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.