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Thoughts From The Field

Blog posts by the
GrowingDeer.tv team

Trail Cameras: A Great Tool For Deer Hunters

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,

Grant

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Deer Hunters That Are The Most Satisfied Have Realistic Expectations

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.

Mature buck in a food plot

To produce mature bucks year after year there needs to be trigger finger management and quality forage.

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.

Enjoy Creation,

Grant

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Strategies For Hunting The Wind – Part 2

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.

Buck on alert

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,

Grant

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Strategies For Hunting The Wind – Part 1

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.

A mature buck

Mature bucks use both the terrain and how air moves across the terrain to help them avoid predators.

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,

Grant

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