The numbers prove it. Realtree fans north, south, east and west live and breathe deer hunting. These guys do, too. Hansen’s from Michigan, Brantley’s from Kentucky, and chances are their version of hunting whitetails is a lot like yours.
December 4, 2013 | By Tony Hansen
A couple of days ago, Michigan's gun season came to a close. I won't lie. I'm not going to miss it one bit.
I have nothing against guns or hunting deer with one. What I don't like is the feeling that I can't put together a sensible plan of attack and heavy hunting pressure means there just isn't much rhyme nor reason to what the deer are doing. There are simply too many variables involved.
I go into each and every gun season with almost the same plan: Hunt escape routes and the edges of thick, sanctuary-type cover. My premise: Big, old bucks will still want to find those last few does in heat and they're going to find them by avoiding the hunting pressure and prowling around thick cover.
It's a sound, logical plan. And it's also one that's yet to work.
Where I hunt, I fully expect to physically see at least 4-6 other orange-clad hunters on any given outing. The parcels I hunt aren't big and the area I live in does not have an abundance of terrain or cover. It's typical farmland with little topography and broken woodlots.
While it makes sense, in theory, that older bucks would continue to prowl a bit for available does, it just hasn't happened. If it does, it doesn't happen for long. Because that buck is going to get shot. Every time.
With hunting pressure starting to wane, it's time to start scouting again. For me, this week is one of the most important of the season. This is the week when I begin to put the pieces of the puzzle back together. I will have every trail camera I own working overtime. I'll spend a few evenings watching over bean and corn fields to try and determine which pockets of cover the deer have chosen to hide in and whether there is a buck left that I'd want to hunt.
This is a period of delicate balance. You want to keep hunting pressure at an absolute minimum, allowing the deer to settle back into a routine. But you can't wait too long or you risk missing your opportunity. When to hunt? When to hang back? Those are the decisions that must be made soon.
Next week, Brantley and I will post the final installment of our Ultimate Deer Plan. That final segment will focus on late season hunting. I won't spoil it by talking much about tactics here. But I will say that the best late-season hunts seldom happen by accident. They are the result of careful scouting and heaping doses of patience.
There is roughly one month left of deer season here in Michigan. I may hunt, at most, another 6-8 times. The remainer of my time will be spent observing, learning and putting together a plan of attack.
There is no such thing as a second chance this time of year. The first time I hunt a late-season buck is my very best -- and perhaps only -- chance at killing it.
Now is the time to start preparing for that one last chance.
November 26, 2013 | By Tony Hansen
After killing the biggest buck I've ever hunted in my home state of Michigan, I had a lot of conflicting emotions.
For starters, I was excited to have finally completed a mission that had consumed me for three years. But I was also sort of disappointed that the chase had come to an end. Where I hunt, there are darned few bucks that ever live past their second set of antlers. To hunt the same buck for three seasons in a row is virtually unheard of. It's highly unlikely that I will ever have this experience again.
I made a poor shot on the deer. There's no other way to say it. The above video illustrates that perfectly well.
This buck has taught me a ton of lessons over the past three years. Killing it means that educational period has come to an end. But this deer continued to teach me things right up until the end and they are lessons I will carry with me always. Including the value of a lighted nock.
I killed this buck, which was named "Kicker," at 49 yards. That's a shot I'm plenty comfortable making because it's a shot I practice often.
Like big deer so often do, Kicker came in from a direction that I simply wasn't expecting. Fortunately, I had a solid shooting lane but it was a narrow window. I had a camera man with me on the hunt and his treestand was angled in a way that required me to shoot between the base of the stand and the trunk of a nearby tree. When drawing my bow, I hit the bottom of his stand with my upper limb. Whether or not this affected my shot, I can't say for sure. But I highly suspect that I was subconcsiously accounting for the stand location by canting my bow. And when you cant your bow, your point of impact is altered.
I hit this buck much farther back than I'd ever like to. I knew exactly where the arrow hit because of the lighted nock that I was using. There was no question the shot was bad. And yet the deer's reaction would indicate an impact of a much different variety.
Until shooting Kicker, I had never personally witnessed a whitetail performing the "mule kick" unless it was hit squarely in the lungs.
But this buck kicked as high and hard as any I've ever seen. And that arrow was nowhere near the lungs.
As you might imagine, I was pretty tore up about the whole thing. I knew I'd made a poor shot based on where I had seen the lighted nock pass through the deer. But I was really confused by the deer's reaction. With four hours of daylight left, I made the decision to simply stay put until dark. I'd seen the deer bed down and watched that area religiously until dark. Then I slipped down and left as quietly as possible, making a half-mile loop around the buck's last known location, crossing a knee-deep creek twice along the way and covering my fleece jacket in burrs in the process.
That evening I scoured the Internet for stories about how deer react to different shot placements and, honestly, one of the best stories I found about how to proceed after hitting a deer was right here on Realtree.com. I talked with plenty of veteran hunters and buddies to get their advice.
I realize there will be those reading this who will scoff at the notion that I hit a deer poorly and that I relied on the advice of friends and online stories to determine what to do about it.
But the simple fact is this: I'm a deer hunter. And a regular guy. Yes, I'm the whitetail editor of Realtree.com. But that doesn't mean I have all the answers all of the time and it certainly doesn't mean that I don't have the same emotions and second-guessing moments as every other hunter. I wasn't asking buddies and reading online stories because I didn't know what to do. I knew what needed to be done and, in fact, had already done it. I was simply looking for some reassurance, something I think most of us all need from time to time.
The deer's reaction to the shot really threw me for a loop. I have never seen a gut-shot deer react in that manner.
The lighted nock saved me from making a big mistake. Based on the deer's reaction to the shot -- and my desire to find out what had happened -- I likely would have climbed out of that tree after an hour or so and started to look for the buck. It's quite probable that I'd have jumped that deer up and had a much harder time recovering it as a result.
Kicker is an awesome deer and that buck has taught me more about deer hunting than any other buck I've ever killed. Including this: I will always have a lighted nock on my hunting arrows going forward. And I will always base my response to a shot from where the arrow actually impacts instead of the deer's reaction.
November 18, 2013 | By Tony Hansen
Has it finally arrived? Is the rut finally starting to crank?
Honest answer: I have no idea.
I'm not one who puts a whole lot of faith in the moon phase predictions and all that. I have felt for a long time that the second week of November is usually "the" time to be in the woods. But this season has me wondering if maybe there isn't something to this whole moon thing.
The second full moon after the autumnal equinox is believed by some to be the "trigger" that kicks the rut into high gear. This year, that full moon hit on November 17. Which, according to guys like Adam Hays and Charlie Alsheimer, means peak breeding should occur 10-12 days later. And that means? The biggest bucks in the woods are about to get real stupid.
And I sort of believe it. I have not seen any truly solid rutting behavior as of yet. I have seen bits and pieces, but nothing sustained and nothing to really tell me things are cranking.
Take a look at the video above. This hunt occurs in late October and the buck featured is showing pretty classic seeking behavior. The type of behavior that I'm hoping to see over the next few days, in fact.
What do you think? Is there something to this whole "second full moon" deal? Or is it all just a bunch of hooey?
November 13, 2013 | By Will Brantley
It’s easy to get frustrated with articles and outdoor television shows preaching the importance of having various stand setups and food plots and sanctuaries on your hunting property if you want to kill a big deer. We posted an article this week where three experts with multiple Booners under their belts weighed in with their advice for bagging that coveted trophy.
There was excellent advice in that piece, too, but I think much of it was glossed over. The overwhelming reader response was: That article doesn’t apply to me because I don’t have the money to access big acreage like those guys do.
In some regards, that’s true. The simple reality for most of us is that we have to hunt where we can. And many times, that means the family-owned 50 acres. Maybe less. For my wife and me, it’s 33 acres. Now to be clear, we have access to a couple great farms where we do a lot of our hunting. But we wanted a place we could call our own, close to home, where we weren’t at the mercy of a lease agreement. We didn’t have much to spend. Michelle’s a teacher, and I’m a writer. Steven King is a rich writer. But he doesn’t write about deer and duck hunting. And I'm not as weird as he is.
Anyhow, we started putting back every bit of money we could for a down-payment. We actually found our farm when some deer crossed the road in front of the truck, next to a “For Sale by Owner, 33 Acres” sign. That was three years ago this winter.
Fast-forward to Monday evening, when I got an excited phone call from Michelle. She’d just shot the buck in this photo – her biggest ever, and the first buck from our place. Was the buck a Booner? No. But we each grabbed a main beam and wrestled that sucker through the woods and into my truck. I don’t know that you could’ve found two happier hunters anywhere in the country at that moment.
Plenty of big bucks are shot as a result of almost pure luck. I’ve killed a few that way myself. But as my buddy Jeff Danker says, killing them consistently requires a plan. I don’t know that we’ve ever “called our shot” on a buck more than this one. So here’s how it went down.
- Like many small properties, ours was lacking a few ingredients. We had plenty of cover, but little food outside of browse and mast. And so last winter, we set to work with a borrowed tractor and cleared out an opening just shy of an acre in size. There’s a good stand of clover and chicory growing there now, sowed with a POS pull-behind spreader I bought at Wal-Mart.
- We established a couple mineral sites and set up three bait stations with homemade PVC pipe feeders. There aren’t any crops in that immediate area, so the deer flocked to the easy, high-calorie food. It’s fashionable to avoid the baiting stigma by calling it “supplemental feeding.” If it helps you sleep better at night to call it that, go for it. Around here, it’s legal, and in a place like this with few other options, it works quite well.
- By late summer, we had a few velvet regulars on our trail cameras, along with plenty of does. Michelle and I love venison, and we like to shoot does. But we picked out battles. We killed our does early on, and we avoided shooting them from our best stands. In addition, we kept our shots close so that when we did shoot one, the tracking job was short. That kept us from contaminating the areas with all-night tracking jobs.
- We hunted the wind. No exceptions. On a property that small, you simply cannot mess up. Trail cameras showed that the buck Michelle killed had been cruising for does regularly near her favorite stand just before gun season. That stand requires a west wind, though, and we didn’t have that in the forecast until the third day of season. That stand remained untouched until then.
- The stand was a no-bust setup. Sitting a stand in the right wind does no good if you spook everything walking in. Michelle had about an hour and a half of daylight to burn after work that day. She spent 20 minutes of that walking down a busy blacktop highway to get the wind in her favor, and then sneaking unseen up a ravine to her stand. It’s a ladder stand set on the edge of that ravine, facing 40 yards of open timber bordering a thick bedding area. The west wind blows over the top of that ravine, into an area where deer rarely travel.
- Stick it out. We’ve logged a dozen or more sits in that stand since September. But it wasn’t overhunted, because we hunted when the conditions were right and didn’t spook deer. Choosing your sets carefully and then putting in the time fills tags. Period.
At the end of the day, you can look at those factors and compare them to the advice those guys gave on killing those Booner bucks. Sure, access to acres of great ground is a good thing to have. But hunting smart works everywhere whitetails live. Even on 33 acres.
November 5, 2013 | By Tony Hansen
This is going to be a brief entry. Why? Because it's the rut. And I've got hunting to do. As do you.
But, seriously, there just isn't much to be said here. The rut is on and it's time to get in the thick of it. Hunting areas of thick cover is my top tactic this time of year. The reason is pretty simple: That's where big bucks live. And travel.
When the does are starting to stand, mature bucks don't just lose their minds as you might have been led to believe. They're still grizzled veterans with a few seasons under their belts. They will continue to move smartly. They'll just do so more often.
Sitting in an area where does will likely bed is always a good bet right now. Position yourself near thick cover where big bucks will travel between those bedding areas and you're in business. And I'm not alone in my thinking here. Check out the video with Whitetail Properties Rich Baugh. He seems to be a fan of the thick as well.
- » Coming Soon: Last Chance Bucks
- » Lighted Nocks: Lessons Learned From a Bad Shot
- » Is The Rut Really Ready To Rock?
- » How to Kill a Good Buck on a Small Farm
- » In The Thick Of Things
- » 'Tis the Season for Sexy Witches, First Dates and Doe-in-Heat Pee
- » Want To Improve Your Hunting Land? Ask This Guy.
- » Yep. I Shot My Wife's Buck.
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