Category Archives: Deer Hunting

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The Pasture Stand

In an effort to pin down some additional stand locations for the upcoming season, we spent time in the off season scouting both new parcels and new areas of properties we have hunted in the past.  I have for some time wanted to learn more about the deer movement on a small parcel we have permission to hunt that is part of a larger piece of timber and is bordered on the West side by a cattle pasture.  The transition that is created where the mature woods changes to earlier succession growth, then meets the edge of the pasture, is a popular travel corridor.  This parallel, transition trail is heavily used and is a direct connection between multiple bedding areas to the South (both on and off the huntable property) and evening food sources.

(click to enlarge)

Additionally, the contour of the hill creates a distinct bench higher up the hill, which is about 30 yards wide. The deer use this bench and bed on subtle points overlooking the bottom flat area of timber.  They also traverse this bench as it wraps around the point of the hill and connects with what I believe are likely bedding areas on the adjacent parcels.  Trails can also be found dropping off these benches heading down into the bottom and then eventually out into the Alfalfa field to the North.

Some of the bedding is only 150 yards off the destination food source, and so access is delicate.  To reduce noise, we have cut a route through the thicket so that the vegetation and weeds can visually shield our approach while not costing us unnecessary noise.  Often these small details can make a significant difference in success levels.  The stand site (indicated by the blue ‘X’) was selected for multiple reasons, the first being accessibility.  This is essentially as close to bedding as we can afford to get for an evening hunt without being busted by the deer bedded on the bench.  Any closer and we would position ourselves on the open timber side of the transition edge, visually exposing us to the bedded deer utilizing the elevation of the point for secure bedding.  Where the stand is located, a shot is available 15 yards above to the South of the hunter’s position, should the deer stay higher along the hillside.  This stand location also allows for a fairly clean entrance/exit route through the cattle pasture that will leave both the woods and the Ag fields mostly undisturbed- an important detail.

This transition zone is also where a concentration of deer movement occurs as they use this primary trail on their way to the food sources to the North.  When the deer bedded on the point are leaving their daytime cover to move to food, it is highly likely they will utilize the trail dropping off the point of the bench and move within easy bow range of this tree.  Furthermore, deer which are bedded to the South and West of the stand on the neighboring parcels are also likely to use this area to enter the alfalfa field.  This is a popular trail because it enters the field at its lowest elevation, and any deer who is transitioning through the creek bottom on the way to the alfalfa can take advantage of falling thermals in the evening and scent check the entire field, regardless of the wind direction.  This feature naturally draws deer to this area.  It also makes the spot harder to hunt as we may find it becomes more susceptible to wind swirls.  If that is the case, we may need to save this location for hunts on calmer wind days when falling evening thermals will stabilize our scent stream and carry it East, down the creek bottom and away from the direction of the deer movement.

Falling thermals provide the third justification for this stand location in that they will help facilitate an evening hunt where the hunter will be able to remain undetected by deer approaching from nearly any bedding location.  For an evening hunt, setting up on the lower side of the most probable travel route will allow for minimal ground scent and keep airborne scent away from approaching deer.

Though not a complex set-up, this stand will require carefully timed access and likely only a few October hunts.  During early November, rutting bucks could certainly move through the location on the parallel transition trail, scent checking the bed-to-feed trails to see if any estrous does have moved through the area, headed back to their daytime bedding locations.  However, as the morning thermals begin to rise, I would expect most of the movement to take place on the upper bench trail as the bucks cruised at or above the bedding elevation and allowed the rising thermal drafts to bring up scent from the bottom of the woods.  Sitting this low stand in the later in the morning would be ill-advised and for this reason I located a better rut stand along the upper bench to the South of this stand location.  The bench serves as a connecting travel corridor between multiple bedding locations and can provide productive all day sits.  The rising thermals, coupled with any Westerly wind can serve to keep the hunter undetected.

The trick is to not over hunt this stand in early season, but instead choose timing carefully in conjunction with favorable weather patterns.  The temptation when we find a stand with a good bit of sign and above average promise is to hunt it as much as possible.  Many times this has the reverse affect and we are left puzzled as to why our opportunities diminish as the season progresses.  Saving this spot for high value sits should help to increase its yields and keep it productive for seasons to come.

-Reuben Dourte, commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com


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The Velvet Rut

Things are looking up on the hunting grounds in PA.  The jury is still out in New York, but at least one definite shooter has shown himself.  Home ranges will shift as we near velvet peel, but for now its a lot of fun to locate bachelor bucks and capitalize on their consistent summer patterns.  The dog days of summer are almost magical times for a deer hunter in that no other time of year allows you to observe mature deer in daylight with such regularity.

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The shortening days cause an increase in testosterone which initiates the shedding of the velvet and also seems to trigger more reclusive behavior.  Relocating that buck you watched all summer can be difficult or sometimes near impossible; he could be as close as the next property over or as far as a couple miles away.  While it is probably prudent to withhold the finalization of your “hit-list” until after the bucks return to their Fall ranges, its still pretty awesome to see a handful of shooters utilizing the property you hunt during July and August.  This can help provide tremendous motivation to finish the last of the summer projects, organize hunting equipment and refine your shooting.  There’s certainly a chance that some of the bucks in the bachelor group you are watching are homebodies and largeIMG_2993 portions of their Summer and Fall ranges overlap.  What is important to keep in mind, however, is that food sources at this time of year are rapidly changing and that only increases in September.  Bean fields begin to dry up and in dairy-dense areas, corn may be harvested for silage and thus taken off before season which means much less waste grain left behind.  In some areas farmers may even disc their harvested corn fields and leave them bare to take advantage of Spring snows (poor man’s fertilizer) which serve to leech nitrogen into the soil.  These fields will be of little to no draw to the deer herd and so the summer patterns you were observing with regularity aren’t going to have much influence on Fall movements.


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Stay open minded and adaptive to what the deer herd is doing in each season.  The velvet rut is incredibly exciting and gives us all hope and fills our dreams for the next several months with that big dark antlered beast that was seemed careless and nonchalant all summer long.  He will be a different beast in a few months and it will take all your off season prep to put the puzzle together and stick an arrow in him.

If you haven’t yet gotten a chance to do any summer glassing, here is some July velvet footage from NY and PA to hold you over in the meantime:

 

 

 

-Reuben Dourte, commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

 


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Hunting an Evolved Deer Herd

Whitetail Deer have unarguably proven to be the most adaptive of all big game species.  Across the breadth of their range they have now learned to exist in and around metropolitan areas and skirted predators of the two and four legged variety for centuries.  Deer quickly adjust to hunting pressure and have an uncanny ability to differentiate between threatening human activity and other benign actions.  I remember when I was young, we would go to our friends’ cabin in July and I would enjoy watching deer come into the yard to feed on the corn we threw out to them.  Within an hour of arriving at the property the deer would materialize out of a large clearing and look to see if any corn was out.  For generation after generation, they were conditioned, by vacationers, that summer activity at the cabin meant easy pickings.

I believe hunting pressure can similarly affect deer and leave a lasting impression on a deer herd and how they behave.  It is reasonable to assume that deer in our cabin example would discontinue this feeding practice after a few years if no more corn was offered.  Once all the individuals from the last generation of deer that had been conditioned to the idea of cabin activity=food, died off, there would again exist a learning curve for the future deer herd if the feeding practice was resumed at a later date.  The subsequent generations would not have learned this behavior and so a certain level of adaptation would have to occur all over again.  Not so with hunting.  Hunting is unique because deer who do not appropriately adapt to threats, or do not have certain favorable attributes for survival, are eliminated from a population.  Once eliminated, these deer are not present to pass on their genetics.  Because both physiological and behavioral characteristics are influenced by genetics, I believe it is reasonable to assume that deer with certain behavioral patterns or personalities, that allow them to live for more years, survive longer and therefore produce more offspring with those same traits in a given population.

Perhaps a biologist would tell me I’m full of it, but I believe this can, in part, explain the great diversity in movement patterns between deer of different regions.  It is no secret that 2 year old bucks in PA, NY or Michigan behave with much the same level of caution as four year old deer in lesser pressured states like Illinois, Iowa or Kansas.  The common reaction is to attribute this to the hunting pressure that exists during the current season, i.e. You’re not seeing bucks in daylight in Michigan because you and your 10 neighbors have hunted every morning and evening since the October 1st opener and the Illinois bowhunter has a whole section to himself.  

But what about those areas in high pressure states that receive little to no archery hunting pressure?  Why isn’t more daylight buck, or mature doe, activity detected?  Even young deer are less likely to move outside of the fringes of light in these areas.  Surely in less pressured pockets of high pressured states we should at least see yearling and two year old bucks regularly moving outside of the first and last hour of daylight; at least prior to the opening day of gun season anyway.  Still, that’s not the case in many areas, and we’re often left asking ourselves “why”.

Often the temptation is to get discouraged with your own comprehension of whitetail hunting.  I have a hard time assessing the root cause of the problem to lack of hunting savvy by outdoorsmen in these less renowned big buck states.  In fact, these states are less renowned for big bucks for the very reason that these same hunters are fairly efficient at killing the deer before they reach 4, 5 or 6 years old.  Furthermore, a majority of the hunting articles and literature produced today is based on Midwestern hunting tactics that are employed in big buck states.  The validity of these methods is often displayed by the amount of antler/ground contact said tactic can be attributed with producing.  In other words, hunting strategies that produce big bucks in well known big buck states are what make it into many of the articles we read because, in an industry which measures success in inches of antler, these are the articles that sell.  This isn’t as much cynicism as it is realism.  The point is, these are the very tactics that hunters in Michigan, New York or Pennsylvania are often employing without success.  If the deer behaved in the same ways in these states, one would think these tactics would work and the same behavioral patterns could be capitalized upon.  The Northeast doesn’t have a monopoly on sloppy, un-savvy hunters, so there has to be something more to it.

To illustrate my theory I want to first describe something I witnessed last evening while taking a walk with my dad.  We came up to a cattle pasture where about half of the cattle had figured out that the standing corn field outside of the fence was better eating than the dry grass in the pasture.  They had pushed through the high tensile electric fence and were having a hay-day in the farmers field.  Still, half the herd remained inside the fence where they belonged, happily foraging on the grass that was meant for them.  Now, imagine a scenario where the grass on the inside of the fence was completely depleted and only the cattle who had figured out how to go through the fence could get to feed.  You would expect that the cattle inside the fence would quickly starve and die off, leaving only the fence busters to survive and breed on.  Whatever inherent trait that initially made those cattle break through the fence would be bred on in the herd.  Whether it was a belligerent personality, the fact that they were less docile and had more drive and therefore harder to contain, a stronger will to live and find a food source once the primary one was depleted, or even the physical ability to push through the fence, the genetic trait that predisposed those cattle to going through the fence, or having the ability to, would indeed be passed down through the herd.  Add in the learned behavior from one generation to the next and a reasonable person would expect that in a few generations you would be left with only cattle who had the ability, know how and/or desire to go through the fence.  The cattle who did not possess this have been eliminated as they starved once the grass in the pasture was consumed.  They are no longer here to perpetuate their passive personality, or lack of physical prowess, through breeding.  This is simply a layman’s version of the idea of natural selection, and its not hard to see how the behaviors or traits of even a local population can be shaped relatively quickly.

Now, compare that to the whitetail deer you hunt.  Could it be possible that high hunter density states which experience high harvest numbers and significant buck exploitation have, generation after generation, eliminated deer who are more predisposed to daylight movement, making them easier targets and thus a disproportionate part of the annual harvest?  I would theorize that this is not only possible, but that it is happening each and every year in these areas.  If you are a whitetail deer in Pennsylvania and you are trying to avoid an average of 20.5 hunters per square mile, and you show yourself on a regular basis during daylight hours, your chances of survival are greatly diminished when compared to the survival chances of the buck with a reclusive personality, reserving his movements to the fringes of light.  The daylight walker has a good chance of being harvested prior to any breeding activity while the reclusive buck may well live an additional season or two and sire several times as many fawns.  Likewise, if these fawns are born to wary old does, their survival rates increase while the learned behavior of avoiding hunting pressure is passed on.  Couple that with the genetic predisposition of limited daylight movement, its easy to imagine how efficiently wary deer within a population are able to procreate.

An area with a deer population that consists of 10 bucks per square mile and experiences an 80% buck exploitation rate will have 2 bucks survive each year per square.  There is a good chance that among the surviving buck(s) is not going to be the rut crazed aggressive two year old that everyone had on trail camera, traveling from property to property, looking for any receptive doe.  These gregarious bucks are more receptive to calling, may be less cautious and, in areas where there is a hunter behind just about every other tree, they are much more susceptible to hunter harvest than their less aggressive relatives.  While those bucks can be the most fun to hunt, they usually don’t live long enough to hunt; at least not often, anyway.

So, after decades of hunting pressure, and generations of wary whitetails having more frequent opportunities to breed on, its easy to see how we may have created what some could consider a “nocturnal” deer herd.  Couple the unique movements of the deer in these high pressure areas with the employment of tactics meant for hunting lesser pressured mature whitetails in low hunter density states (deer who have not been eliminated albeit their careless), and you have a perfect storm that can quickly lead to hunter dissatisfaction.  The bucks in PA and NY might not be “nocturnal”, their daylight movement may just be limited to places of thick cover or staging areas adjacent to their bedding, instead of field edges or travel corridors that are several hundred yards from where they spend the majority of their day.  Whitetails in these areas require more precision, attention to detail, stealthy access and a more calculated and aggressive hunting strategy on the whole.

Have we created, in some locations, a deer herd which behaves differently even when left “unpressured” through much of the hunting season?  I believe we have.  Does it make them un-killable? No, but it definitely makes them harder to kill while high hunter denisty leads to harvest numbers which result in fewer target animals within a given age class.  The ones that have survived to that 3 or 4 year old age class did so for a reason.  And that, in and of itself, should redefine what a “trophy” is to each and every one of us.

-Reuben Dourte


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Six Point Buck

When You Need to Hunt the Neighbor’s Deer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Reuben Dourte


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Whitetail Buck

Pushing the Limits

When setting up a treestand on the edge of a bedding area, how close is too close?  Simply put, if the deer can hear, see or smell you, your stand is either too close or in the wrong location. There are plenty of additional considerations to be made, however. These include but are not necessarily limited to, time of year, your access route, and the area that you hunt.  For example, if you find yourself fortunate to hunt an unpressured deer herd in a low pressure state, you may be able to hunt field edges for much of the early season and expect to see a buck feeding during hunting hours.  In this scenario, there may be little need to push into thicker bedding cover to catch a mere 100 yards of buck movement at last light.  Likewise, if you are hunting during the pre-rut or rut, you may be able to take advantage of travel corridors that funnel both bucks returning to or leaving their beds during daylight, and daylight walkers cruising for the next receptive doe in November.  At this time of year there may be less to gain from hunting a buck’s bed and so getting close may not be as much of an issue.  If your stand access is such that you cannot effectively push into a bedding area without detection, or the vegetation in the area is not conducive to providing an adequate visual barrier, you may be forced to hunt further away from a known bedding area than you would like.  Still, timing is key, and early season may be an easier time to strike when a higher level of vegetation is available for concealment.  If noise is the issue, choosing a rainy or windy day can help to conceal your movements.  Furthermore, if you find yourself in hill country and your evening access requires stand entry from below a bedding area, it may be necessary to time your approach after the evening thermals begin to drop down the hillside.

With all of the above taken into consideration, our scouting efforts this spring yielded a new stand location with plenty of potential that proves to be an aggressive approach to hunting a buck bed on our property.  Here is the bedding stand that we plan to utilize this year during early season:

Buck Bed to feed

The Bedding

The concept of this stand location is fairly simple.  Here we are cutting off evening travel from bedding to food by getting approximately 85 yards from where the deer spend their daytime hours.  The deer utilize the transition edge of the brushy thicket and the mature hardwoods for bedding cover.  Several seeps keep this area wet enough that few large trees grow and the lack of canopy provides sunlight for woody browse and native grasses and forbs to flourish and make the area a tangled mess.  What is not evident in the photo is that in addition to a cover transition between the mature woods and the bedding area, there is also a terrain shift where the hillside becomes steep.  At the transition line on the right hand side of the photo, the terrain flattens a bit and provides ample areas for deer to bed.  Along this transition is also where the majority of buck sign can be found.

The Approach

Entering this stand for an evening hunt requires a slow and methodical approach.  Although it is a short walk, I will be certain to give myself ample time so as I can walk quietly and the noise of my entry will not push deer out of the bedding area.  By coming across the Ag field and small food plot, I am able to keep my path from crossing deer trails and my ground scent is limited to areas that deer are more accustomed to experiencing human intrusion or interaction.  While it is impossible to see in the photo, this stand location sits atop a small bench; the elevation change is about 4 feet.  This slight terrain change allows me to hide my approach from bedded deer less than 100 yards away.  I may have to walk fifty yards or so in a hunched position, but this is better than having deer see me and ending the hunt before it has a chance to begin.  To further hide my approach, I hinge cut the small trees and vegetation that was next to my stand to provide a thicker visual barrier to the deer that will be bedded uphill.  This will allow me to get to the base of the tree with greater ease and even climb into position undetected.  Scent detection will be of little concern since I plan to hunt this location on a Northern wind, and will wait to access the stand until the thermals have neutralized and began their thermal shift in the evening.  Once the cooling air begins to fall down the hillside, there is no chance of my scent rising to the deer bedded above me.  Shortly after this shift, I expect the deer to be on their feet and beginning to move and browse through the staging area around the bedding, making timing a very delicate calculation in this scenario.  Hunts in this location will be very few, and very short, but they have a high potential for rewarding yields.

The Stand

At approximately 8 feet off the ground, this stand provides more cover than a platform positioned at 20 feet in this tree and the thick vegetation around the area can conceal the hunter's approach.

At approximately 8 feet off the ground, this stand provides more cover than a platform would if positioned at 20 feet in this tree and the thick vegetation around the area can conceal the hunter’s approach.

I selected the tree primarily based on location, but I was also looking for enough cover.  I was able to trim out just enough vegetation to allow me to draw my bow and have a small lane to the one trail I can shoot to.  Interestingly, I also have chosen to position this stand just 7 feet off the ground.  Because most of the vegetation around this location is short thorn trees, going higher than this would actually have limited the amount of cover this stand would afford.  Setting a stand twenty feet up the tree would also potentially allow for deer in the bedding area to “skyline” me and see me climbing into the treestand.  Hanging the stand lower actually provides a better scenario for remaining undetected by both bedded animals and those traveling through the small shooting lane we cut.

After the Hunt

Since I am positioned between bedding cover and destination food sources, theoretically I could leave my stand after dark and get out of the area via an exit route through the woods.  The presumption would be that the deer have transitioned into the nighttime destination food sources by this time, allowing for a deer free exit through the timber.  Normally, this would be the approach I would take, however, in this case, it becomes very easy for the hunter to be picked up with a vehicle and additional ground scent does not have to be left or deer trails crossed.  Deer are less likely to associate a vehicle with hunting pressure than they are a hunter walking on foot, or worse yet the scent of a hunter in their core area.  In this area they routinely experience farm equipment in the fields so a quick vehicle pickup will leave the area less pressured than if the hunter were to exit the stand location on foot.

During your scouting sessions, determine how close you can be to the bedding areas you locate.  Being too aggressive and pushing deer out of the area upon approach is counter productive, however highly pressured deer may not travel far from their beds in daylight.  Setting up on the outskirts of a bedding area, just out of sight, sound and scent is the best way to intercept a whitetail during shooting hours.  When you are determining how to hunt a new spot, be sure to consider stand access and how you can use terrain, cover, wind and thermal activity to your advantage.  Aggressive hunting tactics can make for exciting hunts, but carelessness and the lack of attention to detail can end a hunt before it begins.

-Reuben Dourte


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treestand

Early Is Better

Labor Day Weekend was for many years my target for scouting and hanging stands.  It seems somewhat naive now, but at the time it seemed like getting fairly recent information while giving the woods about a month break before season would yield the best of both worlds.  The problems with a happy medium hunting approach is that it requires compromise, and when you begin your hunting season with compromise you are likely going have to continue to do so throughout the Fall.

Sometimes a hasty last minute decision requires a stand to be thrown up in September, but your goal should be to make this the exception rather than the rule.  Likewise, there is nothing wrong with moving a stand or hanging a new set in season to adapt and conform to changing deer movement, or if you see that a slight adjustment will provide a better harvest opportunity.  However, what should be avoided at all costs is invasive, pattern altering scouting and stand setting immediately before the season.  The majority of your scouting efforts should be relegated to post season and your stands should go in early, and here’s why:

  1. Deer patterns have an historical element.  The same concept that keeps too many hunters returning to the same over-hunted stands year after year is what makes post season scouting the most valuable weapon in your hunting arsenal.  When the foliage is down, and regeneration has not yet begun, the woods will be laid out like a Whitetail map.  Trails, rubs and scrapes are all highly evident (and from longer distances) and most importantly, post season is one of the easiest times of year to find beds.  The deer sign that was laid down during the months of hunting season, (sign which you found last December-April), is highly relevant in determining what the deer will do this year.  Things like natural food sources and crop rotation can certainly affect deer movement from year to year, but at worst you will be able to establish patterns over a longer period of time, knowing how deer will react given predictable changes in their environment and food availability.
  2. Deer patterns are seasonal.  If you are reserving your scouting sessions for September, chances are you are scouting fresh Summer sign.  Hanging stands based on Summer feeding patterns can lead to immense amounts of disappointment and frustration come October and November.  As food sources are either harvested or depleted, deer patterns will change and adjust.  A heavily used trail heading to a bean field that shows consistent buck travel in August can prove to be one of worst places to sit on October 1st.  Additionally, its widely recognized that bucks will often have different Summer and Fall ranges.  Why this occurs is up for debate, but what is known is that a buck living on a property in August may not be there after velvet peel.  A few game camera pictures of a buck using a specific trail in the Summer is probably not enough intel to confidently hang a stand and expect a shot at that buck, unless you are able to relate the deer’s movement to bedding; which is information you would have gathered while post season scouting.  Its very possible that the buck on your trail camera has moved on to a different Fall core area and the inventory and movement of the bucks on your property will have changed between September 1st and October.  If you aren’t relating your stand positions to bedding areas that are historically utilized in the Fall you are going to be spending a lot of energy to place stands out of range of your target deer, and because food sources are rapidly changing in late Summer and early Fall, hanging a stand simply based on current deer movement can be a recipe for some dry sits come archery season.
  3. Four weeks isn’t enough time.  It might seem contradictory to say that four weeks isn’t enough lead time when hanging stands after we’ve just discussed how much can change in the whitetail woods in less than four weeks.  However, when you enter the woods, you are applying pressure to a property.  I prefer to have my stands hung approximately 75 days prior to the opening day of hunting season.  After I hang my stands I stay out of these locations until I am ready to hunt.  Because I am hanging treestands based on the findings of my post season scouting, the locations I choose have little to do with Summer deer patterns.  I may hang different stands for early season, the rut and late season, but they will all be related to in-season deer movement and not Summer sign.  Hanging stands at least 75 days out gives the woods a chance to recover from the noisy intrusion of carrying stands, sticks and steps into the timber.  It also allows me to capitalize on any range shifts that may occur after the bucks shed their velvet.  A buck that has a Summer range off a property will be none the wiser when returning in late summer if the human intrusion and scent has long dissipated and the shooting lane cuts you’ve made are no longer fresh.  The beauty of post season scouting is that is allows you to utilize information you gathered that is relative to the time of year you will be in the woods trying to kill a buck.  For this reason, stand selection becomes a much easier task in summer as you will have already had a chance to select the tree in the winter months when the foliage and deer travel resemble the upcoming conditions.  The Summer guess work becomes limited and July simply becomes a month of sweat equity instead of turning September into a month of indecisive stand selection.

Avoiding the idea of compromise when it comes to scouting and hanging stands can yield much more successful results later this Fall.  Concentrating your scouting efforts in the post season, while eliminating unnecessary pressure on your hunting property immediately prior to the season is the best recipe for both a stealthy approach and positioning yourself in the most advantageous locations once hunting season rolls around.  Hang your stands early and reap the rewards of preparation meeting opportunity.

-Reuben Dourte


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Treestand

Hang ’em High (or Low)


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

treestand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Reuben Dourte


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Whitetail Doe

Why We Are Going On Doe Patrol This Fall

2016 is going to be the year of the doe if we have anything to say about it.  After seeing our local population recede around 2009-2010 to the lowest number we had experienced in 20+ years, you may wonder why we would be interested in targeting a significant number of does again in the coming Fall.  The simple answer is space.

During the slump we experienced about 6-7 years ago its safe to say that we still didn’t have a whole lot of problem filling tags.  We shot the occasional buck and usually managed to fill the freezer with a few anterless deer as well.  However, the deer numbers weren’t what we were used to seeing, but that is not to say what we were used to seeing was a good thing either.  During this time I purposefully harvested a number of doe fawns in order to have less impact on the breeding age population of the resident doe family groups on our property.  Within a few short years we were again experiencing populations that could sustain a healthy mature doe harvest.  Careful to avoid a drastic swing pendulum swing, we resumed our doe harvest at a reasonable pace and began to keep up with the neighbors’ harvest numbers to a better extent.  With hunter sightings still below average, we began to notice that we managed to have our best years in buck encounters (age and size) for this property during the years we experienced the fewest doe sightings.  With local deer numbers lower, the understory of the timber began to rejuvenate and regrowth areas began to get thicker than ever.  This provided more and better bedding areas for bucks to take advantage of, and with fewer does frequenting the property there was less competition for the bedding cover that existed.

I believe bucks prefer to find secluded bedding that allows them to avoid human interaction as well as unwanted disturbances from other deer.  When our property was holding a lower number of does it provided more opportunities for bucks to find solitary, secure bedding.  Part of this phenomenon could be due to the crop rotation on the farm during these years.  The specific food source combination during those years, coupled with a noticeably lower deer density, made for some less eventful archery sits, but throughout the season, our success rate in seeing or harvesting antlered deer was actually higher than it has been during more recent years of higher overall hunter sightings.

The food we provide the deer on the property is fairly adequate.  Although we can always do better, the deer have food sources on a year round basis with a mixture of weeds/forbs in CRP fields to agricultural crops such as corn and alfalfa.  We also provide some supplemental nutrition through plantings of Brassicas and clovers (about 3.5 acres) and of course the deer utilize acorns, when available, and woody browse in the timber.  I bring this up to explain that the problem with a high deer density on this property is not nutritional carrying capacity; winter kill is rarely an issue.  The problem is bedding capacity.  There are only a few primary bedding areas on the farm and fewer yet that are easily huntable.  Much of the bedding occurs just over the property line on the neighbor’s land and the deer cross onto our parcel to feed.  While our habitat projects include the establishment of new bedding areas in huntable locations as well as the enhancement of current bedding areas to give them more side cover, and allow for the property to “hunt larger”, current conditions are such that we can afford to eliminate some of the doe population to make room for bucks to use the property as a primary bedding location.

While additional harvest is one way to combat this problem, we will also look to manage our food sources and assess when our property is attractive to the local deer herd.  In years where the farmer has the ag fields in alfalfa, our clover food plots and the large destination food sources are becoming attractive at relatively the same time; late Spring to early Fall.  By late October the frosts begin to take a toll on the alfalfa and our clover plots are often reduced to mud.  There is little attractive food source on our property when the best part of bow season is starting.  We managed to attract deer to our property all summer and sustain a large local doe population, which in turn seems to have pushed bucks onto neighboring properties to bed during daylight hours.  The best we can hope for is for those bucks to return for a cruise in early November when the estrous does begin to draw them to their feet.

A more desirable situation would be to have highly attractive food sources maturing at different times throughout the Fall to attract and hold bucks once they reestablish from their summer ranges.  Having brassica plots next to plots of peas, oats, with winter wheat and rye, and additional plots of standing corn or beans provides the deer a consistent food source that are all utilized and desirable at different times.

Appropriate food plot timing mixed with a year or two of persistent and deliberate doe management can create a property that will lend itself to daylight use by a more mature age class of buck.  Smart hunting and careful stand access can provide opportunities for an entire season, instead of crossing one’s fingers and hoping to catch a rutting buck during the first two weeks of November.

-Reuben Dourte

 


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Sharing Your Hunting Properties

Unless you are blessed to own or lease a large parcel of ground (I’m talking 800 acres+), its likely you find yourself sharing a property or two with other hunters, at least some of the time.  If the property you primarily hunt is under 600-800 acres, and you plan to hunt often throughout the season, it is my opinion that you should be mixing up your hunts with either public or other by-permission properties.  The advantage of this approach is that you still have the opportunity to hunt on what may amount to be a lower percentage day (based on the weather, wind or pressure system), but you are avoiding burning out your best stands on your primary parcel.  Therefore, you keep hunting pressure on your main property to a minimum during the early parts of the season.  However, with those public land opportunities, as well as smaller by permission parcels, comes the added challenge of dealing with other hunters who may be unknowingly pressuring areas of the property which you had, due to your post season scouting efforts, deemed off limits until the conditions are prime for a precision attack.

It Happens to All of Us

Last hunting season I found myself this exact situation.  Shortly before hunting season, I secured some last minute properties that amounted to approximately 200 acres, of which a much smaller portion was actual huntable acreage.  The limited amounts of cover on these parcels made for just a few stand options and stand access was a delicate situation at best.  I had an idea of how this parcel laid, and how the deer generally used it, from previous shed hunting trips, however, a quick speed scout around the perimeter durring pre-season revealed a ladder stand on the opposite side of the small block of timber than where I intended to hunt My stand selection was based on a buck bed I had located during the postseason, I didn’t feel like this stand would present much of a problem.  In fact I thought it could possibly play to my advantage and leave the section of timber I planned to hunt un-pressured, allowing the deer to move past my stand location due to the presence of the other hunter’s ill placed stand.  My plans were to hunt the fringes with observation stands and push deeper into the woods once I had a handle on exactly how the deer were traveling.  I also planned to mostly stay out of the piece during early October mornings, banking on better evening movement and more manageable stand access in the afternoon.

My seemingly well thought out plan, (cautious with precise aggressiveness), panned out during a few evening hunts early in the season- which yielded several opportunities where I could have harvested does.  I passed at the time, hoping for a buck to walk out of the bedding area.  As the season progressed, sightings became fewer and farther between and it became obvious that the other hunting pressure on the property was driving the deer to bed in an adjacent parcel that was off limits to hunting.  Although my careful approach on a small parcel like this was warranted, and given enough time I have no doubts would yield an opportunity at a buck, the factors outside of my control made this a situation that requires a quick strike, all-in approach at the very beginning of the season.

Putting It Together in the Post Season

When I walked this piece in the post season just a few weeks ago, I found a great buck bed on a subtle point looking over a steep ravine.  Not far from this bed, further North in the ravine, was a doe bedding area with four beds in close proximity.  Just North of that doe bedding area, (in fact, too close to that doe bedding area), was a hang on stand that I did not see during my speed scout in late summer.  Because I didn’t want to disrupt the parcel in the preseason, and I felt that I had a good indication of where the deer were bedding, I avoided this area purposefully.  What I didn’t know what that these deer were being hunted from a stand that could, in no possible way, offer the hunter a scent, sight or sound advantage.  The very deer he was attempting to hunt knew he was coming and left the area well before he was ever in position to have an opportunity to kill them.  This pressure adversely affected my stand set up because by the second week of season, the beds I was attempting to hunt were likely vacated and the deer were using the more secure, un-pressured cover of the non-huntable ground to the south.

Adjusting for Next Season

To summarize, if I had this small parcel to myself, I could probably treat it with kid gloves and have great opportunities all throughout the archery season.  Because I can’t control what others do on the property, waiting to strike until a low temperature, a high pressure day in the later half of October comes along is only giving the property time to go cold due to the other pressure it receives.  The bottom line is that next season, being aggressive early on in the season, before the deer know they are being hunted, is going to be key if success is to be realized on this piece of property.  My guess is that the other hunter(s) are weekend warriors like myself.  That being said, taking a half day of PTO for an early season, mid-week, evening hunt, during the first week of the archery season, could be very productive.  In the coming season I will hunt this piece aggressively early and then move on to other parcels for the remainder of October.  Deer can still be killed on shared properties, but it takes an adaptation from how we would optimally hunt the piece in order to stay effective all season long.

Do you have any properties with which you share with other hunters?  How do you avoid the added pressure or use it to your advantage?  Leave a comment below or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte


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You Can’t Eat The Horns

It seems like in the days of social media, discussions between hunters with differing points of view are becoming more and more frequent.  I’m of the camp that believes that we can all have different goals and still stay unified to work towards protecting this way of life we all enjoy.  I try to stay above the fray and usually choose to forego addressing many of the discussion points brought up on social media platforms.

One comment that gets stated often is “You can’t eat the horns.”  It often starts the same way; a hunting page on Facebook posts a picture of a healthy three year old buck with the caption, “”Shoot or Pass?”  Enter: hunter debate.  There are other variations of this that spur on the same reactions and the same comments.  It could be a picture a half rack buck with a deformed or broken side with the same above mentioned caption, or simply a picture of a monster buck with a well-known celebrity hunter sitting behind it.  Soon, a full blown discussion/argument ensues between the “meat hunter” crowd and the “trophy hunters”.

I don’t have an opinion one way or another about the “right” way to hunt deer, or how to select what you choose kill.  We are all at different places in our hunting experience, and so we have different standards and goals.  As long as people are hunting legally, I say “live and let live”.  When I start wishful thinking, the one thing I would like to see discontinue is this aforementioned argument about the ‘palatability’ of antlers.  Arguing that you “can’t eat the horns” is kind of a straw man argument, when you really get down to it, but the bigger issue is that the argument is altogether unnecessary.  Let me explain…

First, let me be clear that justification for taking any legal buck by legal means is unneeded.  If taking a 1 1/2 year old deer makes you happy and fulfills your season goals, by all means, take that deer.  At the same time, there are hunters who choose to pursue an older age class of animal for additional challenge.  With older age comes larger antlers.  Holding out for a deer that you are proud to take should be looked on with no more negativity than shooting the first legal animal you encounter.  “Trophy hunting” shouldn’t have to be a stain on a hunter any more than “meat hunting” should.

I see the interesting part of the argument being that the hunter who sees antlers on a 1 1/2 year old buck and chooses to let that deer pass is the one who is accused of being “antler obsessed”.  Watching that deer’s natural movements and actions and learning from it can make you a better hunter and more appreciative of these animals we love to pursue.  Choosing not to shoot that animal, even though legal, is precisely the opposite of antler obsessed, in my opinion.  Likewise, taking a yearling buck is a trophy and huge accomplishment for many and should be treated as such.

The second implication of the “you can’t eat the horns” argument is that the most important part of hunting is acquiring meat.  While I have never seen a “meat” hunter take a picture of the back end of a deer in order to show off the hams, it still seems that the fall-back justification for shooting the animal is the meat on its bones.  And let me reiterate, the justification is not needed.  If you are satisfied with that animal, enjoy the fruits of your labor and stop justifying your decision.  It should be noted, however, that a 3 1/2 year old buck provides a significantly more amount of meat than a 1 1/2 year old.  Likewise, a mature doe often provides more meat than a yearling buck and in many areas within the whitetails range a herd can sustain the harvest of several does, which can help habitat regeneration and overall herd balance and health.  If the antlers on the deer’s head truly mean nothing, harvesting a doe, or waiting for a larger bodied mature buck serves to fill the freezer more than a yearling buck.

The third important consideration in these conversations is that what someone else chooses to do has relatively little impact on your own hunting goals, regardless of which side you align yourself with.  If you are a “meat” hunter, your neighbor’s passing of yearling bucks leaves more yearling bucks for you to shoot.  Likewise, your neighbor passing on yearling bucks also gives you a chance to kill a more mature buck.  I don’t know any meat who wouldn’t take the opportunity to harvest a mature buck, whether they care about antler size or not.  A trophy hunter’s goals are perhaps slightly more affected by high buck exploitation rates in “brown and down” areas.  Even in these high pressure areas there are usually a few bucks that manage to survive several seasons and produce a trophy class of deer with which most hunters are satisfied with.  At the same time, if you are looking for a Boone and Crockett class of animal and you’re hunting in the highly pressured North East, where a four and a half year old buck is a rarity and other less obvious factors, like soil type, make a 170″ whitetail a near statistical anomaly, you may need to adjust your standards or find another location to hunt, rather than blame it on your neighbor.

I believe many people in the Eastern part of the Whitetail’s range incorrectly believe that their neighbor taking part in the killing of young deer is directly responsible for their own lack of success.  These same people, many times, are failing to hunt their properties with low pressure tactics and driving the same deer their are trying to protect onto their neighbor’s properties.  Still, you’re neighbor harvesting a few immature deer from the local herd is not, in and  of itself, completely detrimental to your management goals.  Furthmore, looking down on that hunter for harvesting a buck you let walk isn’t going to get them into the QDM camp, so passing judgement is only counterproductive to your cause.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a hunter who admits that antlers matter to me.  I pass yearling bucks, however, I do shoot bucks that many hunters would choose to pass.  One thing I won’t be doing is making excuses about the bucks I shoot.  I like eating venison, but the size of a buck’s headgear is also directly proportionate to the pounding I get in my chest.  There was a time when I was content to shooting yearling bucks and happy whenever I was able to do so.  I’ve progressed to wanting other challenges, and in the areas I hunt, a good 2 1/2 year old (or better) is plenty hard to come by and provides more meat than a 1 1/2 year old buck to boot.  I’ve decided to set my own standards, hunt ethically, focus on the method of harvest and eat what I kill (minus the antlers), so I have no need to look down on any hunter who’s goals vary from mine.

-Reuben Dourte