Hunt or Bait Whitetails, Your Decision

Because of various reasons not entirely the fault of American deer hunters, they have been unable to reduce whitetail numbers sufficiently during hunting seasons in various regions to ensure surviving deer will not be overabundant and likely to suffer from malnutrition and starvation during winter months. In an effort to improve numbers of deer taken, the use of bait (including food plots used as baits) to create whitetail shooting galleries in the woods became legal in various states. Today, millions of Americans know no other way to take whitetails, many going to extraordinary lengths to be successful at it. It didn’t take long, however, for mature bucks (and mature does) to begin to recognize the danger of visiting sites where baits are offered, especially during daylight hours. Today, the most common lament of deer baiters is, “Something needs to be done to increase the number of older bucks (or deer) in my hunting area.” Surveys I have done in such areas since 1986 invariably proved about half of the forty-plus percent of whitetails that are bucks living in an area where baiting had been legal two or more years were 2-1/2 to 6-1/2 years of age. This is the usual distribution of mature bucks wherever whitetails are hunted. The 4-1/2 to 6-1/2 year-olds are bucks in their prime. If such deer can be so elusive during hunting seasons that hunters using any of today’s popular hunting methods seldom see them, it is far-fetched to expect bait can somehow make it possible to see more of them. The only way to begin to regularly see and take mature bucks (or mature does) is learn to “more skillfully hunt” them. Those who insist on using bait – a  tactic that cannot be made more productive once mature whitetails in the area become “bait-smart” –  should be satisfied with what they get, mostly fawns and yearlings.

A detailed chart of U.S. states in which baiting is legal or not legal and regulations regarding baiting, painstakingly created by Glen Artis of Outdoorever, is available at http://outdoorever.com/deer-baiting-laws.

Keep in mind, regulations concerning the use of baits for taking deer, which baits are currently legal or not legal and where they can be used can change from year to year, so be sure to check the latest regulations in your state before using bait.

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Why Beginners Not Uncommonly Take Unusually Large Bucks

Having made it possible for first-timers – children, grandchildren and invited friends – to take trophy bucks their first time in deer camp myself, I can offer a couple reasons why it happens.

First, the first-timer’s experienced benefactor – father, grandfather, uncle, friend – was anxious to ensure their hunting success and therefore did a great job of selecting a stand site for them, one with plenty of fresh signs made a trophy buck nearby.

Second, the experienced benefactor later led the first-timer to the stand site – their approach made obvious to the nearby trophy buck by their audible human footsteps and other sounds. After getting the first-timer settled at the site, the benefactor then walked away – making audible human footsteps and other sounds that convince the nearby trophy buck the human hunter(s) have left the area, making it safe to resume normal activities there. Soon thereafter, the first-timer somehow manages to control his or her emotions enough to accurately fire at the approaching trophy buck.

Having met many youngsters at Sport Shows (where I was presenting hunting seminars) over the years who were anxious to show me photos of trophy bucks they took during their previous first hunting seasons, I have often been amused by assumptions they made after taking such a buck. “I don’t need to learn more about how to hunt big bucks because as this picture proves I already know everything about how to do it,” was one. “I’ve got a perfect spot to take a big buck every year,” was another.

So much to learn.

Mature Whitetails Never Stop Changing Ways to Avoid Hunters

 

[From Dr. Nordberg’s new Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition]

Knowing mature bucks inhabit your hunting area will not automatically make you regularly successful at taking mature bucks. I have hunted whitetails for 73 years (as of 2017), mature bucks only for 46. I’ve done more hunting-related research with wild deer than anyone, beginning 1960s and developed and refined more new and better ways to hunt whitetails, especially mature bucks, than anyone, but still don’t know everything about whitetails and whitetail hunting and probably never will. As my ongoing studies have never ceased to prove, the reason you and I can’t know everything about them is because whitetails keep changing. Our mature whitetails today are not the same deer Americans hunted only 30–50 years ago. Today, bucks and does 2-1/2 years of age or older are smarter. They’re more elusive. They have excellent memories. They’re less vulnerable to hunters using old, traditional hunting methods, now including tree stand hunting. They are not even close to being as vulnerable as they were to doe-in-heat type buck lures, grunt calls, rattling antlers as they were in the 1980s. If you are still using any hunting method or hunting aid that was popular 25–50 years ago, you should expect to see few older bucks today.

Phase One of a Buck Hunt Begins at 5AM

[From Dr. Nordberg’s Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition]

It’s 5 AM. We got up at 4 AM and we’re now about to head out in the dark for a morning of buck hunting, following fluorescent tacks glowing brightly in the beams of our flashlights that were placed on tree trunks weeks earlier to guide us to our distant stand sites. It’s day-one of the of the first 2–3 day period I call “phase one” of a hunt — the short period during which most whitetails do not yet realize they are again being hunted by humans. Our stand sites for this phase were selected during 3–4 days of scouting 2–3 weeks earlier, our goal then being to find one promising stand site for each hunter for each day or half-day of hunting during our first 2–3 days of hunting. Locations of these particular stand sites are almost always written in stone, meaning, during this period we only plan to hunt at these particular stand sites (unless on the way we discover something more promising).

Where Hunter Densities are High, Hunt Where Few Others Care to Hunt

[From Dr. Nordberg’s Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition]

Where hunter densities are high, hunt where few others care to hunt: on islands or land that can only be reached via watercraft, hip boots or waders, high top waterproof boots or a tough climb, for example. Hunt on or adjacent to small highlands in wooded swamps or bogs. My best buck and best bear in 74 years of hunting came from such sites. Other spots likely to be avoided by other hunters include middle portions of steep, well-wooded hillsides, especially rugged terrain, large expanses of dense brush or other types of dense cover including cornfields. In cornfields, sit in the last twenty rows of corn next to timber furthest from buildings, dogs and public roads.

When to turn off your flashlight in Early Morning

[Tips from Dr. Nordberg’s Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition]

If it is too dark see where I am going when near my intended destination without the use a flashlight and likely too near to use a flashlight because its beam may alert or alarm nearby deer, I immediately turn off my light and sit down on my stool to wait until it is light enough to silently find my way without a flashlight. I call this common precaution “stopping short.” Though I may thus miss the first half hour or more of the most productive first hour of legal hunting time, my odds of seeing a buck during the remaining morning hours will at least remain undiminished.

Trails Made by Mature Bucks – Part V

 

My sons and I eventually discovered keeping from being identified by smell by bucks 3-1/2 to 6-1/2 years of age (and other deer) and avoiding the likely consequences is a lot more complicated than we originally envisioned. Today, I believe a whitetail’s nose is its most important organ for survival, its eyes and ears merely providing second opinions. Via a whitetail’s sense of smell, it can accurately determine how far away an unseen wolf or hunter is, generally ignoring them while 200 yards or more away. Via airborne scents it can determine whether a wolf or human is moving left or right, toward it, away from it or not moving at all (Viola, that long unmoving human I smell is a “stand hunter”). From downwind, a whitetail’s nose can determine whether or not it is safe to enter a  feeding area or bedding area. When pursued by a wolf or hunter, a whitetail can use its nose to avoid ambushers ahead. When trailed by a slow-moving pursuer such as a human hunter, by turning downwind it can use its nose to keep track of the pursuer’s progress and maintain a safe distance ahead of it. When caught between standers and drivers during a drive, a mature buck can use its nose to find a safe hideaway between oncoming drivers. The only problem with depending on their sense of smell to survive is, whitetails can only detect odors of wolves or hunters drifting toward them from upwind. They cannot detect danger moving toward them or waiting in ambush from crosswind or downwind. They must then depend on their vision and hearing, senses a knowledgeable and skillful hunter can fool and take advantage of.

Whitetails make daily use of another source of identifying scents, namely trail scents. Unlike airborne scents which can be fleeting, such as those of a passing hunter, or limited in breadth, distance and direction by changing winds, whitetails can smell a full complement of odors emitted by wolves and hunters along their recently used paths whatever the wind direction. This is made possible by falling odoriferous molecules that stick to foliage and the ground, such as the potent smell of rubber boot soles. These odors remain identifiable by whitetails four or more days (unless if it rains or snows meanwhile). In one day a still-hunter can lay down an invisible tapestry of trail scents than can taint all whitetail home ranges within an entire square mile, forcing a mass abandonment by all 15 or more deer living in that square mile for 4–14 days, sometimes longer. Trail scents can be that ruinous to subsequent deer hunting. Moreover, as recent tests with K9 dogs have proven, nothing available today can eliminate trail scents. Having noses estimated to be 10,000-times more sensitive than human noses, whitetails can not only readily detect trail scents made by hunters, but they can even determine which direction a hunter has traveled by recognizing differences in intensity of scents from track to track (a feat shared by bloodhounds).

Limiting the spread of human trail scent like my hunting partners and I do it during hunting seasons (see “Trails Used by Mature Bucks – Part IV) can do wonders for your hunting success, not only by helping to keep whitetails from abandoning their home ranges and enabling them to maintain normal, predictable, exploitable habits, but by dramatically reducing the likelihood of range abandonment following the detection of airborne scents emitted by stand hunters (unless strong and unusual).

Today, mature whitetails practically everywhere recognize when a human hunter is stand hunting – remaining in one place for an extended period of time. Though they also realize stand hunters are potentially dangerous (not universally true of fawns and yearlings), they generally react to discoveries of stand hunters much differently than discoveries of humans hunting on foot. If not shot at, following the discovery of a stand hunter they merely keep a safe distance away from where the stand hunter was discovered for days, weeks and sometimes even a lifetime, while maintaining normal habits elsewhere within their ranges. Mature whitetails are apparently convinced stand hunters that spend long periods in one spot, perhaps resting, are harmless elsewhere in their ranges. Unlike hunters that hunt on foot, stand hunters are not pursuers, trackers, stalkers or likely to suddenly appear short distances away at any moment of the day,  Experienced whitetails are therefore inclined share their ranges and trails with stand hunters, like they share their ranges and trails with wolves that do not regularly appear to be hunting. Being accustomed to finding mostly predictable, mostly harmless, though sometimes dangerous stand hunters within their ranges during limited periods each year, like prey animals the world over that have learned to live normal lives among lions, tigers, bears and wolves, our whitetails have learned to live normal lives among us stand hunters.