Unconventional Gear, Planning Helps Him Kill Big Bucks

Jesse Hurley is a careful planner with his cameras and land, but it pays off.

Jesse Hurley is a careful planner with his cameras and land, but it pays off.

If you were to look in Jesse Hurley’s hunting closet you’d find the normal stuff like bows, tree stands, or trail cameras. What you might not expect to find would be a rake and leaf-blower, too.

By Dan Durbin

Hurley has filled a lot of tags, eight of them burned on bucks that bested the 125-inch Pope and Young mark, including a monster 160-plus last year. His tactics might be called painstakingly conservative, a bit tedious at times, but they get the job done more often than not — and you don’t need a mega-lease to employ them.

Limited visits to stands deep in his hunting areas minimizes impact on older deer.

Limited visits to stands deep in his hunting areas minimizes impact on older deer.

“I think the way a person enters and leaves his stand site is about the most important aspect of hunting other than having a good piece of property in the first place,” he said. “Not only do I still hunt my way into a stand, but I also take measures that make sure that there is almost no chance of a deer hearing or smelling me at all.”

Hurley cuts small two-foot paths on all of the properties he hunts. These aren’t your run of the mill logging roads, but rather are more like arteries that lead to the heart of the property. They are subtle, and allow him access to key locations in near silence.

“The reason I can use these paths so quietly is that I rake them twice a year and even use a gas-powered leaf blower to remove any sort of debris from the path, three times a year,” he said. “I am walking on pure dirt a lot of time or wet areas so there really is no noise to make. I’m convinced that if a mature buck hears you he will leave or won’t move until after dark. These are small properties I’m hunting and I can’t afford to blow a buck off the property”

Early in the season and then again come October, Hurley takes his rake and works over all of his paths. He does so either when weather is crummy and deer are bedded down or sometimes in the dead of night when he knows that deer are out of the beds and woodlots he hunts, and out feeding in the fields. If he knows that deer are placing scrapes on his paths, he’ll not blow or rake the area, and have an alternate path to take around the scrape.

Cameras offer clues about bucks, patterns and more.

Cameras offer clues about bucks, patterns and more.

“Come early November I go in with my four wheeler and blow the paths right from it,” he said. “I’m certain that most times deer sit tight when I’m riding on the ATV. I have ridden right by them and they stay put, even if they are just 20 yards away. It’s the same as when you see farmers on combines and the deer are out right in the field feeding. The deer typically only spook when I stop and get off the machine, so I stay on it. I often do the same thing when I am checking my trail cameras. I never shut the ATV down.”

Along with using these arteries for getting to his stand locations, more than two dozen in all, he also walks them when checking out his network of cameras. Even though he can get in and out quietly, he rarely checks his deep cameras more than once every couple of months.

“I think one of the main errors people are making is that they check their game cameras far too often,” he said. “Game cameras are a vital part of my hunting strategy, but you won’t find me checking certain ones more than once every couple months, and only if they weather permits it.”

Hurley maintains that most people ruin their best spots because they place their cameras in core areas and check them far too often, thereby taking a valuable tool and making it a hindrance instead.

“Sure, I have some cameras on field edges or scrapes that are on the perimeter of the properties I hunt,” he said. “For those, maybe I check them every couple weeks. But for the spots I like to hunt that are in deep, you won’t find me tending much.”

Some people might argue his approach is too conservative. But because Hurley has been hunting his small farms for several years, he has built up enough intelligence on the area that there is no need to risk checking a camera to see if a new buck has shown up.

“I may swap cards on a camera in a bedding location and not even use the information until the following year,” he said. “For instance, if I check a camera and have 600 images on it, and some nice bucks recorded over the course of the summer, I can find the general pattern of a buck. He’s not getting messed with so he can build a predictable pattern. As long as I know he made it to through the season, I can go in the following year and have a pretty good idea that the buck is still using that same pattern, especially early in the season before he’s been hunted.”

Cameras can give you insights on whether bucks are moving during the day or night.

Cameras can give you insights on whether bucks are moving during the day or night.

Last year Hurley had a particular camera out for several weeks before checking it. It was a known community doe area and the camera revealed that a huge buck he believed lived in the area was not occupying any of the memory card. Most people would be upset about not seeing the buck. But because there was good big buck sign in the area near the camera from the current year and the year before, Hurley knew he could just cross this particular spot off his list. It was definitely a “half full” rather than “half empty” approach.

“I moved the camera about 80 yards and got that buck on camera the next day,” he said. “A couple days later on Halloween morning I killed him. He was my biggest buck yet at 167 1/8. “

Hurley is never sloppy when in the woods, and even tries to be as stealthy as possible when setting his cameras.

“I like to slip in on one of my paths and place the camera and get out of there,” he said. “I actually came up with a product to help me do so called the Stic-N-Pic. It allows me to place and hide my cameras anywhere I want, not just where trees are. Plus, it’s much quieter and be set up and taken down in seconds.”

This approach to hunting is not for everyone. A tremendous amount of work is involved from all the site, camera, and trail preparation. Hurley wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It works,” he said. “It’s worked on every buck I have shot. It’s not like I’m hunting big expensive leases either. I don’t even own my own land and rely on getting permission on smaller farms. I don’t have one spot that is over 80 acres. Anyone can do it if they want to put this much time in.”

Hurley’s Equipment
While tree-mounted cameras can work for this tactic, the Stic-N-Pic allows hunters the freedom to place cameras wherever they want, in any terrain, quickly and silently.  They can be brushed in so bucks won’t see them and other hunters won’t steal them.

Hurley uses Reconyx and Covert cameras because he just plain likes them, but he values their long battery life, which is needed because he has the cameras out for such a long time.

Leaf Blower and Rake
Lower end, Craftsman 1 speed blower
Metal Rake works best for branches & leaves