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Full Moon Makes for Slow Bowhunting

by Justin Zarr 25. October 2010 05:36
Justin Zarr

This past weekend I decided to stay close to home and try to connect with one of the suburban bucks I've got on my trail cameras.  Unfortunately warm temps combined with a full moon and some on and off rain made for one slow weekend!  In three sits for a combined total of about 10 hours on stand I saw exactly ZERO whitetails, which now makes me 0 for 5 on my suburban hunts.  The only wildlife I managed to see was a lone coyote, a few squirrels, and a lonely raccoon who decided to take a nap ontop of my bow sling which I left at the bottom of my tree. 

Although it is a little discouraging not seeing any deer from stand, I know it's only a matter of time before one of the bucks I'm after shows up.  I'm not necessarily concerned with seeing a lot of deer, I want to see the right deer!  Having trail cam photos like this certainly does help keep me on my toes though.

This is a new buck that just showed up on my camera earlier this month.  He' s not a monster, but he's definitely a shooter for me.  Since he's sporting the same crab claw on his left side like two bucks I've chased in years previous (Mr. Buck and Mr. Buck Jr.) he has earned the name Mr. Buck the 3rd aka MB3.

A side profile of MB3 shows off his crab claw a little better.  Over the past 8 or 9 years we've gotten photos of probably 6 or 7 bucks with this exact same characteristic, all 9 pointers with virtually identical racks.  No matter how old they get their frame never gets much bigger than this.  They put on some mass and maybe spring a few kickers but by and large they don't get much bigger than 135 to 140 inches no matter how old they are.

Check out this little guy that was hanging out with MB3.  He has what looks like an old injury on his right side and some sort of growth/abscess on his left side.  It looks like a possible arrow injury from last season, but it's hard to be 100% sure.

Here's a close up.  Sure looks like an arrow hole to me.

Another interesting photo, this buck appears to have a busted antler on his right side that's hanging down over the side of his face.  Not sure if it grew like that or if he broke it in a fight.

And what trail cam photo montage would be complete without a photo of my #1 target buck "Little Mac" as he walked by my stand about 20 minutes before I arrived on Saturday morning.  Sooner or later this guy is going to make a mistake and when he does I hope I'm ready!

With the full moon now past us and a cold front set to move through the Midwest later this week primetime is right around the corner!  If you can be in the woods this Thursday or Friday after the front moves through I have a feeling you'll see a lot of buck movement.  Calling should work well as the bucks are getting pretty aggressive before the does start to pop.  So whatever you've gotta do to get in the woods, do it this weekend!


Illinois Bowhunting Season - The Start of Another Year!

by Justin Zarr 30. September 2010 02:25
Justin Zarr

Fall is definitely in the air here in Northern Illinois.  The leaves are beginning to turn shades of red, orange and yellow, much of the corn and soybeans has already been harvested and there's a distinct chill in the morning air.  Ah yes, fall has finally arrived!

Tomorrow marks the first day of Illinois' nearly 3 1/2 month archery season and with cool weather, a good moon phase, and the right wind conditions I have a feeling there's going to be some happy bowhunters this weekend. 

My bowhunting time this weekend is going to be fairly limited, but I'm going to try and make the most of it.  Tomorrow morning with North and Northwest Winds predicted I'll be heading out to a stand I recently hung close to a fence crossing where I found some really good buck sign.  Early season buck sign that's concentrated in thick areas usually means that the buck making the sign is living pretty close by, so I'm hoping to catch him coming back to his bedroom after a night of feeding.

I have a feeling that the buck making the sign is this one I've dubbed "Mac".  He's the best buck I've gotten on my trail camera on this particular farm, and these photos were taken only about 300 yards from where my stand is set up.  I believe I have trail camera photos of this buck from last year as a 2 1/2 year old 7 point.  Granted, he's not a giant by Illinois standards but for this farm he's a good buck.

Provided we got a good wind direction on Sunday I'll going into another farm after this buck I've nicknamed "Pistol Pete".  (I've watched I Love You Man too many times, I know).  Another good 3 1/2 year old buck, he's been the most frequent visitor on my trail camera all summer and seems to be coming by right at dark heading towards a cut corn field.  I'm hoping this cooler weather will have him moving a little earlier.  I have a natural ground blind set up about 20 yards beyond where these photos were taken so if anything comes by in the daylight I should be able to get a shot.

I've also got another buck named "Tank Johnson" that I'll be looking for this fall.  He's a big bodied hog of a deer and I think he's living on the same farm as Pistol Pete so who knows - maybe he'll make the mistake of wandering by on Sunday afternoon much to the chagrin of my NAP Bloodrunner.

With any luck I'll get a look at one of these three bucks this weekend, and if I'm really lucky I might even get a shot, who knows.  For now my clothes are washed, bow is in it's case, stands are hung and I'm ready for the 3 month marathon that is the Illinois bowhunting season to begin!

Good luck to everyone who is heading out this weekend.  Make sure you wear your safety harness!

Maximize Your Bowhunting Success: Location, Location, Location!

by Justin Zarr 27. January 2010 07:17
Justin Zarr

With the passing of each bowhunting season I feel that I learn a little more not only about the game I hunt, but about my shortcomings as a bowhunter.  This has been especially true the past several years over which I feel I've grown quite a bit.  Although I don't have a wall full of Booners to show for it, I have had unquestionably some of the most productive hunts of my life, while at the same time having some of the most unproductive hunts of my life.  Which brings me to the point of this particular blog; maximizing your opportunities and successes for next year.

Like most bowhunters I have a fairly limited amount of time to spend in the woods each fall.  Between my weekends and a few vacation days I average probably 20-25 days in the field, nearly half of which are spent behind a camera as of late.  Needless to say, I need to get the most out of each one of those hunts if I hope to be successful.  There are quite a few variables that go into having a successful hunt and as I have found out the hard way none are more important than location.  You can be as scent free, quiet, and accurate as possible but if the shot never presents itself you've goten all dressed up with essentially no place to go.  The right location can make even a mediocre hunter appear great, and the wrong location can make a great hunter appear mediocre.

When I talk about maximizing your opportunities for success I don't just mean finding more or better hunting grounds.  I mean abandoning stands and entire hunting areas that are not producing the results you are looking for.  That has been one of my biggest hurdles to overcome in the past several years.  Memories and personal attachments to certain spots keep us coming back year after year, but what for?  Can we really afford to be wasting several days a year on spots that have rarely or in some cases never produced?

This past weekend I ventured out to look for shed antlers, pull a few of my cameras that have been out since November, and check on a few stands to make sure they didn't grow legs and walk off.  One of the areas I ventured into is a farm that I've been hunting since 2001.  In the 8 years of hunting this spot I have seen, while hunting, 3 shooter bucks.  Only one of which was within bow range, and unfortunately a bad shot ended with nothing more than a bad memory.  This past season I hunted there for a total of 5 sits and saw only two deer.  I ran a trail camera all summer and fall and got photos of two decent bucks, both well after dark, and both never returned.  So after nearly a decade of punishing myself by hunting an area that clearly is never going to produce the size or quantity of bucks I'm looking for, I've decided to pull my stands and move on. And to be honest, it's difficult to think about NOT hunting this spot.  But if I want to acheive my goals and give myself the best chances of taking a nice buck, I need to move on.

While both of these bucks are very nice, these are the only two photos I was able to capture of them all year.  Both photos were taken well after dark, and neither buck was seen during daylight hours by myself or anyone else hunting this particular farm.  A lot of bowhunters may choose to stick around and hope one of them wanders by during shooting hours, but after 8 years of cat and mouse with the bucks on this farm I'm finally throwing in the towel and moving on.  Am I crazy?

Fortunately for me, I have several other options to explore and promising areas to hunt which helps ease the pain a bit.  However, it wasn't always this way.  I spent 5 seasons bouncing from lease to lease looking for an area that could produce on a consistant basis until I finally found one.  Unfortunately it's 5 hours from home and I can't hunt it as much as I would like!  Which brings me to my next point; changing locations doesn't always mean pulling up stakes and moving halfway across the state.  Sometimes it's as simple as moving a few yards.  Someone once told me that the difference between a good stand and a great stand is 20 yards.  This single statement has stuck with me for years and had a huge effect on my hunting.

Over a 2 week period my trail camera captured 17 buck photos over a community scrape located along a travel corridor.  Of those 17 photos 12 were taken during daylight hours.  Clearly this information tells me that this is an area where these bucks feel safe and are frequenting during legal hunting hours, and is an area I should focus my attention on next year.

How many of bowhunters sit the same stands again and again after seeing that big buck just out of range?  Only a few more steps and you would've had him!  This must be a great stand location!  Then it happens again.  Another buck comes by and he's either just out of range or busts you before you can get the shot off.  So close again!  So you come back to that stand for the rest of the season, and maybe the next, and even the next, all the while hoping that maybe that buck will come just a little closer next time.  But after hundreds of hours on stand and some great stories to tell your hunting buddies your tags are still unfilled. 

Ask any bowhunter who has been consistantly successful at harvesting big whitetails the secret to their succes and they will tell you one of two things, and neither one of them is luck.  Location and hard work are the two ingredients to being successful on a regular basis according to virtually all of whitetail hunting's elite.  That means no longer being happy with just seeing deer, but getting close enough to kill them.  In many cases this means staying mobile and not falling into a state of complacency once the season starts.  Don't just sit in the same old stands because they're already in the tree or because they're the easiest walk from the truck.  If you want to be successful you have to hunt where the deer are at.  Click here to read my blog on mobile bowhunting for more information on my techniques and some of the gear I use to help me maximize my chances.

I shot this buck in 2007 after seeing him feeding on acorns several nights earlier.  After my first encounter I came back with another treestand and moved in 50 yards closer to where I had seen him.  Two nights later he showed up and the rest is history.  If I was simply complacent to see him, and hope that he came to me instead of me going to him, I may have never gotten a shot.

2010 Bowhunting Gear Videos - 63 New Products!

by Justin Zarr 25. January 2010 21:30
Justin Zarr

The staff was hard at work at the 2010 ATA show checking out all of the new bowhunting products for 2010.  We saw a ton of great gear, much of which is going to be for sale right here on in the coming months.  To give you guys the best look at these new products we have put together 63 new product videos for you to watch!  So grab your drink of choice and make sure you've got a few minutes.  You won't want to miss this!

New from Primos - Trail Cameras, The Crush Blind, & Improved Silver XP Products.  And Jim Shockey too!

Tactical Archery Systems - Delta Rail Stabilzer, The Sabo Sight, Hip Bone Bow Holder

Carbon Express - PileDriver, Mayhem, & Mutiny carbon arrows

R&M Sportsan - Weather Shield convertable umbrella/treestand blind

Lakewood Double Bow Case

White Knuckle Productions - Ground Zero DVD

Antler King Final Feast

Muddy Outdoors - Pro Hunter Hang-On Stands and Ladder Stands

Invisible Hunter scent elimination products

The Breath-Taker activated carbon disposable facemask

Predator Trailcams - Informer XP & TrailEYE IR trail cameras

Limbsaver Proton Bow

Pole Mountain Outdoors Hardcase Bow case - super tough!

Hoyt Carbon Matrix & Hoyt Maxxis bows

Elite Archery Judge Bow - check it out!

Covert 3.5T Crossbow

New PSE Bows & Technologies - Dream Season Bow, Axe Bow, Vendetta Bow, & Skulls Camo

Uway trail cameras - NT50 & NT50B infrared trail cameras

Leupold Bow-Mounted rangefinder - one of the 10 best bowhunting products for 2010!

First Light merino wool base layers - now offered in more camo patterns

Firenock lighted nock

Roscoby Riser Cam - film your own hunts!

Bushnell Trophy Cam trail camera - improved for 2010

Burt Coyote Fastool - square your arrows even after they are fletched

Bowtech Destroyer Bow

NAP Quikfletch with Lee & Tiffany Lakosky!

Shoot Like a Girl - promoting women to get involved with bowhunting and the shooting sports

Predator Camo - new base layer compression gear

Keyes Hunting Gear - high-tech backpacks in custom camo patterns

Hooyman Extendible Tree Saws - don't go bowhunting without them!

Rinehart Rhinoblock target - 6 sides of shooting fun!

Millenium M100 treestand

Field Logic IQ Bowsight with Retina Lock technology

Slick Trick Crossbow Trick broadhead

Lumen-Arrow - the lighted nock is already built in!

New Octane accessories from Diamond Archery

Norway Industries - String Tamer GII & New Hitch Hero!

Rifle Cam Bow and Crossbow Stabilizer Cam

NuFletch Spectum - fletching made easy!

CamoFlex DeadFall Ground Blind - say goodbye to brushing in your ground blind.

Huntmore 360* Hunting Chair - simply the best there is!

NAP Bloodrunner 2 Blade broadhead & Apache arrow rest

NAP Thunderhead Edge & Spitfire Edge broadheads

Pine Ridge Archery Ground Blind Camera Arm & Improved Pro Bow Cam

Scent Blocker New Products!

Hawg Light Marauder Lighting System - great for hog hunting and bowfishing

Reconyx Hyperfire HC500 & HC600 digital trail cameras

Campbell Outdoor Challenge Video Editor

Mrs. Doe Pee Buck Lure - the best stuff you can get!


10 Best Bowhunting Products for 2010

by Justin Zarr 18. January 2010 19:54
Justin Zarr

After our annual trip to the ATA show to meet with customers and check out all of the new bowhunting gear for this year, I have put together my Top 10 list of products that I'm most excited about heading into the next bowhunting season.  Some of them may not be the most innovative or high-tech products on the market, but they're ones that I think a lot of bowhunters could benefit from owning - or stuff that I just think is cool.  So here they are, in no particular order!

NAP Quikfletch

Even Don and Kandi Kisky love the NAP Quikfletch!  Which means you should love them too!

Okay, the Quikfletch isn't new for 2010 but I still think it's one of the best products on the market.  Anyone who frequents our forum knows my newfound fondness for this product after I started using them last summer.  The Quikfletch is a special heavy-duty shrink tubing with NAP vanes pre-adhered to it.  You simply slide the Quikfletch over your arrow shaft, then dip it into boiling water for 10 seconds and you're done.  The material shrinks up and a special adhesive on the inside of the tube secures the Quikfletch to your arrow so it doesn't slide or move.  And that's it!  No more jigs, glues, wraps, or time spent fletching when you could be doing something else.  The Quikfletch come in a variety of colors including special Bone Collector and The Crush with Lee & Tiffany editions.  Of course when we get our special edition in stock, that one will be my favorite.  And it should be yours too!

Camoflex DeadFall Ground Blind

The new DeadFall ground blind from CamoFlex.  Brushin in your blind just became a thing of the past!

The guys over at Lone Wolf Stands/Camoflex know what they're doing when it comes to making products for serious bowhunters.  This new DeadFall ground blind is no exception.  This innovative blind utilizes Camoflex's patented technology and has "branches" already attached.  What this means for bowhunters is no more "brushing in" your blind when you move it to a new spot.  Simply pop the blind up, spread the branches out, and hunt.  Anything that saves time and makes my hunting job easier is a good product in my book!  This blind also has a patent-pending elliptical shaped entry door for easy entrance/exit, and magnetic closures on all of the windows.  At last, no more velcro!  Well, that's not entirely true.  The blind uses velcro to hold in the shoot-thru replaceable netting, but that's to be expected.  Being able to open and close the windows silently is a great idea, and a much needed improvement over the velcro used in many of today's ground blinds.  The DeadFall also comes with a backpack style carrying bag as well. This blind is expected to retail for around $300, which makes it one of the more affordable blinds on the market.

NuFletch Spectrum

The NuFletch spectrum is available in a variety of colors and will fit virtually any carbon arrow shaft.

Much the same as the NAP Quikfletch, the NuFletch Spectrum greatly simplifies the arrow fletching process.  This innovative product is a machined aluminum ferrule with three slots that currently fit the Bohning Blazer vane (more versions are in the works to fit other vane types).  The back of the NuFletch screws off, allowing you to slide your vanes into the grooves and then reattach the back end along with the nock.  Tightening the screw places pressure down on the vane base, thus holding it securely in place.  A standard insert must be afixed inside the back end of your arrow, which allows the NuFletch to screw in just as a field point or broadhead would.  If you rip or damage a vane in any way, simply unscrew the back, remove the damaged vane, and replace with a new one.  Quick, easy, and painless.  The one downside of the NuFletch is that it does add roughly 50 grains to the overall weight of your arrow.  But if you can work around that, this is a pretty cool product.

Leupold Bow-Mounted Rangefinder

The next time you miss, you won't be able to blame it on not knowing the yardage!

For years people have been trying to come up with a bow-mounted rangefinder that works, doesn't weigh a ton, and is easy to use.  I think Leupold has finally done it.  At a mere 10 ounces including mounting hardware this new rangefinder mounts securely to your bow and provides a quick and accurate yardage readout while you are at full draw.  A small triggering mechanism must be run down your bow's riser to your handle, and when activated the large red LED display will give you an immediate yardage readout.  The rest is up to you! 

Norway Industries String Tamer 2

More adjustability, more dampening power, and more adjustability.  How can you go wrong?

String suppressing devices hit the market a few years ago and in no time have become standard equipment on many of today's high-end bows.  However, for those of us with older bows or ones without a factory-equipped supressing device we must still turn to the aftermarket for these little gems.  The new and improved String Tamer from Norway Industries may just be your best bet.  This new version of their popular product is lighter, more adjustable, and has more dampening power that before.  Available in both a front and rear mount application the String Tamer is a no brainer for anyone without a string suppressing device on their bow.

ScentBlocker ColdFusion

Kyle Wills from ScentBlocker talking to us about the new Silent Shell garments.  Stay tuned for our full video review of this new product.

New for 2010 ScentBlocker is debuting a new technology called ColdFusion, which actually bonds the activated carbon to the fabric of their garments, making it more effective at stopping human odor from ruining your hunt.  If you don't believe in activated carbon scent control products, skip this one and check out the next product!  If you do, then you'll want to check out ScentBlocker's three new premier products for 2010.  They are the Dream Season Silent Shell, new Dream Season Pro, and Bone Collector Mack Daddy.  My personal favorite after checking them all out is the Dream Season Silent Shell.  These garments are made from a soft shell material so they are extremely quiet, burr resistant, and treated with a DWR (durable water repellency) finish.  With plenty of pockets and Mossy Oak's new Break-Up Infinity pattern this is one nice suit.  Stay tuned to my blog in the next few days as I'll be giving you the low down on all of the new ScentBlocker products for this year.

NAP Bloodrunner 2 Blade broadhead

The new 2 blade Bloodrunner from NAP.  1 1/8" diameter in flight, a whopping 2 1/16" diamater on impact.

Broadhead technology has sure changed since I started bowhunting 18 years ago (wow, I'm getting old!).  The past few years have seen an explosion of new technology, much of it centered around massive expandable broadheads like the popular Rage lineup.  However, with that new technology and all of it's benefits always came some drawbacks as well.  In the case of the Rage heads, many people reported blades opening prematurely in flight, coming open in quivers, etc.  To solve those issues while still providing maximum accuracy and cutting diameter NAP released their Bloodrunner broadhead last year as a 3 blade version.  With the widespread popularity of that broadhead they have now rolled into 2010 with a 2 1/16" cutting diameter 2 blade version.  The spring-loaded broadhead is only 1 1/8" wide while closed in flight, and opens up to a massive 2 1/16" diameter upon impact, creating massive entry and exit wounds without worrying about premature blade deployment.

Predator Informer XP Trail Camera

The new Informer XP trail camera from Predator.  It makes me sing the song "Informer" in my head every time I look at it.  Is that good or bad?

Predator burst into the trail camera market a few years ago with their innovative lineup of touchsreen cameras.  Taking their technology to a whole new level for this year they are introducing several new cameras including the Informer XP.  The most notable difference with this new camera is the new Dragon IR techology, which uses less LED emmitters while providing a brighter and longer flash range (75 feet!) all while using less battery power.  This new camera is a 3.2 MP cam by day and 1.3 MP cam by night, and also affords you the ability to take video clips as well.  All Predator trail cams for 2010 also use SD cards, versus the CF cards in previous versions.  New for 2010 all Predator trail cameras come with a standard mounting strap instead of the bolt-on mounting bracket on the previous models. (They must have watched my video review of the Xtinction and taken my advice!)

Plano Guide Series Cases

Waterproof and air tight - but is it Justin-proof?  Only time will tell!

Without fail I pick up new bowhunting gear each and every season and I'm always looking for new ways to store it.  Like most guys during the bowhunting season I'm usually in a hurry and can be less than gentle with my equipment from time to time, which means I need storage that can stand up to my abuse.  The new Guide Series polycarbonate cases from Plano may just be what the doctor ordered.  These cases are available in a variety of sizes and are made from a super tough polycarbonate material, which means I won't break them into a bunch of pieces tossing them in an out of my truck all season.  They are waterproof and airtight, meaning whatever I put inside of them should stay safe and sound.  One great use I already though of is storage of scents (deer pee doesn't smell too great when it gets on your clothes), and of course electronics that can be damaged by water (as in my old Canon XHA1 that met it's maker in McKee Creek last fall).

Muck Superlite Boots

I will be honest, I really don't know much about these boots.  The folks at Muck were always super busy when I stopped in, and the catalog I picked up has no information on these.  However, I can tell you I did pick them up and check them out and WOW are they light!  I thought my Alpha Burly's were light, but they feel like lead bricks compared to these boots.  If they are anywhere near as comfortable as their currentl line of hunting boots I have a feeling they're going to be a bit hit with bowhunters.  I know these boots do have a patent-pending "air tunnel" built into them, which I believe helps your feet breathe which of course prevents sweating and cold feet when on stand.  As soon as I get more info, I will be sure to post it up.

Of course there's a LOT of other new products for this year I'll be covering in the coming weeks, so be sure to check back.  And if there's any cool new products you've seen that we don't talk about feel free to send us an email and we'll check them out!  Email with the goods!

As an honorable mention - check out the cool "Skulls" camo available on select Alpine bows.  I would feel like a bowhunting pirate if I shot this bow.

2010 ATA Show Product Updates

by Justin Zarr 11. January 2010 19:42
Justin Zarr

January always brings two things to the office; the end of the archery season here in Illinois, and our annual trip to the ATA Show.  In just a few hours our staff will be hitting the road on our way to Columbus, Ohio to check out the latest productions and innovations in the bowhunting world.  As always, be sure to check out our Blogs here at as we update them live from the show with new product photos and information.  Make sure to check out our video gallery next week as we will have EXCLUSIVE video reviews of new products.

If you hear about any new products for this year you want to us to check out, leave your comments below and we'll see what we can do.  Personally, I'm excited to see the new NAP BloodRunner 2 Blade, the improved Armortech HD Pro hunting sights, and to shoot a few bows like the Bowtech Destroyer and the Hoyt Carbon Matrix.  As always, it should be a good time!  Stay tuned for updates.....

60 Minutes - The Karma Buck

by Justin Zarr 16. November 2009 20:16
Justin Zarr

It seems as though every year the first two weeks of November take forever to get here and then they're gone in the blink of an eye, and this year was no different.  Mike and I had planned a 5 day trip to our lease in West Central, Illinois and with the rut just hitting it's stride we anticipated some great hunts.

Proving once again that Mother Nature has it out for us the day we showed up to hunt a warm front moved through, pushing those lovely 30 degree nights out and bringing 75 degree days in.  Why does this always seem to happen to us?  Last year it was 80 degrees on November 1st, this year it was 75 degrees on November 7th!  Sometimes I really think that someone has it out for us!

Our first two days we hunted together with the camera in tow, hoping to put down a nice buck on film.  Mike had a really cool encounter with a buck we named "Schafer" on our first morning but elected to pass.  Schafer is a solid 3 1/2 year old buck, but with an inside spread of only 8 inches or so he just wasn't what Mike was after.

"Schafer" in all of his 8 inches of glory.

Our first evening after hanging a new set, getting all sweated up, then roasting in the sun for a few hours we did have an encounter with the buck I missed last year on film - Dope Ear.  However by the time the brute showed himself it was not only too dark for the camera, but too dark to shoot as well.  Dope Ear passed our stand location at 26 yards and all we could do was squint through our binoculars and admire him.

Day 2 I was in the tree with a bow and we had a great encounter with a really nice 10 pointer.  Probably the biggest buck we saw during our 5 days, and definitely the biggest buck we had within range.  Although once again as fate would have it, the big buck walked in the one place that I couldn't shoot, and before passing into the wide open decided to angle away from us presenting no shot opportunities.  No amount of grunting, bleating, or snort-wheezing was going to bring this guy to us, he was on a mission to find some does!

This trail cam photo was taken just 3 days before our encounter with this great buck.  Too bad I couldn't get a clean shot at him!

By the third day with the weather still not cooperating Mike and I decided to split up and maximize our chances at killing some deer.  I took the camera gear with me and attempted some self-filming but let me tell you, it's no easy task!  I admire Todd for this dedication to filming himself this year.  The man is on a mission!  I did have one other encounter with Dope Ear on Day 3 but once again it was too dark to film.  But let me tell you - this buck is a true Illinois giant.

Anyways, by Day 5 we both had several encounters with shooter bucks and were seeing deer every sit but no shot opportunities presented themselves.  It was do or die time.  With our coldest morning yet Mike and I decided an all-day sit was going to be necessary so we packed our bologna sandwiches, granola bars, and Gatorade and headed into our stands.

At 9:56 that morning I hadn't seen a buck yet and was in the middle of texting a photo to my buddy Dan when I heard the ravine opposite me explode with running deer.  I put my phone back in my pocket, picked up my bow, and got ready.  Three does that I spotted earlier bolted down off the ravine and stopped 30 yards behind me.  As I eyed them up a fourth deer came down off the hill, and this one had antlers!

The buck ran full-speed to the bottom of the hill and eyed up the does that were standing behind me.  Just as he started making his way up the hill toward me I could make out some very long, heavy tines on his right side and switched my brain into kill mode.

He came up the hill on a dead walk and just before entering my main shooting lane made a hard right turn and walked broadside to within 10 yards of my stand.  As the buck entered my lane I grunted to stop him, settled my pin on his side, and let my arrow fly.

It hit with a resounding SMACK, the buck let out a loud grunt, and exploded up the hill toward a cedar thicket.  Seconds later the woods were quiet and I couldn't believe what just happened!  I picked up my phone and it was 9:58 am.  Less than 2 minutes after spotting these does coming down the hill I had just put down my 2nd buck of the season.  It's amazing how quickly things can happen in the woods this time of year.  All the preparation and hours spent in stand and it's all over within just a few short minutes.

After waiting 1/2 hour I got down and found both my arrow, which had broken off about 1/2 way, and good blood just after the spot of impact.  An hour after that Mike and I took up the trail and found my buck without a problem just 70 yards away.

Thanks to Mike for helping with the world's longest drag, and for taking some great photos.  A little bit of extra time and effort will go a long way when it comes to getting a good photo that will last a lifetime.

My shot was a bit further forward than I wanted, but the NAP Spitfire MaXX broadhead punched clean through his shoulder, took out both lungs, and his heart.  When I pulled the rest of the arrow of the buck's chest cavity I was amazed that the broadhead looked like brand new.  No bent or broken blades whatsoever.  Needless to say, I was impressed!  This is my 2nd animal taken with a Spitfire MaXX this year and neither have gone more than 80 yards after the shot, even after less than perfect shot placement.

Now this is the ironic and somewhat humbling part of this particular tale.  Exactly 60 minutes before I shot this buck Mike sent me a text that he had just spotted a gorgeous 2 year old buck that was going to be a real stud if he made it another year.  And once again as fate would have it, that particular buck somehow made it all the way back around Mike's position, up a giant ravine, and down to my location in that 60 minute span and was now laying dead at our feet.  That's right - I did it again.  After setting out to shoot 3 1/2 or older deer this fall, I had somehow managed to kill not one, but two 2 1/2 year old bucks.  I really don't have any excuses other than my misjudgement of these deer in a hunting situation.  It's easy to judge on a TV or computer screen, but when you put the adrenaline rush of being in the tree into the equation things get a little blurry.  My biggest lesson learned when it comes to field judging whitetails is to really take a closer look at the body and not the rack.  In areas with good genetics and food sources it can be easy to misjudge a deer based on the size of his headgear.

My 2nd Illinois buck of 2009.  Not quite what I was hoping for, but he'll look good on my wall!

All in all, I had a really successful season.  Two bucks and a doe on the ground, two out of three on film, and a chance to sleep in for the rest of the fall.  Although I will admit that I am personally disappointed in myself for not taking the time to judge these deer better before I shot.  Chalk it up to a lesson learned I suppose.  I've already started my goals and planning for next fall, hopefully I can avoid making these same mistakes.

The Old Moose Hunter Scores an Ontario Bull

by Justin Zarr 28. October 2009 23:17
Justin Zarr

NOTE: This article comes from my dear old Dad, a moose hunting maniac and the man responsible for my addiction to bowhunting.  Growing up around this guy it's not hard to see why I'm so passionate about bowhunting.  Although as you can see, I am a little bit more interested in the latest and greatest gear and gadgets.  Congrats Pops! - Justin 

Well, I guess I am no one's father anymore. At the ripe old age of 53 I am now known as "The Old Man".  I guess this is something that I can live with since I too referred to my Dad as the old man as well. I guess that's just karma.

Almost as old as me is the now prehistoric bow and arrows that I shoot as a bowhunter.  I shoot a very old Golden Eagle "Hunter Cam" bow.  And yes, it still has steel cables AND a string. To go with the antique setup I also shoot something not many people have heard of any more; aluminum arrows! All kidding aside, I am constantly being ribbed by's own Justin Zarr and Mike Willand and even my fellow moose hunter Mike about my old gear. In fact, on the very afternoon of our arrival for our annual moose hunt the camp owner, Jeremy Reynolds of Skyline Lodge  in Perrault Falls, Ontario, was checking out my bow and arrows and several comments were made as to the outdatedness of my equipment. I responded by reminding them of the conversation by Joe Pesci and Marissa Tomei in the movie "My Cousin Vinny".  Joe Pesci's character was going deer hunting with the prosecuting attorney and asked Marissa Tomei's character if she thought his pants were good enough for a deer hunt. Her response was that the deer don't care what type of pants the guy shooting them was wearing! I assured my critics  that the big bull I was going to shoot this week did not have a clue as to the age of my equipment, nor would it matter.   

We left the dock about 4:00 pm that afternoon to go on our first hunt of a week long trip. Just a quick trip across the bay and I dropped Mike off at his spot of choice and then proceeded  around the corner and down to the end of the next bay. I parked the boat and made the two hundred yard trip to where I would be spending my evening.

My view over the secluded bay on my first night of our hunt.

I quickly trimmed a few shooting lanes here and there to give myself more shot opportunities should a moose show up. After letting things quiet down for a bit from the sound of the boat I gave the first call of the season. A minute or two later I was relatively certain that a bull had answered from a great distance away.  I quickly gave another call and the answer was crystal clear this time. The bull was on his way.

It took about fifteen minutes before he broke out of the bush and onto the shoreline of the lake.  He looked very nice moose to me, even from 150 yards away. The bull was on a mission to find the cow that called for love. Then at roughly 60 yards away he hung up as many bulls have done to us in the past. But I was ready for that this time.

I dropped to the ground behind a big fallen tree and faced away from the bull, then let out a very soft call so as to sound like his true love was moving away from him, deeper into the bush. My plan worked perfectly. He immediatley resumed his mission and closed the gap to me in very short order. When the bull was about 20 yards away and nearly to the water's edge he stopped and tried to figure out where the love sick cow had gone. Not sure, he decided to walk the shoreline just a few more yards and that was a fatal mistake.

As the bull turned broadside he hesitated just long enough for me to draw my antique bow and let go my antique aluminum arrow tipped with a 125 grain Thunderhead. The arrow hit its mark and the big bull lunged several steps ahead and then stopped! I was happy with the arrow placement but when the bull stopped and offered me another shot I was not about to think twice.  However, before I could get another arrow out of my quiver I could see the big bull was close to going down.  He was already wobbling where he stood so instead of an arrow I decided to pick up my camera and photograph what was about to happen.

Things went too fast for that plan.  Before I could even get the lens cap off the bull reared up and fell over stone cold dead not more than 30 yards from me.  What an awesome sight to witness! Having plenty of daylight left and wanting to make as much use of it as possible I quickly made my way back to the boat and went to get my hunting partner Mike.

My 2009 Ontario bull moose laying in the bay, just yards where I shot him with my antique bow.

Fortunately the bull had headed for deeper water after being arrowed and fell in about 5 feet of water, making the job of getting him back to camp much easier. We tied a rope around his antlers and made the long slow trip back to camp.  Approximately a mile and a half to two miles by boat.  It was dark by the time we hit shore but the rest of the job was easier from there. By later that night my 55 1/4 inch bull was hanging on the hanging pole.

Mike helping with the recovery by tying a rope around the bull's antlers so we could drag him back to camp across the lake.

From the time we left the dock to go on this hunt I was dragging my new trophy back in less than one hour, and I was one happy camper! The very next evening we were able to get within 15 yards of another nice bull but the outcome was not what we had wanted.  We hunted hard for the remainder of our trip but at the end of the week the score was the old man with the old bow and the old arrows 1 (big one at that ), and the other guy with all of the bells and whistles, carbon arrows, scopes and drop down rests, self centering grip, super fancy this and super fancy that, scent blocking clothes and high tech fiberglass moose call ZIP. NADA. NOTHING. SKUNKED.

My old aluminum arrow and NAP Thunderhead were more than enough to get the job done on this nice Ontario bull.

I guess the moral of the story here is that more often than not there is nothing greater than just some "OLD " fashioned hunter know-how.....and you can't buy that.

The Old Man with his old bow and old arrows, next to his trophy bull moose.

Here I am with Ted Mitchell of Mitchell's Meats and Sausages in Vermillion Bay, Ontario.  Wrangling this big bull around and getting him caped out and processed was a real experience, but it's all a part of the adventure I suppose!

Ted hard at work on my moose.  Thanks for the help and the quick turnaround!

Monster Buck Found Dead in Illinois

by Justin Zarr 20. October 2009 19:38
Justin Zarr

A coworker of my dad's found this massive dead buck on a new jobsite in the Chicagoland suburbs while cleaing some brush.  Nobody has any idea what killed the buck, but he sure is one impressive beast!  It's racks like this that definitely keep us fired up for the upcoming rut.  Look at those brow tines, and can you say MASS???

Mobile Bowhunting - The Tools For Success

by Justin Zarr 20. October 2009 04:05
Justin Zarr

Over the past several years it seems that the mobile "run and gun" style of bowhunting has become increasingly popular.  You're hearing more and more about it, and what benefits it offers, but not always about the proper tools to get the job done.  Since I adopted this style of hunting about 3 years ago I've gone through some serious trial and error trying to figure out what works, and more importantly what doesn't.  Last year in a 10 day span of time my hunting partner/cameraman Mike Willand and I hung, hunted from, and pulled down 12 different treestand sets.  Already this fall we've hung and hunted from 7 sets in just 3 1/2 days of hunting.

The first, and most important, component to staying mobile is your treestand and climbing system.  After all, you can't be too mobile without something to sit on.  You basically have two options here, a climbing stand or a lightweight stand and set of climbing sticks.  Ladder stands and screw-in steps are out of the question.  Ladders are too heavy and noisey to set up, and screw-in steps take too long.

Personally, I opt for the hang-on treestand and climbing sticks over the climbing stand.  This allows me to get into virtually any tree in any location that I want to hunt - straight, crooked, a lot of branches, or no branches.  Remember, mobile bowhunting is all about versatility and being able to get in quickly and quietly.  My stands of choice are the Lone Wolf Alpha Hang-On and Lone Wolf Assault, combined with the Lone Wolf climbing sticks.  This particular combo was developed specifically to be lightweight, quiet, and easy to set up.  Perfect for the mobile hunter.  Just be sure to either use the included backpack straps or pick up a set of padded straps, as they will make your mobile bowhunting a lot easier!

One great feature of the Lone Wolf climbing sticks is that they were designed to be stackable, and pack right onto their hang-on treestands.  This creates a single package that is very quiet and includes everything you need to get up a tree and hunt quickly.

Treehopper 3-in-1 Lineman's beltOnce you've picked out your tree and you're ready to start climbing, safety is the next important factor.  Having a full-body safety harness is a must.  My harness of choice is the Muddy Outdoors Safeguard Harness.  It is extremely lightweight, virtually tangle-free, and works extremely well.  The 2009 model comes with a lineman's belt, which is great for hanging stands.  I also use a Treehopper 3-in-1 lineman's belt as well, for those days when I'm only hanging stands and not hunting right after.  Remember, safety is always of the utmost importance.  No deer is worth risking injury or death, so please stay safe at all times!

Now that your stand is hung, you'll need to trim lanes.  This is probably my least favorite part of the entire process.  Its the noisiest, takes the longest, often times gets you all sweated up, and leaves your scent all over the place.  However, if you're careful and take your time you can do it fairly quietly and with as minimal impact as possible.  I carry 3 tools with me when hanging a new set that make my job much easier.  The Treehopper Lanemaker ratcheting pruners, the Gerber Sportsman's Wood Saw, and the Hooyman Extendible Tree Saw. 

The Lanemaker pruners are awesome for cutting through thicker branches with ease, and since they are made entirely of metal they won't break on you.  After using lesser-quality pruners for many years I finally upgraded to these Lanemakers last fall, and never looked back.  Get a pair of these, and you can thank me later.

My good friend Mike Willand turned me onto the Gerber Sportsman's Wood Saw last year as well.  This small hand saw is light weight, fits in your pack or your pocket, and the blade is super tough and super sharp.  I've been using mine for the past two seasons and it still cuts through trees and branches with ease.  Plus if you happen to lose it or break it for some reason, they're only $12 and can be replaced without breaking the bank.

The Gerber Sportsman's Wood Saw - lightweight, compact, and great for hunters on the go.

The Hooyman Saw is another extremely useful tool that has really helped with my mobile bowhunting.  The days of taping or tying a hand saw to a branch to be used as a makeshift pole saw are definitey over.  This handy little saw comes in a 5' version that packs down to just under 14", and a new 10' version that packs down to around 24".  The smaller saw fits great in your pack but does have its limits at only 5' long.  The new 10 footer is great for reaching out further, and using the included shoulder strap makes carrying it in and out a breeze.  This is a definite must-have for mobile hunters.

The Hooyman Extendible Tree Saw answered the prayers of many mobile bowhunters.  No longer do you have to carry a full-size pole saw into the woods with you when hanging a new set during the season.

Another item that seems to slip a lot of people's minds is some type of bow sling.  When you're humping all this gear into the woods on your back, and carrying just as much in your hands, being able to sling your bow over your shoulder is a wonderful thing.  I use the Pole Mountain Outdoors Bowshield with gear pockets when I need some extra storage, and the GamePlan Gear Bow Strap when I don't.  Both items are very easy to use and come in handy when you need a free hand.

Last but not least you can't forget the little items that always seem to come in handy.  I keep my pack stocked up with extra straps for my stands and sticks, plenty of small gear hooks, a Realtree EZ Hanger, and of course a couple of bow ropes.  One new product for this fall that's helped me keep my bow ropes organized is the Pine Rige Hook & Hoist System.  I attached a few of these to the seat tubes of my Lone Wolf stands and now I can be sure that I'll always have a rope with me when I need it.

My pack of choice is a Cabela's fanny pack that I picked up several years ago, which is very similar to the popular Badlands Monster Fanny Pack.  I need a big pack to fit all of my stuff in addition to my saws and whatnot.  That would include my camera, binoculars, rangefinder, hat, facemask, calls, scent wipes, licenses, knife, flashlight(s), and usually some Pop-Tarts and a Gatorade.  In addition, I use a fanny pack because it allows me to still carry a treestand and set of climbing sticks on my back with relative ease unlike a large backpack would.

Yours truly, on my way to hang a brand new set this past Sunday evening.  After hanging the stand, trimming lanes, and getting set up in a new spot I had the opportunity to shoot two does that I elected to pass.  Proving yet again that mobile bowhunting can be very productive if you have the right gear.

All in all, mobile bowhunting definitely has both advantages and disadvantages.  It does require a lot more work, it does require you to carry a lot more gear with you, and can be quite noisey at times.  But it also allows you to move in on hot spots and capitalize on the element of surprise when chasing whitetails.  Having the right gear to get the job done quickly and quietly can quite often mean the difference between success and failure.

Illinois Bowhunting Week 2 - Big Doe Down

by Justin Zarr 13. October 2009 01:17
Justin Zarr

The 2nd weekend of the Illinois bow season was definitely a trying one on both myself and my hunting  partner/cameraman Mike Willand.  Friday night started off on the wrong foot as Mike's truck broke down on his way to my house and delayed our departure by a few hours.  After getting on the road at just after 9 pm we didn't arrive down South at our lease until nearly 2 am.  After a quick 2 hour nap in our buddy Dan's rockstar trailer we showered and headed into our spot.  The wind direction, moon phase, and temperature were perfect and hopes were high.  There was just one problem - the creek crossing into our land was completely flooded!  After a 5 hour drive and a 2 hour nap to find out we couldn't hunt that morning was a total letdown.  What a waste of a good morning!

The "creek" we normally walk across with knee-high rubber boots looked more like a river last Saturday morning.

At least the fall colors are starting to come in pretty nice!

After weighing our options we decided to pack everything back up and drive 3 1/2 hours back North to another spot we have in JoDaviess County, IL.  We had never hunted this particular property, and in fact had only set foot on it a total of 3 times, but we figured it was worth a shot.  So after a couple more hours in the truck we finally arrived, met up with our friends Brian Bychowski and Wayne King from Pine Ridge Archery, and set out for the evening's hunt.

We were set up over a standing bean field that is being destroyed by the deer.  This field is covered up with tracks, rubs, and scrapes.  Not long into our hunt we spotted a few small bucks coming out of the woods headed away from us.  Shortly after that a few does came into the field where they fed for over and hour about 80 yards from our stands.  Eventually they were joined by several other deer who were also feeding on the beans.  At about 6:30 it was like someone flipped a switch and they all started heading our way.

With Mike behind the camera I got ready for a shot at one of the mature does in the group.  As she passed behind a limb I came to full draw, and as she stepped into the open I asked Mike if he was on her.  When he said "No! Wait!" I knew we were in trouble.  She stopped just shy of the camera being able to see her and with me still at full draw she went about her business eating soybeans.  After what seemed like forever Mike was able to extend the camera arm out just enough to get her in the frame and he gave me the go-ahead.  I raised my bow back up and just as the big doe spotted us in the tree I let the arrow fly.

Click on the video above to watch the full hunt!

My NAP Spitfire Maxx tipped arrow zipped right through her and she took off up the hill to the top of the field.  Although my shot was a few inches back I knew she wasn't go to make it far.  After a short pause at the top of the hill the big doe went down in sight.  We waited until dark to get down out of our tree and after helping Brian retrieve his doe we changed out of our hunting clothes and headed out to retrieve her.  She was laying right where we had last seen her go down, and after a grueling 1/2 mile drag across a muddy bean field we got her back to the truck.

My first deer of the 2009 season.  Not a monster buck by any means, but I'll take it.  Jerky, anyone?

My shot placement on this particular hunt was not the best, and I'll readily admit that.  However, the 1 3/4" cutting diameter of that Spitfire Maxx broadhead performed flawlessly and in my opinion helped with the short recovery of this deer.  The increased damage caused by the larger cutting diameter, combined with the industry-leading sharpness of NAP's blades really does make a big difference on those marginal hits.  As it turns out I center-punched the liver and went through the diaphragm which is always a lethal shot, although sometimes recoveries can be a little tough if the deer travels a good distance before going down.  We got lucky this time and she went down within sight, which doesn't happen often on a liver shot deer.

Mike and I with our big Illinois doe.  We know how to grow 'em big!

This weekend I'll be hunting a few of my local spots where some good bucks have recently been spotted, so hopefully I'll be able to get a look at them.  I'll also be able to check a few of my trail cameras that have been out for 3 weeks now, so hopefully I'll have some good pictures to share with everyone.  If time permits, I'll also be trying to get my good buddy Jeremy Enders on his first deer ever with a bow.  I may just put him in the same stand where I took this deer if the weather permits.  Wish us luck!

If you're looking for a mechanical broadhead that flies like a field point, has a large cutting diamater, and super sharp blades check out the NAP Spitfire Maxx.  You can purchase them right here at by clicking this link.

Also, if you like to move your stands around a lot during the season and need a better way to trim shooting lanes on the go check out the Hooyman 10' Rectractible Tree Saw.  In addition to the extra length they have really improved the blade locking system, making the saw much more effective at cutting down those hard to reach branches.  Without a doubt, I wouldn't have been able to hang and hunt this set without my Hooyman Saw.  You can purchase them by clicking this link here.

Our good buddy Brian Bychowski was able to down this big doe just several hundred yards away from us the same evening.  Congrats!

Last but not least, a big Thank You goes out to my cameraman Mike Willand for doing a great job as always, and Brian and Wayne for helping with that horrible drag.  Next time we're bringing a deer cart!

Opening Weekend in Illinois - Bowhunting Begins!

by Justin Zarr 7. October 2009 19:35
Justin Zarr

After another agonizing 9 month wait the Illinois archery season is finally open!  For our first weekend of the season Mike and I decided to head to West Central Illinois. We figured it was our best shot at capitalizing on an early season buck before they figure our we're after them.  So we made the nearly 5 hour drive from our homes on Friday night and arrived just in time to hang a few stands in the dark and climb up before first light on Saturday morning.

With temperatures in the 40's and not having dressed properly Mike and I were both pretty cold, but we stuck it out for a few hours before finally calling it a morning.  We only saw one deer, a small doe, from stand but it felt good to get out in the woods regardless.  After our hunt we pulled our stands down and decided to reposition them, and also hang another set to hunt for the evening hunt.

The evening was rather uneventful as we didn't see any deer, but the following morning with yours truly behind the camera we had a great hunt.  Despite the full moon and heavy foliage limiting our view we still saw nearly 20 deer this morning, many of which were well within bow range.  Having already filled a doe tag in Wisconsin Mike elected to pass up on these shots, but it was still a great hunt and we got some really good footage.  Check out the video below for a quick recap of our first weekend in the bowhunting woods!

Mike and I will be back down South this weekend to finish getting all of our stands prepped before Novemember, and hopefully I'll get the opportunity to put a doe down on film.  Be sure to check back early next week and see how we do!  Temps are supposed to be even colder this weekend and with a good moon phase I think we've got a legitimate chance at seeing and harvesting some great deer.

Last Minute Bowhunting Preparations - 3 Days Left!

by Justin Zarr 27. September 2009 08:32
Justin Zarr

Every year it seems like I'm always rushing at the last minute to make my final preparations before the season starts.  The past two weeks I've spent a considerable amount of time after work trimming some of my sets out, hanging a few new sets, making a few more mock scrapes, and setting out some trail cameras.  Unfortunately I don't have any big buck pictures to show for it, but the only ones I'm concerned about are the ones where I'm sitting behind the buck anyways.

With all the stands hung and trimmed that I'm going to have before the season starts I'm really focused on making sure my bow and arrow setup is performing flawlessly.  I'm shooting the new NAP BloodRunner broadhead this fall and I've been shooting them exclusively for the past several weeks now.  These heads are built incredibly well, the blades are scary sharp, and I'm itching to find something to shoot with one of them!

The NAP BloodRunner - now in black!  I can't wait to shoot something with one of these!  If you'd like to buy some for yourself, you can click this link here.

Fortunately for me, my new house has a backyard that's plenty big enough for flinging a few arrows after work which has been really nice.  I told my wife before we bought a new place that all I wanted was a backyard to shoot my bow in, and a basement that I can turn into a man cave.  After all, what more does a guy really need in life?  Besides a few hundred acres of course....

The view from my deck.  Too bad it's not a real deer!

My targets of choice are the Rinehart 18-1 and the Rinehart Broadhead buck.  I've been singing the praises of the 18-1 for years now.  This target is small, economical, has 18 sides to shoot at, and after 3 years of abuse you can barely tell.  That includes shooting both broadheads and target points into it.

My first two shots with the NAP BloodRunner after screwing them on.  Not too bad if I do say so myself.

The Broadhead Buck is made from the same self-healing foam as the 18-1 and holds up just as well.  The cool thing about this target is that one side features outlines of the deer's anatomy (shoulder blade, heart, lungs, liver, etc.) and the other side literally shows the anatomy.  This is great for bowhunters who want to make sure that the deer's anatomy is engrained in their minds for when the moment of truth arrives.  I usually shoot at the outlined side myself, but do turn it around from time to time.  This target is made specifically for backyard archers like myself, and does the job wonderfully.

The backside of the Rinehart Broadhead Buck 3-D target.  If you'd like to purchase one of these targets for yourself, we have them here at  Check them out at this link here.

All in all, I'm pretty happy with the way I'm shooting right now and my current stand setups close to home.  Mike and I are planning a trip to one of our leases for opening weekend, hoping to capitalize on a nice buck before they realize we're after them.  Now I just have to finish getting the rest of my gear ready!  Clothes to wash, stands and sticks to pack, gotta find my grunt call, binos, gear hooks, safety harness, boots, etc etc.  Ahh!!

Trail Cam Photos Starting to Pick Up

by Justin Zarr 8. September 2009 09:19
Justin Zarr

Once again it's been a long hard summer when it comes to getting good trail camera photos.  For some reason my hunting spots close to home just don't seem to hold the big boys during the summer months.  As usual that theory has held true as I haven't gotten any photos to speak of in two months of running my cameras.  With fall coming up and the bucks starting to shed their velvet I'm finally starting to see a few bigger bucks.

This first batch of photos comes from a spot that I've only hunted 2-3 times over the past several seasons.  It's a hard spot to hunt with a single patch of super thick woods and not a lot of places for a stand.  I know this spot holds some good bucks so I'm going to spend some additional time focusing here come October.

This photos is really deceiving.  At first glance he looks like a nicer buck than I think he is.  Short beams, short tines - I think he's only a 2 1/2 year old and may be the same buck as the one below.  Another year or two and he'll be worth another look.

What's up with the plethora of 7 pointers this season?

This guy and the other bucks above are at least a year if not two years away from shooter status, but they're fun to look at.  I'm sure once the scrapes start opening up I'll be getting a lot more pictures of them!  These photos are all from a Cuddeback Capture IR which does a pretty decent job with trigger speed and photo quality, but leaves some to be desired in the way of battery life.

These next two batches are from my main hunting grounds about 2 miles from the photos shown above.  I've gotten several pictures of a shootable 9 pointer in velvet who is now hard horned.  Given the history of this area and the 1/2 dozen bucks we have photos and sheds of that look EXACTLY like this guy, I don't think he's going to put on too much more antler in the coming years.  Needless to say if I get a shot at him, I'm taking it.

I call this guy "Multiplicity" since he looks exactly like a bunch of other bucks that have lived on this farm over the past 5-6 years.  They're all 4x5's that never seem to get much bigger than 130" no matter how old they are.  Ahh....the joys of a crappy gene pool!

Do you think he spotted the camera?

This big 7 pointer just showed up recently on my cameras and is another buck on the brink of shooter status for me on this particular farm.  From the couple photos I've gotten of him I can't make up my mind if he's a 2 year old or 3 year old buck.  I'm hoping to get some better photos of him before October rolls around.

I think this is the same buck as above taken last fall.

I will probably get back out on Thursday night to replace a few cameras whose batteries had run out, refresh my mock scrapes, and let things settle down for awhile.  Most likely my next foray into the woods won't be until the weekend before the season opens to check cameras one last time and do some final trimming of two sets that I want to hunt that first weekend.

Check out the long face on this old doe!  She's been around for awhile, that's for sure.  If she makes the mistake of walking by me, her reign as queen of the local woodlot may come to an abrupt end.

Creating a Mock Scrape in August?

by Justin Zarr 1. September 2009 20:59
Justin Zarr

A couple weeks ago I was discussing the fast-approaching season with my hunting partner, trying to brainstorm up some ideas on how we can capitalize on a few good bucks during the early season.  We both hunt suburban areas that have nice bucks passing through them each fall, but aren't regularly used as primary bedding areas or food sources.  Sure they hold a few does and some immature bucks, but due to their small size and lack of good cover the big boys don't like to hang out there for long.

This is when the idea of starting a few mock scrapes came up.  Our thought is that if we can present the illusion that another buck has moved into the area, even if it's not a buck's core area, they may be more inclined to come through these spots on a more regular basis and offer us an opportunity for a shot.  Considering I've been hunting one particular spot for 8 seasons now and only had one shooter buck within bow range, I figured anything is worth a shot!

Last Saturday Mike and I headed out to set our first two mock scrapes.  I had purchased a mock scrape kit from Kishel's Scents that includes three separate bottles of scent.  They are interdigital gland, pre-orbital gland, and tarsal gland.  At this point you're probably thinking we're nuts - mock scrapes in August??  Yes, mock scrapes in August!  Many hunters don't realize that deer use scent, and scrapes in particular, as a means of communication all year long.  Even if they are not actively scraping in them, deer will visit scrapes all year to check out who is coming and who is going.  They are like the Facebook of the woods; even if you're not posting you're checking out what everyone else is doing.  Don't deny it either!

Using Johnny Scrapemaker to begin the foundation for our first mock scrape.

With October looming in the not to distant future bucks are just starting to come out of velvet.  This means their testosterone levels are increasing and they'll soon be rubbing, scraping, and beginning to once again establish dominance in their breeding areas.  By introducing new scents from a new buck to this area, we're hoping that any mature bucks passing by will take note of this new signpost and check back fairly regularly to see who is moving in on their lady friends.

I placed a Predator Evolution trail camera over one of the mock scrapes we made adjacent to a good bedding area.  This is the scrape I am most interested in hunting this fall, and already picked out the tree for my stand which I will be hanging most likely this coming weekend.  Additionally, I created a 2nd mock scrape behind the stand site to establish a line of travel for bucks passing between the two areas, hoping to create an additional opportunity for a shot.  And if that fails, there's always calling!

Setting out the Predator Evolution XR trail camera over our first mock scrape.  Hopefully we'll get some good video clips in a week or two.

Click here to watch the video on how we went about making our first mock scrape.

A couple important things to note about creating these mock scrapes.  Since it is early in the season be sure you're not using any sort of doe estrous or breeding scents.  Stick with the basics.  The interdigital gland is located in between the deer's hoof, so spray a few pumps in the scrape.  The preorbital gland is located on the deer's head so spray a few pumps onto the overhanging branches.  I did use a very limited amount of buck tarsal gland as well, but that is optional this time of year.  If you can find some straight buck urine, you may have good luck with that as well.  Also, be sure not to touch anything in the area of your mock scrape with your bare hands, and be sure to wear rubber scent-free boots as well.

Spraying some pre-orbital gland scent on the overhanging branches.

I will check back on the scrapes this weekend when I go to hang my stand.  The acorns are really falling in this particular area and I know there's some bucks feeding in there so I'm anticipating at least a couple of video clips to share with you.  If you're setting up a mock scrape, or have a real scrape you'd like to monitor, I highly recommd putting a trail camera up to monitor their activity.  The Predator cameras work great because they take video clips both during the day as well as night and have excellent trigger speed.  Check them out in the store, you won't be disappointed!

Acorns on the ground - always a good sign that fall is fast approaching!

Axcel Armortech Sight Review

by Justin Zarr 10. August 2009 04:37
Justin Zarr

Every off season I seem to find an excuse to replace at least one, if not four or five, of my bowhunting accessories. This year I decided to cut back a bit and stick to just two new items; my arrow rest and my sight. After looking over the sight selection at the ATA show back in January I settled on the new Armortech sights by Axcel.

The one item that I really like the most on this sight are the completely protected pin fibers. From end to end, the fibers on the Armortech are entirely covered to ensure that they will not break. Over the past 4 years I've managed to break fibers on 3 different sights (a Cobra and two Copper John's) and I finally decided that enough was enough. The metal housing on the back of the pin keeps your fiber completely enclosed for maximum security. This really comes in hand if you're clumsy like me and seem to get your bow caught up in every branch and brush pile you walk within 10 feet of.

The completely "armored" pins are the biggest reason I chose this particular sight for my bowhunting duties.

Another great feature that sold me is the tool-less micro-adjustability. With a quick turn of the wing nut to loosen the scope you can micro-adjust the sight with a few clicks of the adjustment knobs. Speaking of which, I really like the audible and solid "clicks" when you are adjusting things. It makes it much easier to keep track of how much you're adjusting things in case you go too far and have to move back.

A small turn of the wing nut to loosen the scope, and you're micro-adjusting in no time - no tools required!  However, if you want to adjust pins individually you do need to loosen them with a tiny allen key first.

The last really cool feature on the Armortech sight is the hourglass shaped scope window. The "Venturi" shape provides a completely circular sight picture even if you're slightly off-center. This, of course, helps you to be more accurate.

I elected to go with the 4 pin .019 model.  I really only use two pins when bowhunting so any more than that is just extra.

A couple other notable points about the Axcel sights are as follows:

  • The Axcel HD models include a built-in Mathews Harmonic Damper
  • All models feature 2nd and 3rd axis adjustments
  • Available with .019 or .010 pins
  • Interchangeable for RH or LH shooters
  • Built-in bubble level

After several months of shooting this site I'm very impressed. Going back to .019 pins has really helped my accuracy, and I can't say enough good things about the micro-adjust and armored pins. The one downfall of this sight is that it is a bit pricey, but like anything in life you get what you pay for. This sight is extremely well built and I have a feeling is going to last me quite a long time.

If you're interested in a new sight, I highly recommend checking these out.  We have them available in the shopping cart, and you can click here to purchase one.

One last thing to note - all Axcel products are machined and assembled right here in the USA. In this tough economy it's nice to know you're giving back to the country we all love so much!

Have We Lost Our Bowhunting Ethics?

by Justin Zarr 9. July 2009 07:54
Justin Zarr

Bowhunting on film requires an even greater set of bowhunting ethics when it comes to shot selectionWith each passing year it seems that there are more hunting TV shows, videos, websites, and expos  showing off world class animals than ever before.  There's no question that when it comes to the size of the animals hunters are harvesting each year we are clearly living in the Golden Age of hunting.  Although many can argue that our hunting heritage is losing it's soul as hunting grounds become tougher to come by, gear and the overall cost of hunting continues to become more expensive, and competition amongst hunters often leads to arguments and in some extreme cases fighting and the destruction of lifelong friendships.  But I digress, that's not what this blog entry is all about.

What I do want to talk about is our drive to succeed, to show off our accomplishments, and the way it effects our judgement when it comes to shot selection.  I am a self-diagnosed hunting video junkie.  There aren't many hunting videos I don't own, and there aren't many hunting TV shows that I don't have recorded on my DVR.  Over the past several years I've noticed a disturbing trend of hunters on camera taking horrible shots at animals, passing them off as good shots either due to their incredible marksmanship, their awesome gear, or just because it was the "only shot they had".  Each time I watch one of these videos I can't help but feel a strong sense of anger towards these bowhunters for their poor representation of our sport and their apparent greed and concern only for their trophy photo and product sponsorship rather than the humane killing of their quarry.  Is this really what we've been reduced to?

I took my bowhunter's education class in 1992, shortly before my first season in the woods with a bow in my hand.  During that course the instructor made it very clear to all of the students that the only shots a bowhunter should take at big game animals were broadside and slightly quartering away.  That's it.  Facing directly away, directly underneath, quartering towards, or straight-on shots were taught to us as unethical and extremely low percentage shots that we should NOT be taking.  Has the anatomy of our big game quarry changed so much in the past 17 years that these shots are now suddenly acceptable?  Unless I'm missing something, I don't think that's the case.

To use an example that's fresh in my mind I DVR'd an episode of In Pursuit with Greg Miller the other night.  After a long day at work I was relaxing on my couch and decided to check it out.  I've been a big fan of Greg's for many years and really enjoyed his books, articles, and previous videos.  On this particular hunt Greg's son, whose name I forget, was hunting in North Texas.  On the last day of his hunt a gorgeous buck comes into his setup and doesn't offer him a broadside or quartering away shot, but rather a quartering-towards shot.  Instead of waiting for an ethical shot or simply passing the shot entirely, this bowhunter took a severly quartering-towards shot and hit the animal behind the near leg with the arrow exiting at what appeared to be near the rear opposite leg.  I don't care who you talk to in the bowhunting world, but that is not the type of shot anyone should be taking at an animal.  Of course the animal was recovered the next day, with no mention of the horrendous shot, and all was well.  Somehow I have a sneaking suspicion that if this animal would not have been found, that video would've never seen the light of day, or our TV screens.  I am by no means singling this hunter or this show out, as there are plenty of other examples out there.  This is just the most recent in my mind.

What kind of example does this type of behavior present to our young and beginning bowhunters?  Does it teach them that the ends justify the means?  That if this guy on TV can do it, why can't I?  That all that matters is putting our hands on that trophy rack and emailing the photos to our friends?  And we wonder why our Internet message boards burst at the seems each fall with bowhunters asking "I think I hit him, now what?!!?" threads.

When it comes to shot placement there is a big different between taking a bad shot, and making a bad shot.  Unfortunately bad shots happen to most bowhunters at some point in their lives.  I am guilty of more than one in my career, none of which I am proud of. An unseen twig, a jumpy target on alert, or simply our nerves getting the best of us can send an arrow off it's mark.  These things happen to even the most seasoned veterans and are an unfortunate reality of our sport.  However, as long as we do everything in our power to keep these errant shots to a bare minimum we are still behaving ethically and as respectable bowhunters.  It's when we begin to conciously decide to take questionable shots at animals that we become victims of this horrible trap that defines our success by the number of animals we kill rather than the morality behind our decisions.

I believe that this code of shot placement ethics should be held to an even higher standard when it comes to the professionals who are paid to represent and promote our sport on TV, in films, and in advertising campaigns.  You are the ambassadors of our sport, the people that other hunters look up to and aspire to be.  Taking a bad shot at an animal to help promote your career or your agenda is no different in my eyes than MLB players taking steroids to increase their performance.  We are so focused on the end results that we look past how we got there, and as many people have found out taking the easy road isn't as rewarding as taking the high road.

In conclusion, I challenge every bowhunter who reads this blog to really think about their own decisions and the way they hunt when taking to the woods this fall.  Before you release that next arrow make sure it is an ethical one.

Oh, and if you make a bad shot (especially on film) don't lie to us and say that you "smoked him".  We're not idiots. Get Together a Great Success

by Justin Zarr 28. June 2009 21:22
Justin Zarr

The very first Get Together was held this past Saturday and as we expected it was a great success!  Todd and I want to personally send our thanks to everyone who showed up and helped make this event as much fun as it was.  We also want to thank the companies and people who helped contribute to bringing it all together - Hank Lewandowski, Jim Fergus, New Archery Products, Pine Ridge Archery, Rinehart Targets, and Rut Junkie Apparel.  We couldn't have done it without you guys!  And a special thanks to "Bloodcrik" for making us those awesome rock trophies once again.  Those things are awesome!

Caleb finishing up his 3-D round shooting at the Rinehart Elk target.

Held at the Coon Creek Hunt Club in Garden Prairie, IL the GTG featured 4 organized shooting events; a 15 target 3-D shoot, a 65 yard Long Distance Shoot, an Exploding (or not so exploding) target/Clay bird shoot, and a Poker shoot.  All participants were broken into teams and rotated through their stations over the course of the day.  Lunch was provided by the great folks at Joe's Place in Marengo, IL and after-party beverages were brought by none other than Rick James and Mr. Dusty Bottoms.

Every member who pre-registered received a free event t-shirt. 

Staff member and Blog writer John Mueller showing off his 3-D course attire.  It was a little wet out there!

Local PSE rep Francis Amenta brought out the new PSE X-Force Omen and let anyone who was interested shoot it.  For being one of the fastest bows for 2009 I have to admit it was pretty quiet and vibration-free.  If you're a speed freak, you'll definitely want to check this bow out.

Congratulations also to forum member and good friend Dr. Andy who won the bow raffle.  Andy won his choice between a PSE Bow Madness and a Ross Carnivore bow.  As of this morning it appears that Andy has elected to go with the Ross, which will be ordered up today and should arrive shortly.  Congrats again, it couldn't have happened to a better guy!  And to top it all off, just before the drawing Andy chrono'd his old PSE and found out he was shooting the slowest bow at the GTG (215fps).  So I guess he really needed it!

This year's event winners were as follows:

3-D Smackdown:
1st - Matt/MO won a trophy rock courtesy of Bloodcrik, some Rut Junkie apparel, and most importantly bragging rights for the next year!
2nd - Rick James
3rd - Buckeye

Matt/MO showing off the form that won him this year's Smackdown champion honors.

The coveted 1st place rock!

Non-exploding Target:
Rick James won $100 cash and an Octane 2-piece quiver

Hank setting up the Clay Target shoot, which was the qualifier for the non-exploding target round.

Long Distance Shoot:
Dubbya aka "Dusty Bottoms" won a Rinehart 18-1 target

Poker Shoot:
Il_Bow_Man won a Bushnell Trail Camera

Congrats to all the winners, and better luck to the rest of us suckers next year!

Thanks again to everyone who came out and helped make this such a great event.  Next year we will have even more prizes and raffles so for those of you who didn't make it this year, start planning now!!  We will be posting additional photos and videos from the event this week as they become available so make sure to check back for updates!

The gang taking a break and getting out of the sun for a few minutes in the clubhouse.

CLICK HERE to view more photos, and we'll have some video clips posted up shortly!

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