2016 Season Recap

The 2016 whitetail season was memorable on a number of fronts. One of my biggest takeaways was the importance of the first sit and the importance of a sanctuary for bucks and does. The properties I hunt that have additional hunting pressure are typically not as good as the properties where I keep the pressure low. Deer quickly react to that human hunting pressure and adjust their movements.

As a family we harvested 3 bucks and a number of does. Each of the hunts was memorable and enjoyable. I was able to pass a few bucks as well. Hopefully the 2017 is memorable in similar ways, but hopefully one of us is able to take down a mature buck during the 2017 season. It was remarkable to see how the spots with little to no pressure produced absolutely incredible hunts.

Unfortunately I’ve realized the value of keeping my harvests confidential as well as the spots I hunt. The competition for spots is fierce these days so I’ve just turned to the perspective that the less others know the better. This means I will no longer be posting harvest photos on this website, but I’ll certainly keep other informed on some of the tactics and strategies I’m learning and implementing that are greatly impacting the success we’re having while hunting.

I’ll reiterate the importance of having sanctuaries on the hunting properties you have complete control over. There is perhaps no greater tool in a hunters arsenal then having areas where deer feel safe and don’t get bothered. This can be true in the great state of Iowa or in the hard hunted states like PA, MI, WI, and NY. Regardless of where you call home a sanctuary will attract deer to that specific area if it has some food and adequate cover. Don’t overlook this strategy.

 

 

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It’s Been A Busy Off-Season

With the deer season quickly approaching it makes sense to dive into the work done thus far to prepare for it. Off-season preparations began as soon as the 2015 season ended so it’s been a long process, but we’ve accomplished many things along the way.

Here’s a list of the many projects tackled:

  • Post-season scouting
  • Post-season inventory
  • Mineral Station work
  • Spring Food Plots Put In
  • Summer Scouting Began Early and Continues to This Day
  • Trail Cam Inventory
  • New Food Plot Prep
  • Old Stand’s Worked On and New Stands Put In
  • Fall Food Plot Plantings
  • Purchased New Hunting Gear and Prepared the Old
  • Shooting My Bow
Buck
Buck

Here’s some of the thing’s still left to be done:

  • Hang Simple Tree Stand Spots in Low Impact Locations (these shouldn’t bother deer to much putting them in)
  • Finish Prepping Hunting Gear
  • Continuing Shooting the Bow and Adding Challenges to It
  • Fertilize Plots One Last Time to Increase Desirability and Growth
  • Check Camera’s Once with a Rain Right Before Season
  • Find New Properties

New Insight Taken Away from this Past Off-Season:

  • Scouting is a long process that can teach you many things about your local deer herd
  • Obtaining New Properties is so helpful to your chances at mature deer
  • Sanctuaries are more critical then ever and must be respected
    • After hanging two of our stands I stopped getting pictures of a mature buck on a particular trail in that area (those mature deer are very wise)
  • Food plots are tricky at time, but continue to do all of the right steps and try new seeds if necessary, sometimes even retilling if the plot does not do well might be necessary
  • Checking trail camera’s in the rain is the only way I’ll do it going forward, the scent getting washed away is quite helpful. Also waiting a month between check’s is another essential for me. This minimize’s the disturbances.
  • Killing mature bucks is all about precision, if you get sloppy and don’t pay attention to all the details your chances of pulling it off are greatly decreased

The Four Year Quest

A four-year quest…Where to begin?

2012

I believe it’s best to start with this trail camera photo that set me on a relentless quest to harvest the Michigan buck of two lifetimes. When I first captured this buck on camera in 2012, to say I became obsessed with hunting this deer would be an understatement. While I was a young hunter with respect to field experience I gave it my all that year. I hunted hard. Not too smart… but I tried to learn as much as I could to harvest this 170” gross animal. I did end up taking a 102” gross 8 point that season, but I never once saw this giant Michigan deer on the hoof.

While I considered the season a success harvesting a 100” deer, I was growing weary hunting the late season to fill my 2nd tag on this 170” buck. For my father in-law that all changed on Dec. 31st when he harvested this giant with a stick and string.

15 Point at Night

While I realized I had little chance of killing that deer, I enjoyed the season we all had pursuing him. To eventually be able to put the tape to a deer of that caliber in the hard-hunted region of southern Michigan was a thrill.

MarkStewartBuck_2012

2013

Transitioning into the 2013 season I wasn’t near as thrilled about the class of mature bucks we had, but there were still some good deer to target. Having spent the previous season chasing a trophy buck, clever and incredibly difficult to pattern, I was determined to learn more about the mighty whitetail. Over time I’ve come to realize such learning is a never-ending process. During that season I was determined to get the job done. Though I quickly began to realize how tough it really is to get the job done in Michigan. Mature Mitten bucks don’t survive for just any reason; they are smart creatures. I do believe these deer are killable, but they require advanced hunting strategies and techniques that aren’t developed in one or even two seasons.

Using the Wired to Hunt resources, watching all of Bill Winke and Grant Woods online hunting shows, reading articles and magazines; I was trying to veraciously learn as much as possible. While I consumed as much content as possible, I came to realize there is nothing that can replace field experience and time spent scouting outside of the season. Familiarizing oneself to a property and dissecting it to the point that you understand the ground close to the way in which the deer understand is critical for in-field success. I did not learn these things from articles or watching content alone. It’s been a collection of both articles and field experience that have taught me a lot about my primary hunting property, not to mention the data garnished from trail cameras as well.

As another season ended, I came to the realization I needed to add more properties to my list of options. In late December, I added an additional property in an urban environment that allowed us to harvest a lot of does. Despite the success on does, mature bucks eluded me throughout this season. I chalked it up as a season of lessons learned.

2014

Determined not to repeat past mistakes and armed with two properties, I was certain this year was going to be a year to remember. I applied my knowledge gained over the two previous seasons. The success was clear, but still I’d leave the season with two Michigan buck tags in my hand. Opening day of gun season a great friend of mine shot a 4-½-year-old Michigan buck that I had my scope on as well. Being that this friend was not 100% certain where I was, he elected to take the shot on this buck before it had turned broadside for me. We were roughly 120 yards apart and the buck was somewhat in between us. With a savage shotgun in hand, it was a shot anyone would take should the chance present itself. While we did not end up recovering that deer I was thrilled that I put us in a situation to encounter a 4-½-year-old deer. There is no one I would have rather had take a shot at a mature buck at my place than Jon. He has always been incredibly generous to me about hunting his farm. Losing an animal is part of hunting and even the best hunters experience it one time or another.

The 2014 season could be described as the season of hunting smart and not overhunting stands. I was incredibly disciplined about this. On November 3rd I had the best hunting day of my life. I had stayed out of my main property and this was one of the first days I had moved in to hunt mature bucks. After a slow start I encountered four bucks pursuing two does on the same exact trail. The tough part was that this trail was 50-60 yards from my stand. Close, but not close enough. I was still excited that one of those bucks was the buck I desired to harvest the most this season. Later that night my father and I moved into two of our best stands. While I didn’t see any mature bucks I saw a couple does and numerous immature bucks. My father on the other hand, a mere 100 yards away, had a nice encounter with another one of our target bucks.

I pushed myself to go further that year. I took my first out of state hunting trip to Ohio. A good buddy and myself hunted public land in Ohio a couple of different weekends. He was able to harvest a mature doe and I was quite happy to have some encounters with both bucks and does.

For the 2014 in particular, I was convinced of the importance and value your first sit holds in a specific stand location. This is and always will be your best chance to arrow a mature buck. While opening day of gun season almost became one of the best hunting days in my memory, I left this season with great memories, but no antlers on the wall.

2015

There is no time like the present. It is these very moments that we define both our current reality and set the course for our future. I made certain that this was going to be the best season of my hunting career. While I made every effort to do that Mother Nature had some surprises in store. What I thought was going to be one of my best seasons was unfolding as one of my worst seasons.

Here’s what I did right: 1) intense summer scouting and incredible trail camera inventory of local bucks; 2) added my list of different properties to hunt to four; 3) made the decision to hunt Pike County, IL with my father.

Here’s what I did wrong: 1) assumed that low pressure would lead to success (I failed to realize that neighboring pressure would greatly affect my mature buck movement); 2) early in the season, I failed to capitalize on putting my wife in a stand over a good 2-½-year-old Michigan buck scrape; 3) hunted my additional properties too hard early in the season, making it more challenging to have time to hunt hard during the rut; 4) got sick during the rut, which prevented me from hunting as much as I should have been during this period.

Good and bad aside I grinded out this season. Throughout the year I made it a priority to hunt smart, using trail camera intelligence to determine hunting locations, and made sure scent control was part of every hunt. I knew I needed to do everything possible not to alert deer that they were being hunted. My resolve to keep these critical details a part of every hunt was unmatched in comparison to past seasons.

Outside of one exciting cold front hunt in the middle of October, I consider that month to have pretty much been a bust with regard to mature buck sightings. As November arrived, I snuck in a few good hunts with my wife, but failed to see any shooters. With our Pike County trip approaching, I slowed my hunting down a bit in Michigan to spend some time with family. While in Pike County both my father and I passed on nice 2-½-year-old bucks as we elected to hold out for something bigger. Even though we saw bucks nearly every hunt, we were unable to get the job done on our short trip to Illinois. With no trophy in hand, I still considered this some of the best hunting I had ever experienced. Bucks were everywhere and rattling was quite effective. However, this trip proved to be challenging from start to finish. On our way to Pike County a simple cold turned into a terrible cold. Thankfully, I only skipped one hunt while in Pike County. Upon our return to Michigan I stopped hunting most of the week in an attempt to heal up as quickly as possible. With the gun season nearing my wife and I made it out for a few more hunts the final week of bow season. Sadly it was more of the same. We were seeing deer, but not the bucks we were targeting. This had me second-guessing everything I was doing. Last season staying out of my primary property until the rut had worked so well. This year that was far from true.

The arrival of gun season on November 15th left me disgruntled, as I did not see a single deer. It was the worst opening morning I can remember. Furthermore, I did not see deer on my primary property the rest of the gun season. I did everything possible to hunt smart and even got mobile with the Lone Wolf. Before I knew it the gun season and the rut were beginning to wind down. I made the decision that it was now or never. I told my wife that I had to get it done within the final stretches of the rut or my odds of killing a mature Michigan buck would drastically decrease.

I started hunting morning and evenings for days straight. Sadly that wasn’t changing my luck one bit. By the grace of God, I got a call from my buddy that he’d like to take me out to one of his good spots. This spot does not receive the pressure that a lot of good hunting spots do and the deer herd in the area seems to have incredibly high numbers. With no buck tags left in my buddy’s pocket I was going to be the hunter. Our first night out at his spot we saw nine does and four more walking out. Realizing the doe numbers were so high on this property, I knew there’d be a chance at a mature buck. The arrival of the major snowstorm on the 21st only made me more confident in our hunt on the morning of the 22nd. Boy was I in for a good surprise.

Despite a slow start of seeing only one doe way in the distance at 8:00 am, we kept grinding it out. The temps were cold and the sun was slowly breaking out to warm things up. By 9:00 am I finally spotted three does at 180 yards. The deer were primarily feeding on browse along the hardwoods edge. In time, two more does popped out into the hay field. Shortly thereafter antlers appeared. From what I could tell it was a big 6-point roughly two and a half years old. Finally I had my eyes on a buck during the gun season. After the buck had stepped out two more does entered the field. My buddy was getting excited about this big 6-point, but I told him I had a feeling that something better was on the way. Sure enough minutes after uttering those words out he stepped. With the sun shining on him, there he stood in all his glory amongst a large group of deer. I quickly put the Leupold binoculars on him. My first estimate was a 120” 8-point, then as time ticked by I went down to 110” all the way down to 100”. At 180 yards it was hard to judge his size. One thing I did notice was that he appeared to have a split brow tine.

The minutes passed with the deer feeding on the hay and the woody browse along the woods edge. Eventually the two bucks headed north into the CRP field remaining roughly 180 yards away the entire time. As they had stepped out of sight and the does eventually disappeared as well, I thought it was all but over. Then just when we were beginning to lose focus everything changed in an instant. First a doe stepped out at 15 yards from the CRP field. She worked directly in front of our pop-up tent. I expected more does to follow her. As I waited for the next doe I made the first steps to ready my firearm. Then to my amazement I saw antlers. I knew it was the 8-point from earlier and he was at 15 yards moving from the edge of the CRP into the hay field. The doe was working towards a spot in the hay field where she may be able to wind us and this mature buck was slowly following her a mere 15 yards from us. Thinking through these factors I shouldered my shotgun as quickly as possible and put the crosshairs on his big chest. Upon getting the scope on his body his chest nearly covered my entire scope at 15 yards. At a slow walk he was moving through my first shooting window in the pop-up tent. With the crosshairs somewhat where I wanted them I let one fly. Just like that this giant dropped onto the ground.

The next few moments were intense. He was still kicking on the ground and I was struggling to rack another shell into my Remington 870. My buddy with a knife on his side busted through the front of the pop-up tent and had intentions of keeping this buck down with a knife. Knowing how dangerous that was and also telling myself over and over, “You have to put another one in this deer,” I eventually got another shell into the chamber. Yelling at my buddy to step out of the way I tried to get on the deer, but just like that he was up and running along the edge of the hay field and the CRP.

At this point, I was both in shock of what just happened and quite concerned this buck had just gotten away. We resorted to calling our fathers to get some advice on how to proceed. The consensus was to go after him. Blood was present, but not exactly what I was hoping for having shot him at 15 yards. The snow made the tracking quite easy. Within 100 yards of where he had first dropped from the shot, there he lay. Finally… I had my Michigan trophy. I cannot thank my buddy Kevin enough for the hunt of a lifetime. I am thankful both to him and to the LORD for providing me with the chance to hunt a buck of this caliber.

132 1/8" Buck - 11/22/2015 - 9:45 AM
132 1/8″ Buck – 11/22/2015 – 9:45 AM

Most of us guessed him to be around 3-½ years old, a few of my buddies thought he might be 4-½. The taxidermist agreed with the few, estimating him to be 4-½ years old. I put the tape on him and he came out to 132 1/8”. He obviously crushes my previous buck of 102”. While they get bigger and inches aren’t even close to what it’s all about, I could not be more thankful. Four years ago, a 102” inch buck is exactly what I needed when I was just beginning to learning about this great sport. Today, a 130” buck is exactly what I am after. In Michigan, a 130” buck represents a deer that is at the top of the food chain. Yes there are bigger ones, but those are not easy deer to come by in southern Michigan.

 

October – November Hunting and Harvests

Hunting: 

I’m a firm believer in pressure and not applying too much of it on the deer. So I make every effort to spread my sits out and hunt different properties. The property I hunt that has produced the most success up until this point of the season is quite large. The pressure on the deer is less due to that fact. Thankfully this large farm is surrounded by other large properties, so in all the deer probably do not receive to much pressure. On this property I’ve found a bedding area that is rather easy to access and I’m able to get in and out quietly. This specific spot has delivered solid deer movement from start to finish of each hunt. This continues to be my best tactic for these October hunts. In addition to this bedding area location there are numerous areas on the property that I continue to hunt with mobile tactics using my Lone Wolf.

My urban property has been a bit slow this year, but has produced a few good bucks moving during the daylight on trail camera. I’m hoping the bucks are moving through the area even more during the rut. Thankfully my father was able to capitalize on a solid urban 8 point on the morning of Oct. 30th. That morning proved to be an awesome morning of hunting for a lot of hunters. The bucks are starting to cruise late morning and mid-day on our trail cameras in this urban environment.

Dad's Buck - 8 Point - 10/30/2015 - Morning
Dad’s Buck – 8 Point – 10/30/2015 – Morning

I have another small property we hunt that contained standing corn for a good chunk of the bow season. It’s provided good deer movement during daylight hours but all of the movement continues to be does only so we haven’t this property too hard. There are bucks in the area; the trail camera just shows them all moving under the cover of darkness. Ironically this property is not far from the bedding area I mentioned on the large property. It appears the bucks are moving in the bedding area during daylight hours and not hitting this small food source until later in the night.

I believe it is important to mention that I’ve truly committed to staying out of my main property. It’s exciting knowing this property holds so many bucks, yet it was challenging waiting for what I called the Halloween affect. Once Halloween hits is truly seems like the mature bucks are on their feet. Due to the major cold front that hit right around Halloween I began hunting this property quite hard at the end of October which is a touch earlier then I’d like. The weather temps for November aren’t what I’d hope them to be, so this forced me into thinking that a late October strike may have been my best opportunity. It’s too bad that this year the tactic of staying out did not pay off like it did the previous year. I’ll blame that on pressure from neighboring properties and unusually warm temperatures for a good chunk of the rut. While we did see deer when we finally moved in, we have not seen the bucks we’ve been looking for. This was my most frustrating hunting at my primary property that I can ever remember.

Thankfully even though I had very though hunting at my primary property my father and I made our first trip to Pike County, IL. We did a quick four day trip to Pike County. During this trip we have numerous encounters with 2.5 year old bucks (some of which may have been 3.5). I passed on a 100″ buck and my father passed on a 115″ buck. If I would have had a chance at one of the 115″ bucks I probably would have been more tempted to harvest the animal since the duration of our trip was so short. One of my biggest takeaways from the trip was the effectiveness of rattling in Pike County. We had a tons of success drawing in bucks with rattling on this trip.

Once gun season started back home everything dried up for me. Despite using my mobile Lone Wolf tactics my primary property was simply not producing for me or anyone that was hunting it. Thankfully I have two buddies with rather effective shotgun hunting spots. One of them got me out to his spot for the first time on Saturday November 21st. Too say the hunting was good would be an understatement. Within a few hours we had seen 9 does and bumped 4 more walking out. The following morning November 22nd my hunting life would be changed forever. Despite a very slow start in which my buddy only saw 1 doe way in the distance at 8:00 am we started to see movement at 9:00 am. First 3 does, then 2 more, then a 2.5 year old 6 point, then 2 more does, finally out he stepped. When he breached the woods the sun was shinning perfectly on his rack and you could simply see the tines and this buck in all his glory. Most likely he was one of if not the primary dominate bucks in this area. After a bit of feeding the two bucks headed north to the CRP ground. Personally I thought they were gone for the rest of the morning. Yet 15 minutes after they had disappeared one of the does that had been feeding in the hay had circled through the CRP to the North and chosen to loop back south and step out of the CRP 15 yards from our pop-up tent. My expectations where that more does would be following her. Boy was I wrong. A minute after she had walked directly in front of our pop up tent he stepped out in the same spot she did. I knew right away it was now or never. I quickly shouldered the only gun I truly love and trust. My Remington 870 was bored deep into my shoulder.  The 132″ buck was 15 yards away and quickly moving through my first shooting window in the pop-up tent. Worried him or the doe would bust at any moment I quickly pup my sights on this massive deer and all I saw was a nice big body in my scope. I did my best to center the sights and let one rip. Within the blink of an eye he piled into the ground. While he still had a little life left in him the slug did it’s job and we eventually came upon him about 100 yard from where he had first fallen from the shot. Just like that I had the biggest buck of my hunting career down on an incredible snowy morning. To say my buddy and I were excited would be an understatement…we were thrilled! Endless thanks goes out to my buddy Kevin for putting me on a buck hunt I’ll never forget!

132 1/8" Buck - 11/22/2015 - 9:45 AM
132 1/8″ Buck – 11/22/2015 – 9:45 AM

Nutrition:

Food: Our food plots look good. The chicory is getting cleaned up by the deer. The corn screen has either been destroyed by raccoons or deer. The turnips, radishes, and forage oats are looking great. Hopefully these plots do their job when the time is right.

Minerals: I continue to run minerals throughout the season, but the value of them lessens this time of year. Deer still need the minerals, but since the water content in the forage they’re eating this time of year is not as high as it is in the summer the deer aren’t desiring the minerals quite as much. That being said running minerals throughout the season is not a bad idea.

Water: The water holes have finally filled back up this fall due to some rain, but I cannot be sure how much the deer are using them since I haven’t monitored them closely at all this time of year. At this point in the season they are starting to freeze up.

Trail Cameras: Wow the scrape pictures have been incredible this year. I use Tinks and Buck Fever Pre-Post Rut scents to enhance my scrapes and the activity at them. We just recently got a picture of one of our biggest bucks in the area on a scrape.

Mock Scrapes/Rubs: All of my mock scrapes are pretty much old deer scrapes that I make sure to freshen up and add scent to. Most of them are getting great deer activity. This is an effective way to get deer to stop where you want them too. All of these locations are just off of or directly on deer trails. If the deer are using the scrape well I don’t even touch the scrape in an attempt to keep human scent away from the scrape. Another idea I recently came across is to hang a large rope to act as a licking branch. The rope holds the scent better. I have not done this at this point, but plan to eventually.

Food Source Scouting: When driving to and from hunting properties I’m always looking to see if deer are out in the fields. Now that gun season has arrived I can say I haven’t seen a whole lot of activity with this type of scouting. Nonetheless I keep looking to learn whatever I can. Specifically this can be valuable in the area that I primarily hunt.

Stand Scouting and Preparation: With the Lone Wolf on my back I will continue to try and experiment new things in the late season. I believe surprising mature bucks is one of the best ways to kill them. And countless hunting experts site the first sit as your best chance to arrow a mature buck.

Shooting Practice: As I pick my bow back up in December it is going to be critical to get the Hoyt firing here and there. Getting rust in your form or your shot during the season is certainly a negative. It is also critical to make sure that your bow is firing correctly after all of the transportation it experiences throughout the season.

 

It’s shocking that the first two months of the deer season are pretty much in the books. Each and every year the deer season flies by. If it is a passion of yours to deer hunt do everything you can to make time to get out there. The experience gleaned from hunting is priceless and it is truly hard to kill mature bucks from your couch. The only exception for not hunting is if you hunt one small property otherwise it is best to keep after it. Hunting smart, changing spots, and hunting often can be a great recipe for success.

Getting it Done

Sometimes in hunting it seems that we do everything but get the job done. Certainly professionals often have the edge over the average guy with property size, different states to hunt, and more days to hunt. Nevertheless there is something to be said about getting the job done whether you call yourself a professional in the hunting industry or if you are one of the many serious whitetail hunters spread out across the US.

This year I’ve taken special note of the fantastic job Drury Outdoors has done at putting monster bucks to the ground. Take a look for yourself at what the Drury Outdoors team has accomplished thus far. Here are just a few of the noteworthy bucks harvested: Mark Drury – 9/20 – 166 4/8″, Eric Bothun – 9/20 – 187 1/8″, Jim Thome – 10/1 – 196 1/8″, John O’Dell – 10/5 – 201 7/8″, and Rod Owen – 10/9 – 208 5/8″. The fact that the team already has 5 bucks at the B & C minimum of 170″ is incredible (obviously Drury’s buck falls just under that by a few inches). Probably even wilder is that the bucks simply keep getting bigger in size. It will be truly remarkable if anyone can top Rod Owen’s 208 5/8″.

Key things to note from all of these incredible buck harvests. First FOOD. Every buck besides John O’Dells was shot over some sort of great early season food source. John’s was taken over a water hole in an area of Texas that was probably quite dry. This emphasizes completely the necessity of keying in on a deer’s need to feed and drink during the early part of the whitetail season. Second COLD FRONTS. Simply a change in wind direction or a front coming in to drop the temperatures can be the difference between seeing bucks on their feet during daylight and not seeing them at all. Third TRAIL CAMERAS, Drury Outdoors is great at using Reconyx intel to intel about bucks. Using the data from the cameras a number of these bucks were at a disadvantage and the hunter capitalized.

A topic not mentioned in any of these short videos is moon phase. Mark Drury and Eric Bothun’s buck were both shot on the day before the red moon. The moon phase on the 20th called for good evening movement. It also lines up with Mark Drury’s theory of the 7 days before a full moon often present better evening hunting mentioned here on a Wired to Hunt podcast. Jim Thome’s 10/1 kill also fell under a day where the moon phase called for good evening movement. The two other evening kills do not correlate with good evening movement based on moon data.

Drury Outdoor’s weren’t the only professionals getting it done as numerous teams have capitalized in the early season. Bottom line its simply been a great start to the 2015 season for a lot of individuals.

A number of people I know personally were able to successfully capitalize on the early October cold front. In fact on October 1st two of my buddies took opening evening whitetail bucks and then another harvested a buck on the 2nd. Both of these days the moon phase called for good evening movement and the cold front that moved in only accented that to create some ideal hunting conditions.

Keep moon phase, weather cold fronts, and trail cameras in your back pocket for early season success on mature whitetails. In fact, pay close attention to the weather today through Sunday throughout most of the midwest. Moon phase is once again calling for good evening movement and we have some nice cold weather impacting the majority of midwest states. Hopefully you’re able to harvest a great buck yourself this weekend.

Pre-Season Efforts for September

Nutrition:

Food: We planted our fall plots not to far into August and they’ve come in great. The plot contained a lot of turnips, a good amount of oats, and a small amount of clover and drawf essex rape. The plots we planted later in August have also come in great as well. We had a little time to spare and planted a plot for some young youth hunters down the road. Their plot also came in great. I was amazing at how well the turnips and radishes come to life.

Plot Preparation: With September here and gone you should have your food plots in. If you live in the Southern part of the whitetail’s range you may still have a tiny bit of time to get food plots in. But my suggestion would be to get them planted sooner then later, if not today.

Minerals: I continue to run minerals throughout the season, but the value of them lessens this time of year. Deer still need the minerals, but since the water content in the forage they’re eating this time of year is not as high as it is in the summer the deer aren’t desiring the minerals quite as much. That being said running minerals throughout the season is not a bad idea.

Water: My water holes have been so dry in the month of August and also through the month of September. Thankfully one of them has held water, but it certainly has been a dry month. The pictures on this particular water hole have been incredible. It has been outperforming scrapes in total number of pics, but a lot of those pictures are does. The does are using the water hole on a daily basis. That’s not to say the bucks aren’t there because I got a few good buck pictures there as well. We really need more rain though. Hopefully the arrival of fall gives us some much needed rain.

Trail Cameras:  The cameras I have over scrapes are getting tons of activity, including fighting/sparring bucks. The water hole continues to produce some great pictures as well. So the trail camera activity has been quite exciting as of late.

Sparring Bucks at a Scrape

Mock Scrapes/Rubs: All of my mock scrapes are pretty much old deer scrapes that I make sure to freshen up and add scent to. Most of them are getting great deer activity. This is an effective way to get deer to stop where you want them too. All of these locations are just off of or directly on deer trails. If the deer are using the scrape well I don’t even touch the scrape in an attempt to keep human scent away from the scrape. Another idea I recently came across is to hang a large rope to act as a licking branch. The rope holds the scent better. I have not done this at this point, but plan to eventually.

Ghost hitting the best scrape on the property.

Food Source Scouting: I’ve continued my scouting over food sources (beans/alfalfa) throughout most of August and on cold front during September. The scouting continued to be much more effective then I expected specifically when the cold fronts hit in September. On the best cold front during the middle of September I saw virtually every one of my main target bucks. It was an incredible night of scouting. A lot of whitetail hunting experts suggest pinning down the acorn crop. The challenge with this can be acorn producing trees can be everywhere if you have a lot of oaks in your area. My suggest is to hunt the acorns, but don’t spend tons of time scouting all over your hunting grounds just to find that perfect white oak. This is best accomplished earlier in the summer when you can first start to see which trees will be producing acorns.

Stand Scouting and Preparation: Unfortunately due to safety reasons a lot of our stands don’t get put out until September. Luckily a lot of the stands were put in just before or in conjunction with rain so a lot of the scent left out from putting them in was dissipated. We were also able to get all of the stands we needed in. There may only be one or two more stands we put in during the season, but that will just depend on if they’re really needed. As always I’ll be mobile with the Lone Wolf hang on stand and sticks as much as possible to try and surprise mature bucks.

Shooting Practice: I’ve done everything possible to ramp up my bow shooting in the recent days. After a few minor adjustments to my bow at the bow shop I’ve gotten my bow dialed in and ready for the season. I’ve also spent a lot of time shooting broadheads to make sure they are flying straight. I recently made a switch to Easton Bowfire 300 arrows and NAP Thunderhead 100 broad heads. The combination of those two are flying great from my Hoyt bow.

Continual Learning: Avid whitetail hunters are always advancing their ideas about how to be a more effective hunter. Here a few ideas that challenged and enhanced the way I think. The Wired to Hunt podcast released a show with Adam Hays in the last few days of August. I finally dissected that podcast and took lots of notes. This is an incredible podcast for understanding how the moon affects whitetail movement and how to effectively kill giant bucks. Another great piece of information offered up on how to pattern bucks early in the year comes from Bill Winke on his Midwest Whitetail blog.

The whitetail bow season is here. October 1st marks the start of season for every part of the whitetails range to be the best of my knowledge. Keep all the tactics you’ve learned this off-season in mind as you head out to the woods. Good luck out there and shoot straight.

Pre-Season Efforts for August

Nutrition:

Food: We planted our fall plots not to far into August and they’ve come in great. The plot contained a lot of turnips, a good amount of oats, and a small amount of clover and drawf essex rape. I planted one small food plot a bit later and the rain hasn’t quite been strong enough to get much germination in some of the seeds. This plot contains clover, forage oats, turnips, and a small amount of chicory.

Fall Turnip and Oats Plot
Fall Turnip and Oats Plot

Plot Preparation: With September here time is running out to get food plots ready. Here are the steps we took to get our plots ready: we did a soil test early in the year. At this point we’ve sprayed all of our plots, some multiple times. We’ve also mowed them to knock down all of the dead vegetation. Then we proceed with tilling. After tilling it’s time to plant. When we go to seeding we’re spreading the fertilizer and the seed. After that we roll (cultipaking even better) the plot to ensure for good seed to soil contact. Then it’s time to let Mother Nature do her thing; do your best to plant not long before a storm if possible.

Minerals: I’ve refreshed a couple of mineral sites during this month, but spent a lot more time staying out and letting the cameras take pictures over the minerals. The results have been great. I’ve obtained a number of good pictures over our minerals. I’m a firm believer in allowing mineral sites to sit for a month or even 2-3 months at a time before checking cameras.

Dagger - 9 Point Buck over Minerals
Dagger – 9 Point Buck over Minerals

Water: My water holes have been so dry in the month of August. Thankfully one of them has held a tiny bit of water, but it certainly has been a dry month. The pictures on this area have started to become very good since it is near a corn field and the deer are likely hitting that corn now.

Bachelor Group at Water Hole
Bachelor Group at Water Hole

Trail Cameras:  The cameras I have over minerals are getting lots of activity. The water hole has also started to produce some great pictures as well. Just recently I’ve transitioned one of my cameras back to a scrape. The one that’s been over a scrape for months took some decent pictures as well.

Mock Scrapes/Rubs: All of my mock scrapes are pretty much old deer scrapes that I make sure to freshen up and add scent to. Most of them are getting pretty good deer activity. This is an effective way to get deer to stop where you want them too. All of these locations are just off of or directly on deer trails. If the deer are using the scrape well I don’t even touch the scrape in an attempt to keep human scent away from the scrape.

Food Source Scouting: I’ve continued my scouting over food sources (beans/alfalfa) throughout most of August. The scouting continued to be much more effective then I expected it to be. Usually the last two weeks in July are the best, but August proved to offer great scouting opportunities. I not only continued to monitor some of my best bucks during this month, but I also located a few other bucks that I hadn’t seen much or maybe not even at all during July.

Stand Scouting and Preparation: We recently hung two stands that should be great stand locations. I did everything possible to do it in conjunction with rain to wash our scent away. Thankfully it rained the following day. Both of these stand locations are in thick cover and should offer some interesting hunting opportunities. Due to the thickness of the cover around them they should be good all season long.

Shooting Practice: I’ve done everything possible to ramp up my bow shooting in the recent days. After a few minor adjustments to my bow at the bow shop I’ve gotten my bow dialed in and ready for the season. Now the key is to maintain my practice level so that I am ready for the season.

Continual Learning: Avid whitetail hunters are always advancing their ideas about how to be a more effective hunter. Here a few ideas that challenged and enhanced the way I think. First is an article from Wired to Hunt about Sanctuaries. I will continue to use sanctuaries myself, but this is an interesting article challenging those idea. The 2nd article is more of a product review. This a product review of something I can’t wait to get my hands on. Bowhunting.com produced this article.

Most of us are counting down the days. Season may have opened if you’re lucky enough to have an early September start, or it may be starting around the 15th. For most of us the countdown until Oct. 1 begins. To those traveling west to hunt Muley’s or Elk best of luck to you.

 

Spotting Scopes or Trail Cameras?

For years now I’ve relied heavily on trail cameras both mine and the neighbors to gather an inventory of both the bucks and does in the area. For the most part I’ve found this to be quite an effective method of gathering information. Up until this summer I’ve always considered cameras as my only true option to have a visual record of the deer in the area. I’ve consistently used a Luepold spotting scope during the summer months, but never quite taken it to the next level. This summer I turned the spotting scope into the ultimate trail camera. From this day forward I’ll continue to use the spotting scope as the primary method to gather information on the bucks and does in our area.

Whether you use a trail camera or a spotting scope during the summer; most hunters are using them to identify the mature bucks in the area. Some also use them to inventory all the bucks and does in the area.

150 Class Buck in Bean Field
150 Class Buck in Bean Field

Why this Method Works so Well for Me 

Before I convince you to drop $1000 plus dollars on a high end spotting scope let me explain why spotting scopes work so well for me. The timber I hunt butts up to a large agricultural area. Every year the farmers rotate between primarily corn and beans. Every other year when there is mostly beans the roadside scouting with a spotting scope is dynamite. During these summers there is roughly 471.5 acres of beans and alfalfa that the deer feed in all summer long. The summers with mostly corn limit me to only 275.5 acres of beans and alfalfa to scout. Regardless of what the rotation is there is still good scouting to be found. Due to heavy amount of agriculture in our area I can drive around just about any night and spot at least 1 if not all of our mature bucks in the area.

If you do not have agriculture in your area this method of scouting is not really for you. Beans and alfalfa or large food plots allow this type of scouting to be quite effective.

Deer hunting is my favorite hobby and passion, so I invest evenings in the summer to scouting deer. If I have time during late July, all of August, and good chunks of September I will be scouting deer with the spotting scope from my car.

Cameras Vs. Spotting Scopes 

My biggest issue with cameras is they’re stationary. Yes they work 24-7 and they also work well at night, but they only cover a certain amount of ground. I currently have 9 trail cameras, so I’m able to cover a good amount of turf with them. In my specific case the land I hunt and run cameras on is primarily timber, so the deer aren’t as present during the summer months in my area as they are near the bean fields. So while I have alot of cameras if it wasn’t for minerals or a water hole they don’t have as much of a reason to come into my area during the summer scouting season. My state and some states regulate mineral use during the summer and that limits my ability to effectively inventory deer that way. So while I can often get decent pictures in the area I hunt I for a fact I’m still missing alot of the deer in the area with the cameras I do have out.

If you have well placed trail cameras alongside of bean and alfalfa fields with mineral licks in front of them chances are you are going to get a great inventory of bucks in your area. However if you have the itch to check those cameras too much this could decrease your odds of getting all those pictures you’re hoping to get. If you spend more days checking trail cameras then letting them rest, you may actually bump that mature buck out of the area if there are other good food sources around with ideal bedding and water near them.

Spotting scopes offer mobility that not even the 360 degree wildgame innovations camera can provide. With properly timed scouting (during the arrival of rain or a cold front), you may be able to drive around with a spotting scope and see all of the mature bucks in your area within a night or two.

Big 8 Point in a Bean Field
Big 8 Point in a Bean Field

Why I’d Pick A Spotting Scope Over a Few Cameras for Summer Scouting/Inventory

  • Using a smart phone at the eye of a spotting scope you can record video or pictures of all of the deer you want while out scouting
  • You don’t spook deer out of the area or leave scent around the area by driving around with a spotting scope in your car which allows you to scout each and every night, try checking your trail cameras every day, probably won’t be too effective at getting good pictures 
  • You can now scout deer that are just off your farm likely to spend time on your land during the hunting season
  • You can capture not just deer that spend time right around your area/farm but you can also look for deer that live further away that may venture through during the rut
  • Sometimes there’s big bucks out there that your cameras are missing, if I had to bet that buck is visible at some point during the summer and the spotting scope with give you valuable details about that ghostly deer that your cameras constantly struggle too
  • You can do scouting with buddies using multiple spotting scopes allowing for both a good time and more effective videos/pictures
  • If you still run cameras you have far less of an inclination to visit them likely leading to much better deer activity when you finally do check your cards
  • You have something awesome to do any summer evening that keeps you around deer during a time when you can’t be hunting them and you get to see the final progress of their racks during the last month and a half of the velvet season
  • You can never have enough trail cameras (which need memory cards and batteries) while you only need one spotting scope (downside you do spend gas money driving around)
  • Mature bucks can be the weariest animals there are, if you can stay out of an area by simply locating them during the summer with a spotting scope and then stay out of the area except during the hunting season this should aid in your success of tagging that animal 

Exceptions as to Why a Trail Camera is a Better Option for Buck Inventory 

  • You don’t live in the area you hunt, then go with a camera for sure (use minerals if legal) 
  • You have no agriculture or food plots in your area to scout with a spotting scope
  • You have unlimited resources (money) and can afford wireless trail cameras which negate the need to check your cameras on a regular basis
  • You don’t want to save up for an invest of over $1000 to buy a good spotting scope (and car mount) and would rather just buy cheaper cameras
  • You have kids in summer baseball, or other reasons that would prevent you from having much time at all to scout in the evenings with a spotting scope 
  • You value using trail cameras not just during the summer, but during the season, and after season to monitor deer (spotting scopes are most effective during the summer)

Summary 

Obviously the are some pros and cons to both. If you’re like me and already have 9 cameras and live in an area with agriculture it’s time to make the switch. Save up for a good spotting scope and mark your calendar to spend summer evenings driving back roads. For a long time I always wanted another camera and always had the itch to check them. Now I just want to be scouting mature bucks during the summer evenings. I’ve begun to enjoy this time of year just as much as I do the hunting season itself. What other time of year can you drive around and see every mature buck on his feet during daylight? Maybe during the late winter over standing bean field, but not many bean fields are left standing. I think the strategy of staying out of my hunting area and checking cameras months apart will pay off. Deer really don’t like people. Deer like to feel safe. By spending more time roadside scouting and less time in their bedroom checking cameras I think this is a win win for both.

Before you make the switch weigh all the options and consider what makes the most sense for you. If you do make the switch to spending time and money using a spotting scope I promise you won’t regret it. Also realize that I’m not saying by any means to not use trail cameras. Please use them, I believe in them, but also seriously consider the value of adding a quality spotting scope to your arsenal of deer gear.

 

 

Pre-Season Efforts for July

Nutrition:

Food: We intentionally planted our beans  on July 1st and they’re doing pretty good. In general the deer are spending lots of times in the farmers beans and alfalfa these days. I recently mowed our clover and chicory plot. Beyond that we haven’t done alot of food plot activity during the hot month of July. Things have dried out a bit recently after alot of rain in the first part of July. Pretty soon I’ll be doing some spraying for fall food plots. Most experts recommend planting fall food plots in August-September.

Plot Preparation: With fall around the corner, it’s time to think serious about the preparation for fall food plots. First we did a soil test early in the year. At this point we’ve sprayed all of our plots, some multiple times. We’ve also mowed them to knock down all of the dead vegetation. Then we proceed with tilling. After tilling it’s time to plant. When we go to seeding we’re spreading the fertilizer and the seed. After that we roll (cultipaking even better) the plot to ensure for good seed to soil contact. Then it’s time to let Mother Nature do her thing.

Minerals: I’ve refreshed a few mineral sites during the month of July. My preference is to mix the minerals with dirt as best as possible. Deer like to eat minerals mixed in with dirt better then they prefer straight mineral. I have a couple of mineral sites that are getting buck and doe activity in them. I’ve made it a priority to have minerals at each of the properties I hunt. I’m doing my best to stay out of these mineral sites as much as possible, keeping the human activity in the area to a minimum.

Water: Thanks to all of the rain early in the month my water holes are now full of water and receiving good deer activity. Hopefully the recent dry week hasn’t dried them out too much.

Trail Cameras:  The cameras I have over minerals are getting lots of activity. I have one camera another over growing beans and another of a favorite water source deer frequent. All of these locations are quite effective this time of year.

Mock Scrapes/Rubs: All of my mock scrapes are basically old deer scrapes that I make sure to freshen up and add scent to. Most of them are getting pretty good deer activity. This is an effective way to get deer to stop where you want them too. All of these locations are just off of or directly on deer trails.

Food Source Scouting: With the arrival of mid to late July came serious food source scouting. I have been scouting the farmers bean and alfalfa fields on almost a nightly basis. Spotting scopes are incredibly valuable to anyone interested in this type of scouting. Look to scout on cloudy nights, cooler nights, and the best if right after a rain not to long before dark.

Two bucks in the beans.
Two bucks in the beans.
Buck in the beans.
Buck in the beans.

Stand Scouting and Preparation: Pretty soon we’ll be hanging tree stands. I’ll do my best to hang them in conjunction with rain to wash the scent away after we’re done hanging the stands.

Shooting Practice:  I’ve been shooting my bow a bit more as of late. I’ll be continuing to ramp up my shooting practice as much as possible and will challenge myself more and more as we get closer to the season.

Continual Learning: Avid whitetail hunters should always be learning. Summer scouting has become one of my favorite things to do. Here’s a great article from North America Whitetail on this topic. This is an interesting take on one of Bill Winke’s target deer for the year know as Lucky. Bill discusses the challenges of targeting primarily one mature buck.

It’s hard to believe only 2 months until season and for some states it’s even sooner then that.

Pre-Season Scouting for Early Season Success

Scouting velvet whitetails has begun. There is no better time to locate and find big bucks you’re interesting in then during the summer months. Now that the bean fields have truly started to express sufficient growth and bucks have really started to put on their head gear scouting is in full effect.

Locating Bucks 

Summer food sources will allow you to easily locate bucks this time of year. Minerals can provide that type of opportunity as well, but in most instances food sources will be more effective to hunt over at the start of the season. Bean fields, alfalfa fields, and any other green food plots or food sources in mid-September and early October are what you’re most interested in. The first step is to locate bucks on these food sources during the months of July-August and possibly even as late as September. Once you’ve located a buck the process begins.

Keep in mind that if you don’t have any of these types of food sources and you have the land and the equipment you can always create food sources that will allow for early season scouting and early season hunting success.

Patterning the Buck 

Certain bucks will have more consistent patterns then others. Seeing that most bucks are in bachelor groups this time of year you’ll likely be patterning a group of bucks. Out of that group there’s often a buck or two that you are interested in harvesting. Finding what the bucks typical pattern is may be best determined by a trail camera, but cameras risk putting your scent in the area or even spooking the bucks with the camera. If the situation is right put a camera on a field edge in field scan mode and determine what the weekly pattern of the bucks on this food source is. When putting a camera out be sure to use scent elimination spray and scent free clothes; placing the camera and checking it on rainy days is best to wash the scent away. Also place the camera high so the bucks are less likely to notice it. If placed in the correct spot the camera should be able to provide some sort of deer pattern. In the case that no pattern is present then you’ll simply have to take risks as to when to hunt the buck at the start of the season.

Cameras aren’t the only way to pattern a buck and perhaps not even the best way at all. The other way simply takes more time and commitment. Nightly scouting trips on the road will allow you to get a very good idea what the deer are doing in particular fields. It also allows one to scout multiple fields in a single evening. (For fields that are not located by a road the task becomes more challenging and stealth in scouting is of much importance. You’ll need to sneak to a proper scouting location and spend time there without spooking deer on the food source. Do everything possible to remain scent free and keep the wind in mind.) Field scouting with binoculars and spotting scopes not only informs a hunter of which deer are in the field but it also reveals important information about which locations bucks are entering and exiting fields. Keep these details in mind as you begin to think about stand placement.

150 Class Buck in Bean Field
150 Class Buck in Bean Field

Preparing for the Kill 

Putting a stand up is one of the most important steps of the entire process. Some hunters doing long range scouting or those that have used cameras to pattern a deer deeper into the woods may actually set-up to hunt a deer on the route to the food source. However many food source hunters will place a stand directly on the food source. Using the best available information from cameras or from your scouting determine which tree is closest to the most common entry point of the bachelor group of bucks. Keep in mind that wind direction is critical in this decision. Not only are you trying to kill a buck in the wide open, but you may very well be dealing with a group of bucks. If wind direction and thermals are not properly taken into account all of this work can be thrown away by getting busted. Once the proper tree is determined with the wind in your favor hang the stand during or just before a rain storm to once again wash away scent after the stand is hung.

After you’ve hung your stand and you’re able to confirm that the buck is still using a similar pattern you’ll simply have to wait until season arrives to move in.

When to Hunt the Buck 

If your camera or scouting reveal that a buck is moving regularly during daylight simply wait for the right wind and move in once season starts. If however the bucks shows only minimal daylight activity you may want to wait for a good cold front and the proper wind direction. Cold fronts typically get bucks on their feet during the early part of the season to feed. In the case that your season starts sometime in September you’ll have a longer window to work with this type of tactic. Seasons that open in October only allow for a short window for this tactic to work. Keeping that in mind don’t wait to long to try this type of early season tactic, but try not to move in too fast either. Use logic and do your best to put the odds in your favor. When all else fails just go with your gut, sometimes that can pay off too.

The art of the early season harvest isn’t exactly easy, but if done correctly it can offer some amazing mature buck hunting.