Shed Hunting: Try a Grid Search

shed hunting compressedTo find sheds you need to look close, real close. Try a grid search. Look over the ground before you and mark off a 20-yard block. Walk slowly and cover every foot of it before moving on to the next grid.

It’s our nature to look out front and up as we walk. Do that while you’re shedding and you’ll look right over antlers. Instead, take it slow and look straight down at the ground; scan every inch of each grid.

You might spot an antler lying on the grass…or mostly buried with just a tine tip sticking up. You want big antlers, but the spikes and fork-horns are cool souvenirs too. You’ve got to look down and real close for to see the little ones.

Once you finish each grid, stop, turn around and give the ground one last look. From a new perspective with different lighting you might spot an antler that you missed.

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.

2 Reasons a Mature Buck Avoids Your Trail Camera

graig hale kansas 2017My friend Graig Hale shot this great buck in Kansas one afternoon last December. It was the first time anyone had spotted this giant on the farm where Graig got him.

Brian Helman of 180 Outdoors scouts incessantly and has incredible knowledge of the bucks that live on the leases and farms that he manages in southeastern Kansas. Brian went back through thousands trail camera pictures he’d captured last summer and fall—not one image of Graig’s buck. Then he and checked tens of thousands of pictures from 2016 and earlier—still no picture of the old buck.

Generally whitetails in this type habitat—a perfect mix of corns, beans, food plots, oak strips and woodlots, and creek bottoms—have a home range of a mile or so, and a mature buck’s core area is smaller than that. But obviously the buck did not live on that farm, and to Brian’s knowledge had never stepped hoof on there before.

Why was the big deer there that one day last December? Where had he come from? I have 2 theories.

One, he might have been one of the few bucks that live on a farm for a few years, and then for whatever reason picks up and leaves, only to return a couple years later. We actually posted last September about a Kentucky buck that did just that.

BUT, a better explanation I believe is that this buck was pushed out of his core area by hunting pressure. Graig and I hunted the first week of KS rifle season in early December 2017. While there were no other hunters on the farm that Graig hunted that week, there was obviously pressure all around on surrounding farms.

It is true, and it’s been supported by many studies, that in the face of hunting pressure, most big bucks hole up and go nocturnal, but don’t leave their home ranges and core areas entirely. But I believe that sometimes a mature buck has just had enough. Day after day hunters plow through the woods and thickets where he hides…ATVs roar around…rifles crack. A buck says to heck with this, and goes on a “pressure excursion,” sneaking a couple miles or more off to a place where there are fewer people and where he might relax.

I theorize that the 5-year-old 9-point Graig killed had done just that, and that is why the buck had never before been seen on the farm before. I believe that had Graig not killed him that afternoon, the buck would have made his way back to his home turf in a couple of weeks when the season was over and the guns had stopped booming.

Bottom line, you never know when and where you’ll encounter a shooter buck, man. Your very best tactic is plan and scout as best you can, and then put in as much stand time as you can, right up to season’s end.

You can see Graig’s hunt for this buck on the new season of BIG DEER TV, coming summer 2018.

Best New Crossbows For Hunters

crossbow 10 pointOur friends at Petersen’s Bowhunting Magazine give us the specs on 6 new crossbows that were unveiled at the 2018 Archery Trade Association show.

Since getting a good buck with a crossbow on TV is high on my bucket list—while I have killed my share of deer with vertical bows, I have never even shot a crossbow, much less bagged a deer with one—this article was of interest.

Some one-liners that caught my attention–I did not realize that crossbow technology and engineering had come so far so fast:

…the (Mission) SUB-1, so named for its ability to consistently deliver groups less than 1 inch at 100 yards.

At just 6 inches wide, the Stealth NXT (pictured) headlines TenPoint’s next generation of high performance bows.

Excalibur’s 360-fps Assassin (has) an integrated silent Charger cranking system (that) allows for quiet, fast and easy loading and unloading, virtually eliminating draw weight concerns by reducing its 285 pounds of draw weight to a mere 12 pounds.

(CAMX’s) patented Thumbsaver technology protects the shooter’s forehand without restriction for the full travel path of the string. The A4 comes pre-sighted at the factory from 10 to 100 yards with four Accuspine arrows and field points…

…the compact, ambidextrous Versa-Draw Cocking System (Ravin R20) is integrated into the stock and provides the ability for simple cocking just 12 pounds of draw force and uncocking without having to fire the crossbow.

What really stood out (and in some cases shocked me) was the MSRP price of these new crossbows. While the PSE is around $600, the others in this overview run from $1,200 to $1,600 to $2,600. I had no idea that a Xbow costs that much, but then like I said, I did not realize that crossbow technology had advanced so much. Apparently with a new Xbow, like anything else, you get what you pay for.

I don’t know yet which one of these new horizontal bows I will get and hunt with this fall, if any, but I really do want to try it.

How many of you hunt with a Crossbow…how do you like it?