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Where Have All the Bucks Gone?

by Justin Zarr 18. November 2011 10:18
Justin Zarr

I don't know about the rest of you bowhunters out there, but this year's rut and poor hunting conditions have about got me beat! I've been hunting relatively hard, when time and work permits, since the end of October with very little success since my last Blog entry.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, I don't get to hunt every day. Like most of you who read this I have a regular job that keeps me occupied from Monday to Friday and the vast majority of my hunting is done on the weekends. That usually leaves me enough time for about 20 to 30 sits per year in stand, with only a third of those being during prime time. So when the sun is shining, I've got to make hay!

Sometimes I wonder why I even bother rattling.  It never seems to work for me.

The weekend of November 6th & 7th should have, by all accounts, been pretty good. We were just approaching the full moon and the weather was decent. However, after three hunts that weekend I had seen a grand total of 5 deer. The only bucks that showed up were a couple of love sick year and a half olds. Certainly not the caliber of deer that Mike and I are looking for.  Although they make for some entertaining hunts, after the first few you start to question whether or not a bigger buck is ever going to show up.

This little guy was right under my stand as I filmed him.  He had no idea Mike and I were perched just 15 feet above him.

I really nice 1 1/2 year old buck that Mike grunted in last weekend.  Give him a few years and he may be worthy of a shot.

The following weekend was much of the same. 4 sits yielded a total of 9 deer and again nothing with antlers older than a year and a half. High winds, a nearly full moon and warming temperatures certainly didn't help deer movmement, but I thought I would have seen SOMETHING moving around.

When you're sitting in your treestand in the morning waiting for the sun to come up and the moon is so bright you can almost shoot, it's usually not a good sign.

On Friday evening (11/11), at the end of a frustrating sit I did shoot a nice big doe that came out into a corn field in front of me. With shooting light fading and a 35+ yard shot I never saw exactly where my arrow hit her, but I was 99% confident the shot was good. However, after not seeing the deer drop in sight and not finding much blood I elected to wait until the morning to recover her. Unfortunately the local coyotes had different plans in mind as they found my doe, just over the rise out of site from my stand. Figures.

Although I double lunged this doe, the entrance and exit holes were both high which resulted in a poor blood trail.  Electing to let her lay overnight I was disappointed to find the coyotes got to her before I did.  Ironically, she was only 40 yards away from where I had followed the blood trail, but was unable to find her after dark.

Besides the lack of buck sightings from stand, it's been a tough year for trail cameras too. My trail cameras are working hard for me, but the big guys just don't seem to be cooperating. Despite my best efforts to local another shooter buck, I haven't found anything that really gets me excited for these cold November (and soon December) mornings.

Bucks like the one seen here have been frequent visitors to my Tink's mock scrapes, but the big guys have been eluding me so far.

This big guy we nicknamed "Goldberg" has been a frequent visitor in front of our Stealth Cam Prowlers, but with a busted main beam he's off the hit list for this year.  I just hope a neighbor doesn't get him during gun season.  If he makes it, he'll scare you next year.

Now that gun season is on here in Illinois I'll be limited to hunting my spot in bow-only Lake County, which unfortuantely isn't holding many trophy bucks this fall. The biggest buck I have on camera is a spindly 10 point that may have grossed in the mid 120's before he busted off a few of his tines!

"Spud Webb" before he busted off his right G2 and possibly several other tines.  Not a bad buck, but not exactly the caliber of deer I'm looking to put my 2nd buck tag on.

Okay, I guess I shouldn't be complaining too much here. All things considered I've had a really good season. I've harvested 3 deer, all on film, one of which is my biggest buck ever. That buck, which you can read about by clicking here, ended up gross scoring just over 158 inches which is far bigger than I originally thought. Although I'm not looking forward to another taxidermy bill, I won't mind admiring him for years to come.

So with all of that said, it's certainly not time to give up now! There's nearly 2 months of season left here in Illinois and if I want to fill my 2nd buck tag I'm going to have to keep hunting hard. So tomorrow morning when I'm in my Lone Wolf stand with Mathews in hand, I'll try to picture my tag wrapped around 150 inches of antler I know could be around the next tree.


Bowhunt or Die! Episode 7 Recap

by Cody Altizer 19. November 2010 09:53
Cody Altizer

 While it may seem hard to believe, Bowhunt or Die has reached Episode 7 of the 2010 bowhunting season.  With the rut in full swing, our staff members flooded the woods and fields of Wisconsin and Illinois in hopes of harvesting a mature buck on film.  Two of our most persistent Pro Staffers, Mike Willand and Neal McCullough, both harvested good bucks and Todd Graf continued his Quality Deer Management efforts by harvesting his second doe of the season.  In case you missed Episode 7 of Bowhunt or Die, read on for a recap!

Click on this link to view the footage from Episode 7!

 Neal McCullough was the first out of the gates and he brought us an exciting hunt for a Wisconsin 10 pointer.  Neal has been hunting hard all year long and just hadn’t been able to put fit the pieces together, but he stayed resilient and kept after it knowing the only way to tag a big buck was to keep working hard.  On the morning of November 7th, Neal was able to call in a big rutting buck while hunting in Pepin County, Wisconsin.  The big buck was so focused on the buck he thought he heard making the grunt, that he paid no attention to Neal’s mouth grunt to stop him.  Neal had to practically yell at the buck, but when the buck stopped, Neal took hit shot.  The shot didn’t get much penetration, but Neal gave the buck plenty of time and was able to recover his buck.  Congrats Neal on a well-deserved, hard earned Wisconsin buck!

Pro Staffer Neal McCullough had been working very, very hard throughout the season and was thrilled when he harvested this buck.  The expression on his face says it all!

 We then head to Northwestern Illinois and join staff member Mike Willand in JoDaviess County.  Mike’s 2010 season thus far was similar to Neal’s in that he was seeing good bucks from stand, he just wasn’t able to close the deal or they weren’t the caliber buck he was looking for.  All that changed, however, on the afternoon of November 11th.  Just as soon as Mike got settled in his stand, a mature buck pushed a doe across the bean field Mike was situated on and the buck casually walked right in front of Mike’s stand at no more than 20 yards.  Mike’s first shot was true; however, the buck stayed within range and presented another shot.  Mike’s second was through the lungs and the buck laid down and expired; a quick, clean kill!  The result was Mike’s first self filmed buck harvest on an old, mature buck.  Nicely done, Mike!

Mike Willand looking over his first self-filmed buck kill.  While Mike's buck certainly isn't the largest scoring whitetail in Illinois, one cannot refute this buck had some age on him making him extremely difficult to kill and equally rewarding.

 Bowhunt or Die host Todd Graf jumps in on the action as he continues his pursuit for his second buck of the 2010 season.  Todd continued to put in a ton of time and effort and his drive in the whitetail woods to be successful is admirable.  Unfortunately, despite several more buck encounters, Todd just wasn’t able harvest a nice buck for this week’s episode.  On the other hand, Todd was able to harvest a nice adult doe off one of his hunting properties.  Quality Deer Management is very important to Todd and he takes the practice very seriously, so it was a virtual no brainer to thin out the herd and put a little meat in the freezer when the opportunity presented itself.  Great job Todd, now you can focus your efforts on that second monster buck of the season!

This screen shot was taken just seconds before Todd Graf released an arrow.  Todd takes Quality Deer Management very seriously and he didn't hesitate to take this doe to ensure better hunting opportunities in the future.

 John Mueller concludes Episode 7 of Bowhunt or Die as he toughs out a frustrating November.  As amazing as the rut can be for some hunters, it can be equally as frustrating for others as was the case for John.  He had been seeing great activity and some good bucks, just couldn’t coax them in close enough or they were too busy with a doe.  But at the end of the day, that’s bowhunting.  As frustrating as it can be sometimes, that’s also the beauty of the sport because we appreciate the sweeter moments that much more.  Don’t give up, John.  When you do connect, it will only make that feeling that much more enjoyable!

One of the several bucks John Mueller had an encounter with over the past several weeks.  While John wasn't able to harvest a buck, he has certainly put the time and effort in to do so.  Patience pays, John!  Patience pays.

 That wraps up the action for Bowhunt or Die Episode 7.  Unfortunately, firearm season settles in for the majority of the country so there will not be a Bowhunt or Die next week.  If you are a gun hunter, please be safe and remember to wear blaze orange!  Until the next episode of Bowhunt or Die, enjoy the Thanksgiving Week with your family and have a blessed holiday! 

Bowhunt or Die! Episode 6 Recap

by Cody Altizer 15. November 2010 09:22
Cody Altizer

 Episode 6 of Bowhunt or Die marked the beginning of Sweet November in the whitetail woods and to hunters around the country it meant the beginning of the rut.  The Bowhunt or Die team continued their impressive streak of laying down quality whitetails on film in Episode 6 as two more Illinois bucks were harvested.  In case you missed our last installment of Bowhunt or Die, read on as we recap the action!

Follow this link to watch the exciting bowhunting action of Bowhunt or Die Episode 6.

 Richie Music continued his dream season as he harvested yet another Illinois buck.  For the second sit in a row from the exact same tree, Richie was able to harvest a bruiser Northern Illinois buck.  This buck followed the exact same script as his buck the week before, walking down the exact same trail and stopping at the same spot.  Richie’s shot was farther back than he would have liked, but knew that if he didn’t push the buck and gave him plenty of time to expire, he would recover his trophy.  A wise decision by Richie resulted in the recovery of Richie’s second buck.  Unfortunately for Richie, he is now tagged out in Illinois, but I am sure he is not complaining.  Two bucks and two does down is a great season for anyone.  Nicely done, Richie!

Look familiar?  This Illinois beauty of a buck stopped in the same place as the buck Richie harvested in last week's episode.  Richie made his shot count and harvested his second Illinois bruiser from the same stand.

This was Richie's second buck of the 2010 bowhunting season.  Richie has truly had a season to remember and we are grateful he shared his success on Bowhunt or Die with quality footage.

 We then followed Todd Graf on his quest for either his second Illinois giant, or a monster Wisconsin buck, whichever came first.  Todd hunted the end of October and early November hard and had some great, close encounters with some dandy Wisconsin bucks, but they just wouldn’t cooperate.  As Todd stated, as magical as the rut can be to bowhunters, it can turn into a game of cat and mouse.  With bucks tending and chasing does across open fields and through the timber, sometimes you just have to hope you are in the right tree at the right time.  With plenty of season left and knowing the hardcore hunter that Todd is, I know he will put in the time and effort and ultimately have an opportunity to bag one of those Wisconsin brutes that have given him the slip so far this season. 

This is one of the Wisconsin brutes Todd has been chasing this season.  A true giant for any state, I know Todd will do whatever it takes to give himself the best opportunity to harvest this giant by the season's end.

 Bowhunt or Die then introduces its newest and youngest team member, Brady Scheffler.  Brady’s first appearance on Bowhunt or Die was a memorable one has he filmed himself shooting a great Illinois buck.  Brady got up in his stand plenty early one morning and right at first light a buck that Brady had a lot of history with this season presented a shot.  Brady’s shot was true and, despite running farther than expected after the shot, the buck died along a creek bottom.  Big congratulations Brady on harvesting such a fine whitetail and welcome to the team!

This buck had given Brady the slip throughout the month of October, staying just out of range just as he did in this photo.  It was only a matter of time before Brady caught up with him.

Brady recapping the action of his self-filmed buck harvest.  As our newest staff member, Brady made his first appearance on Bowhunt or Die a memorable by taking this great buck. 

 We concluded Episode 6 of Bowhunt or Die by following Justin Zarr on a couple hunts on his property in Northern Illinois.  Justin’s determination to harvest a buck off this piece of property is admirable as he relentlessly tries to figure out these wary suburban bucks.  If you recall in previous episodes, Justin had hunted this piece of property numerous times without even seeing a deer.  Fortunately for Justin he was able to get on some good deer this go around.  While they were just does and smaller bucks, seeing deer is always a morale booster and proves that Justin is inching closer and closer to harvesting a buck in Lake County, Illinois.  Only time will tell if he will be able to do it, so be sure to tune into next week’s episode of Bowhunt or Die to see how he does.

Just a doe?  Not hardly.  Justin was finally able to see some deer from his Lake County property during Episode 6.  During the rut if you find the does, you'll find the bucks.  It's only a matter of time for Justin.

 The 2010 bowhunting season has been very good to the Bowhunt or Die and the first week of November was no different.  Every week I say it will be tough to top the previous week’s episode, but somehow our guys manage to do it.  With the rut now in full swing, I fully expect this week’s episode of Bowhunt or Die to be one of the best ones yet.  Of course, there will only be one way for you to find out.  So, tune in next week to see if the Bowhunt or Die team can continue its impressive inaugural season. 

Creating A Whitetail Highway

by Cody Altizer 2. August 2010 10:29
Cody Altizer

Let’s face it; the majority of us bowhunters live for hunting the rut, and for good reason.  Mature bucks are on their feet cruising for does during daylight hours making them extremely vulnerable and “easier”, if you will, to harvest.  Coinciding with their defenseless demeanor during the rut is a state of lunacy that, at times, can actually make them more difficult to harvest.  With only love on their mind, developing a sound game plan to get within bow range can be problematic.  So, what’s a bowhunter to do?  Simple: create a whitetail highway, manipulating deer movement and behavior to boost your chances of harvesting a mature buck.  This blog post, while dedicated to my mission of harvesting a Bottom Buck, will also provide you with perhaps a new rut hunting strategy.

Constructing a mock scrape is a relatively simple process.  Make sure you remain completely scent free to avoid tipping off a mature buck.

While this tactic is about creating the perfect rut setup for November, the process actually begins now.  Centrally located on the southern half of my hunting property is a one acre field that will be planted with rape and turnips, Mother Nature permitting, by the second week of August.  We all know the key to hunting bucks during the rut is finding the does.  This food plot will attract several different doe groups and thus tempt the bucks as well.  Step one, relatively speaking, is easy: provide food in the center of the property to attract and hold deer.  The timber to the west of the food plot is loaded with mature white oaks that will also attract deer.  Further, to the west of the oak flat is a doe bedding area that generally does not become heavily used until the first week of November.  The early muzzleloader season opens the first weekend of November.  Once the deer become pressured, they retreat to this bedding area, slowly make their way through the oak flat munching on acorns before entering the food plot right as dusk.
 Initially, this sounds like a classic staging area setup.  Simply setup a stand halfway between the bedding area and the food plot, right?  Well, yes.  Theoretically, that is where I’ll take my Gorilla Silverback Hangon and Climbing Sticks in early November.  However, as mentioned, this spot will not be hunted until the seeking and chasing phase when bucks will be dogging does back and forth with no real sense of direction.  With limited time in the woods this fall, I need to maximize my time on stand.   This is where the plot thickens.

One of the key ingredients in my whitetail highway is acorns.  A plentiful acorn crop will further entice deer to frequent my hunting area this November.

While the oak flat provides an excellent food source, it offers little in the way of dense, thick cover and has absolutely no natural funnels or pinch points.  Previously the deer enter the food plot where they pleased, until now.  This past winter I felled several less desirable trees including Virginia pine, black locust and a few dead cedars to create my own pinch point at the edge of the food plot.  I also drug back our family Christmas tree and some other dead garden shrubs and bushes to give the funnel a little character!  This 50 yard long pile of brush will now push the deer closer by my stand, giving me a better opportunity at harvesting a mature buck.
While the manmade funnel certainly plays a pivotal role in my rut set up, I will also add a key ingredient towards the latter part of August and early September: mock scrapes and licking branches.  I am a firm believer that if constructed carefully and diligently, mock scrapes can attract mature bucks and those bucks will eventually take those scrapes over as their own.

My manmade funnel.  Deer are naturally lazy creatures and will take the easiest path available to a food source.  By funneling them by my stand, I greatly increase the likelihood of a shot opportunity.  If you look in the center of the photo, you will see the last mock scrape positioned 17 yards from my stand.

Starting at the doe bedding area, I will construct a mock scrape accompanied with a mock licking branch every 35-40 yards until I reach the food plot.  If a tree does not provide a low hanging branch, I will simply tie a mock licking branch from an existing branch.  It is extremely important to be as scent free as possible when making the mock scrapes.  Rubber boots, rubber gloves and thoroughly spraying down with odor eliminating spray is essential.  The final scrape will be positioned 17 yards from my stand right at the tip of the man made funnel, where hopefully a mature buck will present a broadside shot.  I will start making these scrapes in early September, when bucks are shedding their velvet and their testosterone levels really begin to rise.  By lightly spraying Code Blue’s Buck Urine directly in the scrape and on the tree with the branch this should create a sense of intrusion on a mature buck and his core area.  As the season progresses and the rut draws near, I will then apply Code Blue’s Tarsal Gland Gel to the scrapes.  The tarsal gland is the primary communication device on the whitetail’s body and provides a surplus of information about a whitetail.  It contains age, sex, dominance and a doe’s readiness to breed.  The application of the tarsal gland gel will hopefully peak a buck’s interest causing him to come investigate. 
I am extremely confident in Code Blue’s Tarsal Gland Gel.  Last fall, I experimented with this gel over a trail camera during the post rut.  I simply applied the gel to the vegetation and bark of trees.  Overnight, 5 different bucks, including a 4 year old, 130” shooter, a solid 3 year old and three yearling bucks came to investigate.  Two of the yearling bucks began sparring, which made for a cool series of photos.

Just like any other bowhunting strategy, it is important to utilize the wind to insure the deer won't smell me.  For this particular setup, a cooling thermal coupled with a Northwest wind is golden.

As is always the case in bowhunting, the right wind is critical for hunting this setup.  A Northwest wind would be ideal for this spot, as the deer would enter the food plot with a crosswind, when they would feel the most comfortable.  A straight west wind would work just as well as it would take my scent out into the open food plot.  Hopefully, the deer won’t make it that far though!  This rut setup will strictly be an afternoon spot due to thermals.  In my previous post, describing hunting a Bottom Buck, I stressed the importance of hunting during the morning with a rising thermal.  Conversely, an afternoon thermal is crucial to hunting this setup, which should completely rid the area being hunted of human scent.
Manipulating deer movement via man made funnels and mock scrapes is going to prove to be quite a challenge this fall.  Outwitting a mature buck is difficult enough, but trying to dupe him of his natural instincts offers a new challenge in itself.  Attention to detail is critical; playing the wind correctly, understanding whitetail behavior to planting a food plot that will attract deer well into November.  Only time will tell if I have built a whitetail highway attractive enough to garner the use of a rutting Bottom Buck, nevertheless, the pursuit is what it’s all about.  Not the kill.  Let the chess match begin!


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