Category Archives: Deer Hunting

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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!


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Antler Restrictions: Fact and Fiction- Part 2

 This is a continuation of the APR blog series.  Read Part 1 of this blog series on the APR discussion where we discuss arguments against APR.

Pro-APR Argument #1: Herd sex ratios are dangerously out-of-balance

So far, if you’ve taken the time to read Part 1, you may think that this blog series is an attempt to disassemble the arguments against APR. But, there are plenty of fallacies those of us who would cast a “yes” vote for APR too often lean upon when presenting a pro-APR argument. Let’s start where we left off in Part 1. I’ve heard people talk about out-of-whack buck to doe ratios as evidence of the necessity of APRs. So often they cite observed ratios of twenty or more does to one buck. A lot of times, when you dive into the conversation, you find these ratios are based on individual observation while afield, and that they are counting every bald deer they see, not just the sexually mature adult does. There are a lot of button bucks getting counted as does in these ratio discussions, and no room is left for the reclusive nature of bucks, especially mature ones. In nature, it is incredibly difficult for herds to get much outside of a 1:5 buck to doe ratio. If a herd was truly at the point of having one buck to five or more does, it would likely be evidence of other problems. Likely some factors in the area are leading to poor fawn recruitment. It could be a result of high fawn predation, which itself could be a result of over population and over browsing of fawning cover. Over population could also adversely affect winter food sources and cause does to enter the spring and summer fawning season in sub-par health. A biologist would likely have other ideas on possible diagnosis, but a healthy herd which is recruiting nearly one fawn to every adult doe, will rarely experience herd ratios much worse than 1:3.

Pro-APR Argument #2: Unbalanced sex ratios, and high buck exploitation, create a biological problem for the deer herd

Think about it this way: a local herd consisting of 2 adult bucks and 6 adult does, which is recruiting fawns at a rate of one fawn per adult doe, will statistically have 3 doe fawns and 3 button bucks in the herd. If both adult bucks are killed in hunting season and no antlerless deer are taken, the following year the three button bucks will be yearlings ready to breed, as will the doe fawns. There are now 3 adult bucks and 9 adult does. The herd size has increased, but the sex ratio has remained the same. Obviously this is a simplified illustration, but it shows how nature is able to keep herself in check and how whitetail Deer can survive and populations grow and thrive even with high buck exploitation rates. It is easy to see how low fawn recruitment is a very concerning factor if you are at all conscious of buck to doe ratios and at all worried about buck harvest opportunities! Shutting down doe season, as my family member suggested, would quickly risk over population in many areas and lead to habitat loss. As mentioned, the relationship of habitat loss to falling fawn recruitment rates leads to adverse buck to doe ratios and actually provides credence to the pro- APR argument. Additionally, shutting down antlerless seasons, in the vast majority of areas in PA, is not sound management and it’s likely that it will never happen, so it’s not even a principle or argument that is conducive to productive conversation. Metro areas with no hunting eventually have to utilize sharpshooters and [ineffective] sterilization ( the latter because of anti-hunting pressure) due to excessive populations reaching density estimates of hundreds of deer per square mile. The over population becomes a public safety/nuisance concern and a herd health problem. Vehicular collisions, residential property damage and deer disease control all become critical issues in these areas. Look at what is currently happening within the city limits of Ann Arbor, Michigan, for a case study. Some northern cities sometimes experience high winter kill, because of the lack of food sources in these areas. When this occurred on Long Island, some residents illegally supplemented the local herd and unintentionally caused mortality due to contaminated corn and/or digestive issues within deer who were unaccustomed to eating grain.

Still, it’s important to acknowledge the highly successful and efficient management tool of hunter harvest and its ability to, in some cases, reduce the herd beyond a healthy number. Game commissions and DNRs have the responsibility, especially to the public land hunter, to keep a finger on the pulse of the State’s herd density. I recently listened to a podcast where the founder of QDMA, Joe Hamilton, acknowledged that in some areas doe harvest went too far and a re-evaluation of harvest goals was needed. The private land owner has a little more control over the local herd residing on their own land, but generally speaking it is important for hunters to understand that the responsibility of firing a bullet or loosing an arrow lies with each of us individually. That isn’t to propose limitless bags or overly liberal doe tag allocation, but, at the same time, it is curious that many of the most vocal hunters who would like the game commission to severely limit or reduce doe season, (and thus eliminate that harvest opportunity for other hunters), are in turn upset that the Game Commission has [perceivably] limited their buck harvest potential.

The above being said, it is important to cede that the further away from a 1:1 ratio the herd finds itself, stress can and will increase. A longer, but less intense rut will often result, leading to bucks servicing more does than they might otherwise if the herd dynamics were more balanced. This can affect the condition in which Bucks enter winter, and can be detrimental to the younger individuals in the population. Bucks entering Winter in a poorer condition will often enter Spring nutritionally deficient and the following year’s antler growth can therefore become affected. Body weights are also affected by unbalanced sex ratios and overpopulated herds, so the meat hunter should care about herd balance as well.

Pro-APR Argument #3: Hunter satisfaction and enjoyment is diminished by out-of-balance sex ratios

Sex ratios that reach a point that is biologically out-of-balance do adversely effect hunter experience given the aforementioned less-intense rut. A herd with poor age structure will also not display as much of the stereotypical buck activity and sign that hunters can use to increase their opportunities in the woods. Again, (anecdotally), the New York property we hunt has very few rubs and scrapes in or around bedding areas, field edges or travel corridors. The age structure is generally very young on this property, despite our efforts to practice what QDM we can manage. The Pennsylvania property we hunt, within the same Twin Tiers region, regularly displays significantly more (and larger) rubs and is riddled with scrapes by October’s end. The age structure there, while not equivalent to some Midwestern destinations, is significantly better than neighboring New York, and the increased hunting opportunities because of it are noticeable.  At the same time, the kind of rutting activity and daylight movement that may be visible in parts of the Midwest, are still not experienced to the same degree in Pennsylvania.  APRs haven’t totally changed that reality.

High population densities coupled with unbalanced sex ratios can also make properties more difficult to hunt, as bucks move away from the social pressure of doe groups within preferred bedding.  Access to stands within the property becomes difficult. Getting to and from a stand without bumping non-target antlerless deer can become nearly impossible and keeping the pressure minimal on an over populated parcel is extraordinarily difficult. Higher densities of deer is not equivalently valuable to higher densities of target animals, and as such, conflating the two ideas is again, misguided. One must only evaluate the herd populations of Kansas and Pennsylvania to understand that high overall deer numbers is not absolutely correlative to buck harvest opportunity, especially mature buck harvest at that. A credible argument can be made that the above factors lead to diminished hunter opportunity and experience.  However, what it doesn’t equate to is APRs being biologically necessary for the sustainability of huntable populations of Whitetail deer. In the interest of constructive and objective conversation, the two concepts should not be conflated.

The presence of APRs also doesn’t automatically lead to increased success on mature Deer. More target animals creates a better environment to connect on a nice deer, but I can assure you, killing a three and half year old, or older, deer in Pennsylvania is still incredibly challenging. In most areas, A 2.5 year buck is in the top 25% or better of the local buck population. Because some yearlings are guaranteed to survive every year, due to being protected by APR, and some other yearlings that meet the antler criteria will get through by mere chance, there is certainly an increased number of 2.5 year olds to hunt in Pennsylvania. These deer are a year older and a year wiser and perhaps have increased their survival acumen, providing them with better chances to reach 3.5. However, in most areas, PA’s gun 2 week gun season and 900,000 license holders serve to eliminate many bucks in their second year of antler growth. The age structure in PA after APR is unarguably better, but it is no where close to that of lower hunter density states like Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma or Arkansas. I remember thinking that APR was going to all but ensure wall-mounter bucks would be running all over our hunting areas in PA and thinking that hunting was about to get significantly easier in the Keystone State. Reality was something entirely different.

Pro-APR Argument #4: I can’t practice QDM without APR because my neighbor shoots small bucks

My ‘favorite’ argument for APR is the suggestion that APR is necessary because a landowner can’t successfully practice QDM on their property because of their neighbors’ buck harvest. I’ve been guilty of this train of thought more times than I would like to admit. I’ll defend myself in the sense that these thoughts occurred mostly when my hunting experience was unfortunately based in more competitive spirit. I thought that my neighbors’ practice of shooting small bucks was the whole reason I couldn’t connect on the type of deer I sought to shoot. I didn’t know enough to accurately evaluate my own hunting approach. I failed to see my shortcomings within my process and how I was hunting the deer in my area incorrectly. I look back now and feel fortunate to have killed the deer I did during that time. When I was frustrated about not seeing deer or target bucks, I didn’t realize I wasn’t hunting their bedding areas or correctly evaluating mid season shifts in food sources or even at the most basic level managing the amount of hunting pressure I was putting on certain areas. Ironically, I suspect that most of those lamenting the introduction of APR because they can’t find a buck to shoot, are guilty of some of the same mistakes and are simply unwilling to put in the work it takes to identify buck bedding areas and low impact exit and entrance routes to stand sites.

The truth is, my neighbors do have some impact on my hunting opportunity, and as I mentioned, the buck exploitation around the New York property we hunt certainly has affected the age structure in comparison to the neighboring PA ground. But, we are still able to have a few animals on the property that meet our criteria each year, and since managing the hunting pressure we put on the property and allowing the property to act as a sink during gun season, we have been able to protect a handful of bucks each season and allow them to live to another year of maturity. This year we pursued the first known 4.5 year old deer we have had on the property and came just fifteen yards short of a shot opportunity in archery season. If hunting that age class is possible in a high hunter density area of western New York, it is possible anywhere. Furthermore, public land hunters have perhaps the most to gain from APRs, as they have no control over hunting pressure, but ironically it seems to be the private land owners who are the most vocal in support of APR. As I progress in my life and my hunting experience, I have found myself feeling happy for a fellow hunter’s filled tag, regardless of whether or not I would shoot the deer they chose to take. If it is a legal and ethical harvest, far be it for me to say when the trigger should be pulled. If they have put down a giant, either by luck or hard work, I am also happy for them. Everyone should hunt and harvest to their prerogative, within the laws and regulations provided.

That being said, I was listening to a podcast where the speaker described a situation where a hunter on a shared piece of private ground had killed an immature buck. The person on the podcast expressed their displeasure with the hunter’s choice to kill that type of buck. The conversation went something along lines of “Why did you shoot that?”. On this property there was one deer that was of older age class frequenting the parcel and I’ll make the assumption that the hunter who was offering the criticisms felt there would be more target animals if those sharing the property would just stop shooting small bucks. I find this to be a misconception on multiple fronts. First, it accounts little for the social pressure of increased populations and how mature bucks often disperse to more remote bedding and core areas away from other deer. Your private parcel has a limited number of bedding areas on it. Unless you own thousands of acres, the number of mature deer you will realistically hold on a small parcel is limited. That’s not to say you won’t find mature Deer using your parcel randomly or infrequently, but the number of home-body bucks you can enjoy hunting from opening day to season’s close is going to be restricted to some degree. Northeastern hunters need to have realistic expectations when it comes to management and ostracizing another hunter over their harvest decision is, in my opinion, an un-constructive and alienating way to approach a conversation about APR or QDM.

Counter to the statements made on the podcast, when I personally am hunting a private parcel that is shared with hunters who do not hold the same management mentality as I do, I am glad when they shoot a buck that I would not.  In a one buck state such as Pennsylvania, their harvest of an immature deer means two things: 1. They won’t be able to fill their buck tag, either by luck or woodsmanship, on a larger deer that I am hunting, and 2. After their buck tag is filled they will likely not be in the woods adding additional hunting pressure to the parcel. In my opinion, taking a yearling, or two, from a property has little overall impact on the hunting opportunities of subsequent seasons, and I would gladly trade that for the positive impacts on my current season. If there are hunters who are consistently killing good deer on public lands, a yearling harvest on a shared private parcel or neighboring property should be very low on your list of concerns.

Conclusion

So, as we can see, if we objectively evaluate the discussion, there are a lot of false premises, and incorrect information coming at us from both sides of the argument. My personal opinion of Antler Point Restrictions is that they have been proven to be an effective management tool in the areas where they have been implemented. While I am generally in favor of less regulations coming from governing bodies, I think Antler Point Restrictions fall in a unique place. As I see them, they are a practical and easily implemented way to increase the opportunity for a large and diverse set of hunters without diminishing opportunity for others who hold different goals. The meat hunters have essentially experienced no statistical reduction in buck harvest opportunity, and opportunities to shoot antlerless deer remain plentiful enough across the state. The APR regulation provides protection for a certain number of yearling bucks and inevitably some other deer, which may not be quickly identified as legal, happen to get through as well. This protection provides opportunities at an older age class of deer for those who wish to be more selective. Many of the opportunities these more selective hunters in Pennsylvania now enjoy would be much more difficult to obtain without the regulation in place. Public lands, especially, have seen a marked difference in herd age structure. I believe the single largest challenge facing APR and hunting in general is social media. Social platforms have an uncanny ability to shift the hunting narrative to one of trophy hunting only, where hunters feel the need make unfortunate posts that include excuses for shooting a small buck, or even excuses for a phenomenal deer that simply doesn’t meet the TV definition of a “shooter”. Because of this, some hunters end up opposing APR because they conflate it with simple trophy hunting, and other hunters will support APR because they believe it will automatically equate to TV caliber animals on their wall. Both of these narratives obfuscate the truth of APR’s value. The reality of APR’s strength lies in its ability to be something in between these two extremes; something with reasonable, realistic and tangible benefits to all hunters within the State that implements it.

By Reuben Dourte


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Antler Restrictions: Fact and Fiction- Part 1

Antler Point Restrictions. The phrase elicits debate immediately. It seems as though emotions on both sides quickly get super charged and it leads to the kind of infighting amongst sportsmen that isn’t conducive to civilized conversation, nor to finding any middle ground. Perhaps there are plenty of ways that goals between the two camps aren’t congruent, but I would contend that there is a reasonable discussion to be had as to whether or not APR is necessary, as well as if it is beneficial, or, counter productive.

Pennsylvania is, in many ways, the poster child for APR. I remember when it was implemented. I also remember the conversations among sportsmen about whether it would actually benefit the herd, or even the general hunting experience in the State.

Arguments About APR

The arguments against it typically went something like the following: Pennsylvania doesn’t have the genetics to grow true trophy class deer; high grading will occur and inferior bucks will be breeding more does as the genetically superior bucks will be harvested, leaving only those remaining inferior deer to propagate; opportunity will be reduced because hunters won’t be able to shoot most of the bucks they see, and kids won’t want to hunt anymore because of it; there is no biological benefit to APR; I hunt for meat, not horns; they are ruining the hunting heritage of the state.

The last argument is purely emotional and subjective, so there is little argument for, or against, it. You either believe this or you don’t. It’s safe to say that most people who were in favor of APR, didn’t see point restrictions as a way to eliminate hunting as we know it, but instead to evolve it in the 21st century. The arguments they offered in favor of APR were usually something along the lines of: buck to doe ratios in the state are severely out of balance, in some areas as high as 1 buck to 20 does; the unbalanced sex ratios create a biological problem for the whitetail deer herd; hunter experience is diminished by a poor age structure and out-of-balance sex ratios; my neighbor shoots all the bucks I pass up and we can’t practice QDM effectively unless APR is implemented; I want to see and shoot more ‘big’ bucks.

The last argument is also emotional and subjective, so there is little argument for or against it. But, what if I told you that both sides of the debate introduced valid points that should be considered, as well as false or emotional ones that should be ignored?

It’s somewhat surprising to me that more than a decade after implementation we can still be discussing this topic, especially when a large majority of Keystone hunters now agree that antler point restrictions are a good thing for the State’s whitetail population. But, it’s true that some people are still very heated about the idea of the State prohibiting the harvest of certain bucks. I know this because just recently I found myself accosted by a family member who was very heated about antler point restrictions and the harvest opportunity they had recently cost him. He was pretty upset and started in on me for being a ‘trophy hunter’. Interestingly, if you saw my basement wall, you would probably agree that most hunters, especially those in the Midwest, wouldn’t call me that. So, I suppose a lot of the conversation comes down to perception and individual hunters’ mentalities or experiences. I tried to explain that I’m not a trophy hunter, and really not a vocal proponent or opponent to APR. (However, in the interest of transparency, I do think APRs have generally worked in PA, and I have a sister state in NY to compare the progress to. Every year I hunt very similar ground in both states and, though anecdotal, I can see the stark contrast between the two management plans.) My family member ended the conversation by proposing the idea that doe season should be totally shut down for a year or two in order to allow for the does to raise more bucks to shoot. He followed that statement up by informing me that he shot two button bucks this year.  All of that being said, let’s try to tease this discussion apart just a bit.

Anit-APR Argument #1: This area can’t grow trophy deer, and I hunt for meat, not horns, anyway

The idea that PA can’t grow a trophy class of deer is quite simply misguided. The idea that the genetics and soil types are inferior to that of the storied Midwestern states, and therefore trying to increase age structure and maximize potential is nothing but a fool’s errand, is disingenuous. Why? Because this argument is a half-truth, and is largely coming from the same hunters who want to be able to shoot a fork horn and are upset that they can’t. While it may be true that the corn fields of Iowa or the rich soils of Buffalo County may be superior habitat for Boone and Crockett deer, nearly every part of the Northeast has the potential to grow Deer that reach the Pope and Young threshold of 125”. This is a trophy anywhere in my book, but in the Northeast, it’s a stud. If anyone tells you differently, they haven’t hunted long enough, in my opinion. It wasn’t too long ago that a 110” buck or higher was considered the buck of a lifetime around these parts and if you shot one, not only would everyone in town know about it, people would tell you that you might as well quit hunting because you’ll never shoot one bigger. The overlying point here is that I very much doubt that the anti-APR hunters, who would like to have the opportunity to shoot the first buck they see, would fail to classify a 125” whitetail in the trophy category. Because of APR there are more of these deer available to hunt and kill in the State of Pennsylvania than ever before. So, it’s safe to say that the assertion that PA can’t produce a ‘trophy’ class of deer, within the ‘average’ hunter’s definition, is false. I also doubt that the majority of meat hunting hunters would pose for a picture with a 120” buck with the tail end of deer toward the camera, in order to adequately show off those substantial hams for which they shot the deer, of course. So again, it’s safe to say that, to varying degrees, antlers do matter to just about everyone.  This doesn’t even address the fact that since APR implementation Pennsylvania has increased its Boone and Crockett entries exponentially and State records have been broken and re-broken. In 2016 the non-typical archery record was broken with a deer measuring 228 6/8”, and this season the typical archery record was set by a State Land buck with a net score of 185 4/8” (grossing in the 190’s). These deer aren’t trophies for Pa, they are trophies anywhere across the Whitetail’s range.

Anti-APR Argument #2: APR will cause High-Grading to occur

This influx of record book entries, along with the anecdotal evidence that is the significantly different look of social media feeds in recent years, seems to fly in the face of any high-grading argument which some anti-APR hunters choose to make. The record books tell us that big deer are falling in PA with more regularity and Facebook photos, forum threads and local big buck contests seem to be evidencing this annually as well. Biologically, and genetically, high-grading within an ungulate species that breeds as whitetails do is a misnomer and a straw man argument. Deer do not have harems as elk do, and the idea of a dominant “breeder buck”  servicing the majority of the does in an area has been debunked. With radio telemetry studies we can determine how deer move during the rut  and we also know that bucks breed one doe at a time. A buck may speed 48 hours breeding one doe repetitively until she is through her breeding cycle and then he will break away and find another. While this buck is bedded in thick cover with a hot doe, other does in the area are also coming into heat. In populations with unbalanced age structures (anything greater than 1:1 really), most bucks will participate in the breeding season. There are enough does that even that ‘inferior’ spike will be getting some action in November when that mature ‘breeder buck’ is hunkered down with his current doe. The high-grading argument has its flaws in genetics as well, mainly due to the fact that the doe contributes half of the genetic material that is within the next generation of buck fawns. Some captive deer breeders will tell you that the most inheritable antler traits are passed through the maternal side of the deer’s pedigree, leading them to believe the buck’s mother has more to do with antler potential than its sire. Since we can’t harvest does on the basis of their antler potential, it becomes nearly impossible to positively or negatively alter the genetics of the deer herd through hunter harvest. Just ask any of the renowned biologists who are part of the QDMA. This is also why the idea of shooting “cull bucks” from a wild Deer herd to improve antler size is foolish and misguided. Lastly, the high-grading argument doesn’t account for later born fawns, poor growing seasons, or a buck which was born to a first time mother. A buck that is younger when it is growing its first set of antlers may be behind in body size when comparing it to other deer in the same fawn crop. He may display smaller antlers for the sole reason that he is still catching up to his peers. Additionally, a harsh Winter which causes deer to enter Spring under nourished, or a poor growing season and dry summer during critical antler development times can also stifle antler growth, even with mature deer. Lastly, every Fall, some doe fawns reach sexual maturity before their first birthday and are bred. These does may not have access to the best food sources as do matriarchal does, and may not produce as much milk because they are still growing themselves after fawning. This can cause a buck fawn born to one of these does to start life behind other deer in the local herd. Those things have nothing to do with the antler genetics or the maximum antler potential within that deer’s DNA.

Anti-APR Argument #3: APR will reduce hunter opportunities

Hunter opportunity, if reduced solely to buck harvest, has not sustained any significant decreases in the state of Pennsylvania. Statistically speaking, hunter buck harvest has remained consistent based on a percentage of licensed hunters across the state, so the argument of diminished opportunity really falls quite flat. Many of the people I know, myself included, who haven’t filled a buck tag this year, could have if they would have chosen to shot any legal buck. But, because of APR, many hunters have seen what another year of age can do, and they choose to self regulate beyond the APR standards. Even with this self regulation and the mentality of higher antler criteria that has been making progress within the hunting ranks, statistical harvest success rates have remained consistent. What we have seen, however, is that for the first time in modern hunting history, PA has begun to harvest more (59% in 2016) 2.5 year old or older bucks than yearling bucks. The majority of the statewide buck harvest comprised of yearlings used to push near 80% annually. On the contrary, some 60% of New York’s harvest is still made up of yearling bucks, the highest ratio in the nation. Youth hunters in Pennsylvania are allowed to shoot a buck with antlers over 3” in length, and since they can shoot deer that are otherwise “protected”, one would have to argue that the youth opportunities have increased in the State. Like every State, PA faces hunter recruitment and attrition issues, but it is hard to correlate that with a lack of youth opportunity. Likely, there are other, more significant roadblocks to entry for the next generation. Sports and electronics present bigger threats to the perpetuation of hunting within the next generation than do APRs.

Anti-APR Argument #4: APRs are not biologically necessary.

The best argument offered by the anti-APR crowd is that Antler Point Restrictions are not biologically necessary. This I (cautiously) agree with. I say cautiously because the discussion is more nuanced, but as a whole, sustaining a huntable population of Whitetail deer does not require APR.  If an area is recruiting fawns back into the herd at a high rate, buck fawns will be present the following year as sexually mature yearling bucks, and can breed the does to produce the next generation. Even if there is near 100% exploitation of the buck population, as long as there is high fawn recruitment, the deer herd will be able to regenerate from year to year. Of course, this doesn’t account for the social effects this may have on the herd, the physiological effects on the bucks, or the effects on hunter experience, but we will get into that in a bit.

Part 2 of this blog series will discuss common arguments often offered by those in favor of APRs.

By Reuben Dourte


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Layering for Whitetails

The difficult process of choosing whitetail gear is further complicated by advertising claims and consumer biases.  There is also the advent of social media, which has unarguably exacerbated the glamorization of the fashion hunting industry.  I wear gear that is what most people would consider “expensive”, but I wear it because it works.  If you are going to invest in any gear that will assist you in the field, you should be doing it for its utility, not its popularity.  Its also important to understand that some of the popular brands are popular because of a deserved reputation gained through superior performance.  This is certainly the case with the technical hunting clothing and layering systems available today.

In this article I will be using some examples of Kuiu apparel, because this is most of what I currently own and use.  These pieces are simply an example, and the fundamentals and principles of a layering system and their benefits can be achieved through many different brands and options- there is more than one way to skin this cat.  What one hunter places value on may be slightly different than another hunter’s priorities.  Different hunting styles allow for sacrifices in some areas, or create justification for gains in others.

Why Consider a Layering System for Whitetails?

System layering for whitetail hunting hasn’t been mainstream for very long.  In fact, I would argue it still is not.  The old days of layering 2, 3 even 4 sweatshirts and heading to the woods with 15 lbs of clothing on your back, sweating profusely, still managing to freeze while on stand, and having trouble anchoring your bow string because of excessive clothing bulk, are over.  There are more efficient ways to layer which can provide a hunter with less clothing weight and bulk, and significantly more mobility.  The benefits of layering to the active mountain hunter are obvious.  Thermal regulation can occur by adding or subtracting layers based on physical exertion.  It’s true that a static hunter, one who is sitting on stand for hours on end moving as little as possible, has different needs. A heavy outer garment with lots of insulation may seem like the easiest way to go, but it is often lacking in the areas of weight efficiency and versatility.  Very often, these systems are only used once temperatures plunge below freezing; so the hunter must still develop another whole system for early or mid season bowhunting.  The expense can start to add up and soon a layering system starts to look cheap in comparison.

If assembled correctly, a layering system can provide a whitetail hunter with numerous combinations for a broad spectrum of temperatures.  One well-thought-out system can take a hunter from the beginning of season to the end.  The weight savings associated with developing a layering system, vs. one with heavy thermal outer layers, can be significant, giving the hunter a rare combination of high warmth-to-weight efficiency, superior versatility and arguably the best bang for their buck.  If you are a mobile hunter, carrying a stand and sticks on your back to your hunting destinations, and you could shave anywhere from 2-5 lbs of weight, while saving a couple hundred dollars, and improve system performance, would you do it?

Below are some of the concerns I had with my prior hunting apparel and how I solved the issues through the implementation of a layering system.

Problem 1: Base layer basics

I spent a lot of years hunting in synthetic compression layers similar to the sports apparel that Under Armour became famous for.  I layered heavily over this base and was still cold.  The reason was twofold.  First, the synthetic material of my base layer would become damp with perspiration when I walked to my stand.  I typically wore some of my insulation layers as I walked in and it was rare I did not work up somewhat of a sweat.  My layers were simply too bulky and too heavy to feasibly pack them, so the easiest way to get them in the woods with me was to wear them.  Once I was wet from perspiring during my walk, my layers weren’t providing me with the same thermal efficiency as they may have otherwise.  Secondly, I usually put my outer layers on immediately and essentially trapped the moisture and water vapor inside my clothing.  As soon as my body temperature cooled, the wet base layers  actually pulled heat away from my skin.  While the base layers would eventually get wet with perspiration, they also were generally hydrophobic.  They did not absorb moisture extremely well unless there was an excess of it, and the remaining moisture was left on my skin where it would start to evaporate and provide even more of a cooling effect.  A hydrophillic base layer that is absorptive will pull moisture away from your skin and into the garment.  Additionally, some fabrics will continue to insulate after they are wet, while others will not.

The second thing that was occurring with these compression-type base layers was the restriction of blood flow once I was in my stand and moving very little.  If you are active, compression layers can be an asset to your circulation, but they really have little benefit to the static hunter. Between the cool dampness of perspiration and the lack of blood flow to my extremities, I was routinely uncomfortable in the tree stand.

            The Solution:

Merino wool.  Every whitetail hunter should know those words.  It is hard to beat merino’s warmth efficiency.  It’s also unbelievable how merino wool provides a naturally odor resistant base layer.  Merino wool contains lanolin which is an antimicrobial substance that provides the sheep with resistance to skin infection.  It also provides the hunter with an essentially odor-free base layer.   Additionally, the moisture managing properties of merino wool create an environment where bacteria has a harder time growing and reproducing.  Merino wool is also incredibly warm for the weight of the fabric.  Crimps in wool fibers create loft and naturally insulating air spaces in the garment.  Merino fibers have close to 100 times more crimps per inch than other wool fibers and even “thick” merino fibers (24 microns) are less than half the diameter of a human hair.  This means that when fibers are damaged there, are less abrasions that are felt against your skin.  This gives merino wool its soft, no-itch feel.  Merino fibers also have the ability to retain 30-35% of their weight in water.  This means that the fabric has the ability to wick moisture from your skin to help regulate your body temperature.  This is also likely merino’s most significant drawback, in that it dries slower than some synthetics.  It’s hard to categorize this as a drawback though, because I have found merino to dry incredibly quickly.  And unless you plan to sweat significantly in a very humid climate, it is hard to trade all of merino’s other benefits for something that is less relevant to a tree stand hunter’s situation.  The polyester base layers I have worn, although they claim to be infused with anti-microbial technology, don’t hold a candle to the odor control achievable with merino wool.  Merino wool base layers are not compression layers and because of this, in addition to the aforementioned properties, they are a static Whitetail hunter’s best friend.  Odor control, warmth-to-weight efficiency and moisture management while allowing for full circulation is the combination you need in the tree stand.  The weight of merino layers is measured as grams per square meter (GSM or g/m2).  200+ g/m2 fabric weight is my preferred weight for tree stand hunting in the Northeast.

Problem 2: Michelin Man Insulation

            Turtle neck, cotton hoody, fleece pullover, cotton hoodie #2, polyester vest, sweatpants etc. etc. etc.  A few years ago I was wearing so many heavy, inefficient layers that my mobility was reduced significantly and my stamina was likewise affected.  Carrying 12-15 pounds of clothing on your back is taxing.  And when that clothing is thermally inefficient, it becomes hard to justify the weight.  I had so many “insulation” layers on that there were times that I was unable to properly anchor my bow string.  I don’t know what would have happened if I had seen the buck of a lifetime on one of those hunts, but I would have likely been scrambling to adjust my apparel while a dream deer was walking out of my life forever.  The packability of these layers is non-existent.  They don’t compress, they are heavy, they are bulky.  The best way I could get all the clothing to the woods, which I needed to wear to stay even a little warm, was to wear it.  As mentioned, I ended up in a sweat, which turned into a cold sweat and then I was freezing within an hour on stand.  Cotton is a poor choice for insulation, as are many polyester blends.  Fleece is a better insulation material, and creates a larger air barrier, but it isn’t sufficient as a sole mid- layer piece.

            The Solution:

Packable lofting insulation in the form of down, down blends or synthetics solve multiple problems for the tree stand hunter.  Air is a great insulator, and sweatshirts layered on top of sweatshirts do a poor job of taking advantage of this.  Down is rated by fill power (fp) and, for example, 850fp down lofts to 850 cubic inches per ounce of down.  This means that the higher the down rating, the more loft and air the garment will possess.  A garment made with 100% goose down as its fill is incredibly efficient in insulation properties and light in weight.  Instead of 5-8, or more, pounds of insulation layers, a static hunter may be able to reduce their mid layers to as little as a pound or two using down, a down blend or a synthetic down product.

            The negative of down is that once the fibers are saturated with water, its ability to loft is lost and with it, its insulating properties are severely diminished.  Companies are developing treated down products that coats the down fibers to make them resistant to moisture, and their garments are usually treated with a durable water repellent finish on a down proof membrane as a first line of moisture protection.  Still, back country hunters are sometimes wary of utilizing down because of the reality of reduced performance in wet conditions. A whitetail hunter in the Northeast or Midwest, who is not backpacking overnight, isn’t playing the same high stakes game as someone who is 10 miles from the nearest thoroughfare.  Some companies have chosen to develop apparel that utilizes a down and synthetic blend in order to take advantage of the warmth-to-weight efficiency of down while providing some performance in wet conditions.  The sacrifice typically comes in the form of a slightly heavier, slightly less pack-able piece of clothing.

Other companies have developed synthetic fibers that replicate the performance of down while their hydrophobic nature helps to preserve their performance when wet.  Another drawback of a down layer is that because the outer shell of the garment needs to be “down-proof”, (so that the fill is not lost through the fabric), the layers lack the breath-ability of a synthetic insulation layer.  Active spot and stalk style hunters should probably consider an insulation with a higher breath-ability than down.

But, static stand hunters can pack down to the tree stand and put their insulation and outer layers on once they arrive at their destination.  This reduces perspiration and leaves you with a layer that has a level of wind resistance, is treated with durable water repellent, and is able to be compressed to the size of a softball in your backpack.  Don’t plan on using down layers as an outer layer for bowhunting though, as they will be noisier than synthetic insulation layers which might utilize brushed faces and quieter fabrics.  Down insulation is highly efficient, and its benefits for the tree stand hunter far outweigh its shortcomings, however, the selection of down, down blends or a synthetic insulation is situation specific.  The most important thing is to consider your system weight, and how you will transport your layers.

            Lastly, it is easy to get confused by all the insulation options in the market place right now.  Aside from fp ratings or the many different synthetic products, tree stand hunters need to assess the versatility of their system.  Some might advise the purchase of one heavy insulation mid-layer, although I decided to go the route of purchasing a down jacket and a down vest.  A customer service representative at an apparel company probably won’t advise you to assemble a layering system like this, because it isn’t exactly how the system is designed.  However, many of the down options designed for mountain hunting utilize a highly efficient down but do not incorporate as much insulation in the garment as a static hunter needs in late December.  Adding a second down layer in the form of a vest does two things, it provides more insulation and warmth and it maintains a higher level of versatility in your system.

A heavier down coat is a great option and can be highly effective, but if you are looking to buy the least amount of items possible and want to get from the beginning to end of season with one system, an ultra light down jacket and an ultra light down vest can accomplish this quite nicely.  I typically get through all of late October and November utilizing one down layer, and incorporate the second during December firearms season.  The down jacket, vest and pant I wear weigh 9.5, 7.4 and 11.6 ounces, respectively, and are the pieces most responsible for the weight reduction in my whitetail system.

Problem 3: Mid season versatility

For a number of years I utilized a carbon lined scent control jacket and pants as my outer layer.  While I was never sure it actually worked for scent control, I figured it couldn’t hurt.  During those years, I felt I needed to have a scent controlling outer layer on whenever I was on stand, and so I wore that jacket and pants from October to December.  What I should have done was found a lighter weight jacket, but I felt it was difficult to justify a separate early season system since the majority of my hunting time would occur after November 1st, anyway.  The result?  I often was on stand sweating like crazy through mid October.  I would have been better to go out in my camo fleece which I used as a mid layer through late season, and just left the scent control jacket at home, but at the time my mentality was different.  Now, my system allows me to utilize a lightweight mid-layer piece as an abrasion resistant outer layer through mid season.

The Solution:

            A technical mid/outer layering piece like Kuiu’s Peloton 240 full zip hoodie can become the most versatile piece in your whole system.  Other companies have similar items, such as the Braken Wear Roam Fleece which I utilized often this past season.  A full zip hoodie, one that provides some performance details that a simple cotton pull-over does not, is invaluable to an archery hunter.  Some of these technical pieces offer a bit of wind resistance while remaining highly breathable.  Comfort and mobility can be retained for the archer and the fleece backing that many of these garments offer is helpful for a bit of added warmth.

The Kuiu Peloton full zip hoodie has been my go to outer layer during almost all of October, worn with only a down jacket and merino base underneath it.  This particular garment’s unique and proprietary knit design allows for significant garment stretch without the use of elastic.  Elastic lacks insulating properties and becomes heavy when wet.  The result is a super light hoodie that gives the hunter zero restrictions on mobility.  During colder weather, I incorporated the slightly heavier Braken Wear Roam Fleece as a mid-layer under my soft shell outers.  This piece, worn combination with my super down layers, kept me in the stand during long, cold all day sits into December.

Problem 4: (non)Weatherproof outers

The heavy, bulky outer layers I had previously utilized incorporated an outer face that was similar to a micro fleece.  While these layers where a quiet choice, they became waterlogged with the slightest drizzle of rain.  Though they had a certain level of weather proof properties, most of the performance came from the inner lining of the garment keeping the moisture from fulling penetrating to my mid-layers than it did from the garment’s outer shell shedding precipitation.  The jacket and pant system I was using were also incredibly slow-drying, and if they were soaked during a hunt, they were unlikely to be dry by the next day.  Since I don’t have access to a clothes dryer where we spend most of our hunting time, I eventually needed a second set of outer layers as a backup to my primary ones.  This resulted in plenty of times where I elected to not hunt in wet conditions.  Not only was it miserable to sit in the stand and get soaking wet, but I couldn’t afford to have wet clothing for the remaining days of hunting.  When weather conditions begin to affect the time you can spend afield, it is time for some change.

            The Solution:

            Durable Water Repellent outer layers have become a necessity in my layering system.  Not only are they weather resistant, most technical outer layers integrate some form of windproof membrane as well.  This is an important feature for the Northern whitetail hunter.  Between the wind resistance of a soft shell outer layer and the down proof membrane of my system’s insulation layers, I don’t feel the wind blow.  This keeps me in the stand longer on those cold, blustery December days.

            The second reason I have gravitated to soft shell outer layers with DWR is that this style jacket and pants are typically going to be faster drying than heavily insulated fleece outer layers.  They are also lighter and don’t hold as much water weight.  I like to think of my outer layers as the siding of a house.  They might provide a bit of insulation, but the high R-value comes from the insulation located between the drywall and the siding.

            The trade off of some of the outers with DWR finishes, and a less brushed finish, is that they are presumably less quiet than those fleece outer layers that have been popular with whitetail hunters for years.  I say “presumably”, because I have yet to be busted from a deer hearing my movement because of the fabric with which my outer layers are constructed.  It’s been my theory that if you are moving fast enough for a deer to hear you, you have a much better chance of them visually busting you.  The outer layers I use are Kuiu’s Guide Series, although I have also had excellent luck with the significantly less expensive Teton soft shell jacket that they manufacture.

Other companies offer soft shell jackets which perform similarly, Skre, Sitka, Plythal, First Lite and others produce soft shells which can provide some of the same performance features for the whitetail hunter.  The same principle can be applied across several technical clothing companies.

            It’s fair to note that a DWR finish is not water-proof, it is water repellent.  A heavy downpour can soak these layers and rain gear is the next consideration if you are interested in becoming fully weatherproof.  I utilize Kuiu’s Teton rain gear because it is extremely pack-able and weighs as little as my merino base layers.  It easily fits over my system (I buy a size up in outer layers and rain gear to allow room for layering and mobility).  This is not Kuiu’s highest rated rain gear, in fact it is their lowest performing and cheapest priced.  But it is exactly what a whitetail hunter needs for stand hunting.  It is so compact and takes up so little room that I will throw it in my pack if there is even a chance of rain in the forecast.  It’s worth noting that this rain gear is not going to withstand any brush-busting during a still hunt, but I’ve found it to be ideal for the tree stand.  It’s also worth noting that some people will initially find the rain gear to be too noisy for bowhunting, but, if you’ve ever hunted in a steady rain, you know that a significant amount of noise is drowned out by rain drops hitting the leaves on the forest floor.  Because of this, I have never had a noise issue when wearing this piece of my system.

Conclusion:

The concept of layering systems can be broken down to three clothing components- base layers, mid insulation layers, and weather resistant outers.  A whitetail hunters priorities for their base layer should be moisture wicking, non- compression and odor resistant, instead of the quick drying compression layers an active hunter might choose.  The priorities for mid-layer insulation should be high efficiency warmth-to-weight ratios, instead of the breathable membranes used with synthetic insulation that are more suitable for active hunting.  An optional mid-to-outer layering piece can add versatility throughout October and additional warmth as a layering piece in late season.    It is important for outer layers to offer DWR, be fast drying and lightweight.

My system weight is as follows:

Base layer merino top: 11.6 oz

Base layer merino bottoms: 10.2 oz

Down jacket: 9.5 oz

Down vest: 7.4 oz

Down pant: 11.6 oz

Mid-layer hoodie: 16.5 oz

DWR jacket: 27.5

DWR pant: 20.8 oz

Total system weight: 7.4 lbs

Prior clothing weight: 12.56 lbs

Weight Savings: 5.16 lbs

            Regardless of what you brand or system you choose to wear into the woods, make sure you understand the ingredients within each part of each system so you can make an educated decision regarding what will work best for your style of hunting.  Understand that a mobile, public land hunter is going to have different system needs than a private land hunter who may be able to take a four wheeler to a box blind.  Understanding the performance, the benefits, and the limitations and drawbacks of the garments will allow you to customize your hunting clothing to meet your specific needs.  And believe me when I tell you, getting a layering system dialed in is going to change your hunting experience entirely.

By Reuben Dourte
CommonGroundBowhunter@gmail.com

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Is Hunter Density as Bad as We Think?

     When discussing hunter density, it’s important to note that statistics don’t tell the whole story.  For example, hunter numbers could be in decline at the same time that private land access is dwindling.  This could disproportionately push more hunters to public lands while overall numbers continue to experience attrition.  Likewise, the diversity of the data collection methodology employed by different state agencies can make comparisons difficult at best.  Sometimes one state agency is collecting and reporting different or more granular data than another, and thus some generalizations or assumptions need to be made in order to convert the data so that it can be compared.  I will do my best to describe my methods and logic and I will provide the links to the data I used for this article.

The QDMA Numbers

     The QDMA has released hunter density numbers by state in the past.  For the sake of a clear and concise article, they utilize the total area of a state divided by license holders within that state.  The QDMA’s numbers do not take into account individual state’s licensing procedures, nor do they factor actual participation rates.  If 1 out of 10 license holders doesn’t enter the woods in the fall, they haven’t technically contributed to any pressure or “felt” hunter density.  Additionally, some states may sell general hunting licenses which come with deer hunting privileges.  They also come with small game hunting privileges, and so small game hunters may end up being counted as participating deer hunters, even if they don’t pick up a rifle or a bow to pursue whitetails.

     The QDMA’s numbers are a simple, high level overview of hunter density numbers across the country.  But they really only tell part of the story.  A well known hunter has gone on record, (on numerous occasion), disputing those density numbers, particularly for the state of Michigan.  Much of the state is underwater, and one argument is that water area should be excluded.  I agree, although marshlands and swamps can still hold deer.  The claim was made that Michigan is the most heavily bow hunted state in the Union, and I decided to try to find out.

Michigan by the Numbers

     The following is very important, so read carefully.  Michigan sold 634,021 deer licenses in 2016, however, based on surveys of licensed hunters, the DNR found that the actual hunter participation number was only 554,143.  In other words, about 80,000 licensed hunters stayed home, or 12.6%.  Michigan sells a “deer license” which can be used with any weapon, the exception to this being early and late anterless season tags.  They do not have a specific archery privilege tag.  Based on the Michigan DNR’s survey, they found that 322,353 license holders bowhunted in 2016.  Michigan’s total land mass is 56,614 square miles.  On average, the deer hunter density, based on participating hunters, is 9.79 hunters per square mile.  322,353 archers in the state put the bowhunter density at 5.69 hunters per square mile.  The state has 4.5 million acres of public lands with a deer population of 1.75 million.  Average deer density in the state comes out to 30.12 deer per square mile.  Obviously there is some variation to these numbers depending on the area, but we will get to some of that in a bit.

Here are the quick stats on Michigan:

Deer License Holders: 634,021

Participating Deer Hunters: 554,143

Participating Archers: 322,353

Land Mass: 56,614 square miles (Lower Peninsula=40,162 square miles, Upper Peninsula=16,452 square miles)

Hunters per square mile: 9.79

Bowhunters Per Square Mile: 5.69

Public: 4.5 million acres

Deer Herd: 1.75 million

Deer Density Average: 30.91

Pennsylvania by the Numbers

     Data for Pennsylvania’s actual hunter participation rates was not readily available, so to control for a potential over calculation of participating hunters, I’ve applied a 12.6% correction (same as Michigan) to the total license holder number to get an estimated participant figure.  So, of Pennsylvania’s 914,244 general license holders, we will estimate that 12.6% elected to not participate in deer season.  This brings the number to of active deer hunters in PA to 799,049.  Archery license sales totaled 341,637 in 2016, so corrected for non-participation, the active bowhunters would be 298,590.  Pennsylvania has 44,817 square miles of land mass.  799,049 deer hunters spread over this area gives you a hunter density of 17.83 deer hunters per square mile!  However, it is important to note that small game hunters in Pennsylvania purchase the same general hunting license as deer hunters, even if they don’t deer hunt.  It is hard to know what proportion of license holders “plan” to deer hunt, but since we don’t have that data, we can instead use the Pennsylvania Game Commisions estimated number of deer hunters that participated in the opening day of firearm season.  That number is 550,000.  550,000 hunters across 44,817 square miles still equates to a density of 12.27 hunters per square mile!  It’s worth noting that a certain portion of the 59,550 bowhunters who harvested a buck during archery season would not be participating in opening day.  Other archers may take still take to the field in order to fill an antlerless permit, depending on their Wildlife Manage Unit. Speaking of bowhunters, an even distribution of participating archers gives you an average of 6.66 bowhunters per square mile in the Keystone State.  Pennsyvlania hunters can take advantage of approximately 4 million acres of public land and the state supports a deer herd of around 1.3-1.5 million, resulting in an average deer density of approximately 31.24 deer per square mile.

Here are PA’s quick stats:

 License Holders: 914,244

*Participating Deer Hunters (adjusted by 12.6% factor): 799,049

Opening Day of Firearm Participation: 550,000 (PGC Stats)

Participating Archers (adjusted by 12.6% factor): 298,590

Land Mass: 44,817 square miles

Participating hunters per square mile: 17.83

Opening Day Firearm Hunters per square mile:12.27

Bowhunters Per Square Mile: 6.662

Public: 4.0 million acres

Deer Herd: 1.3-1.5 million

Deer Density Average: 31.23

New York by the Numbers

     We’ll apply the same logic for hunter participation rates to New York as we did PA.  Using the Michigan participation ratio, we find that of New York’s 569,247 license holders, we can expect 497,522 to participate in deer season.  Out of 175,461 archers in the Empire State, adjusted for non-participation, 153,352 will actually spend time pursuing whitetail deer.  New York has a land mass of 47,126 square miles.  The average density, (adjusted for participation), of deer hunters across the state is 10.56 per square mile.  153,352 archers distributed evenly equates to a density of 3.25 bowhunters per square mile.  New York has a population of approximately 1 million whitetail deer, giving it an average deer density of 21.22 deer per square mile.  Interestingly, the New York DEC also notes that of the state’s half million deer hunters, 90% will hunt on private lands.  Private lands make up 85% of the state.  This means that ten percent of hunters in the state chase deer on the near 4.5 million acres of public lands available.  It also means that the average hunter density on New York public land is lower than the overall average hunter density across the state.  Before you get too exercised, it’s important to note that New York public land is widely diverse and receives unequal amounts of pressure.  The remote portions of the Adirondacks have significantly lower deer and hunter densities, much like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Counties within the southwestern portion of the state readily lead in deer harvest numbers, yearling buck exploitation and hunter density.  All this tells us that both public and private pressure is not evenly distributed across the state, and it is important to acknowledge that fact.

Here are New York’s quick stats:

 Deer License Holders: 569,247

Participating Deer Hunters: 497,522

Participating Archers: 153,352

Land Mass: 47,126 square miles

*Participating Hunters per square mile (adjusted by 12.6% factor): 10.56

Participating Archers Per Square Mile (adjusted by 12.6% factor): 3.25

Public: 4.5 million acres

Deer Herd: 1.0 million

Deer Density Average: 21.22

The Breakdown

     So, is the hunter density as bad as we think it is in this infamous three state “pressure trifecta”?  That is for you to decide.  Which one of these states is the “toughest” to hunt?  That question can’t be answered with statistics, either.  Topographical features and habitat play a roll in the hunting opportunities an area can provide.  Which of these three states is the most heavily bowhunted?  Well, unfortunately that depends on how you slice it as well.  You see, on average, Pennsylvania ranks the highest of the three with 6.662 bowhunters per square mile, besting Michigan’s 5.67.  However, the Michigan DNR has gone out of their way to provide us with more detailed statistics as to how many bowhunters spend time hunting in the Lower Peninsula.  The total they came up with is 315,105.  The lower peninsula of Michigan is 40,162 square miles, which means that the bowhunter density in the LP can be calculated as 315,105 hunters/40,162 square miles=7.85 bowhunters per square mile!  This certainly makes a strong case that Michigan deserves a spot near the top of the high pressure list.  But then, how would Pennsylvania’s or New York’s regional stats change is you started to break out lower hunter density areas?

     The truth is, you can slice up statistics to show you what you want to see.  Parts of every state have a certain amount of high pressure.  Without defining the parameters of your argument, and the methods of your calculations, it becomes really easy to claim one state is more highly pressured than another.  Hunting deer in Michigan is tough, I’ve done it before.  How about hunting in PA or New York?  Yea, I’ve been there too, it’s not easy.  In any of these states you are going to have to put in your time, scout hard, go where others won’t, find overlooked spots and just keep-on-keeping-on.  On any given day any of these states could be the king of high pressure hunting; and if you are putting down deer in any one of them, walk tall, because you’ve undoubtedly earned it.

Data Compilations:

-By Reuben Dourte

Resources:

https://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/2016_deer_harvest_survey_report_575841_7.pdf

http://www.pgc.pa.gov/HuntTrap/LicensesandPermits/Pages/HuntingLicenseSalesReport.aspx

http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2017/11/michigan_deer_hunting_season_2.html

http://www.dec.ny.gov/permits/26368.html

https://www.qdma.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/WR-2017.pdf

https://www.realtree.com/deer-hunting/antler-nation

 

*This article originally written for and appeared on HuntingtheEmpire.com

Feature Image Credit: Tim Bunao


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farm country

Hunting the Harvest in Farmland

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Reuben Dourte

Email me at CommonGroundBowhunter@gmail.com

 


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muddy pro climbing sticks

Fool Me Once

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Reuben Dourte

Email me @ commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

 


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Micro Food Plot

Micro Plot Update

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

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

cereal grain food plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Reuben Dourte

Email me @ CommonGroundBowhunter@gmail.com


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deer track

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

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

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

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

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

-Reuben Dourte

Email me @ CommonGroundBowhunter@gmail.com


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buck rub

The Orchard Hill

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

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

History

orchard

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

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

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

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

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

pope and young buck

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

Hunting

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

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

buck bed

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

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

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

-Reuben Dourte