ryan nordahl whitetail management

Managing Whitetail Properties To Grow Bigger Whitetail Deer | 5 Keys to 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.

picture of john williams with a big buck

Is your property fulfilling its potential in producing bigger bucks?

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.

You may be wondering how YOU can grow bigger bucks on your property or leased land. So, let’s get started...

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.


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Outside Perimeter

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.

muddy box stand in woods

How you access is your stands is a critical component to whitetail property management.


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Screening

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.

whitetail deer in cover

Screening cover can be achieved with 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 For Deer 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.



When it comes to whitetails, 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.

deer food plot

Clover and alfalfa food plots are great year-round food sources, while corn and soybeans work great in late season.

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 setup.

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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.

whitetail buck walking in high grass

Deer prefer side cover over canopy cover so be sure your whitetail property has what they need to hold them there. (Photo by Jeff Coldwell)

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.

buck shedding velvet over mineral block

Mineral supplementation is often overlooked, but is a key piece of the puzzle when managing deer properties.


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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, for 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.



Conclusion

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:

Ryan Nordahl
Epic whitetail Habitat LLC
W11124 Neperud Rd
Osseo, WI 54758
715-299-0134
Epicwhitetailhabitat@gmail.com

outdoor brands arrows side by side

Empty Pockets | Are Outdoor Brands Worth The Extra Money?

So, what does price say about quality when it comes to arrows? Is a household name brand better than a lesser known one? Does a higher price tag equate to better arrow flight and more successful archery hunts? For that matter, does the name brand matter in any outdoor activity?

Well, in an attempt to answer that question, I’ll use a few examples. First, I’ll start with fishing (yes, fishing… just wait for it.)

The Price Of A Boat Doesn’t Catch Fish

I grew up camping and fishing in the High Uintas of Utah with my father. My father taught me how to love and enjoy the outdoors and how to clean out the fish you catch. There were also a few memories I will never forget.

My Pops had an old sun-dried yellow, aluminum boat with a 25 hp Evinrude motor that we putted around in. We would spend a week up there, doing nothing but fishing and filling the stringer.

outdoor brands fishing boat

Maybe moments like this are worth more than the boat you are in.

When I was 9 years old, a guy saw us back up our old Suburban and that ole yellow boat into the water. He yelled, “Damn, that is an expensive rig ya got there!” Of course, he was being extremely rude with his comment, laughing as he backed his expensive speed boat into the water.

My dad just said, “some people…”



We fished for about four hours or so that day and filled up the stringer with 22″ rainbows that we caught with our basic all-around fishing rods and reels and life was good.

When we went back to load the boat, my dad yelled across the water to the guy with the expensive boat, “You catch any?”

The man answered, “No, the bite has been slow.” My father replied, “I hope that boat was worth it” and then pulled out our stringer. The look on that man’s face was priceless!

We laughed and went to camp and enjoyed the rest of the evening cooking up the fish we caught (in our “expensive rig”) on the camp fire.

Your Ford Could Be A Chevy

outdoor brands chevy truck

Is more expensive really better?

Perhaps you’ve seen the test drive commercials where a truck’s identity is kept secret from the driver. The test driver takes it for a spin and says “it has to be a Ford.” But, then to the driver’s surprise… it’s a Chevy!

It’s the same with many of the products in the outdoors industry. There are many awesome products out there. Some are affordable and some not so much. And, of course, the more expensive item is always better quality. Or is it?



Higher Price = Better Quality… Sometimes

Many believe that better quality and performance live where the higher price tag is. In the gun industry, this argument holds up to some degree. But, at the end of the day, all guns travel the same whether you buy a $250 12-gauge pump shotgun by Browning, or a $900 12 gauge shotgun from Winchester. Both have the same pump action, same gauge, and same function. Both will serve the same purpose of taking wild game.

So why the cost difference? Could it be that it’s all just marketing?



20 Guns, 60 shells And One Duck

outdoor brands duck in flight

Money doesn’t kill ducks… but good shots do…

One Saturday morning in November, I went out waterfowl hunting  on a dyke beyond the city I lived in. When I got there, only one other guy had shown up. I thought to myself, “Hey, this may be a good morning!”

As soon as it was shooting light, a group of 20 guys (probably all from the same football team) showed up and parked right next to me. Most of the crew had 12 gauge semi-automatic Beretta shotguns and were ready to take some game. At the time, I had a model 1300 Winchester 12-gauge pump.

It didn’t help matters that none of them would get in the reeds to hide (and it didn’t matter cause there was so many of them!)

One kid yelled “DUCK!”

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All 2o of them, including myself, faced north, and sure enough, one duck was coming in slow like he was about to land. I then got to experience 20 men unload all three shells from each gun. It was like being on the line at the Alamo!

Not one person peppered that duck! I pulled up to shoot after all that ammo spent from the others, shot once, and sacked it.

They all looked at me like I had committed a crime.

Needless to say, I was getting more value out of my $250 gun then all twenty of them who had a $1,500 gun (and I didn’t use near as many shells:)



Outdoor Brands Shouldn’t Make Or Break Your Fun

Whether it’s guns, bow hunting arrows and broadheads or outdoor apparel, I think we all could say that we are guilty at some point or another of being caught up in the allure of brand name gear.

For example, some bow hunters are willing to spend $185 for a set of six arrows, when there are arrows on the market for only $55 for a set of six. And, if compared to each other, just like in that Ford and Chevy test, you might not even be able to tell the difference.

Others are extremely particular about what brand of broadheads they shoot.

Enjoy the outdoors. At the end of the day you should not be afraid of shooting your bow at longer distances, just because you’re afraid to lose a $25 arrow. You should feel comfortable shooting at various yardages ranging from 10 yards up to 85 yards, as long as you are taking an ethical shot that will give you a good chance of a clean kill.

Some bow hunters won’t shoot past 70 yards while practicing, while some ethical hunters will shoot further, just in case that dream buck walks out and you may not have another chance of getting any closer.



The Outdoors Should Be About The Moments

As we make unforgettable memories outdoors, hopefully we can focus on getting more people engaged and enjoying themselves more than we do on what brand of equipment we have.

So, don’t get caught up in the brand name of your camping and outdoor gear. After all, the outdoors should be fun, affordable and enjoyable.

austin hurst pic

Public Land Hunting Tips You Should Know

Do you love hunting but don’t own property? Public land hunting may be the answer for you. But, there are so many different types of public land hunting opportunities ranging from National Wildlife Refuges, State Forests, State Parks, Nature Preserves, Natural Areas, Nature Conservancies, Wildlife Management Areas, Lands maintained by Army Corps of Engineers, and Military Establishments. 

So, with so much public land throughout the country, where in the world do you even begin in developing a strategy to hunt public land?

Check out these public hunting land tips to help you start enjoying the vast opportunities!

  1. Know the Rules and Regulations
  2. Use Maps & Boots
  3. Take Advantage of the Seasons
  4. Know Thy Transportation
  5. Get the Right Gear
  6. Use Trail Cameras

Regardless of what type of opportunities your state offers, you may find it easier to begin hunting these lands by becoming familiar with the following public land hunting tips. 

Tip #1: Know The Rules & Regulations Where You Hunt

Whenever I venture onto public land, whether I have hunted that particular piece of property before or not, I always familiarize or update myself with the local as well as state hunting regulations that are in effect where I am going to hunt. 

In my home state of Virginia, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries does a good job of providing outdoorsmen and women with these regulations.  It does so in the forms of booklets and also by keeping the website and public land kiosks up to date with important information that could impact a visitor’s trip. 


Get Your Hunting License

A regulation that goes hand-in-hand with hunting in all states is having the required hunting license or permit. It is becoming more frequent for state natural resource departments to require hunters, hikers, bikers, and even bird watchers to either have a permit, license (or in Virginia, an Access Permit) on hand before they can enjoy public lands.  

Regardless of what your prey may be or what time of year you plan on taking a public land adventure, you will not go wrong by becoming familiar with the local regulations and rules that may affect your trip.  Understanding such guidelines could not only make the difference in you having a safe and legal hunt this season, but ultimately will lay the foundation for a rewarding public land experience. 


Tip #2: Use The Scouting Match Made In Heaven… Maps And Boots

You might already use maps when you hunt. However, you may not realize that many local government agencies will provide free maps of public hunting land.

Using these maps can be a great resource for hunters to learn valuable information about the land they are hunting when pursuing game.

man walking public hunting land

Use maps to help you learn how other hunters may be accessing the same parcel of public hunting land.

Whether you use government maps or get mapping information from an internet source like Google Maps, Google Earth, or one of these latest and greatest phone apps like OnX Maps, you can certainly build your knowledge about the area of public land you are scouting or hunting. 

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If a hunter knows what he or she is looking at on a map, that hunter’s boots can take them anywhere on a map in search of “prime” locations that could be hot spots for wild game such as whitetail deer.  By examining an updated map, a hunter can pin point key areas and resources just by looking at that map. Then, a game plan can be developed based on those key areas and resources. 


Lots of bucks on Kansas public land!

Some key areas and resources to be mindful of on public land maps include:

  • Any local agriculture or food sources
  • Natural transition areas where two or more different habitats come together
  • Waterways or other water sources
  • Trails, roadways or property boundary lines
  • Bedding areas
  • Areas of elevations
  • Areas leading to hunter access
  • Any local agriculture or food sources
  • Natural transition areas where two or more different habitats come together
  • Waterways or other water sources
  • Trails, roadways or property boundary lines
  • Bedding areas
  • Areas of elevation
  • Areas leading to hunter access


Hunter Access

When it comes to combining maps and scouting, I love the element of hunter access, and maps can tell you a lot about it!  

Maps are also helpful in predicting what other hunters may do regarding how they access a piece of public land. Not to suggest that hunters are lazy, but many are creatures of habit as well as convenience. Simply put, many hunters will follow the path of least resistance in accessing a hunting location. 



This means that most of the time, they will use the same locations of access (public parking areas to public access roadways) to get to their stand setups as well as the same entry/exit access points which will allow them the easiest way to and from their vehicles. 

I have discovered while hunting public lands that if hunters are more inclined to take the road less traveled, which could mean a path of more resistance or a longer entry/exit access point, they will not only discover more encounters with game, but less encounters with other hunters



By combining map study and physical effort, you can discover these areas that most other hunters will not be willingly to venture off to. The payoff in the form of a successful kill or greater sense of accomplishment is hard to match. 

Some hunters will even opt for access via mountain bikes, which can provide a quiet, but faster route to the hunting location.




Identification Of Deer Habitat  

Studying maps can also provide hunters an opportunity to discover overlooked areas that many hunters just do not realize game like whitetails are hiding in.  In these areas, being able to identify public parking areas and highly trafficked roads can be extremely productive areas for hunters who take the time to study the maps and then put their boots to work. 



Tip #3: Take Advantage Of The Seasons

elk on public land

For bow hunters, archery seasons often provide an opportunity to hunt public land with fewer hunters around.

In all public hunting lands, there is at least one season for hunters to take advantage of big game with a particular weapon.  But on many public lands, big game can be hunted during different seasons such as early archery season, gun season, or maybe a late muzzle loader season. 

In some states, like here in Virginia, hunters can chase game during overlapping seasons.  In my experience hunting big game on public land, I have found that many hunters choose to hunt more during the general firearms season than any other season.  This can really be good news for the bowhunter and the black powder hunter in the short and long term. 

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If archery and black powder hunters play their cards right, they can avoid the high traffic of a gun season by spending the majority of their hunting time during the archery and muzzle loader seasons. 

These hunters will discover the benefits of hunting these seasons as there will typically be more encounters with big game and generally less pressure from other hunters.  Combine that with good scouting techniques and the willingness to venture deeper into public land, and hunters can hope to have much more success during their public land outings. 



Tip #4: Know Thy Transportation

Protection of our public lands is a high priority. That also goes for the public roadways, trails, or paths that lie within.  Hunters, hikers, and campers across the country will quickly find that most public lands have limited roadway access. This often includes restrictions on motor vehicles, including ATVs. This means that visitors are usually limited to walking or using bicycles, or in some cases, electric vehicles. 

Other than your own two feet, the other two options that I know of that can help get you and your gear from point A to point B when hunting public land would be a bicycle or a good game cart. 

I myself rarely use one during hunting season, but a bicycle is one of my best resources during the off-season when it comes to scouting as well as helping me move tree stands or other gear around public land. 

I have found that using a bicycle during the off-season is so beneficial that I get twice the work accomplished and twice the scouting done. 

During hunting season, I always have my game cart with me. A game cart is just as important to me as having my license, weapon, and other gear. 

I just know that I am going to need it and I am always better off with it. Most of my hunts on public land take me around a mile or more into public land, so by having it, I can place all my gear on top of it, strap it down and transport it with ease while I walk. Not to mention when I do harvest big game, it makes life so much easier if I don’t have a partner with me. 

Not all local agencies see eye to eye on the topic of public land transportation. So, before venturing off to your local public hunting lands this season, make sure you check with your local agency to see what the acceptable forms of transportation are before bringing your ATV or purchasing that new electric bicycle.  

Tip #5: Have The Right Hunting Gear

Every hunter has gear, but some have it coming out from their ears!

Of course, it’s easy to think we need the latest and greatest gear, but I am going to tell you the simplest pieces of gear that will help you not only be successful, but safe while hunting public land. 

public land hunting fire starter

A fire starter is one of the most essential pieces of gear when out hunting public land. In a survival situation, it could be a life-saver.

To go along with your map, you can never go wrong with the following items when hunting public land:

  • Compass: A good compass is a must and something you should know how to use. Some public lands make it mandatory for hunters or visitors to carry a compass when on those lands in the event that they get lost. On big tracts of land, you will be thankful to have this piece of equipment if you ever get turned around. 
  • Headlamp: A reliable headlamp with extra batteries is important to have for entry and exit. But, if you are ever lost, this resource can help others locate you. 
  • Orange: Blaze orange or pink is typically going to be something that hunters should have on during most firearm seasons, and possibly during other hunting seasons, depending on local regulations. Having this garment with you at all times, regardless of the season, can be an important piece of safety equipment while moving about public land.
  • Fire Starter: The all-important fire starter is something that I think most hunters overlook in their pack. I hunt land that I am very familiar with, but you just never know what may happen when you are out on an adventure. So, a fire starter is a tool that could be critical to your survival in unfamiliar or even familiar territory.  I always carry a fire starter, just in case. Bowdrills, fire saws, flint and steel, magnifying lenses, matches, lighters, battery and steel wool and fire pistons are all types of fire starters
  • Boots: Taking care of your feet is extremely important. So, having a good fitting, durable pair of boots is a must. For me, I prefer to use rubber boots, mainly because the majority of the land I venture into has swamps or marshes.  These boots also provide good protection from snakes. This really sets my mind at ease during the early season, as I move through thick cover.  Always carry an extra pair of socks, regardless of the season.  Your feet will thank you for it!


Tip #6: Use Trail Cameras

Over the years, I have become addicted to – and really do depend on – the information that game cameras can provide  me. Whether it is areas I have a history of hunting, or new areas I am learning about, game cameras are a perfect way for me to gather needed information without continuously disrupting a particular spot. 

pubic land trail camera image

Trail cameras can be very useful in determining what types of game may be frequenting the public land that you are planning to hunt.

Typically, I will leave my game cameras out during the summer months into the opening of season and I may check them roughly two to four times before the season begins.  I place my cameras near known bedding areas and travel corridors, where I have established mock scrapes, or near established stand setups. 

When I do check these cameras, I will be able to determine what type of game is in the area, if the area is going to be productive for what I am pursuing at the start of the season, or if I need to abandon the area altogether and move to a different location. 

A camera can help me determine if I have a doe “hot spot” or doe bedding area.  It will give me an idea of when the rut is picking up or tapering off.  Game cameras will also provide information on possible shooter bucks to target.  Sometimes cameras can provide insight on why you may not have as much game traffic in a particular area. Perhaps you are getting more coyote traffic or bear traffic, which could discourage animals like deer from using that particular location. 


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In some cases, a spot you thought was secluded and out of the way may end up proving to be a highly trafficked area by other hunters.

In any event, using game cameras on public lands can really help you determine what you are working with when it comes to particular locations.  Be advised, cameras are a resource that others are willing to take from you! So, take the proper precautions to protect your trail cameras.  This may mean you may have to secure them by locking them to a tree, or as I have done in the past, placing them at an elevated level, making harder for others to get see and get to. 




Public Land Hunting Tips Conclusion

There are so many other tips I could provide when it comes to public land hunting. But, the tips I have provided here are ones that have been tried and proven effective for me on the public lands I hunt. And, I am sure they will work for you on whatever public land you explore and hunt. 

When you go out, look back on these tips and use them to your advantage this season and in the years to come.  You will find that by using them, and maybe even by altering them somewhat, that you will have much more success when you are hunting public lands in the future. 

Remember that there is nothing more important than being safe when you are out. So, take every precaution to do so, and make sure you take every opportunity to make a “Trophy Moment!”

Jason Giovenco-Montano photo
Jason Giovenco-Montano

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