The pre-rut is happening now throughout much of the whitetail’s range! My Reconyx cameras have taken more images of mature bucks during daylight hours during the past few days than any week since last fall! It’s prime hunting time!
Most does are not receptive yet. However the bucks are ready and eager for a date! They are actively seeking, and therefore very responsive to calls! Bucks may respond to calls at any time during the season, but they are most likely to respond during this stage of the rut.
A fellow biologist and friend of mine, Dr. Mick Hellickson, is both a skilled hunter and researcher. Years ago he designed a study to determine how to rattle to get the most bucks to respond. He and his team tested four different rattling techniques in an area where several bucks were fitted with radio collars. They used the following sequences:
- Short duration and low volume
- Short duration and high volume
- Long duration and low volume
- Long duration and high volume
They had significantly more responses to the long duration and high volume sequence. This is easy to understand. Do you remember watching fights during school? If it was a relatively quiet scuffle between two freshmen, few folks even stopped to watch. Certainly no one even knew to run down the hall and watch.
However, if it was two seniors fighting to gain the attention of the prom queen, there was usually lots of yelling, lockers being rattled, grunts, and moans. It was so loud that most folks in the school ran to watch the fight. Even folks that were not involved with either party came to watch the fight!
The same is true when bucks fight. Yearlings tend to spar, scuffle, and not make many vocalizations when they “fight.” When you were a freshman in school and got into scuffle you probably didn’t want to draw the attention of a big senior or he might decide to settle both of the freshmen in the scuffle down.
However, when the big seniors got into a fight, part of the victory was knowing that everyone was watching!
When I rattle to call deer and no deer are in sight, I want to be a senior! I make as much rattling noise as I can!! I grunt or grunt snort wheeze. I then rattle making as much volume with the tool (antlers, rattle bag, etc.,) as I can. If practical and safe, I use my foot to shake a limb while I’m rattling. I want everyone in the school to know the big boys are fighting!
I don’t do this if I know there is a mature buck close by. This will likely alert him to my exact position. I use this type of calling technique when blind calling or calling when I don’t believe a deer is close by. If I do think a buck is close by, I will often simply grunt lightly and keep increasing the volume until the buck responds. I used the technique last week to call in Clean 12 – a buck that appeared he was going to pass by my stand at 70 yards and was headed to a bedding area (GDTV 101). A simple grunt resulted in Clean 12 making a scrape, rub, vocalizing a snort wheeze and approaching to within three yards of my stand.
Rattling is a great technique to attract mature bucks from a long distance. However, deer are very good at pinpointing the exact location of a call. Therefore they often will approach from the downwind side. This is why I don’t use the loud rattle sequence frequently. I want the buck to hear it once and come searching for the fight participants. I don’t want him to have the opportunity to hone in on the exact location.
My strategy on rattling is probably best summarized by a line in an old movie (I forgot the name of the movie) that goes “If you are going to be a bear, you might as well be a griz.” If you are going to rattle in hopes of calling in a buck when no deer are in view of the stand, make as much noise as you can. You want the bully buck in that area running in to see who is fighting on his turf.
Growing (and calling) Deer together,
I grew up rabbit hunting. It was the game of choice as there wasn’t a deer season in the county where I was raised. One of my favorite pastimes was tracking or back tracking rabbits in the snow. I probably learned more about rabbits and rabbit hunting by back tracking rabbits in the snow than I did from anything else with the exception of invaluable lessons from my grandfather and father (they were incredible rabbit hunters). In hindsight, those lessons were of huge value to me as a deer biologist and hunter. I learned that critters need food, cover, and water and will use the path of least resistance to move from one to another AS LONG AS THEY DON’T FEEL THREATENED ALONG THOSE PATHS.
The same is true for mature bucks. They need food, cover, and water on a regular basis and will move between these resources along the path of least resistance as long as they don’t feel threatened. One of my hunting tactics is to determine if there are mature bucks in the area by using Reconyx cameras and then use aerial photos to locate the likely sources of food, cover, and water close to the camera that photographed the buck. Notice that I didn’t say I moved the camera to monitor the sources of food, cover, and water. One of my keys to success is being very aware of the bold words in the previous paragraph – AS LONG AS THEY DON’T FEEL THREATENED ALONG THOSE PATHS.
Most of my neighbors hunt and deer are constantly being alerted during the season in my neighborhood. I know deer will range off my property. However, I want to encourage them to spend as much time on my property during daylight hours as possible. That’s one reason why I created sanctuaries! Deer, even during the rut, will likely spend most of the day resting in thick cover. If I can protect bucks during the day, they will have a good chance of surviving to maturity. In addition, if mature bucks are conditioned to finding safety in the same area (sanctuaries), then it’s easier to pattern them.
I used this strategy last Friday to kill a buck I had named Clean 12. It was a great hunt as I watched the buck for more than 10 minutes including watching him make a scrape, thrash some limbs with his antlers, and vocalize a snort wheeze. I ended up shooting Clean 12 at three yards! It was a thrilling hunt!! However, what made this encounter with Clean 12 work was simply applying the strategy outlined above.
I had obtained several Reconyx images of Clean 12 during the late summer. I placed some Reconyx cameras in open areas such as Trophy Rock stations and food plots to get a feel for his range and travel patterns.
I knew I wouldn’t likely hunt at any of those camera stations because they were in open areas. Mature bucks would rarely visit them during daylight once season opened. I then used my knowledge of the closest locations for food (used mainly at night by mature bucks this time of year), water (several springs and seeps in the area so no way to predict which source he might use), and cover.
Years ago I had created a sanctuary at the east end of the area where I had images of Clean 12. It seemed the obvious bedding area for Clean 12 . It was the most limiting of three needs a deer has daily (food, water, and cover) in the portion of his range I had confirmed. In addition, I could approach from the east and not enter the area where I had patterned him mainly at night. A northwest, west, or southwest wind would be perfect for the area between where I knew Clean 12 was using and the sanctuary. This area is a de facto transition zone. Deer shouldn’t feel threatened moving into the sanctuary so the site I picked to hang my Muddy stands was the path of least resistance. Finally, the sanctuary was lower in elevation than the ridge where I had determined Clean 12 was using at night and the thermals would be pulling scent downhill (east) and away from where I predicted Clean 12 would be coming from toward the sanctuary.
With my plan in place, Adam (my cameraman) and I were able to approach our stands without alerting deer anywhere to the west of us. About 9 am, I spotted a buck 70 yards away moving toward the bedding area. The habitat work, placement of the Reconyx cameras, and Muddy stands had paid off. You can see the events that occurred when Clean 12 closed the last 70 yards on GDTV 101.
Growing (and hunting) Deer together,
I enjoy studying mature bucks. My Reconyx trail cameras are one of the best tools available to study mature bucks. The cameras themselves don’t spook mature bucks, but there is more to the Reconyx than being a great trail camera. Each camera comes with a free software package, BuckView / MapView, that allows me to easily track the movements and see the pattern of mature bucks. The ability to track where bucks are moving on an aerial image of where I hunt is a tremendous tool.
I dreamed of tools like this when I was in grad school. However, they were not available or simply cost too much. Now, for the price of a trail camera, I can monitor the movements of mature bucks. Technology is great!
Monitoring the movement of mature bucks does not equate to harvesting a mature buck – but it sure helps. One thing it tells me is the amount of my property a mature buck is using. Some bucks will only use a small portion of a property or have a very small home range. Others mature bucks will have a larger home range or simply use more of the property. This later group includes the bucks that I will focus on while hunting.
Bucks are like people – they have different personalities. Some of my friends were raised, got married, and have jobs in the same county where we were born. Others settled far away. As we matured, some of us travel far and wide frequently. Others feel more secure remaining close to their childhood home turf. The same is true with bucks. Each buck has an individual personality. Bucks that have a small range or only use a small portion of the property you hunt can be very difficult to kill. If a buck has a small range, he probably knows every wind current, tree, etc., very well. He can detect change/disturbance to his environment very easily.
Bucks that cover more area probably don’t know each acre nearly as well. In addition, if they are traveling more they are probably crossing more areas that are favorable to hunters (areas where the access, steady wind, etc., favor allowing hunters to select a stand location that won’t alert bucks).
For example, I’m just finishing the annual camera survey at The Proving Grounds. Two mature bucks are using one of my Trophy Rock sites, Last Lick. One of the bucks, Last Lick Right Kicker, only visited the adjoining camera site. He is currently only using a small part of the property where I hunt. I predict I won’t have many encounters with him this fall.
Another mature buck, Last Lick Big 10, is using that same Trophy Rock site and multiple others. When bucks travel relatively far during this time of year, they tend to be moving a lot during hunting season. Although Last Lick Big 10’s pattern may change once he sheds his velvet, I suspect my odds of having an encounter with him this fall are much better!
I’m currently moving my Reconyx units from the location where I do my annual deer herd survey (Trophy Rock locations) to monitoring travel corridors, feeding fields, etc. I’ll use the Reconyx software to track the patterns of these and other bucks. From past research and experience, I’m betting there’s a much better chance my taxidermist meets Last Lick Big 10 than Last Lick Right Kicker. I’ll let you know…
Growing (and hunting) Deer together,
Most deer hunters are actively preparing for deer season
My preparation includes:
- Habitat/food plot work
- Practicing with my chosen weapon
- Hanging stands/positioning blinds
- Preparing clothes
Most deer hunters engage in some of the above activities. However, one of the most important and often skipped stages is preparing hunting clothes.
A deer’s best defense against predators is its nose. A deer’s eyes and ears are good, but they are simply not in the same league as their nose. I believe that a deer’s nose can detect clothes that have remained in a house, plastic tub, etc., as these tend to have odors that are not common in deer habitat. These strange odors can alert and spook deer.
A deer’s reaction to detecting these odors is probably closely related to the current level of predator related stress the deer are experiencing. If they are being harassed by coyotes and other predators, the deer are likely very vigilant and will display a keen reaction to unusual smells.
There is a lot of hunting at and adjoining my property. There are lots of coyotes in my neighborhood too. The topography is very hilly so the wind seems to swirl constantly. Given these crazy wind patterns, I must attempt to eliminate as many foreign odors as possible. To accomplish this, I wash all my hunting clothes with Dead Down Wind’s E1 Scent Prevent Laundry Detergent. Even though they were washed before being put up last year, I washed them again to remove as much odor as possible. Then I hung the clothes in the sun and allowed them to dry. The sun’s UV is an added cleansing agent.
When scouting or hunting, I use additional steps (shower, etc.) to remove as much scent from my body as possible. However, serious scent elimination means everything I take in the woods has been treated, washed, etc., to reduce scent.
Laundry is an important part of my hunting plan. It’s just as important as practicing with my bow – because without removing scent from my hunting clothes, my only shot this fall may be at the 3D targets in my yard.
Growing Deer together,
It’s the time of year when my scouting for the upcoming season reaches a frenzied state. Scouting is simply an effort by the hunter to significantly increase his/her odds of observing and or harvesting the gender and age class deer of their choice. My mission is to harvest mature (4 year old or older) bucks. These bucks typically have a smaller core area and are extremely difficult to hunt without alerting them to your presence.
I’m constantly looking at Reconyx images, thinking about buck patterns I’ve learned about while managing the property during past years, etc. It’s critical to understand how bucks use the food, cover, and water resources available within their core area. Certainly some mature bucks will make trips outside their core area, but these trips can’t be predicted, and therefore can’t be counted on for the hunter to be successful.
Observations and data from past years are important in understanding how deer generally use a property. However, to place a stand so that mature bucks will walk within 40 yards requires M.R.I. – Most Recent Information.
The horrific drought that is currently ongoing in many states provides the perfect illustration for the value of M.R.I. Obviously sources of water that have been available in the past may not exist this fall. In some areas there may have been so many sources of water that bucks weren’t using any source of water regularly enough to establish a detectable pattern. That may not be the case this year and sources of water may provide the best option to pattern mature bucks.
Food is another factor that may have very limited distribution in areas impacted by the drought. The images above are from the same food plot, taken during the same time of year. The local deer density didn’t increase that much from one year to the next. However, the growing conditions changed significantly! Growing conditions were average to slightly better than average during 2010. It was the 4th driest and the hottest July on record at the same location during 2011. Certainly deer feeding patterns will change from 2010 and 2011. Stand locations that were productive during 2010 may be a biological desert during 2011.
However, using M.R.I. to scout, 2011 may be a better hunting year. Finding the limited food and water resources may make for some fantastic stand locations!
By definition, M.R.I. changes rapidly. Don’t count on data from last year to place your stands this year. If you do, you might be watching a biological desert.
Growing (and hunting) Deer together,
I was in Kentucky the past couple of days working on a property that a client is purchasing. The property has the potential to produce quality deer. However, producing and harvesting are two different tasks. To do both on a sustained basis requires planning and skill. The property has multiple openings that my client will use for food plots. Even though we are currently spraying, fertilizing, and planting these plots, it’s also time to think about hunting them. It’s only mid June, but it’s time to position elevated blinds to optimize the opportunity to observe and harvest white-tailed deer. Properly positioned elevated blinds help conceal a hunter’s movement and reduce scent dispersal.
Elevated blinds at some hunting properties I visit are positioned such that it appears the only criterion used to position those blinds was being as close as possible to the plot’s entrance. Although it is possible hunters have experienced success from these blinds, I suspect they would have had more success if the blind had been located based on some simple criteria including;
- Conditions that allow the hunter to approach the stand without being smelled, heard, or seen by deer.
- The likelihood that a hunter can remain undetected by deer while in the stand under specific wind directions, etc.
- The ability of the hunter to leave the stand after the hunt without alerting deer.
These seem like simple criteria to consider when placing an elevated blind. However, locating a blind in a position that increases a hunter’s opportunity to observe and harvest mature bucks on a sustained basis can require a lot of thought. Such stands should be placed during the early to mid summer so deer can become conditioned to the new structure in their living room! Deer, especially mature deer, are often alerted by new fixtures in their territory. Fortunately deer become conditioned to stationary objects within a few weeks unless additional disturbances are associated with the object.
When scouting for a location to place a blind, it’s very important to consider the conditions that will be prevalent when the blind will be used. In many regions the predominate wind direction shifts from a southerly to a northerly direction from the summer months to mid to late fall. If a hunter’s plans include hunting the blind more in the early season compared to the late season, it may be best to place the blind for a southerly wind. Often, the best bet is to place the blind on the eastern side of the area to be hunted. Winds from the east are often rare in many areas of the whitetails’ range.
It’s just as important to consider how hunters will approach the stand without alerting deer. This often means developing a walking trail to the blind other than the road that is normally used to access the plot. This task takes a bit more work, but is well worth the effort as it can substantially increase the opportunity to observe deer from the blind.
Likewise, it’s important to consider where the deer will likely be when each hunt (morning or evening) is concluded so the hunter can leave the blind without alerting deer and conditioning them to associate the blind with danger.
If multiple blinds are to be placed, consider the time of year each will be used and the factors that will impact deer movement at that time of year. These conditions include the harvest of crops, areas that deer bed at that time of year (north slopes during summer, southern slopes during winter conditions), etc.
Each property has unique conditions that should be considered when selecting where to place elevated blinds. Take the time to consider the many aspects that impact the likelihood of observing deer on a repeated basis from an elevated blind. By doing so you can add substantial enjoyment when hunting that location! Now is prime time to do the mental and physical exercises of placing elevated blinds!
Growing Deer together,
It’s fawning season throughout most of the whitetail’s range. Current conditions have a huge impact on the survival and health of newborn fawns. Just like humans, the health of a deer while it’s a fawn is a determining factor of how much genetic potential it can express as an adult.
If the fawn is healthy and has all the resources (food, cover, water) it needs as a fawn, it has as good chance of expressing its full genetic potential as it matures. However, if the fawn is stressed by lack of quality food, fear of predation, or lack of water, its development will be hampered and it will likely not express its full genetic potential as it matures.
That’s why I monitor the weather, crop growth, and other factors this time of year as I plan future hunts. The current conditions this year in many areas haven’t been favorable for fawns. It’s very hot and dry in much of the southeast. It frosted last night in parts of Pennsylvania. Last week I had to wear a coat here in southwestern, Missouri and the temps are predicted to be above 90 degrees for the next seven days! West Texas, Oklahoma and other states have been experiencing a severe drought for several months.
There are always some pockets of ideal weather conditions throughout the whitetail’s range. This is one reason why huge bucks are killed in some areas for a few years and then that area returns to producing bucks with average antler size.
With all that said, I enjoy hunting properties I have a long-term relationship with the most. A mature buck is always a trophy, whether it has 140” or 180” of antler on its head. I’m a better predator on properties where I have experience. So, my chances of harvesting a mature buck are better on properties that I have a relationship with than hunting the latest “hot spot” where I don’t know the lay of the land.
When great growing conditions occur at the properties where I know the land this usually results in the best hunts for me. That obviously can’t happen every year. I set my expectations accordingly. For me the key to satisfying hunts is to hunt when and where I can with realistic expectations. I hope for good growing conditions, but learn how to be a better hunter and manager in all conditions.
Growing Deer together,
In a blog entry earlier this week, Using Maps To Plan Where to Hunt this Fall, I shared a source of data from the NOAA in the form of a map that predicted precipitation or the lack of for the next few weeks in the Lower 48. Precipitation levels can be correlated with forage production and quality. Too much or too little precipitation can limit plants ability to transfer nutrients from the soil to deer.
Deer require high quality nutrition on a year round basis to express their full antler growth or fawn production potential. I doubt many free-ranging, wild deer express their full potential. The stress of avoiding predators, lack of quality forage, parasites, diseases, injuries, etc., all reduce a deer’s ability to express their full potential. Of these, it’s easiest for hunters to predict the quality of forage available when planning where to hunt during the upcoming season.
This time of year many whitetail and elk hunters are applying for tags in states where they are not residents. If antler potential is a factor of where you are deciding to hunt, I encourage you to study the following map based on NOAA data.
Precipitation amounts during spring green-up are critical to the antler development that year. Many forage plants (native and cultivated) are highest in digestible nutrients during the spring. If too much or not enough precipitation occurs during this time of year, the quality of forage and therefore quality of antlers can be reduced.
This is critical data to consider if you are planning an out of state hunt with the goal of harvesting a buck that has expressed a high percentage of his antler growth potential.
Based on the following map, most of west Texas, Oklahoma, and southwestern Kansas received way less than normal precipitation during the critical spring green-up period this year. Most of the Ohio River Valley and southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas received way more precipitation than normal during this same period of time. I suspect antler development will be less than average in both of these areas.
Much of the Midwestern corn belt received about the normal amount of precipitation during the same period of time. If this pattern continues throughout the summer, antler development should progress well in these areas.
Most of us have limited time and funds for hunting. By using the data from the map in this and the previous blog, those limited hunting days can be spent in areas where antler development may be the best this fall. Maps are one of the most useful scouting tools!
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,
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,