Author Archives: commongroundbowhunter

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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


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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

caption

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