Month: February 2016

You Can’t Eat The Horns

It seems like in the days of social media, discussions between hunters with differing points of view are becoming more and more frequent.  I’m of the camp that believes that we can all have different goals and still stay unified to work towards protecting this way of life we all enjoy.  I try to stay above the fray and usually choose to forego addressing many of the discussion points brought up on social media platforms.

One comment that gets stated often is “You can’t eat the horns.”  It often starts the same way; a hunting page on Facebook posts a picture of a healthy three year old buck with the caption, “”Shoot or Pass?”  Enter: hunter debate.  There are other variations of this that spur on the same reactions and the same comments.  It could be a picture a half rack buck with a deformed or broken side with the same above mentioned caption, or simply a picture of a monster buck with a well-known celebrity hunter sitting behind it.  Soon, a full blown discussion/argument ensues between the “meat hunter” crowd and the “trophy hunters”.

I don’t have an opinion one way or another about the “right” way to hunt deer, or how to select what you choose kill.  We are all at different places in our hunting experience, and so we have different standards and goals.  As long as people are hunting legally, I say “live and let live”.  When I start wishful thinking, the one thing I would like to see discontinue is this aforementioned argument about the ‘palatability’ of antlers.  Arguing that you “can’t eat the horns” is kind of a straw man argument, when you really get down to it, but the bigger issue is that the argument is altogether unnecessary.  Let me explain…

First, let me be clear that justification for taking any legal buck by legal means is unneeded.  If taking a 1 1/2 year old deer makes you happy and fulfills your season goals, by all means, take that deer.  At the same time, there are hunters who choose to pursue an older age class of animal for additional challenge.  With older age comes larger antlers.  Holding out for a deer that you are proud to take should be looked on with no more negativity than shooting the first legal animal you encounter.  “Trophy hunting” shouldn’t have to be a stain on a hunter any more than “meat hunting” should.

I see the interesting part of the argument being that the hunter who sees antlers on a 1 1/2 year old buck and chooses to let that deer pass is the one who is accused of being “antler obsessed”.  Watching that deer’s natural movements and actions and learning from it can make you a better hunter and more appreciative of these animals we love to pursue.  Choosing not to shoot that animal, even though legal, is precisely the opposite of antler obsessed, in my opinion.  Likewise, taking a yearling buck is a trophy and huge accomplishment for many and should be treated as such.

The second implication of the “you can’t eat the horns” argument is that the most important part of hunting is acquiring meat.  While I have never seen a “meat” hunter take a picture of the back end of a deer in order to show off the hams, it still seems that the fall-back justification for shooting the animal is the meat on its bones.  And let me reiterate, the justification is not needed.  If you are satisfied with that animal, enjoy the fruits of your labor and stop justifying your decision.  It should be noted, however, that a 3 1/2 year old buck provides a significantly more amount of meat than a 1 1/2 year old.  Likewise, a mature doe often provides more meat than a yearling buck and in many areas within the whitetails range a herd can sustain the harvest of several does, which can help habitat regeneration and overall herd balance and health.  If the antlers on the deer’s head truly mean nothing, harvesting a doe, or waiting for a larger bodied mature buck serves to fill the freezer more than a yearling buck.

The third important consideration in these conversations is that what someone else chooses to do has relatively little impact on your own hunting goals, regardless of which side you align yourself with.  If you are a “meat” hunter, your neighbor’s passing of yearling bucks leaves more yearling bucks for you to shoot.  Likewise, your neighbor passing on yearling bucks also gives you a chance to kill a more mature buck.  I don’t know any meat who wouldn’t take the opportunity to harvest a mature buck, whether they care about antler size or not.  A trophy hunter’s goals are perhaps slightly more affected by high buck exploitation rates in “brown and down” areas.  Even in these high pressure areas there are usually a few bucks that manage to survive several seasons and produce a trophy class of deer with which most hunters are satisfied with.  At the same time, if you are looking for a Boone and Crockett class of animal and you’re hunting in the highly pressured North East, where a four and a half year old buck is a rarity and other less obvious factors, like soil type, make a 170″ whitetail a near statistical anomaly, you may need to adjust your standards or find another location to hunt, rather than blame it on your neighbor.

I believe many people in the Eastern part of the Whitetail’s range incorrectly believe that their neighbor taking part in the killing of young deer is directly responsible for their own lack of success.  These same people, many times, are failing to hunt their properties with low pressure tactics and driving the same deer their are trying to protect onto their neighbor’s properties.  Still, you’re neighbor harvesting a few immature deer from the local herd is not, in and  of itself, completely detrimental to your management goals.  Furthmore, looking down on that hunter for harvesting a buck you let walk isn’t going to get them into the QDM camp, so passing judgement is only counterproductive to your cause.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a hunter who admits that antlers matter to me.  I pass yearling bucks, however, I do shoot bucks that many hunters would choose to pass.  One thing I won’t be doing is making excuses about the bucks I shoot.  I like eating venison, but the size of a buck’s headgear is also directly proportionate to the pounding I get in my chest.  There was a time when I was content to shooting yearling bucks and happy whenever I was able to do so.  I’ve progressed to wanting other challenges, and in the areas I hunt, a good 2 1/2 year old (or better) is plenty hard to come by and provides more meat than a 1 1/2 year old buck to boot.  I’ve decided to set my own standards, hunt ethically, focus on the method of harvest and eat what I kill (minus the antlers), so I have no need to look down on any hunter who’s goals vary from mine.

-Reuben Dourte


Planning a Micro Food Plot

If you have the ability to do land improvements on the property you hunt, you may be able to give yourself an increased advantage when season rolls around.  Although I’m not a property consultant by any means, we have been planting food plots for over a decade, and going from rocky, abandoned pastures with incredibly wet, acidic soil to small fields of clover, corn and brassicas has taught us a few things, (mostly through failure).  Although weather and soil conditions from year to year may differ in our location so drastically that the success of food plots can be extremely variable, over time we have learned what plantings can sustain the level of browsing the plots will receive and what species are hardy enough to do well in the conditions and parameters we must work within.

The way I see it, there are a couple different kinds of food plots; namely, hunt plots, and destination plots.  You can throw ag fields in there somewhere, too, however, they often serve the same purpose as a destination plot, i.e. keeping deer fed (usually after dark), and in the general area.  Most of what is on our property would be considered a destination plot.  Although a few plots are secluded enough to give deer secure feeding in daylight hours, they aren’t close enough to buck bedding to be productive as hunting locations.  To that point, in all the years that we have hunted this piece of ground, I believe one buck has been killed off a food plot.  The pressure these deer receive and the locale of our current food plots is just not conducive to hunting success.  The purpose they serve for us is keeping doe family groups in our area, making the rut a good time to be in the woods close to those does’ bedding areas.

Because of our lack of huntable food plots, I made plans for some projects this year.  One of those projects is to attempt to create a food plot that is huntable in early season, while bucks are still on a bed-to-feed pattern.  For this reason, this blog is going to be more focused about the location selection of a hunt plot than the actual installation process.  While I’m not a huge fan of hunting over food plots, my plan is to create a secure plot within a bucks transition area between bed and food.  A buck choosing to use this plot will have to travel less than 100 yards from his bed.

To accomplish this, I first needed to determine where deer were bedding in the timber on the south facing slope of the property.  I suspected there to be some doe bedding lower on the hill, closer to the existing destination plot, and hoped to be able to locate some buck beds as well.  I assumed I may find buck bedding higher on the ridge.  A subtle point created an advantageous bedding location and I was able to locate a lone bed along this higher elevation with several decent rubs leading into it along the side hill.  Slightly lower and to the east of this location was a doe bedding area with multiple beds facing in varying directions.  Both of these bedding areas were positioned in a way that the deer could take full advantage of both a North wind coming over the top of the hill and daytime thermal activity bringing scent up from the valley below.

Because of the terrain, the two options for food plots are either at the base of the hill, or on the flat at the top.  In time, ideally, I would like to position a food plot above the buck bed on the top of the hill.  This will require some additional planning, and possibly some heavier equipment than I have available to me at this time.  So, for this summer, my plans are to position a hunt plot between the bedding area and the larger destination food sources located to the South and the West.

The proposed location for a micro hunt-plot that capitalizes on known bedding areas and food sources for early season success.
The proposed location for a micro hunt-plot that capitalizes on known bedding areas and food sources for early season success.

With the proposed location of the new hunt plot, in picture above, I will be able to gain access to the stand location in the evening while staying completely undetected by the deer I am hunting.  It is very important when getting below deer in hill country on evening hunts than you are waiting to get into your stand until the thermals have shifted and begin to drop off the side hill down into the valley below.  When these thermals begin to fall I will be able to come off the road and approach my stand silently and scent free.  Because of the thick vegetation, any deer bedding on the side hill will not be able to see my approach.  One of the most important considerations when planning a stand location is how you will go about getting into it without pressuring the very deer you are attempting to hunt.  Waiting until later in the evening is imperative when hunting a spot like this.

My other main concern when hunting this location is how the deer move through this area.  Typically, the deer bedded on the side hill will drop down after leaving their beds and travel along one of the lower trails in the evening to be able to take advantage of falling thermals.  For this reason, I have chosen a tree on the south side of the plot.  Greedily, I would like to chose a spot on the north side of the plot so as to be able to shoot a few yards into the timber and thus cover an additional trail when hunting with archery gear.  In doing so, I would risk my scent blowing over the plot and any deer looping to the southeast corner of the plot, (to use this lower elevation to their advantage), would smell me without ever giving a shot opportunity.  By selecting the tree marked by the red X, I will have a 35 yard shot to the bottom edge of the woods, and less than a 20 yard shot to either of the other trails.  Because of the potential for the deer to approach from the East, it will be important to hunt this spot on a NNW wind.  To further ensure that no deer walk below my stand location and catch my scent or cross my access trail and ground scent, I plan to pile all of the brush that is cleared from the area to make the plot in a row along the southeast corner of the clearing in a in order to funnel deer up into the food plot from this lower trail.  The falling thermals and the manipulation of the deer travel will enable this spot to be hunted a few more times than other typical stand locations on a food plot.

The last consideration is the shape of the plot.  The shape I’ve laid out here creates a natural funnel for any deer who enter the plot to move through on their way to the destination food source to the West, giving the hunter an easy broadside shot.  Because I don’t expect the deer to spend a lot of time in this plot, but rather move through it on their way to the larger food plot, an evening exit becomes easier.  There is enough of a vegetation buffer between this micro plot and the large plot to the west that a visual barrier will keep deer from seeing a hunter leaving the stand.  This will also help this stand to stay good for a couple more hunts than usual.  Because a vegetation screen is both critical for entrance and exit routes, I expect to only hunt this plot a few times during early archery season.

Monitoring the plot is the last piece of the puzzle.  Because of the small size of the plot, one trail camera is enough to monitor all of it.  Putting the camera on video mode will help me determine the direction of access the deer use to enter the plot.  Correlating camera data with weather history will also give me a good indication of how and when the deer are using the plot in conjunction with the wind and thermals.  Checking the camera will require the same careful entrance and exit as when hunting and I will be careful not to contaminate the plot with human scent during summer monitoring.  Keeping tabs on the deer activity in the plot through the use of a trail camera will let me know when the time is right to move in for the kill.

Even with a game plan in place, staying open minded is key and if the trail camera shows deer entering the mirco plot just after sundown, I will know I need to push into the timber and get a little closer to the beds, within the bucks staging area.  This becomes an additional challenge and a higher risk, higher reward type of hunt.  It is unlikely that more than one or two hunts in this location, per season, will be possible if this becomes necessary.  The stand on the micro plot will be beneficial from an observational standpoint, with the ability to also produce kill.

Hopefully I will have good things to report in 9 months about this new property improvement project.  I would love to hear about your successes or challenges with implementing food plots into your hunting arsenal.  Leave a comment below or email me at

-Reuben Dourte


Buck Rub

Boots on the Ground

If you’re like me you’ve been getting antsy ever since hunting season has ended.  Hopefully you have been satisfying the itch by doing some cyber scouting and maybe, if you’re really motivated, you have already started knocking on some doors to secure shed hunting permission or better yet, bowhunting permission.

Sometimes, due to the logistical problems of schedules, distance and time in general, it is hard to set foot on some of the properties we want to hunt in the fall.  But, in short, right now is the most important time for your whole hunting year.  This is when plans are made and promising areas are located.  Although some experienced hunters can look at a Topo or and Aerial and go into a parcel “blind” and set up at the right spot, I feel it is almost always preferable to put the boots to the ground and verify your hunches during the late winter and early spring when there is no need to fear spooking the buck you are trying to hunt.  Its also a lot easier to get around the woods without all the vegetation of late summer, not to mention the bugs.

One of the most rewarding things in hunting, aside from connecting on a mature whitetail, is getting confirmation that the hunches you developed during your cyber scouting sessions panned out to be true.  This Winter I had a chance to put myself to the test on a fairly sizable piece of public swamp.  I previously wrote about narrowing the property down by eliminating much of from consideration and focusing on high percentage areas.  Not all of my areas of interest wound up containing deer sign, but much of what I believed to be true about the deer movement on the property was confirmed.

Although I didn't get a chance to fully investigate the small island in the swamp due to heavy rains and the water being higher than usual for the time of year, the sign coming off the island via the points and the rubs indicate that a buck is traveling this area regularly. Because no beds were located on the point, it stands to reason the buck is bedding on the small island of trees and coming onto the point to stage amongst the red oaks on the mainland.
Although I didn’t get a chance to fully investigate the small island in the swamp due to heavy rains and the water being higher than usual for the time of year, the deer sign coming off the island via the points and the large rubs all indicate that a buck is traveling this area regularly. Because no beds were located on the point, it stands to reason the buck is bedding on the small island of trees and coming onto the point to stage amongst the red oaks on the mainland.

Although I was a bit unprepared for the depth of the swamp and need to go back with hip waders, I did find some promising sign off of the points of timber protruding into the swamp.  These peninsula points and several pinch points were some of the main places I wanted to investigate, and while I wasn’t able to make it to some of the small islands in the swamp just off of those points, the fact that I found trails entering the swamp in the direction of these points coupled, with several good rubs nearby, leads me to believe I am very much on the right track to locating the buck bedding in this area.

Buck Rub
This buck rub was located just off a point that has a small island of high ground 50 yards beyond it into the swamp. See the aerial photo included in this post for where the rubs are located relative to the suspected buck bed in this area.

 One of the other areas that excited me was a prospective rut funnel on this parcel.  Some large trees that showed up on the aerial made me believe that there was a small portion of high ground running through the swamp for about 50 yards, which served to connect two larger pieces of timber (one with a destination food source beyond it).  When I got to this location it was even better than I suspected.  The woods necked down to only 10 yards wide with deep swamp water on either side of the high ground and the amount of deer travel through this area over the years has created a furrow in the soft ground.

Swamp Funnel
Here is the deer trail running along the narrow strip of high ground which connects two larger pieces of timber.

Additionally, there is another thin funnel connecting a third piece of high ground to the other two and there is a good chance that any bucks cruising for early estrous does will naturally walk this path of least resistance.  A North wind will give the opportunity to set up in close proximity of the convergence of all the trails and this should offer a productive sit with all-day movement once the time is right.

Swamp Funnel
Three pieces of timber connected by two narrow funnels which allow the deer a natural path of least resistance through this area. It will be important to be patient and not burn this spot out until the rut starts to kick off and bucks are cruising later in the morning looking for the first estrous does. Waiting until the latter part of October/beginning of November will also provide more Northern prevailing winds for this area, which typically experiences many SW/SSW winds earlier in the year. Accessing the stand from the south for a morning hunt will allow for an undetected approach from deer feeding in the destination food sources.

Needless to say, I am excited about the potential this area holds for both early season bowhunting and the rut.  While these are spots I would key in on even if I were going in blind and hunting the first time I set foot on the property, putting boots on the ground allowed me to confirm some of my suspicions, select some stand locations and pinpoint where other hunters’ stands where in order to avoid those areas and not waste a hunt come Fall.

Are you finding some promising areas for next year?  I would love to hear about your post season scouting successes in the comments below, or email me at

-Reuben Dourte


PA Whitetail Buck

Hunting Parallel Trails

When I started bowhunting, my methods for scouting were usually to find a well used trail, or intersection of trails, and post up for numerous sits once October rolled around.  Although I wasn’t, at that time, relating any of this sign to bedding, I was still convinced that the only reason I wasn’t killing a mature buck was because of my limited time in the woods.  In reality, its likely that that first time I sat the stand was my highest percentage chance for success.  However, I didn’t understand the concept of “parallel trails” and how bucks are using these trails, when, and why.

Recently I was watching a hunting video that briefly discussed parallel trails and how bucks use them.  Parallel trails are something that most people who hunt in mixed terrain likely have encountered, whether those folks were aware of their significance or not.  Where timber meets agricultural fields, there will usually be a well defined path that parallels the field edge.  Likewise, there will be trails that are perpendicular to the parallel trail, heading from the timber (and bedding) to the food source.

The video suggested that bucks use the parallel trails to scent check a field before entering it in the evening.  They maintained that a buck may walk the length of a field only to enter it with the wind at their back, confusing many hunters who may expect a buck to walk nose to wind or at least quartering into the wind.  In their example, the buck was already able to scent check the entire field via the parallel trail before entering the food source on the upwind side.

Parallel Trail
Here is an example of how some describe deer travel and usage of parallel trails. In this scenario, the buck is walking the edge of the field scent checking for other deer and/or danger by walking quartering into a south west wind. The entry point into the field actually has the deer quartering WITH the wind, but the thought is that the deer has already checked the field prior to reaching this entry point.

Not long after watching the video, I was discussing some hunting properties and tactics with an extremely well versed and experienced hunter who gave a slightly different perspective on these parallel trails which I felt was interesting.  In his opinion, bucks walking nose-to-wind is a bit of a misnomer, so a buck scent checking a field this way isn’t necessarily the way he sees bucks using parallel trails.  He feels strongly that bucks will use these trails to cut the tracks of does entering or leaving destination ag fields to see if there are any does in the area who have entered estrous.  Taking the route of the parallel trail allows them to efficiently check a larger area for potential estrous does by crossing their bed-to-feed trails.  Therefore, his strategy is to take advantage of a parallel trail when the bucks are likely to be cruising and looking for does.

Parallel Trail
Another real life example of a parallel trail put to use on a cruising October buck.  A friend of mine used this stand location to harvest an eight point this year in archery season.  As the aerial shows, the buck was traveling SW with the wind to his back, cutting the doe trails coming out of the CRP field and heading into the bedding cover. However, even if the buck had been traveling North East on this parallel trail, the NNW prevailing wind, along with the warmer thermals rising above the CRP field, which draw the air away from the parallel trail, keep the hunter undetected.

This school of thought that a buck will often travel wind-to-back also maintains that a buck’s entry point into a field has less to do with scent checking the whole length of the downwind side of the field via a parallel trail, and more to do with manipulating terrain features; namely slight depressions and low spots along a field edge where cool air thermals naturally drain the scent of the field into these lower elevations.

Parallel Trail
This example of a parallel trail follows the edge of the field along a wooded side hill. The approximate topo lines placed on the aerial show a subtle point that a buck would use for bedding on a northern wind. Obviously, a buck heading to this field after bedding on this point would walk quartering with the wind and would not have the prevailing wind advantage to scent check the field while moving along the parallel trail. Instead, the subtle depression at the bottom corner of the field acts as a thermal drain and pools scent from the whole field in the ate evening hours when this buck would begin to venture out of security cover.

This doesn’t mean you can post up on a parallel trail with disregard to bedding and expect a cruising buck at any moment, however.  It remains important to know where both buck and doe bedding are so you can plan your access and stand location accordingly, in order to minimize the pressure you put onto a piece of property.  If you know where a buck is bedding on a particular wind, you can then take advantage of the just-off wind and set up on the parallel trail where you are located just out of the scent stream so you can remain undetected while the deer stills feels like they have the scent advantage.  Like I’ve mentioned in the past, this is where milk weed seed can be an invaluable tool to give you a detailed visual map of the wind and thermal currents.  Places where a trail has a slight curve can be excellent spots to take advantage of when hunting a just-off wind.

Whether you are hunting parallel trails hoping for a cruising buck cutting doe tracks, or hoping to intercept a scent-checking buck entering a field in early season, its still important to know where both buck and doe bedding areas are on your property.  I feel strongly that much better success can be had when hunting a parallel trail vs. a field edge stand, and access to and from the stand can prove easier to remain undetected, whether it is leaving the stand in the evening or entering the stand in the morning.  However, I have noticed that other hunters pick up on parallel trails more regularly than they do an individual bed which could hold a mature buck, and therefore, public land hunters may need to consider the realistic probability of success (or lack thereof) along parallel trails in high pressure areas.  If the deer have had a chance to pattern other hunters from the scent they leave after sitting along these trails for 4 weeks before the rut kick-starts, you may still need to push closer to the buck’s bed to capitalize on daytime movement.

Have you found some killer stand locations along parallel trails? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or send me an email at

-Reuben Dourte


We’re Back

Category : DIY Miscellaneous

Its been awhile since my last post.  I’m not sure I can put my finger on what has been occupying so much of my time lately, but between three months of hunting season, holidays, a ever-busy nine month-old son and the increasing demands of work, I can officially say that finding extra time is becoming a rare luxury.

My plans for the 2015 hunting season were to keep up with a weekly hunting journal, chronicling my days afield and detailing the specifics of stand set-ups and approaches.  Let’s just say it didn’t happen.  What did happen, though, was that I got some good footage this fall which I hope to share through a short video of my season which is being edited right now.  I also kept hunting logs with weather and lunar data along with deer sightings and times for a vast majority of the archery season.  Although it won’t be relayed in “semi-real-time” like I had hoped, I plan to reflect back on the hunting season and bring forward a few lessons learned and areas where adjustments will be made in the coming year.  After all, there will always be room for improvement.

As post season scouting gets underway, the promise of a new season should start to get us all excited.  I am looking forward to sharing the deer sign we uncover in new areas during spring scouting and if we are lucky we may have some photos to post of a few promising 2015 survivors.

I expect the coming months to be more content rich than the previous few have been.  The search for next years buck has already started so there is plenty to talk about.

Thanks for checking in to Common Ground Bowhunter, and be sure to visit us on Facebook, YouTube and now on Instagram!

-Reuben Dourte