It?s evident that managing game on one's land can have long-term benefits for hunting. In this blog series we're looking at the concept of Game Management. So far in the journey we've discussed Food Plots, Selective Harvest, & Herd Balance and with this entry we're going to look into the concept of deer surveying.
Deer surveying is exactly what is sounds like, surveying the deer on your land. Recent technology has made surveying deer (and any species of game) a whole lot easier, mainly via the creation of the game camera. The invention of the game camera has undeniably changed the way we hunt. Game cameras give hunters an advantage by providing valuable information about the deer in our area. Obviously game camera pics don't give an outdoorsman a 100% accurate read on the deer in a given area, but they do give way more insight about the deer herd than if we didn't have game cameras.
Game cameras are the most common (and affordable) way to survey one's deer herd. Though, there are more scientific and expensive methods of surveying deer. I heard one speaker at a conference say that in some locations they were flying airplanes over tracks of land taking thermal imagery to survey the game on the land. I imagine thermal imagery is more accurate and way more expensive too! I also know that DNR uses some more advanced, scientific techniques for surveying deer population & growth. These are all neat methods that provide more accurate data, but any method besides a game camera falls out of my financial range. Nevertheless the importance of having a feel for the game on your land is the main point to be noted.
Why is having knowledge of the deer in an area important for game management? If you are herd balance conscientious then surveying deer can give you a feel for the ratio of bucks to does on your property. Sure it's not accurate down to a finite percentage, but it does allow more informed decisions to be made about the herd in a given area. From this insight a hunter can help determine which deer he or she should or shouldn't harvest based on numbers. Essentially a hunter can get a feel for the herd balance in the area they are hunting through surveying the game on their land. You'll find that die-hard hunters survey deer year round and move their game cameras around a few times a year. Surveying deer, like game management, is a year round process.
Surveying the game in a hunter's allotted hunting area also helps one determine the age class of deer in the region. Viewing the size of deer in a game camera's pictures can help hunters determine the age of bucks based on body size, rack size, and other traits of mature bucks. Along with viewing the different age class of bucks any recent fawns, yearlings, and does can be observed as well. Viewing the deer in your area helps you get a feel for the health of deer as well.
Knowledge of the game in a track of land is a must in any effective game management strategy. Whether you survey deer through more expensive techniques or simply through a game camera, surveying deer pays dividends and helps hunters make informed decisions. Surveying deer allows hunters to watch deer mature over time and gives insight toward the herd balance ratios. If you haven't already, start learning about the deer in your area and you'll be a better hunter because of it.
As you know, we?ve been working a lot on the Tecomate Seed Food Plot Journey over the course of the past year. Most of the time when we?re out working we are talking about deer hunting and optimistically dreaming up scenarios where huge bucks come into the food plots or into shooting lanes and how we would position ourselves, etc. I?m sure you may have had similar experiences. Many times when Adam and I have been out working and having these conversations he kept bringing up the subject of scent control. I have known your scent was important, but I?ve never really thought about it, or taken it to, the level at which Adam does. What level is that you may ask? the level of spraying down when going to check game cams, washing your clothes in odor reducing detergent, taking showers with scent free soap, looking up which direction the wind is blowing before hunting, etc. Initially to me, that was a bit much, but hey?everyone has their own style of hunting.
This season we?ve been using the McKenzie Scent Fan Duffle Bag as well as Atsko?s products to work with our scent management. This is a regular routine for Adam, but for me it?s a whole new ball game, so I figured why not try it out and see what happens. So, as you know from previous blog entries, I?ve been using the McKenzie Scent Fan Duffle bag to fuse earth and pine scent into my hunting gear. I mean I?ve been putting everything in the bag?my clothes, m boots, my smaller bag, even my Thermacell, and this past week I also stuck my video camera?s tripod in there too! Literally everything in the bag smells like dirt now. So I?ve got my hunting gear taken care of and smelling just right.
I?ve also started testing out and using some of Atsko?s scent reduction products. Atsko has a 4-pack (the same one that someone is going to win this year) of scent reduction/UV killer products. I put the N-O-Odor soap in my shower and put the N-O-Odor spray right beside my McKenzie bag. I was eager to test all this out because in this early season heat, anything I can do to reduce my scent is beneficial since I sweat a lot and it?s been very humid.
Ok?jump back in time to one week ago?
A week ago (when we put down lime and seed) I also went out and put some corn out at an area where we?ve had an old stand forever, but that hasn?t been getting hunted out of much lately. We have a feeder out there that hasn?t been working for a while too (you?ll see it in the video). Since I had some time, I took a game camera out and tied it up on a tree and put some corn out in front of it. I didn?t know what to expect or even know if any deer were in the area, but I figured I?d try it out. I put it out and really just forgot about it.
When I came back home this past Friday, I went out to check the game camera. I put a new chip in and brought the chip that was in the game camera back to the house. Looking at the chip I could see that deer had been in there all hours of the day and night. In one week I had 268 pics on it. That answered the question as to whether there were any deer moving in that location. There were a lot of does on the camera, a small 4 point, a small 6 point, and every once in a while an 8-point came through and paused for the camera and ate some corn. I guess I had the game camera really close or something because the majority of the pics were close-ups like these:
With so much activity going on in that location, I figured I?d go and sit there the next morning to see what would happen.
I knew I was going to go sit in this stand on Saturday morning and I was thinking about my scent-game-plan. I let my McKenzie Scent Fan Duffle run all day Friday and all night Friday night while I was at the game and even while I slept. After the game (Eagles dominated Chesterfield again!) I came home and took a shower and used Atsko?s odor eliminating soap. I planned to use it that night and also in the morning. And yes, when you use it?you can?t smell anything. I sat the odor eliminating scent spray near my McKenzie bag to spray my shorts (the shorts that I wore under the camo) and socks down.
So the game plan was this?take showers using odor eliminating soap, put on regular underclothes (shorts & socks) and spray them down with the scent eliminating spray, and then wear the camo and take gear that had been getting scented all day and night with the earth/pine scent. This would hopefully reduce any human scent and/or bacteria that deer smell that may have been on me and then cover-scented my gear with a natural smell. Doing all of this really felt extreme and out-of-the-ordinary for me, but again? I?m just giving all this scent management stuff a whirl.
I executed all scent management steps and set out to the stand. This stand is a very small, old, wooden stand located in a thick forest area. Due to this scenario; I didn?t take the tripod, but was set to MacGyver a way to video or either get busted by a deer moving around trying to video. It was going to be so tight in the stand that I wouldn?t have room for the tripod. I knew this would hurt me in some way, but I just wasn?t sure how.
I sat for a little while and my vision was slowly getting better as the sun was starting to rise. Shortly thereafter I heard something moving behind me in the woods. If you?ve hunted before then you know the sound of a squirrel running through the leaves?they?re loud and go in spurts. This sound wasn?t like that, but rather was a slow pace and sounded like a deer rummaging through the forest floor as it walked. Due to the high activity of game cam pics, I felt sure it was a deer. This sound started out behind me?what would be 6 o?clock on the clock-face and it was extremely close. I was frozen in my stand and wasn?t budging. I knew that however many deer were back there were close and that any movement would leave me busted and hearing deer blowing at me as they ran away. My heart beat was escalating with every step that the deer took. It got closer and closer and was coming up my left side. I was looking to the left in my peripheral vision as much as possible, but didn?t see anything initially. I didn?t want to turn my head and just kept looking to the left. I looked until my eyes started hurting from straining them so much looking so hard trying to find what was making this sound. I?m sure this may have happened to you before as well.
It was still a little dark and tough to focus clearly. Then I finally saw movement and it was about 10 yards away from me! It was heading toward the corn pile. I wasn?t moving for anything as the deer walked right beside me, but my heart started pounding because I saw antlers! The trail I walked into the stand had me coming into the stand in the same path that this deer was walking toward?i.e. his path was going to intersect the path I took and he would be smelling right where I walked as he crossed my path. I knew I did all this scent stuff, but I also knew I was sweating some. I really didn?t know what to think.
As the deer passed around my left side he went behind some brush. If I was going to turn the camera on with any structure in between us, that moment was the time to do it. I reached over and cut the camera on and it started recording. Keep in mind that, due to size constraints, I didn?t bring the tripod and the camera was not secured to the stand, but rather just sitting on top of the side of a 2 x 4. I was nervous that I would knock it off, but I had to get it turned on. After I got the camera turned on I moved my gun a little, cut the safety off, and got my body in position. The deer kept walking and I could hear him getting closer to the corn as he moved. Finally he popped out at the corn pile and was broad-sided, giving me the perfect shot.
Something neat happened when the deer got over to the camera. Obviously the camera sensed movement and starting taking some pics. I was looking through my scope and also looking through the camera at the same time. I was going back and forth with my eyes again from the scope to the camera. Out of my right eye I saw a really bright light flash, but I didn?t see it out of my left. From what I could tell, the video camera picked up on the infrared flash, but my naked eye obviously was unable to and apparently the deer?s eye couldn?t pick up on it either. This may be common knowledge, but when it happened to me in the stand it kind of startled me at first because my initial reaction was that the deer would be spooked. You?ll easily see the camera flashing in the video.
As it got lighter I watched this buck eating corn for what seemed like forever. I mean I had the best case scenario from the moment that he arrived at the corn pile. I let him go for a few minutes without pulling the trigger. I wanted to make sure that this buck was not a 6 pointer because I?m trying to let the deer get to a decent size in this area. I looked and looked and finally counted 8 points, but even then I still debated not shooting this deer. I could tell he had a good sized body, but I just went back and forth in my mind about letting him walk and shooting him. Then I finally decided to shoot. (This is why you see me let him eat the corn for a while and not take the shot until late) The deer was eating corn and I had the perfect angle, but at the moment I decided to shoot he kind of gave me a quarter shot. I waited a few seconds and he raised his head up quickly and his body tensed up. I thought he sensed danger and was about to bolt?so I took the shot. When I took the shot I knew I hit the deer because his back legs jumped up in the air. The bad news was that when I pulled the trigger the camera fell off the ledge of the stand ? the good news is that it fell back in the stand rather than out of the stand! I caught it in my lap. I heard the deer go down about 20 yards away so I didn?t think it would be a tough deer to trail.
I always sit in the stand after I make a shot just to calm down some and gather myself. I want to give the deer time to die and also want to make sure that I get my safety back on my gun and that I don?t get in a hurry and leave anything or hurt myself somehow. On this specific day all my hunting buddies were not around and were out of town or were working. So I put the call in to my parent?s house and told them that I shot a deer and that I was going to start dragging. They said they would come out to help.
After a couple of minutes I got out of the stand and walked over to the corn pile and shot some post game footage. I walked a little bit and then saw the deer lying down about 20 yards away. I knew I had made a good shot. I went over and started dragging. My parents showed up not too long after I had started dragging the deer. My dad has been having some trouble with his knees lately and just walking the terrain of the land was killing him?so what does any good mother do?that?s right?my mom helped me drag the deer out of the woods! Talk about unconditional love. So to the people around Pageland reading this?if you see my mom tell her that you heard she?s dragging deer out of the woods in her slip-ons! I felt bad as one time she fell down when we were pulling the deer across a dried up creek, but she soldiered up right on through it and kept pulling. We had to stop 2 ? 3 times, but soon enough we had the deer to the edge of the woods. My mama has always told me ?They don?t make them like me anymore? and after last Saturday I have to say that I definitely believe her!
That was how the story of the hunt went. Reflecting back on the hunt, I have to tell you that I really think the measures I took of scent control played a big part in my success. The reason is because that deer started out behind me and came full circle all the way around me at a very close range and even walked across the path that I walked in on. The deer ended up in front of me and was clueless that I was even in the woods. If I would have smelled then he would have winded me a couple times over and fled the scene, but you already know how the story went. Needless to say, I?ll be covering my scent and paying more attention to it in all my upcoming hunts. Maybe the deer was dumb or couldn?t smell, but you have to "dance with the one that brung ya" right??? So I?ll keep focusing on my scent and see how the rest of the season goes. Maybe Adam?s scent management techniques aren?t too extreme after all!
After all this I got all my scent control products together and took some pics with the deer. The deer ended up being 8 points, 155lbs. He?s not a monster, but he was a decent buck.
Here?s the video of the hunt?sorry the camera fell, but we don?t have a camera-arm sponsor yet?lol! So next time I?ll take some rubber-bands or start saving my money up for a camera-arm. Also, you?ll notice that my video edits aren?t great?but I?m a web guy?not a video guru so this will have to suffice.
Be sure to bump the resolution up a little in the bottom right-hand corner of the video where it says "360p"
Something else neat occurred to me later that morning?when I was hunting the camera was flashing right? I sat there and thought to myself? that pic will have the deer in it and also have me in it (if it could see that far out). So I journeyed back out to the stand again to get the chip (that had only been out there for one day) again and see what the pic looked like. I was surprised to have over 80 pics just from the past 24 hours. Those deer were out there all night long again! That 8 point was there in the middle of the day on Friday and there were even deer at the corn pile at 5:45 am?the same time when I started walking to the stand. I probably scared them off on my way in. Anyway, I found the pic of the deer at the corn-pile right before I shot and you can see me in the background, but it?s kind of blurry. You can make out my head, the gun barrel, and the dark area where the camera is. Check out the pic
So I sweated a lot dragging the deer and even got some blood on my camo and what did I do?that?s right? I put them in the washing machine and washed them with Atsko?s odor eliminating detergent. I dried them and then stuck them right back in the McKenzie bag. I think the stars aligned just right for me on this day or something. I?ve only been in the woods hunting 2 weekends and have harvested 2 deer. This season has been a success whether or not I get any more deer this year?and I?m just fine with that, but I?ll still be out trying to videotape! If you made it this far, thanks for reading all this.
This past weekend I did a lot of work in the woods and it felt good. I’m just now getting around to doing the work that I wished I could have done in the summer so yes I’m a little behind. After making a lot of noise in the woods I hunt in and spreading my scent everywhere I figured it wouldn't be a good idea to hunt there and since Derrick & JD Outen helped me do the work I told JD that I’d come video him hunting in the evening. JD’s still after his first buck of the season for this year so we hoped to get one on camera. We had a good time sitting it the stand, but luck just wasn't in our favor tonight. Though, while we were sitting in the stand we heard a loud boom not too far away. This meant that JD’s dad, Derrick had made a shot. Derrick took a shot right at dark and he text messaged us and said he was on the way. And so it began.
Derrick picked us up and told us that he shot a deer at about 235 yards out in one of his shooting lanes. We went to the lane and starting walking. You have to kind of know Derrick to be able to fully appreciate the mode he gets in during situations like this. This was serious business and Derrick was like a CSI detective on a crime scene. Derrick showed us the spot where he said the deer was standing when he shot. I know Derrick is getting old and his eyes probably weren't working up to par right at dark so I went beyond where the said he shot the deer. Derrick, JD, & I searched for blood for nearly 15-20 minutes. I kept telling him that he missed to his response of “Outen’s don’t miss”. I was just about at the point of telling him that we should give up when I looked down and low and behold I saw a drop of blood. I was nearly 30 yards ahead of where Derrick & JD were by then. I yelled out “I've got blood” and I could tell Derrick’s hairs on the back of his neck were starting to stand up. The CSI deer detective had upped the tracker mode one notch because he knew there was a challenge at hand. From that point on Derrick was methodical in how he proceeded.
The drop of blood I found was in the shooting lane and we were trying to figure out which way the deer took off in, but the problem was that we couldn't find any more blood. Derrick told us to not be straying off into the brush because if a deer had traveled down a specific path we needed to be able to see it and if we went into the brush we would create a path and make it more difficult to keep up with. I told the guys that I was going to drop my hat on top of the blood so we would know where our origination marker was. We searched and searched through the edge of the lane on both sides and couldn't find anything. We even got desperate enough to start walking through the brush looking for anything that would give us hope. We had strayed the course and broken our own rules. We were about 30 minutes in at this point and yes my sweat was attracting mosquitoes which made it “fun”.
Derrick pulled us back to the drop of blood and said “Let’s get side by side and walk down this lane one more time” and to my surprise JD found another drop of blood about 20 yards from the first one. This small drop of blood was a glimmer of hope that reignited the troops. We moved the hat to mark the new, most recent drop of blood. And we continued stalking, crouching, slow-walking down the lane looking for more sign. I think Derrick may have put a new dip in to denote the new level of seriousness now that drop of blood number two had been found.
The blood drops continued about every 10 yards and were slightly leaning toward the left hand side of the lane. Derrick saw a drop of blood enter the brush and you would have thought somebody gave him $20 as pumped up as he got. He proceeded step by step through the brush finding random drops of blood smaller than a penny to trail this deer. It was indeed impressive to watch is controlled focus through the brush. We were about 40 minutes in at this point.
The deer cut across some thick brush and then into some open hard woods. Derrick commented “See if we don’t pay attention this is where we’ll lose this deer right now. Ya’ll don’t be in a hurry and look with every step you take to make sure you’re not stepping on blood”. We were getting deeper in the woods toward the creek. We got found more broken brush and some larger drops of blood which was a good sign. We were getting pumped up and gaining energy and then all of a sudden the trail completely stopped. I couldn't believe it. We searched in every direction and couldn't find anything. Derrick was even picking up on the existence of spider webs crossing trails and letting them still crossing the path denote that the deer didn't go in that direction. I got so frustrated I walked ahead another 30 yards to the trail by the creek just hoping to find a white belly somewhere, but nothing. I was swatting mosquitoes when I heard Derrick say “I don’t see any blood, but it looks like something ran through here… see how these limbs are broken.” Derrick keyed in on some brush lying over oddly and some broken twigs and kept following them. By the time he worked his way to the end of the trail he and JD were arriving to the road I was standing on. Derrick told me to look for blood and sure enough I saw a small drop about the size of a pencil eraser on a leaf. I couldn't believe it. I was standing right next to the creek and Derrick again got in the zone and proceeded toward the creek. We all stood on the edge of the creek (and it was a sizable creek) and saw blood on the edge. The deer had crossed the creek. I knew Derrick was going to tell us to go swimming when I looked to the right and saw the deer lying dead in the creek. We were about an hour in at this point.
We all couldn't believe what had just occurred. We literally went from thinking Derrick completely missed to having moments of hope to being let down to be back up then back down again to ultimately finding this deer in the creek. It was definitely a challenging process in which many would have abandoned a couple of times along the way. JD and I pulled the deer out of the creek and hauled it back up the road while Derrick went to get the truck. It was a gnarly antlered spike… what some would call a “cull buck”.
It was a hunt and night of tracking that I’ll never forget. I, like many of you, don’t like giving Derrick too much credit, but the boy can flat track a deer… I will give him that. Using a computer is a whole different ball game, but I don’t know if a blood hound would have done us much better than Derrick tonight. I guess here would be the best place to also say that if he wouldn't have gut-shot the deer all this tracking wouldn't have been necessary :-)
Ultimately the hunt was successful and from tonight’s experience I've learned some more about tracking a deer. I wanted to share some pieces of info that I've learned about tracking a deer and I welcome you to add more in the comments field.
So while sweating through briars and tracking a deer for an hour may not seem too fun, it’s definitely rewarding when you find the deer. The story doesn't always end that way, but tracking is challenging and that challenge is what makes it rewarding. What’s your toughest tracking story?
Brace yourself, long winded blog ahead
Setting the Stage… Last Christmas
Last year I had been seeing a few nice bucks on camera and when Christmas day came around I figured I better sleep in and not get in trouble with the family for potentially shooting, tracking, and handling a deer on Christmas morning. I slept in and a few days later I checked the game camera and one of the biggest bucks I had been seeing came in during shooting light. The one day I didn’t hunt I missed my chance. I didn’t forget that that this year.
A Roller Coaster Season
This year I’ve hunted pretty hard. If I had a chance to go hunting, I went. Even though I’ve hunted hard it’s been a difficult season. This season has been unlike any others for me in that it’s been full of curveballs and change. I mainly hunt two tracks of land and both tracks have portions of them that have been getting logged for what seems like forever.
Logging started at the end of last season and the management continues throughout this season. By that I mean that the timber crews started cutting wood during the middle of last season and worked throughout the summer. They stopped logging a little bit before deer season and when they moved out my game-planning, strategizing, and stand relocating moved in. I was able to put out some game cams and was even getting nice bucks on a decent pattern. I looked forward to the opening of the season.
As the season approached I got word that the forestry management team was fixing to spray the new cutover to kill everything in preparation for a burn that would be followed up by re-planting. Two weeks before the season started the area where I was getting good game-cam pics went from all green to brown and dry after being sprayed. Needless to say, this affected things and the big bucks seemed to vacate the area. I had to drop back and punt with my previous strategy and adjust accordingly.
After a while big bucks slowly started appearing back on camera and the rut was approaching. I was excited to see deer back in the area and was hopeful to catch one coming through chasing does during the peak of the rut. As rut sign increased so did my anticipation… until I learned that the area that had been sprayed was going to then be burned! Burning during the rut, just my luck. Here again burning the area really changed the deer’s pattern and consequently my hunting strategy. Big bucks fled the immediate area again and adapted.
My whole season this year has been “on the move”…
Hunting a Specific Deer
I’ve hunted deer since I was 12, but I have never really hunted specific deer until this year. I told my friends that hunting deer is one thing, hunting big deer is another thing, and hunting a specific deer is a completely different ball game. To me, it is more fun because it’s more challenging and as imagined the rewards are less frequent. It’s like a chess match with nature. I realize I’m not telling you anything you don’t know here, but big bucks think, behave, act, & react differently than younger bucks and does do and that takes a little getting used to when planning. They don’t get big by being dumb. Learning how to target and go after specific deer has been my quest this season… and I don’t have it figured out and am still learning.
In my case I’ve been hunting 2 specific deer all season. Sometimes I thought these deer were ghosts of my imagination that merely taunt me on game camera every so often just to keep me interested. They have been running me in circles so much it has been frustrating. My wife even once told me this season “I’ll be glad when you kill that deer because he’s driving me crazy and I don’t even hunt!” As you can see, in the moments of frustration I tried to turn the quest into a family journey in hopes of getting more input or some type of perceived edge. If showing game cam pics and pleading my case to my buddies and wife would help kill deer I’d have both of the big ones on the wall already. Unfortunately talking about it doesn’t help too much. If you’ve hunted a big deer before I’m sure you feel my pain.
The Big Boys
All season long I’ve been focusing in on these specific deer that I would randomly get on camera. When you hunt specific deer you tend to give them names. My 2 are named “Big Dook” and “Big Dook’s Brother” as we affectionately refer to them. As I closed down on their territories this season something would always happen (as mentioned above) to mess my strategy up.
As the season continued I started losing hope. Then in early December Big Dook and Big Dook’s Brother started showing back up on game camera, but in different areas. Their reappearance on game camera was most likely due to their food sources getting lower as the season progresses
I noticed that on one of my stands Big Dook’s Brother was coming in every other day or so. The frequency of his appearances was exciting, but the unexciting part was that he only showed up in the dark. For that matter, Big Dook and his brother only show up at night. However, Big Dook’s Brother was starting to show up closer and closer to shooting light. For example… if you can see around 6:45am he was coming in around 6:15 or so… and he did the same thing in the evening.
As time passed he started cutting it closer and closer to shooting light. Of course he would also be there in the middle of the night too, but the times when he did come in at dawn and dusk made it seem like he was starting to getting risky with his movements. Maybe he was hungry or maybe he hadn’t heard any guns go off all season in his area and was relaxing a bit. And to that point, I’ve let a lot of deer walk this season waiting on these 2 specific deer.
With the Big Dook’s Brother coming in frequently and starting to take risks with his timing I really was looking forward to the Christmas/New Year’s holiday time frame because I felt like I may be able to catch him slipping. I was sure to keep the stand “corned” up and made note of the timing of his movements based on game camera data.
As I mentioned above, last year on Christmas morning I slept in… and regretted it because the big buck showed up in shooting light. With this buck coming in frequently I wasn’t going to sleep in this year, I had learned my lesson. To answer the question some of you may be thinking right now… I don’t have any kids that would be getting up early to open presents and we didn’t have anything scheduled for early Christmas morning so I was free to hunt.
I climbed into the stand and sat in the dark waiting on the sun to rise. It was a little cool, but not as cold as it usually is in late December. I anticipated the direction that he would come from as well as anticipating that it would happen as soon as I could barely see. After all, that’s what the game camera footage indicated.
I sat and waited and the sun started rising. Nothing but squirrels were running around everywhere. The “prime time” as I envisioned it had passed and I could see clearly through the woods. I thought to myself that it simply wasn’t the day that it was meant to be because the big boy never showed up when once visibility was good. As it was Christmas day I was upbeat so not all was lost. Then I saw a flicker.
You know how you sit in a stand and see a flicker and it catches your eye, that’s what happened to me. Usually the flickers are leaves falling, squirrels moving, but sometimes they are the flicker of a deer’s tail. And that’s exactly what this was. However, the deer wasn’t coming in from the direction I anticipated. I was wrong on both my time and directional anticipations.
I was hunting in some oak woods that deer pass through on the way to their bedding areas. I was up on a hill overlooking a valley with a dried up creek that only fills when it rains hard. I had corn down in the valley near the dried up creek bed. When deer come through that “holler”, as they say, they usually pause at the corn pile as they are naturally funneled toward it by the lay of the land.
The flicker I saw was directly in front of me on top of the hill across the valley and it was about 90 yards out. When I saw the flicker I didn’t instantly know what it was. I raised my scope up and could tell it was a deer. Though, I only saw the deer’s body as his head was behind some brush. I continued watching. Then he stepped forward and I could tell that it was a buck because I saw antlers, but I couldn’t see exactly how many points or denote the size of the deer because he was walking and going behind several trees and tree limbs. When I saw antlers I bumped the safety off on my gun.
The good part was that the deer was heading directly towards me. He was walking through the valley and I believed / hoped he was heading toward the corn pile. As he made his way through the woods he would walk 5 or 10 yards then pause and look around. He wasn’t in a hurry and he was being cautious. He started getting closer to me. At 60 yards I could tell he was a good buck. At 50 yards I zoomed in the scope and saw a specific “crab claw” point on one side which indicated to me that he was indeed Big Dook’s Brother. Our showdown was upon us, the chess match was hopefully coming to an end if I could execute.
When I saw that unique point on the right side of his rack my heart started pounding. I was staring at a deer through my scope in broad daylight at 50 yards that I’d been hunting for a long time. He looked up in my direction from behind a bunch of limbs. I could see him, but taking a shot through all that brush was too risky. If he would have run off I would have beat myself up for not shooting, but I felt he would eventually head to the corn and give me a clearer shot and even though it tore my nerves up, I held off on forcing the shot.
Check out the screenshot of my heart rate from my FitBit as the deer approached
While my heart was in my throat and the knot was in my stomach I tried to take deep breaths to calm myself down. I was shaking and trying to maintain steadiness. When I took those deep breaths, they fogged up my scope. Even worse I thought the fog from my deep breaths would be visible to the deer I feared. I could easily see the cloud of fog that I just exhaled so I’m sure he could have. I thought to myself that the deer was going to see my cloud of air and run off. I stopped the deep breaths and the deer held still for what seemed like forever. I wondered if he saw me because he was moving his head around from right to left.
I was in mid-freak out when he started moving again. He jumped the dried creek bed and got into a clearer view for me. When his feet landed on this side of the creek bed I could “hear” how heavy he was. It was a deep thud when his back legs hit. I knew he was a big one. As he stepped through the brush I again saw the unique point on the right side of his rack which re-confirmed that he was the deer I was chasing.
I had him in the scope and knew I was going to shoot. He was 15 yards from the corn pile and I had another opportunity to shoot through some brush. Again, I held off hoping for an open shot. I didn’t want to force the shot while he was heading in the direction I wanted him to. It was tearing me up on the inside. He progressed ahead a few more yards and paused just 5 yards from the corn. Why would he stop before the corn? I was wigging out. When he stopped, his head was behind a big oak tree and the back end of his body was behind a smaller tree. I had a clear shot on the base of his neck and I couldn’t wait any longer. He held still observing his surroundings and I was focused on not flinching on my trigger pull, a mistake I made years back that still haunts me. I focused on making a smooth trigger pull…well as smooth as you can get with your heart racing and whole body shaking. I pulled on the trigger as steady as I could and at 7:17am on Christmas morning the hammer dropped!
When the gun went off I thought I saw the deer fall down on the spot, but in the commotion of things I wasn’t sure. Suddenly I saw a deer take off running to the right. I didn’t even put another shell in, but I raised my gun up and looked at the deer that was running. I didn’t see any antlers and all that math wasn’t adding up to me in that moment as I was somewhat flustered. I thought I saw the deer fall, but what was running away? Turns out that there was another with the deer I shot, but I was so focused in on the big boy that I didn’t even see the other deer. I wondered to myself what had happened. I was sure I saw the deer fall, but I couldn’t see him on the ground anywhere, which made me a little nervous. Then I heard the sound of a deer thrashing and when I heard that I knew that I’d made a good shot and that he had indeed fallen on the spot.
I sat in the stand shaking and tried to calm myself down at what had just taken place. I literally couldn’t believe it. I ensured my gun was on safe and got out of the stand and headed down the hill. When I got there, I could not believe I actually saw the deer and how big he was! He fell on the spot and he was definitely the shooter I’d been chasing. I started taking pics and texting everybody who would be interested. I texted my mom and told her I needed her help taking pictures. I was pumped up, excited, thankful, emotional, and still not believing that this deer came through in good shooting light on Christmas morning. It was a story too good to be true, but it happened!
The below pics are pics my mother took right before she helped me drag the deer! Yes, she loves me (and it’s not her first time dragging a deer with me either) :-)
Being able to get this deer on the ground was a great Christmas present for me! I still can’t believe it happened, how it happened, and how the hunt unfolded was just as any hunter would script a hunt. I’d put in hours and hours of scouting, moving cameras, carrying corn through woods, cutting shooting lanes, and numerous hunts sitting in the stand waiting for that very deer to come through. It was a great reward for the time and energy invested and made it all worth it. In my case it was persistence that paid off more than anything.
Also, many of you know I lost my dad this past year to Alzheimer’s disease and sitting in the woods has been somewhat of a therapy for me throughout the season. When I got my mom to help me take some pictures of the deer she was sending out text messages telling people that “Clint got a Christmas present from Frank today”. In that moment, I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective, but it did make me think. I can imagine my dad up there in heaven saying “Come on God, let’s send the boy a big deer, he’s been hunting hard this year” lol. Hey, whatever it was that caused the deer to move I am not mad about it one bit! I am thankful and praise God for it regardless! With this Christmas being somewhat of a potentially somber one being able to get this big deer did bring about an unexpected excitement for us and a lingering thought of a higher power making everything line up like it did. I think my dad would have been proud, I know that I am. It was a hunt that I will never forget
Now, we still have a few more days to hunt in this season and Big Dook is still out there and I’m hoping he will make a similar mistake like his brother did. It only takes a matter of seconds to turn your whole season around…
As we all are aware SCDNR is hosting public meetings around the state to discuss the deer management legislation (Senate Bill 454) that’s up for vote. If you haven’t attended a session I encourage you to do so to let your voice be heard. I support the bill and think it will be a good thing for the state given the condition of our deer population and tendencies of some of our state’s hunters.
Last night I attended the meeting held in Lancaster, SC. I really didn’t know what to expect as far as how many people would attend and what the discussions/comments would be like. I know that hunters feel differently about the legislation and for some it gets pretty personal and emotional. I was interested to attend and hear the data from DNR as well as the reactions from the crowd.
I met coyote slayer Gavin Jackson there and upon arrival it was obvious that DNR had a heavy presence at the meeting. I bet there were 25 to 30 DNR representatives and officers present. There were also some gentlemen wearing business coats who sat down at the front. I assume they were politicians, but am not sure as they didn’t say much, but seemingly were just there to observe.
Charles Ruth was the presenter for DNR. Charles is a Wildlife Biologist at SCDNR and he is over the turkey and deer programs. He went through several PowerPoint slides pretty fast to start the presentation. He gave some background on the current state of deer hunting and regulations within the state. One thing he pointed out early on was that buck limits are not a function of SCDNR, but rather it's voted on at a higher level in government. DNR simply enforces the laws that are adopted by government. Even though he stated that fact, some obviously didn’t understand it, but more on that shortly.
In the “Background” section Mr. Ruth highlighted a lot of information. He noted that the declining deer population in our state was due to several factors. The factors he noted were:
Regarding the lack of a reasonable bag limit Mr. Ruth pointed out how much of an outlier SC is. He noted that just about every state has some type of tag program and the states that don’t have tag programs have “antler restrictions”. South Carolina and Hawaii (which Hawaii doesn’t have native deer) are the only ones with really no type of regulations, tag programs, or antler restrictions. From that perspective it’s easy to see that SC is an outlier.
Mr. Ruth also noted that while we have fewer deer now and deer harvest numbers are down… we still lead the southeast in terms of harvest per square mile. Since he went through his slides quickly I wasn’t able to jot down all the data points, but I did capture a few that I thought were interesting:
Mr. Ruth also noted that DNR conducts surveys and polls + they have worked with independent agencies to conduct surveys over the last few years. From the polls and surveys they have been able understand both quantitative and qualitative data as it relates to deer hunting across the state. Some of the sentiment and data they gleaned was:
Current Status of Bill 454
Senate Bill 454 was filed on DNR's behalf in January and has passed the senate. It’s up for vote in house shortly in the upcoming session. Mr. Ruth noted that the proposal may not please everyone, but DNR had to come up with 1 proposal that attempts to please everyone. If the bill is passed in the next session it will still take a year to implement. If it doesn’t pass then the process will have to start over.
The legislation would provide the following:
Open Forum Q/A Session
After Mr. Ruth’s presentation he wanted to get to the questions from the audience and he also wanted to conduct surveys both via raise of hands and via paper. During this session I was reminded that I was in Lancaster as several of the audience members were interrupting each other, complaining that DNR was trying to “Help the rich man and hold the poor people down”, and just not being courteous to one another in general.
Some audience members asked about reviving the check-in locations, rolling big-game license cost & tags into same fee, call-in harvest reporting, and wanting punishment for people caught with illegal deer. Mr. Ruth answered the questions as best he could. As the session went on the environment became more animated.
I was glad that I attended the meeting and got the info and am up-to-date on the current state of Senate Bill 454. I was also disappointed in some of our fellow outdoorsmen that were present and I think we collectively owe Mr. Ruth an apology. Several audience members were disrespectful to Mr. Ruth during his presentation. They made snide comments, interrupted him, asked him questions and then didn’t let him answer before interrupting him again. Even worse some crowd members were essentially holding Mr. Ruth solely responsible for the way the government works, the way the legislation is written, and how laws are interpreted. It was as if they didn’t understand how our government currently works and what DNR is trying to do. Mr. Ruth and DNR are trying to help the deer population and hunters across the state, but the way some interacted with him you could tell they didn’t understand.
It was also obvious, at least to me, that everyone came and voiced their own unique perspective, but yet didn’t consider the scope of the greater task at hand for DNR. Whether it was a bow hunter that was mad about when the season starts in various game zones, or a processor worried about tagging deer in his cooler, a person who wants to blame coyotes for everything, or just a redneck in general who changed positions on a question half way through his response… all attendees had an individual perspective and concern that was voiced. There seemed to be a disconnect in that DNR has to collectively consider all of the unique perspectives, but yet the audience didn’t care about other hunters perspectives, rather they only considered their own. I did not envy Mr. Ruth’s position on stage last night, but I do respect him for delivering the info and taking the misdirected heat. It was impossible to please a room full of 60+ hunters from one area of the state so I can’t imagine trying to please all hunters across the entire state in 1 bill. Though, even though the crowd was animated during the survey session the majority of the crowd was in support of adopting the new legislation, which was a positive.
I thought Mr. Ruth handled the increasingly animated crowd very well and was very professionally even when some members hurled insults at him and his organization. Kudos to the DNR team for hosting the event, remaining professional, and working to get this bill passed. I think the future of deer hunting in our state will benefit from it for years to come. I for one appreciate your efforts and recognize that the challenge before you with this legislation is not an easy one to get across the line. Thank you!
The 2017 deer season has been a long one for me and I don’t mean that in a negative way. Rather, I mean that I’ve hunted harder and more this year than any in the past. As I mentioned in the Black Friday Buck blog, I’ve been getting after it this season. I’ve watched a lot of deer and have been chasing a few specific bucks throughout the season.
Chasing the Big Boys
I specifically focused on 2 big deer at the start and middle of the season. I couldn’t get the job done with them and they stopped appearing on camera. I believe someone got them. As the season progressed, I had to monitor and adjust.
In late November, after the Black Friday Buck, I moved some cameras around and scouted for sign in different areas of our lease. One location I set up in was in some planted pines not far from a creek. I hoped I could see what was traveling the creek, but was unsure as I hadn’t been hunting that area.
It only took about a week of the game camera being up when I saw a nice buck with a split brown tine that I had not seen anywhere else. He was very wide, not too tall, and looked heavy. As it was late November I figured this buck was “cruising” as they call it when bucks roam around areas they don’t normally go to looking for does to breed.
Needless to say, I was intrigued and kept paying attention in this area. I continued hauling corn and checking game cameras and noticed this buck was coming in every now and then. After he appeared multiple times I thought I might have a chance to get him, but knew I’d have to be lucky for that to happen.
Cat & Mousing Me
Over time it seemed like this deer knew when I hunted! I would hunt and check my game camera a week later and find that the deer was coming in either before or after I hunted… sometimes in the dark, sometimes in the daylight. It was frustrating. I’d hunt on a Sunday morning and leave in time to get to early service and the deer would come out 30 minutes after I left. Surely God wanted me in church instead of in the woods, but I won’t lie I was tempted ;-)
It became almost like a chess match with nature and I continuously lost. I then tried changing things up. I’d park my truck in various locations, I’d drive in with my lights off, I’d walk in extremely quietly, etc. Regardless of what I tried, nothing seemed to work.
Adding to the frustration was the fact that this deer was impossible to pattern, likely a reason he got so big. He never came in on a schedule. The days in between his visits weren’t consistent. He’d not come at all for 7 days then show up 3 times in 2 days. Then he’d take a few days off and come 2 days in a row. And yes, he always came when I wasn’t there
Getting this deer would be a test of skill yes, but mostly of determination and persistence.
I moved around and hunted different stands because I didn’t want to put too much pressure on that one deer and in that one area. Though, like any hunter, it’s hard to get the big buck off your mind. As I spent day after day and week after week trying to figure out a solid game plan, hauling corn, and checking game cameras I started to think I was crazy because this mission was nearly an impossible one.
The obsession may be hard to explain if you’re not a hunter, but I’m sure many of you understand where I’m coming from. This deer was in my head and was seemingly always a step ahead of me. When you try to hunt specific deer, it starts to eat at you after a while when you can’t line things up. As the season was winding down getting this deer became a border line obsession.
Week after week I failed to the point of wondering why I even kept trying.
The Lead Up
Christmas came, and the cold weather had set in. It was unusually cold by South Carolina standards. A big cold front made its way in and temperatures were in the low 20’s to 30’s the week after Christmas. The season was drawing to an end, food sources were low, and the temperature was supposed to drop over 10 degrees on New Year’s Eve.
I hoped that the deer would feel the temperature/pressure change coming and be on their feet, but as you most likely know, late in the season a lot of deer go nocturnal. I was optimistic, but not holding my breath. On top of this the moon had been getting brighter and fuller during this time period so deer would mostly likely be walking all night long. The saving grace on this day was the cloud cover. It was overcast, and the clouds blocked the sun. It was a cold, winter day - the perfect kind of day to hunt and the type of day you dream about when you’re sitting in 90-degree humidity getting eaten alive by mosquitos in the early season.
Interesting Note – He Didn’t Travel Far
One interesting thing I should mention was that this deer only showed up on this one specific camera. A normal practice of hunting, I do a little recon with a few game cameras that I move around to see what deer are in various areas. With several cameras nearby I was surprised that this deer only showed up on this one specific camera. I’ve not seen him anywhere else all year long. I believe he was either bedding very close by and not traveling far or either he was traveling a very restricted path to wherever he was going.
In the past I’ve seen deer tighten down the geographic areas of travel as the season progresses. I think they sense hunting pressure and react accordingly. However, this deer did not roam too far. He was disciplined in his movements and I would have also have to be disciplined and persistent, beyond the point of obsession to succeed.
It was New Year’s Eve and it was a Sunday. I’d gone to church and eaten lunch. I headed out around 3:45. It was cold and the wind made it colder. I had on nearly every layer I could find plus a Thermacare back wrap with heat pockets and 2 hot hands inside my gloves. I walked in (it was more like a waddle in due to the numerous layers I had on) and got in the stand as quietly as I could.
Several of my friends were also hunting and we were all texting on a group chat. Around 4:35 I had a small deer enter the narrow shooting lane. It was either a button buck or yearling doe, definitely too small to shoot.
I texted the crew and told them I already had a deer in the lane. Seeing a deer this early seemed positive to me. I was hopeful that they were moving. I watched this deer for a few minutes and occasionally looked down at my phone while the guys were talking. After the deer had been there for a few minutes it looked to its right very quickly, then to its left as if it was alarmed by something. I could tell the deer heard something, I just wasn’t sure what. I took the above pic around 4:42 and sent it to the group chat. As soon as I did the young deer just bolted off the corn pile and out of the lane. His abrupt exit got my attention because I knew that could potentially mean he saw another deer.
One of the guys responded to our group text and I momentarily looked down at the phone and read the message. When I looked back up I saw a big deer already in the lane, facing me, and with his head down eating corn. Within seconds this deer had entered the lane and started eating. He wasn’t wasting any time, and neither was I.
I slowly raised my gun and looked through the scope. I could see the crown of his head, the top of his neck, and his back. I dialed in the scope a little to zoom in closer. The first thing I saw was the split brow tine that I’d seen in game cam pics before. In that moment I knew exactly which deer it was and that I would indeed be pulling the trigger.
I’ve always thought it’s not the best shooting position when a deer is facing you or basically in any scenario where you weren’t going through vital organs (a broadsided or quartering shot). However, in this scenario I had good light, knew the deer was moving quickly, and any wrong move would result in the deer leaving the shooting lane. I couldn’t wait or give him a chance.
I put the crosshairs at the base of his neck as if to shoot down through his neck aiming for critical mass. I was also worried that at any moment he would quickly raise his head up. The deer was about 45 yards from me and all I could think about was a smooth trigger pull. I reminded myself to squeeze off slowly and not flinch. I pulled the trigger as smoothly as I could. The gun went off and the deer dropped on the spot! Talk about excited, I was pumped up!
At 4:44 I texted the group chat “BBD!” which means “Big Buck Down!”, an abbreviation often used by deer hunters. Since I had just sent a pic of a small deer 2 minutes earlier the guys responded with “What?”, “Are you serious?”, “For real?”. BBD is not a message sent often or in a joking manner!
I started shaking and started getting down out of the stand. I couldn’t believe it. It was the eve of the last day of hunting season and this huge buck showed up in perfect shooting light. I went down to the buck and started snapping pics. I got more excited as I approached and was still in disbelief, it all happened so fast.
I sent the crew the following pictures so they knew I wasn’t joking!
I then called for assistance with loading the deer and help was on the way. Since it was early I hoped we could get some decent pics before dark. I texted my wife and mother and then made a call to my hunting partner Coach Sam Mungo! Sam and I had sat in this stand numerous times trying to get this big deer. From the group chats, texts, & phone calls we were all excited.
It had finally happened. The specific deer I was hunting made a mistake and I was finally in the right place at the right time.
As I tried to calm down and waited on help to come there wasn’t much to do other than wait. I just laid down in the shooting lane still not believing what had just happened. I flashed back to all the time and energy I’d spent hunting this season, all the work done, unsuccessful hunts, early mornings waking up heading out into the freezing cold, and drive that led to the moment I was in and I just laid there. It was a relieving moment. I could finally relax. I took a few pics in that moment.
Once help arrived I was able to get some pics holding the deer.
Reflection and Thank You’s
I guess when you put a lot of time and effort into something, whenever it finally happens, at some point, you look back on things. As I laid there in the pine trees and throughout the rest of the weekend I thought about the journey leading up to that moment. It has indeed been a long ride, but one that I was fortunate enough to end on a positive note.
In the end I was glad that the hunt happened so quickly because I didn’t have time to get nervous and get all worked up. If I would have seen that deer walking across a field I would have probably been so nervous by the time he got close enough to shoot that I would have missed him.
I do need to thank a few people here as well. Thanks to Jason Fararooei for letting me use his 308 which was a significant part of the deer dropping on the spot. I need to thank Gavin Jackson (and family) for helping me do a lot of work in the deer woods, stand assembly, hauling/cutting/trimming and just work in general this season. Without their help that stand and set up wouldn’t have come together like it did.
I also need to say a big thank you to my wife! As mentioned in the Black Friday Buck blog, we are expecting our first child in February and as such I’ve been hunting hard in the last season before the baby arrives. Holly has put up with me hunting at all possible chances this season when many times my hunting inconvenienced her in some way. She has been very gracious and understanding while I frequently messed up her scheduling, planning, and social activities! I told her that I can now close the chapter on the season and am ready to focus on putting as much time and energy into figuring out how to be a dad as I did hunting… at least until turkey season comes around in April! (just joking)
2017 was a good season…
As a SC deer hunter I wanted to make all other SC deer hunters aware of this Bill that was introduced into the Senate on February 12 so that you can voice your opinion.
QDMA sent out an email regarding this and I'm simply re-sharing the info from that email below. Also see the direct link to their email campaign.
NOW is the time to improve deer hunting in South Carolina and YOU are the key to the process.
The SC Deer Management Bill of 2015, S. 454, was introduced into the Senate on February 12, 2015. If it is passed, this bill will make the following two historic improvements to our South Carolina deer laws:
Please follow these simple steps TODAY to show your support for the SC Deer Management Bill:
SUBJECT: SC Deer Management Bill of 2015, S. 454
[ENTER SENATOR'S NAME HERE]:
As a resident of
[ENTER YOUR COUNTY HERE], I encourage you to vote for SCDNR's Deer Management Bill (S. 454).
I am a voter and I have a great interest in deer hunting and management in South Carolina. I am also a member of the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA). As your constituent, and as member of QDMA, I support S. 454 because it brings greatly needed deer management changes to South Carolina.
For years I have followed SCDNR's research of hunter opinions, deer harvest trends, and the impact of coyotes on recruitment of deer fawns. I support SCDNR's recommendations for a reasonable limit on antlered deer, a tagging program for all harvested deer to provide for enforcement, and a modest fee to support additional research and management efforts. It is time that South Carolina enters the mainstream of deer management and the recommendations proposed in this bill are a step in the right direction.
I hope that you will vote to pass S. 454 during this session, and that you will share my support of this bill with the other members of our county delegation.
Please contact me if you have any questions related to my support of SCDNR's Deer Management Bill.
[ENTER YOUR NAME HERE]
Please join your QDMA leaders in bringing much-needed improvement to South Carolina's deer laws - be a part of history today!