The rise of thermal technologies coupled with the increase in coyotes and wild (feral) hogs has led to a growth in night hunting! Night hunting is a very different experience from the hunting many of us grew up with and it is addictive. If you night hunt long enough you realize that taking pics of coyotes, hogs, or whatever else you may be hunting at night… well, it’s not easy. Early last year we shot some big hogs, but the photos never did them justice. We struggled with dark, blurry, grainy and pixelated pics for a while before I decided to try and learn more about taking night pics. In this blog, I’m going to share some tips I’ve learned after a year of failing, learning, and making some progress with night pics.
Why Take the Time to Take Good Pics?
One may wonder, why should I invest time and likely money in taking quality pics (for both day and night that is). Taking good pics helps to capture the moment. These high-end pics can be printed, framed, and they help make memories last longer. Quality pics also help give hunting a good perception among non-hunters. The small details that are considered when taking quality pics go a long way to shape the view of hunters in the public, which can ultimately help to recruit more outdoorsmen.
In today’s social-media-driven-world everybody wants content. Tech professionals say “Content is king” and great night hunting pics definitely provide quality content that helps increase your reach online and shapes your personal brand. My advice is to take the time to do it right. You may be in a hurry to get to the next hunting location, but you won’t regret it in the long run when your pics come out looking awesome!
Example Night Hunting Pics
So, what do I mean by “high-end night hunting photos” … here are a few samples of some of my better ones from this past year. There are definitely better night hunting pics than these out there, but these examples are simply to help get you thinking about what I’m describing.
Now that you’ve seen a few sample images, let’s get to the point already and discuss what you need and how you can take pics like this too!
What You Need
If you’re going to do it right then you’ll need some gear. Without trying to tell you exactly what specific models to buy, here’s a general list of items you will need:
Before You Even Turn the Camera On
Before we get to the details of the camera and lights, let's think about a hunting scenario. Let's say you've got some fur on the ground. The next thing to do is to look at your surroundings and the sky. Consider the landscape, horizon, moon, stars, and any ambient light in the scene that may affect a photo. Visualize the scene you want and look for what would make a good setting for your pic. Even before we see hogs or coyotes I’m usually looking up at the sky and my surroundings and thinking of where and how I would set up for a pic should we get lucky and get something. Sometimes I tell the guys, “We really need to get something tonight because we’ve got an awesome sky for a pic.”
Tip: Use elements of the location. That is, if you’re on a farm, then consider getting the tractor in the pic or using hay bales to convey your location to the viewer. Below are two example pics where we used elements of the location to convey that we were hunting on a farm.
Light the Scene
Let’s say that you’ve got some fur on the ground, you’ve mentally visualized the pic you want to take and now it’s time to actually do it. Once you’ve got your game and scene framed how you want the next step is to light the scene. Since we’ve got to illuminate the scene so will need some lights.
I use litra torches because they are very bright, small (easy to carry), and rugged. There are other options out there as well, just do some Googling if you want. You could even use a flashlight and light paint with it as well. Ultimately, the more light you have the better chances of your pic turning out well.
I have 3 litra torches and I wear one on my head and hand the other 2 to my fellow hunters. I’m in the middle and I position the other hunters on each side about 5 yards away. I want light coming in from every direction possible.
When we start the exposure, we all “light paint” which means that we move the lights around waving them up and down, side to side, back and forth with the goal being to eliminate shadows in the background of the pictures. These shadows will come from the gun(s), tripod(s), trees, animals, or anything else that could block the light.
Camera Setup & Settings
Make sure the tripod is seated firmly in the ground because we must take multiple pics from the exact same location. You don’t want the tripod or camera to move AT ALL between pics. One time I took pics in a wet, muddy environment and the tripod sunk about an inch between shots and it made post-production a lot more difficult. So be sure to get the tripod on solid ground and that all your knobs are tightened down as much as they can be. I’m currently using a Manfrotto 190 Go, but any good tripod will suffice.
Level the Scene
Nothing is worse than taking a pic that is crooked. Most modern cameras will show you if they are level or not. Move the camera and ball head until it is level. This is a step that’s easy to forget so be sure to include it in your mental checklist.
Shutter Speed, ISO, Aperture
I’m not a camera guru by any means so I’m not trying to explain all of these settings to you. If you want to learn more about those check out any tutorial about this subject on the internet. Ultimately, we want our settings to allow for a well exposed photo and depending on several variables the settings will be different.
Shoot in Delay
The pushing of the camera button can cause the camera to slightly move, bounce, shake, or vibrate. For long exposure photography this is not good as that slight movement can cause your image to be blurry. Most cameras have a 2, 5, or 10 second delay that you can enable. I use a 2 second delay so that I can push the button and 2 seconds later the exposure starts. This removes vibration or movement of the camera caused by me pushing the button.
Pulling Focus in Manual Focus Mode (in the dark)
Pulling focus is not easy to do in the daytime, much less at night. However, this is a critical step for having a good pic. Once I’ve got the scene set, I’ve given the lights to my fellow hunters, and I’ve got my settings how I want, I then pull focus. My crew has hunted with me so long they know the drill. They start asking “You ready to pull focus?”.
You need to flip the camera into manual focus because auto-focus will constantly move around which is problematic at night. Once you’re in manual focus mode and your friends have your scene lit for you, then spin your focus ring to get your focus just right. I always take the first pic focusing on the animals that we’ve just harvested. I take 1 to 2 pics and I may adjust my camera settings in between.
One thing I’m always sure to do is to review the photo as soon as you take it. Zoom in and look around making sure the pic is focused. And you must do this without moving the camera. Once I’m sure the focus is good, we move on to the next pics.
Focus Stacking - It’s Multiple Pics Combined into One
Viewers may not realize it, but the final pic is actually 2 to 3 pics that are composited together in post-production. This technique is referred to as “Focus Stacking” and it can yield some awesome results, but it can be easily overdone. Generally speaking, I take 2 or 3 pictures depending on available light:
In the end I’m taking the pics and using image editing software (Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.) to merge the pics, each with different focus points, into one. This final image will ensure that the areas the viewer’s eyes go to will be in focus and produce a quality image.
Here is an example of 2 images I took with different focal points and the final pic which is both images combined into one.
Focus Plane on the coyote’s face & gun
Focus on the background horizon
The Final Edited, Composite Image
Here’s an example of 3 images I took that I edited into one
Focus on the Humans in the Pic
Focus on the Hog, Tractor, & Guns
Focus on the Horizon Line
The Final Composite Image
Shoot in Raw
Modern cameras can shoot in RAW. I always shoot in RAW as this gives me more ability to edit in post-production. Pixels can be better manipulated in the RAW format.
Note: If you have an iPhone you know that the recent phones have strong image editing capabilities. You can go in and edit all kinds of things before saving the image. This is the same principle as shooting in RAW.
Edit in a Photo-Editing Software
Once you’ve gotten the pics taken you’ve got the hard part done! Now the only thing that remains is to edit the pics in whatever image editing solution you choose. And editing these pics is a whole different conversation because there are so many options. Any image editing program will provide you with the fine grain controls that you want/need to get you to a final picture similar (and hopefully better) than the ones I’ve shared above.
I hope you’ve found this information and some of the tips we’ve learned over time useful. It’s definitely an art and I’m still learning. Taking these types of night hunting pics does require one to slow down and focus, but it is worth it in the end. If you venture into night hunting photography, be sure to share your pics we’d love to see them.
Have you ever seen a small pixel in your Pulsar Thermal optic’s screen that you wish wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb? If you fire your gun a lot these pixels-that-need-repair occasionally occur, but fear not, Pulsar has anticipated this and provided a way to resolve it. I had one on my screen for a few months before I investigated it and the good news is that it’s simple to correct!
A “defective pixel” is a pixel within your viewfinder or screen that is “degraded”, sticks out, and won’t go away even after your scope calibrates. I’ve owned a Pulsar Trail XP-50 for over 2 years and in this time, I’ve only had 2 defective pixels. Though, when it does happen, over time it will bother you enough to want to know how to fix it.
Here’s a screenshot of one of my defective pixels while in “White-Hot” mode
In this screenshot, the defective pixel may not seem like a big deal, but when you’re hunting and looking through the viewfinder it can become distracting to your eye over time, especially if it’s near the crosshairs. While hunting with the defective pixel shown in the screenshot above there were several times I panned the horizon and mistook the small white dot for being an animal that was a great distance out.
The first thing to do if you notice a defective pixel or something that doesn’t look correct in your viewfinder is to calibrate the optic. If you haven’t changed any settings on your scope then your Pulsar thermal optic will automatically calibrate every so often to ensure what you’re seeing is accurate, clear, and crisp. Calibrating the optic makes the clicking sound that you may have grown accustomed to hearing by now if you own a thermal optic.
These calibrations can be forced by pressing the power button in the Trail models. If my screen ever gets hazy or I notice something not sharp in the viewfinder I simply calibrate the scope. With all that said, the first thing to do if you notice a defective pixel is to force a calibration because generally that will fix it.
If calibrating the optic doesn’t resolve the issue then repair the defective pixel by going to one of the last menu options in the menu system, the “Defective Pixel Repair” option.
Once you choose this option it’s simple. The system presents you with a pixel selector and provides you with the ability to move the X & Y coordinates. This task feels very similar to sighting in the scope.
Just move the X & Y coordinates until you are right on top of the defective pixel. As you update the values for the X & Y coordinates the pixel selector will move across the screen as shown below. The pixel selector surrounded by the box is like the Picture-In-Picture feature and is a magnified (zoomed in) version of the pixel selector.
The goal is to move the defective pixel selector on top of (or as close as possible to being on top of) the defective pixel.
Once you have the defective pixel lined up you then need to hit the record button, yes, the record button. The system will repair the pixel and respond with an “OK” message.
Note: You can also use the remote control to do this as shown in this video by Michael Bennett
And that’s all there is to it! Note that depending on your unique situation, it may take repairing multiple pixels to get the screen back to the desired state. In one of the previous defective pixel scenarios, I had to repair 2 pixels before it was back clear, and the pixel was no longer bothering me.
I also made a quick video walking through this process. You can see the video below:
I hope you found this content helpful. If so, leave me a comment below.
A thermal monocular offers several benefits, some of which you may not initially consider. After having used a thermal monocular
for over 2 years, I’d like to share some of the ways I use it to get an edge in the field and some ways you may
not have thought about using a thermal monocular before.
As a hunter, I am always looking for ways to gain an edge. It didn’t take me long to appreciate the benefits gained
from using a thermal monocular. I primarily hunt deer, hogs, coyotes, and turkey. Finding ways to use a thermal monocular
to gain an edge hunting each of these species was easy. Let’s get to it…
No More Spooking Deer on My Way In or Out of the Deerstand
One of the first benefits I realized a thermal monocular brought was that it provides me the ability to enter and exit
the woods without spooking any deer. That is, when I start out to my stand I scan with my monocular. When approaching
the stand if I see any deer on the corn pile I simply stop and lean on a tree or sit on the ground until they leave.
Without this ability to see into the dark I wouldn’t have a clue that deer were anywhere around, and I’d
be climbing in my stand only to hear the deer blowing and running off – that doesn’t happen to me anymore.
Likewise, when the sun sets, I always scan before exiting the stand. There have been plenty nights where I sat in the
dark for 10 or 15 minutes until a deer exited my area. Deer are no longer aware of my location simply because I was making
noise in the dark and didn’t know they were close by. This is solely because of the thermal monocular giving me
vision where I previously didn’t have it.
Track Deer More Efficiently
The thermal monocular also comes in very handy when trailing or tracking a deer. If you’ve ever shot a deer right
at dark, you know that it can sometimes be challenging to track them. If you made a good shot, then the thermal monocular
will likely save you some time. Yes, you should get on the blood trail as you normally would, but also use the thermal
monocular to scan the general direction the deer ran in and you may be surprised at how much more efficient your tracking
becomes. I’ve got friends who call me to come help them track deer simply because they know I’ve got a thermal
Locate Turkeys on the Roost More Easily
Turkey hunting is also one of my favorite things to do. There’s nothing better than watching a big gobbler strut
and there’s nothing more depressing than not being able to locate any birds. If you know the general area where
turkeys are roosting, then a thermal monocular may provide you with an edge in this scenario as well. Now days I always
take the thermal monocular with me when we go in before dark. I scan the tree tops to see if I can see any turkeys roosting.
Admittedly, turkeys are a little more difficult to pinpoint because their heads are usually the only part that shows
a sharply contrasting heat signature and during the spring the trees provide them with more cover. Though, the thermal monocular still
provides the opportunity to spot them. This again gives me an edge and as you would imagine we take it and use it as
much as possible. Locating birds is half the battle and a thermal monocular can help you locate them more easily.
Our Primary Use – Scanning for Hogs & Coyotes
The most obvious time when we use the thermal monocular is for coyote and hog hunting at night. We set our guns on tripods
and use the monocular for scanning and locating. As soon as we locate then the game we get into the scopes. If you don’t
have a scanning monocular you will quickly learn that it saves your back big time because you don’t have to constantly
be hunched over scanning in circles in the scope. Also, the monocular is safer to scan with. That is, if we are spinning
circles with our guns, we are pointing the guns in all directions which inevitably become close to other hunters and that’s
not a good thing. Since the monocular is obviously not attached to a gun it’s the safest route for detecting game.
Want to see footage from thermal monoculars & scopes?
Check out our thermal playlist on YouTube
Easily Locate Rabbits
For you rabbit hunters, I know it’s all about the dogs but if you want to easily see rabbits that are hiding in
the edge of briar patches there’s no better way than with a thermal monocular. We constantly see rabbits in the
edge of brush, in straw, and alongside fields while hog and coyote hunting. Want to get your dogs pointed in the right
direction… try a thermal monocular.
Something I noticed while looking at all kinds of things with my thermal monocular is that I can use it for surveillance
if needed. If a group of cars is parked around a house, I can easily tell which cars have been there the longest (they
are cooler) and which ones have just arrived (they are hotter). If you ever have out-of-place individuals lurking in
the shadows they are easily picked out with a thermal monocular. There’s not much hide and seek when it comes to
thermal technologies. The only area this isn’t 100% effective is in scenarios where there are windows. Thermal
detection doesn’t work through glass, other than that it’s awesome to use to see into the night and get whatever
info or recon you need.
One of my friends is a home inspector. Sometimes he’s looking for locations where hot or cool air may be escaping
a house. A thermal monocular is a great tool for this type of scenario.
Imagine an HVAC system that wasn’t installed correctly or if a pipe was leaking. A thermal monocular is a great tool
in these scenarios. Also, one can easily spot the hottest or coldest parts of any machine that could be “running
hot”. Wherever temperature matters a thermal monocular could potentially be useful.
Wondering which device you should use is a common question. After all, these devices are not cheap and as such these are
decisions that shouldn’t be made lightly. Since the purpose of this blog is to provide insight into ways one can
use a thermal monocular, I’m not going to compare all the options out there. A simple Google search will show you
the brand leaders and products on the market.
I’ll simply say that I am on the Pulsar Pro-Staff and I use Pulsar products. I’m a fan of the
Pulsar Helion XP-50 and it’s what we use on all our hunts. Pulsar recently announced the “Axion” line of monoculars as well. I encourage you to do research and go with the device and manufacturer that
is the best tool for your job.
Picture referenced from GunTrader.uk
We are excited to announce that two of our WeHuntSC.com members are now Pulsar Pro-Staff members. Adam Smith and Clint Patterson were recently selected to the Pro-Staff team and we are excited to see what 2019 has in store. As you may have seen in our posts, our team has been doing a lot of night hunting lately and we use Pulsar scopes on our setups. We’ve been putting a lot of time into the images and videos we share from the hunts and Pulsar has recognized.
Adam and I look forward to learning more about Pulsar’s vision for the future of night hunting, thermal optics, and to learning more about Pulsar products. If you are interested in Pulsar’s products and/or want to know more about our setups feel free to reach out.
This year we wanted to give back in some way and show our appreciation for our military, specifically those who now suffer some type of injuries or disability due to their service. We had our first Veteran’s Hunt and it was a great event that ended up with a hog on the ground!
The process was simple, we posted an online from on the http://wehuntsc.com/Vets page where veterans could be nominated. Then we randomly picked 2 vets. We were surprised and glad at how many veterans were submitted.
This year our veterans were Brian Buckner and Jack Allen. Brian served in the Army for over 20 years and Jack served in the Air Force for 20 + years as well. Both of the veterans were very appreciative of the hunt and our sponsors.
We should also thank our sponsors for making all this possible. They are:
WeHuntSC.com crew members Gavin Jackson and Chris Agerton started the day out very early (3am) putting one of our recent wild hogs on the grill. While they were grilling out other members of our crew were shooting more hogs! The BBQ ended up very tasty so kudos to Gavin and Chris for hanging in there and ensuring all the details were covered and for being grill masters!
The vets arrived around mid-day and we a nice meal and gave them swag prizes/donations from our sponsors (thanks sponsors). After a nice lunch we headed over to the Take Aim Training Range where we ensured all rifles were sighted in and shot some skeet for fun. The temperature was perfect for this and we had a good time.
After that we headed back to the house and it wasn’t too long before it was time to get out in the woods.
We were excited to get the hunters out in their blinds and stands. Gavin and Chris had done a good job prepping for the hunt by “corning” up stands for weeks and not letting anyone hunt them. However, ultimately nobody pulled the trigger even though some deer moved. It was just one of those things we couldn’t control but fear not we also had hog hunting plans after the deer hunt. We grabbed some more food and then headed out to yet another hunting location where we’d been holding off on hunting in hopes of the veterans having success. This time the patience paid off as the veterans were able to lay the smack down on a hog! It was a great culmination to a day of hunting and we could tell the veterans were happy with the hunt.
An Awesome Event
All in all we were very happy with the outcome of the event. We were pleased with the response from veterans and sponsors and obviously we were happy to see the vets have a successful hunt. We would have loved for them both to get a deer and get a hog on the ground, but you know how that goes!
Thanks again to our sponsors and veterans who submitted. Thanks also to the WeHuntSC.com crew who helped organize and get all the details handled… Gavin Jackson, Chris Agerton, and Adam Smith.
We will definitely be looking to continue this hunt in the coming years.
Here's a video recap of the day
Another local farmer contacted us with hog problems. We are constantly amazed at the damage hogs do to people’s property, farms, and ultimately their livelihoods. We’ve seen people go out of business because of the damage that hogs cause and of course we don’t mind hunting them!
Recently a local farmer contacted us saying hogs were “rooting” his land again. This concerned the farmer and he requested help. Within a week we knew the general area of where they were coming and formed a game plan. Based on scouting, sign, plus what the farmer told us we anticipated a large group of hogs. For this reason, we took multiple hunters. However, on the hunt we only had a solo boar come in. We weren’t going to let it get by or else the farmer would not have been pleased. We did a countdown and the rest was history.
The below video summarizes the hunt. If you have hog problems, contact us at WeHuntSC.com/Hogs
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…
I’ve been hunting pretty hard this season. My wife and I are expecting our first child in February so I’m hunting as much as I can before the baby arrives. All season long I’ve been letting deer walk in hopes of connecting with a big buck. As you would expect, the big bucks show up on the stands I’m not hunting or they come out at night. In the game of chess with nature, I’ve been losing… at least with the big bucks.
Leading up to Thanksgiving I noticed a buck I hadn’t seen previously showing up on my game camera. He was nice and he was cutting it close to shooting light with the time of his arrivals. I started paying more attention. The day before Thanksgiving he showed up in broad daylight at 8am. I thought to myself that the next day, Thanksgiving morning, might make for an interesting hunt. I’ve shot a nice buck on 3 out of the last 4 Thanksgivings. See here, here, and here if you want to read those stories.
The weather forecast indicated it would be 28 degrees on Thanksgiving morning - it was going to be a great morning to hunt and I was eager to see what would unfold...
My Hunting Partner, Back from College
If you see some of my hunting related tweets you may know that Coach Sam Mungo is my main hunting partner. Sam finally got where he could carry a bag of corn and then he left me and went off to Clemson! I’m not sure how he worked it out with Dabo, but they let him come home over the Thanksgiving break.
In early October Sam started asking me what time I was going to pick him up to go hunting on Thanksgiving Day (read: he was excited to come home and go hunting). Nearly every day he would text or call asking what was going on with the deer. I had to give him daily reports and I told him that I’d been seeing some good deer on the game camera. As the days and weeks passed he started smack talking me. He’d tell me “You can’t kill that big deer without me!” I think he wants to claim to be the good luck charm.
As I mentioned above, the closer Thanksgiving got the more that new buck started showing up on camera. Most of the places I take Sam hunting are locations where we have good cover and body movements are shielded by a box stand, burlap, or thick brush. Sam and I both like to move around a little bit while deer hunting so we hunt in locations that afford us some “wiggle room” if you will. Though, the deer that was showing up in daylight was showing up near the stand that was the most exposed. This stand was on a tree out in the middle of everything with no burlap and no cover. It would be easy to get busted on this stand. Any movement would be clearly visible to a deer ultimately resulting in an unsuccessful hunt.
I realized that we would need to hunt this stand to have the best chances for a big buck, but also realized that we would be packed in tight with zero margin for error on a very cold Thanksgiving morning. It was going to be a risky hunt. Because of this I started preaching to Sam weeks ahead of time about how we had to be still, not talk, and be focused to have the best chances
Thanksgiving Day Hunt
The time had come. I woke up around 5:30 and went and picked Sam up. When we arrived back at the house I realized Sam didn’t have any gloves or a facemask. I knew this wasn’t a recipe for success so I quickly outfitted him with new gear and put a thick jacket and pants on top of everything he already had. I had told him that we would not be leaving the stand just because he was cold.
We headed out to the cutover in my Pioneer. It was very cold and the wind in your face on a day like that really reinforces the fact that you have to want it to put yourself through that kind of stuff. By the time we got to the middle of the cutover the tears the wind created in my eyes had been pushed to the side of my face and dried on my skin. We had arrived to the stand.
On this hunt we didn’t have any action early in the morning. Once the sun got up we had a spike buck roll through. Sam was sitting on the left and I was on the right. I had to remind Sam a few times to hold still as he made big movements with his arms as he adjusted his facemask several times. These sweeping movements are the kind that deer can see from far off. Though he moved more than I would have liked for him to, when the buck came out he was very still.
We’d been sitting in the stand about 3 hours when I couldn’t feel my toes any more. I asked Sam if he could feel his and he said no. I asked him if he was cold, he replied “no”. I then told him that I was freezing. Sam turned to me and said “You know we can go to Larry Courtney’s and get some coffee and a biscuit right?” lol! I laughed him, but it wasn’t too long before I took him up on the notion of getting some coffee to warm up.
The big buck had eluded us, but we still enjoyed being out there. We’d have to give it a shot the next day and Sam is not a half-hearted hunter, he would no doubt be right there with me the next morning.
Black Friday Hunt
With the previous day’s hunt behind us we were ready to head back out with hopes that the big buck would show. This time I made sure that Sam had enough clothes. We arrived early and made our way into the stand. It was cold, the air was crisp, and the ground was covered in frost. The sun started to rise. Sam was doing well and I told him that it was “Deer:30” and that the deer should be moving shortly.
It was just light enough to where you could see decently across the cutover. As all hunters know, it was that window of time when you really pay attention because deer move a lot in this time frame. I was scanning the cutover when I thought I saw something move to the right. I re-focused and sure enough, I saw what appeared to be a deer coming from the block of woods on our right. I whispered to Sam “Do not move” and I knocked the safety off.
As the deer advanced out of the woods and into the cutover he walked the path of the highest point over the crest of the hill. By walking this specific path he gave me a good view of his body and rack because I could contrast it against the pink of the rising sun. It looked like a scene from a painting. He took a few steps and stopped. He looked up at us. We didn’t move. He took a few more steps and looked the other way. I moved the gun up and got in the scope. Sure enough, this was the buck I’d been recently seeing on game camera. Time was of the essence and I needed to act quickly.
I zoomed the scope in just a bit and put the crosshairs on his shoulder. I could shoot while he was walking, but I’d much prefer to shoot when he paused. He was halfway over the hill by now and I was trusting that Sam was holding still beside me. Then the deer paused and looked up at us at about 80 yards out. I put the crosshairs on him and slowly squeezed the trigger. I made sure to not pull the trigger quickly so as to not flinch and make a bad shot. Within a few seconds the gun went off and I saw the deer instantly fall to the ground!
I couldn’t believe what had just taken place. I took a breath and turned to Sam and said “We did it buddy we did it!” and we high fived in the stand. Sam instantly got excited and went straight into the 100 question sequence wanting to know who would we show it to, what were we doing next, and when we were going to the processor. Sam was in a hurry to get the show on the road and I told him I needed to calm down for a minute and take in the moment. I took some deep breaths, made sure my safety was back on, and we celebrated a little more.
We then made our way down the stand and across the cutover. Even though I saw the deer instantly fall I was still somewhat nervous as we approached. It’s been a long season so until I had my hands on him I wasn’t holding my breath. It didn’t take long until we saw the buck laying on the ground. He was a nice one and I took a few pics of him and made Sam hold him for a pic. I posted an update to Facebook and Twitter and then we soaked in the moment for a little bit more before we drug the deer to the Pioneer and loaded him up.
After we got the deer loaded up we took our celebration ride back out of the cutover and to the house. We then got my mom to take some more pics in a better location. Yes, you know your mama loves you when she wakes up at 7:30am in 28-degree weather to take pics of you and a deer! Then we proceeded to go around town showing people the deer and eventually made our way to the processor! It was a big day for us and we made it last as long as we could.
For me it was a quality buck that makes all those days of pre-season work, constant corn-hauling and game-cam checking, hunting, waiting, and watching deer worth it. To be able to get a nice buck like that is something special and to do it with Sam right there with me made it even more special. For Sam it was another test passed in his hunting career. He has gotten to the level to where he can hold still when he has to and our confidence levels are going up!
It was a hunt that I’ll never forget and as you would imagine, Sam is already asking me when I’m going to pick him up for hunts when he gets home for Christmas break. Before long he’ll tell me “You can’t kill a big buck without me!” Turns out I’ve got another buck showing up that he and I may take pictures with soon so stay tuned…
The Jackson household is full of hunters. I have three boys and a girl and they can all shoot better than me! As they’ve grown we’ve spent a lot of time in the outdoors hunting and fishing with them. They are now getting to the age where they can handle a gun by themselves. Of course, they never hunt alone as we hunt in pairs and I ensure everyone’s arrivals and departures from their stands. The kids are motivated to learn more about hunting and are eager to gain responsibilities. They are growing up right in front of our eyes.
The past two deer seasons I have been preparing for my middle son (Bryson) and youngest son (Kingston) to shoot their first bucks! My oldest (Caiden) harvested his first buck 3 years ago at the age of 7 and that's what I hoped would happen with my other two.
Rules for the First Buck
Now you should know that for my kid’s first bucks I have no restrictions on the size. Your family may operate under different rules and that’s fine, but that’s not how it is at our house. We have plenty of deer in our area and I wouldn't take away the potential excitement from the kids getting their first buck trying to make them wait on a trophy buck. Kids have short attention spans and success in the field, (whether a Boone & Crocket deer or not) is my initial goal for them. I want them to be encouraged and feel that hunting is something that they can be successful at. I believe as a kid they should enjoy and appreciate the experience and not have to be on pins and needles worrying about if they shot the wrong buck. I don’t want them to hunt putting pressure on themselves. Again, I know some of you may not agree with this tactic, but my goal is for them to not be discouraged early on in their hunting careers. Also, I manage this land and we eat deer and hog meat every night and we have yet been able to eat horns!
Bryson’s First Buck
As I teach the kids about deer hunting I like to make them think. To do this, I often ask them situational questions to both help them consider various scenarios and to help them learn to think critically. On September 17th, Bryson and I were discussing strategies for the evening’s hunt. After considering his options, Bryson decided (on his own) what stand he wanted to hunt as he had checked the wind to make sure that stand would be a good one.
I (Dad/Gavin) knew that there was a small buck coming by this stand everyday like clockwork so I had that feeling it was going to happen. However, Bryson didn't know this. As I mentioned earlier, we hunt in pairs… that is, 2 brothers sitting in the stand together. On this hunt Bryson got settled in the stand with his older brother Caiden and they sat still and quiet for about an hour and half. To their surprise a 6 point that weighed 121 lbs eased out of the woods into the shooting lane. As Bryson was eager to get his first buck, he wasted no time getting the Ruger .308 to his shoulder. The deer was about 50 yards out and Bryson slowly squeezed off. Bryson’s decision on the stand to hunt that evening paid off as he made a perfect shot on the deer. The deer ran maybe 15 yards and fell. Bryson was on the board with his first buck!
Talk about excited, he was hyped up and knew that he had just killed his first buck! As excited as he was I think my wife and I were probably more excited for him! We took pictures and as tradition as has it, we bloodied him up at the processor. Later, Bryson told me that the hunt was his best hunt ever and that he thought he wasn't going to see anything and then all of sudden the buck stepped out. Congrats to Bryson on working hard, being patient, and making the perfect shot!
Kingston’s First Buck
My youngest son Kingston has been hunting with me probably 50+ times and for whatever reason we never could get him on a buck. We’ve had a bunch of close calls but just couldn't make it happen.
On September 23rd that all changed…
Kingston had been hunting for 2 days straight as he was extra-motivated to kill his first deer since he now was living with the self-imposed pressure of his brothers already having killed their first bucks. Here again I asked him questions about where to hunt, why to hunt there, and the wind. Kingston picked his stand and I told him that would be a good stand because the wind was perfect. I also knew that there were several bucks working that area and I hoped one would show up in shooting light.
Kingston got in the stand with his older brother Caiden and they had been sitting for about an hour. It was getting about time for deer to move when two bucks stepped out on the edge of the field at about 100 yards. As you may imagine, Kingston didn't waste a second getting down to business. He wanted to get the monkey off his back so he was ultra-focused.
Within a minute he was in the Ruger .308 and had made great shot on one of the bucks! The deer fell on the spot and rolled about 10 feet. I was sitting in another stand not too far away and I knew he’d got his first buck when I heard a gunshot then heard them hollering and celebrating. You could have heard it from a mile away. The boys got down from the stand and headed toward the deer.
Little did they know that when they got down to the deer the other buck would be standing in the woods looking at them. Yes, I found this amazing as I always try to be quiet, control my scent, and do everything that to not spook deer and here these kids were yelling loudly and the second buck stayed around! Well, with the second deer staring at them Caiden did what you would expect. He pulled up the .308 and shot it! It was a Jackson brothers double-buck hunt!
Now the excitement was really happening! They boys had practiced their shooting this summer and it paid off because no tracking was needed. We just pulled up to the deer, took some pics, loaded up, and headed to the house before going to the processor. One of the best parts was hearing the boys tell their mama the story of the hunt, which we recorded and you can see in the below video. They were amped up to the max and talked all night about their first buck!
Bryson age 9 finally got his first buck on Sept 17th and Kingston age 7 got his on Sept 23rd which was a double-buck hunt with his older brother Caiden! Needless to say, it has been exciting times around our house lately… and I may have to order more deer tags if they keep it up like this.
Ok so I did get a little extreme on Kingston’s bloodying at the processor, but it's what he asked for.
Congrats to Kingston for his patience and congrats to all the boys for their hard work and shooting abilities. So far, this past summer and deer season the kids have all been very helpful and have hunted every time they could go. Caiden has really lucked out as he was able to be with both of his brothers when they shot their first buck. Now that the hard work has finally paid off we can start the discussions about game management, mature deer, and trophy bucks.
I’m sure this story is just one of many more to come. It's awesome and exciting to watch and experience these kids growing up, learning about the outdoors, and shooting their first bucks. We are indeed blessed and we give God all the glory!
If you keep up with the blog or the SC Hog Removal page you know we’ve been getting calls from local farmers with hog problems. We’ve been staying after these hogs as it seems they can reproduce nearly as fast as we can get them off a farmer’s property. It’s a full-time job to keep them at bay and we are having fun with it.
Big & J Hog AttractantsWe have been using the Big & J hog attractants “Hogs Hammer It” and “Pigs Dig It” in combination with corn and I can tell you that the hogs do like it! When they come in they stay until all the corn is gone and leave the place looking like a tractor had plowed through it. Here again leading up to this hunt we’d put out the corn and attractants and hoped things would line up.
Labor Day WeekendI had to hang around for a day or so this Labor Day weekend and so why not see if the hogs were moving I thought. It was also the first day of deer hunting season in my game zone so I went deer hunting before dark, got some food afterwards and then headed out for hogs.
As it was a holiday weekend some of my hunting partners were unable to go, but at the same time some of my friends were back at home for the holiday. I was able to talk Garth Knight into going hunting with me. I let him know the hogs had been acting oddly lately as far as their feeding schedule so I was not sure what would happen.
A Short Hog Hunt!Garth and I set up overlooking a field that was not far from a swamp. We’d been getting hogs on camera at all hours of the night. Sometimes they would be solo and sometimes they’d be about 15 of them so I didn’t know what to expect. We got there and got setup around 9:15 or so. I was telling Garth about all the lessons we’d learned with night vision technologies, guns, and the way the hogs had been acting lately.
Every few minutes I checked the bottom of the field looking for heat signatures. We’d been there about 45 minutes when I was telling Garth about how the scope can live-stream hunts to the phone. I got up to turn the Wi-Fi on and as I looked through the scope I saw some bright spots coming through the woods. I told him they were on the way! So we finished streaming the video to the phone and just watched as the hogs approached.
I wanted to give the hogs a few minutes to ensure there were no more coming because sometimes there would be large groups trailing the hogs. So we watched the hogs eating the corn for a few minutes. Nothing seemed to be coming behind these hogs so I decided it was time to take action. I asked Garth if he wanted to shoot and he said he’d hold off this time. It took me a little bit to pick out which hog was bigger and I flipped into black hot mode once to see if that would help. Finally, I was able to figure out the hog on the left was the bigger hog and I told Garth to get ready.
A few seconds later, thanks to the Anderson Rifles AM-10 308 Hunter + Pulsar Trail XP 50, the bigger hog was on the ground! Not bad for the first day of deer hunting season right 😉