This time of year, I’m frequently asked what habitat improvement projects are most important. Most folks expect a standard answer such as “plant a food plot” or “create some bedding cover”. These projects may or may not be appropriate for your goals or where you hunt.
Which project or projects will produce the most benefits depends on your hunting goals and what the limited/missing resource is in the local habitat. For example, if where you hunt borders a creek, lake, or several ponds that don’t go dry, developing another water source won’t improve the quality of the habitat for deer and turkeys or help you pattern deer. Likewise, if there’s a large CRP field next to where you hunt, then cover isn’t limited and adding more wouldn’t attract deer and probably won’t make them easier to pattern.
Before assisting folks with their habitat and hunting goals I start by using onX maps to study their property and the neighborhood. I also ask very detailed questions about their hunting style. These questions include how much they and others hunt the property. Understanding the amount of hunting pressure is a big factor when determining the amount of cover and the number of stands/blinds that allows the best opportunity of meeting their hunting objectives.
I also ask whether they primarily hunt with a gun or bow. Different habitat layouts are better for different weapons.
Likewise, I ask if they hunt throughout the season or prefer to hunt during the early, mid, or late season. Different resources attract deer during different parts of the season. The greater the difference in weather conditions throughout the season, the larger the differences of habitat resources deer need.
These are but a few considerations to address before spending valuable time and resources to improve the deer herd quality and hunting opportunities where you hunt.
Many deer hunters, including myself, enjoy using trail cameras during July to see how antlers are developing and the age structure of bucks where they will be hunting.
Estimating a buck’s age during the growing season can be difficult. Bucks aren’t producing as much testosterone during this time of year and therefore they don’t appear as muscular or bulked up.
These conditions often result in estimates of bucks’ ages being younger than they are.
As an example, we recently posted a current Reconnyx image of a buck we call Ringer 8 on social media and asked for estimates of his age. This buck has displayed similar antler characteristics year to year, which has made it possible to identify him.. We have images of Ringer 8 for 4 years and feel confident he’s 8+ years old.
Most folks underestimated his age. They judged him to be 2 or 3 years old!
You may believe most estimates were too young because Ringer 8’s antlers are small for his age. However, we find the same trend when posting images of bucks with relatively large antlers for their age.
Most images in magazines, taxidermy, etc., show bucks during the peak of the rut when bucks’ testosterone levels are high and bucks are at their physical peak. It seems we get conditioned to expect bucks to appear in this shape year-round.
There are some physical traits that don’t change with the influx of testosterone during the early fall. Bucks with a pot belly and/or swayed back show these characteristics during the summer and fall. Another characteristic of mature bucks is that their brisket hangs below their chest during both the summer and fall.
Rather than estimating a buck’s age based on antler size, this year try studying the body characteristics. I believe your estimates will be more accurate.
Enjoy Creation and I hope our paths cross soon!
I’ve already started scouting where to put some stands and blinds. This may seem early to some deer hunters. However, scouting now can lead to tagging a buck during the early season.
It’s been a wet year and there wasn’t a late frost at The Proving Grounds. These conditions often result in large acorn crops. Based on a bit of scouting, I’ve noticed an abundant crop of red oak acorns and a medium to large crop of white oak acorns.
The trees I’ve scouted were on the edge of food plots, roads, etc. It’s much easier to scout for acorn production in these locations this time of year as they will offer a view of at least one side that isn’t blocked by leaves of another tree.
Many species of acorns are greenish colored this time of year. It can be tough to see green acorns when looking up into a green canopy. The shapes or outlines of acorns can be spotted more easily when looking into the side of a tree’s canopy. Closer to when the acorns are ripe, they turn brown and are much easier to see when looking from below.
Trees with less competition often produce acorns more frequently and more acorns than trees surrounded by competition. In addition, acorns produced by open grown trees are often larger than trees that have a lot of competition.
Another very important factor is that acorns from open grown trees often seem to mature and drop a bit earlier than oaks growing where there’s a lot of competition. This is very important information. Where the first acorns drop is often an extremely hot spot for deer!
Most species of acorns are high energy and deer crave energy-rich foods during early fall. If there are lots of oaks producing acorns in the area, it’s much easier to find and pattern deer before acorns are present throughout the timber. Spending time now scouting oaks that are likely to drop acorns first can lead to tagging a good buck during the early season!
We leave our Reconyx trail cameras out year around. This allows us to learn much more than deer travel patterns and current antler size. For example, one of our cameras recently took these photos in sequence. The camera that took these photos was located on the downhill side of a bedding area. Even during the summer, thermals carry scent downhill as the evening air cools.
Based on these pictures, it seems likely that this fawn bedded toward the bottom of the bedding area and not far from the interior road’s edge. Just a few hours later there is a coyote and a doe (possibly the fawn’s mother) in the same area. We don’t know exactly what happened but this is a strong reminder of how predators hunt. They often cruise the downhill side of area where prey will be at that time of day. Coyotes are well documented as extremely effective fawn predators. This is why we trap yearly to help balance the number to predators with prey species and work hard to provide quality fawning and nesting habitat. (The Reconyx trail cameras picked up a video of this fawn. You may watch it HERE.)
Two-legged hunters can learn from this series of images. We need to approach, hunt, and exit from the downwind side of where deer are likely to be while we are hunting. Using trail cameras throughout the year and moving them frequently is a great way to find stand/blind locations and learn from the best predators!
We recently put up a Hot Zone Deer exclosure. This is a solar-powered two-layer electric fence that excludes deer from quality forage. We put this fence in a food plot we call Second House to exclude deer from browsing on some recently planted Eagle Seed forage soybeans.
Some folks ask why I would plant a food plot and then keep deer from feeding on a portion of it. The answer is simple. This technique creates great hunting opportunities. Deer are often very comfortable feeding in a small-sized plot. If the forage planted in the plot is very palatable to deer, they can limit its production or even consume all the forage before hunting season.
Protecting some or all of the forage in the plot from deer browse until I wish to hunt that area is a great way to create a bottleneck and stand or blind location.
I’ve used this technique for years and am always impressed with the difference in the quantity of food where it’s been protected versus outside the Hot Zone where deer have browsed.
This technique works on 5 or 5,000 acres and is an easy way to pattern deer for trail cameras and/or hunting! To see details on how to protect your own food plots check out this recent episode.
During a recent rainy day after Missouri’s firearms season closed I washed my hunting clothes and then stored them in a Scent Crusher bag. I’m back to bow hunting again after eight straight days of wearing the same clothes during gun season (except the under layer) and am 100% confident my clothes are ready for hunting.
Why am I so confident? Because for two years my team and I have used this system and know it works great! We’ve had more successful downwind encounters than before we started using these techniques to remove odors from our clothes!
We used to clean them with a washing machine that was dedicated just to hunting clothes and only dry them outside. This took a lot of time and we could only dry clothes during sunny days. Once we switched to using the combination of D/Code and Scent Crusher I tested using the family washing machine (inside and much warmer to use during the late season) and dryer versus a separate washer and hanging the clothes outside. I wanted to do this because I was tired of spending a huge amount of time doing laundry and struggling to get clothes dry during the late season when days are short and often my wet clothes would freeze.
My team and I seem to get busted much less now than when we used other products and spent much more time doing laundry. Sometimes trying a new technique is worth the risk. In this case the reward is more venison!
I was blessed to tag a good buck during the 8th day (11/18) of Missouri’s firearms season. Many Missouri hunters have commented that they didn’t see many mature bucks during the first part of Missouri’s firearms season even though the weather conditions were good. I believe the season opening date may explain part of the perceived lack of buck movement.
The season here has been opening a day earlier each year for the past several years. This year it opened earlier than it has in the previous six years. (In 2019 it will likely open November 16th – six days later than this year.) During the years Missouri’s firearms season opens earlier it coincides with when most does are receptive. This means most bucks will be tending does and not traveling frequently seeking does.
During the peak of breeding (the rut) it’s tougher to see mature bucks than just a few days before or after when most mature bucks are seeking does. It can be trying on any deer hunter’s patience. Many folks commented that they saw more mature bucks cruising during the last few days of the season.
If you still have a buck tag the first few days of archery season, after the firearms season closes may provide an excellent opportunity to tag a mature buck as they are once again seeking receptive does. In addition, some of the best opportunities to tag a mature buck occurs during the late season, especially if you have access to hunt areas that have quality food that time of year.
I have one buck tag left in Missouri and I’m eager to return to the woods during the late archery season!
Enjoying Creation from a deer stand,
The GrowingDeer Team has been spending every morning and afternoon in the deer stand. These long days have made writing a blog a lower priority. I’m sure every deer hunter reading this can relate.
Since everyone is busy in the heat of intense deer hunting, instead of a blog about tactics for the rut, I’ve created this list of a few of our more popular rut hunting videos. For varieties sake, these videos span almost 10 years of hunts.
If you’re hunting this week or if you’re just hanging out with family for the Thanksgiving holiday, perhaps these videos can provide ideas or tactics to use in your next hunt.
As always, thanks for watching GrowingDeer. We hope that you’ll check us out on social media, join the conversation with other hunters and share photos of your hunting success.
To watch a video, click on the underlined title.
Deer hunting during the lock down phase of the rut requires a change of strategies. In this hunt, see the full story of how this hunting location was developed and the strategies used to pull together a successful hunt: location development and selection, the lure of a dead doe, multiple bucks chasing, field judging a buck’s age, and more! Watch the story and see Grant tag the hit list buck “Head Turner!”
In this deer hunt, Grant set out with a mission to tag Handy, the buck that was at the top of the 2016 hit list. Watch this video to see the story of Handy and the final hunt unfold. It’s a great story with lots of lessons learned while hunting.
Four hunters with four super bucks shot during rifle season in Missouri and Kentucky! The first hunt is Dr. Grant Woods who puts together a plan to hunt a buck based on his expected travel patterns. Then three more hunts from a Kentucky property that is now producing big bucks after just a couple of years of sound deer management and habitat improvement.
The rut action heats up as the weather cools down for the best deer hunting of the season! Grant has a hot stand location between acorns and a bedding area where he takes a doe while bow hunting. Then on opening day of gun season, Rae Woods scores again – this time on a nice buck!
Hunting the different phases of the whitetail rut: where, how, and why for improved success in tagging a mature buck.
It’s the rut and bucks are chasing does everywhere! In this episode 15-year-old Raleigh has an encounter with a shooter buck that needed to take just one more step! (1:00 to 2:19) Then Adam and Heath both go to Northern Missouri during prime time of the rut and it’s well worth the trip! See Adam’s hunt as he makes shoot/don’t shoot decisions on several bucks (2:24 to 5:48). Heath self-filmed his hunts and is rewarded with lots of buck activity. A shooter buck comes into bow range on the final day of the hunt. Watch this video and see the great job Heath does at self-filming and tagging a nice buck! (6:05 to 12:21).
Hunting deer during the first week of Missouri’s gun season and a big buck comes out! It’s a hunt we won’t forget! It took a lot of work to get ready for this hunt, but all the work and planning this past summer paid off big dividends. Watch this episode (in the stand at 01:57 and the kill shot at 05:50) to see a nice buck killed with a long shot of 267 yards. I love it when a plan comes together!
I’ve been hunting almost daily since the beginning of deer season. I have seen a lot of deer, but not a buck I wish to tag within range. That’s OK because I really enjoy watching and learning from deer. I hunt in the Ozark Mountains in southern Missouri. The rut peaks (biggest number of does receptive at one time) here during the next two weeks. My observations and strategies will apply to folks that hunt where the rut is on the same timeframe. I realize deer have finished rutting at some locations and are not close to starting at other locations. However, throughout the majority of the whitetail’s range the rut will peak during the next two weeks.
Based on those observations I’ll share my hunting strategies for the next few days.
- Bucks are still using scrapes, especially along travel corridors. Bucks aren’t using scrapes on the edges of fields and food plots as much. This is because they are focused on seeking receptive does rather than feeding during this stage of the rut.
- Most bucks, especially mature bucks, are not on a food cover pattern. Where any buck will be is very tough to predict during this week because their pattern can change in an instant if they detect a receptive doe.
I will be bow hunting today; tomorrow firearms season opens in Missouri. So, my strategy today will be much different than tomorrow.
Today I will seek stands in known travel corridors. Those are difficult to find in the mountain habitat that I hunt because it’s 90+ percent timber and cover. It’s much easier to find travel corridors and bottlenecks in ag country where cover is limited and bottlenecks are easy to find by simply studying aerial images.
Tomorrow I’ll be carrying my Winchester and my odds will be best where I can use its effective range. At my place that means watching powerline easements or large areas where there is native grass rather than timber.
Utility easements, or other long linear openings, offer hunters a view into cover without disturbing deer. I simply approach from the downwind side and pick a spot where I think or know deer are crossing. This is an excellent stand/blind location for hunting and learning where deer prefer to travel (travel corridors!).
It seems receptive does will often seek thick cover when they are receptive to avoid being pestered by multiple bucks. Years ago, I cut all the cedars on a 25+ acre hillside and used prescribed fire to encourage native grasses and forbs to grow. Native grasses provide deer great cover but due to the slope I can see into the cover over most of the hillside. This is perfect. The deer are extremely comfortable in this habitat and I can observe them. Through the years I have watched bucks tend many receptive does in that area. I placed a Redneck Blind overlooking this area and have tagged many bucks from it. That’s likely where I’ll be hunting tomorrow morning. I’ll keep you posted on our social media.
I hope these strategies help and that you enjoy Creation!
Just a couple of weeks ago while hunting, I saw a four-year-old buck we call HighRiser and a younger buck enter a food plot about 100+ yards from my stand. It was near the end of shooting light so I took out my Messenger grunt call and grunted to see if HighRiser would come on in for a shot before dark. HighRiser looked my way after the first call. I called again and he took a few steps my way. I called more aggressively and HighRiser started towards the stand. The more I called, it was easy to see from HighRiser’s behavior and posture he was becoming aggressive. Both HighRiser and the younger buck came within range but a tree canopy blocked my shot. It was a very fun hunt! (You can see that hunt by clicking here.)
It’s because of responses like this that the Messenger grunt call is one of my favorite tools for deer hunting. During the early season I set it to the highest pitched setting. Both bucks and does will often respond to this pitch. I only call during this time of year when I see deer that do not appear to be coming within range. In addition, I start with a very low volume and work up till the deer indicate they’ve heard the call. I rarely call after they’ve responded with a look, etc. Using this strategy, I’ve watched groups of does and fawns respond as well as bucks.
As scrapes heat up and at the beginning of the pre-rut I switch my Messenger to the middle setting and use it a bit more aggressively. I don’t call to does as much at this time of year as they can be leery of bucks that are pestering them. I do call to bucks – often more than once. I will grunt lightly multiple times after the buck or bucks have shown signs of hearing the call. If the buck is coming my way I don’t call. If he stops, I will call again just loud enough for him to hear the call. Watching the behavior and posture of the buck determines how much more I use my call.
Once the pre-rut is in full swing I use the call very aggressively. I’ll even blind call (call without seeing a buck). The one time I don’t call is when I see a mature buck tending a doe. The doe will often go the other way and the buck will follow. It’s as if she’s being pestered by one buck and doesn’t want to be around another to add to her troubles.
Once most does are receptive and the rut (breeding) is in full swing, I will grunt at any buck I see cruising UNLESS they appear to be coming within range. I’ve seen buck’s respond from long distances. I blind call about every 15 to 30 minutes to pull in those bucks that might be in the vicinity of the sound but outside my range of vision
Using the middle setting on a Messenger grunt call communicates that a young buck is tending a doe possibly causing other young bucks and mature bucks to respond. Don’t over call, but a single grunt or two when blind calling will let bucks within hearing range know there’s a receptive doe nearby and they will usually come check it out.
Be careful to not call to bucks that will likely approach from the downwind side. Such bucks may bust you before they get within range. This is true throughout the season. This means the timing of when to call depends where the buck will likely approach. I’ve let bucks travel past me so they wouldn’t swing downwind when responding.
I use this same strategy throughout the rest of the season. I tend to to call more often as the season progresses. However, even a month or more after the peak of breeding bucks will still respond to grunts which indicate a receptive doe is in the area.
The third setting replicates the sound of a mature buck. I only use this if I see a mature buck and he won’t respond to the middle setting. When a mature buck responds to this call, be ready. He’s likely committed to coming in close!
Check out our clips page for Reconyx trail cam videos of bucks grunting and practice to mimic their sounds. You can start with the video here where a young buck grunts while chasing a doe.
I’ve tagged many bucks and does due to calling. It’s a very exciting and effective way to hunt! I hope these grunt calling strategies work for you, too. For more tips, watch the video at this link.