Category Archives: Bowhunting

Safe Treestand Set-Ups

               Safety is more often discussed in hunting circles now than it has ever been in any time in the history of hunting.  As land, especially in the eastern half of the United States, is sub-divided more and more hunters are getting away from the deer drives of the past and employing the use of elevated stands to give themselves a visibility advantage and help conceal them from deer’s line of sight.  With the ascent comes inevitable risks.  The good thing is that the safety equipment that is being produced by outdoors manufacturers has never been simpler to use or as efficient as it is today.  The safety equipment you should be utilizing will vary depending on the type of stand you are using, but regardless of the style you choose, any time you are elevated, you should be using the right equipment that will ensure you make it home after the hunt.  Below, we’ll break down the equipment needed for climbing trees and hunting out of different types of stands and touch on some methods and tips for each.

1. Fixed position stands (including ladder stands)- If you have a place pre-scouted, as is often the case in lease situations or when you’ve purchased your own recreational property, its likely that you are going to want to have some pre-hung stands in place.  The advantage of these stand sets is that there is a lot less work involved to get into the tree and start hunting, and with that comes less noise.  These stands can be hung or set up well before hunting season starts so that the area has time to recover after your intrusion.  In these situations, it’s advisable for a hunter to select larger, more comfortable stands, especially if the location is in a travel corridor that provides a promising, all day rut hunt. Furthermore, weight isn’t as much of an issue, and because they are set before season, the noise created from setting up a larger, bulky stand isn’t as concerning as when you are setting a truly mobile stand in the middle of season.  Likewise, the commotion of carrying the pieces of a heavy ladder stand into the timber with your hunting buddy isn’t as concerning in July or August as it would be in September or October. 

               When setting up a fixed position stand it is important to utilize a safety harness that comes with loops along the waistline to incorporate a lineman’s belt or lineman’s rope system.  This system will allow you climb up a stick ladder while still being secured to the tree. The lineman’s belt will allow you to use two hands to attach buckles and set the stand platform on the tree.  A lineman’s belt will not completely restrict a fall, but if used properly it will keep you from falling the whole way to the ground.  By making sure that your lineman’s belt is always above waist height at its contact point with the tree, you can reduce the distance you will fall if an accident happens.  Your lineman’s rope or belt should be connected to your harness via a locking carabiner.  It is important that the carabiner have a threaded locking feature to prevent it from accidentally opening, potentially causing an accidental fall.

               Be sure to set your tree stand platform below the last steps on your climbing sticks so that you can step directly across, or down, onto the platform from the stick ladder.  You should also have your lineman’s belt above the treestand, so that you do not have to unhook it to climb into the stand.  This keeps you connected to the tree at all times and protects you from your own, human error as well as possible stand failures.  Once in your stand, a safety line can be attached to the tree above your head and dropped to the ground.  These life lines utilize a prusik knot system that allows you to slide the knot up and down the rope as long as tension is not applied to the knot.  With your safety harness tether connected to the prusik knot, a fall from the stand would result in the knot tightening around the lifeline and the friction on the rope will keep the knot from sliding.  Once your tether is connected to the prusik knot on the life line rope, you can remove your lineman’s belt.

               Ladder stands provide their own challenges and hunters should avoid setting ladder stands by themselves.  Stands can rotate and roll on a tree trunk, or, if not properly angled, they can easily tip over backward as the hunter climbs up to secure the ratchet straps around the tree.  Using a rope system around the ladder portion and connecting it to the tree trunk can help to keep the ladder against the tree.  It will not, however, completely eliminate the stands propensity to roll from side to side.  For this reason, it is imperative to have someone securing the bottom of the stand when you are climbing for the first time.  A safer option is to use a set of portable climbing sticks to climb the tree trunk and ratchet the stand tight to the tree before you climb it for the first time.  You can also drop a safety line at this time and climb the ladder stand fully secured to the tree.  Some manufacturers produce ladder stands with a hinging mechanism which grips the trunk of the tree when the weight of the stand rests against the hinge bar.  This is one example of the many safety improvements and innovations that are being made within the outdoor industry, but it is still advisable to have a hunting buddy present to steady the stand, even if you bought a ladder stand with this feature.  Once installed, ladder stands are some of the safest and most comfortable treestands available.  Many of them feature cushioned or sling seats, arm rests and shooting rails.

Climbing stands– Climbing treestands can be some of the safest and most comfortable treestands to use.  Many manufacturers offer several different models of climbing stands, featuring a wide range of options. It’s important to remember that if used incorrectly, climbers, like any treestand, can present some dangers.  Hunters using climbing stands will be selecting trees without branches and this cuts down on the number of safety steps needed, considerably.  Attaching your tree strap or tree rope to your safety harness tether before climbing onto the platform of your climber may seem like overkill, but it is the best way to stay safe.  Even a 2.5-3 ft. fall can be severe, depending on how a hunter contacts the ground.  Once you begin your ascent, make sure to keep the harness tether and tree strap above your head, moving it up as your climb.  The tether should not hang across your neck or face, or go under your arm.  Keeping the tether and rope assembly above you as you climb limits the distance you will fall if your climber slips on the tree or you lose your balance and fall during your climb.

Once you reach hunting height, set your tree rope so that your tether has the slightest bit of slack when you are sitting down.  This will ensure that you will not experience a big impact and shock if you were to doze off while sitting in the stand and fell out.  It will also reduce (as much as possible) the distance it will take to engage the tether if you fall while standing.  Thirdly, this will keep the harness tether out of your way and make it easy to duck your head under it and/or pass your bow from one side of the tree to the other, if you must make such an adjustment when a shot presents itself.

               Aside from the obvious need to wear a harness at all times while climbing and hunting from a climbing style treestand, it is equally as important to set your climber on the tree correctly before you begin to climb.  Most climbing stands use an adjustable cable or belt that goes around the tree.  The tree stand essentially becomes a lever, and when you put weight on it, the tree cable “pulls” against the back of the tree and the V bracket of the platform “pushes” against the front of the trunk.  To effectively engage this simple mechanism, the angle of the platform must be correct.  Most trees are a bit larger at the bottom than they are 20-25 feet up, so you must also account for this difference in diameter.  Set the belt or cable a little short so that the climber starts at a slight angle when at ground level.  This will ensure that is sits level when at hunting height.  If you adjust the tree belt too far in, or out, you will end up with a platform that is pitched up or down.  Both scenarios can be problematic for safety, and neither is conducive to a comfortable hunt.  A platform that is angled down runs the risk of rotating over, a situation where the stand platform essentially collapses downward under the weight of the hunter. A climber set with an aggressive upward angle can create an issue where enough leverage is not able to be applied to the front of the stand to get a good “bite” on the tree, or, the angle doesn’t allow the teeth in the V bracket to engage the tree bark properly.  When this occurs, a hunter is at risk of experiencing a wild ride as the stand platform can, without warning, slide down the trunk of the tree.

3. Mobile Hang-On stands – The process of setting up a mobile hang-on style stand is very similar to that of a pre-hung fixed position stand.  There are, however, a few minor differences that are important to note.  One of the advantages of a mobile stand hang-on versus any of the other stands is their increased versatility.  While they may take longer than a climber to set up, and the stand weight combined with a set of mobile climbing sticks is typically a heavier package than a streamlined climber, a hunter opens up more tree options when using one of these stands.  Trees with low branches, which can provide addition cover to the elevated hunter, are now an option, as are trees that are less-than-straight.  Additionally, these stands are far lighter than their more “permanent” cousins, so they require a lot less effort and wrestling to get them into a tree.  This makes the stand-hanging process with these stands arguably safer than with larger, heavier fixed position stands; and it is definitely quieter.

               Just as you did when hanging a fixed position stand, it is imperative to use a safety harness with lineman’s rope capabilities.  The lineman’s rope should be used at all times when ascending or descending the climbing sticks.  When using the kind of modular climbing sticks that are necessary for mobile hunting, a lineman’s belt adds an increased level of safety while making it easier and more convenient to set your sticks and stand.  Being able to use both hands makes set up and tear down of the stand a much quicker and quieter process.  Many harnesses come with a lineman’s belt included; however, few if any come with a second lineman’s belt.  This is where hunters are most likely to cut corners when using a mobile hang-on stand.  Because this type of stand gives you the ability to hunt trees with branches or forks, you will need a second lineman rope to stay connected to the tree at all times.  When you encounter a branch, run your second lineman rope above it and connect it to your harness before you disconnect from the first belt.  Avoid the temptation to simply unclip the lineman’s rope with one hand, while holding on to the climbing stick with the other hand, in order to move the rope above the branch.  This is the best way to have an unnecessary accident and become a hunting statistic.  Likewise, be sure to use the one lineman’s rope or belt and connect it to the tree to serve as your tree rope. Clip in to this rope with your harness’s tether before you disconnect your first lineman’s belt.  When the hunt is over, you can do these steps in reverse and stay tied in at all times.

Other tips-         

When you are hunting from an elevated position, it is always good to let someone know where you are.  Dropping a location pin on your phone and sending it to a family member or trusted hunting partner can cut down on the time it takes for help to find you if you were to encounter a life threatening situation.  If you are hunting in an area that has cell phone service, it is a good idea to keep your cell phone in a chest pocket of your hunting coat rather than in a backpack that hangs from your tree, or in a pants pocket.  Depending on how you fall, you may not be able to reach you back pack, or the leg straps of your safety harness might make some of your pants pockets inaccessible.  If a leg strap happens to be positioned over your phone, depending on the impact, your phone could be damaged in the fall. 

If you properly adjust your tether, and you are reasonably fit, there is a possibility that you will be able to regain your position on your stand platform (assuming that your stand was not what failed and caused the fall).  If this is impossible, you need to be aware of the possibility and dangers of suspension trauma.  The same safety harness that just saved your life can become a danger if you are not prepared to take the next steps.  Hanging motionless from a harness, (with the legs straps further reducing blood flow), can reduce circulation and cause blood to pool in lower extremities due to gravity and inactivity.  This inhibits the circulation of a significant amount of blood volume to the rest of the body.  Loss of consciousness can subsequently occur within 10-15 minutes.  If this happens to a person who is merely standing on level ground, they will faint and then the horizontal positioning of their body will redistribute the blood throughout, via gravity, and they will regain consciousness.  However, if you are stuck in a vertical position because of your harness and you lose consciousness, gravity will not be able to help distribute the blood throughout your body and death can occur.  To help prevent this from happening, many safety harness manufacturers have begun to include a webbing strap that is connected to the harness and features a loop on the end so that the suspended hunter can put a boot in the loop and periodically take pressure off the leg straps of the harness.  This movement allows circulation to occur and keeps the hunter conscious.  If your harness doesn’t have this feature, be sure to find one that does and remember to continue to move extremities after a fall, so as to ward against the blood pooling effect that a static, vertical position can have on your body.

               Elevated hunting is one of the most effective methods a hunter can use to kill a deer.  Along with the advent and advancement of trail cameras, innovations within the competitive treestand marketplace are likely one of the things most responsible for hunters becoming more effective than ever in their pursuits of whitetail deer.  The advancements within the industry have made it safer than it ever has been to hunt from an elevated position; but in order to realize the benefits of these innovations and improvements, a hunter has to be committed to the correct utilization of these tools and safety mechanisms.  In short, don’t cut corners on quality when choosing treestands and treestand safety gear, and never cut corners on proven treestand safety practices in the field!  Happy (safe) hunting!


3 OnX Maps Features You Shouldn’t Overlook

OnX Maps has a great reputation with public land hunters in the western half of the United States and they continue to build on that presence as more and more Eastern hunters employ the features and advantages provided through this innovative mobile app.  Often the most discussed and frequently utilized feature of OnX maps is that the GPS function, (coupled with parcel boundary outlines), let’s you know exactly where you stand. So much so, in fact, that OnX has started a campaign around the hashtag “know where you stand”.  This is certainly a hugely beneficial feature when hunting public land or private lands you are less familiar with. No one wants to find themselves on the wrong parcel or deal with the potential problems that can even accompany what are truly innocent mistakes. As valuable as this feature is, it is hardly the end of the plentiful list of benefits OnX can provide to whitetail hunters across the eastern half of the United States.  The following are three features OnX provides that you may be currently underutilizing.

1.  Desktop Mapping- Perhaps I am the only one, but it wasn’t until after I had been using OnX for a good bit that I realized a desktop version of the application was available.  When I would scout with a hand held GPS I would always mark waypoints and then plug the GPS into my computer and look at my track and pins on a larger screen in order to evaluate how different areas of sign and travel interconnected.  This would allow me to fine tune my stand selection and choose advantageous areas that allowed for better entrance and exit routes, as well as locate places that would lend themselves to playing the wind. OnX Maps for your desktop isn’t much different, except it is so user friendly that I now employ it as my starting point for scouting, in addition to it remaining an evaluation tool after my time in the timber.

So, I now plan my scouting trips via the desktop version of OnX maps.  By taking advantage of a larger screen I am able to look a bigger area and more quickly zero in on potential food sources, high percentage terrain features and vegetation transitions that warrant a closer look.  I can quickly drop pins on each hill point, marsh island or pine transition I want to investigate and progress through the parcel in the same way I plan to walk it. Because OnX waypoints are connected to the user’s account and not a device, the map on my cell phone is updated essentially in real time.  The ability to more quickly drop my cyber-scouting waypoints via the desktop version and have them transfer to my phone without a cord or a memory card is an incredible time saver. Likewise, if you lose your device in the field, you haven’t lost your valuable intel!

When I get to put boots on the ground, I am able to walk from waypoint to waypoint, and either confirm or eliminate the area based on my findings.  I never name the waypoints I drop when I am on the desktop version, but I do relocate them when I am on the parcel and determine the exact location of applicable sign and I name those waypoints.  Afterward, I go back in and eliminate the unnamed points that were initially placed as my guideline, leaving only the labeled waypoints for future reference. This system makes my scouting incredibly efficient and keeps me on course and focused on getting through the property with purpose when I am in the field.

2.  Possible Access- This map layer is often turned off, and in my opinion, it shouldn’t be.  Ask anyone what the worst part of hunting public land is and the vast majority will say its the amount of other hunters one must inevitably deal with, especially in the more densely populated parts of the eastern US.

The Possible Access feature is a phenomenal way to find parcels that may be overlooked by other hunters. Some of these parcels are available to the public for hunting purposes but they are often not physically as well marked and as such are easily missed by the average passerby.  One example of this type of property is conservation lands that may be privately owned but open to the public. I use OnX Maps on my desktop to quickly pan across a large area and locate these parcels. If the piece looks promising, I dig a little deeper. Often these properties come with some level of restricted access or weapon limitation.  It takes some additional homework and internet searches to determine if the parcel is indeed open to hunting, and sometimes information is hard to come by. However, the way I see it is that this extra work creates additional barriers to entry. A certain percentage of hunters aren’t going to be willing to take the time to properly research access restrictions.  Furthermore, weapons restrictions serve to weed out some of the traffic during hunting season and typically allow for older age classes of deer to survive and reside on the property. Both of these factors make it worthwhile to further research these potential hunting destinations.

3.  Off Grid Mapping- A lot of the areas I hunt have little to no cell service.  If you hunt in such an area, you may have concluded that the OnX app isn’t worth your while.  In that case you would be missing out on one of its most valuable features. The Off Grid mapping feature allows you to trace and load a hunt area to your mobile device.  This allows you to view map layers within that area, in addition to toggling between Topo, Satellite and Hybird map views even without cell service. The OnX app still interacts with the GPS feature on your phone, so you will still know where you stand.  Waypoints that are dropped when utilizing an Off Grid map are still saved to your account profile and will be there for you when you return to civilization. Always make sure your Off Grid map is properly saved and loaded to your phone before you leave home or camp.  You don’t want to get to that remote piece of public ground and find out the map imagery you thought you saved isn’t there and have no cell service available to retrieve it! Areas with low cell reception are also a huge drain on your battery because your phone is constantly searching for signal as you go in and out of the coverage area.  The Off Grid feature allows you to put your phone on “airplane mode” and keep on mapping. The battery conservation this provides is significant; and it is a bonus in terms of both convenience and safety. Even so, I almost always take an external power cell that gives me a couple extra charges on my phone as an additional safety precaution.

There is a lot of hunting gear, tools and gadgetry that is specifically developed and marketed toward the casual user.  Plenty of other items perform to the extent to which a hunter chooses to utilize all of their available features. OnX is one of the latter.  The OnX Maps app will assist your hunting and scouting efforts to precisely the level you ask of it. If you utilize all that it has to offer, it will quickly earn a spot amongst the most valuable weapons in your arsenal.

-Reuben Dourte


How to Hunt Hill Country Draws

Maximizing your time on a large piece of public land requires that you understand how deer utilize certain terrain features for both bedding and travel.  Natural funnels can be productive spots during hunting season, especially considering the limited range of archery tackle, and so you should be zeroing in on these features during your post season scouting.  There are a lot of things that can serve to funnel deer movement, or cause them to want to bed in a certain area, but for the purpose of this article we will be discussing draws.

If you aren’t familiar with hill country you may not be experienced in reading topographical maps.  There are plenty of YouTube videos out there to assist you with this, but in short, the closer together the elevation lines are the steeper the incline.  Keeping this concept in mind, the areas that look like a deep ‘v’ into the side of a mountain, with close elevation lines, are deep draws.  Draws are a pretty simple terrain feature to locate and some of them can be fairly easy to set up on for a hunt.  Others can come with more complexities.

Scouting Draws

A property I had the opportunity to scout this past weekend had several terrain features that drew me to it.  It had points with deep draws cut into the mountain, along with transitions created by vegetation changes, and several areas of early succession timber yielding to larger areas of brush patches consisting of saplings and red brier thickets.  Generally speaking, the vegetation and terrain diversity is what drew me to the area, and I mapped out areas that I assumed would have both deer travel and deer bedding and hit the timber.

The two main draws on this piece were among my first scouting destinations.  Although deer are agile creatures that could very likely traverse just about any terrain, animals in nature require the conservation of energy for survival. More exertion equals more calories burned and thus the potential of depleted reserves when energy is needed for survival.  No, I don’t think a deer consciously thinks about its caloric intake, but meals aren’t guaranteed in nature and I think animals naturally conserve.  If there were ones who didn’t, they’ve been taken care of by natural selection at this point.  All this means is that a deer, left to its own choice, is going to use the path of least resistance.  Think about how you would prefer to navigate a draw; likely you will gravitate to the bottom or the top instead of traversing a steep bank, littered with blown down trees, halfway up.  Sure, you might find a flatter crossing somewhere in the middle, but the one thing you can count on is that the very bottom and the very top are usually going to be much easier walking.  This is why deer traversing around the point of a hill will often take a longer route around the top side of the draw.  You can almost bet on a well worn trail being present at the first easily-navigable crossing toward the top of the draw.  There is often a worn trail at the bottom as well, but winds can be unpredictable at lower elevations and finding a situation with a wind exception, where hunting low in this terrain is possible, is a good subject for another article.

Bedding and Stand Locations

(In the photo above, the red lines are deer trails, the yellow circles are natural funnels or pinch points created by the terrain and/or vegetation change, the red X’s are beds and the yellow dots are buck rubs.  The diagram shows one bed on a point and another bed on a micro point on the side of a bowl that has been created by the convergence of multiple draws.)

The tops of a draw, or even a minor erosion cut, are often a great place for a tree stand, but, there are some exceptions.  One frustration the public land hunter in the Northeast may find is that just as the deer like to use the top edge of these cuts, the DNR or Game Commissions also like to put people trails at or near these areas.  After all, if its easier walking for the deer its going to be easier walking for the people too.  Many of the trails also wrap around, or drop down, points that might other wise hold good bedding potential.  Most people will tell you that hill country bedding can be found on points and spurs along the 2/3 elevation.  While this is true in many scenarios, human traffic can and will alter these bedding locations, especially around the population centers that can be found in the northeast.

If the people trails on a piece of public seem to be eliminating bedding on the points of hills, I look to the draws.  Often, you will find a small micro point, or secondary, point that provides just a bit extra vantage along the side of the draw.  This can especially be true if the more abundant vegetation (that is often present on the sides of draws) can create some back cover for a bedded deer.  They will still have an excellent vantage with multiple escape routes should danger present itself, and they are able to avoid the higher human traffic areas out on the points.  The small points are often so subtle that they can’t be seen on a topo map, so expect it to take some leg work to find these areas.

Field Edge Pinch Points

In agricultural areas, a draw may continue out into a crop field or open CRP.  The draw may be creating a low spot, or bowl, in the field that acts as a thermal drain.  Because of the scent advantage created by this thermal effect, deer may utilize this area before committing to the field to feed in the evening. The field edge may also create a more pronounced pinch point with the top of the draw, pushing deer travel above the draw but still inside the cover of the woods.  It can be tempting to hunt right over a pinch like this, but not all are created equal.  Depending on the elevation and the topography surrounding the draw, the winds can be unpredictable in these areas and have a swirling effect.  You may often be better served to hunt just off those pinch points, along the side of the ridge spur at higher elevation, where the wind can be more predictable.   Also remember that thermal currents can pull your scent into draws in an advantageous way, allowing you to “cheat” the wind.  However, draws can have a profound effect on wind currents and wind swirls can jettison around a point to a bedded buck if you aren’t aware of the thermal activity on the property you are hunting.  Some of this comes from experience, and it is admittedly one of the most challenging things to map and learn as a hunter.  Its also a great reason why using milk weed seeds to map the wind and thermal currents should be considered non-optional.


Draws also can provide great stand access options.  Any deep cuts or drainages offer visual barriers for access.  As we’ve discussed, they are often mostly void of deer travel so your ground scent becomes less of an issue.  If you have the opportunity to clear them of any downed trees or brush, they can also be a silent access option.  Often, runoff water washes crunchy leaves out of the center of the ditch and the terrain itself can help to confine some of the noise of your approach.


Make sure you key in on a draw if there is one on the property you are hunting.  They are great places to narrow deer movement and to catch deer on a bed to feed pattern, as well as cruising bucks in pre-rut.  They can provide some of the most productive stand locations in the woods.

-By Reuben Dourte


A Game Changing Quiver

Category : Bowhunting Gear

Reviewing the Apex Gear Game Changer Quiver

Enter any online archery forum and you well might find yourself caught in the crossfire of heated gear debates about brands of bows, types of rests, arrows, shooting techniques, etc.  One piece of gear that seems to come to the forefront of conversation far less frequently is the bow quiver. Generally, bowhunters seem to be less particular about the quiver they put on their bow.  Most of the time, it seems like quivers are marketed in much the same way as many stabilizers, i.e. based on their fashionable appearance rather than any superior performance offering. So, you can hardly blame a bowhunter who might place high value on the aesthetics of their bow quiver and fail to consider much else in their selection process.  

For a long time, the quivers I used were selected either because of their price point, or because their camo pattern matched that of my bow.  I’ve used quivers of varying degrees of quality, and always have felt that each one had its own attributes as well as shortcomings. While the quivers I used were adequate for my hunting application, each came with some level of inconvenience and were often found to be lacking performance in certain critical areas.  When I ordered a new 2018 Quest Thrive bow, I knew I needed to find a quiver that would add to the performance of the bow and not reduce it. Finding a quiver that was rigid, and manufactured with quality components, was very important to me. The Thrive bow is very dead in the hand after the shot, and it was imperative that the accessories I would put on the bow would not cause any reduction in that performance.

After scouring as many manufacturer websites as I could find, and browsing the shelves of the local pro-shop, there was one quiver I kept coming back to.  I was previously unfamiliar with the brand and so I decided I needed to take a closer look and dissect the product, its construction and its specs. The Apex Gear Game Changer had all the features I was looking for, (and some others that weren’t even on my radar), all packaged into the product with precision and flawless quality.  I decided I would need to break down my evaluation into four categories that represented the most important things I expected out of the quiver that would find its place on my new bow. After usig the Game Changer quiver for several months, I came to the following conclusions:

  1.  Vibration and Noise- 4.7 out of 5- Quivers have the potential to add noise to your bow after the shot.  Depending on the materials used, they can also be a liability in the tree stand if a hard plastic hood accidentally bumps against a metal stand or bow hook.  Likewise, certain arrow clip designs can make silent arrow removal anywhere from difficult to near impossible. The Apex GameChanger excels in the areas of vibration dampening and noise reduction.  The hood of the quiver sports a rubber Tru-Touch coating that has a great feel to it and offers some vibration dampening qualities. The rail is made from high quality machined aluminum and its rigidity further reduces the possibility of after-shot vibrations.  Lastly, the rubber used for the dual arrow clips is supple enough to allow for silent arrow removal.
  2.  Attachment System- 5 out of 5- Manufacturers are constantly innovating new and different methods for quiver attachment.  Some are better than others, but the system that is employed with the Apex Game Changer is hands down the best in the industry.  The attachment system uses a precision machined aluminum post and channel system that allows the quiver to slide on and off the bow silently.  This also provides the additional benefit of some forward and backward adjustability which helps with bow balance. The quiver is secured into place using a threaded cam lever clamp that can also be operated silently.  With the Game Changer quiver, the days of snapping a quiver into a bracket, sliding it into a loose fitting clip or securing it with a cheap plastic clamp and bracket are over! This feature alone is of significant enough benefit to earn this quiver a spot at the top of the marketplace.
  3.  Arrow and Broadhead Security- 4.5 out of 5- Since I began shooting small diameter arrow shafts, I’ve encountered problems with my arrows maintaining a secure fit in the quivers I used.  With a loose fit, arrow shafts are left to vibrate and create additional noise in the quiver. It was a necessity for me to find a quiver that provided a tight fit for the Gold Tip Kinetic Kaos arrows I was shooting, while still allowing for easy and silent arrow removal.  The arrow clips on the Game Changer quiver are design to accommodate a variety of arrow diameters, all the way down to micro-diameter shafts. The shape of the arrow clip and the soft rubber material provide a solid connection while maintaining ease of operation. Dual clips keep arrows more secure, and even after target shooting for several rounds, the arrows did not migrate out of the hood insert.  The rubber hood insert provides a secure fit with any broadhead design, both fixed and mechanical.
  4.  Construction-  5 out of 5- As previously mentioned, the Game Changer quiver is constructed of high quality, CNC machined aluminum.  The quiver is rugged and tough and maintains its aesthetics via a skeletonized off-set rail. The machined mounting bracket allows for mounting adjustability both forward and backward and can also be attached with a bit of tilt to aid in bow balance.  The bracket even features additional adjustability, allowing the quiver to be moved in closer to the bow’s riser in order to reduce both torque and the need for as much counter balancing with stabilizer bars. The Tru-Touch rubber coating is a nice feature and adds to the quality feel of this bow accessory while the coated, machined aluminum loop allows for the quiver to be silently placed on a tree hook when it is detached from the bow.  

Total: 4.8 out of 5

The combination of ingenuity, careful design considerations and high quality materials results in a rigid, rugged, bow-mounted quiver that has the look, feel and performance that one should expect when buying a high quality archery accessory.  When durability and functionality are high priority, it is hard to look past the Apex Gear Game Changer.


Is the Quest Thrive the Best Bow of 2018?

Category : Bowhunting Gear

How the Thrive stacks up against the top bows of 2018.

At the beginning of the 2018 calendar year I began searching for a new hunting bow.  I decided to approach the process with as little bias or brand loyalty as possible.  I wanted to end up with a bow that fit me well, was forgiving, and comfortable to draw and shoot.  I shot a good many bows from a variety of manufacturers, there are still some that I haven’t shot and frankly, it would be almost impossible to shoot every flagship bow from every manufacturer.  I’ll do my best to outline some of the specs of each bow I’ve included in this review and detail what general things I was looking for, but be aware that this isn’t going to be a tech filled article.  I’m a bowhunter, not a target archer, and as such, my opinions are, in many ways, that of a layman.  There are so many bows made today, all of which can kill most animals in North America with the right arrow combination, so the search for the right bow comes down to a lot of personal preference.  The recent uptick in traditional bowhunting has done a great job in showing both traditional and compound archers that high speeds do not have to be achieved for maximum penetration and so (full disclosure) I don’t give it much weight when making a decision on a bow to buy.

At a high level, the main criteria I consider in a bow are: draw cycle/valley/let-off, back wall, brace height, mass weight, balance, hand shock and price.  Detailed below is what I am looking for in each of those categories.  Your needs may be different than mine, so it becomes important to outline the preferences that affect my determinations on the shoot-ability, performance and comfort of each bow.

  • Draw cycle/Valley/Let-off- I prefer a smooth draw cycle that doesn’t stack up before let off. Some people might refer to this as a “hump and dump”.  I also prefer a fairly wide valley as I find that this makes the bow a little more forgiving to shoot.  Along those same lines, I like the additional let off that can be achieved with a deeper set valley and a bit more cam rotation, and I am more than happy to sacrifice some bow efficiency to achieve these comfort gains.
  • Back Wall- I like a very solid back wall, and for this reason I really prefer a bow that can utilize limb stops vs. cable stops. I prefer a bow that likes to stay on the wall and this is another reason I prefer a deeper valley and also why I steer away from a bow with a ‘jumpy’ cam system.
  • Brace height- Because I am big on hunting with a forgiving bow, I prefer a longer brace height. I’ve shot bows in the past with brace heights of over 8”, and I really prefer no less than 7”.  Since I’m not too concerned with maximizing arrow speed, I don’t feel it’s necessary to move to a 5” or 6” brace height for the purpose of a few feet per second.
  • Mass weight- Some archers prefer a heavier bow. Heavier bows can typically absorb more vibration and they tend to offer more stability.  While I don’t like an extremely light bow, I don’t want a heavy, clunky bow that leads to more fatigue when I am target shooting in pre-season.  I prefer a bow with an out-of-the-box weight in the high 3 to low 4 lb range.
  • Balance- A bow that is balanced will sit in your hand with minimal need for counter weights. This keeps mass weight to a manageable level for a hunting set up and can aid in improving your form, consistency and follow through and, as such, your accuracy.
  • Hand Shock- Over the past decade, bow manufacturers have achieved huge strides in vibration reduction. Regardless of the model you choose, in comparison to the older bows you may be used to, you are going to be amazed at the improvement in vibration dampening technology on a new bow.  Still, there are some models that are leading the way in this area and its worth noting!
  • Price- Unless you are independently wealthy, price should, responsibly speaking, play a role in a purchasing decision. It certainly does for me.

The Bows

        Of the 10+ bow models I’ve shot this winter, I’ve chosen 5 to compare and will give a short description of my opinion of each followed by a 1-10 score for each of the categories listed above.

  1. Mathews Triax– The Triax is Mathews new short axel-to-axel design that is proving to be making some noise in the hunting industry.  I loved the Triax when I shot it and most of my concerns about the axel-to-axel length were eliminated after I tested it out.  To me, it felt just as stable as a longer bow and the most noticeably impressive thing about it is how dead in the hand it is.  The bow felt plenty fast and was plenty quiet.  I felt that the draw cycle was surprisingly hard given the rounded, oversized cams, but the valley was excellent and the back wall was good for a bow with cable stops.  The bow stayed on the back wall well and the let-off was adequate.  The bow has a lot of weight at the top and when holding it, it has a tendency to want to tip forward.  However, when its shot, the top of the bow still wants to kick back and it will probably require more weight out front to compensate than you might expect.  The bow’s 6” brace height is shorter than I prefer in most circumstances, but the feel of this bow was more like a bow with a 7” brace.  For such a short bow, the Triax is fairly heavy at 4.4 lbs.  Some of this is likely due to the rather robust riser and limb pockets on the bow.  The suggested retail price on the Triax is $1099 but I have found many bow shops to have it listed at $999.
  • Draw Cycle/Valley/Let-off: 8/10
  • Back Wall: 8/10
  • Brace Height: 7/10
  • Mass Weight: 7/10
  • Balance: 6/10
  • Hand Shock: 10/10
  • Price: 8/10
    • Score: 54 –  Average: 7.71
  1. Bear Kuma– Bear came out with their newest flagship bow, the Kuma, and offered it in both a regular and long draw option. I shot the standard Kuma.  This bow has slightly smaller and slightly less rounded cams than some of its predecessors from Bear.  The 33” axel-to-axel bow is well balanced and feels very fast.  However, I found the draw cycle to be very uncomfortable and harsher than I would ideally prefer.  I would also like a deeper valley, but to be fair, some improvement in that area could be achieved by adjusting the limb stop.  The cams felt a bit more jumpy than I would like and the bow doesn’t like to stay on the wall.  The Kuma has a 75% let-off at full draw.  The bow I shot came out of the box with cable stops, and the back wall was fairly spongey.  Some of this could be mitigated with higher quality strings and cables, as well as the installation of a limb stop.  The bare bow comes in at 4.3 lbs and the brace height in 6”.  It draws, shoots and feels like a 6” brace height bow.  Most noticeable when shooting the Kuma right after the Mathews Triax was the increase in hand shock and torque.  I also shot the Bear Moment, a carry-over from 2017, and have to say that I personally prefer this bow to the Kuma.  The Moment has a better draw cycle, a better valley, a better back wall, a slightly more compact 31” axel-to-axel, 80% let off and significantly less vibration.  Both the Kuma and the Moment retail a few hundred dollars less than other manufacturers’ bows, coming in at $899 MSRP.   I have even seen the Kuma around $800 at some shops, a great price point for a flagship bow!
  • Draw Cycle/Valley/Let-off: 5/10
  • Back Wall: 5/10
  • Brace Height: 6/10
  • Mass Weight: 8/10
  • Balance: 8/10
  • Hand Shock: 6/10
  • Price: 9/10
    • Score: 47 – Avg: 6.71
  1. Bowtech Realm– Bowtech followed up its successful Reign series with the Realm in 2018.  Don’t get them confused, in my opinion they aren’t comparable.  I shot a Reign 7 before I shot the Realm.  The Reign draws and shoots like a speed bow while the Realm feels like the very smooth, very forgiving, very comfortable Bowtech hunting bows I have owned in the past.  The Realm uses Bowtech’s Smart Bow technology to offer two draw cycles to the archer, a speed setting and a comfort setting.  I prefer to shoot on the comfort setting and will sacrifice some speed for increased shoot-ability.  The silky smooth draw of the Realm gives way without dumping into the valley.  The draw cycle is superior to the Triax, but once at full draw the bows feel about the same.  The back wall is similar and both bows stay on it well.  While plenty fast to be extremely lethal, and rated at the same 340 fps as the Reign 7, I would be surprised to find that the Realm was as fast as the Reign.  However, I didn’t shoot either through a chronograph because speed is of little concern to me.  The Realm rivals the Triax in terms of hand shock elimination.  It is extremely dead in the hand.  The Realm has a 7 1/8 brace height and a 30 ¾ axel-to-axel length.  It has a fairly blocky riser, with beefy limb pockets and very short, wide limbs.  The bow is listed at 4.3 lbs mass weight, but actually looks like it should be heavier than that.  Although rated the same as the Kuma, it felt more comparable to the Triax in weight.  The let off of on the Realm I shot felt somewhere in the 75-80% range.  The bow retails for $1099 MSRP but you may find it on the rack at many shops for $999.
  • Draw Cycle/Valley/Letoff: 9/10
  • Back Wall: 8/10
  • Brace Height: 8/10
  • Mass Weight: 7/10
  • Balance: 8/10
  • Hand Shock: 9/10
  • Price: 8/10
    • Score: 57 – Avg: 8.14
  1. Elite Ritual- Elite certainly improved its offering in 2018 with the Ritual. In comparison to some of Elite’s prior flagship models, the Ritual blows them away. This is a sweet shooting machine that offers about everything you could want in a hunting bow.  The precise weight distribution on the bow is immediately noticeable.  It offers a draw cycle that very much resembles the Bowtech Realm.  I felt that the Ritual had a valley that was a bit more to my liking than that of the Triax or the Realm.  The back wall was very similar to the Realm and the bow is incredibly dead in the hand.  Like the Realm, it does not cede much ground to the Triax in that area.  The axel to axel is comparable to the Bear Kuma at 33 ¼”.  The brace height on the Ritual is 6 ¾” and the mass weight is rated at 4.3 lbs.  Of the bows I shot, this bow felt the lightest, which I attributed to the excellent balance and weight distribution.  The Ritual retails for $999 and I’ve seen it advertised at local shops for $949.
  • Draw Cycle/Valley/Let-off: 9/10
  • Back Wall: 8/10
  • Brace Height: 7/10
  • Mass Weight: 8/10
  • Balance: 10/10
  • Hand Shock: 8/10
  • Price: 8/10
    • Score: 58 – Avg: 8.29
  1. Quest Thrive– Quest brought the Thrive to market in 2018 and it wasn’t even on my radar as a bow to test.  I was getting one of my old bows restrung at a local shop and the owner encouraged me to try one.  I was both surprised and impressed enough to shoot a couple follow up shots just to make sure I felt what I thought I felt!  Keep in mind that Quest is to Prime what Diamond is to Bowtech, Mission to Mathews or, back in the day, Reflex was to Hoyt.  These brands manufacture quality bows that can be offered to the consumer at a more affordable price point.  To meet those price points, sometimes the manufacturers forego the use of some of the more expensive technology and components.  In this case, G5 does not incorporate the parallel cam technology of the Prime bows into the Quest line.  Still, they are good looking and great performing bows.  G5’s advanced riser technology allows them to boast some of the most rigid aluminum risers in the industry.  If you are at all familiar with G5, you could easily mistake the Quest Thrive for a Prime Rize.  Aside from the Rize’s parallel cam, the two bows spec out extremely similar.  The Thrive has a 33.75” axel-to-axel length, making it one of the longest axel-to-axel bows I tested.  The listed mass weight of 4.3 lbs felt heavier than the Kuma or the Ritual and more in line with the weight of the Realm and the Triax.  The draw cycle stacked up a bit but did not dump into the valley.  The valley on the Quest was adequate, but I would adjust the draw stops a bit to make it wider than it comes out of the box.  Even so, the bow stayed on the back wall and the limb stops are rock solid.  This had the absolute best back wall of any bow I shot.  The weight distribution on the bow, while not quite as impressive as the Elite Ritual, was close to it, and the bow is incredibly balanced and maintains it through the shot.  Quest is even shipping these bows with all the modules to adjust from 26-31” draw lengths!  One of the biggest “wow” factors for me with this bow was how dead in the hand it is.  We’re talking Triax dead, here.  This bow sacrifices nothing in vibration dampening to any flagship bow in the industry right now.  The second “wow” factor was the price.  At a MSRP of $679 and most shops carrying them at $650, this bow and its price point are hard to beat.  Imagine a bow that can compete with any flagship model, for box store pricing.  It’s almost too good to be true!
  • Draw Cycle/Valley/Let-off: 7/10
  • Back Wall: 10/10
  • Brace Height: 7/10
  • Mass Weight: 7/10
  • Balance: 9/10
  • Hand Shock:10/10
  • Price: 10/10
    • Score: 60 – Avg: 8.57

The way I break it down, the Quest Thrive is on its way to becoming one of the very best bows in 2018.  I suspect Quest will move a lot of these bows in the coming months.  The level of competition in the archery industry is staunch and many manufacturers are producing a phenomenal product.  Each bow I tested seemed to excel in one field or another.  All of them are more than capable of taking any game animal on the continent with the right arrow combination.  The Quest Thrive, quite frankly, excelled in the most categories while remaining the most economical bow of the group.  When performance meets affordability, you get great value!


hunting bike

Tour De Common Ground

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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