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.

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?

Garmin Xero Rangefinding Bow Sight

garmin xeroThe Archery Trade Association (ATA) show 2018 is going on right now in Indianapolis. I’m not there, but from what I hear this digital range-finding sight from Garmin is the big news, and I can see why. I just wonder why it took a company so long to come up with one.

 

From Garmin:

We are excited to announce the Xero A1 and A1i, two groundbreaking auto-ranging digital laser bow sights that automatically measure the distance to a target and provide a precise, virtual lighted pin for the shot.

 A silent, single-button trigger mounted on the bow’s grip lets the archer range targets at rest or at full draw, virtually eliminating distance estimation and hunter movement …The laser range finder instantly provides the precise angle-compensated distance – up to 100 yards on game or 300 yards on reflective targets. The Xero then projects a precise, virtual LED pin that is only visible to the archer, and without the clutter of multiple physical pins. An ambient light sensor ensures the pin brightness is optimized for various shooting conditions.

The Xero A1i includes many additional features. Laser Locate™ estimates the arrow’s point of impact and transfers that location to a compatible Garmin device (sold separately) so hunters know where to begin their recovery of game.

Super intriguing, this sight will interest all deer hunters. The only downside I see is retail price. Would you spend  $800 to $1,000 for a bow sight? Serious whitetail bow hunters are a passionate lot, and I’m betting a lot of you will if the Xero proves to perform as Garmin says it will.

Hunting Tactics For Thanksgiving Weekend

Most of the does have been bred by now, but mature bucks that have survived battles with other males, not to mention the gauntlet of hunters’ arrows and bullets, still prowl for a few days for the last 10 percent or so of gals that are still receptive.

This is a great time to whack a monster, like the 22-point, 221 4/8-inch Iowa giant that Brian LaRue got with his bow on November 22 a few years ago (picture).

laruebuckiowa

The buck crossed a field, hit the woods, and cut through several thickets, rubbing as he cruised for the sight or smell of a last hot doe. Brian put an arrow in the deer’s boiler room as it swung 20 yards behind his stand. The world-class buck was 4½ and weighed less than 200 pounds. Sometimes due to weird genetics the old guys don’t weigh much. Plus, that buck had shed pounds chasing and breeding does for weeks.

Pray for daytime highs in the 20s to 40s, with lows in the 20s or teens. Cold and snow will make the thin, tired bucks move hard and early in the day near crop fields or green plots. They still want to hook up with does, but they gotta eat. The dark moon should make for perfect hunting conditions. Skittish bucks feel comfortable moving under cover of darkness and at dusk and dawn.

 

Try this stand: You’ll probably (hopefully) have a chilly west to north wind, so hang a stand on the east side of a hillside where you can cover a wide swath of woods or pasture. If there’s good late-season food like soybeans or corn farther to the east or north, great, a lot of deer will move toward and past you going in that direction. Watch for a bruiser cutting from one thicket to the next, hoping to run across a last hot doe holed up in one of them. If he gets lucky you might too. If he finds a gal and runs her close to your stand, shoot straight and tag out on one of the last best days of the season.