BIG DEER TV: Fall 2016 Hunting & Filming Recap

As 2016 draws to a close, it’s a perfect time to recap my fall hunts that will begin airing in July 2017 during season 6 of BIG DEER TV. Thanks to Remington Arms, Trijicon, Wildlife Research Center and Sportsman Channel for their amazing support. And a special and heartfelt thanks to all of you who watch our show and read this blog. I hope you have a happy, healthy and prosperous 2017.–MH

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In September I traveled to South Carolina and hunted with Will (left) and Ethan for a few days. These kids are bravely battling cancer every day and I hope and pray for them. One evening Ethan shot this buck, and we all gathered round the skinning shed. Lots of laughs and tears that night.

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From there we traveled to Taos, New Mexico. It had been a few years since I had hunted elk, and I was raring to go…until I hunted a couple of dry days and figured out that no elk had yet made their way down from the high country to the lower elevations where we hunted. We gave it our best shot, hiking hard for 10-12 miles every day, to no avail. I don’t know how much if any of the footage we shot will air on TV…a shame, because the Rio Grande Gorge country is magnificent.

In late October I trekked out to the Milk River in northeast Montana. It was my first trip back to my old familiar hunting grounds since 2010, when a combination of EHD and flooding devastated the local whitetail herds, killing more than 90 percent of the deer.

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For 6 years I kept in close contact with my dear friend Luke Strommen, until we finally decided to try another TV hunt. Luke shot a doe (above) and then a buck later in the season, though not on camera.

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After hunting 3 days, I knew that while the herds had come back well on this section of the Milk, it would still take years before it gets as good as it was from 2006-2010, when Luke and I killed a bunch of good bucks with our bows. But I did find this amazing deer trail, and that evening hunted off the ground at the far end of it. I was lucky to shoot this 4X4 with my Remington muzzleloader. I figure it will take 2-3 more years for the age structure of the bucks to be as it should be, and I have fingers crossed that the Milk River will be spared EHD for years to come.

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I can’t imagine what early November would be like unless I was shivering in a ground blind for 10 hours a day somewhere in the remote bush of north-central Saskatchewan. Except last month when I hunted there, the temperature soared into the unheard of mid-50s! (I have hunted this country when it’s been 70 degrees colder.) This time I hunted out of a rustic camp with my old friend Trevor, with whom I had hunted elk 30 years prior in B.C. Turned out to be a fantastic reunion, as I got my Saskatchewan mojo back and shot a beautiful mid-150s buck. There is a twist to the story, but you’ll have to wait till next summer to watch.

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I hurried back home to hunt the second week of the Virginia blackpowder season, which is typically peak rut. My friends Jack and Cecil and I had gotten pictures of good bucks all summer long, and as the rut approached we found some big rubs, including the largest cedar I have ever seen thrashed in VA. We hunted a week hard, and never saw a shooter…we had hit the dreaded “lockdown” phase dead on. BTW, there are recent stories floating around that lockdown–when bucks hole up with does and don’t move–might be a myth. Don’t buy it! Unfortunately it’s real, and the buck hunting is downright difficult if not impossible.

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But there was a highlight from Virginia. One of our friends, Alex, who hunts Jack’s farm had a big bear amble beneath his tree stand, and he drilled it with his bow (unfortunately not on camera). Our black bear population is exploding.

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The day after Thanksgiving I hopped a plane to Oklahoma to hunt with my good friends Scott and Joni at Croton Creek Ranch. We had 4 guests in camp, and the hunt was epic. Although it was late November, we hit the rut just right. I stalked and shot an old 8-point we named “crabclaw” as he tended a doe and ran off young bucks.

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The next 3 days, everybody in camp tagged out. The highlight was Chuck Wahr’s beautiful 150-class 9-point. I had hunted that deer 2 days and had seen him twice before I tagged out. Chuck picked it up from there and shot what Scott figures was the biggest buck on the ranch last fall.

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I pulled a rifle tag for southeastern Kansas, and headed out there on a semi-guided but mostly DIY hunt, a fine way to do it. It was warm for 3 days and we didn’t see much. One afternoon I decided to bag the tree stand and brushed in a blind in a cedar-thick staging area near a bean field. I stepped back, examined the blind and thought it looked like a great spot. Three hours later I shot a cool buck with 6 points on one side.

Looking back, the fall of 2016 was a fun and successful year, and it’s not over yet. Well, 2016 is, but in January 2017 I’ll be heading down to south Alabama for one last hunt, hoping to hit the rut right again, hoping for one last buck and another new and interesting episode for BIG DEER TV.

Thanks for watching, and again Happy New Year!

 

The Hunting Mentality: “Keep Your Head in the Game”

Got this from Bud awhile back:

Mike, watch your show all the time. My son and I hunted together in Kentucky last year. One day I sat in a blind and saw deer from dawn until 10:30. I let 16 smaller bucks go, waiting for Mr. Big. I didn’t see another deer for 4 hours.

All I thought about was what you said in one of your shows: “Keep your head in the game you never know when he will step out…”

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Well, my buck came out at 2:45 in the afternoon, and I dropped him at 217 yards with a .30-06 shooting a 180-grain. I’ve been hunting since I was 16; I’m 69 and he’s my best deer. Just got him back from the taxidermist.

My son has been hunting since he was 11. He’s 35 and also took his biggest deer, a 9-point, on that trip.

Thanks for the advice and looking forward to next season of BIG DEER.—Bud Cummings

Great job guys, way to keep your heads in the game and your instincts ready. Deer hunting is 80% mental. You never know when a shooter will step our, and you need to be poised to cash in.

BIG DEER TV 2016 Episode 5: Kentucky’s Coal-Country Elk

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Did you know that Kentucky has the largest herd of wild elk east of the Mississippi River?

In 1997, seven elk were shipped from Kansas to the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. Over the next several years some 1,550 more wapiti were transported from various Western states into the Kentucky mountains. The animals thrived in the hilly, rugged reclaimed strip mine habitat. Today Kentucky’s elk herd is estimated at a strong and healthy 10,000 animals.

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It is one of America’s top wildlife restoration stories, and we highlight and celebrate that success on tonight’s episode.

The conservation story is weaved amid a great hunt that took place last October. My friend and Sportsman Channel colleague, Graig Hale, somehow beat astronomical odds and drew a tag. As you will see, Graig encountered several Appalachian bulls and cashed in with a nice one.

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I had hoped to somehow get a tag and go along on this unique hunt. The folks in charge of the elk tags laughed and said, “Yeah, maybe you can draw one in 20 or 30 years!”

So we let Graig and ace videographer Danny Dodge handle it, and as you will see they did a superb job.

Set your DVR, BIG DEER TV Wednesdays at 7 pm ET on Sportsman Channel.

BIG DEER TV 2016 Episode 3: “Rut Race Saskatchewan to Idaho”

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As the script goes: Saskatchewan’s muzzleloader season is 2 weeks earlier than my usual rifle hunt up here, and the warm, wet weather is killing us. It’s hard just to get around in the mud and slop, and the deer are inactive in their thick winter coats…the forest is dead…but you have to keep your head up.

That I did, though I did not see a single buck all week. A few does, but not one buck. My 10-plus-year streak of amazing buck hunts and good fortune in the Saskatchewan bush had come to a crashing end.

I could not let it end that way. I’d have to come back next month…

Down but not out, I put a tough hunt behind me and prepare for daunting terrain in the river canyons of northwestern Idaho.  A far cry from the mental fatigue of the ground blind, this hunt will test my physical stamina and work ethic…

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White Bird, Idaho, named after a chief of the Nez Perce tribe, is surrounded by prime western whitetail habitat…but you have to earn your buck in this tough country.

First no buck in Anticosti Quebec and ditto for Saskatchewan last week. My rough start to the 2015 whitetail season rolls on. The first guy I met in Idaho was a local game warden named George, a nice fellow who said, “You should have been here last year. Plenty of bucks. This summer, EHD hit the whitetails hard in the area you’re hunting.”

…you have to keep your head up.

We started glassing and hunting in this stunningly beautiful paradise where during a normal season you can find 10 or more whitetail bucks a day without too much effort, along with lots of mule deer and elk. Some mule deer and herds of elk were still here, but we were hard pressed to see one whitetail buck. Just as I thought I’d eat my third tag in a row, Bob and I crossed a creek, looked up and…

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As the show ends, you’ll see how to make a whitetail backpack and carry the whole darn deer, sans legs, up and out of the mountains on your back. (Not mine, but a strong, tough 20-something named Ryan.)

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This new episode of BIG DEER TV airs 7 pm Eastern tonight on Sportsman Channel, set your DVR.

BIG DEER TV: Why We Air No-Kill Episodes

walk snow woodsAfter last’s night episode in which I hunted magical new country for a week, walked long and hard, sweated and cussed, laughed and had fun, but came home empty-handed, Steve emailed me and said: “Mike, loved the Anticosti show, too bad you didn’t get anything, that would have made it better.”

I thanked Steve for writing, and sent him a link to a blog I wrote while ago, and reprint here with a few tweaks and updates:

In the last few seasons of BIG DEER TV, we have aired episodes from Maine, Wisconsin, New York and other places (and now Anticosti Island Canada) where I hunted hard as hell but did not kill a buck (BTW, hard is the only way I know to hunt.) Those no-kills turned out to be some of our most popular and highly rated episodes, and I hope it’s like that with the Anticosti show.

One good trend in hunting TV is that more and more viewers want to see and hear the real story and the adventure, whether it ends with a buck or not. While there is still quite a bit of whack-and-stack going on, more and more producers and network executives are starting to get it. Good hunting TV is not all about the kill, far from it.

Reminds me of a great letter I got from a viewer:

‘Mike: I want to tell you that I really appreciated and enjoyed your show in 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 most of the time 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’re after the challenge of outsmarting a mature buck. 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 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.’

Look, I try to shoot a buck, a big one, every time out. But you and I know that is not going to happen. But here’s what does happen every day you hunt but don’t kill– you “come home with nothing but knowledge, experience and memories…also known as the important stuff,” as Paul so eloquently put it.

That is why I try to keep it as real as I can, because there are a lot of hunters like Paul in the audience that want to see the good with the bad, the ugly with the pretty, the failure with the success. Are you one of them? Tell me what you think.