My Apology to Well-Meaning Deer Hunters who Use Bait

Sometimes I feel sorry for being a defender of “fair chase” whitetail hunting in America. I realize using bait to attract whitetails to stand sites in the many states where it is legal today was likely the first and continues to be the only known means of successfully taking deer for a lot of U.S. hunters — actually millions. A big reason is, stand hunting near bait proved to be far more productive and practical than using old traditional hunting methods. Though I fail to understand why deer that have been flourishing on wild foods for more than 10,000 years now suddenly need bait foods with greater amounts of protein to be healthy, such hunting does have some benefits. It does not generally cause deer to abandon their ranges or become nocturnal during hunting seasons (though few stand hunters know how to take advantage of this). Temporaily, at least, it enables more hunters to take part in keeping deer from suffering the tragic consequences of starvation due to overabundance in winter. The trouble with using bait is, most mature whitetails soon realize it is dangerous to approach bait and stand sites where human airborne and trail scents are prevalent in daylight hours during hunting seasons. Most deer taken by stand hunters using bait today are therefore inexperienced fawns and yearlings. Except for hunters determined to take mature bucks, this seems to be acceptable to most huntrs.

My trouble is, I’m a relic of the “old school”of whitetail hunting. I’ve been hunting whitetails 73 years. I began when hunters like my rural grandfathers who were yet suffering from the hardships of the Great Depression were being forced to get use to the idea that they could no longer take deer year-around to feed their families. About that time it had become obvious whitetails and other edible American wildlife could no longer sustain suitable numbers under the pressure of year-around hunting (subsistence hunting) by growing numbers of Americans. Concerned hunters and politicians of that period scrambled to do something to save deer and other wild game while at the same time preserving our American heritage of hunting. To do this they decided deer hunting should only be a sport, limited to taking one deer per hunter per year during a limited hunting season and no hunting method should provide an unfair advantage over deer. Words like “sportshunter, sportshunting, sportsmanship, ethical hunting” and “fair chase hunting” thereafter described American deer hunting and hunters adhering to these principles were admired and respected.

The trouble is, annual, large-scale culling of less-fit, easy-to-hunt deer by millions of American hunters inevitably produced a race of whitetails that is far less vulnerable to old traditional hunting methods today, including stand hunting. To add to this vexing problem, about six decades ago forest whitetails began invading intensely farmed, suburban and even urban areas where their numbers are difficult or impossible to control via hunting. Using bait to attract whitetails to stand sites was soon discovered to be a practical way to alleviate matters (though not very productive for taking mature whitetails after bait has been widely used in any area for two or more years). Using bait thus became legal in many U.S. states. Unfortunately, it’s not “fair chase” deer hunting.

Many of us old school whitetail hunters feel using bait to hunt whitetails is not only unnecessary but downright disgraceful. If we say something that makes you younger hunters who use bait feel “blasted,” however, I for one am truly sorry. I know you are all “good guys,” many of you have become real experts at using bait and I also realize you and most others who use bait only do it because it is legal and much ecouraged in your state today, but now maybe you understand why some of us are beginning to feel a need to begin protecting our once revered principle of “fair chase” whitetail hunting.

Actually, while a beginning deer hunter back in the 1940s, I too soon became dissatisfied with old traditional hunting methods, not because we didn’t take a lot of deer back then, but because we so seldom even saw bucks like those commonly pictured on covers of outdoor magazines and calendars. Thus in the 1960s I began scientific hunting-related studies of habits and behavior of wild whitetails never done before by anyone I have ever heard of, hoping to discover more productive ways to hunt deer, specially older bucks. Beginning in 1980, I began sharing what I was learning in the first of more than 800 articles in popular outdoor magazines and 17 books. I was a pioneer of tree stand hunting and the first to accurately describe the whitetail rut. Since 1990 I developed six new variations of mature-buck-effective, “fair chase” stand hunting methods that without the help of anyone else enabled my three sons and me to take 98 mature bucks on unfenced public land in wolf country during the past 27 years where deer numbers have have never exceeded 11 per square mile and where only one buck could be legally taken per hunter per year. Many are now on our walls. By any standards, this is unusually great, do-it-yourself buck hunting.

It now being my goal to help preserve “fair chase” whitetail hunting and our country’s much revered, 85-year-old heritage of sportshunting, I am going to try to teach as many American whitetail hunter as I can how to use one or more of my new, much-needed, mature-buck-effective hunting methods, all “fair chase.”

Meanwhile, I promise to go easier on you guys who use bait.

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How to Finally Outfox an Unpredictable Buck

The five phases of activities of whitetail bucks related to breeding are about to begin — beginning about September 1st and ending shortly after January 1st. Breeding of does will be limited to three two-week periods during these months and will have little affect on day-to-day locations of mature unalarmed does and their young. Whenever you hunt whitetails during the coming fall and winter period, however, breeding-related activities will be influencing the timing and locations of unalarmed antlered bucks every day you hunt. Triggered by specific ratios of darkness to light, the onsets of each of these activities (one also influenced by air temperature) are very predictable and each phase has characteristic deer signs that aid in determining when it is in progress, contributing to greater buck hunting success for hunters who recognize these activities and their identifying deer signs.

Aside from weather, moon phases, availability of water and specific foods which also contribute to predictability of whitetails, though not always in ways that favor hunters, nothing makes whitetails less predictable and less vulnerable to hunting more than hunting by humans. The one response of whitetails being hunted by humans that is most ruinous to whitetail predictability and subsequent hunting is alarm great enough to make whitetails raise and fan their white tails and bound away with all possible speed. Whitetails that do this are not only likely in the process of abandoning your hunting area and becoming nocturnal for extended periods of time, but they are warning other deer along the way via sight, hearing and scent emitted by their tarsal glands to do the same. Over the long run, therefore, your success as a whitetail hunter or buck hunter is determined by how often you make whitetails raise their tails and bound away, which can  happen much more often than you realize.

One important key to becoming regularly successful at hunting whitetails, especially elusive mature bucks, therefore, is to learn how to hunt in a manner that does not cause whitetails to raise their tails and bound away. Yes, there are such hunting methods: certain forms of stand hunting. The trouble with any form of stand hunting is, today’s mature, stand-smart whitetails living within a half-mile, especially older bucks, generally find and identify stand hunters at stand sites, typically without stand hunters realizing it, within the first 1–30 hours they are used and thereafter avoid them. To eliminate this handicap, the stand hunter must become extra difficult by various means for nearby whitetails to possitively identify while hiking to and from stand sites and while hunting at stand sites. The hunter must also switch to a different, yet unused stand site 100 yards or more away once or twice daily. There ‘s more, but once a proper stand hunting method is mastered, the hunter can finally become regularly successful at taking any class of whitetail, including older bucks, seldom seen, if at all, by other hunters during hunting seasons.

Why Fewer Americas are Hunting Whitetails

Fears & concerns that keep people from becoming deer hunters are common today. Take what was said about deer hunting at a family get-together I attended a few years ago. An 18 year-old nephew there asked me if he could hunt deer with me during the coming November firearm hunting season. “I’d like to try it at least once,” he said. Before I could say a thing, his parents and other members of his family immediately began exclaiming, “A gun, bullets, hunting clothes, boots and a license cost hundreds of dollars. You don’t have any of those things amd you don’t know a thing about deer hunting or using a firearm. Wandering around in the woods and using a gun is dangerous. You could get lost and freeze to death. Why would you want to kill a deer anyway? They don’t hurt anyone. We don’t need venison and no one in this house would eat it anyway because it tastes gamey. You can’t afford deer hunting and neither can we, so forget it!” Thus ended the dream of one potential new deer hunter.

Yes, hunting gear is expensive these days. The Model 94 Winchester carbine I purchased for $31.50 in 1945 now costs more than ten times as much. However, I know I’ve spent much more on hockey gear for three sons than hunting gear, which we somehow always managed to afford. Partly by encouraging my sons and daughters early to earn and save money to purchase needed hunting gear, I saved money of hunting gear. I also saved by outfitting my beginners with well cared for clothing and boots no longer large enough to fit older siblings. One daughter and a son took mature bucks during their first hunts without new deer rifles, instead using shotguns loaded with slugs, guns I originally bought second hand for them to hunt grouse and ducks.

Imagined danger is another matter. Having raised five avid buck hunters who are now in their 40s and 50s, I can honestly state, with proper training deer hunting is less dangerous than organized park board or high school sports. All three of my sons wore casts on arms or legs that were fractured on hockey rinks and football fields, never in deer woods. In the beginning, however, I admit I was somewhat fearful of turning my children loose in the deep wilderness area where I hunted whitetails. Number one on my list of tasks to get them ready for deer hunting was therefore teaching them to become “skilled woodsmen.” A common fear among beginning and even many veteran deer huners is “becoming lost.” Rightfully so. Few hunters I have known who weren’t farm kids like me who grew up surrounded by forests that were home to whitetails ever learned what “woodsmanship” is. It’s “being at home in the woods” and “never having to worry about becoming lost.” Beginning 2–3 years before my kids were old enough to begin hunting hunt deer, I took them with me while hunting grouse and scouting before deer hunting seasons, always warning them they would be in charge of leading us back to our pickup or camp. I let them work it out themselves whenever they took wrong turns, at least until sunset. In time they became experts at off-road deepwoods navigation, completely familiar with the topography, major deer trails and landmarks of our entire deer hunting area and how to get back to it if they they wandered away from it, When they began hunting whitetails, they were fully prepared to find their way to or from distant stand sites while alone in darkness, while snow was falling heavily or while it was foggy. I even taught them how to spend a comfortable night alone in the woods in winter, if necessary.

Next, my kids had to learn to become very accurate with a rifle or bow, capable of dropping whitetails in their tracks with a single shot from their rifles up to 100 yards away every time. They were well trained for safely while using firearms, archery gear and elevated stands. Today, they love to shot nocks off each other’s arrows at our archery ranges.

Finally, my kids learned to be experts at hunting mature bucks, the most elusive and wary of whitetails. While learning, they contributed much to the research and honing that led to the development of our six favorite buck hunting methods. Two of my sons and their sons prefer tree stand hunting on opening weekend and the rest of us, including myself, prefer ground level stand hunting using backpacked stools throughout a hunting season. Thus our fair chase, mature-buck-effective stand hunting methods are designed to provide equal effectiveness for both styles of stand hunting, though I think with necssarily somewhat greater difficulty for tree stand hunters.

One great advantage provided by our stand hunting methods is, they rarely cause mature bucks to abandon their ranges or become nocturnal. We are therefore as likely to take a mature buck on any day of a hunting season as opening day. A remarkable number were taken on the last day of a hunt. Aside from greatly limiting extents of trails we use during hunting seasons and deliberately avoiding buck bedding areas, we never make aggressive drives, never wander about the woods displaying hunting behavior, never use baits and never use one stand sites more than one half day, sometimes two, per hunting season. We switch to yet unused stand sites 100 yards or more apart almost every half day of a hunting season, always located near fresh signs made by mature bucks. This keeps us close to mature bucks every half-day we hunt and makes it nearly impossible for most mature, stay-at-home bucks to endlessly avoid us like othr hunters. All this, of course, greatly improves our success at hunting older bucks.

As I’ve also learned during the last 55 years, about 89% of veteran whitetail hunters are stubbornly resistant to changing anything to do with whitetail hunting, especially old traditional hunting methods.  I can understad that. To me, half the fun of deer hunting is living in my big wall tent in the woods where I hunt, which I’ve been doing since 1985. I was a tradition breaker in 1960, however, because I wanted to hunt in a different area using different hunting methods to improve my odds of taking mature bucks. All members of my original gang with whom I endlessly made drives during my first fifteen years of whitetail hunting never quite forgave me for doing this.

Since then I have occasionally invited experienced deer hunters to join me and my veteran gang of avid buck hunters in my tent deer camp. Not all elected to continue hunting with us after opening weekend and some did not accept invitations to return the following year, typically saying, “Getting up a 4 AM and heading to stand sites in darkness is not my way of hunting deer, I like to sleep late in a warm place in the morning, use an indoor toilet, have a nice hot breakfast and then sneak around the woods when I can see where I’m going.” Some admitted they could not stand sitting in one place up to 5–6 hours at a time and passing up all deer except mature bucks like us, deer they admitted they never saw anyway.”

A lack of sightings of older bucks by invited hunters generally meant they were definitely doing something wrong, likely a lot of things wrong, even after I previously took the time to explain to them what and why certain things must be done, or not be done, in order to see and take mature bucks. A couple of guest hunters routinely headed back to camp to get warm by 9 AM each morning, not being outfitted well enough to withstand cold weather longer than that. They typically departed a short time before fresh tracks were made by mature bucks near their assigned stand sites. Though I never complained, this never sat well with me, having wasted especially promising stand sites on such hunters. A couple of adult hunters that visted my camp actually became quite upset about how we were hunting, insisting we were doing everything wrong even though we had bucks hanging on the pole behind camp and they didn’t. After three days of fruitless hunting his way in an adjacent area well tracked by deer, wandering aimlessly about on foot from dark to dark (never a good way to hunt wolf cuntry whitetails), one guest hunter packed up and departed, insisting it was a waste of time to hunt there because wolves had obviously eaten all the deer (I took a mature buck there four days later). “If I don’t see them” he insisted, “they aren’t there.” Decades after having been once invited to my camp, a couple of friends still often ask me if we still use the same “crazy ways” to hunt bucks. The fact that my three sons and I have taken 98 mature bucks during the past 27 hunting seasons, many now on our walls, never impressed these two enough to consider hunting differently. For a hunge number of whitetatail hunters, changing old deer hunting methods and traditons is unthinkable, even going as far as heading out the door smelling powerfully of pancakes and sausages every morning and mainitaining the exact same order of drives like the gang I originally hunted with. All those guys are in  heaven now (hopefully), likely often sitting together with grins on their faces while discussing the number of deer they usually took (mostly young and antlerless) during their routine opening mornng drive behind the Koski farm.

Is there actually a need for changes in whitetail hunting? Absolutely. The largest and best equipped army of whitetail hunters the world has ever known has long been unable to keep deer from becoming overabundant in many areas in a gret number of U.S. states, proving beyond a doubt our old traditional hunting methods—making drives, still-hunting (wandering about on foot) and stand hunting as it is popularly done today—are no longer as productive as they once were. Why? Because mature whitetails, 2-1/2 years of age and older, especially bucks, have become much more adept at avoiding hunters using traditional hunting methods. This is a natural consequence of the massive annual culling of easier to hunt, less-fit deer by millions of American hunters during past centuries, plus the ability of young whitetails to learn, being eager imitators of older deer that learned how to survive previous hunting seasons.

Many frustrated hunters today have quit hunting deer in recent years and don’t recommend it to others because of the increasing difficulty of taking mature whitetails, especially older bucks. Lots of other reasons are commonly given such as, “There are no longer many older bucks in the woods, it is awaste of time to hunt deer after opening weekend, there is less public land in which to hunt whitetails, it now costs too much, fewer hunters are sportsmanlike, fewer hunters respect hunting areas of others, chronic wasting disease may be making deer hunting risky, using bait is destroying fair chase hunting” and “people who use deer rifles and assault-like weapons  to murder large numbers of children and adults are tainting our once greatly respected image of the American whitetail hunter and our heritage of whitetail hunting.”

Another symptom of waning effectiveness of old tradition hunting methods is the increasing popularity of hunting whitetails in a manner that is not a “fair chase” hunting method.  Many luckless beginners and veteran hunters as well who have been unable to take whitetails or mature bucks while using fair chase hunting methods have turned to using a method that is not an “ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild, native North American big game animals in a manner that does not give the hunter an advantage over such animals—the Boone & Crockett Club and America’s long revered definition of fair chase hunting. What is this method? It’s using bait piles, bait (food) plots and/or electronic bait feeders to attract whitetails to stand sites.” Using bait is now legal and big time in many U.S. states where the principle of fair chase deer hunting is unaccountedly being ignored. As most hunters using bait eventually discover, however, bait does not long improve deer hunting success because most whitetails that have survived two or more years where baitng is popular fully recognize the danger of approaching bait sites in daylight hours during hunting seasons.

What American whitetail hunters, whitetail hunting and whitetails sorely need today are new, fair chase hunting methods that are mature-buck effective (and-all-other-deer-effective) that can be easily learned and used with much improved success by all deer hunters from beginners to veteran deer hunters. The six new, well-proven methods taught in my newly published Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition are such hunting methods. Once learned, they will surely encourage veteran deer hunters it is worthwhile to continue hunting deer. Fathers and others who have exerienced the much improved hunting success provided by these methods will as surely teach beginning hunters who will then enjoy early hunting successes, making them avid deer hunting partners for life (I know this well). American deer hunters will begin passing on again a strengthening and respected American heritage of whitetail hunting. Fair chase hunting methods will again become the rage. This will greatly benefit whitetails by helping to keep their numbers within the carrying capacities of their ranges, thus reducing the tragic consequences of overabundance in winter.

Whitetails need whitetail hunting. They need skillful whitetail Hunters. Aside from the fact that these deer can double in numbers every year and therefore require large scale annual hunting success by hunters, money spent by whitetail hunterss is needed to continue supporting the protection and management of whitetails and their habitat and all other wildlife, game and non-game, that share their habitat. Don’t let our whitetails and all those other wild creatures down. Keep hunting. Learn to become a more knowledgeable and skillful deer hunter. Teach others to be more knowledgeable and skillful deer hunters as well. Do your part as a caring and responsible deer hunter to make whitetail huntng as popular and respected as it was 50 years ago.

For all of the above reasons, don’t begin another hunting season without learning how to use one or more of my new mature-buck-effective, fair chase hunting methods. Go to my website today to learn how to get started: www.drnordbergondeerhunting.com.

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