No. 2 Best Tip for Whitetail Hunting Today

Stand hunt only within easy shooting distance of very fresh tracks and/or droppings made by unalarmed whitetails (not trotting or bounding), especially those located in or adjacent to feeding areas. Why feeding areas? Because whitetails are most visible and most predictable time-wise and location-wise during hours they feed. All deer trails funnel down to feeding areas. Fresh tracks and droppings reveal locations of sites and trails being used by whitetails today—earlier, right now, later or tomorrow morning. Don’t count on seeing mature whitetails after you have stand hunted three consecutive feeding periods or more near any site or trail previously frequented by whitetails. To keep close to whitetails every day you hunt, move to a new stand site 100 yards or more away near very fresh tracks and or droppings every day or two. To key on mature bucks, key on fresh tracks and droppings made by mature bucks,

 

 

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No. 1 Best Tip for Whitetail Hunting Today

The number one best tip for whitetail hunting today is, be a mobile stand hunter.

Stand hunting is still the best way to hunt mature whitetails, especially trophy bucks, but if you’ve been stand hunting during the past 20–30 years, you’ve doubtless noticed stand hunting isn’t as near as productive as it once was. Nowadays, you mostly see younger does, fawns and yearlings. Why? Because during the past 20–30 years stand hunting became so popular that today there is hardly a whitetail that has survived two or more hunting seasons anywhere in America that has not learned how to quickly find, identify and avoid stand hunters without abandoning their ranges. Climbing higher into trees hasn’t improved matters and using bait only provides temporary improvement (about two hunting seasons) because today’s mature stand-smart whitetails soon realize it is dangerous to approach bait sites in daylight hours during hunting seasons (fresh human airborne scents and trail scents being the primary tip-off). Despite all this, the addition of the word “mobile” to “stand hunting” can make stand hunting method as productive as ever, if not more so.

The word “mobile” in “stand hunting” means you should quit being the permanent, long-familiar, hunting season fixture known by every mature whitetail living within the square-mile or more surrounding your stand site. Mature stand-smart bucks living within that square that do not know you yet, being new residents, will generally discover you very soon, usually without your knowledge, during some brief moment in the first 1–30 hours after you once again begin using your stand, thereafter becoming another mature buck in the area that regularly detours widely around you.

The only practical way to stop this from happening is to quit stand hunting at the same site longer than 1–2 days per hunting season. Even better, change to a new, yet unused stand site 100 yards or more away every day or half-day. When you do this, every mature whitetail, including every mature buck, in the surrounding square-mile must find you all over again to be safe from you. Sooner or later, if you are well hidden by natural cover or man-made cover that closely blends with surrounding natural cover and downwind or crosswind of where you expect a deer to appear at each new stand site (absolute necessities when hunting older bucks these days), one or more mature bucks and other deer will approach within easy shooting range before they realize you are near.

Watch for best tip No. 2

A New & Better Way to Hunt Older Bucks

Even back in in the early 1960s when I first begin using my primitive platforms and whitetails could not identify me only six feet above the ground, seeing and taking bucks 3-1/2 years of age or older was not a daily occurance. The reason was, it was impossible to predict where they would be located from day to day. Certain events in their lives, like the welling of testosterone in their bloodstrams and does emitting pheromone may occasionally make older antlered bucks more vulnerable to skilled hunting, but by no means 100% vulnerable. The reason is, there are an overwhelming number reasons older bucks are unpredictable. Having the largest of whitetai home ranges and often changing portions they use use during hunting seasons is one. After establishing breeding ranges in mid-October, locations of antlered bucks lesser in their local pecking orders are kept scattered off-range by dominant bucks until November breeding ends. The fact that each doe is only in heat only 24-26 hours and only 10–12% of them, sometimes none, are in heat on any one day during each of the three two-week periods of breeding occurring between early November and the second week in January makes domant bucks, one per square-mile, virtual will-o’-the-wisps. Locations of newly available foods and currently safe feeding areas also often cause difficult to predict changes as well. Falling leaves (loss of screening cover) typically causes deer to switch  trails. Intensities of rain or snow, changing air temperatures, snow depths, wind velocities, wind directions, moon phases and hunting by large predators or humans affect locations and hours deer are active. Add to this the fact that older and much experienced bucks are the most wary and elusive of whitetails. After three or more hunting seasons, they recognize every tactic used by hunters today and know exactly how to safely avoid hunters using them. Today a buck like the one photographed at first light in the morning above is very unlikely to be fooled by elaborate stand site preparations. When all else fails, they can quickly become impossible to hunt by abandoning their ranges or becoming nocturnal.

Ironically, if you do things properly, all of the above doesn’t mean beans when it comes to hunting older bucks . All you need to do to become regularly successful is quit stand hunting where you have been stand hunting and begin stand hunting where mature bucks are actually located right now, today, when hunting, which is very likely where they will be located during the next two whitetail feeding periods if not alarmed by you meanwhile. These locations are reestablished midday daily beginning on day-three of a hunting season by using a special wolf-inspired scouting technique that does not ruinously alarm whitetails. Such spots are made  evident by very fresh tracks and/or droppings made by an unalarmed (not trotting or bounding) mature buck, most productive if in or adjacent to a feeding area. Such signs are then taken advantage of by switching every day or half=day to new unused stand sites where you will be well hidden within easy shooting distance downwind or crosswind of such deer signs. This will keep you close to matuure bucks every day you hunt until you take a buck—so simple yet so effective.

If you can move a portable tree stand to a new site daily (midday when whitetails are bedded)  without tipping off deer in the vicinity, more power to you. Because I’ve never done this well enough to suit me and nearby bucks, I’ve been stand hunt at ground level using a silent-to-carry and use backpacked stool since 1990. I can honestly state, this the most productive way to hunt older bucks today. If you are not already hunting in this manner, sooner or later, you will heartily agree.

Which is Best When Hunting Deer: Cover or Minimize Human Odors?

While ten other hunters were climbing aboard the hay wagon that would convey us to sites where we would make the first drives of my first hunting season (1945), my Uncle Jack turned to me and said, ”Before we go, there’s one more thing you should do to get ready. Come with me.” Upon entering the barn, he stepped to the gutter behind a cow and began stomping his hunting boots in a fresh cow pie. “The deer around here are used to smelling cow pies,” he explained. “With this stuff on your boots, deer that smell you will think you are just another cow, making it easy to get close for an easy shot.”

Most hunters back then used some strong odor to hide their human odors. My dad preferred stuffing his pockets with sprigs from cedar trees. A few years later, I began using a liquid containing buck musk, emitted into the air from the wick of a special hand warmer. In the 1980s I painted my boots with fox urine, the odor of which made my eyes sting, after which my boots were no longer allowed inside a house. Years later, I felt fortunate whitetails cannot laugh out loud, knowing the woods would then have been filled with laughter of deer that discovered humans were being urinated on by foxes.

To explain, consider what you smell upon entering Grandma’s house on Thanksgiving, Number one, of course, would be the roasting turkey, perhaps tainted with the familiar odor of sage dressing. You’d also smell pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes in the oven and coffee brewing. The point is, your human nose can identify lots of different things at the same time despite an overwhelming odor like that of a roasting turkey. Similarly, whitetails with noses ten-thousand-times more sensitive than human noses, can easily identify a multitude of human odors at one time along with any strong-smelling additional odor such as a so-called “cover scent,” likely actually making it easier for mature whitetails to identify and avoid hunters. Yes, I know, you have n uncle that swears by his favorite “cover scent” and you believe the one you’ve been using works great too because you’ve seen or taken deer that approached from downwind, though there are logical reasons why this can happen whether you use a cover scent or something claimed to eliminate human odors or not.

Much better, though identifying airborne odors or trail scents emitted by deer hunters cannot be totally eliminated, rather than add a strong odor when hunting whitetails, minimize your existing odors. Whitetails react with far less alarm upon identifying a motionless stand hunter that emits no strong and unusual odors than a motionless stand hunter that emits one or more strong and unusual odors. Minimizing odors emitted by your body, clothing, boots and hunting gear as best you can will therefore significantly improve your odds for hunting success.

In Praise of Stand Hunters

Suffering through endless attacks by hordes of blood-crazed insects and ticks, one more hour, and then another, and then another of motion sickness in a wind tossed tree stand, soaked clothing, shivering and frozen noses, fingers and toes in winter, urinary bladder and intestinal distress, muscles and joints aching for relief, thirst, hunger, incredible boredom, withering patience and a growing danger of falling asleep sixteen feet above the ground are characteristic of just another ordinary day of stand hunting. The amazing thing is, millions of American deer hunters talk about it as if they have been having the time of their lives and can’t wait to do it again.

When I began hunting deer in 1945, standard hunting clothing included cotton or itchy wool long underwear and socks that refused to dry after being soaked by perspiration, wet snow or rain and laced up leather boots that wouldn’t dry until a week or so after a hunting season ended. Our red or buffalo plaid heavy wool outer clothing became water logged and heavier and heavier because of the same refusal to dry, making stand hunting in winter weather a form of hunting during which a hunter could not bear to remain in one place very long.

To an inexperienced hunter or non-hunter today, recent inovations such wicking and quick-drying polypropylene underwear and socks, synthetic insulation and lightweight waterproof fabrics in outer clothing and boots plus padded seats on portable tree stands with railings might make it seem as if stand hunting has become akin to lounging in complete comfort on a featherbed. It ain’t so. A stand hunter today must still be a special breed of hunter, necessarily tough and enduring mentally and physically, able to endure anything nature unleashes during a half or entire day of hunting, ever determined  to finally outfox a cunning mossy-horned buck.

Time to Scout for September Bowhunting

Unless you are using bait, scouting in preparation for bowhunting beginning in mid-September is rarely easy. Obvious buck signs like freshly made antler rubs and ground scrapes are no help because, except for a few velvet rubs on bushes or small trees, they will not made by bucks in northern states until it is frosty at night, beginning about mid-October. Lots of green leaves and tall vegetation and then falling leaves also makes it difficult to find and identify deer via tracks and droppings, reasons trail cams have become popular. As my son’s and I have repeatedly been taught, unfortunately, big bucks magically begin spending time elsewhere once a hunting season begins, so we no longer trust trail cams to dominate our scouting.

Our early scouting begins with searching for absolute evidence of the existence of older bucks (not yearlings): fresh tracks 3-5/8 to 4 inches long and/or fresh droppings (usually clumped) 3/4 to 1-1/4 inch long. Finding a lot of such signs is unnecessary. If made by a deer that was not trotting or bounding, upon discovering such a sign we know we are in the range of a mature buck—about 250-500 acres in size for lesser bucks 2-1/2 to 6-1/2 years of age and about a square-mile (sometimes two) for a dominant breeding buck. We key on trails (especially past scrape trails) or feeding areas that were frequented by older bucks during previous hunting seasons, good to do because home ranges, trails and sites frequented by mature bucks tend to be traditional year after year, usually even used by bucks of similar sizes that adopt ranges of bucks that were taken by hunters during previous hunting seasons. Having learned it is a mistake to count on taking one certain buck per hunting season, for various reasons, my sons and I never consider our scouting done until we have each found 2-3 different mature bucks to hunt and up to six widely separated stand sites that need little or no preparation to hunt each buck—sites that can be approached from different directions, making it possible to approach stand sites from downwind or crosswind whatever the wind direction. The main reasons for preparing to hunt more than one buck and using a number of stand sites for each are: 1) some bucks prove to be impossible to hunt (being especially cunning or becoming nocturnal, for example) and 2) today’s mature bucks generally find and begin avoiding even the most skilled of stand hunters within 1–30 hours after they begin using a stand site, usually without the hunters realizing it. This means, when hunting older bucks (not necessarily true when hunting other deer), it is generally a waste of time to use a stand site more than 1/2 to 1-1/2 days per hunting season. We therefore switch to different unused stand sites 100 yards or more away from previouly used stand sites every day or half-day we hunt.

Yes I know, hardly any bowhunter anywhere hunts this way but then most bowhunters rarely have an opportunity to take a mature buck and certainly not regularly (unless perhaps guided). Using one stand site per hunting season and using bait can’t make you regularly successful at hunting mature bucks. Trail cams used in place of scouting , buck lure scents accompanied by human scents and ATVs that taint your clothes with exhaust fumes and announce your approach and location to experienced whitetails cannot make regular buck hunting success happen. Sitting where your silhouette, skin and necessary movements are easily spotted by deer safe distances away or where your trail scents are intense and/or widespread certainly can’t make it happen either—things to think about while preparing for a coming archery season. Maybe it’s time to quit being so reluctant to change the way you hunt.

Nevertheless, having experienced the frustrations and joys of bowhunting for whitetails and black bears myself since 1960, I can’t help but wish all you avid bowhunters the very best of luck this fall.

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.