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Wisconsin Misses Chance to Expand Crossbow Hunting

by Patrick Durkin 19. April 2012 09:03
Patrick Durkin

You might assume the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association slept better in March after the Legislature adjourned without loosening crossbow restrictions for the state’s four-month archery deer season.

Pfft! Not a chance. Just as Ahab hunted his white whale till death, so must WBH chieftains stalk the crossbow to their graves. You’ll never persuade them it’s a divisive waste of time, effort and talent.

What’s more troubling is the Department of Natural Resources dodging efforts to expand crossbow use. DNR spokesmen typically say crossbows are a “social” question hunters must decide themselves, even as the agency struggles to control deer across much of Wisconsin’s southern two-thirds.

Lowering the crossbow age limit to 55 from 65 in Wisconsin would increase participation and stabilize license-buying declines.

If that’s not enough contradiction, many legislators and DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp claim they’re forever exploring ways to recruit and retain hunters, and expand hunting opportunities. That’s great, but most agency-directed efforts require patient, perennial educational programs designed to get youngsters off their PlayStations and into the woods.

As much as we need steady, far-sighted programs, we also need simple regulation changes to create opportunities for current or lapsed hunters. That’s why it’s frustrating to see the DNR and lawmakers forgo proposals to lower the crossbow age from 65 to 55 for archery deer season. Crossbows are only legal during archery season for bowhunters 65 and older, or those with doctor-certified handicaps.

Late archery seasons are a great time to go crossbow hunting.

Talk about missing a chance to please rank-and-file hunter-voters. As Rob Bohmann, chairman of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, told lawmakers in February, they’d hit a home run by lowering the crossbow age to 55.

After all, when the Congress floated the idea as an advisory question in April 2010, voters passed it statewide, 2,014 to 1,767, a 53-47 margin. It also passed in county voting, 42-25 (a 63-37 margin), with five counties tied.

When the DNR took that vote and made it a formal proposal at the April 2011 hearings, the WBH rallied its members, hoping to squash it. Instead, the question passed by a wider margin statewide than in 2010, 2,806-2,198, a 56-44 margin. It also passed by a larger margin in county voting, 55-16 (77-23), with one tie.

Even so, the proposal was MIA in autumn 2011 as the Legislature passed other DNR-backed hunting proposals OK’d at April’s hearings.

The Wisconsin Bowhunters Association spent about $8,000 on lobbyists in 2011, with about half of it fighting against crossbows.

What about the age-55 crossbow plan? Well, the most effective lobbying and deal-making might be the kind that prevents legislation from getting drafted. Maybe we should respect the WBH and its lobbyist, Ronald Kuehn of DeWitt Ross & Stevens SC, for persuading lawmakers to ignore the public’s crossbow wishes.

In 2011, the WBH paid nearly $8,000 for 40 hours of lobbying. Government Accountability Board records show about half that effort targeted crossbows and crossbow-related issues. Again, that’s the WBH’s prerogative and destiny. It’s incapable of any other action, given its petrified attitude toward crossbows.

But if the DNR is serious about boosting hunter numbers and license revenues, it should have opposed the WBH and worked with lawmakers to lower the crossbow age to 55 or 50. Granted, no one knows how much that would boost bowhunting participation, but license sales to bowhunters 65 and older rose steadily once Wisconsin first allowed crossbows in 2003.

The Wisconsin DNR and lawmakers ignored public sentiments that favored lowering the crossbow age from 65 to 55 for archery deer season.

Based on that trend, a DNR analysis projected annual archery-license sales would increase by about 1,700 annually if the age were lowered to 55. That’s no sea change, but it would maintain bowhunter numbers, and give more people access to our longest, most opportunity-rich deer season.

Instead, lawmakers passed a bill in March that merely allows crossbows during gun seasons for deer, bear, elk, turkeys and small game. Earlier, on a 60-35 party-line vote, Assembly Republicans rejected anamendment by Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, to lower the crossbow age to 55 for archery deer season.

Milroy said in an interview March 13 that he hopes to work with the WBH and Conservation Congress next year on a compromise, such as a crossbow-specific season requiring a separate license.

Unfortunately, there’s even less chance of the WBH compromising on crossbows than there is of generating new revenues and hunting opportunities from the gun-season bill awaiting Gov. Walker’s signature., 





Politics of Bowhunting, Deer Hunting Easy Compared to Crane Hunting

by Patrick Durkin 19. April 2012 03:34
Patrick Durkin

Deer hunting sparks some of the ugliest political fights you’ll ever see, whether it concerns antlerless hunts, deer baiting or opening our archery season to crossbows.

But to see true culture clashes, nothing compares to efforts to open hunting seasons on mourning doves or sandhill cranes. OK, wolves too. But that’s another blog.

Sandhill cranes and Canada geese feed in a central Wisconsin field.

There’s no reasoning with many folks from the birding community when you calmly note their opposition lacks logic. Take Wisconsin, for example. You’d expect that with nine humdrum mourning dove seasons behind us that Wisconsinites could politely discuss a hunt for sandhill cranes.

But no. Mention a sandhill hunt, and folks still cock their fists and get sideways, even though no one’s life crumbled from dove hunting. No one seems to remember that spite vanished like spiced dove breasts on hor devours trays after dove season opened in 2003.

Likewise, if we established a sandhill crane season tomorrow, we’d be yawning by Labor Day. But in proposing a crane hunt this past winter, Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, did Wisconsin hunters no favors by citing crop damage as a hunting justification.

If foraging cranes trouble Kleefisch and his fellow legislators, why did they abolish earn-a-buck rules for deer hunting? No critter rivals deer for damaging crops and plants, and no program whacked whitetails like earn-a-buck.

Sandhill cranes are distinguished by their red-capped head.

In killing EAB, lawmakers parroted my fellow hunters who claimed there aren’t enough deer, and that hunters aren’t pest-control officers. But when the Associated Press asked Marshfield’s Marlin Laidlaw, chairman of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress’s agricultural damage committee, about Kleefisch’s proposal, Laidlaw said sandhill cranes are out of control:

“The problem with the people who don’t understand wildlife and wildlife management, they join an organization and fall in love with a particular species. As far as they’re concerned, you can’t have too many. They just don’t get it. You’ve got to control populations.”

Hmm. Was Laidlaw talking about sandhill cranes or white-tailed deer? For years he loudly opposed EAB and the Department of Natural Resources’ efforts to reduce deer numbers.

We can agree, however, that most people don’t hunt to provide the public free pest-control services. We hunt because it’s exciting and challenging, and provides lean free-range meat no store can match. Granted, when the DNR regulates hunting to prevent critters from becoming a danger or nuisance, that’s a bonus; even a necessity. But it doesn’t motivate most hunters.

 Sandhill cranes can be viewed as both a majestic bird and great table fare.

Meanwhile, protectionists neither help cranes nor their cause by blindly opposing a hunt. Karen Etter Hale, a vice president of Wisconsin’s Audubon Council, told the AP: “If hunters want to further damage their reputation by pushing for yet another species to hunt, then that’s what they should do.”

Yep, that’s right. Stay on your side of the tracks, people. Folks like Etter Hale said the same thing about dove hunting in Wisconsin a decade ago. But a hunting season for a plentiful, large-bodied, good-eating bird isn’t about reputations. It’s about reminding our timid DNR of its historical mission to promote public hunting and fishing when self-sustaining species can provide meat, fur and recreation.

Meanwhile, Madison’s Audubon Society posted a “Sandhill Crane Hunt Alert” on its Web site, encouraging members to contact legislators.

Sigh. Why do people with similar goals hate working together? Hunters and bird-huggers both donate to habitat-conservation causes. Both smile and perk their ears at goose music and crane bugles. And both quote Aldo Leopold more than the Bible.

Well, here’s a Leopold quote bird-folks ignore: “Game management is the art of making land produce sustained annual crops of wild game for recreational use.”

That’s the opening sentence of Leopold’s seminal book “Game Management,” which guided North America’s efforts to replenish the birds and mammals we nearly wiped out 100 years ago through unregulated development, market hunting and subsistence hunting.

In Leopold’s spirit, Etter Hale, Laidlaw and other conservation leaders should seize crane hunting as a chance to work together. First, they should join forces to establish the season, and require hunt applicants to pay $15 and those receiving a permit to pay $25 more. If opponents don’t like hunting, they can apply for permits and burn what they receive.

Next, the state could earmark fees for the International Crane Foundation, and equal amounts for the DNR’s endangered resources bureau, which needs help. Its 2011 budget was $5.9 million, most of it from donations.

That’s only 12 percent of the Wisconsin DNR’s combined budgets for its fisheries bureau, $26.5 million; and wildlife bureau, $21 million. Most of those budgets are funded by anglers, trappers and hunters.

Birders should be emulating that generosity rather than demanding government impose their values on everyone. Besides, as Leopold proved, people can be both hunters and bird-lovers. They can see sandhill cranes both as majestic birds and flying rib-eyes. They acknowledge -- and embrace – life’s apparent contradictions.

The great ones, like Leopold, make it look easy.


Shooting lanes

by Matt Cheever 23. January 2012 10:11
Matt Cheever

There seems to be two distinct schools of thought when it comes to pruning shooting lanes, most gravitate to one end or the other with a few folks hovering in the middle.  On the one hand you have guys that don’t like to cut anything they don’t absolutely have to, in fact these extremist at times won’t cut a single limb and just rely on the deer to step through a tiny opening at the moment of truth. You can probably tell by my description this mindset doesn’t include me.
The other school of thought is to make sure you have a clear shot with reasonable shooting lanes in any possible area the deer could travel through. The obvious down side is you open yourself up more to be picked off and you disturb the deer’s living room at some point. I tend to lean more in this direction but am cautious as not to open things up too much and ruin a stand site.

The ramifications of too much or too little are huge.  If you film your hunts like I do, you need to consider camera angle and not having to focus through a lot of limbs to capture the image; if you take too many limbs it leaves a huge hole that lends itself nicely as a focal point for the deer’s line of sight.  You want at least three good shooting lanes, preferably one to each side at an angle to your stand and another one straight in front of you. I realize many like to have their stand on the back side of a tree for concealment but this makes it very difficult if not impossible to film your own hunts.

An extendable power chain saw is very effective when you have many limbs or larger limbs to do prune 

Where is the fine line between these two you may ask? I have an approach that may take advantage of the best of both words.  Take some time during the late Winter months while out hiking or shed hunting and do your heavy pruning; you know that one big limb 20 yards out 18 feet up that always seems to be between you and the deer, take out a pole chain saw, extendable hand saw or even a small hand saw that you can duck tape to a sapling and get that limb down.  Do your massive pruning directly after season if you have determined to keep that stand site. There are three benefits, one is having less of an impact on the deer you are hunting, two is you will open things up but allow new spring growth to come back in and camo up your area a bit; last but not least you are putting more tree buds on the ground for the deer to browse, why not do it when they need food the most?

Don’t be afraid to use a large saw for nuisance trees in the winter months as long as the land owner doesn’t mind.


Doing this late season pruning isn’t a catch all, you will still need to pop a few little twigs out of the way come late summer or fall, but it will be with minimal disturbance. Late summer is a great time to slide in there and take a hand saw and quietly snag a few nuisance limbs. The perfect tool for small touch up or public land pruning where chainsaws may not be allowed is the Hooyman extending saw. This model reaches around ten feet, or can be used as just a hand saw, and folds up small enough to take on each hunt if necessary

I don’t personally like climbing stands but if I did, this would be a must have tool

I find there is always that one little twig that seems to cause most of the problems, but I have eliminated that by toting this aluminum I beam framed saw along with me

Get out in the woods during late winter and don’t let that one little limb or big limb keep you from your trophy next fall. You will be amazed how your success rate goes up once you take out the limb factor excuse.  Remember to be safe when using saws in trees and always have a safety harness on.

Until next time, be safe and God bless
Matt Cheever 


Categories: Bowhunting Blogs

Wisconsin Bowhunter Completes 4-year Quest for Drop-Tine Buck

by Patrick Durkin 20. December 2011 13:27
Patrick Durkin

Paul Conley had every right to give himself high-fives and back slaps in early December after arrowing the trophy buck he hunted four years in Wisconsin's Chequamegon National Forest.

Instead, the 23-year-old Mellen, Wisconsin, bowhunter credited his girlfriend, Casey; children, Trinity and Xander; parents, Al and Theresa; as well as grandparents, siblings, buddies and his late friend, Tom Bruckner, for their help in his success Dec. 4.

Paul Conley, 23, shows the big drop-tine buck he shot Dec. 4 in the Chequamegon National Forest near his home in Mellen, Wisconsin.

It was Casey who chased him out the door for late-season hunts when he was burning out, Trinity who asked to see pictures of “Drop Time” when he returned, his grandparents who bought him his first compound bow, and Bruckner who assured him he’d eventually get the buck.

Yep, as Conley recited names, influences and vital roles, you’d have thought he was accepting an Academy Award or the Super Bowl trophy.

Then again, if you ask deer hunters, most would take Conley’s buck over an Oscar or a Lombardi. Why? Beneath the left antler beam on this monstrous 8-point buck hangs a rare 10.5-inch drop tine, which measures 6.5 inches around its end. Further, both main beams measure 21-1/8 inches in length and 7.5 inches around their bases. The tallest tines stand nearly 12 inches above the beams.

Brandon, Paul, Al and Theresa Conley pose with Paul’s monster buck at their home near Cayuga, Wisconsin.

Conley passed up shots at six different bucks the past four years after spotting this buck in his trail-camera photos in 2008. Since then, his cameras recorded the drop-tine buck in hundreds of photos and videos, documenting its growth, antler changes, and daily and seasonal travels.

For instance, the buck’s body appeared largest in 2008, and its antlers reached their peak growth in 2010. The buck’s distinctive drop tine appeared as an antler blemish in 2008 before sprouting into a long tine in 2009. It grew longer and more vertically in 2010, and blossomed into a replica of an old-time police Paddy-whacker this year.

Based on photos and the fact the buck wore its front bottom teeth to the gum, Conley estimates it was 8.5 years old. The buck never appeared at Conley’s bait sites until Halloween each fall, and then visited frequently until late January, when it migrated to winter deeryards farther south. The buck’s feeding visits, however, seldom occurred in daylight.

When Conley reviewed his trail-cam photos from Wisconsin’s nine-day firearms seasons from 2008-2011, none showed the buck during daylight. Until this month, its daylight visits occurred only during the rut from late October through mid-November.

When Conley shot the buck at 7:10 a.m. on Dec. 4, it marked only the second time the buck appeared in daylight after a gun season. The first time was the day before, according to his trail cameras.

Based on trail-cam photos the past four years, and the fact the buck had worn its front bottom teeth down to the gum, Conley estimates the buck was 8.5 years old.

The buck wasn’t eating bait, however, when Conley shot. It was about 300 yards away, returning to its bedding area.

“I had just moved my tree stand to that spot 15 hours before,” Conley said. “I thought I’d try cutting him off between his bed and the bait. I thought he might be going from his bedding area to the bait at dawn. I was expecting him from the west, but he came from the east. It looks like he ran all night and hit the bait before bedding down for the day.”

Conley said his long hunt and analysis of trail-cam photos also revealed interesting details about the buck’s rut-season movements. “Two days after the full moon (in late October to early November), he was out cruising during daylight all four years,” Conley said. “That’s when bucks really started chasing does.”

Conley couldn’t estimate how many hours he spent on stand since 2008, but he was there every day – usually dawn to dusk – starting in late October and running through gun season. He saw the buck six times while hunting; once in 2008, never in 2009, twice in 2010 and three times this year.

He missed killing the buck in 2010 when his arrow cut off a branch between him and the buck. That happened the Saturday before gun season, and it was the first deer he saw during a weeklong vigil.

This year he saw the buck the Monday and Tuesday before gun season, but it wasn’t close enough to shoot. His trail-cam photos also documented three other daytime visits in November while Conley was working.

The buck's drop tine reached 10.5 inches this year, its largest size since first growing in 2009.

The day he arrowed the buck, he chose his bow instead of a muzzleloader. “I really wanted to get him with a bow,” he said. “That was one of my main goals from the start.”

Soon after he made the 15-yard shot and watched the buck fall five yards away, he called two friends with his news. The word spread so fast his cell phone buzzed the rest of the day.

“Everyone in town knew I was hunting a big drop-tine buck,” Conley said. “I kept it hush-hush the first two years, but I couldn’t keep it in after that. I had friends from here to Green Bay calling to see if I had gotten him.”

What will he do for an encore? Although the Cayuga area holds some of Wisconsin’s lowest deer populations, and most hunters go days, weeks or years without seeing a whitetail, Conley thinks big bucks are worth the wait.

“It wasn’t easy, but shooting this one fulfilled a dream,” he said. “There’s other big bucks out there, and some of them have his antler traits.”




Big Buck Down - The Taking of a Mock Scrape Buck

by Mike Willand 22. November 2011 15:00
Mike Willand

Bowhunting is detective work. If you’re like me you have many different stand sites set up across numerous different properties covering a handful of different regions of your home state - sometimes over several states. Taking clues that are left behind by deer, revisiting past sightings and experiences, all the while trying to piece together the big picture to make that next move on where the buck you’re looking for will be hiding. Sometimes you guess wrong and sometimes you guess right.

On Monday, November 14th, I guessed right.

For weeks leading up to that Monday I had been grimacing at all the bucks falling to friends of mine across the country. Not in jealousy mind you, but in regret that the days I was pleading to take off from work would be too late into November and past the peak of the rut throughout northern Illinois.

My decision to take the 14th-17th off was based on this year’s poor crop of what I call shooter whitetail. Older deer just never seemed to start expanding their home ranges till after Veterans Day. That’s what I was looking for on that Monday - a buck searching for love far from where he typically calls home.

For weeks, my good friend Justin Zarr and I had been capturing nothing but younger deer on our Stealthcams. Together, we have nearly twenty of them, scattered over four different farms, covering a hundred miles in between. Going into the 2011 season we only had one buck that either of us really wanted to take on camera. Justin would end up the lucky hunter on Halloween weekend, with me behind camera, and a buck called “Hitch”. Two weeks had gone by and we still had nothing else to chase. 

All three of my mock scrapes were flourishing with whitetail activity. The problem was all three of them had a regular onslaught of 100 - 120 inch bucks calling them their own. For Justin and me, once “Hitch” was taken, there seemed to be a major gap between age groups.

Although not the quality of buck I was hoping for, pictures like this are testimonials of a well planned mock scrape. Here, a young buck stands on his back legs to work the above licking branches.

My only chance was to await the days I believed older bucks would begin to stretch their home range, and this is why I chose the 14th -17th of November. Figuring if I failed to find a buck during this time frame, the following week yielded more days off for the Thanksgiving holiday and yet another chance to find a cruiser buck that Justin and I hoped existed. It was a shot in the dark.

Sunday night, November 13th, found me staring at the Scoutlook Weather website for what seemed like eternity, finally making the decision to sit my favorite mock scrape all day beginning the following morning. I shut off my computer and went to bed.

I awoke the next morning especially early. I wanted plenty of time to make and pack a solid lunch for the more than 10 hour sit that I was already dreading. Two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, no less than thirty carrot sticks, a large bag of animal crackers, an apple, and nearly 50 ounces of water were going to be my only sources of comfort for the remainder of the day.

The drive in was uneventful, a far cry from the morning before when no less than four different deer nearly ended up on the hood of my truck. A couple days past full moon, I was hoping the deer were returning to late morning movement again. The past several days had deer on their feet just after legal shooting light, something every deer hunter loathes to witness - myself especially.

Once dressed, I made the trek to my treestand. The moon was so bright I never turned on my headlamp that morning. I could easily make out the woods as it lay before me. When I hit the pond, which is what I used to creep into this set-up undetected, I noticed the water had risen several inches after the recent rainfall. Several steps later and I found myself in too deep – literally! After a false step, a small amount of water had gotten over the top of my 18 inch rubber boots, enough to soak my feet and cause me to curse in the dark! I stepped back a few feet and ended up getting out of the water forty yards short of where I normally step out from. I decided the pond was too dangerous to navigate in the dark, fearing a fall would send me and my video camera into the drink. A fall I surely could have lived with, but my camera may not have made it through. With my camera dangling around my neck I took another way in, trouncing through a section of tall grass that skirted the pond. With each step I took, the frosted stems sounded like firecrackers in the once soundless woods.

Once in stand I readied myself for the day. I hung my bow, my pack, and set up the camera for the self-filming session I was sure to receive as the day waned on. Not ten minutes into my sit and I heard the dreadful footsteps of deer in the dark. I turned and looked in the direction they were coming from, and made out what appeared to be two deer in the loud grasses I had just walked in from. No doubt as I peered at their faint images, they had heard me walking in. Immediately I thought my day was already beginning badly. These two deer were surely going to bust me!  And – I thought, if they heard me walk in, they were already in an area deer don’t typically show up in until about an hour after shooting light. The full moon had foiled me again – I thought!

After a few moments, the two deer ran away to the other side of the woods. I couldn’t tell if their tails were up, but I knew they had cut my trail in. I looked up into the starry sky wondering if my decision to not walk the pond all the way in would cost me the entire day’s sit.

The remainder of my sit in the dark anticipating the sunrise was silent. Only a far off cry of an owl could faintly be heard.

I turned my video camera’s power on just at shooting light, something I’ve done for much of the season so I wouldn’t have to fumble for it once the moment of truth arrived at first light. Standing up now, I faced the direction of my mock scrape. It laid just over twenty yards from me. It was not uncommon to hear the deer at the scrape before seeing them. The soft ground surrounding the scrape often made deer nearly impossible to detect if not for the fact that they would often stop to hit the licking branches which strung out from every which angle above it. The overcast sky kept the earth dim as I anticipated the hours ahead.

Just before sunrise I heard loud, drawn out doe bleats coming from the direction I had seen the two does run to about 45 minutes before. I reached for my grunt tube immediately as experience has taught me that when deer are vocal – you are vocal. I quickly threw out four or five short grunts and then stopped, wondering what I was thinking. I didn’t want to scare the potential bait away, and began to bleat loudly and drawn out, just as I had heard. I did this six or seven times, then silenced my grunt, shoving it back into my pocket from where it came.

I heard the running of a deer in the marsh behind me and turned my entire body to make out a buck advancing quickly on me. Without even throwing up my optics I saw that it was a good buck, at least 130-class! As soon as I recognized who the buck was I heard a very faint stick snap from the direction I was previously looking – over toward my scrape. I turned my head and came eye to eye with a shooter buck not more than twelve yards away and peering into the cattails waiting to see what all the commotion was about.

I believe the buck who was approaching from the marsh was this handsome 3 year old I called "Larry Bird". Here "Larry" works my mock scrapes licking branch.

With his eyes fixated on the bog, I turned back quickly and grabbed my bow, even glancing into the camera screen at the same time to see if the buck was in frame. All I saw was the weak outlines of the trees as the image was still too dark – camera light had not yet begun. I forgot about filming and drew!

With the buck slightly quartering in, I found my pin and settled it on his shoulder. Within moments I released! The buck took off through the timber but didn’t make it far, crashing a short distance away. The sounds of the surrounding woods quickly hushed once again. I could see two does in the distance, their tails showing white. The buck in the marsh slopped through the water traveling further and further out of earshot. I calmed myself, waiting for the earth to return to silence.

I could see a small section of my arrow, bloody and broken, laying where the buck once stood. Reaching for my phone I called my wife and daughter to tell them the news – Daddy is done!

A special thanks to Bowhunting.Com president Todd Graf for coming out to take these great pictures.

I would wait another twenty minutes before getting down from the tree to pick up the blood trail. Figuring the buck had made it into the cattails which surrounded my stand I didn’t want to take anything for granted. I was quiet, calm, and ready to put a second shot in him if need be. I took just three steps from where our encounter began, looked up and could see his body just off in the distance. I approached slowly, eyeing the buck up and down to make certain he was expired, and all the time grinning from ear to ear.

On the first day of my four day hunting vacation, within just a few minutes of light, my season was over. I knelt down beside the buck and looked to the sky once more.

My smile says it all! The buck from unknown origin showed up at my mock scrape the same day I did - ending my 2011 deer season.

Illinois Buck Down - In Season Scouting Pays Off

by Mike Willand 26. October 2011 16:58
Mike Willand

Friday, October 21st was greeted with mixed emotions as I hiked along the edge of a standing cornfield on my way into a stand I had never hunted before. The late afternoon sit was shaping up to be a mild one, as temperatures held steady around 62 degrees while winds gently blew south by southwest. As I stepped over a bent cornstalk I thought - was the decision to hunt this property the right one?

This was, yet again, all new property to me. It was first picked up by Bowhunting.Com founder, Todd Graf, a little over 3 months ago in hopes of securing more land around home. Totaling 100 acres, two large cornfields make up its majority while several smaller woodlots dot most of its borders. The property is as pretty a whitetail paradise as you’ll ever witness, but the dilemma is the area in which it belongs. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources have been removing deer for years in this region of my home state in order to combat the spread of CWD, and this land simply lacked good numbers of deer or deer sign. It was hard to justify tonight’s sit.

Thanks to the good people at the Hunting Lease Network, Todd, Justin, and I were able to pick up this great midwestern lease.

As frustrating as these thoughts were, I continued to my evening perch. My decision to hunt this ground was not based on the possible sighting of just any deer. Rather it was decided on a possible encounter with one particular animal that I believed I was hunting – a shooter buck.

Last weekend I had scouted the entire property with my trusty Lone Wolf treestand armed on my back. The winds that day howled from the northwest, at times gusting to over 25 miles an hour. It was the perfect day for a scouting mission. On the entire piece I only cut two separate deer tracks, five random rubs, and three deer beds that I considered of the male variety. It was these three deer beds I concentrated my efforts on the most. Each bed was large, often separated by as much as forty yards. One of them was even situated near a decent sized rub, further confirming my suspicion that they indeed belonged to a buck. I hung a stand following much deliberation on the south side of the beds and went home to get a few hours of sleep before the following morning’s sit.

Deer sign was minimal throughout much of the property except this rub, which was situated near a good sized bed.

That morning I returned into stand hoping to encounter the buck that called the beds his own. I was deceived by the weatherman however, as much of my three hour sit was greeted under a steady, hard rain. Nothing moved all morning and I got nothing but wet. I second guessed myself and tore down the stand as quickly as I set it up, returning home empty handed.

Today is a new day, I thought, as I climbed into stand. The wind was southerly, and I still believed a buck was bedding nearby. Only this time I was north of the buck’s bedroom. My hope for the night was that the buck would show as late into the evening as possible, entering the cornfield to my left after crossing a fence-jump that sat forty yards away.

Unfortunately, I was in for a long and very uncomfortable sit. The tree that Justin and I had chosen to perch this Lone Wolf into weeks before the season began was now barren of any leaves. What’s worse, the tree was about as thin as a flag pole and the stand seemed extremely close to the ground. Surely a buck would see every move I made as he inspected the landscape before hopping the fence.  So I made the executive decision to stand for the entire agonizing time frame leading up to sunset, which was still nearly four hours away!

The evening was calm for the most part. I would slowly move my head, and head alone, left to right again and again, scanning the two sides I expected deer to move from. I wasn’t worried so much of what went on behind me since the wind would surely take care of any of those animals before they got close enough for an opportunity. With lazy eyes I admired squirrels and birds as they busily readied themselves for the approaching winter.

At five after six, the sounds of the woods were starting to hush. The squirrels had just about all gone to bed and the birds seemed to have disappeared entirely. For a few moments, the woods I had been glaring at since 2:45 were finally quiet. My ears perked up.

The silence was broken quickly when I heard a small twig snap, and nearly immediately I knew what it was. The next step was so distinct that I reached over to my camera, turned it on, and opened my camera’s iris as large as possible - anticipating a deer to show. My first glimpse through the thick underbrush was very brief, but I knew in an instant what it was.  I reached behind me to grab my bow in anticipation for the next few moments of my life.

The buck disappeared for about a minute into some thicker underbrush, actually passing the low fence crossing I had predicted he would jump. My first thought was he was going to bypass me completely, cut the corner of the field and head toward some apple trees that sat in the far distance. But a distinct thud quickened my heart pace as I knew he had jumped the fence!

He appeared almost out of nowhere, conjuring himself from the thick green underbrush that sat just thirty yards away! With my right hand I situated the camera to capture everything on film, with my left I prepared for what certainly looked like a shot opportunity.

It was clear by his body language that the buck had no idea I was in his presence. Easing his way toward me, I remember thinking how that long painful sit was about to pay off, and the decision to stand was probably the most perfect one I could have made.

I drew back the string of my Mathews z7 Xtreme once the buck vanished behind a limb that protruded from the naked tree I was sitting in. I eased my feet across the floor of my stand, careful not to make a squeak. My twenty yard pin settled just behind the buck’s shoulders. I took one deep breath and released my NAP Nitron tipped arrow.

The buck’s initial reaction to the placement of my shot was promising, a solid mule kick that’s often symbolic of a properly placed arrow. However, he was now standing thirty yards behind me, acting as if he had not been shot at all! Realizing I could not get the camera positioned to view the buck again, I quietly took the time to grab another arrow, nock it, and draw again. Now at thirty yards, I set my pin on him again and released!

This time the buck took off in a dead run, disappearing out of view. Elated, I turned to the camera and whispered my emotions so as not to potentially spook the buck even further away. My interview was short, quiet, and to the point. Following it, I made the decision to find the first arrow and back out of the situation entirely. I was confident in the first shot, but from experience I did not like the reaction following it. I grabbed the red painted arrow of the first shot and walked back the way I came in, all the way around the property, so as to not spook the wounded buck.

I would not return to the property until nearly midnight with my good friend and hunting partner Justin Zarr readily at my side. We walked over to the area the buck stood during my second shot and quickly located blood. The trail was easy to follow with the use of Justin’s new best friend and flashlight, the Cyclops Flare Spotlight. At 193 lumens and 100% LED, this flashlight has become my most wanted piece of equipment going into November this year. I’ve been on two track-jobs so far this year while Justin has been using this light, and I’ve completely fallen in love with it.

Thanks to Justin I've now been on two tracking-jobs with the Cyclops Flare Spotlight and have decided I must own it going into November.

Justin and I caught up to the buck just over 150 yards from where I had placed the second shot. Lying just a few feet away from a shallow pond, it was clear by his sopping hide that he had tried to cool off just a short time following our engagement. Studying the shot further, I realized that I had shot a bit further back than initially intended, prompting the buck’s unusual reaction. Although I had caught one lung and devastated the liver, my decision to back out was absolutely the correct one. In fact, had it not been for that second arrow, I would not have returned until the following morning.

Elated once more I grabbed the antlers of my prize, smiling from ear to ear. The hunt that began on a last week on a windy Friday following work, ended on a calm night seven days later.

My first buck of 2011 and all on film!

Hunting Deer Scrapes Part 2 - Creating a Mock Scrape

by Mike Willand 27. September 2011 13:07
Mike Willand

As you may remember from reading my last entry “Hunting Deer Scrapes Part 1 – The planning of a Mock Scrape”, I am undoubtedly a scrape hunter. Although it seems to be a somewhat lost art in today’s modern bowhunting society I still believe it’s a tactic worth utilizing, and once used properly, can help put the odds in one’s favor. 

With the 2011 Illinois deer season just days away, I’m going to commence the second portion of this five-part blog dedicated to the scrape. If you’ve already read part one of this series then you should have already planned the location of your set-up.  Let’s begin.

Essential Scrape Building Tools:

Because scent control is my highest priority when creating a scrape I rely on the following list to help eliminate as much human scent as possible from an area already being used exclusively by the whitetail’s nose. Whenever possible, utilize the natural scent masking abilities of the rain and wet weather. While I don’t believe anyone can beat a whitetail’s nose all the time, you can fool it some of the time.

-Box of latex gloves.
-Rubber boots.
-A scent eliminating field spray.
-Scrape dripper.
-Small gardening hand rake.
-Scrape scent.

Creating Your Mock Scrape:

Most of my mock scrapes are what I would refer to as community scrapes. They concentrate heavily on the building of long-term relations between the local deer in general. I am not a deer expert, but what I am saying is they are my attempt to make as many deer attracted to the area of the scrape as possible, thus bringing in as much of the community as achievable. This way when a buck is moving through the area, whether he’s a local or not, he should hopefully take notice of the scrape due to the already high frequency of visits by other deer to that location. To do this, I rely heavily on the licking branches. They are the key to a successful community mock scrape.

Adult does are typically the first to begin working many of my scrapes over-hanging branches when I begin these community scrapes in late summer.

I spray the overhanging branches of all my scrapes about once every seven to twelve days, beginning six to eight weeks before the season opens. The idea here is to get the local adult does interested in the scrape. Although beginning a scrape this early is not always possible due to time constraints, it’s what I try to do from the very start.

I do not even begin to work the actual scrape itself until sometime in late September or very early October. It’s at this time I believe that many of the surrounding area bucks begin to branch out - settling into smaller autumn core areas which are often nearer doe groups as they await the first signs of does coming into estrus. This is also the timeframe when testosterone levels are soaring, causing once-friendly bachelor groups to break out into conflict, resulting in a greater frequency of rubs and scrapes that literally seem to appear overnight.

When I do begin to paw out the dirt for my scrape, I use an old gardening rake that fits right in the palm of my hand. I typically spray the rakes with the synthetic formula made by Tink’s Power Scrape and begin to rake two or three small diameter semi-circles within inches or feet of each other. It’s important that each one of these scrapes is directly below the licking branch or branches.

Using a small gardening rake I begin to start the actual scrape just after I believe the majority of bucks to be out of velvet.

Because two of my three scrapes cannot be accessed from a water source (something I discussed in my last blog “Hunting Deer Scrapes Part 1 – The planning of a Mock Scrape”) I am using for the first time ever the NEW Tink’s Scrape Bomb Scrape Dripper. This Scrape Dripper is designed to respond to temperature and barometric pressure so it only releases scent during daylight hours. It’s also supposed to work very efficiently, sometimes lasting two to three weeks between visits, which allows the hunter to set out multiple mock scrapes without excessive visiting maintenance. This is important when trying to manipulate deer movement. Nothing will lessen your mock scrape’s success more than too much human scent at the actual site of the scrape.

As part of a suggestion from another hunter I look to for advice on all things scrape related, this season I am implementing the use of a scrape dripper like the one showed above made by the good peaople at Tink's.

I am placing the Tink’s Scrape Drippers just high enough for a man to reach and hopefully too high for a deer. I’m doing this for two reasons. The first and foremost is scent. The dripping bottle will get the brunt of my scent each time I refresh the dripper even while wearing latex gloves; keeping it at eight or nine feet only lessens the chance the deer’s nose will ever get close enough to really examine it. The second reason is the higher container will hopefully let the scent from the dripper reach further distances if a nomadic buck looking for love wanders through some time during the season. While it’s a long shot I know, I believe in always stacking the odds in my favor as much as possible. If nothing else, a higher dripper placed above the licking branches will eventually also drip on those limbs, thus creating the further effect of a whitetail hitting both the branches and the scrape on a regular basis.

Justin showing us just how high I am placing the scrape dripper, and noticeably directly above the licking branches.

Choosing a Scent:

The scent you choose for your scrape should be decided by the season’s timing. It would make no sense to begin dashing in doe estrus urine in August just as it would make no sense using dominant buck urine in January. Utilize common sense. Most every manufacturer lists the best times to use their product throughout the year. I choose the Tink’s products on the actual scrape itself because they are simple, easy to purchase and use, and effective.

For the licking branches I have tried several different manufacturers over the years and not generally noticed all that much of a difference between specific brands. I will let you know as I do when a specific manufacturer produces a specific licking branch (forehead gland) scent that I believe is a must-have for any mock scrape hunter. I will be testing between two different brands again this season.

Setting up a Trailcamera:

I am always weary when setting a trailcamera on a scrape of any kind unless it’s on an open field I know won’t be visited except at night. The reason being, trailcameras just add too much scent and commotion to an area, bringing too much attention to the hunter. I typically place them on a trail leading into the scrape rather than over the scrape itself, but if you must, make sure the utmost scent control is followed, don’t check your camera as often, and spray down even when using gloves. There is no sense going to all this trouble if all you’re going to do is let the deer know you’re there.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of my Mock Scrape blog when I will be dissecting the trailcam pictures, or lack thereof, from each of my scrape set-ups. Hopefully explaining what I believe to be the reasons they did or did not have success. Who knows, with the season just days away, I may even have a buck down before then. Wish me luck!

Treestand Placement - Morning Stands vrs Evening Stands

by Justin Zarr 2. September 2011 10:05
Justin Zarr

It’s that time of year again where many of us are finishing up our final treestand preparations for the fast approaching season.  While many bow hunters are simply checking the condition of stands that have been in place for years, others are studying topographic and aerial maps, checking deer sign and trying to formulate a plan that will help them be successful.  When it comes to picking out your stand locations I’ve found it helps to determine if you’re looking for a morning location or an evening location.

By and large one of the biggest mistakes I see novice hunters make is hunting stand locations at the wrong times.  Unfortunately for many of these hunters, they often don’t realize what’s going on until it’s too late.  This is primarily due to the fact that they are spooking deer that they may never see or hear.

Keep in mind that some of the strategies I’m about to talk about are not fool proof.These are more of a general guideline that may help you get close enough for a shot, or at least determine the exact spot you need to be in order to make something happen this season.


As a general rule of thumb, try to avoid hunting food sources in the mornings.  Most whitetails are typically active during the night, much of which is spent feeding.  In many cases whitetails will still be feeding in the hours leading up to sunrise which means you stand a good chance of spooking them on your way into your stand if you are trying to hunt over a food source (or too close to one).  Walk into that food plot you spent hours working on this summer an hour before daylight and chances are you’ll spot several sets of eyeballs in your flashlight before you hear the telltale snort of a whitetail headed the other direction.

When it comes to avoiding food sources in the morning this also includes the entrance route to your stands.  As a young hunter I always took the path of least resistance to my stand locations, which often meant marching through the direct center of a cut corn or bean field an hour before light.  I would see eyes reflecting back in my flashlight and hear deer snorting at me on my walk in, but didn’t put two and two together as to why my morning hunts were often so unproductive until some years later.  Looking back on those days I can’t help but laugh at my ignorance. 

In order to maintain undetected try to slip into your stand using natural features such as creeks, ravines, and standing crops to your advantage.  Take care to avoid walking field edges or areas within sight or earshot of a food source where you think deer may be.  In most cases this is going to make your morning walk longer and more difficult than you’re used to, however it will almost surely increase your morning deer sightings.

So if not food sources, where should you hunt in the mornings?  My personal favorite places to hunt during the morning are as close as I can get to a good bedding area.  The intent is to catch deer coming off the feed sources at night and working their way back to safety to bed for the day.  This tactic, although productive, does pose several risks that must be taken into consideration.

First, you need to set up between the food and the bedding area.  If you set up on the wrong side of the bedroom you may find yourself playing more games on your phone than watching deer.   When picking your stand location it is helpful to keep in mind the various food sources available to your local whitetails and hang several stand sets that you can utilize as the food sources change.  When farmers begin taking in crops or acorns begin to drop the deer will begin utilizing different food sources and, in some cases, different bedding areas as well.  A general rule of thumb is that you can never have too many stand locations to pick from.

Several years ago I was lucky enough to harvest this nice Illinois buck on the morning of October 19th.  I was set up very close to a small bedding area that was surrounded by rubs when he appeared shortly after daylight.  Mid to late October is a great time to catch bucks like this on their feet just late enough to get a shot at them.

Second, watch the wind carefully.  I prefer to hunt on a cross wind, which is blowing perpendicular to both the bedding and feeding areas.  This allows me to get into the stand without blowing out deer from the food source, yet doesn’t expose me to any deer that may happen to slip into the bedroom from another direction without me knowing.  Of course I don’t always get this ideal wind which means that you’ll often have to pick a stand with the wind blowing at least partially into the bedding area.  Be sure to hunt these stands very sparingly as you may only have one or two opportunities to hunt them on a non-perfect wind before they are blown out.  However, if you’ve played your cards right once chance may be all you need.
Also, when picking a morning stand you have to consider not just your entrance but your exit as well.  Don’t walk through the middle of the bedding area on your way back to the truck unless you enjoy not seeing deer from that stand.  They key is to remain undetected so try exiting through those food sources you avoided in the morning, where you’re less likely to encounter a bedded buck.

This map of a property I used to hunt shows both morning "M" and evening "E" setups.  For the morning hunts I would sneak down the road and into the woods in order to catch the deer moving off the feed fields back into the timber.  Conversely, evening setups overlooking a standing bean field were very productive and allowed easy access without spooking deer bedded in the timber.

Finally, make sure you get into your stand early.  Many of the mature bucks we’re hunting prefer to be off the food sources and headed back to bed well before daylight.  If you’re walking into your stand 20 minutes before shooting light and run into a buck headed the same direction you may have just blown your chance.  I like to be in my stand and ready to go at least an hour before shooting light, which often means leaving the truck a solid 2 hours before shooting light.  This gives me time to cool off from that extra long hike, get my gear ready and let the woods settle back down before the sun peaks over the horizon.  If you do nothing else, try getting into your stands much earlier than you do know and you’ll be surprised at how many more deer you will begin to see.


During evening hunts I prefer to hunt close to, if not overlooking, a hot food source.  The majority of your deer will be bedded down during the daytime and get up near dusk to begin feeding.  In most cases they will begin to work their way towards food sources where they can chow down all night under the cover of darkness.  Does will almost always be the first deer to enter a field at night, with most mature bucks not willing to expose themselves until the cover of darkness is close.

Finding a hot food source, like this standing corn field, is a great starting point for your evening hunts.  After you've located the destination food source try to locate where the deer are entering the fields and set up on the down wind side.

Just like hunting during the morning you need to be aware of your wind direction and approach to the stand.  Your wind should typically be blowing from your location towards the food source, or perpendicular to it.  Make sure to avoid having your wind blow directly into the area you expect the deer to approach from (the bedding area).  I know this seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised at the number of hunters who simply pick a stand on the edge of a field without paying attention to wind direction.

Approaching your stand doesn’t necessarily require as much work as your morning sets as walking through or on the edge of your agricultural fields is a great way to get into your stand undetected.  The key is to avoid walking through any timber or locations you think deer may be bedded such as CRP, overgrown pastures, or any thick cover.  If you just go trouncing through the middle of the woods on your way into your stand you may very well blow out the bedded deer before they have a chance to make their way to your food source.

For those of you with good agricultural fields or food plots, and unpressured deer, you may have good luck directly overlooking the food source.  However, as many of us have found out, sitting directly on a food source may provide consistent sightings of does and small bucks but not the mature deer we’re after.  This can be attributed to the fact that often times big bucks like to hang back in the woods and wait for the cover of darkness before coming out into the open.  After all, they didn’t get that big by being stupid. 

In these cases you’ll often find a heavy concentration of buck sign (rubs and scrapes) either just inside the field edge, or just outside of the bedding area.  If you start seeing this increase in sign during mid-October but no buck sightings in the fields you may need to move your stand in closer to the bedding area and try to catch these bucks while they are staging.  Staying mobile by either using a climbing stand or a set of Lone Wolf climbing sticks and hang-on stand can present a huge benefit to the bow hunter.

A great way to help you determine when the bucks are visiting your food sources is to use a trail camera. When it comes to trail cameras many hunters simply use them to gather an inventory of their deer herd, but not as actual scouting tools.  If you can change your way of thinking and place your camera in strategic areas to tell you when deer are active it can help you figure out which places to hunt, and which places to avoid.  If you are getting nothing but night time photos of your target bucks on field edges, try moving back 100 yards or so and see if you can surprise him before darkness falls.

If your trail camera is showing you a lot of buck activity in your food source after dark, you may need to move in closer to the bedding area in order to catch a buck on his feet during daylight hours.

Another overlooked evening set that often times coincides with staging areas are acorn drops.  Often times I see people underestimating the power of acorns when it comes to whitetail hunting, which is a big mistake.  There are few foods a whitetail enjoys more than a fresh crop of acorns, especially white acorns.  If you can find a white oak that’s dropping acorns in between a bedding area and your primary food source you may just have found one of your best evening setups. 

Several years ago I was fortunate enough to find a “magic oak” tree that was dropping acorns so often it sounded like it was raining.  Located about 100 yards off a field edge this tree was attracting all of the local bucks who would eat and spend time sparring and interacting with each other before dark.  After observing this movement from a stand that was just out of range I repositioned my Lone Wolf treestand to move in on the action and two nights later killed one of my best bucks with a bow.

After spotting this buck feeding on acorns under a huge white oak tree, I repositioned my Lone Wolf stand and shot him two nights later under the same tree.  Mid to late October is a great time to locate, pattern, and harvest a good buck before the rut kicks in and he disappears from his core area.


The above tips are simply a guideline that should help you get close to the deer you’re hunting and be able to observe their movements and patterns.  With a little bit of luck (and some newfound skills) you’ll be able to hang a stand and kill a deer from it using these tips.  However, that’s not always the case.  Bowhunting is a game of inches and sometimes you’ll find that your stand is close but not close enough to give you a shot.  When this happens you need to be ready to move.

Possibly the biggest mistake I see people make is hunting the same stand over and over again, hoping that someday a deer will walk within range.  While there are certain stands that can produce year in and year out I’ve found that those “killing stands” aren’t as common as I would like.  Sure, you may have SEEN a buck from this stand two years ago, and your uncle may have killed one with his gun a decade ago, but what is going on in your woods today?  As food sources change from year to year and other factors including hunting and outside pressure change, deer will alter their movement patterns.  In these cases you need to be ready to move.

I believe the #1 reason most hunters don’t move their stands more often is a combination of laziness and difficulty of moving stands.  If you’re using a ladder stand you can pretty much forget about being mobile.  Likewise, using screw-in steps and heavy steel hang-on stands can present quite the challenge as well.  Having a good, lightweight treestand setup is the only way to go when it comes to staying mobile.  My personal choice, as mentioned earlier, is a Lone Wolf hang-on stand and climbing sticks.  With this setup and I can scout a staging area with fresh sign and be set up and hunting in less than 20 minutes.  Often times this means the difference between success and failure.

Investing in a good light-weight setup like a Lone Wolf Alpha can pay dividends during the hunting season.  If you're not getting close enough for a shot in your current location, don't be afraid to move!  A wise bowhunter once said that the difference between a good stand and a great stand is sometimes less than 10 yards.

So if you find yourself in the position of seeing a lot of deer but not getting close enough for a shot, try moving your stand location and see what happens.  After all, the window of opportunity for most of us is relatively small.  Between weekends and a few “call in sick” days most of us only get to spend somewhere between 5 and 10 days in a stand while the hunting is good (end of October to mid November).  If you don’t do it now, you may be waiting until next year to wrap your tag around a nice set of whitetail antlers.

Bow Seasons Opening Day

by Mike Willand 31. August 2011 14:55
Mike Willand

I awake. Eyes still shut and body still warm. I sit up in my soft bed still hunched over, grasping a minor head pain from the few cocktails which visited me the night before. My eyelids open faintly as I put foot into action, followed by weight, and then in one swift motion stand erect, yet unstable. I shake it off with a forceful yawn.

I ease across the bedroom floor being careful not to wake my beautiful wife as she sleeps so peacefully and so carelessly without thought of the day that will soon follow. The bedroom door squeaks ever so softly as I dance through the doorway and into the hall, shutting the door behind.

I proceed next into my daughter’s room and peak over her tiny crib. Leaning over her nightly fortress, I place my lips on her cheek, run my hand softly over her hair, and disappear back into the loneliness of an empty hallway. The whole time wondering if she’ll ask where I am when she awakes.

Into our guest bathroom I go. Parades of womanly decorations greet me in my tiny chamber. Quickly I undress and step into the shower. The water instantly awakens my senses with a frigid reminder of the upcoming months in which I will make this an almost daily routine. However, today is different. It’s a day I have yearned for since the robin's return in late March and the television first roared with the crowds of summer’s baseball admirers. Today is the opening day of archery season and my body is still fresh from the short hibernation of the hunter.

Storms of memories cascade into my aching head as I continue to shower. Thoughts and dreams of a new year in stand amongst my most favored of competitors - the whitetail. And I thank God I can do it again! As I close my eyes to rinse the soap off my hide, the visions of the great deer I have known flood into my mind like the great Mississippi in spring. And then dreams of the great bucks I anticipate to encounter this year trade with them.

I step from the shower with a great loud thud which is heard throughout the land! Yet a soft touch onto my bathroom floor. My ears are erect now, senses sharpening, and blood at a steady gait tingles through my veins and quickens its pace. The predator within me - awakes! Within minutes, I am dressed and descend down our home's dark winding stairs.

I march into the kitchen with great pride. It has been so long since this moment and I am overwhelmed with anticipation for what the season might bring. I open the fridge to quench my thirst, followed by my greedy acquisition of the last apple. Standing over the kitchen sink I stare out our window into the dark unknown. I knew the ground I would hunt this morning, and knew the tree I wanted to hunt from. The young oak stood on the edge of a secluded meadow, where switch grasses grew as tall as a man. Surrounded by apple trees, this oak has proved its worth over the years with encounter after encounter. But as I took the first bite of my forbidden fruit I wondered if today it could yet yield even another encounter. I continue to chomp at my apple and walk out of our home, locking the door behind.

The cool air gripped me so, causing my heart to skip a beat and blood to quicken once again! It is a crisp air, so full of life and with the whispering promise of an autumn to follow. The gentle breeze blows from the south but still harbors the last hints of summer's domain.

My truck waits out front like a chariot waiting to cry unto battle. Packed the night before, it stood motionless waiting for its master. I cross the grass with such eagerness. This drive I knew would be the beginning of many and would take me to unknown places in the months to follow. It would be the first of another year, filled with the trials that I am to set before myself. There will be triumph! There will be pain. Moments in between scattered with my thoughts, prayers, frustration, eagerness, loss, and ultimately – belief. A deep belief within myself and something Above me still.

The truck roars into gear as I leave my familiar home. The beams from my vehicle are about the only light in an otherwise dark and sleepy neighborhood. I turn the corner heading out of town. The whitetail woods my next destination.

On the highway I glance at the dashboard, seeking out the morning's present time. It spoke ten after four. I knew a twenty minute drive laid itself ahead of me. It would put me into my perch at ten till five I presumed. This meant a good hour before a legal shooting light. A perfect time, I thought, to get into an eagerly awaited and ready position, waiting for the first footsteps of autumn's prey.

Trailing down the highway I begin to drift. Thoughts and dreams billow into my mind once more. Visions of the past reappeared as if to haunt my present memory. The Big Nine who slipped away, the Great Ten who I could not draw on! Little bucks, dozens of does, and the found sheds of whitetail that were never even seen by me. And then my imagination! Conjuring mythical males with countless inches of antler! Greater whitetail than I have ever known seep into my brain and deliberately force me down a path of personal glory! My head is flooded with these thoughts as I continue down the road.

As I pull over the river, I can see my destination in sight. A twenty two minute drive was about to abruptly end. As I slow my faithful steed to an eventual stop, I feel my blood begin to quicken once more!

I pull off the road and onto the gravel beside it, shutting off the lights in one fluid motion. My hand turns the key and an eerie silence falls once more to me. The door to my truck opens with swift intentions, and a blanket of cool, crisp air charges in! Instantly I am outside my truck and gearing up for what will be my final descent before dawn. I sit down on my tailgate buttoning and pulling at the cotton camouflage that will hide me from searching eyes. Soon, I am lacing up the boots that will guide me over various and often intemperate terrains.

With my earthly uniform now covering my body I reach for the one item that will separate my intentions from friendly to foe. I open its casing and am overcome with what this moment truly resembles. It is man's first instinct now buried in a world of conveniences and farce. An item so basic in principle and yet so regarded even in this day. As I take hold of the almost primitive object, it is like I am reaching back to ancestral needs. It is my bow! Where string and stick meet with an unearthly BUMP! As if to say to the gods our species will not fail and become earth's most fabled of predators! Holding it I feel a pure restoration of the human spirit.

I am now ready. I am now equipped. I begin my hike into the great woods lying ahead of me, one foot after the next. And although I walk into these woods with no one by my side - I am not alone.

Good luck on opening day.

Getting Back To The Basics Of Deer Hunting

by Mark Kenyon 31. August 2011 14:37
Mark Kenyon

Calls made to simulate deer crunching on acorns. Scents that calm jumpy deer. Clothing that mysteriously absorbs our odor. Strategies for hunting mature deer on certain moon patterns, analysis of barometric pressure shifts and rut predictions based on the time of the month, full moons and how long Justin Bieber's hair is. Just reading through this hurts my head, and this is just a bite size sampling of the endless deer hunting tools, tricks and strategies that are showered upon us via TV, magazines, books and the internet! Now I'm just as guilty as the next person when it comes to getting obsessed with the next big thing, but at the same time it's easy for this obsession with the new fangled to distract from the basic tenants of deer hunting. Given our typical deer hunting gear/tips/tricks overload, I thought we'd take it back to basics today. If you strip out all of the fancy schmancy terms, toys and strategies....what does it take to be a succesful deer hunter, in the most simple form? 

In a few words? Understanding food, cover and wind direction. If you take any new fangled strategy or piece of gear, in one way or another it relates back to one of these three core ideas. So lets take a look at each of these cornerstones of deer hunting success.

Food: It is said that a deer's life revolves around his stomach, and this is certainly true. No matter what time of year it is, your strategy will in someway be effected by the current food source. During the early season, you can often pattern bucks hitting specific food sources and hunt those. While during the rut, bucks may not be patternable, but knowing where doe groups are feeding will help you encounter more bucks. As a rule, always work to better understand what food sources deer are using at different times throughout the year. Having this information will always help you make smart decisions. I know this is basic, but take a second to really think this through for your given hunting situation. Based on local conditions, are you confident that you know what the most palatable food source will be come opening day? Are you aware of the current acorn situation on trees on your property or nearby? Is there any kind of food that will hold deer in your area come late season? Understanding these types of questions and the like will help you better understand this cornerstone of deer hunting success, and must be considered in earnest.

Cover: If deer aren't feeding, they are bedded in cover or heading there. Cover is a deer's home, his protection and the true center of his universe. Without it, a property can't consistently hold deer and without a solid understanding of how deer use cover, you'll never consistently kill deer. Find good cover, understand what deer are using it, and figure out how they are entering and exiting it. If you've got this down pat, and you understand the food sources nearby you're in a great position to put a tag on. Take a second and really think about the available cover on your properties. Hunting the rut? Do you know how bucks will be cruising to check those cover areas for hot does? Do you even feel comfortable determing what good cover is and why deer use it? These are the kinds of questions you need to ask yourself and work to understand. Do that and the equation is nearly complete...

Wind: Once you've got a firm grasp on where deer are feeding and where they are bedding you can then work on hunting them! And the major factor in determining where and when you can hunt will be wind direction. Of all the deers' amazing senses, none is as strong as it's sense of smell. Get a strong understanding of the key food and cover for the given time of year and then wait for the wind that is in your favor. Fully wrapping your head around how deer use wind and how you can best use it to your advantage are the final pieces to the deer hunting puzzle. Wind effects how and where deer feed, as well as what cover they use. So with wind we truly come full circle. A few items to consider...Mature bucks often will enter food sources that allow them to move into the wind, during the rut bucks will often cruise downwind of bedding areas, elevation changes can create wind patterns themselves due to thermal changes. Obviously the topics related to wind direction are many, but explore this topic as much as possible, and at the very least, always be aware of wind direction and where your scent is traveling. 

If you can clear your mental hard drive of all the crazy deer hunting things you've read and heard over the years and focus on just really truly understanding food, cover and wind, I promise you'll see positive results. This year get back to the basics of deer hunting and then get that buck on the wall!

Kill Plots The Other Food Plot

by Dan Schafer 6. July 2011 18:31
Dan Schafer

When someone mentions a food plot, one’s mind tends to think about a one to five acre area with lush greens full of deer foraging on high protein brassicas or grains.  While these plots are great for feeding deer, they tend to be destination areas and not great spots to hunt mature bucks.  Lets take a look at these big plots’ little brother, what I call, the kill plot.

A kill plot has one purpose, just like the name implies, for killing a mature buck.  Unlike big brother, these plots are small.  In fact, size is the least of your concerns; in this case location is all that matters. 

This past winter, while scouting a newly acquired piece of land, we located a major buck bedding area and not far away, a perfect spot for a kill plot.  Within 100-125 yards of this bedding area was a small grassy opening, about 1/5 of an acre in size.  Not only was this spot close to the bedding area, it was also close to a large beaver pond that the deer travel around when heading to feed in the larger fields about 500 yards away.  Because of its proximity to the thick bedding area and the travel routes, we determined that this would be a spot that a mature buck would feel comfortable getting a snack at during light before he heads to the larger fields to feed for the night.

You can see the location of this Kill Plot is key.  Its close to the buck bedding, a thick area and in a perfect travel corridor heading to the larger fields at night.

Had this small opening been in another spot, I probably wouldn’t have given it a thought to put a kill plot in here.  I have a number of spots on this property that look like potential locations for a kill plot, but they are just not in the right area.  Doing your off season scouting and really mapping out your deer herd will go a long ways to help you pick the right spot for your kill plot.

Before we started on the Kill Plot, it was a grassy area that was going to need a lot of work.


Besides not picking the right location for a kill plot, another mistake a lot of hunters make is not preparing the area like they should.  I do all of the same preparations on these small plots as I do on the larger ones, including spraying, discing, liming and fertilizing.  This particular plot will be planted with a turnip, rape and lettuce mix.  I’m not a big fan of heading to the local hardware store and picking out a throw and grow type of plot seed and hoping for the best.  That little extra work to make sure your plot grows to its full potential and picking the right seed will pay huge dividends when the season rolls around.

We were fortunate enough to be able to get an ATV with a disc into this area.  Had we not been able to, we would have made the extra effort and used a rototiller.

Proper soil preperation is also key to growing a quality Kill Plot.  Liming and fertilizing are essential.

With the discing and liming done, this Kill Plot will be ready for one last light discing, planting and fertilizing in Mid-July.

You picked the spot, worked your tail off in 90-degree heat during the summer getting the kill plot ready, now its time to hunt it.  Like any hunting spot, how and when you hunt your kill plot is going to be key. 

During the early season, I will only hunt the kill plot during the evening.  I’m not looking to catch a buck on his way back to the bedding area, only trying to catch him on his way to the fields to feed for the night.  On this particular plot, there will be only one stand.  There won’t be options for different winds; it will only be hunted if all conditions are perfect.  Being this close to the bedding area, extreme caution is also going to be needed when getting in and out. 

During the rut, I will actually sit on a kill plot all day.  Not only are bucks going to be using this plot throughout fall, but does will too.  Again, with the location of the plot close to the bucks bedding area and them feeling secure in the plot, they will be checking for hot does during daylight hours. 

It's still early July, so if you’ve thought about giving a kill plot a try for this fall, I highly encourage it, there’s plenty of time.  They may be small in size and hide in the big food plots’ shadow, but their location gives them an edge big brother doesn’t have.

Outfitters....The Best Thing For Deer Hunting?

by John Mueller 29. November 2010 13:26
John Mueller

In my opinion, I say Outfitters are great for deer hunting. (As long as they don't lease up the land I want to hunt.) I'd love to own a couple hundred acres in the middle of property that was leased by outfitters. Just think about it for a minute. What are outfitters trying to accomplish. Get the best quality deer for their hunters and the most of them. I think that would make a wonderfull neighbor.

My friend Bob and I were talking this past weekend. He lives near my property in IL. Every year he goes up to hunt with a friend of his who owns property in Calhoun County, IL which is near the Pike County border. He hunts for 3 or 4 days and kills a nice buck there every year, usually 140+. He also hunts around his house some on his property as well as a neighbors the rest of the season. Sometimes he kills another buck and sometimes he doesn't. I asked him how come he can kill a nice buck up North every year only hunting 3 or 4 days. He said the property is surrounded by land leased by outfitters and big bucks are everywhere.

This make perfect sense. When the outfitters lease up large chunks of land, say 2,000-10,000 acres, they have total control of what happens on that land. They control how many hunters hunt it and how many bucks are taken from it. The pressure is kept to a minimum by rotating hunters to different properties. So every deer isn't loking up into every tree to spot the hunter. They make sure there will be enough big bucks for the years to come and that the little bucks are allowed to walk. I doubt most guys are going to pay $3,000-$5,000 to shoot a basket racked buck. Most also try to take enough does off the land to make bucks have to search a little to find them. Most outfitters also plant food plots and take good care of the properties. It's in their best interest to have the healthiest deer herd possible.

By contrast without outfitters, a lot of parcells of land are getting smaller. Families are selling off the 120 acre farm and splitting it up into 10-20 acre mini farms for the weekenders. Then the whole family hunts on that 20 acres. Putting many more hunters in the woods and more pressure on the deer. You now have 20-30 people hunting the same land as 4-6 used to. Or if the farmers family does hunt the land. Most of these are meat hunters and shoot the first deer that walks by. Which is fine and needs to happen to keep the herd in check. But not good for trophy hunting. Both of these scenerios kill many more deer than outfitted land would and also make the ones that do survive that much harder to kill. Many of these deer become almost exclusively nocturnal movers.

I think if you could own a couple of hundred acres in the middle of properly outfitted land you would have a deer hunting paradise. Just make your property as appealing to the deer as the surrounding land and don't put too much pressure on it and you should have some of the big boys using your land too. This is just my opinion and you may totally disagree, but if you stop and think about it, it does make sense. Myself, Bob and 2 other friends are currently working on leasing some ground just like this for next year. I'll let you know how it works out.


Bowhunting Myths and Things I've Learned

by John Mueller 3. November 2010 11:27
John Mueller

I've been hunting deer for 36 years now and bowhunting for 18 (yeah I'm OLD) so hopefully I've learned a few things in all those years of chasing whitetails. I'll share a few of what I consider "Whitetail Myths" as well as some things I've learned on my own from hunting these deer.


1. Deer are lazy.

I've heard and read many times that deer are lazy animals. That they will go around ditches and hills instead of crossing them. Deer are not lazy animals. Well maybe if there is only one ditch or hill on a property they will avoid it. But my property is full of hills and the deer are used to going up and down them like they aren't even there. They regularly climb the steepest hillside and ditches just to get to where they are headed. I've sat on the end of hollows waiting for those lazy deer to go around them and seen them cross right through the middle.

2. Deer always....(Fill in the blank)

Deer never always do anything!! I rarely see a deer, especially a buck I'm after, do the same thing twice. There are just to many influences during their daily lives for them to have a set pattern. Different wind directions, coyotes, dogs, hunters, other deer, changing food sources, water sources drying up, weather, I could go on and on. But you get the idea. It's a wonder we ever see the same deer twice.

3. Deer travel with their nose into the wind.

If this were true, in some areas they would only walk in one direction most of the year. I believe deer like to walk with the wind quite a bit and trust their eyes to detect danger in front of them and use their noses for what they can't see behind them. That is what makes playing the wind so tricky when hunting. The deer just don't read the same Hunting Magazines we do.

4. The right camo is very important.

I'm begining to believe the only thing camo is good for is giving the hunter confidence the deer can't see him. I have been busted by deer wearing almost any type of camo standing perfectly still in a tree wider than my body many times. But I have also gotten away with more movement than I could believe dressed in blaze orange in a toothpick sized tree. I think a lot of it goes to the mood of the deer at the time. Sometimes they are so on edge, I think they see danger in every blob. Other times they get really relaxed in their surroundings and they feel comfortable. This seems especially true if they have been there for a while and haven't seen or smelled any danger.

5. Plant a food plot and you can kill a deer every sit.

While hunting over food plots can be productive, it has to be done with care. You cannot continually get busted entering or exiting your stand and expect to see deer in your plot during daylight. Deer pattern us as much as we try to pattern them. You let them know that you arrive at 3:00 and leave at 6:30 every evening and soon they will be arriving at 7:00 or later after you are back at camp.

Lessons learned

1. Don't shoot at nervous deer.

Their vitals may not be in the same place as they were when you released the arrow, when your arrow gets there. I have witnessed this first hand this season on a doe I tried to take on video. She was nervous the whole time she was in my food plot. It took her 30 minutes to close the gap from 60 yards to 33 yards, where I took the shot. She ducked and bolted so fast at the shot that my arrow headed for her lungs ended up hitting her in the top of her neck above her shoulder blade. I'm sure it was just a flesh wound and she maybe had a sore shoulder for a few days. On the other hand, I've shot completely relaxed deer and had the arrow zip through them without them even knowing what just happened. They took a couple of hops and turned back to see what just spooked them. Then their legs get a little wobbley and they tip over. This is a much better outcome.

2. Never underestimate a deers nose.

Most of us know that the deer's nose is its best line of defense. But I continually get amazed at just how good their noses really are. Sure we've all probably had deer "Dead Downwind" of us while hunting and never smelled us. I think this can be attributed to swirling wind currents not allowing our scent to ever get there. Just as often a deer will get nervous when it crosses the path we took to get to our stands hours before wearing scent free rubber boots sprayed with scent eliminator.

3. There are a lot of gimmicks out there.

While there are some products on the market that can help you kill a buck, a lot of the things advertised these days are just gimmicks. Put on the market to make someone a few bucks. The best way to weed through the trash is asking other reliable hunters what has worked for them. There just aren't a whole lot of shortcuts that are worth it when trying to kill a good buck.

4. It's not as easy as they make it to be on TV.

A lot of the tv celebraties get to hunt some special properties where the deer herds are highly managed and great bucks are present in big numbers. The average hunter isn't privilaged to hunt these properties. Also some of these hunters hunt almost every day of the season just to kill a few good deer to get a seasons worth of hunting shows. It may take a months worth of hunting to produce a half hour show. You usually don't get to see all of the extra work involved to get that buck on the ground.

5. Just beacause you get a bucks picture on trail camera, it doesn't mean you'll kill him.

I can't tell you how many great bucks I've gotten trail camera pictures of over the last few years and never even laid eyes on during a whole season of hunting. It is really hard to kill a specific buck if you choose to hunt one based on your trail camera photos. Sometimes I think they just leave an area altogether for reasons unknown.

Hopefully someone learned something from reading this. Some of it is my own opinions and you may not totally agree. But this is what I have learned over the many years of chasing these critters. I'm sure I still have things to learn about them and hopefully they will help me be an even more successfull hunter.

Early Bowhunting Season Recap | Wyoming Antelope & Wisconsin Doe

by Todd Graf 29. September 2010 10:46
Todd Graf

October 1st signifies the opening day of archery season here in Illinois and although my bowhunting season has barely begun, it's already been an extremely successful one.  I'm sure many of you have already read Justin's blog about our trip to Wyoming and no doubt seen the video as well.  But for those of you who haven't, let me tell you it was a great time!

Just over a month ago Justin and I, along with our cameraman/editor Brian, flew out to Table Mountain Outfitters for an early season antelope hunt.  After a few delays at the airport we finally settled into camp around 1 am on Friday morning August 27th.

After some much needed rest, unpacking our gear and sighting in our bows we headed into town to pick up our archery tags and some supplies for the day.  Once that was done it was time to head to our blinds and see if we couldn't lay down a couple goats.

Justin reading over the regulations before heading into our blinds.

Our home for the next 9 hours while trying to kill my first antelope with a bow.

Justin had the lucky horseshoe this day as he was able to take a nice antelope just 3 hours after getting into his blind.  In the meantime Brian and I were sitting in our blind wondering if anything was ever going to show up.  After a long day of napping, playing games on our phones, reading books, and staring off into the Wyoming landscape we finally had a nice buck approach our blind.

As Brian, the rookie cameraman on his first hunt, was struggling to hold himself together I got ready for the shot.  After ranging the buck at about 35 yards I drew back and let my 2 blade Bloodrunner fly.  The shot was a bit low and forward, but the Bloodrunner sure did the trick as the buck didn't run more than 100 yards before going down. 

Following a quick celebration and interview I snuck out of the blind to make sure the goat was down for good.  You can never be too sure!  By the time I got to the buck he was already expired and I claimed my first ever archery antelope.  What a great feeling!

My first archery antelope.  What a great way to start the season!

That 2 blade Bloodrunner sure did the trick on this goat.  It flew great and left a HUGE hole!

A nice Wyoming sunset.

The full gang on the final day of our antelope hunt with Table Mountain Outfitters.  From left to right: Brian McAlister, Justin Zarr, Dustin Decroo, Angie Denny, Todd Graf, Vicki Cianciarulo

If you haven't seen the video already, click here to watch it.  There's some really great footage!

After we returned home from Wyoming I was able to head down with my dad for a quick dove hunt with my friends at Graham's Outdoor Adventures in Central Illinois.  As always we had a great time with those guys, shot a bunch of doves, and enjoyed a nice summer day.  Thanks to the Grahams for having us down, it was a blast!

My dad, me, and Derek Graham after a fun day of dove hunting.

This past Sunday up in Wisconsin I was fortunate enough to take a really nice doe on film with my new cameraman Cody Altizer behind the lens.  Cody and I spent a few days at my property the past two weekends trying to get on one of the nice bucks we've had on trail cameras this summer, but they were nowhere to be found.  So when this nice big doe presented me with a shot I took the oportunity to start filling the freezer up with some fresh meat.  Next time we just need a nice buck to come by!

Cody getting ready to head out for our evening's hunt.

Me with my first doe of the season.


Back at home, or at least at my hunting property which seems like my 2nd home, my fall food plots are coming in GREAT!  All of my stands are hung and I am just about as ready for Opening Day as I can be.  Good luck to everyone who is going out hunting for the first time this weekend.  Stay safe and shoot straight!

The view from one of the stands I just hung last week.  I can't wait to get in there and do some hunting!


My native grasses are doing much better than I expected, which is going to provide some much needed security cover for not just deer but all sorts of wildlife.

Turnips are looking good!

Summertime Prep; Scouting Velvet Bucks & Hanging Treestands

by Justin Zarr 22. July 2010 14:31
Justin Zarr

The end of July is getting close which means a couple things for us bowhunters.  First and foremost, archery seasons are just around the corner.  We're now less than two months to the start of Wisconsin bow season, and less than 3 months until Illinois opens.  Anyone who hasn't already hung their treestands or started shooting their bow on a regular basis needs to get their butt in gear!  These lazy days of summer also means a great opportunity to glass soybean fields for velvet bucks.  Although you can't shoot them yet, they're still pretty fun to look at!

This past weekend I took a trip with my good friend Mike Willand to a new lease he has in Northwestern Illinois.  Mike takes his scouting extremely seriously and spent countless hours walking this farm during the spring looking for not just shed antlers, but analyzing the available deer sign and formulating a plan for this fall.  As all successful hunters know, the more work you put in now the more successful you'll be later and if that holds true, Mike just may come home with a truck full of bone come October.

During this July scouting trip we had two primary goals.  Number one was to hang another treestand specifically for morning hunts.  The way this particular farm is laid out, only about 1/2 of it can be hunted in the mornings without cutting across the primary food source and bumping any deer that may be in it.  So having plenty of options for wind directions is a must.  With a little help from his Treehopper belt, Mike was able to safely hang his treestand in no time and we were off. 

The second goal of the night was to try and spot some whitetails in velvet and see what kind of headgear they're sporting.  So after sweating our butts off hanging the treestand Mike and I split up for the evening's scouting mission.  Unfortunately my mission was an utter failure.  I saw a doe and fawn in the field on my way out and that was it for the rest of the night.  Zip.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada!  I did however get in a few good games of Blackjack on my phone.  While I was keeping myself occupied with that Mike did manage to see a couple deer, including one decent buck he has nicknamed "Little Rob".  Unfortunately a gang of coyotes came onto the field about 30 minutes before dark and cut our scouting mission short.

Check out the video below for a full recap of our stand hanging/velvet scouting adventure.

The view from my luxury box back in the weeds with the flies, ticks, snakes and blackbirds.

Supplies for the evening: Camera bag, cell phone, gloves, water, Gatorade, and a granola bar.

Nope, no deer here!

Hunting Late Season Food Sources

by John Mueller 22. December 2008 12:56
John Mueller

Hunting late season food sources can be very rewarding and also very frustrating at times. The deer have been hunted for months and are extremely wary about coming out in the open during daylight at this time of year. A lot of times they won’t show up until right at dark.


It’s also very easy for them to spot the hunters in the trees this time of year. All of the leaves are off the trees and there is no cover left for the hunter. With it being extra cold this year we tend to move around a lot on stand and the deer pick up this movement. Next thing you know you’re BUSTED and a snort and waving tails is all that’s left.


I have also been caught sneaking into my stands this year. The deer tend to bed close to their food source in the late season. This conserves energy by not having to travel very far in the snow and cold temps. So we need to take extra care to avoid being spotted on the way to our stands. Walking in the middle of fields away from the woods line might be one way to keep from being spotted. Another might be sneaking up a ditch or in a creek bottom.


Last weekend I hunted over my turnip plot. I took the long way around the top of the field and walked straight into my stand from the middle of the field. I wasn’t spotted by any deer that I know of. The deer have really been eating the turnips since the weather turned cold.




The deer have really been hammering my trunips lately.



I had this button buck come in early in the afternoon sit. He fed for quite a while from 10-20 yards in front of me. It was funny hearing him crunching on the turnips. I’ll let grow up a few more years.


This little button buck was crunching on the turnips 10 yards in front of me. He gets a free pass for few more years.


A half hour or so before dark I could see a group of does slowly making their way to the food plot. They would nibble a bit here and there then scan the woods for any danger, move a few yards closer and scan the woods some more. Forage in the leaves for anything edible and sample the air for any foreign odors. Standing in one spot for what seemed like forever looking for anything out of place. I thought they were going to follow a trail upwind of me into the plot, but they all headed downwind of me. When the first one hit my scent stream, she locked up and went on full alert. Started stomping her foot and stuck her nose as high as she could into the air. One more wiff of me and she started snorting and bounded about 75 back into the woods. Once a safe distance away she continued blowing for another 5 minutes before they all took of over the hill, flags waving. That was the end of that hunt.

Why do we go hunting? - The Experience!

by Troy Kailbourne 9. December 2008 16:10
Troy Kailbourne

Why do we hunt? That is a question a lot of people have asked me over the years. I have answered the question in so many different ways. I think the reasons have actually changed for me over the years. I am not sure how many of you that read this blog even think about why we hunt, we just do it. My good friend inadvertently blurted out “meat!” when asked the question. Other answers include tradition, pleasure, excitement etc…

I think I would some it all up with the answer, “The Experience!”


Hunting for me has been a self-taught experience of lessons that have easily flowed over into my mainstream life. My father was not a hunter, and so I got my hunting experiences from friends who came from hunting families. I proclaim I am self-taught, in reality this means a lot of good friends have helped me learn about hunting in general. Without these close friends I would probably not be here writing this. Which is all part of “The Experience!”


I have found that all of the marvelous experiences while hunting have truly given me pleasure in life. I seem to be more at peace with myself when hunting. Sure, I equate this to man vs. beast, to brave the elements, to outwit a cunning game animal, and to have nerves of steel to make the shot when it counts. These are all things that come in to play when I harvest the whitetail deer. I have such high regard and respect for the animal that sometimes people ask, “Then why kill it?” to which I answer “The Experience!”

I truly believe that hunting some how links me to the past, days gone of the wild frontier; in harder times when hunting was a way of life, not a recreational pursuit of sportsmen. As a history teacher I have always believed I am so how connected to the past and hunting helps fulfilling some inner being in me.


Regardless of why you hunt, you have to be able to chalk up it up to “The Experience!”

On a recent cold November day in western New York.



Recent weather has brought colder than normal temps to western New York. My perch is a beautiful view.

I sat pondering why the heck I am 30feet up in a tree waiting for the possibility of a 3 ½ year old buck to miraculously come walking by me. It was below freezing and there really wasn’t much moving, except the Turkeys. 


This Turkey decided to come in for a closer look at me. Turkeys have such great eyesight, but yet their curiosity can bring them in close.


Then I remembered it was all part of “The Experience!” My mind quickly became refocused when the Turkeys began to join me up in the tree. In fact these two decided to come take a closer look at my camouflage.

These two Turkeys decided a grounds eye view wouldn’t work, so they joined me in an adjacent tree. I thought for sure taking my camera and would spook them away, but they hung around for a bit.

Apparently my camo works well, as these Turkeys took a close look and I didn’t spook them away. Although I was not thrilled to have to sit “so still” for a long period of time.

Eventually the Turkeys began to wonder away, as they continued to frolic in the bushes about 75 yards out.  



This row of Turkeys decided to head out and find some morning food to fill their stomachs. They reminded me of a parade, all the soldiers marching in line! 

 I laughed to myself and chuckled at “The Experience!”


Soon my attention was focused on the brown creature moving in the brush my way. “The Experience” was picking up as my heart raced; my thoughts went right to the 150 class 10 pointer I saw a few days earlier. As the deer cleared the brush and I got a better look, it turns out to be a hopeful 150 class 10 pointer in about 4 more years.


This button buck got my heart racing as he came through the thicket. I was hoping he was a big 10 pointer I had seen a few days earlier. Instead it was just a button buck coming to pick through the snow for some leftover white oak acorns on the ground.  

Safe to say I was disappointed, but again, what a great “Experience” to have that feeling.

I will close this blog by saying, we all hunt for different reasons. Some for meat, fun, excitement, and traditions. No matter why you hunt, enjoy “The Experience” it gives you.

Categories: Bowhunting Blogs

What Happened to This Years Rut?

by John Mueller 19. November 2008 13:45
John Mueller

This has been one of the strangest years for the rut that I can remember. It seems like I have been seeing bucks chasing does for the last month. But never did see that frenzied few days when if a doe walked by, there were 4 or 5 bucks dogging her. Or you drive past an open field and there were deer chasing one another all over it. This usually happens around the 10th of November. Almost everyone I talk to has a similar story this year. Not really sure of the reason, but I have a few theories.


My first theory has to do with the amount of standing corn still in the fields. With all of the rain we had this spring and early summer the farmers got the corn in really late this year. Especially in the creek bottoms near my farm, it was just too wet to get on the ground to plant. That made the harvest really late and we have had a wet fall too. So there are thousands of acres of unpicked corn in the bottoms around my hunting property. This allows the deer to hide in the corn and the only reason they need to leave it is to get a drink. They have all the cover they need and food is everywhere around them. Much of the breeding may have taken place right in the corn fields where the does were living, and we never would have seen it.


My second theory has to do with the weather. I started seeing bucks chasing does during a cold snap on the weekend of Oct. 25th. I think the cold weather really got the bucks moving and in the mood. But then after a few days it warmed up again to near 80* temps. This shut down a lot of the activity or moved it until after dark when it was a little cooler. My buck sightings really took a hit after the weather warmed up. Then we had another cold snap, but along with the colder temps came very strong winds. The wind blew for many days in a row without letting up. I believe the deer head for heavy cover during strong winds because their defenses are somewhat useless during windy days. Everything in the woods is moving, making it hard for them to pick out danger with their eyes. Their hearing is not what it would be in a still woods. And they cannot trust their noses with the swirling winds. So where do they go? Back to the corn fields. 


I also feel this weather stretched out the breeding longer than it normally would have been, eliminating the frenzied chasing of the peak of the breeding period. Some of the does may have come into estrous during the first cold snap and got bred then. Then a few were still coming in during the warm weather, but most of the chasing and activity was going on at night, when the temps. were cooler and more comfortable for the does. Then another round of does came into heat during the second cold snap, but since it was so windy those days, most of the activity took place in very thick cover or in the standing corn.


Now don’t get me wrong, I did see rut activity. Just not the kind I am used to seeing in that area. This year there would be one buck chasing a doe or a small buck in the food plot checking them out by himself. Heck I would even see does in the food plots for long periods of time without a buck even coming to check them out. There is usually a few days where the deer are running around all day long chasing and breeding, and packs of bucks chasing the hot does. I hunted a lot of days the past few weeks and it just did not happen.


Bowhunting Pine Ridge Archery Style

by Todd Graf 12. November 2008 15:06
Todd Graf

I recently had the opportunity to spend 6 days with Jim Broberg, owner of Pine Ridge Archery, and several of his family members and friends at their home in Jo Daviess County, IL. All I can say is WOW, what a great time! Jim's wife prepared a outstanding meals for everyone after some long days on stand and I can't thank her enough for the hospitality. Marie is totally organized and the meals were fantastic - nobody went hungry, that's for sure.

The first three days of hunting were tough as the warm weather set in during the beginning of the rut. I decided after not seeing much activity those first few days that I would head home for awhile and wait until some colder weather to move in before heading back out.  Sure enough, after going home for 3 days colder weather finally moved in and I was back and ready for action.

Our bows and arrows were ready to perform, but were we??

Here is some of the great food prepared by Marie, we were fed very well!!

Ron and his son David Bakken talking deer hunting. David just got back from the Campbell Outdoor Challenge where Team Pine Ridge took 2nd place with the largest archery harvest ever filmed in the history of the event.  Watch for them on Versus starting in January 2009, you won't want to miss this! 

Brian Bychowski and Arnie getting back from a hunt talking about what was seen and already working on a plan where to hunt the next morning.

Jim and his daughter Kristen. Guys let me tell you -  this girl can hunt! I have to say I had a blast with her & Scott tracking the buck that I shot on the last night out. (I am saving that story for a few days - I will post soon)

I had to save the best for last - here is a photo of Scott's new outfit that he plans of wearing to pick up chicks! :) - Of course I am kidding.

Over the course of the week we managed to harvest two does and 1 buck despite the adverse weather conditions. We had many sightings of good bucks and some really close encoutners but just couldn't quite pull it together. All of us had a great time.  The rut is still in full swing here in Illinois so if you can get out in the woods now is the time! 

Categories: Bowhunting Blogs

First Deer of the Season

by Josh Fletcher 11. November 2008 15:24
Josh Fletcher

It was several weeks into the opener of the Wisconsin archery season and I haven’t seen a buck yet. I’m hunting in central Wisconsin, and I’ve seen and passed up several opportunities at good does. This year handed us a warm season with temperatures in the eighties and rain almost every day I sat in the stand. I let the does walk do to the fact that I had several photos of good bucks on my game cameras during day light hours and I wanted to key into an early season buck.  However it was now several weeks into the archery season and I haven’t seen a buck yet this year.  The temperatures dropped into the fifties and with the fall crispness in the air, I knew it was go time.  With my camera man behind me filming every move this year, it was time to do some herd management. Now first let me tell you about my camera man Chad. This is his first year behind the camera, but with training from White Knuckle Productions we have him sharp as a tack. He stands 6’ 2” and is built like a brick house. Why am I telling you this? To show my intelligence because he makes a great work mule! He can carry two tree stands,  all of his camera gear and drag a deer at the same time! With Chad behind the camera and a bow in my hand we hung a set on a T- intersection of a logging road. Just off of the logging road is a cut corn field that the deer have been feeding in. It wasn’t long when a young doe came walking down the logging road offering me a twelve yard shot. After making sure that Chad had the deer on camera, I settled my Fifteen yard pin at the shoulder crease. I squeezed the trigger and the arrow drove home.  Half of the arrow was sticking out of the doe as she bolted for the thick cover. Within several leaps and bounds she was out of our sight but her hasty flight was quite loud, with in several seconds we could hear the doe crashing around approximately eighty yards away, followed up by deafening silence.  She was down!! We just harvested a doe and helped with the herd control in Wisconsin.  After giving the doe some time, just to be safe, we took up on the track. After a short track and a good blood trail we recovered my first deer of the 2008 archery season! Not only did I take a nice doe for the freezer but I also realized that even a small doe still gets my heart pumping, and more importantly, memories and stories for around the camp fire were made.


Chad is ready for his time out! Was he ready for the task or not - only time would tell.

It did not take long to get set up and the action started. Chad looks like he was warmend up and ready for the job.

Here I am with my first harvest of the year and I have now earned an additional Earn-A-Buck Sticker!

Chad ended up doing  a great job in capturing the entire hunting on film. "Thanks Chad" Now its time to find a nice buck.

Iowa Deer Hunting - White Knuckle Productions Connects

by Todd Graf 11. November 2008 14:44
Todd Graf

Dan Johnson and Todd Pringnitz were lucky enough to slam a couple good ones this last past Saturday.  The rut is on - we have team members knocking down bucks on a daily basis - including some UNBELIEVABLE bucks on-camera.  You guys are going to die when you see some of this stuff!

Both myself and Dan's bucks complete stories and kill's are captured on-camera and will be featured in the production.

To get a copy of White Knuckles Productions current DVD's click here.


Categories: Current News

Pine Ridge Archery Competes in Campbells 2008

by Todd Graf 4. November 2008 14:03
Todd Graf

I have been hunting the last 4 days with Jim Broberg, owner of Pine Ridge Archery, in Jo Davies county. Jim's home is near a new piece of property that I have been hunting so it was hard to say no when Jim asked me to stay at his camp. We have all been hunting hard the last week, but with this warm front it seems to really have shut these deer down. I guess we'll just have to wait a few days until the weather changes which are right around the corner. Marie's wife had some really good meals all prepared and the accommodations were perfect.

While I was in camp I asked Jim and Brian why they were not competing in the challenge this year and here was their response:  “This year, we made a shift in who is competing for the title in the Campbell Outdoor Challenge.  Instead of us, Team Pine Ridge Archery is being represented by two other Team Pine Ridge regulars, Scott and David Bakken.  Scott will be the cameraman while his brother David will be drawing a bead for the team.  Both of them are great hunters and worthy camera operators, but with Scott scoring on his largest buck ever on WI opening day he gave the reins to his brother David for the competition. Needless to say, we are all hoping that Scott and David "Team Pine Ridge" would pull off a win at the Campbell's Outdoor Challenge. We got some exciting news when they arrived in camp on Sunday as they took 2nd place. The boys were able to harvest a 164 inch buck on the last morning of the Challenge to pull out of 5th place into 2nd.

Congratulations Guys!

Last year Justin from Team won the challenge and has just arrived in camp to protect the title. For those of you who don’t know what the Campbell’s Challenge is here is an expert from there site:

The Campbell Outdoor Challenge features team competitions in “The Sport of Filming Hunts” and is open to anyone wanting to compete, regardless of age or experience level. Teams are awarded points based upon required video footage and the maturity of the animal filmed during the hunt. All outdoor challenge events are for wild, free-ranging game and hunts being filmed are conducted under the rules and regulations of the hosting states.


Here are some behind the scenes photos:

Here is a shot of all the teams competing in the challenge.


First deer harvested for Team Pine Ridge Archery.


On the last day they pulled off a super nice 164 inch Buck with great video footage!

The boys show up at camp taking 2nd place with a nice buck in the truck.

With warming temperatures we wasted not time getting this buck into the freezer.


Here we're all watching the footage that was captured during the hunt at Campbells.


I won't give away all of the details you will have to wait to see the full TV Shot. But it got exciting!

We'll I got to get to bed and get ready for another 5 days of hunting. The temps are getting colder and it's time to find another buck.

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