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.

BIG DEER TV 2016 Episode 3: Anticosti Island, Canada

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Bits from the script of tonight’s episode which airs for the first time at 7 pm Eastern on Sportsman Channel. Set your DVR:

So what’s the recipe for a grand adventure? A place that piques a hunter’s innate curiosity… is hard to reach… is far from the beaten path, where an isolated population of animals thrives in idyllic habitat where nature can take its course…

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On the border of New Brunswick and Quebec, crystal streams feed the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Anticosti Island, creating a natural wonderland.

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I’m here to hunt Anticosti’s resident and wild whitetail herd, which was introduced to the island 120 years ago by a man named Henry Menier, a chocolate manufacturer from France.

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After two long travel days it was good to get out, stretch my legs and get my first taste of this wild, unique terrain.

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Finally, we hit the trail. I’m in good company with Dion, who I’d come to realize is something  of deer whisperer…

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With summer transitioning to early fall, the deer are scattered and unpredictable. We are gonna have to cover a lot of country to find a buck. I’ll be spending plenty of time sitting in cold stands and blinds later in the fall, and I’m looking forward to this spot-and-stalk.  It’s the best way to unlock the secrets of this mysterious place…

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2 years ago, the Gulf of St. Lawrence experienced a brutally cold and long winter, which stretched well into spring and really knocked back the deer herd. It takes several years for a population to recover from such an event. I’m gonna be in for a tough hunt…

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Designated a Provincial Wildlife Reserve, Anticosti Island is unrivaled with its natural attributes. Rivers cut through deep canyons…limestone cliffs tower over the sea…crystal lakes dot the sub-boreal landscape…

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Anticosti’s attraction is what it has always been:  unbridled wilderness and a unique coastal setting…

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T-shirt weather… it’s 8 am and already pushing 70 degrees… this is a tough slog, yet there’s something new and cool to discover around every turn.

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The abundance of prey such as beavers and grouse supports a healthy population of fox, who seem to have little fear of humans. They provide a constant source of entertainment on daylong hikes.

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Whenever I hunt in new country, my goals are simple: to go as long and hard as I can, and experience all that the wilderness has to offer. I want to shoot a buck of course, a big one, but whether I do or not matters little in the end. The sights, the sounds and the memories of a magical place like Anticosti are enough to fill this hunter’s soul until the next adventure begins.  

Behind the scenes: I am biased, but I believe we have the best story lines and scripts on hunting TV. Shout out to BIG DEER producer Justin Karnopp, who consults with me and writes most of the final VO (voice over) that I deliver. Justin did an especially outstanding job on this one…. Kudos to videographer Neil Cowley, who filmed this episode, put his own spin on it and delivered interesting and beautiful footage…. Final  shout out to our editor Rachel Ambrose, who did another sterling job of putting this show together…. We hope you watch and enjoy.