Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Marathon, Not a Sprint

The rut! Man, I bet I just gave your stomach butterflies with those two words. The rut is without a doubt, the most exciting time of the year for a seasoned deer hunter. The thought of two 140 inch titans fighting over an estrous doe, monster bucks roaming the woods unaware of your presence and the cool crisp autumn air is what I live for! With the rutting activity a little over a week away, I thought I would share some insight on how Damin and I hunt the magical rut.

Any whitetail hunter worth his salt knows that the rut just doesn’t mysteriously occur for two weeks during the general firearms season. Also contrary to popular belief the rut is easily compared to a marathon and rather than a short sprint. Realizing this will allow you to hunt the rut smarter thus increasing your chances of taking a buck of a life time.

Since whitetails do not have the thinking and reasoning capacity of us humans, obviously, they need Mother Nature to tell them when it is time to breed. This is where the moon comes into play. Every year, generally around the last week of October and first week of November the first full moon after the Fall Equinox occurs, to deer hunters this is often referred to as the "rutting moon." The rutting moon and decreasing amount of light taken in through the deer’s eye triggers a sensory receptor in the brain, kind of like their aphrodisiac. As stated before this usually occurs in late October and early November, however this year the rutting moon is late and will fall on the night of November 13th. This will result in a more compact, frenzied rut.

We are also going to assume that fellow hunters know the rut can be generalized into three different phases: the seek phase, the chase and the breeding phase. Read on to see what skills and tactics we apply to hunting each phase and how we approach the big boys during this time.

Seek Phase: The seek phase is the first of the aforementioned three phases. Bucks testosterone levels are close to peaking or have peaked already. However, at this point of the game they are able to contain their sexual drive and the majority remains cool and collected. Bucks are now cruising and scanning the outskirts of doe travel routes, bedding and feeding areas checking each doe’s estrous level. A buck’s sense of smell is so well defined that he can actually pinpoint individual does and knows their age, social status and estrous status! Damin and I actually hunt this stage very patiently and cautiously. Remember, bucks are all still reserved animals at this point and, even though their daytime activity will increase, they will do the majority of their cruising during the fringe of dawn and dusk. I do very little to draw attention to myself during this phase. My calling will consist of several soft contact grunts right at sunrise and sundown. However, I will rattle during this time of year. I’m trying to simulate an intense fight between two bucks that have found an early estrous doe, attempting to tempt a mature buck in closer range. Hunting scrapes lines, albeit mock (we’ll explain mock scrapes in a later post) or natural will also increase your chances of harvesting a bruiser this time of year. Most ‘hot lines’ will stay hot for nearly two weeks if conditions are steady and little human pressure is applied. To summarize the seek phase Damin and I hunt very smart during this time. Bucks are becoming more susceptible to calling, scents and decoys yet are skittish and wary enough to pinpoint a fake deer or unnatural sound. Be patient though, primetime is just a week away!

Chase Phase: To quote Dickie V, “It’s primetime with a capital A!” Boy is it ever; the chase phase is by far my favorite time not only to hunt. Bucks are all jacked up on testosterone and are bouncing from doe group to group looking for an estrous doe. This is your best chance to tag a mature buck. This is your best chance to dupe Mr. Big as he has one thing and one thing only on his mind, estrous does. So, what are the best call, decoy and scent for hunting the chase phase? None of the above, that’s right, hunts the does. Big bucks are hunting does this time of year and, while it’s a simple concept, Damin and I are too. I have always said that the best lure for a mature buck is a mature doe. Damin and I hunt primary food sources this time of year as this is where we will have the best chance of seeing does. In fact, many times we hunt certain doe groups or families, as we know their tendencies and habits and know that eventually they will tempt in a big buck. Still, mature deer didn’t get old and big by being dumb. While it may seem that bucks are running around with no care in the world, this is actually not the case. Mature bucks use the knowledge they learned of their doe groups during the seek phase and apply this to their ‘hunting’, for does. Damin and I study, apply and utilize the topographical features of our property during this time. The scouting that took place during the shedding season allows us to hang stands in transition zones and funnels, hoping to catch a buck travel from doe bedding area to doe feeding area or vice versa. It is also during this time when we hunt the most aggressive. Hunting over buck decoys, mixed with aggressive rattling and calling work best during the chase phase. Combining estrous doe bleats with tending grunts works especially well now, as it simulates a buck tending a hot doe and this catching the attention of every buck in the vicinity. Quick summary: This is when deer hunting is at its best. We hunt hard, but smart at the same time. We are hunting doe concentrated areas, utilizing topographic features and become very aggressive with our calling because it is prime time baby!

Breeding phase: Sadly, the intensity of the chase phase is followed by a ‘dead zone’ known as the breeding phase. It is during this time that bucks are holed up with their does and the woods will be so quite and calm you’ll wonder if your deer herd has moved to the next zip code. The moon is almost full again, extreme hunter pressure has the deer as skittish as ever and exhausted bucks make this a slow time for deer hunting. It is actually during this time where Damin and I get a little R&R as well. Let me explain. As stated before the moon will almost be full again thus resulting in midday activity. It is wise and comforting to catch up on some sleep and hunt less during this time. Often we will hunt during the middle of the day. In fact, last year we had an encounter with The Dark Knight during a midday hunt, unfortunately no ethical shot presented itself. Again, rattling will work well as mature bucks will be the only deer to respond to the horns because they are the only bucks that have enough energy left to do so. Still hunting and stalking can be very productive if done correctly. It was actually during a still hunt when Damin and snuck up on the Dark Knight. Still, we play close attention to the wind, move only wind a strong wind blows and use the topographical features again to our advantage. Another tactic we use during this phase is capitalizing off other hunters. The breeding phase often coincides with the general firearms season and the Orange Army (the hills become covered with fur and fire hunters). Damin and I will often plan our hunts on the mistakes of other hunters by positioning ourselves on escape routes that we know the deer will use when bumped from another property. Quick summary: This can be a miserable time to hunt, however, through effective scouting Damin and I are familiar enough with our property and deer herd to get a bead on the pressure wary bucks.

Wow, what a marathon read! Just like this post, the rut is drawn out and full of detail. Through hard work and patience, Damin and I feel as if we have enough knowledge of the bucks on our property and their tendencies to feel confident in seeing mature deer every time out. Remember, all three phases overlap one another and no two bucks are the same. I hope everyone took something from this post as the rut is literally just over a week away! Damin and I honestly cannot wait and are about as jacked up as these bucks (if not more)! We’d love to hear everyone’s hunting experiences during the rut, so if you read the blog, post a comment!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Weekend Wrap Up

Welcome back everyone. Damin, Dad and I had a successful time in the woods this past weekend.]The weather was warm and balmy, and kept most of the big bucks holed up during the day, but the heat didn’t keep the does from feeding heavily on the sweet nuts!

Unfortunately Damin didn’t get to harvest an animal while he was in, but he elected to pass on a 3.5 year old doe we nicknamed ‘Momma.’ Momma is an excellent doe to keep on the property because her diet literally consists of food plots, protein pellets and mineral supplement during the summer when she rears her fawns. She is also easy to distinguish from the other does as she has a white steak down her snout. Still, Damin saw a lot of good deer on his hunts. In fact, Saturday afternoon we saw an impressive buck from stand while I ‘attempted’ to video his hunt.We didn’t get a very good luck at this bad boy, but it’s safe to say he was at least a mainframe 8 and definite shooter with the bow and possibly the gun too. Sadly though, no ethical shot presented itself and again we lost to the ways of the whitetail.

Luckily, I was able to take a young doe on Saturday morning.I was hunting an acorn flat that we had seen tremendous sign in and I was sure I would have some luck there. Well, at about 9:15 a 1.5 year old doe wandered by and I made a pass-through double lung shot on her. The G5 Striker did its job as it made an impressive entrance and exit hole and the young doe expired within 10 seconds.\I’ve been diagnosed with buck fever before, but I honestly believe I caught a strong case of doe fever Saturday morning as well.After I made the shot I began shaking uncontrollably and couldn’t even talk myself through the follow up interview on the video camera.Needless to say, I was pumped!

I am eternally thankful for the awesome opportunity God provided me with on Saturday morning, He provided me with an adrenaline rush both natural and pure, a quick thankful harvest and some fine eating.I am blessed!

We also had some good action on the trail cameras this past weekend too.Often you hear the saying ‘the bucks just aren’t moving during daylight hours.’ Well we had a different problem, a lot of the bucks we caught on camera were during the middle of the day! Some very nice bucks showed up on the cameras.We had photos of a nice 2 ½ year old 7 pointer, an impressive 8 pointer that we are unsure of his age but are likely going to give him another year. We also captured an image of a very, very nice looking yearling buck. At jut a year and a half he has already surpassed the size of a 2 ½ year old 8 we had last year. We are definitely going to keep tabs on him!It’s awfully exciting to see the effects of QDM unfold before your eyes. We know of at least 4 different impressive 2 ½ year olds, and this was only in a small acorn flatGood things are yet to come!

We are hoping to create a photo album on the blog containing our trail camera pictures so you guys will actually get to look at the deer we are hunting, the ones we want to let walk and so on and so forth. Again, we are extremely grateful for a fun weekend of family, good food (thanks to mom) and some fine hunting!Stay tuned within the next couple days as I’m preparing a post on the different stages of the rut and how we hunt them.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Good Bye City I'm Country Bound!

After 2 months of Charlottesville and school life, I finally get to go home this weekend! It'll be the first time I get into the woods this season and, more importantly, the first time I get to see my family since August. Cody and I haven't really talked too much about our hunting strategies for the weekend, but we're both hoping to have a successful weekend. I actually have two days off for fall break next Monday and Tuesday so I'll be able to hunt for 3 days over this long weekend! Anyways, I can hardly wait until tomorrow when I can head home, hopefully Cody and I will both have some success stories for you next week sometime. Good luck to all of those heading into the woods this weekend!

Monday, October 6, 2008

What Constitutes a Mature Buck?

As you've seen, we talk a lot about taking mature bucks and letting small bucks go to produce more mature bucks. But, what exactly is a mature whitetail buck? Well, in our opinion, it is more of a question of the deer's age rather than the antler or body size. Simply, a 2.5 year old 10 pointer is, in our opinion, much less mature and "appealing" than a 4.5 year old 10 point. The difficulty comes in making these decisions in the woods when there may be only a few seconds to decide whether a buck is mature and harvestable or still a "young buck."

A lot of people put stock into the number of antlers or the size of the antlers when dealing with deer maturity. This can create a huge problem for QDMers and others trying to produce mature bucks. A nice 2.5 year old eight point (say a score of around 110), while perhaps looking like a mature deer, is in fact the last deer we would want to take as it is genetics such as these which leads to P&Y and B&C bucks when they reach maturity at the age of 3.5 years old or older. F
or both Cody and I, seeing a deer that is over the age of 3.5 years has been, in the past, very unlikely. However, given our management practices, the chances of seeing a mature deer as such is going up every year.

Hunting pressure, herd balance and herd genetics all play a part in the maturity one can expect when dealing with bucks. With less pressure and a better herd balance, the 2.5 year old deer will start producing larger racks and more massive bodies, thus, by the time they reach 3.5 and older they will be not only mature, but monster bucks that can get even the seasoned hunter shaking in the treestand.

At this point, Cody and I both consider 3.5 year old bucks a mature and takable deer. Combining the fact that bucks under this age harbor so much potential with the added challenge of seeing and taking older deer, we both have no problem passing on younger bucks even if they are a nice racked 2.5 year old eight pointer. When seeing deer of this age and magnitude, it show us that our hard work, patience and perseverance is really paying off. And, let me tell you, it is and has been definitely worth the wait!

We have a couple of websites that really go hand in hand with what we consider mature bucks. The first gives a description as well as a drawing of bucks in different age groups.
The second was pointed out to us in one of our comments by a fellow hunter who took a monster buck last year that scored over 164! (Check out his comments below in the "What Constitutes a Mature Buck: Coming Soon") We encourage you to check out both websites, they are both entertaining and very informative:

Finally, check out the picture with this post. This is a very nice 2.5 year old buck that we passed on several times last year. Note the small body size, straight back and lack of a big chest. Then imagine how nice he'll be this coming year with a year of maturity!! Well, we're getting a little long winded here! Cody will probably be getting back on here in a day or two with another hunting report. Until then, God Bless and Happy Hunting!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Day 1: A Great Success in the Deer Woods

The 2008-2009 hunting season is officially under way. It is honestly hard to believe that it is already here, but hey, I’m not complaining! With the most wonderful time of year upon us, I’d like to tell you how opening day went. Unfortunately neither Dad nor Damin could accompany me today as Dad had to work and Damin was stuck at school. However, I would have to say that I had pretty successful opening day.

For my morning hunt I was perched up high in a Gorilla Ladder Stand (Mossy Oak Break Up) overlooking a transition area loaded with White Oaks that was surrounded by prime time bedding cover, it is this location that I will spend the majority of my time when hunting Lefty. Sadly though, Lefty left us hanging this morning as we had no sighting of him. We did however see 5 does, a button buck that fed right under (and I mean RIGHT under) the stand and a decent looking 1.5 year old buck. I couldn’t get a good luck at the 1.5, but he seemed to be well on his way to becoming a shooter. We also had 2 jakes and an old tom wonder by the stand too. I had a little fun with them emitting some self-voiced turkey clucks and it seemed to garner their attention and curiosity for a bit, until they finally waddled on out of sight. I also was able to call in a young doe as well. Her fawn, the aforementioned button buck was running around all over the place, buckin' and kickin' and havin' a good ole time. Mom, on the other hand didn't think it was quite as funny as she began bleating over and over again trying to locate her little man. Seeing this as an opportunity to practice I whipped out my grunt call and emulated a couple fawn bleats. Next thing I know I have momma doe 25 yards from my stand! What a rush in its own right! Despite the lack of movement I was blessed with an absolutely gorgeous morning. The temperature was a cool 45 when I left the camp at 5:45 and it remained cool the majority of the morning. I’m also grateful for star-gazing I was fortunate enough to do. I got in my stand and settled down at 6 sharp leaving me 45 minutes to stare and wonder how beautifully the Lord can remind of us His presence, awesome!

After a mom-made-sandwich, a nap, a little college football and a scent free shower I headed back in the bush! I was again hunting a transition zone between bedding areas and was expecting quite a bit of doe movement and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact on my way back to camp there were already 4-5 does in the area I was hunting! This forced me take an alternate route (a LONG and hot alternate route) that would lead me into my ground blind through the back door so to speak. Fortunately I made it in undetected. Still the temperature had warmed up to the lower 70s and it made for quite a warm walk, needless to say my Scent-Lok Base Slayers were put the to the test. And boy did they pass along with my other religious scent control methods. In fact all but two of the 11 deer I saw came from down wind of me and not a one got a whiff that I know of. From around 4 to 6 I had 10 does and a very impressive 2.5 year old six point feeding heavily on the sweet nuts (acorns). Then around 6 or so, this family of whitetails decided it was time to pack up camp and leave as they headed to the south side of the property to bed down. Needless to say, I’ll be hunting this location soon! Now, do not let the number of points on this young buck fool you, this is guy is a handsome buck. We got trail cam photos, video footage and several encounters of him last year as a 1.5 and we knew he had great potential and he didn’t disappoint. He is tall with sharp, crab claw forks and decent mass for a 2.5, worthy of a nickname. Still as impressive as he is, he’s going to be an absolute mack-daddy next year. Let him go so he can grow!

While I didn’t harvest a deer today, I would have to say it was a very successful day. We learned a lot about the deer’s patterns and tendencies, especially in the afternoon, and we were blessed with a beautiful morning as well. We’ve got a long season ahead so stick with us for stories, photos and hopefully some uploaded video footage. God bless and happy huntin’ everybody.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Another QDM Segment: Why Do You Hunt?

When you step foot into the woods in order to pursure the majestic whitetail what is your reasoning for doing so? Are you a trophy hunter? A proponent of game management? Trying to put meat on the table for your family? Do you enjoy the thrill of taking an animal? Or do you just enjoy time in the woods? Simply, just ask yourself, why do you hunt?

For me personally, there are a combination of things that make deer hunting my passion. However, in recently talking with my Dad about Quality Deer Management we came to the realization that all hunters should think about. Participating in QDM allows hunters to answer each and every possible question as to why ethical hunters may set foot into the woods each year.

First and foremost for those who are advocates of game management, QDM is the perfect choice as it instills understanding deer behavioral characteristics as well as implementing a well organized plan as to how to manage and balance a particular deer herd. Of course, along these lines, one of the indirect advantages of QDM is that there are more mature bucks which satisfies another possibility as to why one may hunt: trophy hunting.

Next, what about those who hunt to put food on the table? With QDM advocating an adequate harvest of does, this type of hunter can also be satisfied as well as taking a larger number of does is encouraged. The doe harvest advocation also satisfies those who hunt merely because they like the act of taking an animal. As a wise author once said, "Any hunter worth his salt knows its harder to harvest a mature doe than it is a young ignorant buck." That being said, hunters who are not interested in trophy hunting or putting meat on the table can still take part and be a strong agent in QDM by harvesting does.

We all hunt for our own reasons. Cody, Dad and I all pride ourselves on being ethical hunters striving for a balanced deer herd, putting meat on the table and taking mature bucks. Of course, not all hunters strive for these same goals. However, regardless of how or why you hunt, I think you'll find that if you ask yourself, "Why do I hunt?" you'll also find that Quality Deer Management can be a part of each and every possible answer.