Monthly Archives: September 2016

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archery

Opening Day Prep

Opening day of archery is almost upon us.  For hunters in NY, MI, IA, PA (etc.), October 1st marks a special day on the calendar.  The air has begun to change, and the nostalgia cool air of Fall begins to settle around us.  As we anticipate the season, most of us having been shooting bow for (hopefully) several months now.  Broadheads get tuned and all our gear gets pulled out and arranged.  Here is a quick list of items I go through in the days leading up to season:

1. Check stands- By this time, I’ve gone over my tree stands.  I’ve replaced cables, and optimized anything on my portable sets that caused me problems last year.  If something was making noise, I am wrapping it in hockey tape.  If something was broken, I fix it.  Quiet treestands could be the difference between an empty or filled tag; safe treestands could mean the difference of life and death.

2. Tune Broadheads- I have good luck shooting Grim Reaper broadheads in that I don’t have to do much bow tuning for them.  I shoot field points all summer and only switch to broadheads to make sure no minor adjustments need to be made before heading into the woods.  At this same time, I also tune with Nockturnal lighted nocks on my arrows since they are heavier than a regular nock.  Making sure your hunting set up is accurate is the ethical thing to do.  Don’t just assume your broadheads will me in tune.  I’m not super techy when it comes to my bow, but now is also the time I do one last check of my bow’s cams, string sights, etc.

3. Wash clothing- I wash my clothing in scent free detergent.  Don’t ask me if it works because I am torn on the subject.  What I do know is that I feel like it works and that gives me more confidence and a more positive outlook which keeps me in the stand longer.  What I do know is beneficial is air drying clothing after it is laundered.  I hang my clothes out on the line to dry instead of running them in a dryer and picking up the scent and smell of fabric softener, detergent as well as the human odor that is in the dryer.  This was one of the things I never could make sense of with carbon clothing.  Why was the carbon not “absorbing” all of the scent that was present in the dryer?  Wouldn’t the carbon layer be saturated when it came out of the dryer?  Reactivating of carbon is done at 800 degrees celsius, so I couldn’t help but wonder if I was just tumbling my clothing around in a smelly dryer for no reason.  Washing my clothes and hanging them to dry prior to season gives my clothes a bath of fresh air and gives me the opportunity to go over all of the items and organize them in my bins.  This way I know where everything is and can find it quickly before I head to the stand.

4. Fill your Pack- If you carry a back pack to the woods the week before season starts is a great time to fill your pack with the essentials you will need for the hunt.  My pack contents look a little different for all day rut hunts than during the early season when I am mostly hunting evenings.  However, I carry camera gear into the woods all season long and so I organize these items in my pack and make sure I have a consistent system where each item goes so I can pack or unpack in the dark.

5. Plan your hunt- About ten days out I begin to look at www.wunderground.com for weather data during the upcoming days.  I am not only interested in what opening day will be like, but also the days leading up to it.  If the opener happens to be another hot day on the back side of three other unseasonably warm days it is probably not going to get me too excited.  However, if a cold front is forecasted to hit after several warming days, it could be the perfect time to get into a higher percentage stand.  When I am looking at this weather, I am also eliminating stands in my mind based on wind direction.  There are certain stands that just can’t be hunted on specific prevailing wind directions.  This is why it is important to find stand locations for all wind directions.  Going into a stand on the wrong wind direction can be the best way to ruin your season before it can even begin.  To that point, it is important to monitor the wind direction once you get to your location as the prevailing wind is not necessarily indicative to how the local wind currents and thermal drafts are behaving around your stand.  Weather data gives you a starting point to fine tune your stand selection.  It also gives you an idea of what you need to pack- extra layers, rain gear, etc.  I continue to check the local weather each day before the opener because it can change that rapidly and I want to have time to readjust a plan if I need to.

6.  Call the processor- Make sure the processor is going to be around and can take your deer.  If you are lucky enough to get an early season deer, the meat can spoil quickly in 65-70 daytime temps.  You should be prepared to process the deer immediately or have a butcher lined up who you can take it to right after you harvest it.

Remember- luck is where preparation meets opportunity.

-Reuben Dourte

Email me at CommonGroundBowhunter@gmail.com


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hunting bike

Tour De Common Ground

Category : DIY , Gear , Hunting Hacks , Tactics

What does biking have to do with hunting?  You might be wondering this.  And, if you are, chances are at this point in time the answer for you is “Not much”.  Friends of mine have been using bicycles to their advantage for over a decade now.  Since I haven’t had the same need in years passed, (or at least perceived that I didn’t), I avoided this method of transportation.  The basic reason was that where I hunt, the access is such that there are no trails suitable for biking.  There are, however, county roads; but for every season leading up to this one, we simply walked or drove along the roadways.  This summer I dug out an old mountain bike from my shed and gave it a new coat of paint, checked the brakes, and got it ready to use for hunting season.  You may be wondering why I would need, or want, to use a bicycle for any kind of transportation, given how I just described the area we typically hunt.  As I see it, there are plenty of benefits to having this tool in your arsenal, so it is just one more trade secret I can apply as needed.  The weight of each benefit shifts and changes based on the terrain, area, and your style of hunting. But overall, most (if not all), serious hunters can reap the rewards of utilizing a bicycle for stand access.

  1. Save Time- Riding a bike saves valuable time when accessing stand locations.  You aren’t going to be riding you bike right to your stand tree, so you are still going to have some foot travel, but you can keep a good pace down a reclaimed railroad bed on a bike, often with less physical effort than walking.  A half hour or hour walk to get back into a remote piece of public can be shortened to ten or fifteen minutes by bike.  Those extra minutes during a morning hunt could mean the difference between beating a buck back to his bed, or not.  It also can mean a few extra minutes of shut-eye which can become valuable toward the end of a long season.
  2. Less Sweat- You might as well capitalize on mechanical advantage.  Riding a bike, if on relatively level ground, is less likely to cause you to sweat as much as walking the whole way to your stand at a brisk pace will.  Less sweat=less scent.  It also means you are less likely to have wet clothing that will make you cold as soon as your body cools.
  3. Remote access- If you are hunting large public parcels and you are walking back hiking trails or railroad beds for several miles to get away from other hunters, a bike can do wonders for you.  Not only does it save time, but it also makes these remote access areas even possible to hunt.  Most people aren’t willing to walk 2-3 miles in.  A bike makes these treks more feasible so you can avoid hunting pressure and hunt the deer that are doing the same.
  4. Deer Carrier- One of my good friends has rigged up his bike with a few extras, like a platform over the rear wheel and a handle bar rack.  When he shoots a deer in a remote area, he walks it out on his bike instead of dragging it for 2 miles, or having to quarter it in the timber.  I’d better mention that this technique is best coupled with some hunter orange to cover the deer for safety reasons.
  5. Less Pressure- In my opinion, the number one case for using a bike is that it allows you to put less pressure on the deer you are hunting.  In suburban areas, deer may be used to bikers riding on trails past their bedding areas.  You may need to push in past doe bedding to get to an area where you think a buck is bedded.  If riding a bike keeps you from being associated with danger, it can give you access to more remote pieces of a property without spooking non target deer.  Likewise, if you hunt primarily in hill country with a mixture of cover and open fields, you may be coming out of the timber and moving along roadways to get back to you vehicle.  The deer may not tolerate the sight of a human walking along the roadside, however, there is a good chance they are accustomed to dirt bikes, fourwheelers and even cyclists on country roads.  You can avoid having deer associate you with danger by turning your approach into just another common, non-threatening disturbance along the thoroughfare.  This is the primary reason I pulled my bike out of the shed this year.  I want to be able to move up and down the county road quickly, and without the deer associating me with hunter foot traffic.  I hope this will keep the deer in the destination ag fields less disturbed throughout the whole season and keep doe family groups patterns in tact all the way into the pre-rut timeframe.

Consider tweaking a mountain bike for hunting access in the future.  If it can save time, help you get into more remote areas, or lower the pressure on your local deer herd, how can it hurt your efforts?  Sometimes its the little things that make all the difference.

-Reuben Dourte

Email me at CommonGroundBowhunter@gmail.com

 


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brassica leaves

Fall Food Plots for Dry Summers

Category : Deer Management , DIY

2016 was going to usher in a new era of food plotting on our western New York property.  Although we don’t hunt any of the food plots on the property, (with the exception of one micro kill plot),  we still view food plots as an important part of our management practices.  They can serve to hold deer on and around our property and provide food sources once the surrounding crops are taken off in early to mid October.  With the purchase of a four row no-till corn planter, we now had the ability to plant corn in areas of the property that were previously off limits to conventional tillage methods.  We could also plant when the soil conditions were right and not have to rely on the local farmer.

Our excitement quickly turned to disappointment when we visited the property shortly after planting the corn field.  The turkeys had walked the rows and pull out a high percentage of the seedlings as soon as they broke through the soil.  Another visit two weeks later revealed severe drought damage.  Even our earlier plantings were showing evidence of deer damage and drought stress.  It was surely not going to be a bumper crop year.

corn drought

The poor population in this corn plot is due in part to the soil condition during planting. It is also being damaged by deer and the summer drought in western New York has taken the biggest toll.

We made the decision during this July trip that we would have to shift from corn to another food plot species that could provide adequate late season forage.  Because we were already well into July, and the ground was as dry as we had ever seen it, we elected to wait until mid August, hoping for rainfall some time between mid-July and our work weekend scheduled for August 6 & 7.

As we neared our trip date, the area received an an inch of rainfall in the first week of August and the forecast promised over a 70% chance for the second week.  We loaded the truck and headed North.  We had a few options when it came to what we could plant at this time of year.  We could try to establish a fall seeding of clover, we could plant brassicas or we could choose a mix of cereal grains.  I’m sure a food plot specialist could rattle off several other viable options, nevertheless, we narrowed the choices to these options for multiple reasons.  We have planted some variation of these species in the past successfully, some of the soil we would be planting is acidic, which the cereal grain mix (especially winter rye) would be more forgiving of, and we wanted something that would provide enough tonage to be a significant supply of late season food during the 3 week gun season and the months following.

We could have chalked up the year as a failed attempt.  There would be no promise that mother nature would cooperate even if we reworked the plots and planted new fall forage.  This might have been the easiest thing to do, but come hunting season I knew I would be cursing myself for failing to provide viable food sources on the property to draw and hold deer.  Our failure could even have substantial impacts on the quantity and quality of bucks we saw in the following year or two.

white agco tractor

Tilling the corn under with the tractor and disk in early August.

What we elected to plant was a buffet of brassica mixes and cereal grains.  We divided the plots that had been in corn and planted sections in different crops.  The cereal grains and winter peas would become attractive immediately, along with the established clover plots adjacent to these areas.  The Winter Rye and Winter Wheat would then serve to provide forage through late season along with the brassica plantings later in October.

 

We mapped out of plot designs and put the tractor and disc to work tilling under the drought stricken corn

plots.  In between disking we fertilized the plots and once the seed bed was prepared we spun on the seed.  After cultipacking the plots we headed for home, knowing the rest of the variables were out of our hands.  I anxiously checked the weather on a regular basis, and the day after planting we were blessed with a day

food plot tilled

Prepared seed bed ready for seeding.

long rain event that yielded over an inch.  This alone would be enough to push the crops out of the soil.  Subsequent rains fell over the next month and upon arriving a month later to stock the wood shed, I was amazed to find the best looking Fall plantings we had ever managed to produce.  The Winter Wheat, Winter Rye, Oats and Peas were coming up beautifully, although the deer were already hammering them.  The brassicas were enormous, with big full leaves and amazing uniformity.  The draw of the cereal grain plots had relieved some pressure from the clover and those areas looked better than they had all summer, helped by additional moisture and less browsing pressure.

 

In one month, our property went from having nearly no prospective food sources for late season to having the largest abundance of it we have ever had.  Had we been complacent and accepted the reality that the corn food plots were not going to provide any significant forage for the deer we would have been left with a property that had very minimal resources for the deer to utilize.

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Cereal Grains, Clover and Brassicas in the same food plot to provide attraction to this area during all periods of hunting season.

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Destination brassica plot.

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Cereal grains and brassicas along a cover strip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we chose to till under the corn plots and replant the brassica and cereal grains, we had no guarantees that those efforts too would not be in vain.  It was one of the driest summers in western New York that I remember, and rainfall was anything but guaranteed  but one of the great benefits of Fall plantings for late season food plots is that you can capitalize on planting dates at a time of year when rainfall is not as scarce.  When it comes to deer hunting, the easiest path is unlikely to be the best or more beneficial one.  Food plotting is no exception to that.  We have left the New York property absolutely exhausted numerous times over the past four months.  Some of that work ended up being in vain because of the summer drought, but persistence pays off in the end and refusing to accept undesirable results is absolutely necessary if you are trying to produce enough food to hold deer on your property from mid September through January.

 

-Reuben Dourte

 

Email me at CommonGroundBowhunter@gmail.com


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farm country

Hunting the Harvest in Farmland

Bowhunting farm country can sometimes be viewed as less of a challenge than pursuing whitetails in the deep swamps or big woods.  Access is usually less remote, and locating destination food sources certainly doesn’t take a genius.  Furthermore, deer are visible in food sources during the summer months and establishing an inventory of target deer can be an easier task.  Still, there are plenty of unique challenges involved with hunting farm country deer.  Cover is, at times, limited and deer can bed so close to food sources that it is hard to enter stand locations without bumping them.  Parcels are often smaller in size and the most strategic access routes can be limited by boundary lines.

In my opinion the biggest challenge to hunting farmland is often overlooked by many hunters.  Although it occurs every Fall, rapidly changing food sources in agricultural areas is something that seems to be an oft ignored factor in predicting likely deer movement and habitat shifts.  When corn begins to come off in early fall, especially if taken for silage instead of grain, large pieces of cover and food disappear overnight.  Soybean fields begin to yellow and become less and less attractive and October frosts slow the regeneration of alfalfa fields.  Those same frosts cause the production of sugars in native browse and brassica plots and the deer begin to turn to other food sources.  Throw in the availability of mast crops, both hard and soft, and by mid October everything you thought you knew about deer movement in the area seems to be null and void.

Some lament this seasonal change and the challenges that it brings for farmland hunters, while others fall victim to a lack of observation and continue to hunt the same spots long after they have dried up and they lack consistent success because of it.  I have probably fallen into both of those categories at some point in time, but lately I have tried to put myself into a third group.  The hunters who are having success during these times of changing or depleting food sources are the ones who have prepared for it.  Understanding peak attraction times during the year for the food whitetails prefer is an important part of keeping yourself in the game all fall.

There are plenty of ways that the harvest of agricultural crops can help you.  For one, when there is so much food available, the deer have near endless options.  As fields are harvested, it makes the remaining standing crop that much more of a draw.  Stands around these food sources can heat up as the Fall progresses.  Furthermore, hunters who are able to plant food plots may be able to hold deer on their properties after harvest by planting Fall plots that begin to have a draw at the times you want to be in the woods hunting- October and November.  Winter Rye, Wheat and Oats fields can be favorites of deer from September all the way through late season; while Brassicas are another great food plot species that can peak in attraction after a few good frosts, or in other words, at about the time most of the crops have been removed from the surrounding ag land.  If you have put in the work during the summer to establish these food sources, you can hold deer on your property often easier than before the harvest occurred.  Establishing plots in areas where you can hunt the travel corridors and staging areas between bedding and these food sources is important so that you do not pressure the deer you are trying to hunt with your entrance and exit routes to your stands.

In other circumstances, crop fields can have a huge draw right after they are harvested.  In particular, the waste grain left in corn fields by combines each fall is easy pickings for the local deer and a few days after the corn is taken off present significant opportunities for hunters.  This draw seems to diminish as time goes on, and while a picked corn field may have a few deer in it each night of the season, nothing quite measures to those first few days post harvest.  Likewise, once the cover of the corn is removed, a buck who might have been bedding in a grassy island in the middle of the field is going to move to another bedding area where he might be more huntable an a savvy archer can take advantage of this shift.

Keeping tabs on the changing food sources in farm country is almost as important as keeping tabs on an individual buck.  Even during the rut, doe movements will be altered by available food, which will in turn affect where you will find buck travel.  Instead of hunting the same stands from the beginning of season until the end, consider adjusting with the changing availability of food and cover, if you aren’t already doing so.  The deer do, and so should you.

-Reuben Dourte

Email me at CommonGroundBowhunter@gmail.com

 


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muddy pro climbing sticks

Fool Me Once

I believe deer abide by the old saying “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”, or at least some instinctual version of it.  The reason?  Well, after bow hunting for almost two decades I can tell you that experience has taught me a lot and failure has forced me to look at many of my past mistakes; one of which has been becoming emotionally attached to certain stand locations from year to year.  More often than not in the whitetail woods you don’t get a second opportunity, from the same stand, to fool a buck.  While there are times to continue to hunt the same location for multiple hunts in a given season, it is impossible for me to ignore the reality that the best bucks on my wall have all come from “first-sits” in a new stand.  Likewise, a high percentage of our doe kills each year are achieved from these virgin sits.

Plenty of folks have stand locations where they go to kill a deer each year; that old trusty spot that never fails them.  Whether it be a box blind over CRP, or a tree stump in a deep woods saddle, these tried and true stands do exist.  While I wouldn’t deny their existence, I would argue that they are the exception rather than the rule, and personally I haven’t be fortunate enough to capitalize on that kind of year-in and year-out consistency from any one stand location.  In fact, after a season or two, and a few kills, even discreetly hung stands need adjustment in our hunting area.

After seasons of hunting an area, deer trails can alter and travel can easily move outside of bow range.  The old trusty stand soon becomes a dried up spot and hunters failing to adjust are left scratching their head, or worse yet, wrongly assuming that the deer population is suffering.  Tweaking your stand locations from year to year, and finding new areas to hunt is one of the best ways to stay in the game.  Here are a few reasons why first time sits can yield such positive results.

1. Lack of human scent- If you do a hang and hunt setup you are able to minimize the amount of human scent around your stand location prior to the hunt.  Too many hunters hang stands, or scout, immediately before the season.  Their scent stays in the area for several days and any deer coming through is now alerted to human intrusion in their core area.  When you walk in with a stand on your back and hunt immediately, by the time the deer crosses your scent stream or ground scent you should have already had the opportunity to harvest that animal, (if you minded your approach appropriately).  The alternative to hang and hunt sets is to get a pre set stand hung early in the Summer.  Early, as in July; and then leave the area untouched for 60-90 days before returning to hunt.  By the time you return to hunt, the deer have had enough time to resume utilizing the area, and many of the bucks you may be targeting now were likely utilizing different Summer ranges during the time you were in the timber setting up your ambush locations.

2. The element of Surprise- Deer look up.  This is true more in some areas than others, but the fact is, over time, deer become familiar with stand locations and quickly pick out a hunter sitting 20 feet up in a tree.  When you hunt new spots, especially during the first sit, you have the element of surprise to your advantage.  I have experienced deer picking me off 25 ft up in a tree which I hunted for too many seasons in a row, while I have also shot a buck at 7 yards, out of a treestand that was less than 12 feet off the ground, the very first time I hunted it.  On another occasion I was hunting with my wife and she was sitting in a ladder stand which I had had some success out of in years past.  I was sitting 50 yards from her and called in a 2 year old buck from the bedding area to our North.  He circled downwind of my stand when he came in which put him in almost perfect position for her, but he eventually passed slightly outside of her comfortable effective bow range.  The buck looked at her in the tree but did not spook and continued on his way.  Two weeks later I was hunting a different stand which was still in view of the ladder stand.  I watched the same buck come out of the marsh and walk toward the ladder stand.  When he was fifty yards away from it he stopped and stared at the tree and empty ladderstand for a solid 4-5 minutes.  Anecdotal evidence, sure, but I would offer it to anyone who says deer don’t remember and know to look for hunters in treestands which receive consistent use.

3. You don’t get lazy- By looking for new stand locations and sitting new stands, you avoid allowing yourself to become complacent and hunt that easy to access box blind or the same open oak flat that hasn’t had an acorn on it for three years.  Hanging new stands, accessing remote areas of a property and prepping new trees is a lot more work than hunting established stand sites.  But, if you get too comfortable with the same stands sites which have begun to yield less and less opportunities, you will never know the full potential of other locations on the property.  If you aren’t achieving the results you wish for from a given stand, simply putting more and more hours into this location with the hope of waiting out a buck is probably not going to change your circumstances.  In fact, in most cases there are probably more arguments to be made that your odds are significantly diminished each time you hunt the spot.  They do say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Finding new locations is a way to increase your odds but also provide a change of scenery and keep your mental game strong throughout the grind of a long bow season.  Its also one of the best ways to find out what you’ve been missing all along.

Its hard to deny the ratio of bucks killed on virgin sits vs. repetitive hunts from the same location.  There are exceptions to every rule, but upon further evaluation it isn’t so hard to see a trend and a pattern quickly form.  No matter how careful we are in approaching a stand, we can never eliminate 100% of the evidence of human activity in the area.  Some stands are more conducive to multiple hunts than others, and these factors should always be carefully weighed out when deciding where to hunt.  But, consider saving some of your best stand locations for a day with perfect conditions and look to capitalize on the element of surprise a fresh stand can provide you.  You may be amazed at what you see!

-Reuben Dourte

Email me @ commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

 


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Micro Food Plot

Micro Plot Update

Back in the early Spring we started a project that would continue through the hunting season.  The project was the installation of a new food plot in a transition area between bedding and a larger destination food source.  The area needed cleared of brush- thorn trees, brier bushes and other small shrubs and grasses.  I described in a past blog post about how we used all the brushed we cleared to created a wind row that would funnel deer from trails below the clearing up into the plot and past our stand location.  This would help us remain undetected during evening hunts when the thermals would be falling down the hillside away from the food source.

Since the area was previously in early regrowth, golden rod and small trees we needed to lime and fertilize to make sure we would realize adequate yields from our planting.  We applied lime at a rate of approximately 2T/acre and 15-15-15 at a rate of approximately 200 lbs/ acre.  (For plots that were getting brassicas we applied an additonal 100 lbs of Urea (Nitrogen) per acre (46-0-0)). After the ground was worked with a disc several times we had a good quality seed bed and we broadcast a mixture of winter

cereal grain food plot

Another of our cereal grain plots showing browsing pressure similar to that of the micro plot. The cereal grain plots provide an immediate draw which continues through early bow season and into late season.

wheat, winter rye, oats and winter peas.  The reason I went with this mixture for a fall planting was two fold.  The first reason was that these plants are relatively easy to establish in adverse conditions.  Rye, especially, is more tolerant of acidic soils and is more drought resistant than some other food plot species.  I knew that this first year, the pH would not be at optimal levels, even after lime application, and when we planted, western NY was on the back side of a hot and dry summer with below average rainfall.

The second reason for choosing this cereal grain mixture is that, unlike a brassica plot, it would immediately become attractive to the deer.  I could expect deer movement through the plot as soon as the vegetation sprouted and it should continue all season long.  The oats and peas have an immediate draw and in years past when we planted ONLY oats and peas together the deer herd destroyed the plots as fast as they could grow, leaving only a muddy field by hunting season.  The wheat and rye will fill this void and provide additional food in the plot through the latter part of the season once the oats and peas are depleted.

Winter Peas among the Winter Wheat, Winter Rye and Oats in the micro plot.

Winter Peas among the Winter Wheat, Winter Rye and Oats in the micro plot.

After planting, we received a two inch rainfall event over the course of two days.  This was vital to the success of our plot, as was the additional 2 inches that fell over the course of the next month.  When we checked our Fall plantings during the first half of September we were pleased to find lush green cereal grain plots and flourishing brassicas.  The cereal grains had drawn deer away from some of the clover plots, allowing them to recover from their poor drought strained state of mid summer.  Deer had begun to utilized the micro plot, and the trails leading into this location were more heavily used.  There was also evidence of browse pressure on the east end of the plot where the deer enter when coming from their bedding area.

To add to the draw of the plot we had left a small tree stand in the middle of the clearing and in early September I went in and made a mock scrape under one of the low branches of the tree and set a camera on the South side of the plot near the kill tree.  The camera can be accessed without entering the plot in order to monitor the movement and activity through the clearing and by the mock scrape.  Likewise, the tree stand overlooking the food plot is accessible in such a way that no deer trails must be crossed on approach and entrance and exit can be accomplished without pressuring the local deer herd.

I am looking forward to getting into this stand for an opening weekend hunt if the weather conditions cooperate.  So far everything has been falling into place with our little project and admittedly, there is something a rewarding about influencing the deer movement.  Hopefully, we will soon have some venison to show for all our efforts!

-Reuben Dourte

Email me @ CommonGroundBowhunter@gmail.com


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deer track

Burn It Down- Three Times to “Overhunt” a Stand

Tearin’ it up and burnin’ it down was a Garth Brooks anthem from the late ’90’s.  It describes a raucous night of of partying that assumes a take no prisoners attitude and indicates a path of destruction left in the wake of a no-holds-barred night out.  This song has nothing to do with hunting- except for the fact that some people use the terminology of burning out a stand location by hunting it too much, while other hunters do just that- burn out the same stands year after year.  Hunting season is like that party you’ve been waiting all year for and its hard to not jump in with all that pent up enthusiasm and tear up the terrain in search of the rack buck you’ve been getting on trail camera all summer.  While the narrative that is more often than not pushed in hunting literature and hunting media is a low impact approach, we all know of novice or beginner hunters who seem to enter the woods with reckless abandon and come out with the buck of a lifetime.  Most of this is probably attributable to the law of large numbers- sooner or later in a large enough sample an improbably event will happen.  Still, there might be something to the whole idea that “ignorance is bliss” and perhaps part of the reason for this phenomenon is that inexperienced hunters make the “wrong” moves at exactly the right times.

So, I began to evaluate my past experiences, and uncovered many times when “overhunting” a stand would have been advisable.  I use the term “overhunting” loosely because to me, truly “overhunting” a stand indicates that you continue to hunt it after the reasonable window of success has long since closed, or, you hunt a stand on the wrong conditions and ruin the chance for future hunts in that location for the next several weeks, at the least.  Instead, what I am talking about here are the times when its justifiable to sit multiple hunts in the same location in a relatively short amount of time; here are three examples:

  1. The stand has clean access and clean air- If your stand allows for clean entry and exit where you can avoid bumping deer, crossing deer trails, and can sit on stand for the entire hunt with clean air (your scent flowing into a “deer free” area such as a body of water, a steep ravine, or a barren ag field) you may be able to get away with hunting a stand more with more frequency than usual.  If the deer don’t know you are there, they aren’t being “hunted”, and you can enjoy capitalizing on hunting transition areas and staging cover between bedding and food.  As long as you don’t educate the deer of your presence, these stands can stay hot for multiple sits.
  2. Deer are still on early season patterns- If you are able to hunt in a state that opens early enough to capitalize on more predictable early season bed to food patterns you might want to get aggressive before bucks break up their bachelor groups and relocate for Fall.  Some states open in August when the same bachelor groups are hitting the same food sources night after night.  If you can enter and exit your stand without blowing out the bedding cover or the food source at dark, you need to keep on visible bucks that are moving in daylight before they shift to Fall ranges and/or patterns.  Playing it safe in this situation, especially on shared property or public land, might mean you are completely missing the best opportunity of your whole season.
  3. Hunt it while its hot- If you are going to burn it down, you might as well do it when its already hot.  Going into a stand location when the deer aren’t using that particular area does little more than lay down ground scent and alert deer that human presence was in the area for the next several days.  On the contrary, if you go into one of your best stands on the right conditions and there is an estrous doe in the area attracting multiple bucks from the surrounding area, you may be making a mistake to abandon that area after just one hunt.  Why pull out of an area that had an immense amount of deer movement occurring in and around it?  By the time your give the stand a four day break to reduce the human pressure around that location it could be ice cold, the hot doe has been bred, and the local bucks are chasing females around the next doe bedding area while you are left wondering how a stand can be dynamite one day and a total bust a half week later.

Just as there are times that warrant a careful, conservative approach, there are times to go all-in and strike while the iron is hot.  It doesn’t mean you have to “burn it down” with reckless abandon, but you don’t want to miss the “party” either; sometimes on the common ground it is tough to find another one.

-Reuben Dourte

Email me @ CommonGroundBowhunter@gmail.com


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buck rub

The Orchard Hill

Sometimes the places where mature deer choose to bed is unlikely to say the least.  As hunters we seem to gravitate only toward remote areas, maintaining the idea that the most remote, thick areas will hold mature deer.  While I think there is a lot of truth to this in high pressure situations, many experienced big buck killers would tell you that there are plenty of opportunities to be had in overlooked spots that at first glance seem to provide less cover but may actually afford a mature buck more security.  Whether it is because of a visible advantage, or because an area receives less human intrusion, big bucks sometimes bed where we wouldn’t expect them.  If other hunters are avoiding an area, that is often exactly where you should concentrate your time.

Such is the case with a new stand location I plan to hunt this coming Fall.  I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I have known about this spot for approximately 10 years, but failed miserably to acknowledge its true potential until early this Spring.

History

orchard

During the Fall of 2005 or 2006 my father and I were walking a field edge that was adjacent to a thin line of woods that ran parallel with a side hill.  This area of brush is only about 30 yards wide and is one of those spots that you would only expect deer to utilize at night, or perhaps if they were pushed.  As I recall, it was late October and we were doing some last minute scouting to determine an evening stand location (we procrastinated a lot more back then).  We wanted to see what the deer sign looked like in an oak flat on the top of the hill where the timber necks down, connecting the woods on the back side of the hill with the ag fields below the thin strip of brush.  The cover makes a “T” and there are numerous trails traversing the top part of the hill as well as an incredibly well worn trail running the length of the strip, parallel to the side hill.  At the time I assumed it must be night sign, since ag fields surround the strip on all sides.  After all, the only logical place for deer to be coming from would be the larger timber block on the back side of the hill (to the West), and this strip was several hundred yards from any thick areas in that woods.  I surmised that we would need to be on the top, among the oaks, to see any action.

The hillside here runs North/South and further north along the parallel strip of cover is a thick overgrown apple orchard.  It doesn’t yield every year, but when it does the trees are loaded and the ground is often yellow with apples all season long.  During these high yield years, deer sign through the orchard thicket is noticeably heavy.  When shining, it is not uncommon to see dozens of deer bedded in and around the orchard as they feed here all night long.

As we walked the upper edge of the cover in 2006 we reached the Southern point and stopped to discuss the sign we saw.  As I recall there was a blustery west wind that day coming from the back side of the hill and taking our scent down over the East hillside and into the valley below.  About the exact moment we came to a stop, a white racked buck burst off the point heading at a sprint over the ag fields below and into the next timber lot across the valley.  Since we could see him running for several hundred yards I was able to immediately recognize him as a mature six pointer we had seen during summer scouting.  He was about 18 inches wide with tall g2’s and 3’s and had no brow tines, an easily recognizable buck.

That summer we had glassed him in the ag fields 100-200 yards below this strip of cover and I assumed then that he had come a longer distance from his bed.  At that time, the idea of specific buck bedding areas was a foreign concept to me.  The deer movement in this area seemed so random it was almost unfathomable that a buck was utilizing a core area with the kind of regularity you could read about in the popular hunting magazines.  I read all about “bedding areas” but without the knowledge of “how” to find them, I was left assuming that this thick area or those conifers probably held bedding.  So, when we kicked up this buck, his being bedded in this location was thought to be a random event.  Certainly, this couldn’t be a place worth burning coveted hunting hours…

It wasn’t until this past Fall when a P&Y class 8 pointer was chasing a doe along this side hill that I began to give the area much thought again.  I had always remembered that day when we kicked out the wide six pointer, and so I began surmising that possibly that point held a buck bed.  In February we walked the ridge and within 30 seconds of stepping into the cover we found a large, well worn bed on top of a small mound of ground.  Behind the bed was a thick brier bush, which would serve to perfectly hide the buck from the sight of any predator approaching from above.  The unobstructed view of the open valley made it nearly impossible to approach the bed from below.  This bed is incredibly secure even though the amount of cover around it is relatively sparse.

pope and young buck

We watched this Pope and Young class eight point tending a doe along the brushy side hill in early November.

Hunting

Not long ago I would have assumed that to hunt a deer bedded on this point I would need to wait for an East wind and hope that he traveled side hill until getting to the neck of woods that ran along the top of the hill, at which time I would hope he would transition into this area to feed on acorns before heading to the green fields further to the North.  The problem with this scenario is that I believe it is less likely for a buck to select this bed on a day with an East wind.  For most of the day, rising thermals will bring currents from below the buck, regardless of the wind direction.  A West wind can afford a scent advantage by bringing wind over the crest of the hill, while thermal drafts bring scent from below.  This makes the bed much more secure on a day with some kind of West wind.  In this case, because of the incredible visibility the buck has, rising thermals don’t provide much advantage, but facing into a prevailing wind wouldn’t either, and a buck would then be leaving his back exposed to approaching danger.  For similar reasons, I would expect a buck to utilize the back size of the hill on an East wind.  I believe hunters often hunt the wrong side of a hill based on the wind direction.  I know I have.  The thought is that you must have the wind in your face, so many hunters sit along the military crest of the hill with the prevailing wind coming up the hill towards them.  I believe that deer are often bedded on the leeward side of the hill to capitalize on prevailing wind and thermal drafts and so a game of cat and mouse often ensues and we are left scratching our heads while it seems like the the deer somehow know how to be exactly where we aren’t.

Its more important to play a just off wind, or set your stand high enough on the leeward side for morning and midday hunts that you are in the prevailing wind currents and your scent can be carried out and over deer that are traveling below your position.  In the evening, you may need to adjust and move below the travel corridor to take advantage of the heavier, cool air falling down the hillside.

buck bed

A View from the buck bed looking down over the valley below.

Since the spot that is discussed in this article creates multiple issues for morning stand access, it needs to be saved for evening hunts.  For this reason we positioned a stand below the main trail coming out of the bedding area, about 100 yards North along the side hill.  The stand is positioned where the side hill brush and the upper neck of woods join.  At this inside corner, along the South edge of the neck of woods, there is a heavy convergence of sign.  There are numerous buck rubs coming out of the bedding along the main trail at the top edge of the brush and  the inside corner serves as a bit of a pinch point for deer traveling to the northern fields to feed at night.  The main trail also continues along the side hill heading North to the apple orchard.  Evening access to this location is easy and clean, and a hunter should be able to get multiple hunts here if bumping deer during stand exit can be avoided.  To do this, it may be helpful to get picked up after a hunt in a vehicle.  Since there are ag fields all around this location, getting out of the area in this fashion would not be a problem.  Sitting in transition areas between bedding and food sources can allow non-target deer to pass by the hunter and move into their destination food sources.  The hunter can then leave the stand undetected, and, in a scenario like this, completely avoid even crossing one deer trail on the way out.

This is one of the stand locations I am most excited about hunting this year.  It is within 100 yards of a known buck bed and located on the edge of a staging area transition with numerous food sources, with varying attraction windows, available to the North of the stand location- which can keep the bed active all season.  Hopefully we will have positive reports about the productivity of this stand location.  One thing is certain, we won’t have much hunter competition for this overlooked spot.

-Reuben Dourte