Category Archives: DIY

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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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3 Minute DIY (Public Land Legal) Bow Hanger

I had trouble finding public land legal bow hanger options that were compact and quiet to carry.  I also wanted something that would allow for the incorporation of the 1″ webbing strap I was already using to lash my back pack to my stand platform so as to cut down on the amount of gear I would need to carry into the woods.  After trying many different things, I stumbled upon a composite rafter square I no longer was using and it ended up being exactly what I was looking for.  I drilled holes to make a slot for the webbing strap to thread through and finished this off with a carpenters knife.  A simple band saw did the trick for the rest of the cutting and the hanger is wide enough to accomodate split limb bows and sturdy enough to support even the heaviest models.

Here is a time lapse of the 3 minute project:

 


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hunting bike

Tour De Common Ground

Category : DIY , Gear , Hunting Hacks , Tactics

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

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

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

-Reuben Dourte

Email me at CommonGroundBowhunter@gmail.com

 


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brassica leaves

Fall Food Plots for Dry Summers

Category : Deer Management , DIY

2016 was going to usher in a new era of food plotting on our western New York property.  Although we don’t hunt any of the food plots on the property, (with the exception of one micro kill plot),  we still view food plots as an important part of our management practices.  They can serve to hold deer on and around our property and provide food sources once the surrounding crops are taken off in early to mid October.  With the purchase of a four row no-till corn planter, we now had the ability to plant corn in areas of the property that were previously off limits to conventional tillage methods.  We could also plant when the soil conditions were right and not have to rely on the local farmer.

Our excitement quickly turned to disappointment when we visited the property shortly after planting the corn field.  The turkeys had walked the rows and pull out a high percentage of the seedlings as soon as they broke through the soil.  Another visit two weeks later revealed severe drought damage.  Even our earlier plantings were showing evidence of deer damage and drought stress.  It was surely not going to be a bumper crop year.

corn drought

The poor population in this corn plot is due in part to the soil condition during planting. It is also being damaged by deer and the summer drought in western New York has taken the biggest toll.

We made the decision during this July trip that we would have to shift from corn to another food plot species that could provide adequate late season forage.  Because we were already well into July, and the ground was as dry as we had ever seen it, we elected to wait until mid August, hoping for rainfall some time between mid-July and our work weekend scheduled for August 6 & 7.

As we neared our trip date, the area received an an inch of rainfall in the first week of August and the forecast promised over a 70% chance for the second week.  We loaded the truck and headed North.  We had a few options when it came to what we could plant at this time of year.  We could try to establish a fall seeding of clover, we could plant brassicas or we could choose a mix of cereal grains.  I’m sure a food plot specialist could rattle off several other viable options, nevertheless, we narrowed the choices to these options for multiple reasons.  We have planted some variation of these species in the past successfully, some of the soil we would be planting is acidic, which the cereal grain mix (especially winter rye) would be more forgiving of, and we wanted something that would provide enough tonage to be a significant supply of late season food during the 3 week gun season and the months following.

We could have chalked up the year as a failed attempt.  There would be no promise that mother nature would cooperate even if we reworked the plots and planted new fall forage.  This might have been the easiest thing to do, but come hunting season I knew I would be cursing myself for failing to provide viable food sources on the property to draw and hold deer.  Our failure could even have substantial impacts on the quantity and quality of bucks we saw in the following year or two.

white agco tractor

Tilling the corn under with the tractor and disk in early August.

What we elected to plant was a buffet of brassica mixes and cereal grains.  We divided the plots that had been in corn and planted sections in different crops.  The cereal grains and winter peas would become attractive immediately, along with the established clover plots adjacent to these areas.  The Winter Rye and Winter Wheat would then serve to provide forage through late season along with the brassica plantings later in October.

 

We mapped out of plot designs and put the tractor and disc to work tilling under the drought stricken corn

plots.  In between disking we fertilized the plots and once the seed bed was prepared we spun on the seed.  After cultipacking the plots we headed for home, knowing the rest of the variables were out of our hands.  I anxiously checked the weather on a regular basis, and the day after planting we were blessed with a day

food plot tilled

Prepared seed bed ready for seeding.

long rain event that yielded over an inch.  This alone would be enough to push the crops out of the soil.  Subsequent rains fell over the next month and upon arriving a month later to stock the wood shed, I was amazed to find the best looking Fall plantings we had ever managed to produce.  The Winter Wheat, Winter Rye, Oats and Peas were coming up beautifully, although the deer were already hammering them.  The brassicas were enormous, with big full leaves and amazing uniformity.  The draw of the cereal grain plots had relieved some pressure from the clover and those areas looked better than they had all summer, helped by additional moisture and less browsing pressure.

 

In one month, our property went from having nearly no prospective food sources for late season to having the largest abundance of it we have ever had.  Had we been complacent and accepted the reality that the corn food plots were not going to provide any significant forage for the deer we would have been left with a property that had very minimal resources for the deer to utilize.

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Cereal Grains, Clover and Brassicas in the same food plot to provide attraction to this area during all periods of hunting season.

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Destination brassica plot.

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Cereal grains and brassicas along a cover strip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we chose to till under the corn plots and replant the brassica and cereal grains, we had no guarantees that those efforts too would not be in vain.  It was one of the driest summers in western New York that I remember, and rainfall was anything but guaranteed  but one of the great benefits of Fall plantings for late season food plots is that you can capitalize on planting dates at a time of year when rainfall is not as scarce.  When it comes to deer hunting, the easiest path is unlikely to be the best or more beneficial one.  Food plotting is no exception to that.  We have left the New York property absolutely exhausted numerous times over the past four months.  Some of that work ended up being in vain because of the summer drought, but persistence pays off in the end and refusing to accept undesirable results is absolutely necessary if you are trying to produce enough food to hold deer on your property from mid September through January.

 

-Reuben Dourte

 

Email me at CommonGroundBowhunter@gmail.com


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Planning a Micro Food Plot

If you have the ability to do land improvements on the property you hunt, you may be able to give yourself an increased advantage when season rolls around.  Although I’m not a property consultant by any means, we have been planting food plots for over a decade, and going from rocky, abandoned pastures with incredibly wet, acidic soil to small fields of clover, corn and brassicas has taught us a few things, (mostly through failure).  Although weather and soil conditions from year to year may differ in our location so drastically that the success of food plots can be extremely variable, over time we have learned what plantings can sustain the level of browsing the plots will receive and what species are hardy enough to do well in the conditions and parameters we must work within.

The way I see it, there are a couple different kinds of food plots; namely, hunt plots, and destination plots.  You can throw ag fields in there somewhere, too, however, they often serve the same purpose as a destination plot, i.e. keeping deer fed (usually after dark), and in the general area.  Most of what is on our property would be considered a destination plot.  Although a few plots are secluded enough to give deer secure feeding in daylight hours, they aren’t close enough to buck bedding to be productive as hunting locations.  To that point, in all the years that we have hunted this piece of ground, I believe one buck has been killed off a food plot.  The pressure these deer receive and the locale of our current food plots is just not conducive to hunting success.  The purpose they serve for us is keeping doe family groups in our area, making the rut a good time to be in the woods close to those does’ bedding areas.

Because of our lack of huntable food plots, I made plans for some projects this year.  One of those projects is to attempt to create a food plot that is huntable in early season, while bucks are still on a bed-to-feed pattern.  For this reason, this blog is going to be more focused about the location selection of a hunt plot than the actual installation process.  While I’m not a huge fan of hunting over food plots, my plan is to create a secure plot within a bucks transition area between bed and food.  A buck choosing to use this plot will have to travel less than 100 yards from his bed.

To accomplish this, I first needed to determine where deer were bedding in the timber on the south facing slope of the property.  I suspected there to be some doe bedding lower on the hill, closer to the existing destination plot, and hoped to be able to locate some buck beds as well.  I assumed I may find buck bedding higher on the ridge.  A subtle point created an advantageous bedding location and I was able to locate a lone bed along this higher elevation with several decent rubs leading into it along the side hill.  Slightly lower and to the east of this location was a doe bedding area with multiple beds facing in varying directions.  Both of these bedding areas were positioned in a way that the deer could take full advantage of both a North wind coming over the top of the hill and daytime thermal activity bringing scent up from the valley below.

Because of the terrain, the two options for food plots are either at the base of the hill, or on the flat at the top.  In time, ideally, I would like to position a food plot above the buck bed on the top of the hill.  This will require some additional planning, and possibly some heavier equipment than I have available to me at this time.  So, for this summer, my plans are to position a hunt plot between the bedding area and the larger destination food sources located to the South and the West.

The proposed location for a micro hunt-plot that capitalizes on known bedding areas and food sources for early season success.

The proposed location for a micro hunt-plot that capitalizes on known bedding areas and food sources for early season success.

With the proposed location of the new hunt plot, in picture above, I will be able to gain access to the stand location in the evening while staying completely undetected by the deer I am hunting.  It is very important when getting below deer in hill country on evening hunts than you are waiting to get into your stand until the thermals have shifted and begin to drop off the side hill down into the valley below.  When these thermals begin to fall I will be able to come off the road and approach my stand silently and scent free.  Because of the thick vegetation, any deer bedding on the side hill will not be able to see my approach.  One of the most important considerations when planning a stand location is how you will go about getting into it without pressuring the very deer you are attempting to hunt.  Waiting until later in the evening is imperative when hunting a spot like this.

My other main concern when hunting this location is how the deer move through this area.  Typically, the deer bedded on the side hill will drop down after leaving their beds and travel along one of the lower trails in the evening to be able to take advantage of falling thermals.  For this reason, I have chosen a tree on the south side of the plot.  Greedily, I would like to chose a spot on the north side of the plot so as to be able to shoot a few yards into the timber and thus cover an additional trail when hunting with archery gear.  In doing so, I would risk my scent blowing over the plot and any deer looping to the southeast corner of the plot, (to use this lower elevation to their advantage), would smell me without ever giving a shot opportunity.  By selecting the tree marked by the red X, I will have a 35 yard shot to the bottom edge of the woods, and less than a 20 yard shot to either of the other trails.  Because of the potential for the deer to approach from the East, it will be important to hunt this spot on a NNW wind.  To further ensure that no deer walk below my stand location and catch my scent or cross my access trail and ground scent, I plan to pile all of the brush that is cleared from the area to make the plot in a row along the southeast corner of the clearing in a in order to funnel deer up into the food plot from this lower trail.  The falling thermals and the manipulation of the deer travel will enable this spot to be hunted a few more times than other typical stand locations on a food plot.

The last consideration is the shape of the plot.  The shape I’ve laid out here creates a natural funnel for any deer who enter the plot to move through on their way to the destination food source to the West, giving the hunter an easy broadside shot.  Because I don’t expect the deer to spend a lot of time in this plot, but rather move through it on their way to the larger food plot, an evening exit becomes easier.  There is enough of a vegetation buffer between this micro plot and the large plot to the west that a visual barrier will keep deer from seeing a hunter leaving the stand.  This will also help this stand to stay good for a couple more hunts than usual.  Because a vegetation screen is both critical for entrance and exit routes, I expect to only hunt this plot a few times during early archery season.

Monitoring the plot is the last piece of the puzzle.  Because of the small size of the plot, one trail camera is enough to monitor all of it.  Putting the camera on video mode will help me determine the direction of access the deer use to enter the plot.  Correlating camera data with weather history will also give me a good indication of how and when the deer are using the plot in conjunction with the wind and thermals.  Checking the camera will require the same careful entrance and exit as when hunting and I will be careful not to contaminate the plot with human scent during summer monitoring.  Keeping tabs on the deer activity in the plot through the use of a trail camera will let me know when the time is right to move in for the kill.

Even with a game plan in place, staying open minded is key and if the trail camera shows deer entering the mirco plot just after sundown, I will know I need to push into the timber and get a little closer to the beds, within the bucks staging area.  This becomes an additional challenge and a higher risk, higher reward type of hunt.  It is unlikely that more than one or two hunts in this location, per season, will be possible if this becomes necessary.  The stand on the micro plot will be beneficial from an observational standpoint, with the ability to also produce kill.

Hopefully I will have good things to report in 9 months about this new property improvement project.  I would love to hear about your successes or challenges with implementing food plots into your hunting arsenal.  Leave a comment below or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte


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We’re Back

Category : DIY , Miscellaneous

Its been awhile since my last post.  I’m not sure I can put my finger on what has been occupying so much of my time lately, but between three months of hunting season, holidays, a ever-busy nine month-old son and the increasing demands of work, I can officially say that finding extra time is becoming a rare luxury.

My plans for the 2015 hunting season were to keep up with a weekly hunting journal, chronicling my days afield and detailing the specifics of stand set-ups and approaches.  Let’s just say it didn’t happen.  What did happen, though, was that I got some good footage this fall which I hope to share through a short video of my season which is being edited right now.  I also kept hunting logs with weather and lunar data along with deer sightings and times for a vast majority of the archery season.  Although it won’t be relayed in “semi-real-time” like I had hoped, I plan to reflect back on the hunting season and bring forward a few lessons learned and areas where adjustments will be made in the coming year.  After all, there will always be room for improvement.

As post season scouting gets underway, the promise of a new season should start to get us all excited.  I am looking forward to sharing the deer sign we uncover in new areas during spring scouting and if we are lucky we may have some photos to post of a few promising 2015 survivors.

I expect the coming months to be more content rich than the previous few have been.  The search for next years buck has already started so there is plenty to talk about.

Thanks for checking in to Common Ground Bowhunter, and be sure to visit us on Facebook, YouTube and now on Instagram!

-Reuben Dourte


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Bear Agenda 7

Panicking About Target Panic

That was me, I was panicking about target panic, and wondering if I was ever going to be able to shoot my bow consistently again.  For a couple seasons I had been struggling with holding low on the spot I was aiming for and punching the trigger on my release.  I couldn’t seem to adjust it, and I blamed a number of things, including an eye sight issue and lack of practice.  I began berating myself for being a poor shot and a terrible archer in general.  At one point, my confidence had been through the roof.  I could hit a 9″ circle at 80 yards with consistency and I felt comfortable shooting a deer at any range under 40.

Why I was now consistently holding below the bull’s eye was beyond me, and the more I shot the worse it seemed to get, as my confidence waivered.  The best way to describe this feeling is that it is like your brain is telling your arm to move, but your arm is refusing to listen to your brain.  Like I mentioned, this started in 2012, the year in which I missed two pot-shots at mature doe.  Heading into the 2013 season, my confidence had holes shot through it and I chose to ignore the issues.  I dropped my sight pin slightly to compensate for the way I was aiming and it seemed to circumvent the problem for the time being.  I could group my arrows and hit a 3 inch ring with consistency out to 40 yards, so off to the woods I went.  However, when drawn on my 2013 buck, I nearly blew my shot opportunity as I anticipated the moment of truth and flinched horribly just as I was about to squeeze the trigger.  “WHAT was that?!” I said to myself, as this was a new phenomenon that had never happened to me prior to this experience.  Luckily I did not actually squeeze the shot off and was able to regroup and make good on the opportunity that followed, however, this situation could have easily ended with some broken dreams.

Prior to the 2014 archery season I purchased a new bow.  As I began to familiarize myself with the new weapon, my symptoms worsened.  While I expected to shoot more accurately with the new bow due to smoother draw cycle and much less recoil, though the opposite was actually happening.  Again, I fought through my deficiency and harvested two animals during the 2014 archery season in spite of my growing concern for how I was feeling throughout my shot process.  I describe all of this because many archers may feel some of these same symptoms.  While each case of target panic manifests through many different combinations of symptoms, many of them are consistent from case to case.

I stumbled across a podcast in which an archer was talking about dealing with and overcoming target panic.  The archer talked about how he came to realize he was suffering from target panic, some of the causes for it, and the steps he’s taken to remedy it.  As I listened, a lightbulb came on and I realized that this was me.  I was a target-panicking archer.

Target Pnnic

Dealing with target panic is an affliction that plagues many shooters. Although difficult, overcoming the symptoms and regaining confidence is possible.

Here is the process that I employed to help myself cope with target panic.  There may be others who use some of the same steps, or use other steps in addition to these.  This has worked for me, but if you are still struggling, seeking out the help of a professional archery coach or reliable pro-staffer can be of further assistance.

1. Lower Your Poundage!

If you are suffering from target panic, there is a really, really, really good chance that you should lower your bow’s draw weight.  Symptoms can be enhanced by higher peak draw weights and if you are one of those archers that likes to talk about maxing your bow out or buying 80 lb. limbs so that you can shoot faster than your buddies, you just need to get over that.  People were killing deer far before bows broke the 300 fps mark.  Additionally, while kinetic energy is affected by arrow speed, it is also affected by arrow weight and many archers are killing deer and other big game with consistency while using bows under 60 lbs of peak draw weight.  So, do yourself a favor, and lower your poundage.  It helps, I know because I did it.

2.  Hold Your Pins on Target

Seems obvious, right?  Isn’t that the point? Draw, Aim, Shoot.  Well, yes, but if your suffering from target panic you’re not at that point yet.  I started with the basics.  It may seem elementary, but I wanted to know that my brain could send the message to my arm and move the pin over the bull’s eye of the target.  I put my bow down, then raised it again and repeated the process.  I would do this a half a dozen times or so, every time I got my bow out.

3.  Practice coming to full draw.

There was a blog on bowhunting.com about overcoming target panic, called How To Beat Target Panic, and a few of the items I gleaned from that blog helped me in my own target-panic journey.  The author, Patrick Meitin, suggests each step should be implemented for half-hour per day sessions for 1 week, in order to steadily put target panic behind you.  One of his initial steps is to draw your bow with no intention of releasing the shot.  He suggests blindfolding yourself and mentally envisioning a perfect shot scenario.   Personally, I held at full draw and practiced holding the pin on the target while envisioning a perfect release and follow through.  Taking away the idea that there was going to be a shot was what I needed to be able to focus on simply aiming my bow and holding true.  If you need to keep your eyes closed to achieve this result, you should do so.  Most importantly in this step, practice letting the bow down.  Some symptoms of target panic can include an inability to let down after you are at full draw.  This can lead to poor, forced shots and exacerbate your problems.

4.  Envision Your Perfect Shot Process

At this point in the game, you are ready to focus on a perfect shot cycle.  Forget about aiming and concentrate on the shot process through your draw, anchoring and especially your release.  Again, some coaches may suggest you keep the blindfold for this step, but what I found worked for me was to turn my target around so I didn’t have a bull’s eye target to shoot at.  The bull’s eye forced me to focus on aiming.  The other side of my target has a large black portion that is excellent for shooting into if you need to “aim at nothing”.  I should also mention that you can be at 10 yards or even less for this part of the process.  During this time, I focused on my anchor point and squeezing the trigger on my release in a smooth, deliberate motion, rather than punching it as I had been doing for 3 seasons.  In time, the pre-shot anticipation and flinching began to fade and my shots felt smoother and more composed than they had for quite some time.  I feel like this step takes a tremendous amount of mental fortitude because you have to abandon your desire for results in the form of accuracy, which is why a blindfold or keeping your eyes closed can help.  Remember, the result you are looking for right now is a smooth and consistent shot process all the way through the release.  If that happens, your winning the battle.  If you regress, you may need to go back a step and work through the process again.

5. Avoid competitive shooting

At least for awhile, you need to avoid competitive shooting.  The added pressure of shooting for competition, even if it is a backyard wager with a buddy, can be detrimental to the success of your recovery.  In time, you can regain your competitive edge, but you should spend more time in your process before leaping back into any kind of pressure situations.  You should also start your target panic rehab well prior to hunting season, because as we all know, nothing feels like more pressure than having the buck of a lifetime at 15 yards.

Some additional techniques for conquering target panic include counting methods which require a shooting partner to call random numbers until they reach a predetermined shot number, at which time you squeeze off the shot.  I can’t speak to their effectiveness because I haven’t used these tactics.

Slowly, but surely, I was able to regain composure and start shooting with more consistency.  I am still not completely over my target panic, and I may never be.  Every once and a while, I have a moment where I need to let down my bow and regroup.  If I make a bad shot, I am sure to I concentrate on my form and a smooth release during the next shot and worry less about the accuracy of the shot.  This keeps my head in the game and goes a long way to solidify my shot process in my head.

Perseverance is key when dealing with target panic.  I was incredibly frustrated with myself and at times I was worried that I would never see improvement.  With consistency and dedication, it is possible to curb the effects of target panic and once again rebuild your confidence as an archer.

Have you dealt with target panic?  What methods and strategies did you use to overcome it?  Leave your comments below or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte

 


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Bravada Tree Stand

Silence Your Gear for Under $5

My first portable tree stand was a summit climber that I had begged for for Christmas during my 8th grade year.   Right after I started bowhunting, I quickly realized that I needed to be mobile if I was going to be successful, and I thought that having one climbing stand would be a more economical approach than purchasing a multitude of hang on stands in order to provide a number of preset stand locations around the property I was hunting.  Like any teenager, I was balancing my passion with an incredibly limited budget.  I soon realized that although the attachment system for my climber was quick, easy, and relatively quiet, it was still almost impossible to pack the stand in and out of the woods without making a clank or two that would make you hold your breath and cringe while you expected the woods to explode with fleeing deer.  At that time, Summit had introduced Summit Skin, similar to the popular Stealth Strips.  I have to be honest, I really wanted to cover my stand in Summit Skin but I really didn’t want to pay for them.  It seemed to me like this noise dampening system was pretty salty, for what it was, and I had other items that I needed to purchase in order to keep killing deer, and those took priority.  After all, I was still putting deer on the ground out of a portable stand without Summit Skin on it, so why spend the money on a perhaps overpriced accessory?

I’ve since gravitated to a different kind of mobility as an archer and a different kind of portable stand as climbers became too limiting in the pieces of timber I wanted to hunt.  And, while they are a simple way to set up in a tree, I found them to be cumbersome to carry into the woods, and ultimately a noisier way to climb up the side of a tree near a bedding area.  So, once I purchased a lightweight hang-on stand I now needed to pack in climbing sticks, not to mention the added gear involved with filming.  Metal on metal is bad news in the woods and so I began to consider ways to dampen this noise, while remaining economical of course.

I believe I first came across the idea of using cloth hockey tape after watching an instructional video featuring Land and Game Company’s Rod White.  Rod mentioned that he wraps a lot of his gear, including tree stands, with hockey tape to reduce noise.  I began to search the web for places to buy bulk tape, and I found several resources on websites like Amazon and EBay.  I found a multi roll pack for under $10, and a couple days later I was going to work wrapping the leading edges of my treestand, my climbing sticks and my camera arm in several layers of tape.  Because it is so cheap, you can use a liberal amount without feeling like it is costing you an arm and a leg.  Additionally, the tape is easily maneuvered around corners and weld joints, etc.  I was able to cover my treestand, camera arm and base, and one set of climbing sticks with one roll of tape, (approximately $4).  I used the second roll for my other two portable hang-ons, and my spare set of climbing sticks.  I can now pack my aluminum stand, sticks and camera arm together, put the stand on my back and literally jump up and down without any metal on metal noise.

Bravada Tree Stand

A close up showing the tape wrap around the leading edge of this Big Game Bravada (now Muddy Bravada) treestand. Also shown are Muddy Climbing sticks, with hockey tape wrap, packed onto the portable hang-on stand with use of a custom bungee.

One thing to keep in mind is that the application of the tape, (to your stand especially), will take longer than Stealth Strips or Summit Skin.  The tape adhesive is also not as strong as it is on Stealth Strips and so instead of laying a long piece of tape length-wise along the edge of the stand, you will instead need wrap the tape around the tubing, (or molding, if your stand is cast aluminum).  This can be a tedious process.  Remember to make the tape run as continuously as possible.  Meaning, where you end one piece of tape, wrap the next piece of tape around that end to create a continuous layer and reduce the number of free ends of tape.  If you do this correctly, you can create a continuous wrap of tape with only one tail at the very end of the run.  Consider every location on your gear where metal can come in contact with other metal pieces or may be more likely to have sticks and branches brush against it.  You may also consider wrapping the front edge of your stand with paracord to further reduce noise if you want to take your modification to the next level.

Stealth doesn’t have to cost a fortune.  Thinking outside the box can save you money and make your pastime a more affordable endeavor.  Have you modified your mobile set up for stealth?  I would love to hear the tactics that work for you, leave a comment or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

You can order the tape I used for my gear here:

Jaybird & Mais Cloth Hockey Tape

-Reuben Dourte


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Whitetail Buck at Scrape

Making the Most of Mock Scrapes

Mock scrape diagram

An aerial view of the location of the mock scrape described in this article. The included photos were taken at this location.

You have probably read the magazine articles that make it sound easy-as-pie to kill a mature buck.  Employ this tactic or that strategy and the formula is complete.  Any day now a stud 4.5 year old is going to come sauntering by, during broad daylight and offer you a 12 yard broadside shot, right?  If you are like me, you’ve spent at least some amount of time trying some of the different things you’ve read, and to no avail.  It’s easy to write about a tactic and make it sound like a foolproof way to kill your buck.  But the truth is, no one single tactic or tip is going to put you on a mature deer, especially on pressured ground.  What individual tactics can provide you with is one more piece of the puzzle.  In my opinion, that is where the popular tactic of making mock scrapes falls.  Mock scrapes are a tool that can tell you a lot about the deer in your area, if they are used correctly.  If you hunt pressured ground, you need to keep your expectations in line.

Most people are familiar with the concept of a mock scrape, but for those who aren’t, simply put, it is a man made scrape that mimics a natural scrape created by the deer in your area.  So, what do you need to know about mock scrapes and what benefits can you expect to receive by utilizing them?

1. Placement is Key

You need to consider where you are putting a mock scrape.  Where you place the scrape can and will have a direct impact on its effectiveness.  For many years I never believed in the tactic because I tried to place scrapes where I wanted them, not where the deer would use them.  My site selection was random and I hung a scrape dripper gadget with some cheap deer urine in it and called it a day.  After all, that seemed to be what I read about in the magazines and saw on TV.  What I didn’t realize was that the urine in the scrape is only one

8 point buck at scrape

There is no doubt scrapes provide a place for scent transfer, however, bucks don’t always urinate in scrapes and the licking branch plays an equal or greater role in scent marking than the scrape itself.

small component of the scrape dynamics, and many people believe it is not even the most important one.  Mock scrapes should be placed in high traffic areas so that they gather the attention of the highest percentage of deer possible.  You are more likely to have deer begin to use your mock scrape if you select an area where the deer spend some time or an area they tend to utilize regularly on the way to and from food.  Inside edges along food sources, or pinch points at the end of a funnel have been productive areas for mock scrapes in my experiences.  Areas that have a lot of deer sign, even if you suspect it is night sign, are good prospects.  Don’t overthink it, but don’t just put a scrape next to a tree you would like to hunt and expect a dead area to magically heat up.

 

2.  How to create a mock scrape

Once you determine a high percentage location for your mock scrape the next part is constructing it.  The first thing you need to look for is a low hanging branch.  In the area I hunt, I have found that most of the natural scrapes have licking branches located approximately at chest to eye level.  I am 6′ 2″ so between 4 and 6 feet is

Whitetail buck at scrape

Many people select a tree with a licking branch above their own head. Overestimations of a whitetails height can lead to improperly placed licking branches, leading to unused mock scrapes. Licking branches should be placed between 4 and 6 feet off the ground. A good practice is to mimic the height of licking branches on natural scrapes in your hunting area.

a safe estimate and some may be lower. (6 feet is the maximum in my opinion.)  I think a big mistake people make is making a mock scrape under a branch that is higher than their head.  People have a tendency to overestimate the height of a Whitetail.  A low limb with multiple branches can work wonderfully and you may find that additional scrapes will appear adjacent to your mock scrape.  Once I locate a suitable branch, I take a nearby stick and scrape the leaves and debris away to expose the bare ground, trying to touch as little as possible with my bare hands.  I like to score the ground as well, and fling some dirt out with the leaves.  In addition to urine and gland secretions, I believe deer can smell the freshly disturbed earth and it piques their curiosity.  I have used a lot of different scents in an effort to attract Whitetails but, quite honestly, I have found that urinating in the scrape is the best way to encourage deer to investigate your new creation.  It might sound crude, but your own urine is free and deer urine is selling for $10-20 an ounce these days.  There is some evidence that once urine breaks down most of its unique qualities are lost anyway.  One thing that I have done is

This young buck is investigating the glandular lure applied to the licking branch above the mock scrape.

This young buck is investigating the glandular lure applied to the licking branch above the mock scrape.

used a glandular lure and put it on the licking branch to encourage its use.  I really can’t say if it works, but I know the trail camera photos I have, that were taken shortly after applying this scent, show most deer using the licking branch where I applied the lure.  You can probably forego this part, as the visual of the fresh scrape, the urine and the presence of the branch will likely be enough to attract deer passing through the area.  The mock scrapes I make are in the easy access, low impact areas of the properties I hunt.  I want to be able to get in and out to check the use of the mock scrape without disturbing deer.  Since my mock scrapes aren’t located near my treestands, I will put a no-flash trail camera over them to monitor the deer using the scrape.  Being able to slip into these areas to exchange memory cards without impacting the deer you are hunting is another reason to have them in accessible places, like the inside edge adjacent to a crop field.

3. What should you expect out of your mock scrape

I think too many common ground hunters expect to be able to make a mock scrape and draw a mature deer out of its bed in daylight hours in order to kill it.  They plan to hunt over their new mock scrape and think it is going to provide more deer sightings and increased shot opportunities.  This is the problem.  On pressured ground, you need to manage your expectations.  You may create a hot spot, but unless you are placing the scrape within bedding cover (which will inherently alert a buck to your presence) the likelihood of you catching a mature deer over it in daylight remains slim.

More mature animals will utilize mock scrapes under the cover of darkness.  Using mock scrapes in conjunction with a No-Flash trail camera is a valuable inventory tool and a more realistic application on pressured ground.

More mature animals will utilize mock scrapes under the cover of darkness. Using mock scrapes in conjunction with a No-Flash trail camera is a valuable inventory tool and a more realistic application on pressured ground.

Mock scrapes should be viewed as an inventory gathering tool and the best time to implement this tactic is in the last week of October through November.  When you start seeing natural scrapes pop up where you hunt, its time to lay down some mock scrapes.  When you use a mock scrape in conjunction with a quality trail camera you have the opportunity to see which bucks are still on your property as well as which of the neighbors bucks may be cruising through once the rut begins.  Mock scrapes aren’t a substitute for knowing where a pressured buck is bedding, or a substitute for hunting rut funnels and pinch points in November.  They should be viewed as a tool to determine if the animal you want to kill is still using the property.  Most of my mock scrape photos are taken at night, but it doesn’t diminish the value of the mock scrape because I am not expecting to use it as a hunting location.  Additionally, you can freshen the scrape periodically throughout the season and they can become good locations for trail camera surveys after season in order to determine which bucks have survived.  To further entice post rut bucks to utilize my mock scrapes I will gather the tarsal glands from all the deer that are killed by other hunters I know; especially tarsal glands from estrous does or bucks killed on other properties.  I hang the tarsal glands above the licking branch and they serve to attract deer to the mock scrape site even after the rut.

There is something thrilling about capturing a picture of a deer utilizing a mock scrape you made.  Maybe it is the satisfaction of a plan coming together, or maybe it is the feeling that you were able to successfully manipulate that deer’s behavior.  Either way, mock scrapes can be a useful tool and a rewarding activity as long as you manage your expectations and utilize them intelligently.

Below are some year-round photos of deer visiting the mock scrape.  This has become a destination point for the deer on this property.

Have you had experience with making mock scrapes?  Leave your comments below or email me with your thoughts at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte


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Selecting Equipment to Video Your Hunt

Category : DIY , How To , Miscellaneous

I’m not a professional videographer.  In fact, I take some issue with even referring to myself as an amatuer.  I am a hobbyist, at best.  If you’re like me, you enjoy the outdoors and may be searching for a way to preserve your memories, or share them with those close to you.  In addition, you may have already found the value of videoing your outdoor endeavors for the information you are able to review later.  I toyed around with the idea of videoing my hunts for a couple years but I always assumed that it would cost me opportunities at deer.  I finally convinced myself to give it a try and once I started I found a new area addiction within my broader Whitetail passion, and I was happy to find that filming doesn’t have to cost you a chance at a deer unless you let it.  Furthermore, having the proper equipment can go a long way toward successfully capturing a memory that will last a lifetime.

A lot of Youtube videos show a particular hunter’s camera set up, or how they pack their gear into the field.  I may demonstrate this at some point, but I think it is important to talk about the basics: What is the necessary gear and specs for the self filmer and how I arrived at the equipment choices I have made.

The most important component in any set-up is the camera you choose.  The quality footage produced by popular hunting shows is, by and large, attributable to the quality (and expensive) camera equipment they employ.  That being said, don’t get discouraged.  To start, I am going to break out a list of the important features for a self filmer to consider when selecting a camera.  In the section following, I will go through different camera types and highlight the pros and cons of each to make it easier to determine what camera is right for your situation and budget.

Important Features for Self Filming Cameras:

  1. Manual Focus Option
  2. Zoom Capability
  3. External Mic Port- Shotgun Mics/Wireless Lapel Mics
  4. LANC Remote Port
  5. Cost

Cameras: The DSLR Option

Shows like Heartland Bowhunter utilize DSLR cameras for much of their footage and while the DSLR’s that they use run a price tag of a couple grand, a great quality high end consumer grade camera can do wonders.  Models like a Cannon Rebel T5i can be picked up in bundles with extra lenses, memory cards, batteries, filters, etc. for around $800.

DSLR Lenses

DSLR Cameras provide the option of interchanging lenses for different situations. Lenses vary in cost and zoom capability.

DSLR cameras can provide crystal clear video footage and have many customizable settings for varying light conditions.  The biggest consideration with a DSLR is the glass your shooting through.  A high quality lens is a must, and you are going to need to consider the zoom capacity.  A higher zoom will restrict the light that is gathered by the lens, making certain DSLR lenses less than optimal for low light situations.  The cost of good glass can be much more than the cost of the camera base itself.  Lenses offering a wide range of zoom, such as a 28mm-300mm lens can carry salty price tags and switching lenses from a high powered zoom lens to a wider aperture lens is unrealistic when a shooter buck is approaching.

Furthermore, a DSLR’s zoom function is operated by manually rotating the lens, which can be a challenge for  a self filmer.  One of the great features of a DSLR for bowhunting is the optional Manual Focus, which is adjusted by the focus ring on the front of the lens.  Admittedly this can also create a challenge for the self filmer.

Canon t5i DSLR

High end consumer grade DSLR cameras can produce great video quality at an affordable price. They also give the user the option to take stunning still imagery during slow times in the treestand.

DSLR cameras like the Canon Rebel T5i have the capability for the operator to employ the use of an external microphone.  One of the downsides of a DSLR camera is that the built in mic is good, but not great.  If you are looking for high quality sound, you will need to consider using an external mic of some sort.  The important thing to check for when purchasing a DSLR is a mic port.  Be sure you verify this before purchase.  Sometimes it can be confusing as to whether or not the camera you are selecting has this option.  For example, a Canon Rebel T5 does not have a mic port but a Canon Rebel T5i does.  The T5i is going to be a bit more expensive but there are enough features you gain by stepping up to this model to justify the price increase.

The downside of using a DSLR to self film is that they can not be used with a LANC Remote.  A LANC Remote is a remote control that typically attaches to the arm of a fluid head.  This remote puts the controls for camera Power, Record, Zoom, and Focus all at your fingertips.  This eliminates a high percentage of the movement otherwise associated with zooming in and out or focusing the camera.  A LANC remote is a valuable addition to a self filming camera setup and the fact that you cannot use a DSLR camera in conjunction with them is a definite downside.  Another negative about a DSLR is that they are less compact than many camcorders.  Their zoom capability, as mentioned, is limited to the lens you use with the camera, and this must be operated by turning the lens, as does the manual focus option.  Another important consideration is that DSLR cameras are not sold as video cameras and therefore they have recording limitations.  They may only record for 15 minute intervals before you must manually press record again.  If you start recording when a mature buck is approaching, your DSLR could presumably reach its maximum video length and stop recording.  If you fail to check on this, you might miss capturing the moment of truth on video.  It may not be a deal breaker when considering a DSLR, but it requires the hunter to keep one more thing in mind when trying to focus on the shot of a lifetime. These limitations can lead to increased movement in the stand as well as making it more challenging to line up the deer to capture a shot on film.

DSLR Pros:

  • Great Picture Quality
  • Manual Focus Option
  • Interchangeable lenses for different situations
  • Customizable scene options, white balance, etc.
  • Takes still pictures and video
  • External Mic Port

DSLR Cons:

  • No LANC remote compatibility
  • Zoom and manual focus must be controlled from front of camera (lens)
  • Additional glass is expensive (lenses)
  • Bulkier and heavier than camcorders
  • Recording length is limited

Cameras: The “HandyCam” Option

It doesn’t matter what brand of consumer grade camcorders you look at, there are going to be an overwhelming number of options and features available.  It can be difficult to discern what is necessary and what is fluff.  I choose to refer to my own list, included at the top of this blog, to keep myself on track.

Samsung Consumer Grade Camcorder

This Samsung handheld camcorder is a great option for the beginning self-filmer, however, it is important to consider the limitations of these types of cameras when using them to film your hunt.

The problem with many consumer grade “handycam” models is that they are geared toward a consumer who wants to video their child in sports, or take vacation footage, etc.  Most people purchasing these cameras run them on Auto and never look back.  They have little need for manual focus options, so it is not often an included feature.  Consumer grade camcorders are constantly improving picture quality and most have HD options which provide good picture quality.  The problem is that in a woods environment, sticks and leaves are almost almost between you and the subject (deer) you are trying to video.  Often this creates a focus problem as the camera focuses on the closer leaves and the deer becomes a blurry blob in the background.  Trying to get the deer into focus by moving the camera in order to video around the leaves, instead of preparing for a shot, can create a problem in situations that develop quickly; as they often do during the rut.  I have missed out on good footage more than a time or two because I could not get an autofocus camera to focus on the deer due to the obstructions between us.

Consumer grade camcorders are easy to use right out of the box and they are relatively inexpensive.  In most cases you can find a “handycam” type camcorder for around $400 that will have at least a few bells and whistles.  They are also compact and light to carry.  Keep in mind, though, that many consumer grade cameras don’t even have a eyepiece, making it necessary to film using the flip out LCD screen.  Sometimes this small screen is hard to see in the glare of sunlight, or the deer is so small in the screen you are unable to tell if it is in the field of view or not.  Some of these challenges you will face when using any video camera, however, higher end consumer cameras may have larger screens, or the option of using an eyepiece to video.  Most low to medium grade consumer camcorders do not have LANC remote or external mic options.  You can expect to find a few of the higher-end models to have the capability to use an external mic, however, I have found that it is far less common to find one with a LANC port.  The built in microphone that these cameras use is not often very good and provides what I refer to as a “tin can” sound, leaving the end video production less than desireable from an audio standpoint.  Finding a “handycam” camcorder with LANC port, mic port and a manual focus option proved to be impossible, at least for me, and I proceeded to look beyond this type of camera to meet my camera requirements.

“Handycam” Pros:

  • Cost- cheaper than DSLR and Professional Grade Camcorders
  • Compact- Light and easy to carry
  • Ease of Use
  • HD
  • Zoom capability

“Handycam” cons:

  • Auto Focus (No Manual Focus option on MOST models)
  • Compatibility with external mic (many models do not have Mic Port)
  • Compatibility with LANC remote (even less common to find model with LANC port)
  • Low quality built in Mic
  • Less customizable settings

Cameras: The Professional Camcorder Option

A professional camcorder can provide you with a lot of options when filming wildlife.  The downside?  You are going to pay for these options.  Expect to drop as much as a couple grand or more to go this route.  Professional grade camcorders may have an accessory rail containing a proprietary hot shoe as well as a standard accessory shoe.  Lights, shotgun mics, lapel mic receivers and other camera components can be attached to the camera in this way.  If you plan on using a shotgun mic, it is almost a necessity to have an accessory shoe.  Most cameras with a mic port will have a shoe, but be careful, some consumer grade cameras may have a shoe that only fits their own proprietary accessories.  You shouldn’t run into this problem with a professional grade camera, but you should still consider how you will attach your external mic and other accessories so that the functionality of your camera set up is user friendly while in the stand.  Depending on the location of the accessory shoe on the camera you choose, you may find that you need to buy an additional mic mount to position a shotgun mic so that the Dead Cat wind muff is not visible in the top of your cameras field of view.

One thing you need to research when looking into a professional grade camera is the camera’s zoom capability.  For example, a Canon XA20 has a 20X zoom whereas the cheaper XA10 has a 10X zoom while still containing most of the other options available on the XA20.  A 20X zoom, in my opinion, is a must in the woods.  It is surprising, how quickly a 20X zoom can be maxed-out while filming wildlife.  A 10X zoom is very limiting in the field and animals that are further away than 100 yards, or so, are going to appear very small in your video because you cannot zoom in close enough.  Some people try to tweak this in post production editing, but in so doing, they sacrifice image quality and have a less desirable final production.  If you are looking to save some dollars, but still want the audio options (multiple XLR ports, etc.), LANC remote port, and manual focus option of a professional grade camera, you might consider a camera with a 10X zoom; just be aware of the cameras limitations if you are hunting in an observation stand where you have long range visibility.

A downside of a professional camcorder is their size.  Many models are bulky and some can weigh several pounds.  Weight is an important consideration if you hunt remote areas.  It is also necessary to consider what the weight capacity of your camera arm is.  Higher end professional cameras may require more substantial camera arm models which are more expensive and themselves heavier, adding even more weight to your pack.  A popular way around this problem is to go with smaller professional grade cameras like the aforementioned Canon XA20.  Sony also makes smaller models that are popular with serious self filmers.  For hunters who have the luxury of a filming partner, camera weight may not be an issue, as they are able to disperse equipment across two packs, thus opening up more options when selecting a professional grade camera.

Professional Grade Camcorder Pros:

  • Multiple Mic Ports
  • Crystal Clear, high quality video
  • LANC Remote compatibility
  • More Customizable Settings
  • Manual focus option
  • Multiple memory card slots for higher capacity recording

Professional Grade Camcorder Cons:

  • Cost
  • Size and weight (select models)

Other Options

If you are like me, a hobbyist hunter-videographer wanting to produce something with more quality than a home movie, but the expense of professional grade cameras exclude them from consideration, you may look at the all of the above information and become jaded about the camera options available for self filming your hunting adventures.  The good new is that, for the vast majority of amateur videographers, there is a happy medium between the “handycam” type camcorder and professional grade models.  Enter, the high end consumer grade camcorder.

Cameras: High End Consumer Grade Camcorders

Canon Vixia HF G30

High end consumer grade cameras like this Canon Vixia HF G30, shown here with an Azden Shotgun Mic with a dead cat wind muff, offer many of the same features as Professional grade camcorders at a significantly lower price. External mic port, LANC Remote port, Manual Focus Option, and a 20X zoom at half the price of a professional camera help the Vixia meet all five requirements for the serious self-filming enthusiast.

Many manufacturers produce what I’ll refer to as high end consumer grade camcorders.  These cameras sit at the top of the consumer line up and provide many of the features one may find on a professional grade camcorder.  Most of these models will come with a mic port, although it usually will not be an XLR port.  Many will also be compatible with a LANC remote which is an invaluable feature and nearly a necessity in my opinion.  Lastly, manual focus options are common with these high end consumer camcorders.  Most of these cameras have a camera body and LCD screen that is slightly larger than basic handycam-type models, but not as bulky as some professional grade cameras, making them easier to pack and transport.  Additionally, there are zoom options of 20X available with certain models.  The Canon Vixia HF G30 is a good example of a high end consumer grade camera that provides many of the features of a professional camera for about a grand less out of your pocket.  Because it is relatively compact, it is compatible with the same light-duty camera arms you would employ with a handycam-type camcorder.  The G30 is similar to the previous models of the G10 and G20 except that Canon bumped the zoom capability to 20X when it introduced the G30 model.  You will find the G30 will run approximately $500 more than the G20, however, I feel that zoom capability was not something I could sacrifice and ultimately decided on the Canon Vixia HF G30.  Other models in the Vixia line may provide manual focus, 20X zoom, or external mic ports, but I was unable to find another model which included all these features and a LANC port.  After spending time in the treestand trying to pan and zoom at the same time, without a LANC remote, I quickly realized the value of this feature.  All these reasons led me to the Canon Vixia HF G30 Camcorder.  A camcorder that provided the best of both worlds.

High end consumer grade camcorder pros:

  • Professional grade features
  • Customizable settings
  • Two memory card slots for high capacity recording
  • Excellent, clear HD video
  • LANC Port
  • External Mic Port
  • Manual Focus Option
  • Lighter weight and more compact than Professional Camcorders
  • Larger LCD screen than handycam style camcorders
  • Significantly cheaper than Professional Grade Camcorders

High end consumer grade camcorder cons:

  • More expensive than handycam camcorders
  • Usually do not have XLR mic port

Now that you have selected a camera based  your needs and your budget it is time to determine what accessories you will use in conjunction with it.  For the purpose of this blog, I am going to write with the assumption that the camera selected is a high end consumer grade camera with LANC and Mic ports.  If you have selected a camera without these features, some of the below information will still help you in the selection of camera arms and fluid heads.

Accessories: LANC remote

Vanguard Fluid Head with LANC remote

The Varizoom StealthZoom LANC remote, shown here in conjunction with a Vanguard PH 111V Fluid Head, is an economical option for the self filmer who has selected a camcorder with LANC Remote compatability. This Varizoom offers Power, Record, Zoom and Focus features.

It can be confusing trying to decide which LANC remote to purchase.  Manfrotto offers a fluid head pan arm that has a LANC remote built into it.  This is certainly an option, and Manfrotto is a quality brand, however it is pricey and a little bulky.  I chose to go the cheaper route, and one that I think fits the needs of better than 90% of self filmers out there.  The Varizoom StealthZoom is a more economical option and has a universal mount that fits just about any fluid head pan arm.  There are some other Varizoom models that have additional features, but the StealthZoom has everything a hunter needs.  I can turn the camcorder on and off, start and stop recording, zoom in and out, and focus (when the camera is set on manual) all by the slight movement of my thumb on the LANC remote.  This significantly reduces movement and also decreases camera shake and “choppy” panning/zooming.  The StealthZoom simply plugs into your camera’s LANC port and you are ready to go.  Its that easy.

Accessories: Fluid Head

If you plan to use a tripod or tree arm you are going to need a fluid head to attach your camera to either of these devices.  Some low end tripods or tree arms have built in, plastic fluid heads.  These are ok for a starter, but don’t expect them to pan smoothly or be silent.  Sometimes noise from a cheap plastic fluid head can be picked up on your video, especially if you aren’t using an external mic.  Many of the hunting TV shows are using fluid heads that have price tags in the hundreds of dollars range, or more.  Unless you are a professional videographer, or loaded, this is not necessary for the self filmer.  I again contemplated Manfrotto for my fluid head choice, but upon conducting a little more research I settled on a less expensive option that is well made, silent to operate and has a great feel at an affordable price.  The Vanguard PH 111V is a great fluid head available for well under $100.  If you want to spend a few extra bucks, investing in a slightly longer pan arm may be a worthwhile upgrade to this fluid head, but other than that I have found that the Vanguard fluid head to be smooth, user friendly and possessing a feel of quality construction.  My VariZoom LANC fits nicely on the pan arm for one handed operation of all camera functions.

Accessories: External Microphones

There are so many options in external microphones I feel that it probably warrants a blog of its own.  And, admittedly, I am not the person to write the blog because so much of it I don’t fully understand.  I know what sounds good to me and I investigated sound samples of different mics before choosing a shotgun mic and a wireless lapel mic.  My initial findings revealed that Sennheiser wireless lapel mics are an extremely good option.  I was worried about which frequency range to select and possible interference but upon further research I determined that in less urban areas the chance of interference is slim.  I received other information that advised me to stay away from higher frequency ranges when purchasing wireless lapel mics because there is talk of the government restricting use of these wavelengths.  I can’t speak to the accuracy of that anymore than to say this is what I was told so I began to research other options.  What I settled on, for my purposes,

Azden Wireless Lapel Mic

This Azden Wireless lapel mic is an economical option for a starting self filmer who wants superior sound quality in their videos. These mics are reliable and extremely easy to use.

was a lapel mic that provides two channel options, F1 or F2.  Its incredibly simple and easy to use and I have never had a problem with interference and the sound quality is more than adequate.  The wireless lapel mic I employ is a Azden and it was a fraction of the cost of a Sennheiser system.  Likewise the Azden DSLR shotgun mic I use is compatible with my Vixia camcorder.  I found that Rode shotgun mics are popular with many self filmers and professionals in the hunting industry.  However, I found the Azden DSLR Shotgun mic for a great deal and decided that I would go with it after I was so satisfied with the Azden lapel mic.  The Azden shotgun mic was also significantly cheaper than most of the Rode mics I found.  Typically, the longer the shotgun mic the more it will pick up.  Some shotgun mics have an omnidirectional feature which can be of benefit if you are speaking from behind the camera while filming.  It is important to note that the Azden shotgun mic I use does not have as good of sound quality as the lapel mic, and I believe that unless you are going to spend a hefty sum for a shotgun mic you will find this to be true more often than not.  The reason why I will use the shotgun mic is because, when I am self filming, I will more than likely be using only the Vixia and I will want to get the sounds of the deer walking, grunting, snorting, etc. as well as my own voice after the shot.  A shotgun mic does all of this.  If I was filming another hunter I would have a wireless lapel mic on the DSLR while I filmed with the Vixia as well.  I would utilize both cameras for multiple shot angles, B-roll footage, etc. but that is not practical when hunting by one’s self.  Azden does offer a receiver which allows you to plug in both a shotgun mic as well as a lapel mic before it routes it to the camera and this might be an option in the future if I want to invest more into my audio setup.  Also be aware that winds in excess of approximately 8-9 MPH will cause unwanted noise in your video footage.  It is important that during those windy days in the stand you cover your shotgun or lapel mic with a Dead Cat.  These are cheap add-ons that can be found at any camera store or online for a few dollars.

Equipment: Camera Arm

There are more camera arms today than there have ever been.  Choosing which one is right for your setup is something that takes some careful consideration.  First, you need to be aware of the weight limitations for your tree arm.  Make sure it is rated at a high enough limit to account for your camera, fluid head, microphones and any other gear or accessories you may hang from it.  Another important consideration is the tree attachment mechanism.  Some low end camera arms utilize a tree lag, which may not be legal on public

Yukon Tracks Camera Arm

This basic camera arm utilizes a tree lag which is not legal on public ground in many states. It also comes with a built in plastic fluid head.

land.  A leveling system is also a necessity.  A tree arm that is out of level will have a tendency to swing and move on its own, making it hard to set the camera on a shooting lane for a shot.  Because most, if not all, trees are not perfectly plumb, some kind of leveling system is a must.  Another consideration is the length of the camera arm.  Some people gravitate toward Third Arm brand camera arms because they offer a three piece arm that allows the shooter to wrap the camera arm around themselves in order to more easily video shots behind them.  Other arms may have two sections and vary in length.  Consider that the longer the arm, the more metal used to manufacture it and the heavier it will be.  Furthermore, you should consider how easily you are able to pack the tree arm into the woods.  Longer arms have a tendency to stick out past a treestand or backpack and get caught on brush or low branches as you walk to your hunting location.  The Hunting Beast camera arm features three shorter sections and a unique pistol grip fluid head that is designed for the solo hunter and is more “packable” than some other models.  The attachment base is leveled with a screw lag you can turn by hand.  Third Arm and Lone Wolf use their own attachment system that is somewhat similar to the Hunting Beast arm while Muddy offers a unique leveling base that fully adjusts after you get the tree arm based secured to the tree.  The Muddy base is heavier than some of its competitors, but the leveling feature is, in my opinion, more intuitive.

Muddy Outfitte Camera Arm Base

The Muddy Camera Arm Base attaches to the tree with a silent cam buckle strap and levels using the cylinder to the center of the base. Lateral adjustment is done by loosening the clamps on the front plate of the base.

The Muddy Outfitter Camera Arm is the arm I use and I chose it for several reasons.  First, the Outfitter arm can hold far more weight (10 lbs) than my camcorder or my DSLR.  I could actually put both cameras on the arm and it could handle it, (provided I bought an attachment to do so).  I chose this Muddy Arm because I felt it provided the best value for the price in the Muddy line up.  It is not as big as some of their other higher end camera arms, but I sacrificed some arm extension for a lighter, more compact option to carry to my stand.  Still, I wish the arm was even lighter, and some Third Arm models do weigh less.  Most of the weight with the Muddy system comes from the substantial base; and one of the things I liked about the Muddy arm was the functionality and adjustment in its base.  Therefore, I decided that at 4.5 lbs, I would pack the Outfitter arm to my stands and try to eliminate pack weight in other areas to make up for the difference.

The Muddy Outfitter Camera Arm and Base weighs 4.5 lbs and supports cameras up to 10 lbs.  It is equipped with a leveling system for use on crooked trees.

The Muddy Outfitter Camera Arm and Base weighs 4.5 lbs and supports cameras up to 10 lbs. It is equipped with a leveling system for use on crooked trees. Notice this camera arm and base has been wrapped in hockey tape to eliminate metal on metal clanking in the field.

 

Conclusion

Don’t let this list, or all the other information available, overwhelm you if you are considering self filming your hunts.  The most important thing is to get out and give it a try.  Even if you start out with the equipment you have now, or buy a handycam to begin filming, you will find it can be a rewarding and thrilling experience.  You may want to step into self filming cautiously, to see if you like it before committing to more expensive gear and additional purchases.  One of the great things about filming is how it changes your attitude about your time in the stand.  When a small buck comes by, you are able to enjoy “shooting” him with the camera and capturing his behaviors with your lens.  If you are like me, you may find yourself feeling excited to get pre-rut chasing on camera, a buck making a scrape, a fox at daybreak, or a grouse drumming.  Each new thing you capture is another success in the field and makes the days that you leave the woods with an unfilled tag still feel like an incredibly rewarding experience and successful endeavor.  I have gained a much deeper appreciation for the nature I observe and the deer I pursue during the Fall because I am able to relive the magic of it all through my video footage.

Do you plan on trying to film your hunts this year?  Leave a comment below or let me know your thoughts by emailing me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte