getting of shooter bucks. This is one of the unknowns that can’t be researched ahead of time. You can make calls to biologists and game wardens to get a feel for the hunting pressure you are likely to encounter, but their advice is nothing more than speculation and the reality might be quite different than they expected.
In one case I almost backed out of a plan because I was told the hunting pressure on an 800-acre piece of public land in Kansas was quite intense during the first week in November. I decided to go there and battle it out because the property was large and I figured I could snake my way into some deep piece of cover and find a buck. I hunted there a week and saw a total of three other bowhunters. I guess they have a little different idea of hunting pressure than I do.
One time I arrived in Missouri and found the parking lot of a public hunting area full with seven trucks. The license plates showed that these trucks were from five different states.
While these types of situations cannot be predicted, there is no excuse for finding yourself in a crowd due to other hunting seasons. Once again in Missouri, I awoke on a Saturday morning and went to my hunting area before daylight, surprised to see so much activity around me. A weekend youth hunting season opened up that day. I wasn’t caught off guard because I knew the season was opening that day, but I was unprepared for the amount of pressure a rifle season brings and I hadn’t chose my stand site accordingly. A little foresight would have helped me use the pressure to my advantage if I had planned ahead.
Once I had big plans to hunt a piece of property out of state and it was with great optimism that I had all my spots marked out on Google Earth for some boots-in-the-dirt scouting. I called the biologist a few days before leaving home to ask him some details about the kinds of crops that were planted in the food plots on this public hunting area. He told me that they were going to do a controlled burn on several hundred acres of switchgrass prairie on that property the day I was scheduled to arrive. I really had to put a plan B into place in a hurry that time. Sure glad I made that call.
Sometimes a hunting area just goes dead for no apparent reason. I’ve seen it happen when coon hunters are working an area hard. The noise, scent and chaos of hounds running through an area during the night can move the bucks out for a few days. If you are not observant, you would never know that an army of people and hounds descended on your hunting area an hour after you got out of the stand in the evening. I have learned to look for clues in the parking areas to determine if there is a lot of activity going on when I’m not there.
You cannot have too much information and game cameras are a huge part of the decision making process when choosing if you should stick it out through tough times or bail out. They will offer lots of info about not only deer movement, but hunting pressure and even the presence of predators. I’ve seen where a pack of coyotes were constantly working a bedding area and the deer just won’t put up with the harassment. Without trail cameras I wouldn’t have known what happened.
Deer patterns can change quickly when a crop field is harvested or, on an early season hunt, the acorns drop. Trail cameras will fill you in very quickly when things change.
Choosing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em is often a tough call. Sometimes it’s obvious, but most often it’s a compilation of subtle clues that bring the question to the front. The best decision can be made by gathering as much information as you can, then make the decision based on all the factors.
By Bernie Barringer
I’m always looking for something new and nifty that will fill a need, solve a problem, or just scratch a hunting itch. Here are 10 of them for this year’s Christmas list. Feel free to wrap any of these up for me and put them under my tree!
OZ20 Vehicle Deodorizer
Ambient odors are insidious, and your vehicle collects them from every possible source as you travel down the long and smelly road of everyday life. Your dog’s hair, the rogue french fries under your seat and the variety of odors that come off our own bodies; they all collect and co-mingle inside our vehicles, then conspire to hitch a ride with us whenever we leave and venture into the field. Ultimately, they all can sound like alarm bells to a whitetail’s nose. Life teaches that cheap insurance comes in many forms. The latest of which for hunters is the $39.99 OZ20 Vehicle Deodorizer by ScentLok. The OZ20 Vehicle Deodorizer emits a powerful stream of ozone molecules that seek out and destroy virtually all types of odors and bacteria in their path. When ozone comes in contact with these contaminants, their chemical structure is changed to a compound that is no longer recognizable as an offensive odor. As ozone continues to attack these compounds, the odor is destroyed through oxidation. Simply plug this affordable marvel into your truck’s all-in-one 12V receptacle and let the odor destruction begin.
Cool Slogan T-Shirts for the Hunter
These shirts will make a statement about who you are as a hunter and meat eater. Three different versions each have their own graphics and statement, “DIY=EARNED”, “PUBLIC LAND OWNER” and the best-selling “ORGANIC” which features the high quality, fresh organic protein which is one of the reasons we hunt. Only $23 each with free shipping. https://moveu.us/stores/bbb
Meaty Delivery: Rugid meat pack kit
A high quality Rugid cooler stuffed with the meats of your choice: sticks, various kinds of jerky, sausages and other meaty snacks. Choose between tailgater packs, Jerky selection packs, hot meat mixes, etc. Great idea for the outdoorsman and a great gift idea for the meat lover. If you have a hankering to reload, you can also buy the kits of meats to refill your cooler for the next outing. This is a great gift idea to get for a huntin’ buddy but hey, a second one for yourself is a good idea as well. Hint, hint. https://www.meaty-delivery.com/
Kenetrek Merino Wool socks
Quality Merino wool socks have improved hunting experiences in cold and damp weather more than just about any other product. One of the leaders has been Kenetrek in producing great quality socks that can be worn day after day in any weather. Merino wool keeps damp feet warm without the itch. When you need tall boot protection without the bulk, slip into this tough as nails medium layer sock with reinforced heel, toe and shin pads so you won’t feel any lace pressure. Insulates when damp, and itch free. The socks are available in several thicknesses and designs for the various hunting applications, be it a evening treestand hunt or a week in the mountains. https://kenetrek.com/collections/socks
Field &Stream Whitetail Pack
Billed as the ultimate treestand hunter’s backpack, the Field & Stream Ultimate Whitetail Hunting Backpack, features a convenient rattling antler connector so you’ll never have to fumble through your pack when it comes time to rattle. The padded shoulder straps provide the ultimate in comfort, while an easy-grip handle helps with transport. The main compartment features exclusive Push Past access with a pocket that makes it easy to retrieve flashlights or knives inside. The pack also features a flip-down front panel and easy access to four zippered and two slip pockets. The waist belt includes removable 5-inch side pockets. Thanks to the roomy design and abundance of storage, everything you need in the field fits neatly into this pack. If you carry lots of gear into the woods with you, this will keep your stuff organized better than ever before.
Stacked climbing sticks
The Stacked Ladder Sticks are revolutionary climbing aids. They’re fast, quiet, super solid on the tree, and stack together like red solo cups. With their light-weight, compact, vertical nesting design, and the shoulder strap that’s included, you’ll forget you’re carrying them. The non-metal construction material allows these sticks to grab the tree and hold-on unlike the metal sticks of yesterday. There are no bolts or screws to break or come loose and no weld joints to fail. This product meets and surpasses industry standards recognized by TMA (Treestand Manufacturers Association). https://www.stackedoutdoors.com/product/ladder-sticks-stack-of-4/
High Output Scent Dripper
Designed with a higher output to simulate higher deer traffic. It can help you pattern and inventory bucks daytime and night. This unit will operate for up to 7 to 12 days on 4 FL OZ of scent depending on conditions. It normally shuts down during rain & bad weather, so it saves your valuable scent. High Output Scrape-Dripper and Hot-Scrape® with Scent Reflex® Technology helps get more action faster at mock scrape locations. http://wildlife.com/Hunting-Scent-Dispenser-Product_Details.php?Super-Charged-Scrape-Dripper-Combo-12
Pro Ears Stalker Gold
The Stalker Gold is perfect for hunting and shooting enthusiasts. The “chop” cut cup makes it easy to shoulder the firearm without interference, while providing comfort and control aiming. The Stalker Gold has an NRR of 25. The exclusive DLSC Technology has the fastest response time in the industry at 1.5 milliseconds. Military grade dual circuit boards ensure a rugged and reliable pair of ear muffs, no wires to snag or break, and maximum adjustability, backed up by a 5 year warranty. The internal gain setting is pre set to hear the quietest sounds at the greatest distances. The Stalkers are favored by bow hunters for clear audiophile sound and are aware of the prey. http://proears.com/product/stalker-gold-series/
Black Diamond Storm Headlamp
Rugged, fully waterproof workhorse for foul conditions and big adventures, the Black Diamond Storm Headlamp now features 350 lumens of power and three different colored night vision modes. The redesigned lighting profile offers improved peripheral lighting for close-range activities like cooking, reading or sorting gear, and the Storm also features our Brightness Memory, which allows you to turn the light on and off at a chosen brightness without reverting back to full power. Eight different lighting modes allow for fully custom lighting in any situation, and our PowerTap Technology makes for instant brightness adjustments. https://www.blackdiamondequipment.com/en_US/headlamps-and-lanterns/storm-BD620633_cfg.html
Covert Blackhawk Cell Cam
Cellular scouting camera technology has come a long way and the cost of operating cellular trail cameras has plummeted. The cost to run two cameras is less than $20 per month and additional cams are only $7 per month. New for 2018 is the latest LTE technology which will improve battery life and the speed of the wireless functions. The Blackhawk LTE continues with the ability to send texts, emails or both within the Covert Wireless mobile app and web-portal. The app includes guest access abilities and the power to retrieve high resolution images. The Blackhawk LTE sends instant pictures or 5 second videos using Verizon’s approved cellular network. Reliability at its finest, Covert Scouting Cameras continues to revolutionize the wireless trail camera industry. Also available is the Code Black which uses AT&T towers. https://www.covertscoutingcameras.com
By Bernie Barringer
Sometimes things do not go as planned. I’ve taken dozens of bowhunting road trips over the past 25 years and there’s been some fantastic ones and a few I would like to forget. My 2018 hunt in Kansas is shaping up to be one for the record books as far as new lows are concerned.
Anticipation is a big part of the attraction for me. I analyze aerial photos, study anything I can get on the public land properties and talk to anyone in the area who will give me information. I shoot my bow every day and go over my gear, checking and packing everything. My enthusiasm was running especially high this year because I was going back to a large piece of public land in southeast Kansas that I have hunted many times. I have bagged some nice bucks on this property over the years and I have found a couple great spots for hunting during the rut.
In one of these spots I killed a 130-inch 8-point my last trip here in 2016. That was the third buck between 125 and 145 I have shot there in the past five years. It’s a natural funnel between a steep river bank and a steep bluff. It’s a mile and a half from the access point and I’ve only seen one other hunter in there over the years; and he was only there one day. It’s a lot of work to get there, but it’s a bottleneck that funnels deer travel into a very predictable area. This is the kind of place that makes you feel you just need to put in your time when the bucks are cruising and you’ll kill a nice buck there every year.
A couple weeks before I was to leave, I learned that the river was flooded out of its banks and almost the entire property was underwater. I watched the weather carefully over the next few days and by two days before I was to leave, a call to the KFWP property manager confirmed that the river was back to normal and he said the deer had moved back down along the river and it would be business as usual when I arrived on November 1.
I made the 12-hour drive down and arrived just after dark and pulled into the motel I had used in the past. The motel looked strangely deserted, but I walked in and rang the bell at the front desk. The place had changed hands and the new owner was an Indian (the dot kind not the feathers kind) who didn’t speak English.
I tried to explain that I wanted room 151 because I could park my hunting trailer on the grass right beside the room and plug it in to electricity, so I would have lights and get my chest freezer running. Finally, by pointing at the motel layout diagram on the desk, I got point across and paid the one-week rate.
Soon as I got into the room it became clear that the new owners didn’t consider cleanliness a high priority. I kicked a couple dead crickets into the corner and began unloading my clothing, gear and food for the week. The bathroom wasn’t very clean and the room had a musty smell as if it hadn’t been used in a long, long time. There was a mouthful of toothpaste in the sink that had been deposited by a previous occupant and it had been there long enough to become fossilized. I ran the sink full of water to start soaking on that.
I started an ozone generator to work on the smell and sprayed down the bedding and curtains with Scent Killer. I settled down in front of a football game on TV and within a couple hours the room had started to smell better. A pickup pulled up outside and a guy went into the room right next to me. That’s interesting, there are 40 empty rooms and the owner decides to put this guy right beside me. No big deal though, right?
I had just dozed off when I was awakened as the prostitute showed up next door. The thin walls left little to the imagination as I tried desperately to ignore the noises and go back to sleep. But two hours later it was 1:00 a.m. and I was staring at the ceiling pondering two questions: “How much does it cost to make a middle-aged fat guy squeal like a little girl?” And “How long can they keep going?”
Finally they wrapped it up and the argument started. Seems she doesn’t take credit cards. After some yelling, she left. I had finally just drifted off to sleep again when she came back. More arguing.
Despite all that, I was out the door before daylight. My first morning after arrival, I like to drive the back roads around the property, glassing for deer to get a feel for what the rutting activity looks like and gauge the number of trucks in the parking areas. I didn’t see a single deer over the next couple hours, but I did see an unusual number of trucks for a weekday morning. But several were from out of state. New York, North Carolina. I walked into some areas I had scouted in the past and discovered a shocking lack of deer sign in areas that are normally really good. No rubs. Hardly any scrapes. Hardly a fresh track in any of the trails. Still I put out a couple trail cameras.
I headed back to the motel to change clothes before making the long march back into my favorite funnel for an evening hang and hunt. When I opened the motel door, I was hit in the face with a strong smell of perfume. Seems the maid had been there and didn’t like the musty smell so she hosed down the entire room with some kind of a super strong smelling something or other. It was overpowering.
The worst of it seemed to be coming from the bed so I pulled the bedspread outside and hung it over the hood of my pickup to air out. I left the door wide open and turned on the bathroom fan, which I have kept running now for the entire three days I have been here. I still cannot get the smell out of my clothes, I smell it in my pickup and I can smell it on me when I am in the treestand.
That afternoon with great anticipation, I made the long walk back to the honey hole bottleneck, hauling all my gear and when I got there I was met with yet another shock. There was a treestand in the very tree I had shot my buck out of on my last trip here. But that wasn’t the worst part; the hunter had completely cleared out everything around the treestand. It looked like he cut his shooting lanes with a bulldozer and a chainsaw. He had cut just about every branch and tree around the stand. He had dropped a half-dozen 20-25 foot tall trees! The devastation was eye-popping. I could see that he was coming down the river by boat and walking right across the trails that lead through the bottleneck. There’s no way any mature deer are going to tolerate that kind of disturbance.
I walked about 100 yards to the north and right up against the fence to private land found a couple fresh scrapes and one small rub, the best sign I had seen all day, despite nearly five miles of walking. So I found a suitable tree and set up. I did not see a deer that night. Or the next day. Or the next.
I have now been here three days, hunting hard in several locations, and I have yet to see even one single deer. According to the app on my phone I have averaged walking six miles per day. I have several trail cameras out and the grand total of animals I have on camera are one doe, one fawn, two coons and an armadillo. My cell phone scouting cameras have not been sending me many photos.
It’s become obvious that this is a lost cause, so while in the stand I decided to look at my phone and try to see if there were any out-of-the way public properties in the two zones my tag was good for. My phone said the Verizon data network was down so I couldn’t use internet. Well, no wonder my cell cams have not been working.
At dark I made the long march back to my truck once again; looking forward to going online to really look for other options in hopes of avoiding a total washout for this hunt. But when I got back to the “room of perfume,” I discovered that the wifi router was broken.
I had surgery on my left knee four years ago and it’s been pretty good, but for some reason, it decided to choose today to really go haywire. It’s really complaining at me right now. I’m trying to keep a positive attitude and make something happen, but it’s getting more difficult by the minute. I’ve got a trailer full of hunting gear sitting outside this motel door and if someone offered me a dollar for it I might just take it.
But tomorrow’s another day and I’ll be back at it.
Sitting all day during the peak of the rut can be very productive, but very boring. Here are five tips to make it more bearable and improve your odds of being ready when the big one shows up.
By Bernie Barringer
I’m a pretty high strung person. Sitting still for long periods has always come hard for me. Three hours is a long sit for me and four hours seems like an eternity. But I have forced myself into some long vigils because I know the payoff can be terrific. The axiom that you can’t kill them from the couch seems like a tired old saying but it rings true when it comes to hunting mature whitetails during the rut.
There is a window of opportunity for whitetail hunters when mature bucks are on their feet during the day and constantly on the move. If you can park yourself in a high-percentage spot to contact one of these cruising bucks, you will up your odds greatly. In most of whitetail country, where the rut is a frenzy of activity during early November, the window of opportunity we want to take advantage of is the 5-7 days of peak movement before the so-called lockdown phase. These few days have bucks in a tongue-wagging, hoof-pounding fury. They are on the move, following terrain contours, checking doe bedding and feeding areas, interacting with other bucks, working scrapes, and generally carousing. It’s a wonderful time to be in a treestand. If you are in the right spot.
- Confidence is Key
For me, having confidence in my spot is the most important factor in keeping me there. If I feel very strongly that I am in the right spot, and something good could happen at any moment, I can not only stay on stand, but stay focused and alert for much longer. Confidence is gained by knowing your surroundings. You can’t know you are in the right spot unless you know what the other spots are like. If you don’t know what is just over that ridge 200 yards away, how can you know that you are in the right spot? You have to spend the time on foot learning the area, looking at the directions of the tracks, analyzing the terrain contours, finding the bedding areas and the travel corridors. You don’t do that the day of the hunt, you need to do that with time for evidence of your presence to dissipate. Trail cameras can be key to this, but nothing works better than really burning the boot leather and walking it out.
- Comfort is Critical
Some stands are more comfortable that others and my favorites are the mesh-seat ones like the Millennium or Hawk Kickback that you have to fight to stay awake in. If I can’t truly relax it is going to be a really long day. I like a stand that you can fold the seat up and stand for a while with plenty of room on the platform. I tend to stand up and stretch for about ten minutes out of every hour.
It goes without saying that dressing properly is important. Dress in layers so you can take things off as the day warms up and put them back on as the day cools down in the evening. Fleece is a perfect under-layer when covered with a windproof outer layer. There are many fabrics and systems available today that make staying warm through varying daily temperatures easier than ever.
Another way to keep warm is to move. It is amazing how much an aggressive rattling sequence will warm up your arms and torso. Of course, seeing a buck come in to the rattling will make you instantly forget the cold, so the benefits are two-fold.
- Don’t Let Boredom Break You Down
It took me a long time before I would read on stand. I always feared that I would get caught with a book in my hand instead of a bow when a buck appeared. But I now have a plan. I position my pack in such a way that I can carefully close the book and drop it into the open pack. Same is true for a phone or a tablet. I have a plan about how I will get my bow off the hanger and get it into position for a shot. I have gone through this plan many times in my mind so when a buck appears, I can do it without looking and without thinking about it so I can fully concentrate on the actions and demeanor of the deer. Usually, you will have some warning… you will hear a grunt or some crunching in the leaves. Get ready before you see the deer! It’s far better to be ready to shoot with a 6-pointer in front of you than to not be ready with a big one passing quickly through. Things can happen really fast, and it might be the only chance you have that day, or it might be the chance of a lifetime. Don’t blow it! Have a plan, know your plan, and practice your plan.
- What’s for Lunch?
Having some food along serves several purposes. Food helps you fight off the cold, food helps you stave off boredom and food is fun. It’s nice to look forward to savoring a candy bar at some point during the day. I don’t want to overload with sugar, but it is good to have some high carb foods which produce energy and body heat. Granola bars are a good choice, so is trail mix. Jerky is easy to pack and keep, plus it keeps you occupied for longer. There are meals that heat up with chemical heaters so you can enjoy a hot can of soup or even hot chocolate of coffee. There is nothing like a can of hot tomato soup for lunch on a cold day in the treestand. I am so grateful to the people who came up with that idea.
- Bladder Breaks
If you drink much you are going to have to relieve yourself. I do not believe that whitetail deer fear the smell of urine. In fact, I believe urine, especially fresh urine, is a great attractor for whitetails. I have literally tens of thousands of trail camera photos of deer taken over scrapes that have been anointed with my own fresh urine. Now having said that, I do not want fresh urine around my treestand, but I do not believe in most cases I need to carry a bottle to hold it. I generally will quietly climb down and move off a ways to urinate. If there is a scrape nearby, it’s the perfect place to make a deposit.
So when the bucks are making tracks at all hours of the day and night, you have to be out there to make it happen. Stay comfortable, be prepared and above all, choose a site in which you have a supreme degree of confidence. If I am in a spot where I believe there is a realistic chance that a mature buck might show up at any moment, I can sit there for a long, long time. Find a spot like that and you can too.
By Bernie Barringer
Sometimes making a super aggressive move right into the thick of rutting action can put you within range of a buck
If you have hunted during the rut for very long, you have probably been in one of those situations where you are right in the middle of the rutting action. Bucks chasing does all around you, grunting, fighting, you know the drill. It is one of the things we hunters all live for; to be right smack in the thick of it when a hot doe is right around your stand and the bucks are going bonkers. You’ve probably been there at one time or another.
I’ll bet you didn’t screw it up as bad as I did.
The first time it happened to me I learned a very important lesson. Here’s my sad tale: I had been sitting in a tree in what I thought was a great funnel since daylight and it was nearing noon. I was getting hungry and drowsy so I decided to head back home to get something to eat, take a nap for 2-3 hours; then come back out for a couple hours in the evening. Suddenly, the crunching of dry leaves under the hooves of a deer signaled that something was bearing down on me. A big doe came by at a trot, head hanging, tongue lolling about. I knew what that meant. I grabbed my bow off the hanger. Within 60 seconds, there were four bucks chasing that doe all around me. Two of them were yearlings, and two were 2 1/2-year old 8-pointers. I watched with amusement for a few minutes as they dogged the doe all over and then I sat back down as they headed over the hill and out of sight.
Within 15 minutes, my growling stomach got the best of me and I began to climb down. I left everything in the tree so I didn’t have to carry it out and then back in with me a couple hours later. About halfway down the tree, I heard the familiar hoof-beats again. But this time I was shocked to see a 160-class 10-pointer make a few circles through the area with his nose to the ground before disappearing over the hill in the direction the doe left. I clung to the climbing sticks with the most horrible sinking feeling in my gut you can imagine. I’d had a terrific buck 10 yards from my tree no less than three times and there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing of course, other than resolve to never to let that happen again.
They say lessons learned the hard way are lessons learned well. I learned some painful lessons from that experience; lessons that I have used to create some strategies that you too can use to bag a big buck during the peak of the rut.
You probably think I am going to say, “Stay in your treestand.” And in fact if you happen to find yourself in the middle of some chasing activity like I described, then staying in your treestand is good advice. But why wait to get lucky and hope to get in the middle of chasing action? Can you go to the chasing location and get a piece of the action? I say yes, and here’s how.
Pinpoint Rutting Areas
If you pay attention, you will find that these rutting areas become somewhat predictable. They are usually near bedding areas and occur often in more open timber or the edges of fields. I theorize that cruising bucks tend to travel downwind of known bedding areas to check for does that are coming into heat. If they get a sniff of something that gives them a tingle, they move into the bedding area and get the does on their feet. Any doe that seems close to breeding is going to be chased relentlessly from that point until the actual breeding occurs.
Bucks tend to push these does toward more open areas where they can keep an eye on them and defend them from subordinate bucks. This makes them more visible than at any other time of the year. This window of opportunity usually lasts only a week to at most 10 days each year, but we all know how exciting hunting at this time can be.
Get to know the bedding areas well before the rut starts. Keep a log of them and also look for observation points where these areas can be viewed from a distance. Use aerial photography such as Google Earth to identify good rutting areas. Go check them out ahead of time and make note of each of the areas that look good.
Plan Your Strategy
When the rut kicks into high gear, go park yourself in one of these observation areas and with some good glass, carefully pick it apart. Good binoculars are important, and if you can watch the areas from your vehicle, nothing beats a good spotting scope with a window mount. The key is to be ready for action when you see chasing. You want to be able to grab your stuff and go within seconds.
Once you find the deer, you are going to grab a minimum of equipment. A treestand, your weapon, a haul rope, and a grunt call in your pocket are the only things you need. You will see the deer chasing and you must carefully watch their behavior and their exact routes through the area. The hot doe’s scent is going to linger for a few hours and you want to take advantage of her travel patterns so focus on her route. If she runs along a creek bank or fencerow, take note of it. Where does she circle and dodge. Pay attention to specific features that help you remember the key areas. Count fenceposts or note a fallen log. Things can look different from a distance, especially through binoculars so use at least two points of reference.
Over time you will learn the kinds of terrain they like to use for this and you can predict where they will come back. If there is a bowl-like depression of a couple acres in a section of open timber, it can be a good rutting area year after year. A corner of a harvest crop field with thick cover on two sides is dynamite. Keep in mind that for the best rutting areas, there will normally be a bedding area nearby.
Often you may only see small bits of evidence rather than a full-out chase going on. Many times you will see a doe standing alone, panting. Chances are there are bucks watching her from the nearby cover. Possibly you will just see a couple yearling bucks running around with their nose to the ground. An orphaned fawn by itself is an indicator that its mother is preoccupied.
Go Get Them
Once you have established that there is rutting action going on, you need to move quickly. Most of the time it is best to move in behind them, and that is what I concentrate on. On rare occasions I have been able to predict where they are going and get in ahead of them. But that is a real longshot so I generally focus my attention to the known factors, such as all the doe-in-heat scent that was just left in an area, and distinct travel lanes through the location.
I have used a light treestand and a pocket full of screw-in tree steps to quickly get in a tree in the area, but now I use a climber almost exclusively because it is much faster. By now you have chosen the best area and the deer have disappeared over the hill or out of sight. You must get in and get up fast and I mean run if you have to. They may be back in an hour or they may be back in five minutes. The faster you can be ready to shoot, the better off you are. Don’t worry about the sounds you are making, other than to avoid metal clanking of any sort. It goes against your judgment at first to go crashing through the woods running on dry leaves, but the deer are doing the same thing and they won’t notice your commotion.
Give it a Chance to Work
This tactic probably seems like a longshot and at times it is, but keep in mind that good rutting areas are used year after year, and the deer will be chasing for hours. They may be a half mile away by the time you get set up, but they might be on their way back to you. You just never know. I have seen them come back through often enough to have a lot of confidence in this strategy. You also have the confidence that you are sitting in a good spot that is saturated with the sweet smell of estrus. That doe has left a trail to you that can be followed by any buck for quite a long time.
The buck you shoot may be one of the ones that was chasing the doe you saw, or it may be another buck entirely that has not even made an appearance in the area, but is following with his nose to the ground. That’s the buck that will be attracted to rattling or calling. If you have been set up for an hour or so and haven’t seen any action, it’s time to add to the olfactory enticement with some sound. That’s where the grunt call and rattling antlers comes in.
This year, when the rut nears its peak and the chasing begins, consider going to them rather than waiting long hours for them to come to you. Plan ahead to pinpoint those key rutting areas, plan your strategy, be mobile and move quickly; then move in for the kill.
From the final week of October to the third week in November, the rut offers some of the best whitetail action of the year. Here’s how to put yourself in the right spot and make the most of it.
By Bernie Barringer
The month of October has always been a test of endurance for this bowhunter. It really wouldn’t be that bad if it weren’t for the thought of what’s coming always lurking in the back of my mind. Oh, I’ve killed a couple bucks in October, and I know some tricks that help beat the infamous October Lull, but it just ain’t November.
This frustration abates quickly once the final few days of October roll around. Every year in the Midwest, no matter which state I am hunting at the moment, the few days leading up to Halloween see a marked increase in buck activity and I love being in the woods to watch the action unfold. The action explodes and the next four weeks are a race against the calendar as I try to place myself in the right place at the right time to take advantage of each week’s unique opportunities.
End of October
About three days on either side of Halloween can be the best days of the year to hunt rubs and scrapes. Scouting cameras place on active scrapes and rubs will tell the story. Find an area that’s all torn up with fresh sign and you will start go get photos of bucks on it during daylight. It’s time to make your move because this window of opportunity is short.
Using a good quality deer lure in association with these scapes can be golden. Scrape drippers have high value at this time because they are constantly dripping fresh scent into the scrapes. Additionally, they have some calling value that helps bring bucks in from downwind.
Scrapes which have not been enhanced have been studied with scouting cameras in several scientific surveys and have revealed that the cameras show that bucks approach the scrapes and get their picture taken mostly under the cover of darkness. I’ve observed bucks circling downwind of these scrapes to “scent-check” them in daylight. Setting up 20-30 yards downwind of these scrapes can put you within range of a cautious buck during legal shooting hours. I’ve found that enhancing the scrapes with some fresh scent will often pull the buck right into the scrape.
The end of October is a great time to call a buck with a grunt tube. When you see a buck out of range, the odds of turning him towards you with a deer call are better than at any other time of the year. Don’t call too often and only call when the deer stops coming. When calling deer, always position yourself so the deer has to walk over to you in order to see what’s there. Calling in open-canopy forest, for example, reduces the effectiveness since the buck can see nothing that attracts him. If he has to walk towards you to come looking for the source of the sound, your odds of getting a shot are much higher.
First Week in November
The value in hunting scrapes and rubs begins to taper off during the first week in November and by about November 10th, I am no longer hunting sign at all. The chasing is going strong by then, so the bucks are actively looking for does by sight rather than sniffing around where they used to be.
Beginning in early November, the effectiveness of rattling is at its peak. Seems like every buck in the woods is interested in what the does are doing and how much success the other bucks are having. Rattling at this time offers them something they have a hard time refusing; the idea that he might be missing out on some action.
Does are still feeding in somewhat predictable areas, and the bucks know where to look for them. Whenever rattling on the edge of a field, which I do often during the first week in November, I like to use a decoy for the visual appeal. A decoy also gives you a little buffer against having a deer come right in on you and catching you in the middle of a lot of movement. The decoy attracts the eyes of the incoming buck and takes them off you. This can be the difference between having a stare down and having time to put the antlers down and get a bow ready for the shot.
I rarely use doe decoys alone these days. Seems like I’ve had more bad experiences with a lone doe decoy than good. These bad experiences normally come in the form of other does which just can’t settle down and have to get a reaction out of the newcomer. When they can’t get a reaction, they normally resort to snorting and stomping, actions that will make laying your eyes on a buck much harder. Better to use a buck and doe in combination or a buck decoy with one antler missing so he looks vulnerable. The one-antlered young buck setup has more success than any other for bringing a buck across a large field, especially when associated with calling and rattling.
I use a lot of stands overlooking fields and open areas during this time. I like to call them observation stands because they allow me to take in the view of larger area, which can lead to clues about where the deer are feeding, bedding and rutting. This is particularly true in the mornings. Seeing a lot of deer activity in one corner of the field, say, might induce me to use the middle hours of the day to locate a stand in that area for the evening hunt.
Second Week of November
By the tenth of November, the rut is in full swing and breeding is taking place. Bucks are paired up with does or actively searching for does to pair up with. Once paired up, the two will breed several times over a 30- to 40-hour period, then she loses interest and he’s forced to move on.
By this time I am hunting terrain features almost exclusively. Both bucks and does are on their feet and I want to park my butt in an area that funnels deer movement near my tree. A buck can come cruising through at any time of the day or night during the middle part of the month. He may be chasing a doe, following her closely as she moves through, or he may be alone, moving at a steady trot with tongue lolling as he’s on the prowl for his next volunteer.
I love trails along ridge tops for this time period. Additionally, funnels along river banks, steep bluffs or pinch points between two open fields can be dynamite. Any terrain feature that subtly directs their movement can really help. I have a few of these funnels I have found in several states and usually they are good year after year because what creates them doesn’t change much. I’ve killed three good bucks in the last four years from one of these locations on a piece of public hunting land in Kansas.
Spot & stalk hunting is also prime at this time. In open country or farmland, one tactic often used by bucks is to push their doe out into the open where he can keep an eye on her and defend her from other bucks. Early morning light may find them in an open field looking for a small patch of cover to spend the daylight hours. You may see them standing out along a grassy fencerow, shelterbelt, terrace or an erosion control grass waterway. They will eventually lie down and provide you with an opportunity to sneak up close for a shot. It’s not a high percentage way to hunt but it certainly is adrenaline-charged and when you are successful on something this tough, it’s that much more rewarding.
Third Week of November
The rut is winding down as the month wears on towards Thanksgiving. If you still have a tag in your pocket, all is not lost, there are still opportunities to bag a big one. Nearly all the does have been bred but the bucks just aren’t ready to leave the party. They know where the doe bedding areas are found and they will constantly check them for any last minute opportunities. If you know where the does tend to spend their days during the various weather conditions, you’ll have opportunities as well.
Bucks tend to work their way through the downwind areas of cover or hillsides where the does tend to ride out the daylight hours. Trails that lead between bedding areas can be dynamite. The helter-skelter of the rut is being replaced by more normal feeding patterns, and the bucks know where to look for the feeding areas. Find the does and you’ll find the bucks.
Scrapes start to see more action again, and a camera placed at a cluster of scrapes will tell you what bucks are still in the area. At this time, the bucks can’t be counted on for any sort of regularity, but the cameras will help you gauge the state of activity and offer an inventory of the bucks that are available.
One of my favorite tactics during the closing days of the rut is to use a drag rag. It’s nothing fancy, just a string tied to my ankle with couple key wicks tied to the other end. I dip the key wicks into a bottle of doe in heat lure (Special Golden Estrus is my favorite), and walk to my stand. I like to use this the final 200 yards or so approaching my stand. I then walk to the stand on a cross wind if possible to avoid taking the deer downwind of me.
Wish I had a dollar for every buck who came sauntering along with his nose to the ground following that scent trail. True, the majority of them were young deer, but what was for a long time my largest buck was taken this way. He stopped at 15 yards, lifted his head and looked around just as my arrow zipped through him.
If you have a plan for the last few days of October and through the first three weeks of November, you can increase your chances of putting a nice buck in the back of your truck. Being in the right place at the right time is the key, but you need to stay alert as the activity changes through the rut so you can put yourself in the right place at the right time.
Too many bowhunters stay home during October because the reputation of the “October Lull” has them discouraged. Here’s how to improve your success during each week of this maligned month.
By Bernie Barringer
In the past, I never really got serious about my deer hunting until the rut. I’m definitely not alone in that regard, many bowhunters ignore the opportunities the month has to offer. Certainly, it’s not like September when the bucks are visible and on predictable daily routines, or November, when the bucks are running around in a testosterone-induced stupor. But October has some advantages, although each week brings new challenges and opportunities.
The thing I like most about the first week in October is the opportunity to hunt in pleasant conditions without mosquitoes. The early frosts have eliminated the pests and turned the woods colorful and it’s a great time to be outdoors. The deer hunting locations for me mainly revolves around food in the evening and bedding in the morning. The movements have some regularity to them and with the help of scouting cameras and observation; you can find a buck to target. Another advantage to this time is the solitude. Since most bowhunters are waiting for the rut, you can have the woods to yourself. It’s a great time to hunt the public land that will be full of hunters in November but will have few fresh boot prints in October.
These advantages carry over into the second week, as well, but you can add food into the mix. Crops are being harvested and cut cornfields become magnets for the first week or so after they are harvested. Deer move into these fields because the acorns are getting cleaned up and the readily-available missed corn is easy pickings. Ears of high-carbohydrate lie on the ground in plain sight and deer migrate to these areas en-masse.
As the weather gets colder, bedding areas become more predictable. Overcast, windy or rainy weather sends the bucks into the thickets where they have some protection from the elements. Savvy hunters who know where these areas of thermal bedding cover are found can take advantage of the deer as they move out of the cover in the evening to feed, or back to the cover in the morning.
By the third week in October, the effectiveness of calling and rattling is rising. Scrapes and rubs are everywhere, but not being checked often just yet; still, they are excellent places to make some noise. Setting up over early rut sign and rattling can be very effective at this time. The last two weeks of October and the first week of November are the only times when I feel that blind calling is effective enough to be worth trying. By blind calling, I mean making attracting noises without actually seeing a deer to call to.
Blind calling with a grunt call and rattling must be done from the right location, however. Avoid areas of open timber where the deer can see long distances. If they can see the area where the sound is coming from but don’t see a deer, they probably won’t come. A decoy can help, but better yet, put a barrier of some sort between you and where you expect the deer to be. Even a small rise in terrain that they can’t see over can be enough to make them walk over there to investigate the source of the calling or rattling.
The success of calling and rattling continues to grow through the last week in October, but the real area of focus is the sign. Those scrapes that were mostly undisturbed during most of the moth are suddenly getting a lot of activity. Areas all torn up with scrapes and rubs can be excellent places to park yourself in a treestand for long hours during the end of the month.
Here’s a key tip, get downwind of the area, particularly if those scrapes are found along the edge of a field. Bucks avoid exposing themselves to open areas during the daylight and they are unlikely to walk right up to a scrape along the edge of a field unless something really attractive hits their nose. They will often work those scrapes from 30-40 yards downwind, from the cover whenever possible for them to do so. Keep this in mind when you choose the right tree for your stand.
The final week of October offers the best chance of the entire month to attract a buck with a good deer lure. I have had excellent success using a scrape dripper with some Special Golden Estrus or Active Scrape to keep fresh scent going into the scrape during daylight hours. Warm daytime weather causes the dripper to expand, making it drip scent into the scrape. Cool weather at night causes the scent to contract, pulling air back into the container where it stays until it warms up. The advantages of having fresh scent applied only during daylight are obvious.
So don’t give up on the maligned month of October. Sure this time period has some challenges, but if you focus on the advantages, you can be wrapping a tag around a buck before most hunters are getting serious about their hunting.
It may come as a surprise to many that wolves eat bears. This is a problem that seems to be growing anywhere the two species overlap.
By Bernie Barringer
My 18-year-old son Dawson sat in a stand beside me as we watched a medium sized bear feed at the bait. It was the first day of my bear hunt in Ontario a few years ago, and Dawson was filming the hunt for me as he often did. The bear was not one I would consider shooting on the first day of the hunt. Suddenly, the bear stood up and looked into the bush, then spun around and rocketed out of the area as if he had been shot out of a canon.
Dawson reached for the camera and turned it on. He’s filmed enough bear hunts to know that when the small bear leaves in a hurry, there’s a good chance a bigger bear is about to make an appearance. But I was conflicted as I watched the bear streak out of the area. I’d seen a lot of bears around baits and I had never seen one leave in such a state of total panic.
A moment later, the issue came into clear focus as a timber wolf trotted in and looked over the area. He sniffed around a little, made a half circle around the bait site, then left on the trail of that 200-pound bear. It wasn’t my first introduction to the fear that wolves put into bears, but it was a graphic one.
As wolf numbers have increased across North America in the last couple decades, their effect on deer populations has generated a lot of attention among sportsman’s groups and in the media. No doubt there are a lot of teeth in the woods, and wolves have significantly reduced deer numbers in many areas, but there are other animals suffering at the rise in wolf populations and they haven’t been getting the attention they deserve. The black bear is a prime example. Many bear hunters, guides and outfitters are getting a wake-up call about how the high numbers of wolves and low numbers of deer are affecting the amount of predation on black bears.
On my bear baits in Minnesota, I have seen active bear baits go completely dead when wolves move into the area. Wolves will eat some types of bear bait, but that’s not the real reason they hang around. Wolves eat bears. And what better place to find a bear than the high-percentage area in the vicinity of a bear bait?
I have long suspected that wolves could be a real problem for bear populations, in fact I have seen wolf scat full of bear fur on several occasions, but in speaking with biologists, none could verify that it’s common for wolves to kill and eat bears. In fact, most biologists are very reluctant to say anything that would cast wolves in a bad light. Considering the emotionally-charged political climate surrounding wolves, many people within the game departments of states where wolf populations are at issue just seem to avoid the subject.
Woodsmen, trappers, hunters and outfitters in areas with high bear-wolf interactions aren’t so inhibited. Mike Foss, a long time bear hunting outfitter in Northern Wisconsin is frustrated by the lack of understanding about how much effect wolves have on bear populations. He has come across the remains of bears killed by wolves in the forests and he feels the problem is increasing. “Not only is our deer population having a difficult time rebounding from dismal numbers caused in part by wolf predation over the past decade,” he says, “but some bear guides, including me, believe our great bear population is literally under attack, specifically cubs and younger, immature bears.”
He claims that much of the predation takes place in the winter where wolves pull bears out of the dens and eat them. He cites a fellow guide who found evidence of wolf predation at three bear dens late last winter.
And he’s not alone. Tom Ainsworth, long-time bear outfitter in the Duck Mountains of western Manitoba says it’s common in his area as well. He puts out bear bait on snow machine in late winter and he’s noted where wolves have killed bears on several occasions. He says wolves will kill bears whenever they have the right opportunity. One of his guides is a veteran wolf trapper who claims to have come across many cases where wolves have caught bears in their dens, drug them out and killed them. Wolves will also target cubs all year whenever they are far enough from a climbable tree.
In that part of Manitoba, trappers and hunters target wolves all winter which helps keep the problem somewhat under control. But in Wisconsin, the lack of opportunities to control wolf populations along with mild winters has created a perfect storm for high predation rates and many bear enthusiasts are becoming alarmed.
There are more cameras in the woods than at any time in the past, and instances of interactions between bears and wolves are on the rise. The advent of phones with cameras has added to the documentation of wolf predation on bears. Blogs, social media and YouTube have examples with photos and videos show evidence of bears being pulled from the dens and eaten by wolves.
But are the cameras just catching what has been common all along, or are the numbers of bears being killed by wolves on the rise? Mike Foss feels that wolves are targeting bears more and more. “Is there now such a predator-prey imbalance—not helped by federal judicial protection of the wolf—that deer numbers can’t recover and other prey, including the black bear, is providing an alternative food source? I believe that is probable.”
It’s difficult to quantify just how big this problem is. There haven’t been any studies done on it, and considering the political climate surrounding the topic of wolves, don’t expect one anytime soon. But as more and more voices are being raised, it’s clear the problem is growing.
One of the most simple solutions of course would be to harvest more wolves and bring their population back into balance. But it’s not that easy. In the western US, that move is underway as wolf hunting is a growing sport. But in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, the states’ ability to manage the wolf population has been hampered by court decisions that prevent hunting and trapping by preventing the delisting of wolves from the Endangered Species Act. The ESA was designed to bring threatened species back from the brink of extinction, and it has obviously worked in the cases of some animals. The wolf and the bald eagle are perfect examples of how the ESA can be effective. However, animal extremists are using the ESA as a political weapon. The black bears and the people who rely on them for food and recreation are suffering because of it.
In areas of Canada where hunting and trapping of wolves is legal, residents target them for their fur, as trophies and as a way to give the prey species some much-needed relief. There is a growing number of people from the states who are interested in a wolf hunt, but the cost and success rates have been a hindrance. Wolf pelts are at their most impressive in the early winter, and at that time a bunch of other hunting seasons compete for their attention.
John Palson, my outfitter on that Ontario baited bear hunt mentioned earlier, is working to see the price of nonresident wolf tags lowered, which he believes will give incentive to bear hunters to have a wolf tag in their pocket when bear hunting. He believes this will help him reduce his wolf population. But it remains to be seen how many bear hunters will shoot a wolf during the August and September bear seasons when their pelt is substandard.
Another option would be for outfitters to offer wolf hunts later in the fall when the wolf skins are more desirable for mounts and rugs. Some are already doing that. The wolves can be hunted at the bear bait sites by using meat scraps, roadkills, or game animal bones and trimmings after the bear hunters are gone, then placing hunters at those locations for a wolf hunt. Others will chop a hole in a frozen lake within shooting distance of a blind on the shore, then dump in butcher trimmings. As the trimmings freeze into the surface of the lake, the wolves much claw and chew at them. The time it takes the wolves to clean up the goodies offers multiple opportunities for hunters to make a kill.
Reducing wolf numbers seems to be the key, but it can’t be done in all the problem areas. So there are no easy answers to this problem. Mike Foss believes hunting and human interaction are some of the keys to giving the bears a much-needed break. “Wolves are still present in the agriculture lands, but they have much more human contact and a better deer population to sustain them over the winter months— leaving the slumbering bears alone to awaken to another spring.” He adds, “The wolf knows only that eating means survival. Without the proper balance of predator and prey, we are in trouble.
SIDEBAR: Wolves and Hounds
In many areas where hunters pursue bears with hounds, the increase in wolf numbers has created extreme hardship and both emotional and financial pain. That romantic howl of a good treeing hound on the trail of a bear stirs a place deep in the soul of the hunter, but to the wolf, it’s nothing more than a dinner bell.
Hound dogs are no match for a wolf, and when the wolf packs attack, there are seldom any survivors among the hounds. It’s common for the wolves to consume most of the dog before moving on, and it happens so fast that it’s rare for the hunters to be able to arrive in time to stop the carnage. Two hotbeds of this problem have been Idaho and Wisconsin, where hound hunting for bears are traditions that run deep in the bear hunting culture.
A reduction in the artificially high wolf populations in these areas would help reduce occurrences, but realistically, this is a new normal that hound hunters must always have in the back of their minds, and adapt to the changing landscape by altering the way they hunt to minimize losses to wolves.
By Bernie Barringer
As a travelling DIY hunter, I am always in search of the next mature buck, no matter where he lives. That has taken me to several states all through the hunting season, from opening day till the final days of the season in a state far from home. But there is one thing for sure, you will find me in one of a handful of places during the first two weeks of November.
Because you are reading this, I do not have to explain the lure of the rut to both hunter and hunted. Sitting in a great spot with confidence boiling over, knowing that at any moment, a rut crazed buck may trot right up to me with tongue hanging out, is a heart-quickening passion that I don’t expect to be fully satiated at any point in the foreseeable future.
I could easily list two dozen great places to spend your hard-earned vacation during Sweet November, but I have narrowed it down to my top five in no particular order. If you choose one of these areas, you may just run into me out there somewhere during November. I’ll be the guy with the glassy look in his eye, hustling towards the next rendezvous with destiny; acting like the clock is ticking way too fast on that special time of the year. Because it is.
Central North Dakota
This would not be on the top five-list of very many whitetail hunters, but that’s one of the things that makes it so good. There are tens of thousands of acres of public hunting land along each side of the Missouri River system from The Sakakawea dam to Bismarck. I have literally hunted it hard for an entire week without seeing another bowhunter.
Oh, there are other hunters out and about, you will recognize them by the shotguns and the long pheasant tail feathers poking out of their vest pockets. The whitetail habitat is scattered, but once you find it, you will be surprised at the number and quality of bucks that use it.
Don’t take a climbing stand. The tree you want to be in is likely to be a 200-year-old cottonwood as big around as a VW or a snarly willow. Ladders and ground blinds will give you more options. Deer numbers are low, but slowly recovering after some bouts with disease and a couple rough winters. When the population is back I’ll be back there too. Tags are available over the counter.
The northern two tiers of counties along Iowa’s border offer a mixed bag of positives and negatives. There is abundant public land available; the Missouri Dept. of Conservation takes good care of it, planting food plots and managing it well. Disease has knocked the population down recently, but good bucks are still available. You can camp for free in the parking lots of the various hunting areas, in fact some have pit toilets, campfire rings and picnic tables. Good bucks are available, with a realistic chance to see a real eye popper, but just about everyone knows about it.
The areas near the access points get hunted hard, and there are enough hard-working hunters willing to go the extra mile that even the back-in hollows and ridges see some foot traffic and the occasional treestand. But the bucks are there and they are found in numbers and size enough to make it worthwhile to elbow yourself right in with the rest.
A couple times to avoid are the youth rifle season which adds a lot of pressure to the public areas, and the opening week of rifle season which usually falls around the middle of the month. Over-the-counter tags are a bargain at $225, which allows you to shoot two deer and two turkeys.
Just a quick look through the Boone & Crockett record book will tell you all you need to know about this area. It’s world class when it comes to producing top end bucks. While most of the other areas in my top five offer a realistic chance to shoot a mature buck better than you can probably shoot at home, this area offers you a chance to find the photo of a Booner on your scouting camera SD card.
There is a good representation of public hunting land, but even better, there is a lot of land enrolled in the Walk in Hunting Access (WIHA) program. It’s surprising the quality of land that local farmers have opened to public hunting, and it doesn’t get the hunting pressure that’s found on state or federal public land. You must apply for a deer tag in Kansas, but you will draw every other year, and maybe the first year.
I have been lucky in Iowa. I have drawn an archery tag for the top zones with only two preference points five straight times. I have hunted Iowa every third year since I started applying. Lately it has taken three points in that area. Many hunters wait longer, but three to four points will almost guarantee you a tag. Iowa is land of the giants and there’s a long line to take part in the rut there.
The southern portion of the state separated by interstate 80 is where the big bucks are consistently found. There are pockets all over the state that produce world-class whitetails, notably the northeast corner of the state, but for my money, I want to be south of I-80 and most of the time, east of I-35. Because the state limits the number of nonresident tags to 6,000 the public land is not by any means overrun with nonresident hunters.
You will find some hunting pressure from both resident and nonresident hunters on the state and federal public land. The state land is often broken up into small parcels, but the Federal land mostly surrounds the large reservoirs and the banks of the Mississippi River. If you do your research, are willing to grind out some long walks, and have some backup areas, you can put yourself in position to take home a buck that will make your in-laws do a double take when they see it on your wall. Iowa is proud of their deer hunting and the license fees show it. With all fees including preference points, it will set you back $650-$700 all told.
Here’s another surprise to many people. There are huge acreages of public hunting land in Southeast Ohio. Some of the forests are large enough that few people ever see the interior of them despite the fact that hunting pressure can be very high. That may lead you to believe that the biggest bucks are found miles from the road.
That would be only partially true, but your best bet may be to get along the edges of the public land where it meets the crop fields. This may require a long walk if you cannot find a landowner to give you permission to cross their fence. But it will be worth it. This part of Ohio consistently produces numbers of Pope & Young bucks and enough Booners to keep you on the edge of your seat during long hours in the treestand. Tags are available over the counter at license vendors for only $149.
As I mentioned earlier, this is by no means a complete list, but if you are considering an out-of-state DIY hunt, these five are excellent starting points.
Archery seasons open across North America during the month of September. As soon as the velvet comes off the antlers, change is underway. To capitalize on the opportunities at this time of the year, you must strike fast and hunt aggressively.
By Bernie Barringer
I had about a 10-year stretch during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s where I had patterned bucks prior to the Iowa archery season and I was certain I would shoot one on opening day, which fell on October 1 each year. I started watching these bucks in late August as they would come out in the open soybean or alfalfa fields each evening. I would watch them through the month of September and found the consistency of their movements became more erratic as the month of September wore on, yet I went into opening day with a feeling that I had a real chance of arrowing one of these bucks at the opening bell.
I never did. In the past couple decades, I have learned about some of the things I did wrong back in that time period. I now think I could have done a better job, especially since we now have the advantage of scouting cameras, but patterning a buck during August and early September is one thing, shooting that buck on the first of October is another.
There are better options. Across the Midwest, and western US, whitetail archery seasons open on or about September 1. I now travel to states that offer a much better chance of shooting a buck on these early openers. Now living in Minnesota, I have a much better opportunity to shoot a buck early in the season which starts in mid-September. States with these early archery openers offer excellent chances to bag an early season buck if you are willing to hunt very aggressively and strike fast when you see an opportunity. By late September, the odds are stacked against you. I believe there are three reasons why you must act fast if you are to take home an early season buck. Let me explain.
In August, bachelor groups of 3-8 bucks of various ages are visible in the evenings and because they are totally unpressured, they don’t seem to mind they are being watched. They use consistent patterns to enter the fields well before dark. They aren’t pressured by hunters and have lots of eyes, noses and ears to rely on, so the living is easy.
The first week of September brings change as the velvet falls off. I have seen bucks lose all their velvet in a few hours and in one case, I watched a large buck thrash a bush for 15 minutes on September 4, going from full velvet to hard antler in that short period of time. Testosterone is beginning to surge and those bachelor groups begin to disband. By the middle of September, most bucks are alone and becoming more and more reclusive, so there is a two-week period of opportunity each year in states with early archery seasons.
The Hunt is on
Mature bucks, in particular, are very good at figuring out when they are being hunted. The see branches trimmed along their trails, they smell human intrusion and they have a sense that they have been through these negative experiences before. They just seem to know that they are being pursued and they react accordingly. Daylight hours are getting shorter and they are less likely to enter open areas before full dark.
While you must be aggressive in your attack of these bucks, you cannot ignore good woodsmanship. One of the mistakes I made back in those early years was going out to the stand which I felt held the most promise no matter what the wind and weather conditions. I feel you are much better off to hunt a particular buck when the conditions are right, even if you have to wait a few days into the season to make your move on that particular buck. Have a stand for more than one wind direction so you can hunt every day.
You have to act fast and strike when the conditions are right for any particular buck for which you have some information about his daily movement patterns. Drop what you are doing, take an afternoon off work, cancel an appointment, do whatever it takes. This window of opportunity is short and you must make the hunt a priority to capitalize on it.
Food sources change
Here in the upper Midwest, crops are rapidly changing during September. Soybeans are a preferred food in August, but by early September, they are mature and losing their appeal. Acorns are on the ground, further moving the bucks around. You arrive at a hunting location one day to find that lush alfalfa field you have been watching is suddenly mowed to stubble and the hay bales are being moved out of the field. Things are changing fast and patterns are falling apart.
GPS tracking of whitetails have shown that bucks move to new areas during the month of September. They tend to have late summer home ranges and fall home ranges. That buck you saw a dozen times in one field may be setting up a new home a couple miles away two weeks later.
Successful early season bowhunting during the first couple weeks of September requires a sense of urgency. To put yourself within range of one of those bucks you watched in the late summer, you must devote a lot of energy and time to information gathering, then strike as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Things are in a state of flux and the consistency that gave you confidence earlier is falling apart by the day. Waiting just one day may one day too many.
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?
Chances are he’s not gone. And he hasn’t even “gone nocturnal” on you. He’s still in the area and, 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 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. No matter when you go into the woods, minimize your scent impact.
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 and see how things go. You have a better chance at them if you do to.
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.
By Bernie Barringer
Many a heart has been broken by a whitetail buck during the earliest parts of deer season. I am sure you can relate. You watched him all summer, drooling on your spotting scope. He came out into the field at a predictable time in a predictable place several times a week. Could this really be the year you score on a great buck in the first few days of the season? What could possibly go wrong?
Several things can go wrong and usually do. This scenario seems to hold so much promise, yet the numbers of hunters who have actually pulled it off are remarkably low. There are three primary reasons why the wheels come off your plans. First of all, many hunters forget to take into account the changing daylight hours. You see the evening sun shining on those huge velvet antlers in early August at 8:00 p.m. but by the time the archery season opens, it’s dark at 8:00. The bucks haven’t changed their stomach-driven timing, but the shorter daylight hours have caught up to him. He’s coming out at the same time, but you can no longer see him.
Secondly, the buck’s hormones are beginning to work against you. As the velvet comes off, the bucks begin to change their demeanor. They no longer tolerate the presence of small bucks at their side, and they are reluctant to wade right out into the open like they did during the lazy days of summer. They hang back in the trees and survey the field, watching the body language of the does and smaller bucks, biding their time until they feel safe. They are paying more attention to the wind than they were a month ago. They rarely travel far without the safety of a breeze on the side of their face. The good news is these bucks start using predictable staging areas between their bedding areas and the fields. This is where we will focus our efforts, but we need to be careful not to ruin it on number three.
The third thing that goes wrong for many hunters is something over which we have more control. Many hunters blow it when they launch their first early-season attack. They move in too soon, or they screw it up when they put up a treestand on the edge of the field where the buck has been coming out, leaving too much scent and too much sign in the form of cut branches, smashed underbrush and obvious disturbances. Or they just can’t wait for the perfect wind. They let their anticipation overtake their patience and try to cheat the wind. You may only get one chance at this and you better make sure you wait until it is right.
In most cases, if you put your stand right on the edge of the field, which seems like the most logical place, you have just reduced your chances significantly. Remember how the buck is hanging back and looking for anything wrong before heading out into the field? You just put yourself right where he is looking. You need to move back into the staging area.
These mature bucks hang back 30-60 yards from the field edge and patiently observe. Sometimes slowly browsing around, sometimes making scrapes and rubs, and sometimes just standing and staring intently for painfully long periods. This is where you need to set up, not right on the edge of the field.
It helps to know the location of the bedding area and the general lay of the land between that bedding area and the field where you have observed these deer. Bedding areas can change based on weather and human disturbance, but there are specific areas where they tend to bed year after year. The areas they choose to travel between the bedding area and the food will allow them good concealment cover and the opportunity to quarter the wind whenever possible.
When they arrive at the edge of the field, the does and young bucks often move right out into the open while the mature bucks hang back. Interestingly, does and small bucks usually trot out a few yards from the edge of the brush before they begin to feed. When the older bucks finally do enter the field, they often stay right on the edge, alternating between observing and nibbling, before working well out into the open. Once you have a general idea of the direction the bucks are approaching the field, it’s time to figure out exactly where they are staging. Put your system into motion.
Having a system is important because it allows you to set up quickly and efficiently with a minimum of disturbance. There are cases where the staging areas will be the same year after year, but things like crop rotations, wind directions, availability of water, hunting pressure and even obscure activities like firewood cutting will change the deer’s habits from year to year.
The first thing I like to do is move in carefully during the late morning and set up a few trail cameras. Late morning works well because the dew is off the plants, yet it gives your scent some time to age before the deer show up in the afternoon. Believe me a buck knows the difference between scent that is eight hours old and scent that is three hours old, and he will react accordingly.
When I cautiously penetrate the area, I am looking not just for the trails deer are using to approach the field, but specifically for fresh rubs. Scrapes are important but secondary sign; rubs are more reliable indicators of where the bucks are staging. Rubs found right on the man trails are most often made by younger bucks; the rubs you find in the thick stuff off to the side of the main trails are the ones you really want to see. Put a camera on these areas and then don’t go back to check them for at least a week. Always have a minimally intrusive mindset. Once the cameras have allowed you to inventory the bucks and learn their patterns, it’s time to get a stand in place.
When it comes to putting in the treestand, having a system means you get in, get set up and get out. This is best accomplished with a partner. That way you can carry everything to the site in one trip and each of you has a list of tasks. No wandering around looking for the right tree. Know in advance what wind direction you are going to hunt the stand from and stick to it. Once again, this is best done in the late morning.
I start cutting shooting lanes while my buddy starts putting up the stand. A back pack has everything we need to put an entire set in place in short order, right down to the bow hanger and the safety harness. We can get in and out in 15 minutes or less. When you set up your stand, take the cameras out with you. Hopefully, you are going to make just one more trip in there; to kill the buck.
Once the setup is in place and the season opens, the wait can get tough. You know the bucks are using the area; in your mind you can just see them milling around your treestand during those last 20 minutes of daylight. Resolve to wait until conditions are perfect and then go get them. Moving on a buck too soon has saved the lives of a lot of mature deer over the years. Don’t be the one responsible for saving the life of the buck of your dreams.
The bucks you have been watching casually munching on alfalfa and soybeans through the late summer are certainly killable. There is a short window of opportunity to get it done. You will need to find their staging area, then work your system and have patience. Taking one for a pickup ride is not the slam dunk it may first appear to be, but it can be done.
Much has been written about controlling your scent while hunting, but controlling your scent impact and intrusion while scouting, hanging stands and checking trail cameras can be just as important.
By Bernie Barringer
Controlling human odor is a multi-billion dollar business in the hunting industry. Many people are in search of that mythical “scent elimination” nirvana which when found will forever end the frustrations of a deer smelling them and reacting in their typical negative way.
Of course total scent elimination is a myth and probably always will be, but hunters spend millions each year in hopes of at least reducing their scent impact while hunting. There are some great scent killing products that have been shown through scientific tests to kill human odor, and many of them are remarkable effective. So hunters continue to spray themselves down with Scent Killer each time they head out to the treestand. At times the act of reducing your scent can be a deal maker or deal breaker. In the right situation, it might just be the difference between getting a shot versus watching the north end of a southbound whitetail buck heading for the hills.
What many of them do not realize, is that the impact of their scent can tip off a whitetail buck not just when they are hunting, but even before the season starts, and during the season whenever you are in the deer’s zone of awareness. The cumulative impact of leaving human scent in a deer’s area, especially a mature buck, can cause that buck to simply pack up and move to a place where he isn’t as disturbed. At best, it might just make him go nocturnal, thus reducing your chances of getting a shot at him.
Most hunters find themselves in the wood for three reasons other than actually hunting. Here are a few tips on reducing your scent while scouting, hanging stands and checking game cameras.
In 40 years of bowhunting whitetails, I have come to the conclusion that I have done the most damage to my hunting efforts by tipping the deer off to my intrusion while looking for their sign. A big key to killing a big buck is learning his tendencies. I like to know his preferred bedding areas and his preferred feeding areas whenever possible. Two of the best ways to learn those areas are finding sign of his presence and first hand observation.
Tracks, rubs, beds and trails are all good indicators of a buck’s presence. I have become convinced that the best way to learn his patterns is to get out there and look at the sign first hand, just one time, and to reduce your impact while doing so. I spray the lower half of my body—anything that will rub on the vegetation—with Scent Killer each time I go out. I also wear camouflage and walk carefully as if I am actually hunting.
First hand observation for me is usually setting up on the edge of a field and glassing for evening activity. I do this glassing from my truck with a window-mounted spotting scope whenever I can, but if I am walking out to the field, I will only do so when the wind is right and I can sneak in and out undetected, never allowing my scent to blow across the field or into the bedding area at any time.
This is where a lot of people blow it. I know I have really screwed up a couple times by doing it wrong. To put up a treestand, especially for bowhunting, you have to get right smack on top of their activity area and that’s dangerous. We have already discussed the importance of spraying down with Scent Killer anywhere on your clothing that might come into contact with vegetation. Two more things can really tip a buck off to your activity, things you touch with your hands, and drops of sweat.
My strategy for hanging stands involves getting in, getting set up, and getting out as soon as possible. I do this on days when the wind is right so I do not have any scent stream blowing into the area I suspect the deer may be at that time. I also prefer to do it with two people because it seems to go much faster, which offsets the impact of having double the scent in the area. Using two people also helps make sure you get everything to the location and set up in one trip rather than two.
Wear clothing that will wick sweat and always wear a hat or headband so you do not drip sweat onto the ground or your equipment. Set up as early as you can; once you have confidence that you have found the right spot, make a move on them so the area has time to “cool off” before you hunt.
Checking Game Cameras
Game cameras have become a huge part of my hunting and scouting all year long. I confess I am borderline addicted to using them. I have had to force myself to reduce the number of times I check them. Each time I enter the woods to check the camera I am leaving scent and potentially spooking deer by bumping them. I try to check my cameras only once every 2-3 weeks in the preseason, and whenever possible, I check them right before a rain that will wash away my scent. I even use scent killing wipes to remove my odor from the game cameras.
I wear rubber boots and reduce my odor impact with Scent Killer. I used to make an effort never to kneel down by my cameras, but as my knees have gotten older, that has become harder so I do check them on one knee at times. The real key—at least for me–with these game cameras is to resist the temptation to check them too often.
Scent control and reduction is not just for hunting season. Take these precautions during your preseason work; while you are trying to pattern the deer in your hunting area. Over time, you will notice a difference in the number of mature deer you see during the hunting season because you have not given them the opportunity to pattern you.
The first two weeks of August are the first—and possibly the best—time to get a look at the deer in your area. This is when the hunting actually starts.
By Bernie Barringer
Late summer is an easy time for whitetail bucks. Food is everywhere, the hunting pressure is off, and the stress of growing antlers is winding down. Other than a few bugs and finding water every day, there’s not much for a buck to do.
Green crops, such as soybeans, clover and alfalfa are the preferred foods at this time, although deer will nibble on corn if it’s in the milk stage. Bucks that would never be caught in the daylight during the hunting season will be leisurely browsing in the fields an hour before dark. There a many things a hunter can learn from watching the deer this time of the year.
You can see some activity with binoculars, but to really get a good look at the deer and their surroundings, it’s a good idea to invest in a quality spotting scope with a window mount and a tripod. You can spend thousands on a spotting scope if you want, but a mid-priced scope such as the Nikon Prostaff series 20-60×80 will run $500-$600 and bring the deer up close for you. You will need to mount the scope solid, thus the need for the window mount when glassing a field from a high point on a road, or the tripod, when you have to walk to a vantage point and observe from a place you can conceal yourself.
Let’s take a look at some important things you can learn from watching these late summer deer in the fields.
The first advantage you have is the ability to inventory the bucks. All bucks will not be visible every evening, but if you watch their preferred feeding area for a few days, you are most likely to get a look at the majority of the bucks in the area. This helps you understand the potential for the upcoming season. Keep in mind that bucks will move quite a bit during September, and some of your bucks will leave while others may come in, but knowing some generalities of the deer available to you will help you choose what caliber of buck you will want to hold out for come early hunting season.
Habits and entry points
It’s surprising how much knowledge about deer behavior can be had just by observing where and when the bucks enter the fields. One year I watched as a mature buck entered the alfalfa through a ditch that bisected the field. He would just appear at the point of the ditch and move cautiously out into the field whenever the wind direction allowed him to feel safe.
The following year, that buck was nowhere to be found, but a different mature buck was entering the field in exactly the same way. This pattern has been repeated through the years. Bucks have tendencies and comfort levels; they use the terrain in certain ways. Once you learn these tendencies and the points they prefer to enter the fields. You have a potential hunting spot for the opening days of the season.
Bigger bucks often enter the fields last. They will sometimes hang back where they can observe the deer already in the field, usually does and young bucks, through sight and smell. They will watch the body language of the deer in the open to determine the safety level of the field. The areas they hang out in I call Staging Areas. These are perfect places to hang a scouting camera. They are also excellent treestand locations for early season bowhunting.
Wind directions and Stand set-ups
Once you observe the deer for several evenings, you will notice that the bucks tend to enter the field in different places depending on wind direction and sky conditions. I have noticed that deer tend to avoid walking up a hill with the sun directly in their eyes. They will enter a field in a different location based on whether it’s overcast or sunny.
Wind direction is a key to where the deer enter the field. This is not to say that they will only move into the wind, but they will take advantage of the wind on the side of their face when they can. Evening thermals carry scent downhill, and the bucks will take advantage of that.
Having the knowledge of where the bucks tend to enter the field based on wind direction will be a huge advantage in choosing where to set your stands and which ones to hunt based on the prevailing wind directions of the day.
Behavior and Interactions
While most of the topics I have discussed to this point have the end goal of helping you shoot a buck you have spotted during August, there are advantages to glassing deer that just help us better understand the species. Watching deer and observing how they act, react and interact can be very educational.
The ways in which does interact can be very interesting. Over time, you can figure out which does are the dominant ones. One matriarchal doe is usually a leader, and often looks around more than the others; a sentry so to speak. The other does look to her for guidance.
Bucks will exhibit dominance tendencies as well. Often, when a mature buck enters the field, the other bucks will stare at him for a while. If he moves close to one of them, the subordinate buck will move off. Rarely do you see confrontations during this time, but the pecking order becomes clear if you are observant.
You can learn a lot from watching deer; the information you gather can help you understand the deer in your area much better, and it can also lead to a greater chance of shooting a nice buck in the early days of the archery season.
Heading off to a new area to hunt can be challenging and the amount of work to learn a new piece of property can be a daunting task, particularly when it’s public land and other hunters are a factor. Here’s a system for figuring it out in a hurry.
By Bernie Barringer
I first discovered this particular spot on Google Earth a couple years previously. I had been sitting at my computer in Minnesota, several hundred miles away from where I was now in a treestand. The spot interested me because it was a classic funnel with a river on one side and a large area of tall grass CRP on the other. Two woodlots necked down along the river at this point and in my mind I could visualize a big Kansas buck running the banks of the river while cruising for does on a cold November day.
Kansas is too far away to allow a scouting trip, so I had to do my homework long distance. I phoned a game warden, a county conservation biologist and even made an inquiry on a bowhunting forum. All of these conversations gave me some nuggets of information. I decided I was going to spend my Kansas tag on that large tract of public hunting land. Before I left home, I had a half dozen good looking areas to check out, headlined by the funnel along the river.
In the area along the river, I got several photos of shooter bucks, headlined by a ten-pointer with a kicker point and a big eight with chocolate antlers. My stand was hung and the wind was right when I made the long walk to the stand early on the afternoon of November 6.
When a big buck appeared at 28 yards, everything went into automatic. It was a heavy, mature buck; I grunted him to a stop and shot immediately. The shot was perfect and he ran 80 yards before piling up. Sure enough it was the big 8-pointer. He was a mature specimen with beautiful heavy, dark antlers. A buck anyone would be proud to take on public land a long way from home.
Even the longest deer hunting road trip has to start with the first step. The first step on the road to success, of course, is choosing the right place to go. Once you decide which state you are going to hunt, from there your next step is to choose a piece of public hunting land and evaluate it. Most of that can be done from your home, but the final pieces of the puzzle need to be done with your boots in the dirt. Allow me to walk you through the process.
1) Technology topics
Never before has it been so easy to choose and eliminate properties from the comfort of your home. Aerial photos are stunning in their ability to reveal things that would take hours to learn by scouting. Terrain features jump right off the page at you. Once you learn to read cover and have a basic understanding of how deer use terrain, the things you can learn from Google Earth are priceless.
Focus your attention on edges primarily. Anywhere you see a piece of timber that necks down and then opens back up, you have a funnel. Look for long-running features such as rivers, bluffs and open fields that will funnel deer travel. These spots are all potential hotspots during the rut. Look for potential feeding areas. Are there nearby crop fields? Oak ridges? Where might the deer be bedding? These are all questions to ask yourself. At first, the photos might just look like trees and fields and streams, but as you learn how deer use these features, you soon learn to predict areas with high potential.
Pay special attention to what surrounds the area. It’s no secret that public hunting areas get quite a bit of hunting pressure. I wish I had a dollar for every time I read that you need to get more than a half-mile from the road to get away from the pressure. While this is good advice in general, there is the common misconception that getting back off the road means just to penetrate the largest block of timber you can find. That’s rarely going to be the best option unless there are food plots planted back in that timber.
One of the best overlooked places I have found to hunt is where the public land meets a crop field. The father it is from a public access point the better I like it. Penetrate the large timber if you want, but if I am going to carry all my gear a mile or more, I want to carry it to a place where the movement patterns are more predictable than they would be in a large unbroken forest. If the does are feeding in these crop fields, the bucks will know it and they will be checking it out during the rut.
Another often overlooked way to gather information about an area is to ask about it on an internet forum. A simple question on a state-based hunting site or a national hunting forum can yield surprisingly detailed information. The worst that can happen is you get nothing; but normally, you will at least a basic response with some information you can use. At that point a private message to the person might get them to open up more. I once met a guy on a forum that offered to drive me around and show me some spots when I arrived. You bet I took him up on that.
2) Pick up the phone
Calling up a local biologist is always a good idea. County conservation board directors, game wardens and even local sporting goods stores can yield good information. I suggest having a list of questions written out ahead of time so you can get good details. You will want to ask basic questions about the deer population and hunting pressure, but also specific questions about what may be planted in the food plots this year, where they seeing deer while they are out on the property and ask for details on the trophy potential. Lately, I have been asking about EHD and other possible factors that could impact the health of the deer.
Be sure to ask questions about the regulations for the property. Can you use an ATV? Can you leave your stands out overnight or do you have to bring them out with you? Many states require you to have your name and address on all stands and climbing sticks. This type of question can save you from a legal issue later on.
Don’t be afraid to call back a week before you leave to double check and get even more up to the minute information. This is the time when you may get a gold nugget of information. They may tell you where they have seen a lot of deer feeding out in the corn stubble. They may indicate where there has been chasing activity, which will also give you some clues as to the state of rutting activity. They may even tell you of other nonresident hunters and where they are hunting.
3) Take a little trip
If you can do one pre-season scouting trip it can really up your odds of success. There are two times when I feel that scouting trips are most beneficial. One is in the spring and the other is a month or so before you hunt.
In the spring, the rubs and scrapes from the previous fall will still be visible. You can really walk the area out and find out where the bedding areas are found. I hate busting into bedding areas when I am on a hunt, but I hunt aggressively so sometimes that’s necessary. By doing this in the spring, you can walk anywhere without having a negative impact on the fall hunt. You may find a shed or two that will indicate which deer made it through the winter.
I have often taken a quick trip to hang cameras a few weeks prior to the hunt. I have cleared shooting lanes and even put up stands on a couple occasions. Putting treestands up on public land can be risky (even illegal in some areas) but there are times when the risk is worth it.
Trail cameras put out well before the season can be gathering information while they await your return. Some of the photos I have obtained through this have been very beneficial. In one case it helped me eliminate an entire public hunting area in which I would have wasted a few days, and in other cases it has helped me home in on movement patterns quickly. In all cases, it has helped me estimate the trophy potential and assess the amount of hunting pressure. In a couple places I hunt, I have buddies that will put the cameras out for me. Well before the season I send them 3-4 cameras with fresh batteries installed and they put them out for me.
4) Evaluate potential with cameras
Once I arrive to hunt, the cameras become one of the cornerstones of my hunting strategy. A few cameras placed on primary scrapes with a good lure such as Active Scrape or Special Golden Estrus will take inventory of most of the bucks in the area with a couple days.
The cameras will also give very important clues to the state of the rut. Are the bucks still using the trails between the bedding areas and the feed? Are they actively pawing at the scrapes and working the branches? Are their tarsal glands turning black indicating that they are engaged in rutting activity? Are you seeing the does with the fur on their hips scuffed up from breeding? These and more are the subtle signs that the cameras will give you to help in your site selection process.
If you have done your work well and evaluated the property starting from a wide approach on your home computer and narrowing it down through phone calls, camera surveillance and scouting, you should be able to narrow it down and put your stand in the right spot. The exact spot where you will kill your first–or your next–road trip buck.
Can’t afford the time or the money to take an extended hunting trip out of state? Consider the pros and cons of a weekend DIY hunt.
By Bernie Barringer
When most hunters think about a road trip to hunt big whitetail bucks, they are usually thinking about a week-long adventure. Their tactics involve going to an area, scouting it out, hanging stands and hoping to shoot a big buck by the end of the weeklong trip. There are certainly some advantages to this approach, and for some hunters it is the only option. But there’s another option to consider. How about the weekend DIY getaway?
A weekend trip has some significant positives if you have a good hunting area within 4-6 hours from home. This can be a great alternative for the person who doesn’t have large blocks of time to hunt. Let’s explore this option.
Timing is Important
If you are planning a week-long hunt, you must choose the best time to go. Early season? Rut? Late season? With a weekend adventure, you can go multiple times. Go during the early season when the deer are more patternable, then go back during the rut when the bucks are on their feet during the day. Go back once more in the late season when the deer are focused on the food sources and once again fall into predictable daily patterns. Take off on a Friday, say at noon, hunt that evening, then Saturday and Sunday. Head home Sunday night.
I have been on several week-long bowhunting road trips only to spend a week in horrible weather for hunting. One trip to Kansas a few years ago presented me with daily highs in the 80’s during November, and nearly all the deer movement was after dark. With a weekend trip, you can schedule your hunts by watching the forecast and planning your trip to coincide with the best hunting weather.
Today’s technology allows us to have amazingly accurate forecasts including cold fronts, wind directions and wind speed, precipitation, rising or falling temperatures, even moon phases. Decisions can be made at the last minute based on accurate prediction data. This allows you to be in control of the weather when you hunt instead of the other way around. If you are lucky enough to have a fairly flexible schedule, add a Monday to your trip or leave on a Thursday night when the conditions are good. The ability to use the weather to your advantage is one of the most important features of these short-duration trips to your whitetail heaven.
The advantages of scouting are huge when it comes to the weekend road trip. It’s not a stretch to make a trip to the area to put out a few trail cameras and then check them a couple times before hunting season. That’s not going to be a possibility if you live in Michigan and you have an Iowa bow tag. This is a real advantage in shortening the learning curve to hunting a new area.
Last fall I put out three trail cameras in my hunting area in North Dakota on August 31 while travelling to an early season Montana whitetail hunt. By the time I got back to North Dakota on Halloween, the thousands of photos chronicled the transition from late summer to early rut, and the information I gained from going through all those pictures was very valuable in two areas: 1) Taking inventory of the bucks in the area and 2) determining their movement patterns.
I have found that leaving scouting cameras on public land can be a dicey endeavor and I have had a couple stolen. I am never as heartbroken about the loss of the camera as I am over the loss of valuable information it contained. I now use bear safes bolted to the tree with lag bolts and padlocks; and rarely have a camera stolen when using these. I have had the displeasure of having one exception to this rule. Someone went home to retrieve a hacksaw blade. From the markings on the tree they must have spent a long, long time sawing with a blade to cut the bolts behind the camera case. Then of course they had the issue of getting the padlock off. When they finally got it open, they found my name and cell phone number tattooed all over the camera so it probably doesn’t have much value to them for all their effort.
These trail camera reconnaissance trips can also be used for preseason scouting and preparing treestand locations. The earlier you cut shooting lanes the better, and the same is true with getting the treestands up. Having the stands in place well in advance of the hunt is an advantage over the “hang-and-hunt” tactics more typical of a week-long hunt with regard to the amount of scent left in the area. Whitetail bucks, especially the mature ones, don’t miss much. Freshly cut tree stubs and new appearances of climbing sticks are a dead giveaway.
Weekend Road Trips are more cost effective because you only have one or two nights of lodging as opposed to a week or more. You can carry easily-prepared food with you or just eat snacks for a couple days to keep your energy up. Food on long trips can be a large expense.
Depending on how far you are travelling, fuel can be an issue. It is usually offset by the fact that you are taking multiple short trips rather than one cross-country trip.
Weekend excursions have some significant advantages as you can see, and you may very well have a good hunting area nearer than you think. A long hunting trip may seem overwhelming so consider starting small. If you look at a map, you very well may find a great hunting area within a half-day’s drive of home. Consider the option of a weekend road trip rather than a long undertaking for your next whitetail adventure.
Thousands of bear hunters go to the woods each year in an attempt to attract a wary black bear to a bait site. Where do they get all those goodies? Here’s how one entrepreneur took the bear bait business to a whole new level.
By Bernie Barringer
Cory Carlson was a part of a group of eight bear hunters who hunted together each year near Aitkin, Minnesota. It was always a struggle to get enough bait, and Cory seemed to be the guy who was able to get the most bait. The other hunters often used up what he brought. He decided to buy a bunch of licorice and see if it would sell to bear hunters.
“I bought a trailer load of 10,000 pounds of licorice and parked it in my garage,” he remembers. I ran an ad in the local shopper and sold it all.” At that point he knew he was onto something. It was clear he could sell even larger quantities of bait if he could get it. He spent hours on the phone trying to find sources of items that would be good bear baits. “It took a lot of phone calls and a lot of internet surfing to find enough bait. There were a lot of dead ends.”
But his hard work and diligence paid off. Before long he had to put up a new building to hold all the bait he was selling. Bear hunters came from across Wisconsin and Minnesota to buy bait, outfitters from across the US and Canada started ordering it by the semi load and Cory went full time into the bear bait business. Today his wife Jen is also heavily involved in the business side of the endeavor. There’s a lot of work, red tape and headaches involved in shipping semi loads of food products across international borders. Cory and Jen work hard at what they do and it allows them to be around hunting and other hunters most every day, something they love.
Cory’s company, Lucky 7 Bear Bait, ships dozens of semi loads of bait across North America during the spring and summer. On any given day, hunters back their pickups up to his building near Cambridge, Minnesota and load up the goodies for the bears. He sells about 3,000,000 pounds per year.
Trail mix is his best seller. It has all the things a bear loves: high carbohydrate nuts, dried fruits and berries and bits of candy. It’s very close to what the bears would naturally eat if they could find enough of it in the wild. The bears love trail mix and he has access to tons of it. You can buy it by the bucket, by the barrel or by the pallet. Other top sellers are granola, cookie dough, gummie bears, fruit snacks, licorice, frostings, caramel and fruit fillings. He avoids anything with pure, unprocessed dark chocolate because it can make the bears sick if they eat too much of it, but anything with milk chocolate mixed in is fine.
Bears are individuals and each bear seems to prefer certain things. Savvy bear hunters use a wide variety of baits to keep them coming back. The bear hunters are individuals too, says Cory, “One guy will come in and say the bears don’t like anything but black licorice while the next guy will come in and he only wants red licorice. Still another guy will tell me to give him a bunch of licorice and he doesn’t care what flavor it is. Then another guy will say that licorice doesn’t work at all.” Cory just sells them what they want.
Where does a guy get three million pounds per year of these goodies? He gets it from several factories all across the US. Which factories and where they are located, is understandably a closely-guarded secret. Cory spent years developing his sources and he isn’t giving out any information other than to explain why it is available to his company.
He buys the products direct from the factories that produce them. Surprisingly, the products are not outdated or flawed in any way that would affect its taste or safety. There are factory closeouts which provide quantities. Much of it may be off-color or misshapen, other times someone may have added a little too much or too little of an ingredient and it all has to be disposed of. There are end-of-run and beginning-of-run products that need to be thrown out. At times an equipment breakdown can mean someone has to shovel several barrels of sweets out of a huge processing machine. Rather than throw it out, they ship it to Cory at Lucky 7 and the hunters turn it into bear meat and bear rugs.
One of the advantages of the hard work that goes into being at the top of the bear bait heap is the added opportunity to hunt. Cory and Jen have found that the connections they make with bear hunting outfitters have led them onto some really fun hunts. Cory also enjoys whitetail hunting in the fall as a way to relax when the business slows down as the bear seasons close.
Next time you pay the high price for a small package of trail mix, granola or nuts, think about Cory Carlson; he would be happy to sell you a 55-gallon drum of it for a fraction of the price.
For information on successful bear baiting strategies check out this book and DVD.
A deer rubs his antlers on a small tree to mark his territory right? How complicated can that be? Well, here are some things that will shed new light on what rubs actually mean.
By Bernie Barringer
Outdoor writers like myself are always looking for new ideas and new things to write about. We are always analyzing what we see and trying to learn more from each nugget of bucks sign, mostly in the hopes that we can learn something which we can pass along to our readers in order to educate them and help them hunt more effectively. That’s all good.
The bad side of the coin is that we also tend to overthink and overanalyze things from time to time. In our zeal to learn more that we can write about, we sometimes read way too much into what we are seeing. I think that is true with much of what has been written in the outdoor magazines about rubs in the past 20-30 years. There are even books about how finding rubs lined up in one direction can lead you to your next big buck. Well, let’s just say that’s a stretch.
The advent of GPS collars that track the movement and activities of bucks 24/7 has added to our knowledge of deer behavior, but it has also turned some long-held beliefs into rubbish. Some of those beliefs are related to how deer make and use rubs. Here are three myths that we can put to rest.
Rubs are Territorial Markers
If bucks were patrolling a territory, making rubs to mark the edges of their range, the GPS tracking data would bear that out, but it does not. There is no evidence whatsoever that bucks even have a territory they try to protect in any way. They do have home ranges—areas where they spend the majority of their time—but they show no evidence that they try to protect that home range from other deer in any way.
That’s not to say that rubs are not forms of communication; however, because they are. When the bucks rub trees they deposit scent on them, which communicates to the other deer in the area the statement that, “I was here.” But really, not much more than that. It’s a way for deer to get to know each other better and have a feel for who is using the same areas they are using.
Velvet Shedding Rubs
Some deer authorities have surmised that different rubs at different times of the year and on different sizes of trees can be filed into certain categories, such as Velvet Shedding rubs, Signpost Rubs, even Rutting Rubs.
Possibly the most misunderstood is the belief that bucks use rubs to remove the velvet from their antlers. First, it’s important to understand that when the velvet dries, it will fall off whether they rub it on something or not. Secondly, if a buck is inclined to remove it, it wouldn’t make much sense for him to use the trunk of a small tree to remove it. Some bucks don’t seem to care much unless the velvet is hanging down impairing their vision, while others seem to aggressively work at tearing it off.
A friend once watched a full velvet whitetail walk by just out of range on September 5. He sat in a ground blind and watched that deer walk right up to a leafy bush and stick his antlers right into the brush. The buck twisted and turned the antlers in the brush, then slashed at it from side to side a few times, completely removing every trace of bloody velvet within 60 seconds.
Bucks may remove some of the velvet from their antlers by rubbing on tree trunks, but that’s not the preferred method.
Only Big Bucks Rub Big Trees
This has an element of fact in it because larger bucks do tend to rub larger trees than smaller bucks at time. But that’s about all there is to it. Biologists have theorized that one of the reasons bucks rub trees is to exercise their neck muscles for the battles that will occur during the rut. It stands to reason that a buck would choose a tree that has some flex too it so it “fights back” so to speak. Larger, stronger bucks would naturally choose thicker trees to create the exercise needed. Certainly, a tree that is really shredded was rubbed by a big buck because small bucks simply do not have the antler size and physical power to really tear up a tree the size of your wrist.
I have personally witnessed small and large bucks rub trees of any size. I have even seen them rub fenceposts and power poles that had no give at all to them. Some of these have been called signpost rubs. They can be rubbed by the biggest buck in the area one minute and then a spike the next.
Signpost rubs are rubs that get used from year to year and are often on big trees. It seems like every deer that comes along, no matter the size, can resist giving it a stroke or two. These don’t seem to be chosen for any specific reason other than the fact that they are in a spot where a lot of deer go by. And that in itself has some value to the hunter.
So don’t read too much into what you see in a rub. In fact, if you really want to learn a lot about who is using a particular rub, put a game camera on it. Seeing is believing.
All states publish stats for their deer herds including overall populations and trends. How they arrive at these numbers might surprise you.
By Bernie Barringer
Like me, no doubt you have marveled at the numbers being thrown about by state game agencies when it comes to their deer populations and harvest management objectives. One state agency may say they have a million deer and three years later they say they have 875,000. Another state may say they have 480,000, which is up from 425,000 just three years previous.
Where do they get these numbers? Sometimes it seems as if they just grab them out of the air or take them from some computer model. Often, our personal observations do not seem to match the numbers being put forth by the state agency. Let’s take a look at how most state agencies arrive at these numbers and then how they adjust these numbers based on trends.
How many deer are there?
To recognize trends in population dynamics, there must first be a baseline. Researchers need a number to start with. Something called “Random Sampling” doesn’t really sound like science, but it is. Let’s say a team of surveyors goes out in each county in the state and spotlights likely looking deer habitat for four hours. There is one team per county and each team spotlights fields in about ten percent of the county. They count every buck and doe they see.
This is a random sample and it can be extrapolated with remarkable accuracy. Since ten percent of the areas were counted, you can take the count times ten and you have a reliable estimate of the number of deer in the state. This 10 percent count has less than a 2% statistical margin for error.
But they do not end it there. Most states also use random sampling in aerial surveys, where they fly over areas during the winter and count deer as they show up well in the snow. If you have never tried this you would be shocked at how well you can see them. Some states have also used counts of deer droppings in wintering areas, roadkills and other methods of estimating deer populations. More recently, scouting cameras are being used to tighten up the data.
The more data that is collected, the more reliable the estimates become. Done for just one year, these surveys are quite reliable, but combine and average the data for ten years, or 20 and you have some pretty accurate numbers.
However, many things can change the numbers. Harsh winters, disease, drought, overharvest, predators, etc. can all cause significant upturns or downswings in populations. These trends are followed closely by including factors such as fawn recruitment rates, significant changes in survey numbers and harvest reporting.
Fawn Recruitment Rates
Understanding fawn recruitment rates has proven to be one of the best indicators of population trends and their causes. Fawn recruitment–the number of young deer in the population—can be tied to predation and habitat quality. When fawn recruitment rates plummet, it’s usually either a bad year for food availability or a rise in predator populations. In some areas, predators are taking up to 80 percent of the fawns from the deer population. Poor pelt values for coyotes is one of the reasons, as coyote populations are high in many areas of North America. Bobcats, bears and wolves are taking a big toll in some areas as well.
The surveys described above are indicators of low fawn recruitment, but the best indicator is the number of young-of-the year deer in the harvest. Most adult does will produce two fawns under normal habitat conditions. About 50 percent of the yearling does breed, and they average about one fawn. These numbers can be used to estimate the number of increase in young-of-the-year deer in the harvest. Of course, a relatively small number of fawns actually make it until the fall hunting season. When fawn recruitment rates are near .75-1.00, the herd is healthy and growing. Some states record negative numbers in fawn recruitment, which means the overall population is dropping.
Road kills, spotlight surveys, aerial surveys, and other methods help determine the overall population, but more importantly, they help identify trends in the population. When the number of deer is down in a spotlight survey, for example, and the number of roadkills dropped, biologists have a indicator that the population is dropping.
Of course other factors can influence these numbers. Poor weather or fog on a spotlighting night can skew the numbers. Lack of snow in aerial surveys can make for poor deer counting conditions. All these things are taken into consideration when the numbers are tabulated, but as you can imagine, this is an inexact science. Biologists must do the best they can with the data they can gather. The more data sources available, the more accurate the numbers will be.
Fawn recruitment rates and population trends can be very strongly influenced by harvest statistics. As more states agencies have begun to understand the value of harvest numbers in estimating populations and population trends, they have gone to mandatory reporting. Check stations, online reporting and phone reporting are options in most states. About 2/3 of states now have mandatory reporting for deer harvest. The other 1/3 use surveys. These surveys are phone calls or mailings that ask the hunters to report their seasonal success.
Mandatory reporting is only as good as the enforcement and many hunters do not report their harvested deer. Agencies use a correction factor to estimate the number of hunters who do not report, then add that correction into the overall tally. Voluntary sampling is nearly as effective, remember, just a 10% response has a statistical error of less than 2%.
These voluntary harvest surveys and mandatory reporting have significant value in establishing trends. By learning if the deer killed was a doe or buck fawn, biologists can learn important data in fawn recruitment, for example.
Without question, no one really knows exactly how many deer there are in your state. And sometimes the agencies get it wrong and make decisions based on flawed data, they are not perfect. But the techniques used to estimate populations and trends are remarkably accurate over the long term, and the people in your state game departments are doing the best they can with the data they gather. The vast majority of the time, they are a lot closer to an accurate estimate of these numbers than are their critics.