Mule Deer: Populations Up Big In Eastern Montana

YetiPack.jpg compMule deer populations in Eastern Montana are showing signs of a strong recovery based on post-hunting season surveys this winter.

This is great news, since most of what you read and hear is how muley numbers are down and falling across much of the West.

From 2010 to 2012, a string of cold, snowy, brutal winters that lingered into spring cut mule deer numbers by as much as 55 percent in the region. But after surveys this winter, biologists estimate a near-record number of 91 fawns per 100 does in many areas.

Bucks are also doing well, with an average of 37 bucks per 100 does compared to a long-term average of 32 per 100 in Eastern Montana. Biologists note that observations from hunter check stations last fall showed that many young bucks had great antler growth, a sign that the habitat are forage are in good shape, and that deer are finding plenty to eat.

This is especially welcome news for me since Northeastern Montana, up around Glasgow, is one of my favorite places to hunt. I hunted this wild, raw country with my friend Kelly of Burke Ranch Outfitters last November, and saw a noticeable increase in the number of deer, confirming anecdotally that the muleys have made a big comeback. Kelly also has fantastic hunting for big elk in the Breaks.

I shot a great old buck in a remote canyon at dark one night, and boned the meat and packed him out the next morning. It was one of my favorite hunts from last fall, invigorating spot-and-stalk, and you’ll see it on a new episode of BIG DEER TV this fall.

Hunting TV: Why I Air No-Kill Episodes

tx sunsetIn the last couple of seasons of BIG DEER TV, we have aired episodes from Wisconsin, New York, Montana and other places where we hunted hard, had fun and did not shoot a buck. Those “no kill” shows were some of our most popular and highly rated episodes.

One good trend in hunting TV is that more and more viewers want to see and hear the real story, whether it ends with a buck or not, and more and more producers and network executives are getting that, albeit slowly.

Every time somebody questions me on whether we ought to air a no-kill episode or not, I point them to this letter I got one time from a viewer:

Mike: I want to tell you that I appreciated and enjoyed your recent show at Mouse River, ND. I enjoyed it for reasons you, and your producers likely did not–you didn’t get a deer. I appreciate you showing the truth and reality that the vast majority of us experience. Most of us hunt for days and weeks, and sometimes we come home with nothing but knowledge, experience and memories…also known as the important stuff.

I’m sitting in a cheap motel room in St. Ignace, MI. I’m here for 2 days to scout and set up some natural ground blinds on State Land for the upcoming bow and gun season. Two days in the heat, bugs, poison ivy and spiders just to increase our group’s chances of harvesting a deer this year. The State Land we hunt on doesn’t hold a lot of deer, but we’ve taken 3 mature bucks in the 4 past years. That equates to each dedicated hunter with a 1 in 4 odds of taking a mature buck in a given year. Last year I left empty-handed, but full-hearted. I spent over 120 hours hunting w/bow, rifle and muzzleloader. I passed on some spikes, couldn’t shoot the does, and never had a shot at the big boys.

We have access to properties in southern Michigan and have better luck putting venison in the freezer. But just shooting a deer isn’t what we’re after. We love the challenge of hunting the big northern woods. We accept the fact that our chance for the traditional definition of “success” is limited, but the experience is worth that sacrifice.

Your shows support that ideal; that “success” is no substitute for a challenge accepted.

For your producers and sponsors who wonder if my opinion is worth a damn in their financial models: I’m a 33 year old white male with an MBA from a Big Ten school working in the finance department for a major US corporation in metro-Detroit. I spend $1,000 a year in hunting equipment and fees. I spend roughly 25 days afield hunting whitetails. I watch the hunting channels religiously. I’m tired of seeing people shoot huge bucks in private, high-dollar, sometimes high-fenced places. I cannot relate to that experience. But I can relate to a hard hunt that doesn’t come to fruition. Thanks again for showing it once in a while. Kind Regards, —Paul from MI.

BIG DEER TV: Giant Buck in Kansas

kansas giant buck field

Danny filmed this buck in Kansas one afternoon last fall…at 600 yards. When you see that much rack (esp. G-4s) from that far away you know it’s a big deer. Second I saw him I hissed, “170!” And look how long his body is. Sometimes a buck’s huge size can make his rack look even smaller than it is.

Back at the camp house that night I told the landowner I had seen a Boone and Crockett, or close to it. “Why didn’t you shoot?” he asked.

“Six hundred is too far for me, and especially on TV,” I said.

“Aw, you could have gotten him,” he growled.

And I could have missed…or worse.

Most hunters will never get the opportunity to see a B&C class buck in the wild, much less shoot at one. If and when that happens, the urge might be to take a Hail Mary at long range. Would you have tried it?

I get the opportunity to hunt good places, and that buck was the biggest I’d seen in the last 3-4 years. But I was comfortable with my decision to pass then, and even more so now.

More frustrating was that the giant walked into those trees less than 200 yards away from the stand I had hunted that morning! Had I not moved stands for the evening hunt, you never know…

That buck was never shot last season far as we know. You’ll see this great deer and the encounter on a new episode of BIG DEER TV on Sportsman Channel this fall.

Kentucky Big Buck: Troy Gentry’s Ft. Knox Giant, 186 6/8

KY gentry 1My favorite segment on BIG DEER TV is American Deer Hunter. No matter where I’m hunting, my producers and I try to find a local hunter in the area who has shot a magnificent  whitetail. During a break in the hunting, we head over to the hunter’s house to film him and hear the story. When the new season of BIG DEER starts this July, you’ll see and hear Troy Gentry talk about the day he killed this 186” 10-point in Bullitt County, Kentucky . FYI, when we show up with the cameras you never know how a hunter will react. As you will see on this show, Troy was a natural, smooth and comfortable on camera as he told his story (paraphrased here):

It was 2002, and I got drawn for a really good area on Fort Knox military installation. It was the first day of a two-day hunt, shotgun-only, and I was hunting with a Remington 1187 slug gun. I had been sitting in the tree all morning, daylight to about 11:20, and I had a pounding headache. I got down to go get some aspirin out of my truck.

As I still-hunted back to within about 80 yards of my stand, I saw a little doe between me and the stand. Behind her was this incredible buck. After the shot, I immediately radioed my dad and told him I’d just killed a Boone and Crockett. By the time he got over there I had told him four different stories…he’s 170, 180, 200 inches! I just couldn’t believe it when I walked up on that deer.

By the time we got the deer out to the truck, there was a colonel and a general from Fort Knox. The general was on his cell phone saying. “We got a new state record, we got a new state record…” Everybody was freaking out. On B&C scoring system he grosses 198 and nets 186 6/8. On the SCI scoring system he scores 202 6/8 and is the Kentucky state record under that system. He’s just an amazing animal…it was the best experience of my hunting career.—Troy Gentry

NOTE: Troy’s 10-point buck has 27” and 28” main beams, and 14” and 15” tines. It ranks as the #13 typical ever shot in Kentucky.

Two lessons to take away from Troy’s hunt:

—If there’s a military installation, state forest or area near you that holds an annual draw hunt, apply. These limited-entry hunts are usually short, 2 or 3 days, and there’s a good chance to shoot a buck…and if you’re really lucky a giant.

—It amazes me how many monster bucks are killed when hunters least expect it. If you have to get down from your stand one day for whatever reason, don’t sweat it. But don’t stop hunting. Keep your edge, move slow and hunt as you head back to your truck or back to your stand, just like Troy did. You never know when a big buck will show up, so be ready.

BIG DEER TV: “Top 10 Rut Tactics” Helps Hunter Shoot Biggest Buck Ever

In buck kenny 2Mike: I watch your show all the time, and just wanted to thank you for the information on deer hunting. Last year I watched the episode “10 things to Know about the Whitetail Rut.” Well, I took your advice about hunting on November 8th, and had the most activity I’ve ever experienced in the deer woods!  I hunted every day from November 8th to the 11th 2014. I grunted, rattled and used the bleat can….and I shot the BIGGEST deer of my life! I shot him from a ground blind at 28 yards with my Hoyt Faktor 30.—Thanks and God bless, Kenny Kyte from southern Indiana

PS: I’ve already scheduled my vacation for this time of year next deer season.

Awesome Kenny, great buck and thanks for watching. The new season of BIG DEER TV (my best ever yet I think) will start airing in July 2015.