Alabama Snow Freaks Out Deer

IMG_2959[1]A couple of weeks ago we had a TV crew down near Selma, Alabama. The rut typically kicks off around January 15 here, and after my first 2 sits I knew we’d hit things just right.

I saw young bucks scent-trailing and chasing, and the first evening a pretty good buck fight broke out in the food plot I watched. I had 3 more days to hunt, and figured it was just a matter of time until I saw a shooter. I was not going to be picky; people had been hunting these areas and these stands for weeks, making these already wild deer spookier and more nocturnal yet. If I saw a 3.5- or 4.5-year-old buck with a 120-plus rack, I’d gladly take him.

The next morning deer rutted harder yet. I didn’t see much from my ladder, but my friend and Sportsman Channel colleague Graig Hale spotted a high-racked buck chasing a doe through the woods. The white antlers looked heavy, so Graig dropped him with a quick shot from his .270 Remington Model 783.

Great decision: the 4.5-year-old 8-point buck scored 136 with character, a real trophy for hard-hunted ground in Alabama.

All good, but dark clouds were moving in and the temperature was dropping fast as I headed to my stand that evening. Around 2:00 o’clock, sleeted started and then turned to light snow.

Normally I hope for cold and snow in the rut, but not in Alabama. “This weather will freak these deer out,” I told my cameraman Mike.

The snow picked up and the temperature dropped into the 20s at dusk. We didn’t see a single deer. It snowed 3 inches overnight, and was 10 degrees the next morning. We saw nothing, even the squirrels refused to move. I hunted 2½ more days and saw a total of 4 deer, and no bucks even close to shooting.

Back home, to confirm my suspicions that snow and cold freak out Southern deer, I emailed Chuck Sykes, Director Alabama Wildlife and Fisheries. He wrote back:

Mike: You’ve got to think like an Alabama deer not a Midwestern deer. Most of our deer have never seen snow. They may be 3 or 4 years old before they do. So, it does freak them out. It’s been my experience over the years down here, sleep in when it snows or a hard cold front comes in. They hunker down in the closest thicket and pout until it warms up a bit and the snow starts to melt. It usually takes them 2 or 3 days to get adjusted. 

I’ll remember that next time I hunt the Deep South, and you should too if you live down there.

But all was not lost. Graig shooting his great buck the morning before the snow hit saved the day and helped to make another fine episode of BIG DEER TV that will appear on Sportsman later this year.



2 Reasons a Mature Buck Avoids Your Trail Camera

graig hale kansas 2017My friend Graig Hale shot this great buck in Kansas one afternoon last December. It was the first time anyone had spotted this giant on the farm where Graig got him.

Brian Helman of 180 Outdoors scouts incessantly and has incredible knowledge of the bucks that live on the leases and farms that he manages in southeastern Kansas. Brian went back through thousands trail camera pictures he’d captured last summer and fall—not one image of Graig’s buck. Then he and checked tens of thousands of pictures from 2016 and earlier—still no picture of the old buck.

Generally whitetails in this type habitat—a perfect mix of corns, beans, food plots, oak strips and woodlots, and creek bottoms—have a home range of a mile or so, and a mature buck’s core area is smaller than that. But obviously the buck did not live on that farm, and to Brian’s knowledge had never stepped hoof on there before.

Why was the big deer there that one day last December? Where had he come from? I have 2 theories.

One, he might have been one of the few bucks that live on a farm for a few years, and then for whatever reason picks up and leaves, only to return a couple years later. We actually posted last September about a Kentucky buck that did just that.

BUT, a better explanation I believe is that this buck was pushed out of his core area by hunting pressure. Graig and I hunted the first week of KS rifle season in early December 2017. While there were no other hunters on the farm that Graig hunted that week, there was obviously pressure all around on surrounding farms.

It is true, and it’s been supported by many studies, that in the face of hunting pressure, most big bucks hole up and go nocturnal, but don’t leave their home ranges and core areas entirely. But I believe that sometimes a mature buck has just had enough. Day after day hunters plow through the woods and thickets where he hides…ATVs roar around…rifles crack. A buck says to heck with this, and goes on a “pressure excursion,” sneaking a couple miles or more off to a place where there are fewer people and where he might relax.

I theorize that the 5-year-old 9-point Graig killed had done just that, and that is why the buck had never before been seen on the farm before. I believe that had Graig not killed him that afternoon, the buck would have made his way back to his home turf in a couple of weeks when the season was over and the guns had stopped booming.

Bottom line, you never know when and where you’ll encounter a shooter buck, man. Your very best tactic is plan and scout as best you can, and then put in as much stand time as you can, right up to season’s end.

You can see Graig’s hunt for this buck on the new season of BIG DEER TV, coming summer 2018.

BIG DEER TV Season 7 Coming Summer 2018 on Sportsman Channel


We’re 80% wrapped filming another season of BIG DEER TV, and what a ride it has been once again. I don’t have the luxury of hunting sprawling private farms, or high-dollar lodges. And that’s fine. I don’t want hunt like that.

We travel around North America and hunt wild deer in woods and on farms that are very similar to those that you hunt. Like you, most days we don’t shoot a buck. A few days we do get lucky. My show is all about real-world deer hunting with real-world hunters.

At least once a year, I take a flyer and go hunt an area and a type of whitetail I’ve never hunted before. This year, in December, we went deep into extreme southwestern Texas, into 5,000-foot mountains 20 miles from the Mexico  border. That is where Carmen Mountain whitetails, the smallest strain of huntable whitetail deer in America, live.

These little deer, which weigh 90 to 110 pounds on the hoof, are tough to find and hunt. A good buck scores 100-110″ and a 120″ buck is exceptional. I was lucky to shoot a nice 9-pointer (top left picture) and look forward to telling you the story of this little known deer in an episode next summer.

The biggest buck of 2017 goes to my friend and Sportsman Channel colleague Graig Hale, who on the last evening of our hunt in southeast Kansas shot a 160-class brute (top right). As you will see in that episode there is a good theme of “be patient.” All us deer hunters need to learn more patience, and this shows why.

A friend of mine leased a 300-acre piece of prairie with few trees in sight and wondered if there were any bucks on it. It certainly was unique, bald habitat. I said I’d hunt it and find out. Sure enough I saw some deer and shot the buck bottom left in the photo.

No season would be complete for me unless I hunted the provincial forest (government crown land, public) of north-central Saskatchewan. It is supposed to be cold in Canada in November, but the below zero temps were abnormal and brutal during our week there, hard on man, and cameras and batteries. The rut activity was spotty, but I managed to kill a great buck the last day (bottom right) after 50 hours of sitting and shivering in a ground blind in the wilderness.

The crew and I are heading for Alabama Saturday for one last hunt, hoping to hit the January rut just right. A few more shoots this spring to wrap things up and we can put a  bow on what I know will be another great season of BIG DEER. Let the editing and post-production begin.

Thanks for your Support and Watching our show!–MH

“Ultimate Hunting Rigs” Tonight on BIG DEER TV

florida swamp buggy

In January I traveled down to the Lake Okeechobee area and filmed a hog hunt out of this wicked swamp buggy, just one of several rigs you’ll see on this all-new episode.

rigs suburban

There’s this lifted camouflage Suburban that we used out on the Oregon high desert, as well as a vintage Toyota Land Cruiser customized for, of all things, gopher shooting…

rigs aev 3

New custom models too, like these AEV conversion rigs.

Hunters love their trucks, and you gear heads will love this show. Tonight, Wednesday, 7 PM on Sportsman Channel (605 Direct TV) set your DVR.

Big Deer’s 2017 Moon-Rut Hunting Guide

full moon buck compress2017 rut moon phases: Full November 4…last quarter November 10…new November 18…first quarter November 26

As I have said time and again here on the blog and on BIG DEER TV, I am neither a scientist nor an astronomer. But I am a whitetail hunter and have been doing it for 40 years, more than 30 of those professionally. I’m also a moon fanatic. Over the years I figure I’ve spent between 880 and 1,000 days in a deer stand in November, during every imaginable moon phase and all waxing and waning days.

My journal notes and personal observations say that there is definitely something to the November moon and how it impacts the movements of rutting whitetails.

My 2017 predictions:

I like the way this November’s moon sets up. For starters it exposes the seeking phase of the pre-rut, when bucks start to prowl and expand their range for the first hot does. Halloween into the first week of November is a good time to bowhunt in any season. This year, with the moon waxing toward full–91% visible on November 1 to 100% bright on November 4-5–the hunting should be especially good.

If you hunt that first week of November, keep in mind that deer movement will be best near food sources in the afternoons. If a cold front sweeps into your hunt area that week, better yet.

During the full moon week of Nov. 4-11, the best buck movement will shift to the mornings. While it flies in the face of what many scientists and hunters believe, I love hunting a full moon in early November because in my experience, the deer rut hard all day. You’re apt to see a shooter on his feet at 8:00 a.m.…11:00 a.m.…2:00 p.m….any day this week, so hang on stand as long as you can.

For vacation-planning purposes:

If the land you’ll hunt has crop fields and food plots, I’d suggest you hunt the first 5 days of November. Hunt stands near the feed and focus on the afternoons. A stand on a slightly elevated ridge 100-200 yards off a corn or bean field would be a hotspot either afternoon or morning.

If the land is mostly woods with mast and greenery for deer food, think about hunting a little later, say November 5-12. Historically, if you check the record books, these are the very best days in any year to kill a monster buck. Set your stands back in the woods along trails and travel funnels—especially those with smoking-fresh scrapes–and hunt bucks seeking to hook up with does near bedding areas in the mornings.

Again, if you can hack it, stay on a deep-cover stand all day. I expect some giants to fall from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. during the big moon November 5-10.

Buck movement and rutting activity will vary some according to local conditions and weather, but for the very best chance to shoot a giant I say hunt sometime in the Nov. 2-12 window. But go when you can. You still have a decent shot into the new moon of November 17-18, though in most places the best rut will begin to slow down.

If at all possible hunt ground with minimal or no pressure, which I know is difficult. But even moderate human intrusion can turn mature bucks nocturnal and blow up your moon opportunity.

Hunt hard and safe, and good luck.