Monthly Archives: September 2015

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Diving In

A lot of hunting resources suggest that you should wait to hunt your best stands until later in October when the daytime buck movement begins to increase as pre-rut bucks begin to hit scrapes and search for the first estrous does.  I am not necessarily in opposition to that mentality, however, I have recently been asking myself if there is ever an exception to this rule.

Some very successful hunters minimize their morning hunts through the month of October while I have read books writeen by a few where they have had success on opening weekend mornings before hunting pressure puts bucks to bed before the sun rises.  I’ve always felt that I have seen more deer during morning hunts, especially if the daytime highs get above average, however, most of the bucks I have managed to take with Archery gear have been as a result of an evening hunt.  So, to make a long story short, I decided to change an approach this year and hunt mornings rather sparingly through the month of October with an exception being the opening day of New York’s archery season.

As the season opener approaches, I’ve been watching the weather forecast, the moon phase and a variety of other criteria to try to determine if it would be worth making the drive and, if it was, what stand would give me the bestshot at harvesting a deer, preferably a buck.  Do I hunt the fringes of the property and remain conservative, or, if the conditions are optimal do I go all in and dive into one of my best stand locations?  I decided a while ago I would play it by ear and if the conditions didn’t seem to be in my favor I might not make the drive at all, instead opting to hold out for opening day of Pennsylvania and hunt the evening of the opener.

The closer we got to October 1st the better the conditions began to look for the New York property and the poorer they became for the PA opener.  A tropical storm forecasted for opening weekend in Pennsylvania has my hopes low, however a break between a smaller front and the larger storm that falls on New York’s opening day has me excited.  It seems like the stars might be aligning, although I feel like I am jinxing myself by writing this blog.  It could be the perfect conditions to get aggressive on opening day and hunt one of my best stands.  Truthfully, I don’t know if its the right or wrong call, but my gut is telling me that there are too favorable things to pass up te opportunity so I am going to dive-in and I’ll let you know the result after.

Here are the details:

Weather Systems:

Several days of rainfall are forecasted to end with a partially cloudy day on October 1st.  The temperature dropped 10-12 degrees on September 29th and is forecasted to fall another 5 degrees on the 1st.  This is a bit below average for the time of year and should have deer moving.  To add to this, there is another front moving in on October 2nd.  Deer feeding activity is often increase before and after a front, and opening day happened to be just after one front and at the beginning of another.

Barometer:

The barometer is between 30.1 to 30.2 for the opener, which is higher pressure for this time of year, and it will be on the rise, another positive factor.

Wind:

The wind will be out of the NNE on October 1st.  We don’t get too many Northeast winds on this property and this happens to be an optimal wind for one of my best stands.  It can be hunted on any North wind however, a NNE wind does two things, it allows a buck to feel secure moving quartering into the wind while still being unable to detect a hunter on stand before it is too late- a nearly perfect wind scenario.  The windspeed is to be about an optimal 10-15 miles per hour, which is strong enough to provide some consistency from variable and shifting currents.

Moon:

The moon is just past full by a few days, which some people feel triggers more movement due to more optimal rising and setting times, and its overhead time is about 5:00 AM.  This is getting fairly close to being within an hour of first light and according to many theories on the moon and how it correlates to deer movement, an overhead or underfoot moon within an hour or so of peak deer activity times (dawn/dusk) can trigger earlier movement in the evening and later movement in the morning, as well as more of it.  Online solunar calendars can give you overhead, underfoot, rising and setting times for the moon for every day of the year.  The jury is still out for me about the moon’s influence, but I have decided to start paying attention to it more closely this year to determine if it is a legitimate movement predictor for the deer inmy hunting areas.

Here is the stand I believe will give me the most opportunity at a buck either coming back to bed a few minutes later in the morning or leaving his bed earlier in the evening.  If I am unsuccessful I believe I can get in and out of the stand with minimal impact and leave the area alone until later in October, thus avoiding any negative impact on my rut hunting in this area.  Hopefully there will be good things to report from this high risk high reward early season sit.

Buck Bed is indicated by red circle, stand location by red 'X'. Blue arrows show wind direction. White lines indicate deer trails. (Alfalfa, standing corn and clover food plots to the east.

Buck Bed is indicated by red circle, stand location by red ‘X’. Blue arrows show wind direction. White lines indicate deer trails. (Alfalfa, standing corn and clover food plots to the east.

 

-Reuben Dourte


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Can Elite Gear Help You Kill Big Bucks?

Category : Gear , Miscellaneous

Every single pastime, hobby or business venture you pursue comes with varying levels of equipment, from the top of the line professional grade to lower end consumer items.  It doesn’t matter if it is cameras, clothing, software, hardware, internet connection, footwear, and on and on.  You get the picture.  Basically, with anything you do, you have to make a decision as to how deep you are going to dive, and hunting equipment and accessories are no exception.  I have always operated under the mentality that you should purchase the best equipment that you can afford to buy.  I’ve applied this outside of hunting, but to keep it on topic, if you need a mobile stand system and you would like a $400 climber but you can only afford a $200 climber, strapping yourself or your family for cash to spring for an item you can’t afford isn’t worth it.  If I find myself in this bind, I begin comparing the items in my price range and determine my purchase based on the features available within this lower price bracket.  I may be able to sacrifice some durability if it is an item that will get less use.  If it is something that will go with me every time I hunt, I am probably going to either go with the most durable item I can find in my price bracket or I am going to put on the brakes and save for a little while longer to buy a higher end piece of gear.

I have found certain items serve me well without the high end price tag, and other items that I may be able to substitute or modify to achieve the desired results.  When I find a brand that gives me a great price to quality ratio I quickly become loyal.  For example, I have always shot Bowtech bows and they have treated me well over the years.  When I began looking for a new bow last year I came across Bear’s lineup and I was impressed with the features they offered on their flagship bows and the performance I could get out of them in comparison to the high end bows in some of the more expensive brands.  The Agenda 7 I bought offered me the features and performance I wanted, far out performed my old bow, and I was able to get a great deal on a package for literally 50% what the same set-up would have cost me on Bowtech’s top 2014 model.  This isn’t to knock Bowtech; presumably, there may be some features on a Bowtech that I may be missing out on.  Honestly, I’m not enough of a “bow junkie” to tell you if I’m missing out or not.  And frankly, I’m not worried about it, because what I do know is that the Bear Agenda I shoot kills deer, and it does it well.  I know it is quiet, fast, reliable and easy to shoot and that’s what I wanted in a bow.  I was able to fulfill my requirements for selecting a bow while saving $700-$800 dollars and I still have an incredibly efficient, great bow to hunt with.  This is just one example where I feel that price tag is not always indicative of what I actually need or the performance package I am buying.

The other thing I look to do if I either can’t find a piece of gear with the exact functionality I am looking for, or said piece of gear is outside of my price range, is to investigate whether I can modify or fabricate something to serve my purpose and/or achieve some level of efficiency to improve my gear list.  Most online forums have DIY sections where dedicated hunters share their ingenuity and outline the ways they have optimized their gear.  Other mods may be original to you and may help you take a “mid-level” piece of gear and make it more efficient than the most expensive version of that item on the market (at a fraction of the price).  My treestand is a great example of this.  In my search for an ultra-light hang on treestand I came across several models that “tripped my trigger”.  One of these was a Lone-Wolf Assault.  These are some of the most elite hang on stands money can buy.  I was intrigued by the cast Aluminum platform from a noise standpoint and the Assault is rated at just 11 pounds.  My problem is that the assault retails at $249 and I felt it was hard for me to justify this price tag at the time. I found a 12 pound Big Game Bravada online for about $145.  This stand utilized the same silent cam buckle attachment system as the Assault; the biggest difference was that the platform was welded aluminum not cast.  I quieted the platform and other exposed metal on the stand by wrapping it with cloth hockey tape and the stand is incredibly silent and light with this simple $5 modification.  In extreme cold, the silence of a cast platform can’t be beat, but my late season hunts are often limited due to family obligations, so this was a sacrifice I was willing to make to save $100 on the stand price.  The key for me was to have a stand that gave me extreme portability for public land run-and-gun sets, while also being completely silent to hang.  Because I was able to modify the stand, I can pack this in to remote areas that are very close to bedding and set it up without any metal on metal contact.  In so doing I was able to achieve elite gear results without the upper end price tag.

Modifying a good piece of equipment to make it great is one approach.  However I have also been able to add several really efficient items to my gear list because I looked outside of the hunting industry.  My rock climbing harness replaces the bulky, heavy, 5 point harness I used prior and costs less to boot.  I added a lineman’s belt using webbing strap that is rated for thousands of pounds of load and I was able to get 10mm static mountain climbing rope for $.80/foot to make my own prusik hitch linemans rope for approximately $10 when the exact same rope system costs $25-30 retail.  Additionally, I was able to customize the length to better fit all my hunting scenarios and tree sizes.  Likewise, I found over-center cam buckles could give me the silent attachment I was looking for for attaching my camera arm base, instead of using the supplied ratchet buckle that created a loud clicking noise to tighten.  These over center buckles are available at any hardware store and provide a better option for attachment than many of the buckles supplied by your leading camera arm manufacturers.

So does elite gear help you kill mature whitetails?  I would say no, by itself, it doesn’t.  Gear is never a substitute for scouting and hunting the wind.  What elite gear can help you with is in the application of the knowledge you gain from your post season efforts.  Take time prior to season to go over your gear list and determine if there are items that aren’t working for you like you wish they would.  If there is a part of your stand making noise, find a way to address it.  You might be able to modify something and dampen that noise for a few dollars and have an economical stand that gives you elite results.  You may find other areas where you can tweak gear choices, or make your own items, which will keep your costs down in order to save more money for a higher end piece of equipment you feel you can’t find a substitute for (they do exist).  However, there are plenty of ways to optimize your gear to achieve amazing results without forking over the cash for the highest end item in every category.  Once you start becoming creative and truly evaluating your equipment you will amaze yourself at the ideas that come to mind in terms of cost savings approaches to “elit-e-fying” your current system.

Do you have gear items that you feel have no substitute?  Have you found modifications or DIY solutions for other items?  I would love to hear about your system, leave a comment below or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte

 

 

 


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Maximize Your Trail Cameras

The vast majority of hunters these days are running trail cameras for at least part of the year.  Just having a camera out in the woods doesn’t mean you are going to unlock the mystery of buck movement on your property.  As I mentioned in previous blogs, cameras are primarily inventory gathering tools.  When used correctly they can supplement your scouting and observations with additional concrete evidence of the caliber of deer in your area.  But can they be used for more?

Honestly, I think using cameras to pattern deer is an incredibly hard endeavor.  Unless you have a cellular camera, sending pictures remotely to your phone or email, the level of intrusion required to check cameras that are set in places where mature bucks travel in daylight would be so counterproductive it is unlikely that you would leave the area unpressured enough to capitalize on any of the intel the camera provided.  Furthermore, the patterns of deer change so quickly in the fall, your camera data may be out of date by the time you come back to check it.

I sill think there is value in using the data cameras can provide, however your camera photos need coupled with post season scouting in order to provide the most value.  Knowing where the deer are bedding is a key piece of the puzzle that cannot be ignored.  Secondly, you have to realize you are playing the long game.  The data you collect this year is not necessarily going to be able to be used on the bucks you are capturing photos of this hunting season.  The good thing about whitetails is that much of what they do is instinctual and will repeated by the next deer that takes the place of a harvested animal.  Buck bedding areas are located in specific spots because of the certain characteristics of terrain and cover.  When one buck vacates the location, another will often fill it.  We know enough about beds (partially due to trail cameras) to know that different bucks will use the same bed at different times during the year; and archers adhering to bed-style hunting tactics can attest to the fact that worn in beds receive perennial use.  All of that to say that the information you are gathering now doesn’t have to be used this season in order to be valuable.  Realistically, unless you are hunting in the area, your cameras should be left alone all season if they are placed within a bucks core area.

In a previous blog, I spoke about using historical meteorology data to determine what weather conditions aided in making a hunt successful.  Logging wind direction, speed, temperature, and moon data can help show trends in deer movement.  The challenge with this tactic is that it takes a while to see results.  You may be able to log the weather data for a few memorable hunts, but you will be somewhat limited in the number of hunts you have the date and harvest times for.  It may be a few years from now until you have enough data compiled from stand observations to begin to put together any kind of behavior analysis pertaining to the local deer.  Trail camera photos that provide a time and date stamp can help you accelerate your deer log.  Assuming you have kept your cameras up-to-date with the correct date and time, you can use an historical weather data site to look up the weather conditions when a buck passed your camera.

Positioning your camera for maximum data collection is important.  Its somewhat simple to determine direction of travel when a camera is placed over a trail, however, you may place your camera over a scrape.  This is where a video function on your camera is a worthwhile feature as it can show you more about the direction of approach a buck uses when coming into the scrape area or a bait pile (where legal).  Once you have a good read on the general direction the buck is traveling from, you can use the date and time data to look up weather and moon data for that day.  You can also do this with prior years’ photos.  This information, coupled with post season scouting efforts can give you a good indication as to which bed the buck was likely using on what wind condition.  If you notice the buck moving in daylight on specific days and these happen to be “moon days”, (where the moon is overhead within an hour of last light), you may be able to ascertain that this moon position does in fact give you a better chance at intercepting the buck in daylight hours.  If you find no correlation between your data sets, you may be able to dismiss this consideration altogether.

Stealth is always key when setting cameras in a bucks core area.  Good batteries and a camera with a low resting draw (longer battery life) are necessities in order to be able leave the camera for long periods of time.  The toughest part is having self control.  Its tempting to go back into the area to check the camera but, as mentioned, you are just burning out your spots unnecessarily if you do this.  Some people employ extreme trail camera tactics and will place a camera above a buck bed once they have located it.  To do this, a black flash camera with silent operation is imperative.  The camera should be placed well above the bed, angling downward, and needs to be set during post-season scouting.  Make sure you have a large memory card, and preferably lithium batteries for longevity.  The camera should be set for longer intervals between photos so as not to use excess amounts of battery and memory when a buck is bedded in the location all day.  This camera set up should only be checked after season is over.

If you move a trail camera onto the edge of a bucks area, you will be best served to place the camera at least at your head height and use a bracket to angle it down toward the target.  This will help avoid bucks from becoming spooked by the camera and altering their travel route.  If the deer discontinue using a trail or a scrape because of your camera’s presence in the area, your goals will not be accomplished.  For this reason, I have begun to purchase only black flash cameras from brands that I know have silent operation and fabricated several economical home made mounting brackets to angle to cameras downward.  I have had far fewer deer avoid camera traps since I have converted my sets to new micro black flash cameras and positioned them in ways that are less ostentatious.

Once you have collected the picture data from your cameras, it is important to go back and log the information in a spreadsheet format the same way you would do with stand observations.  Using an aerial and topo map in conjunction with this camera data can help you understand a deer’s likely travel route from its bed to the camera location.  Because you will know the direction of the prevailing wind based on historical weather data, you will be able to pin point possible ambush sites along the travel route and be able to better determine how close you need to get to the suspected buck bed.  For example, if a buck is consistently hitting a primary scrape a half hour after dark when the wind is from the North, you may use this information to determine he is using a bed on the South facing slope during these conditions.  Primary scrapes are visited by multiple bucks and can stay active year round.  Even if that particular buck is killed, there is a good chance that another buck will utilize the bed and hit the same scrape with regularity.

Trail cameras are not a golden ticket, and a trail camera alone isn’t going to tell you where to be in order to kill a big buck every time you step into the woods.  But, when we are playing a game of odds and working percentages, trail cameras can revolutionize how you stack the chips in your favor.  Using trail cameras for more than just “antler envy” should be on your list of things to do this fall.  Start to treat your camera as a tool, not a toy, and begin to maximize its potential by partnering it with historical weather data sets.

What are some tactics you have used to help pattern mature whitetails using trail cameras?  Leave a comment or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte


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A Look Back: Accessing Historical Weather Data

If you’re like me, for a large majority of your hunting years you may have overlooked small details that led to your success without you even realizing it.  I guess this is what people refer to as luck, but more than likely you had a good reason to be hunting where you were on that day.  I always have reasons for sitting in the locations I choose, sometimes it doesn’t work out as I plan, and other times when it does, there is almost always a certain element of luck involved.  Likely, there may have been aspects of the hunt that led to my success without my consideration.  Recently I began to ask myself if there is there a way to capitalize on these small details to experience more consistent success?

Logging Deer Sightings

A big reason why deer movement felt random to me for so many years was that I failed to log when the deer were moving and in relation to what weather conditions.  If you have hunted a property for a number of years, having information about dates, times, wind direction, precipitation, temperature and moon phase can begin to tell a story about how and when the deer in the area use terrain features, bedding areas and food sources.  A change in the wind can alter where a mature animal chooses to bed, and this is can make a hot stand go cold quickly.  It can also make a cold stand location with little sign turn into a killing stand as the conditions change.  If you keep detailed records of your hunts, you can find consistencies with deer movement that will help you not only determine stand placement, but also which stand to hunt on any given day.  After all, bowhunting is about location, location, location.

Its Not Too Late

If you haven’t been keeping a detailed log of your deer sightings, its not too late.  Surely you can’t go back and remember each sighting you had for the past several years, the date of the hunt, or where exactly the deer came from.  However, there is a good chance you may remember the dates on which you killed a deer and the approximate time of day; if you save your tags, better yet.  If you are like me, this is especially true for bucks that you have harvested.  I use Weather Underground for reliable historical wind and weather information.  You can check out weather data for your specific area here.  This helps me piece together not only where a deer I’ve killed may have been bedding during a specific wind direction, but also helps to give me insight on what factors came together to help make me successful.  Because I know how the deer approached my stand, I can use wind and weather data in conjunction with aerials or topo maps to further understand how that deer was utilizing the terrain and exactly how these factors came together to help me avoid detection on that day.

The other thing I like to go back and look at is solunar data.  Solunar data provides information about rising and setting times for the moon, as well as moon phase and overhead and underfoot times.  There are many opinions about the moon’s effect on Whitetails that have been popularized by many well-known, hardcore hunters.  Some claim a rising moon in the last hour of light, that is waxing full, get the deer moving early, while others insist a moon that is overhead within an hour of dark (dawn or dusk) will cause deer movement to be a few minutes earlier or later in the afternoon or morning, respectively.  As you can see, all the theories get confusing, and there would be enough for a blog of its own right there.  While my own verdict is still out on the moon’s effect on deer movement, I have chosen to look up and log the solunar data for my hunts to see if I begin to see my own trends over time.  Similar to weather data, looking at historical solunar data can give you a jump-start on formulating your collection of data.  For example, an 8 point I harvested in 2013 was checking a scrape line in daylight around 5:15 PM.  The moon phase was full and the rise time was 6:11 PM for that day.  This would directly correlate with some of the moon theories about rising moons that are waxing full late in the day, however, one data point tells us nothing.  Having this information is important, however, because subsequent harvest data can be assembled and trends can possibly be deciphered.  To find this historical moon data as well as the current moon times, I generate a solunar chart using www.solunarforecast.com.

Logging your encounters in the present, and coordinating that information with data from prior year’s successful hunts can begin to paint a valuable picture of the deer movement in your area.  These things take patience and persistence to develop, but there is no better time to start than now.  You will thank yourself 5 years down the road when you are better able to pattern the deer on your properties.

Leave a comment below or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte

 


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Stay Organized For More Stand Time

Organization leads to success in many areas of life.  Orders, sales, prospects, processing; all of these are best accomplished when one stays organized and focused.  It probably seems like a pretty basic principle that your hunting success can be positively influenced by being organized, but understanding the general premise and putting it to practice are two different things.  Staying focused and organized can’t itself kill a whitetail, but it can increase your time in the stand and help you pick stand locations with maximum potential, given current conditions.

Start Early

The time to start organizing gear and establishing stand locations isn’t a week or two before season.  Optimally, stand locations should be scouted post season and the areas left alone until you come back to hunt.  Too many hunters hit the woods in the month of September in order to find deer sign and hang stands.  Not only does this pressure an area shortly before hunting season, most hunters don’t take into account that early season patterns often change so quickly that stands hung based on deer activity in September may be a couple hundred yards out of place, or more, by the time October rolls around.

Going over your gear just a few weeks before season is also problematic for multiple reasons.  Fine tuning equipment to eliminate noise or replace broken or worn items may take more than a few weeks, especially if needed items must to be ordered or shipped.  Furthermore, washing your clothing in scent eliminating detergent is only the first step you should be taking in the scent control battle.  Washing your clothing the night before your hunt is better than not washing it at all, however, preferably you begin your scent control regimen far enough in advance so you are able to hang your hunting garments outside to further reduce odors.  Scent control is no substitute for hunting the wind, but slight advantages can be helpful when chasing mature whitetails.  Having your gear optimized and your clothing ready to go well in advance to opening day allows you to spend time focusing on other important aspects of your hunt.

Have a System

Not only should you be starting to get your gear organized well in advance of season, you should have a system in place so that you can find exactly what you’re looking for quickly.  I use plastic totes to keep my equipment orderly and separated.  One tote holds my boots, the other holds my outer layers and a third contains my insulation layers.  I try to layer my clothing so that I can avoid sweating, but if I do, those insulation layers are put through the wash before going back in the bin with the other clothing.  I also have an additional bin for accessory items like my rangefinder, binoculars, bow ropes, bow hooks, etc., so I can grab the items quickly before a hunt.  I also have a system of what-goes-where in my vehicle.  This does two things.  First, it saves me time in packing because everything has its place, and secondly, it is easy to see if you are forgetting something.

Filming your hunts adds a lot of equipment to your gear list, and keeping these additional items organized is just as important as your other hunting gear.  If you don’t, filming becomes prohibitive to your hunting success.  Optimizing your filming gear to be both as compact and silent as possible is important for a self-filmer, otherwise, your stealth and mobility will be greatly decreased by your attempt to capture your hunt.  Keep your filming gear to an amount that can be placed in a pack, and determine specific locations for each items in that pack so once on stand you can pull out the things that you need, in order, even in the dark.  This goes for all gear accessories, not just filming equipment.  (As a side note, if you go down the road of filming, you need to have an organizational system to file and categorize your video clips.  I chose to use dated folders on an external hard drive, then relabel file names with a short description of what the files contain for easy sorting during editing.  Without a similar system, video editing will cut into valuable scouting hours in the off season.)

Keep a Hunt Journal-

Keeping track of deer sightings and times, stand location, wind direction, temperature, and moon phase.  These observations can help you to pinpoint the location you need to hunt on a specific day without lengthy deliberation.  Spending valuable time right before a hunt trying to select a stand location can be another costly delay.  Keeping historical records organized can help you to determine what the highest percentage stands are based on the current weather or time of year.  You can use this data even when going in blind and selecting a stand location from aerial photos or topo maps.  For example, if your data shows the deer in an area using the 1/3  off-top elevation line of a north slope during a southern wind, but Northern winds on the same slope have yielded low deer sightings, you can eliminate this North face from consideration if the wind is out of the North on your hunt day.  You may select a stand that will yield better results on the South facing slope given this wind direction, even if it is a location you have not hunted or scouted.  The more information you have from prior hunts, the more quickly you will be able to pinpoint where the deer movement will be for that day and the less hunting time you will sacrifice to your indecision.

The Trade Off-  

Spending a few hours to organize your gear in order to save a few minutes on the other end may seem like a bad trade off.  But for those of us who have to work in order to be able to hunt, precious minutes may mean the difference of getting to the stand before prime time, or being 15 minutes too late.  We’ve all scrambled for gear while the seconds ticked by, fretting that we are going to forget something.  Having a system of where to keep things cuts down on packing time and allows for more stand time, at the right times, while diminishing your chances of forgetting a key piece of equipment.  Because of lack of preparation, lack of organization and for lack of a system, I’ve made boneheaded moves like forgetting to attach my quiver to my bow before heading out in the morning.  Since I’ve developed a system and taken preparation and planning more seriously I have been able to make better hunting decisions, fine tune my gear choices and become a stealthier and more tactical hunter.  At the same time, I have increased my time on stand by a valuable 30 minutes here and there as a trade-off for a couple hours of prep work far in advance of season.

What is your method for staying organized during hunting season?  Share your strategies below or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte

 


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Antler Potential and the Top 10%

If most people are honest, they wouldn’t be able to imagine the feeling of passing a 140″ buck.  I’ll be the first to admit, I can hardly imagine passing a 120″ buck.  Is this because I have no self control?  Not at all.  It just so happens that the states, regions and individual properties I hunt don’t hold many 120’s, and a 140 is something I have yet to see on many of them.  In most cases, hunters pursuing whitetails in states like Pennsylvania or New York are are going to be eating tag soup if they are unwilling to pull the trigger on a buck that goes north of 100 inches.

The Science of Antler Potential

Are these “limited” opportunities because of genetics?  More than likely that is part of the equation along with other factors like soil nutrition, food availability, herd ratios and population density, etc. But more importantly, bucks in Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York etc. don’t reach the age to have a chance to come close to maximizing their antler potential.  According to the QDMA, a two year old buck has, on average, expressed 60% of its antler potential; a three year old 80%.  What does this mean for a two year old that scores 105″?  Well, to put it in perspective, assuming that same buck would follow the average antler growth curve, he would max-out (in terms of antler potential) at a whopping 175″.  This means that that healthy two year old has Booner potential!  Unfortunately, expecting him to reach 6 years old on the high pressured lands of the eastern United States is probably unrealistic.  But, even just another year can result in a huge jump.  In the case of our two year old 105″ buck, on average he would experience a jump of somewhere around 30-35″, pushing him into the 140″ range as a middle aged buck.  A 140 three year old is an amazing deer in any part of the country.

A two year old eight point scoring in the 90-95" range. This is the high side of average for this area.

A two year old eight point scoring in the 90-95″ range. This is the high side of average for this area.

The same buck as a three year old. He has blossomed into a 120 class eight point; a 25-30" jump in one year!

The same buck as a three year old. He has blossomed into a 120 class eight point; a 25-30″ jump in one year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the formula based on QDMA’s graph:

Estimated antler score / age coefficient = max antler potential

i.e. 105 / .6 = 175

Age Coefficients:

1.5 – .3

2.5 – .6

3.5 – .8

4.5 – .9

5.5 – .97

6.5 – 1.0

So, now that its clear how to judge the potential of a promising young buck at six years of age (full maturity), how can we apply that to the same buck’s probable antler growth at three or four years?

Here’s The Formula:

Maximum Antler Potential X Age coefficient = Average Expected Antler Growth

Here’s the formula again, using our 105″ two year old as an example:

  1. First Figure Maximum Antler Potential

105 / .6 = 175 average maximum antler potential

2. Multiply Maximum Antler Potential by age coefficient

i.e.

175 x .8 = 140 as a 3.5 year old

175 x .9 = 158 as a 4.5 year old

175 x .97 = 169 as a 5.5 year old

175 x 1.0 = 175 as a 6.5 year old

Making Decisions Based On Statistics

What, if anything, can these numbers tell us?  First, hunters can use these average growth statistics to help give a number to the real potential of a buck they have sightings or trail camera photos of.  These estimates can help to justify the decision to pass on a young buck, especially one that shows better than average potential given its current age.  Additionally, it is easy to see how the cost/benefit analysis of passing on a buck decreases as it reaches more maturity.  If you have the luxury of controlling 1000 acres or more, you may be able to hold bucks on your property and establish a buck age structure with 10-15% or more of the bucks being four years or older and have a nice sampling of three year olds to boot.  This isn’t the reality for the majority of us and most of us will never be blessed to shed hunt a property like that, much less bow hunt it.  Hunters who chase whitetails on public ground or small heavily pressured private ground must consider more than maximum antler potential when deciding whether or not to harvest a buck.

The potential for a buck to jump 25-35 inches between its 2nd and 3rd year may be a significant enough reason for some hunters to let that 2 year old walk.  Other hunters may be happy with a 100″ buck, or it would be their biggest buck ever.  In either of those scenarios the decision to kill or pass that buck is certainly nothing that needs to be defended.  A hunter who passes on a 140″ three year old on pressured ground, and that deer is the biggest and oldest buck in the woods, may, or may not be, making as wise of a choice.  The hunter must consider that the deer will likely only add 15 inches or so till another year.  That hunter must ask himself what the chance of that buck getting through the season given the surrounding hunting pressure and if the chance of adding 15 inches of headgear is important enough to risk never seeing the deer again.

A two year old eight point that showed great potential. This buck pushed the 100" mark as a two year old. Well above average for the area.

A two year old eight point that showed great potential. This buck pushed the 100″ mark as a two year old. Well above average for the area.

The same buck as a three year old. He has added 25" of antler in one growing season and grosses around the 125' mark.

The same buck as a three year old. He has added 25″ of antler in one growing season and grosses around the 125′ mark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Goals 

Any harvest decision must also be weighed against your goals as a hunter.  If you want to shoot a 150″ buck, shooting a promising three year old 140″ buck is counterproductive.  If you are an age-hunter and you want to harvest a deer that is four years old or better, shooting the three year old will cause you to fall short of your hunting aspirations every time.  However, passing on a deer that is in the top 5 or 10% of deer in the area may mean you are passing up the best opportunity you may get that entire season.  Now, if there is a four year old buck on your property, and you have set a personal goal to harvest that buck, doing so makes the decision to let the three year old walk an easy one.  If, as aforementioned, the three year old is the oldest buck you have inventoried on the property, hunting the property for anything more than doe management while deciding to give the oldest and largest buck a pass is a profound waste of time (and presumably money).  Your time is better spent finding and hunting another parcel that holds a deer of the caliber you would like to shoot.  Harvest decisions always come down to personal choices, goals and management objectives for each individual hunter.

Huntability

A final aspect of passing immature bucks on pressured land that needs consideration is that a three or four year old buck in these areas is an incredibly hard animal to hunt.  Even if you are fortunate and the deer makes it through a long and liberal firearm season, that buck usually becomes more reclusive and harder to hunt than it was as a two year old.  Archers who have hunted in pressured states like Michigan can attest to the fact that a two year old buck in high hunter density states acts as educated as some four or five year old bucks in lower pressure states.  How huntable will that three year old be at four years of age?  There is perhaps no hard and fast answer, but when passing the deer, its best to assume he isn’t going to get dumber next year and you are going to have to invest a lot of scouting time and hard work in the off season to put yourself in position to kill him the following Fall.

A two year old eight point which may score around the 90" mark once antler growth is completed. He is one of the largest bucks frequenting the property at this time and is certainly in the top 10%. Harvest decisions need to be based off personal criteria, objectives and management goals.

A two year old eight point which may score around the 90″ mark once antler growth is completed. He is one of the largest bucks frequenting the property at this time and is certainly in the top 10%. Harvest decisions need to be based off personal criteria, objectives and management goals.

 

There is no right or wrong answer when determining if you should shoot or pass.  If the buck is legal to take, each hunter must make that decision.  For me, I choose to look at the bucks I have to hunt in the areas I hunt and make a decision to kill a buck that I feel is representative of the top 10% of the bucks on that property.  This year in New York, that looks like it could be a 90-95″ two and half year old.  While this wouldn’t be my biggest buck, and I would be happy if he made it to three years of age, I love hunting that parcel and I so I choose to pursue the biggest buck I know is frequenting the property in any given year. Shooting a two year old with archery equipment in this area is also a formidable challenge.  Additionally, during the rut, sitting over funnels and pinch points always provides the opportunity for a bonus buck you didn’t know about to cruise through from a neighboring parcel.  Its worth noting that some of my Pennsylvania properties show promise this year, with several three year old bucks present this Summer and I will split my time between the two states. But, wherever I go, my goal will be the 90th percentile.

Here’s a link to QDMA’s article on the antler growth curve:

Will He Be a Good One Next Year by Lindsay Thomas Jr.

What are your goals as a hunter and what factors go into your harvest decisions?  Leave your comment below or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte

 


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Making Sense of Swamp Ground

There is something about water that hunters hate and whitetails love.  Whitetails very well might love it because hunters hate it.  I have to admit, I’m none too fond of walking through black muck and quick sand.  In Pennsylvania and New York there is fewer places of vast swampland than places like Southern Michigan and Wisconsin.  Cattail swamps are commonplace in those locations, and understanding how to scout them can save you a lot of time.  One of the absolute best resources on this topic is Dan Infalt. Dan operates the website www.huntingbeast.com, a site dedicated to hunting highly pressured public marshes and hill country parcels.  I highly reccommend checking out the information and wealth of knowledge Dan has to offer.   The tactics popularized via the Hunting Beast forum and several videos on the subject, which Dan was an integral part of producing, can be put to use in any environment where these types of terrain exist.  Deer use the same specific types of terrain even in different geographical locations because all deer are concerned about the same two things, survival and propagation, and the terrain features they take advantage of help them with both.

Using aerial photos you can begin to narrow down the locations which have a high probability of being used for bedding, and finding a bucks bedroom is the first step.  This can help you to save time and energy in that you can begin to eliminate a fair portion of the marsh from your areas of focus.

Here’s how:

This aerial shows a piece of marshland which looks promising due to many terrain features that should provide secure bedding and its close proximity to agricultural food sources.

This aerial shows a piece of marshland which looks promising due to many terrain features that should provide secure bedding and its close proximity to agricultural food sources.

 

In the attached aerial, you will see the transition line between the marsh and the timber which is outlined in green.  The more mature timber indicates dryer ground and points of high ground jutting into the marsh are excellent places to hone in on when looking for buck beds.  Possible buck bedding areas are indicated on the aerial photograph by red dots.  While you are looking at transition lines along the marsh and the mainland, don’t forget to look for islands of high ground within the marsh.  These island can be a large piece of timber which may hold multiple beds, or it could be a lone tree on a small spot of dry ground within the marsh that one lone buck bed is located under. (This area has a few examples of both.)  Either way, all of these locations should be investigated.

The other thing you will want to zero in on when looking at the aerial photograph is pinch points and funnels created by changes in the terrain or vegetation.  Subtle transition lines (marked in yellow on the photograph) can serve to funnel deer along or around terrain features.  These can be good stand locations for the rut.  A place where the swamp encroaches on the corner of an ag field can serve to pinch deer travel down to an area just 20 or 30 yards wide, easily covered by an archer in a well placed treestand during the rut.  If these inside corners are off more secluded and remote fields, so much the better.

As you walk the transition line of the marsh and the timber, be aware of buck sign such as rubs and scrapes and large tracks entering or leaving the swamp.  These can be indications that you are getting close to a bucks bedroom.  In the off season, with snow on the ground, it is very easy to map the deer’s travel routes through the cattails and if you track a buck back to his bed, you will want to take the time to kneel in the bed and look around to determine what that buck can see, hear and smell.  You will want to choose a tree that you will be able to get a stand in without being detected by a deer bedded at that location.  This is where a GPS can come in handy as you can simply mark a “waypoint” and follow your path back to that location in the Fall.

You will also want to take note of the wind directions you can hunt this buck on.  Determining the bucks entry and exit to the bedding location is important so you can manipulate an off wind to be able to get a shot at the animal before he enters your scent stream.  A bedded buck may only move 50-100 yards in daylight, and so you need to be close to his bedding location in order to provide yourself with a chance to harvest that animal.  To do this, paying close attention to details such as wind direction, how the swamp will hold heat and affect thermal activity throughout the day, or even modifying your gear to be as silent as possible is an absolute necessity.  Likewise, determining your access route to your stand location is important.  You may need to invest in a pair of hip boots, or in some extreme cases a kayak or canoe in order to access a piece of property from an alternative route to avoid walking through bedding areas and pushing deer deeper into the marsh.

Hunting marsh country is something that intimidated me for quite sometime.  The vastness of a cattail marsh can feel overwhelming but if you begin to zero in on transition lines, points, islands and funnels you can “shrink” a large piece of marshland considerably.  There is a reason why deer grow old in the marsh, and there is a reason why swamp bucks are legendary creatures.

Have you had success in marsh country?  I would love to hear about the tactics you employ for scouting, locating and killing marsh bucks in your area, leave a comment below or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte

 


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Corn Funnels

Last week I was walking a piece of property we recently obtained access to archery hunt.  The property is comprised of mostly open pastures and fields with a few narrow draws and thick fence rows that provide some cover for traveling deer.  There are a few bedding areas on the property although the majority of bedding occurs on neighboring parcels.  The crops tend to rotate from year to year.  Last year, much of the ground was planted in soybeans which were harvested at the beginning of archery season.  Since there was only one field of standing corn in the near vicinity, the deer literally flocked to this location.  It was easy to predict deer movement because the destination food sources were few.  Not having access to this property last year limited our chances at the deer utilizing the corn field until it was harvested and the deer moved to the Rye fields on the property we could access.

This year, much more of what I’ll refer to as the “new” property, is planted in corn.  The deer movement is not as concentrated in one area this year, but it quickly became apparent that the additional acreage of standing corn was, for the time being, providing both secure travel corridors and bedding cover for the local deer.  So how is it that a hunter can zero in on early season patterns while the deer are still in the standing corn?

First and foremost, funnels within the corn fields are, in fact, present.  Secondly, by using aerials you may be able to zero in on locations within corn fields where contour rows have historically come together and the planter does not drop seed.  These areas often become grassy patches within the corn fields and can be spots that hold bedded bucks in the late summer and early fall months.  Just like deer will often utilize a path of least resistance when walking through thick cover, they will often use field breaks and contour lines as ways to traverse a corn field with more ease.  These areas are no different than terrain features within a section of timber that manipulate deer movement through a specific location.

Here are a few examples of the funnels I located in relation to the standing corn on the new property:

  1. Field Edges-  This is an obvious one, and at first glance capitalizing on field edges seems to go against pressured ground tactics.  However, the edge of a piece of timber and a standing corn field creates an edge funnel which deer will utilize.  During the first few days of the season, it is not impossible to catch a buck using this edge in daylight because of the security the corn field provides.  I was able to arrow one of my best bow bucks a few years ago by situating a stand along a funnel created by a standing corn field and a timberline on the edge of a swamp.  In the aerial photo included in this article, the corn field butts up to an old pasture and the fence row is impenetrably thick and provides complete concealment to any deer moving between it and the standing corn.  There was plenty of evidence of deer movement along this edge, including some large tracks at a low spot in the fence the deer were utilizing as a crossing.
    This aerial photo shows the how the deer utilized the secure travel corridors created by the standing corn field. These corridors connected several pieces of small woodlots that are utilized as bedding areas.

    This aerial photo shows how the deer utilized the secure travel corridors created by the standing corn field, both along the edge of the field and through the center by way of a field break. These corridors connected several pieces of small woodlots that are utilized as bedding areas.

     

  2. Field Breaks- In this particular situation, the aforementioned field edge joined with a natural break in the corn field.  These breaks can be created by property lines, or different varieties of corn, or because  half of the field was planted earlier than the other half.  In midwestern states, the paths that the irrigation tracks make cause this same effect.  Likewise, farmers often have a narrow drives through the field accessing the irrigation pivot.  Whatever the reason, this corridor usually proves to be a bit wider than the rows of corn and provides easier travel for the deer.  If the corridor connects two pieces of cover, you can almost bet on there being consistent travel while the corn is standing.  Because these areas get more sunlight to the ground, more grasses and forbs grow here, providing additional food source variety and bedding for the deer.
  3. Contour Breaks- In hill country, most farmers will use contour planting methods to minimize run off and erosion.  Corn rows planted across the face of the hill will keep soil in tact while rows running down the hill will allow washouts during heavy rainfall.  Often you will find that a steep section of hillside may have contoured rows going across it and part way down the hillside may become more gradual, letting the farmer plant rows following the hill, which allow for longer passes and more efficient harvesting.  Where the contour rows meet the long rows, there is often a break, similar to a field break, where the planter may skip as the farmer avoids double planting.  While this is less common with precision agriculture and GPS enabled planters, it can and does still occur.  These contour breaks provide perfect travel for deer to move along the side of the hill through the standing corn.  On the property I was scouting, this contour break led to a lone tree that was positioned on a high island knob in the middle of the corn field.  The area around the tree was grassy, the tree and the brush surrounding it provided excellent shade and cover and the knob allowed bedded deer to survey the surrounding area below them for approaching danger.  There were several large beds around this tree and I suspect that it is utilized by doe family groups, making the funnel into this location a good spot to sit over in late October, provided the corn is still standing at that time.

    This aerial displays the deer movement in conjunction with a contour break in the corn field. In this situation, the deer used this contour break to access a bedding area around a lone tree in the middle of the field. Because of elevation advantages they are able to use vision as well as scent and sound to detect approaching danger from this bedding location.

    This aerial displays deer movement in conjunction with a contour break in the corn field. In this situation, the deer used this contour break to access a bedding area around a lone tree in the middle of the field. Because of elevation advantages they are able to use vision as well as scent and sound to detect approaching danger from this bedding location.

The patterns you witness when the corn is standing will inevitably change when the crops are harvested.  However, zeroing in on these funnels within a large ag field is a good way to capitalize on early season movement.  Have you been able to pinpoint and capitalize on the funnels that are created by standing corn fields?  I would love to hear about you experiences, leave a comment below or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte