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,


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,


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,


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,


The Importance of Food

By GrowingDeer,

Have you ever noticed how important food is to all critters?  Bass fishermen concentrate their efforts on identifying what bass are feeding on that day in the area they are fishing.  Many trout fishermen are even more tuned into what their prey is eating.  They select flies based on what insects are hatching at that moment.  This technique is called matching the hatch.

Deer hunters should pay just as much attention to the current food selections as trout fishermen.   There are currently beautiful wheat food plots at The Proving Grounds.  They are lush!  However, I don’t believe deer have consumed one blade of the wheat yet this fall.  The reason is there are currently plenty of acorns.  If I selected a stand overlooking wheat last week, I’d would have only seen a deer if it was traveling through the food plots (based on Reconyx trail camera images).  However, I harvested one of my hit list bucks by paying attention to what deer are currently consuming – acorns.  Does are traveling to eat and mature bucks will be checking out the does.

When I go trout fishing I see some insects buzzing along the water’s surface.  I rarely catch my limit of mature trout.  However, my buddies that are skilled trout fisherman recognize different species of insects and know which ones trout are most likely to strike.  I approach deer hunting the same way.  I’m most successful when I know what deer are most likely to consume and where they are finding that food source.

Just like the skilled fly fisherman that cast his fly between the overhang that is providing trout cover so they can approach the food, I wish to place my stand where deer are likely to travel while in route to the food.  Knowing what food deer currently prefer and where they prefer to feed on that item is the key to hunting pre, during, and post rut.  How you hunt the food source may vary (distance from cover, etc.) with the time of the year, but the knowledge required to understand the current preferred food doesn’t change.

Growing Deer together,


Grunt Call + Z7 = Success

By GrowingDeer,

I harvested a nice buck yesterday at The Proving Grounds.  It was a thrilling hunt that included the buck grunting/balling, and then responding to my grunts by approaching my stand and actually walking a ¾ circle around me.  It might have walked all the way around my stand looking for the source of the grunt he heard except the Z7 launched.

There’s much to be learned from that experience.  Deer, and most wild animals, are excellent at determining the source of sound.  The woods are rarely quiet as Hollywood portrays.  There are small branches breaking and other common sounds that probably are not given much attention by mature bucks.  Other sounds, such as metal clanking, etc., are not common and probably serve to alert deer.

Bucks grunting are a normal and frequent sound in the woods this time of year, especially in areas where the deer herd has been managed to allow a substantial portion of the bucks to mature.  Hence, grunt calls, as long as they are within the normal pitch and tone of real bucks’ sound, are commonly heard by deer during or just before the rut.  Therefore, I use grunt calls extensively this time of year.

I prefer a call that produces a lot of volume.  I will commonly look around to make sure there are no deer in view, then begin by grunting very softly.  Loud grunts may alert deer that are close by and don’t expect a mature buck to be that close.  If there is no response, I call again using more volume.

The second way I use a grunt call is to attempt to make deer I observe to approach closer to my stand.  I simply judge how far the deer is from the stand, then call just loud enough so they can hear the call.  I typically call softly and increase the volume until the buck acknowledges the call.

Don’t be scared to use a grunt call.  This week throughout most of the whitetails’ range is a great time to use a grunt call.  I use a homemade call that a friend gave me.  It can produce a lot of volume and the tone is medium to deep.  Grunt calls are one of my favorite tools to harvest mature bucks.

Growing Deer together,


Waiting on the Weather

By GrowingDeer,

It’s been warmer than normal throughout most of the whitetails’ range.  There was great acorn production in some areas and much corn still standing in others.  The combination of warm temperatures when deer have their winter coat and easy access to food make for difficult hunting conditions.  During these conditions, mature bucks simply aren’t very active during daylight hours and don’t need to move far to feed.  However, there are fewer acorns and less corn available as the fall progresses.  That combined with a cold front in the Rockies pushing east should make for some good hunting in the Midwest by later this week and the East by early next week.

If you’re a hunting local turf, plan on hunting the prime travel corridor locations when this next weather front reaches your area.  This could be a period of substantially increased daytime deer activity!

If your “suitcase” hunting (hunting an area far enough from home you packed a suitcase), then hunt as close as you can to a suspected bedding area without disturbing deer until the weather changes.  Try to locate travel corridors but don’t hunt them and condition deer to your presence until conditions change and deer are more likely to be more active during daylight hours.  Remember that spooked deer are difficult to hunt so make sure your scouting activities aren’t alerting them to your presence.

Harvesting mature bucks on a sustained basis requires much more strategy and skill than harvesting immature deer.  Mature deer readily avoid areas they associate with danger.  They rarely give hunters a second chance.  That’s why watching weather patterns and limiting your intrusion into areas they travel until the conditions are favorable is critical to harvesting mature bucks consistently.

Growing (and hunting) Deer together,