Moonlight and Whitetails

After many decades of keeping track of numbers of unsuspecting (unalarmed) whitetails seen moving about during daylight hours, it became obvious natural phenomena such as precipitation, temperatures, winds and even moonlight greatly influence hours of the day whitetails are most likely to be seen during hunting seasons. For this reason, well before each hunting season begins, I check hours and days we will have moonlight. After checking this year’s moon info on the internet this morning, I immediately emailed the good news to my sons.

“We’ll have a sliver of the moon during our first three nights which may or may not affect deer because of a snowfall,” I wrote. “and no moon at night during the rest of our hunt.  We  may get some significant snow opening weekend and temperatures will be normal after that—really great hunting conditions for a change.”

Why was this great news, particularly for us stand hunters? When there is bright moonlight beginning well before first light in the morning, mature whitetails generally begin feeding earlier (before 4AM) and typically quit during the first legal shooting hour of the day. When there is moonlight at the end of the day, lasting well into night, whitetails generally wait until sunset or after to being feeding during hunting seaons. When there is moonlight all night, few whitetails will be seen moving about during following daylight hours (unless certain weather conditions trigger a 1–2 hour period of feeding between 11 AM and 3PM). For mature whitetails (older than yearlings), a moonlit sky at night (whether cloudy or clear) is apparently equal to a sunlit sky for spotting potentially dangerous predators safe distances away. It also encourages deer to eat their fill in darkness before human hunters, limited to hunting during daylight hours, become a threat.

No moonlight at night has the opposite affect. Whitetails will then feed and engage in other activities longer during daylight hours, morning and evening, especially while the wind is calm or light. No moonlight before first light in the morning has this affect in the morning only. No moonlight in the evening generally means whitetails may begin feeding 2-3 hours before sunset. In wolf country, however, they typically remain bedded until the last legal shooting hour of the day regardless. Since 1970, my stand hunting partners and I have almost always seen the greatest number of unalarmed deer, including mature bucks, during daylight hours when there was no moonlight all night, all other factors such as wind, precipitation and temperatures being favorable.

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Stand Hunting Crosswind is Often Best

For about 30 years I insisted it was best to approach a stand site from downwind and sit downwind of a whitetail feeding area. In the morning it seemed most logical because the deer I expected to see there would already be feeding, generally beginning shortly after 4 AM. They thus wouldn’t be able to smell me approaching or while sitting at my stand site. After years of noting the odds of seeing deer in the evening in a feeding area I had hunted in the morning were much poorer, it finally occurred to me why. Mature whitetails (whitetails that have survived two or more hunting seasons) almost always approach a feeding area (or bedding area) from downwind to avoid walking into a hunter’s ambush.

Most long-used feeding areas are ringed by a deer trail 5-15 yards back in forest cover, used by whitetails using their eyes, ears and noses to search from along the downwind side for predators or hunters hidden in the peripheries before exposing themselves in the feeding area. If you are stand hunting along the downwind side in the evening, it is almost certain approaching whitetails will identify you three ways: 1) by your airborne scents spreading widely downwind from your stand (whether elevated or ground level and whether using odor suppressors of any kind), 2) by your fresh trial scents (detectable by whitetails four days or longer unless it rains or snow meanwhile) and by your dark silhouette framed against the bright open sky over the feeding area.

Especially when stand hunting adjacent to a feeding area you plan to hunt more than once, it is therefore best to sit crosswind, morning and evening. To ensure, your widening, triangular-shaped scent vector does not spread downwind into the feeding area, sit where the wind is blowing at an angle toward your upwind cheek rather side of your head. Whether stand hunting at ground level or up in a tree, also sit 10-20 yards back from the edge of a feeding area where well hidden by forest cover. Because wind directions are changeable, be prepared to use two or more stand sites appropriate for different wind directions most common during your hunting season. Also use approach tails well away from edges of feeding areas so you will be less easily heard or seen by feeding deer while heading to your stand site, morning or afternoon.

Some Truths for Deer Hunters to Live By

Little deer have little hooves and droppings, medium-sized deer have medium-sized hooves and droppings and big deer (mature bucks) have the biggest hooves and droppings (buck droppings are commonly clumped in fall). For these reasons, five classes of whitetails and their currently used trails and feeding areas are easily identified by lengths of their fresh hoofprints and droppings.

“Currently used by deer” is never permanent in whitetail hunting. There are dozens of reasons, especially hunting, why whitetails normally or often change trails and sites they use during hunting seasons. Trails and sites they are using today are plainly marked by very fresh deer tracks and droppings. With care on the hunter’s part, deer that made those fresh tracks and droppings are likely to be in the same vicinity (not necessarily on the same trail), later today, tomorrow morning anf evening and perhaps the next morning but don’t count on it after that, at least not until after the vicinity has been avoided by hunters 4-5 days or longer.

Whitetails are most visible and vulnerable to skilled hunting while active—up and moving about. While bedded midday, they are nearly impossible to spot. Ordinarily, they are most active, feeding, during the first four legal shooting hours of the day and the last two or three legal shooting hours of the day. Certain weather conditions can occasionally trigger midday feeding, however. From mid-October until the two-week primary breeding phase of the rut ends in the second half of November, mature bucks are occasionally seen on the move during any midday hours. A key to hunting success then is, don’t miss a minute of morning and evening hunting hours, but don’t rule out midday hours.

You are a mature-buck hunter while well hidden stand hunting downwind or crosswind of the larger fresh tracks and/or droppings made by a mature buck. Except during a rare lucky moment in your life as a deer hunter, you are not a mature-buck hunter while moving about on foot.

Why I Wrote My Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition

My Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition is the most comprehensive book about whitetails and whitetail hunting I have ever written. It took three years to write it. Each of my first nine Almanacs, written between 1988 and 1997, covered 1–3 different hunting-related subjects learned from my year-round wild whitetail field studies over much of America. Via my 2nd Edition, I was first to accurately describe the whitetail rut. My 10th Edition, likely my last Almanac because I am now 83, includes portions of most important subjects from each those early Almanacs along with the enormous amount of new information learned from my ongoing studies between 1997 and 2017, including six new, mature-buck-effective hunting methods culminating with “opportunistic stand hunting,” the most productive buck hunting method I have ever known. These new hunting methods enabled my three sons and I to take 98 mature bucks since 1990, nearly one each per year on public land inhabited by overabundant gray wolves which have kept deer numbers low. You have to admit this is pretty amazing unguided buck hunting anywhere, especially in a state where only one buck could be taken per hunter per year.

The creation of this book evolved from ten turning points during my 73 years of whitetail hunting. The first came in 1945 when I began hunting deer. A little more a decade earlier it was discovered our whitetails could no longer keep pace with year around hunting by our burgeoning American human population. To preserve our much revered heritage of deer hunting, America being a nation of deer hunters who necessarily lived off the land for three centuries, concerned hunters and politicians of that time devised a means of restoring, conserving, protecting and funding deer management while allowing continuing hunting by citizens to keep deer populations, which can double annually, within the carrying capacities of their ranges. Thus deer hunting became a sport rather than subsistence hunting, characterized by new principals such as “sportsmanship, ethics” and “fair chase hunting  (hunting in a manner that does not give the hunter an unfair advantage over deer).” Therefore today, I am yet a serious advocate of “sportshunting” and all it means.

 During my first 15 years of whitetail hunting, I was a member of a group of relatives and neighbors that hunted deer by making drives only. We commonly took 12 deer per hunting season, but very rarely a mature buck. When I asked my Uncle Jack why this was so, he said, “You have to be in the right place of the right time to take a big buck.” When I then asked, “Where is the right place at the right time, “ he laughed and said, “I don’t know, but when you are there, you’ll certainly know it.” With that thought in mind, I became determined to somehow find right places at right times for taking mature bucks in the future. My first serious effort began in 1970, intended to ensure the first two of my children would take bucks during their first “bucks only” hunting seasons. By this time I was well prepared to begin scienttically-based research, having three related college degrees and years of being involved in research at the University of Minnesota. What I initially learned about wild whitetails not only enabled all five of my children to take trophy bucks during their first hunts, but it was also so fascinating that such research became a year around avocation.

In 1980 I decided I should begin sharing what I had learned with other hunters by becoming an outdoor writer and seminar speaker. I had several reasons for doing this. For one, I had discovered only about half of American whitetail hunters took a deer each year, roughly 90% of which were fawns and yearlings. Moreover, most hunters were fortunate to take only 1–2 trophy bucks in a lifetime. At this point I knew I could change all this.

 Beginning in1945 I butchered all deer taken by myself, my children, my father, and my other hunting partners (with their help) until one exceptionally warm hunting season in 1972 when it was necessary to rush the buck I had taken to a nearby butcher shop. After inspecting many of the other deer hanging in his cooler, I was appalled by how many had been hit multiple times in non-fatal parts. Considering how many hunters were then then making make drives or still-hunting (wandering about on foot), it was likely most of their quarries were fleeing away at top speed through dense cover when fired at, logically making such wounds as common as they were. Never being notably successful at taking bounding deer myself during the many years I helped make drives, after beginning my hunting-related research in 1970, it became one of my most urgent goals to learn how to hunt in a manner that would provide opportunities to fire at unsuspecting deer standing or moving slowly short distances away. In time I created six new ways to do this and it is therefore now my goal to teach as many hunters as I can to use these same unusually productive hunting methods.

Another reason for sharing what I was learning reoccurred multiple times to in the area where members of my family had been hunting whitetails since 1902. Many who hunted in this region obviously knew little about predictable whitetail habits and improved ways to hunt these deer. Three groups of such hunters hunted in three adjacent areas 1-3 miles east of where us Nordbergs hunted. Because by the 1980s my hunting partners and I had become known for regularly taking mature bucks only, many of them trophy-class bucks, and because those other hunters very rarely saw such bucks, much less take one, they came to the conclusion all older bucks in the region obviously lived only in the area the Nordberg’s hunted. In time they could stand it no longer. Upon deciding they had as much right to hunt those bucks, living on public land, as we did, they began still-hunting, making drives and using primitive tree stands, including ours, big time throughout our hunting area. In the process they quickly drove all deer into large adjacent spruce bogs and alder swamps, We thus moved to a  new study/hunting area more than 100 miles away in 1990. Some years later while presenting seminars at a Deer Classic in St. Paul, one of those hunters stopped at my booth to ask where we were we were once again regularly taking mature bucks. Mum on this subject, he then said, “We found out why you guys abandoned your old hunting area. You shot all the big bucks. We haven’t seen one in that area since you left.”

Knowing I could now teach other hunters how to use new mature-buck-effective hunting methods that would enable any serious deer hunter to regularly take unsuspecting bucks or other deer with easy, humane shots at deer standing or moving slowly short distances away, I began sharing everyting I had learned in 1980. Since then I have written more than 800 articles about whitetails and whitetail hunting for various outdoor magazines, two per month for Midwest Outdoors throughout the past three decades. I’ve written 12 bestselling deer hunting  books. including my very recently published Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition. I have created a number of videos, including the very popular 12-hour series entitled Whitetail Hunter’s World, published in 1986 (no longer available). I presented hundreds of deer hunting seminars nationwide and personally taught hundreds of hunters from all over the US at my annual Buck and Bear hunting Schools in the wilds of northern Minnesota. I’ve been a prolific blogger, tweeter and more recently I’ve also become a popular deer hunting seminar speaker on YouTube, now with about 400,000 visits (growing fast) with great reviews during the past year. My website is also loaded with copies of past magazine articles.

Of all the ways I’ve been sharing what I’ve learned about whitetails and how best to hunt them, no one source today can beat my 8” x 10”, 518-page, 3-pound Whitetail Hunters Almanac 10th Edition with its 400 photos and instructive diagrams. Though it would probably take an extra year to master Opportunistic Stand Hunting, any of my other five mature-buck-effective hunting methods introduced in this book can provide any serious whitetail hunter with opportunities to take mature unsuspecting bucks or other deer within amazingly short range this very fall. Don’t waste another deer hunting season dependent on beliefs that were never true about whitetails or beliefs that are no longer true because whitetails that have survived three of more hunting seasons are no longer as vulnerable to old traditional hunting methods as they once were, including stand hunting as done by most stand hunters today.  Begin the best whitetail hunting or the best buck hunting of your life today by purchasing my new book. For more information about my 10th Edition and how to easily order an autographed copy that will arrive with a valuable free gift within a few days, go my website at http://www.drnordbergondeerhunting.com and then click on “store.” I guarantee you will be forever glad you did.

Best of luck hunting this fall!

 

 

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Whitetails Also Communicate via Scents

Like most animals in the world, including tame cats and dogs, white-tailed deer  communicate with one another via scents, which is a good thing to know if you are a deer hunter. All mark their personal home ranges, larger hunting ranges too if a wolf, with urine. Urine is apparently different enough in odor for each animal, even of the same species, to make it clear which among them marked the boundaries its home range with urine. This is especially important among mature whitetail does with young and the most dominant (highest in the local buck pecking order) of bucks living in each square-mile or two (except perhaps where whitetails have become accustomed to being overabundant). Does with fawns viciously protect their smaller (90-250 acre) individual home ranges from invasions by other does with fawns. Whereas dominant bucks allow a certain number of lesser antlered bucks (lower in the pecking order) to live in smaller home ranges that overlap with ranges of other bucks and does within their large, urine-marked home ranges,  as the primary breeding phase of the rut draws near, via threat or battle, bucks most dominant force all other antlered bucks in their ranges to temporarily live elsewhere. 

About mid-October, musk odors produced by antlered bucks become a dominant form of communication. A pungent musk then being produced in increasing volumes in buck tarsal glands located on the inner surfaces of their hind legs just beneath their hams, is carried via a liberal stream of urine to buck ground scrapes (see photo), intended to warn other bucks to keep out of their home ranges, now their intended breeding areas. Antlered bucks also mark their intended breeding ranges with easy-to-spot and smell antler rubs (bark scraped off of tree trunks with antlers to expose large patches of bright wood), which are laced with another identifying musk originating from glands in scalps of bucks—carried by a viscous fluid that runs down the sides of their heads down onto the sides of their necks, causing wrinkling of neck fur most obvious on dominant breeding bucks. Scalp musk is also regularly applied to branches or boughs overhanging ground scrapes of dominant breeding bucks. Before long during this period, lesser bucks are forced off-range and the only ground scrapes thereafter regularly renewed (commonly once every 24–48 hours) within doe ranges are those made by dominant breeding bucks, serving as potent reminders to displaced bucks to “keep out or suffer the consequences.”

 Once the first two-week breeding period begins two or more weeks later (in November), the pheromone emitted from urine of does in heat becomes a dominant form of communication. Each mature or yearling doe is in heat 24-26 hours and only about 10%, (1–2 does per 2 square-miles) is in heat on any one day. Downwind bucks can detect the odor of this pheromone two or more miles away (ignored or checked cautiously by mature experienced bucks if accompanied by human odors). If a dominant breeding buck happens to be accompanying another doe in heat within its range, another doe in heat will not wait long for the buck to show up. It will then go to the buck, easy to locate via its strong airborne musk odors spreading downwind.

All whitetails have tarsal glands. Those of does do not produce musk. Tarsal glands of both sexes produce another odor, ammonia-like, emitted in great quantity by whitetails while they are greatly alarmed. When airborne, it serves as a warning to all other downwind deer within 200 yards or so that something dangerous is near (a hunting wolf or human, for example). Much of this odor falls to the ground, creating an easily-to-identify trail scent that can be rapidly followed by less-fleet deer such as fawns. Where emitted, this trail scent serves as a warning to other deer four or more days. A bounding whitetail will usually halt upon gaining a safe distance from a hunter or predator to cleanse (lick) the tufts of fur overlying its tarsal glands to halt the release of “danger scent.”

 Individual whitetails, including fawns, are also identified by one another and by hunting wolves via a variety of scents released into their hoofprints by interdigital glands located between their cloven hooves.

Tips for Hunting Whitetails During Extremes in Temperatures

Northern whitetails live without suffering in an enormous range of temperatures, sparse red and wiry fur keeping them comfortable during the heat of summer and tan and heavier fur with a cottony underlining enabling them to survive 40-below-zero in winter. Unusually warm or cold fall and early winter temperatures can dramatically curtail daytime activities of whitetails with winter fur, however, not uncommonly forcing them to bed in deep shade where unlikely to be bothered by hunters from early morning to sundown when temperatures in the 60s or 70s or convince them to remain in their beds in areas where protected from wind during normal feeding hours when temperatures are 10–40 below-zero, then temporarily subsisting on fat stores.

 Yet, there are periods when temperatures are extreme, hot or cold, when odds for hunting success can not only be quite good, but unusually great. While it is unseasonably warm during daylight hours, for example, whitetails will usually be quite active (feeding) during the first legal shooting hour of the day beginning one-half hour before sunrise. In such weather, therefore, set your alarm clock for 4 AM and get to your favorite feeding area stand site thirty minutes before first light (following fluorescent tacks pinned to tree trunks 10–20 yards apart that light up like Christmas tree light in the beam of a flashlight). The last legal half-hour of the day can be productive too, though less so.

 When it is very cold in November or December, it usually doesn’t stay very cold unduely long. After a few days, watch for or keep track of local weather forecasts so you don’t miss thaws or near-thaws with the wind calm or light, usually happening sometime between 10AM and 3PM. During a midday thaw or neathaw following a spell of frigid temperatures, every deer in the woods will be on the move, heading to feeding areas, feeding for an hour or two, then heading back to bedding areas. Never waste one minute of time eating lunch in camp or your vehicle midday while one of the best opportunities of the year to take a deer is occurring. My three sons and I almost always take 1–2 bucks midday when this happens. As winter progresses, expect midday feeding every day the temperature is in the high-20s or above and the wind is calm or light.

 Similarly, after several days of unseasonably warm temperatures when the temperature finally cools to normal levels or cooler (in the 20s, for example) and the wind is calm or light, expect all deer in the woods to be on the move midday, feeding. We’ve taken several mature bucks midday when this has happened.

 Keep in mind, too, northern whitetails with winter fur are most active, feeding later in the morning and beginning earlier in the afternoon while the temperature is between 20 and 40 degrees and the wind is calm or light, whether it is sunny or cloudy and whether or not it is raining or snowing lightly.

Whatever the weather, hunt anyway. A big buck might show up when you least expect it like the the one pictured above, taken my son, Dave, during an unusually warm November morning. Consider also gritting your teeth and hunting when it is extremely cold and you doubt deer will be moving. While your partners are sitting around the cracking woodstove back in camp, playing cribbage, a big, rut-crazed buck might show up even when it’s 27 below zero and the wind is whipping sheets of snow past your stand site. This I know.

No. 5 Best Tip for Hunting Whitetails Today

While on your way to a stand site, don’t allow your footsteps to sound like those of a deer hunting human, especially in the last 100 yards. Mature experienced whitetails do not have to see or smell you to identify and avoid you. They can do it via sounds you make alone. On a quiet morning, they can not only hear your approaching footsteps up to 100 yards away, but determine whether or not you are a harmless squirrel or deer or a dangerous hunter and react accordingly.

There are many reasons footsteps of human hunters easy for mature whitetails to identify. Human footsteps are much louder than footsteps of wild animals, for one. Humans unconsciously drag their boots across gravel and through dead grasses and leaves, crunchy snow, breaking ice and splashing water. They step on many more branches that break or snap loudly underfoot than any other creatures in the woods. Their footsteps are frequently interrupted by short periods of silence, revealing they are often halting to scan ahead and listen, typical of a hunting human. All or one is reason enough to move out of the path of an approaching hunter and/or abandon the vicinity.

While on your way to a stand site where you hope to see deer, there are three ways to avoid letting them know are coming. First, use an established deer trail to get to your stand site that was cleared of dead branches for silent hiking throughout the final 100 yards (or more) two weeks before the hunting season began. Second, bend your knees with each step and lift you feet over noisy grass, leaves and other obstacles on the ground and then put your feet down softly. This is difficult to do without conscious thought so keep your mind on how you are stepping, especially throughout that final 100 yards. Third, don’t stop until you reach your stand site, especially in that final 100 yards.

Hiking in this manner will make it extremely difficult for the most wary of whitetails near your stand site to identify you by your footsteps. They’ll probably hear something, but it won’t be human-like. If they can’t positive identify you, they won’t abandon the area. They may move to nearby cover where they can’t be easily seen, however. Upon arriving at your stand site and then becoming completely silent and unmoving downwind or crosswind, they’ll remain suspicious and cautious for awhile. If they hear (or see) nothing more during the next 15–30 minutes (count on 30), those deer will then resume what they were doing (feeding for example), soon likely to become visible at short range.