Category Archives: Tactics

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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


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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.

Access

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.

Conclusion

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


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hunting bike

Tour De Common Ground

Category : DIY , Gear , Hunting Hacks , Tactics

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

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

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

-Reuben Dourte

Email me at CommonGroundBowhunter@gmail.com

 


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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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Six Point Buck

When You Need to Hunt the Neighbor’s Deer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Reuben Dourte


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Treestand

Hang ’em High (or Low)


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

treestand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Reuben Dourte