Monthly Archives: August 2016

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The Pasture Stand

In an effort to pin down some additional stand locations for the upcoming season, we spent time in the off season scouting both new parcels and new areas of properties we have hunted in the past.  I have for some time wanted to learn more about the deer movement on a small parcel we have permission to hunt that is part of a larger piece of timber and is bordered on the West side by a cattle pasture.  The transition that is created where the mature woods changes to earlier succession growth, then meets the edge of the pasture, is a popular travel corridor.  This parallel, transition trail is heavily used and is a direct connection between multiple bedding areas to the South (both on and off the huntable property) and evening food sources.

(click to enlarge)

Additionally, the contour of the hill creates a distinct bench higher up the hill, which is about 30 yards wide. The deer use this bench and bed on subtle points overlooking the bottom flat area of timber.  They also traverse this bench as it wraps around the point of the hill and connects with what I believe are likely bedding areas on the adjacent parcels.  Trails can also be found dropping off these benches heading down into the bottom and then eventually out into the Alfalfa field to the North.

Some of the bedding is only 150 yards off the destination food source, and so access is delicate.  To reduce noise, we have cut a route through the thicket so that the vegetation and weeds can visually shield our approach while not costing us unnecessary noise.  Often these small details can make a significant difference in success levels.  The stand site (indicated by the blue ‘X’) was selected for multiple reasons, the first being accessibility.  This is essentially as close to bedding as we can afford to get for an evening hunt without being busted by the deer bedded on the bench.  Any closer and we would position ourselves on the open timber side of the transition edge, visually exposing us to the bedded deer utilizing the elevation of the point for secure bedding.  Where the stand is located, a shot is available 15 yards above to the South of the hunter’s position, should the deer stay higher along the hillside.  This stand location also allows for a fairly clean entrance/exit route through the cattle pasture that will leave both the woods and the Ag fields mostly undisturbed- an important detail.

This transition zone is also where a concentration of deer movement occurs as they use this primary trail on their way to the food sources to the North.  When the deer bedded on the point are leaving their daytime cover to move to food, it is highly likely they will utilize the trail dropping off the point of the bench and move within easy bow range of this tree.  Furthermore, deer which are bedded to the South and West of the stand on the neighboring parcels are also likely to use this area to enter the alfalfa field.  This is a popular trail because it enters the field at its lowest elevation, and any deer who is transitioning through the creek bottom on the way to the alfalfa can take advantage of falling thermals in the evening and scent check the entire field, regardless of the wind direction.  This feature naturally draws deer to this area.  It also makes the spot harder to hunt as we may find it becomes more susceptible to wind swirls.  If that is the case, we may need to save this location for hunts on calmer wind days when falling evening thermals will stabilize our scent stream and carry it East, down the creek bottom and away from the direction of the deer movement.

Falling thermals provide the third justification for this stand location in that they will help facilitate an evening hunt where the hunter will be able to remain undetected by deer approaching from nearly any bedding location.  For an evening hunt, setting up on the lower side of the most probable travel route will allow for minimal ground scent and keep airborne scent away from approaching deer.

Though not a complex set-up, this stand will require carefully timed access and likely only a few October hunts.  During early November, rutting bucks could certainly move through the location on the parallel transition trail, scent checking the bed-to-feed trails to see if any estrous does have moved through the area, headed back to their daytime bedding locations.  However, as the morning thermals begin to rise, I would expect most of the movement to take place on the upper bench trail as the bucks cruised at or above the bedding elevation and allowed the rising thermal drafts to bring up scent from the bottom of the woods.  Sitting this low stand in the later in the morning would be ill-advised and for this reason I located a better rut stand along the upper bench to the South of this stand location.  The bench serves as a connecting travel corridor between multiple bedding locations and can provide productive all day sits.  The rising thermals, coupled with any Westerly wind can serve to keep the hunter undetected.

The trick is to not over hunt this stand in early season, but instead choose timing carefully in conjunction with favorable weather patterns.  The temptation when we find a stand with a good bit of sign and above average promise is to hunt it as much as possible.  Many times this has the reverse affect and we are left puzzled as to why our opportunities diminish as the season progresses.  Saving this spot for high value sits should help to increase its yields and keep it productive for seasons to come.

-Reuben Dourte, commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com


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When Anti Hunters Win- The Under Armour Controversy

Category : Miscellaneous

I ran into one of my good friends this week at the local fair and he said, “I’m surprised you haven’t written about this whole Under Armour thing.”  I’m not really into doing hunting OP-ED articles and I told him about how I didn’t know if I felt strongly either way.  This was mostly, I explained, because I don’t really like any of the parties involved.  The more I spoke about it though, the more I realized that I did indeed have an opinion on the subject, as would be typical for myself.

If you haven’t heard about “this whole Under Armor thing” or the recent outrage from anti hunters, and the subsequent counter outrage from many within the hunting community, it goes like this:

Josh Bowmar traveled to Alberta, Canada for a Spring hunt for Black Bear.  If you are familiar with Canada Black Bear hunts you will not be surprised to hear that this hunt took place over bait.  His wife Sarah was reported to be filming the hunt and Sarah was “sponsored” by Under Armour Hunt.  To explain a high level view of this relationship you must understand that several years ago, Under Armour got into the hunting apparel market and sportsmen and women embraced the company immediately.  They sponsored hunting “athletes” and soon some big TV names were wearing their clothes; the Drurys, the Lakoskys, Cameron Hanes to name a few.  Under Armour piggybacked off their reputation in athletic sports apparel and began collecting market share in the hunting industry.  As the UA hunting line grew, they quickly capitalized on a growing segment of the outdoor industry: women.  They started a sub-social media family under the UAHunt label and broadened their sponsored athletes to include the likes of Sarah Bowmar alongside industry giants like Tiffany Lakosky and Eva Shockey.  Although less widely known in hunting circles, Bowmar has an impressive social media following, predominantly on Instagram where she has more than 1 million followers; nearly twice the Lakoskys and Eva Shockey combined.  The Bowmars are fitness gurus who post workout videos to social media and have built a large following from it.

Fast forward to Josh Bowmar’s Alberta black bear hunt and you will find yourself in a somewhat ridiculous whirlwind of both facts and misinformation.  The Bowmars decided to video their hunt, and Josh Bowmar would be using a spear tipped with double edged blade about a foot long, or so.  The Bowmars also decided to attach a Go-Pro style camera to the spear and as the target bear approached the bait, Bowmar hurled the spear; essentially center punching the animal.  On the video he can be seen reacting by throwing his hands in the air and celebrating.  The bear was recovered the following day and Bowmar can be heard saying that it only went approximately 60 yards before expiring- indicating a quick, clean kill.  The video was then posted on the Bowmar Youtube channel where it eventually garnered outrage from the anti hunting/animal rights crowds.  Under Armour, after originally posting congratulatory photos of the Bowmars with the bear on their UAHunt social media, received pressure from activists in the form of social media comments and a petition (which reportedly had approx. 4,000 signatures) calling for Sarah Bowmar to be dropped from the apparel company’s sponsored athletes because of her husband’s taking of a black bear with a spear.  UA soon released a statement saying that they were parting ways with Sarah Bowmar, disavowed ever having connections with Josh Bowmar, and went as far as to say that Bowmar acted recklessly and that they do not condone the method used to take the bear; favoring instead “safe” hunting where the animal is cleanly taken and the hunter is not in harm’s way, (my paraphrase).  Not surprisingly, the anti hunters are still not happy with Under Armour, some accusing the company of only caving in this situation because of pressure while still supporting other animal ‘murderers’.  Similarly, the hunting community is accusing the clothing manufacturer of only caving in this situation because of anti pressure after they had publicly supported the hunt through the use of pictures of it in their social media postings.  Calls for boycotts from both sides continue and its likely UA is hoping that the short attention span of the public will be on their side and the next inevitable controversy will draw the spotlight away from this issue soon enough.

So, now that you have the basic facts, I am going to tell you what I think.  My opinion doesn’t mean a whole lot in this matter, (you know what they say about opinions) but what I will start with saying is that situations like this, while telling, don’t do a whole lot of good for the hunting community.  They tend to bring undue and negative scrutiny upon our sport and then they also have the affect of causing a whole lot of in-fighting within hunting’s ranks.

I don’t think someone can assess this situation without laying some responsibility at the Bowmars’ feet.  If you have a social media following of over a million people, and many of them are following you for reasons other than hunting, you might need to think twice about what you, your spouse, or your bowhunting channel posts if you want to retain a sponsorship from a huge, publicly traded company.  Furthermore, I don’t know that a Go-Pro attached to the spear is a necessary component or that it added much to the video.  First, a lot of Go-Pro videos suck in my opinion, and whether that’s because of user error or just the nature of what they are used for, I don’t know.  But what I do know is that the “Spear Cam” footage in this video added nothing to the overall production quality.  In fact, what looked like a pretty good hit in the hunter camera angle looked more like a paunch hit on the Go-Pro footage and the quality of video from the Go-Pro is diminished in comparison with the other camera angle.  I personally could have done without it, but that isn’t my call to make.  However, I do think conducting a cost/benefit analysis for the sake of your hunting brothers and sisters, would be helpful.  If it isn’t fundamental to your footage and just adds to the level of gore, which will inflame the anti crowd, why include it?  At the same time, the Bowmars are within their rights to include that footage if they so choose.  But, in this day and age, it can hardly be surprising to them that they would cause outrage, especially since Sarah is often harassed on social media as being a murderer, (even for simply posing in a picture with a pair of shed antlers; not kidding).  So, I guess my point is why bait the antis?  Go spear hunting if you want (it is legal in Alberta at the time of the hunt and this writing, but talks of banning it are currently underway).  Hunt over bait if you want (it is legal in Alberta).  Film your hunt if you want.  But is the Go-Pro on the spear necessary; I mean really necessary?  Did the Go-Pro help the spear fly better?  Did it help it find its mark?  I doubt it.  It seemed like it was an attempt to be edgy and provide another view of the kill, which maybe hunters can watch and understand, but also may be upsetting to those fence-sitters who aren’t quite sure of what to think about hunting.  No matter what we use to kill animals, anti hunters will call for the hunter to be slain in the same way, turning themselves into a living hypocrisy.  Its not them we need to think about, but instead it is those individuals who don’t participate but still see hunting as a heritage, a way of life, a conservation tool, a source of sustenance, that we are in danger of pushing to the side of the anti.  We risk coming across as being lovers of gore, blood lusters, or worse yet, in it for personal gain and glory. And that brings me to my next point.

I have to be honest.  I found the reaction of Josh Bowmar after he speared the bear to be annoying.  If I was an anti hunter I would probably find it appalling.  I would use it as proof that hunters kill for personal glory (the antis did do this).  In the absence of understanding the adrenaline rush that naturally occurs in these situations, it might appear that his celebration is simply over the fact the HE “just speared a bear!”  If I was a fence sitter, unsure of how I felt about hunting, the reaction would give credence to the claims of the anti crowd.  In reality these reactions are often the overwhelming feeling of joy, satisfaction, success and adrenaline all culminating in one moment where practice and hard work came together to yield a harvest.  At least that is what I feel when I take an animal’s life.  Its followed by feelings of respect and time spent in reflection; reflection about the hunt and about the animals life.  I hate to call it remorse, because that isn’t fair.  I make a conscious and well calculated decision before I pull the trigger.  I am comfortable with my decision, and remorse isn’t the right word, but there is often a solemn time that follows a kill for me, and its become very important to how I hunt and an important part of the kill.  That’s not to say its the right way, or the only way, but what I am saying is that the video clip I watched showed less of that kind of reaction and more of the fist pumps and bumps and those kinds of things.  Honestly, I don’t know what Josh Bowmar felt after killing the bear with a spear; likely an immense amount of accomplishment, maybe relief that a lot of practice had come to fruition (he has stated he practiced extensively with the spear and was at one time a competitive javelinist)- its not my job to know his heart.  I just saying that for me, had I seen him produce a more composed reaction, had I felt the video made the animal the star of the show instead of Bowmar, I would have enjoyed said video more.  I think its fair to say that those on the fence about hunting would be easier swayed to our side if they saw reactions that were a bit less reminiscent of a touchdown dance.  There is a small possibility that these reactions fueled and antagonized the anti hunting crowd and could have played a part in the level of visceral response they levied against the Bowmars, but that we will never be certain of.  The anti crowd is like a pack of rabid dogs, and you never know who they might attack next, which is also what makes Under Armor’s response so disconcerting…

…So let’s talk about that.  UA caved.  There is no two ways about it.  4,000 signatures is all it took to make UA cut ties with a sponsored hunting “athlete”.  I’m sure the anti hunting crowd is happy to know the bar has been set so low.  4,000 signatures is nothing in the days of social media and our connected world.  A small amount of pressure and a corporation was forced to alter their relationships.  Now, I am guessing this has something to do with being a publicly traded company.  The company needs to make sure their investors are protected and that they are operating in their shareholders best interests.  Presumably they feared a larger backlash if the story gained traction and there is literally an endless supply of “Bowmars” on Instagram, so its plenty easy to replace them and move on once the storm cloud of antis dissipates.  I get it.  Its business.  UA is more than hunting, and hunting is a small part of UA.

Let us not forget, however, the stupid part about this.  That part about how UAHunt dropped someone for essentially doing what they were sponsored to do- hunt.  Er, let me correct that, their spouse went on a legal hunt, harvested an animal legally (as per all reports thus far), the sponsored “athlete” was present and posed in pictures which were used to promote UA hunting apparel on social media (arguably to the benefit of the company), and then amidst a small amount of outrage UAHunt drops the sponsored “athlete” for her spouse hunting “recklessly”.  Its almost mind boggling when put in that perspective.  So, that’s the stupid part.  The concerning part is that UA released a statement that announced that they canned their relationship with Sarah Bowmar and called the method used to harvest the bear was “reckless” and stated that they do not condone it.  Now remember, its these same anti hunter types signing this petition who also combat the sound argument that hunting has been around for thousands of years and is a vital part of human history and existence with comments such as “cave men didn’t have high powered rifles to shoot an animal at long range”.  They call hunters cowards for not hunting the animal in an environment where the animal “has a chance” and the hunter has some skin in the game, or in other words places themselves in “danger”.  Here we have a spear hunt, nearly as primitive as it gets, and the antis are outraged over the barbarianism and inefficiency of the method, and we have UA essentially agreeing with them.  That’s the “wow” moment in all this for me.  To the anti hunters I would ask, “which way do you want it?” To which they would reply “no way”, of course, thus proving that reasoning with them is impossible.  To UA I would ask, what do you do with the precedent you have just set?  It you get 20,000 signatures to drop Lee Lakosky after he kills a brown bear with a compound bow, are you going to cave and drop he and Tiffany?  This would arguably constitute a likely more dangerous, (or should I say “reckless”) hunt than a black bear hunt as the use of a bow on an animal that size does not guarantee an immediate kill.  Plenty can go wrong there.  Where do you draw your line now?  What will you be pressured into next?  Who at UA makes the call if something hunting related is too “reckless” to support?  Is this arbitrarily decided, or is there a process?  How many signatures does it take?  Make no mistake, UA’s reaction to this anti hunting petition validated the antis’ claims.  They won this round, and a taste of victory for that crowd is a dangerous thing.

You see, this is the problem when we welcome a mainstream company into the hunting market with open arms.  We give them a bunch of money for their products and they still have a lot of other stakeholders at their table pulling them in different directions.  It just is a poor fit.  Either you stand with legal hunting, or you don’t.  That’s the bottom line.  How do you drop someone for a legal hunting practice engaged in by their spouse, based on your own subjective assertion that it is reckless, all while you are sponsoring them as a UAHunt athlete?  Forgive me, the question isn’t “how”.  UA showed us precisely “how”, and the fact is, they can do whatever they want.  The question is better stated as, “how does UA do that with intentions of continuing on as a bona-fide hunting brand in the minds of their target market?”  With so many other clothing brands emerging with extremely high performing gear it is hard for me to believe that UA isn’t putting themselves in a vulnerable spot within the hunting market.  Layer on their lack of chutzpah in standing against anti attacks and I see even less incentive for hunters to look to them in the future over other brands that offer a direct sales model like Kuiu, or even top end retailers like Sitka.  Compare the value provided (performance of the garments vs. the price tags) from these companies with that of Under Armour and make the decision for yourself.

The last thing I can’t quite figure out in all this is UA’s marketing approach to hunters.  As a corporation with substantial resources, why are you not encouraging the production of content from your UAHunt team that depicts the whole essence of hunting and what it means to pursue a deeper relationship with the outdoors and our quarry.  The kind of content that does a service to hunting and conservation.  I look at the work Sitka is putting out- the partners they have, their “athletes”- or the Kuiu film festival submissions, and countless other independent guys who are creating wonderful, amazing content that gives you chills to watch it, and I wonder why a huge manufacturer like UA can’t produce a grassroots campaign to find and develop hunters who are producing awesome content every day that portrays hunting through the lens of the epic adventure it was supposed to be.  I have to wonder if UAHunt saw Sarah Bowmar’s 1 million followers and wanted the immediate exposure she could provide.  Personally, the most hunting content I have seen produced by her seems to revolve around being a 10, looking good on Instagram in UA leggings while posing in repetitive pictures with jacked up deltoids, while drawing back her Hoyt.  I’m left feeling not so certain that UA isn’t selling some superficiality here, or at the very least trying to profiteer from what is already there.  Is that what motivates us or inspires us as a hunting community?  Do we really only want to be entertained by the photo of the hot chick in UA gear rather than by the guy or gal who is going to show us something epic through their creative mind or wants to help us create our own adventure through real and substantive content or advice?  I’m left to wonder why UA would not chose to sponsor more of these DIY guys or gals who buy their clothing with their own buck because they need something that works, and works well, (because they are actually out there doing it) and they decided on UA clothing based on its merits.  And, while that guy or gal is utilizing your clothing, they are producing some awesome content that helps to promote hunting in a way that is more than a simple kill shot video on an outfitted hunt over bait.  UA got what they paid for; they chose looks and follower count over true creative talent and knowledge and substance; and because of that they found themselves in no-win situation between a rabid animal rights crowd and a now scorned hunting community.

The only question remaining is, “what the heck UA?”


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Entertainment or Enlightenment- Every Hunter’s Choice

Category : Miscellaneous

Let’s face it, we all are busier than ever these days.  Time is a valuable resource and sometimes it is impossible to buy enough of it.  What’s more, as hunters, we are faced with the inevitable challenge and choice of balancing entertainment with enlightenment.  Entertainment is self explanatory, but defining enlightenment is a little more subjective.  Personally, I would consider anything that will increase your odds at success, add to your hunting arsenal or hone your skill set, to be enlightenment.  This could include shooting your bow so you are confident you can make an ethical shot at longer distances, reading about public land tactics on web forums like the Hunting Beast, listening to podcasts, or other podcasts, or watching instructional videos on scouting and stand selection.  You may also find other helpful resources in the form of books or magazines.  Let’s not forget the value of post season scouting which should begin immediately after season.

Some beneficial educational resources that improve your tactics and approach to hunting whitetails are free; others cost hard earned dollars.  In this case, you not only have to choose how you spend your limited time, but you also must determine how you will part with your money.  Assuming you are like most hunters, there is a limited supply of both, so again, a decision must be made.  Hunting equipment is expensive, but oftentimes we have a tendency to justify the purchase as a means to an end, or even a shortcut to the end.  Is the $300 carbon suit necessary?  Or can you kill whitetails with a bow by refining your approach and hunting the right stand at the right time of year, on the right wind and weather conditions?  I would argue the latter.  Could the money that went into that $300 suit be better spent elsewhere?  Maybe, or maybe not.  If it gives you added confidence and keeps you in the stand longer, it very well may be a piece of your successful formula.  If you are sitting in the wrong locations and expecting your clothing to make up for sloppy hunting tactics because you simply never took the time to learn about stand placement and deer movement, it could be doing more harm than good.  The same concept applies to hunting entertainment.  DVD’s and cable subscriptions aren’t cheap.  There is nothing wrong with these items, but the fact is they take both time and money from you.  While you are watching entertaining television, lamenting about your own lack of success and thinking how lucky the TV personalities are to kill bucks every year, you could be knocking on doors to ask permission or scouting a remote piece of public land to give yourself the potential to harvest a trophy of your own.  Likely, your hunt won’t end with a 200″ deer walking into a green food plot broadside at 4 PM, but I challenge you to show me the weekend warrior who doesn’t view their 100″, 110 or 125″ DIY buck with just as much pride as the record book bucks  we see harvested on TV.

If you have young children, you know how hard it is to get out to the woods to scout.  You have to prioritize, and even though scouting days are arguably as much or more important than your hunting days, some of us find it increasingly difficult to walk the woods every weekend from January to April like we might prefer.  However, if you find yourself stuck at home, consider that the time and money you spent to watch that entertaining DVD depicting a hunting situation that you will likely never find yourself in could have been spent watching a DVD that teaches you how and where to scout for mature whitetails in the terrain you hunt, whether public or private ground.  Here is a good option, or here, or here, and here.  In my opinion, nothing is more entertaining than learning new hunting tactics.  I actually find it to be much more captivating than watching entertainment media produced in an environment I cannot relate my own hunting experiences to.  Why not spend two hours of your time and $20 out of your wallet on a DVD that may help you encounter your own buck next fall rather than one that causes you to fantasize about a buck you just watched someone else punch through the boiler room?

I love watching all kinds of hunting media, especially well produced independent adventure films that are becoming ever more prevalent and increasing in quality and cinematic value.  In fact, I even watch these films and attempt to evaluate the production and editing quality to make myself better in these areas as well!  You don’t have to go to that extreme, and of course we should all make a little time to unwind, sit back and simply enjoy the show, but the next time you are forced to make the choice between learning something or simply letting your brain be entertained, ask yourself- Do I want to be the guy who kills deer or the guy who watches other guys kill deer?  So many times it seems those hunters who choose to “watch” end up saying, “That guy is so lucky, I wish I could kill a deer like that.”  Next time you find yourself saying that, consider that maybe, just maybe, you could.

-Reuben Dourte, commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com


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The Water Hole Project

Category : Miscellaneous

It was not until recently that I even began to contemplate installing an artificial water source or developing a natural one that already existed into something the deer were more likely to utilize.  Its fair to say that we’ve all seen plenty of hunts on TV where the hunter sits over a large bulldozed hole in the ground and numerous deer flood into the area to drink during early season, on unseasonably warm Fall days, or for a mid-cruising refuel.  I dismissed much of this success over waterholes to be attributable to hunting areas where water was not plentiful, less green vegetation (moisture) was available, and hunting pressure was limited.  It stands to reason that deer in dryer climates may be more prone to relating their patterns to a manufactured water source, however, when I began to see that hunters in areas of Wisconsin and even parts of Michigan were employing the tactic with success, I knew I needed to reevaluate.  After living in Michigan for over 5 years, I can tell you that the state is not at a loss for water or pressured deer.  If water holes could influence deer movement in these areas, it would stand to reason that the hill country and farmlands of New York and Pennsylvania should certainly be candidates for the tactic.

Still in the beginning stages, I began to evaluate the property through the use of aerials and topo maps.  Understanding where deer are bedding and feeding, and how they transition between the two is imperative when planning out any habitat improvement.  Water holes are no exception, and full disclosure, I find that planning the placement of a water source has been one of the most challenging exercises.  Before planning the location of the water hole(s) on the property, here is a few considerations I ran through to help define where the improvement should be located:

  1. Access/Exit- If you cannot access or exit the immediate area during hunting season, you probably need to look for a different place to install your water hole.  If the area is not accessible you are merely creating something that draws deer into an area where you cannot take advantage of the increases in deer movement relating to your habitat improvement.  You may be able to find ways in which you can manipulate the deer’s approach or hide your access to or from the area through hinge cutting, plantings or other additional habitat improvements.  When leaving the stand after an unsuccessful hunt, it is always important for you to be able to get out of the area without bumping deer.  All of this needs to be considered before you dig.
  2. Artificial vs. Natural- Natural water sources are often more prevalent than we realize.  Small seeps or runoff pools can create enough water for a good number of deer and are easily missed by humans.  If you can find a seep that is in a location meeting all the access criteria of entry/exit routes, you may be able to dig out the area and develop a larger pool of water that has more capacity or draw.  If this option is not available, or natural water sources on the property are in the wrong locations, you may need to create an artificial water hole which can capture runoff water using some kind of plastic container or liner to retain water.  These pools may need to be maintained and filled from time to time if adequate rainfall does not occur.  In this case, accessibility becomes a requirement.  You may need to use containers or buckets of water to replenish the water supply, and so it may be necessary to access the water hole, or reasonably close to it, with an ATV.
  3. Huntability- If you can’t sit in close proximity to the water hole in order to take advantage of its draw during hunting season you are merely making a convenience for the deer and an attraction that is pulling them away from areas of the property you can hunt.  Holding whitetails on the property is great, but if your efforts don’t help you kill them, you might find yourself just entering a lot of trail camera contests with photos of the bucks you dreamed about all Fall.  It’s important to consider how a mature buck is moving through an area and how he will use the wind and thermals to his advantage when utilizing a habitat improvement.  If the angle of approach in relation to the wind and thermals is such that the deer will be able to detect the hunter before they are in range, developing a waterhole in that area is probably an exercise in futility and hunting there is a good way to educate the deer herd and a waste of valuable stand time that could be better spent elsewhere.
  4. Secure Deer Travel- This one is kind of obvious, but your waterhole should be in a location where the deer feel secure enough to travel in daylight hours.  In high pressured areas, a waterhole in the middle of a 2 acre destination food plot is probably going to get hit after dark by any deer over 1.5 years old, especially bucks.  When planning the locations for my new waterholes, I chose to evaluate the deer patterns and movements of the property and try my best to find secure areas which were in close enough proximity to bedding that daylight travel was already occurring.  My expectation for my waterholes isn’t that they will be able to draw deer into an entirely different portion of the property, but rather that they might be another tool with the potential to define a more regular movement pattern from bed to feed.  These areas had to afford me undetected entry and exit and be huntable on the “right” winds for the deer.  I also hoped I could find a natural water source, such as a seep or spring, to develop so that I would not have to enter the area and leave any ground scent for any reason other than to hunt.  It would also save valuable time to be able to avoid carrying water into a location to fill a plastic container using five gallon buckets.  This is a tall order- finding an area where all these features can come together- and even a larger parcel may have only one such place.  Its also possible that no natural water sources are available within secure, huntable areas that also allow for clean entry and exit.  The only choice in that scenario might be to make an artificial water source and hope to get some assistance from mother nature in keeping it supplied with rain and runoff water.

Working through the above criteria, I was able to locate 2 places on the property that met the requirements of being accessible, huntable, within the deer’s natural bed to food pattern and there happen to be natural springs that I can utilize to create a waterhole that will need little mid-season maintenance.

Example #1

The natural seep that will be developed into a small waterhole that will retain a few inches of water.

The natural seep that will be developed into a small waterhole that will retain a few inches of water.

The spot I am most excited about is a seep on a subtle bench along the top 1/3 of the mountain which receives a high percentage of the deer travel in the area.  Deer bed along the upper edge of the transition of pines and hardwoods to the East of this seep and they follow the bench out of the bedding area on the way to food.  The doe bedding to the East, that is located below the bench trail, is an added draw to late morning cruising bucks in the pre-rut to rut time frame.  Rising morning thermals will allow them to scent check the bedding area from above and this bench is a probable cruising route for this reason.  Throwing a secluded water source into the equation creates even more reason for thirsty rutting bucks to briefly hit this area before continuing on.  Another interesting feature at this location is that a trail breaks off the bench and angles up and over the top of the hill.  This is a primary location where deer transition over the top of the mountain to, and from, the other side.  Because I can access this area via a “deer free” portion of open timber, and the waterhole will be at the base of a transition along a secluded travel corridor, all of which is adjacent to bedding, I feel there is a good chance that deer movement becomes consolidated in this area.  Here is an aerial view of this location:

terrain

Click on the photo to view larger. The red circle marks the location of beds found during post season scouting. The black lines, representing primary deer trails, follow the contour of the hill as seen by the terrain map to the left. This small bench provides an easy travel route parallel with the side of the hill. The blue dot pin points the location of the seep and the black line angling to the top right of the maps is the trail that is used as a transition from this lower bench to the top of the ridge. This seep is located only +/- 100 yards from a known bedding area, and a WNW wind allows a hunter positioned below the bench trail to stay undetected during an evening hunt with falling thermals, even though the deer can walk quartering into the wind. Uninhibited stand access (green path) can be accomplished from S of the stand location through the more open portion of the timber which does not hold bedded deer.

 

Example #2

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The primary deer trails (black lines) coming out of both the doe bedding to the North and the buck bed to the SE converge on this location.  Because a transition line is both created by a change in vegetation from hardwood timber to scrub brush/thorn trees, as well as the incline of the hill getting steeper, this stand location (Orange ‘X’) is a great spot even without a water hole.  The blue arrow depicts the wind’s propensity to follow the treeline when it collides with the taller, thicker vegetation and shoots south.  A Northwest wind is risky but huntable, while a NNW wind leaves a little more margin for error.

While I’m not as excited about the location of the second water hole, the potential to draw deer out of multiple bedding areas is a positive.  There is also an existing spring at this location, but this end of the property is wetter in general and provides other potential areas for deer to drink.  The draw of the waterhole is perhaps not as strong for those reasons and a buck bedded to the SE of this location could potentially seek out water at another location and leave the bed and head south.  The deer bedded high and dry further up the hill will be more likely to drop down to drink before moving West to the ag fields in the evening.  The biggest positive about this location is that the stand site is already dynamite.  There is several transitions that come together at this exact location, a hard vegetation change occurs at the base of a sharp elevation change.  The natural funneling effect of this location provided one of my most exciting rut hunts last season.  Deer prefer the cover of the timber to move out to the Ag fields and so this edge provides them with seclusion, and the falling evening thermals allow them to scent check the hillside above as they move quartering into a NW or NNW crosswind.

This NW wind direction has the potential to almost give the hunter away to a buck bedded to the SE.  The advantage of the treeline to the West of this buck bed is that the wind will have a tendency to hit it and flow South along its edge.  A NW wind by itself would be just-off this bed, but leave little to no margin for any WNW gusts.  The feature of the tree line will help in this situation, but a relatively calm evening with NNW winds is probably preferable to sit in this location.  Since access is quiet and hidden from site, a noisy wind is not required to approach this area undetected so it can be reserved for still evenings where the wind swirls will be more stabilized later in the day once the thermal currents begin to fall.  A water hole is not necessary to have success in this stand location, (there are already 3-4 good reasons to hunt there), it may, however, provide an added draw to consolidate the deer movement and perhaps provide a few additional seconds for a shot opportunity.

Conclusion

Building these waterholes is going to be exciting.  Whenever we plan a habitat improvement the imagination runs wild with visions of successful future hunts that pan out to perfection.  Usually the reality is slightly less exciting as I don’t think any one thing is a magic bullet when it comes to deer hunting, but stacking odds in your favor is advisable.  Furthermore, these waterholes are located in areas that would be beneficial to hunt even if water wasn’t present and they are locations that can be easily accessed with minimal disturbance and little effect on the rest of the property or other stand sites.  Add in that they should self-maintain because of the natural supply of water, and it should be an inexpensive project that can pay off with dividends for years to come.

-Reuben Dourte, commongroundbowhuunter@gmail.com

 

 

 


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The Velvet Rut

Things are looking up on the hunting grounds in PA.  The jury is still out in New York, but at least one definite shooter has shown himself.  Home ranges will shift as we near velvet peel, but for now its a lot of fun to locate bachelor bucks and capitalize on their consistent summer patterns.  The dog days of summer are almost magical times for a deer hunter in that no other time of year allows you to observe mature deer in daylight with such regularity.

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The shortening days cause an increase in testosterone which initiates the shedding of the velvet and also seems to trigger more reclusive behavior.  Relocating that buck you watched all summer can be difficult or sometimes near impossible; he could be as close as the next property over or as far as a couple miles away.  While it is probably prudent to withhold the finalization of your “hit-list” until after the bucks return to their Fall ranges, its still pretty awesome to see a handful of shooters utilizing the property you hunt during July and August.  This can help provide tremendous motivation to finish the last of the summer projects, organize hunting equipment and refine your shooting.  There’s certainly a chance that some of the bucks in the bachelor group you are watching are homebodies and largeIMG_2993 portions of their Summer and Fall ranges overlap.  What is important to keep in mind, however, is that food sources at this time of year are rapidly changing and that only increases in September.  Bean fields begin to dry up and in dairy-dense areas, corn may be harvested for silage and thus taken off before season which means much less waste grain left behind.  In some areas farmers may even disc their harvested corn fields and leave them bare to take advantage of Spring snows (poor man’s fertilizer) which serve to leech nitrogen into the soil.  These fields will be of little to no draw to the deer herd and so the summer patterns you were observing with regularity aren’t going to have much influence on Fall movements.


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Stay open minded and adaptive to what the deer herd is doing in each season.  The velvet rut is incredibly exciting and gives us all hope and fills our dreams for the next several months with that big dark antlered beast that was seemed careless and nonchalant all summer long.  He will be a different beast in a few months and it will take all your off season prep to put the puzzle together and stick an arrow in him.

If you haven’t yet gotten a chance to do any summer glassing, here is some July velvet footage from NY and PA to hold you over in the meantime:

 

 

 

-Reuben Dourte, commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

 


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15 yards Might as Well be a Country Mile

Category : Miscellaneous

When you are speaking in terms of bowhunting, the difference of 15 yards can be what lies between success and failure.  Two years ago I had a mature buck  standing at 35 yards in a thicket.  He offered no clear shot, but just FIVE yards, (let alone 15), in my direction would have potentially made the difference of my whole season.  Likewise, the difference between a 35 yard shot and a 50 yard shot is obviously huge.  For many archers, myself included, it might be the difference between “shoot” and “don’t shoot”.

While the implications of distance for shooting is obvious, what is less obvious is the difference 15 yards can make in creating a dynamite stand location or ruining one.  Its not enough to consider what 15 yards might add or subtract from your shot potential; whitetail hunters need to consider what a treestand adjustment of 15 yards might provide them as far as wind, thermal or even access advantage.

Wind and Thermals

If you want to hunt aggressively, there is going to be times when you find yourself cheating the wind.  Splitting the proverbial hairs when it comes to stand placement and deer bedding/travel is a reality of archery hunting.  More times than not, you need to hunt a just-off wind in order to be in the right place at the right time for the expected deer travel.  Utilizing this concept, last season I placed a stand just north of a well used deer trail.  There was a small hole in the tree canopy which I expected to provide enough sunlight to warm the air in the clearing and cause a rising thermal effect.  I hoped this would take my scent up and over the deer trail, even when sitting upwind of it.  In theory it works; however, what I didn’t predict was how the wind would tumble over the tree tops and take my scent toward the ground.  The evergreen trees on the South side of the opening created a “wall” which the wind followed to the ground, moving in the same way as you would expect water to tumble and churn after flowing over rocks into a deeper pool. When the sun would warm the area I sat over, the prevailing wind created an unpredictable swirling effect with the thermal activity.  I was sitting inside the opening in the timber and this allowed my scent to swirl before it made its way on through the timber.  I tried to hunt this stand with a North wind, and any time there was West in the wind it would take my scent down and swirl before shooting in the East/ESE direction.

 

Here is a crude graphic to demonstrate how the thermals and prevailing wind created a swirling effect in the small opening I was hunting over. Late morning thermals lifted any human scent above the deer trail, however, the prevailing wind plummeting into the clearing and hitting a wall of evergreens on the South Side of the clearing created an unpredictable swirlingeffect which allowed any approading deer to be alerted of a hunter's presence.

Here is a simple graphic (click photo to enlarge) to illustrate how the thermals drafts and prevailing wind created a swirling effect in the small opening I was hunting over. Late morning thermals lifted any human scent above the deer trail, however, the prevailing wind plummeting into the clearing and hitting a wall of evergreens on the South side of the opening created an unpredictable swirling effect which allowed any approaching deer to be alerted of a hunter’s presence.

I was able to map exactly what was happening through the use of milkweed seed.  The milkweed provided a visual for 10, 20, even 40 yards instead of just 5 feet like a powder bottle would do.  If I had relied on a powder bottle in this situation I would be left wondering why I was not seeing deer and even more puzzled as to why the deer I did see seemed to be picking up my scent as soon as they stepped into the shooting lane.  I quickly abandoned the pre-hung stand for the year and decided to come back with a run-and-gun set and slightly adjust my position for any future hunts closer to the pre-rut time period.

I filled my tag before the rut really kicked in so I never made it back to that location during archery season, and I chose to hunt a different travel corridor leading into some escape cover on our property for the gun opener.  However, I headed back to this spot in July to make the adjustments I had planned out last fall.  What I chose to do is move my stand 15 yards to the south, which positions me on the other side of the prominent trail.  More importantly, I am several yards off the aforementioned canopy opening.  I am shooting into the clearing with a slightly longer shot (still under 20 yards), but I will be able to benefit from more consistent wind and my scent will not be as prone to a swirling effect as it was when sitting in the other tree just a few yards away.  Additionally, because I was able to better determine how the deer approached from East of my location, it became evident that sitting 15 yards to the South would allow me to better cheat the wind.  The same Northwest wind the deer like to utilize while traveling through this area will still be a perfect wind to hunt this stand on because my scent will be carried just enough away from the approaching trail to avoid detection.  The deer will feel secure walking into a quartering wind, while none the wiser that they are being hunted.  These are the kinds of setups that feel “bucky” when you sit them.  Its an aggressive gamble, and a slight wind shift can lead to a buck easily picking you off, but it is these chances that must be taken if an archery tag is to be filled on a consistent basis.

An aerial view

An aerial view (click photo to enlarge) showing the location of both the old and new stand.  The new stand site will keep the hunter out of the swirling winds present in the clearing, though it requires a slightly longer shot from a tree further from the opening’s edge.  The bend in the deer trail at this location will allow a hunter to sit on this stand during a NW or even WNW wind and stay undetected to deer who are moving with their nose to the wind.  Hunting a just-off wind is often necessary for capitalizing on deer movement.

Timing Access and Exit

The last piece of the puzzle is access.  Because this is located in the deepest part of the property, access is not easy, and it is limited.  It would be impossible to approach this stand in the afternoon without bumping bedded deer in other parts of the woods.  Some stands are morning stands, some are good in the evening, and others require an all day sit.  This stand will be one that requires an all day commitment.  Early morning access, 1-2 hours before daylight, will be imperative.  Because this stand lies between a food source and a doe bedding area, I would expect pre-rut or rutting bucks could potentially use this area in the morning hours to check for does heading back to bed.  Historical trail camera data has shown that early season bucks still utilize this area in daylight hours as well, so this stand may get some action for an opening day sit and then not again until a pre-rut to rut time frame.  As good as this spot is, it would be extremely easy to over hunt it, so a high level of self control is needed and just a few quality, well-timed hunts will trump quantity of sits in this location.

Understanding what the wind is doing around your stand location is imperative to making necessary adjustments and tweaks from year to year.  Sometimes the difference of as little as five, ten or fifteen yards can turn both “good” and “bad” stand set-ups into absolute killer spots.

-Reuben Dourte

 


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Hunting an Evolved Deer Herd

Whitetail Deer have unarguably proven to be the most adaptive of all big game species.  Across the breadth of their range they have now learned to exist in and around metropolitan areas and skirted predators of the two and four legged variety for centuries.  Deer quickly adjust to hunting pressure and have an uncanny ability to differentiate between threatening human activity and other benign actions.  I remember when I was young, we would go to our friends’ cabin in July and I would enjoy watching deer come into the yard to feed on the corn we threw out to them.  Within an hour of arriving at the property the deer would materialize out of a large clearing and look to see if any corn was out.  For generation after generation, they were conditioned, by vacationers, that summer activity at the cabin meant easy pickings.

I believe hunting pressure can similarly affect deer and leave a lasting impression on a deer herd and how they behave.  It is reasonable to assume that deer in our cabin example would discontinue this feeding practice after a few years if no more corn was offered.  Once all the individuals from the last generation of deer that had been conditioned to the idea of cabin activity=food, died off, there would again exist a learning curve for the future deer herd if the feeding practice was resumed at a later date.  The subsequent generations would not have learned this behavior and so a certain level of adaptation would have to occur all over again.  Not so with hunting.  Hunting is unique because deer who do not appropriately adapt to threats, or do not have certain favorable attributes for survival, are eliminated from a population.  Once eliminated, these deer are not present to pass on their genetics.  Because both physiological and behavioral characteristics are influenced by genetics, I believe it is reasonable to assume that deer with certain behavioral patterns or personalities, that allow them to live for more years, survive longer and therefore produce more offspring with those same traits in a given population.

Perhaps a biologist would tell me I’m full of it, but I believe this can, in part, explain the great diversity in movement patterns between deer of different regions.  It is no secret that 2 year old bucks in PA, NY or Michigan behave with much the same level of caution as four year old deer in lesser pressured states like Illinois, Iowa or Kansas.  The common reaction is to attribute this to the hunting pressure that exists during the current season, i.e. You’re not seeing bucks in daylight in Michigan because you and your 10 neighbors have hunted every morning and evening since the October 1st opener and the Illinois bowhunter has a whole section to himself.  

But what about those areas in high pressure states that receive little to no archery hunting pressure?  Why isn’t more daylight buck, or mature doe, activity detected?  Even young deer are less likely to move outside of the fringes of light in these areas.  Surely in less pressured pockets of high pressured states we should at least see yearling and two year old bucks regularly moving outside of the first and last hour of daylight; at least prior to the opening day of gun season anyway.  Still, that’s not the case in many areas, and we’re often left asking ourselves “why”.

Often the temptation is to get discouraged with your own comprehension of whitetail hunting.  I have a hard time assessing the root cause of the problem to lack of hunting savvy by outdoorsmen in these less renowned big buck states.  In fact, these states are less renowned for big bucks for the very reason that these same hunters are fairly efficient at killing the deer before they reach 4, 5 or 6 years old.  Furthermore, a majority of the hunting articles and literature produced today is based on Midwestern hunting tactics that are employed in big buck states.  The validity of these methods is often displayed by the amount of antler/ground contact said tactic can be attributed with producing.  In other words, hunting strategies that produce big bucks in well known big buck states are what make it into many of the articles we read because, in an industry which measures success in inches of antler, these are the articles that sell.  This isn’t as much cynicism as it is realism.  The point is, these are the very tactics that hunters in Michigan, New York or Pennsylvania are often employing without success.  If the deer behaved in the same ways in these states, one would think these tactics would work and the same behavioral patterns could be capitalized upon.  The Northeast doesn’t have a monopoly on sloppy, un-savvy hunters, so there has to be something more to it.

To illustrate my theory I want to first describe something I witnessed last evening while taking a walk with my dad.  We came up to a cattle pasture where about half of the cattle had figured out that the standing corn field outside of the fence was better eating than the dry grass in the pasture.  They had pushed through the high tensile electric fence and were having a hay-day in the farmers field.  Still, half the herd remained inside the fence where they belonged, happily foraging on the grass that was meant for them.  Now, imagine a scenario where the grass on the inside of the fence was completely depleted and only the cattle who had figured out how to go through the fence could get to feed.  You would expect that the cattle inside the fence would quickly starve and die off, leaving only the fence busters to survive and breed on.  Whatever inherent trait that initially made those cattle break through the fence would be bred on in the herd.  Whether it was a belligerent personality, the fact that they were less docile and had more drive and therefore harder to contain, a stronger will to live and find a food source once the primary one was depleted, or even the physical ability to push through the fence, the genetic trait that predisposed those cattle to going through the fence, or having the ability to, would indeed be passed down through the herd.  Add in the learned behavior from one generation to the next and a reasonable person would expect that in a few generations you would be left with only cattle who had the ability, know how and/or desire to go through the fence.  The cattle who did not possess this have been eliminated as they starved once the grass in the pasture was consumed.  They are no longer here to perpetuate their passive personality, or lack of physical prowess, through breeding.  This is simply a layman’s version of the idea of natural selection, and its not hard to see how the behaviors or traits of even a local population can be shaped relatively quickly.

Now, compare that to the whitetail deer you hunt.  Could it be possible that high hunter density states which experience high harvest numbers and significant buck exploitation have, generation after generation, eliminated deer who are more predisposed to daylight movement, making them easier targets and thus a disproportionate part of the annual harvest?  I would theorize that this is not only possible, but that it is happening each and every year in these areas.  If you are a whitetail deer in Pennsylvania and you are trying to avoid an average of 20.5 hunters per square mile, and you show yourself on a regular basis during daylight hours, your chances of survival are greatly diminished when compared to the survival chances of the buck with a reclusive personality, reserving his movements to the fringes of light.  The daylight walker has a good chance of being harvested prior to any breeding activity while the reclusive buck may well live an additional season or two and sire several times as many fawns.  Likewise, if these fawns are born to wary old does, their survival rates increase while the learned behavior of avoiding hunting pressure is passed on.  Couple that with the genetic predisposition of limited daylight movement, its easy to imagine how efficiently wary deer within a population are able to procreate.

An area with a deer population that consists of 10 bucks per square mile and experiences an 80% buck exploitation rate will have 2 bucks survive each year per square.  There is a good chance that among the surviving buck(s) is not going to be the rut crazed aggressive two year old that everyone had on trail camera, traveling from property to property, looking for any receptive doe.  These gregarious bucks are more receptive to calling, may be less cautious and, in areas where there is a hunter behind just about every other tree, they are much more susceptible to hunter harvest than their less aggressive relatives.  While those bucks can be the most fun to hunt, they usually don’t live long enough to hunt; at least not often, anyway.

So, after decades of hunting pressure, and generations of wary whitetails having more frequent opportunities to breed on, its easy to see how we may have created what some could consider a “nocturnal” deer herd.  Couple the unique movements of the deer in these high pressure areas with the employment of tactics meant for hunting lesser pressured mature whitetails in low hunter density states (deer who have not been eliminated albeit their careless), and you have a perfect storm that can quickly lead to hunter dissatisfaction.  The bucks in PA and NY might not be “nocturnal”, their daylight movement may just be limited to places of thick cover or staging areas adjacent to their bedding, instead of field edges or travel corridors that are several hundred yards from where they spend the majority of their day.  Whitetails in these areas require more precision, attention to detail, stealthy access and a more calculated and aggressive hunting strategy on the whole.

Have we created, in some locations, a deer herd which behaves differently even when left “unpressured” through much of the hunting season?  I believe we have.  Does it make them un-killable? No, but it definitely makes them harder to kill while high hunter denisty leads to harvest numbers which result in fewer target animals within a given age class.  The ones that have survived to that 3 or 4 year old age class did so for a reason.  And that, in and of itself, should redefine what a “trophy” is to each and every one of us.

-Reuben Dourte