Deer Tactics For Thanksgiving Weekend

gun ground blindMost of you have several days to hunt this weekend, so after stuffing your face on Thursday, get out and try these tatics:

On Friday, November 23, on the day the moon waxes full, you need to spend most of the day in a tree stand or blind. In a North Carolina State study several years ago, researchers said that a common misconception with hunters is that  during a full moon, deer can see better at night. But according to their data, bucks actually moved less on average at night during a full moon and more during the middle of the day, and also earlier in the evenings.

With the full moon so late this November, it’s tricky to predict where the best hunting will be this weekend. Iffy in the Midwest and other regions where peak rut is early to mid-November, because some big bucks will be in lockdown. But in places where the rut typically peaks November 17-23 or so—Maine, Vermont and other Northeastern states; Virginia; and Montana to name a few—I predict good midday buck movement from November 23-25.

Great stand: Look for a timbered ridge flanked by a crop field on one or two sides and interspersed with heavy cover. Old bucks will run the ridge in or near the thick stuff.

Try this: It’s easier to hack it on stand all day if you wait until 9:00 am to climb up. Remember, this day you’re most apt to see a big boy from 11:00 am until dark.

If you can hunt November 26 and 27, do it. Most people will be back to work, or hunted out for the year, so you’ll have the woods pretty much to yourself.

In late November across the country, most does have been bred, and bucks are run down. But the survivors know the chance to breed won’t come around for another year, and so they keep moving and looking for the last 5 percent of does that are still receptive.

Great stand: You’ll likely have a west or north wind, so set up somewhere on the east side of a ridge where you can watch a wide swath of woods and thickets below. Watch for a buck cutting from one thicket to the next, hoping to find a last doe or sneaking away from man pressure.

Try this: By now bucks are spooky and unpredictable. Go to a good spot, stay positive and hunt hard. Your chances of tagging out at the tail end of the 2018 rut are better than you think. Good luck.

New York: Adirondack Camp Bags 11-Point “Big Mac” Buck

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Great guest blog from my buddy Connor Burns from up in the Adirondack Mountains:

Three summers ago, we set out trail cameras at our camp in the great Adirondacks. We knew we had some good bucks on our property; we’d seen them during deer season the previous year.

The cameras had only been out a few weeks before the excitement got to us and we had to make the trip to camp to check them. As we scrolled through the pictures we were surprised at just how many bucks were on the property and consistently on camera.

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One picture completely stunned everyone. There stood a beautiful, tall 11-point with a kicker off his left brow tine. Needless to say the picture made the rounds to every camp member very quickly. We knew then and there that this was the deer that we were determined to lay our hands on. This is the buck we would forever call “Big Mac.”

The deer season following came and went with pure disappointment–no sightings of Big Mac although we did end up taking a couple nice deer. Our hopes were still high that Big Mac was alive and well.

The next summer we put out our trail cameras like we always do. A few weeks passed before we checked them… to our surprise, there he was! Big Mac was back on camera and as big and beautiful as ever!

Unfortunately another season passed and we never saw Big Mac. We had a fantastic year and took quite a few nice bucks, but we were starting to wonder if we would ever see this magnificent buck in the wild. But his pictures kept our hopes high and kept us going.

This past summer 2018, we were more anxious than ever to get the cameras out and see if Big Mac had made it through the previous season and winter. Just like he had done the past two years, he stunned us again and showed himself on one of our cameras.

He had almost grown an identical rack for the past three years in a row. But now, he was bigger than ever. He was much thicker, taller and his belly sagged a little more.

On Saturday, November 10th, with a fresh 6 inches of snow on the ground and cold temperatures, we set out with high hopes. We pushed one of our most productive mountains on the property with four drivers and seven watchers on the back side of the mountain. It wasn’t long before the drivers were seeing fresh tracks all over the place and mostly headed to the watch line.

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About halfway through the drive, the best sound in the world rang out across the mountain. A watcher had shot. Word spread quickly he had shot at a good buck with two does, but unfortunately he had missed. But we knew the deer was still in our drive and headed toward the next watcher.

With everyone’s hearts beating out of their chests, anxiously waiting to see what would happen next, another shot rang out from the watch line, this one higher up the mountain where the big deer and the two does were headed. Zach Palmer got on the radio and said we had a buck down! He said he had shot the deer at about 100 yards, and didn’t know exactly what he was, that all he had seen was horns.

The drivers finally came out to the watch line and the drive ended. We knew we had to head up the mountain to help with the buck that was on the ground. About halfway up the mountain, all we could hear was screaming and yelling. We heard, “You aren’t going to believe this! It’s him! It’s Big Mac!” Everyone starting sprinting up the hill.

We finally made it up to where Zach had shot and there the deer lay. The buck that had been haunting us for three years was in the snow in front of us, more magnificent than the pictures had ever shown us. We couldn’t believe our eyes as we knelt down and wrapped our hands around this beautiful buck, Big Mac.

This was truly a very special moment for all the guys of Trails End Camp and Northern Brothers Outdoors. It was a moment we will all remember for the rest of our lives. This was the buck that had kept us going year after year. We hiked miles and miles and worked our tails off each season in hopes of this moment.

This is the end of a chapter for us, but also the beginning of a new chapter. The chase is never over for us. This is what we love doing and is truly a brotherhood. We can’t wait to see which buck will show up next, and we’ll begin another amazing chase for the following seasons.

Big Mac was an 11-point that weighed 172 pounds dressed and was rough-scored at 143 7/8. He was mid-rut with a swollen neck and bark still stuck in his horns.—Connor Burns, Northern Brothers Outdoors and Trails End Camp.

POSTSCRIPT: I have hunted with this great group of guys up at Trails End Camp in the awesome Adirondack Mountains. They are dedicated and love what they do, hiking and pushing miles of rugged mountains day after day in search of a deer. This is one of the toughest places I’ve ever hunted, terrain-wise and deer density-wise, and I’ve hunted most every state where whitetails live. To kill any buck is a great accomplishment…to kill a mature 143” deer like Big Mac is off the charts great. Best part about it is that to these guys, who pulls the trigger means little. A buck like Mac, or a spike for that matter, is a trophy to cherish for all the camp members. Way to go guys, can’t wait to get back up there and run those mountains again with you soon.–Hanback


New Jersey Bowhunter Revitalizes Farm, Shoots 6.5-Year-Old Buck

NJ jeff 2018 buck

In 2016, Jeff Herrmann, long-time friend of BIG DEER, bought a rundown farm in New Jersey and set about making it a dedicated hunting property. The land is 133 acres, 40 of those tillable.

Well into his third year of land management, Jeff has put in 10 acres of beautiful food plots. “What you see in the picture below are primarily brassicas,” he says. “Specifically, groundhog radish, purple top turnip and dwarf essex rape.

NJ jeffs farm plot

The work is paying off. In October, Jeff shot this great big-bodied 7-pointer with his bow. “I believe he was the oldest buck on the property when I bought the farm, at least 4.5 back then.”

Proof that with dedication and hard work, anybody can create and revitalize a personal hunting paradise in a relatively short time, and have the opportunity to hunt mature, heavy-bodied bucks.

Jeff is a largely one-man show who loves to do the land work himself, way to go friend!

BIG DEER’s Ultimate Guide To Rattling In Bucks

rattle compressDr. Mick Hellickson, one of the top deer scientists in America, conducted a three-year project on whitetail behavior and antler rattling on a 10,000 ranch in South Texas. The deer population was healthy and the buck:doe ratio was near 1:1. His researchers rattled in two-man teams during all three phases of the rut each November and December. When a buck came in, they noted the time, weather, etc., and videotaped each deer so later they could estimate its age and rack score.

I mention that Mick’s research was conducted more than a decade ago, which has been a good thing for me. It has allowed me to compare and analyze the study’s key points against my field notes and observations as I’ve hunted and rattled across America these last years. Read on and you will see that my real-world hunting pretty much jibes with Mick’s findings, with minor variations here and there.

When to Rattle: Over the three-year period, the researchers rattled 171 times at different locations and pulled in 111 bucks. A response rate of 65 percent is impressive, but the best info is found inside the numbers.

Mick says, “The peak of the rut is by far the best time to rattle in the most bucks, the most numbers.” During the wild days, when frenzied bucks troll and/or chase, 65 bucks responded to 60 rattling sequences—a 108 percent response rate. Sometimes two or three bucks charged or circled into their rattles. On two occasions, eight different bucks responded.

While you might certainly rattle in a big deer that is feeling his oats and rutting early, say around October 20, I believe your chances are much better if you wait to rattle until November 1, and then keep it up until just before Thanksgiving.  This way you don’t burn out your best spots and stands before most testosterone-addled bucks get in the mood to hear your fights and come in.

For years I have shouted to anyone who would listen that the first 10 days the post-rut (late November into early December in most areas) are one of the best times to rattle up a big buck. The post-rut is when Hellickson’s crew rattled up the most mature animals. Of the 29 bucks that responded to 51 rattling sequences during this phase, 10 were 5½ years old, and another 10 were 3 ½ to 4 ½. Easy lesson: Don’t give up on your rattling too soon!

Time to Rattle: You’ll have your best luck in the mornings. This has played out so many times for me in recent years that I rarely carry my horns in the afternoon anymore. And the science confirms it. Sixty of 111 bucks (67 percent) that the researchers banged in came to the horns between 7:30 and 10:30 a.m. Cool days with 75 percent cloud cover and little or low wind speed were best.

How to Rattle: “If you aren’t exhausted after a sequence, you didn’t rattle hard enough,” said Hellickson. He and his crew rattled aggressively 85 times and attracted 81 bucks. Their 86 shorter, quieter sequences pulled in only 30. The length of a rattling session didn’t matter much. Both one- and three-minute volleys lured an equal number of bucks.

This jibes with my hunting, because I rarely spar the horns or rattle lightly anymore. I used to, but horn sparring and tinkling never seemed to work for me. Besides, the fun of it is to go out in the rut, bang and grind the heck out of the horns, bust and rake some brush, and then wait quietly in anticipation of what might happen.

Expectations: As compared to the Texas ranch where Mick did his work, the private or public ground you and I hunt will hold fewer mature bucks, and likely the buck:doe ratio won’t be so good. Still, use the research as a guide to rattle on. Climb into a tree stand or sit hidden on a ridge on a cool, still morning from early November on, and keep trying it through the first week of December. Don’t rattle every day, just select days when the weather is right and the bucks are rutting. Whack the horns, lay them down, keep still and scan the woods. Oh yeah, have your bow or gun ready, a big buck might just be coming.

Rattle Setup Tips: An hour or after sunrise, move toward thick-cover areas where you know or think bucks hide out and rattle…. Always approach and set up from downwind before you crack the horns…. Set up on a downwind edge of cover where you are hidden, but where you can see well…. Sit on a low ridge, bank or similar vantage (but don’t skyline); during the Texas rattling study, researchers in towers saw every buck that came to the horns, while rattlers on flat ground were lucky to see half the bucks. Get elevated…. Sit with the rising sun and good cover behind you…. Make sure you can see reasonably well to either side downwind, as many bucks circle with the wind to try and sniff out the fighters.  Carry a wind-checker and test the breeze often. If it starts to swirl and turn bad as the sun heats up the ground—very common–back out and move to a better setup.

Best Rattling Horns: I’ve tried a variety of real and synthetic horns, and most of the rattle bags and gadgets. Any one of them will work if you catch a rutting buck in the right mood to respond. But I like the real antlers of a 130- to 140-class buck, which to me have just the right mass and heft to feel good and sound good. Saw off the brow tines and wear leather gloves to keep from mashing fingers.