Top 8 Bowhunting States

ct buck brianA ton of interesting information in the QDMA’s 2018 Whitetail Report, including this: Can you guess the top 8 states where the highest percentage of the annual deer harvest is with bow and arrow?

#1 New Jersey: Estimated 2016 total deer harvest 49,246; 58% or 28,563 with bow.

#2 Connecticut: Estimated total deer harvest 10,412; 50% or 5,206 with bow.

#3 Ohio: Estimated total deer harvest 182,169; 45% or 81,976 with bow.

#4 Massachusetts: Total deer harvest 12,249; 42% or 12,249 with bow.

#5 (three states tie): Kansas: Total harvest 84,065; 37% or 31,104 with bow.

Illinois: Total harvest 144,304; 37% or 53,392 with bow.

Michigan: Total harvest 341,287; 37% or 126,276 with bow.

Mills Buck 172 6/8: Virginia’s No. 4 Archery Non-Typical

wayne mills giant buck 2016Yesterday I took this picture of Wayne Mills and the incredible buck he shot in Rappahannock County, Virginia, in October 2016.

I had seen pictures of this deer, but to see it in person was amazing. Main-frame 12-point with split brow tines…21 score-able points and stickers for character. Net 172 6/8 non-typical. Number 4 all-time in Virginia according to the latest Pope and Young book.

We spend a good 2 hours filming a video segment with Wayne and this giant, and you’ll see and hear the story on a new episode of BIG DEER TV this fall. Here’s the written version in Wayne’s words, which first appeared on the blog in November 2016:

I was given permission on a new place and began scouting it in early October.

The set up was classic. There was a good bedding area in a deep ravine, consisting of multiflora rose, honeysuckle and cedar trees with a small stream running through it.  There are pasture fields on both sides of this bedding area, which is about 100-200 yards wide and 300-400 yards long. Downhill from the bedding area there is a strip of hardwoods 60-80 yards wide, running perpendicular to the ravine with another pasture beyond.

When I scouted it, I noticed white oaks and several persimmon trees loaded with fruit.  The oaks were heavy with acorns.  I set my stand 20 yards off an outside corner of one of the pastures in an area with heavy trails crossing about 25 yards away.

The heat wave we had been having kept me out of the woods for a week after I hung the stand.   I also knew that the wind had to be from the North to hunt this setup. On Friday, October 21st we had a front moving in and forecast for winds to swing from the SW to the North after the front came through.

I got in the stand about 2:00 and waited for the shift in the wind.  By 3:30 the wind had started blowing from the North.  About 4:30 ruckus from birds alerted me to a gray fox moving along the field edge.   At 5:15 the birds alerted me again, and I looked toward the ruckus to see a deer moving through the brush about 40 yards away, coming out of the bedding area.

I saw a rack.  At first look, it looked unusual.  I saw that it had good mass and spread and attached my release to my bowstring and no longer looked at his rack.  As the deer moved down the trail it stopped and looked to its left.  I saw a doe feeding under some oaks.  My thought was “oh no, don’t go that way.”   The buck continued moving along the same trail and passed 17 paces from my stand, offering a broadside shot.

I drew when he stepped behind a tree and shot as he reappeared.  It was a steep angle, and I hit the deer high in the shoulder. He went right now, and expired right there. When I got to him I was awestruck…obviously buck of a lifetime.—Wayne Mills

Postscript: The buck weighed 195 pounds field-dressed. “I weigh 150, so getting him out of that ravine was a chore,” Wayne said. “After I wrestled him out of the ravine to a field, I got a tractor and loaded him into my truck.”

Why Are Fewer People Hunting in 2018?

ny adirondacks rob buckA survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reveals that only 5% of Americans age 16 and up hunt. That’s half of what it was 50 years ago.

The number of licensed hunters, 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.

Why fewer of us? I have my suspicions and government agencies and wildlife organizations have their theories, but I wanted information from real-life hard-core hunters, so I did a little Twitter/social survey. It’s far from scientific, but pretty darn representative I believe.

Loss of Access

By far the number one reason fewer people are hunting, especially east of the Mississippi, is loss of access to private land. This is not surprising, and it’s something I have known for years, but we have seemingly reached a tipping point. After years fighting it, trying to hold on to one or two spots they have hunted for years, people get frustrated and fatigued. Another 200 acres or so a guy has hunted for 20 or 30 years gets bought and posted and he says, “That’s it, I’m out.”

The repercussions? Not only do our numbers drop another tick, this guy’s kids don’t get the chance to hunt, and their kids don’t… You get the point.

Many landowners are posting their private properties, closing them to hunting probably forever. Others are leasing farms and woodlands to deer hunters and clubs, often at exorbitant fees depending on the rack genetics of a region. Many private lands continue to be developed, with houses springing up on hallowed ground where you and I shot deer for years.

My survey revealed that leasing land remains a hot topic, with strong feelings on both sides. One person in the Midwest wrote: “In my area almost all the private ground is now leased…people are paying big money, and I can’t afford that. So eventually I’ll have to quit…and dammit my kids and grand kids can’t hunt.”

Another hunter in Virginia posted: “My buddies and I lease land. We don’t like paying for it, but hell if we didn’t we wouldn’t have anywhere to hunt.”

Hunting Is Too Expensive

“Hunting has become a rich man’s sport.” I’ve heard people say this for years, but again we have seemed to reach a tipping point. Most deer hunters that responded to my survey, hard-working men and women, can’t afford lease fees or are not willing to pay up to hunt.

A number of people also mentioned that the cost of gear and tags have gone up so much so that they can’t or aren’t willing to pay for it. I get where they are coming from. But all things considered, if you still have a spot to hunt, hunting deer in your home state is still pretty cheap. As a rule, in-state licenses are reasonable. You can buy a fine new deer rifle package with a scope for $400 or less. The truth is, you can wear the same camo you have worn for 10 years, and in most cases use the same old gun and bow. So I urge you not to let cost impact your hunting.

America’s Changing Demographics & Culture

This is the most complex reason for the decline and the one that causes me the most worry. The vast majority of urban and suburban parents don’t hunt, and thus their kids will never have a chance. Rural parents, the ones that have driven the recruitment of young hunters for years, are super busy. And many of them have a different outlook on life and priorities than you or I or our fathers did, so their kids are never introduced to the woods.

As one guy wrote: “Many parents would rather pay $10,000 a year for their kids to play select sports than take them deer hunting these days.”

Most everybody rightly pointed to technology, electronics, video games, social media, Snap and the like. One person said: “When a kid becomes addicted to all this by the time he’s 4 or 5, he can’t imagine going out into the cold, wet woods when he’s 6 or 7 to sit still and wait for a deer.”

A few other notable comments from my survey:

One person wrote that baby boomers are aging and not hunting anymore. True, and there are facts to support this. Studies have shown that hunters are most active at 48 years old. Every few years after that, they hunt less and less…around 65 most people hang it up, either by choice or necessity.

One guy responded and said: “Part of the overall decline in hunters can be traced to the decline of America’s once rich traditional conservative values.” I’d say some truth in that.

Another person posted: “Some of my friends just say they have lost of the fire to hunt.” Disturbing, and if you dug deeper into their thinking I bet you’d find that they have lost all or most of their best places to hunt. They might have been forced to hunt a few years on public land where they didn’t have must success. All this douses that fire.

That guy, who still has the fire, went on to say:”Time to find some new friends!” LOL

Here’s the main reason all this matters. State wildlife agencies depend heavily on you, me and our brothers and sisters in arms for funding. Money generated from license fees and excise taxes on guns, ammunition and fishing equipment provide some 60% ($3.3 billion) of the annual funding for state fish and game agencies. As hunter numbers dwindle, so do dollars for conservation.

For more on the decline of hunters and the culture of hunting in America, this article is must read.  

So what do you think? Still got any good places to hunt? Still got the fire to shoot a deer?

I do.

What to Plant in Deer Food Plots

food plots for deer 005Time to start thinking about what to plant this spring:

If you live and hunt in the Northeast: Try planting a 60/40 mix of perennial clover (Imperial Whitetail Clover is my favorite) and chicory. Later in July or August, plant a couple of cool-season (fall) plots heavy with brassicas and the like.

If you live and hunt in the Mid-Atlantic: Trebark camo creator turned deer-management guru Jim Crumley plants good old ladino clover on his 300-acre property along the James River in Virginia. “It’s a low-maintenance, high-quality perennial (25% protein) that, once planted, will last for 5 years and can be easily over seeded,” he says.

If you hunt in the South: If you have the land, equipment and money plant corn and soybeans. After Labor Day, plant plots and strips with fall attractants like wheat, oats or clover.

If you live and hunt in the Midwest: Some of the best big-buck hunters I know in this region plant 2- to 4-acre fields of soybeans in May. From late August to mid-September, they come back and plant 20-yard strips and borders of oats around as many of the bean fields as they can. The green oats will attract deer during October, and the beans (20% to 25% protein) are the best food source for Midwestern deer from November to January.

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.