Two words; Deer Camp. Together, they quite possibly ignite more anticipation, memories and emotion than any other phrase in the Whitetail world. For hunters who are rooted in tradition, Deer Camp is a sacred place; a place where the recurrence of opening day brings friends and family together to pursue North America’s most popular big game species. The fellowship and camaraderie of deer camp can be hard to surpass, and even harder to replicate once the members of the group return to their everyday lives. It seems as though the feelings you experience at Deer Camp can only be reproduced the next season at…Deer Camp.
In many areas Deer Camps still serve as a gathering place for hunter groups and bands of friends who share a similar passion for the outdoors. However, with land access becoming an increasingly difficult issue with which to deal, and herd reduction initiatives present in many states, both the land available for deer drives and the number of deer available to hunt seem to be on the decline. In the area of Pennsylvania that I hunt, tracts of privately owned land that were once accessible to the public are being bought up and divided into smaller parcels. Nearly gone are the days of deer drives and cooperative hunting in order to force the deer into daylight movement. We used to push deer, and we had a lot of fun doing it. We watched each other miss and we watched each other succeed. We gave a pat on the back or a good razzing, depending on the outcome.
With the changing dynamics of land division and ownership, as well as herd population variations from region-to-region, the outlook for many Deer Camps is changing. Still, we find ourselves heading to Camp every year for opening day.
When I first started hunting, we would leave the cabin about a half hour prior to daylight, back then basically no one in the area archery hunted, and the first time that most of the deer were encountering humans for the year was on opening day of rifle season. Like most camps, we all sat around and ate breakfast, packed our lunches for the day, gave each other a hard time, and secretly imagined that this would be the year we would connect with the buck of a lifetime. I think every year my dad’s friend, Lee, would suggest someone complete the one-shell-challenge, or make some kind of remark that this was the year that he was going to do it. I think we all knew it was never going to happen, because the one shell challenge required you to take one, and only one, rifle shell into the woods with you. There are two problems with this; no, make that three… First, if you missed the buck of a lifetime in Northern PA in the 90’s, the odds were you might never get a chance at another one; and at least with a full magazine you could go down swinging. A hundred-inch buck really was a “buck of a lifetime” during that time and you better would be giving him everything you got. Secondly, I don’t think anyone in our group was a good enough shot to be that confident in their abilities. I know I certainly am not. Now, I guess the third reason why you never, ever, were going to take Lee up on his one-shell-challenge was that if you had one shell, and you missed The Buck on your first shot, and you couldn’t keep slinging lead at that sucker (because, well, no more ammo), once that buck was over the hill being gutted by Steve “Spaghetti”, you would presumably have to explain to Ralph why you didn’t shoot more than once. The fact that you were attempting the One-Shell-Challenge would literally be one of the worst explanations that you could provide in this scenario. I didn’t mention, Ralph was the farmer and he wanted less deer, and we were there, in part, for population control, and we were glad to oblige him.
So once our opening morning cabin rituals were out of the way, we piled into pickups and SUV’s and headed over the hill, armed like an military battalion and feeling like we were being as strategic as one. I remember my first opening day well. I barely slept the night before and I was a frozen 12 year old kid for most of that Monday morning, but, I’m telling you, it was magical and I constantly felt mystified by the whole experience. 10 o’clock was our typical regroup-time and we “pot-hunted” at our individual spots until then. Honestly, I don’t even know if “pot-hunt” is a legitimate term, but that’s what we called standing by a tree and freezing for the first 3 hours of the day. I remember hearing the first shots as dawn arrived and feeling like I was in a weird kind of war zone. Back then, if you missed a buck of a lifetime, he was likely gone forever, because waiting for him at the other end of the woods was another hunter who was probably not going to miss; and so it goes when you hunt a state with over 20 hunters per square mile. You learned to be quick on the draw or go home empty handed.
Once everyone reported to the vehicles for our 10 o’clock meeting, we started to strategize about which parcel we would drive first. You were either a stander or a driver, and if you were flanking, boy you better not let those deer bust over the top. If you were in the middle, you better not get ahead of the flanker, and you better wouldn’t let the buck double back. It seemed like I always got the spot as the first driver down from the top. Looking back, I think it was because I was young and they figured I could make the walk to the top of the hill more easily, and the only walk that was further than mine was the flanker’s. Our friend Dennis always took that walk, and, at the time, I had myself convinced that second-driver-down was the second most important position and I had earned that by (almost) always being in the right position at the right times. Anyway, I think Dennis was the natural choice for top driver because we knew he was familiar with the woods as he lived locally, but I also think, if everyone was honest, none of us wanted the responsibility of being the flanker who let the deer bust the top.
If you were “lucky” enough to fill out while “pot hunting”, you were the designated “dog” for the next two days of driving. I make it sound like the standers had a luxurious life. Waiting an hour on top of a blustery hill for the drivers to make their way through on a December day in Northern PA is no picnic. At least when you were a driver you were warm. If you had the privilege to stand, the pressure was on to make sure you didn’t miss those deer that your drivers worked so hard to keep from doubling back or busting over the top. Somehow, even before all the technology we enjoy today, we coordinated some pretty impressive drives and we pushed our fair share of deer around those hills. A string of thirty is an impressive sight going across the hillside, regardless of the headgear on them. Our typical drives would produce something like 15-20 does with a 3 point at the back of the group, but we had fun, oh boy did we have fun, and we were successful. And, every so often, you would get to the end of the woods and there would be one of your standers gutting a 110″ 2.5 year old, and we all thought to ourselves that he had just killed the buck of his lifetime.
I don’t remember ever thanking a driver when I was on stand, or ever being thanked when I was a driver. I think it was just understood that we were all working together toward a goal, and it was known, without needing to be spoken, that we appreciated the collaboration it took to produce the harvest. These were the days of high deer numbers and low herd quality in Pennsylvania. Our consolation prize was the amount of deer we could see in a day, and the fact that at any moment a herd of thirty could roll around the CRP hill is what kept the day from ever getting boring.
So now, as the land changes hands, and is divided, and divided again, we’ve adapted our hunting methods. We no longer drive at 10 AM, and neither do the neighbors. When you can’t hunt the woods next door, you don’t want to deliver the deer on a silver platter to your neighbor. So we “pot hunt”, and we use treestands, and we sit in new spots, and many of the guys pass up the small bucks like we never used to do. Our hunting methods have changed, our deer standards have changed, our opportunities have changed, but I like to think that we have held onto some remaining fragments of the deer hunting we used to anticipate each and every year and it remains engrained in each of us.
Do you have memories of deer camp that have shaped you as a hunter? Leave a comment below or send me your story at email@example.com
Trail cameras are a valuable tool when implemented correctly. Using them in the wrong ways can lead to frustration, wasted time and money and a negative impact on the deer you are hunting. The first step in getting the most out of your trail camera lies in understanding the basics of how it works.
A passive infrared sensor works off two elements. Simply put, the sensor detects a difference in temperature and when that is coupled with movement the camera is triggered and a photo is taken. There are a multitude of variations when it comes to detection zone, detection range, trigger speed, camera field of view, mega pixels, recovery time, etc. etc. etc (a subject for a different blog). You should, however, be aware of your camera’s capabilities before deciding where and how to place it. For example, a camera with high picture quality but slow trigger speed and recovery rates may be better served in a baited trail camera survey application where deciphering specific antler characteristics is necessary, whereas a fast trigger speed and quick recovery time may be a good choice for use along a travel corridor in order to monitor deer movement.
Face it North
Everyone hates popping a memory card in their computer only to find out that 400 of the 900 photos you got during the month of June are blanks. You might think your camera is broken, or malfunctioning, or maybe you assume it just isn’t a quality device. More times than not, the reason for these blank photos is improper camera orientation. I’ll direct you to the QDMA’s book on trail cameras called Deer Cameras: The Science of Scouting. This is a compilation of writings by renowned whitetail biologists and hunters and is edited by Lindsay Thomas Jr. The book dives much more in depth into the subject of false positives, but in short, when you orient a trail camera facing South, the southern exposure from the sun causes the area in front of the camera to heat up. When the wind blows grass of branches, the PIR sensor triggers the camera because there is heat variation and movement. To avoid this, whenever possible, face your camera north. You will get far fewer blank photos because the PIR sensor is facing away from the sun; and, when you do have a deer in frame, it will be less likely that a rising or setting sun will cause a glare (lens flare) and ruin the photo.
I have set cameras almost on the ground, I have set cameras above my head, and I have set cameras at waist height. The height of the camera depends, in part, on the terrain. When I set a camera extremely low it is usually when I am on a steep hill and the deer trail is much lower than the tree I needed to place the unit on. I have placed cameras above my head in situations where I want them to be above the deer’s immediate line of sight. When I do this I will place a stick behind the top of the camera to set it at a downward angle. Most of my cameras are set approximately at waist height and regardless of how high or low the camera is you should be aiming it for the center mass of whatever subject you are attempting to capture, so be aware of the actual height of a Whitetail. This gives you the best chance of the passing animal triggering your camera. It also gives you the best chance of capturing the whole animal in the photo so you can judge antler and body size to make a judgment on the age of that animal.
Shoot Down the Trail, Not Across It
Your camera trap should be set such that you are shooting at approximately a 45 degree angle to the game trail. This is especially important for cameras with slower trigger speeds. A 45 degree angle allows for more of the trail to be within the sensor’s detection zone and the camera’s field of view. Aiming the camera directly down a trail could potentially trigger the camera to take a photo when the subject is too far away, and, depending on the units recovery rate, it may not be armed again before the deer passes by. 45 degrees is a happy medium and maximizes most cameras’ potential and helps to position the subject more centrally in the frame, providing for better photos. Consider a camera with a multi-shot option if you plan to use it over trails. This can help you get a few views of the animal as it approaches you camera trap. Likewise, a short recovery rate can avoid missing a picture of the second or third deer in a group, which can often be the buck.
I can admit, it’s hard for me to keep my cameras out of my hunting areas before and during season. There is something thrilling about pulling a memory card and looking at the pictures while you sit on the stand, hoping that it shows a big buck regularly passing through. Although tempting, there’s a few problems with this scenario. If you are hunting the right areas of your properties, (namely buck bedding), human invasion needs to be kept to an absolute minimum. Likely, the temptation to check your camera is going to have you entering that area more often than you should in order to see what pictures you are getting. You may be burning the bridge for that area before you ever get to hunt it. If you want to put a camera outside of a buck bedding area, do it in the Spring in order to confirm your theories about how a buck is using the area and then leave the area undisturbed until you return to hunt. Secondly, the presence of a camera, if not placed strategically, can lead mature deer to slightly alter a pattern or take a different trail through the same area. This can be detrimental to your success and negates any positives you were trying to gain by employing a trail camera. Think of your cameras as inventory tools which can help you determine what deer are using the property while you rely on your post season scouting to tell you how and where you need to hunt those deer. Trail cameras set in easily accessible, low impact spots can be checked more regularly and provide insight as to what bucks call the property you are hunting home. In late October, field edge scrapes provide great camera trap locations. In pressured areas, most of your pictures will be at nighttime, but this allows you to check cameras during the day with little chance of disturbing the deer on the property.
Whatever brand of trail camera you choose, make sure to use it wisely and maximize its potential.
Cuts, draws, ridges, saddles, pinch points, funnels, bedding, food sources etc. etc. etc. All of these are terms we have grown accustomed to hearing in regard to whitetail travel and behavior; and they can become overwhelming. Trying to keep track of where all of these features are on the property you hunt can be a daunting task. In the same way that a trip feels longer when you don’t know exactly where you are going, the whitetail woods you hunt feels vast and significantly larger before you become familiar with it. I’m not a psychiatrist, but I’m thinking that it has to be something about the human brain, how we process data and how we approach the unknowns. There is also a chance that maybe its just me.
Anyway, I can think of a specific time in Michigan when I obtained permission to hunt a small-ish piece of timber that was part of a much larger swamp/timber section. I remember walking into the woods and feeling like I was never going to be able to decipher how the deer were using this piece, much less the greater swamp area, because it seemed bigger than some of the wooded areas I was used to hunting, (not to mention it was mostly flat and I was used to hill country). In reality, it wasn’t any bigger, I just had a few things working against me. First, I got permission later in the year than would have been optimal. The understory was grown up and this limited visibility considerably. Ironically, I think lacking visibility has the effect of making a woods feel profoundly larger when you are in it. It takes longer to traverse through the area and you can’t use sight to your advantage. It can be hard to judge how far it is to property boundaries, or even the distance you have traveled during your first time into a piece. All of these are great reasons to do post season scouting whenever possible. If you find yourself in a situation where you must preseason scout, these factors can prove to make a property feel more vast than it actually is and the practice of learning it seem like a more insurmountable task.
The best thing I did to increase my scouting efficiency was to purchase a GPS unit. I used to use my phone, but it is unreliable in the areas I hunt. Furthermore, the more remote the area, it seemed like the faster my phone battery would drain, leaving me without a way to contact anyone for help in the case of an emergency. The Garmin GPS unit I bought has an external antenna and has yet to let me down in any of the areas I have hunted or scouted with it thus far. I have imported property boundaries onto my GPS so that I can be sure to remain legal when walking on public lands, and I have topographical maps and aerials of all of my hunting areas loaded onto it as well. When I am scouting, I can mark a waypoint at any place of interest. These could include bedding areas, scrapes, stand locations or other places of interest. I can walk directly to a stand I have marked, in the dark, without the use of reflective markers that can give away your position on public land.
Even with all of these features, one of the very best benefits of using a GPS unit is that it can map the path that I walk during my scouting sessions. This year, during one scouting trip I spent a day walking most of the deer trails in a new hunting area. After doing so, I accessed the aerial view of the property on my GPS and what had seemed like a random web of trails from the ground level, assembled itself into a decipherable pattern when viewed from above. The trails on the property immediately made more sense, to the point where it became evident that the deer utilizing this trail were quite obviously coming from that food source. I’ll admit, in the past, we would set a stand on a worn trail and expect the deer to come to us from “somewhere over there”. We had a reason for putting a stand in a specific location, but we didn’t have enough reasons. The thing is, once the trails on a property are mapped, as well as the food sources and bedding areas, high percentage ambush points become much more obvious and you can become more aggressive in your stand placement.
For example, while mapping a property, I came across a subtle edge where the deciduous woods met with a cluster of conifers. A well worn deer trail followed this edge and ran into a thick area of young growth where I jumped a bedded buck. After I found his bed, I backed off the area and set up a stand where I could approach the bed undetected to hunt the bed on the same wind that had the buck there that day. Since season was a long way off I also hung a no-flash trail camera high up a tree and angled it downward, so as to eliminate any mature bucks spooking from something new being in their core area. After sneaking back into the area one more time to pull the camera card, I was able to confirm that the majority of the traffic on this trail was bucks entering and leaving the thick bedding cover. The trip in to the area to receive confirmation from the trail camera pictures was the last I will make before hunting this area on opening day of archery season.
Because I could see on the aerial exactly how the trails laid on this part of the property, and how they related to bedding cover and food, I could make a more educated decision as to where to hang a tree stand. Using the trail camera was simply a confirmation tool to solidify what scouting the area and using the GPS mapping already suggested.
A handheld GPS and a few silent, no-flash trail cameras can go a long way to shortening a learning curve on a new property. Once you have a better understanding of the land you are hunting, the property begins to feel less overwhelming and hunting it becomes a more manageable undertaking.
Have you utilized a GPS unit to scout new properties? Leave your comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The idea of hunting your neighbors ground probably ignites strong feelings for some; especially landowners who have dealt with trespassers, as we have, on a regular basis. I’m certainly not proposing that you trespass onto your neighbors property, however, the first step to closing the distance on a buck this fall is understanding how deer utilize the property you hunt, as well as your neighbor’s. Aerial photographs are an excellent place to start. I use both Google Earth and Bing Maps. While you are at it, head over to www.caltopo.com and access topographical maps for your area as well.
So, why do I suggest that you also consider your neighbors ground? Well, contrary to us humans, the deer obviously aren’t too concerned about boundary lines, and the deer that you are hunting are, at some point, going to be on your neighbors land. This can even be true for landowners that control large tracts of land. Considering how the deer are using all the land within their home ranges (terrain features, food sources, etc.) is an important element in assembling your whitetail puzzle. If there are destination crop fields to the West of your property and desirable bedding to the East. Your property may be a transition area. Considerations need to be made for when and how the deer travel through your property on their way to and from food and bedding and where they are traveling. They may travel low in the early morning hours and at higher elevation through the late morning and midday. You may have to consider a mid morning stand adjustment to keep yourself in the game.
Understanding how deer and why the deer may be utilizing the neighboring properties can help you more strategically place and access stands on the land you hunt. A short, friendly conversation with the neighbor can lead to additional information and cooperation. For example, one of my stands is about 50-60 yards from the neighbors alfalfa field near a terrain feature that I expect will naturally funnel late morning buck activity during the pre-rut cruising phase. To access this spot, I need to walk through a fairly decent portion of woods on the land I hunt. To avoid this problem, I obtained permission from the neighbor to access my stands via the adjacent his alfalfa field just after first light to be sure I am not bumping deer out of the field. This promises to benefit both of us by leaving the majority of the woods untouched and the deer we are both hunting less pressured.
The other reason you need to “hunt” your neighbors ground is that your neighbor may be doing habitat improvement projects that you need to take into account when placing your stands. If there is a large clear cut that is being utilized as a bedding area and it butts up to your property line, there is a good chance that you may find a trail on your side of the fence that skirts this bedding. Determining how the deer are relating to this subtle edge can provide significant shot opportunities. However, there are some considerations to be made for hunting near property lines. The most obvious it to avoid cutting shooting lanes that allow for shots onto your neighbors land. While you can cut whatever trees on your own land that you wish, I think leaving the brush on the property-line side of your stand is a show of good faith and demonstrates that you are only hunting the deer that are traveling on property you have access to. Additionally, whenever possible, I avoid facing my stand toward the property line. Many people wrongly assume the area targeted is that which is in front of the stand. While I often will place stands on the back side of trees to improve cover, when hunting near a property line I take into account how that stand looks to a boundary-walking neighbor. Likewise, I consider how might I feel and what might I assume if the neighbor positioned a stand facing my hunting property.
While you are considering the neighboring habitat improvements, you may also need to be keeping up with the Jones’s. If your neighbor is providing all of the good bedding areas while your timber is mature and lacking in understory, it may be time to consider hinge cutting or logging to bring vital food and cover to the ground level. The property you hunt may still contain trails, rubs and field edge scrapes, however, this sign, when not in relation to a bedding area is usually laid down at night (especially in pressured areas). Conversely, if you have high deer density, and the majority of your property is bedding area, you may have difficulty access evening stand locations without bumping deer from their daytime beds. The deer you are hoping to intercept on their way to your neighbors food source may be inadvertently pushed into deeper security cover and only leave those pockets after dark. Considering stand access and allowing some areas on your property to remain undesirable to deer, for this purpose, can prove beneficial.
The last reason you need to be in tune with your neighbor’s land is that a quick walk of your property boundary can tell you if any of your neighbors have stands close to the line. You need to take this into account when choosing your stand sites. You may need to abandon this part of your property altogether, as you have no control over the scent regimen, frequency of hunting or stand access your neighbor uses. An area that looks hot prior to season can become quickly become cold, due to your neighbors hunting practices. You may be able to manipulate deer movement away from the immediate area through wind-rowing trees, a practice first introduced to me during a tour of North Country Whitetails by habitat specialist Neil Dougherty. Hinging a row of trees across deer trails at an angle can manipulate the deer movement around the windrow and create an artificial funnel. If you are able to do this, you may be able to circumvent the neighbor’s stand in a way that allows you to hunt the deer traveling through the area by redirecting them away from the pressure levied by the adjacent land owner.
In conclusion, just because you can’t access a prime piece of real estate doesn’t mean you can’t fine tune your tactics to allow you to take advantage of situations presented by the dynamics of the neighboring parcels. Becoming familiar with the way deer utilize the property you have access to, while bearing in mind the influence of the nearby property is vital if you want to close the distance on a buck come Fall.
You have probably read the magazine articles that make it sound easy-as-pie to kill a mature buck. Employ this tactic or that strategy and the formula is complete. Any day now a stud 4.5 year old is going to come sauntering by, during broad daylight and offer you a 12 yard broadside shot, right? If you are like me, you’ve spent at least some amount of time trying some of the different things you’ve read, and to no avail. It’s easy to write about a tactic and make it sound like a foolproof way to kill your buck. But the truth is, no one single tactic or tip is going to put you on a mature deer, especially on pressured ground. What individual tactics can provide you with is one more piece of the puzzle. In my opinion, that is where the popular tactic of making mock scrapes falls. Mock scrapes are a tool that can tell you a lot about the deer in your area, if they are used correctly. If you hunt pressured ground, you need to keep your expectations in line.
Most people are familiar with the concept of a mock scrape, but for those who aren’t, simply put, it is a man made scrape that mimics a natural scrape created by the deer in your area. So, what do you need to know about mock scrapes and what benefits can you expect to receive by utilizing them?
1. Placement is Key
You need to consider where you are putting a mock scrape. Where you place the scrape can and will have a direct impact on its effectiveness. For many years I never believed in the tactic because I tried to place scrapes where I wanted them, not where the deer would use them. My site selection was random and I hung a scrape dripper gadget with some cheap deer urine in it and called it a day. After all, that seemed to be what I read about in the magazines and saw on TV. What I didn’t realize was that the urine in the scrape is only one
small component of the scrape dynamics, and many people believe it is not even the most important one. Mock scrapes should be placed in high traffic areas so that they gather the attention of the highest percentage of deer possible. You are more likely to have deer begin to use your mock scrape if you select an area where the deer spend some time or an area they tend to utilize regularly on the way to and from food. Inside edges along food sources, or pinch points at the end of a funnel have been productive areas for mock scrapes in my experiences. Areas that have a lot of deer sign, even if you suspect it is night sign, are good prospects. Don’t overthink it, but don’t just put a scrape next to a tree you would like to hunt and expect a dead area to magically heat up.
2. How to create a mock scrape
Once you determine a high percentage location for your mock scrape the next part is constructing it. The first thing you need to look for is a low hanging branch. In the area I hunt, I have found that most of the natural scrapes have licking branches located approximately at chest to eye level. I am 6′ 2″ so between 4 and 6 feet is
a safe estimate and some may be lower. (6 feet is the maximum in my opinion.) I think a big mistake people make is making a mock scrape under a branch that is higher than their head. People have a tendency to overestimate the height of a Whitetail. A low limb with multiple branches can work wonderfully and you may find that additional scrapes will appear adjacent to your mock scrape. Once I locate a suitable branch, I take a nearby stick and scrape the leaves and debris away to expose the bare ground, trying to touch as little as possible with my bare hands. I like to score the ground as well, and fling some dirt out with the leaves. In addition to urine and gland secretions, I believe deer can smell the freshly disturbed earth and it piques their curiosity. I have used a lot of different scents in an effort to attract Whitetails but, quite honestly, I have found that urinating in the scrape is the best way to encourage deer to investigate your new creation. It might sound crude, but your own urine is free and deer urine is selling for $10-20 an ounce these days. There is some evidence that once urine breaks down most of its unique qualities are lost anyway. One thing that I have done is
used a glandular lure and put it on the licking branch to encourage its use. I really can’t say if it works, but I know the trail camera photos I have, that were taken shortly after applying this scent, show most deer using the licking branch where I applied the lure. You can probably forego this part, as the visual of the fresh scrape, the urine and the presence of the branch will likely be enough to attract deer passing through the area. The mock scrapes I make are in the easy access, low impact areas of the properties I hunt. I want to be able to get in and out to check the use of the mock scrape without disturbing deer. Since my mock scrapes aren’t located near my treestands, I will put a no-flash trail camera over them to monitor the deer using the scrape. Being able to slip into these areas to exchange memory cards without impacting the deer you are hunting is another reason to have them in accessible places, like the inside edge adjacent to a crop field.
3. What should you expect out of your mock scrape
I think too many common ground hunters expect to be able to make a mock scrape and draw a mature deer out of its bed in daylight hours in order to kill it. They plan to hunt over their new mock scrape and think it is going to provide more deer sightings and increased shot opportunities. This is the problem. On pressured ground, you need to manage your expectations. You may create a hot spot, but unless you are placing the scrape within bedding cover (which will inherently alert a buck to your presence) the likelihood of you catching a mature deer over it in daylight remains slim.
Mock scrapes should be viewed as an inventory gathering tool and the best time to implement this tactic is in the last week of October through November. When you start seeing natural scrapes pop up where you hunt, its time to lay down some mock scrapes. When you use a mock scrape in conjunction with a quality trail camera you have the opportunity to see which bucks are still on your property as well as which of the neighbors bucks may be cruising through once the rut begins. Mock scrapes aren’t a substitute for knowing where a pressured buck is bedding, or a substitute for hunting rut funnels and pinch points in November. They should be viewed as a tool to determine if the animal you want to kill is still using the property. Most of my mock scrape photos are taken at night, but it doesn’t diminish the value of the mock scrape because I am not expecting to use it as a hunting location. Additionally, you can freshen the scrape periodically throughout the season and they can become good locations for trail camera surveys after season in order to determine which bucks have survived. To further entice post rut bucks to utilize my mock scrapes I will gather the tarsal glands from all the deer that are killed by other hunters I know; especially tarsal glands from estrous does or bucks killed on other properties. I hang the tarsal glands above the licking branch and they serve to attract deer to the mock scrape site even after the rut.
There is something thrilling about capturing a picture of a deer utilizing a mock scrape you made. Maybe it is the satisfaction of a plan coming together, or maybe it is the feeling that you were able to successfully manipulate that deer’s behavior. Either way, mock scrapes can be a useful tool and a rewarding activity as long as you manage your expectations and utilize them intelligently.
Below are some year-round photos of deer visiting the mock scrape. This has become a destination point for the deer on this property.
Have you had experience with making mock scrapes? Leave your comments below or email me with your thoughts at email@example.com
I’m not a professional videographer. In fact, I take some issue with even referring to myself as an amatuer. I am a hobbyist, at best. If you’re like me, you enjoy the outdoors and may be searching for a way to preserve your memories, or share them with those close to you. In addition, you may have already found the value of videoing your outdoor endeavors for the information you are able to review later. I toyed around with the idea of videoing my hunts for a couple years but I always assumed that it would cost me opportunities at deer. I finally convinced myself to give it a try and once I started I found a new area addiction within my broader Whitetail passion, and I was happy to find that filming doesn’t have to cost you a chance at a deer unless you let it. Furthermore, having the proper equipment can go a long way toward successfully capturing a memory that will last a lifetime.
A lot of Youtube videos show a particular hunter’s camera set up, or how they pack their gear into the field. I may demonstrate this at some point, but I think it is important to talk about the basics: What is the necessary gear and specs for the self filmer and how I arrived at the equipment choices I have made.
The most important component in any set-up is the camera you choose. The quality footage produced by popular hunting shows is, by and large, attributable to the quality (and expensive) camera equipment they employ. That being said, don’t get discouraged. To start, I am going to break out a list of the important features for a self filmer to consider when selecting a camera. In the section following, I will go through different camera types and highlight the pros and cons of each to make it easier to determine what camera is right for your situation and budget.
Important Features for Self Filming Cameras:
Manual Focus Option
External Mic Port- Shotgun Mics/Wireless Lapel Mics
LANC Remote Port
Cameras: The DSLR Option
Shows like Heartland Bowhunter utilize DSLR cameras for much of their footage and while the DSLR’s that they use run a price tag of a couple grand, a great quality high end consumer grade camera can do wonders. Models like a Cannon Rebel T5i can be picked up in bundles with extra lenses, memory cards, batteries, filters, etc. for around $800.
DSLR cameras can provide crystal clear video footage and have many customizable settings for varying light conditions. The biggest consideration with a DSLR is the glass your shooting through. A high quality lens is a must, and you are going to need to consider the zoom capacity. A higher zoom will restrict the light that is gathered by the lens, making certain DSLR lenses less than optimal for low light situations. The cost of good glass can be much more than the cost of the camera base itself. Lenses offering a wide range of zoom, such as a 28mm-300mm lens can carry salty price tags and switching lenses from a high powered zoom lens to a wider aperture lens is unrealistic when a shooter buck is approaching.
Furthermore, a DSLR’s zoom function is operated by manually rotating the lens, which can be a challenge for a self filmer. One of the great features of a DSLR for bowhunting is the optional Manual Focus, which is adjusted by the focus ring on the front of the lens. Admittedly this can also create a challenge for the self filmer.
DSLR cameras like the Canon Rebel T5i have the capability for the operator to employ the use of an external microphone. One of the downsides of a DSLR camera is that the built in mic is good, but not great. If you are looking for high quality sound, you will need to consider using an external mic of some sort. The important thing to check for when purchasing a DSLR is a mic port. Be sure you verify this before purchase. Sometimes it can be confusing as to whether or not the camera you are selecting has this option. For example, a Canon Rebel T5 does not have a mic port but a Canon Rebel T5i does. The T5i is going to be a bit more expensive but there are enough features you gain by stepping up to this model to justify the price increase.
The downside of using a DSLR to self film is that they can not be used with a LANC Remote. A LANC Remote is a remote control that typically attaches to the arm of a fluid head. This remote puts the controls for camera Power, Record, Zoom, and Focus all at your fingertips. This eliminates a high percentage of the movement otherwise associated with zooming in and out or focusing the camera. A LANC remote is a valuable addition to a self filming camera setup and the fact that you cannot use a DSLR camera in conjunction with them is a definite downside. Another negative about a DSLR is that they are less compact than many camcorders. Their zoom capability, as mentioned, is limited to the lens you use with the camera, and this must be operated by turning the lens, as does the manual focus option. Another important consideration is that DSLR cameras are not sold as video cameras and therefore they have recording limitations. They may only record for 15 minute intervals before you must manually press record again. If you start recording when a mature buck is approaching, your DSLR could presumably reach its maximum video length and stop recording. If you fail to check on this, you might miss capturing the moment of truth on video. It may not be a deal breaker when considering a DSLR, but it requires the hunter to keep one more thing in mind when trying to focus on the shot of a lifetime. These limitations can lead to increased movement in the stand as well as making it more challenging to line up the deer to capture a shot on film.
Great Picture Quality
Manual Focus Option
Interchangeable lenses for different situations
Customizable scene options, white balance, etc.
Takes still pictures and video
External Mic Port
No LANC remote compatibility
Zoom and manual focus must be controlled from front of camera (lens)
Additional glass is expensive (lenses)
Bulkier and heavier than camcorders
Recording length is limited
Cameras: The “HandyCam” Option
It doesn’t matter what brand of consumer grade camcorders you look at, there are going to be an overwhelming number of options and features available. It can be difficult to discern what is necessary and what is fluff. I choose to refer to my own list, included at the top of this blog, to keep myself on track.
The problem with many consumer grade “handycam” models is that they are geared toward a consumer who wants to video their child in sports, or take vacation footage, etc. Most people purchasing these cameras run them on Auto and never look back. They have little need for manual focus options, so it is not often an included feature. Consumer grade camcorders are constantly improving picture quality and most have HD options which provide good picture quality. The problem is that in a woods environment, sticks and leaves are almost almost between you and the subject (deer) you are trying to video. Often this creates a focus problem as the camera focuses on the closer leaves and the deer becomes a blurry blob in the background. Trying to get the deer into focus by moving the camera in order to video around the leaves, instead of preparing for a shot, can create a problem in situations that develop quickly; as they often do during the rut. I have missed out on good footage more than a time or two because I could not get an autofocus camera to focus on the deer due to the obstructions between us.
Consumer grade camcorders are easy to use right out of the box and they are relatively inexpensive. In most cases you can find a “handycam” type camcorder for around $400 that will have at least a few bells and whistles. They are also compact and light to carry. Keep in mind, though, that many consumer grade cameras don’t even have a eyepiece, making it necessary to film using the flip out LCD screen. Sometimes this small screen is hard to see in the glare of sunlight, or the deer is so small in the screen you are unable to tell if it is in the field of view or not. Some of these challenges you will face when using any video camera, however, higher end consumer cameras may have larger screens, or the option of using an eyepiece to video. Most low to medium grade consumer camcorders do not have LANC remote or external mic options. You can expect to find a few of the higher-end models to have the capability to use an external mic, however, I have found that it is far less common to find one with a LANC port. The built in microphone that these cameras use is not often very good and provides what I refer to as a “tin can” sound, leaving the end video production less than desireable from an audio standpoint. Finding a “handycam” camcorder with LANC port, mic port and a manual focus option proved to be impossible, at least for me, and I proceeded to look beyond this type of camera to meet my camera requirements.
Cost- cheaper than DSLR and Professional Grade Camcorders
Compact- Light and easy to carry
Ease of Use
Auto Focus (No Manual Focus option on MOST models)
Compatibility with external mic (many models do not have Mic Port)
Compatibility with LANC remote (even less common to find model with LANC port)
Low quality built in Mic
Less customizable settings
Cameras: The Professional Camcorder Option
A professional camcorder can provide you with a lot of options when filming wildlife. The downside? You are going to pay for these options. Expect to drop as much as a couple grand or more to go this route. Professional grade camcorders may have an accessory rail containing a proprietary hot shoe as well as a standard accessory shoe. Lights, shotgun mics, lapel mic receivers and other camera components can be attached to the camera in this way. If you plan on using a shotgun mic, it is almost a necessity to have an accessory shoe. Most cameras with a mic port will have a shoe, but be careful, some consumer grade cameras may have a shoe that only fits their own proprietary accessories. You shouldn’t run into this problem with a professional grade camera, but you should still consider how you will attach your external mic and other accessories so that the functionality of your camera set up is user friendly while in the stand. Depending on the location of the accessory shoe on the camera you choose, you may find that you need to buy an additional mic mount to position a shotgun mic so that the Dead Cat wind muff is not visible in the top of your cameras field of view.
One thing you need to research when looking into a professional grade camera is the camera’s zoom capability. For example, a Canon XA20 has a 20X zoom whereas the cheaper XA10 has a 10X zoom while still containing most of the other options available on the XA20. A 20X zoom, in my opinion, is a must in the woods. It is surprising, how quickly a 20X zoom can be maxed-out while filming wildlife. A 10X zoom is very limiting in the field and animals that are further away than 100 yards, or so, are going to appear very small in your video because you cannot zoom in close enough. Some people try to tweak this in post production editing, but in so doing, they sacrifice image quality and have a less desirable final production. If you are looking to save some dollars, but still want the audio options (multiple XLR ports, etc.), LANC remote port, and manual focus option of a professional grade camera, you might consider a camera with a 10X zoom; just be aware of the cameras limitations if you are hunting in an observation stand where you have long range visibility.
A downside of a professional camcorder is their size. Many models are bulky and some can weigh several pounds. Weight is an important consideration if you hunt remote areas. It is also necessary to consider what the weight capacity of your camera arm is. Higher end professional cameras may require more substantial camera arm models which are more expensive and themselves heavier, adding even more weight to your pack. A popular way around this problem is to go with smaller professional grade cameras like the aforementioned Canon XA20. Sony also makes smaller models that are popular with serious self filmers. For hunters who have the luxury of a filming partner, camera weight may not be an issue, as they are able to disperse equipment across two packs, thus opening up more options when selecting a professional grade camera.
Professional Grade Camcorder Pros:
Multiple Mic Ports
Crystal Clear, high quality video
LANC Remote compatibility
More Customizable Settings
Manual focus option
Multiple memory card slots for higher capacity recording
Professional Grade Camcorder Cons:
Size and weight (select models)
If you are like me, a hobbyist hunter-videographer wanting to produce something with more quality than a home movie, but the expense of professional grade cameras exclude them from consideration, you may look at the all of the above information and become jaded about the camera options available for self filming your hunting adventures. The good new is that, for the vast majority of amateur videographers, there is a happy medium between the “handycam” type camcorder and professional grade models. Enter, the high end consumer grade camcorder.
Cameras: High End Consumer Grade Camcorders
Many manufacturers produce what I’ll refer to as high end consumer grade camcorders. These cameras sit at the top of the consumer line up and provide many of the features one may find on a professional grade camcorder. Most of these models will come with a mic port, although it usually will not be an XLR port. Many will also be compatible with a LANC remote which is an invaluable feature and nearly a necessity in my opinion. Lastly, manual focus options are common with these high end consumer camcorders. Most of these cameras have a camera body and LCD screen that is slightly larger than basic handycam-type models, but not as bulky as some professional grade cameras, making them easier to pack and transport. Additionally, there are zoom options of 20X available with certain models. The Canon Vixia HF G30 is a good example of a high end consumer grade camera that provides many of the features of a professional camera for about a grand less out of your pocket. Because it is relatively compact, it is compatible with the same light-duty camera arms you would employ with a handycam-type camcorder. The G30 is similar to the previous models of the G10 and G20 except that Canon bumped the zoom capability to 20X when it introduced the G30 model. You will find the G30 will run approximately $500 more than the G20, however, I feel that zoom capability was not something I could sacrifice and ultimately decided on the Canon Vixia HF G30. Other models in the Vixia line may provide manual focus, 20X zoom, or external mic ports, but I was unable to find another model which included all these features and a LANC port. After spending time in the treestand trying to pan and zoom at the same time, without a LANC remote, I quickly realized the value of this feature. All these reasons led me to the Canon Vixia HF G30 Camcorder. A camcorder that provided the best of both worlds.
High end consumer grade camcorder pros:
Professional grade features
Two memory card slots for high capacity recording
Excellent, clear HD video
External Mic Port
Manual Focus Option
Lighter weight and more compact than Professional Camcorders
Larger LCD screen than handycam style camcorders
Significantly cheaper than Professional Grade Camcorders
High end consumer grade camcorder cons:
More expensive than handycam camcorders
Usually do not have XLR mic port
Now that you have selected a camera based your needs and your budget it is time to determine what accessories you will use in conjunction with it. For the purpose of this blog, I am going to write with the assumption that the camera selected is a high end consumer grade camera with LANC and Mic ports. If you have selected a camera without these features, some of the below information will still help you in the selection of camera arms and fluid heads.
Accessories: LANC remote
It can be confusing trying to decide which LANC remote to purchase. Manfrotto offers a fluid head pan arm that has a LANC remote built into it. This is certainly an option, and Manfrotto is a quality brand, however it is pricey and a little bulky. I chose to go the cheaper route, and one that I think fits the needs of better than 90% of self filmers out there. The Varizoom StealthZoom is a more economical option and has a universal mount that fits just about any fluid head pan arm. There are some other Varizoom models that have additional features, but the StealthZoom has everything a hunter needs. I can turn the camcorder on and off, start and stop recording, zoom in and out, and focus (when the camera is set on manual) all by the slight movement of my thumb on the LANC remote. This significantly reduces movement and also decreases camera shake and “choppy” panning/zooming. The StealthZoom simply plugs into your camera’s LANC port and you are ready to go. Its that easy.
Accessories: Fluid Head
If you plan to use a tripod or tree arm you are going to need a fluid head to attach your camera to either of these devices. Some low end tripods or tree arms have built in, plastic fluid heads. These are ok for a starter, but don’t expect them to pan smoothly or be silent. Sometimes noise from a cheap plastic fluid head can be picked up on your video, especially if you aren’t using an external mic. Many of the hunting TV shows are using fluid heads that have price tags in the hundreds of dollars range, or more. Unless you are a professional videographer, or loaded, this is not necessary for the self filmer. I again contemplated Manfrotto for my fluid head choice, but upon conducting a little more research I settled on a less expensive option that is well made, silent to operate and has a great feel at an affordable price. The Vanguard PH 111V is a great fluid head available for well under $100. If you want to spend a few extra bucks, investing in a slightly longer pan arm may be a worthwhile upgrade to this fluid head, but other than that I have found that the Vanguard fluid head to be smooth, user friendly and possessing a feel of quality construction. My VariZoom LANC fits nicely on the pan arm for one handed operation of all camera functions.
Accessories: External Microphones
There are so many options in external microphones I feel that it probably warrants a blog of its own. And, admittedly, I am not the person to write the blog because so much of it I don’t fully understand. I know what sounds good to me and I investigated sound samples of different mics before choosing a shotgun mic and a wireless lapel mic. My initial findings revealed that Sennheiser wireless lapel mics are an extremely good option. I was worried about which frequency range to select and possible interference but upon further research I determined that in less urban areas the chance of interference is slim. I received other information that advised me to stay away from higher frequency ranges when purchasing wireless lapel mics because there is talk of the government restricting use of these wavelengths. I can’t speak to the accuracy of that anymore than to say this is what I was told so I began to research other options. What I settled on, for my purposes,
was a lapel mic that provides two channel options, F1 or F2. Its incredibly simple and easy to use and I have never had a problem with interference and the sound quality is more than adequate. The wireless lapel mic I employ is a Azden and it was a fraction of the cost of a Sennheiser system. Likewise the Azden DSLR shotgun mic I use is compatible with my Vixia camcorder. I found that Rode shotgun mics are popular with many self filmers and professionals in the hunting industry. However, I found the Azden DSLR Shotgun mic for a great deal and decided that I would go with it after I was so satisfied with the Azden lapel mic. The Azden shotgun mic was also significantly cheaper than most of the Rode mics I found. Typically, the longer the shotgun mic the more it will pick up. Some shotgun mics have an omnidirectional feature which can be of benefit if you are speaking from behind the camera while filming. It is important to note that the Azden shotgun mic I use does not have as good of sound quality as the lapel mic, and I believe that unless you are going to spend a hefty sum for a shotgun mic you will find this to be true more often than not. The reason why I will use the shotgun mic is because, when I am self filming, I will more than likely be using only the Vixia and I will want to get the sounds of the deer walking, grunting, snorting, etc. as well as my own voice after the shot. A shotgun mic does all of this. If I was filming another hunter I would have a wireless lapel mic on the DSLR while I filmed with the Vixia as well. I would utilize both cameras for multiple shot angles, B-roll footage, etc. but that is not practical when hunting by one’s self. Azden does offer a receiver which allows you to plug in both a shotgun mic as well as a lapel mic before it routes it to the camera and this might be an option in the future if I want to invest more into my audio setup. Also be aware that winds in excess of approximately 8-9 MPH will cause unwanted noise in your video footage. It is important that during those windy days in the stand you cover your shotgun or lapel mic with a Dead Cat. These are cheap add-ons that can be found at any camera store or online for a few dollars.
Equipment: Camera Arm
There are more camera arms today than there have ever been. Choosing which one is right for your setup is something that takes some careful consideration. First, you need to be aware of the weight limitations for your tree arm. Make sure it is rated at a high enough limit to account for your camera, fluid head, microphones and any other gear or accessories you may hang from it. Another important consideration is the tree attachment mechanism. Some low end camera arms utilize a tree lag, which may not be legal on public
land. A leveling system is also a necessity. A tree arm that is out of level will have a tendency to swing and move on its own, making it hard to set the camera on a shooting lane for a shot. Because most, if not all, trees are not perfectly plumb, some kind of leveling system is a must. Another consideration is the length of the camera arm. Some people gravitate toward Third Arm brand camera arms because they offer a three piece arm that allows the shooter to wrap the camera arm around themselves in order to more easily video shots behind them. Other arms may have two sections and vary in length. Consider that the longer the arm, the more metal used to manufacture it and the heavier it will be. Furthermore, you should consider how easily you are able to pack the tree arm into the woods. Longer arms have a tendency to stick out past a treestand or backpack and get caught on brush or low branches as you walk to your hunting location. The Hunting Beast camera arm features three shorter sections and a unique pistol grip fluid head that is designed for the solo hunter and is more “packable” than some other models. The attachment base is leveled with a screw lag you can turn by hand. Third Arm and Lone Wolf use their own attachment system that is somewhat similar to the Hunting Beast arm while Muddy offers a unique leveling base that fully adjusts after you get the tree arm based secured to the tree. The Muddy base is heavier than some of its competitors, but the leveling feature is, in my opinion, more intuitive.
The Muddy Outfitter Camera Arm is the arm I use and I chose it for several reasons. First, the Outfitter arm can hold far more weight (10 lbs) than my camcorder or my DSLR. I could actually put both cameras on the arm and it could handle it, (provided I bought an attachment to do so). I chose this Muddy Arm because I felt it provided the best value for the price in the Muddy line up. It is not as big as some of their other higher end camera arms, but I sacrificed some arm extension for a lighter, more compact option to carry to my stand. Still, I wish the arm was even lighter, and some Third Arm models do weigh less. Most of the weight with the Muddy system comes from the substantial base; and one of the things I liked about the Muddy arm was the functionality and adjustment in its base. Therefore, I decided that at 4.5 lbs, I would pack the Outfitter arm to my stands and try to eliminate pack weight in other areas to make up for the difference.
Don’t let this list, or all the other information available, overwhelm you if you are considering self filming your hunts. The most important thing is to get out and give it a try. Even if you start out with the equipment you have now, or buy a handycam to begin filming, you will find it can be a rewarding and thrilling experience. You may want to step into self filming cautiously, to see if you like it before committing to more expensive gear and additional purchases. One of the great things about filming is how it changes your attitude about your time in the stand. When a small buck comes by, you are able to enjoy “shooting” him with the camera and capturing his behaviors with your lens. If you are like me, you may find yourself feeling excited to get pre-rut chasing on camera, a buck making a scrape, a fox at daybreak, or a grouse drumming. Each new thing you capture is another success in the field and makes the days that you leave the woods with an unfilled tag still feel like an incredibly rewarding experience and successful endeavor. I have gained a much deeper appreciation for the nature I observe and the deer I pursue during the Fall because I am able to relive the magic of it all through my video footage.
Do you plan on trying to film your hunts this year? Leave a comment below or let me know your thoughts by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I have found bedding areas to be challenging areas to hunt. In fact, it wasn’t until recently that I began to consider the idea of utilizing the knowledge of specific bed locations in stand selection. Understanding bedding areas was a concept that repetitively eluded me and presented, what felt like at the time, insurmountable challenges. I began to chalk up bed hunting as a successful tactic only to be used in unpressured areas, when in actuality, the opposite is true. What I lacked were the skills to efficiently locate beds, differentiate between buck and doe beds and properly read sign to determine how deer were relating to these bedding areas. What’s more, I feared disrupting an area and applying pressure to the deer’s sanctuary and my ultra-conservative approach forfeited any chance I may have had. The result was stand sites which were just outside of the area(s) that could actually yield a chance at a mature buck.
There is a lot that could be written on bed hunting, and most of what I have applied to my personal hunting and scouting efforts is attributable to the tactics proven and popularized by Dan Infalt and his HuntingBeast.com forum. That being said, for the purpose of this blog, I am going to highlight a known doe bedding area on a property I hunt, and describe a set up which I will utilize in what I call the pre-rut stages, specifically the late days of October and the first week of November. These are the days that I have found yield the most buck travel beyond a feed-bed-feed pattern, and is typically when I can expect to see an animal I want to shoot on the land that I hunt. Bed hunting is one of the most productive ways to kill a buck in early October, however, keep in mind that for this article I am discussing doe bedding, whereas early October bed hunting would concentrate on an buck bed.
The typical deer movement for this particular area is usually West to East (in the morning). The deer move from the crop fields to the West and enter the bedding areas which are located in thick cover about 75 yards inside the field edge. This area was once pastured but has since overgrown into a mixture of golden rod, warm season grasses, briars and thorn apple trees. An edge is created by the East side of the bedding area and the slightly more mature woods. The deer, specifically bucks, use this edge to skirt the bedding area on the downwind side of it (as shown). The does will typically bed in the lower half of the red circles (in the thicker brush). Because of how the terrain flows in this particular bedding area a Westerly (WNW, NW, NNW) wind will more consistently have deer bedded in this location.
This January, I located a buck bed above the area where does are typically bedded. This bedding location allows the buck to smell anything behind him with a WNW or NNW wind, while looking down hill at any approaching danger. Behind the bed was a briar bush providing some structure and concealment to the bedded bucks back side.
The black “X” indicates the stand position that I selected last January based on the sign and deer patterns I observed during, and immediately following season. I feel this spot has real potential for an all day sit during the pre-rut/rut for multiple reasons.
1. The stand is positioned for a 20 yard shot to the edge of the bedding area, a properly placed shooting lane allows for shooting 10 yards into the bedding area. The North/South trail that runs along the East edge of the bedding provides a perfect ambush site for a cruising buck scent checking the doe bedding area for an estrous doe in the later morning hours. A buck moving from South to North, given a NW wind, will feel secure moving along the bedding because he is able to scent check what is ahead of him. The stand placement in relation to this trail allows for a 20 yard shot at a position where the wind is almost in the deer’s favor, but not quite. I have also witnessed bucks moving North to South on the trail that originates in the upper right corner of the photo and then following the edge of the bedding area.
2. Doe groups who do not bed in this particular area still move through, typically from West to East at first light, on their way to a bedding area further East. The deer traveling West to East will not be able to smell a hunter in a stand to the North of the trail, even on a NW wind, because the elevation change is such that any scent flows over the deer’s backs and is well down the hill before it could be detected. This travel can be beneficial if one of the does happens to be in estrous. A cruising buck may pick up the trail and follow it right past the stand into a 15 yard shooting lane.
3. The buck bed I located to the North of this doe bedding area was one I honestly did not expect to find. From prior surveillance gathered while sitting in an observation stand to the West of this bedding area, bucks will often move through the brush (left side of the photo) and travel the south edge of the doe bedding. I suspect that they then hook up to the buck bed location and utilize a WNW or NW wind to their advantage when bedding there. The bucks I have observed reached the West edge of the bedding cover at daybreak, and I suspect there have been many more occurrences of bucks who have already crossed the West brush under the cover of darkness. In either case, the faint North/South trail on the East edge of the doe bedding area I believe is used by bucks “J” hooking into this bed in an effort to scent check their bedding are before committing to it for the day. This “J” hook concept is another tactic discussed in detail by Dan Infalt in his DVD Hunting Hill Country Bucks, which I highly recommend. My trail camera to the South of this bedding location has shown multiple bucks traveling, on a regular basis, from the North to food sources to the South. This activity is often just after nightfall, indicating that my stand location needs to be closer to the bedding cover than the camera set.
This stand location presents me with an option for an all day sit in late October/early November. Were I better able to access this area undetected in the afternoon hours, I may have considered this for one early season evening hunt. However, since it is unlikely for me to be able to get into the proper position without spooking does and satellite bucks that will likely be bedded in the area, I will reserve this stand location for a properly timed late October all day hunt and hope I can catch a cruising buck checking the doe bedding areas to the West of my location.
I suppose I should start this blog out by saying that the following is a method that works for me. The focus of this blog post is to highlight the advantages that I have personally experienced via the implementation of a rock climbing harness into my hunting system. Each individual should conduct their own research and use available information on UIAA fall ratings, safety standards, and other important and widely accepted industry guidelines before implementing a modification to their hunting safety gear.
I hadn’t thought of how hunting and climbing could be combined to provide more efficiency in many treestand applications until I stumbled across the DIY Sportsman on YouTube. I don’t even remember how I found his channel, but during one of his videos he mentioned another hunter who utilized a rock climbing harness to use a one stick climbing method in order to reach his hunting height. I began to think about the benefits of a rock harness but I wasn’t sure if they could be trusted in treestand falls and I remained unsure of details like how I would fasten myself to the tree once I was at my hunting height. With a little thought I believe I solved the problems and came up with a system that reduces pack weight, is less restrictive when in the stand, and allows me to add or remove layers with ease. At the same time I was able to address these efficiency issues through the use of a climbing harness, I believe I was able to implement a system that is as safe or safer than my previous safety harness set-up. Not to mention, the rock climbing harness I picked up sells for around 50% the price of a full body hunting harness.
First and foremost, a rock climbing harness is light. The model I selected is a Black Diamond Vario Speed Harness. It is often used by instructors in classes because it has a lot of adjustment for different sizes of people. I am going to use it from early season to late season, so the adjustment is necessary for me because of the bulk of clothing it may have to go over. The other reason I picked the Vario Harness is because it has a streamlined design and doesn’t have any extra metal accessory rails, eliminating both weight and the possibility for metal on metal contact. Some modifiers use these rails as carriers for a lineman’s belt but I wanted the most minimal design possible. Using a rock climbing harness instead of a full body hunting harness can reduce pack weight by almost 2 pounds, depending what model you decide on.
The second huge benefit of a rock climbing harness is that the tree tether will attach to the front of the harness at about waist height. This keeps the tether from being an obstruction to your shot when you are trying to move from one side of the tree to the other in order to draw on a deer behind you. I have missed more than one shot opportunity in the past because I could not get positioned quickly enough due to the dorsal tether on a full body harness being in the way of my draw. At first, I was not sure if this front attachment would be safe in a forward fall. When I tested the harness, I was pleased to realize that in the event of a fall, the rock climbing harness actually will naturally turn you toward your tree, allowing you to simply climb back into your stand. Your tether is shorter with this system as well, limiting both the distance you can fall and therefore the shock felt in the fall. If you are a hunter who uses a Hunter Safety System Life Line or similar product which incorporates a Prusik knot system as a climbing aid, you will experience an additional benefit to the rock climbing harness. Since the tether is attached to the front of the harness at your waist, you avoid having it come over your shoulder by your head and neck like it must do with a full body hunting harness with a dorsal attachment. With a rock harness, the tether is always in front of you at chest height. I feel this is a significantly safer way to utilize the Life Line safety systems when ascending or descending.
Lastly, and perhaps the most easily recognizable benefit is that I can put the rock climbing harness on and walk to my stand with the freedom to add or remove upper layers without taking a full body harness off my shoulders. This is important if you are hunting remote areas with long access walks, or if you traverse hill country and need to shed layers to keep yourself from sweating and creating additional body odor. If I choose to pack the harness in, it is compact and lightweight, folding up into a 6 inch square about 2 inches thick. It fits nicely in my pack and doesn’t take up all the room in my backpack like my full body harness would. The full body harness always became a tangled mess and was almost impossible to put on in the dark at the bottom of the tree if I chose not to wear it while walking in. It was also very noisy because of the large buckles on it. The Vario harness has sleek and compact buckles that have less chance to contact other metal gear.
Is a rock climbing harness for you? It depends on the type of hunting you do. Whatever you decide, the two most important things are that your system is safe and that you feel comfortable with it.
Below are some of the resources I used when making my decision to switch to a rock climbing harness.
The DIY Sportsman discusses modifying a rock climbing harness for treestand application:
I’m not refering to the brand of treestand here, literally I am talking about hanging treestands with my father. Depending what kind of ground you hunt each fall, your set-ups may vary. I’m not a huge proponent of pre-hanging public land stands. I think it invites company, and also provides theives with a pretty good opportunity to score some free gear. That being said, every summer my dad and I head into the woods on some private property in New York and try to predict where our stands will need to be come Fall. (And then we inevitably move a few when we find out we were wrong.) We do this based on observations and past experiences gathered from hunting the property. Over the past several years I have tried to hang our stands earlier to avoid disrupting the woods so close to season and I believe that this is a necessary practice when you are hunting pressured whitetails if you plan to use pre-set stands. Dad usually thinks we’re being crazy, and most of his contemporaries wonder why we are at camp prepping trees so early. Most times he humors me, though, and off we go into the timber with climbing sticks, treestands, safety ropes, and polesaws.
My dad is part of that generation that is what I call task-oriented. They want to get things done so they can check them off the list and move onto the next thing. I think my dad loves making lists just for the opportunity to cross the items out. This approach is really good for accomplishing a lot of things, but you also run the risk of forgetting to enjoy the ride. I think this was my approach to hunting for awhile, and this year I can happily say that we both slowed down a little bit when we were selecting our stand locations for the Fall. Since we were dilligent in getting stands up much earlier than normal we were able to make some valuable scouting observations and choose better stand locations.
This year it just seemed like less pressure. In years passed we would rush to get as many stands up in one day as possible. We had this expectation of hanging 8 or 10 sets in a day because we were on limited time, and I felt like we needed to get in and out of the timber as quickly as possible because we were only a month from opening day. Hitting the unavoidable snag here or there was always frustrating and at some point in the process we would be barking at each other. Or, I would be barking at Dad. Slowing down this year was made possible by a couple factors, one being that I spent countless hours assessing better ways of access and more agressive stand locations than we have ever implemented before. I probably overevaluate these things and my dad probably underevaluates them, so we are a good mix. However, one thing we both love about hanging stands is that awesome, anticipatory feeling that THIS may be the very place where you connect with the buck of a lifetime. Anyway, since I’ve been bending his ear about all my new ideas since last January, I think he was a bit more receptive and maybe a little more mentally prepared for the extra work that changing almost every stand location would provide.
So, after a day and a half, we had 7 well-thought-out stands hung in the highest percentage areas we have access to. I had sore feet from hanging off tree ladders all day and Dad had a sore neck from looking 20 feet up into the trees all day long. I think he was getting sick of cutting shooting lanes by the end and the constant “No, not that branch, THAT one, no not that one, to your right, your other right, that’s your left!” So even though I think I actually only got a little P.O.ed one time about shooting lane cutting miscommunication, I gave him the opportunity to sit in the treestand and order me around with the polesaw. Maybe I was trying to give him a break from the work, or maybe I was subconsciously giving him the chance to issue some verbal abuse payback. Either way we had a safe and sucessful trip and made more memories that will stay with us for years to come.
Even in high pressured areas, catching a daylight walker is possible every once in a while. Typically, the time to capitalize is early in the season, specifically the first days of archery season. Early doe seasons and youth hunts in Michigan have decreased the odds of catching a daylight walker at the beginning of season, but, its still possible. In this particular scenario, I had observed a buck utilizing a cornfield edge along the property line of a small piece of property I owned in Michigan. The buck used this edge in the evening and would travel South to North, although the pattern was somewhat inconsistent. The total acreage was just over 9 and the wooded portion totaled about 4 1/2 acres. While there was not a lot of real estate to deal with, what did exist were several edges the deer liked to use in their travels. Since there was no bedding on the property I was forced to hunt transition lines that provided travel corridors between bedding areas.
As the deer moved into and off of the property, they were funneled around an inside field edge. The swamp edge to the north created an additional transition line exaggerating the inside corner pinch point and any deer moving into the property from the west followed the edge of a mature pine grove, (which can be seen on the left side of the aerial), and used the inside corner to enter the corn field in the evening as it was the lowest spot in the field and provided maximum scent benefit due to the falling evening thermal drafts. Because this particular part of Michigan is mostly flat farmland mixed with swampy lowlands, the deer utilize their bedding areas less because of a specific wind direction and more because of the security cover present on the high ground within the swamps. The predominant wind in this part of Southern Michigan came from the Southwest during this the fall of the year and this did allow the deer in the swamp to scent check my whole property before moving into it and scent check the cornfield before coming to feed in the evening. Consequently, I believe this caused much of the deer movement I observed to be North to South and created a difficult hunting situation for me with my limited land availability.
On October 2nd, the wind shifted from several days of SW and came out of the North Northwest. This wind would allow me to stay undetected by the deer bedded in the swamp to the North and the small amount of West in the wind would provide a just-off wind so that a deer traveling out of the South end of my property, into the prevailing wind, would not be able to smell me as it traveled the trail on the inside edge of the woods. I believed there was a chance that the buck I observed in September would use this North wind and feel secure traveling out of the South if he had the wind to his advantage.
After a noneventful evening sit, yielding only one doe sighting, I had foolishly given up hope with 15 minutes of shooting light left. As I stood up to take my bow from the hanger to lower it to the ground, I noticed movement to the South. When I put my binoculars up I noticed a rack coming down the trail toward me. The buck was browsing as he made his way toward me, and in less than five minutes he entered my shooting lane. One well placed arrow later, he expired just 60 yards from my stand. This was the earliest I had ever filled my archery tag, and I was able to do so on a small parcel by catching a daylight walker before the surrounding pressure pushed him to more nocturnal habits. Sometimes hunting funnels and pinch points which relate to bedding and feeding areas can be productive early in the season. A little bit of luck never hurts either.
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