Monday, December 1, 2008

A Dreary Day For Ducks and Bucks

Sunday, the thirtieth of November was one of those cold, drizzly days that keeps sane people inside with a warm fire and a good book. Thank goodness for insanity of the hunting variety, especially when it runs in the family...

My son Hunter and I started the day in Northern Alabama, duck hunting with our good friends Greg and Tucker Voges. Hunter was taking advantage of liberal doses of mud and water to break in a new shotgun he had gotten for his 13th birthday a couple days before. A steady drizzle and a moderate wind kept the ducks flying until about 10:00 when we called it a day with twelve ducks to our credit.

Tucker's momma had laid down the law that Sunday afternoon was homework time so we drove him back to Nashville after a quick breakfast. We took about an hour to stop by the house, throw our wet hunting clothes in the dryer, and eat a bite of lunch before heading out to the woods with full bellies and warm clothes.

As we climbed a white oak tree on the edge of a small field, the wind picked up to about ten miles per hour and the rain began to fall again. It was pretty miserable, but we forgot all about discomfort when three does and a button buck materialized in the field. We were treated to the most amusing show of deer behavior I have seen. The lead doe was obviously in heat and the little buck was so stirred up he just couldn't stand it. Every time he would get a whiff of phermones, he would jump straight up in the air, run around in circles, spar with the nearest tuft of grass, and generally act like a rambunctious puppy. It was all we could do not to laugh out loud at his misguided testosterone surges.

After about five minutes of watching the little buck's antics we noticed the does focusing their attention on the trail where they had entered the field. In a couple minutes a nine pointer stepped out into the open. Hunter made a good shot on him so we got down immediately to take advantage of the few remaining minutes of light. The rain made blood tracking impossible, so we had to hope we could spot him in the woods. After about five minutes of looking, Hunter found the buck in a small hollow about fifty yards off the field.

It was Hunter's first "mounter" so he was ecstatic that he was going to finally get a buck of his own on the wall. He called his mother and said, "put on some lard and onions, I'm going to gut you a buck," a quote from our favorite deer hunting (sort of) movie, Escanaba in da Moonlight.

All in all, not a bad day!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Duck Pond Buck

If the setting of the photo above looks suspiciously like a duck pond, that would be because it is one. And if that good lookin' fella with the deer on the edge of the duck pond bears a stiking resemblance to yours truly, that would be an observation best not shared with him, lest he break out in hives or convulsions at the thought.

As dawn broke last Sunday morning, my son Hunter and I were lying prone on the edge of a flooded cornfield. We were hunting with our good friends Greg and Tucker Voges during the Alabama youth deer hunt.

With the temperature in the low 30's and 10 mph winds, we were treated to an almost constant show of ducks working overhead. Minutes earlier, as we walked through the pre-dawn darkness, the sound of thousands of ducks getting up out of the corn was truly awesome. It was already a special day.

The day before, Greg had pointed out a slick trail leaving out of the corner of the dike into the adjacent woods. I surmised that the deer would be leaving an unflooded cornfield that lay about a hundred yards away and crossing the dyke to get to their bedding area in the woods via that trail. Given the close proximity of the cornfield, using a climbing stand without spooking the deer seemed out of the question, so we decided to hunt on the ground.

In the flashlight-less darkness, we managed to find a section of dike where we could lie down along the dry side and peer over the top, foxhole style.

About thirty minutes after first light the spiker pictured above eased out of the cornfield and across the dike. Hunter's first shot through the ribs sent the buck scrambling for the nearby woods where he slowed to a walk, allowing a follow-up neck shot that dropped him in his tracks. Hunter reminded me of the mistake I had made a week earlier and said he wasn't going to repeat it by not taking a second shot. I'm glad that lesson stuck. Now if we could just work on the picking up the room lesson...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Joella's Missouri Monster

A couple days ago, I received the following email and the attached photos from my friend Joella Bates DeWitt, one of the most acomplished hunters I know. I had the pleasure of spending several days bowhunting and quail hunting with Joella at a writers camp a couple years ago when I took this buck. While we were in camp, she shared her amazing photo album of hunting adventures and her video footage of becoming the first woman to take a cape buffalo with a bow. It was pretty darn impressive. Joella is a great ambassador for bowhunting and is very active in recruiting other women to the sport. Congratulations Joella and thanks for sharing your story and photos.

Hello Friends,

On Nov. 8, 2009, I took my second amazing buck of 2009
(Editor's note: see the photo of her first buck below). This time I spotted him bringing up the rear in a rut chase. A 1 ½ year old 5 pointer was hot on the tail of a doe that must have outweighed him by at least 50 pounds. The pair advanced to the terrace that circled the just-cut corn field that our stands overlooked. Dan began filming the chase. I continued to watch also until the flash of big white antlers caught my attention. He was coming. Hot on the trail of the pair, he followed the same route to the terrace. Being the mature buck that he was, he stopped to paw a couple of hits on his scrape before coming within bow range.

On the previous Monday, I had rattled in a 190’s buck that came in so fast and so close that I could not get turned or draw on him. Not to repeat the missed opportunity, I drew when he was 60 yards out and headed my way and held.

We had several challenges that we had to overcome in order for me to take the shot. He had to come in range. The doe and little buck had gone into the woodlot just to our east. When my husband, Dan DeWitt, bleated, the buck stopped to look for the doe.

The gusting winds exceeded 30 miles per hour making the 20 degree F wind chill brutal. My Raven Wear kept me warm and as comfortable as you can be in those conditions, so I had no trouble drawing the 75 pound BowTech Guardian. The problem came with trying to remain balanced on the small Gorilla lock-on platform 22 feet high in a leaning pin oak. The buck came in behind the tree forcing me to attempt to get a shot through the thick branches. The platform was too small for me to comfortably balance on with the rock’in and roll’in occurring as a result of the wind gusts. Thank goodness for the safety harness that my neighbor, Robert Frady, had made for me with a six-foot barge-rope attachment to the tree allowing me the maneuverability to get turned to safely attempt the shot. The hold-up was there were two tree limbs that touched my bow when I tried to aim. I didn’t dare shoot until I could shoot without hitting a limb.

Finally, Dan bleated the buck to a clear spot, just 15 yards from the stand. While he stood directly downwind, I released the power of the Aerodynamic Solutions ATOM broadhead. I watched the arrow impact and stop. Knowing that the shot had hit both lungs and suspecting I had taken his heart, I watched the buck explode for 20 yards, then slow after another 40 yards. After a brief moon-walk and break-dance, the buck tumbled into a grassy grave.

I stayed in the tree, but switched places with my husband. He became the hunter and I the camera-girl. Finally, he told me that I could climb down and go see my buck. I started climbing down, but got interrupted when I spotted a buck on the field. I hung on to the ladder and filmed until we ran out of light. The buck came within 12 yards of us in the woodlot, but he was not sporting appropriate headgear to become a movie star.

I will tell you the rest of the story later.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Close Scrape on a Gloomy Day

With the leaves falling heavily and the last of the white oak acorns already on the ground, finding a dominant tree wasn't an option last weekend. Even if the deer were feeding on a particular tree (which I don't believe they were since acorns weren't dropping) any sign they left behind would have been quickly covered by freshly fallen leaves. It was time to change tactics.

After the success that Ted and I had rattling the prior weekend, I decided to try rattling again. As I mentioned in the post describing that hunt, it was the first time that rattling had worked for me. Now I was like an addict. I had to have another fix.

I spent most of Saturday scouting for fresh buck sign and late in the day struck paydirt when I found a hollow that had several large rubs and fresh scrapes about every 100 yards or so. My son had a basketball game that night, so I picked out a tree to climb the next morning, marked a brite-eye trail in from the nearest logging road and headed out.

The next morning was overcast and cold, with a 10 mph west wind. I spent the first couple hours in the stand seeing just one spike. With the wind blowing steadily and the leaves on the ground still damp from Friday's hard rain, I decided that conditions were right for moving silently along the scrape line. I decided to ease up the hollow, rattling every time I had moved far enough along for the sound to cover a new area.

I climbed down the tree as quietly as I could, left my climbing stand on the tree and eased about 100 yards up the hollow. The first spot I rattled was at the confluence of two small creeks. I sat down under a small maple tree with lots of yellow and orange leaves at ground level to disguise my orange vest and hat. As soon as I finished a short rattling sequence, a six pointer trotted off the ridge to my right, crossed the trail about thirty yards in front of me and headed up the ridge separating the two creeks. "That was cool," I thought. "Things are looking good."

After the buck passed out of sight, I continued up the hollow repeating the rattling process every 200 - 300 yards. I passed lots of scrapes and rubs as I worked my way about three quarters of a mile up the hollow, but didn't see any more deer.

At about 11:30 I decided to turn around and head back to the truck for some lunch. A short way back down the trail where I had seen a pretty good sized rub on the way up, I noticed a very fresh pile of deer droppings in the trail. I was pretty sure I would have seen them the first time through the area, so I decided to try rattling there again.

I backed up against a large beech tree and tickled the horns together lightly for about twenty seconds then picked up my muzzleloader. Almost instantly, I heard the sound of a deer moving quickly toward me about fifty yards away. I threw the muzzleloader up to my shoulder and scanned over the top of the scope for movement. Within seconds I spotted a large buck headed directly toward me and dropped my eye down to scope level, quickly getting a fix on him. He was moving too quickly to make much of an assessment of his headgear, but I could tell he was wide and had good mass. That was all I needed to see! He was definitely a shooter.

At about thirty five yards, he paused to thrash some small bushes with his antlers. He was not happy that some competitors had invaded his turf and he was about to do something about it. All of a sudden he stopped whipping the brush around and looked directly at me. He was facing me with his head down low. I knew I only had a split second left to get a shot off before he bolted. I had a clear shot over the top of his head at his spine, so I settled the cross hairs at the base of his neck, between his shoulder blades, and squeezed the trigger.

Boom! Crash, crash, crash! Through the smoke, I watched him roll down the hill and pile up against a tree, motionless with all four feet straight up in the air. "Yes!"

For about two minutes I stood there, looking at the fallen buck and processing what had just happened in the course of about twenty seconds. I tried to make out the details of his rack, but couldn't because his antlers had plowed under the leaves. I had just started to contemplate the logistics of getting him out of that hollow single-handed when a leg suddenly moved. Then another.

In an instant, the deer rolled over, got his back legs under him, and drove himself down the hill like an otter sliding on his chest and dragging his front legs. He crashed into the creek bed and spun around violently as his back legs searched for traction on the flat wet rock. After a couple 360s he stopped and lay there looking around.

As this was happening the realization that I was standing there with nothing more than a club to halt his progress quickly set in. I frantically dug into my belt pouch and found a reload tube. I managed to quickly and quietly get two powder pellets and the bullet seated without the buck noticing me, but as I pulled the ramrod out of the barrel, it hit the side of the bore with a soft clink.

Well, that clink was all it took to send the buck into a frenzy. As he began scrambling to get away, I focused my attention on getting my multi-tool out of its sheath, pulling the fired primer off the nipple and replacing it with a fresh one. I was moving fast, but I wasn't too worried about him getting out of the creek bed without the use of his front legs.

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally had a fully loaded weapon and was ready to apply the coup de grace. There was only one problem. The buck was now a hundred yards away on all fours and moving at mach speed up the steep ridge on the other side of the creek.

I can only describe the feeling I had as a mixture of agony, disgust, and nausea, all rolled into one. If I hadn't been a grown man I'm sure I would have cried. "This can't be happening," I thought. "I sat there for two minutes gawking at him without reloading. What a dumb-@#*!"

There was blood where the deer had laid against the tree, but I couldn't find the first trace where he had run off. After searching for three hours I reluctantly admitted defeat.

I can only guess what might have happened, but my theory is that the .44 caliber pistol bullet I was using must have hit the spine at a shallow enough angle that it ricocheted off without penetrating the bone. The impact of it must have been enough to temporarily knock the deer out and incapacitate his front legs.

Needless to say, I learned a valuable lesson that day. From now on, the gawking and antler sizing will have to wait until I've reloaded.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Rattle and Roll 'em

What a hunt! Opening day of the 2008 Muzzleloader season, Ted and I were hunting a ridgeline that had several active scrapes in the middle of a group of white oaks that were still dropping nuts. Here is a picture of one of the scrapes:

When I scouted the area the day before, I couldn't find a dominant tree, but I could tell from the walk sign (and the scrapes, of course) that deer were in the area. I have to admit that without a dominant tree, I was less than optimistic about our chances (I gave it a three on a scale of one to ten), but it was the best looking spot I could find in a couple hours of quick scouting.

I've got to give credit where credit is due and Ted's got a big ol' IOU from me. He suggested that we try rattling. I've never had ANY luck rattling, and had pretty much written off the idea, but he convinced me to try again. Boy am I glad we did.

According to Ted, the secret is to start with a 140-class set of rattling horns - just kidding, but they're impressive aren't they. The rattling sequence in the video is the real deal. It wasn't re-created after the shot. I used a doe can call a couple times during short breaks in Ted's rattling. According to Ted, the real secret is in grinding the antlers together gently to simulate sparring, not crashing them together violently like some kind of prize fight. As you can see from the video, it worked like a charm.

The deer ended up being just two and a half years old and weighing 125 pounds field dressed. I haven't measured him yet, but will update the post when I do. (Update - he grossed 128 and netted 122 5/8) He has the most antler mass of any two and a half year old deer that I've seen. He certainly caused a stir at the checking station where my buddy Doug Markham with the TWRA was on hand to check him in and take the photo above. For the record, I'm not a fan of "buck in the truck" photos, but there was this good lookin' fella hanging around who offered to pose with the deer, so I'm making an exception. Actually, Doug said he'd write me a ticket for some unspecified violation if I didn't use his photo.

Speaking of Doug, Ted and I will be on his radio show on Saturday the 15th of November to talk about deer hunting, dominant trees, and probably ex-mothers in law too. Tune in to 99.7 WTN in Nashville from 5:00 a.m. to 7 a.m. to listen in.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Was it Deer or Turkey?

This afternoon while I was scouting for tomorrow's opening of muzzle loader season, I came across this area of freshly churned up leaves. If you hunt in an area with lots of turkeys, it can often be difficult to distinguish between deer sign and turkey sign if you don't know what to look for. Here are a couple tips to help you avoid hanging your deer stand over a bunch of turkey scratchings.

The first thing to look for is whether the leaves are broken up into small pieces like this (click on the photo for a closer view:

If the leaves are broken up, chances are that the sign was produced as deer walked around feeding on acorns or other mast. Their weight and their small hard hooves break up the leaves pretty quickly.

Turkey, on the other hand, tend to flip the leaves over without breaking them as they search for insects underneath. Here is an example:

Notice that the leaves are pretty much intact.

Of course, the best indicator of what was there is to look for what they left behind. If you are not familiar with what deer droppings look like, there are pictures here and here to get you started.

Here is an example of what turkey droppings look like. I've heard them described as looking something like popcorn.

Unfortunately, the spot I found in the picture above turned out to be turkey sign. I made a mental note for next spring and kept on scouting.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kaleb's Buck

Kaleb Short connected with his first bow-killed buck while hunting over a white oak that was a dominant tree. Guide and videographer Ted Craddock (Rambuck) captured the action on video. It's really refreshing to witness the genuine excitement and humility on Kaleb's face and in his voice after his encounter with a very nice buck. Congratulations Kaleb!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Stand Placement

Rambuck took this video during a recent two and a half day hunting trip with clients. He estimates that the hunters he videod had shots at over 25 deer, including the nice buck at the end of the video (more on that deer later).

The video illustrates several points.

First and foremost, hunting a dominant tree dramatically ups your odds of getting within shooting range of a deer. The dominant trees on this trip were all white oaks that were actively dropping acorns. In three mornings and two afternoons, the hunters had shots at deer every time they were in the stand.

The second point that it makes is how close you can get to deer if you know where they are feeding. As a matter of fact, you can easily get too close. Notice how often the deer in the video are directly below the hunter. Despite Rambuck's advice to move about 20 yards away from the dominant tree, the hunters elected to climb trees that were only 5 - 10 yards away. Getting too close creates several problems:

  • A straight-down shot is more difficult to execute due to the awkward angle
  • A straight-down angle makes it much more difficult to get a double lung pass through or a heart shot
  • Deer coming to the dominant tree are much more likely to spot you as they approach
  • Deer are more likely to smell where you have walked around and laid your gear on the ground as you prepared to climb
  • Deer that you don't intend to shoot but that are feeding directly beneath you are likely to detect hunter movement and spook (Murphy's law says that this will happen as the shooter buck you've been waiting for approaches. The buck in the final few seconds of video approached while several does were directly under the hunter and videographer, handcuffing them long enough for the buck to get out of range)
Once you've put in the time to locate a dominant tree, make sure to spend a few minutes considering your stand placement options before picking out a tree to climb. Here are a couple suggestions. Sometimes you will be able to find a stand location that meets all the following criteria, sometimes you can only satisfy a couple. Usually you will have to make some tradeoffs.
  • Remember that deer will often favor one side of a dominant tree. If you notice that the freshest sign is concentrated on one particular side of the tree, choose a stand location that is favorable for a shot to that specific area.
  • Try to find a tree that is about 20 yards from the heaviest feeding area, not the trunk of the tree. Some large trees have limbs that spread out 10 - 15 yards from the trunk. If you are located 20 yards away from the dominant tree's trunk, you could end up with a 5 yard shot or a 35 yard shot if the deer are feeding on the near or far side of the tree respectively.
  • Choose a tree that is downwind of the feeding area and the likely approach route
  • Choose a tree that is on the opposite side of the feeding area from the likely approach route so that the deer don't have to pass directly under you on the way to feed.
  • Choose a tree that is uphill of the feeding area to give yourself a little extra elevation
  • Remember the western movies where the gunfighter tries to position himself so that the sun is to his back? Gunfighter's delight works as well on deer as it does on bad hombres. If you can find a tree to the east for morning hunts or to the west for afternoon hunts it can work to your advantage. Deer don't like to look into the sun
One final note. When you are hunting a dominant tree, be prepared to shoot at any time. If you are bow hunting, that means standing up as soon as you hear deer approaching and all the while there are are deer nearby. You don't want to have to ease up out of your seat for a shot at the buck you've been waiting for when there are several wary does just a few yards away. Oh, and don't forget to be still. This post has some video footage of the heartbreaking consequences of breaking that rule.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Navigation - Getting From Here to There

This is the third article in our navigation series for deer hunters. We've been talking about using topo maps and compasses to help us get off the beaten path to scout new areas. Now we'll show you how to put the two tools together in a real-world scouting situation.

Let's say we parked our vehicle at point B, walked northwest up the logging road, then turned right and headed out the ridge to point A. We've been following our progress on the map as we walked using the technique we talked about in the compass article, so we are certain of our position. Now we want to take the most direct route back to our vehicle.

The first step is to place our topo map on a flat surface and orient it with our compass.

Now, without moving the map, we are going to lay our compass on the map with one edge of the baseplate lying on the imaginary line from our present position to our destination, making sure that the destination end of the baseplate is the one that has the index mark where we read the compass direction. Now we will rotate the bezel to line up the arrow with the north end of the compass needle. When we're done, our map and compass should look like this:

Now, getting back to our vehicle is a simple matter of walking a straight line. With a sighting compass like we prefer, there are two ways to do that. Either by holding the compass at waist level and following the line down the center of the mirror.

Or if we want to be more accurate, we will hold the comapss at eye level with the mirror angled back so that we can see the reflection of the needle while using the notch at the top of the lid like a gun sight.

Either way, we will pick out a tree that lies on the line indicated by the compass, walk to the tree, then repeat on another tree until we arrive at our vehicle. By the way, the compass in the photos is about 30 years old and has lost part of the silvering at the bottom of the mirror. That's why you can't see a reflection of the far side of the bezel.

Before you head deep into the back country, practice these skills in a familiar area until you are comfortable with them. Once you've mastered them, you'll never hesitate to venture wherever your feet take you.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Navigation - Compass Basics

If you've mastered the mapreading basics we talked about in the first navigation article and you've located a good topo map of your hunting area, then you need one more thing before you head off the beaten path on a scouting expedition- a good compass. I'm not talking about the cheap little things you hang on your jacket zipper or slip on your watch band. I'm talking about a real outdoorsman's compass. There are three important things to look for in a compass, a rotating bezel that allows you to set the compass for any direction of travel, a baseplate for aligning with map features, and a liquid filled capsule that helps steady the needle. The basic Silva compass pictured above retails for about $20. AS you can see from the photo below, I prefer to use a compass with sighting capability like the Silva Ranger.

Of all the things that a compass is useful for, like locating likely locations for a dominant tree the most basic - and most important - is keeping your topo map oriented with the world, just like a car GPS rotates the road map around as you make turns so that the map is aligned with the road you're driving on.

Here's how you do it. Set your compass bezel to 360 degrees (straight north) and align one of the long sides of the base plate with any north-south feature on the map. I normally use an edge of the printed area or a fold that I've made carefully so that it is aligned north and south. Make sure that the north mark on the bezel points toward north on the map. Now rotate the map and compass together until the north needle lines up with the little arrow underneath it. Once that is done, your map is oriented to the world around you.

If you are scouting in unfamiliar territory, keep your map and compass in your hand as shown above. Stop frequently, orient the map, look around at the land features and compare them to the map. Start doing this at a known location like an intersection or some other obvious feature on the map. As you travel, keep up with your location on the map using the stop, orient, look around approach. Make a mental note of your location. If you don't trust your memory, put your thumb on your location and keep it there until the next time you stop and re-evaluate your location.

It may sound like a lot of work to do this, but trust me, it beats walking for twenty minutes then trying to remember how many ridges you've crossed. This brings up the most basic rule of navigating in the woods. The best way to avoid getting lost is to stay found. In other words, if I know where I am on the map, I can always find my way to wherever I want to go. We'll talk about how to do that next time.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Acorns vs. Persimmons

On a deer hunting message board, I read a post the other day from a hunter who was upset that the deer in his area were all staying on a neighboring piece of property because it has white oaks and his property doesn't. His plan was to hunt some persimmons on his property. My experience this weekend suggests that he might be in for a long wait.

On Saturday morning, I returned to the spot I tried to hunt last Sunday but couldn't due to the wind direction. The location featured a large white oak and two persimmon trees. See last week's article for a description and photos.

The only way I can describe the volume of acorns falling was to say that it sounded like little acorn avalanches every couple minutes. One falling acorn would start the process by knocking a couple more nuts loose, which multiplied the effect by knocking even more loose. You could literally hear the avalanche picking up steam, until by the time it hit the ground it was literally hundereds of acorns strong. The does started showing up at first light and several groups fed heavily throughout the morning.

This group of three does (one is partially hidden at the bottom of the frame) was oblivious to the sound of my camera shutter until I took the closeup of the lead doe at the top of the page. She was about 10 yards away at the time. That was the last I saw of that girl. I guess you could say she was a little camera shy...

Anyway, no bucks showed up, so eventually I climbed down and walked over to the persimmon trees to look around. I was surprised to see that the ground was littered with ripe persimmons, but the deer weren't paying them the least bit of attention, despite the fact that they were only twenty five yards away. Several does had even walked right past them on their way over to the white oak.

Obviously this is not a scientific study, but it sure seems to be pretty compelling evidence that deer prefer white oak acorns over persimmons. I'm going to predict that soon after the white oaks stop dropping nuts (even if there are still nuts on the ground) the deer will pick up interest in the persimmons. For whatever reason, deer don't seem to care as much for acorns that have been on the ground for a while.

In the next article, I'll continue the navigation series I began a couple days ago.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Navigation - Topo Map Basics

If you are going to get serious about scouting, sooner or later, you are going to have to venture into unfamiliar territory. That might mean exploring public land, or a new piece of property that you've gained access to, or maybe just getting out of eyesight of those landmarks like roads or fields that you've been hunting around. Whatever the case, you need to be able to navigate with a topographic (topo) map of the area.

For deer hunters, anything other than a 7.5 minute quad with a scale of 1:24,000 is pretty worthless - it won't show enough detail to translate into what you are seeing on the ground. You can get paper 7.5 minute quads directly from the USGS or from a variety of other places. If you are computer literate - I assume you are since you are looking at this online - you can purchase mapping software or find free sources on the internet. I use the Topo! State Series Software from National Geographic. It isn't cheap (about $95 for Tennessee and Kentucky) but you get some really neat tools and the ability to print out custom maps on your own inkjet printer. I recommend their adventure paper for printing. Again, it isn't cheap, but it makes the maps waterproof and virtually indestructible.

OK, on to the basics of topo maps. Topo maps are a way to represent the three dimensional hills and valleys of the real world on a flat two dimensional map. The brown lines, called contour lines, connect points of equal elevation. On the examples I've shown here, each line represents a twenty foot change in elevation. One way to visualize a contour line is to imagine flooding the landscape simulated in the bottom 3-D view with twenty feet of water and drawing a line around the shoreline, then adding another twenty feet of water, and drawing another line, repeating until everything is flooded. The last line you would draw would be at the top of the highest hill, like point "C".

Point "B" is in a valley, or hollow. Notice that the contour lines make a sharp V shape. A rule of thumb to remember is that the V's always point toward the head or top of the hollow and the open end of the V points toward the mouth of the hollow.

Compare the shape of a hollow to the typical shape of the contours for a ridge. Point "D" is at the north end of a ridge. Notice that the contour lines are rounded or U-shaped at the end of the ridge.

Another feature that deer hunters are interested in identifying on a map is a saddle, which is a low spot where two hills or ridges come together. Often deer will travel through a saddle to cross from one side of a ridge to the other. Point "A" is in a saddle which can be identified by the two sets of U-shaped countours whose rounded ends point toward each other.

One final point. You can determine how steep a hill is by looking at how closely the contours are spaced. Point "E" is on a gentle slope. Notice that the contours are spaced much further apart than at point "F" which is a very steep hill.

In the next navigation article, we will show how to use a topo map in conjunction with a compass. I may even get on my soapbox and talk about how a GPS is no substitute for a map and compass and knowing how to use 'em.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dominant Trees and a Southerly Breeze

Here's a can't miss recipe for deer:

Take one white oak, loaded to the gills and dropping nuts. Click on the photo for a better look at the amazing number of acorns on this tree.
Add two persimmons dropping ripe fruit just 25 yards away.

Put them in a natural funnel with deer droppings everywhere and you have a combination that's as close to a sure thing as you're going to get in deer hunting.

In case you've forgotten, however, there are no sure things in deer hunting.

Everything seemed perfect as I climbed the one suitable tree to hunt this spot. A couple hours earlier when I found it, the deer I ran out as I approached were literally circling around me to get back to it. I figured the deer would be feeding all afternoon so I decided to get in my stand early. At 2:00 I was going through my mental checklist: safety harness on - check, camo makeup on - check, binoculars, rangefinder, and camera ready - check, wind sensor attached to bow - uh oh!

There was a gentle breeze blowing out of the south and straight down the ridge where I could hear deer milling around. Within five minutes a doe circled downwind, got a nose full of my scent, and sounded the warning alarm as she turned inside-out getting out of there. A couple minutes later another Shheeewww... crash, crash, crash directly downwind of me.

I looked around desperately for another tree to climb that would get my scent out of the deer's approach route. Nothing. Reluctantly, I repacked my gear, climbed down, and headed for the house. I'll return when the wind is out of the West.

Oh well, at least I got to see my RedSox play in game three of the ALDS when I got home. Go Sox!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

What a Difference a Week Makes

With a heavy week of travel, work, and family commitments last week, I wasn't able to do any scouting so I returned to the spot where I had hunted on opening weekend. As I walked through the darkness on my way in, I was excited to hear chestnut oak acorns dropping by the bucketfull in every direction. This is going to be good I thought...

That's what I get for thinking. By 9:00 I had seen one flash of white tail when a deer got downwind of me, but that was it. I had a hunch that things had changed dramatically. I got down and checked every chestnut oak in the area. There were thousands of acorns on the ground and there were plenty of old dry deer droppings, but after about an hour of hard scouting I hadn't found a single pile of fresh deer droppings. That could only mean one thing - white oaks!

We've seen the pattern year after year, the deer will feed hard on the chestnut oaks until the white oaks start dropping nuts. Once there are white oak acorns on the ground, everything else is just chopped liver to the deer.

Because the area I was in had such heavy buck sign during the chestnut oak "glory days", I decided to see if there were any white oaks close by that may be holding the bucks in the area. Another disappointing hour of scouting yielded a couple of luke-warm possibilities, but no dominant trees. I hated to abandon my honey-hole, but it was getting late in the day and I was going to have to try another tactic.

I remembered a large white oak on the edge of a large open area that had a bumper crop of nuts. It was a long haul on the 4 wheeler to get there, but it was worth a try.

As I rode up close to the tree, I jumped a couple does and found enough piles of fresh deer droppings to convince me that it was a dominant tree. I climbed a nearby tree and within 15 minutes of settling in had does (but no bucks) under me for the rest of the afternoon. I had decided not to shoot does on this property this year to let it recover from the heavy EHD die-off last year, so I settled for some photos instead. The doe at the top of the page posed for a couple shots then moved off to feed under the large white oak pictured above.

Tomorrow morning I'll try again and hope for something with horns

Thursday, October 2, 2008

2008 Opening Weekend - Part 2

In part 1 of my opening day story, I described the chestnut oak ridge where we were hunting. We located a dominant tree on the tip of the ridge that looked perfect. The nuts were falling by the bucketfull, the ground was churned up, there were fresh droppings everywhere. The best part was that there were at least a half dozen rubs and a couple scrapes in about a 30 yard circle around the dominant tree.

We picked out a tree and Rambuck climbed up first with the video camera. At about 4:45, this deer came into view headed toward our little ambush. Unfortunately, he decided to stop and chew his cud for a while before he got there. I was standing with my bow ready to draw but got antsy after about six minutes of watching him and decided to take a peek through my binoculars, which turned out to be a big mistake... Needless to say that ruined our day. I call this video clip the I've Been Busted Blues.

It may be hard to see, but at about 1:00 on the video, the buck is chewing his cud and breathing very hard as if he had been running. He hadn't been breathing hard just seconds earlier. Does anyone know whether the heavy breathing is part of the normal digestive process?

On another note, Rambuck called from Illinois to say that he videoed a hunter on a hot dominant tree this morning. They had about twenty deer come in to feed. We'll get the video up when he gets back to town.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Quick Tip - Go North Young Man

Rambuck was in southern Illinois today on a scouting trip and called with a report that the white oaks are starting to drop. He was able to locate a couple dominant trees, but said that he wasted a lot of time checking unproductive areas. It wasn't until he recalled an observation that we have made many times that he began to find acorns on the ground.

If you are having trouble locating acorn-producing trees (assuming you know how to identify them - if you don't, click on the Tree ID articles to the right) try concentrating your search on the north-facing slopes of hills. The ground will contain more moisture because it is not exposed to the harsh sun like the south-facing and west-facing slopes. East-facing slopes are somewhere between north-facing and west-facing slopes in moisture content. Take a look at where the shadows fall in this aerial photograph.

More moisture often equates to more nuts. This is obviously not a hard and fast rule, but it seems to hold true more often than not. If I'm scouting an unfamiliar area, I always start with the north slopes, especially if the ground vegetation seems dry and burned up on the southern slopes. See the Size Matters article for a discussion of other factors that influence mast production.

Hope that helps. Leave us a comment and let us know.

Monday, September 29, 2008

2008 Opening Weekend - Part 1

This past weekend marked the opening of the 2008 Archery season in Tennessee. We were blessed with perfect bow hunting weather - about 60 degrees in the morning, warming to the low to mid 80s in the afternoon. Ted was the designated videographer and I got to hunt (sweet huh?). We were hunting a piece of property that I was only slightly familiar with and which Ted had never seen before.

We got some good video of... well, you'll have to wait for part two to see it. Not because I'm trying to be dramatic, but because I had to leave town on a business trip and wasn't able to download the video before I left.

So until I can get the video loaded, I'll talk about our scouting experience and the dominant trees we found. This weekend, it was all about the chestnut oaks. The white oaks are going to have good mast production this fall, but the acorns aren't ripe yet and are still holding tight on the trees. The red oaks are a casualty of the late freeze in the spring of 2007 and won't be producing much of anything at all this year. If that doesn't make sense to you check out this article and it will.

Most of the persimmons we found were still green but we found one cluster of female trees with ripe fruit on the ground. The deer weren't feeding on them yet, however. We will keep checking on them, because it is only a matter of time before the deer find 'em. Check out the photo of the huge persimmon tree at the top of the page. We were pretty excited to find it, but unfortunately it turned out to be a male.

The chestnut oaks, on the other hand, were raining nuts, and the deer were all over them. On the property we were hunting, chestnut oaks are fairly rare, so it took some looking to find them. We ended up doing a lot of cruising on the four wheelers and glassing with binoculars looking for the distinctive bark.

We found two spots with dominant trees, including one ridge that was absolutely torn up with feeding sign (broken up leaves and fresh deer droppings), scrapes, and rubs. It was one of the most impressive collections of deer sign that either of us has seen. Here are a couple photos that will give you an idea, but don't really do it justice.

This photo shows the variety of sign - feeding sign, rubs, and a scrape that is hard to make out because it is in the sunlit spot in the center of the photo. You can click on the photo for an enlarged view

This is a closeup showing the broken up leaves and very fresh droppings (notice the wet surface) that indicate that deer had been feeding in this spot within the past twelve hours or so. This photo was taken in the morning, so the droppings were likely left the evening before or during the night, otherwise the surface would have dried out in the afternoon heat.

So how did we do? Check back for Part 2 to find out.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Welcome to Pursuit Hunting

This Blog is dedicated to whitetail deer hunters everywhere who are interested in honing their hunting skills and in so doing, gaining a greater appreciation for the great outdoors and the ultimate North American game animal. We created it to share some of the knowledge that we've picked up over the years and to allow others to make their own contributions through comments that can be added after each article.

The topics we cover reflect our hunting phiolosophy, which is that hunting takes place before you ever climb up in your treestand - everything that happens after that is just shooting. You won't find information about how to use the latest gadget to lure a deer within shooting range. There are hundreds of sources for that if you are interested.

We believe the challenge of whitetail deer hunting is in understanding deer behavior, learning about their world, and taking the hunt to them. The thrill is when you have put in some serious scouting time, put all the pieces of the puzzle together, set up in a location with lots of fresh sign, and the deer shows up. We've had lots of successful hunts without drawing a bow or pulling a trigger.

Click on one of the Scouting 101 articles to the right to get started.