BIG DEER TV Hunts Feral Hogs in Georgia

spartan pigs

I’ve shot my share of wild hogs over the years, mostly in Texas and Florida. I knew this invasive species was a general nuisance that rooted up crops and competed with deer for food sources. But it wasn’t until I went down to South Georgia and talked with the locals and hunted pigs for a few days on TV that I realized what a serious problem expanding populations of hogs are in many parts of the country.

“Somebody rides through this property every day, looking for and trying to eradicate hogs,” says landowner Robbie Barkley. “Hogs are in our feed patches, in the yard…they’re everywhere.”

“People who don’t have hogs in their area don’t realize how destructive they are,” says Georgia hunter Jay Chambless. “It’s a 24/7 effort 365 days a year just to try to control them a little bit.”

I hunted and filmed and talked to the locals for 3 days, and then came home and researched feral hogs for a week as I wrote the script for the episode “Hog Wild,” which will first air on the Sportsman Channel on Wednesday August 22 at 7:30 PM Eastern Time. Here’s some of what you’ll see and hear on the show, written in random fashion.

de soto

In the 1500s, explorers like Hernando de Soto brought hogs to America as a food source. In the 1900s, wealthy landowners introduced the Eurasian wild boar into parts of the U.S. for sport hunting. Today’s feral swine are a combination of escaped domestic pigs, Eurasian boar, and hybrids of the two. This invasive species has greatly expanded its range and numbers, into the millions, over the last 35 years.

aaron thermal

I’ve shot most of my hogs from deer stands and on stalks, or with dogs. But I’d never hunted them at night with thermal technology. Aaron Adkins (above) of Trijicon Electro Optics is here to show us the ropes. I am now addicted to thermal hunting!

ga hog jay and i

For pig firepower, we used and tested and DPMS GII .308 Hunter rifles, and they were both a pleasure and a blast to shoot (super accurate, no recoil). Aaron topped one of the AR rifles with a thermal Trijicon REAP-IR, and I topped the other with a 2.5-10X Accupower scope for last-light shots at hogs. We shot Remington HTP .308 168-grain ammo.

According to the U.S Dept. Of Agriculture, feral swine cause more than $1.5 billion in damage each year to property, crops and livestock. To a local farmer, hogs are not just a nuisance, but a threat to his livelihood.

In 2014, in response to the increasing damage and disease threats posed by expanding populations of hogs, Congress appropriated $20 million to the US Department of Agriculture for the creation of a national feral swine damage management program. Control efforts range from trapping and euthanizing hogs to aerial gunning where legal and practical. Everyday hunters like you and me can play a key role in the ongoing efforts.

Feral hogs breed year-round; a sow can have 2 litters of 4 to 8 piglets a year (some say as many as 12 piglets).

A feral hog can run 30 mph.

We ended up killing a few pigs and having a blast at night with the Trijicon thermals. Again “Hog Wild” airs August 22 at 7:30 PM on Sportsman, set your DVR.

Trail-Camera Photos: Summer of “Long Brow” Buck

md dan june 2018 buck

In early June I got this picture from our friend Dan: Gonna keep an eye on this one… 1,300 pics from 2 cams,  15 different bucks so far, this one is the biggest… 3 others have potential, a lot of growing to do in the next 2 months.  Most bucks likely more to show up here to their summer range later…

md dan LB 2a

Later on in June Dan wrote: He might be a younger deer. Straight back and belly.  What are your thoughts on age? I wrote back and said that judging bucks in summer in tough, they look lean and have skinny necks… 

Long Brow’s rack had a major growth spurt!

md dan LB 3

In July: Weekly update of Long Brow. His G2s are finally above his brows. The parade of bucks showed up this week.  I lost count of how many there are.  Mostly 1 and 2 year olds. Had over 1,500 pics at 1 mineral lick.

 Long Brow in mid-July…

md dan LB 4

Here he is later in July, a great 8!

Will keep you posted when Long Brow sheds his velvet. Have a feeling that after that, we’ll see a hero shot of this fine buck with Dan or one of his family.

Will Summer Whitetail Bucks Stay On Your Property This Fall?

spartan buck scrapeYou set cameras and scout and look all of August, and locate a big 10-pointer and a couple of great 8s, any of which you’d love to tag this season. Will the bucks stay on the property and in the same general area come late September and October? Or will they go AWOL, never to be seen again this season?

Tennessee researcher Bryan Kinkel has conducted extensive preseason censuses of the whitetails that live on his clients’ hunting lands across the Southeast. His observation data and trail-camera photos show that 50 percent of the older bucks may spend the spring/summer months at one end of their home range, but then shift to another core area for fall and winter. These seasonal ranges may have little or no overlap. His data shows these shifts most often occur around the time bucks shed their velvet–roughly September 5-20. So that furry-racked monster you spot in a bean field this weekend might be long gone when bow season opens.

How far might he go? Missouri biologist Grant Woods says it could be a few hundred yards or several miles or anywhere in between. If you hunt 1,000 acres or more, it’s no big deal. Most of the bucks that shift will still live in your zone, you just need to scout more after September 20 to pin them down.

The problem is when you hunt 50 to 300 acres, like most of us do. “On a 300-acre property, a buck that shifts only 500 yards or so could move right off your property and onto a spot where other people are hunting,” Woods says.

The good news: While half the mature bucks might leave your land in mid-September that many more that summered elsewhere are apt to move in and stay on your property this fall and winter. Generally a property sees a zero net loss of total bucks from summer to fall and winter, but the identity of those bucks can change dramatically.

So when you see a new a big buck pop up for the first time on one of your cameras in October or November, that explains it!

One more thing about buck movements, which could be good or bad news for you. “Our telemetry studies show that bucks range less as they get older and older, and their summer and fall/winter core areas overlap more,” says whitetail biologist Mickey Hellickson. So a buck that comes and goes off your land when he’s 3 ½ and 4½ might stop moving around so much if he lives to the ripe old age of 6, which is very rare for a wild buck. A really old buck might summer and winter in 100 acres on the property you hunt (good) or he might move off your land one August and never come back (bad).

8 Scientific Facts About Whitetail Deer

big rub

The Right Rubs: In the book Whitetail Country Michigan biologist John Ozoga points out that the first good-sized rubs–on trees 2 to 4 inches in diameter–that you find in late September were made by bucks 3½ years and older to mark their home ranges and “to proclaim their control over a given area.” Other bucks and does will see the fresh blazes, and they might come over and lick or rub their heads on them. But those deer will get a whiff of the rub maker’s fore-head and salivary scent, and they’ll know who’s living there large and in charge.

Finding clusters of big rubs is a key strategy for your entire season. From late September through December, most of the bucks that blazed those rubs will spend 90 percent of their time on the same ridges and in the same bottoms where you find the sign. So find the early rubs; scout out from them a couple hundred yards for the best food sources, trails, funnels and bedding thickets; and hang some tree stands at strategic points. Hunt those stands all season, and you’ll see some shooter bucks.

Scrapes: Back Off! QDMA biologist Kip Adams points to a comprehensive University of Georgia study of free-ranging deer that live on a 3,400-acre property that is hunted each fall. I put the most stock in studies that deal wild, hunted deer, not pen whitetails.

Most all deer research over the years has found that bucks check scrapes mostly at night, and the Georgia study, the largest of its kind, confirms it. The researchers tallied thousands of trail camera images and found that mature bucks check scrapes mostly between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.

Why waste more hunting time sitting and watching scrapes where a good buck isn’t likely to show up until the wee hours of dark? “You’re much better off setting up and watching a heavy trail or edge of thick cover several hundred yards off the freshest scrapes you can find,” says Adams. “That’s where you might catch a buck moving to and from the scrapes in first or last light.”

Back Off Scrapes Altogether: By mid-November in most areas, it’s time to back off scrapes altogether. Karen Alexy, lead researcher on that Georgia project, says that bucks most often make and hit scrapes two to three weeks prior to the rut. “After the peak, we found that bucks almost completely stop visiting scrapes,” she says, “so you might be better off hunting bedding sites, travel corridors, or feeding areas.”

Low-Pressure Stands: In a South Carolina study, researchers analyzed hundreds of interactions between hunters and deer, and found that mature bucks traveled 55 yards on average farther away from hunting stands at the end of the season versus the beginning of the season.

This confirms something I have been writing about and saying on my TV shows for years: Mature bucks can learn your habits and pattern you. As the season progresses they see, smell and hear where hunters walk into the woods, climb trees, walk out at midmorning or after dark… You get the picture. The bucks then start to skirt those stand locations and access points to avoid you.

This fall, change it up. Say you’ve been bowhunting a big 10-pointer for a few weeks from the same 2 stands in a 200-acre block of woods. You saw the deer a couple of times early in the season, but it’s been awhile since you’ve seen him now.

Check the lay of the land on maps or Google Earth. Then at midday, slip into those woods and set a couple of new stands along trails, in draws, at creek crossings, etc. You don’t always have to move far; you might set some of those new stands on good cover edges or funnels only 40 to 70 yards from your original stands. Play the wind and be as quiet as you can as you set the new stands.

When you sneak back in and hunt those fresh stands, you have a good shot at surprising that buck in a spot where he doesn’t expect you. As he moves on a pattern to avoid your first stands, he might walk 10-20 yards below one of your new stands. Take him!

High or Low? Missouri biologist Grant Woods put GPS collars on deer and found that old bucks generally bed just over the top of a ridge, usually on the east side. “That’s probably because most of the time wind currents come from the west,” he says. “When a west wind goes up and over the top of a hill and swirls, it creates an air cone that picks up and carries scent from all directions.”

Woods, a hard-core bowhunter, notes that he rarely hunts on tops of a hill because of the eddy-like, unpredictable air currents up there. “You’re a lot better off hanging a stand lower on the side of a ridge or mountain, or on a flat where you can catch a buck sneaking up to his bed or coming back down from it.”

Think Green (Part 1): Biologists in Michigan, Minnesota and other northern states have found that 5- to 40-acre conifer swamps, with trees 10 to 25 feet tall and canopies 50 to 70 percent closed, provide the best thermal cover for deer. If you bowhunt the late season up North, look for green covers of that size, and hang a stand on a nearby trail.

Think Green (Part 2): After killing a deer late in the season, Pennsylvania ruminant nutrition specialist Phil Anderson pokes through the paunch to see what the critter had been eating.

“Ever killed a doe or buck in December when the woods are brown, but the rumen contents (of a deer’s stomach) are bright green?” he asks. He points out that deer love tender, green shoots year-round and particularly in the winter. The animals sniff and dig around the woods and find them under rotting leaves.

Next December and January, be on the lookout for spots where deer have dug and pawed the leaves (deer sign is narrower and more linear than wild turkey scratching). Get down on hands and knees and investigate. If you find little green shoots popping up, set up there and fill your last doe or buck tag.

Beat the Head Bob: In a study funded by the Georgia Department of Transportation in hopes of reducing deer-car crashes, Dr. Karl Miller and others focused on the whitetail’s vision. They confirmed that to get a good 3-D look at a strange object, a deer has to shift its head and stare at it from several different angles. You’ve seen that before—a deer sees you and starts head-bobbing as it tries to figure out what the heck it is looking at.

The next time a doe or buck looks up into your tree stand and starts head-bobbing, freeze. When the animal dips its head and appears to look away, stay frozen. Only when the head-bobbing stops for good and the deer relaxes and seems satisfied that you are not dangerous should you shift in your stand and draw your bow. A deer’s eyes are well adapted to detect movement.

5 Things About Summer Deer Antlers

sask oneill 2017 2Velvet antlers have a complex system of blood vessels which causes them to be hot to the touch. Top whitetail scientist Dr. Grant Woods notes, “There is so much blood carrying protein and minerals to a buck’s antlers this time of year that even small antlers are easily detected by thermal imaging devices. Antler tines show up like neon signs when flying over with thermal cameras in summer.”

(Note: True and amazing how velvet antlers glow in a thermal imaging device. Last week on a nighttime hog hunt on a managed property in Georgia, I scanned the woods for hours with Trijicon’s IR Patrol thermal monocular and looked at a lot of good bucks; the hot-blooded antlers shined twice as white and bright than the deers’ bodies!)

Tiny hairs on the velvet stick out and make the antlers look thicker than they are. The hairs act as a radar system so a buck won’t bump into trees, fence posts, etc. and damage his soft antlers.

Sebum, a semi-liquid secretion, on those hairs gives the velvet a shiny look. Sebum also supposedly acts as an insect repellent to keep gnats, biting flies off a buck’s rack and face.

In early August antlers will begin to change from soft and pliable to hardened bone. “A buck’s antlers will change from looking swollen or bulbous at the tips of the tines to a more normal diameter,” notes Dr. Woods. “Once this change in appearance occurs the buck won’t add much beam or tine growth.”

By mid-August most of the antler growth for the year is done. Sometime between September 1 and 20 bucks will shed the velvet. The cue for antler hardening and the velvet shedding is the change in photoperiod caused by decreasing daylight and increasing darkness, which results in a significant increase in the bucks’ testosterone.