Monthly Archives: July 2016

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That Hunt Club Next Door

My initial reaction was “No.  No, no, no.”  This couldn’t be happening.  The posted signs read “Hunting Club”.  The neighboring parcel had new orange, plastic signs and the news didn’t seem good.  There was already enough hunting pressure in the valley during gun season, did this mean even more tags were coming into the neighborhood?  In an area where is it not uncommon to experience between 80-90% buck exploitation, its easy to get discouraged with the prospect of more hunting pressure.  The knee jerk reaction is to freak out and start developing a grand plan to hunt harder than ever, invest in twice as many trail cameras for property surveillance and become more secretive than a CIA Black Site about your own hunting tactics, movements and successes.  Still, while a hunting club moving into the neighborhood might change the dynamics of the area, and a few more bucks might fall to the neighboring pressure, the outlook for the future isn’t all bad, and here’s why.

  1. New Opportunities-  When land changes hands, or a more formalized hunting organization is formed, it is a great opportunity to share your management goals with the new occupants.  New lessees or property owners probably have high hopes for the land they are investing time, energy and money into.  Chances are they are looking for a better opportunity than what they came from and may be the most receptive to the idea or the potential for managing the deer herd during that first year.  First impressions are invaluable and a simple conversation might be all that is required to get the new occupants to jump on board with some management initiatives.  Likewise, you may be able to forge acquaintances that allow you to keep track of harvest records and tally which bucks are taken and how many does are killed each year, giving you better insight into the condition of the overall herd in your area.
  2. New hunters don’t know the deer or the area- You have an advantage over the new guy in that you know the deer you are hunting and how they move through the area.  If you are doing your homework in the off season, you should have a pretty good handle on where they bed, feed and travel, or even which bucks survived the previous season.  Likewise, you should be working towards hunting them with a level of stealth that avoids unnecessary pressure, i.e. staying out of sensitive areas until the time is right, or, redefining your access to areas to avoid unwanted deer encounters on the way to stand sites.  Oftentimes, leases are reserved in the Spring, at the same exact time serious hunters should be in the woods scouting the land.  Many new land owners, or lessees wait until right before the season to scout and learn a property, and even then, it usually takes a few years to get a firm grip on how the deer utilize a parcel.  Having your scouting done, and stands hung, well prior to the season is to your benefit as you can leave your property unpressured leading up to the season.
  3.  Noisy neighbors equal even pressure- I’ve often caught myself in a bit of cognitive dissonance in that I see noisy neighbors as both a threat to keeping pressure off the deer herd and also assume that when a mature buck disappears it is because those same noisy neighbors shot him.  Somehow, I find myself assuming that the wary deer I struggle to kill each year are being harvested with ease by the same folks who are spending far less time deciphering their movements and placing significantly less value on stealthy access to their stand locations.  The reality of it is that the neighbors who take to the woods a day or two before season to check or hang stands are usually not the ones killing mature deer on a consistent basis.  They may luck into one here and there but a few bucks falling on the other side of the property line isn’t typically enough to make a significant impact on your hunting goals.  Often, the level of human activity surrounding hunting clubs ramps up immediately before gun season.  In these situations, a deer herd which is sensitive to the slightest changes in human pressure can easily be pushed off of the neighboring parcel and onto your piece.  If you have provided adequate cover, food and water, you may be able to hold bucks on your land during these times when the pressure from the hunting club is unusually high.  These are the times when your carefully planned access routes to and from your stands and using the wind, thermals and terrain to hide your movements and stay undetected, are especially key.  On opening day of gun season, it is imperative that we are in our stand locations 1-2 hours before daylight in our area.  When the neighboring hunters enter the timber 15-20 minutes before sun-up they are pushing the deer right through the travel corridors on our property which adjoin secure areas of adequate cover.                                                                                                                                                                           As much as pressure around opening day of gun season can push deer onto your property, pressure throughout archery season can cause the same effect.  If you are the only hunter in the neighborhood entering the woods for the first 45 days of season, it is likely that there is more human scent in your piece of timber than the neighbor’s.  Regardless of how careful you hunt, you are going to be burning some bridges when you dive into your better spots on those days that the conditions are just right.  While this might be the best move to put you in place to arrow your target buck, you have just laid ground scent on the way to your stand and any deer traveling by your stand location is likely to know a human was present; even for days after your hunt is over.  If your neighbors aren’t archery hunters, you may benefit from a deer herd that has little awareness of being hunted, while also disproportionately impacting your parcel in comparison with the pressure the deer are receiving next door.  The same way pressure pushes deer onto your land prior to gun season, it can push deer off your land if you over hunt and/or don’t plan carefully enough during archery season.  If the neighbors are in the timber during archery season, driving four wheelers, or accessing the same stand locations over and over on the wrong wind directions, the same deer you have found so difficult to kill will easily adapt to the habits of the neighboring hunting club.  This early season pressure can make your best spots heat up more quickly and your parcel can stay hot all season long if you continue to hunt smart and choose your hunting times and plan of attack wisely.
  4. Brown-Its-Down leaves older bucks for you- You’re wondering how the brown-its-down neighbor is a benefit, right?  Well, this one needs a little qualification in that if the hunting club next door is taking 10 yearling bucks off 100 acres, it might not be a benefit.  Indeed, high buck exploitation is a liability to management efforts.  But, consider the neighboring lease that holds three or four hunters on 100 acres and 75% of them fill their tag with the first yearling buck they see.  That 4 year old ten point you had pictures of all Fall is still out there for you to kill and most of the neighbors just burnt their tag on lesser deer.  Sure, the basket 6 pointer getting through the gun season might mean more good 2.5 and older deer in the area, but in much of North America, the harvest of a few young bucks isn’t going to be the end of your Quality Deer Management efforts.  I, for one, don’t mind if the neighbor wants to burn his tag on a tasty yearling and leave the older age classes for the rest of us.

The hunting club next door isn’t all bad news.  There may be a silver lining.  Just as you might catch yourself thinking all the bucks are being killed on the neighboring parcel, its likely that they are thinking the same thing about you.  As hunters we often fall into the false sense of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence, when in reality your grass can be plenty green if you play your cards right and hunt smarter than the other guy.

Had any experience with neighboring hunting clubs or property ownership transitions?  Send your thoughts to commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte

 

 


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Six Point Buck

When You Need to Hunt the Neighbor’s Deer

Ok, it sounds pretty bad at first, but sometimes you need to hunt your neighbor’s deer.  I’m not talking about trespassing, but I am talking about getting as close as possible to known or suspected bedding areas on neighboring parcels which you may not have permission to hunt.

If your lucky enough to have a neighbor who will let you shed hunt his or her property, you can use this as a valuable reconnaissance mission to determine how the local Whitetails are utilizing the food and cover on adjacent properties.  In other situations, like in hill country, you may be able to observe deer bedded across a valley or ravine from an elevated vantage point when there is snow on the ground and the foliage has dropped.  Other times, you may be able to (or have to) justify drawing a reasonable conclusion about bedding habits based on a topo map, known travel patterns, food sources and trail camera pictures without ever ground-truthing a neighboring property.

I’ve written before about the ethics of hunting property lines, so I won’t get into that now, but I will take the time to say that I’m not a big proponent of it if it can be avoided.  However, some circumstances force your hand and the only way to take advantage of a prime location is to sit on or near the line.   In these situations I think it is advisable to face your stand into the parcel you have permission to hunt, especially if you plan to hang a stand and leave it for the season.

In some situations, bedding may occur on the neighbor’s property while your parcel consists of a travel corridor, or even staging area, on the way to food.  You may have other options, such as using a chain saw to create bedding opportunities on your own parcel, but still, terrain and vegetation can limit you.  This was the situation I found myself in last fall.

Several features come together at this stand location (blue X) to funnel deer onto the huntable property.  (White lines indicated terrain change.)

Several features come together at this stand location (blue X) to funnel deer onto the huntable property. (White lines indicated terrain change.)

In my situation, the deer were bedding to the South of the property line in a overgrown wild apple orchard.  The food sources they utilized during the night were on our property, but finding a stand location that could take advantage of several features that funneled the deer while still being close enough to the bedding to capitalize on daylight movement proved difficult.  It seemed like the deer were managing to get around me and passing my prior stand locations via different travel routes than those I expected them to take, so I used the post season to determine how they were accessing the food sources on the other side of the CRP to the North.

I knew the deer were bedding along the top edge of the apple thicket along the transition with the hardwood timber, further up the hill to the South.  I was able to observe them on numerous occasions from across the valley during late season when there was less vegetation and snow covered the hillside.  As I walked Westward along the property line through a dense, near impenetrable mess of briers, I finally came to a place were the steep incline below the bench that contained the old barbed wire boundary fence tapered more gradually, allowing for an easier access to the flat of the creek bottom.  At this very location the three strand fence was broken down, allowing for an uninhibited crossing onto our parcel.  To the West of this break in the fence, the creek had caused further erosion into the hillside and created an even more dramatic incline that funneled the deer along its edge as to avoid going down over the steepest part of the creek bank.  If pressured, a Whitetail could easily navigate this terrain, but left to move at their own pace, it was obvious they preferred to cross into the creek bottom at the fence gap where the terrain was less aggressive.  Sitting on the property line was a mature maple with numerous low hanging branches which will provide adequate cover even when it loses its leaves early in the fall.  I angled my stand away from the property line and cut a shooting lane to the west of my access trail in order to be able to shoot a deer before it crosses my ground scent.

I’m aware that some people may forego this stand because the access involves crossing a known deer trail, but I believe I can capitalize on this stand location early in the year and then utilize it as a rut funnel stand later in the season.  Since there are so many terrain elements that come together to funnel deer past this location, and it is located adjacent to bedding, not hunting this location would, in my opinion, be a missed opportunity.  Because of the elevation change between the creek bottom and the bench (which contains the stand tree), I can easily access this location without any bedded deer observing my approach.  Likewise, the North facing slope will cool  faster in the evenings and the thermals will begin to fall and carry scent down the hill earlier in the evening, allowing for a more adequate amount of time to get into position and quiet without the risk of rising thermals carrying scent up the hill to bedded deer.  Falling thermals in combination with a WSW wind will wisk scent away from the direction of deer travel.

It should also be noted that deer certainly have the option of continuing to move East along the South side of the property line, and some do.  However, the perennial scrape that is located under an apple tree along the CRP field to the North is an added incentive to draw them into the creek bottom and through the shooting lane on the huntable parcel.  Buck activity at this scrape has historically increased during the last week of October, making this stand a great choice for a pre-rut hunt during an October cold front.

Just because bedding happens to be located on the neighbor’s property, doesn’t necessarily mean that the deer that utilize it are unhuntable.  Determining how and where the deer are entering the property you hunt is the first step in intercepting them on the way to their evening food source.  The next task is determining how you can manipulate the wind, thermals and terrain to your advantage.  If the deer you are hunting are bedding within 100 yards of the property line and have a clearly defined direction of travel, high value sits can still be obtained on the farthest outskirts of your parcel boundaries.

-Reuben Dourte


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Whitetail Buck

Pushing the Limits

When setting up a treestand on the edge of a bedding area, how close is too close?  Simply put, if the deer can hear, see or smell you, your stand is either too close or in the wrong location. There are plenty of additional considerations to be made, however. These include but are not necessarily limited to, time of year, your access route, and the area that you hunt.  For example, if you find yourself fortunate to hunt an unpressured deer herd in a low pressure state, you may be able to hunt field edges for much of the early season and expect to see a buck feeding during hunting hours.  In this scenario, there may be little need to push into thicker bedding cover to catch a mere 100 yards of buck movement at last light.  Likewise, if you are hunting during the pre-rut or rut, you may be able to take advantage of travel corridors that funnel both bucks returning to or leaving their beds during daylight, and daylight walkers cruising for the next receptive doe in November.  At this time of year there may be less to gain from hunting a buck’s bed and so getting close may not be as much of an issue.  If your stand access is such that you cannot effectively push into a bedding area without detection, or the vegetation in the area is not conducive to providing an adequate visual barrier, you may be forced to hunt further away from a known bedding area than you would like.  Still, timing is key, and early season may be an easier time to strike when a higher level of vegetation is available for concealment.  If noise is the issue, choosing a rainy or windy day can help to conceal your movements.  Furthermore, if you find yourself in hill country and your evening access requires stand entry from below a bedding area, it may be necessary to time your approach after the evening thermals begin to drop down the hillside.

With all of the above taken into consideration, our scouting efforts this spring yielded a new stand location with plenty of potential that proves to be an aggressive approach to hunting a buck bed on our property.  Here is the bedding stand that we plan to utilize this year during early season:

Buck Bed to feed

The Bedding

The concept of this stand location is fairly simple.  Here we are cutting off evening travel from bedding to food by getting approximately 85 yards from where the deer spend their daytime hours.  The deer utilize the transition edge of the brushy thicket and the mature hardwoods for bedding cover.  Several seeps keep this area wet enough that few large trees grow and the lack of canopy provides sunlight for woody browse and native grasses and forbs to flourish and make the area a tangled mess.  What is not evident in the photo is that in addition to a cover transition between the mature woods and the bedding area, there is also a terrain shift where the hillside becomes steep.  At the transition line on the right hand side of the photo, the terrain flattens a bit and provides ample areas for deer to bed.  Along this transition is also where the majority of buck sign can be found.

The Approach

Entering this stand for an evening hunt requires a slow and methodical approach.  Although it is a short walk, I will be certain to give myself ample time so as I can walk quietly and the noise of my entry will not push deer out of the bedding area.  By coming across the Ag field and small food plot, I am able to keep my path from crossing deer trails and my ground scent is limited to areas that deer are more accustomed to experiencing human intrusion or interaction.  While it is impossible to see in the photo, this stand location sits atop a small bench; the elevation change is about 4 feet.  This slight terrain change allows me to hide my approach from bedded deer less than 100 yards away.  I may have to walk fifty yards or so in a hunched position, but this is better than having deer see me and ending the hunt before it has a chance to begin.  To further hide my approach, I hinge cut the small trees and vegetation that was next to my stand to provide a thicker visual barrier to the deer that will be bedded uphill.  This will allow me to get to the base of the tree with greater ease and even climb into position undetected.  Scent detection will be of little concern since I plan to hunt this location on a Northern wind, and will wait to access the stand until the thermals have neutralized and began their thermal shift in the evening.  Once the cooling air begins to fall down the hillside, there is no chance of my scent rising to the deer bedded above me.  Shortly after this shift, I expect the deer to be on their feet and beginning to move and browse through the staging area around the bedding, making timing a very delicate calculation in this scenario.  Hunts in this location will be very few, and very short, but they have a high potential for rewarding yields.

The Stand

At approximately 8 feet off the ground, this stand provides more cover than a platform positioned at 20 feet in this tree and the thick vegetation around the area can conceal the hunter's approach.

At approximately 8 feet off the ground, this stand provides more cover than a platform would if positioned at 20 feet in this tree and the thick vegetation around the area can conceal the hunter’s approach.

I selected the tree primarily based on location, but I was also looking for enough cover.  I was able to trim out just enough vegetation to allow me to draw my bow and have a small lane to the one trail I can shoot to.  Interestingly, I also have chosen to position this stand just 7 feet off the ground.  Because most of the vegetation around this location is short thorn trees, going higher than this would actually have limited the amount of cover this stand would afford.  Setting a stand twenty feet up the tree would also potentially allow for deer in the bedding area to “skyline” me and see me climbing into the treestand.  Hanging the stand lower actually provides a better scenario for remaining undetected by both bedded animals and those traveling through the small shooting lane we cut.

After the Hunt

Since I am positioned between bedding cover and destination food sources, theoretically I could leave my stand after dark and get out of the area via an exit route through the woods.  The presumption would be that the deer have transitioned into the nighttime destination food sources by this time, allowing for a deer free exit through the timber.  Normally, this would be the approach I would take, however, in this case, it becomes very easy for the hunter to be picked up with a vehicle and additional ground scent does not have to be left or deer trails crossed.  Deer are less likely to associate a vehicle with hunting pressure than they are a hunter walking on foot, or worse yet the scent of a hunter in their core area.  In this area they routinely experience farm equipment in the fields so a quick vehicle pickup will leave the area less pressured than if the hunter were to exit the stand location on foot.

During your scouting sessions, determine how close you can be to the bedding areas you locate.  Being too aggressive and pushing deer out of the area upon approach is counter productive, however highly pressured deer may not travel far from their beds in daylight.  Setting up on the outskirts of a bedding area, just out of sight, sound and scent is the best way to intercept a whitetail during shooting hours.  When you are determining how to hunt a new spot, be sure to consider stand access and how you can use terrain, cover, wind and thermal activity to your advantage.  Aggressive hunting tactics can make for exciting hunts, but carelessness and the lack of attention to detail can end a hunt before it begins.

-Reuben Dourte


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treestand

Early Is Better

Labor Day Weekend was for many years my target for scouting and hanging stands.  It seems somewhat naive now, but at the time it seemed like getting fairly recent information while giving the woods about a month break before season would yield the best of both worlds.  The problems with a happy medium hunting approach is that it requires compromise, and when you begin your hunting season with compromise you are likely going have to continue to do so throughout the Fall.

Sometimes a hasty last minute decision requires a stand to be thrown up in September, but your goal should be to make this the exception rather than the rule.  Likewise, there is nothing wrong with moving a stand or hanging a new set in season to adapt and conform to changing deer movement, or if you see that a slight adjustment will provide a better harvest opportunity.  However, what should be avoided at all costs is invasive, pattern altering scouting and stand setting immediately before the season.  The majority of your scouting efforts should be relegated to post season and your stands should go in early, and here’s why:

  1. Deer patterns have an historical element.  The same concept that keeps too many hunters returning to the same over-hunted stands year after year is what makes post season scouting the most valuable weapon in your hunting arsenal.  When the foliage is down, and regeneration has not yet begun, the woods will be laid out like a Whitetail map.  Trails, rubs and scrapes are all highly evident (and from longer distances) and most importantly, post season is one of the easiest times of year to find beds.  The deer sign that was laid down during the months of hunting season, (sign which you found last December-April), is highly relevant in determining what the deer will do this year.  Things like natural food sources and crop rotation can certainly affect deer movement from year to year, but at worst you will be able to establish patterns over a longer period of time, knowing how deer will react given predictable changes in their environment and food availability.
  2. Deer patterns are seasonal.  If you are reserving your scouting sessions for September, chances are you are scouting fresh Summer sign.  Hanging stands based on Summer feeding patterns can lead to immense amounts of disappointment and frustration come October and November.  As food sources are either harvested or depleted, deer patterns will change and adjust.  A heavily used trail heading to a bean field that shows consistent buck travel in August can prove to be one of worst places to sit on October 1st.  Additionally, its widely recognized that bucks will often have different Summer and Fall ranges.  Why this occurs is up for debate, but what is known is that a buck living on a property in August may not be there after velvet peel.  A few game camera pictures of a buck using a specific trail in the Summer is probably not enough intel to confidently hang a stand and expect a shot at that buck, unless you are able to relate the deer’s movement to bedding; which is information you would have gathered while post season scouting.  Its very possible that the buck on your trail camera has moved on to a different Fall core area and the inventory and movement of the bucks on your property will have changed between September 1st and October.  If you aren’t relating your stand positions to bedding areas that are historically utilized in the Fall you are going to be spending a lot of energy to place stands out of range of your target deer, and because food sources are rapidly changing in late Summer and early Fall, hanging a stand simply based on current deer movement can be a recipe for some dry sits come archery season.
  3. Four weeks isn’t enough time.  It might seem contradictory to say that four weeks isn’t enough lead time when hanging stands after we’ve just discussed how much can change in the whitetail woods in less than four weeks.  However, when you enter the woods, you are applying pressure to a property.  I prefer to have my stands hung approximately 75 days prior to the opening day of hunting season.  After I hang my stands I stay out of these locations until I am ready to hunt.  Because I am hanging treestands based on the findings of my post season scouting, the locations I choose have little to do with Summer deer patterns.  I may hang different stands for early season, the rut and late season, but they will all be related to in-season deer movement and not Summer sign.  Hanging stands at least 75 days out gives the woods a chance to recover from the noisy intrusion of carrying stands, sticks and steps into the timber.  It also allows me to capitalize on any range shifts that may occur after the bucks shed their velvet.  A buck that has a Summer range off a property will be none the wiser when returning in late summer if the human intrusion and scent has long dissipated and the shooting lane cuts you’ve made are no longer fresh.  The beauty of post season scouting is that is allows you to utilize information you gathered that is relative to the time of year you will be in the woods trying to kill a buck.  For this reason, stand selection becomes a much easier task in summer as you will have already had a chance to select the tree in the winter months when the foliage and deer travel resemble the upcoming conditions.  The Summer guess work becomes limited and July simply becomes a month of sweat equity instead of turning September into a month of indecisive stand selection.

Avoiding the idea of compromise when it comes to scouting and hanging stands can yield much more successful results later this Fall.  Concentrating your scouting efforts in the post season, while eliminating unnecessary pressure on your hunting property immediately prior to the season is the best recipe for both a stealthy approach and positioning yourself in the most advantageous locations once hunting season rolls around.  Hang your stands early and reap the rewards of preparation meeting opportunity.

-Reuben Dourte


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whitetail deer

Year Over Year: The Pressure of Past Production

For whatever reason, hunters have become incredibly competitive individuals.  Outwardly, most hunters exude confidence, but it is my belief that most hunters must wrangle their own self doubt many times throughout a season as we fail many more times than we succeed in our search for validation by way of the harvest.  The pressure of competition and the results driven environment of modern hunting creates an environment that supports the notion that you must “succeed” and you must do it often.  Success is usually measured by inches of antler, punched tags or bag limits.  Along with our perpetual need to succeed comes undue burdens of unrealistic expectations or measurement systems based on the achievements of peers, friends or rivals.

The year following my largest buck harvest to date, I remember feeling a near obsessive compulsion to harvest the largest buck on the property the next year.  That particular buck would have perhaps grossed a few inches larger than the previous year’s buck and I admit that I felt that a subsequent harvest would extinguish any notion, (which I carried in my own head), that my harvest was simply a result of good fortune and luck.  I hunted relentlessly for the buck during the following fall, getting within a few yards of sealing the deal on one occasion.  Had I killed that deer, it wouldn’t have been as much a validation of my hunting skill as it would have been a confirmation that I was the recipient of two years of luck.

Whitetail buck

2.5 year old PA 7 Point taken on opening day of the 2015 gun season. The buck met the age and size requirement for this property and was the result of a quick run and gun set. The decision to pull the trigger was easy.

eight point buck.

2.5 year old 2015 New York rifle season buck. This buck came out of a known buck bedding area headed to a alfalfa field that was being utilized by doe family groups on the second day of the season. Careful attention to wind and thermals along with a quiet stand access led to the harvest of this buck a 1/2 hour before shooting hours ended.

New York Whitetail buck

Trail camera pictures, an unorthodox stand set up, a quick hunt after driving all day, and capturing it on video made the harvest of this NY whitetail memorable. Expecting cruising bucks to be catching falling thermals on the downhill side of a popular doe bedding area, a carefully planned, one hour hunt late in the afternoon was the key to taking this buck. Next year I can patiently sit and await a story to unfold that culminates a journey more interesting than the last, without any perceived need for validation.

Just because someone consistently kills deer doesn’t mean much.  They may have low standards and only wish to fill a tag.  They may hunt in an area of high deer density and low hunter numbers.  Still others may end a season with tags left unfilled because they were hunting an individual deer, a minimum age class of animal, or have additional season goals they wish to achieve.  Recently, for me, it has become more about the method of hunting than it is about the kill.  In the areas of Northern PA and Southern NY where we do most of our hunting, a 3 year old buck isn’t very common.  To be quite honest, I have never in all my years of hunting, personally encountered a PA or NY hunter who shot a mature buck 3.5 years old or older, every single year, or anything close to it.  Growing up, if you shot one of these specimens, it was deemed to be the buck of your lifetime and you were advised to never expect to top it.  Since QDM has evolved, and as such has transformed many hunters beliefs about deer management, opportunities at an older age class have improved, but are still occasional at best.  Why should any hunter impose unrealistic expectations on themselves based on the performance of a previous year?  Is it our innate human desire to better the best?  Perhaps.  But I think it comes from a self imposed need for validation that can be reduced by a simple restructuring of your hunting outlook.  After a successful year, I now feel a relaxation in the seasons following. I feel that I can take the opportunity to slow down, observe, learn and become more selective, knowing that when I choose to harvest an animal it will be because it meets my personal goals and our preseason goals of herd management.  Equally as important for me is that I am able to look back at the harvest and attribute it, in part, to a deliberate choice or calculation.  If these criteria are met, I will be pulling the trigger, if they are not, I won’t.

Feeling pressure to fill a tag or achieve results after a season of success is a self inflicted gun shot wound of stress that many of us fabricate in our minds.  As hunters, we can be our own worst enemy.  Pressure can lead to hasty shots, target panic, and other poor choices.  Moreover, it can drain the excitement and fun out of a hunt, or a season, in a hurry.  At the same time, pressure can drive us to succeed and to push new limits.  Our motivation for success should always remain our own desire to better ourselves or our experiences rather than to prove anything to anyone.  When you start to hunt deliberately and choose to learn from your mistakes, a failed hunt will provide you with intel that will let you know how to make the next hunt successful.  When that happens, you will have the validation you search for in each individual experience and you won’t have to try follow up a hunt with a subsequent harvest in order to prove anything to yourself.  Finding gratification in the process of each hunt will open up new avenues of hunter satisfaction.


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Food Plot Seeds

Do Food Plot Blends Work?

Just about every seed company out there has somehow tried to capitalize on the growing trend of food plotting for whitetails.  Its hard to keep it all straight, and admittedly, I don’t have a very ‘green thumb’ myself.  There are plenty of resources to page through, but even that can become increasingly overwhelming; especially when one source seems to conflict with the other.  Because there is such a variety of hunters, soils, and terrain out there, some of the seed companies have developed blends which attempt to cast such a large net that I begin to question their effectiveness.  A cure-all is rarely, if ever, an effective perscription when food plotting because of all theaforementioned variances. So, a more taylored approach becomes conducive to the success of your plots.  Why spend money on a clover mix that contains clovers varieties that do not do well at Northern latitudes if you are food plotting in Northern Michigan or New York?  What about food plot blends that use Rye Grass instead of Winter Rye.  Rye grass may do well in your acidic soil, but is inferior as a food plot species to Rye Grain.  Just because your plot looks lush and green in November doesn’t mean the deer are drawn to it.  Or, why would you plant a product ‘designed’ for hunters all the way from Georgia to Maine when you are only huning in Ohio?

In my opinion, seed blends that try to provide something actually provide little for anyone.  There are indeed times to plant a seed blend in your food plots, and better yet, plot diversification can yield substantial positive results by tayloring the deer movement on a property.  The key is finding varieties of food plot species that compliment each other.  With that in mind, if you are looking to plant a food plot blend in the near future, here are a few that have worked well for us and are easy enough to establish:

  1. Clover blends- Clover is the first thing that people think about when it comes to food plotting.  Clover begins to provide nutrition relatively early in the spring and in most of the Northern latitudes it continues to provide forage for Whitetails into hunting season.  Many clover blends may include varieties of Chicory, however, we have found in our experience that the Clovers usually take over and the Chicory doesn’t last.  Planting a Clover mixture can benefit you with different attraction windows, varying drought resistances, production yields and even different pH tolerances.  Different Clovers can compliment each other and having a plot with a good mix can be of benefit.  The problem with Clover blends are that their window of attraction may be limited to the summer months and the first half of archery season, depending on where you hunt.  You may be attracting large volumes of deer to your land at the wrong times if you look solely to Clover blends to fill your food plots.
  2. Brassicas- In the food plotting world Brassicas encompass a large variety of plot species.  The most common species found in Brassica food plot blends are Rape, Turnip, Radish, and even Kale.  Deer will forage on the green tops of these plants and the varieties which produce bulbs (Turnip and Radish) provide food later into the winter months when deer will dig for them in your plot.  Beyond the draw Brassica plots have, they are also a good way to increase the organic matter in your soil as bulbs that are not consumed are left to rot in the ground.  Brassicas often come in a blend of some, or all, of the above mentioned species, and mutliple varieties of Turnips or Radish may be included in the same mix as well.  Brassicas present a good compliment to Clover for a few reasons.  The first being that they become attractive later in the season than Clover.  Meaning a brassica plot located next to a clover plot can keep deer utilizing your area after the clover is past its prime or consumed following several hard frosts.  Brassica plots can be a great attractant, coinciding with peak movement patterns of mature bucks late in October when the pre-rut may keep them on their feet longer but they may still utilize some semblence of a bed to food routine.  Later summer to early Fall plantings of Brassicas can provide a more easily established late season food source than Corn or Soybeans which require Spring to Early Summer plantings.  In areas that receive an abundance of spring rain or have wet soils in general, a late season crop that can be planted in mid August is very valuable.  Once the soil has had an opportunity to dry out it is easier to get into remote plots with equipment in order to establish a seed bed.  August plantings of Brassicas have a good chance of receiving the rainfall they require to produce an adequate yield since the driest months of summer are past and Fall rains can provide the necessary moisture for high production.  Brassica plots can also leave the ground in perfect condition for an early spring broadcast seeding of clover.  Through the process of Nitrogen fixing, clovers will put N back into your soil which is removed by the heavy feeding brassicas, thus making clover a convenient rotational follow up to a brassica plot.
  3. Oats, Peas, Wheat and Rye- In the past we have had success with a mixture of Oats and Winter Peas.  This mixture has proven to be highly attractive to deer as soon as the plants poke through the soil.  Like Brassicas, these annual plots can be established relatively easy in the late summer or early fall.  Blending Winter Wheat and Winter Rye into the mix provides a winter food source that will sustain deer into later months.  (Make sure the mix you are buying does not contain Rye grass.  Rye Grain (Winter Rye) and Rye grass are not the same thing and deer do not readily prefer Rye grass as a forage.)  In areas of higher deer densities, a plot of only Oats and Winter Peas can often be consumed well before the coldest fronts of December arrive, leaving you with a muddy plot of bare ground that has no attraction when you need it the most.  The Winter Wheat and Rye will become attractive after the Oats and Peas are consumed and will help to establish your food source as a destination for deer all through hunting season, and after.  Rye is a very forgiving to acidic soils and as such this mixture can be a good choice when establishing first year plots in areas that have gone fallow.  www.Northwoodswhitetails.com sells this mixture as their Fall Forage Blend and they have a very good reputation of developing a variety of highly attractive food plot blends for deer managers.  Establishing a plot of Oats, Peas, Wheat and Rye next to Brassicas can keep deer in your area all season long.

Seed blends can be effective for food plotters when they are utilized correctly.  However, picking up a bag that has a little of everything in it isn’t necessarily your best bet.  Managing what you are putting in your food plots, and even specific sections of your food plots, as well as when you are putting it there, is far more effective than planting a broad mixture across the whole area.  Carefully planned, segregated plantings of different species based on windows of attraction is a better approach when looking to maximize your food plot success.

-Reuben Dourte


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Treestand

Hang ’em High (or Low)


A friend of mine had a hunting buddy who would take a climber up a tree nearly 40′.  What was the reason for this madness you might ask?  Well, I can’t say exactly, but I am going to guess that he assumed this was the best was to stay undetected both by the deer’s eyes, and its nose.  Few of us go to the absurdity of sitting forty or fifty feet in a tree for many different, and quite obvious, reasons.  However, I recently began to reevaluate my practice of hanging all my stands at the top of my 20′ climbing sticks.  Just like there are times that you need to be 25′ in the air, there are times that the most appropriate height for your stand may be 6 or 8 feet, or less.

treestand

This treestand is a mere 5′ off the ground but provides significant oppurtunity as an archery stand due to the more than adequate amount of cover surrounding it.

Here are a couple reasons to stop and reconsider how high you hang ’em.

  1. Shot Angle- Shooting down at a deer can allow for low exit holes and better blood trails, but the steeper the angle, the greater the likelihood of hitting one lung or even missing altogether.  If you hang a set 5 yards from a trail and you are 25′ up the tree, you may be leaving yourself with a less than desirable shot angle.  If you really feel you need to be 20, or more, feet up, setting up further from the trail opens up the vital area of the deer and leaves much more margin of error for your shot.  Sometimes the tree you need to be (or the only one available) in is right over the trail.  In this case, get creative about how you can enhance the amount of cover around your stand and consider setting it lower.  Sometimes all you need to do is move the stand around the backside of the tree and you will increase your odds of avoiding detection significantly.
  2. You’re close to bedding- If you are hunting aggressively, you are going to be pushing the fringes of buck bedding areas.  Especially in early season, and in certain types of terrain, ground vegetation can serve to hide your approach.  However, as you climb your tree you may become visible on the skyline to a bedded buck less than a hundred yards away.  Setting a lower stand may allow you to more easily get into shooting position without detection.  Looking back, I am sure a large portion of my unsuccessful hunts were ruined from the start by bedded deer observing me climbing into my perch 20-25′ up in a tree with little cover and nothing to break up my silhouette.  Had I found a tree with adequate cover and only ascended 10-15 feet, it is likely that both the undergrowth and vegetation would have served to shield me while I climbed and the branches of the trees behind me would have eliminated the silhouette effect.
  3. The element of surprise- Any stand can get burnt out if you hunt it too often, but moving in on a buck bed and hunting a low set can be one of the best ambush tactics if you play your cards right.  The deer in my area like to look up, and as such, merely throwing a stick ladder up at 20′
    treestand

    A 20′ treestand does not automatically avoid detection from wary bucks. However, a stand hanging in a large diameter multi-tree, placed on the opposite side of the trunk as the deer’s travel route, can afford the hunter some forgiveness when it comes to remaining undetected.

    and hanging a stand isn’t going to be enough to conceal a hunter in this area.  Many magazines tell you that 20′ is out of a deer’s peripheral vision, but that doesn’t account for the fact that it is oh so tempting to hang pre-hung sets in straight, limbless trees that easily take a stick ladder and pose little obstruction for hanging a stand.  I used to treat height as a substitute for cover.  Its not.  I would much rather be in an ambush set positioned 6 feet off the ground and surrounded by branches and brambles and left with one shooting lane, than have 270 degrees of open shooting and no cover.  You aren’t going to kill a mature buck without catching him off guard and if hanging a well concealed set lower to the ground is the ticket, that’s where my stand is going.

  4. Mobility- If you are a public land hunter, finding an ambush point that allows you to set your stand lower affords you a few advantages.  First, if this is a pre-scouted set and you know you will be hunting low, you can get by with less climbing sticks. This equals less pack weight and that equals less sweat.  Less sweat equals less stink; not to mention that sweating on the way to your stand is the best way to get cold once you’re there.  Secondly, it takes a lot less time to set up 2 sticks than it does four or five.  This means you can get to your stand location, get quiet and start hunting much more quickly.
  5. Safety- This one is pretty self explanatory.  Sure, if you are using the appropriate safety equipment it shouldn’t really matter how high you climb, however, as a rule, I would say I personally feel more comfortable at 10 feet than I do at 30.

There are certainly other benefits to hunting lower to the ground.  The above are just a few that I have experienced over the past couple seasons.  At the same time, it is important to note that properly playing the wind becomes even more critical when you aren’t hanging your stands up in the forest’s ceiling.  However, if you are managing your stand access routes and assessing the way the wind and thermals move across your property, scent detection shouldn’t be an issue.  All that said, sitting in a skyscraper stand on the wrong wind, or above a trail when the thermals are falling is likely going to fail just as miserably as doing these things with a low hung stand.  As with most things in the whitetail woods, it comes down to the homework you do in the off season.  But, if you happen to find a perfect tree that would support an unorthodox stand set, don’t be afraid to set one low.  If you play your cards right, you are in for some action packed, up close and personal archery hunts!

-Reuben Dourte