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.

2017-18 Update: Flying With Guns

pelican case

If you’ll be flying anywhere with hunting guns on a commercial airliner, follow the steps in my ultimate travel guide with guns and ammo. Then remember two additional things, based on my recent interactions with United and Delta ticket agents and the TSA.

Double down on your locks: In the old days if your hard case had 4 holes for locks, so long as you used 2 locks on the ends you were good. Not now. Every lock hole on your case must be fitted with a solid lock. I use 4 Master locks on my four-hole Pelican case. Don’t neglect this, it’s a big deal! I know a guy who didn’t have a lock for every hole on his case; TSA would not accept it and he missed his flight.

Give yourself more time: Plan to be at the airport and the ticket counter early, at least 2 hours before flight time. Flying with your gun is still pretty hassle-free, but there is more paperwork involved, and generally a ticket agent has to call a supervisor for approval. Then they call an escort, who will lead you and your gun case down to TSA where it will be inspected.

You are required to wait at TSA with your keys until the agent tells you good to go. Used to be a TSA agent swabbed my case and opened it maybe 30% of the time, but now he almost always takes the keys from me and opens it. No big deal, they are required to do it in plain sight. The process just takes more time than it used to before TSA will clear your gun and send you off to the security line.

Follow all the rules to a tee and then be nice and polite to the ticket agent and TSA people. Do what they say with a smile. I’ve heard hunters with guns question everything the airline and TSA people do, and even grumble and complain. Do that and you will be in for a major hassle. Play nice and you’ll sail through.

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?

It’s Official: Bass Pro Shops Buys Cabela’s

cabelas store maine

Fox business reports that the merger of Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s (CAB) has received the go-ahead from antitrust regulators. In a filing with the SEC, Cabela’s said Wednesday the Federal Trade Commission informed the company earlier this week that it concluded its investigation of Bass Pro’s $4.2 billion buyout. Cabela’s shareholders will vote on the deal July 11. The transaction is expected to close later this summer.

We all knew this was coming… So now, what does it mean for your favorite outdoor company and store, which for readers of BIG DEER is definitely Cabela’s?

There will be changes, anytime a sale goes through that happens. But I believe Bass Pro’s Johnny Morris, who said last year, ““We look forward to continuing to celebrate and grow the Cabela’s brand alongside Bass Pro Shops…as one unified outdoor family.

“I have enormous admiration for Cabela’s and the remarkable brand and business they have built. Cabela’s is a great American success story.”

As of now, the plan is to keep the Cabela’s headquarters in Sidney, Nebraska, and it is business as usual for all Bass Pro and Cabela’s stores. Bass Pro Shops has some 99 stores and employs about 20,000 people. Cabela’s has 19,000 employees and 85 stores in the U.S. and Canada.

A little bird in the industry told me that the new strategic plan is to build upon the incredibly strong hunting brand and market that Cabela’s has built, while their fishing and boat presence will be contracted. Bass Pro Shops will still have a hunting presence, but will carry on and continue to grow with its massive fishing and boating business.

We will have to wait and see, but that makes perfect sense to me.

11-Year-Old Alaska Boy Shoots Charging Brown Bear, Saves Fishing Party

ak boy shoots bearOne day last month 11-year-old Elliot Clark was hiking into a fishing hole near Hoonah, Alaska, with his uncle, a cousin and three dogs. Young Elliot didn’t have a sling on his shotgun, so he carried it in his hands. That likely saved lives.

Lucas Clark, Elliot’s father and a bear hunting guide but who was out of town at the time of the encounter, shared the story with the Juneau Empire:

“…four of them in a line … my son was third. The bear came down the trail at them, fella in the front…the bear was on him so quickly that he didn’t have time to take his rifle off his shoulder.

The bear ran through the first two men, who were pushed to the side of the trail, leaving Elliot…in front of his unarmed cousin. The boy raised his pump action shotgun and shot the (bear), hitting it with birdshot, which is often used just to scare bears off, Lucas Clark said.

“…That first shot hit (it) in the shoulder and did absolutely nothing. The next shot hit (it) in the nose and traveled down through the neck,” Lucas Clark said.

The third shot went into the bear’s shoulder and his back, dropping it…. The bear was so close… there were powder burns on the bear’s mouth….

“As the bear slid past him and came to a stop, (Elliott) put a kill shot it him,” Lucas Clark said.

Lucas told the Empire that while his family practices shooting, caution and safety, when you live in bear country something like this “can happen to anybody. We pray for our kids every day.”

Alaska Wildlife Troopers say this was the first Defense of Life or Property killing in the Hoonah area this year.

Incredible presence of mind and shooting in the face of danger, way to go young man!

(Photo: Alaska Senator Shelley Hughes’ Facebook page.)