Alabama Snow Freaks Out Deer

IMG_2959[1]A couple of weeks ago we had a TV crew down near Selma, Alabama. The rut typically kicks off around January 15 here, and after my first 2 sits I knew we’d hit things just right.

I saw young bucks scent-trailing and chasing, and the first evening a pretty good buck fight broke out in the food plot I watched. I had 3 more days to hunt, and figured it was just a matter of time until I saw a shooter. I was not going to be picky; people had been hunting these areas and these stands for weeks, making these already wild deer spookier and more nocturnal yet. If I saw a 3.5- or 4.5-year-old buck with a 120-plus rack, I’d gladly take him.

The next morning deer rutted harder yet. I didn’t see much from my ladder, but my friend and Sportsman Channel colleague Graig Hale spotted a high-racked buck chasing a doe through the woods. The white antlers looked heavy, so Graig dropped him with a quick shot from his .270 Remington Model 783.

Great decision: the 4.5-year-old 8-point buck scored 136 with character, a real trophy for hard-hunted ground in Alabama.

All good, but dark clouds were moving in and the temperature was dropping fast as I headed to my stand that evening. Around 2:00 o’clock, sleeted started and then turned to light snow.

Normally I hope for cold and snow in the rut, but not in Alabama. “This weather will freak these deer out,” I told my cameraman Mike.

The snow picked up and the temperature dropped into the 20s at dusk. We didn’t see a single deer. It snowed 3 inches overnight, and was 10 degrees the next morning. We saw nothing, even the squirrels refused to move. I hunted 2½ more days and saw a total of 4 deer, and no bucks even close to shooting.

Back home, to confirm my suspicions that snow and cold freak out Southern deer, I emailed Chuck Sykes, Director Alabama Wildlife and Fisheries. He wrote back:

Mike: You’ve got to think like an Alabama deer not a Midwestern deer. Most of our deer have never seen snow. They may be 3 or 4 years old before they do. So, it does freak them out. It’s been my experience over the years down here, sleep in when it snows or a hard cold front comes in. They hunker down in the closest thicket and pout until it warms up a bit and the snow starts to melt. It usually takes them 2 or 3 days to get adjusted. 

I’ll remember that next time I hunt the Deep South, and you should too if you live down there.

But all was not lost. Graig shooting his great buck the morning before the snow hit saved the day and helped to make another fine episode of BIG DEER TV that will appear on Sportsman later this year.

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Are Women Better Hunters Than Men?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne day I sat on a ridge in Wyoming with an old guy named Bill and watched through binoculars as a 30-year-old lady stalked a mule deer a mile away. She and her husband had booked a hunt in the same camp where I was staying.

She moved slowly, cautiously and I wondered if she’d ever get into rifle range. I snickered and thought, “Might have to go over there and show the girl how it’s done.”

“She’s doing perfect,” Bill said from behind his binoculars as she eased up her rifle. We heard the thump, saw the buck buckle and then heard the rifle crack.

“Mostly it just takes ‘em one shot,” said the wrinkled cowboy who had guided hundreds of men and maybe 20 women in his day. “A lot of ladies who are really into it are better hunters than men.”

I blew out my chest and said, “I don’t know about that now….”

“Just what I mean,” Bill cut me off. “You guys beat your chest, get all macho and think you know everything about deer, guns, ballistics, shooting… The more you talk about how much you think you know, the more likely you’ll screw up on a big buck.”

Bill went on to say that in his experience, 3 things make women better hunters: 1) they’re patient; 2) they’re good listeners; and 3) they do what they’re told.

“If I tell a guy to go sit by that tree for 3 hours he’ll sit maybe an hour before he gets up and starts walking around and messing up the spot,” Bill said.

“If I tell a lady to sit there for 3 hours she’ll sit there still and ready the whole time…and a lot of times she’ll kill a big animal.”

Bill also said that women tend to be calmer than men, many of whom get excited and come unglued and miss deer.

And women generally shoot smaller caliber rifles, like .243 or 7mm-08. They can shoot and hit better than some guy who goes out West with a cannon magnum that thumps his shoulder and makes him flinch.

While I have not hunted with a lot of women, I’ve guided a few young ladies over the years. Thinking back on those hunts, yes, they listen. Yes, they tend to stay amazingly calm when a buck shows up. They all shot a low-recoil rifle, and shot it well. Yes, I believe old Bill was right about this in a lot of ways.

I ask: If you hunt with your wife or girlfriend, is she better than you?

2017: It’s a Tough Economy for the Gun & Hunting Industry Right Now

2017 tough ecnomyThe health care chaos last week on Capitol Hill notwithstanding, things have been looking pretty good since President Trump’s election last November. The stock market is up and consumer confidence is high as the President reduces burdensome regulations on business and moves to act on tax reform this summer.

But ironically the election of our first pro-gun president in 8 years has slowed the sale of firearms and softened the overall shooting/hunting market. In recent years, with anti-gun Barack Obama at the helm and with the prospect of Hillary looming for another 8 years, law-abiding and freedom–loving Americans had a deep and well-founded concern that their gun rights were in serious jeopardy, and so we purchased guns and hoarded ammunition at a record pace.

But now, with President Trump in the White House and our Second Amendment rights secure for now, firearms sales have slowed and as a consequence cast a pale over the entire industry.

Colt, Savage, Remington and Federal Premium recently announced that they are constricting business and laying off employees, and many industry experts predict that other manufacturers will follow suit.

The record sales and profits from firearms and especially ammunition of the last 5 years carried over into the general outdoor and hunting market, and helped to account for decent to good sales. For example, a guy walked into a Cabela’s store to buy 3 boxes of ammo, and he picked up a new camo jacket and some other stuff on the way to the register. But many of those impulse buys have dried up and dried up fast.

In addition to declining gun/ammo sales is the overall retail industry’s struggles of 2017 and beyond. Namely, how do retailers with heavy investment in brick-and-mortar survive and grow in the Amazon world? You likely have empty storefronts in your hometown that thrived just 5 short years ago.

You might have heard that Gander Mountain recently declared bankruptcy, and as a part of that will close 32 of 162 retail stores in 11 different states. Click to see if a GM store near you is on the list to be shuttered.

Word is that Bass Pro Shops’ $4.5 billion deal to buy Cabela’s could be in jeopardy as federal regulators have requested more information from both parties. But most financial experts predict that the merger will still be approved and completed, most likely later this fall.

The bowhunting industry is not immune. The Outdoor Wire spoke with industry experts who pointed to significant problems facing the archery business and the considerable drop-off in bow and gear sales. One big reason—the trend of manufacturers toward high-end bows that cost $1,000 to $1,500. Not all hard-working hunters can fork out a good chunk of a mortgage payment for a new bow, so fewer bows are sold each year, and people are upgrading less and keeping their bows for 4 or 5 years.

While the gun/bow/hunting/outdoor industry is facing uncertain and tough economic times, there is light on the horizon. If President Trump can get our dysfunctional Congress to work together for once and approve meaningful tax reform for corporations and individuals alike this summer, and retroactive to January 1, 2017, the industry (and all retail) will receive an immediate boost. History shows that every time people get even a little more money in their pockets, they will spend some of it on their passions. There are no more passionate Americans than deer hunters. Give us back some more of our money and we’ll buy a new rifle or bow or trail camera or camo, just in time for the 2017-18 season.

As for the manufacturers, you will continue to see some constriction and shifting business strategies in the short term, but that can be a good thing. Smart business leaders step back, analyze changing market trends and then build and market products that people will buy in 2018, in this case quality and affordable guns and bows.

For retailers large and small, the future is inescapable and simple. We all still love to go to a Cabela’s,  Bass Pro or Gander store, and we love our local gun shop. We’ll still buy at those stores, but if a company is not heavily online and Mobile, they’re out of business or soon will be.

What about you? Are you spending less on gear? Buying more online? Will you purchase a new gun this year? Does a new bow cost too much?

BIG DEER TV: Fall 2016 Hunting & Filming Recap

As 2016 draws to a close, it’s a perfect time to recap my fall hunts that will begin airing in July 2017 during season 6 of BIG DEER TV. Thanks to Remington Arms, Trijicon, Wildlife Research Center and Sportsman Channel for their amazing support. And a special and heartfelt thanks to all of you who watch our show and read this blog. I hope you have a happy, healthy and prosperous 2017.–MH

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In September I traveled to South Carolina and hunted with Will (left) and Ethan for a few days. These kids are bravely battling cancer every day and I hope and pray for them. One evening Ethan shot this buck, and we all gathered round the skinning shed. Lots of laughs and tears that night.

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From there we traveled to Taos, New Mexico. It had been a few years since I had hunted elk, and I was raring to go…until I hunted a couple of dry days and figured out that no elk had yet made their way down from the high country to the lower elevations where we hunted. We gave it our best shot, hiking hard for 10-12 miles every day, to no avail. I don’t know how much if any of the footage we shot will air on TV…a shame, because the Rio Grande Gorge country is magnificent.

In late October I trekked out to the Milk River in northeast Montana. It was my first trip back to my old familiar hunting grounds since 2010, when a combination of EHD and flooding devastated the local whitetail herds, killing more than 90 percent of the deer.

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For 6 years I kept in close contact with my dear friend Luke Strommen, until we finally decided to try another TV hunt. Luke shot a doe (above) and then a buck later in the season, though not on camera.

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After hunting 3 days, I knew that while the herds had come back well on this section of the Milk, it would still take years before it gets as good as it was from 2006-2010, when Luke and I killed a bunch of good bucks with our bows. But I did find this amazing deer trail, and that evening hunted off the ground at the far end of it. I was lucky to shoot this 4X4 with my Remington muzzleloader. I figure it will take 2-3 more years for the age structure of the bucks to be as it should be, and I have fingers crossed that the Milk River will be spared EHD for years to come.

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I can’t imagine what early November would be like unless I was shivering in a ground blind for 10 hours a day somewhere in the remote bush of north-central Saskatchewan. Except last month when I hunted there, the temperature soared into the unheard of mid-50s! (I have hunted this country when it’s been 70 degrees colder.) This time I hunted out of a rustic camp with my old friend Trevor, with whom I had hunted elk 30 years prior in B.C. Turned out to be a fantastic reunion, as I got my Saskatchewan mojo back and shot a beautiful mid-150s buck. There is a twist to the story, but you’ll have to wait till next summer to watch.

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I hurried back home to hunt the second week of the Virginia blackpowder season, which is typically peak rut. My friends Jack and Cecil and I had gotten pictures of good bucks all summer long, and as the rut approached we found some big rubs, including the largest cedar I have ever seen thrashed in VA. We hunted a week hard, and never saw a shooter…we had hit the dreaded “lockdown” phase dead on. BTW, there are recent stories floating around that lockdown–when bucks hole up with does and don’t move–might be a myth. Don’t buy it! Unfortunately it’s real, and the buck hunting is downright difficult if not impossible.

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But there was a highlight from Virginia. One of our friends, Alex, who hunts Jack’s farm had a big bear amble beneath his tree stand, and he drilled it with his bow (unfortunately not on camera). Our black bear population is exploding.

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The day after Thanksgiving I hopped a plane to Oklahoma to hunt with my good friends Scott and Joni at Croton Creek Ranch. We had 4 guests in camp, and the hunt was epic. Although it was late November, we hit the rut just right. I stalked and shot an old 8-point we named “crabclaw” as he tended a doe and ran off young bucks.

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The next 3 days, everybody in camp tagged out. The highlight was Chuck Wahr’s beautiful 150-class 9-point. I had hunted that deer 2 days and had seen him twice before I tagged out. Chuck picked it up from there and shot what Scott figures was the biggest buck on the ranch last fall.

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I pulled a rifle tag for southeastern Kansas, and headed out there on a semi-guided but mostly DIY hunt, a fine way to do it. It was warm for 3 days and we didn’t see much. One afternoon I decided to bag the tree stand and brushed in a blind in a cedar-thick staging area near a bean field. I stepped back, examined the blind and thought it looked like a great spot. Three hours later I shot a cool buck with 6 points on one side.

Looking back, the fall of 2016 was a fun and successful year, and it’s not over yet. Well, 2016 is, but in January 2017 I’ll be heading down to south Alabama for one last hunt, hoping to hit the rut right again, hoping for one last buck and another new and interesting episode for BIG DEER TV.

Thanks for watching, and again Happy New Year!

 

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.