I enjoy late season hunting. I like hunting when the temperatures are cold. I like hunting when the leaves are off. But most of all, I like being able to easily identify limited resources that deer need. As the temperatures drop, deer require more food to maintain their body temperatures so they need to eat. In most areas of the whitetails’ range quality food is limited in distribution during the late season. Most acorns have been consumed. The crops in agricultural fields usually have been harvested. The food in smaller, unprotected food plots has usually been consumed.
Because of the limited food sources, hunters can identify where deer are feeding. However, that doesn’t mean seeing mature bucks will be easy! Mature bucks are masters at surviving – that’s why they reached maturity. So, it usually requires more skill than simply locating food sources to harvest mature bucks during the late season. Mature bucks often react to the smallest amount of pressure and avoid locations during daylight where they’ve encountered hunters recently. Since it is late season, most food plots have been hunted many times and are areas mature bucks avoid during daylight hours.
I take a different approach. I use the time lapse feature of Reconyx trail cameras to scout preferred food sources during the late season. This allows me to gain M.R.I. (Most Recent Information) about the age of bucks using a food source, predictability of bucks using that food source, when they are using the food source, and how they approach/leave the food source. Using this information, I can, if necessary, hang stands during periods when deer are least likely to be at or near the food source.
Late season mature bucks have usually been heavily pressured. They are very alert and conditioned to avoid all forms of predation. However, by using tactics to avoid letting them know you are in the area, the late season can be the best time to pattern a mature buck because of his dependence on food! I really enjoy hunting the late season!
Growing Deer together,
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,
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.
For 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,
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,
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,
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.
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,
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:
- 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.
- Some bucks’ personality is to travel more than others and movers are relatively easy to harvest.
- 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.
- 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,
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,
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,
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,