2018 Deer Season Kicks Off With Big Velvet Bucks

manitoba 2018

One good thing about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is that once early deer seasons open up, big velvet bucks start popping up on your phone. From what I’ve seen so far from this anecdotal evidence, 2018 is shaping up to be a good if not great year for big racks across North America.

The buck above was killed in Manitoba, where archery season opens in August. I’ve seen a few big deer from Saskatchewan too, but Alberta has been the best, with hunters having shot several deer pushing 200 inches. This portends more huge bucks will be killed in Canada in 2018 as the rut comes on and rifle seasons open in November.

Tennessee held its first velvet buck hunt in August, and some good deer were shot. Once again, monsters were shot in early September in Kentucky, though I have not seen as many posted as last year. New Jersey, a sleeper state for archery whitetails, has produced some nice bucks.

manitoba 2018 2

It has been an unusual summer of 2018. I’ve talked to hunters across the country who have gotten far fewer big deer on their trail cameras than in summers past, though with the velvet now off more good bucks are starting to show up. It’s been like that here in the Virginia Piedmont, and I think all the rain we’ve has this summer has something to do with it.

Actually, the fact that it has been so wet in so many places this year is another reason I predict the hunting will be good this fall. Good moisture years grow big racks.

Better yet, there were minimal reports of EHD anywhere in the country, and with the first frosts coming on that threat has largely passed.

Bottom line: You have a good to great chance to shoot a big deer this season, so hunt hard and safe. Good luck!

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.

BIG DEER TV Hunts Feral Hogs in Georgia

spartan pigs

I’ve shot my share of wild hogs over the years, mostly in Texas and Florida. I knew this invasive species was a general nuisance that rooted up crops and competed with deer for food sources. But it wasn’t until I went down to South Georgia and talked with the locals and hunted pigs for a few days on TV that I realized what a serious problem expanding populations of hogs are in many parts of the country.

“Somebody rides through this property every day, looking for and trying to eradicate hogs,” says landowner Robbie Barkley. “Hogs are in our feed patches, in the yard…they’re everywhere.”

“People who don’t have hogs in their area don’t realize how destructive they are,” says Georgia hunter Jay Chambless. “It’s a 24/7 effort 365 days a year just to try to control them a little bit.”

I hunted and filmed and talked to the locals for 3 days, and then came home and researched feral hogs for a week as I wrote the script for the episode “Hog Wild,” which will first air on the Sportsman Channel on Wednesday August 22 at 7:30 PM Eastern Time. Here’s some of what you’ll see and hear on the show, written in random fashion.

de soto

In the 1500s, explorers like Hernando de Soto brought hogs to America as a food source. In the 1900s, wealthy landowners introduced the Eurasian wild boar into parts of the U.S. for sport hunting. Today’s feral swine are a combination of escaped domestic pigs, Eurasian boar, and hybrids of the two. This invasive species has greatly expanded its range and numbers, into the millions, over the last 35 years.

aaron thermal

I’ve shot most of my hogs from deer stands and on stalks, or with dogs. But I’d never hunted them at night with thermal technology. Aaron Adkins (above) of Trijicon Electro Optics is here to show us the ropes. I am now addicted to thermal hunting!

ga hog jay and i

For pig firepower, we used and tested and DPMS GII .308 Hunter rifles, and they were both a pleasure and a blast to shoot (super accurate, no recoil). Aaron topped one of the AR rifles with a thermal Trijicon REAP-IR, and I topped the other with a 2.5-10X Accupower scope for last-light shots at hogs. We shot Remington HTP .308 168-grain ammo.

According to the U.S Dept. Of Agriculture, feral swine cause more than $1.5 billion in damage each year to property, crops and livestock. To a local farmer, hogs are not just a nuisance, but a threat to his livelihood.

In 2014, in response to the increasing damage and disease threats posed by expanding populations of hogs, Congress appropriated $20 million to the US Department of Agriculture for the creation of a national feral swine damage management program. Control efforts range from trapping and euthanizing hogs to aerial gunning where legal and practical. Everyday hunters like you and me can play a key role in the ongoing efforts.

Feral hogs breed year-round; a sow can have 2 litters of 4 to 8 piglets a year (some say as many as 12 piglets).

A feral hog can run 30 mph.

We ended up killing a few pigs and having a blast at night with the Trijicon thermals. Again “Hog Wild” airs August 22 at 7:30 PM on Sportsman, set your DVR.

5 Things About Summer Deer Antlers

sask oneill 2017 2Velvet antlers have a complex system of blood vessels which causes them to be hot to the touch. Top whitetail scientist Dr. Grant Woods notes, “There is so much blood carrying protein and minerals to a buck’s antlers this time of year that even small antlers are easily detected by thermal imaging devices. Antler tines show up like neon signs when flying over with thermal cameras in summer.”

(Note: True and amazing how velvet antlers glow in a thermal imaging device. Last week on a nighttime hog hunt on a managed property in Georgia, I scanned the woods for hours with Trijicon’s IR Patrol thermal monocular and looked at a lot of good bucks; the hot-blooded antlers shined twice as white and bright than the deers’ bodies!)

Tiny hairs on the velvet stick out and make the antlers look thicker than they are. The hairs act as a radar system so a buck won’t bump into trees, fence posts, etc. and damage his soft antlers.

Sebum, a semi-liquid secretion, on those hairs gives the velvet a shiny look. Sebum also supposedly acts as an insect repellent to keep gnats, biting flies off a buck’s rack and face.

In early August antlers will begin to change from soft and pliable to hardened bone. “A buck’s antlers will change from looking swollen or bulbous at the tips of the tines to a more normal diameter,” notes Dr. Woods. “Once this change in appearance occurs the buck won’t add much beam or tine growth.”

By mid-August most of the antler growth for the year is done. Sometime between September 1 and 20 bucks will shed the velvet. The cue for antler hardening and the velvet shedding is the change in photoperiod caused by decreasing daylight and increasing darkness, which results in a significant increase in the bucks’ testosterone.

Athens Georgia: Hotbed Of Deer Information and Research

qdma shed tree

You might know that Athens is a vibrant college town, home to the SEC Bulldogs. Did you also know it’s the epicenter of whitetail research and deer-hunting information in America? Last week the BIG DEER TV crew took a road trip to check it out.

First stop, headquarters of the Quality Deer Management Association. I stepped in the front door and naturally checked out the shed tree in the corner. It’s built with an antler from every state and province where whitetail deer are found. Impressive, and they tell me it weighs more than a ton.

qdma brian

I sat down for a lengthy talk with Brian Murphy, CEO of QDMA and one of the top deer biologists in the country. This man knows the state of the whitetail across North America in 2018.

Brian explained that after several tough years, notably 2011-2014 when winters were harsh in some regions and big outbreaks of Hemorrhagic Disease killed numbers of deer in other areas, things are looking up. Deer herds are generally doing well, and prospects for the 2018 season are good.

But all is not rosy. Brian pointed to some major issues issues on the horizon.

First, and the elephant in the room, is Chronic Wasting Disease.

cwd map 24 states

CWD, first documented in deer in Colorado in 1967, has now been confirmed in 24 states, 3 Canadian provinces and 2 foreign countries. CWD is found only in hoofed animals such as deer, elk, and moose. The disease affects an animal’s nervous system. Infected deer lose weight, wander aimlessly, salivate and eventually die. It is always fatal.

CWD is affecting the core of why we hunt—to bring home the venison. While no cases of CWD in humans have been confirmed, there is fear that could change. In a Canadian study three of five primates contracted the disease after eating meat from CWD-infected animals.

Brian’s advice: If you shoot a deer in a known CWD area, DO NOT eat the meat until you have it tested and confirmed CWD-free.

Second big issue: Decline of hunters across North America.

Recent surveys reveal that only 5% of Americans age 16 and up hunt today. That’s half of what it was 50 years ago. The number of licensed hunters, by far most of them deer hunters, dropped from 14.2 million in 1991 to 11.5 million in 2016. Most disturbing, the decline is expected to accelerate over the next decades.

Fewer hunters buying licenses and guns and ammunition equals less dollars for state wildlife conservation departments. If we do not stop this negative trend, the consequences will be severe. There are already reports that dollars for CWD research are drying up, and that’s the last thing we need.

Brian Murphy said QDMA is making a big push to continue youth hunter recruitment, and also to bring in more adults, 20-, 30- and 40-something men and women who might well want to to hunt deer, but who were never exposed to hunting as kids.

dr miller deer lab

Next, I drove across town to check out the Deer Lab at the University of Georgia. This is one cool place. Under the tutelage of Dr. Karl Miller for the past 30 years, the Deer Lab has grown from one small pen to an impressive collection of buildings and enclosures where landmark whitetail research is ongoing.

Dr. Miller gave us the tour, where we observed and filmed collared does and fawns and  bucks in velvet. We checked out rooms where deer are exposed to lights and monitors to check their vision. Dr. Gino D’Angelo explained studies he has conducted on how deer hear, and GPS-collar projects that track deer movements.

To a whitetail junkie like you and me, all kids of fascinating stuff.

Set your DVR and watch this episode of BIG DEER TV Wednesday, August 29 at 7:30 PM on Sportsman Channel.