Category Archives: Stories

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Planning a Micro Food Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Reuben Dourte


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PA Whitetail Buck

Hunting Parallel Trails

When I started bowhunting, my methods for scouting were usually to find a well used trail, or intersection of trails, and post up for numerous sits once October rolled around.  Although I wasn’t, at that time, relating any of this sign to bedding, I was still convinced that the only reason I wasn’t killing a mature buck was because of my limited time in the woods.  In reality, its likely that that first time I sat the stand was my highest percentage chance for success.  However, I didn’t understand the concept of “parallel trails” and how bucks are using these trails, when, and why.

Recently I was watching a hunting video that briefly discussed parallel trails and how bucks use them.  Parallel trails are something that most people who hunt in mixed terrain likely have encountered, whether those folks were aware of their significance or not.  Where timber meets agricultural fields, there will usually be a well defined path that parallels the field edge.  Likewise, there will be trails that are perpendicular to the parallel trail, heading from the timber (and bedding) to the food source.

The video suggested that bucks use the parallel trails to scent check a field before entering it in the evening.  They maintained that a buck may walk the length of a field only to enter it with the wind at their back, confusing many hunters who may expect a buck to walk nose to wind or at least quartering into the wind.  In their example, the buck was already able to scent check the entire field via the parallel trail before entering the food source on the upwind side.

Parallel Trail

Here is an example of how some describe deer travel and usage of parallel trails. In this scenario, the buck is walking the edge of the field scent checking for other deer and/or danger by walking quartering into a south west wind. The entry point into the field actually has the deer quartering WITH the wind, but the thought is that the deer has already checked the field prior to reaching this entry point.

Not long after watching the video, I was discussing some hunting properties and tactics with an extremely well versed and experienced hunter who gave a slightly different perspective on these parallel trails which I felt was interesting.  In his opinion, bucks walking nose-to-wind is a bit of a misnomer, so a buck scent checking a field this way isn’t necessarily the way he sees bucks using parallel trails.  He feels strongly that bucks will use these trails to cut the tracks of does entering or leaving destination ag fields to see if there are any does in the area who have entered estrous.  Taking the route of the parallel trail allows them to efficiently check a larger area for potential estrous does by crossing their bed-to-feed trails.  Therefore, his strategy is to take advantage of a parallel trail when the bucks are likely to be cruising and looking for does.

Parallel Trail

Another real life example of a parallel trail put to use on a cruising October buck.  A friend of mine used this stand location to harvest an eight point this year in archery season.  As the aerial shows, the buck was traveling SW with the wind to his back, cutting the doe trails coming out of the CRP field and heading into the bedding cover. However, even if the buck had been traveling North East on this parallel trail, the NNW prevailing wind, along with the warmer thermals rising above the CRP field, which draw the air away from the parallel trail, keep the hunter undetected.

This school of thought that a buck will often travel wind-to-back also maintains that a buck’s entry point into a field has less to do with scent checking the whole length of the downwind side of the field via a parallel trail, and more to do with manipulating terrain features; namely slight depressions and low spots along a field edge where cool air thermals naturally drain the scent of the field into these lower elevations.

Parallel Trail

This example of a parallel trail follows the edge of the field along a wooded side hill. The approximate topo lines placed on the aerial show a subtle point that a buck would use for bedding on a northern wind. Obviously, a buck heading to this field after bedding on this point would walk quartering with the wind and would not have the prevailing wind advantage to scent check the field while moving along the parallel trail. Instead, the subtle depression at the bottom corner of the field acts as a thermal drain and pools scent from the whole field in the ate evening hours when this buck would begin to venture out of security cover.

This doesn’t mean you can post up on a parallel trail with disregard to bedding and expect a cruising buck at any moment, however.  It remains important to know where both buck and doe bedding are so you can plan your access and stand location accordingly, in order to minimize the pressure you put onto a piece of property.  If you know where a buck is bedding on a particular wind, you can then take advantage of the just-off wind and set up on the parallel trail where you are located just out of the scent stream so you can remain undetected while the deer stills feels like they have the scent advantage.  Like I’ve mentioned in the past, this is where milk weed seed can be an invaluable tool to give you a detailed visual map of the wind and thermal currents.  Places where a trail has a slight curve can be excellent spots to take advantage of when hunting a just-off wind.

Whether you are hunting parallel trails hoping for a cruising buck cutting doe tracks, or hoping to intercept a scent-checking buck entering a field in early season, its still important to know where both buck and doe bedding areas are on your property.  I feel strongly that much better success can be had when hunting a parallel trail vs. a field edge stand, and access to and from the stand can prove easier to remain undetected, whether it is leaving the stand in the evening or entering the stand in the morning.  However, I have noticed that other hunters pick up on parallel trails more regularly than they do an individual bed which could hold a mature buck, and therefore, public land hunters may need to consider the realistic probability of success (or lack thereof) along parallel trails in high pressure areas.  If the deer have had a chance to pattern other hunters from the scent they leave after sitting along these trails for 4 weeks before the rut kick-starts, you may still need to push closer to the buck’s bed to capitalize on daytime movement.

Have you found some killer stand locations along parallel trails? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or send me an email at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte


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Ground Scent and Access Routes

For many of my early archery hunting years I failed to consider several of the smaller details surrounding archery hunting success.  One such detail was ground scent and stand access.  A lot of times the easiest access to a stand location is the same travel path that the deer routinely use.  Deer are lazy, and the secure path of least resistance is often where they travel.  And so it happens to be that we hunters can tend to be lazy as well.  Not coincidentally the path we often choose is the same path the deer walk.  I believe that many times the reason that we fail to see deer while on the stand is that the deer which would have come through our area are alerted before they are within sight (or smell) of a hunter in a treestand by the scent that hunter leaves on the ground.  That deer trail you crossed 100 yards to the west may be the tip-off a mature buck needs to head back in the direction he came from instead of continuing through your area.

I’ve started to consider my access routes to stand locations and have begun to tweak my approach in minor, subtle ways in order to avoid detection by deer.  When possible, I cut access paths through the woods in the spring so that the least amount of vegetation comes in contact with my clothing.  This also does a lot to reduce noise during your approach.  Secondly, when I am cutting these access lanes, it try to steer clear of known deer trails.  Sometimes this requires my access to the stand to be significantly longer, or a tougher walk.  But the results justify the additional effort.  In hill country, it can be almost impossible to avoid crossing some deer trails when you traverse a hill side to your stand location.  Getting creative about your access can solve many of your problems.  Perhaps you need to access your stand from the backside of the hill and drop down to your hunting position on the leeward side from the ridge top above.  If you are hunting later in the afternoon, your approach may need to be from the bottom of the hill and you may position your stand below the travel corridor you are hunting to take advantage of thermal currents than will pull your scent away from aproaching deer.  In these scenarios, it may be possible to never cross a deer path you expect travel to occur along.

Still, I seem to find situations where it is almost impossible to avoid crossing some deer paths on the way to my hunting location.  In these circumstances, it becomes even more important to have an idea of where the deer you are hunting is likely bedding.  If you have a good idea of the bedding that is being utilized on a specific wind direction, you can appropriately plan you access to both avoid bumping deer from that bedding area during your approach, and avoid having your scent entering the bedding area during your hunt.  If I have to cross a deer path, I will do it on the side of my stand opposite of where I expect the deer to travel from.  This way, by the time the deer are able to detect any ground scent, they will have already walked through several shooting lanes.  Keep in mind that the way you approach your stand can, and should, likely change depending on whether you are hunting that location in a morning or an afternoon.  Several of my stands should be accessed from the East in the morning and West in the afternoon, or vis-a-versa.  Below is an example of just that:

access

Hunting this stand on a N wind requires different access for evening vs. morning hunts. A wind with too much West in it can be problematic if deer are traveling from the Southeastern bedding area in the evening. However, splitting hairs can be necessary to position yourself in range of a mature deer and this stand can be successfully hunted on a NNW wind. This spot worked perfectly for an evening hunt that ended with a mid october mature doe kill.

If you are hunting on private land, another option may be to create an obstacle to deflect deer movement away from your access route.  This can be beneficial for changing a movement pattern just slightly enough to avoid wind detection as well.  If the trail you are hunting is below the only tree that can hold a treestand in the area, hinge cutting a line of brush to angle the trail above the tree can manipulate deer movement enough to allow you to access your treestand from the lower side and not have to cross the heavily travel path.  While this option is not viable for public land hunters in many states, those controlling their own piece of property can reap the rewards of a little sweat equity.

Paying attention to intricate details like access routes and accepting that it may take a little work to optimize your hunting situation can land you in a better position to capitalize on those precious opportunities at a savvy whitetail this year.

Leave your thoughts and comments below or email be at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte


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Why Kuiu.

I hesitated to write this blog because I wasn’t sure I wanted to venture down a “brand-specific” road.  There are brands that I trust and have used for a number of years with success, but that isn’t to say there aren’t other brands that would achieve the same or better results, perhaps with the same or better price, and so I remain open to the evolution of my gear.

My intent isn’t to plug a specific company’s product.  My intent is to talk about a system and the benefits it provides.  If another system provides the same efficiencies at a better price point, I’m open to it.  Kuiu made sense for me, another company’s line may makes sense for your style of hunting.  The important part is that your clothing choices are well thought out and give you the functionality you need. Good clothing keeps you in the stand longer and therefore can increase your chances of success.

So here’s why Kuiu:

Versatility-

Good hunting clothing is expensive.  Highly efficient insulation as well as water repellent, breathable membranes come at a premium, so it was important for me to maximize the number of clothing combinations I could make from the least number of pieces in order to address early to late season insulation needs from one single system.  The ability to do this is one of the main reasons I chose Kuiu over similar hunting clothing systems.

A Simple System-

The idea behind a gear system is pretty simple.  First, you have a next-to-skin layer that needs to feature both moisture wicking properties and odor control.  Merino wool has natural odor eliminating capabilities and draws moisture off your skin and into the garment where it can evaporate while the base layer still provides warmth and insulation.  Synthetic base layers can also do a good job of insulating, and some of them are incredibly fast drying and also feature odor fighting properties that are manufactured into the fabric.  It is simply hard to beat the warmth of natural fiber merino wool which is why I selected merino wool base layers of various weights. (Base layers will fit tighter to the skin, so order the same size as you normally wear in T-shirts.)

The second layer of your gear system is your insulation layer.  Here again comes the option of natural vs. synthetic.  Kuiu has a high loft down system that is incredibly light weight and compact.  Packing layers into your stand location becomes easier with this ultra light insulation system and reduces perspiration and therefore body odor. (I purchased XL Superdown layers even though I were a Large in other clothing.  The XL fits perfectly and allows for merino layers to fit nicely underneath.)

A midweight thermal hooded sweatshirt can act as both an outer layer during earlier season hunts and an insulation layer in the dead of winter.  The best thing about Kuiu’s Pelaton full zip hoodie is its versatility.  The knitted fabric stretches to fit comfortably over insulation layers without elastic and fits perfectly over only merino layers as well.  (Because I planned to use the Pelaton hoodie over my down layer and I ordered an XL Superdown layer, I also ordered an XL hoodie, which fits perfectly over the insulation layer.)

Outer layers comprised of Toray Primeflex material are treated with a DWR (Durable Water Repellent).  The Attack pants can be used as a perfect early season pant or as a shell layer during later season hunts.  The natural stretch of the fabric allows them to fit over the merino and Superdown layers.  The Attack pants are the most comfortable pair of pants I have ever worn, hunting or otherwise, and allow an unrestricted range of motion for demanding hunting styles or hanging stands on run-and-gun sets.  I bought the Guide jacket because I like an outer layer with a hood for added weather protection.  Made of the same Primeflex material as the Attack pants, the guide jacket also features micro fleece backing for added warmth and comfort on later season hunts.  This was another big reason I chose the guide jacket, as I feel added warmth in your core is important on cold late November/December hunts.  Wind and water resistant, light rains will bead off this Primeflex fabric but they remain breathable to keep an active hunter’s body heat regulated.  (Order at least one waist size larger than you typically would wear to allow for room for your base layers.  I wear a 34 waist in blue jeans, but ordered a 36 in Attack pants and they fit perfectly over the under layers.)

Several rain gear option exist, and this might be an area you can forego if you are looking to save some money.  I chose to select the Teton rain system because it was the most economical of the choices and the water permeability of 10,000mm is suitable for any conditions I will find myself in.  Mostly, my goal with rain gear is to be able to stay out in a light rain and not have to worry about my guide jacket or attack pants being water logged for the next day’s hunt.  You can learn more about waterproof ratings and how they are calculated here.

The layer combinations are nearly endless and this gives you options from early to late season with just a few simply clothing items.

Mobility-

Mobile hunting has its value when pursuing whitetails.  Getting into remote areas is hard work and packing a stand and other gear makes it that much more difficult.  The ability to improvise and adjust is worth the effort however.  Being mobile is easier when you are wearing ultralight gear.  Insulation layers that weigh a few ounces and outer layers with the same kind of lightweight efficiency make it easier to carry layers in without adding significant weight to your pack.    I can’t tell you how cumbersome packing in heavy, inefficient layers can be.  Pack weight is something that shouldn’t be overlooked, whether you are hunting remote public parcels or walking into small pieces of private ground.  Weight means work and work means sweat.  Sweat increases your human scent and makes it easier for deer to detect you, and long hours in the stand with sweat soaked base layers lead to a cold and miserable sit.

Price-

If you look at the price tag on some of the items on Kuiu’s website, you may wonder how price could be a benefit when purchasing Kuiu gear.  Certainly, Kuiu is an investment and there is cheaper hunting clothing to found.  But when comparing similar quality, (and more importantly, efficiency), in clothing it is hard to match the price point of Kuiu’s gear.  Similar clothing manufacturers are based on a retail model which requires significant retail mark-ups.  Some of these other gear systems might be available at your local sporting goods store, however, if you are serious about streamlining your gear system, there is a good chance you know more than the floor rep about the product line.  When this happens, you are paying for a retail markup that isn’t giving you much value-added when you don’t receive added expertise from the salespersons at the store.  You may also find that more items are needed to achieve the same kind of system that Kuiu can provide with fewer items.  Some layering systems from other high end manufacturers utilize heavily insulated outer layers which are harder to pack into your hunting location and don’t provide as much versatility.  To achieve the same flexibility you may find yourself buying more items, and adding additional high priced items equals way more expensive overall.  Kuiu isn’t cheap by any means, but its pricing structure is more palatable than other manufacturers who produce clothing of similar quality.

Conclusion-

Kuiu isn’t going to be for everyone.  Some people’s hunting styles will lend themselves to traditional hunting that may be acquired for cheaper prices.  However, for those looking for an ultralight option to provide mobility, versatility and efficiency, it is hard to match the price/quality ratio of Kuiu.

What does your clothing system look like to get you from early to late season?  Leave your comments below or email me at commongroundbowhunter@gmail.com

-Reuben Dourte

 


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Public Land Pope & Young

 

I remember a few seasons ago when my good friend, Jarryd Moyer, texted me a picture of a buck he had just killed which most would describe as a buck of a lifetime.  I’m not quite ready to go there, because I know Jarryd and I expect one of these days to get another text with a bigger deer laying next to that trusty Pearson bow of his.  Anyway, Jarryd was hunting in Maryland on a public piece that had recently opened.  It was a situation where you could not pre-scout the area prior to hunting it, so it warranted some cyber scouting using aerials in addition to a few “drive bys” to gather what information was available in regard to the surrounding private land and the deer using it.  On October 8th around the middle of the day Jarryd and his father Doug went in blind to the new area with their climbers on their backs.

Jarryd takes what I consider to be a unique approach to scent control in the he does everything possible to avoid working up a sweat while walking in to his stand location, including traveling to his hunting spot in shorts and a tee shirt (even in late November) while at the same time being careful to make as little contact with the surrounding vegetation as possible.  October 8th was no exception and wearing blue mesh shorts and a t-shirt he headed to the edge of what looked (from the aerial photos) to be a thick area with good bedding cover.  Not too far from this location was private land and some crop fields.  Jarryd’s location was set up in such a way that he would be able to intercept bucks heading to the food source in the evening hours.  Since this was the first that the area was open to hunting for the year, there would be a decent chance that bucks would still be in a feed-bed-feed routine, and hopefully moving in daylight hours.  The stand location for this hunt was situated off bedding cover, and the thick woods and the open timber provided a perfect transition line that served as a travel corridor for the deer on their way to feed in the evening.

As with any public land situation, other hunters can always change your best plan.  Just because you are hunting the fringe of a bedding area to catch a buck at last shooting light doesn’t mean the next guy won’t walk right through the buck’s bedroom and bust him out of there for the foreseeable future.

As soon as he reached his hunting height and pulled his bow up a stick broke behind him.  Forty yards away walked 2 mature doe, coming in his direction.  Behind them was a mature buck.  Presumably pushed off their beds by other hunters moving in to the area, the group was using the travel corridor to escape the pressure, although they were not pushed hard.  As the does walked on through to the down wind side of the tree, the buck took his time and cautiously moved into a clear lane at less than 20 yards.  After the shot, he ran 30 yards and dropped and Jarryd was standing in his climber still wearing his blue mesh shorts and a white t-shirt; not a great advertisement for camouflage.  A main frame crab-claw ten point, the buck sported a 6 inch kicker off his left G-2 which helped him gross just under 140 inches; he would net over 130. The taxidermist estimated he was a 3 1/2 year old, proving the Eastern states do have genetic potential after all.

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Jarryd and Doug Moyer pose with a Maryland Public Land P & Y

What are the take-a-ways from this story?

1. On Public land, use the pressure from other hunters to your advantage; if you can’t avoid them, hunt escape corridors.  Otherwise, find thick cover, and/or areas overlooked by other people.

2. Always be prepared for the unexpected from the moment you get into the stand.

3. Use digital scouting tools to your advantage if you can’t put boots on the ground.

4. Finding areas of public ground which have restricted seasons or are less publically visible can yield more mature and possibly less pressured deer.