Big Game Q&A: 19 Tips To Help You Hunt Better

tree stand hunterI’ll be bowhunting big bucks in the South in December? Weather-wise, which days should be best?

Try to plan your hunts around cool, clear days with a north wind. “Down here, big bucks move the best on cool, bluebird days,” says Jimmy Riley, manager of Giles Island Plantation near Natchez, Mississippi. “We have lots of days when it’s warm and the wind blows out of the south. Deer don’t move as well then. But if you can catch a couple of crisp, clear days, you should spot some awesome buck movement.”

What are pheromones?

Pheromones are chemical substances in the urine and glandular secretions of deer. They serve as stimuli to other deer for behavioral responses. Many biologists believe that pheromones emitted by does trigger the peak of the rut and throw bucks into major breeding mode.

I plan to do a little late-season squirrel hunting this winter. Which days should be best?

Squirrels tend to move best on cool, clear mornings. But if it’s bitter cold, they’ll stay in their dens or nests an hour or so after sunrise, waiting for the woods to warm up a little bit before moving. Grays don’t move very well on rainy or misty mornings either.

What is “gap shooting”?

Some traditional archers use the gap-shooting method. Here’s how it works. You draw an arrow (with fingers), focus on the target and then peek at the point the broadhead. Then you aim and judge range according to the gap between the broadhead and the target. This type of shooting obviously requires a lot of practice to perfect.

I’d like to buy a new shotgun for my 10-year-old son. Any suggestions? 

You can’t go wrong with the 20-gauge Remington 870 Express Youth Model. Its short stock and length of pull fit most kids well. The pump action is safe when you load one shell at a time. Start your kid with a manual shell shucker; if he wants to, he can move up to an autoloader when he gets older. The Remington youth gun comes with a 21” barrel and a good, all-around modified choke tube for shooting 7/8-ounce loads at clay birds, doves, squirrels and rabbits.

I’ve got one buck tag and 2 days left to hunt. What is my best tactic?

First, find what deer are eating right now. A patch of standing corn or a pocket of late-falling acorns is nirvana. And re-check a harvested grain field or food plot where you hunted back in October. Even though a field receives moderate to heavy pressure throughout the season, a big buck will still hit it when food is scarce in winter.

I’m tired of sitting in a tree stand and not seeing many deer. How can I make something happen?

Try a little still-hunting? Pick a rainy day when the woods are quiet. The morning after a light snow is best. You can pad along like a ghost and maybe cut a smoking track. An old, gray buck up ahead will pop out like a neon sign against the white backdrop.  Stay high on a ridge or hillside, creep slowly and pause every few steps behind trees. Glass down into draws and bottoms. Only the hardiest brush and vegetation is still standing. Dissect every inch of it with your binocular. Look for a piece of a feeding or bedded deer—a twitching tail, a flickering ear or, best of all, a glinting tine.

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Should I sight-in my rifle with 3- or 5-shot groups?

I recommend 3-shot groups when sighting-in a hunting rifle. If you shoot five-shot groups the barrel heats up too much and the bullets’ point of impact (POI) keeps changing. Whether you’re using a .270 or a .338 sight-in 2 to 2 ½ inches high at 100 yards, which puts you dead-on or thereabouts at 200 to 220 yards.

How often should I clean my .270?

Clean a rifle after shooting 10-20 rounds. Some guns hold POI with a clean barrel, but many require a “fouling” shot, which blows out any cleaning residue and makes shots 2 and 3 accurate. Find that out at the range with each new rifle you purchase.

When hunting out West, I have trouble spotting elk or mule deer. Got any glassing tips that will help me out?

Break big country into quadrants. Glass one section slowly and methodically, and move to the next section and the next… Then go back and glass each quadrant again. A buck or bull might step over a ridge or out of a draw and into view at any time. Glass for a flickering ear or tail, the glint of an antler, a flat, furry backbone in vertical timber… Find a piece and a whole animal will suddenly materialize in your optic.

Is old ammunition safe to shoot and hunt with?

If ammunition is not exposed to excessive heat or moisture, and if it is stored properly in a dry place, it has a very long shelf life—10 years, 20 or maybe even longer. But if you see rusted or corroded cases and or/bullets, don’t shoot it.

Which rifle calibers do you recommend for elk?

Three calibers top my list: .30-06, 7mm Mag., and 7mm Rem. Mag. Shoot a minimum 150-grain bullet.

I’ll be bowhunting moose in grizzly country this fall. Got any tips for avoiding a bear encounter?

Your chances of encountering a grizzly are slim, but still you’re smart to plan ahead for the unknown. Carry a can of bear spray and keep it handy as you hunt and in your tent at night. In camp, store food and trash well away from your sleeping area; it’s best to hang the stuff high in trees. If you spot a bear at a distance, glass it and enjoy the experience, but don’t stalk too close. If you bump into a bear on a game trail, freeze and get out your spray. Back slowly out of the area. Remember, a grizzly wants to avoid a close encounter with you, too.

I just scouted a new piece of deer ground that has 3 major creek drainages running through it. Which of those creeks should I hunt?

Set your stands set where two or more ridges petered out into a wending creek bottom. Ridge bases and creeks (or rivers, sloughs, oxbow lakes and the like) are typically rimmed with cover and pocked with deer tracks, rubs and scrapes. They form 3- or 4-sided funnels that squeeze whitetails within bow or gun range.

Should I hunt whitetails on the edge of a big pine thicket, or hike back into the cover and hang my stand?

Bucks are notorious for traveling edges, where they love to rub and scrape along the way. When bowhunting, hang a stand in the dark, dense edge of pines, cedars, etc. That’s where big deer like to walk, and you’ll be well hidden in there. When hunting with a scoped rifle, slug gun or muzzleloader, set up 50 to 100 yards away and watch for a buck running a sign-blazed edge. Of course if you don’t see any deer or if pressure heats up in the area, you might have to hunt deeper in the thick stuff. But try the edge first.

I read the other day about an “off side” tree stand setup. What is that?

If you shoot right-handed, pick a tree to the right side of a well-used trail (you southpaws choose a tree to the left of a game run). Then strap a stand to the tree opposite of where you expect a buck or bull to come. When you hear an animal approaching from behind, sit tight. If a good buck or bull walks by and quarters away on your shooting side, kill him with little chance of getting busted.

I’ll be bowhunting a tract of big woods this September, where should I set up?

Zero in on white and red oak acorns, but don’t overlook isolated pockets of persimmons, crabapples, wild grapes, honey locust, pokeberries and the like. Deer love to fatten up on soft mast when they can in September. Coming to “hot” trees from all directions, does and fawns leave secondary trails that resemble spokes on a bicycle wheel. In mid-September and early October, bucks hang out near mast ridges, flats and bottoms. As they gobble acorns and soft fruits and make early contact with does, bucks blaze signpost rubs and rub-mark travel corridors between bedding and feeding areas. Evaluate the terrain, foliage and prevailing breeze. Then hang a tree stand in one of two places: downwind of a “wheel spoke” doe trail near heavy mast, or along a shiny rub line in the vicinity of signpost rubs. You ought to see a good buck one afternoon.

I’ll be hunting pronghorns in Wyoming later this year. How about some tips on rifles, loads and shooting at goats?

A good antelope rifle shoots a 100- to 150-grain bullet fast and flat. The .243, .25-06 and .270 are good choices; the .30-06 is the upper end. Top your gun with a quality, variable scope (3X-9X or even 4X-14X is the ticket). Sight-in 1 ½ to 2 inches high at 100 yards, and know what a bullet is doing out at 300 and even 400 yards. The first shot at a standing antelope is important. Take your time and make it count. A bipod on your rifle helps. If you miss with the first shot you’re apt to get running shots after that, and things really get interesting.

After climbing into a tree stand, what is the first thing I should do?

First thing when you climb into a bow stand, secure your harness and make sure you feel safe and comfortable. Then nock an arrow and swing your bow around to troubleshoot potential shooting snags before a buck strolls into view. Make sure you can turn and shoot easily left, right and out front; if a limb snags your bow, clip it.

Give me a few tips on clipping bow-shooting lanes.

Trim at least 4 lanes so you can shoot at a buck that approaches from any direction. Reach above your head and saw limbs; the fresh cuts will be above a buck’s sight plane. Saw saplings at ground zero, and cover the white cuts with leaves and dirt. Drag trims downwind of your stand and stick them in the ground where incoming deer cannot see them or smell your lingering scent on them. When hunting public land, check regulations to make sure trimming trees is legal.

Should I unload my muzzleloader after every hunt, or is it okay just to remove a cap and leave the gun stoked with powder and a sabot?

With today’s quality rifles, people get lulled into thinking they can load a gun and hunt with it for days or even a week, simply uncapping the rifle each night for safety. Sometimes I’ll go 2 days, but rarely more than that. You really ought to empty a gun after every hunt, and ram a fresh load down the bore the next day. Technology aside, a muzzleloader is a muzzleloader—finicky. Swabbing a rifle’s bore and reloading each day is a bit of a hassle. But it’ll make your gun go boom! when it finally comes time to shoot at a buck or bull.

Deer Rifle Sale: Get A Remington Model 783 For $300 At Cabela’s

Model783Crossfire

If you are in the market for a new deer rifle for 2018 head to the nearest Cabela’s or Bass Pro until August 26 and grab a Remington Model 783 for a tad over $300 with tax. This is an unbelievable deal for one of the most accurate and dependable deer rifles I have shot in the last 6 years.

I was the first blogger/hunter to shoot and test the Model 783, back in the fall of 2012. Later that November my friend John, who at the time worked for Remington, shot the first buck ever with the 783 on a hunt with me in Saskatchewan. We filmed the hunt for that 160-inch giant for my show Big Deer TV on Sportsman Channel.

When I posted my first review on the Model 783 in January 2013, I had shot the rifle in .30-06 quite a lot, but I had never killed a deer with. I have since shot 10 bucks with the 783, 4 with one chambered in .30-06 and 6 with my favored .270.

north texas buck

I tell you from experience that the no-frills Model 783 is a functional, reliable, accurate and affordable rifle that is designed: 1) to shoot MOA groups all day with Remington or Barnes factory ammo; and 2) put venison on the table. At $300 it’s the best rifle bargain I’ve seen in years.

Click here to research the Model 783 and see the specs before you buy.

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.

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Are Women Better Hunters Than Men?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne day I sat on a ridge in Wyoming with an old guy named Bill and watched through binoculars as a 30-year-old lady stalked a mule deer a mile away. She and her husband had booked a hunt in the same camp where I was staying.

She moved slowly, cautiously and I wondered if she’d ever get into rifle range. I snickered and thought, “Might have to go over there and show the girl how it’s done.”

“She’s doing perfect,” Bill said from behind his binoculars as she eased up her rifle. We heard the thump, saw the buck buckle and then heard the rifle crack.

“Mostly it just takes ‘em one shot,” said the wrinkled cowboy who had guided hundreds of men and maybe 20 women in his day. “A lot of ladies who are really into it are better hunters than men.”

I blew out my chest and said, “I don’t know about that now….”

“Just what I mean,” Bill cut me off. “You guys beat your chest, get all macho and think you know everything about deer, guns, ballistics, shooting… The more you talk about how much you think you know, the more likely you’ll screw up on a big buck.”

Bill went on to say that in his experience, 3 things make women better hunters: 1) they’re patient; 2) they’re good listeners; and 3) they do what they’re told.

“If I tell a guy to go sit by that tree for 3 hours he’ll sit maybe an hour before he gets up and starts walking around and messing up the spot,” Bill said.

“If I tell a lady to sit there for 3 hours she’ll sit there still and ready the whole time…and a lot of times she’ll kill a big animal.”

Bill also said that women tend to be calmer than men, many of whom get excited and come unglued and miss deer.

And women generally shoot smaller caliber rifles, like .243 or 7mm-08. They can shoot and hit better than some guy who goes out West with a cannon magnum that thumps his shoulder and makes him flinch.

While I have not hunted with a lot of women, I’ve guided a few young ladies over the years. Thinking back on those hunts, yes, they listen. Yes, they tend to stay amazingly calm when a buck shows up. They all shot a low-recoil rifle, and shot it well. Yes, I believe old Bill was right about this in a lot of ways.

I ask: If you hunt with your wife or girlfriend, is she better than you?

2017: It’s a Tough Economy for the Gun & Hunting Industry Right Now

2017 tough ecnomyThe health care chaos last week on Capitol Hill notwithstanding, things have been looking pretty good since President Trump’s election last November. The stock market is up and consumer confidence is high as the President reduces burdensome regulations on business and moves to act on tax reform this summer.

But ironically the election of our first pro-gun president in 8 years has slowed the sale of firearms and softened the overall shooting/hunting market. In recent years, with anti-gun Barack Obama at the helm and with the prospect of Hillary looming for another 8 years, law-abiding and freedom–loving Americans had a deep and well-founded concern that their gun rights were in serious jeopardy, and so we purchased guns and hoarded ammunition at a record pace.

But now, with President Trump in the White House and our Second Amendment rights secure for now, firearms sales have slowed and as a consequence cast a pale over the entire industry.

Colt, Savage, Remington and Federal Premium recently announced that they are constricting business and laying off employees, and many industry experts predict that other manufacturers will follow suit.

The record sales and profits from firearms and especially ammunition of the last 5 years carried over into the general outdoor and hunting market, and helped to account for decent to good sales. For example, a guy walked into a Cabela’s store to buy 3 boxes of ammo, and he picked up a new camo jacket and some other stuff on the way to the register. But many of those impulse buys have dried up and dried up fast.

In addition to declining gun/ammo sales is the overall retail industry’s struggles of 2017 and beyond. Namely, how do retailers with heavy investment in brick-and-mortar survive and grow in the Amazon world? You likely have empty storefronts in your hometown that thrived just 5 short years ago.

You might have heard that Gander Mountain recently declared bankruptcy, and as a part of that will close 32 of 162 retail stores in 11 different states. Click to see if a GM store near you is on the list to be shuttered.

Word is that Bass Pro Shops’ $4.5 billion deal to buy Cabela’s could be in jeopardy as federal regulators have requested more information from both parties. But most financial experts predict that the merger will still be approved and completed, most likely later this fall.

The bowhunting industry is not immune. The Outdoor Wire spoke with industry experts who pointed to significant problems facing the archery business and the considerable drop-off in bow and gear sales. One big reason—the trend of manufacturers toward high-end bows that cost $1,000 to $1,500. Not all hard-working hunters can fork out a good chunk of a mortgage payment for a new bow, so fewer bows are sold each year, and people are upgrading less and keeping their bows for 4 or 5 years.

While the gun/bow/hunting/outdoor industry is facing uncertain and tough economic times, there is light on the horizon. If President Trump can get our dysfunctional Congress to work together for once and approve meaningful tax reform for corporations and individuals alike this summer, and retroactive to January 1, 2017, the industry (and all retail) will receive an immediate boost. History shows that every time people get even a little more money in their pockets, they will spend some of it on their passions. There are no more passionate Americans than deer hunters. Give us back some more of our money and we’ll buy a new rifle or bow or trail camera or camo, just in time for the 2017-18 season.

As for the manufacturers, you will continue to see some constriction and shifting business strategies in the short term, but that can be a good thing. Smart business leaders step back, analyze changing market trends and then build and market products that people will buy in 2018, in this case quality and affordable guns and bows.

For retailers large and small, the future is inescapable and simple. We all still love to go to a Cabela’s,  Bass Pro or Gander store, and we love our local gun shop. We’ll still buy at those stores, but if a company is not heavily online and Mobile, they’re out of business or soon will be.

What about you? Are you spending less on gear? Buying more online? Will you purchase a new gun this year? Does a new bow cost too much?