If you’re like me, you spend all year waiting until the temperature cools and leaves begin to drop, itching to get into a tree stand. I’ve been interning for a little over a month and one thought comes to my head daily, “Man! I wish I was lucky enough to have my own Proving Grounds.” I’m sure many others have the same thought when watching GrowingDeer and seeing their success. The good news is that you do have your own Proving Grounds – roughly 640 million acres of it.
Most people do not realize that we are the only country in the world with this unique system of public lands that is available to everyone and most of it is open to hunting. A quick search on your state’s game and fish or natural resources website will yield all of the public lands accessible to you, both state and federal. Most have specific details about each area – maps, regulations, harvest data, etc.
Don’t forget about preparation! Just because you don’t have your own piece of hunting property doesn’t mean you can sit around all year waiting for the season. You don’t have to dedicate your time to planting food plots, putting out trail cameras, hanging tree stands, and all of the other activities that come with having your own property but you still need to use your time wisely! This means scouting, scouting, scouting.
Two of the details I mentioned earlier are the biggest components for scouting public land and you don’t even have to get off your couch. Maps and harvest data for specific locations can give you a great head start on your plan for the fall. Identifying map features such as pinch points and travel corridors for deer can save you time before you scout in the field. Looking at previous year’s harvest data will show you how much pressure will be in the area. Deer dislike pressured areas so if you’re willing to hike further than the next person, you’re one step closer to a public land bruiser.
After learning how our public lands came to be, it makes the thought of harvesting an animal on them that much more appealing. Thanks to people like Teddy Roosevelt who had great foresight to set aside lands for the American people, I’ll be trying my hand at a public land buck this fall.
Join the GrowingDeer Team as they kick off their 2017 deer season in Kentucky. Arrows fly and venison hits the freezer! While on their trip, Grant speaks to a local FFA chapter about soil health, agricultural practices and forestry. Grant and the Team then travel to Nashville, Tennessee to help a landowner and his daughter develop their Proving Grounds!
It's mid-September and bucks are actively using our scrapes! Check out this short clip to see for yourself!
New Weekly Blog:
Here's an easy recipe that everyone is sure to love: Grilled Venison Meatloaf!
Tip of the Week:
Eastern red cedars can be great trees to hang tree stands in. Cedars provide lots of cover for hunters that will last the entire season.
You do not have to be a hunter to enjoy venison. This recipe is proof! Several members of my family do not hunt yet they all enjoy a good meatloaf. In fact, this recipe is my father Larry’s favorite.
Keep in mind recipes are just suggestions. This will work with your favorite meatloaf recipe. I would recommend you use part venison and part ground chuck. The ground chuck has more fat in it and keeps the venison moist. I shape these into mini-meatloaves because they cook in 30 minutes, quick enough for a workday supper.
1 cup quick cooking oatmeal
1 1/3 cup milk
1 package dry onion soup mix
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 lbs. ground venison
1 lb. ground chuck
- Mix oatmeal with milk and let stand for 5 minutes.
- Mix in all other ingredients.
- Shape into 10 to 12 mini meatloaves.
- Place on foil that has been sprayed with cooking spray.
- Cook on grill over medium heat for about 30 minutes or until done (internal temperature of 165 degrees).
Many deer hunters are now busy scouting for deer season. When you’re scouting you should not only pay attention to where the deer are, but what they look like. Specifically, what does their coat look like? Pay attention to those trail camera images. Do they reveal deer that suddenly have spots of red and brown hair? Do the coats of these deer appear shaggy and unhealthy? This small detail can yield big dividends when planning where to hang your next stand. Read on to understand why.
White-tailed deer appear this way because deer molt or shed their hair twice a year. This time of year the short reddish hair falls out and is replaced by longer gray hair. The short reddish hair was their summer coat. The reddish or lighter color hair reflects the sun’s energy compared to the darker winter hair which absorbs the sun’s energy in the form of heat.
During the spring the opposite is true. During late March (typically, depending on location) deer shed the darker gray, longer hair and replace it with the thinner, shorter reddish hair. The timing of molting seems to be trigged by factors other than current conditions.
This information can be used by hunters to pick stand locations during the early season. For example, let’s assume deer where you hunt have already started getting their winter coat and the temperatures are still warm or warmer than normal. Deer won’t move much during daylight hours and will bed in areas where they can stay cool during these conditions. This means deer will likely bed on north facing slopes or in shady areas where there’s a breeze. They probably won’t move much during the heat of the day and will typically arrive at food sources just at dark or later.
You can use this information to select stand sites based on the deer’s coat color and daily temperatures in your area. Understanding this simple biology can make you a more successful hunter!
Let us know what you are seeing by posting on our Facebook page! It’s a great way to get into conversation with other deer hunters.
Growing (and hunting) Deer together,
We eat a lot of venison at our house. Deer meat is on the menu several days each week: venison loin, tenderloin, roast, ground venison, venison breakfast sausage, Italian venison sausage (great in spaghetti sauce!), etc. Like many family cooks I always make enough for leftovers. Leftover venison roasts are often chopped up for use in burritos, stir fry, soups, stews, casseroles or simply as sandwich meat. The slow cooker/Crock-Pot has always been my go-to method for cooking venison. Cooking venison in a slow cooker always resulted in tender, flavorful meat. The secret to success in a slow cooker is to make sure there is plenty of liquid (chicken broth is my favorite) to cover the venison. Click here for one of my favorite venison roast recipes for the Crock-Pot.
The one problem with the slow cooker is that it is SLOW. If I forget to put something on early in the morning then we are out of luck for supper as most Crock-Pot recipes need to cook a minimum of 8 – 10 hours. I had heard that the new electric pressure cookers were cutting cooking times and making tender, flavorful meats. I decided to get one after talking to some friends and watching some videos online. I learned that they are not like the scary old stove top pressure cookers!
I was amazed at how well my first attempt at pressure cooking venison turned out. I even chose the cut of meat that is the most difficult to make tender, the venison ball roast. I took meat from the freezer around 9:00 a.m. and before noon I had a fantastic lunch ready with very little effort! The venison was completely frozen when it went into the Instant Pot. The result was tender, flavorful meat just perfect for burritos! I think it tasted much better than anything I have ever cooked in a Crock-Pot. If you have an electric pressure cooker (Instant Pot) you can try my recipe:
Pressure Cooker Mexican Venison Recipe
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion chopped (about 2/3 cup)
2/3 cup chopped green pepper
2 cloves minced garlic
1 ½ cups water
4 beef bouillon cubes
2 frozen venison ball roasts (about 2.5 lbs each)
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons cumin
½ stick butter
- Turn the Instant Pot on sauté mode. Add oil and spread around. Then add onion, green pepper and minced garlic. Saute for a couple of minutes.
- Unwrap the beef bouillon cubes and put in the water. Add to pot.
- Add the frozen venison ball roasts.
- Sprinkle the roasts with the cumin and chili powder.
- Put the butter on top of the roasts. Put lid on and close/seal the pot.
- End the sauté mode. Change the setting on the Instant Pot to manual with a time of 80 minutes. Make sure the vent is pushed to seal. The meat will be cooked to the right internal temperature at 60 minutes, but the tenderness comes with that last 20 minutes of pressure cooking.
- Let the pressure release naturally then remove the lid. Take the venison out and place on cutting board. Chop into ½” – 1” pieces. Put the venison back in the pressure cooker and mix with the remaining liquid. You can use the keep warm feature or take the meat out, let it cool and put in the refrigerator to eat later.
Serving suggestions: flour tortillas, refried or black beans, lettuce, onions, salsa, or cheese – anything you like and use as a burrito filling! The meat could also be used in your favorite Mexican casserole!
I hope you enjoy this as much as we do. I have to close this recipe/blog post by giving a big thank you to my friend Veronica. She has guided me through learning the Instant Pot and is a gourmet cook and an artist in the kitchen. Thanks Veronica!
If you’re unfamiliar with the Instant Pot there are tons of videos and recipes online. Take the time to watch a few and then get that Instant Pot out of the cabinet and start cooking! I know I will be using it a lot more after making this easy venison roast!
I have loved white-tailed deer and deer hunting since I was a very young boy. I have never wanted to be anything but a deer biologist. I think the key to being successful in any field is to have a passion for the line of work and seek the best training to prepare. To be a wildlife biologist that focuses on deer management, I strongly suggest students find ways to gain experience and make relationships with practicing deer managers. I consider gaining experience just as important as the coursework associated with obtaining a degree.
Over the past 15 years here at the Proving Grounds we have been blessed with mentoring and training 39 different interns. Our current interns are Tyler (Ty) McKinney and Weston (Wes) Mason. We asked the guys to tell us a little about themselves so our viewers can get to know them better.
Ty is from Louisville, Illinois. He attended North Clay High School. Through high school Ty worked on his family cattle farm (beef market) and for a local 12,000 acre crop production farm in southern Illinois. Ty says, “Being able to work at The Proving Grounds is a true blessing and dream come true. I spent the majority of my senior year in high school watching every GrowingDeer episode.” He prefers to bow hunt as he finds this to be more of a challenge! He says, “Bow hunting allows you as the hunter to draw closer to the land and test your patience while studying the animal movements.” One of his most memorable hunting experiences was when he guided his younger brother to tagging his first whitetail in the fall of 2016. Ty’s hobbies are four-wheeler riding, farming, shooting bows and skeet shooting. Tyler is driven to do better every day and strives to learn from his mistakes. After his internship with GrowingDeer is finished he would like to go home to southern Illinois to manage/sell hunts on his family land. He thanks both his Mom and Dad for always pushing him to do his best and setting high goals for him, knowing he could reach them.
Wes is from Opdyke, Illinois. He graduated from Mount Vernon Township High School then attended the University of Louisiana at Monroe where he earned a Master’s of Science in Wildlife Biology. Wes spent the summer of 2016 interning with the SCA as a Shorebird Intern at the USFWS Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Wes says, “I prefer bow hunting because of the process of dialing in your bow over the off season to ensure you have the accuracy and precision to put the arrow where it needs to be. The challenge of being much closer to your prey is very exciting.” His favorite hunting experience has been waterfowl hunting in the Louisiana rice fields where he saw thousands of ducks overhead. A unique characteristic of Wes is that he is left handed – the only thing he does right handed is shoot a bow/gun! His hobbies and interests are related to being outside in general, seeing new places and watching Cardinals baseball. Wes says, “My primary drive is the desire to learn; increased knowledge brings an increased appreciation to whatever it is you are learning about.” He hopes to get a job related to the management of game animals (preferably deer or waterfowl) and be involved in increasing public knowledge of conservation and land stewardship. Wes would like to extend his thanks to the following folks: Dr. Kim Tolson from ULM; his Dad, Rob; his Mom, Rynda; his sister, Hannah; and his girlfriend, Amanda.
We look forward to spending more time with these guys this fall. Hopefully, we’ll be sharing some of their bow hunts as they help us reduce the deer herd here at The Proving Grounds!
Deer hunters across the nation are gearing up for the upcoming deer season. For many hunters, gearing up also includes getting a better idea of the bucks and does that are on their hunting property. A trail camera survey has been shown to be the most accurate method to determine the number of deer, the age class of bucks, and the number of fawns per doe on a specific property. If you are interested in running a trail camera survey on your deer herd, see the detailed instructions of how to conduct a trail camera survey.
The first step for a hunter to get more familiar with his deer is to place trail cameras out. We always put ours near attractants or overlooking a food plot. That’s the easy part of conducting a trail camera survey. Pulling the cards and looking at all the deer pictures is fun! For a trail camera deer survey, looking at each picture close enough to uniquely identify each buck can be very labor intensive. We usually end up looking at the same pictures many times to confirm the buck is the same (or different) as in other pictures. Antlers are unique, like fingerprints.
A very accurate estimate of the total population and herd demographics can be obtained after identifying each individual buck, the number of times that buck was photographed, and the total number of does and fawns appearing in the pictures.
With the hard work completed, there’s still more valuable information that can be gained from these photos! Pay very close attention to which mature bucks tend to be more active during shooting light! Those bucks will usually be much easier to tag than bucks that only show up at camera sites after dark.
I also pay close attention to how the bucks, especially mature bucks, respond to each other. I look for mature bucks that are more active during daylight than other bucks AND show signs of being aggressive at the camera site. One sign can be the buck is usually the first to show up among other bucks in the bachelor group. The aggressive bucks are often photographed chasing other bucks away from the camera site.
These aggressive bucks tend to respond much better to grunt calls, rattling and decoys. I’ll gladly spend my time hunting for an aggressive buck versus a buck that has larger antlers but shows sign of being totally nocturnal. Such bucks may be practically impossible to hunt and harvest – at least that year.
If a trail camera deer survey seems a little intense for you, switching your cameras into scouting mode can be very rewarding, especially if you are hunting in a state that has an early bow season, like Missouri. At this time, the summer bachelor groups have begun busting up and mature bucks are typically changing their patterns from a food-cover, food-cover routine to a bit of overt dominance hierarchy sorting out.
This means that some bucks will shift to using other parts of their home range to avoid frequent conflict. Their movement and behavior patterns are changing rapidly during this time of year, which means that M.R.I. (Most Recent Information) is critical, but difficult to obtain. Information a week old can be out of date this time of year. This makes selecting stand/blind sites tough.
To stack the odds in my favor I use a combination of M.R.I., past history, and knowledge of food preference when deciding where to place my stands/blinds. For example, a recent Reconyx image (within few days) of a buck on my hit list, combined with knowledge that a mature buck has used that area in the past, and knowing what the current preferred food sources are during the first week of archery season is enough data for me to select and hunt a specific location.
Don’t leave your trail cameras in the closet or sitting on the garage shelf! Get out in the woods and put those trail cameras to work!
Growing and hunting deer together,
Folks are realizing that to hunt mature bucks, mature bucks must exist. For example, hunting mature bucks on properties where a majority of the yearling bucks are shot each year is often very frustrating.
The primary determinant of antler size is a buck’s age. Hence allowing bucks to mature before harvesting them is the most efficient method to produce large antlers. Providing good quality habitat allows bucks to produce larger antlers at an earlier age.
The more mature bucks in the area the better the odds of having an encounter. A higher percentage of the total buck harvest is usually composed of mature bucks in states with a more restrictive bag limit for bucks. Kentucky and Kansas are good examples of states with a restrictive buck bag limit and a trend of producing great mature bucks annually.
This is just a trend. I’m aware of individual properties in most states that produce great mature bucks. These landowners or deer management cooperatives usually establish more favorable deer harvest guidelines than imposed by the state’s regulations.
Simply allowing bucks to reach maturity doesn’t mean they will express their full antler growth potential. Bucks need an excellent source of nutrition throughout their life to express their full antler growth potential – in addition to living to maturity. Even further, the health (good food, limited stress) of the buck’s mother has an impact on the buck’s health and his ability to express his genetic potential.
This means that simply increasing the quality of a buck’s diet for a year or two won’t necessarily allow him to express his full potential. The overall health of a buck (or other critter) is substantially impacted by their development years. When Tracy and I purchased The Proving Grounds, it was a horribly overgrazed cattle ranch. We’ve now owned it for 15 years and spent a lot of time and resources improving the habitat. Through the years, we’ve seen a substantial improvement in antler and body size of bucks that have been provided nutritious forage options.
This process can take much less time if the property is in an area where quality nutrition has never been a limiting factor and the only missing piece of the deer management puzzle is allowing bucks to reach maturity. In other words, the lower the quality of habitat, the longer it will take to allow the herd to express its full potential. However, such land usually costs much less than row crop land where good nutrition has been available year-round for many years.
I really enjoy the process of managing and hunting for mature bucks. I like going on suitcase hunts – hunting properties that I show up for a week or so a year and my only management activity is deciding to pass or pull the trigger. However, my passion is growing and hunting mature bucks. If you share my passion, we’ll keep learning together.
Deer hunting on flat ground has advantages that include producing better quality forage so bucks can express more of their potential and being able to predict the prevailing wind direction while having fewer thermals. Hunting the wind correctly can be a deer hunter’s primary strategy for successfully harvesting deer, especially mature bucks that have reached an older age because they learned to avoid predators.
Hunting the wind correctly reduces the chances of alerting deer. Deer that are alerted repeatedly tend to avoid those areas during daylight hours. I recommend avoiding alerting deer when possible. This may mean moving your stands off food sources and closer to bedding areas.
Remember alerting deer during your approach and exit are just as damaging as alerting them while you are hunting. Plan your travel routes carefully. Here are a few strategies that I use in various hunting situations:
- In the pre-season I try to locate at least four good stand/blind sites. One for each possible wind direction. This allows me to hunt during almost all conditions. It’s okay to have multiple stands/blinds overlooking the same area but for different winds. I’d much rather setup with a crosswind. I call this threading the needle. My best hunts are often when the wind is such that I feel I’m on the edge of getting busted. I’ve experienced good success of mature bucks responding to grunts and coming into bow range using this strategy.
- It’s tough to set up near bedding areas. I try to find a location with a crosswind. That is to say the wind and thermals carry scent away from the bedding area and travel route where deer enter and exit the bedding area. Such setups are very difficult to find. If this setup isn’t available where you hunt then the next best situation is to setup for either only morning or afternoon hunts so the direction of deer travel can be forecast with some accuracy. This often means that the wind is blowing toward the bedding area in the morning or away from it during the afternoon.
- I like a favorable wind even when I’m hunting in an enclosed Redneck Blind. I often use the screen window frames and cover them with a thin clear film (like a clear plastic cooking wrap). I open the window I will shoot a bow out of and put the wrapped frame in the opening. I’ve tested shooting a broadhead through the wrap and my arrow flies great! I’ve had deer downwind in this scenario without getting busted.
- When hunting during the rut with a normal or colder than normal temperature and wind at least seven miles per hour consistently from one direction, I’ll hunt all day. If the temperatures are warmer than normal and/or the wind is mild and/or swirling, I’ll usually only hunt the early morning and late evenings when the thermals are predictable. You may wish to watch GrowingDeer #309. This shows an actual setup that I prepared for gun season using a crosswind to hunt two bedding areas and a feeding area.
- Hunting from the ground is an exciting way to hunt but keep the wind in your favor. If the wind shifts either leave or change. Check the wind constantly. Often it’s best to time the hunt/approach of an area to occur just before or after you expect deer to be there. For example, stalk (with the wind in your favor) to a feeding area and arrive ten minutes before dark. This significantly reduces the chances of the wind swirling, etc. It’s not spending hours in the woods – it’s being at the right place at the right time. When hunting from the ground, rarely is the direct route the best route. Consider thermals and wind shifts due to topography, etc. Deer will avoid locations where they have been alerted or associate with danger.
- Scent carries better during moist than dry conditions. So we rarely hunt from stands where the wind is likely to swirl when the humidity is high. During high humidity conditions we are more likely to select stand locations on ridgetops or areas where the wind is not blocked by vegetation or topographic features. At such locations the wind is much less likely to swirl.
I hope that using these strategies help you tag a deer this season – especially that mature buck you’ve been chasing for years!
Hunting and growing whitetails together,
Two weeks ago I shared the advantages of flat ground to produce mature bucks. That discussion was more about the ability to produce quality forage and therefore quality bucks (if they are allowed to mature). There is another substantial advantage to flat ground. It may be the best reason to seek a hunting property that is flat versus steep.
The huge advantage of hunting flat ground is that the wind seldom swirls where the topography is flat. The wind does change directions as fronts pass, etc., but it rarely swirls and certainly doesn’t swirl on a constant basis. Swirling winds are often caused by changes in topography. Changes in topography create eddies where the wind sinks and rises. Rapid changes of topography also create temperature gradients (warm air rises and cool air sinks). These temperature gradients cause thermals or air moving based on slope and temperature.
Deer move the most during dawn and dusk. There is more air movement due to thermals during these time periods because this is when the temperature is changing the most. It may well be that in areas with steep topography, deer are the most active during dawn and dusk to take advantage of swirling winds to aid avoiding predators (two and four legged). Swirling winds and thermals allow deer to detect predators from multiple directions not just one (like what would occur in areas where the wind is typically out of one direction). There can be some thermal action in flat country. However, the direction and duration of the thermals seem to be much more predictable compared to areas with steep topography.
Most hunters throughout the whitetails’ range have access to hunt flat ground. My property is the opposite of flat. In fact, it changes elevation 350+ feet several times due to ridges and creeks. To reduce the chance of being detected by a buck’s nose I use a complete system of cleaning my gear and good personal hygiene, including doing laundry for better deer hunting.
I have and still do spend hours pondering how deer use the wind! I make no claims that I’ve figured that out yet. In general, deer like to move with the wind in their advantage. However, what is “in their advantage?” Is it in front of them so they can detect threats before they approach an area or is it when the wind is behind them and they can detect threats that might approach from the rear?
Deer obviously move in all directions in relation to the wind. If the wind remains out of the north for a week, they don’t end up traveling miles and miles north simply because they wanted to keep the wind in their face. I think deer are much more sensitive to thermals and minor wind currents than most hunters realize. Hunters, myself included, seem to get hung up on the general wind direction. I believe deer avoid two and four legged predators by paying attention to thermals (air moving up or down in elevation because of temperature gradients). These thermals can occur due to slope, shade/sunlight patterns, etc.
There are several advantages to hunting flat ground. These advantages include producing better quality forage so bucks can express more of their potential and being able to predict the prevailing wind direction while having fewer thermals. These are two huge advantages to any deer hunter. Next week: specific strategies for hunting and using wind to your advantage.
Growing Deer together,