Monday, November 16, 2009

Watching the Wind

Every seasoned deer hunter knows that outside of being in the right spot at the right time, nothing can influence your chances of success more than the wind. Knowing which way it is blowing is absolutely critical in predicting deer travel patterns, choosing an area to hunt and where to place a stand, and perhaps most important, deciding when to take a shot.

Today I'm going to talk about two of the best wind sensors available. Not only are they extremely sensitive, but if you know where to find it, one of them is completely free. Here it is:

In case you don't recognize it, that is a common milkweed seed and coma (the white fluffy part, otherwise known as a floater). In the fall, you can spot mature milkweed pods opening and releasing seeds in overgrown weedy areas. Here is what it looks like in the field:

The seeds grow in a pod that looks like this:

As the pods mature and dry out, they begin to split open:

Releasing hundreds of seeds:

In about ten minutes, I was recently able to collect enough pods that I spotted in an overgrown field alongside the road to fill a three gallon bucket with seeds and floaters (it has a lid to keep them from blowing out). As needed, I stuff about 50 or so floaters (after I've pulled the seeds off) into a pill bottle that I carry in my pocket. I try not to put so many floaters into the pill bottle that it crushes and deforms the fibers. That way, when I pull one out, it puffs up into a nice ball that floats along on the wind for a long time.

Milkweed works great for checking the wind when there are no deer close by, but particularly during bow season, I want to be able to monitor the wind when deer are within bow range. That way I can determine whether I am in danger of being busted and how long I have in order to take a shot. For that, I use a patented weapon-mounted wind sensor that I invented called Tiger Whiskers.

Tiger Whiskers are made from hundreds of micro-thin kevlar fibers attached to a wire twist. They can be attached to a bow stabilizer or rifle barrel to provide continuous, hands-free wind monitoring. I'm currently discussing distribution opportunities with a couple established hunting products manufacturers and hope to have them available in major retailers next fall. Stay tuned for more on that.

Oh, and by the way, when I did a Google search on milkweed, I discovered that it is the only plant that monarch butterflies can lay their eggs on. Apparently, the larvae eat the milkweed plant which contains something that makes the butterflies toxic to birds. So if you find some milkweed and would like to have an ongoing supply of wind checkers and butterflies, you may want to plant some of the seeds in your yard.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Golden Opportunities

Funny how you just accept some things as hunting facts without questioning them. Like peeing in the woods, or not peeing in the woods as the case may be.

More times than I can count, I've painfully climbed down out of a tree - bladder stretched to the limit, struggled to get my climbing stand off the tree and packed up, then hightailed it for a quarter mile or so before finally relieving myself. Why endure the pain? To avoid spooking any deer that would smell my urine and instantly recognize it as human (or maybe just predator) in origin. At least that's what I thought. Turns out I've been needlessly torturing myself and possibly even missing out on some "golden" opportunities.

This past weekend was the Tennessee juvenile hunt, so my son Hunter and I were in the woods together looking for a big one to put on the wall.

High winds and torrential rain on Friday had done some serious rearranging of the fall colors. A thick layer of freshly-fallen leaves covered the ground, obscuring all deer sign. Luckily, I had done some scouting on Wednesday and had found a couple of dominant red oaks, each with several fresh scrapes nearby.

On Sunday morning, Hunter and I were hunting one of those dominant trees. About an hour after daylight, we decided to try some soft rattling. Almost immediately after putting the rattling horns down, we heard walking and saw movement to our left circling downwind. Our excitement was short lived, however, when we could make out that the movement was not a buck, but a coyote. It continued to circle downwind and eventually bolted when it hit our scent.

We waited about an hour for things to settle down then tried another rattling sequence. Amazingly, another coyote materialized from the opposite direction and it too circled downwind.

After seeing two coyotes, we figured our odds of seeing any deer that morning were pretty slim, so we decided to climb down and do some scouting. We started by checking the nearby scrapes. They were still covered with leaves and hadn't been freshened for a couple days. As we stood there, Hunter remarked that he really had to "go" bad.

Recalling some conversations on where hunters recommended freshening scrapes or even starting mock scrapes with human urine, I told Hunter to go over to the nearest scrape and give it the ol' golden shower, which he did.

Long story short, we scouted hard for several hours, but with all the sign hidden by leaves, we didn't find anything that looked more promising than our morning location. We decided to return for the evening hunt.

At about sunset, a six pointer came to the dominant tree and fed on acorns for a couple minutes. As he wandered off, he walked over to the scrape that Hunter had freshened that morning. Immediately, he began pawing back the leaves. Then he stood on his hind legs and sniffed, then chewed on, the overhanging limb. Next he stuck his nose to the ground and appeared to actually taste the dirt. Finally, he gave it a little golden shower of his own and walked off.

As he moved on, he stopped at another scrape that we hadn't freshened. He gave it a quick sniff then kept walking. It was obvious that not only was that deer not alarmed by the smell of human urine, but he was actually curious about it.

I haven't figured out how I will put that newfound knowledge to use as far as hunting strategy, but I'll definitely be making some scrapes whenever the "urge" hits from now on.

On the ride home, Hunter was very excited about our day together. We talked about the coyotes. We talked about scouting. We talked about the how the six pointer had looked right at us several times and how comical he looked as he bobbed his head up and down and side-to-side trying to figure out what we were. We talked about deer behavior, deer communication, deer senses, and how they live in a scent-oriented world that we can't even comprehend. It was great to engage him in a thoughtful 45 minute conversation about a subject we both love.

Anyone who has raised a thirteen year old boy lately understands how difficult it is to compete for time with friends, girls, school activities, sports, Ipods, text messaging, facebook, and a hundred other things. A couple times during that ride, I instinctively reached for my phone to return calls but stopped myself short, thinking, "I'm not going to jeopardize this golden opportunity to have an uninterrupted meaningful conversation with my son. The calls can wait."

I understand that there are some who object to hunting for various and sundry reasons. All I can say is that I will always remember that day and the bond of sharing a special outdoor experience and a wonderful conversation with my son. And no animals were harmed in the making of those memories! Yes, killing is sometimes the end result, but hunting is really about the process.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chestnut Oak Buck

Sometimes you just have to venture outside your comfort zone. I almost didn't and it almost cost me this nice buck.

If you've read any of my prior posts, you know I'm a died-in-the-wool dominant tree hunter (click on the link if you aren't familiar with that term.) Trail hunting just isn't something that I normally have patience for, but that's what it took in this case.

My hunting partner Ted and I spent opening weekend hunting chestnut oaks and videod numerous small bucks and does every time we were in the stand. On Sunday night, we were hunting a cluster of chestnut oaks with a very well travelled deer trail running through the center. As the light was fading, I heard a squirrel barking in a nearby hollow and thought it was likely that a deer was on the move. About five minutes later, I heard what sounded like a deer crunching acorns and turned to get a fleeting glimpse of a large bodied buck easing quietly through the woods about 70 yards away in the direction that the nearby deer trail headed.

I couldn't see any of the details of his rack, but based on his body size and shape, I knew he was a mature buck. I had time to try a few grunts to entice him over, but darkness came without getting another glimpse of him.

On Monday afternoon, I decided to return to figure out why he was where he was. Starting from the tree we had climbed on Sunday, I guesstimated where he had been and made my way over there. It turned out to be where the deer trail that ran through our previous hunting spot intersected a grown up logging road.

There was nothing in the immediate area that looked like it would hold deer. No acorns. No persimmons. Obviously it was a travel route, but to where?

I figured that he must have been headed to one of the other numerous chestnut oaks in the area, so with my climbing stand on my back, I set off on a half-mile loop to check for fresh sign. As I ruled out one tree after another, I was growing frustrated and almost decided to head back to the truck rather than "waste" an afternoon hunting a low probability spot.

Fortunately, I had talked with Ted by phone earlier and he had encouraged me to hunt a trail if necessary since there was so much food on the ground nearby. What the heck. An afternoon in the woods beats an afternoon driving home. I decided to give it a shot.

Boy am I glad I did.

At about 6:00 I heard a faint noise and eased up out of my seat. Within a minute or two I spotted movement on the logging road. Seeing long white antler tines instantly sent a jolt af adrenaline surging to my heart. The buck stopped about forty yards away and rubbed his face against, then chewed on, something that I couldn't quite make out. As he stood there for what seemed like an hour (but in reality was probably more like a couple minutes) I forced myself to concentrate on staying calm by repeating my little archery pre-shot mental checklist.

I actually had succeeded in calming the roar in my chest somewhat by the time he continued his slow saunter toward me. As he stepped behind a small tree I drew my bow, then waited for him to hit the scent from a Tinks #4-soaked scent wick. I had positioned the scent so that he would smell it about ten yards before he smelled me. I checked the Tiger Whiskers wind sensor on my stabilizer to make sure that the wind hadn't shifted. Luckily it hadn't.

Just like it had been scripted, he hit the scent stream, stopped, and lifted his nose. I made a good smooth release and kept my sight pin on his vitals until I heard the thud-whack of a clean pass-through shot.

He ran about forty yards, stopped, wobbled, and fell. Yes!

He was a tall-racked eight pointer with one additional abnormal point. He green scored 145 4/8 gross and 137 net. Almost three inches of the deductions were due to the abnormal point located next to his left brow tine.

I don't think that I'll go back to hunting trails often, but I'm sure glad that I gave it a shot in this case.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tree ID - Willow Oak

Last week, I received an email from a hunter asking for recommendations on oak species to look for in a West Tennessee bottomland. Among my recommendations was the willow oak. Unfortunately, I didn't have any pictures to point him to at the time since I don't know of any in my home area of middle Tennessee. Last weekend, however, I made a trip to a wetlands area in Northern Alabama that was covered up with willow oaks and another wetland oak species, the water oak. I was able to photograph both trees and will do a separate post on the water oak.

The willow oak is a member of the red oak family. It is a prolific acorn producer capable of generating large mast crops every year (like all red oaks, the nuts take two years to mature). It grows primarily in deep, moist lowland soils near streams and other water sources.

The long, spear-tip shaped leaves of the willow oak are easily recognized, although at first glance, they don't look like the traditional oak leaf shape that you are probably accustomed to if you've spent your life hunting upland ridges like I have.

The willow oak can grow to be a very large tree if conditions are favorable. The trunk of the tree pictured above was about 2 feet in diameter and not close to being the largest one in the area. The bark is dark grey with shallow fissures. It is not paricularly recognizable, in contrast to the leaves which can be spotted from quite a distance away.

Willow oak acorns are very small, just slightly larger than a pea. They are very round with shallow, flat caps.


If you are looking for a handy field guide that you can throw in your pack the next time you are out scouting, I recommend either or both of these books. I use both because often one will have a better photo or illustration than the other and two points of reference always helps. If you don't want to spend the cash for two books, I'd give a slight edge to the Peterson's Guide.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hot and Nasty

It's just under two weeks to go before the opening of Tennessee's archery season and things look to be shaping up for a good year of dominant tree hunting. Here's a rundown on the primary mast producing trees in my hunting area. If you need a refresher on how to identify them, just click on the links.

Red Oaks - Excellent
Chestnut Oaks - Good
Chinkapin Oaks - Excellent
White Oaks - Fair(some trees look good, most don't)
Persimmons - Fair (Trees that get lots of sunlight have fruit, others don't)

But if I could hunt tomorrow (which I can't doggone it), my choice would be two Black Oak trees that I named in honor of a seventies hit song by the southern rockers Black Oak Arkansas. Check out the sign and see if you don't agree that this spot is "Hot and Nasty"!




In case you missed the seventies - or just can't remember 'em - here's a little trip on the way-back machine... By the way, if you like early (pre Hagar) Van Halen, you can thank Black Oaks' singer Jim Dandy. David Lee Roth ripped off, er..., learned his moves from this guy.

Tree ID - Black Oak

Black Oaks are members of the Red Oak family and can be difficult to distinguish from related oak species. They are medium to large-sized trees that typically grow on north or east-facing upland ridges. They prefer sandy to clayey soils and are often found growing with red oaks, white oaks, and hickorys. Their range extends from Southeastern Maine, west to Iowa, and as far south as the Florida panhandle.

Black oak bark is dark grey with relatively uniform ridges. It is rather nondescript without any striking characteristics like the scaly bark of a white oak or the shiny vertical stripes of a northern red oak (which has similar leaves).

A distinguishing characteristic of black oak bark is the orange color of the inner bark

Black oak leaves are 3 - 6 inches long, with 7 - 9 sharp-pointed lobes. They are shiny green above and yellow-green with brownish hairs below.

Like all members of the red oak family, black oak acorns take two years to mature. They can be recognized by the caps which cover approximately one half of the nut and which end in loosly overlapping scales that have a brushlike texture. When fully mature, both caps and nuts are light brown.


If you are looking for a handy field guide that you can throw in your pack the next time you are out scouting, I recommend either or both of these books. I use both because often one will have a better photo or illustration than the other and two points of reference always helps. If you don't want to spend the cash for two books, I'd give a slight edge to the Peterson's Guide.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sportsmen for Courageous Kids

The 2009 hunting season is drawing near. You've probably begun the annual ritual of dragging out all your hunting gear, or if you're like me, trying to remember where you put it all at the end of last season. It's amazing how much gear it takes to pursue our outdoor passion.

As you are taking inventory of what you have and what you need, I'd like to ask that you keep the needs of a very special group of folks in mind. The Center for Courageous Kids is a camp in Scottsville, Kentucky for children with severe life-threatening illnesses. Their mision is to uplift children who have life-threatening illnesses by creating experiences year-round that are memorable, exciting, fun, build self-esteem, are physically safe, and medically sound. Every year, they serve thousands of children who are unable to participate in the childhood activities that most of us take for granted. One of their goals is simply to help each child feel "normal" for a week.

Their facilities are absolutely first class and include an on-site medical center complete with a helipad for emergency medivacs, a bowling alley, an indoor pool, a beautiful equestrian center, an archery range, and a fabulous fishing lake. Take a look at their website and you'll be blown away.

Now here's the most amazing thing about what they do... The children they serve and their families never pay a cent! Their entire operating budget of over $3 million per year is funded by donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals like you and me.

So how can we sportsmen help make a difference, and what does that have to do with that pile of hunting gear in the middle of your floor? The Center for Courageous Kids is looking for donations of outdoor gear including archery equipment, fishing tackle, flashlights, bug spray and other items that can be used in their programs. Here's a wish list of things they need. You can click on it to get a larger view.

So as you are thinking about upgrading your flashlight to the latest gazillion candlepower wonder, or pondering what to do with those boxes of fishing tackle that you'll never use, please consider making a donation. No contribution is too small. They are always looking for volunteers to help with the various activities, so if you are an archer, or a fisherman, or just someone who enjoys seeing a grin on the face of a child who may not have a whole lot to smile about in their life, please consider donating some of your time as well.

I will be at Murfreesboro Outdoors on September 19th from 9:00 - 3:00 talking about deer scouting and collecting donations for the Center for Courageous Kids. If you don't have any extra gear laying around, you can come in and buy something there to donate. I'll also be giving away a free Tiger Whiskers Wind Sensor to anyone who makes a cash donation of $5.00 or more.

I hope to see you there.