Deer Season is Over: Learn From Your Mistakes

snow walkign out maineI have started thinking back about what went right and what went wrong last season.

The best memories are of the few days when I shot a buck, but I will learn the most by replaying and analyzing all those tough and lean days and weeks when I didn’t get a deer. How did I mess up? What could I have done differently?

Map and Scout More

A buddy called last September and said, “Hey man, I got permission to hunt a new farm, you in?”

“Let’s go!”  I roared and off we went for a week in the early season. We hunted like mad, had fun, saw some deer but came home empty-handed.

We should have slowed down and scouted a day or two or a week from home and before we ever stepped foot on the farm.

If you’ll hunt new ground this fall, obtain old-school maps and aerial photographs, and also pull up the property’s coordinates on Google Earth. Spend time studying the lay of crop fields, woods and edges; look for a cut-over or power-line where whitetails will feed and mingle. Check for cover—grown-up fields, cedar stands, beaver swamps and the like. Ridge thickets that overlook crop fields or creek bottoms are especially good places for bucks to bed.

Search for strips of woods, hollows, cover-laced streams and other funnels that connect feeding and bedding areas. Mark a couple of potential stand sites in and around those travel corridors.

It’s that simple. By studying maps you can eliminate up to 50 percent of marginal habitat before you ever leave the house. Then you’re ready to load up, drive out and initiate a smart ground game in spots where deer will be active.

Hunt Terrain, Not Sign

Day after day for a week in Virginia, I fell into the trap of watching a set smoking-hot scrapes on a ridge. I saw a few deer, but never a shooter buck.

Your strategy for next season should be: Don’t hunt particular scrapes at all. You still need to ground scout and find the freshest sign. But then, read your maps and scout out from the buck rubs and scrapes for 200 to 300 yards or so. Pinpoint a creek crossing, ditch head or strip of woods—you get the picture—with more fresh tracks and trails in it, and hang a tree stand right there. While a big 10-pointer likely won’t hit those scrapes you found in daylight, there’s a good chance he’ll travel in a nearby funnel anytime of day. Play the terrain near hot sign to see more shooters.

Get Aggressive When It’s Time To

One day I spotted of a nice 10-pointer chasing a doe on a ridge 120 yards away. From the same bow stand the next morning, I saw him again. On the third morning he was gone. What was I thinking? I should have moved in on him sooner!

When you see a big deer rutting on a ridge or in creek bottom a couple times, don’t just sit there and hope he’ll eventually circle around by your stand, move in. He might be gone tomorrow…but then he might be back again, scraping or hassling a hot doe. But one thing is for sure, he won’t be around for too long. If you sit back and wait 3 or 4 days he will leave with a doe, or run a mile to find another hottie. Your motto should be: When the rut is on move in for the kill!

See Buck, React

One morning I sat in a stick blind for four hours without seeing a deer, and I admit my guard was down. I caught a flash to the left—giant buck! I froze. He didn’t see me, but just as fast as he had appeared he was gone.

Our granddaddies taught our daddies who taught us to be still and not move a muscle because a big buck will see us and spook. So naturally, one of our bad habits is to be too timid and tentative when a big deer comes close. We freeze and don’t move a muscle. A lot of shooter bucks get away, like that 160-incher did to me last fall (I cried).

Train yourself to be more aggressive. You still need to be smart and quiet of course, but you need to be pro-active, too. Keep your eye on a buck as he comes in, shift your feet on stand to get into shooting position, get your bow or gun up when his head and eyes are hidden behind brush or a tree. Move slowly and smoothly, but move! Continue to flow with the animal as he creeps closer and closer.

Here’s the most important part. Whether hunting with bow or gun, take the first clear, solid, close-enough shot you have at a buck’s heart/lung vitals. Do not tarry and wait for him to come three more steps, or turn another foot left or whatever. Kill an 8- or 10-pointer now, before he wises up or something blows up.

Shed Hunting: What Killed That Deadhead Buck?

ohio double drop deadheadShed antler season 2018 has officially begun, and people across the country are roaming the woods—and, it seems, finding an inordinate number of “deadheads,” or the carcasses of mature bucks that have been dead for weeks and more likely months. They are popping up everywhere on social media.

Run across a dead buck and what comes to mind: What killed this animal? Lost by a bowhunter…hit by a car (ran off into the woods and perished)…attacked by a predator…succumbed to EHD last summer?

Here are some interesting tips from the QDMA on how to examine a deadhead and possibly determine its cause of death.

Also, while doing a rudimentary field autopsy on a dead buck is fine, remember that in many states you need to contact the wildlife department and/or get a salvage permit before removing the antlers and taking them home. Be sure to check and abide by your state’s law before posting a deadhead on social, or you could get jammed up.

Good luck with your shed hunting this winter and send me stories and pictures.

South Carolina: Blind Hunter Kills Deer

nc blind hunterFrom North Carolina Sportsman:

Michael Edmonds of Inman, S.C. lost his sight during an industrial accident about four years ago, and with the loss of his sight, he thought his hunting days were over. But on Dec. 22, he killed a trophy while hunting with a friend with some specialized equipment.

“It was a very emotional day for me… Next thing I knew, I was sitting there crying… It was a big accomplishment for me,” he said.

Read the full story here. Way to go Mike, you’re an inspiration…God bless and good luck.

BIG DEER TV Season 7 Coming Summer 2018 on Sportsman Channel

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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

Maine Deer Hunt Report

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Thanks to our friend Kevin McKenna for submitting this field report from Maine, which I consider to be one of the hardest places in North America to shoot a big whitetail:

Hey Mike: So a little update from our deer hunt in Maine back on Nov 10-19th 2017.

We had some decent weather this year, a little warm in the afternoons in the 30s but mornings were in the teens to 20 degrees. Not as cold as we like and deer seemed to be moving mostly at night but an improvement from last year.

We found some good buck sign in one spot and so-so sign in the other. One big buck we were after last year had another rub and scrape line this year, so he made it through last winter and was our target buck.

On Monday my friend Dave rattled what we think was that buck in to 35 yards but no shot, just a glimpse of a huge body. Dave saw 2 does besides that buck for the week.

My encounters consisted of 1 doe, glimpse of 2 deer unidentified and 1 grunting buck with no sighting of him. In the big woods of Maine, I’ll take that for the week.

Friend Dan, who got the nice buck last year, didn’t see a deer all week. He was around deer, but just never saw one. That’s how Northern Maine humbles a man. All in all it was a great trip with friends.

Attached is a pic Dave took of a Lynx. The cat was sunning himself on the side of the logging road that we parked on. Dave was on his way back to the truck at noon for lunch and had to walk by him. What a great encounter. I saw this cat the next day; he walked by me at 25 yards. A big cat… probably not good for the deer but cool to see.

Hope you’re having a great season and maybe I’ll see you sometime in the “Big Woods of Maine.” Best, Kevin

Note: I have hunted the great state of Maine exactly once and was humbled. We covered hundreds of miles and explored the magical big woods for a week and saw two moose but not a single deer, not even a doe. We traveled around and filmed everything we saw and everybody we met, and put together a TV show of which I was and am proud. It was a hit, and the episode remains one of the most popular we have ever produced for Big Deer TV.

And last November, hunter Gene Doughty shot a Maine mountain buck that scored 188 inches–I consider Gene’s giant to be one of the top bucks shot in North America in 2017. Click here to see it.