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,
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,
What are bottlenecks? They are physical barriers that limit deer movement to a relatively small area. You might call these features pinch points, funnels, etc. Typically, the longer the barrier the more utilized the bottleneck.
Cropland in the Midwest is full of bottlenecks. Wide open crop fields, especially after the crops have been harvested, tend to funnel buck movement into narrow wood lots or CRP fields. Where the whitetails move is much more predictable in those areas compared to land that is basically one habitat type (e.g. all woods). To put the odds in your favor, scout and hunt those bottlenecks. Now you are in the best location to observe the increase in deer activity.
My property is large patches of hardwoods with a few food plots mixed in. It is very tough to pattern where bucks will travel on my property with any certainty. This is called homogenous habitat. My property is also mountainous habitat. Hunting areas like these require hunters spend the bulk of their time scouting – looking for fresh sign and general travel routes. Within these travel routes concentrate on bottlenecks such as steep saddles in the mountains or bluffs that force deer to travel within a specific area. These areas will provide quality hunting unless the deer sense danger and change their patterns.
If your hunting grounds have few bottlenecks (or pinch points) don’t worry! Bottlenecks can be created! I’ve used discarded round bales of hay, snow fence, etc. Sometimes low value trees can be felled to make bottlenecks. I don’t like this approach as well as others because trees tend to decay rapidly and it’s tough to fell trees in a line with no gaps.
If you are like me and primarily hunt areas where there are very few natural bottlenecks, consider using a readily available resource and creating some. Consider how to approach the stand, wind direction, etc.
Bucks are not very predictable during the rut. I suggest hunters study an image of the property and look for bottlenecks if they can’t get boots on the ground without disturbing the deer or if they are hunting public land. I like stands by ponds as they act as a barrier and create a bottleneck. Deer will swim ponds, but don't want to unless forced. Look for the largest pond on the property. See if there's sign and a potential stand/blind location where the wind will carry your scent across the pond. Additionally, hunting a bottleneck such as a downed fence or saddle between doe bedding areas is a great stand location during the rut as bucks troll between those areas searching for hot does.
It can be very difficult or impossible to pattern a buck in areas where there are acorns almost everywhere. If there are no obvious bottlenecks I hunt the most sign that can be approached without alerting deer.
It’s often easier to grow mature bucks than it is to harvest mature bucks. Creating a bottleneck is an outstanding tool to reap the benefits of your deer management efforts.
Growing (and tagging) Deer together,
Last week we finished planting! The cereal rye was successfully crimped by the Goliath and Eagle Seed beans are already germinating through the terminated rye! During the following months, the Eagle Seed forage soybeans will supply our deer herd with quality forage. Not only do we plant quality forage to promote healthy deer, it is a great way to attract deer and create a great hunting location this deer season!
Every year we protect a portion of our Eagle Seed beans during the summer months with a Non-Typical Hot Zone Fence in select locations. This ensures that even though deer may browse outside of the fence, they do not consume all the forage in the area. When season rolls around, we can simply open the fence and have a great food source to hunt over!
Here are the steps to take when setting up your Hot Zone fence:
1. Create the fence with your hunting strategy in mind. Think of where your stand or blind will be located in relation to the fence/food source. Consider which wind to hunt and how to enter and exit without alerting deer.
2. Build the fence as soon as beans begin to germinate. You do not want deer to associate the beans inside the fence as a food source. This will decrease the chances that deer will try to jump the fence to feed inside.
3. Make sure it is set up correctly. The Hot Zone electric fence works because it is designed as a two fence (3 strand) barrier. The outside fence has a thick, tape-like polyline that should be strung 18 inches from the ground. Three feet inside the outer fence there should be another fence that has two stands of polyline. The lower wire should be 10 inches from the ground and the top wire 24 inches from the ground.
4. Keep the electric fence turned on ALL summer. If the fence is not on during a portion of the summer, deer will learn that they can jump it with out consequences and will do so even when it is turned on.
5. Open the fence when the conditions are right for hunting! If you open the fence when it is hot and deer are feeding during the night, they can easily lick the field clean during several nights (depending on the size of the field). Or if there is not a suitable wind forecasted for hunting, deer can browse it quickly before you are able to effectively hunt.
If you’re a small food plotter and wish to save quality forage for early deer season or wish to allow beans to mature so that you can hunt over standing grain this winter, the preparation starts now! Stay tuned this summer as we share updates about our food plots and hunting strategies as we prepare for fall!
Trail cameras have become a pivotal tool for whitetail hunters. They are beneficial in so many ways and allow us to scout every hour of every day for the entire year. Sometimes bucks show up on trail camera during certain time periods only to disappear days later. I thought this was the case for a particular buck I got a few pictures of during January of 2014.
This buck showed up on the fringes of the property I hunt and he appeared to be a solid three-year-old 8 point with potential. I soon forgot about the deer as the seasons changed, then fall rolled around and he was back. He carried a wide, thin rack and was a regular on the property but I had my sights set on another older buck. All my efforts that deer season and the next were focused on harvesting other deer so he flew under my radar. During the winter of 2015, two years after my first pictures of the wide 8 point, I browsed through all my trail camera images of mature bucks and realized this buck had blossomed into a very nice deer. I placed him at the top of my 2016 hit list.
As the fall of 2016 progressed, I did not have a single image of this buck. He usually showed up around the first of October; I had some worries but I remained hopeful he was still alive. My worries soon vanished during my first hunt of the year. On the morning of October 30th we crossed paths and I was able to write the final chapter on the story of the wide 8 point. By using trail camera data from previous seasons, I was able to determine when and where this buck made appearances which helped me pick strategical blind and stand locations.
The use of cameras can be a fun way of determining what animals are on your property, however, they can also be utilized in more advanced ways. I have found that the biggest advantage is the ability to predict movement of mature bucks based on movements from previous seasons (watch the hunt for Handy here to see this tactic in action). When next deer season comes around, open up last year’s images and study them in depth. Look at dates, times, temperature, wind direction, barometric pressure, and a host of other factors that may give you an upper hand on tagging your next mature buck!
I recently was blessed to travel to northern Missouri for a successful late season hunt. I always enjoy traveling back to my hometown and climbing into the stand. During the late season there’s a specific property I really enjoy hunting because it has three things that lead to successfully tagging deer.
The property is simply the “right” 80 acre chunk of timber. The stand of hardwoods is surrounded by ag fields and cattle pasture making it the best “cover” in the area. The timber is one large ridge and deer move consistently along the contour of the land. There are several saddles running perpendicular to the top of the ridge. Deer funnel up in the mornings and down in the evenings moving to and from food and cover. If cover and food wasn’t enough, there is a large creek that divides the ag fields from the timber. There is food, water, and cover within 100 yards of each other.
Not every property is laid out like the one I hunt back home but the same basic principles lead to successful hunting tactics. We use these exact hunting strategies at The Proving Grounds. Understanding how deer move on a property in relation to food sources, cover, and water is the biggest key to hunting the entire season – especially during the late season.
During the late season, quality cover and food become extremely important. Deer need energy to get through the lean periods of winter. Often by the late season, deer have been pressured by hunters and hungry predators and are seeking the best cover available. That is when finding the travel corridors become critical to late season success. Deer are often on their feet during daylight hours traveling to and from these two sources.
If you still have a few days or weeks left of season, you may consider honing in on how deer are moving from cover and food. If your season has already ended, it is a great time to get into the woods and begin scouting for next year. Deer sign is often easy to read this time of the year and can pay off in years to come.
For most deer hunters, the anticipation for the rut builds for many months. However, the season always seems to drift away much faster than it arrives. If you were unable to fill a tag by the end of the rut, it can be easy to get discouraged. Don’t give up yet! It only takes a few pieces to unlock the key to post rut success.
A whitetail’s body goes through a lot of stress during the rut. It’s critical that they refuel and replenish during the next few months to survive through the stress period of late winter. As slaves to their stomachs, this can be the weak link in their travel patterns and can make them fairly easy to pattern.
Hunting areas that are near, or on food sources, can give you the advantage you need to seal the deal. Some of the most attractive food sources this time of year are grains, like soybeans and corn, or brassicas, like radishes and turnips. Deer tend to feed more during daylight hours on days when the temperature is lower than average so bundle up.
Did you take the time and effort earlier in the season to plant food plots? Have you scouted to find the best food source in the area? Then your hard work is about to pay off.
Time your hunts with cold temperatures, a solid food source, and a favorable wind. This is the absolute best ticket to filling a tag in the post rut. Whether you’ve already filled a tag or not, don’t let the post rut blues take you out of the game. With the right conditions, and maybe another layer or two, you can still experience some of the best hunting the season has to offer.
Keep those seat belts fastened! The post-rut in many portions of the whitetail’s range is just around the corner. Oftentimes this phase of the rut is just as exciting as the first. The post-rut is the period of time after the primary lock down phase where bucks are back on their feet seeking the last remaining receptive does. With fewer does receptive during this time, bucks generally travel more. The keyword here is “travel!”
Over many years here at The Proving Grounds we have documented the average conception date to be November 14th -16th. This means most of the does are bred during this period, but not all does will come into estrous at this point. Some will come into estrous after this time frame. The number of does will be far less than the peak rut, as a result, there will be increased competition for them. The smaller percentage of receptive does requires bucks to travel further and longer. Traveling this much often results in more daylight movement.
To capitalize on does still being receptive and bucks on their feet, position yourself along a travel corridor between bedding areas. After nearly a month of being pushed and pestered, does often seek thick cover for refuge. Bucks will be working edges with the wind in their favor to find them. This is when travel corridors become great places to intercept mature bucks.
Don’t give up on the rut yet! There is still great action to experience in the deer woods. Stay persistent and hunt smart!
Chasing whitetails together,
It is hot out there! Across much of the whitetail’s range temperatures are warmer than average. This makes for less than ideal hunting conditions. Typically The Proving Grounds has already received a frost. To date, we’ve had one morning dip into the thirties. Needless to say, the hunting has been tough!
Deer are not fans of moving when temperatures are unseasonably warm. They have already shed their summer coat; when conditions are warm deer movement tends to be slow during daylight. Here are a few techniques we use to fill the freezer when it is warm:
Hunt the Greens! We plant the Eagle Seed Broadside blend each fall. This is a four-way blend: soybeans, wheat, brassicas, and turnips. When planted appropriately, this food plot turns into a lush, thick stand of greens. The secret to greens is their attractiveness, as well as a food source with minimal carbohydrates. This means less energy or heat is built up. In return deer feed for longer periods and more often. When this occurs, deer tend to visit plots more often making the chances of tagging one even greater!
Hang Close to the Bedroom. By hanging stands close to bedding cover deer will travel a shorter distance before reaching your stand. The first and last half hour of daylight will be the best time to catch deer on their feet. Sliding in closer to the bedroom increases your chance of success. Entry and exit to these stand placements is critical! Don’t take short cuts, be thorough and success will follow.
The pre-rut is here, who knows what can happen! Get outdoors and embrace the warm weather by implementing these techniques!