Jeff Neal thought about my idea momentarily and then nodded his head in agreement.
“That’s pretty good, considering how much we’ve been in and out of here the last few days,” he said. “I like it.”
After three days of hunting out of the same Banks Blind close to the camp house and barn, just a few hours after 10 people had been on two utility vehicles with six deer for a photo shoot, and after three bucks had been killed within 24 hours from the same blind, I was proposing to Neal that I sit in it for the final afternoon as a sort of experiment.
Pressure. Noise. Three deer shot in the 3-acre plot. Human scent likely lingering in the field near the elevated blind. Noise from the camp house in the evening as we cleaned, skinned and cut up our deer.
Insane, right? What deer in its right mind would come back to that area?
“These deer around here in the woods around this field and the other fields nearby hear us when we’re hunting here,” said Neal, vice president of sales and marketing for Heartland Wildlife Institute. “We’re out filling feeders, putting out mineral blocks and doing other things, so they’re probably used to us. We pull up to fields in the electric UTVs and they stand there before running away, but we’ve had them come in while we’re work- ing. We try to get in and out, but yeah, they know we’re around.”
Neal has about 700 acres in southeastern Ohio that he’s cultivated for about 10 years with timber and habitat management. It’s a beautiful tract of mostly hardwoods, with several ponds, a massive and inaccessible swampy creek, and numerous food plots he’s planted with Heartland’s Buck Buster Extreme and Annual Wildlife Mix seed blends. Despite the ample forage, the deer keep the plots mowed down pretty heartily, as they supplement the native forage of acorns and browse.
Neal bolsters these plots with Autumn Addiction attractant, a mix of soybeans, roasted corn and a supplemental “energy nugget.” He also adds Rack Maker blocks, which have 23 percent protein, near the feeders. These are legal in Ohio and are part of his year-round program, not just something Neal puts out during hunting season. Mineral licks are established throughout the property, too, and are hammered by bucks and does to the point of 12- to 18-inch gashes in the ground where they return for the minerals.
So, this isn’t a public-land spot that might be hunted a few times and have some wary deer skittish with the intrusion of stinkin’ hunters. I acknowledge that, and know it’s not like busting a buck that snorts in derision and high-tails it out of the area. These deer are comfortable in their bedding and loafing areas, and comfortable on the plots where they graze contentedly in front of the Covert cameras Neal has throughout the property.
But, still, to have that much pressure on one plot, in one stand, and so close to the camp house — walking distance — stirred my curiosity. Would deer return after three and a half days of intrusion? Even in a place like this, where they feel pretty comfortable? It’s not like we scuttled in quietly, took photos with six bucks and then vanished without a trace.
Check out this Classic DDH TV clip about scoring bucks on the hoof:
The First Days
Our crew included four writers trying out a selection of crossbows from TenPoint and Wicked Ridge, along with Banks Blinds owner Bob Banks and his longtime friend, Jack Weber. Neal, guide Brian Richard, Sabrina Simon of TenPoint and camp chef Ty Hartman enjoyed some good fellow- ship and anticipation of four days of hunting in prime conditions.
Day 1 found shifting, gusty winds as a cold front began its march through the region. Numerous deer were sighted on different parts of the property, but no one pulled the trigger despite a few nice bucks being spotted. Neal’s management plan is for mature bucks — the “Yep, that’s him” shooters — that allow younger ones to gain age through selective harvest.
That first day, and most of the second, I watched more than a dozen deer throughout the day emerge from the surrounding jungle-like cover bordering the field. Does with yearlings, young knothead bucks, and one gnarly small-racked 10-pointer that at first appeared to be only a forkhorn all milled about, eating contentedly.
“That 10-point is small this season, but we have camera photos of him last year when he was a nice 8-point,” Neal said after I described it in detail and wondered if that would be a cull in his management plan. “I don’t know what happened to him over the spring and summer, but it’s obvious that something did. We’ll keep an eye on him next season.”
Late in the second evening, on a day when the deer seemed a bit more skittish and a smattering of rain fell, I looked up and saw a stud. He’d walked out about 10 yards from the blind, broadside, after having stayed in the woods behind the blind all day. Other deer in the field continually looked toward him in the woods, I finally realized, and as darkness was falling, he finally emerged.
Like an idiot, I didn’t have my Stealth SS crossbow in hand. Rookie mistake! It was leaning against the blind and as I reached for it, a doe snorted and everything in the field bolted. She saw me move through one of the blind’s windows. I wanted to beat myself silly for such a stupid mistake, and as I watched the buck — a 12-pointer — walk away, the other 10 or so does and little ones began slowly filtering back.
Moments later, remarkably, a 9-pointer came into view in the field. He’d slipped in unnoticed as the other deer returned and presented a perfect broadside shot. The Stealth SS and NAP Spitfire did the job, sending the arrow through his ribcage, and he fell 30 yards or so from where I shot him.
Round 2: Double Success
The next morning I stayed in camp to do a few things, so Banks and Weber headed to the same blind I’d sat in for two previous days. At that time, I hadn’t considered the noise and intrusion in the field, but with so many deer that were using it, I didn’t give it much of a second thought and figured they’d see the deer I had watched.
They did, throughout the day, and just about on cue that evening is when the 12-pointer stepped out again. Banks made a perfect shot with his TenPoint crossbow on the big buck, which had heavy main beams with near-identical tines coming off each one.
“Jack and I were high-fiving and talking about the deer and the shot,” Banks said. “It’s not like we were being very quiet because it was such a good deer. Then we looked up and there’s an 8-point coming into the field.”
So much for a bolting buck and noise, eh? Weber, who is 81 and has hunted for about 63 years, was going to get a shot. But before he could, Banks had to stand up in the blind and cock the crossbow to get it ready. Weber sighted in and pulled the trigger, and the 8-pointer hit the dirt.
In 24 hours, three bucks had been killed from the same blind, in the same field and out of the same window of the blind. Neal and Richard spent about 45 minutes that evening locating the two bucks and bringing them in on the Polaris UTVs. More noise. More intrusion.
To top it off, the next morning, after all that and just a couple of ridges away, outdoor writer Bob Humphrey dropped a beautiful 8-point buck. Four bucks, all within walking distance, and after all the human intrusion of the previous two days. The property is big, but we all were pretty amazed.
The Last Day
About noon on the last day of our visit, we loaded the bucks in the UTVs and headed back to the field where I, Banks and Weber had killed our deer. For a good hour, we took photos, talked, laughed and then loaded up to return to camp.
That’s when I wondered if any deer would return that evening. Neal was curious, too, and with an antlerless-only permit in my pocket, I was ready for the unscientific experiment.
I offered to walk to the blind from the camp house, but Neal demurred.
“It’s close enough to walk, but I’d rather use the electric (UTV) and just zip in and out,” he said. “I’ve done my fair share of walking for hunting, but around here it’s just easier to quietly get in and then get out, whether we’re working or hunting. We try to be as scent-free as possible, which can be tough, but we do what we can. We wash all our clothes and (bed) linens in Atsko scent-free detergent, keep our boots and gear outside, and these electric carts are nice to help minimize scent in the fields going to and coming from the stands. We can’t eliminate our scent, but we do what we can.”
Not a problem, I said, but I was thinking about how much we’d left in the field just two hours earlier. About 3:30 p.m. as he drove me to the blind and we crested a little rise, we laughed; a deer was standing near the feeder, munching away.
I climbed into the blind and settled in (the deer had sprinted away) to wait for a specific doe I’d seen that was by herself. If she came back and was within range, she was going to be turned into jerky. The deer Neal and I saw returned later, stayed briefly and left. Then another doe and fawn came in, and a third deer arrived just before dark. It was too late then to determine whether it was a doe or knothead, but there were no visible spikes above the hairline. I was done by then anyway and was waiting to be picked up.
Yes, too much noise and human intrusion matters, even with deer that are comfortable with their surroundings. It wasn’t scientific or borne over months of research. It wasn’t really a big revelation, either. But the result was clear: Minimize scent and noise, be stealthy and don’t push a good thing to its limits.
Keep The Bugs Away!
The latest in Thermacell’s lineup is the Scout Camp Lantern, yet another outstanding product from Thermacell to receive the full endorsement from theDeer & Deer Hunting crew. This lantern pulls double duty as a powerful mosquito repeller utilizing Thermacell’s familiar mat-and-butane combo. Expect 225 square feet of protection from mosquitoes, black flies and more. Get yours here!