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Author Archives: dan.schmidt
Here’s a fun exercise for today: Take a shot at field-judging this trophy buck.
Here’s what D&DH Editor Dan Schmidt had to say:
"I’m not saying that Brad and I are the end-all experts, but here’s what we guessed for a gross score on that big 10-pointer shown in the trail camera photo:
"My guess: 153 gross typical. Brad’s guess: 152 inches gross. We made these guesses without conferring with each other. My ‘guesstimates’ for the buck’s gross score:
"Brow tine: 4 inches
"G-2: 7 inches
"G-3: 9 inches
"G-4: 7 inches
"Main beam: 23 inches
"Mass: 17 inches (5+4+4+4)
"Subtotal = 66. Multiplied by two = 134 + inside spread (19 inches) = 153.
"How does that compare with your guesses? Do you agree or disagree? Let the debate begin!"
The Facebook post was a definite cause for celebration. One of my friends had just posted a photo of a whitetail buck he had shot this weekend. He had been bowhunting, and shot a beautiful 6-point buck. I was one of the first people to "like" the post. Several others had also posted complimentary comments. Oh, but course, it didn’t take long for the naysayers to start chiming in.
"Young buck," said one individual.
"Puppy," wrote another.
That’s all it took, I’m sure, to take the wind out of the hunter’s sails.
As sad as it is, that’s what deer hunting has become for a lot of folks. Somewhere along the line, things got blurry. It doesn’t have to be this way.
I’m the first to celebrate a huge buck. Check out my posts, and they’re everywhere. It’s all about the deer; I don’t care who killed it. However, I’m equally all about deer in general. Doesn’t have to be measured in inches; only has to have a smiling hunter behind it. That’s not only what it’s all about; it’s what it should be all about.
I’ve heard all of the arguments:
"You should have let that deer grow another year!"
"Just think of what he could have been next year!"
"Why didn’t you just shoot a doe if you wanted meat?"
Deer hunting is much more complicated than such sound bites. For starters, if you think such thoughts, you assume you know what type of property the guy hunts. You assume you know what the deer density is in his region. You assume you know how many deer he’s shot in his life. You assume you know how long it’s been since he’s shot one.
We all know what happens when you assume.
Maybe he only has access to a small private parcel. Maybe he hunts public land. Maybe he’s got 10 kids and doesn’t give a rip about antlers. Maybe he actually works for a living and only gets to hunt a couple days each fall. Maybe he loves eating venison and his freezer happens to be empty.
It doesn’t have to do with "just killing something." Deer hunting is an evolutionary process. To many hunters (inexperienced or not), a 6-point yearling buck walking through the woods is the equivalent of the biggest deer in the world. Asking them to pass up small bucks is a sure recipe for turning them off to hunting. In a way, it’s a lot like today’s catch-and-release mentality in fishing. The same guys who preach, "Throw ‘em all back," are the same ones who have photo albums stacked with images from 20 years ago that show them holding sagging stringers of bass, pike and walleyes. It’s a classic case of, "Do as I say, not as I did."
My strong feelings on this subject probably stem from the fact that I’ve seen many sons and daughters of avid hunters who have either dropped out of hunting altogether or never really embraced it from the start because they’re sick of hearing such garbage from folks who are supposed to be their blood brothers.
Whatever the reasons, it doesn’t matter. This guy chose to use his tag on that deer. And he’s proud of it. If you’re happy for him, let him know it. If you are holier than thou, keep your mouth shut. And keep your fingers off the keyboard.
photo courtesy of CarryLite Decoys
If I hadn’t been seeing increased deer activity myself (saw two more young bucks pursuing does across fields this morning), I could easily tell the rut is nearing by the increasing emails, text messages and Facebook and Twitter comments. Soak it in, friends, because this is the time of year we’ve all waited for.
Today’s top question comes from friend and Deer & Deer Hunting diehard Ryan Bauer of Wisconsin. Ryan writes: "Dan, what are your thoughts on using decoys?"
Knowing how much of a diehard big-buck hunter that Ryan is, I know that his question is more loaded than innocent (he knows I’ll tell the truth … at least I think he does!). And that honest-to-goodness truth is this: Just because bucks are feeling their oats during the rut doesn’t mean it’s a wise idea to throw a decoy out there in front of your stand. Let me explain.
This is certainly the best time of the year to use a decoy. The next four weeks can be magical if you’re in an area with relatively low deer densities (less than 20 deer per square mile), a balanced sex ratio (less than three does per buck; 1:1 would be ideal); and low hunting pressure. Think about those criteria for a bit. Does it rule out your area?
The properties I have hunted in Wisconsin over the past 25 years have pretty much dictated that I don’t use deer decoys. This has more to do with the fact that the properties I hunt have mostly been public land and small private parcels surrounded by tons of hunting pressure. I have had bucks respond to decoys (even a 140-inch buck during a gun season 13 years ago), but I’ve spooked for more deer than I’ve attracted. I no longer use them during gun season because of safety concerns.
On the flip side, I know a lot of guys around here who report very good success with decoys during the rut. The key, in most of those instances, is they have access to much larger properties (several hundred acres, or land surrounded by sanctuaries). The same can be said of the trophy buck properties I’ve hunted in states like Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and the like. A lot of those areas have large tracts of CRP, which spreads out the deer and forces bucks to roam far and wide in search of does. I believe this triggers their response mechanism when they encounter "another buck."
Why not use a decoy? What could it hurt? Well, again — just my experience — it can hurt a lot if you spook a deer that might otherwise have crossed in front of your stand once, twice or even three times during the course of a day as they are cruising for does. Spook him hard just once, and he will remember it … at least temporarily.
We included a very informative piece on how, when and where to use decoys in the November issue of the magazine. Refer to that piece for more details on what types of decoys you should use and the scent tactics needed for optimal use.
Deer & Deer Hunting Editor Dan Schmidt with his Minnesota buck. This is the kind of broadhead performance you can expect from a big expandable on chest hits. Shoulder-blade hits can be a bit more tricky. Photo by Chris Hermans.
I received a note last night from a Facebook friend and loyal Deer & Deer Hunting subscriber from Pennsylvania. John had the unfortunate experience of shooting a big buck in the shoulder last week, and he didn’t recover it. He was using a large two-blade expandable and only got about 3 inches of penetration. John writes:
I’m curious to hear from the rest of you. What has and has not worked for you?
One of North America’s most effective deer management techniques was kicked to the curb yesterday when Wisconsin lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to prohibit state deer managers to use earn-a-buck regulations for future deer seasons. The state had used the regulations on and off for most of the past decade. The regulation forced hunters to bag and register an antlerless deer before "earning" the right to use their antlered buck tags. In Wisconsin, hunters are allowed to shoot one buck with a bow and one with a firearm.
Many hunters are calling the end of EAB a victory, as it was a loud contingent that leaned on lawmakers to repeal the regulation. Having lived in Wisconsin my entire life, I’ve seen how this regulation has divided the hunting community.
As a deer hunter, I will admit that EAB was a tough pill to swallow. In fact, I likely have a bigger sob story than anyone else can provide. I can’t recall the exact year, I believe it was 2001, but my wife Tracy and I were bowhunting on a tract of private land in October. It was an EAB season, and Tracy had yet to bag her doe. Tracy was seated beside a large boulder, on the ground, in a makeshift blind she had built earlier that afternoon. I was perched in a tree stand about 200 yards away. I couldn’t see her, but I could see the boulder.
At about 5 p.m., an absolutely huge buck appeared in the meadow near Tracy’s hideout. I grabbed my binoculars and sat in stunned silence. This buck was incredible. I watched him for at least 10 minutes and wondered if Tracy did, in fact, see him. If I were to guess, I’d say he was easily 150 inches.
The buck eventually walked off, and darkness settled upon the landscape. I climbed from my stand and walked to Tracy’s blind. When I arrived, she was standing beside the boulder, clutching on to it as if she was having a hard time standing. She was visibly shaken.
"Did you see that buck?" I gasped.
"You mean the giant 9-pointer that was standing right THERE for 10 minutes?" she blurted out while pointing to a spot just 10 yards in front of the boulder. "The same buck that I came to full draw on twice — put my sight pin on his chest — and let down just so I could tell you that I COULD have shot him? Yes, I saw him. I feel like I’m going to puke."
That was 10 seasons ago, yet it remains as the one and only antlered buck that Tracy could have shot with her bow.
Bitter pill, indeed. However, that story illustrates my desires as a hunter. As someone who understands the delicate balance between deer densities and habitat regeneration, I understand that EAB has been the only tool Wisconsin managers have used to successfully reduce deer populations enough to make a difference. They started in the 1980s by offering liberal antlerless deer tags. It didn’t work. When given the choice, hunters, as a whole, shot more bucks. Then, concurrently with EAB, managers tried other options like unlimited doe tags and special doe-only hunts in October and December. Hunters revolted against the October hunts because they viewed them as cumbersome to the upcoming rut. By December, most guys had enough venison in the freezer, and the thought of shooting deer just to donate them to food pantries wasn’t enough to keep them motivated as a group.
In the end, nothing has worked on a statewide level as effectively as EAB. And now it’s gone with the stroke of a political pen. And therein lies the rub. Whether you liked EAB or loathed it, what has now happened is that a key tool to Wisconsin’s deer management program has been taken out of the scientific community and placed into the hands of politicians and special-interest groups. Not a good move, in my opinion. You don’t have to think too long or hard to envision where this could lead us in the future.
That’s how I see it. What are your thoughts?
Want to stop playing hopscotch during hunting season and start bagging more deer? Then stop hanging your tree stands based solely on features you see on your topo map … or in areas that "look good" during your first walk through the woods.
Simply put, hanging stands based soley off of topo features doesn’t work. At least it doesn’t for me. Deer are North America’s greatest game animal because they’re so adaptable. We kid ourselves when we walk into the woods and place stands based on areas that merely look good on a map. This approach might get you in the ballpark, but it seldom pinpoints true deer hotspots. For consistent success, especially in the late season, you need to know where the bedding areas are and what foods deer are keying on. These can change from week to week and season to season.
A final note: Don’t worry if deer aren’t bedding on the property you are hunting. Your property might be a travel corridor from a neighbor’s pine plantation to the nearby farmer’s picked crop field. You’ll put yourself in position for a shot by knowing the exact deer trails the deer use to get from Point A to Point B. To get the drop on a trophy buck or that big doe for the freezer, hang your tree stands accordingly.
At Deer & Deer Hunting, we have published many articles based off of scientific studies on the merit of "culling" so-called inferior bucks from the herd. Although I personally do not believe that any buck is inferior, there is a time when a landowner can certainly question which bucks he wants to take out of his local population based off of a few physical traits.
The buck in this photo is a prime example. D&DH Publisher Brad Rucks captured this image on his hunting property earlier this fall. Notice the time stamp on his Cuddeback camera: Aug. 30. That is extremely late for a buck to still be in velvet in Brad’s area of Wisconsin, but it is also proof that this buck is a genetic freak — as indicated by his sublegal spikes (or should we say bumps?) on his head.
This is obviously a year-and-a-half-old deer, yet his antler configuration, or lack thereof, would almost indicate he’s a fawn. He’s not. He’s just a very behind-the-curve deer that will likely remain that way his entire life. That’s not a 100 percent indictment, as we do know that undersized yearlings can sometimes make up for the lack of antler growth when they hit ages 3, 4 and 5. However, it is very unlikely in this case. In situations such as these (when a yearling buck has spikes less than 1 inch in length) it is usually a case of a deer that was born extremely late. The reasons why this happens are many, but the individual deer is invariably a runt.
Deer & Deer Hunting contributor Charles Alsheimer has photographed similar deer in the past. He said that his best example was of a similarly sized yearling (as the one in Brad’s photo) that is now 5-1/2 years old and has a small 6-point rack with no brow tines.
Interestingly, if Brad decides to kill this deer this fall, he wouldn’t need to use a buck tag on it. In Wisconsin, a buck needs to have at least one antler that is at least 3 inches long.
What would you do? Shoot the buck, or let it go and, hopefully, grow?
For more information on deer behavior, check out our premium collection.
It happened again last night … like every night (or morning) when I return from hunting. "Did you see anything?"
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dread the question. In fact, I relish it. "I most certainly did," is my new reply. "I saw a lot."
"So your sit was bust?"
No, I didn’t see a deer. Well, not while perched in my stand with fingers pressed to bow-string, anticipating a shot. I did spook one while walking to my tree stand, so that does count. But I am happ saw a lot more than that.
As the afternoon wore on, I saw a literal parade of blue jays that worked this creek bottom for bugs and grasshoppers. When they weren’t foraging, they dive-bombed the stagnant pools and splashed about, bathing themselves in an effort, I presume to rid themselves of lice and to cool off from the unusual 74-degree October heat.
I also saw a jumbo gray squirrel foraging for acorns. And a pair of hairy woodpeckers take turns hammering away at a rotten cherry tree. And a sentinel crow summoning his bandmates for dinner near a distant road-killed raccoon.
I saw the sun rotate from my left shoulder to my right, then dip far below some majestic white pines. I saw yellow and brown and crimson leaves flutter to the forest floor by the hundreds.
No, I didn’t see a deer while hunting, but I certainly did see something. And it was all absolutely beautiful.
Want to get the drop on that dandy buck you captured on your trail camera? When hunting mature bucks, try to pinpoint, then hunt, one of their staging areas. A staging area is merely a safety zone. Bucks use these areas to pretty much just hang out until darkness settles on the landscape. The best areas are often often near the preferred feeding areas of antlerless deer groups.
The size of a white-tailed buck’s staging area mostly depends on location, cover quality, food availability and the area’s deer density. They can be as small as a brushy, 12-foot-wide fencerow, or as large as a 20-acre cedar swamp. Successful hunters typically discover that bucks loiter or “stage up,” 30 to 100 yards into the woods, away from the food source. Then, as nighttime approaches, something flips their internal switch, and they head straight to the feeding area. This behavior can certainly be linked to the whitetail’s elusive nature.
As we’ve mentioned many times over the years in Deer & Deer Hunting, deer live to maturity because they learn how to avoid predators, and older bucks seemingly know they’re safer when they hang back in thick cover until those last moments of daylight before proceeding toward a food source. The same can be said of crafty, old does. That’s why I place my early season doe-hunting stands 50 yards or so back into the woods. It’s relatively easy to kill yearling does at field edges; it’s a bit more difficult to ambush those matriarchs — even the unpressured ones — with the same setups. They can pick you off in a hurry if you’re not careful. Unless heavily pressured, young deer seldom exhibit such behavior. To them, a staging area is often just a quick transition zone from their bedding area to the food source.
A bullet or arrow through a deer’s abdomen is usually referred to as a gut shot. What some hunters don’t realize is that not all gut shots are the same. The rumen (stomach) shot is probably most common because it is directly located behind the liver. The intestines are even farther back — located just ahead of the hips.
As noted in my book Whitetail Wisdom, a deer’s reaction to a projectile though the rumen is characterized by the animal humping up and walking or trotting slowly from the scene. It is common to find stomach contents (partially digested food) on an arrow, and to notice a foul smell on the arrow shaft itself. Blood trails often appear with brown/green streaks. Hunters should wait at least 10 hours before tacking up this blood trail. If left undisturbed, this deer will often die very close to its first bed. If you jump the deer, it might run a long distance, and it will oftentimes not leave a bloodtrail to follow because the wound will have either clotted up or become clogged with stomach matter.
A projectile through the large or small intestines is a true gut shot. These deer will also die in their beds if left undisturbed. Wait even longer — at least 12 hours — before taking up this trail.