December 11, 2009, December 10, 2010, December ??, 2011

By GrowingDeer,

I eagerly awaited the hunt this morning.  I was more excited and curious than most mornings.  This was because last year on December 11 there were more Reconyx images taken of mature bucks during the daytime than any other day last year.  Was that simply coincidence?  Probably, but I was excited enough to get up earlier than normal this morning.  I rarely hunt stands that overlook food plots during the morning, but we had eight images of Giant 10 during mid morning in the Big Boom plot at The Proving Grounds two days ago.  So Brad and I did our normal routine of putting on our hunting clothes in the woods before light and attempted to hike quietly through the woods to a never hunted before stand hung on the north side of Big Boom.  The wind was from the south this morning and all seemed well.  At about 7:30 Brad spotted three bobcats hunting a log pile leftover from clearing the Big Boom Plot.

I squeaked and the largest cat started coming from 100 yards out.  However, the cat turned and continued hunting with the other two cats.  At 8:15 three fawns entered Big Boom to our left.  The wind was in our favor so we simply enjoyed the view.  Then six does and fawns entered the field to our left.

At this point, I strongly suspected a buck would be along shortly to see if any of the does or fawns were ready to dance.  Then I spotted 5 more does and fawns to our right.  Finally a two or three year old buck entered to our far left and began grunting and pestering a fawn.  He wasn’t a deer on my hit list, but I enjoyed watching him.

Brad and I observed 15 deer simultaneously at The Proving Grounds this morning!  That’s the most I’ve ever seen here at one time, or in a day, or in most weeks!  No shots were fired, but it was a very enjoyable hunt.  I can’t wait to check the trail cameras and see if there was similar action at other locations throughout The Proving Grounds.  I’ve already marked my calendar for this day next year.  I wonder if today and last year were simply coincidence…

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Protecting the future of hunting – one coyote at a time

By GrowingDeer,

Last Saturday morning was very cold and windy at The Proving Grounds.  It had been unseasonably cold for days so I assumed the deer would be feeding late into the morning.  I had selected a stand about 100 yards from a bedding area in hopes of observing deer returning to cover.  I was able to approach the stand with the strong wind in my face and the set-up seemed ideal.  The wind was shaking the tree, even though my stand was located in a bottom.  I rarely hunt the bottoms at The Proving Grounds unless the wind is howling as other conditions tend to allow the wind to swirl.  Swirling wind was a non issue last Saturday.  Keeping my balance while riding (versus standing in) the stand was an issue.

During the late morning I spotted a coyote moving about 50 yards away.  Recent research is clear that coyotes consume lots of fawns.  Many times folks state that only a few coyotes actually kill deer.  However, research from South Carolina clearly showed that a vast majority of fawns that were killed by coyotes were killed by different individuals (the wonders of genetics in research).  Therefore, I consider each coyote a potential fawn and turkey killer.  Coyotes also harass and kill adult deer.  I wonder how many hunts I’ve had where deer I had patterned changed their travel to avoid coyotes.

Grant and harvested coyoteFor those and other considerations, I instantly began squeaking (sucking air through tight lips) when I saw the coyote.  The cameraman began filming and I readied the Z7.  It was only seconds between when I first saw the coyote and when my arrow hit the mark.  The first step of making a nice coyote pelt had been completed.  I never worry about spooking deer during a hunt when shooting a coyote.  Rather I consider the fawns, poults, and adult deer I’m a bit more likely to encounter during the future because I opted to take the shot.  What will you do the next time you see a coyote while deer hunting?

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Hunting Late Season Hit List Bucks

By GrowingDeer,

Brad and I are preparing to hunt/film this afternoon.  The wind is out of the south and the temperature is seasonal to a bit cold (as it has been for a few days).  Yesterday Brad checked all of our Reconyx trail cameras and reviewed the images (8,000+).  Does and fawns at The Proving Grounds are beginning to frequent food plots regularly.  However, images of mature bucks indicated they are still looking for a date.  There were no images of mature bucks (4.5 years old or older) that indicated they were on a food/cover pattern.  Given this our strategy for the next few days is to hunt where we can see the maximum number of does/fawns and hope that one of them has a hit list buck trailing behind.

We did have one two or three year old buck that was showing a pattern.  He was repeatedly using a gap we created in one of our fences.  We have a ground blind 10 yards away, but that buck is not on our hit list.  I hope he maintains that pattern until muzzleloader or youth season so my father or one of my daughters can enjoy hunting the “fence gap.”

We’ve purposely have not hunted food plots much at The Proving Ground this season.  Deer were simply choosing acorns.  That is great if you are hunting in areas where oaks are rare like ag areas. However, when oaks dominate the landscape and the preferred food is everywhere, a huge acorn crop is a detriment to hunters.  Thankfully the acorns are about all consumed and the food plots at The Proving Grounds haven’t been hunted much so the deer should be comfortable feeding there during daylight hours.  We’ll start confirming if this is a good strategy this afternoon.  We’ll approach and leave the stands carefully as all the work of growing the crops, hanging stands, scouting, etc., can be spoiled by carelessly alerting mature deer to our presence.  Hunting mature bucks successfully usually requires a much different strategy than those I used when I was younger and simply looking to harvest any buck.

Growing Deer (and learning) together,

Grant

Help Deer by Voting for Joe!

By GrowingDeer,

When I first entered grad school trail camera surveys for deer wasn’t even a concept.  Heck, trail cameras weren’t commercially available.  I wished to estimate the number of deer where I was doing research and no one locally offered a good solution.

I had heard of a biologist in South Carolina that was doing great deer work named Joe Hamilton.  I wrote Joe a letter and asked his opinion about how to best estimate the number of deer at my research site.  He responded rapidly with a lengthy, hand-written letter that explained how to conduct a spotlight survey for deer, and included data forms, etc.  Joe had no reason to respond except to help a fledging grad student.

That’s Joe – ready to help anyone understand deer and deer hunting better.  I’m not a sentimental guy.  I rarely keep anything – especially letters.  However, I was so struck that Joe spent that much time responding to me, that I keep his letter.  I have it still today – more than 20 years later.  Since then, Joe became one of my mentors and my friends.  I’ve shared a number of fires with Joe and have learned more from him than I did in most of my college classes.  Joe has always given his time and knowledge freely.

I now have the opportunity, in a very small way, to attempt to repay Joe some of the many blessings he has given me.  Joe has been nominated for the prestigious Budweiser Conservationist of the Year Award.  The recipient of this award will receive $50,000 to use to further their work in conservation.  I believe Joe truly deserves that award.  As the founder of the Quality Deer Management Association, Joe can use those funds to continue benefiting the white-tailed deer and those of us that enjoy learning about and hunting deer.

I’m asking you to join me in voting for Joe Hamilton.  The process is easy.  I’ve already voted.  Please vote today for Joe.  Thanks in advance for your consideration!  Joe thanks for helping me 20+ years ago and for continuing to help me today.  I truly value our friendship!

Join me and vote for Joe as Budweiser’s Conservationist of the Year.  Simply provide the required information (you must be 21 to vote), click the bubble under Joe Hamilton’s photo, and then click Vote Now.

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Hunting Food Sources

By GrowingDeer,

This morning was the coldest morning of the 2010-11 season to date. There is a bit of ice in the trees, and the wind chill is in the teens. These are great conditions to hunt food sources or travel routes to food sources! There was a large acorn crop this year at The Proving Grounds, so most of the treestands I hunted during the pre-rut and rut were in the woods and not overlooking or near food plots.

That means that deer at The Proving Grounds don’t currently associate the food plots with danger! This combined with the cold temperatures expected during the next week should produce some great hunting opportunities!!

Deer must consume a huge amount of calories to stay warm when the temperatures are at or below normal during the winter in the middle to higher latitudes (this is one advantage of hunting the Midwest or North compared to the South). Deer, including mature bucks, will readily feed during the daylight in quality food plots that they don’t associate with danger.

This is one reason why it is critical to limit disturbance not only at, but around food sources. Deer can easily be conditioned to feed at night if they feel threatened in such areas during the day. To reduce the chances of conditioning deer to avoid food plots during prime hunting hours I only check trail cameras, etc., during the middle of the day and when the temperatures are warmer than normal during the winter. I also am extremely conscious of wind direction and the scent cone I produce when approaching the food plot and my stand location.

In the mornings, I tend to hunt travel corridors that I suspect mature bucks will use while returning from a food source to a bedding area. This is because it is very difficult to approach fields in the morning and not spook deer since they are likely to be in or bedding very near the food source throughout the night. An exception to this seems to be on mornings when it is 10 degrees or more colder than normal. Deer tend to bed in areas of maximum thermal protection during such nights. Since they haven’t fed and used a lot of fuel to keep their furnace going all night, they will be very hungry once the temperatures increase a bit. These conditions offer an opportunity to approach a food source early in the morning without being detected for some great mid morning hunting!

The afternoons offer a great opportunity to hunt at or along travels routes to food sources. Deer will typically be bedded during the early afternoon and allow stealthy hunters a great opportunity to sneak to their stand locations.

The best tool to hunting mature bucks during cold weather is knowing where the preferred food sources are that deer don’t associate with danger and only hunt them when they can be approached without alerting deer to your presence. Cold weather, especially extended periods of cold weather, can provide fabulous opportunities to hunt mature bucks!

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Boone and Crocket Experience

By GrowingDeer,

It getting cold and the rut is in full swing in most of the whitetails’ range.  There have probably been thousands of articles written about hunting the rut.  However, as deer herds have changed so should the hunting techniques.  There are probably more mature bucks throughout the whitetails’ range now than ever.  Mature bucks behave and influence the behavior of other deer differently than yearling bucks – what most of us grew up hunting.  Deer herd population dynamics have changed, and so has the recruitment of new hunters.  That’s one reason why I’m so proud of Liam Story and his father Jared.

Liam and Jared joined my family for the opening day of rifle season at The Proving Grounds.  Liam is an avid football player and fan.  Saturday is football day for many young men.  However, Liam opted to join his Dad for some time in a ground blind.  Liam remained patient and was rewarded with the opportunity to harvest his first deer!!  Liam made a great shot with a youth model .243 loaded with a Barnes bullet and the 112 pound buck never took another step.Liam Story with his father, Jared, and his first buck

It was a Boone and Crocket experience for all involved!  Liam’s mom joined us for pictures.  I helped debone the deer and was blessed to hear Liam share the details of his hunt.

Why am I so excited about Liam’s hunt?  Because it is becoming rare that youth are opting to go hunting rather than participate in any of the gads of other forms of activities.  I’m a huge believer that many extremely valuable lessons can be learned while hunting.  Liam and his father clearly shared an event that neither of them will ever forget.  Liam’s success was a great motivation for him to want to hunt again.  The meals their family will share from Liam’s buck will be another reinforcement to the quality experience that can’t be duplicated by most other activities.

Deer herds throughout much of the whitetails range are changing for the better.  Unfortunately, the number of hunters joining our ranks has been decreasing for years.  Good deer herds are managed by good hunters.  If you haven’t been blessed by helping a new hunter, then get off the couch.

Growing Deer (and new hunters) together,

Grant

Lessons from a Mature Buck

By GrowingDeer,

Monday of this week, Jessica Brooks of Barnes bullets harvested one of the hit list bucks, Large Left 10, at The Proving Grounds. Jessica made a great shot (85 yards at 30 degrees downhill) and the Barnes VOR-TX bullet literally dropped the deer faster than my eyes could follow.  She shot Left Brow Taller 10 at 1:30 PM.  It was a thrilling hunt that included several lessons.

I had a lot of history with the buck that Jessica killed.  He had the typical race horse appearance as a three year old. He appeared very muscular and spent a lot of time cruising.  It seemed he was aggressive.  We were blessed to find both of his sheds from last year and they scored 146”.  They were the product of a great growing season (the right amount of rain when it was needed).

As a four year old his body had filled out more. His body was larger, but not as toned in appearance (like most men change from 30 to 40 years of age).  His rack was larger also, especially noticeable in more mass!  His gross score was 153.  That’s about a 4.8% increase.  However, that increase occurred during a year with a horrible drought during the growing season.  There was no rain for 15 weeks at The Proving Grounds this summer!  Any increase from 2009 to 2010 is huge!  Certainly it could have been more, but most deer managers must work with what the environmental conditions are.

I had more than 30 Reconyx images of Large Left 10 since September 15th.  However, most of them occurred once the rutting action began.  In fact, during three weeks since September 15th I didn’t capture a single image of Large Left 10.  My Reconyx units captured more images of Large Left 10 than any other of our 20 hit list bucks.  His personality was to move, and movers are easier to harvest.  Individual bucks have individual personalities.  Large Left was aggressive and aggressive deer can be harvested.

Large Left 10 provided me with much enjoyment and several lessons including:

  1. Most bucks continue to increase in antler size until old age – older than they usually live in wild.  If you wish to harvest bucks with larger antlers, you must pass younger bucks.
  2. Some bucks’ personality is to travel more than others and movers are relatively easy to harvest.
  3. During the rut, locations between feeding and bedding areas that allow a M.D.E. (Minimal Disturbance Entry) are prime locations.  Jessica’s stand was on the edge of a power line that bisects a sanctuary with a feeding area (large food plot with standing Eagle Seed beans) to the east and a bedding area created by cutting trees and prescribed fire to the west.  We were able to park on the ridge, walk down 100 yards and have a 400 yard view to the valley.  We approached the stand about 9:00 AM and the wind currents were predominately rising so our scent was being carried up hill.  The wind was swirling some, but because of the warming air during the morning, when the wind swirled the other way, the leaves were still rising.
  4. Patience and readiness are critical when hunting mature bucks.  Jessica and I observed a shooter buck at 300 yards – twice – earlier that day.  However, the shot opportunity was not ideal.  Jessica is a wise and experienced hunter and opted to pass on those opportunities.  She’s practiced and capable to shoot accurately at 300 yards, but the buck was in tall grass and moving.  Passing those opportunities yielded a great opportunity at 85 yards on a fabulous buck.

This was a great experience in the benefits of good herd and habitat management and good hunting skills.  We knew this buck was in the area, that the stand location was ideal for the rut, and remaining on the stand through the midday had a great chance of yielding an opportunity to harvest a mature buck.  Jessica had the discipline to pass on marginal opportunities and the skills and gear to capitalize on a great opportunity!

With discipline you can have the same opportunities at your Proving Grounds.

Growing Deer together,

Grant

Sighting in my Rifle

By GrowingDeer,

I was raised in a shooting family.  My Dad was the state champion of many states with a muzzleloader.  Both my sisters also won several shooting matches and/or state championships.  We competed in the National Muzzleloader Rifle Associations matches.  Later I was a member of the rifle team for the university I attended as an undergraduate student.  Shooting accurately has always been a part of my life.  We built our own muzzleloaders as modern muzzleloaders were simply not available then (dating myself).

When I began “collecting” deer for pay (yes, I’ve had a great career!), Dr. David Guynn at Clemson introduced me to rolling my own (building my own bullets) to get increased accuracy.  I’ve rolled my own for 20+ years.

However, I haven’t upgraded my reloading equipment in years.  In addition, I’m reached a point in my life where I’d rather be with my kiddos or managing a deer herd than studying reloading guides and trimming brass.  I’ve trusted Barnes for years as the bullets my daughters use to shoot deer.  I want my daughters to be successful and I know Barnes bullets have exceptional accuracy and killing ability.  That’s as strong of an endorsement as I can give any bullet!

That’s why I was extremely excited when Barnes introduced the VOR-TX bullet this year.  I can now have the exceptional performance of a Barnes bullet from a factory load!!  This saves me time and money!  I sighted in a .308 yesterday after installing a new Nikon Monarch scope.  I had the gunsmith bore sight the rifle.  I shot the first three at 50 yards.  Shot two and shot three cut the same hole (the first shot from a clean barrel usually flies slightly different).

I then moved to 100 yards and shot a three-shot group again.  Groups are what matter to me.  I can easily adjust where the groups are located.  I then moved to 200 yards and the Barnes delivered another three-shot one inch group!  The accuracy and terminal performance of the Barnes VOR-TX bullets are simply outstanding.  I’m 100% confident in Barnes VOR-TX bullets.

Growing Deer together,

Grant