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.

 

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One of the Secrets to Killing Mature Bucks

It’s simple. Stay out. It’s easy to think that we can do countless things to get bucks to be on our property. In some cases that is true. But more often then not a mature buck needs to feel safe. The best way to do this is to stay out of the area until it’s time to hunt.

Food plots have their place to draw in deer. Intense habitat management can and will be effective over a period of time, but making these changes doesn’t happen overnight. There are tons of steps that need to be taken to make a highly managed property an incredibly effective place to hunt.

The perfect call you see in an add, or that tempting new scent you read about in the magazine are far less likely to kill you a the buck of a lifetime then proper respect for a mature animal will. Respect the fact that these animals are masters of survival. Specifically I’m speaking to the big buck you’re after. Respect that fact that the more pressure you put on these animals the harder they’ll be to kill.

So after you’ve stayed out…when is it time to move in for the kill; that all depends.

If you are hunting over food sources probably the first part of the season or the late season. In this case you can ask yourself if trail cameras are helping or hurting you since you have to go in and check them. Obviously the wireless options are great, but I only personally know one person with one. So you may want to just wait for an early season cold front over that food source or a late season drop in temperature to move in during that time of year. In order to keep the area pressure free in may be the time to forget using a camera altogether over that great food source.

If you’re hunting deep in the woods, possibly near bedding areas hold off to pre-rut and rut. This is often and always will be one of the best times to see mature bucks. The cautious approach is to wait until late October, certainly no earlier then the 20th. Waiting until the 25th or even Halloween isn’t a bad idea either. The safest bet is to wait until the first week in November. By this point in the season you’re sure to see some good action. These dates can hold true for your favorite pinch point, the great staging area you know about, the secluded CRP grounds or quite simply an area that receives little human presence.

One of the keys to success for all this tactic is to get your stands up early. Just following the season is the safest bet. The middle of the summer is the next best option. Waiting until just before the season to place your stand can be a costly mistake if this is the tactic you’re looking to deploy.

Regardless of what type of plan you have going into this upcoming season do yourself a favor and try this somewhere. Give it a try on a 5 acre part of your property, your best spot that you think no-one enters on state land, or even an entire property if you’re blessed to have multiple hunting locations.

If you’re really serious about killing large deer then take this seriously. It can work quite well. One way to increase your odds for this tactic is to get multiple locations to hunt. The more locations you have to hunt the less pressure you’re likely to put on them. In turn the more likely a buck is to feel safe and free of human pressure in that location.

Please don’t take this article as an excuse to do nothing. I strongly recommend habitat improvements on a property you own. Work hard to acquire multiple properties to hunt, work hard to scout on state land, but remember when it comes to the time a few months before the season and during the season itself, respect these deer and give them their space.

Here’s how it paid off for me in 2014:

On November 3rd I had the best hunting day of my life. I waited all season long to hunt my main property. I did use cameras on this property and it does get human activity on part of it, but I did everything in my power outside of that to keep these deer pressure free. They had not had any hunting pressure up until this point.

On that day the following took place. I saw one of our oldest bucks for the first time ever. I also saw 3 immature bucks that morning as well, one of which was a young 8 point. This flurry of activity took place within 15 minutes. Two does were being chased by bucks and new bucks quickly began to filter in after the scent the doe was leaving behind. Roughly 10-15 minutes later the mature buck returned chasing a doe. I chose to do some calling to that buck and he let out a powerful buck growl in response to my calls, not just once but a handful of times.

One of the bucks seen after waiting all season to move in.
One of the bucks seen after waiting all season to move in.

After such a successful morning in the woods I knew it was time to move further into the back part of our property. My father and I headed back for yet another exciting hunt. Within minutes of getting on stand we had young bucks cruising the area. In total we say 4 immature bucks that evening. Again one of them was an immature 8 point. To conclude the excitement my father had a good encounter with a mature buck we called Mr. Perfect.

The buck my father saw that evening
The buck my father saw that evening

While we didn’t seal the day that day close calls and excitement marked the best hunting day of my life. Did this have to do with pre-rutting activity? You can be certain it did. I planned for this; I knew that the deer activity would be good around this time of year so that is why I waited. Would my hunt have been this good if I had been hunting this area all season long? I certainly don’t believe it would have been that good. That fact that this 90 acres was holding that many bucks made it very clear to me that the holding off to hunt this property clearly allowed the deer to feel quite safe here. Both does and buck wanted to be in this area.

Will You Take Down a Mature Buck This Fall?

Killing a mature buck is a process. It often begins before the season and typically it will take strategic planning to get the job done. Obviously there are exceptions to every rule, but luck will not bless the unprepared hunter season after season. To consistently kill mature bucks there a factors that will play a role in your success or lack there of.

How do you kill a mature buck year after year? Put in the work, period, end of story. If you fail to put in the work it’s highly unlikely you will kill a mature buck on a regular basis. Killing mature bucks is hard enough; don’t fool yourself that it is easy.

After browsing a few articles and watching a few videos I was blatantly reminded of an important aspect of being able to kill a mature buck. That buck HAS to move during daylight from time to time on your cameras. If it fails to move on your cameras throughout the pre-season and into the season don’t set yourself up for failure, find another buck that does move during daylight. There will be times that a nocturnal buck will move during the day, but bedding areas and rutting activity are likely to be the only exception that causes this. So plan wisely if you have your heart set on a nocturnal buck.M2E6L34-38R350B300

Struggling to believe me that nocturnal bucks are tough to kill. Check out this video from Dr. Grant Woods of Growing Deer TV. He has a similar perspective on the matter. Dr. Woods isn’t alone on this perspective; Bill Winke references the idea of only chasing bucks that move during the daylight numerous times in the material he produces.

Why are these professional hunters making a recommendation not to chase some of the best bucks you have on camera? Consider the fact that a trail camera works 24/7. Last time I checked no hunter spends 24 hours a day and 7 days a week in the same spot waiting for a deer to pass. If that camera only shows that buck moving during even hours in the location of that camera it’s highly unlikely that pattern will change. Bill Winke and myself have wasted entire season’s chasing deer that are nocturnal. If there is a remarkable buck that appears to be nocturnal don’t give up all hope, but target other deer and only hunt the nocturnal deer when conditions are perfect and make every effort not to alert this already cautious deer of your presence.

If you’re hunting state land or a property that already receives a lot of pressure go for the kill and pursue this buck near his bed, while this is a risky move it may be your only chance of killing this buck that primary moves during the cover of darkness. If you’ve had a nocturnal buck on camera for years it may be worth taking the risk and trying to hunt that buck in its bedroom. Obviously a key to being successful with this tactic is that the buck resides on your property. Having a realistic picture of these nocturnal bucks will save you a lot of headaches. Heed this warning that killing those deer will be a real challenge.

At the end of the day use your best judgment and find a way to get the job done or target other deer. While I say that you shouldn’t pursue nocturnal bucks NAW whitetail seems to run stories of hunters harvesting deer they never expected to see. So success can be had, but it’s likely to be to 1 in 100 hunters. It’s much more likely you’ll kill a deer that shows daylight tendencies. Good luck pursuing that trophy this season. Remember wind direction, time of year, weather patterns, moon phases, and all the other strategies you’ve read about when pursuing these elusive animals. Above all be sure to enjoy every second of your opportunity to pursue a trophy whitetail.

Hard Work Kills Mature Whitetails

There is this misconception out there that mature whitetails come easy to people on TV, but this is far from the case. After spending time listening to Lee and Tiffany on a few podcasts as well as Matt Drury one things remains the same. Big deer are killed with hard work and lots of it. (Let’s exclude any show that primary takes place in a high fenced area or almost exclusively hunts with outfitters.)

Check out these inside interviews with Lee and Tiffany of the Crush TV on Wired to Hunt and the Big Buck Registry.

Do the same with Matt Drury of Drury Outdoors on Wired to Hunt and the Big Buck Registry.

After listening to both of these professionals describe their profession it is very clear that time in the stand is something every serious professional hunter puts in. How many of us put 60 to 90 days in a tree stand a year? How many of us hunt all day on regular basis or at least morning and evening throughout the season? My guess is the average individual cannot even come close to answering yes to either of these questions.

With that in mind you and I (the average hunter) already has the odds stacked against us. Of course the many marketing pitches we’re given and the success we see on TV create this illusion that mature bucks come easier then they actually do. Yet the fact of the matter is mature bucks simply do not come easy.

The biggest thing to take away from these interviews is that killing a big buck is going to take plenty of time. It’s not just time in the same tree stand. The most effective way to kill mature bucks is to hunt from numerous stands in numerous places on as many days as possible. Obviously it goes without saying that scouting and property enhancements (food plots, timber stand improvements, creating bedding areas, ect) will aid in this process. It’s not always just a numbers game, it is about being in the right place at the right time in location that holds a mature buck.

If the average hunter can put these things in their favor their odds of success start to improve rather quickly.

Now if you live in Florida this becomes a lot more difficult, but mature bucks can still be found even in the state of Florida. Ideally a serious hunter lives or spends time hunting in a state that possess mature whitetails or at least a county that holds mature whitetails. Certain locations will always be better then others and this is something that can change over time. Assuming you are an area that holds mature deer the next step becomes finding an area to hunt. These options include: your own land, getting permission on private land, leasing private land, purchasing new land, hunting on a friends property, or hunting public/state lands. For many and most hunters getting a collection of these options will be your best bet to landing various spots that will provide an opportunity to shoot mature bucks. My best advice will continue to be to spread out your options hunting in as many different areas as possible. Always hunt smart and sometimes it may be necessary to hunt aggressively.

Work hard, get numerous properties to hunt, and put your time in. This is a recipe that will increase your odds. If you don’t put in the hard work like the guys on TV and chances are you don’t have a reason to complain for your lack of success. Success is never easy. Don’t sell yourself that lie. Anyone who has consistently been successful at anything can tell you that it took hard work to get there. It also often takes risks.

Hopefully if you’ve been sold the lie that killing mature bucks is easy you see the picture somewhat differently now. It’s the hours you put into this sport that will often be the difference between a trophy on the wall and another season wishing you had done more.

Killing Mature Bucks: Do You Have What It Takes (or the Land it Takes)?

This topic is complicated in many ways, but it is very important. In my opinion it is probably the most important topic a serious buck hunter or someone who is getting serious about hunting mature bucks needs to look into. Examining this topic allows a determined hunter to decide what lengths they’re willing to go to in order to harvest a mature buck and if the sacrifice is worth the time and possibly even the money.

Time and effort will only take a hunter so far, when hunting in a location where mature bucks aren’t present. Money can take a hunter a long way towards getting a mature buck by leasing land, using an outfitter (I’m not recommending this), or actually buying land that holds mature bucks. But not everyone is willing to pay to get in front of a big buck, at least not pay serious dollars to do it. Regardless of the approach taken it always comes back to location. Big bucks are only found where bucks can live to an age of maturity 4 ½ years or older. This could be in your backyard, this could be on the local state land, this could be on the farmer’s large farm, this could be in Iowa, or this could be in Pike County Illinois. The important thing is to find the right location. Certain states or better yet certain locations allow big bucks to mature much better than others. Finding those states, counties, and even individual properties or state land lands is what it takes to get on mature bucks. If you are serious about harvesting a mature buck or multiple mature bucks commit to yourself to find a location that holds mature deer.

This entire article is inspired by Wired to Hunt. The topic is so complex and has many rabbit trails depending on what avenue is taken in an attempt to kill mature deer. This article does everything possible to at least address those rabbit trails. Here are a few important links to check out to understand background on this topic. Much thanks to Wired To Hunt and Mark Kenyon for starting this discussion:

Clearing the Air…Hunting on TV: They have access to great property or buy their way to it. That’s what it takes to be consistently successful.

It’s not all bad. Many people have issues with hunting on TV, but by turning the shows on we subject ourselves to whatever the sportsman channels display. Some of the hunters on TV work very hard and should not be discredited one bit. Some travel from outfitter to outfitter and kill deer that way, but in actuality many of the big shows name shows take place on private lands. Smaller level productions or hunters working there way up in the major productions may use outfitters to film kills. Big names may get invited to hunt at some outfitter locations due to their status or industry connections, but it appears most often these hunters will hunt their own private grounds or private grounds of their connections. Some of the shows seen on TV may be on high fenced grounds, but I’d actually like to see clearly which shows are. I think many people like to say this, but in fact many of the shows on TV are not in high fenced properties. We all know that would be a game changer and very few people truly want to hunt in those types of situations. I like many other hunters frown upon killing bucks in high fenced properties. That is taking things way to far in my opinion. But in the end it’s just my opinion.

Part of dealing with hunting on TV is that all the shows are filled with ads. This is part of the industry; it’s how virtually all of these professionals make the majority of their money. Unfortunately mature bucks don’t pay us money after we kill them. They simply provide satisfaction of successfully hunting a cunning creature. It is with this money that big name productions often purchase their own hunting grounds. If you and I earned that type of money I’m rather certain you’d buy the types of properties these hunters are buying. Bill Winke of Midwest Whitetail actually took a big risk with a loan to buy his main hunting property when he got started in the business. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case for other professional hunters as well. If you want to have a successful business you’re going to have to take risks. Mark Kenyon who inspired this article left his great job at Google to pursue his career in the outdoors industry. It’s part of the risk of trying to become a professional hunter. I’d venture to guess it’s a risk many of us are not willing to take. So while we can’t compare ourselves to the opportunities that professional hunters often have we should take time to appreciate the risk many of them took to become professionals in the industry. I can nearly guarantee you the majority of these professional hunters put a ton of effort into hunting and hunt quite often. These professionals put a ton of pressure on themselves to harvest mature bucks on a regular basis. And if they don’t hunt a crazy amount of hours, they are very smart about when and how they hunt for mature bucks. You might argue they have it easy compared to what you and I have. But while they may have better land than you and I they often spend countless more hours in the woods then the average hunter and even some of the above average hunters. Most people don’t have these times professional hunters have to spend in the woods. We have to work and that is their work. Nevertheless they took a risk to become a professional hunter and you and I mostly likely didn’t.

Focused effort and persistence over time often leads to success. Obtaining success in TV or Online hunting productions will often allow individuals to obtain sponsorships. Sponsors seek successful hunters who are also good at marketing products. Sponsorship generates money and that begins to separate the average hunter from the professional hunter. Obviously to be a professional TV hunter you have to consistently put mature bucks on the ground. It is part of the industry. Therefore TV hunters do what it takes to get this done.  And sometimes you and I aren’t happy with the methods it takes to get this done by using outfitters or high fences (again I’ve seen very few shows taking place in high fenced areas). If we don’t like certain shows or programs we don’t have to watch them and for that matter support these shows. On the other hand, if you actually believe in Drury Outdoors, The Bone Collector, Driven TV, Crush with Lee & Tiffany, or any of the other big names then you have every right to support them if you so choose. The best part of all of this is we have free will to approve or disapprove of all of these shows. In the end I think the majority of hunting shows on TV chase free range deer and even the hunters that use outfitters are not cheating (as many might frame it). Yes if a television hunter chooses to go with an outfitter they didn’t do all the work, but the outfitter did. The outfitter puts tons of blood and sweat into having a successful operation. He is trying to pay his bills just like you and I. Not to mention many outfitters are incredibly knowledgeable about deer and property management. So take notes from the outfitter in that instance and not from the professional. The professional may however have some good insights into what the outfitter is doing well. Its always important to frame the situation and figure out how and why these professionals are doing what they are doing. More often than not something might be able to be gleaned from the situation. If you feel that there is nothing can be related to your situation or at least learned then maybe it is time to stop watching that show. Unless of course all you want to see is bucks hit the ground.

Without hunting TV we wouldn’t have half of the products we find at sporting good stores. Hunting professional on TV have made product companies tons of money and they’ve made themselves a lot of money too. They do an excellent job of promoting products. No one forces any of us to buy any of these products. It’s a choice we all make. Just as we all make a choice to turn on the TV to watch these shows. I’m very thankful for all the advances in hunting equipment. Much of it is due to the money that hunting television has done to promote these products and grow the companies that provide the products. I’m sure the ads have convinced us to buy a product or two that didn’t work well. Yet that is part of being American. We are bombarded with ads all the time in every avenue of life. The smart consumer simply has to determine which products work for them. Online reviews have made this process quite a bit easier. Do I believe you need all the latest technology to get a mature buck on the ground, not at all, some of it helps and some doesn’t. In the end you’re going to need to hunt property that mature bucks are on and then you’re going to have to be cunning enough to convince the buck to come to you or you’re going to have to place a stand in the proper location to tag that animal during the early season, rut, or late-season. Shift through the information. Find out what works for you and what doesn’t. There are numerous ways to put a mature buck on the ground, but it’s rarely an easy task. Sometimes luck does turn in your favor, but more often then not skill will be required.

If any of us has the desire to come up with a show that is more realistic (of course this is relative to just about every hunter, each hunting situation is very different) then we should set out to make that show and get it out for TV or internet viewers to see. No one is stopping us from making our show, but my guess is many of us don’t have the desire to make our own show. In that case we’re left to deal with what’s already available. Hating on TV shows over and over again doesn’t do anyone a whole lot of good. Becoming a public land master like Dan Infalt and gaining notoriety for doing something many TV hunters never aspire to do and possibly couldn’t do even if they tried. Dan was recently featured in a Field and Stream magazine for his remarkable accomplishments. Dan is a professional hunter for the public land hunter, but he actually works as a machinist professionally. Dan simply doesn’t appear to want to market tons products. He wants to kill mature bucks in difficult locations and do it on a regular basis. More hunters respect this and can relate better to a guy like Dan. I’m quite thankful that Dan has made his techniques public and in fact tries to make some money from his hunting strategies and information. It’s important to see and hear of a hunter who hunts the hard way and still gets it done. It’s equally if not more important to hear of a hunter that doesn’t market products like the majority of professionals in the industry. Dan shows that it’s necessary to have a balance between hunting strategies and products used. Products are certainly a small piece of the puzzle. Dan’s website is TheHuntingBeast.

Take away whatever good you can from TV shows and forget the rest. Don’t worry too much about it in the end. You determine the outcome of your hunting season more then they ever will. If you think these shows are creating false expectations then be sure to let your friends and hunting buddies know that so they are left thinking Boone and Crockett bucks should be taken by every hunter.

What it takes to Kill Mature Deer…Can you do it?

Yes you can, but it will cost you. It will likely either cost you plenty of time and effort, or it will cost you money. The choice is yours. Regardless of the direction you take you’re still going to spend some money in the process. As stated earlier you’re also going to have to do what it takes to gain access to land that holds mature deer. This is the most important variable in the whole equation.

And for some of you, you already have the private land you’ll need to harvest mature bucks and maybe even harvest them on regular basis.

Private Land

For those who have private land or have worked to get access too private land the probability of killing a mature buck typically increases. Depending on the size of the private land it may very well be possible for a buck to mature without getting over pressured. Pressure is the enemy of a mature buck. The buck will do everything in its power to avoid pressure and human presence. Some bucks move almost exclusively at night during the hunting season simply to avoid humans. Bill Winke (mentioned earlier) believes that it is critical not to spend countless hours focused on bucks that move at night and it is important to hunt bucks that show some daytime activity. This can be very helpful when pursuing mature bucks.

People with private land pay taxes on that land and bought the land with hard earned money. Private land is a very important part of hunting. Imagine if all hunters were forced to hunt on government land. There would be no type of land management and QDM truly possible. Other then what the government chooses implanted by its own laws, regulations, and efforts to improve habitat on the governments behalf. Private land can be altered to improve chances of holding and even killing mature deer.  Private land gives land owners much more freedom to do as they please without having to worry too much about another hunting walking past their hunting location as could happen on public land. This is one of the major positives of private land.

Private land and lots of it is a great thing. Those with it should greatly appreciate the blessing they have. If a hunter obtains private land in states that often produce trophy bucks the potential for large bucks should eventually show itself if it hasn’t right away. Sometimes it takes time to let mature bucks grow in age. Managing private property to hold and possess mature deer is not an easy thing to do. With time and effort this can be done. It will be very rewarding if this is accomplished. The more acres possessed the more this is possible. Owning or having access to hunt 100 acres or more of private land is ideal. I’m well aware it is quite difficult to find this sort of acreage if you don’t own the land yourself. Farmers are the best route to get access to large tracts of land for those who don’t own land themselves. Regardless of the size of the property it is important to keep pressure and human presence at a minimum to hold mature bucks.

Don’t count yourself out of getting access to good private land. While 100 acres or more is great. Small tracts of land can be dynamite as well. What it really comes down to is whether or not a mature buck uses that piece of land. Scouting and cameras are a hunters best tools to determine if this is the case. Remember that knocking on doors and networking are going to be critical in acquiring private land if you own any land or have good hunting buddies that do.

Private land is probably the best option for someone looking to tag a trophy buck.

Public Land

This is a whole different animal. Depending on the state that you hunt, your chances at mature deer on public lands can go from good to extremely difficult. Keep in mind those who choose to hunt state land must deal with the realties of it. It’s not easy and the rules on state land make it much more difficult to hunt these grounds. The rules vary from state to state on what you can and can’t do. Probably an even bigger factor on state land is the numbers of hunters you start to have to deal with. It becomes much more difficult in states where hunter densities are high on public lands. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, in fact you could argue that killing mature bucks on state land is the ultimate accomplishment.

Dan Infalt of Wisconsin is certainly an X factor in this equation. He has proven that it is possible to kill numerous mature bucks on state land. Dan does a good job of determining what is trophy in the public area he is hunting. He then chooses to harvest the first trophy caliber buck in the public land area he is hunting. He scouts hard to make this possible and he has the technique of hunting state land down pat.

One positive of hunting state land is that hunters don’t have to worry about getting permission each and every year. These hunters also don’t have to worry about losing that land to a lease or some other reason. State land will virtually always be there and it is likely that over time there will be more of it as the government purchases more land.

Again I’ll reiterate that the state a hunter chooses to pursue public land bucks can have a big influence on the outcome of his season. Hunting states such as Kansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin should increase the odds of success for the public land hunter. This is not to say public land success can’t be had in other states. It’s simply that certain states are better than others at producing mature bucks. Wisconsin has obviously been a very good public land state for Dan Infalt.

Another benefit of state lands is that they’re often open to out of state hunters. So a Do It Yourself hunter can travel to most states and hunt state lands if he is willing to travel and able to obtain tags.

In the end scouting and working hard will be difference between success and failure when targeting mature buck on state lands. More things are out of your control on state land. Others are going to mess up your hunts, that is just part of it. Finding isolated or difficult to reach areas will often be most beneficial. The hunter that seeks to master state lands must be resilient, but success can eventually be found for those who are.

Land Leases

Hunting access is often determined by money this day in age. Leases have quickly changed the hunting landscape on prime hunting grounds. Outfitters lease numerous hunting grounds in prime hunting, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other leases to be found.

The benefits of a lease is similar to that of private land. The kicker is that land is acquired at of tiny tiny fraction of a price that it would cost to own the land yourself. Many leases will allow for land alterations such as food plots. Leases also allow a hunter to pick a prime location to hunt from. Whether that is a great hunting state or a prime county. Be sure to take ample time researching lease locations. The better the location the more likely the hunter is to have a chance at mature bucks. If possible even consider researching neighboring properties to know what type of pressure is in the immediate area.

For the serious hunter who is willing to spend some money and has the money to spend leasing can be a dynamite option. Do be prepared to be outbid on a lease or lose a lease to a higher bidder. This is probably the biggest downside of leasing. At times you are going to lose your properties.

All things considered leasing is a great option for those who have some money and don’t wish to purchase the land themselves. The same states listed above to hunt public land are equally as good of options for looking for leases. Expect to higher rates if the local hunting produces great bucks or if farm land value is very high in that area.

Land Owners or Purchasing Land

For the serious hunter with deep deep pockets purchasing property exclusively for the purposes of hunting is a fine option if hunting is truly your greatest passion. I’d suggest doing much more extensive research then if you were going to lease land. Serious consideration should be given to the distance you’d need to travel from your primary residence to access the land. The more time spent traveling the less time will be spent in the woods.

When going through this endeavor to purchase land simply for hunting be sure you’re willing to make land alterations, establish food plots and mineral sites, dig water holes, obtain equipment needed, and do the full works to the property. If you’re willing to spend this kind of money on hunting land it makes sense to put in the work to keep whitetails on your land. Furthermore consider what it takes to be an exceptional land manager. Consider what it will take to harvest mature bucks on a regular basis and seek to develop a property that will allow for that.

There is a tract of 123 acres in my town that is great hunting property. It is listed at $650,000. The land is pure swamp. It’s a dream of mine to own property like that, but I realize it will probably always be just that a dream. For the hunter that can purchase land with this value or even properties that run into millions of dollars let’s just say the possibilities are endless for making a hunting paradise.

If by some chance you come across a tract of land that possess mature whitetails and you get the land at a bargain price it may be certainly a rare find. In this case implanting all sorts of improvements to the property may not be necessary. Proper scouting, stand location, and hunting at the right time may be all it takes to pull mature bucks off your great find of a property.

Keep reminding yourself location, location, location when considering a purchase for hunting land. Whitetail properties is a fine website to consider when looking into lands that are already ready to be hunted as soon as the land is purchased.

Hunting Out of State 

This options combines many of listed avenues from above. Out of state hunting can take place on private land, public land, or even through outfitters. The choice is up to the hunter and the opportunities the hunter has. Connections are obviously vital to hunting private land out of state. Money is obviously vital to getting a lease in another state or if a hunter chooses to go with an outfitter (I simply don’t want to endorse using an outfitter while it can be a good option for some hunters). Public land offers the most flexibility for those looking to hunt out of state again the important factor is being able to obtain tags.

If you’re going to pursue out of state hunt be prepared to spend more money on tags. Expect to spend alot more money than you would pay for your in-state hunting licenses. Also take the time to research states that friendly toward out of state hunters. This is a great option for the hunter looking to tag a mature buck, but it is critical to do your research.

Outfitting

For the busy hunter will money in their pockets this is a option if you simply know you don’t have the time to put in to learn the habits of mature whitetails. The outfitter will certainly show you about what it takes to harvest mature deer. The location of the outfitter service will play a major factor on the size of whitetails you’ll have chances at.

I’m not going to endorse this option, but I completely understand the busy workingman who doesn’t have time for other options. I also understand that some people want to kill big bucks now. If this is you and outfitter may be your choice. My main reason for not endorsing outfitters is the thrill of the accomplishment starts to be diminish. Outfitters either make or break the hunt for those paying for the service. For the most part the hunter needs to show up and hunt as much as time allows. Then when the moment of truth arrives the hunter must make a good kill shot. If the hunter can do those two things the odds of success are rather high because of the work the outfitter has put in. I have a ton of respect for outfitter and even spend time reading the techniques they use. Despite this my recommendation to nearly every hunter out there, do it yourself there is much more joy in that process and it is much more challenging.

Again if this option is for you it is my hope you have success and find yourself a good outfitter. Expect to pay in the thousands of dollars.

 

Location, Location, Location and How Hard it Is to Get the Job Done

After covering nearly ever option possible to pursue trophy bucks on different types of land both private and public I believe I’ve made it clear that there are many avenues to pursue mature bucks. Yet none of these options are even close to guaranteed. Hunting mature bucks is extremely difficult. Dan Infalt and the professionals seen on TV are certainly not the average hunter. Earlier in this article I referenced a Wired to Hunt article: “4 Average Joes Killing TV Quality Bucks and How They Do It.” I’d define those guys as extreme hunters with normal day jobs that aren’t in the hunting industry. Are they experts or professionals, no they are not, but they’ve certainly put in the time to learn the craft of killing mature bucks. Some will set out on a journey to kill a mature buck and never succeed. So while I firmly believe you can kill a mature buck, I am not here to guarantee it. I want you to know it will be hard. I think those who sincerely want to kill mature bucks on a yearly basis need to be willing to put in tons of time and make extreme sacrifices. Hunting one of the most elusive animals is a great challenge for anyone to pursue. Don’t let TV fool you. You’re often only seeing the actual harvest of the buck on TV. They’re not showing the food plot and habitat manipulations that took place. They’re not showing the countless hunts that the hunters has been on stand without even taking a shot. The shows that do show you the work put in, the slow hunts, and even the failures are the shows you ought to take notice of.

Probably the most important thing to take away is this: hunting mature bucks is a tough sport that can learned effectively after countless hours of practice and hunting but you can never guarantee success even with the right location. You must work to succeed and above all you must find the right location where taking a mature buck is even possible in the first place. Trail cameras and proper scouting will eventually make it clear if an area has a mature buck worth pursuing. Bill Winke’s tip that a buck that never shows up on camera during daylight hours is going to be extremely difficult to harvest should not be forgotten. Dan Infalt will tell you that in order to harvest a buck of that nature you’re going to have to get rather close to that buck’s bedding area to take it down. Doing what Dan does is possible, but it’s going to take trail and error. You’re going to have to learn how to get close to a mature buck without spooking it. Winke’s approach is that of a property manager. Don’t spend to much time chasing bucks you can’t kill and focus on the mature bucks that are moving during daylight hours. Winke rarely pushes right into bedding areas to hunt with the purpose of trying to keep deer on his property. Mark Kenyon appears to hunt in the property manager fashion similar to that of Bill Winke. Dan Infalt on the other hand hunts highly pressured land and has mastered the technique of getting into a bucks bedroom and not letting him know he’s there. Dan strategy is great for a hunter that has countless hunting locations on public or private land. Each approach should be considered depending on where you are hunting. A safe rule of thumb regardless of where you are hunting is to consider that your first hunt in a stand will often be your best chance at killing a mature buck and always be mindful of the wind when setting yourself in your stand.

Use these tactics to increase your odds, but be prepared to fail and learn in the process. If and when you harvest a mature buck a congratulations is due for your efforts and persistence. You’ve just accomplished a task that majority of hunters will never do. So in order to harvest mature bucks be prepared to be above average. Average tactics will not get you there. Make a concerted effort to be above average. Each of the hunters mentioned in this article and the majority of TV professionals are above average I think it’s foolish to consider yourself at their caliber until you’ve harvested numerous mature bucks. Keep learning, keep growing as a hunter, and never give up if your goal to harvest a truly remarkable trophy whitetail. Hoping and dreaming of the day you harvest a trophy whitetail are incredibly powerful motivators.