This hunting season has been nothing but hard work, patience, dedication… rain!
On the morning of New Jersey bow season opener, it was pouring rain, and of course I went out in it… but saw nothing moving in the area. Later, I went back out for an evening hunt and I had three bucks come out to me at the same time, following one another. However, I was unable to harvest one of those bucks, because for early bow season, it’s “earn a buck,” which means you must harvest a doe first. Nonetheless, opening day was exciting with all the buck action I was seeing, and it gave me even more confidence for the rest of the season.
Wanted: Solo Doe
I sat just about every evening after work, waiting for that solo doe to walk in, and I just was having no luck. I was seeing deer, but they were either too far away, with fawns, or were bucks.
Finally, on September 19th, I kicked off my 2018 hunting season when I harvested a mature solo doe with my bow. I couldn’t have been more thankful!
I continued to check the trail cameras and scout new areas, looking to punch my buck tag. There were numerous young bucks coming to the bait or checking out the area I was hunting, but not any buck I wanted to fill my tag with. All the bucks I was seeing still needed a few years to reach maturity.
Wanted: Punched Buck Tag
October was about the same as September, as I saw young bucks and does coming in. I was able to harvest another doe that came in with a broken leg and could barely walk.
As I continued checking trail cams, a couple of our shooters were hitting our bait piles or scrapes, but just at night. They became nocturnal and only does were coming during shooting light. November was coming, and that meant rut season for bucks. And, muzzle loader season was right around the corner.
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I took the time on the weekends to shoot my muzzle loader to make sure it was dialed in for the first days of the season. I sat both days at the end of November and I was able to lock in on a mature doe, 80 yards out in the field. She only ran about 30 yards until we found her.
The following week for us was 6-day firearm, and I knew that any deer we’ve had on camera will soon be moving all over, so we would likely have a chance to see new bucks come in the area. However, 6-day firearm came and went and I still had my muzzle loader buck tag waiting to be punched. I continued to sit the days that were open for muzzle loader season, hoping to punch my buck tag before the year was up.
Muzzle Loader Season Magic
That day finally came, December 26, 2018 at 3:38 pm! That is when the wait finally ended and I was able to fill my last tag for muzzle loader, and fill it with an incredible buck. I had to work the morning of the 26th at 5 am until 1:30 pm. I got home, changed, and my dad and I went out to both sit in an evening stand with the muzzle loader.
I got in the stand around 2 pm. The wind was blowing in my favor, the weather was perfect, and it was quiet. Around 2:20 pm, I kept hearing something to my left but saw it was just some squirrels chasing each other. I turned to look to my right… and that’s when I caught a glimpse of his antlers.
Love At First Crab Claw
The only thing I could see at first was the crab claw on the left side. When he walked a little farther out of the laurels he turned to look next to him and that’s when I knew he was a shooter. My heart started to race, my breathing got heavy, and my hands started to shake. I reached to grab my gun, although very slowly, since he kept looking around curious about something. His tail was going up and down and he acted calm as he walked the area.
I finally got the gun half way onto the shooting rail when he turned to look in my direction. I thought he could hear my breathing, because in my head, I thought I was so loud. So, I hid my mouth in my scarf and took a deep breath.
Please Mr. Buck, Turn Broadside
moved the gun up to look at him through the scope. I still couldn’t believe this buck just walked out in front of me. And, it was a buck we had never seen before. He went 10 yards behind the pile and made a half circle and then looked straight toward me. I had the cross hairs directly on his chest and was debating about shooting him right there. I thought to myself “he’s going to take two steps left or right to be broad side and that’s when I’ll shoot.”
Sure thing, he took two steps to his left looking to my right, stood completely broadside, and I knew that was my shot.
Breathe… Trigger… Smoke… Buck Down!
I took one last deep breath and squeezed the trigger. Through the black powder smoke, I saw him jump in the air and do the famous kick, and took off. I watched him run directly away from me and then I heard the crashing and saw the white of his tail and that was it.
Now, my nerves kicked in again and my heart was racing. I took a deep breath and couldn’t believe what had just happened. My dad heard my shot from across the field and texted me to ask if that was me who shot.
I was in total shock. We waited a good 45 minutes until we went to go look. My dad stayed in his stand hoping something would come out since it was still early.
My boyfriend came to help me track. We bean following the blood trail, and not 50 yards away, we saw his white belly sticking out in all the green laurels. I couldn’t believe that I harvested this amazing, mature whitetail buck! Especially since it was my first buck with my CVA Muzzle loader!! This was definitely an N1 Moment that I will never forget!
Deer season is nearing a close and I’ve only let one arrow fly all season. One. And, it was to kill a coyote that came by my stand on an early season hunt. Mission accomplished there, but the deer are what really get my heart pumping.
Since I bow hunt all season long, by this time of year, I usually have tagged a whitetail and filled the freezer. But, this season has been different than most. I’ve had quite a few career-related changes that have limited the amount of times I’ve been able to get in the woods.
So, how do I feel about this?
Well, honestly, by this time of the season, I begin to get a little bit of an itchy release finger, especially if I haven’t taken a deer yet. So, during a season like this one, I really began thinking about what defines a successful hunting season.
Maturity In Hunting
It’s a thrill to get to take a mature buck and maybe even take home a set of monster antlers. But, it’s also something that doesn’t come easily, especially when hunting at close range.
I’ve learned over the years that if you want to be in the action when the rut comes, it’s often wise to have been hunting the does all season long. Where do they feed? Where are they bedding? And, where are their travel corridors in between? Knowing the answers to these questions requires not only logging some time in the stand, but also being patient enough not to start slinging arrows at every deer you see. Bottom line… maturity is required in hunting as well as in life.
Even with the challenges this year that have limited my time in the woods, I have been able to hunt a handful of times. And, I’ve gotten to observe quite a few deer and had the opportunity to shoot many of them. But I didn’t draw.
As I’ve gotten older, I also see the value in learning all that I can about my craft. Much of that learning comes from hunting with friends and other seasoned hunters. Everyone has their own strategies and methods for taking whitetail and other wild game. Many hunters might try to prove that their methodology is superior. I simply enjoy the fellowship and sharing of information. I set out to know more every hunting season than I did the year before. This is possible whether I shoot a deer or not. There is always something to observe and learn. And that’s one of the things I love about this way of life.
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Slowing Down The Pace
Life tends to move at a breakneck speed. Technology is not only allowing the flow of information move more quickly, it’s allowing us to get more done in a shorter period of time… which means we pile more and more things on our plates. Which means we move along even faster. I think you see the pattern here.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but sometimes I look to the skyline from my tree stand and realize that it’s been months since I’ve even looked up and around me to observe the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. Life gets crazy and I get wrapped up in finishing the next ‘to-do” on my list. It’s during moments in the stand, that I often realize that I have focused much of my time on trivial things. Hunting gives me the chance to hopefully get away from all of these distractions for a short time. Sure, I may have my phone with me to capture the occasional wildlife video, but it sure is nice to not be tied to the computer that I’m currently typing this article on!
I’m thankful for moments in the woods where I can enjoy the incredible attributes of nature that God gave us to show us that there is a magnificent Creator.
I hope you are getting a chance to read this in a quiet place. But, chances are, you are cramming this information in as you do other things at the same time. It’s amazing how many distractions technology creates. Getting into that perfect tree stand location not only gives me the opportunity to test my hunting skills, but it also allows me to test my listening skills.
In the quiet of the woods, there are many sounds you can hear that you wouldn’t otherwise. Likewise, maybe there are things that God has been trying to tell me and teach me. What are the things He has been trying to teach me that I have drowned out with the noise of work, family and other duties?
Hunting gives me the chance to evaluate how well I have been listening to the One who gave His life and gives me reason to live. It gives me a chance to listen loudly in the quiet of the landscape. For that, I am truly thankful.
So, it’s not just about the kill or the size of the quarry. Hopefully, I can improve my hunting skills, but also be able to slow down and listen to the what the Lord wants of my life. Now, that is a good definition of hunting success.
I absolutely love the white-tailed deer. In fact, my 365-day-a-year obsession over whitetails is almost haunting. I am so happy and grateful to be able to do what I love and to also share my knowledge and love of big whitetail bucks with my clients.
You may be wondering how you can grow bigger bucks on your property or leased land. So, let’s get started.
When I meet with clients at their hunting properties (whether owned or leased land), I focus on the three basic necessities of deer: food, water and cover.
These three important components are critical for whitetails (and any other animal that calls your property home) to be able to thrive. I also focus on attracting and holding those big trophy bucks on your hunting land as long as possible during daylight hours.
To properly address these three basic necessities, there some questions that must be answered about the deer habitat on your property. So, let’s now break down the five steps to improving your property or lease for bigger whitetails.
#1: How are you entering and exiting stand locations?
Access is the first thing I always want to address when taking on a new property. How are you accessing your property and stand locations? What are the prevailing wind directions? Although not always practical, access from the outside perimeter of the property is always best.
In a perfect world, every property should be set up with outside perimeter access. However, it’s understandable that there are situations where this may not be possible. For example, you might have a property where you have a cabin smack dab in the middle. Or, there may also be other natural barriers that prevent perimeter access. These are all part of the land access component that I address with clients.
Accessing From The Middle
Although accessing stand locations from the middle of the property is always risky business, sometimes you just don’t have a choice. You must then pay very close attention to wind direction, and how you can access and exit a stand location without bumping out deer.
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Screening plays a very important role in accessing a hunting property. Screening can be achieved by planting vegetation, such as Egyptian Wheat, Sorghum, Sudan grass, or Miscanthus. I do not recommend corn for screening. I don’t want deer feeding in a corn screen leading to a stand or blind locations. Hinge cutting trees and planting rows of pine, such as Norway spruce are other forms of screening. Going forward, I will discuss the advantages and reasons for screening in future blogs.
#2: What Food Sources Can Be Found On Your Property?
Are you implementing food plots currently? What kind of natural browse can be found on the property? If in Ag country, what are in those farm fields?
It is essential that you try your very best to provide as much food as possible, with food plots and natural browse for total year-round food sources. Try not to give deer any reason to leave your property so that you can increase the chances of finding those shed antlers in the spring from the bucks observed during the previous season.
You should also determine if food plots are already implemented on the property. What kinds of natural browse, hard mast and soft mast exist, if any. If your property is in farm country, determine what the farmers are planting, and the number of acres planted.
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Will there be food plots from scratch? By that I mean, if food plots are going to be planted within the woods, will trees be cleared? If so, be sure to find the best tree in the area and develop the plot layout around it in association to access and exit strategy. The same applies for a ground blind set.
By creating a plot from scratch, you can control how deer move through the plot. Deer can be forced past a stand or ground blind by creating soft edges and pinch points that block a deer’s line of sight and peak curiosity, especially during the three phases of the rut.
Whitetail Food Plots Options
In my own experience, clover and alfalfa provide for the best year-round food source. But, I only recommend clovers and alfalfa being only 10-15% of the total amount of food available. Corn and soybeans are great sources during late season and are good winter-long foods.
Brassica, turnips, tillage (dicon) radishes, sunflowers and canola are a few other popular food sources for food plots. In large plots that exceed one acre or more, I like to design the plots to have a wide diversity of food sources for season long variety.
When you have one or two varieties of food in one plot and another variety of food in another plot 100 yards or more away, you inadvertently create stress on the resident deer. So the more variety and diverse a food plot, the better. Just because seed blends are sometimes packaged individually, it doesn’t mean they can’t be blended with others.
My favorite plot food is a mixture of Antler Kings Honey Hole, Slam Dunk and Lights Out seed blends. The forage oats in Lights Out provides for fast green up and early season food, while the brassica, turnips, radishes canola and buckwheat provide great mid and late season food.
When this mixture is seeded on the perimeter of a corn and or soybean field or plot, you’ve just created a smorgasbord for a slam dunk kill plot!
#3: Is there a water source?
One of the key things to determine about your hunting land or lease is whether or not there is a water source. If so, what type? A deer’s water preference isn’t always what you might think.
Water is a very important element to any deer, and all wild life, that lives on your property. On our own “proving grounds,” water is the #1 limiting factor on our property, and the element we have 100% control over.
You can create very simple, and inexpensive, watering holes. Simply use a 50-gallon barrel cut in half and bury to the top edge of the half barrel. Be sure to keep them full of water, especially during periods of dry weather conditions. To do this, I recommend a minimum of 150 gallons per water tank.
Ideally, pond development is the best form of water you can incorporate if it doesn’t already exist. For more information on wildlife pond creation, I recommend Zach Haas of Wisconsin Lake and Pond Resources, LLC.
His services include:
• Consulting, planning and Design.
• Permitting where applicable
• Pond liner and fabric installation
• Beneficial aquatic planting design and installation
• Management and maintenance
• Solar aeration system installation
Check them out @ www.wisconsinlpr.com
#4: Where are deer bedding?
What type of cover are the deer bedding in? Is there enough browse in that bedding area? Cover is very important when it comes to holding deer on your property. You want to determine where the deer are bedding, (or where you want them to bed), and in what type of cover they are bedding.
Cover varies dramatically in fall/winter bedding to summer bedding locations. During the mid-late fall and through winter, deer prefer thick stem count, yet low, open canopies to allow for maximum sunlight for thermal cover.
In the summer, deer prefer open, high canopy, maximum shade and air flow, especially bucks with velvety antlers. If in hill country, like here in West Central Wisconsin, north-facing, high-canopy benches are preferred. In the fall and winter the opposite is true. Where applicable, hinge cutting to provide side cover and allowing sunlight to penetrate the canopy, is a great way to enhance that fall/winter thermal bedding cover. Remember, deer prefer side cover over canopy, and the biggest misconception of hinge cutting is that deer want to lay in open exposure to sunlight, and not under a hinged tree. Actually, deer want side cover!
Hinge cutting can be used in a wide variety of applications. Look for future written blogs and video on my Facebook and YouTube pages.
#5: Can You Use Mineral Supplementation?
The first thing you need to know when it comes to mineral supplementation is whether or not it is legal to supplement in your particular area? You also need to know where your mineral stations are in accordance to food and water.
To me, the use of a deer-specific, high-quality, mineral supplementation strategy is widely overlooked by even top-industry deer nutrition experts. My background is dairy farming and livestock production. With any great nutrition program, mineral supplementation plays a key role in genetic maximization and forage utilization. I do not understand why some industry “experts” feel mineral supplementation isn’t necessary.
Even with top quality forage, that alone cannot provide adequate micro nutrients that deer need to maximize genetic potential. What holds true for maximum milk production in dairy cattle, is true when it comes to maximizing a deer’s genetic potential for antler development, fetal development, and milk production in does for fawn consumption and strong, healthy fawns. Mineral supplementation is critical to each.
Again, pay attention to state and local regulations when it comes to mineral supplementation.
These are the five areas I emphasize the most when I visit a client’s property. I also emphasize them on my own “proving grounds” in my home state of Wisconsin (the Coulee Region of West Central Wisconsin, to be exact).
As with any habitat plan or consultation I perform, I break things down into much further detail, and discuss other topics as well. I find these five points to be the most common topics when it comes to managing any ground for mature whitetails. Hopefully this information is helpful in your quest to manage and harvest bigger whitetails.
When it comes to any management plan, it doesn’t have to break the bank. And, we want to keep the plan implementation fun.
For more detailed information on the topics discussed in this blog, and other topics, find me on Facebook and YouTube at EpicWhitetailHabitat, LLC and on Instagram @EpicWhitetailHabitat, or contact me directly at:
Epic whitetail Habitat LLC
W11124 Neperud Rd
Osseo, WI 54758