First BIG Sheds 2016

first sheds doody 180 10first shed 2 jon mass








First big sheds starting to show on Facebook.

Left photo: Doody found this 180-class set in West Virginia.

Right: Jon found this massive side, Kansas I believe.

Everybody loves seeing big antlers, send us your shed-hunting pics and stories to post!




Hunt Gear Review: Manfrotto Befree Tripod for Spotting Scope

manfrotto 1 finalman tripod 3man tripod last oneYou need a spotting scope, a good one, when hunting for deer or elk out West, or when glassing for whitetails on prairies or in large grain fields in the Midwest and elsewhere.

Without a spotter you might have to hike 3 miles and waste an hour to take a closer look at a buck or bull that you found with binoculars. Much more efficient is to glass an animal, set up a scope, zero and focus and determine quickly, “Nope, too small” or “Yes, a shooter let’s go!”

Most big game hunters do well to select a good spotting scope, but then defeat their purpose by choosing a flimsy $50 tripod for it. Big mistake, because you can’t use a spotter effectively—to zoom and size antlers or horns with rock-solid focus–without mounting it atop a quality tripod like the one reviewed here.

Manfrotto’s legendary full-size tripods are popular with professional photographers (some of our cameramen for Big Deer TV carry them). The company developed the Befree line for both amateurs and professionals who need a compact tripod that one can carry off the beaten path to get the perfect picture, without sacrificing the stability needed to grab a sharp image. So designed, the Befree has become a great choice for hunters and their spotting scopes.

I tested and carried the Befree MKBFRA4-BH all-aluminum model dozens of miles last deer season, and used it to steady my Trijicon 20X-60X spotting scope (review on that optic to come later).

My first evaluation of any piece of hunt gear, be it a gun, bow or tripod, is simply the feel of it. First time you pick up the Befree tripod it feels sturdy and well-built.

The Befree tripod and ball head combo (more on the head later) weighs 3.09 pounds. The legs have an interesting “inverted-leg” folding design. Retract the legs, turn them over and fold them up and around the head to form a compact 15.75-inch package that fits easily into a medium-size backpack. The folded legs completely enclose and protect the head, a feature I like. 

The legs of many compact tripods only extend 22 inches or so, and confine you to spot from sitting or kneeling, which is generally okay because much of the time you’re on your butt and leaned back into a hillside as you look. But the Befree has 3 retractable sections on each leg that, when fully deployed and with the center arm extended, raise the tripod to around 57 inches. Now you can run your scope from the standing position as well, a big bonus.

The legs extend and retract easily and smoothly, and the 3 spring-loaded thumb toggles on each leg lock the sections securely into place.

On top of each leg is a silver selector knob. Twist each knob once and it sets and locks the tripod into a standard angle of 51 degrees. Twist it again to splay and lock the legs farther apart, to 25 degrees. This feature is designed to allow photographers to spread the tripod super low for dynamic ground-level shots. It can come in handy when you lay into the side of a mountain to glass for hours. With the tripod splayed and scope sitting about 14 inches off the ground, you have an incredibly solid spotting station.

To me a tripod is only as good as the head that holds, aims and pans your scope. The Befree’s aluminum ball head is small and moves smoothly and fluidly in its housing. You work a single wing knob to control the ball’s tension and aim your scope, which attaches to the ball’s platform with a quick release plate and mechanism. This mechanism does take a bit to practice and jiggling to figure out how to lock it in.

 While I generally prefer a pistol-grip head with a spotting scope, the wing knob works. It’s smooth and the tension control is precise as you move the scope a fraction in, out, up and down to find and focus on an animal. 

This Befree model is designed to support cameras that weigh up to 8.8 pounds, so it can handle any spotting scope for hunting. My Trijicon scope weighs 4 pounds and balances well on this tripod at various extended heights.

Professional photographers do a simple vibration test to check the stability of a tripod, and I did the same. I extended the Befree’s legs and rapid center column to 55 inches, and attached the scope. At full extension is when any tripod is least stable and susceptible to flexing that can put a camera or scope slightly off focus.

I’d tap the scope and use the stopwatch on my phone to record how long the scope vibrated. The less the “tremor time,” during which an animal would be out of focus in the scope, the better.

In 6 tremor tests, the scope vibrated for 3.8 seconds to 4.2 seconds before settling back into solid position. I kept my eye in the scope and on the target, and the real time of this vibration was negligible in a typical hunting/spotting scenario. Since the tripod proved steady enough at full extension, it would be even more stable the lower you use it for spotting.

Out west and on the prairies, the tripod was easy to set up and proved solid. I was impressed on the 4 really windy days I used it. In the wind I lowered the legs and spotted from a slouched sitting position, and worked the glass with negligible wind shake. 

In the end, at 7 pounds this tripod with my choice of spotter attached is not super lightweight (again the scope weighs 4 pounds) but the rig is easily packed for 95 percent of the deer and elk hunting we do. The Befree tripod alone is an excellent blend of compact size, light weight, stability and versatility for spotting of game.

No more cheap, flimsy tripods for me. I’ll be using the aluminum Befree travel tripod for many years. It is currently available at Amazon for $213, a killer deal in my book.  


Missouri Hunter Spears Big Buck with Atlatl

Mo atlatalFrom Springfield News-Ledger:

When the huge whitetail buck walked below his tree stand, Paul Gragg wasn’t sure he would be able to make the shot.

Gragg, 49, was hunting in late October (2015) with a prehistoric atlatl — a wooden throwing device that a skilled user can launch a 7-foot long hunting dart with remarkable speed and power.

The buck walked straight under Paul’s stand. When it moved out to about 8 yards and swung its head to the right, Paul extended his left arm and let fly. The broadhead-tipped dart hit home center above the front leg.

“My first thought was how easy that dart went in him,” Paul said.

The 15-point buck jumped and ran about 40 yards before it fell dead.

According to the World AtlatlAssociation, this ancient weapon preceded the bow and arrow in most parts of the world, and it was one of humankind’s first mechanical inventions.

An atlatl (pronounced at-latal or atal-atal) is a foot-and-a-half long stick with a handle on one end and a hook or socket that engages a light spear or “dart” on the other. The dart is a 4-to-6-foot long spear-like projectile tipped with a large broadhead.

The dart is placed along the shaft with its back end resting in the socket. The hunter grips the atlatl near its front end and throws, using the upper arm and wrist. The flipping motion of the atlatl creates angular momentum that propels the dart with greater speed and power than can be achieved with the arm alone. Darts thrown from the weapon can achieve velocities of nearly 100 miles per hour.

Paul Gragg said that on a whim, he bought an atlatl and got on the Internet and watched guys throwing it. He set up hay bales in the yard and honed his throwing movement until he could hit a bale consistently from 15 yards. Then he practiced every day for 4 months, throwing at a pie plate.

“At 15 yards, if you can throw 12-inch groups you’re doing something,” he said.

The atlatl is legal throughout all portions of Missouri’s deer season, from September 15 through Jan. 25.

Killing any deer with a spear is an accomplishment, awesome Paul!

Virginia Biologist Rescues Bald Eagle

VA eagle

America’s state wildlife biologists are underpaid and underappreciated, and they have to put up with a lot of politics, bureaucracy and other BS, but they do great work, not only for deer but for all game and non-game animals and birds.

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Facebook:

District biologist Pete Acker rescued this bald eagle that had been struck by a vehicle (recently) in Surry County. He says, “Quickly I found the mature bald eagle could not fly but was still very nimble on the ground. I was able to capture it without further injury and transport it to a local rehabilitator, Smithfield Animal Hospital. They stabilized the bird and arranged to transport it to the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

At the center the patient, got a name: Bald Eagle #16-0028. She was checked in, examined by staff and weighed in at 12.76 pounds, the largest eagle ever admitted to the facility.

va eagle x ray

Radiographs confirmed multiple fractures of the bird’s left ulna (wing).  Doctors took the eagle to surgery on January 30 in hopes of repairing it. Sadly, #16-0028 went into cardiac arrest and died on the table.

It didn’t work out this time, but there are more success stories than failures in the wildlife rehab business.

I understand that there are some anti-hunting people in this line of work, but for the most part the biologists, doctors, clinic staff and other rehabilitators do a great job for America’s animals and birds, and they deserve our support and respect.


Ohio: Hunt For 170-Class Ghost Buck

Field report from a hard-core bowhunter in Ohio:

Ohio 1

After many days of hunting and 20 days of getting pictures, always at night or in the early morning, I finally took down the “Ghost Buck.”

November 10, 2015, about 900 am. He rounded a bend of the creek, saw my buck decoy and ran 400 yards in about eight seconds. He slowly circled the decoy, and at 12 yards I took the shot.

I have taken 130s deer from this stand, which is 32 feet up in the air, but this 170-class buck really had me shaking up there.

I called my buddy and the track job was on. We jumped the buck 25 minutes after I shot him. I knew better than to look for the deer so quickly, but the rain was pouring that morning (and I hoped to get lucky and find him quickly, before the blood trail washed away). But after jumping the buck we waited 3 more hours.

We secured permission to look for the buck, as he had crossed the highway and onto another property when we jumped him. There was blood on the white line of the road, a lot of blood. I have taken close to 70 animals with my bow, and this was probably the most blood I ever saw.

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A short 200 yards from the highway we found him floating in the creek, with a coyote watching from the bank! My lighted nock still blinked underwater.

The farmer whose property we ended up on got his tractor, and after we retrieved the buck from the creek, he carried him out in the bucket.

Then it hit me. Usually I travel all over the U.S. to bowhunt each year, and am happy with 120- to 130-inch deer. But in 2015 I didn’t go out of state like I usually do. I traveled the 167 miles to southern Ohio many times to hunt this “Ghost Buck,” sometimes for a week at a time. I put all my eggs and time into harvesting this monster, and I killed him.

Funny thing, a few days before I shot the buck, I sat in that stand from daylight to dark and didn’t see a single deer. But I didn’t let that deter me, and patience paid off.

Without my family and friends and a flexible job, I couldn’t run across the country chasing my dreams. I am thankful. I would like to thank Chad Moore, my longtime friend and school mate and a guy that has been featured here on BIG DEER, for pushing me to hunt bigger deer. Also Frank Justice for the help with tracking the “Ghost Buck” and putting me up when I come down there hunting. It was a season I’ll never forget.

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