Deer Season 2016: What Kind of Year Do You Predict in Your State?

trail camera bucks alberta

My friend sent me this fascinating photo from his farm in Canada. He’s been watching the buck on the right all summer, and the 6×6 on the left just showed up. “Good sign,” he texted, “cause the really big ones up here generally don’t show up until late October.”

BTW, since I received this picture smack in the middle of the Rio Olympics, I caption it:

Whitetail Olympics, Synchronized Feeding, the Canada bucks take the gold!

I am heartened to see the nice bucks up North, where the 2015 winter was relatively mild. After some lean times, I think this could be the best rack season in years in western Canada.

How about where you live and hunt? What kind of rack year do you expect? What predictions are you hearing from your state’s wildlife agency? What kind of bucks are showing up on you and your friends’ trail cameras?

Please let me know below because I’ll be putting together a pre-season prediction blog on the upcoming 2016 season, and your specific info will help me out.

(Hint: From what I’m seeing and hearing early, this has the potential to be the best buck season across America since 2010.)

Deer Racks: What Causes a Weak-Side Antler?

md dan uneven rackOur friend Danny from Maryland sent this picture and asked this question:

Is there any chance this deer’s antlers will eventually even out? Or will he most likely always have an uneven rack based off his genes? He doesn’t appear to have suffered any injury to cause this.

The vast majority of whitetail bucks grow even or largely symmetrical and typical antlers. Although the buck in this picture may not appear hurt now, there is a strong likelihood that he sustained some injury earlier this year.

“I think the buck in the picture was injured,” says QDMA biologist Kip Adams. “His left antler looks normal, just minus a brow tine.  His right antler has a good-sized brow and then 3 stubby points, which are very common from an injury.  I’m guessing the injury was to his antler but it could have been to the body.”

Kips notes that the pedicle, or base, of the weak side antler looks fine “so I’m guessing the injury was to his antler, and that suggests if he survives to next year he will not carry the injury with him. He’ll be easy to follow this fall with his unique rack. Good luck in the woods.–Kip


10 Best Spots for Trail Cameras

trail camera

Here are 10 spots where you are likely to capture images of the biggest bucks on your land. How solid are my sources for this advice? The experts quoted here have taken and analyzed hundreds of thousands of cam pictures of mature bucks over the years. Read on and find out where and how to get the buck images. After that, the hanging of tree stands and closing the deal are up to you.

Hidden Water: One August in Iowa, Jay Gregory glassed a giant buck in one of his soybean fields. He snuck into a thick marsh less than a half-mile away and set a camera. Over the next weeks he got 5 photos of the velvet buck–not a lot of images, but enough. The picture time-stamped 9:00 a.m. on October 24 was gold–it showed the monster at the hidden waterhole in broad daylight. Jay moved in with a tree stand and arrowed the beast a few days later—it gross-scored 198.

“After spotting a big buck in an agricultural field or food plot, sneak in and set a couple of cameras on well-used trails near the closest river, creek or marsh,” says Jay. “As summer deepens, mature deer spend a lot of time hanging out near water in low-lying areas. If you get lucky and set your cams in the right spot, you can find out where a giant is bedding.” Then plan your ambush on a trail between the bed and the feed.

Small Clearing: Another great spot for cams are small clearings in the timber 50 to 100 yards off a crop field or clover plot where deer feed. “Some of my best camera locations are in these staging areas,” notes Tennessee deer researcher Bryan Kinkel. “Mature bucks often hang up in these staging areas in late afternoon before moving out to a field at or after dark.”

Find a staging area and set a cam on a fresh trail or rub line, or near an oak tree where acorns are falling. If you photograph a good buck, slip in, hang a stand and try to shoot him if the wind and access in the area let you do it.

Little Cover: In the book Deer Cameras: The Science of Scouting Wisconsin bowhunter and QDMA member Todd Reabe reveals where he gets amazing daytime photos of monster bucks on his small, well-managed property. And day images are what you want, because that shows when and where you might arrow a whopper when he’s on his feet in shooting light.

Todd stays away from field edges and instead aims his cameras into pockets and strips of security cover. “Small funnels and bottlenecks of thick cover between feeding and bedding areas are the best spots for my cams,” he says. Look for these secret cam hotspots on aerial photos and then go in and ground scout.

Thick Funnels: Dr. Mickey Hellickson, one of the top whitetail biologists in America, has taken camera surveys for many years on his Iowa hunting property with the sole intent of finding terrains and covers where mature bucks routinely travel. “The spot where we’ve gotten the most mature buck photos is where 2 or more drainages or fingers of timber come together,” he says. Mick notes that these funnels may be large or small, but one constant is thick security cover nearby. Hang cameras near these bottlenecks and you will find big deer. Then cross-reference the photos with aerial maps, consider fresh sign on the ground and hang tree stands for ambushes.

Green Timber: Hellickson’s picture surveys have revealed a second great place to set your cameras, especially later in the fall when the leaves blow down and the days get colder. “Our photos show mature bucks regularly use small blocks of timber with evergreen trees because the conifers provide increased security cover late in the year,” he says.

Copses or wind rows of pines or cedars also break the wind and provide a warmer climate for deer on cold, north-wind days. Beginning in late November, set a couple of cameras in these habitats and be ready to move in with a stand when a bomber buck shows up.

Scrapes: Another of the world’s top deer biologists, Dr. Grant Woods, has analyzed hundreds of thousands of cam photos taken in all imaginable types of habitat from September through January. He says the best place to get buck shots bar none is at scrapes during the rut. Look for big, active scrapes deep in the timber and “monitor them throughout the rut, not just for two weeks during the peak,” he says.

Grant explains that different bucks of all age classes show up at different scrapes at different times of the season—some come early in the pre-rut, some at peak, others don’t show until the post-rut phase. “Monitor the best scrapes for four to six weeks and you’ll see almost every buck big and small in the area,” says Woods. “You’ll get images of the local bucks on your land, and many of the transient bucks that work through too.”

Empty Stands: Midwestern hunter Mark Drury often straps cameras on the same trees (or on nearby trees) where he has fixed-position stands. He activates the units when he’s not hunting the stand.  If a shooter shows up, he analyzes the time stamp on the pictures with regards to weather, wind direction, etc. He analyzes the directions the deer are coming from or traveling too. “It’s a simple thing that helps me nail down the best time to go back and hunt a particular stand,” says Drury.

Pond Dam: Got a pond or lake dam in your hunt zone, or maybe a long, flat beaver dam? “It can be a magical bridge for deer from one block of timber to the next, or from woods to a field where they are feeding,” says Mark Drury.  “We set cameras on dams and run them all season. While a big buck might not travel on a dam say in October, he might run it in the rut or in December or January when he’s hitting late-season corn or beans nearby.” Pond dams with tall grass and weeds that can hide a buck as he sneaks around are the best surveillance spots for cams.

Fence Crossings: Mark Drury’s older brother, Terry, loves hanging cameras near “fence jumps,” which can be found in various configurations. “It might be a low, drooping spot in a wire fence, a hole in a ditch below a fence, an open gap gate, or a spot where a tree has fallen across a fence and knocked it down,” he says. “Any point where deer funnel to and cross a fence every day.” Second only to scrapes in the rut, fence crossings are where Terry captures some of his best buck images every season. “Whether you have 2, 6 or 20 fences crisscrossing your property, bucks are going to cross them in funnel spots all season long,” he says. “If you watch those spots enough with your cameras you’re going to find some big deer.”

Bed Spots: Minnesota bowhunter Ron Bice is an aggressive hunter that hides some cameras in cover where he thinks or knows a good buck is bedding. “In dense cover deep in the timber, deer get up and move around a lot in daylight hours to browse or just stretch,” he says. “You never know what kind of buck you’ll catch in there.”

It’s risky business because you have to sneak in there at least twice—once to set a camera and again to check the memory card–but it can pay off. “Get a picture of a big deer in his bedroom, and you’ve got a huge advantage,” notes Bice. “You get an idea where that buck is moving out of cover at dusk, and where he’s heading back at first light the next morning.” Then hang a tree stand along a nearby trail or funnel for a high-odds ambush.

Trail Camera Monday

Danny updates us on the doe that is afflicted with the huge cutaneous fibroma and more:

md danny cam 1

Here’s a recent pic of Old Wart Face (unfortunately that’s what we named her). Both she and her babies seem to be doing just fine.

md danny 2

I also have a small buck with several small warts over his body.

md dan cam 3

The split brow tine buck is now a main frame 9 plus the split brow. It looks like he has added tine length, but no real changes to the brow tines. Would love to see what he looks like in 2017, but I don’t think I could pass if the opportunity presents itself.  He’s approaching stud level for our area.

md danny freak

Still no pics of “The Freak” (above image from last summer). Starting to wonder if maybe he didn’t make it through the 36” snowstorm we had here last winter.  If he did survive, he should be a real monster this year. Keeping my fingers crossed that he shows up yet. Bow season is quickly approaching—Danny

Thanks Danny, great update.

A few words about the deer with the fibromas: While the doe with the giant growth on her face is acting normal, she has lost an eye, and the prognosis for her long-term survival is not good. Biologists that have seen this picture say this is the biggest fibroma they have ever seen on a deer.

The small buck with warts is much more typical of a deer that gets cutaneous fibromas, which are caused by a virus. These lesions don’t usually cause deer harm, unless they lead to a secondary infection. They are like warts, and sometimes deer can lose them (they fall off). If you shot this buck, the meat should still be edible.

A word about The Freak: He might still show up on Danny’s land yet; the older a buck gets the smaller and more unpredictable his core areas get. Plus, August is when a lot of big bucks start showing up mysteriously on peoples’ cameras.

Send me your trail cam pictures to share and get everybody fired up! I’ll keep the location confidential.

How to Make the Ultimate Mock Scrape

mock scrape summer

Today’s guest blog is from Wisconsin hunter and friend of BIG DEER Kim Redburn:

Did you know that a whitetail buck will check and freshen a scrape year-round?

Four years ago I started running 6 trail cameras 365 days a year on my land, as I really enjoy the wildlife and the change of seasons they capture. Being a hunter with 40 years of experience, I didn’t think I would stumble onto some deer behavioral habits I was not aware of. But I did.

Initially when I purchased my small wooded property I completed an extensive walk of the land in early spring.  I found several trails, a few small rubs and scrapes and 2 larger scrapes that I call “breeding scrapes.” These large scrape spots were the first 2 places I placed cameras. Two cameras were placed along prominent deer trails, and the last 2 cams were delegated security to watch the camper and the gate.

After a couple of years of constant monitoring, the pattern of bucks coming to freshen the large scrapes year-round became evident. That is when I began experimenting with making mock scrapes, but like most hunters I would wait until fall, just before the upsurge in scraping begins, to do it.

But turns out that might not be the best time for mock scrapes. I had some success, but since then I have found early summer to be the ideal time for making mock scrapes.

Here’s how I do it.

First is location selection. If you’ve been hunting real buck scrapes over the years and are tired of getting busted there, start making mock scrapes in places that benefit you, not the deer.

For years I think I may have put my stands in spots that did not have the stealth I needed to get in and out, which may have compromised my opportunity. This year I found a new tree stand location overlooking an area of mixed oaks and poplar that I can sneak to and away from easily.  I am taking a chance here because the closest trail is only 50 yards away, but from the tall oak I have a good lane of visibility, which is another reason I chose the tree. And this is where I built my latest mock scrape.

If it seems I’m doing things backwards—choosing a tree and then a place to scrape–well I am sort of, but that is how much I believe in my mock scrape making. Again, the key is the location of it.

While any dirt will do, the best mock scrapes start out with some soil and deer droppings that you collect at an existing scrape if you can find one (once you create a mock scrape in a place you really like, you can collect urine-soaked soil and droppings from real scrapes later this fall and add it to your scrape).

scrape juice

You will need a dripper system with a “scrape starter” solution. I use Wildlife Research Center, but there are other products out there. Note: Do not use doe in heat or an estrus scent at this time in the summer.

You’ll need a 3-prong hand rake, a trowel and a plastic bag.  Rake an existing scrape down to bare soil, and trowel a fair amount of the dirt, about 3 to 5 pounds, into the bag.

Carry the dirt to the spot where you’ll make your scrape, which must be below a prominent overhanging “lick or chew” branch that bucks will most definitely use. The branch should be at approximately 4 feet high–never touch it!

mock summer scrape

Your mock scrape is not only scent-based but also a visual sign, so rake out at least a 2 foot by 3 foot area below the overhanging branch.  As I rake, I envision a buck. He scrapes with his hooves primarily in one direction, and your raking should be done the same way, leaving the debris on the back side of the scrape.

Without stepping into the middle of your scrape, hang your empty dripper on a limb above the chew branch where scent will drip and land in the scrape. Now spread your collected soil evenly across your scraped-out area.  While this deer-scented dirt is not necessary, it adds realism and makes for a quicker and a more consistently attended scrape.

Fill your dripper with scrape-starter solution and make sure it’s dripping a bit. Place your trail camera nearby and enjoy the images you’ll get until hunting season opens.–Kim

About the buck photos above: Kim’s cameras captured both these bucks working her mock scrapes and chew branches earlier this July, proof her tactic works!