Category Archives: General Hunting

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!


Choosing the Right Release

A beginner’s guide to release styles.

            When it comes to choosing archery equipment, the options seem nearly endless and paralysis by analysis can certainly become a real thing.  Enter any online forum and ask for advice and you’re bound to be inundated with a lot of opinions, and most of them, well-meaning.  Having such a plethora of options is both a blessing and a curse to an archer.  It certainly makes finding the right “fit” a possibility, regardless of the product type; but it also makes the selection process much more difficult.  Throw into the mix the influence of social media and it is easy to be thrown off course by what other hunters and shooters are doing instead of what is the best option given an archer’s own unique circumstances.  Release aids are a product that is offered in a wide array of styles, from a wide array of brands and manufacturers.  Finding the right release aid depends on application and what feels comfortable to the archer; but it’s imperative he or she understands the difference in the functionality of the four main types of releases on the market, so as to be able to make an educated purchasing decision.  

-Index Trigger- Index finger releases are widely popular with hunters.  Typically, these releases utilize some kind of wrist strap, (usually with a Velcro or buckle closure), which attaches to the shank of the release.  Index trigger releases have a trigger similar to a firearm, which is activated by the shooter’s index finger.   This type of release is extremely popular with hunters for multiple reasons.  First, the release is always attached to the hunter’s wrist and so it is “at-the-ready” when a target animal steps into a shooting lane.  When still hunting, the release can’t fall out of the hunter’s pocket, and it allows for a quick connection and draw sequence when milliseconds count.  Additionally, index trigger releases are, by and large, the most economical release option on the market.  While there is, indeed, tremendous variation in pricing, some models of index trigger releases can be purchased for as little as $20-30.  This gives the entry level archer and hunter an economical option.  Many index trigger releases offer the benefit of simplicity, as well.  While the lack of adjust-ability may be a deterrent to some, many hunters appreciate a basic design that works reliably, without the need for tweaks.  Still, there are several index trigger releases that offer a wide range of trigger adjust-ability, including both tension and travel.  These highly adjustable releases sit atop this category, but the adjust-ability comes with a higher price; though many archers will find it to be a worthwhile investment in order to achieve gains in both accuracy and consistency.

-Thumb Trigger- Thumb trigger releases are handheld release aids that use a barrel-like trigger that is engaged with the archer’s thumb.  Some archers who are experiencing target panic with a basic index trigger release will graduate to a thumb trigger in attempt to overcome their symptoms.  A thumb trigger release utilized properly can, indeed, help an archer achieve a surprise release and help avoid shot anticipation that leads to target panic.  However, when the shooter utilizes the thumb barrel like a simple trigger, it can be just as easy to “punch” a trigger with a thumb release as it is with an index finger release. 

Many thumb trigger releases offer trigger tension and travel adjust-ability.  A thumb release that is adjusted for minimal trigger travel, and enough tension to allow the shooters thumb settle around the trigger without firing, can be correctly activated with much the same shot sequence as a hinge style release.  The movement to activate the trigger doesn’t come from the shooters thumb, or wrist, but instead from the motion of applying back tension against the bows back-wall through the contraction of the muscles in the archer’s back.  This expansion movement causes a slight rotation of the release in the shooters hand, at which time a correctly adjusted thumb trigger will be activated as it is pressed into the shooter’s thumb.  The result is a surprise release. 

Some hunters who choose a thumb release may gravitate toward a closed jaw style that can be clipped onto the bows D-loop so that it is always in position to quickly draw on a game animal.  Others may opt for an open hook design that allows for faster loading on the D-Loop.  Many hunters feel that a thumb trigger provides a similar feel and shot sequence as the hinge release they use for target practice or competition shooting, but still gives the same deliberate trigger pull option (although less technically correct) as an index finger release, in the event a fast shot needs executed before the window of opportunity closes.  In this manner, this style of release becomes a very viable happy-medium.

-Hinge-  Hinge releases are another type of handheld release that are popular with target archers.  As mentioned, the shot activation sequence with a hinge has similarities to that of a thumb trigger release, but a hinge release lacks a “trigger”.  The release is activated by the contraction of the shooter’s back which creates an expansion motion.  The shooter, almost as if pushing with their bow hand and pulling with their release hand, continues to draw through the shot, applying back tension.  As the elbow of the shooter’s draw arm moves behind his or her shoulder, the rotation achieved through this motion activates the hinge release as it moves with the shooters hand.  The rotation should not come from the shooters wrist, but instead, the actual “hinging” should come from the contraction of his or her back.  Archer’s who choose a hinge release and begin to rotate the release with their hand become susceptible to the same kind of anticipated shots and target panic symptoms that can plague shooter’s who punch index finger or thumb trigger releases.  The “trigger”, so to speak, has just moved from the release to their wrist.  Hinge releases that are utilized correctly provide an archer with a surprise release and incredibly accurate results.

Hinge style releases can be more susceptible to misfire than some of their counterparts.  However, when a hinge is adjusted and used correctly, it is a very safe release aid option.  Some manufacturers are developing “safeties” for hinge releases.  This way, if the shooter’s draw or form is a bit off and the release is not positioned correctly during the draw cycle, a misfire doesn’t occur.  The precise form and consistency that many hinge releases require make them a less popular option for many hunters.  Hunter’s often find themselves drawing in awkward positions and shooting at awkward angles.  Coupled with the lack of an actual “trigger”, less hunters utilize hinge releases and they are far more prevalent in target competition.  Still, some archer’s successfully hunt with a hinge style release aid and are incredibly successful in doing so.

-Tension Activated- Tension activated releases operate just how you would guess.  When enough tension is applied to the release mechanism, the release will fire.  Tension activated releases are a fantastic way to combat target panic.  Because, like a hinge, there is no trigger on the release and an archer just keeps applying back tension until the shot is activated.  This eliminates the hand-eye-brain coordination that needs to take place with many trigger style releases.  With a trigger release, the shooter’s eye sees that the pin is on target, sends a message to the brain and the brain tells the shooter’s finger to engage the release.  Overtime, this sequence leads to the aforementioned and dreaded shot anticipation.  By nature of its design, a tension activated release eliminates one of those steps and allows the shooter to float the pin around the bulls-eye, or vital area, while they continue to apply tension until the release activates.  Many tension activated release aids can be adjusted so that the shooter must apply significant force before they will fire.  Other manufacturers have tension activated release aids that can be turned to “training mode” and will not fire.  This forces an archer who is dealing with target panic to practice their shot sequence, including their expansion motion, without being able to anticipate a shot, because there is no shot. 

Most tension activated releases use a lever that must be depressed by the archer during the draw cycle.  Once over the peak of the draw cycle, and holding at full draw, the shooter can release the lever.  The tension activated release must be set to slightly more than the bow’s holding weight.  As back tension is applied, the additional pounds of pull activates the release.  To let the bow down from full draw, the safety lever must again be engaged so that the bow does not misfire. 

Tension activated releases are popular and effective training tools, but their adjustability makes them a very popular choice with many target archers.  Although, technically speaking, it is possible to “punch” the trigger on a tension activated release by abruptly pulling through the shot, this style of release is thought by many to be one of the most helpful ways to curb target panic symptoms. As with hinge style release aids, the lack of an actual trigger on a tension activated release keeps them out of many hunters’ hands. 


               So how does an archer choose the right release?  Everyone’s situation is different and unique.  The best approach is one that is based around understanding the use and application for the release, i.e. the type of hunting or shooting, and the specific problems, if any, each individual archer is personally facing.  Understanding the way each style of release works, and how to properly employ its use is key, but that knowledge has to accompany a certain amount of honest self-reflection and introspection on the part of the archer in order to have maximum effectiveness. 


3 OnX Maps Features You Shouldn’t Overlook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Reuben Dourte


Antler Restrictions: Fact and Fiction- Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

By Reuben Dourte


Antler Restrictions: Fact and Fiction- Part 1

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

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

Arguments About APR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Reuben Dourte


Layering for Whitetails

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

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

Why Consider a Layering System for Whitetails?

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

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

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

Problem 1: Base layer basics

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

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

            The Solution:

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

Problem 2: Michelin Man Insulation

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

            The Solution:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Problem 3: Mid season versatility

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

The Solution:

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

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

Problem 4: (non)Weatherproof outers

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

            The Solution:

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

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

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

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

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


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

My system weight is as follows:

Base layer merino top: 11.6 oz

Base layer merino bottoms: 10.2 oz

Down jacket: 9.5 oz

Down vest: 7.4 oz

Down pant: 11.6 oz

Mid-layer hoodie: 16.5 oz

DWR jacket: 27.5

DWR pant: 20.8 oz

Total system weight: 7.4 lbs

Prior clothing weight: 12.56 lbs

Weight Savings: 5.16 lbs

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

By Reuben Dourte

How to Hunt Hill Country Draws

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

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

Scouting Draws

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

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

Bedding and Stand Locations

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

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

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

Field Edge Pinch Points

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


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


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

-By Reuben Dourte


Testing Garment Noise of Technical Hunting Aparrel

I conducted a casual testing of several pieces of techincal layering apparell from a few different manufacturers to determine if significant differences were noticeable in terms of face fabric noise.  Below is a video showing the test and the results.



Is Hunter Density as Bad as We Think?

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

The QDMA Numbers

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

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

Michigan by the Numbers

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

Here are the quick stats on Michigan:

Deer License Holders: 634,021

Participating Deer Hunters: 554,143

Participating Archers: 322,353

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

Hunters per square mile: 9.79

Bowhunters Per Square Mile: 5.69

Public: 4.5 million acres

Deer Herd: 1.75 million

Deer Density Average: 30.91

Pennsylvania by the Numbers

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

Here are PA’s quick stats:

 License Holders: 914,244

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

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

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

Land Mass: 44,817 square miles

Participating hunters per square mile: 17.83

Opening Day Firearm Hunters per square mile:12.27

Bowhunters Per Square Mile: 6.662

Public: 4.0 million acres

Deer Herd: 1.3-1.5 million

Deer Density Average: 31.23

New York by the Numbers

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

Here are New York’s quick stats:

 Deer License Holders: 569,247

Participating Deer Hunters: 497,522

Participating Archers: 153,352

Land Mass: 47,126 square miles

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

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

Public: 4.5 million acres

Deer Herd: 1.0 million

Deer Density Average: 21.22

The Breakdown

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

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

Data Compilations:

-By Reuben Dourte



*This article originally written for and appeared on

Feature Image Credit: Tim Bunao



Opening Day Prep

Opening day of archery is almost upon us.  For hunters in NY, MI, IA, PA (etc.), October 1st marks a special day on the calendar.  The air has begun to change, and the nostalgia cool air of Fall begins to settle around us.  As we anticipate the season, most of us having been shooting bow for (hopefully) several months now.  Broadheads get tuned and all our gear gets pulled out and arranged.  Here is a quick list of items I go through in the days leading up to season:

1. Check stands- By this time, I’ve gone over my tree stands.  I’ve replaced cables, and optimized anything on my portable sets that caused me problems last year.  If something was making noise, I am wrapping it in hockey tape.  If something was broken, I fix it.  Quiet treestands could be the difference between an empty or filled tag; safe treestands could mean the difference of life and death.

2. Tune Broadheads- I have good luck shooting Grim Reaper broadheads in that I don’t have to do much bow tuning for them.  I shoot field points all summer and only switch to broadheads to make sure no minor adjustments need to be made before heading into the woods.  At this same time, I also tune with Nockturnal lighted nocks on my arrows since they are heavier than a regular nock.  Making sure your hunting set up is accurate is the ethical thing to do.  Don’t just assume your broadheads will me in tune.  I’m not super techy when it comes to my bow, but now is also the time I do one last check of my bow’s cams, string sights, etc.

3. Wash clothing- I wash my clothing in scent free detergent.  Don’t ask me if it works because I am torn on the subject.  What I do know is that I feel like it works and that gives me more confidence and a more positive outlook which keeps me in the stand longer.  What I do know is beneficial is air drying clothing after it is laundered.  I hang my clothes out on the line to dry instead of running them in a dryer and picking up the scent and smell of fabric softener, detergent as well as the human odor that is in the dryer.  This was one of the things I never could make sense of with carbon clothing.  Why was the carbon not “absorbing” all of the scent that was present in the dryer?  Wouldn’t the carbon layer be saturated when it came out of the dryer?  Reactivating of carbon is done at 800 degrees celsius, so I couldn’t help but wonder if I was just tumbling my clothing around in a smelly dryer for no reason.  Washing my clothes and hanging them to dry prior to season gives my clothes a bath of fresh air and gives me the opportunity to go over all of the items and organize them in my bins.  This way I know where everything is and can find it quickly before I head to the stand.

4. Fill your Pack- If you carry a back pack to the woods the week before season starts is a great time to fill your pack with the essentials you will need for the hunt.  My pack contents look a little different for all day rut hunts than during the early season when I am mostly hunting evenings.  However, I carry camera gear into the woods all season long and so I organize these items in my pack and make sure I have a consistent system where each item goes so I can pack or unpack in the dark.

5. Plan your hunt- About ten days out I begin to look at for weather data during the upcoming days.  I am not only interested in what opening day will be like, but also the days leading up to it.  If the opener happens to be another hot day on the back side of three other unseasonably warm days it is probably not going to get me too excited.  However, if a cold front is forecasted to hit after several warming days, it could be the perfect time to get into a higher percentage stand.  When I am looking at this weather, I am also eliminating stands in my mind based on wind direction.  There are certain stands that just can’t be hunted on specific prevailing wind directions.  This is why it is important to find stand locations for all wind directions.  Going into a stand on the wrong wind direction can be the best way to ruin your season before it can even begin.  To that point, it is important to monitor the wind direction once you get to your location as the prevailing wind is not necessarily indicative to how the local wind currents and thermal drafts are behaving around your stand.  Weather data gives you a starting point to fine tune your stand selection.  It also gives you an idea of what you need to pack- extra layers, rain gear, etc.  I continue to check the local weather each day before the opener because it can change that rapidly and I want to have time to readjust a plan if I need to.

6.  Call the processor- Make sure the processor is going to be around and can take your deer.  If you are lucky enough to get an early season deer, the meat can spoil quickly in 65-70 daytime temps.  You should be prepared to process the deer immediately or have a butcher lined up who you can take it to right after you harvest it.

Remember- luck is where preparation meets opportunity.

-Reuben Dourte

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