October 12, 2010
Two of the year’s most glorious seasons go by names other than spring, summer, fall or winter. One is the so-called “leaf” season, during which nature paints the woods in amazingly vivid colors. And overlapping with that season is the one for hunting deer, which of course has its own undeniable allure.
As much as I love to chase whitetails, I also have a fondness for autumn foliage. I admire the leaves while driving down the highway, while staring off a scenic overlook, while walking down a country road, even while gazing out the kitchen window. I just enjoy taking in the colors and observing this special part of nature’s cycle. It never seems to last quite long enough.
In late September, my wife Catherine and I made a quick “leaf-peeping” tour of northeastern Minnesota. Above Duluth we watched waves crash onto Lake Superior’s colorful North Shore; then we turned westward to the scenic Iron Range. Maples along the Laurentian Divide were in full color, with birch and aspen and other hardwoods not far behind. Scattered among dark-green conifers, the deciduous trees glowed like a hunter’s orange vest. In fact, the scenery was so good I didn’t even mind that we were driving right past some great whitetail habitat without stopping to hunt it. I guess the closest we came to “hunting” was photographing an old doe under a fruit tree in the lakeside town of Two Harbors.
But within three days of the end of that tour, whitetails had once again lodged themselves in the predator part of my brain. After a quick flight home to Georgia, I’d relocated to a spot more than 800 miles almost directly southwest of the Iron Range, in the wide-open spaces of south-central Kansas. And I was here to hunt.
Some folks want to lump the Great Lakes, the Corn Belt and the Great Plains into a broad category called “the Midwest.” But that characterization seems laughable when you look at the diversity of habitat and climate in this part of the world. Northeastern Minnesota’s fluorescent forests bear hardly any resemblance to the Sunflower State’s wide-open prairie ground, where only the odd tree pokes above a sea of grass. Good thing cameraman Mike Clerkin and I were here for deer, not color.
We were visiting at the invitation of good friend Todd Bigbee, who works for Whitetail Properties and knows this part of Kansas like the back of his hand. Mike and I had hunted with him twice before, taking a beautiful buck during the December gun season in 2007 and another on a bowhunt during the November rut in 2008. Now we were in search of an early-season trophy by muzzleloader.
Perhaps nowhere else on earth are there as many big whitetails per square mile as you’ll find in this region. It might not look like classic habitat, but put a trail camera on a mineral lick or deer feeder and you’ll soon see the proof. Trophy bucks are amazingly common here, appearing like ghosts from these grassy fields and plum thickets in late afternoon and returning to those sanctuaries around first light. And some of those bucks are ridiculously big, with racks easily surpassing Boone and Crockett minimums. It’s a special place for special deer.
Mike and I did a little scouting, quickly finding a couple spots worth setting up on. One was a river bottom milo field ready for harvest; the other was a small oat plot surrounded by a vast expanse of CRP. There were plenty of big tracks in both locations, and given the number of mature bucks photographed on the land over the summer, we felt good about our chances of seeing one.
But as is often the case in early season, the weather was an issue. In northeastern Minnesota only a few days earlier it had been cool and damp; here in southern Kansas, we’d need t-shirts way more than sweaters. Our first day there it hit 92 degrees. Fortunately, a cool front then began trickling into the region, promising daytime highs of “only” around 80.
Perhaps that temperature drop did help, because before sunup the next morning we saw a shooter. The wide buck was standing out in the CRP, about 250 yards from where we sat on the oat plot. All we could see of the deer was his head and rack, due to the height and thickness of the grass. However, it appeared he was heading our way, so we waited to see if he’d pop into view on the plot we were watching.
Although we watched and waited for another hour, neither this buck nor any other deer had reached the plot, and we hadn’t seen another sign of life out in the grass. With the sun growing brighter and hotter by the minute, we concluded the buck had bedded — most likely right where we’d last seen him standing.
Mike and I started that way, sneaking into the wind, looking for the deer. And we eventually found him. Fortunately, he never found us, and we were able to keep moving closer for a possible shot. By the time the stalk culminated in a 35-yard kill, we’d been on his trail more than two hours.
The wide 8-pointer was far from the biggest buck on this property. That said, any good buck stalked and taken in this kind of habitat, on camera, is a real trophy. We were more than happy to put a tag on him, the NAW TV team’s first buck of the 2010 season.
No, there wasn’t any fall foliage display on this trip. Kansas will never replace the North Woods on any leaf peepers’ “bucket list.” But heading for home, I realized that for a few days, at least, I hadn’t missed that part of autumn at all.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Due not just to buck quality but also the loosening of deer permit quotas in the region, south-central Kansas has managed to buck recent trends in recreational real estate. Despite the lackluster national economy, many nonresidents have purchased land there in the last year. If you’re interested in joining them, contact Todd Bigbee at 620/518-0806.
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The Final Countdown
September 22, 2010
Every year it’s the same story: Deer season seems to take forever to get here…and then, when it does, I find I’m not quite fully prepared to go hunting. I don’t know how that happens, but it does.
I suppose the start of deer season sneaks up on me mainly because there’s so much else going on during late summer. There are plenty of non-hunting chores to finish up before the season opens, and before I know it, I’m way behind on getting ready to hunt. It’s been this way for years, to the point I no longer should be shocked to find the long-awaited day appearing out of nowhere, with gear still to be dialed in and food plots left to plant.
Maybe part of the problem is that I grew up in Texas, where bow season always opened in early October. Now that I live in Georgia and travel widely to chase whitetails, the schedule has been accelerated quite a bit. In fact, in 2010 I was in the woods, Mathews DXT in hand, on the afternoon of Sept. 4.
The location was Calloway County, Kentucky, a quaint land of rolling hardwood hills, spring-fed creek bottoms and plenty of healthy whitetails. I was bowhunting with the friendly folks at Jonathan Creek Outfitters, a new operation with multiple private farms to hunt. And as best I could tell, every one of them holds plenty of game.
Owners Scott and April Adams, along with guide Chip Steely, already have a good thing going here. They’re great people with a comfortable lodge, extremely reasonable prices and a willingness to work hard for success on fair-chase whitetails.
It didn’t take me long to see that their area offers extremely good odds of filling tags. I arrowed a dry doe on my first morning of hunting, and Jon “Smoke” Skidmore caught all of the action on HD video for an upcoming episode of our TV show. Thanks to him for the good work on that.
I should have punched my buck tag as well, but the full-velvet bruiser that slipped in on us late on the season’s third afternoon didn’t quite meet his demise. Fellow hunter Cole Seitzinger shot a solid velvet 4×4 on opening morning, and Jason Bowers and Matt Bullis got great video of several big ones in bow range (too thick for a good shot) the same day, and footage of another one at rifle range a few days after that. And then, right after I left camp, Jimi Dennis got a look at a 140-class 4×4 in hard antler. Too bad the big deer never got into bow range. (Jimi’s a highly ranked lady archer, so I’m confident she’d have filled her tag if the buck had done his part.)
Overall, it was an impressive debut for a brand-new outfit, and a great chance for some of us to get our hunting skills limbered up after another long off-season. You can’t measure an outfitter’s operation strictly by what ends up on the game pole, and that’s especially true in bow season. Frequent deer sightings in close range make for great hunting memories, and we definitely made a few last week.I do plan to get back to Jonathan Creek for another run at a trophy buck before things wrap up in mid-January. One of the many great things about nonresident deer hunting in Kentucky is that, once you have your either-sex tag, it’s good for the full season; you don’t have to choose between bow and gun hunting. Visit www.jonathancreekoutfitters.comfor more information on hunting up there, regardless of your “tool” of choice.
By the way, I noticed quite a few acorns and persimmons on trees in western Kentucky, and reports from across the eastern U.S. suggests there will be a good crop of various hard and soft mast this fall. So if your own opening day is yet to come, keep in mind that mast could be a major factor in deer movement, particularly in early season.
Remember, also, that our 2010 Rut Reports are now up and running. These message board threads are a super resource for keeping up with what’s happening in your state or province, as well as others around the continent. While by name the threads are rut-related, we’ve found that many visitors to our site use them all year long, whether for posting trail camera shots, talking about hunting plans or having general discussions of local regulations changes.
Regardless of your exact interest, we believe you’ll find this popular part of our site a handy tool for keeping up with whitetail happenings. This fall we welcome Ram trucks as a sponsor of the Rut Reports, and we hope you’ll visit often to see what’s happening in deer country. Good hunting!
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Working Wonders in Mexico
April 2, 2010
Media extremism seems to be the order of the day, whether in the coverage of politics or world events in general. Perhaps there’s no more apt example than in how the press has covered recent drug-related violence along the Rio Grande, that 1,200-mile-long ribbon of water separating Texas from Mexico.
To watch it on TV or read about it in the newspaper, you’d think traveling to our southerly neighbor has become riskier than spending spring break in Afghanistan. The violence appears to be so rampant that only someo
ne with a death wish would put Mexico on his or her itinerary.
I won’t deny there are problems. But the violence is hardly as widespread as you might have heard or read, and Mexico remains a wonderful country to visit.
As Dr. James Kroll, Gabriel Serna, Mike Clerkin, Jeff Lovan and I crossed the Rio Grande into Laredo, Texas, last Dec. 30, I was reminded how distorted the media picture really is. There were no blaring sirens, no terrified screams, no blood in the streets — just regular folks going about their daily business. And our feeling of security wasn’t simply due to the fact we were armed, with a pair of Thompson/Center Pro Hunter rifles ready for authorities to inspect as we passed the border checkpoint. I genuinely felt safe as we drove back home from a wonderful whitetail hunt only a half-hour’s drive into Mexico.
For the previous two days we’d been enjoying the hospitality and exceptional deer hunting on one of Jim Woodward’s low-fenced ranches in the eastern edge of the state of Nuevo Leon. James and I had shot mature 10-pointers, and Mike and Jeff had captured all of the action on video for North American Whitetail Television presented by Arctic Cat. It had been a great experience, typical of what James and I have come to expect whenever dealing with members of Mexico’s avid whitetail community. They’re every bit as passionate about deer as we are, and they’re working hard to improve what is already a fine hunting resource.
The name of the organization that helped us set up this trip is more than a mouthful for anyone whose Spanish skills are lacking: Asociacion Nacional de Ganaderos Diversificados Criadores de Fauna, far more commonly (and for me, at least, far more easily) referred to as ANGADI. A rough English translation of the name is: “National Association of Diversified Cattlemen and Wildlife Breeders.”
Just as much of the U.S. once was short on whitetails, due to unchecked hunting and habitat loss, so has Mexico had to deal with its share of challenges. Most are nothing more than byproducts of economic factors. The good news is that there’s more emphasis on sound wildlife management than before. Private landowners are buying into the idea that game populations aren’t just restorable but are worth restoring. The money now flowing into the country from outsiders seeking great whitetail hunting is beginning to make a positive difference in Mexico, just as it has in many rural areas of the U.S. and Canada for years.
Gabriel Serna is passionate about helping ANGADI promote Mexico’s wildlife bounty. He and others in the group already have done a lot to put Mexico on the map for trophy hunters across the globe. The take-home message is that this nation’s diverse habitat offers truly special hunting in a land rich with history and unique culture.
And why shouldn’t the place have great hunting potential? Adjacent to Mexico lies the South Texas Brush Country, a land legendary for all sorts of wildlife. There, huge numbers of mature whitetails and other game species roam large, lightly hunted ranches. Granted, not every property in Mexico is so well managed — but then, where on earth do all farms or ranches or woodlots have equally good hunting? Private-land wildlife management is always a tract-by-tract matter, regardless of whether you’re talking Texas, Canada, Tanzania or Norway.
ANGADI’s membership is several thousand strong, and these landowners and hunters represent the new wave of wildlife management in Mexico. The group is especially well entrenched in such states as Nuevo Leon, Coahuila and Tamaulipas, all of which border South Texas. As word spreads about what this organization is doing to develop and promote Mexico’s underappreciated hunting, more outdoorsmen from the U.S. and elsewhere hopefully will realize just how special a place this is for pursuing not just whitetails but a number of other species as well.
The annual ANGADI convention is set for April 23-24 in Nuevo Laredo, and it will feature all sorts of attractions for the wildlife enthusiast. If you can’t make it to that but are curious to learn more about what Mexico has to offer hunters, email the organization at: email@example.com. There’s also a U.S. mailing address: ANGADI, P.O. Box 420457, Laredo, TX 78045. A new Web site (available in an English version, as well as the standard Spanish) is under construction and should be online shortly.
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Has Spring Finally Sprung?
March 26, 2010
Ah, springtime. ‘Tis the season of awakening, of drab countryside suddenly flushed with color and life. What a beautiful time it is.
Or will be, if it ever actually arrives.
The calendar says spring is here, but to look around, you might wonder. A few mornings ago here in the Atlanta area I awoke to fluffy snowflakes drifting down. They blended in nicely with the white flowers of our Bradford pear trees, which are now in full bloom. As much as in any other year I can recall, Mother Nature seems a tad confused about what to do when.
Sure, winter proves wacky in some way or other every year, but this one seems to have been way out of the norm. Far more snow than usual here in the South, far less of it than average in Maine and some other places up north. Frigid blasts followed by exceptionally nice warm spells, then another rude turn in the deep freeze.
Whether we’re truly in the midst of some major climate change or we’re simply becoming more cognizant of short-term blips remains to be seen. One thing I do know is that, no matter what happens with the weather, we’re definitely near the end of another interesting annual season: deer show season The winter-spring barrage of hunting events will soon be over, with a several-month gap before another wave of them arrives in July.
The show season now winding to a close — April’s Wisconsin Deer & Turkey Expo is about the last big one before summer — has been intriguing for several reasons. While every event is memorable in some way, I’ve been especially intrigued by the hunter chatter at the Michigan Deer & Turkey Spectacular and the Ohio Deer & Turkey Expo, the two consumer shows I attended this winter.
In both states, many whitetail addicts mentioned that last season featured more challenges than usual, and much of it had to do with weather. It was either so nice the bucks didn’t move much in daytime, or it was so nasty the crops stayed in the field, giving smart bucks more food and cover than usual. Or, in the worst of cases, both of those hit the same place, leading to some really tough hunting.
Whatever the cause(s), the number of mature bucks taken seems to have been down in some areas, including Michigan. While at the show in Lansing last month, I didn’t see as many big ones on the walls as usual, and it was an especially bad year for top-end trophies. That wasn’t due to a lack of hunting effort; if anything, sky-high regional unemployment resulted in more hunter-days afield than usual last season. Judging from what I saw and heard in Michigan, record-book bucks there just didn’t cooperate, whether in the crop-rich southern counties or in the big woods up north.
That said, a new state-record non-typical did turn up just following the season. The deer wasn’t in Lansing, but I heard rumor of it there and soon received confirmation from Mike Guenther, whose father-in-law now owns the rack. The deer was found dead after hunting season by a neighbor not far from Clinton.
You’ll be reading about this monster in an upcoming issue of our magazine. Plus, Josh Viste just shot a video segment on the buck, for use as one of the “Big Buck Profiles” for our TV show this summer. It’s great to get this sort of material, especially from a state with as many avid whitetailers as Michigan.
The Ohio Deer & Turkey Expo, which was in Columbus last weekend, featured far more big bucks than did the Michigan event. While that’s always the case — Ohio is one of the very best trophy states — this year the contrast was even greater than usual. Tons of trophies filled the halls.
Yes, it seems to have been a very good year in the Buckeye State. In fact, the state’s 2009-10 harvest was a tad higher than the previous year’s. Having seen how poor deer movement was in the state when I visited last fall and winter, I’m surprised by the high body count, but I have no proof the harvest total is way off.
Regardless of how many deer were checked in, quite a few giants were among them. By now, everyone knows about the Brian Stephens non-typical, whose details we broke with a cover story in the recent spring issue of North American Whitetail. Brian’s Highland County buck has the longest main beams of any buck ever recorded, at 35 1/8 and 34 1/8 inches, as well as the largest 9-point typical frame of any whitetail in history. Not surprisingly, this giant drew a huge crowd of gawkers to the Buckeye Big Buck Club booth in Columbus last weekend. But that was far from the only monster buck on display at the show. The walls were filled with great deer, nearly all of them taken last season.
Another world-class deer that showed up was Jeff McCulley’s massive 24-pointer from Summit County. I’d talked to Jeff about his deer soon after the kill, which was made on the frigid, snow-filled afternoon of Jan. 6, and was glad to see him make it to the expo to get his trophy scored. This buck turned out to be the highest-scoring new whitetail at the show, at 257 4/8 net inches of non-typical antler. That makes him Ohio’s new No. 2 crossbow buck of all time, trailing only the legendary “Amish” buck shot a few years back. Perhaps even more amazing than the McCulley buck’s score is the fact this beast managed to make it all the way to early January with none of his 24 points having suffered so much as a sizeable ding. Later this year, in North American Whitetail you’ll be reading a feature on this great deer, as well as seeing a profile of him on our TV show.
I like to see where the monster bucks are coming from, because it’s a good way to get a heads-up on the hottest locations for future hunts. But even if you aren’t in the market for a new hunting spot, giant deer are fun to admire, and they stoke our fire for the season to come. So good luck as you get out there this spring to hunt shed antlers and scout for next fall’s best stand locations. Another season will be here before you know it!
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Mixing Business with Pleasure
January 27, 2010
There’s a view that outdoor writers spend way more of their time outdoors than writing. But the realities of generating editorial content make that an impossible ratio to maintain, particularly when one’s pet topic is as seasonal as deer hunting. For the most part, we who label ourselves “professional whitetail communicators” are surrounded by four walls — and I’m not talking about the sides of a box blind.
Of course, in autumn and early winter the ratio does swing the other way a bit. The degree to which it does varies from job to job and person to person. In my own case, there’s now quite a bit of time outdoors, mainly due to the ongoing need to acquire video footage for North American Whitetail Television presented by Arctic Cat. Since I became intimately involved in the show’s production several years ago, I’ve found myself spending more and more time in the deer woods from September into January.
Deer hunting with a cameraman isn’t as much fun as regular deer hunting, but it’s closer than shuffling paperwork ever could be. So, in addition to being thrilled with how well the show has been received, I’m glad to have a good reason to spend more time outdoors. I’m only half-joking when I say I now have the job many people assume I’ve had ever since I started at North American Whitetail (the magazine) more than a quarter-century ago. Honestly, I now hunt deer as many days in a year as I once did in five.
While I try to chronicle these comings and goings in this part of our Web site, I’m perpetually behind schedule in doing so. When a
cameraman and I hit the field, it’s a whirlwind, with so many logistics to deal with that anything that could even loosely be described as “serious” writing takes a backseat. And frankly, I’d rather write nothing than string together a bunch of blather no fellow deer hunter would have reason to care about. (This isn’t a jab at those who keep the world informed of everything that happens in their daily lives, but I’m unconvinced the world needs me to “tweet” every time I ponder the critical choice of Splenda vs. NutraSweet in my morning coffee.)
Now that I’ve proved myself as guilty as anyone else in the fine art of drivel, let me actually bring up something you might find of interest: my recent trip to Ohio.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the Buckeye State over the years, and in every instance, it’s been related to whitetails. I’ve presented many seminars there, whether to small gatherings of local Amish farmers, the state’s association of deer breeders or to larger audiences at the annual Ohio Deer & Turkey Expo. (FYI, I’ll be back at the expo this March as well, to talk food plots for whitetails.)
Ohio is a great state for trophy whitetails, and it’s certainly one of the nation’s biggest deer-hunting markets. And I’ve hunted there a number of times over the years. Unfortunately, I’ve never really prioritized it, and that probably speaks to my overall lack of intelligence. With the number of giant bucks being shot in Ohio every year, I have a hard time explaining — even to myself — why I haven’t spent more time in those woods. It’s simply too good and too convenient a state to ignore.
In November 2009, I attempted to remedy that oversight somewhat, by traveling to Licking County with cameraman Mike Clerkin. We’d been invited on a rut hunt, hosted by Kim Metheny of Flint Ridge Farms and the folks who build TenPoint crossbows. Also along on the hunt were our good friends Haley and G.O. Heath, hosts of Haley Heath’s Family Traditions show on Sportsman Channel.
Plenty of monster bucks have been shot on and around this land over the years; in fact, back in 2003, Kim herself took the world’s largest typical ever shot by a female crossbow hunter. And we did see plenty of bucks during our five days of hunting last fall. But even with the able guidance of Kim and her friends Buzz and Chris Hall (two highly accomplished trophy hunters in their own right), we all came up empty. Seems the mature bucks in this part of Ohio, like those elsewhere in the Midwest last fall, weren’t moving too dependably in daylight.
Oh well, so it goes sometimes. (Don’t believe for a moment that every TV hunt ends with the hunter shooting a TV buck; the deer always have a vote in the outcome.) So we headed back to northern Missouri for a bowhunt, figuring my Ohio deer tag might well go unused.
But we had a backup plan, of sorts: We could hunt there again in January, with a muzzleloader, just prior to the annual Archery Trade Association’s annual show in Columbus. And so, as the new year rolled in, Mike and I made our preparations for a return engagement.
In the past, I’d hunted a bit with my friend Steve Pinkston, a highly successful trophy chaser who lives a few miles north of Columbus. With the ATA Show being held not far from his home, and with several good bucks having been seen in that portion of Delaware County during the post-rut, I decided to give that a try.
Glad we did. On the third afternoon of the four-day season, as Mike and I were perched in our stand just inside a large block of hardwood timber, a number of whitetails began coming out to feed. Most were does and fawns, but behind them were three bucks — one of them a solid 8-pointer Steve had seen on several occasions. When that deer stopped broadside within 40 yards, I put the crosshairs of the Nikon Prostaff BDC scope on his vitals and squeezed the trigger. The Thompson/Center Black Diamond belched, sending a 240-grain Hornady sabot round straight into the top of the deer’s heart. He ran perhaps 80 yards before crashing into the snowy brush, stone dead.
I’m proud of this buck, and not just because he’s my first Ohio whitetail. Fact is, late-season bucks nearly always are earned. We had nasty weather to contend with, and the state’s peculiar gun-hunting hours — you can’t legally shoot past sunset — definitely didn’t make things any easier. (I’m curious about why such a restriction exists, given that it’s legal to shoot as early as a half-hour before sunrise.)
I don’t know whether to call this my last buck of the season or my first of 2010. Either way, as Mike and I made our way the few miles south to the ATA Show, I was quite happy no longer to have a tag in my pocket. And I was eager to see what new archery-related goodies might be revealed at the Columbus Convention Center.
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Down in the Valley
January 8, 2010
For many residents of Canada and the northern U.S., Florida has long been a refuge from winter’s icy grip. Every autumn, “snowbirds” by the thousands migrate there for a few months, only to head back north as spring gathers strength. For some families, this two-way trek has been repeated every year for over a century, making it as certain as the changing of the seasons themselves.
It’s easy to see why Florida has so much appeal. But I’ve always wondered if some of those snowbirds — especially the ones who love to hunt — wouldn’t be better off steering their RVs quite a bit farther west. All the way to the lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas.
“The Valley,” as it’s known to Texans, is quite simply an overlooked treasure. Citrus groves, ornamental palms and year-round t-shirts bear witness to the subtropical climate. There’s easy access to good fishing (saltwater and freshwater), miles of sandy beaches and some of North America’s most interesting bird life. In short, it’s a whole lot like the Sunshine State. But this part of Texas boats one other feature Florida can’t begin to match: some of the best trophy whitetail hunting on the planet.
I first hunted here in 1987, taking a wide 10-pointer while being guided by acclaimed wildlife photographer Steve Bentsen. Three years later, I returned to hunt with Steve and was blessed with a spectacular 17-pointer scoring over 180 non-typical.
Both of those hunts took place on the McAllen family’s Guajolota Ranch, which straddles the Starr-Hidalgo border. “Guajolota” is Spanish for “turkey,” and today there are plenty of them around. But it’s for the white-tailed deer (“venado cola blanca” in Spanish) that this ranch and the surrounding area are best known in hunting circles. There are plenty of bucks, and many of them are big. Throw in a rut that starts a month or so after it ends in most other parts of North America, and you have a unique opportunity. You can tag a trophy buck, see some fascinating wildlife in a unique ecosystem and perhaps even work on your suntan, all at the same time. What’s not to like?
Dr. James Kroll, one of my teammates on North American Whitetail Television presented by Arctic Cat, shares this love of the region. So I was thrilled when he told me our mutual friend Aaron Vela, an attorney from nearby Edinburg, had arranged for us to hunt there again this year. And when I learned the hunt actually would be a return visit to one of the McAllen family’s ranches, I knew it would be a special homecoming.
Jim McAllen and his son, James, are the kind of folks who make me proud to have grown up on a Texas ranch. They manage their properties with a passion 218 years in the making. That’s how long it’s been since their ancestors received a Spanish land grant for their first parcel of what was in every way an unsettled land. Since those rough, tough days along the border, the ranching clan has only added to its holdings and its legend. Indeed, the nearby city of McAllen, now home to more than 100,000 persons, was named for a particularly influential member of the family.
While this northern edge of the Valley remains a sparsely settled region, much has changed since those early days. Mesquite, brasil and other native shrubs have encroached upon grass prairies that once stretched beyond the horizon. Whereas ranching was then the only way to make a dollar, a vast field of natural gas below the surface now is bringing financial stability to landowners large and small. And for the most part, the region’s resilient longhorn cattle have been replaced by bovines of other breeds.
For the McAllens, since 1942 the breed of choice is Beefmaster, another Texas original well suited to the area’s climate and forage. The ranch also is known for its outstanding quarter horses, which are in high demand. Keeping up with the family’s many ranching interests is a fulltime job for Jim, James and the rest of the large staff, but it’s a life they obviously enjoy.
With such a strong connection to land, livestock and wildlife, it’s no surprise to learn Jim was one of the earliest practitioners of intensive whitetail management. In fact, decades ago he began taking steps to see if deer, like cattle and horses, could be improved through selective breeding. Jim actually received the first scientific breeder permit ever issued to a private individual by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The McAllens’ years of mating known does with known bucks helped advance scientific knowledge of whitetail genetics. Although this breeding program no longer is active, the legacy endures. Texas now has more intensively managed deer properties than any other place on earth, and in part it’s due to the work of the McAllens and others like them.
Upon arriving at the ranch headquarters on Dec. 17, James and I, along with cameramen Mike Clerkin and Josh Schull, got a quick tour. That included a look at just some of the many artifacts found there. A number of these are from the Civil War era, but some stone tools date to much earlier times — as in prehistoric. We also got a tour of the “rock house,” a simple stone structure built in the 1840s. It, like so much else on the premises, paints a vivid picture of how harsh life really was in what some folks now fancifully think of as the “good” old days.
Once we headed into the field, I also was reminded of how unique the habitat is. Vast pastures of introduced buffelgrass are dotted with native brush, much of it evergreen and nearly all of it adorned with thorns. In the brushier spots, it’s difficult to catch more than a fleeting glimpse of deer. Those that hold tight often remain unseen, even at close range.
There are several ways to hunt these whitetails, but hanging a stand on a tree typically isn’t one of them. With few exceptions, the trees top out at around 20 feet in height, with gnarled trunks perhaps 8 inches in diameter. The land is flat to slightly rolling, so climbing a hill to get a better view is rarely an option.
Once a good hunting location has been selected, there are two main ways to set up: (1) find — or build — some kind of artificial structure tall enough to let you see down into the cover; or (2) scout for a clearing from which you can see a fair distance at ground level.
Elevated vantage points can take the form of tripod stands, box-type tower blinds or even the superstructure of an old-fashioned windmill. But in South Texas, the most commonly used elevated blind comes with four tires, a gasoline engine and a license plate. It’s a pickup truck with a “high rack” bolted to the top and back. This structure is accessed by a ladder off the rear and has seats for several persons, similar to vehicles used on African safaris. Some rigs, such as those used on the McAllen ranches, actually are driven from the top.
Many hunters use these rigs as portable tower blinds, creeping around until deer activity is seen, then parking to watch for the right buck to step out. In Texas, shooting from a motorized vehicle is legal and widely accepted, so there’s no need to even climb out of the rig. During the rut, many bucks actually have been rattled in and shot by hunters sitting atop stationary high racks.
With the December rut revving up, on this hunt we used the vehicles simply to find areas with a lot of doe activity. Then it was just a matter of waiting for the mature bucks to show up. James and Josh managed to do that late on opening morning, when a 10-pointer with a beautiful double throat patch chased several does into a sendero (cutline through the brush). A well-placed shot from my friend’s Thompson/Center Pro Hunter downed the deer in his tracks.
Mike and I scored in a slightly different way. After spending the first day zeroing in on another area that showed ample deer activity, just after dark we built a brush blind at the “crosshairs” of two intersecting senderos. At around 8 a.m. the next morning a mature 9-pointer, a younger buck and several does approached to within 60 yards of our hideout. I punched the big buck in the lungs with a 139-grain Hornady SST bullet from my .280, and he went only a short distance
before crashing headlong into the grass.
Two good bucks taken in just over a day, with a bunch more bucks and does (not to mention javelinas, a big feral hog, dozens of turkeys, quail, doves, raptors, songbirds and rabbits) seen along the way? That’s the predictable outcome of a rut hunt on a good ranch in deep South Texas, and it’s a big part of what draws trophy whitetail enthusiasts here every winter. You’d be hard pressed to see so many good bucks, plus so many other kinds of critters, on a hunt anywhere else.
But again, the Valley is more than just a great place to be hunting — it’s also a great place just to be. After my several memorable visits over the years, I fully understand why those first ranchers settled here, and why their descendants never left. I wouldn’t have either.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
For details on hunting with the McAllens, as well as more on their rich ranching history, visit www.mcallenranch.com. Through this Web site you also can order I’d Rather Sleep in Texas, an award-winning book about the McAllens and others who put their brands on this unique part of the world.
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Rut Gone Wrong
December 1, 2009
Serious whitetail hunters spend 50 weeks of each year waiting for the other two to get here. So what happens when those two — the ones that typically feature the hottest and heaviest rutting activity — are a bust? It makes for some mighty long days in the field, and for some equally long faces back in camp.
Welcome, sadly, to one of those years. For much of North America, the 2009 rut has been a flop of epic proportions.
I wish it weren’t so, but from everything I’ve seen and heard, it is. I honestly can’t recall such a poor span for mature buck movement at this time of year since . . . well, I don’t know when. It’s just been that bad.
Preliminary deer harvest totals from several states back me up. Missouri’s total kill from the November gun season was way off. So too were the harvest in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and undoubtedly other places. I’ll be following up with a more detailed report on all of that in a future blog, but for now, let’s just assume the whitetail body count for the Corn Belt is down anywhere from 5 to 10 percent so far this season, compared to 2008.
As always, not everyone will agree it’s been an ugly autumn to this point. Some regions, such as the Great Plains, have seen a decent number of deer taken, and strong rut activity. For instance, hunters from northern Texas to the western Dakotas have filed good reports lately. (Bad luck for me that I couldn’t get up to South Dakota’s Two Rivers Outfitters in early November, for a bowhunt I’d had planned for months. I’ll make it next year, for sure.) And, as always, some great individual bucks have been shot in other parts of the continent this month. But don’t let these isolated flurries convince you it’s been a great year overall. It simply hasn’t been.
Following my last blog update, posted after a successful mid-October Kansas bowhunt with John Butler of Buck Forage Oats, I spent another four straight weeks on the road, shooting for North American Whitetail Television Presented by Arctic Cat. Over that span, cameramen Mike Clerkin and Ron Sinfelt joined me in hunting some great whitetail tracts around the Midwest, from northern Missouri all the way to central Ohio. In general, the hunting was way, way off. While a fair number of bucks were seen, rare were sightings of any older than 1 ½. The 2 ½s were about as scarce as 3 ½s normally are, and that grim trend continued with more mature deer. In many areas, bucks and does alike even were hard to find with scouting cameras – at night!
What caused this sluggish pattern? I believe it can be blamed on a combination of factors, the three most obvious of which are:
- the full moon on Nov. 2;
- persistently wet, windy weather; and
- mile after mile of standing corn.
While the early-November full moon probably strung out breeding activity a bit (as opposed to that phase hitting several days to two weeks later) and while blowing rain made hunting anywhere from miserable to downright dangerous, I think the crop situation is the main reason it’s been such a forgettable month, particularly in the heartland.
Even today, a lot of soybean and corn fields remain unpicked. It’s been many years since we’ve seen so much crop standing so late in the year, and it’s been a real challenge for anyone hunting in such areas. While standing beans don’t have much of a negative impact on hunting, uncut corn is another matter entirely. Whitetails will practically live in it. Such acreages become temporary refuges for mature bucks, which appreciate the extra security even more than other deer do. And this year, bucks have corn options everywhere.
If there’s no corn standing on or adjacent to your hunting land, you might assume this hasn’t impacted your 2009 results. But you could be wrong about that. Whitetails sometimes will move a great distance to unpicked corn. In fact, a number of big bucks seen roaming my own land in northern Missouri’s Putnam County earlier in the season have more recently been spotted around the nearest standing corn . . . which is right at two miles from their former hangout.
Our land was unhunted in early season, so pressure didn’t force those bucks to leave; what lured them away was the presence of so much prime forage/cover in which they could feed, hide and rut with zero human interference. So if bucks in your area suddenly seem to have gone AWOL, perhaps you’re having the same problem, whether you realize it or not.
Despite such challenges, on the rainy, windy morning of Nov. 17 I finally did manage to down a rutting 10-pointer, and I did so while hunting cut beans adjacent to a small food plot. I got that rifle buck on a hunt with my good friend Joe Ream of Blackbird Creek Outfitters, near the town of Unionville, Missouri.
This is the second time I’ve now gun hunted with Joe, but the first since he cranked up his new operation
. Blackbird Creek Outfitters is a hands-on outfit specializing in customized gun and bow packages for folks seeking a quality Midwest whitetail experience. Unlike some other outfitters, Joe focuses on working with hunters who don’t want or need a lot of handholding. As an avid trophy hunter himself, Joe knows what many clients mainly seek is access to the right land, and that’s what he’s able to offer.
A lifelong resident of the area, my friend also has many great local contacts who control prime private deer habitat, and he’s in a position to broker leases an outsider would have trouble finding on his own. So if you have any interest in hunting (or even buying) great deer ground in this part of the Midwest, be sure to check out Joe’s Web site: www.blackbirdcreekoutfitters.com.
He isn’t the only local guy who’s trying to help non-local hunters be more successful. Shane Salisbury of S&K Food Plots (phone: 660/216-2064) matches that description as well. In fact, the ground blind I shot my buck from was under 200 yards from a secluded food plot Shane had planted earlier this fall. His operation develops and maintains plots for landowners and leaseholders who don’t have the equipment, time and/or expertise to do it themselves. So if you hunt anywhere in this part of the Midwest, give Shane a call to see what he might be able to do for you on your own property.
As I write this, some of the Midwest’s amber waves of rain-soaked grain finally are going away; it’s now been dry enough, long enough, for cutting to resume in certain locations. But like it or not, in many others the corn could stay standing for weeks yet. Naturally, everyone hopes we’ll soon have a solid freeze, because at this point that’s what it will take to allow harvesting equipment to roll across some bottomland fields without bogging down. This ongoing wait for conditions to improve continues to be expensive for our friends in the ag business, but every so often, that’s just the hand they’re dealt. So, too, for us deer hunters, except that the big bucks such conditions cost us aren’t of the monetary type.
I’m not going to pretend this is a good situation for anyone. But if there’s a silver lining to all of these dark clouds, it’s the fact an extra-large supply of mature bucks should still be out there when all of the corn finally does come off. Thus, we well could enjoy some exceptional late-season whitetail action in a broad swath of farming country.
It sounds crazy to predict that the best hunting could come after the rut, but perhaps this is one of those weird years in which it will. We’ll know soon enough. In the meantime, if you want to track how your fellow whitetail hunters across North America are doing this fall, be sure to check out our Rut Report. It’s the quickest and easiest way to keep up with what’s happening in your own state or province on a daily basis. And be sure to post your own reports — hopefully, bragging about the big buck you just got!
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Break Out the Decoys!
October 28, 2009
There are many great ways to bowhunt big whitetails. But in my opinion, for sheer fun and overall effectiveness, decoying is hands down the best of all.
Stan Potts, my co-host on North American Whitetail Television Presented by Arctic Cat, got me into decoying long before either of us was appearing on TV. We first dabbled with doe decoys, but over the years moved primarily to using fake bucks. And along the way, we learned a lot that has helped up become consistently successful at decoying deer.
This technique can work at any time of bow season, but now’s the period in which it’s particularly effective. From late October through the breeding period (mid-November in most places), I practically refuse to head out with my bow in one hand unless I have my Carry-Lite decoy in the other.
During the 2008 season, both of the bucks I arrowed on our TV show — one on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the other in southwestern Kansas — were taken over one of these full-bodied decoys. More recently, so was the central Kansas 9-pointer I shot last weekend. And you can bet I have one of these decoys with me this week, as I bowhunt western Illinois. And yes, I’ll also be toting it to northern Missouri and western South Dakota between now and Nov. 12.
The Kansas buck I got on Oct. 18 came to the decoy around 8:20 a.m., as cameraman Mike Clerkin and I hunkered in a brush blind on the edge of a small Buck Forage oat plot north of Wichita. The deer popped out on the edge of the plot for a quick bite, but then spotted the Carry-Lite 70 yards in front of him and made a beeline for it. That beeline brought him directly toward our makeshift blind, with Mike capturing great video of him all the way. Once the buck turned to face his supposed rival, I was able to draw my Mathews DXT and place a Muzzy-tipped Beman carbon shaft through the deer’s vitals. He literally almost ran over the video camera (and cameraman) as he made his escape back into the CRP grass before tipping over.
The following afternoon, campmate Brent Beimert of Beimert Outdoors in Pillager, Minnesota, set up his own Carry-Lite in a small oat plot on the property and whacked a big 8-pointer as the deer postured to the decoy. Brent made a perfect heart shot at 32 yards to down his tall-tined buck. Chalk up another one to decoying.
Not surprisingly, such hunts have made me a firm believer in this method. It works amazingly well any time the bucks are displaying aggressive behavior, and we’re now entering that period. So if you’re a bowhunter who doesn’t have a decoy, I strongly suggest you get one and give it a serious chance to work. But whether you’re new to decoying or not, here’s a quick list of tips to remember:
- For safety reasons, only decoy during bow season.
- In most cases, a buck decoy will out-produce a doe decoy. But a two-decoy setup, with a standing buck positioned over a bedded doe, can be quite effective during the rut. (Just remove the antlers and legs from your decoy and you’ll have a good imitation of a bedded doe.)
- Always place your decoy where deer can see it from at least a reasonable distance, such as in a food plot, field or cutline. Whitetails don’t like to be startled by anything, and they sometimes spook upon encountering a decoy at close range. Let them see it from a dist
ance and they’re far more likely to approach it in predictable fashion.
- Mature bucks tend to walk around in front of a buck decoy, presumably to express their own dominance; young bucks tend to walk around behind or to one side. So if you want to shoot older bucks over a decoy, position it to face your stand, or just off to one side or the other of where you’ll be. In my experience, bucks tend not to look where the decoy is looking; they’re fixated on identifying this new deer and getting a reaction from it.
- I place my Carry-Lite no closer to me than 18 yards and no farther than 27. An ideal range might be 22-25 yards. At this range, an approaching buck has enough room to walk in front of the decoy but still is close enough to shoot if he for some reason elects to pass behind it.
- Keep your decoy as clean as possible, to minimize any telltale human odor. I haven’t noticed a clear tendency for bucks to circle downwind of decoys, but you still don’t want a lot of foreign odor present if you can avoid it. I’ve had good luck using Hunter’s Specialties products to both neutralize my own odor and add realistic buck odor to my decoys.
- Decoys are so fun and effective that it’s easy to overuse them. Avoid that temptation. Whitetails have good memories, and you don’t want to give them too many chances to figure out that your “deer” isn’t real. Along those same lines, wait until right before shooting light to position the decoy on a morning hunt, and get it out of sight as soon as possible after an evening hunt, so deer don’t approach it at a time you can’t shoot.
- As with any other hunting method, have faith. If you decoy in the right way and at the right time, in an area that contains mature bucks, you should have some positive reactions and get shots. But it might not happen on Day 1, or even Day 10. Keep plugging. Once you see how effective decoying can be, you’ll be hooked!
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If I had to limit myself to hunting only one species of game, it wouldn’t bother me a bit; I’d continue to be a whitetail hunter to the end. But there’s a diverse world of big-game hunting out there, and earlier this month, I decided to explore more of it.
Leading into this trip, I had to go all the way back to 1990, when I shot a velvet-antlered axis deer at La Coma Ranch in South Texas, to find a case in which the animal I took was something other than a whitetail. That goes for game birds, too; I can’t recall having shot one of them since sometime in the ’80s, and I couldn’t tell you where it last happened — or even what fashion of fowl it was. The decoys I own are for deer, not ducks, and my lone shotgun has a rifled barrel for shooting slugs. The only “grand slam” I’m ever likely to conquer is on the breakfast menu at Denny’s.
So it was with more than the usual sense of uncertainty that I arrived in Fort Davis, Texas, on Oct. 2. A few months back, I’d received an invitation to participate in the “Yamaha Single Shot Challenge,” which was to be held in the desert country of far-west Texas the first week of October. The event was headed up by Van Holmes and the rest of the public relations team responsible for Yamaha’s smooth-steering Rhino UTV and Grizzly ATV lines. However, there also would be representatives of a number of other top companies in the hunting market, including Hornady, Ruger, Under Armour, Trijicon and Surefire. That’s an impressive list of heavy hitters, and several other media representatives and I were being offered the chance to spend time with them in the field.
Going after pronghorn antelope, no less.
Okay, so you figure I’m joking. Here it was, the first weekend of bow season for whitetails in many states, and I’d be way out in the desert, going after something that always qualifies as a “forkhorn”?
Well, yeah, that’s what I’d be doing. But you know what? Now that this affair is in my rear-view mirror, I can honestly say it was a blast.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that I ended up with a real trophy pronghorn, a buck with horns nearly 15 inches in length. We saw a bunch a bit smaller than him, but none bigger. Luckily for me, my hunting partner, Andrew Chilkiewicz of Trijicon, had tagged out on a fine buck of his own earlier in the day. It just happened to be my turn when an even bigger one showed up.
Antelope are known to be skittish, but on the big ranches where this event was held, the hunting pressure historically has been light, and many bucks will let you approach to within reasonable rifle range. In my case, the shot wasn’t hard at all: maybe 160 yards, and broadside, as the buck fed through some low brush and grass in late afternoon. After a short stalk, all I had to do was wait for him to step out from behind a few scattered twigs that were in my line of fire. As he did, I placed the Trijicon 3-9X scope with its illuminated dot on his lungs and squeezed off a round. The Hornady bullet from my Ruger M77 Hawkeye slammed him hard, and he went down as if . . . well, as if hit by a well-built bullet traveling 3,000 feet per second, which this one was. The “thump” of the impact was somewhat like the sound you’d get if you hit a mattress with a Louisville Slugger.
As it turned out, my luck continued throughout the event. The buck proved to be the largest taken by any of the writers in attendance, showing just how big a role plain old fate can have in a hunt. I don’t know nearly as much about antelope as do some of these guys, so there’s nothing to call my win other than good fortune. And that luck includes having been in the care of a savvy guide, Bill Barton, who definitely knows where to find the bucks and how to judge their racks.
So a tip of the cap to everyone who helped make this event a memorable one, from the sponsors to the outfitter (Hunter Ross of Desert Safaris; www.desertsafaris.com), his savvy guides and Pat, the truly masterful camp cook. Just an enjoyable time all around, despite uncharacteristically wet weather by desert standards.
From there, it was 400 miles or so to the east, to the historic town of Salado, Texas, for a rendezvous with one of my best buddies, Dr. James Kroll. “Dr. Deer” and I had arranged to meet at the ranch of our mutual friend, Bill Grace, whose Mustang Creek Ranch (www.whitetailbuck.com) holds some of the biggest fallow deer around. NAW TV editor Josh Viste would be coming in as well, to shoot video of a hunt for these fascinating animals from the Old World.
Now, in case you don’t know, the fallow (Dama dama) has perhaps the deer world’s longest documented history of interaction with man; with its origins in the Middle East, it’s truly the deer of The Bible. The rack consists of upright, palmated beams somewhat resembling those of a caribou, though not as tall. And, unique a
mong deer, this species is commonly found in a range of distinct color phases, with the coat ranging from snow white to spotted to chocolate/charcoal. Bucks even have a prominent “Adam’s apple” in their throat, to use for their low-pitched vocalizations during the rut. A mature buck is a spectacular trophy, and Bill’s ranch is among the top places to go in search of one.
I’d met Bill back in 2002, when Mustang Creek served as host location for North American Whitetail University, the deer hunting/management short course NAW occasionally conducts in partnership with James’ Institute for White-tailed Deer Management & Research. Ever since then, Bill has been inviting me to return to the ranch to hunt the exotic (non-native) game that share his Hill Country property with native whitetails and Rio Grande turkeys. But for one reason or another, I’d never made time to actually get there. I suppose it always came down to being too busy with whitetails.
The impetus for changing that came from a new project James and I are working on. While I don’t have a lot of details to share just yet, I will say it involves covering the wide world of deer in a way only a biologist known as “Dr. Deer” possibly could. So I finally had a professional reason to get back to Mustang Creek for a few days with James and Bill, and tacking such a visit onto the end of the Yamaha Single Shot Challenge seemed to make sense. Early October is squarely in the fallow rut, making it a great time to go after a trophy.
Based on scouting reports from Bill and his guides, we knew several really big fallow bucks had been seen around a freshly planted plot of Buck Forage oats. This species’ rutting behavior is a bit odd, in that bucks hang around a location known as a lek, and the does go to them . . . not the other way around. Sure enough, the first afternoon a group of several bucks eased in to feed in the lek as the clouds lifted following a heavy rainstorm.
The idea was for James to shoot if a mature buck walked into crossbow range; otherwise, I’d take the shot with my 7mm-08. Unfortunately for my friend, the best shot opportunity we got that day was at a range of around 70 yards. While a bit much for a crossbow, it was a snap for my Savage 116FCSS. A single 140-grain bullet through the heart anchored this beautiful spotted trophy. Walking up to the buck and examining his bladed rack was a special experience I’ll always remember sharing with my friends.
The bucks didn’t come into good crossbow range of our brush blind the next day, either, but Josh was able to get plenty of great video of rutting behavior. In late afternoon, a spotted fallow similar to mine crossed the opening, and James set down his bow and picked up his rifle. I can now report to you that a .270 WSM is plenty of gun for a Texas fallow, as this one crashed instantly upon taking a hit to the point of the shoulder. Our second trophy in two days was down and out…just before the rain set in again.
Yeah, I could get used to these other species of big game, especially when the scenery and camaraderie are exceptional and the weather warm, if not exactly dry. All in all, it was a great couple of weeks in the Lone Star State, and I can’t wait to get back there — even if all I get to hunt next time is a whitetail!
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September 15, 2009
After a long summer of getting ready for the start of deer season, it was nice to see the opener finally arrive — full moon or not.
When you’re eager to climb a tree after months of waiting, bright nights don’t seem like such a big problem to deal with. At least, not until you’re out there, wishing the deer were on a better daylight movement pattern. And any whitetail hunter who was afield the first week of September had to deal with that glowing orb: beautiful to look at, but not such a positive factor in terms of getting a trophy buck shot.
The first week of September, Stan Potts, my co-host on North American Whitetail Television Presented by Arctic Cat, headed back to his usual season-opening spot in Wyoming. My partner has long been a first-week fixture in the camp of Trophies Plus Outfitters for that first week, and for good reason. He and his various Mathews bows have enjoyed a ton of success there.
But things didn’t quite go as planned this time. While Stan and cameraman Barry Greenhaw saw plenty of bucks (some in velvet, some in hard antler), that pesky moon threw a wrench into the hunt. Stan says the bucks came out to feed later each evening, and the right shot never quite materialized. Fortunately, Stan will be back in early November, and for this return trip he’ll be toting one of his Thompson/Center rifles. I’d bet heavily on a punched tag in Round 2, even though that hunt also is scheduled to be during the full moon.
As for myself, I spent the first week of September dealing with that bright moon in a new state: Washington. I’d been intrigued by the whitetail potential in this part of the world for two decades, but despite having hunted both Idaho and Oregon, I’d never made it to the Evergreen State to hunt. That all changed when I hooked up with Garry Greenwalt, who just started Wild Country Guide Service near the small town of Tekoa. Throw a rock to the east and it might roll into Idaho, but Garry’s whitetail hunts are all (for now, anyway) in Washington. He’s arrowed six trophy whitetails there himself over the years and has decided to let some clients in on the action as well.
The wild apples so abundant in this area were starting to fall (a bit earlier than usual, according to Garry), and the whitetails definitely had noticed. We scouted a number of good-looking locations on the pine ridges overlooking valley grain fields, and the most reliable pattern we saw was deer hitting apples and water on their way out of the timber each afternoon. About halfway through our hunt we zeroed in on a couple of spots that were great for hanging our new, ultralight Summit tree stands.
One of the locations in particular was classic: two early-dropping apple trees next to a cool spring at the end of a timbered point halfway up a ridge. And sure enough, the first evening we hunted there, a wide 10-pointer decided to waltz through with about 10 minutes of video light left. As Mike rolled with the camera, I drew my Mathews DXT and prepared to send a Muzzy-tipped Beman toward the deer’s lungs.
Enter that annoying element often called “human error.” The buck was a bit nervous, so as he walked down the trail toward the field, I elected not to try to stop him. I quickly drew, slapped the sights on his chest and released before I really had settled in. He heard the bow, ducked . . . and voila, a miss, just over his shoulder.
You’d think I’d know better than to miss high at close range, and I do. But I ended up making that miscue anyway. Chalk it up to getting in too big a hurry, I suppose, but regardless, the result was the same: a buck that received a free education, courtesy of a hunter who shouldn’t have let him get away.
Ah, but such is bowhunting. We might not like the blown opportunities, but they’ll always be a part of the equation. For the deer hunter who can’t handle them with a smile on his face (even if it’s fake), this is a really tough game to play.
All in all, then, the hunt with Garry was a success. We explored some new territory with the NAW TV cameras, observed an interesting early-season feeding pattern and made some great friends along the way. (I’d be remiss not to give a special shout-out to Christina Walker for her cooking and other hard work around the lodge and to guide Travis Feldner for his assistance in glassing for possible stand sites.) It’s hard to call a hunt like that a failure, even though my Washington deer tag is still in my wallet. Maybe next time I get out there that 10-pointer will be even bigger, and I’ll take the time to let my pins settle a bit lower.
What’s next? More early-season efforts. In fact, NAW editor Duncan Dobie and cameraman Mike Clerkin will be in central Kansas later this month, trying to shoot a big buck on a Buck Forage oat plot at John Butler’s property. Here’s hoping Duncan get it done!
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
To check out the hunting options in Wyoming or Montana with Mike and Esther Watkins of Trophies Plus, visit: www.trophiesplusoutfitters.com. For information on what Garry Greenwalt has to offer in Washington, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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“Watching” the Wind Blow
February 20, 2009
Atop a highway bridge spanning Central Texas’ Lake Austin stands a sign that makes me chuckle every time I see it. That’s because it advises drivers to do something that, if you think about it, seems implausible:
“WATCH FOR AIR CURRENTS”
I guess it isn’t impossible to watch for air currents — you know, the wind — but I don’t know how you could expect to see it. Then again, some of this city’s free-spirited souls might have found a way; after all, “Keep Austin Weird” has long been the rallying cry of its more “unconventional” residents. (In case you missed it, this is where ambitious computer hackers recently changed the digital readout on several highway department message boards, spicing up the morning commute for local motorists with the warning, “NAZI ZOMBIES! RUN!!!!”)
So maybe it takes a special kind of crazy to actually observe moving air. However, if you’re in search of a place where the effects of the wind are easy to observe, Texas is high on the list. Especially several hundred miles northwest of Austin, where the wide-open Great Plains fade into the more rolling, brushy landscape marking the upper limits of the Edwards Plateau. Continental air masses blast through so often, and with such vigor, that “wind farming” — using huge wind turbines to generate electricity on a commercial scale — has become one way to literally generate income from rangeland suited to few other enterprises.
King County isn’t the wind capital of the Lone Star State, but due to its location midway between Lubbock and Wichita Falls, nature’s fan switch is on more often than off. Not that it affects too many people — with fewer than 400 residents, this is the third-most lightly populated county in the entire nation. The sparse settlement is due to the bulk of King’s acreage being contained within a handful of huge, private ranches whose roots lie in the very foundation of Texas history.
Best known among these is the 6666 Ranch. The “Four Sixes” (often shortened to “the Sixes”) got its name from the cattle brand of its owner, legendary rancher Samuel “Burk” Burnett, who in the late 1800s carved a vast inland empire from the rolling grasslands of Northwest Texas. While most of the huge ranch has always been wide-open prairie, some parts are steeper, brushier and harder on both cattle and those who work them. One of these areas is a 15,000-acre block long known as the “QB,” which stands for “quail” and “buck.” You see, even in the old days, locals recognized this acreage as being better suited to hunting than ranching. In fact, when former President Theodore Roosevelt visited this area to hunt wolves in the early 1900s, he helped the landowner begin a long-term program — perhaps the first of its kind — for managing the ranch’s wildlife.
Now let’s leap forward a century. The “QB,” as it’s still known, now is co-owned by partners Wayne Kirk, Ron Goldschmidt and Randy White, who have a deep interest in the land’s diverse natural bounty. Upon purchasing the QB, they began to focus their efforts on managing the local whitetails and other native game, as well as several exotic species and a free-ranging herd of bison. The ranch’s surprisingly abundant surface water also came under intensive management, resulting in exceptional bass fishing in a scenic private lake. The QB truly is an oasis in an otherwise dry land.
Last summer, Wayne hooked up with longtime outfitter Rick Adley to start offering hunts for a variety of species. I’ve known Rick for many years, through his outfitting operations on other properties around Texas. In 2005 I hunted with him in Baylor County, where I shot a mature 9-pointer. So when I got an invitat
ion from Rick to sample the whitetail action on the QB, I didn’t hesitate to accept. I’d never hunted King County, but due to its location and Rick’s involvement, I knew the ranch was worth a visit.
Cameraman Mike Clerkin and I got to the QB in time for a quick look around on the afternoon of Dec. 13. By dark we’d see a 2 1/2-year-old buck and several does and fawns on a plot of winter wheat, but it was evident that the blend of hot, windy weather and a full moon was keeping the lid on movement. That became even clearer the following day, when we looked over a lot of good habitat but saw only a handful of deer moving.
Northwest Texas is notorious for its fickle weather, and we got a sample of it just before dusk on Day 2. One moment, the air was hot and lifeless — the next, it was as if you’d stepped in front of an air conditioning vent cranked up to full blast. I’m certain the temperature literally fell 5 degrees in a minute…and kept dropping. At first the change was refreshing, but when we awoke the next morning to a temperature of 22 degrees and extremely high northwest winds, all of the charm was long gone.
With the wind howling, we weren’t surprised to see the poor deer movement continue. By that afternoon it was a lot more tolerable, and sure enough, we saw a bit more activity. One of the deer was a mature 8-pointer that hopped into a big wheat field an hour before dark, then promptly left again without offering me a shot with which I was comfortable. That was depressing, but at least the big bucks seemed ready to start showing themselves again.
While the following day held promise, it went unfulfilled; we didn’t see any mature bucks on the plots we were watching. Discouraging, but so it sometimes goes in whitetail hunting. Now we were down to our fifth and final day, and we needed a lot of help.
It came in unexpected fashion. After another morning of poor movement on the wheat plot we were watching, Mike and I decided to use my Nikon 12-25X fieldscope to glass some distant fields, just in case a mature buck might still be on one of them. And sure enough, one was. The bad news was that he was over a mile away from the ridge we were on; the good news was that he was still out feeding at 10 a.m., and there was at least a chance we could get to him before he eased off to bed in one of the nearby juniper flats.
After a long approach, we found ourselves within 100 yards of the downwind side of the wheat. Creeping along, we saw several does and fawns on the far end, walking as if headed to their daytime bedding spot. But where was the buck?
That question answered itself moments later, as we looked through a hole in the brush and saw him half a football field away . . . and walking straight at us! Controlled panic ensued as Mike slapped the tripod into position, focused the Sony HD camera and began to roll on the buck. Meanwhile, I dropped to one knee, using my Underwood shooting sticks to steady my gun as I tried to guess where the deer was heading.
At first, we were confident he’d appear to our left — then realized we were wrong. A glimpse of the buck passing through the junipers and mesquite brush confirmed that he was about to pop out to our right, and at a range nearly as well suited to a bow as a rifle.
Fortunately for us, when the 10-pointer stopped and looked our way, I had enough of a hole to get a round from my .280 Rem. into the upper part of his lungs. At the rifle’s report the deer wheeled away, but he didn’t make it far; we found him sprawled, stone dead, no more than 30 yards down the trail. Once again, a 140-grain Winchester bullet had more than done its job.
It isn’t often you spot a mature whitetail from better than a mile away and within an hour end up shooting him at 40 yards. But it happened that morning, and Mike and I were elated with the outcome. We’d dealt with way more wind than we’d wanted and had come out on top.
Given that success under unusually challenging conditions, I hope to return to this ranch someday to see what the whitetail hunting is like when things are “right.” I can only imagine how much fun it must be to hunt there when those bucks living in the mesquite flats and juniper canyons are really on the move. If you’re looking for a Texas hunt that features a unique blend of “Brush Country” and “Hill Country” habitat, give Rick Adley a call, at 817-656-1200, or visit the ranch’s Web site: www.qbranchtexas.com.
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Quick Work in Wyoming
February 12, 2009
There’s only so much predictability in hunting big whitetails. We can plan all we like, but they do their thing when they want. We must adapt to their schedule, and despite what you might have read or been told, it isn’t to be found on any Web site or moon chart. When hunting we have to be ready from the first moment to the last, or face the very real possibility of missing our only chance to score.
I’m reminded of this as I look back on my 2008 Wyoming hunt with Mike and Esther Watkins of Trophies Plus Outfitters. It was the week of Thanksgiving, which marks the end of the Cowboy State gun season. Cameraman Mike Clerkin and I were there to videotape a hunt for North American Whitetail Television Presented by Arctic Cat, and with the rut in full swing along the western edge of the Black Hills, we had high hopes of taking a solid buck.
The bad news about our plan was that, due to obligations elsewhere, we’d have only two days to hunt. The good news was that I’d already been assured this would be ample. I’d heard it from none other than my co-host on the show, Stan Potts.
“Oh, you’ll shoot a mature buck in two days,” he told me. “Guaranteed. Thanksgiving week might be the best one of the whole season for rutting activity. You’ll kill one.”
Stan has never steered me wrong on a whitetail tip, and considering he’s had a long history of hunting with Trophies Plus, I had every reason to believe him. Still, two days is a frighteningly short time span in which to take a mature buck in front of a TV camera, no matter where you’re hunting. If weather or any number of other hunting factors put the squeeze on us, we’d have precious little time to overcome it. I knew better than to think “guaranteed” should be taken literally.
For this reason, perhaps I was more focused than usual as we prepared to start our hunt on the morning of Nov. 26. Fortunately, the weather was almost ideal, registering a dry 17 degrees as guide Skip Petersen drove Mike and me down the highway under a star-laced night sky. Our destination was a nearby ranch on which Skip knew of a great spot near a rolling hayfield.
In the darkness we set up our spotting scopes in some spiny yucca plants on a grassy knob overlooking a draw near the field. As dawn broke, we could see whitetails start moving back to cover after a night of feeding and frolicking. In fact, right away we found ourselves looking at a 3 1/2-year-old buck tending a doe. Then we saw more deer on the horizon. Then more in the draw. Then more coming down a distance fence line. Then still more on and around the hayfield.
Several of these milling deer were bucks with decent racks; it was what you might term a “target-rich environment.” But all of them were at least 350 yards away, and getting no closer. Besides, we had our sights set on taking as good a deer as we could find, given the time constraints under which we’d placed ourselves. We’d just keep sitting and glassing and hoping the right buck would show himself in a location that would allow for a successful stalk.
Within the first hour of daylight, we’d already seen enough bucks that talk of how we might approach them had come up. But three things held us back: (1) all of the better deer were at least 500 yards away; (2) none was a slam-dunk shooter; and (3) in order to reach even the closest of them, we’d first have to cross the draw in front of us, which itself was full of does, fawns and small bucks. Our chances of slipping through them undetected, then finding ourselves within good range of a buck we wanted, seemed scarcely better than those of winning the lottery. We sat back and kept on glassing.
Eventually, a pod of does and fawns worked their way around to the top of the brushy draw. And as they did, we spotted a fine buck with them. His thick coat fluffed up and his rack shining in the angled morning sunlight, the mature 8-pointer with exceptional brow tines was a fine example of the Northwest whitetail subspecies.
Never pass up on the first day of the hunt a deer you’d gladly shoot on the last day. That saying has been around for a long time, and it’s good advice. I’d never taken a deer in Wyoming, and the one in the eyepiece of my Nikon spotting scope looked plenty good to me. There’s always a bigger one out there somewhere, but to see a solid mature buck and then roll the dice on finding one bigger is risky business — especially with the clock ticking down toward an early deadline.
Had the buck gone on his way around the far side of the draw, he’d probably would still be roaming the Wyoming countryside. Instead, he decided it made more sense to come our way around the head of the drainage, so he could hit a scrape under a lone tree about 250 yards from us.
As the deer began moving our way, Mike, Skip and I all began moving into position for a shot. With my guide whispering the range for me and Mike running the camera, I got a good rest for my Thompson/Center Pro Hunter and waited. The buck worked his scrape, then moved a few yards closer. Finally, he was broadside and stationary 230 yards from us, and the .280 Rem. spoke.
At the shot, the buck staggered off a few yards but didn’t drop. He turned to face back toward the draw, then again stopped broaside. Seeing no reason to quit shooting, I squeezed off another round and heard a solid thump echo back up the draw toward us. Moments later, the deer was down for good.
When Mike and I got to Wyoming, our fear was that we’d run out of time to get my tag filled with a good buck. In retrospect, Stan was right about two days being plenty. Thanks in large part to Skip’s knowledge of how rutting whitetails use the ranch we hunted, we hadn’t even needed one full morning to tag out on a trophy. Now I know why the last week of gun season is said to be one of northeastern Wyoming’s best times for buck action.
My only regret about this first hunt with Trophies Plus? The next day was Thanksgiving, and with our buck already on the ground, we’d be heading for the airport in Rapid City instead of fattening up on a table overflowing with Esther’s homemade pies and other holiday fixings. Now, why on earth did I get in such a hurry to shoot a deer?
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
If you’re looking to hunt northeastern Wyoming, southeastern Montana or western South Dakota for any of several species, check out what Trophies Plus Outfitters has to offer: www.trophiesplus outfitters.com. For outstanding videos on the natural beauty of this region, as well as innovative products for hunters, visit Skip Petersen’s site: www.skipenterprises.com.
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Not So Bad After All!
January 28, 2009
If you’ve spent enough time traveling the back roads of North America, or even looking at maps of rural areas, I’m sure the names have jumped out at you. Box Springs, Georgia . . . Toad Suck, Arkansas . . . Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky. Look around long enough and you’ll discover a place name so odd you’ll wonder how it ever came to be.
I had one of those moments in November 2007, as I drove north into Midland, South Dakota. I was on my way to meet up with the folks at Two Rivers Outfitters (www.tworiversoutfitters.com) for a rifle hunt during the rut. As cameraman Mike Clerkin and I entered town, we crossed a bridge leading over a stream whose color bore a greater resemblance to Starbucks latte than water.
Bad River, the sign on the bridge claimed.
I’d driven over all manner of waterways from eastern Canada to New Zealand, and to my knowledge, th
is was the first “bad” anything I’d ever crossed, or even tried to. Knowing such descriptive names are given for a reason, I figured there was an interesting explanation for it. But as we were at the time distracted by thoughts of a trophy buck (which we ended up getting on the first afternoon of our hunt), I didn’t bother to ask anyone how the Bad River got its name.
Fast-forward a year. Mike and I had returned to the area, in hopes of taking another big whitetail with Matt Eldridge and Gary Snook, who co-own Two Rivers. Now, as we looked over the map of where we’d be hunting, I again noticed the Bad River and decided to find out, once and for all, how it came to be known as such.
Turns out the stream got its ominous name from Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery, which camped near the waterway’s junction with the Missouri River in 1804. A number of Teton Sioux were camped two miles upstream from the river’s mouth, and they were the first natives on the explorers’ expedition to give them a bit of a “bad” time. Still, it’s debatable that this interaction was the reason for the river’s naming; according to some records, the name by which the Indians themselves knew it translated to “bad river,” due to its high manganese content and unpredictable water flow. Lewis and Clark saw no reason to change the name, and the Bad River it remains to this day.
Coursing across vast miles of shortgrass prairie, the river somewhat resembles a twisting snake. Along each bank are cottonwoods and willows, plus other assorted hardwoods; on a number of high slopes standing above the bends are pockets of aromatic junipers. Put all of if together with a minuscule human population and occasional hayfields, and you have a great place for deer. The whitetails are mostly in the brushy bottoms, while large numbers of mule deer roam the open prairies above.
Two Rivers Outfitters is well known for big mulies. The success rate on bragging bucks is sky high, with a number of 170-inch or better deer falling each season. When you can shoot trophies that big out on the prairie, why claw your way up sharp peaks surrounded by insufficient oxygen? Okay, I’ll admit mountain scenery usually beats the view on the prairie. Still, many hunters these days are thrilled to find big mulies at lower elevation.
This debate over mountains vs. prairie was moot to me. Mike and I were quite happy to leave those big-eared deer to other folks and instead focus our efforts on taking a mature whitetail. And that meant sticking to lower ground.
In ’07 we hunted on Gary’s ranch north of town. But this time, we wanted to see if we could find a bruiser along the river itself, which winds right through Midland. The lodge is on the south edge of town, and from it you can see plenty of whitetails in a day. We knew some big bucks had been seen in the area before our arrival, so it was an easy decision to hunt close.
The first day began with spotting a nice 9-point whitetail locked down on a “hot” doe — right in town. And I mean that literally; the two deer were on opposite sides of a brushpile next to the railroad track in “downtown” Midland. We watched them for a few minutes as Mike shot video, then left them to continue their little honeymoon. More nice bucks were seen later in the day, but as light faded from the river bottom, I still had my tag in my pocket.
Not everyone did. Just prior to our arrival in camp, my close friend Tom Bulloch, the public relations representative for Brenneke USA (www.brennekeusa.com) had driven into town to begin his own hunt at Two Rivers. By the time Mike and I got there, Tom already had shot a fine 9-point whitetail and was starting to sample the area’s phenomenal pheasant and grouse hunting. Normally I might give one of my friends a hard time for not letting me reach camp before he tagged out, but I certainly didn’t begrudge Tom for doing so. You have to shoot a big buck when you get a chance, and that’s what he did. Good for him.
Of course, it’s easier to be magnanimous when you still have plenty of time and opportunity to fill your own tag, and I knew I did. It was mid-November, and with the rut in full swing, the odds were in my favor. And they turned even more sharply that way the second morning, as Gary got a distant look at a big whitetail roaming the edge of a hayfield along the river.
Open habitat and centerfire rifles make spot-and-stalk trophy hunting viable. So while we knew the odds were with the deer, we at least felt we had a fighting chance to get a shot at him. Soon we were formulating a plan to intercept the deer.
After crossing the river on our Arctic Cat Prowler, Mike and I grabbed our gear and headed downstream on foot. The plan was to stay just high enough above the river that we could see some distance ahead. We needed to spot the big buck before he knew we were after him.
Against all odds, it took us only a few minutes to close the deal. The deer actually cut back toward us in the brushy bottom, and we ended up watching him walk out at only 50 yards below us on a river bend.
At the shot from my Thompson/Center Pro Hunter .280 Rem., the massive 15-pointer took a leap to his right — and landed right in the narrow river! Although he immediately regained his bearings well enough to lunge onto the far bank, he was dead on his feet. The deer made it only a few yards before collapsing for good in a willow flat.
Going after a trophy whitetail on foot is often a fool’s errand; even if you do everything right you’re lucky to get a shot. But good fortune was with us that day, and we made the most of it. Later, back at camp we all celebrated a great hunt with great friends in great country. Western South Dakota had come through once again.
As for the Bad River? Personally, I have no idea why they still call it that. Doesn’t seem so bad to me!
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A Proper Introduction
January 07, 2009
No matter why you buy a piece of real estate, you do so because of a vision. Whether the property is a home, a building site for some future business or simply a chunk of land in the country, you buy it not necessarily because of what it is, but what you think it can become to you and your family.
It was with this perspective in mind that two friends — Glenn Lange and Tommy Witt — joined me in purchasing a 150-acre tract in far-northern Missouri’s Putnam County last summer.
I’d hunted the area with local landowner Joe Ream in November 2007, taking a fine 9-pointer, and I’d come away so impressed with the whitetail potential that I’d decided to investigate buying land there. Thanks to several years of antler restrictions in northern Missouri (a buck must have at least four points on one antler to be legal), the average size and age of deer here continues to increase. With bow and gun tags being reasonably priced and available over the counter, this is a great place for the nonresident trophy hunter. Being able to hunt the November rut with a rifle was the icing on the cake. And land prices considerably lower than those for similar land in nearby Iowa and Illinois sealed the deal.
Even with all of those pluses, I still might not have pursued buying land in Missouri had I not had a great local contact. In that regard, Joe was instrumental. He and his brother, Dale, are both longtime Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young measurers, and they’ve lived in the area their entire lives. I’ve known these guys for years, and their knowledge of the trophy scene in the Midwest is hard to match. So when Joe told me he thought we could find land with great potential at the right price, I was all ears.
As usual, it took awhile to zero in on exactly what we were looking for, but we ultimately found it. The right place turned out to be a bottomland years ago entered into the federal Wetland Reserve Program. Most such properties are developed with waterfowling in mind, but that wasn’t our primary interest. While we knew the small watershed lake on the south end held a lot of ducks and geese, we knew the thick ground cover and creekbottom timber would be a great place for whitetails, too.
After Joe inspected the land and determined that it looked even better up close than in the aerial photos, my partners and I made a bid on it through Doug Gilworth Realty (www.lakethunderheadmo.com). In short order, that bid was accepted. Thanks largely to the hard work and diligence of Doug’s son, Ced, the closing process went quickly and smoothly. By Aug. 1, Glenn, Tommy and I were the proud owners of a new piece of deer ground.
I went into this first hunting season with low expectations. A local outfitter had been leasing the land for several years, and it had hosted many hunters. Typically, coming in behind that history means you’re starting over on producing mature bucks. However, the area was known to hold good deer, and we hoped some remained on the property, or at least continued to pass through it on occasion. We’d know soon enough.
After planting a couple of small food plots in mid-August, we left the land alone throughout early bow season. But as the November gun season approached, we began to get a few trail camera images of good bucks. Tommy decided to give the place a try on opening weekend, while my plan was to get there after my Kansas bowhunt if possible.
As noted in my most recent blog update, cameraman Mike Clerkin and I wrapped up our successful bowhunt with Kansas Whitetail Properties (www.kansaswhitetailproperties.com) on Nov. 15. That gave us just enough time to try the Missouri land before heading west to South Dakota for a rifle hunt with Two Rivers Outfitters (www.tworiversoutfitters.com). We’d have only two days to hunt Missouri, but even if we only managed to scout it for future reference, we felt that would be worthwhile.
In addition to being a topnotch cameraman, Mike is a great whitetail hunter. As we scouted for a good tree stand location along the creek, he said he felt we needed to be in position to shoot to a certain stretch of treeline. Due not only to fresh sign but also to the layout of the property, I couldn’t argue with his reasoning. In short order we had our Summit Copperhead tree stands hung and ready. Sure enough, that first afternoon we saw several deer heading out to feed on a neighboring property, so it was with some optimism we returned to the tree at first light on a chilly Tuesday, Nov. 18.
I literally hadn’t even finished my morning on-camera “opener” when a big buck showed up. His neck and rack coated in frost, he was out cruising for does along the treeline Mike had insisted we be able to see. As soon as the camera was on the deer, and I could tell he was mature and had at least four points on at least one antler (minimum requirement for a legal buck in northern Missouri), I put the crosshairs of my Nikon Titanium scope on him and waited for a chance to slip a .280 Rem. bullet through the timber to him. After a bit the mature buck cooperated, moving into a small opening. My Thompson/Center Pro Hunter delivered its payload to the deer’s heart; he jumped, went no more than 20 yards and hit the ground, stone dead.
It took me as long to write that previous paragraph as it did for the events to play out. Here we were, right at sunup on our first morning in a tree stand on the new Missouri land, and we had a trophy buck lying dead within 100 yards of our setup. And, it was a “new” buck, a heavy, high-racked 10-pointer that hadn’t made an appearance in front of our trail cameras. Whether he was a local resident or just wandering through during the rut we didn’t know — but then, it didn’t matter!
If there’s anything better than shooting a big whitetail on someone else’s property, it’s doing so on your own place. We really had no reason to think we’d taste success there so soon, but we felt it would come at some point. Even though no other bucks were shot off the land in 2008, our grand experiment already has proven an unqualified success.
Northern Missouri really is a “sleeper” for trophy bucks, and we think the future holds great things for our little piece of land. But there are plenty of opportunities here, even if you don’t own property. If you’re interested in hunting this part of the state, or even the
neighboring states of Iowa, Illinois or Kansas, my buddy Joe Ream says he’d be happy to talk with you (at a reasonable hour, of course). Feel free to give him a ring at 660-341-0895, and he’ll try to steer you in the right direction for a big whitetail of your own.
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Keeping With It In Kansas
November 25, 2008
Sometimes, everything on a deer hunt just comes together. But even then, it doesn’t always happen right away.
Take, for example, my recent bowhunt in southwestern Kansas. Cameraman Mike Clerkin and I had a spectacular week of hunting on one of the several ranches Kansas Whitetail Properties (www.kansaswhitetailproperties.com) has for sale in the red-hot trophy country near Dodge City. Even so, it took until the sixth morning for us to fill a tag. Here’s the blow-by-blow on that great week:
Nov. 9: I pick up Mike at the Wichita airport, and we travel west to the town of Protection. We’ll be hunting a great ranch not too far out of this small town.
Nov. 10: After landowner Mark Lohrding gives us a detailed tour of the ranch, we find several great hunting spots, including one in a large triticale field. (Triticale is a cross between wheat and rye.) An hour before last light, a huge buck walks straight to our Carry-Lite decoy in the field edge and gives us plenty of broadside video footage at the range of only 12 yards. But the deer already has snapped off several long points, and I elect not to draw my bow. Still, seeing him at eye level from our ground blind is an experience I’ll never forget.
Nov. 11: Not long after daybreak I rattle a 140-class buck to within 40 yards, but he decides something isn’t quite right and never gives me a shot. That afternoon, we see a 160-class 5×5 on the same field we hunted the first day. Unfortunately, he walks out in a spot that doesn’t offer Mike’s video camera a view, then chases a doe over the horizon.
Nov. 12: The weather is warming, and the action begins to slow. Still, that afternoon we decoy a 145-class 9-pointer to within 25 yards of our ground blind on a small alfalfa field. Too bad there are several other deer right on top of us at the moment the buck turns broadside, and with so many eyes around, I can’t twist far enough to my left to get a shot. Mike gets great footage of the buck, so at least we have that to show for our efforts.
Nov. 13: Going back to where we rattled in the big buck on Veteran’s Day, we see an impressive mule deer buck chasing a doe across the countryside. The mulie rut clearly is on as well. A bit later in the morning, we rattle in the same whitetail from Tuesday. He again comes to within 40 yards but doesn’t approach the decoy; no good shot ever is offered. A 3 1/2-year-old buck with his right antler snapped off from fighting stands near our buck decoy for 10 minutes, as though having a reunion with a long-lost buddy, then walks off. With the weather warming into the low 70s, we then scout for new stand locations, settling on a potential decoying setup on another small alfalfa field. We hang a Summit Copperhead tree stand on the timbered point and cut a quiet trail through some nearby cedars, so we can sneak in and out unobtrusively. The afternoon hunt there produces several buck sightings, but overall deer movement is sluggish. It’s just too warm.
Nov. 14: We spend the morning in a cedar-cottonwood bottom near the triticale field, and we see a lot of deer; one is a massive, long-tined 8-pointer chasing a doe in the distance. But though we sit until 11:30 a.m., nothing big comes near. It’s windy, even by Kansas standards. In the afternoon we brave the gale to hunt a ground blind placed between two hay bales on the edge of the triticale field, but again see no trophy bucks. The wind is killing us. The good news is that, with temperatures dropping, we believe the best is yet to come.
Nov. 15: Our first time at the new decoy setup in the small alfalfa field proves to be our last. After watching several bucks and does vacate the field soon after dawn, we see a handful of deer to the north of us, along a thick shelterbelt separating the field from a nearby dirt road. Eventually, a shooter buck steps out and begins snooping around a group of does, hoping to find a girlfriend. Although the wind is too high for him to hear my rattling, he eventually decides the does aren’t in heat and heads our way to patrol more of the field edge. At about 150 yards he spots our decoy and makes a beeline for it, with Mike capturing it all on video. Only a few minutes later the deer walks just behind the decoy, offering me a broadside shot. The Muzzy 75 zips through both lungs, and in seconds our Kansas trophy is on the ground. What had begun to look like a jinxed hunt has ended in glorious triumph!
After tagging the 140-class 10-pointer and loading him into our Arctic Cat Prowler, we spend the rest of the day pulling stands and packing up. Now we’re off to Putnam County, Missouri, for a rifle hunt. But that’s a story for next time. Until then, good hunting!
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Good Times on the East Coast
November 25, 2008
Millions of whitetail hunters live in states bordering the Atlantic Ocean. And many of them can’t wait for the chance to follow Horace Greeley’s time-honored advice: “Go west, young man.”
I understand the sentiment, to some degree. Relatively high human populations all the way from the Northeast down to Florida have put the squeeze on hunting land, and many deer hunters have concluded they must journey far to the west to find big whitetails. Reading magazine articles and watching TV shows about the Midwest, Montana, Texas and Alberta have led to the conclusion it’s always a lot better somewhere far beyond the Appalachians.
Well, I recently returned to my office here at North American Whitetail after a couple of deer hunts in Maryland and Virginia, and I can tell you not all of the action is out west.
The last week of October, cameraman Mike Clerkin and I hunted on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with the folks at Schrader’s Bridgetown Manor (www.schradershunting.com). What a great place — not just for whitetail hunting, but also for a wide range of other sporting activities, including wor
ld-class waterfowling and exceptional facilities for sporting clays and other shotgun sports. With many thousands of prime acres under their control, owner Ken Schrader and his guides do a great job of meeting their clients’ needs.
While we had to fight rain and high winds for much of our hunt, we ended up decoying in a big-bodied buck on Halloween morning. Although he had just six points, the deer was a trophy in my book, with a dressed weight of 200 pounds. That’s a heck of a 3×3! Mike got great footage of the buck responding to my rattling and coming in for the shot across a standing bean field. Naturally, you’ll be seeing all of it on one of the 2009 episodes of North American Whitetail Television Presented by Arctic Cat.
From that farm-country bowhunt in Maryland, Mike and I headed west across the Bay Bridge, an awe-inspiring structure spanning Chesapeake Bay. Once back on the “mainland,” we headed west to Front Royal, Virginia, then south down the Appalachians to picturesque Patrick County. There, we hooked up again with our friends at Primland Resort (www.primland.com), one of the finest multi-use sporting operations in the Virginia mountains.
I missed a beautiful 11-pointer at Primland last November, and I really hoped I’d fill my tag this time. But it wasn’t to be. I passed up a nice 3 1/2-year-old 8-pointer on Tuesday afternoon, so we hunted that remote mountain food plot again on Wednesday. Mike caught a glimpse of a really big buck in the woods near the plot, but despite our fervent pleading, the deer never stepped into the open before camera light faded. Our guide, Clinton, had us in the right spot, but the deer simply failed to follow the script. That’s the way it goes sometimes, no matter what you do.
Overall, our trip to Maryland and Virginia was great, with one fine buck shot on camera. We made new friends at Schrader’s and rekindled some old friendships at Primland. Now it’s time to repack and head out to some hunting on the Great Plains. First up is western Kansas, where I’ll be bowhunting on a ranch currently listed for sale by Kansas Whitetail Properties (www.kansaswhitetailproperties.com). My buddy Todd Bigbee has been scouting some great bucks on this land, so I’m hopeful of taking my second 2008 archery buck out there. The timing and weather should be excellent.
From there, I’m traveling to northern Missouri to rifle hunt on a small tract my friends Glenn Lange and Tommy Witt joined me in purchasing this past summer. In the process, I’ll be getting to visit with my good buddy Joe Ream, an official measurer who lives in Unionville. I had a great hunt with Joe last November, and he was instrumental in helping me pinpoint this new piece of land; if you’re looking for great advice on where to hunt in northern Missouri, or need help managing hunting land there, by all means give him a call, at 660/341-0895.
After Missouri, Mike Clerkin and I will point the truck toward Midland, South Dakota. There, I’m scheduled to meet up with my longtime friend Tom Bulloch for a rifle hunt with Matt Eldridge and Gary Snook of Two Rivers Outfitters (www.tworiversoutfitters.com). Tom has traveled the world to hunt all manner of big game and birds, but he’s never been to this particular part of the Great Plains. I’m sure he’ll love it, because it’s wide-open cattle country filled with wildlife: trophy whitetails, monster mule deer, ringneck pheasants and even sharptail grouse. For a guy like Tom, this should be heaven on earth.
After that, my frantic November concludes with a rifle hunt with Mike and Esther Watkins of Trophies Plus Outfitters in northeastern Wyoming (www.trophiesplusoutfitters.com). My television co-host, Stan Potts, arrowed a fine buck with this outfit back in early September. By the time this hunt concludes it will be Thanksgiving, and after dropping off Mike at the airport in Rapid City, South Dakota, I’ll have quite a drive ahead of me to get back to Atlanta.
If I’m lucky, I’ll have a lot of extra poundage — you know, racks, capes and prime venison — onboard as I aim my pickup back south again. Here’s hoping your own vehicle is getting a workout this month as well.
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Straight Talk” With Sen. McCain
November 3, 2008
It takes just one hand to count the times I’ve been invited to interview a candidate for the presidency of the United States. In fact, a single finger will do.
That lone opportunity came my way recently, when several other outdoor writers and I were granted what was literally a moving audience with Republican nominee Sen. John McCain. The setting was the senator’s campaign bus, Straight Talk Express, cruising down a highway just outside Washington, D.C.
How did a handful of us who peddle hunting and shooting information come to be there that morning? It says a lot about the tightness of this election campaign, and about the politics of courting special-interest groups in the world of modern media.
In the parlance of Washington, the term “special interest” has a bad connotation. It’s grown to mean any group of people who want the government to bend the rules in their favor, regardless of any negative impact on other folks or the nation as a whole. Ah, but those aren’t the only “special interest” groups around. Fact is, you and I are very much members of one as well. We’re whitetail hunters, a special-interest group including nearly 10 million Americans, several million of whom are active voters.
The agenda we deer fanatics push isn’t aimed at bringing us windfall profits or unfettered power; as a group, all we want is a sharper focus on progressive wildlife management and an acknowledgment that hunting is a legitimate form of recreation that deserves to be protected. For many gun owners, loosening the government’s restrictions on the Second Amendment is also a priority. A presidential candidate’s views on the right to keep and bear arms is widely considered one important test of whether or not he/she will work to safeguard our favorite pastime as a legitimate wildlife-related activity.
In simpler times, when media outlets were far fewer and U.S. voters weren’t as focused on such narrow issues of key importance to them, all a candidate had to do to reach the public was appear on Face the Nation. But the mainstream media outlets no longer control the nation’s collective psyche as they once did. In the Information Age the landscape has become highly fractured; there now are not just national newsmagazines, daily newspapers, major TV networks and 50,000-watt AM radio stations but also online blogs, Youtube and special-interest periodicals — including North American Whitetail.
In an election as tight as the one we appear to be heading for, every segment of the voting public is worth pursuing. And so it was that I found myself aboard Straight Talk Express in the parking lot that morning, questions in hand, awaiting the arrival of the Republican nomi
My immediate thought, upon shaking the senator’s hand, was that he could be my uncle. Or yours. Had you never seen a photo of him, you wouldn’t guess from his demeanor that he’s one of the most recognizable people on earth. Just a regular guy . . . well, as regular as a major political figure can be, anyway.
As editor in chief of North American Whitetail, I found it a little tricky to come up with relevant questions for the senator. Whitetails aren’t migratory, at least not to nearly the same extent as waterfowl or salmon; thus, even on federal lands their management largely is left to state wildlife agencies. Yes, federal wildlife officials are directly responsible for managing Florida’s endangered Key deer and a similarly endangered herd of Columbian whitetails along the Washington-Oregon border, but in the grand scheme of things, those populations are of very little concern or consequence to the average American deer hunter. Even the Coues deer, the lone whitetail subspecies found in Sen. McCain’s home state of Arizona, is little known to most hunters around the nation.
And on top of all this, the Republican nominee doesn’t hunt. He never has, and there’s no indication he’s about to start, even long enough for a Kerryesque photo op. However, Sen. McCain did name Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate, and she is a hunter.
As we talked with the candidate that morning, he began by going into great depth about his family’s home property in Arizona’s Oak Creek Canyon. It didn’t take long to see that Sen. McCain really enjoys being there and that he’s an avid birder. In fact, he named off a number of species that are either resident to the property or migrate through it. “The older you get, the more you appreciate birds,” he said.
Sen. McCain’s interest in angling seems almost as keen. He told us of days spent in avid pursuit of various fish species in a pond on the property, with one particular catfish being a personal nemesis. On several occasions, the senator claims, the big fish has broken his line on some dock pilings.
From there, we wandered into what amounted to an informal “roundtable” discussion of issues affecting sportsmen. One of the topics I asked the senator about concerned his thoughts on nominees for the federal government’s highest-ranking wildlife officials:
“Would you consider a pro-hunting mindset regarding your nominations for Secretary of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services?” I asked.
“Oh, absolutely, absolutely,” Sen. McCain replied. “And they’d have to be acceptable to the sportsmen/outdoor community. Because that’s their responsibility. That’s like saying that if you have a Secretary of Health and Human Services, he should be acceptable to the medical community.”
I also wanted to know how the senator would, if elected, work to reduce the problem of under funded public lands. As we deer hunters know, there are millions of acres of federal forestlands and other multi-use areas, but unlike us, many citizens who use them pay very little (directly, at least) for the privilege.
“Do you favor more for the non-consumptive users as we’ve described them, the hikers, the birders, or whoever?” I asked.
“I’m fundamentally against raising fees on anybody, particularly the way the economy is,” Sen. McCain responded. “I also think that with the price of gas, lower-income people have less opportunity to travel long distances to travel and enjoy the beauties of our nation. I’d have to think about that (raising fees), because my fundamental belief is that we charge people enough. And that once you start raising prices on anybody it seems to get on a slippery slope: Well, let’s just raise it two more dollars, three more dollars, etc. I guess I’d have to examine ways of gaining revenues. My last resort would be raising fees, particularly in these days when Americans are hurting so much in this economy.”
What about a federal bill to provide more funding for federal lands used by hunters and other recreationalists?
“The first principle we would have to operate on is that the money any revenues would go directly to the purposes stated,” Sen. McCain said. “Too often, as you know, we’ve raised taxes for hunting licenses, for example, and all of a sudden you see the revenue going elsewhere. That’s happened. We’ve raised taxes on tobacco, said they were going to treat tobacco-related illnesses and have anti-tobacco programs, and now it just goes into general revenue. I’m just fundamentally a conservative, and I worry about when we say we’re going to take somebody’s money and that we’re actually going to use it for that purpose.
“I think most hunters and fisherman say, ‘Fine, I don’t mind buying a license.’ But I’m just reluctant to sign on to something that I worry sometimes in a few years the state legislature or the Congress says, ‘Oh, yeah look at this pot of money here and we need to do whatever.” I understand the need to pay for, care for our land, recreate, all the things we need to do, but let’s make sure that those dollars are best and wisely used for the purposes they’re intended before we go out and take the easiest route.
Sen. McCain noted that he’s always admired Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, the first great conservationist to occupy the Oval Office. (He told us he’d recently even read one of Roosevelt’s several books on hunting Western big game.) But the candidate also noted that much of what Roosevelt put into place and supported has become more closely associated with the Democrats.
“I believe that somehow along the way we’ve lost the Teddy Roosevelt commitment to the great outdoors,” he said. “But at the same time I think that, with all due respect, the environment was hijacked by the extreme environmentalists. Teddy Roosevelt would never agree with the Sierra Club on a broad variety of issues; that’s a fact . . . We Republicans are the environmental movement, and we are moving back toward the position we earned over generations.
“I’d be glad to sit down with the hunting and recreational interests in America and say, ‘What are our shortfalls?’ We all know there are shortfalls. And what are the ways in order to make up for those shortfalls and make sure that anything that we do, if we do anything that the money would go for its intended purpose? I’d also like to see more Americans involved in organizations like the Grand Canyon Trust or these various sportsmen/’s organizations and recreational organizations that also play a big role in trying to help out the resources areas,” Sen. McCain said.
An hour spent discussing the outdoors with a Presidential candidate is a fascinating experience, and I feel honored to have been invited to participate in this group interview. I gladly would have attended a similar meeting with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, but no such offer was extended to me. If you want to know more about each candidate’s stated views and voting record on a range of issues relevant to sportsmen, I suggest you do a quick Internet search for such materials.
It certainly isn’t my job to convince anyone else how to vote in Tuesday’s general electi
on. The job of picking the next President is an individual decision that will be made by millions of Americans, each to his or her own convictions about what is best for the nation. I just hope that whoever wins will keep us sportsmen and landowners in mind when making decisions that affect both hunters and the wildlife we manage.
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Down on the Farm
September 23, 2008
Getting rid of undesirable vegetation can be an important aspect of improving whitetail habitat. And, believe it or not, in some cases this “chore” actually can be as fun as it is beneficial. In fact I’ve recently been involved in a couple of projects that proved it.
Back in mid-August, I had a chance to participate in a prescribed burn of some deer land in western Illinois. The site was White Oak Hollow Farm, one of the oldest operations in Pike County. (The Metcalf family has owned and run it since 1835.) George Metcalf, my good friend who organized the burn, is the fifth generation in his family to work this ground.
In the early days of Pike County, there were no soybean or corn fields such as those now seen throughout western Illinois; it all was still grasslands and fingers of hardwoods. Among the trees populating those fingers were the stately white oaks for which this particular farm is named. In between the woods grew a lush carpet of native grasses, wildflowers and scattered shrubs. Blessed with fertile soil and a temperate climate, this part of the frontier was rich with promise, and settlers immediately began cashing in on that bounty.
Inevitably, with the introduction of agriculture came major changes to the prairie ecosystem. Cattle and row cropping gobbled up the grasslands; logging eliminated many of the largest oaks and other valuable trees. And so, even as America’s breadbasket filled with farm products, it emptied of wildlife. First to go were the elk, bears and bison, followed quickly by the wild turkey and white-tailed deer. By the turn of the 20th century, all were either gone forever or fighting for survival in a changing land.
As we all know, through restocking and protection, the deer and turkeys have returned — in such great numbers, in fact, that western Illinois is today considered one of the nation’s top regions for hunting either. A century ago, farm families wondered if they’d ever see a return of native game; today, the descendants of those early families sometimes wonder how to cope with the crop damage being caused by sky-high wildlife populations. Now it’s hard to imagine this land was ever short on game.
But along with the resurgence of deer and turkeys has come an increase in less welcome species. As George notes, back in the 1950s the federal government strongly encouraged the planting of multiflora rose around ponds, ostensibly to form a “living fence” of thorns to keep cattle from eroding the soil. The rose bushes achieved that goal, to a large extent, and didn’t cause many problems — but their descendants were another story. The seeds spread, and now large areas of Illinois and elsewhere in the Midwest are covered with pesky rose thickets.
And another non-native plant brought to the Midwest by well-intentioned federal officials has proved just as troublesome. In fact, sericea lespedeza might well be worse. A rapidly spreading, tough-as-nails perennial, it quickly transformed itself from exotic forage plant to exotic pest. Now large areas of it choke out virtually all native plants, and they spread with each passing year. Where once stood large sweeps of prairie you now find a sea of thigh-high lespedeza.
Several such patches can be found on White Oak Hollow Farm, and one of them was in George Metcalf’s sights when I was there. Before my arrival, he’d already used a rotary cutter to chop down a ring around the lespedeza patch and had used a hay rake to roll up a windrow along its outer edge. He’d then disked up a strip of soil between the windrow and the adjacent prairie. Once the windrow had dried enough to burn well, the stage was set for a prescribed burn to eliminate, or at least beat back, the burgeoning lespedeza.
Because sericea is difficult to control with herbicides, George concluded that burning was the surest route to success. Normally this habitat-improvement method is used in late winter to early spring, but this particular plant is best controlled by fire at the flowering stage. In western Illinois, that occurs in August, which is when I happened to be in the area. George contacted local fire authorities about his plan, completed the necessary paperwork and recruited a couple of experienced local burn experts to assist with the job. My role was to photograph and help on the water sprayer if needed.
I’m glad to report the burn went like clockwork. First, the “firefighters” ignited the windrow on the downwind side of the burn area, removing fuel at an easily controlled pace. Once a narrow strip on that side of the patch had been consumed by fire, the guys used their drip torches to light a head fire on the upwind side of the burn area. Over the next several minutes, that line of flames marched across the lespedeza patch, finally burning itself out when it reached the strip already charred by the back fire. It was a textbook prescribed burn, and it appeared to remove virtually all of the sericea. All that remained was charred goldenrod stalks.
Done properly, as was the case at White Oak Hollow, a prescribed burn can be extremely beneficial to your deer-management efforts. But it’s obviously not something to be done on a whim. If you’re considering a burn on your land, start early with planning and be sure you get the right assistance from people who know what they’re doing. And even then, you’ll still need to wait for perfect environmental conditions. With most vegetation in most places, that will be in late winter.
While prescribed burning is one way to get rid of unwanted vegetation, it’s certainly not the only one. Recently, in Taylor County, Georgia, I observed another effective method in action. The site was a 60-acre tract owned by North American Whitetail ad sales representative Phil Barnet. We’re starting to use this property as a “laboratory” for deer-management techniques, and on this particular visit we got an education in the safe, effective use of some implements commonly used for developing, cultivating and maintaining food plots, as well as other important features of good whitetail hab
We were met at the property by Dan Smith of Mahindra USA (www.mahindrausa.com), which manufactures tractors and a number of implements. Dan was there to instruct us in the safe, effective use of the Mahindra 4530 4WD tractor, as well as one of the company’s smaller disc harrows and rotary cutters.
If you grew up in the country, you know all too well that being careless around farm equipment is risky business. But these days, many people who own recreational land don’t have rural backgrounds. That’s why it’s crucial to know how to use tractors and implements the right way — not just to get the most benefit out of them, but as a safeguard against serious injury or even death.
Dan gave us some great advice on how to use the Mahindra equipment safely and effectively. Then Phil went to work with the rotary cutter, giving a “haircut” to a grassy pasture he wanted to convert to a good-sized food plot. The cutter made short work of that task and even proved fully capable of removing some small loblolly pines along the edges. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in a short time with the right tools — and, judging from the smile on Phil’s face, how much fun you can have doing it.
The landowner and his son, Evan, got their food plot limed and planted this past weekend. That might seem like a really late planting to some of you, but here in Georia we’ve learned not to plant fall plots too early. Late summer and early fall are among our driest times of the year, and false germination — just enough moisture for a crop to sprout, but not enough for it to actually grow — is a common problem. Because the soil here is still plenty warm for good growth on through October and even November in most years, we don’t get in any big hurry to plant.
So if Phil now can just get enough rain on his new plot here in Georgia, and George can have similar luck in Illinois, they’ll be in great shape for the prime part of hunting season. These landowners’ vegetation removal is done for the year; now it’s time to turn that job over to the deer!
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Back to Ohio
August 8, 2008
For as long as there’s been a North American Whitetail, it’s had a special bond with the state of Ohio. For starters, Ohio was home to the “Hole in the Horn” buck, the legendary deer most whitetail hunters consider the greatest wild buck of all time, and the trophy whose existence we announced to a shocked public in the December 1983 issue. Ohio also produced Mike Beatty’s world-record archery non-typical, whose story we broke in our February 2001 issue. And it’s the state in which Stan Potts, my co-host on North American Whitetail Television Presented by Arctic Cat, shot the highest-scoring buck ever taken on our TV show. Thanks to these and the many other giants we’ve covered over the years, the Buckeye State occupies a unique place in the history of NAW, and we look forward to getting back there whenever we can.
Stan and I don’t get a chance to appear at many public events together, so it was nice to hook up with him for last weekend’s 6th annual Deerassic Classic, the annual fundraiser put on by the National Whitetail Deer Education Foundation in Cambridge (www.deerassic.com). With an attendance of 30,000 or so avid deer hunters and their familes, this event is, to my knowledge, the largest outdoor show focused strictly on whitetails. It’s also a lot of fun, because it gives outdoorsmen — not just from Ohio, but from nearby states as well — a chance to gear up for the rapidly approaching season.
Not only did Stan and I get to meet and visit with waves of NAW readers and viewers, we also got to spend time with many of our good friends in the world of hunting television, including Michael Waddell, Nick Mundt, Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo and Lee and Tiffany Lakosky. While you might assume we all get together fairly frequently, in this business everyone’s schedules are so crazy that it’s not often we actually can sit down and visit. So from that standpoint alone, traveling to the Deerassic Classic was time well spent.
Many of us take for granted how easy it now is to travel to such events, even halfway across the country. My wife, Catherine, and I drove up and back from the Atlanta area, and despite a one-way distance of nearly 650 miles, it was an easy trip. The only hard part was dealing with the truck traffic on Interstate 77, which runs virtually the full length of West Virginia. The Mountain State being aptly named, and summertime road construction there being what it is, let’s just say there are flatter, less congested strips of pavement in America. But as the sun began to slip behind the mountains, we at least got treated to the sight of many does and fawns nibbling weeds alongside the highway.
One guy we met at the Ohio show had come all the way from New York to attend, and that was despite a recent health setback most of us would consider simply catastrophic. We first saw Brian Babb at our hotel in Cambridge, as he hobbled on crutches. Brian was sporting a new prosthetic leg and foot below his left knee, the aftermath of a recent accident in which his saw had struck a hidden wire and flipped the blade back into him.
As I visited with Brian, I learned that he’s not letting this tragedy hold him back. Despite obvious issues with pain and mobility, he wanted to attend the classic; in fact, he even still plans to go on a Montana hunt he’d already scheduled for late October. This on top of having gone bowhunting last year in Canada shortly after breaking his right shoulder and having to use a special device to help him shoot his bow. (He got a bear on that hunt.)
So here’s to you, Brian, and all of you other deer hunters who face more than the usual difficulties in getting to the woods and back every autumn. I’d like to think I’d be just as upbeat and tenacious as you are in the same situation, but I can’t be sure I would. All I know for certain is that your struggles remind me not to start whining when I’m a little run down in the middle of a hectic deer season.
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Counting Down the Days
July 18, 2008
One minute it’s spring, and deer season seems an eternity away. Then you blink your eyes . . . and man, can opening day really be bearing down on us already? Even after all these years of pursuing whitetails, I’m still amazed at how quick the transition from “post-season” to “pre-season” seems to be.
Now that we’re into the “pre” part, it’s the usual mad scramble to get everything in order. There are trail cameras to check, stands to hang, cool-season food plots to plant and deer permits to buy. And of course, all of this is happening as we’re catching up on those many assorted household and work duties that must get squared away before we can hit the woods hard this fall. So much for a relaxing summer!
Here at North American Whitetail, we’re now fully into magazine and TV production mode and doing what we can to get our fall preparations done around that schedule. And for us, there isn’t much time left to get things in order; some of our hunts will be here before you know it.
I’m planning to kick things off the last week of August, bowhunting in western Alberta with Todd Bunnage of Rugged Outfitting (www.ruggedoutfitting.com). As my hunt winds down, Stan Potts will be settling into camp at Mike and Esther Watkins’ Trophies Plus Outfitters in northeastern Wyoming (www.trophiesplusoutfitters.com). From there, Stan’s looking to head to some private land in North Dakota, while I hit Kentucky for a private-land bowhunt of my own. NAW editor Duncan Dobie plans to sample some private ground here in Georgia during early bow season before heading out to central Kansas to hunt the early muzzleloader season with our buddy John Butler of Buck Forage Oats (www.buckforage.com). Dr. James Kroll’s first hunt of the year looks to be an October trip back to South Texas, with his friend Chris Boscamp of Encino Outdoor Services (www.huntencino.com). Meanwhile, Don, Kandi and Kaleb Kisky figure to be spending plenty of time in the fields and woods around their home in southern Iowa when the season kicks off there.
Of course, we all have many more hunts to follow those. If all goes as planned, by the time the cool days of late October roll around, we’ll all have some nice bucks down on video and thus be well on our way to another successful season of North American Whitetail Television Presented by Arctic Cat (www.arcticcat.com).
But before any of that happens, there are a few places to go. Later in July, James is scheduled to present a seminar at the annual convention of the Quality Deer Management Association (www.qdma.org) in Chattanooga, Tennessee. If I get time, I plan to drive up there to hear his talk. (I promise not to heckle him.) And then, it’s off to Cambridge, Ohio, where on Aug. 1 and 2 Stan and I are set to attend the annual fundraiser of the National Whitetail Deer Education Foundation (www.deerassic.com). This is one of the biggest outdoors events in the nation, and I’m sure we’ll be treated to plenty of photos and stories of impressive bucks while we’re there. And then, if I can possibly get back to Ohio for it, I’d love to attend the special 50th anniversary banquet of the Buckeye Big Buck Club (www.buckeyebigbuckclub.org), set for Columbus on Aug. 30.
As you can see, summer might seem a slow-paced time of year, but it really isn’t for those of us in the whitetail business. Back to my list of honey-dos!
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Thompson/Center Goes Tactical
by Gordon Whittington
May 21, 2008
As is the case with decision makers in many other industries these days, those who run firearms, optics and ammunition companies find themselves having to adapt to a changing marketplace.
To great extent, it’s because the average age of hunters and shooters continues to increase. And the main reason for that is obvious: Fewer kids are taking up these traditional activities. The good news is that a relatively high percentage of these sportsmen are in a position to invest a fair amount of disposable income into these hobbies. In addition, they’ve been around long enough to realize that quality is worth paying for. So even when times are tough — and thanks in large part to fuel and food prices, right now is one of those times — the trend toward an older and (hopefully) wiser market is that good gear still sells.
I was reminded of that truth, and encouraged by it, while attending InterMedia Outdoors’ spring roundtable in western Illinois earlier this month. Per usual, the event was held at PASA Park, a world-class shooting facility near the small town of Barry. InterMedia Outdoors publishes not just North American Whitetail but also a number of other leading publications for hunters and shooters, including Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Petersen’s Hunting, Petersen’s Bowhunting, Bowhunter and the 30 monthly editions of Game & Fish magazine.
I was just one of a number of IMO editors and writers on hand to check out a wide range of new firearm, optic and ammo products that are new to the market in 2008. The list of companies in attendance reads like a “who’s who” of the firearms, optics and ammo industry. At one time or other during the week we heard presentations by Springfield Armory, Black Hills, Savage Arms, Battenfeld, Zeiss, Surefire, FNH USA, Crimson Trace, Para USA, Knight, Hornady, DPMS, Trijicon, Smith & Wesson, Thompson/Center, Nikon, MagTech, HeviShot, Blackhawk, Taurus, Mossberg, ATK, Browning/Winchester, SigSauer, Meade, Olin/Winchester, Nosler, Laserlyte and Gun Vault. Folks, that’s one solid list of brands.
As you can imagine, not everything these folks told us about and let us test on the range was made for whitetail hunting. A good percentage of it was designed for military, law enforcement, self-defense or other such applications. But even some of the stuff categorized as “tactical” can be quite appropriate for the deer woods.
Take, for instance, a new firearm trotted out by the staff of Thompson/Center Arms. It’s a tactical rifle built on the Icon bolt-action platform that T/C introduced in ’07. Chambered in .308 Win. (7.62 NATO), this bull-barreled beast is built for reaching out and touching a target at sniper ranges, and from my few minutes with it on the bench, it appears quite capable of doing just that. At 14 pounds or so, this obviously isn’t a rifle for the guy who
likes to hunt eight miles from the vehicle, but I can see possibilities for it in whitetail hunting. As most hunters know, the .308 Win. is a stalwart cartridge that has earned its place not just in international shooting matches but also in the deer woods. Granted, with this tactical rig, the “woods” in question probably would be prairies, bean fields, clearcuts or senderos, but regardless, this rifle’s potential usefulness for open-habitat deer-hunting situations is undeniable.
Now, don’t look for me to drag this rifle out on my next hunt for North American Whitetail Television. The prototype I shot isn’t yet in final form, and it will be a while before we see these guns rolling off the production line. The Icon I’ll be shooting this fall is far more likely to be the new long-action model, probably in .270 Win. and protected with T/C’s new Weather Shield coating. But as soon as I can get my hands on that sleek rifle’s bigger, badder brother, don’t be shocked to learn that I’ll be hauling the T/C tactical rifle somewhere in search of a trophy buck.
Yes, there are more great hunting and shooting products available today than ever before. My only regret is that at the roundtable I didn’t get enough time to sample all of the goodies on display. Suffice it to say there will be some cool guns, ammo and optics at your local dealer this summer.
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A Hunter in the Making?
by Gordon Whittington
April 15, 2008
As hard as it might be for us to understand, not everyone appreciates a photo of a hunter posing with his or her trophy buck.
Such an image wouldn’t bother us hardcore hunters in the least — in fact, we’d be eager to check it out. But there’s no way to know the reaction even a tasteful hunting photo will elicit from a non-hunter. Some folks just can’t get their heads around the thought of killing a wild animal, much less killing it and then recording the moment for posterity.
So when the young woman seated next to me on a flight to Atlanta last Sunday inquired about the photo on my laptop screen, several thoughts instantly raced through my mind. The photo was a field shot of me with the buck I got in Kansas last December, and even at a glance, it was obvious the deer wasn’t just taking a siesta. Was the woman a loyal supporter of PETA, or perhaps the equally deluded Humane Society of the United States? As far as I knew at that moment, she could have been either.
What a relief to learn that she was neither. I wasn’t sitting next to some anti-hunter — I’d come face to face with a perfectly sensible 20-something who simply had a natural curiosity about many things foreign to her, deer hunting included.
Granted, after talking with Kris for only a few minutes, I realized she wasn’t totally ignorant of the outdoors; several members of her extended family actually hunt. Lacking a mentor to personally lead her into the field, she’d simply never tried it. But I could tell she could see herself climbing into a deer stand, if only to find out what it’s like.
By the time our plane landed in Atlanta, I’d told Kris a lot about deer hunting in Georgia and elsewhere, and she’d eagerly absorbed every word. Of particular interest to her, it seemed, was my revelation that the Atlanta area has really good bowhunting. When she told me she and her husband live in Carrollton, I suggested she stop in to visit with my friends at Buck Creek Outdoors (www.buckcreekoutdoors.com), a local archery dealer. I told her talk to the guys about getting started in archery, and to be sure to tell them, “Gordon from North American Whitetail sent me.”
We’ll see if that happens — and then, if it does, we’ll see whether or not she’s ever bitten by the archery/hunting bug. I think she might be, and I certainly hope so. We need all the support we can get for deer hunting these days, and there’s nothing more satisfying than introducing someone to a hobby that can give them and their families so much enjoyment for years to come.
Looking back on it, had that photo not been on my computer screen, or had Kris not happened to comment on it, our conversation about deer hunting never would have happened. Think how many non-hunters you’ve bumped into might have been intrigued by your interest in whitetails, had they only known.
Something tells me people like Kris aren’t as rare as we assume. More than half the people in America neither hunt nor have any stated philosophical opposition to recreational hunting. They populate what we figuratively call the “middle ground,” that vast landscape upon which the war for hunting’s future is being waged. So remember: For all you know, the next chance to recruit a new hunter might be only a seat away.
On a related note, from time to time I find myself stumbling onto a new product that solves an old problem. One of those “test drives” occurred over the past month, with a rugged computer case I think many travelers (including deer hunters) will find useful: the Model 7030 laptop case from OtterBox (www.otterbox.com).
The 7030 is made of polypropylene, and it’s tough — so tough, in fact, a person reportedly can stand on it, or drop it from waist height, without damaging the computer inside. But just as impressive is the 7030’s ability to protect a laptop from water. Maybe we can’t live without H20, but a laptop can’t live with it — and in a lot of situations we find ourselves in while traveling for North American Whitetail, the threat of getting a computer doused is all too real. When snapped shut, this case uses an O-ring system to seal itself against water intrusion to a depth of three feet. This is significantly more protection than a soft case ever could hope to provide.
In our scrambling around the continent, we put all sorts of hunting gear through the mill. At least I now can stop worrying about my computer getting there, and back, in one piece. Now, if only there were a foolproof way to keep water out of an expensive HD video camera . . .
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A Buckeye Buck Bonanza
by Gordon Whittington
March 25, 2
Last weekend, I was reminded that not every hotspot for monster bucks is totally off-limits to the average hunter.
I was in Ohio, which remains a trophy paradise despite a high human population, plenty of accessible land and affordable, over-the-counter tags for residents and nonresidents alike. Put it all together, and what you have is a shining example of great deer hunting, even for hunters on a tight budget.
The occasion for my visit was the 2008 Ohio Deer & Turkey Expo, held at the state fairgrounds in Columbus March 14-16. I was there to present seminars on food plots, but I also wanted to check out the many trophy bucks I knew would be brought in by hunters from around the state.
The show didn’t disappoint; there were hundreds of impressive mounts on display, and many of those bucks had been shot within an hour’s drive of the capital city. It just goes to show that humans and big whitetails really can mix, particularly if the season is structured in such a way as to maintain a lot of mature bucks in the population. With a one-buck annual bag limit, no centerfire rifle hunting and only a short shotgun/muzzleloader season after peak rut, Ohio manages to keep growing trophy deer despite a human population density more like that of the East Coast than of the rural Midwest.
I saw ample evidence of Ohio’s might even before I got to the show. That’s because, after landing at the Dayton airport, I headed north to Piqua. That’s the home of my friend Rick Busse, one of the state’s best-known taxidermists. As you might recall, Rick mounted the Mike Beatty buck, the archery world record in the non-typical category, after the deer was shot in nearby Greene County in November 2000.
When I dropped by, I saw that Rick had some big antlers on hand from last fall, including a couple with incredibly long brow tines. Although neither buck would net out high enough to make the Boone and Crockett record book, both were amazing trophies anyone would love to have tagged. It just goes to show that you can’t rely on the record books to tell you the total picture of where big whitetails are being taken.
While I was at Rick’s, I also bumped into his good friend Joel Snow of 5-Star Trophy Outfitters in DeGraff, Ohio. If you’ve watched our TV show these past few years, you’ll recognize Joel as host of some of our most exciting videotaped hunts. In fact, it was while hunting in his camp that co-host Stan Potts bagged our show’s biggest-ever whitetail, a monster non-typical shot during the 2006 muzzleloader season. That great buck graces the cover of our latest DVD set.
Yes, Ohio remains a special place for trophy whitetails, and in celebration of that fact, on Aug. 30 the Buckeye Big Buck Club (www.buckeyebigbuckclub.org) will be holding a special event. It’s the club’s 50th annual meeting, and it will include a banquet and awards ceremony. The event will take place at the Bricker Building at the fairgrounds (same location as the Deer & Turkey Expo).
Club officials note that every hunter who’s ever had at least one buck accepted into the BBBC listings is invited to attend. If even 20 percent of them do, this event will feature literally thousands of bucks on the walls, making it perhaps the single most impressive whitetail display ever put together. So to say we’re excited about the event ourselves would be an understatement. For information on tickets, contact the club at the link above.
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The Winter That Wouldn’t End
by Gordon Whittington
March 19, 2008
You call this global warming?
I spent much of last week in north-central Minnesota, and if that trip was any indication, you can forget about those doomsday forecasts of melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels. I experienced the lower air temperature I’ve felt in more than 20 years: a brisk 23 degrees F below zero. Thank goodness it wasn’t windy.
I knew I was in trouble when the weatherman on TV warned that it was about to get cold “for this time of year.” Well, “this time of year” being late winter, I figured that meant cold in a somewhat absolute sense. Too bad the weather forecasters couldn’t have been as wrong about that prediction as they usually are.
Now, -23 is bad enough under any circumstances. But just to make sure this Southern boy got a good taste of what late winter “up North” is really like, somebody at the car-rental agency in Minneapolis decided it would be a good idea to send me away in a convertible.
No, I’m not kidding.
So, you’re wondering if I actually popped the top on that convertible. Yes, I did — but not for long. I dropped it, drove for literally only a few seconds, and then wasted no time putting it back up again; just enough to be able to claim, truthfully, that I’ve driven a convertible in the middle of a Minnesota winter. So there.
Of course, not many folks fly from Atlanta to Minnesota in winter without a good reason, and I had one. No, make that two. First, I needed to spend several days at InterMedia Outdoors’ television production facility in Baxter, working with video editor Josh Viste to assemble some of the pieces of our next wave of TV shows. Then, it was off to the southern Minnesota city of Owatonna, to present seminars at the 2008 Minnesota Deer & Turkey Expo.
Those seminars were on the topic of food plots, and as usual, the interest level was high. Seems there are plenty of folks wanting to start planting food plots for whitetails, or improve the results of plots they’ve already been planting.
Some mighty big bucks showed up at the show in Owatonna, confirming what I
heard from several of my friends who live in the area: Last November’s gun season was a very good one for trophy whitetails. A good cold snap coincided with the early-November opener, and mature bucks were on the move. Many of them found their way into hunter’s pickup trucks.
Naturally, even in a great season most hunters don’t shoot big bucks, and there has long been a feeling that Minnesota could produce more trophies than it does. How to improve the situation is a matter of debate, but several ideas have been advanced lately. One option is antler restrictions; another is changing the gun season dates to include less of the rut.
Gary Bartsch, president of Bluffland Whitetails Association, told me both possible moves are being studied. Antler restrictions definitely appear to have improved buck quality in some states, including Georgia, Mississippi and Missouri; having the gun hunt outside of peak rut certainly has made a positive difference in a number of locations, including Iowa, Kansas and, to a lesser extent, Wisconsin. While quick to point out that no change is imminent, Gary noted that the goal should be to come up with a more balanced herd, especially in terms of buck to doe ratios and buck age structure. We’ll see where this all goes, but at least the issue is being given a thoughtful look by those interested in Minnesota’s whitetail resource.
Well, so much for the frozen tundra; now I’m heading east, to check out the Ohio Deer & Turkey Expo in Columbus this weekend. (See www.deerinfo.comfor details.) There, I’ll present more food plot seminars and most assuredly see wall after wall of monster bucks. I only hope the huge white pile that hit Columbus last weekend is gone by the time I arrive; this Southern boy is about ready for winter to end.
Leaving Las Vegas
February 22, 2008
The 2008 SHOT Show in Las Vegas now has come and gone, and it provided us at North American Whitetail with an interesting preview of this year’s lineup of products for deer hunters and managers.
In recent years, we’ve seen a trend toward more advanced garments, footwear, firearms, ammunition and optics, as well as scouting cameras, GPS devices and other electronics designed to improve and enhance the hunting experience. And this year’s SHOT Show was no exception. Spread throughout the hunting and shooting industry’s largest trade show were interesting items on every long aisle.
We’ll be covering a lot of the latest products with our magazine’s next issue (July), but we certainly won’t stop there. Throughout the remainder of our 2008 isues you’ll be treated to regular coverage of gear designed to make you a more effective whitetail hunter and manager. As always, we’ll try our best to cover the various categories of hunting gear in a seasonal fashion, so you’ll know a lot about what’s on retailers’ shelves and in online stores before you ever head out to shop.
But as always, NAW’s presence in Las Vegas wasn’t limited to gawking at the goodies. Editor Duncan Dobie also got a chance to visit with Helgie Eymundson, the fortunate Alberta hunter who downed the amazing non-typical buck featured on our February cover. Helgie is sales manager for Wild TV (www.wildtv.ca), on which our own TV show airs in Canada. Duncan even arranged for Helgie to make an appearance at our booth in Las Vegas, where he signed complimentary copies of the February issue for deer hunters passing by.
With Helgie’s monster non-typical having been shot in late November, there was no way to get an official score into the February issue. But the mandatory 60-day drying period for Boone and Crockett ended in late January, and when Helgie got to Las Vegas, he had an official entry score to pass along to Duncan: 276 1/8 inches! That makes the Eymundson buck the potential No. 3 non-typical ever recorded in Canada, and apparently the world’s largest whitetail of 2007. Congratulations to a great guy for a great deer!
South Of The Border Bucks
by Gordon Whittington
January 31, 2008
An overwhelming percentage of North America’s more than 10 million whitetail hunters reside in the U.S., and it’s in their own country that nearly all of them stay when autumn rolls around. For the several thousand U.S. residents who travel internationally for whitetail hunting, somewhere in Canada tends to be the destination of choice.
But there’s another North American nation in which whitetails — big whitetails — can be hunted, and it’s becoming a better option with each passing season. That nation is Mexico, a true whitetail hotspot just waiting to be discovered.
For now, at least, the most promising area is in northeastern Mexico. Situated alongside the Rio Grande, the states of Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas and Coahuila are literally but a stone’s throw from South Texas, which is one of the most renowned trophy whitetail areas in the U.S. The whitetail potential of Mexico has an increasing number of savvy Americans heading south of the border to hunt muy grande bucks. Many of them do so not just for the quality of the hunting, but also for its timing. The whitetail rut there tends to be later than is the case virtually anywhere else in the U.S. and Canada, providing for great late-season hunting in relatively mild weather.
On Jan. 18, Dr. James Kroll (“Dr. Deer”) and I, along with cameraman Mike Clerkin, ventured an hour or so across the river from Laredo, Texas, to sample the hunting. Our goal was to down a couple of mature bucks on camera, wrapping up our TV show’s final episode for 2008.
Thanks to the helpful folks at ANGADI (the wildlife division of Mexico’s largest organization of private agricultural interests), we ended our season with a bang. In fact, it took us only five total days of hunting in Mexico to get two trophy deer on separate ranches, and our hosts were a big reason why.
James has worked with ANGADI a lot in the past few years, helping ranchers and other landowners in northeastern Mexico set up programs for managing their wildlife. Deer management obviously is working, because we saw dozens of bucks, as well as droves of does and hea
lthy fawns. Throw in several songbird and waterbird species rarely (if ever) observed on this side of the border, and it was a wonderful hunt from start to finish.
Thanks go out to Gabriel Serna, our primary contact with ANGADI, who helped us with the logistics on this trip. After landing at the airport in Laredo, we drove across the Rio Grande into Nuevo Laredo. There, with the capable help of ANGADI’s Osca Ayala Mata, we quickly got our customs and immigrations paperwork done, then headed south to begin our hunt. Everything about the process was quick and easy.
In short, it was a great experience, one I believe many more American hunters should try. And it isn’t just the hunting that I’ll remember fondly. The local culture and cuisine also were major factors in our enjoyment of this trip.
And then there were the interesting artifacts of history — and even prehistory — we had the privilege to see. First, we checked out some ancient cave paintings near where James hunted, in the state of Nuevo Leon. Joel Benavidez Jr., son of ranch owner Joel Sr., showed us colorful figures on the rocks, including one that very obviously was of a bison with a spear sticking out of its back. I guess we weren’t the first hunters to visit that cave!
A few days later, Joel Jr. also gave us a personal tour of the 1837 home in which his dad was born, in what is now the “ghost” town of San Rafael la Tortilla, Tamaulipas. The building’s thick rock walls were constructed with small holes through which residents could safely aim their rifles at marauding Comanche Indians. James, Mike and I were thankful for our opportunity to get such a dramatic, up-close view of history in that part of the world.
I ended up shooting my trophy 9-pointer only a few miles from the old town, on a beautiful ranch now being outfitted by Robert Beall and Ted Jaycox of Tall Tine Outfitters. Like James’ mature 8-pointer from Rancho El Estribo (“Stirrup Ranch”), my deer was a great representative of what northeastern Mexico has to offer today’s trophy hunter.
While not every whitetail trip turns out to be both productive and thoroughly enjoyable, this one did. We made a number of new friends, saw memorable sights, ate amazing food and tagged a couple of fine bucks. So if you want to know if I’m looking forward to my next deer hunt in Mexico, the answer is an enthusiastic, “Si!”
Buck Tales and Bowhunting
by Gordon Whittington
January 14, 2008
Every January I attend the annual Archery Trade Association (ATA) show. And every time I do, I’m reminded just how healthy the bowhunting industry really is.
This year’s event was Jan. 10-12, in Indianapolis, and as always, it drew thousands of manufacturers, industry representatives, pro staffers, outdoor writers and dealers. Seeing aisles filled with folks discussing the latest bows, arrows, broadheads, releases, sights, tree stands, boots, camouflage patterns and the like confirms that archery hunting — especially archery hunting for whitetails — is still going strong, with exciting innovations at every turn.
And for those of us here at North American Whitetail, this show offers another benefit: It’s a great place to catch up with old hunting buddies and make new ones.
One new friend NAW editor Duncan Dobie and I made was Panu Hiidenmies, a Finnish hunter who traveled all the way to the ATA Show to gather support for bowhunting in his homeland. Currently it’s illegal to bowhunt most big game in Finland, but Panu and sportsmen like him are working to change that. Here’s hoping they’re successful in the near future, so our counterparts in that part of the world can enjoy the thrill of bowhunting.
By the way, Panu graciously gave Duncan and me each a copy of the spectacular hardcover book, The White-Tailed Deer in Finland. As one who enjoys learning about the origins of various whitetail populations, I’ve found this book to be one of the best of its type. The Finnish herd originated from a handful of whitetails shipped there in 1934 from Minnesota, and today Finns annually harvest more than 20,000 deer from this transplanted population. Authors Juha K. Kairikko and Jaakko Ruola did a marvelous job of telling the detailed story of Europe’s most notable whitetail introduction.
Plenty of great deer stories from this side of the Atlantic also were told — and retold — in the span of those three days in Indianapolis. Not surprisingly, much of the talk was about Helgie Eymundson’s Alberta megabuck, the 38-point monster that graces the cover of our February issue. (For those of you who don’t have subscriptions, newsstand copies are scheduled to go on sale Jan. 22.)
I actually bumped into Helgie in Indianapolis, and as you might have figured, he was still wearing the big smile that was spread across his face in photos of him with his non-typical. As sales manager of Wild TV (www.wildtv.ca), Helgie already knew a ton of folks in the hunting industry, so it’s no surprise he’s been swamped with handshakes and “attaboys” since word of his monster buck began spreading through the whitetail community.
This amazingly palmated rack is set for official measuring later this month, and to this point, there seems
little doubt he’ll be recognized as 2007’s top whitetail. The only real question is whether or not he’ll rank as the highest-scoring deer ever from Canada. Currently, Neil Morin’s 279 6/8-inch Alberta giant is No. 1, so if Helgie’s amazing trophy breaks that monster’s mark, he’ll have Canada’s national record as well.
While I doubt I’ll ever lay eyes on a giant to match Helgie’s, I naturally hold out hope that my next deer hunt will at least produce a mature buck. And that next hunt begins later this week, as Dr. James Kroll (“Dr. Deer”) and I head to Mexico for a late-season run at some big bucks south of the border. We’ll be hunting a couple of quality ranches with some of James’ close friends in Mexico’s cattle industry, and cameraman Mike Clerkin will be recording the action for what we hope is a future episode of North American Whitetail Television Presented by Arctic Cat. See you when we get back!
December 26, 2007 Installment
As I look over the last page on my 2007 North American Whitetail wall calendar, I can’t help but wonder where the time went. While much of this fall has been spent in the field, I always wish there’d been more days to hunt. Maybe it’s because I’m now on the back side of 50 and realize far more of my deer seasons lie behind me than ahead. But whatever the reason, I seem to find myself wanting to go back to late summer again.
Actually, I wouldn’t even mind going back to last week. That’s when NAW Television cameraman Mike Clerkin and I were in southwestern Iowa, hunting with some close friends who farm in that area. (They like their privacy and have asked that I not mention them by name, so I’ll obviously honor that request.)
We had a great muzzleloader hunt; in fact, as I told my buddies upon our departure Dec. 21, it was about as good a hunt as you can have without shooting a deer.
Now, we could have shot one. In fact, we could have shot more than a dozen bucks, had we enough tags and some reason to fill them with deer that were too young, had busted-up racks, or both. But despite all of our success in figuring out the pattern, we never got a good opportunity at an “intact,” mature buck during legal shooting hours.
Oh, we came close. Man, did we ever. In fact, Mike laid down some awesome video footage of one buck after another, and we saw others in light too dim for recording. So yes, it was a great hunt, despite my failure to punch a tag. Whether or not this hunt ends up airing on our TV show next year remains to be determined, but if it does, I can assure you there will be plenty of antler on it!
As anyone in the Midwest knows, last week wasn’t exactly a fun one for travel. But the cold, snowy, icy conditions that made the highways and sidewalks so treacherous also made for some good deer movement. At least, it did around the isolated corn fields we hunted. Whitetails and turkeys alike were flooding into them. It’s just that we never quite caught up with the right deer in the right situation for a clean shot on camera. Well, so goes late-season trophy hunting; sometimes you get ‘em, sometimes you don’t.
The good news is that some of our other NAW team members did score with their muzzleloaders in Iowa. In fact, Kandi Kisky and her son, Kaleb, both shot impressive whitetails with their Thompson/Center .50 calibers. So did Tim Potts, who took a break from videotaping hunts for his dad, Stan, long enough to down a good buck with his own T/C. So it was a successful start to the late blackpowder season, my empty tag notwithstanding.
Whether or not I get back to Iowa before the extended season ends Jan. 13, I’m not sure. Perhaps it will happen. In the meantime, I do know that Don Kisky plans to crawl out from behind the video camera long enough to hunt some, and you have to like his chances of tagging a trophy. I do know I’ll be hunting with a friend in North Texas Jan. 4-6, hoping to down a mature buck on the last weekend of gun season in that part of the Lone Star State. Meanwhile, Stan will be sticking Tim back behind the camera for a rifle hunt in Mississippi in early January, then perhaps for a few days of late-season bowhunting back home in Illinois. Dr. James Kroll (“Dr. Deer”) and I also have a trip to northeastern Mexico planned for late January, wrapping up our video shoots for the season.
So, despite what the calendar says, our “year” is still several weeks away from ending. I just hope that not all of the shooting yet come turns out to be with a camera!
December 16, 2007
Patience, persistence, dedication. Heck, you can even call it stubbornness. Whichever term you use to describe it, refusing to give up is a big part of what trophy whitetail hunting is all about. There’s definitely such a thing as being too bull-headed about a technique or location that simply isn’t working, but just as common is the problem of not sticking with a sound game plan.
Heading into the 2007 Kansas deer season, three members of the North American Whitetail Television team — NAW editor Duncan Dobie, Dr. James Kroll (“Dr. Deer”) and I — all had prime deer permits in our possession. We also had every reason to think that at least a couple of us would be out of tags sometime in September. That’s when the state holds its early muzzleloader season, and all three of us would be hunting great spots. Surely a bruiser or two would hit the ground then.
Well, somebody forgot to tell the big bucks about how the script read, because they sure didn’t follow it.
James and Duncan, along with cameramen Mike Clerkin and Ron Sinfelt, hunted near Hutchinson with John Butler, whose Buck Forage Oats (www.buckforage.com) will be sponsoring James
’ “Dr. Deer” segment on our 2008 shows. James has worked with John for many years to refine the cold-hardy Buck Forage oat variety that is rapidly becoming the cool-season food plot of choice for many whitetail hunters.
The oats were just starting to come up as our guys got to Hutchinson, and plenty of bucks were on the food plots. Some of those bucks were big, too. But with an open-sight muzzleloader, seeing and shooting aren’t exactly synonymous. All of the good bucks seen were simply too far away.
The advantage of a Kansas gun tag is that, if you don’t fill it with your open-sight smokepole in September, you can return for the late November-early December reglar gn season, in the process converting over to a scoped centerfire rifle if you so wish. So that’s what our guys did after Thanksgiving. And things went much better this time around.
With Mike being the camera, James overcame blustery conditions to down an ancient “management” buck on one of the Buck Forage plots. And a few days later, Duncan and Ron struck even shinier gold: a 180-class non-typical that stepped out just before shooting light faded on our team’s last evening of hunting. Ron was able to get the action on video, and Duncan’s .270 Rem. T/C Encore punched the buck’s ticket from 250 yards!
After James shot his buck, Mike and I drove out to western Kansas, where in September I’d hunted with my friend, Todd Bigbee, on some prime land he and a friend own. On our short muzzleloader hunt we’d been plagued by extremely hot temperatures and high winds, neither of which made the mature bucks every active. But we knew there were plenty around, so we assumed it wouldn’t take long to spot one in rifle season.
That proved to be true. In fact, as dawn broke on the first morning of our hunt, we saw a big-bodied deer moving our way across a chunk of CRP grasslands. As we got camera light, we saw that the buck was an old-timer, and that he’d been using his massive rack for a weapon. Indeed, we could tell that several points were either chipped or entirely missing. But none of that was enough to dissuade me from shooting him; after all, a mature buck is a trophy, no matter what’s on his head. One quick shot from my T/C .280 Rem. Pro Hunter and it was over.
The old buck had nine points on his rack, with evidence that at least another four had once been there. Some guys might not have shot him, but with the rut dropping off and this buck being extremely mature, I was happy to get him. He’s a neat buck, one of which I’m mighty proud.
From there, Mike and I began our journey back homeward. But we didn’t get far before the weather turned bad. In fact, as we were stopping in for a quick visit with Jeff Simpson and his crew at Heartland Bowhunter (www.heartlandbowhunter.com) in the Kansas City area, it began to snow . . . hard. Without hours the area had picked up several inches, and there was more of the frozen stuff on the way. After spending about 1 1/2 days in the KC area with Jeff, Mike and I cranked up the Tundra and headed east once more.
Seems we got out just in time. Fortunately, by the time I dropped Mike off at his truck in Louisville, Kentucky, we’d moved out of the snow and ice and into a cold rain, one that continued until I was almost back in Georgia. Finally, at 2:45 a.m. Eastern time, I wheeled the Tundra up the curb in front of my house in Marietta. I’d been behind the wheel for 17 hours and 900 miles since leaving Jeff’s place in western Missouri the morning before.
Well, time to get some shuteye. Maybe I’ll dream of a buck with all of his points still on his rack!
Putting the Miles Behind Us
November 24, 2007
For those of us blessed enough to call deer hunting our occupation, this is perhaps the most frantic time of year. We’re traveling here and there, trying to tap into hot rut action in as many places as we can but also knowing we need to give ourselves enough time to be successful in every location we hunt. It’s perhaps an impossible balance to strike, but we go into every November thinking we can pull it off. Some years it works out that way, some it doesn’t.
As for 2007, well, I’d say the North American Whitetail team’s efforts since my last update (Nov. 12) have been pretty well rewarded. We’ve had a number of fine hunts during the rut, and while we haven’t scored on every outing, we’ve stockpiled a lot of great content for next year’s TV season.
For starters, Dr. James Kroll (“Dr. Deer”) and NAW Television editor/cameraman Josh Viste headed up to northern Saskatchewan, for James’ annual rifle hunt with Double Arrow Outfitters (www.doublearrowhunting.com). Just as was the case last year, James ended up with a couple of monster whitetails, both shot following a nasty blizzard. (I’m not going to say the weather was bitter, but James notes that he was really glad he took along his Heater Body Suit!)
Stan Potts also dropped the hammer on a couple of fine whitetails in November. The first deer was shot at Buckhorn Outfitters in Illinois (www.buckhornoutfitters.com), during muzzleloader season. Stan then traveled out to Wyoming for his annual hunt with Trophies Plus Outfitters (www.trophiesplus.com). Stan didn’t get to go there for his usual September bowhunt, but he made up for lost time, downing a good 4×4 with his Thompson/Center Pro Hunter.
As reported in my last update, after wrapping up our successful Missouri rifle hunt on Nov. 12, cameraman Mike Clerkin and I pointed our 4×4 Tundra to the west again, this time with our eye on the wide-open ranch country near Midland, South Dakota. That’s where we hooked up with Matt Eldridge and Gary Snook of Two Rivers Outfitters (www.tworiversoutfitters.com). This area is mainly known for its mule deer, pheasant, turkey and sharptail grouse hunting, but as you might have assumed, in our case the object was to zero in on a nice open-country whitetail.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long to find one. In fact, the first afternoon, Mike and I caught a solid 10-pointer coming up through a narrow creek bottom in search of a doe, and my T/C Icon dispatched him in a hurry. This was the second deer I’d shot with this new bolt-action rifle, and I’ve found it really enjoy shooting it. (The bucks don’t seem to like it as much, but from my perspective, that’s a good thing.)
Heading west after our fun and productive stay in South Dakota, Mike and I next dropped in for a quick rifle hunt with Seven J Outfitters (www.sevenjoutfitters.com) in Sundance, Wyoming. Unfortunately, with only three total days to hunt (not the usual five), we couldn’t quite catch up with a mature buck. On the plus side, we saw literally scores of deer, including some solid trophies. Suffice it to say that trying to shoot TV-quality video footage in a mountain snowstorm isn’t the easiest thing on earth, but we came close to taking a big deer on several occasions. Our guide, Robby Stephens, certainly did everything he could to make it happen.
Following that quick hunt, on Thanksgiving morning Mike and I pointed the Tundra toward Wichita, Kansas, and hit the cruise control. We stopped only for gas, the occasional meal and one odd point of interest: the town of Lost Springs, Wyoming. I’ve traveled to a lot of places, but this was the first time I’d ever seen a city limits sign showing the population of a town to be . . . one! (This might be the only place in America where the mayor gets elected unanimously.)
The day after Thanksgiving, Mike and I flew back home to Indiana and Georgia, respectively, for a few needed days off. But you can be sure we’ll be back at it again very soon. After all, Kansas rifle season is just around the corner . . . .
Revving Up for the Rut
November 12, 2007
The rut is rocking, and big bucks are falling. At least, that’s the case where I’ve been these past few days.
The location is northern Missouri, which I really believe is one of the best-kept secrets in whitetail hunting. While Iowa to the north, Kansas to the west and Illinois to the east hog the spotlight on monster whitetails, the northern part of the Show Me State quietly keeps producing great bucks of its own.
North American Whitetail Television cameraman Mike Clerkin and I pulled into the area Friday afternoon, just in time to get the gear out of our Toyota Tundra 4×4 and get settled in for the Saturday rifle opener. We’d been invited to hunt a friend’s private acreage, and while we couldn’t stay long — we needed to leave by sometime on Monday at latest — we figured that might give us enough time to lay down some good buck footage, and perhaps even take a trophy on camera.
That hunch proved correct. We saw dozens of deer on Saturday, including a couple of mature bucks that were a bit too far off to shoot. That afternoon, a hunter watching a travel corridor on another of my host’s properties shot a giant of a 10-pointer that might score as high as 170 net inches. The buck he shot, and the ones we videotaped, all were in pursuit of does.
Sunday morning, Mike and I returned to the same tower stand in which we’d sat on Saturday. But by now the weather had warmed considerably; the low was well over 50 degrees. It didn’t seem a good morning for deer movement, and sure enough, we saw far fewer feeding after daybreak. But far in the distance we did see a couple of big bucks with does, and we decided to take a chance on closing the distance for a shot.
We’d cut off 175 yards of the distance when one of the bucks popped out from behind some trees in the drainage east of us. The big 9-pointer was heading back to the thick woods to the south, and he seemed to sense something was wrong. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t act on that instinct quickly enough. I stopped him at roughly 220 yards, in the last opening before he reached the cover. The crosshairs of the Swarovski 3-9×36 scope found his vitals, my new .30 TC Thompson/Center Icon barked, and the deer crumpled on the spot. The 150-grain bullet had blasted through his lungs and caused major damage to the spine. They never run when that happens.
Before hunting Missouri, Mike and I were in Patrick County, Virginia, for a muzzleloader hunt at scenic Primland Resort (www.primland.com). This huge recreational property is well known for its trout fishing (the Dan River runs through the property), preserve wingshooting, scenic mountaintop golf, fine dining and cabins with eye-popping views. Of course, our main interest was in taking a Blue Ridge Mountain whitetail.
Although I didn’t shoot a buck in Virginia, I certainly had my chances. Several good deer came within range of my .50-caliber T/C Pro Hunter, but for one reason or another — all of my own making — none ended up on the game pole. (All I’ll say about that is to admit the rookie mistake of having my scope set at 10X when a nice buck walked past at close range. As most of you know, that little error can make an easy shot frustratingly difficult. . . .)
I was surprised to see the rut really hadn’t revved up too much on the ridges we hunted. I expected to see more chasing on those dates (Nov. 5-8), but all of the deer we saw were out in search of chestnut oak acorns. I’m sure that by now the rut there has kicked into high gear. Primland certainly is a great hunting location, in my opinion one of the overlooked hotspots of the region. So here’s a big thank you to general manager Steve Helms and all of his staff for a wonderful hunt there in the highlands. I’d love to tackle those mountains again — even if I didn’t now know the hideout of an impressive buck that owes me a second chance!
As I put the wraps on this update, Mike and I are about to point the Tundra and trailer toward western South Dakota, for a rifle hunt with Two Rivers Outfitters (www.tworiversoutfitters.com). We hope the rut is rocking there as well. Meanwhile, Dr. James Kroll (“Dr. Deer”) and cameraman Josh Viste are at Double Arrows Outfitters (www.doublearrowhunting.com) in northern Saskatchewan. Stan Potts is bowhunting several spots in his home state of Illinois, and Don and Kandi Kisky are bowhunting around their home in southern Iowa. NAW magazine editor Duncan Dobie is stuck in the office, wrapping up the January issue, but plans to get into the woods again soon.
By the way, last week Kandi arrowed a massive Iowa buck at 15 yards. I’ve not yet seen the video footage, but judging from the great footage Kandi and husband Don have shot for us in the past, I’m sure this one has all the makings of a great hunt for our 2008 TV season.
The way the rut is going, with any luck on good hunting weather, we should have at least one or two more bruisers on the ground between now and my next update. Until then, good luck to all of you rut hunters out there!
Ah, November. To a hardcore whitetail hunter, what more need be said? It’s overwhelmingly the best month of the year, a time when big bucks are prowling for does and many trophy hunters’ dreams are fulfilled.
Now that we’re finally into this most magical of months, all indications are that the 2007 rut will be a good one. Here at North American Whitetail we’ve already received a lot of photos and stories from successful early-season hunters, as evidenced by the September and October bucks making it into our “Deer of the Day” section. In the past couple of weeks things have picked up even more. Perhaps it’s linked to the full moon in late October, which some observers think should trigger an early rut. Whatever the case, with the weather having turned cooler and that full moon having waned to last quarter, it’s time to go to your stand with the expectation, not just the hope, of taking a magnum whitetail.
Admittedly, our team’s own efforts of late have had mixed results. Editor Duncan Dobie and cameraman Brian Rusk had the extreme misfortune of getting into Adams County, Ohio, about the same time as autumn’s first really nasty weather did. Our team struggled through several days of intermittent hard rain and wind, during which the local deer all apparently had the good sense not to move much. Duncan and Brian left without seeing a trophy buck, but it wasn’t for lack of big ones in the area. Adams County is big-time trophy country.
One of the whoppers in that area did make a mistake while our guys were there, and the deer paid a hefty price for his error. On the afternoon of Oct. 24, local bowhunter Junior Nesbitt decided to go out on his first hunt of the season, and along came a 160-class 12-pointer. Junior was more than happy to fill his lone Ohio buck tag right then, and I certainly can’t blame him! (See photo.) That sort of good fortune didn’t rub off on our guys, but at least Duncan and Brian got to congratulate Junior and shoot some video and still photos of his massive buck.
A few days later, Dr. James Kroll (“Dr. Deer”) and cameraman Mike Clerkin found the buck movement to be much more favorable where they were. On the opening morning of an early-season rifle hunt with Chris Boscamp of Encino Outdoor Services (www.huntencino.com), James downed a tremendous 10-pointer. “Chris had these deer patterned beautifully,” James told me, and the results seem to concur with that assessment. The mature buck had a spread of 24 inches!
By the way, James got this Texas trophy with his new Thompson/Center Icon (www.tcarms.com), the company’s first-ever bolt-action rifle. I had hoped I’d be the first NAW team member to get a whitetail with this model, but Dr. Deer beat me to the punch. He and I are both shooting this rifle in .30 TC, a new cartridge.
My Icon and I will get a chance to catch up in mid-November. After what should be an interesting muzzleloader hunt Nov. 5-7 at Primland Resort in southern Virginia (www.primland.com), Mike and I go on centerfire rifle hunts with Don Schwandt’s Nebraska’s D&E Outfitters (www.donsalaskanguideservice.com), then Matt Eldridge’s Two Rivers Outfitters in South Dakota (www.tworiversoutfitters.com) and finally, Jeff Smith’s Seven J Outfitters (www.sevenjoutfitters.com) in Wyoming before taking a holiday break. By the time that Wyoming hunt ends, it will be Thanksgiving, and we’ll be due at least a few days off with our families.
As I type this, Stan and Tim Potts are on another bowhunt with Joel Snow’s 5 Star Trophy Outfitters (www.5startrophyoutfitters.com) in western Ohio. When that hunt ends, it’s back to the Potts’ home state of Illinois, where Stan has hunts with Chad John at Sugar Creek Outfitters (309/257-2590) and then Rob Scott’s Buckhorn Outfitters (www.buckhornoutfitters.com).
Meanwhile, Don and Kandi Kisky are videotaping away on their own farm and surrounding lands in southern Iowa. Son Kaleb arrowed a fine buck in early October, and now it’s Mom and Dad’s turn to get some tagging done. We’ll see how those efforts turn out, but you can rest assured there will be a lot of bone piled up by season’s end; this family’s track record is amazingly consistent.
As for James, he and NAW TV editor/cameraman Josh Viste will be at Fred and Oscar Gopher’s Double Arrow Outfitters (www.doublearrowinghunting.com) for another Saskatchewan rut rifle hunt in mid-November. James also has some offbeat ideas for hunts later this year. Obviously, I don’t know if those ideas will pan out, but when Dr. Deer is on hand, you know whatever happens will at least be interesting. I’ll update you more on his “unique” hunt plans after the chaos of the next few weeks has passed.
Until then, get into the woods as often as possible, and park yourself in the best rut location(s) you can find. Good things come to those who wait . . . especially when the magic of November finally rolls around.
Back during Easter weekend, what had to that point been an early spring suddenly took a nasty turn. A strong cold front bulldozed its way across much of North America, sending temperatures into the mid-20s or even lower in many places east of the Mississippi River. Overnight, spring blooms were transformed into withered clumps of brown. As we deer hunters surveyed the damage, it wasn’t hard for us to imagine that, high overhead, this late freeze was wreaking havoc on 2007’s developing acorn crop.
Soon after the weather improved, I asked several forestry experts their opinions of the impact the hard freeze had had. None offered a definitive view; all opined that it would take a while to see how hard a hit the oaks had taken. But everyone feared the worst.
While there’s no doubt some oaks lost at least part of their flowers as a result of the cold — evidence of that was all too clear here in North Georgia — oaks in many areas have proved amazingly resilient. Not only did they endure that hard, late freeze, in many places they’ve put on acorns despite one of the driest summers and early falls in recent memory. In fact, Ohio officials are proclaiming this to be a bumper acorn crop, even though some oaks in the state oaks have withered from drought. It just goes to show that not all correlations in nature are as clear as we might think.
One concern expressed by hunters is that many acorns now dropping are of poor quality, with little or no sound “meat” inside. I’ve heard that from at least one guy in Georgia and another in Ohio. Of course, there always are some bad acorns, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this year’s crop has a higher percentage than usual. Common sense says the major drought we’ve seen in parts of the East has resulted in difficult growing conditions. Then again, if some oaks are dropping more good acorns than others, it should concentrate the feeding activity of all wildlife, from squirrels and turkeys to whitetails, around those trees with better mast. It also should mean critters will be feeding longer each day, as they’ll have to search through more acorns to find enough good ones. We’ll see.
With cooler temperatures and the first decent rain in several weeks now sweeping across parts of the Southern Plains, Southeast and Ohio Valley, and with a full moon looming on Oct. 26, the stage appears to be set for a strong flurry of whitetail activity heading into Halloween. Big bucks have been shot trailing does in a number of locations thus far, and I’m thinking we’ll see a strong wave of late pre-rut activity between now and month’s end. Everything seems to be happening a bit earlier than usual.
North American Whitetail Television cameraman Mike Clerkin and I currently are in Georgia, for a short hunt with my good friends, Keith and Marilyn Shannon. Keith is a hardcore whitetail hunter and inventor of the well-known line of Bug Tamer apparel (www.bugtamer.com). He says the last week of so of October is always “magical” for big bucks in his area, so we’re heading down there to check it out. After that, I return to the office here in the Atlanta area, while Mike flies over to Texas to meet Dr. James Kroll (“Dr. Deer”) for a hunt with Chris Boscamp of Encino Outdoor Services (www.huntencino.com).
In the midst of all this, NAW magazine editor Duncan Dobie and cameraman Brian Rusk are in Adams County, Ohio, bowhunting with NAW contributor Tom Cross. They’ll be in the same area that produced a couple of outrageously big bucks featured in NAW last year, and we’re all hoping history repeats itself.
Stay tuned for the results of these early-season TV hunts. In the meantime, good luck taking an October trophy of your own . . . and watch for falling acorns!
At schools across the U.S., autumn is a time of homecoming. It’s a tradition built around a home football game for the local high school or college, and it typically involves a halftime ceremony at which the year’s homecoming queen and her court are announced. Folks who went to school there come back for a chance to see old friends and family and keep the school spirit alive.
Well, I just got back from a homecoming of my own . . . but it didn’t involve any football games or chrysanthemum corsages. Rather, this was a reunion of a 51-year-old deer hunter and the land on which his whitetail career began, way back in the early 1960s.
I try to get back to the family ranch in Central Texas’ Blanco County at least a couple of times a year. It’s always special to return to your roots, but this trip was particularly memorable. This time, North American Whitetail Television cameraman Mike Clerkin was joining me for a unique bowhunt on the old home place.
My mother, Gertrude, still lives there on the ranch. So do my brother, Sam, his wife, Susan, and their kids, Rilee and Luke. Unfortunately, my dad, D.J., and his parents, Des and Lela, have all passed on . . . but I can still feel their presence whenever I return home. They all loved the ranch as much as the rest of us do.
I was in an oat field on this ranch, sitting on Grandpa’s knee in a pit blind, when I shot my first whitetail. That watershed event took place in November 1962, when I was just six years old. Since then I’d shot a number of deer while hunting on the property, including some nice bucks; however, as the years went by, I found myself hunting the home ranch less and less. When you work on a major deer magazine and television show, you get a lot of invitations to hunt in far-flung places, and most of them seem more intriguing than hunting familiar ground. I typically gave in to the allure of more exotic locations.
But this fall, things were different. My mother recently had knee-replacement surgery, so my wife, Catherine, and I decided to drive out to Texas for a family visit. Only after deciding to make the trip for that purpose did it occur to me that videotaping a deer hunt on the ranch might be feasible. With bow season just starting, it would be a great opportunity to try to arrow a whitetail.
I hadn’t bowhunted the ranch in a quarter-century, since the days I still was hunting with a 50-pound recurve and broadheads that needed sharpening by hand. Now I was equipped with archery gear that would have been impossible to imagine back then: a Mathews Switchback XT (www.mathewsinc.com), 100-grain Muzzy broa
dheads (www.muzzy.com), Beman Max-4 arrows (www.beman.com) and an Apex sight with fiber-optic pins (www.apex-gear.com). In place of my old World War II camo jacket and blue jeans I had a ScentLok Savannah EX outfit (www.scentlok.com) in Realtree AP pattern (www.realtree.com). Instead of having to rely on a bargain-basement pair of 7×35 binoculars, I’d have the overwhelming advantage of a 20-60X Swarovski spotting scope (www.swarovskioptik.com). And as opposed to simply crawling onto the most comfortable oak branch I could find, I’d be perched in comfort in a Summit Deer Deck (www.summitstands.com). In short, I’d have a way better chance of finding and taking a whitetail than I’d ever enjoyed “back in the day.”
Despite abnormally warm weather (even for Texas), Mike and I saw a lot of deer. And when I arrowed a fine doe on the last morning of our hunt, I was as excited as if I’d taken a mature buck. In fact, it somehow was fitting that my 2007 deer was a doe of about the same size as the one I got in 1962.
On paper, a deer’s body and antler size are the usual determinants of its stature as a “trophy.” But the memories forged on a deer hunt are just as real, and in many ways more important. I can assure you this latest Texas bowhunt was one of my most memorable, even if the deer I shot had no antlers and was of only average body size. I’ll never forget how special it was to fill a doe tag on the same family ranch where I’d first done so nearly a half-century before.
I trust your own 2007 season is also going well, and that you’re enjoying this latest wave of cooler weather that’s swept across North America. It seemed summer would never end, but now we can feel change in the air. With much of the huge corn crop being picked earlier than usual, and with the acorn crop being so spotty following a sharp Easter freeze, feeding activity around food plots could really pick up in the coming days and weeks. And that can only mean better hunting lies ahead.
Please check out our 2007 Rut Reports, which are now up and running. These threads — one for every whitetail state and province — are a great way to keep up with buck activity around North America as the season progresses. We hope you enjoy reading them and that you’ll throw in your own observations as well.
A few days ago, I returned to North American Whitetail’s offices in Marietta, Georgia, following a short muzzleloader hunt in southwestern Kansas. Cameraman Mike Clerkin and I were there for an early-season hunt with my friend Todd Bigbee and several other hunters from Alabama. Todd and his partners own or lease several wonderful whitetail tracts in the farming and ranching country southeast of Dodge City, and I was eager to get my tag onto one of the area’s many big bucks.
Anyone who keeps up with trophy whitetails knows Kansas is renowned for its high-scoring deer, and the particular area we were hunting is among the best for concentrations of mature bucks. So it was with great anticipation that Mike and I arrived on Sept. 14 to scout for the next day’s season opener.
Upon getting to the property adjoining the Arkansas River, we joined Todd in glassing a small milo field and some adjoining CRP acreage for a couple of hours. After determining where the bulk of the deer activity was occurring, we placed a pop-up blind in a strategic spot, then vacated the area.
The blind worked well; in fact, we saw dozens of deer from it each time we sat there, and some literally walked 10 feet downwind of us without detecting our presence. Good thing we were using Hunter’s Specialties earth-scent wafers to cover our odor (www.hunterspec.com). Unfortunately, we never saw any of the better bucks Todd had photographed this summer with his Cuddeback Digital scouting cameras (www.cuddebackdigital.com). We knew the big guys were around, but as is so often the case, they stayed out of sight for the three days we had to hunt.
In short, my game plan turned out to be better on paper than in the field. But that wasn’t true for everyone. While hunting another property Saturday evening, Todd downed a 170-inch 10-pointer near the edge of a newly planted triticale field. And get this: The monster buck was actually smaller than either of Todd’s whitetails from the previous two Kansas muzzleloader seasons!
By the way, if you’re in the market for some serious hunting land, check out the awesome western Kansas tracts Todd and his partners have listed for sale through Tecomate Wildlife Systems (www.tecomate.com). There are tons of big bucks in this area, and as opposed to some of the other well-known trophy states — including Iowa and Illinois — in Kansas a nonresident who owns at least 80 acres is guaranteed a deer tag every year. As more potential land investors start to realize this, I think we’ll see a major surge in real estate activity in Kansas. Remember, you heard it here first . . .
Anyway, back to our story. Although seeing the great 10-pointer in the back of Todd’s pickup truck got everyone’s blood pumping, that proved to be the only whitetail shot by any of the hunters in our group. Fortunately, Mike and I could smile as we headed back to the airport in Wichita. You see, we’re planning to get back to Ford County in late November, when rifle season opens. I’m confident we’ll shoot a good buck then.
No doubt this year’s phenomenally good range conditions are making muzzleloader season a little trickier than usual in southwestern Kansas. The vast stretches of native grasses are taller and thicker than at any other time in recent memory, giving the deer almost unlimited options for bedding and moving undetected. While those huge stands of CRP look like pure grass, in reality they contain a lot of good deer forage, including lush alfalfa. A whitetail could make a living in a sea of cover and, except for getting a drink of water, never need to stick its head out.
What’s tough for hunters is often good for wildlife, and you can be sure the wet pattern has resulted in big, healthy whitetails this season. After several years of extreme drought, the many thunderstorms rolling across the region earlier this year have brought life to the prairie as nothing else could have.
Of course, storms also
can bring death, and this year one of them did so. Mike and I saw graphic reminders of that fact as we drove through the small town of Greensburg — or what’s left of Greensburg, anyway.
At 9:45 p.m. on May 4, this agricultural community between Pratt and Dodge City received a direct hit from an EF-5 tornado packing winds estimated at over 200 miles per hour. The devastation is awesome to behold; the twister, at least a mile wide, destroyed 95 percent of this town. That only 10 of Greensburg’s roughly 1,400 residents died in the storm is a testament to the value of today’s Doppler radar and public-safety warnings that alerted people to the approaching threat. After viewing this scene, you understand why underground storm shelters are common here in “Tornado Alley.”
For video of the destruction this tragic storm caused, check out the coverage on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NE9LJ9rNTU).
I’m happy to report there are many signs of rebuilding all around Greensburg, and the locals say they’re determined to press on. If you’d like to help them in their efforts, donations can be made through Council on Foundations (www.cof.org/Action/content.cfm?ItemNumber=10053&navitemNumb er=1989).
Here’s hoping your own year is going much better, and that you have a safe, successful hunting season ahead.
On The Road Again
September 4, 2007 installment
After nine straight days of travel that involved nearly 2,500 miles behind the wheel, it felt great to finally climb into a deer stand again last week. Even if getting to that stand took yet another 300 miles on the road.
This marathon began at 8 a.m. on the morning of Friday, Aug. 17, when I flew from Atlanta to Minneapolis. Once I arrived there, Jeremy Hinkemeyer, who works at Intermedia Outdoors’ TV production facility in Baxter, Minnesota, gave me a lift back to his office 2 1/2 miles north of the Twin Cities. I ran in for some video editing, then hopped into a 2007 Toyota Tundra 4×4 double-cab pickup (http://toyotatundra.intermediaoutdoors.com I was borrowing for the drive back home. With me were three brand-new Sony HD video cameras for use in shooting North American Whitetail Television hunts this fall.
At around 11 p.m., I finally arrived in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. After too few hours of sleep, it was off to nearby Sparta, where I attended the last day of the annual Mathews “Catch Us If You Can” Invitational. There I visited with NAW TV co-host Stan Potts and his wife, Brenda, and also TV team members Don and Kandi Kisky, along with their son, Kaleb. Tons of other industry folks were there as well, including Ohio bowhunter Mike Beatty, whose world-record archery non-typical was first featured in NAW magazine back in Feb. 2001. Mike’s a great friend, and we had a blast comparing hunting tales (some true, others questionable) throughout that rainy day. The gang at Mathews put on a great event every year, and the ’07 version was no exception.
After handing off video cameras to teams Potts and Kisky, I drove south for four days of discussions with a number of firearms, ammunition and optics manufacturers and their representatives at a special editorial roundtable. The event, held at PASA Park in Barry, Illinois, gave me a great opportunity to check out a number of outstanding new shooting/hunting products that will be of great interest to whitetail hunters. (Aaron Decker, our online editor, has summarized a lot of the news from the roundtable. Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5)
On Thursday, Aug. 23, I hopped back into the truck and pointed it to the northeast. Eight hours later, I was pulling into Oshkosh, Wisconsin, site of the Great Outdoors Festival (www.outdoorsbest.com/dugof). I’d have arrived sooner but for the line of wicked thunderstorms that swept across northern Illinois that evening. (These were the same ones that caused so much damage in the Chicago area.) I somehow made it through without getting hit by hail or a twister, though I’m still not sure how I got so lucky.
After a day of touring the show in rainy Oshkosh, it was off to Georgia. For some reason, I decided to drive through Chicago instead of skirting it to the west, but I now know not to do that again. (On one stretch near the Indiana line, I covered about 3 1/2 miles in two hours before finally exiting and finding another route.) As a result, I didn’t get back to my home in Marietta, Georgia, until around 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 25. That left me about 16 hours to unload, pack my hunting gear, get some sleep and pick up NAW TV cameraman Ron Sinfelt for our 5-hour drive to the Lowcountry of South Carolina Sunday morning.
With our Arctic Cat ATV (www.arcticcat.com/) in tow, Ron and I set out on the year’s first TV hunt. Our destination was the Jasper County hunting camp of my good friend Terry Smiley. He’d been asking me to come down for a hunt for a couple of years, but always something had come up. This time I was determined to get there and, if possible, shoot my first velvet-racked whitetail. The Lowcountry’s liberal gun season opens Aug. 15, providing hunters with a great chance to take a buck that hasn’t yet shed the “fuzz” from his antlers.
Although the weather topped out at around 100 every day of the hunt, and loud thunderstorms soaked us on a couple of our
steamy afternoon sits, we did manage to accomplish our goal. At around 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 29, I downed a symmetrical, 170-pound 8-pointer with my Thompson/Center Pro Hunter (www.tcarms.com). The deer was about 170 yards out from my Summit Deer Deck Lite (www.summitstands.com), feeding with several other bucks in a lush soybean field, when I shot him. Ron’s great footage should make a unique hunt for our 2008 show season.
I can’t say enough about the guys who hosted us. Terry was a blast to hunt with, as were fellow camp members Donald Heminger and Greg Darnell. These dedicated sportsmen all live around Jacksonville, Florida, but they regularly make the 3-hour drive north to the South Carolina Lowcountry to work on their camp, cultivate food plots, scout and hunt. Their many years of management effort on the property are certainly evident, as they’ve all shot multiple trophy bucks there. Thanks again for the hospitality and great food, guys!
Looking back on all that’s transpired since Aug. 17 makes my head spin. For one thing, I think I set a world record for “longest test drive” in that Tundra: just under 3,000 miles through eight states in 13 days. My back is thrilled to report that that the truck passed its test with flying colors; it was a real pleasure to drive, whether hauling camera equipment across Minnesota, pushing through a squall line in Illinois or towing a trailer and Arctic Cat down a country road in South Carolina. So, where to next?
August 8, 2007 installment
As we all know, a whitetail hunter has more than enough to do to get ready for deer season. And, so do a number of people who are preparing to “shoot” deer in a different way.
The guys behind the video cameras for North American Whitetail Television definitely have their own challenges to overcome, and those obstacles loom large at this time of year. In addition to needing to sort out new gear and learn to use it, a cameraman also has to get back into “shooting shape.” I’m not talking just about becoming comfortable lugging around a 20-something-pound camera, gangly tripod and other needed gear, but also polishing up that eye. No matter how good the camera or how special the hunting spot, to get great video you must be able to visualize the scenes of a hunting story and then capture them in a way that flows from beginning to end. It’s a team effort involving both the hunter and the cameraman . . . not to mention the deer themselves.
Same as with a ballplayer or musician, it takes a certain amount of practice to perform well as a member of this team, whether you’re the one in front of the camera or behind it. Even the most experienced videographer will admit it gets easier to capture great footage as the season progresses, just as I know I’ll be a better woodsman by Thanksgiving than I will be on Labor Day. But when you’re producing a TV hunting show, you can’t afford for hunting or camera skills to be lacking in early season; those trips to the field are just as important to capture as the later ones.
Sharpening our skills was the purpose of the in-house “camera school” held this past weekend at InterMedia Outdoors’ TV production facility in Baxter, Minnesota. Video editors Josh Viste and Sean Hagen led the way in discussing shooting technique and in training our guys on the high-definition cameras they’ll be carrying this fall. With our move to HD come a ton of questions about getting the most out of that equipment, but the payoff should be richer, sharper footage for our episodes next year and beyond.
As a hunter, any time you trade in your old bow or gun for a new one, there’s an adjustment period before you feel 100 percent comfortable in the woods. Same goes for a cameraman, I’m sure. While it’s a challenge to learn the nuances of any new camera, I have faith that our guys will be up to speed in no time. Then all we’ll need is a few big bucks that want to become famous!
July 27, 2007
When I’m traveling, I always look for chances to dig a bit deeper into the world of whitetails. This can mean pulling off the interstate to snap a photo of a specific type of deer forage or taking as tasteful a shot of a road kill as possible. (That can bring some curious stares, to say the least.) But more than anything, I keep my eyes open for chances to visit spots that hold important places in whitetail history.
Anyone who’s serious about monster bucks knows that in 1914 (the morning of Nov. 20, 1914, to be exact), in Burnett County, Wisconsin, James Jordan used his .25-20 Winchester to down one of the most famous whitetails of all time. The Jordan buck is the biggest, most symmetrical and most massive 10-pointer ever, and for many years he ranked as the overall world-record typical in the Boone and Crockett record book. Even today he ranks No. 2, trailing only Milo Hanson’s 213 5/8-inch 6×6 shot near Biggar, Saskatchewan, in 1993.
Over the years I’d spent a fair bit of time in Wisconsin, but before last week, none in that particular corner of the state. So when I saw that one route between the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and Park Falls, Wisconsin, passed within a few miles of Burnett County, I decided this would be my best chance yet to mark that off my life list.
I was going to Park Falls to participate in the first-ever “Cuddy Fest,” an event put on by the folks at Non-Typical, Inc. Founded by local whitetail fanatic Mark Cuddeback, the company has grown into the world’s biggest manufacturer of automatic scouting cameras, the majority of which are used mainly (if not exclusively) for photographing whitetails. Cuddy Fest was in many ways a grand company picnic, with plenty of good food, a friendly archery tournament and an informative tour of the manufacturing facility.
For North American Whitetail Television and several other hunting shows sponsored by Cuddeback Digital, it was a great chance to meet everyone behind the brand and to see the cameras being assembled. Likewise, I really enjoyed learning more about the company’s history. Since Mark’s first forays into trying to build scouting cameras for his own use back in the ’80s, Non-Typical Inc. has grown into a signicant local employer. As we drove around the area over the weekend, Mark showed me the house in which he grew up and the small creek he
and his childhood buddies explored whenever they could sneak away.
Once Cuddy Fest was over, I decided to drive through Burnett County on my way back to the airport. When I left Park Falls at a little before 7 a.m., the sky was clear, and a great day for photography seemed to be shaping up. But before I’d driven an hour, the sky had begun to darken. By the time I hit the Burnett County line in mid-morning, it was getting downright gloomy. And as I approached the small, unincorporated town of Danbury, the bottom fell out.
I sat in my rental car for about a half-hour, waiting for the wind-blown rain to let up enough for photos. It just kept pouring. Finally deciding it was now or never, I stepped out of the vehicle just far enough to snap several photos, including a couple of the Yellow River. It was somewhere near this pretty stream that Jordan shot his monster buck back in 1914, and it was from the icy river itself that he pulled the dead deer to shore. I’m not sure just where it happened along this small waterway, but it probably wasn’t far from where I stood. Even in a July thunderstorm, I could practically feel the history. I’m really glad I stopped in.
Upon returning to NAW’s office here in Georgia a couple of days ago, I resumed editing a special issue that will bring the Jordan story and a number of other classics to life. This publication will be called Great Deer Tales, and it will be available on newsstands nationwide in late September. In this collector’s issue, we’ll be highlighting our choices for some of the very best deer stories that have appeared in NAW over its first 25 years. If you’re a hardcore trophy whitetailer, it’s one publication you’ll definitely want to read . . . and keep.
July 14, 2007
Funny how quickly a hunter’s thoughts can change from, “Next deer season will never get here,” to, “Uh-oh, I’m behind on setting up my bow, hanging my tree stands and getting my food plots ready to plant.”
All across North America, I’m sure that realization is setting in with hundreds of thousands of whitetail hunters. There’s something about the calendar flipping from June to July that makes autumn seem much more imminent. And with quite a few deer seasons now opening literally before summer officially ends, the urgency to wrap up preparations is suddenly obvious.
If it’s any comfort, I can assure you those of us at North American Whitetail are scurrying every bit as much as you are. As we put together some of the biggest magazines issues we’ve ever produced and wrap up NAW Television editing for this year, our first hunts of the year are rapidly approaching.
The start is set for the last week of August, when I plan to head to western Alberta for a whitetail bowhunt with Todd Bunnage of Rugged Outfitting (www.ruggedoutfitting.com). And you can be sure there are many more early-season hunts to come, including Stan Potts’ annual early-September bowhunt with Mike and Esther Watkins of Trophies Plus Outfitters (www.trophiesplusoutfitters.com) in northeastern Wyoming. Immediately after that, Stan will be heading to northern Alberta, where he’ll hook up with Don and Kandi Kisky on a bowhunt. NAW editor Duncan Dobie, Dr. James Kroll (“Dr. Deer”) and I are also in the final planning stages of September muzzleloader hunts in Kansas. By the traditional October start of whitetail season in most places, we hope to have a lot of nice bucks already on videotape (and, if all goes according to plan, several in the taxidermy shop).
In the meantime, there’s plenty of work left to do. And, if you’re an NAW subscriber or newsstand customer, plenty of reading. Our just-published August issue is one of our fattest magazines ever, and it’s now on its way from the printer to you. But as big as that issue is, it pales in comparison to the September issue we’re now preparing to print. That one will be our biggest issue yet. And the October issue, now in final stages of editing, figures to be roughly that size as well.
Well, enough talk about those magazines — time to get back to the job of making them happen. You’re not the only one who has to get his work done before he can go deer hunting!
June 15, 2007
The calendar says the official start of summer is yet to come. But for me, its surest sign has already appeared: the July issue of North American Whitetail magazine. Our first issue of the new publishing year is now making its way to subscribers and newsstands around the continent.
Following a hectic fall deer season and a winter of catching up from it, I always trick myself into thinking spring will be a relatively relaxed time here at NAW. But after 23 years, I guess I should know better. In reality, each spring seems more hectic than the last, and I believe everyone else on staff would agree.
This year, part of the reason for the mad scramble is that we’re putting together some of our biggest-ever issues. In fact, as I write this, editor Duncan Dobie and our production staff here in Marietta, Georgia, are working on a huge August magazine, as well as a September issue that will be the thickest we’ve ever published!
In addition, we’re working hard on a couple of special newsstand-only publications that will be coming out this fall. I’ll have more details on those in the near future, but for now, let’s just say they’re going to be full of incredible trophy bucks — with some incredible stories to match.
Meanwhile, over on the TV side, editor Josh Viste and the rest of our production folks at the InterMedia Outdoors facility in Baxter, Minnesota, are also hard at work. In fact, Josh just wrapped up the final version of 2007’s first episode of NAW Television, set to debut on The Outdoor Channel at 5:30 p.m. (Eastern) on July 5. Thanks in large part to the efforts of resident graphics guru Brian Dow, the opening segment of this year’s show is one of the best we’ve ever had.
On another topic entirely, if you’re in the central Wisconsin area and have been wanting to get one or more of your trophy whitetails scored for the record book, a good opportunity will be coming your way in late August. I just got word that official measurers for the Boone and Crockett Club and the Pope & Young Club will be on hand at this year’s D
ucks Unlimited Great Outdoors Festival, set for Aug. 24-26 in Oshkosh. The measurers will score deer and any other North American big-game trophies free of charge, courtesy of Cabela’s and Smith & Wesson.
I’ve been to this great weekend event, and it’s a lot of fun for everyone who enjoys the outdoors. So get ready to take that rack off the wall, load up the family and make tracks to Oshkosh. For more details, visit the event’s Web site, www.dugof.com.
May 23, 2007
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to get your hands on some of the world’s biggest whitetail racks?
I can tell you it’s some serious fun. You see, through my involvement with North American Whitetail for nearly a quarter-century now, I’ve had that opportunity on a number of memorable occasions. The most recent was this past week, in Springfield, Missouri. There, NAW Television editor Josh Viste and I spent two days videotaping “Big Buck Profiles” at the Wonders of Wildlife American National Fish & Wildlife Museum (www.wondersofwildlife.org), which is home to many of the greatest bucks ever seen.
Bass Pro Shops, whose headquarters is adjacent to the museum, actually owns these racks. However, they’re on loan to the museum, which is administered by non-profit Wonders of Wildlife. The Archery Hall of Fame and Fred Bear Museum are also part of this huge, historic display.
Some of the outstanding bucks in the museum were once in private collections; others came directly from hunters who wanted their trophies to be seen by far more admirers than could have been the case otherwise. Regardless of how they got to the display area in Springfield, they represent the finest collection of whitetail antlers ever assembled, and they’re well worth going out of your way to see.
How many super whitetails are there? While only a fraction of the total inventory is only display at once, there still are dozens of mega-giants to gawk at. Some, such as the James Jordan typical from Wisconsin (206 1/8 Boone and Crockett) and the spellbinding “Hole in the Horn” non-typical from Ohio (328 2/8 B&C) rank among the most legendary of their kind. Indeed, the late Larry Huffman’s Legendary Whitetails collection forms the backbone of this incredible array. It’s literally a “who’s who” of monster bucks.
We’ve profiled a number of the museum’s show-stopping bucks on our TV show these past three years. So when our inventory of profiles started to run low this spring, I knew just what to do. Fortunately, when I asked Wonders of Wildlife executive director Tony Schoonen about coming back for another round of profiles, he immediately said yes.
For me, walking through this museum again was almost like a class reunion; everywhere I looked were great deer I practically consider old friends. It’s always good to see the original “Hole in the Horn,” though I walk past a replica of the same rack in our office each day. When we taped a profile of the 304 3/8-inch Jerry Bryant buck from Illinois, I reflected back on the weekend I spent with Jerry and his taxidermist, Ron Meinders, displaying the great animal at the 2003 Illinois Deer & Turkey Classic. In profiling the 269 7/8-inch Randy Simonitch non-typical from Missouri, I recalled visiting with the bowhunter and having him show me where he stalked the buck in a bean field. Other wonderful trophies brought similar memories streaming back to the front of my mind. So many of these world-class whitetails have graced the pages of our magazine over the years that I almost feel a part of me is locked in their antlers.
As you might guess, setting up a video shoot of more than two dozen monster bucks takes time, effort and space to work. It also takes help — and the folks at the museum went out of their way to provide it. Huge thanks go to museum staffers Terry Snowden and John Hernandez, who went above and beyond the call of duty to lend a hand. We couldn’t have begun to do it without them.
I can’t yet tell you which of these deer will be on which episode of NAW Television this year, but I can guarantee you they’re all amazingly big. So keep an eye out for our show, which premieres on June 28.
May 3, 2007
You might assume this is a slack time of year for us at North American Whitetail. Last deer season is long gone, and next season is still months into the future. But in between there’s this mad dash to get everything done for the summer unveilings of our magazine and TV program.
Last week I was in Minnesota, at the production facility for NAW Television, lending a hand on the studio segments of our upcoming episodes for The Outdoor Channel. Co-hosts Stan Potts and Greg Miller handled the on-set duties with their usual flair, and thanks to the folks behind the scenes — among them Josh Viste, Darin Narlock, Ross Farro, Jeremy Hinkemeyer, Michelle Hengel and Stacey Lantz — the shoot came off without a hitch. The 2006-7 hunting season was our best since we started our show, and we’re confident that excitement will come through on the hunts we’ll air this year.
After wrapping up our studio shoot, editorial director Ken Dunwoody, NAW editor Duncan Dobie and I headed to Illinois, to attend the semi-annual InterMedia Outdoors editorial roundtable. There, we joined other editors and writers for magazines in our group for hands-on demonstrations of some of the
latest firearms, optics and hunting accessories. Among these were a number of products that will reach your local sporting-goods retailer well before next deer season kicks off.
Ken and I had to get back to the office before the roundtable ended. However, just in the 1 1/2 days we were there, we got a chance to talk with a number of manufacturers and their representatives about what’s new in the market. I got to shoot Thompson/Center’s Icon bolt-action rifle and examine various new gunsights from TruGlo, as well as the 2007 scope line from Nikon. I also looked over Blackhawk’s full-featured backpacks and checked out the ballistics of new ammo from Hornady and ATK. As if that weren’t enough, there was even an opportunity to get the specs on some high-powered new flashlights from Surefire. Once again I was reminded of a universal truth in the hunting industry: About the time you think all of the cool ideas have been developed, you realize innovation is still alive and well.
As I write this, NAW editor Duncan Dobie is still at the roundtable, gathering info on a lot of neat products we’ll be covering in our magazine and on this Web site in the weeks to come. That coverage kicks off with the July issue, which soon will be coming off the press. Look for it on newsstands in late June.
April 7, 2007
Did a rifle hunter in Wisconsin break the world record for typical whitetails last season?
No. But with only a smidgen more luck, he would have.
It’s crazy to call someone who shoots a massive, 180 2/8-inch 12-pointer “unlucky.” Nonetheless, had the buck John King taken in southwestern Wisconsin’s Grant County last November grown one tine just a tad differently, we’d be talking about history in the making. This deer is far, far bigger than the above score would suggest — and 180 2/8 is a mighty impressive number in itself.
I’d heard rumor of a monster typical in the state, and at last weekend’s Wisconsin Deer & Turkey Expo in Madison (www.deerinfo.com), I finally got to lay eyes on the beast. Actually, it was nothing more than the unmounted rack, on a skull plate. Oh, with a couple of radiator hose clamps thrown in for good measure. You see, they’re all that’s connecting the left side of the huge rack to the rest of it.
If this is starting to sound like a different kind of deer story, well, that’s what it is. John’s monster buck is one of the most impressive “what if” bucks I’ve seen in over 20 years of chasing down world-class trophies. And when we get the story into North American Whitetail magazine later this year, I’m confident you’ll agree with that claim.
For now, suffice it to say the King buck isn’t in line to bring the world record back to the state that produced James Jordan’s former title holder way back in 1914. The legendary Jordan buck, with his net score of 206 1/8 Boone and Crockett points, now ranks second behind Milo Hanson’s 213 5/8-incher, which was shot in Saskatchewan in 1993. But the King buck has about as much antler on his head as either of those renowned trophies.
The problem with the King rack is that what looks to be the G-3 tine (the second tine above the brow tine) on the right antler doesn’t quite meet the Boone and Crockett Club’s definition of a “typical” tine for a whitetail rack. Thus, the King buck is, in the eyes of B&C, an asymmetrical 5×6 typical with a lengthy abnormal point, rather than a well-matched 6×6 typical.
Had the right “G-3″ tine on the right side been ruled typical, what net entry score might we have been looking at? Try 214 2/8 — over 1/2 inch above the panel score of Milo Hanson’s world record!
The world of giant whitetails is filled with “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” and I’m definitely not saying the King buck “shoulda” been a world record. But it only takes a bit of looking at the rack to see this deer had enough antler to make it happen. Oh, the vagaries of the scoring system.
Again, we’ll have more coming up on the King buck later this year, including the mystery that’s probably eating at you right now: What’s up with those hose clamps? The answer will come soon enough.
Meanwhile, there were plenty other big deer in Madison, including a new state record in the typical archery category and one of the biggest clean 6-pointers (3x3s) you’ll ever see. Obviously, we’ll be bringing you more on some of these trophies in upcoming issues of our magazine.
The 2007 Wisconsin Deer & Turkey Expo was a great show overall, with a huge crowd of whitetail fanatics there each day to look at new products, sit in on seminars and admire the hundreds of trophies on display. There’s a reason why heading to Madison the first weekend in April has become a tradition for thousands of deer enthusiasts.
March 28, 2007 Update
Anyone who thinks 2006 was a down year for trophy bucks won’t find too much evidence of it in Ohio.
While walking around the Ohio Deer & Turkey Expo in Columbus last week, I saw plenty of monster bucks on display. Most noteworthy was the so-called “Amish” buck, shot by Adams County farmer John Schmucker with a crossbow last archery season. At an entry score of 291 2/8 Boone and Crockett points, this is the all-time No. 3 non-typical in Ohio history, and he figures to be recognized as the world’s all-time No. 2 whitetail by crossbow. If you thought this bruiser looked big on the January 2007 issue of North American Whitetail, you should see him “in person.”
Not surprisingly, John’s tremendous deer drew swarms of gawkers at the expo. But he so did a number of other giants. One of these was a massive non-typical on display in the
booth of taxidermist Travis Millard. This southwestern Ohio buck had been found dead on a tree farm in 2006. Travis is working with NAW editor Duncan Dobie to put together a feature on this deer for our magazine.
Another extremely impressive non-typical was brought in by 14-year-old Breanna Altomore. This palmated giant – the second buck the young hunter has ever taken! – came from northern Ohio’s Lorain County. Although the buck nets out at just over 200 inches, he’s far more impressive than that, with exceptional mass throughout his rack.
Ohio just keeps cranking out the giants, and 2006 was clearly no exception. Funny how so many hunters from the Northeast drive right on through the Buckeye State each fall, heading for the “best” places farther west in the heartland. They’re driving past bucks as big as those they’re dreaming of finding in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and other Midwestern hotspots.
This coming weekend I’ll be presenting food plot seminars at the Wisconsin Deer & Turkey Expo in Madison (www.deerinfo.com). If you’re there, look me up, and we’ll share a deer tale or two.
Previous installment found on Page 2
March 14 Update
A hunting show is a great way to kill a day or two over the weekend, and sometimes it provides you with a lot of useful information and contacts.
I just returned from the 2007 Minnesota Deer & Turkey Expo in Owatonna, where I learned a lot about what’s going on with whitetails in the state. What made this show especially worthwhile to me is the fact I knew a lot of people there, including several members of the Bluffland Whitetails Association (www.blufflandwhitetails.org).
When I wasn’t conducting food plot seminars at this show, I hung around the BWA booth, sharing deer stories and getting caught up on what’s happening with the Minnesota herd. The leaders of this grassroots organization are dedicated proponents of good deer management, and they’ve done a lot in their group’s short history to bring about positive change.
One proposal BWA is backing is the elimination of “cross-tagging” bucks. For years Minnesota has had a one-buck annual limit, which in such states as Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana has helped to balance the buck:doe ratio and improve buck age structure. However, in Minnesota there’s a catch: “Party hunting” has always been legal, meaning an individual hunter could keep shooting bucks as long as he could find a buddy with an unused tag to put on the deer. BWA is asking the state to disallow this practice, in hopes of reducing the number of bucks in the harvest and improving both the overall age structure and sex ratio. We’ll see what happens, but if this idea becomes law, I think the herd – and trophy hunters – will benefit.
Also gaining support from BWA is a move to have part of every Minnesota deer hunter’s license fee help fund the state’s venison-donation program. Many hunters are reluctant to shoot surplus does because they don’t have a need for that much venison. At the same time, they’re reluctant to donate the extra deer through a processing facility, due to cost. If the state were to help fund processing fees for donated deer, in theory more hunters might not only shoot surplus does but also give them to the needy.
It remains to be seen if Minnesota’s legislators will vote to implement this plan, but I hope they do. Several other states around the U.S. have done so, and it has helped to make venison donation an easy, virtually free decision for hunters. In fact, I hope someday such funding programs are in place everywhere whitetails are hunted.
This weekend I’m off to Ohio, where I’ll be a speaker at the Deer & Turkey Expo in Columbus (www.deerinfo.com for details.) If you’re going to be there, look me up, and we’ll share a hunting story or two.
(February 26, 2007 update)
Assumptions are dangerous animals. I saw that at last weekend’s Illinois Deer & Turkey Classic in Bloomington.
The Prairie State has been cranking out so many monster bucks every year that I take such production for granted. And I’m talking about scores of giants. In fact, according to state measurer (and North American Whitetail contributor) Ron Willmore, the 2005 and 2006 shows combined saw an incredible 101 Boone and Crockett-sized bucks brought in, for an average of just over 50 per year. So when I got to this year’s event, even with lousy weather I expected at least 40 monsters to be there.
As it turned out, we got far fewer than we’d hoped for, with 30 B&C trophies on display.
Yes, the weather was cold, windy and rainy, with ice on major highways north of Bloomington shutting down some routes. Still, the measurers and I were surprised at how “few” record-book deer showed up. I put “few” in quotation marks because 30 B&C deer is still far more than most other states produce in a year. However, it’s only a shadow of the number we’ve typically seen at the classic. In fact, it might have been the weakest showing ever at this event.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Some truly exceptional deer showed up, including two typicals with net scores of just under 200 inches. That’s world-class stuff, and you’ll be reading about these giants in future issues of North American Whitetail. But the biggest non-typical registered was under 230 net, far lower than the score of the usual winning entry. And again, the total number of trophies was down significantly from what we’re accustomed to seeing.
There’s obviously a lot of bias in any sample such as last weekend provided. So — for now, at leas
t — I’m unwilling to assume that Illinois produced way fewer B&C deer in 2006 than had been the case in other recent season. Eventually, we’ll know if this latest display was an anomaly or a sign of things to come. Let’s hope it’s the former, not the latter.
(Previous entry found on page 2 below)
February 14, 2007 Installment
Living as I do in the Atlanta area, it’s easy to forget how tough winter weather “up north” can be. But I was reminded of that last weekend, when I traveled to Lansing, Michigan, to present seminars at the 2007 Michigan Deer & Turkey Spectacular.
Although the weather in Michigan isn’t as nasty today as it was a week or two ago, the cold, snow, ice and wind are enough to make me glad I’m not a whitetail having to face those conditions 24 hours a day. It’s amazing that these animals, as well as other wildlife, seem to view a typical winter as little more than an inconvenience. No wonder they’ve thrived across much of the continent for millions of years.
Fortunately, it was quite comfortable inside the Lansing Center, where the show was held last weekend. I met dozens of folks who read North American Whitetail magazine and watch our TV show, and I saw row after row of fine trophy bucks from around Michigan. For a season many Great Lakes hunters would call especially challenging, I’d say Michigan whitetailers did pretty well.
And, as if I needed any reminding, this show reinforced the notion that private-land deer management is a hot topic. Tony LaPratt, Michael Faw and I presented three “tag team” seminars on habitat management, and the size of the audiences showed just how great the interest in developing deer land really is. All three of us now look forward to Feb. 23-25, when we’ll present management information to seminar audiences at the Illinois Deer & Turkey Classic in Bloomington (www.deerinfo.com).
In the meantime, I’m off to Texas for a week, to accompany some business associates on an exotics hunt at Bill Grace’s beautiful Mustang Creek Ranch (www.mustangcreek.com), then visit my family’s own Texas ranch before returning to Georgia.
And, the other members of the NAW team are mighty busy as well. Whether attending events, researching articles for future issues or scouting locations for filming future episodes of NAW Television, we have plenty of off-season “hunting” going on. We hope you do, too.
Click below for previous installments
February 1 Update
It’s always nice to squeeze one more hunt into your deer season, even if that hunt is just a quickie. So I was thrilled when an invitation to hunt the late rut in Alabama came my way from John Crook. Deer season in the Cotton State runs through January, and John was offering me a chance to sample the hunting at his Muleshoe Bend Outfitters (www.muleshoebend.com) property. On Monday morning, Jan. 29, cameraman Ron Sinfelt and I loaded up our gear and headed our Ford Expedition EL southwest from Atlanta for the 3-hour drive.
John’s hilly property along the Tallapoosa River is studded with big hardwoods, pines and lush food plots, making it some of the prettiest deer country I’ve seen. And when Ron and I wheeled up to John’s picturesque log lodge and walked inside, we were even happier we’d made the trip. John, a retired surgeon and a true Southern gentleman, had a table full of down-home food just waiting for us.
We hunted Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, and while we didn’t see a mature buck on those two sits, we observed enough to make us want to visit Muleshoe Bend again. John is a strong proponent of sound deer management, and with the help of guide John Welsh, he’s turned this into a whitetail haven. Deer at Muleshoe Bend tend to be well above the state averages in terms of body weight and antler size.
Too bad we had to leave in such a hurry, so I could tend to some unanticipated issues back home. There were fresh rubs and plenty of scrapes scattered through the area, testament to the late rut that makes Alabama such a popular hunting destination in January.
Although we didn’t fill a tag on this hunt, it was a great trip. Not just to meet the Muleshoe Bend staff and pig out on cornbread, but also to spend time visiting with the other lodge guests. Among them was Bob Woods of Alabama Power Company. He and Donny Jones of the Tuscaloosa Chamber of Commerce are among the guiding forces behind the recent formation of the Alabama Hunting and Fishing Trail (www.westalabamahuntingtrail.com). An assemblage of top outfitting services scattered across the state, the “trail” includes Muleshoe Bend and a number of other quality whitetail operations. I definitely plan on returning to Alabama to video a whitetail hunt next season.
Now that the off-season is fully upon us, many avid deer hunters’ thoughts have turned to scouting and shed hunting. If you’re serious about improving your scouting skills, want to find some antlers and are eager to cure your cabin fever, our 2007 North American Whitetail Scouting School might be just the ticket. Be sure to check out the information about it here on our Web site.
The event will be held March 23-26 at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center in southeastern Minnesota. Stan Potts, Greg Miller and I will be there, and we hope you are as well. Nancy Wells in our office can book you for the event; call her at 678/589-2010 to get signed up.
Every year, those of us at North American Whitetail attend a number of events. While we enjoy them all, we always look forward to a couple in particular. One is the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade) Show; the other is the ATA (Archery Trade Association) Show. Coming as they do in mid-winter, these events give us a chance, right after hunting season, to visit with
advertisers, television sponsors, writers, photographers, outfitters and other good friends in the deer business.
The 2007 SHOT and ATA shows were held in mid-January, in Orlando and Atlanta, respectively. SHOT was Jan. 11-14; ATA was Jan. 18-20. While it was tiring to have two huge shows back to back, at least they were in the same region of the country. (Next year, SHOT returns to Las Vegas, and ATA returns to Indianapolis.)
Everyone involved with NAW got a lot accomplished at the two shows just held. With video highlights from our 2006 deer season playing on a monitor in our booth, at each event we greeted dozens of old friends from throughout the industry and checked out the many new products on display.
Literally tons of cool items make their way onto the deer market every year, and 2007 will be no exception. NAW editor Duncan Dobie was extremely busy at both shows, attending press conferences and examining new gear that will be on store shelves and in mail-order catalogs this year. Starting with our next issue of the magazine (July), we’ll be publishing special features on the best of these products.
Like the proverbial kid in the candy store, any whitetail hunter would develop a severe case of “wantitis” at the trade shows we just attended. I know, because every winter I find myself coming away from those events with a lengthy list of items I know I’ll be carrying when deer season opens. For instance, as I look forward to filming NAW Television next fall, I have my eye on Thompson/Center’s new Icon bolt-action rifle (www.tcarms.com), which I plan to pair up with Swarovski’s groundbreaking Z6 riflescope (www.swarovskioptik.com). And then, there are the new bow sights from TruGlo (www.truglo.com), including the Apex line. These are but a few of the great new products I’ve seen within the past two weeks, and I can’t wait to try them in the field.
The vehicle I’ve been driving around for the past month would be just the ticket for carrying these goodies. It’s the 2007 Ford Expedition EL (www.fordexpedition.primediaoutdoors.com). The standard Expedition is already a big rig, but the EL version has an additional 24 cubic feet of cargo capacity. I drove the Expedition to Orlando, then parked right outside the main entrance to the SHOT Show so everyone there could check out the rig.
I’m really looking forward to getting the vehicle into the field next week, when I’ll hunt Alabama with NAW photo editor and cameraman Ron Sinfelt. (Alabama’s gun season runs through Jan. 31.) I’ll let you know how that trip turns out.
In the meantime, everyone on our team is finalizing their schedules for the rest of the winter and spring. There are a number of great deer events between now and early April, and as usual, we’ll be attending as many as possible. In my next blog update, I’ll tell you which specific events we’re scheduled to attend. All of us on the team enjoy meeting our readers and viewers, so we hope you can fit one or more of these shows into your own off-season schedule.
My first blog update of the new year brings exciting news. Stan Potts just shot the biggest buck taken in front of the North American Whitetail Television cameras all season!
Our co-host pulled this “rabbit” out of his hat on Dec. 27, opening day of Ohio’s late muzzleloader season. Hunting in western Ohio with Joel Snow of 5 Star Trophy Outfitters (www.5startrophyoutfitters.com), Stan used his .50-caliber Thompson/Center Pro Hunter to smoke the monster non-typical he’d seen on a late-October bowhunt there. Tim Potts, Stan’s son and cameraman, got great video of the bruiser on the early hunt, and he captured all of the action on Dec. 27 as well. Congratulations to “Team Potts” for yet another great whitetail!
With hunting season now winding down, the trade show season is winding up. This week everyone at NAW is off to the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade) Show in Orlando, Florida. We’ll be visiting with all of our sponsors, as well as our other friends in the hunting industry. Then it’s back to Atlanta on Jan. 18-20 for the 2007 ATA (Archery Trade Association) show, where we’ll do even more networking.
Are we done with our hunts? Maybe . . . maybe not. If the weather is right for deer activity in late January, I’ll try to slip over to Alabama or Mississippi for a run at another trophy to close out the season. Dr. James Kroll (“Dr. Deer”) might even get in another hunt in Texas or Mexico. But even if we don’t go on any more hunts, we’ll be in great shape. It’s been a productive year for us here at NAW, and any more bucks we get would just be icing on the cake.
As the clock ticks down on another year, most folks have reindeer on their minds. For us, it’s still all about whitetails.
We’re continuing to hit the deer woods as often as we can, and thanks to a combination of effort and luck, we’re still tagging big bucks. Three beautiful trophies have hit the ground in front of our video cameras since my last posting on Dec. 4. Here they are, in chronological order:
The first week of December saw Dr. James Kroll and cameraman Jim Musil return to South Texas for another hunt with Encino Wildlife Services (361-364-4158). The great ranch Chris outfits on had been mighty good to James on his previous two trips, and in 2006 that happy trend continued. It took our team only a couple of days to encounter a mature buck, and as usual, James’ Thompson/Center .280 Pro Hunter was more than up to the task. It’s great to have such a late rut in the Brush Country!
Iowa’s late pri
mitive-weapons season rarely sees much rut activity, but it’s a great time to take a monster whitetail on a feeding pattern — and NAW Television co-host Greg Miller just proved it once again. Hunting on land managed by friend Joe Loomis, earlier this week Greg downed a monster 14-pointer with his .50-caliber Pro Hunter muzzleloader. Cameraman Brach Pulver was right there to record another great hunt for our TV show.
Meanwhile, fellow co-host Stan Potts was trying his luck in Mississippi, where the rut is still on. Hunting with friends on private land near the Mississippi River, he made a long shot on a big-bodied 8-pointer with his 7mm Rem. Mag. Pro Hunter. The trophy buck was out in an open field, cruising for does, when the hammer fell. As usual, Tim Potts was manning the video camera.
With the holiday season upon us, I suppose it’s time to start thinking about reindeer for a few days. But you can bet whitetail racks will soon be dancing through our heads again. Stay tuned!
If there’s anything a whitetail hunter finds depressing, it’s persistently warm, windy weather during the rut.
After enduring day after dreadful day of those conditions in November 2005, I figured the 2006 rut was likely to be great. But maybe there really is something to this talk about global warming. November 2006 turned out to have more than its share of warm, windy days as well.
Despite such challenges, the North American Whitetail team has done reasonably well since my last report (Nov. 20). Early on the morning of Nov. 21, I rattled in and shot a mature 10-pointer at Pecan Creek Ranch near Christoval, Texas (www.powellhunting.com). Cameraman Lance Tangen shot some really good footage of this hunt, which will be on our TV show next year. (This was the same ranch Lance and I had bowhunted in late October.)
Then, over the Thanksgiving holiday, Greg Miller arrowed a high-racked 8-pointer over a decoy in eastern Colorado. Greg and cameraman Brach Pulver were hunting private land near where Greg had arrowed a wide buck for our TV show in 2005.
Unfortunately, a couple of our late-November hunts didn’t pan out as well. Stan Potts and Hunter’s Specialties pro staffer Rick White bowhunted southern Kansas Thanksgiving week, and they had a rough go of it. Sightings of shooter bucks were way down from a year earlier, and Stan never had a shot opportunity.
Meanwhile, Dr. James Kroll and I, along with cameramen Mike Clerkin and Lance Tangen, tried a new ranch along the Pease River in North Texas. With the rut waning and the weather warm and windy, we saw nothing of note in four days of hard hunting. (We did see quite a few bucks, but not the right one.) Thanks to landowner Richard Naron and his guide, Drew, for their efforts to put us onto a good deer; it just wasn’t meant to be on this hunt.
With December now upon us, our thoughts and efforts turn primarily to late-season feeding paterns. There are still several hunts left to film, primarily in the Midwest, Texas and Mexico. Stay tuned for more reports from the deer woods!
November 20, 2006
It’s been an incredibly hectic couple of weeks since I last reported from the field. Sorry for the delay in letting everyone know what we’ve been up to . . . but at this time of year we’re pounding the woods from dawn to dusk, then trying to get enough sleep so we can do it again the next day. Besides, as you might guess, some of the places we hunt are just a bit short on Internet access. But with a lot of our rut hunts now behind us, things should be settling down to a more manageable pace from here through season’s end.
The good news is that what this report lacks in punctuality it makes up for in positive hunting results. You see, the North American Whitetail team has been hammering trophy bucks right and left, from the big bush of northern Saskatchewan to the Brush Country of South Texas and the corn fields of Illinois.
Early November saw Greg Miller get things rolling, as he arrowed a trophy at Game Trails Hunting Camp near Sturgis, Kentucky (270/333-9001). Brach Pulver shot great video footage of the action for our TV show. As usual, Greg’s Mathews LX bow (www.mathewsinc.com) put his Beman arrow (www.beman.com) where it needed to be.
The first few days of the month also were kind to Stan Potts. Stan’s first bowhunt was with Chad John of Sugar Creek Outfitters (309/257-2590), and the results were spectacular. In fact, our TV co-host put a Muzzy broadhead (www.muzzy.com) into a monster 11-pointer that had just approached his decoy. Deer hunting doesn’t get much more thrilling than this, and fans of Stan can imagine how excited he got on camera when this deer dropped! Tim Potts, Stan’s son, was behind the camera for this heart-pounding hunt.
“Team Potts” then drove a short distance to bowhunt with Rob Scott of Buckhorn Outfitters (912/632-8233), where Stan smacked another big whitetail on camera. (As a resident, Stan can legally take both of his allotted bucks with a bow, so there won’t be any late-season gun hunting for him in his home state this year.)
Meanwhile, NAW editor Duncan Dobie got in on the act as well, hunting in deep South Texas in early November. On the final morning of his hunt, Duncan shot a great trophy, an 8 1/2-year-old buck with a drop tine. The Brush Country is great trophy territory, but this hunt was a full month before the rut, and conditions were challenging, to say the least. Duncan says he got this old buck while still-hunting some thick brush near a lush area of regrowth. The shot was only 20 yards — not much of a challenge for Duncan’s 7mm Rem. Mag. Thompson/Center Encore (www.tcarms.com).
As all of this was happening, I was also on the road. After our bowhunt in Texas (see last posting), cameraman Lance Tangen and I made our next stop at the Land Learning Foundation (www.landlearning.org), near Triplett, Missouri. We saw a number of bucks while bowhunting the first two days of the month, but the big deer on this huge property weren’t yet moving much in daylight. As manager Marshall Murphy notes, while this region is legendary for its waterfowl hunting, there are also plenty of trophy deer around; we just didn’t see them on this short hunt.
From there, I drove north to Minnesota, where I dropped off Lance and picked up another cameraman, Mike Clerkin. We then drove back southeast to the bluff country of Houston County, where we hunted with a private landowner friend for the first four days of Minnesota’s gun season. Standing corn and southerly winds curtailed daytime deer movement, though
we almost nailed a big buck with our vehicle bumper just after dark one evening. The most mature buck we saw — a solid 9-pointer – was cruising a timbered ridge when he caught a whiff of the Hunter’s Specialties (www.hunterspec.com) dominant buck urine coming from our Thermascent dispenser (www.thermascent.com). The buck was plenty close enough to shoot, but because of wind direction, he stayed just far enough into the brush to preclude an open shot with my T/C Omega muzzleloader. Still, it was fun and educational to try a state I’d never hunted, particularly since it gave me an excuse to visit with my friends at Bluffland Whitetails Association (www.blufflandwhitetails.org). BWA is focused on improving the deer herd in southeastern Minnesota, and the results thus far are quite encouraging. This region has super trophy potential; all it needs is less hunting pressure on young bucks.
Mike and I then repacked our gear and headed still farther north, to Rainy River, Ontario. There, we met up with Shane Gulbrandsen (www.gulbrandsenoutfitters.com), whose hunting area lies a few miles to the southeast of massive Lake of the Woods. Shane had tons of great buck photos on his Cuddeback Digital scouting cameras (www.cuddebackdigital.com), and we hunted hard in those areas. For whatever reason — I’m blaming it on strong southerly winds — the bigger deer weren’t showing themselves in daylight hours. Even so, I did record the most deer sightings I’ve ever had on a hunt in Canada. The huge racks on Shane’s wall remove any doubt about the buck quality in this “sleeper” region, but it apparently wasn’t our turn to get one.
Last week, Greg and Brach bowhunted with J.R. Dienst (620/355-7118) in western Kansas, where they tagged another beautiful deer on camera. Our TV co-host had just climbed into his Summit tree stand (www.summitstands.com) when the buck walked in. No point sitting there all day when you can “git ‘er done” before the seat even warms up! Greg has done exceptionally well on his hunts with J.R. over the years, whether with bow, rifle or muzzleloader.
Also last week, Dr. James Kroll traveled to northern Saskatchewan, to hunt with Fred and Oscar Gopher of Double Arrow Outfitters (www.doublearrowhunting.com). On last year’s hunt there, James and cameraman Scott Landherr battled warm weather and slow deer movement; this time, they hit it just right. In only four total days of hunting, James shot a pair of great bucks with his T/C Pro Hunter. To say James was far from home on this hunt would be an understatement; his Lowrance iFINDER Hunt GPS unit (www.lowrance.com) showed the Double Arrow camp to be more than 1,700 miles from the hunter’s own doorstep in Texas.
After finishing up in northwestern Ontario on Nov. 15, I dropped off Mike Clerkin at the airport in Minneapolis and picked up Lance Tangen again. Then we headed south, bound for western Oklahoma. En route we stopped in the Kansas City area to visit with Jeff Simpson of Heartland Bowhunter(www.heartlandbowhunter.com), who was finishing up work on a couple of new camera arms and bases for filming from our tree stands. This setup, called the Sniper Pro, works very well with large or small video cameras.
(Note: As we were driving to meet Jeff in the suburbs of KC in mid-morning, he called to say we needed to hurry; he was parked on the side of a busy road, watching a 170-class 8-pointer with a “hot” doe in the edge of a woodlot! We got there just in time to catch a glimpse of the brute before he faded into the brush. Yes, the rut was rocking in that area last Friday!)
Lance and I finally pulled into western Oklahoma that night, then met up with Steve Purviance of Mt. Hide Outfitters (www.mthide.com). Longtime NAW readers might recall that in 1998, we published the story of Steve’s huge Oklahoma muzzleloader non-typical. Since then he’s run a great trophy outfitting service in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas. On Saturday, opening day of gun season, Lance videotaped the action as I downed a huge 9-pointer that was chasing a doe through the sandhills. The big buck went down quickly when struck by a 139-grain Hornady Interlock bullet (www.hornady.com). As usual, I was shooting my T/C .280 Rem. Pro Hunter with a 3-10×42 Swarovski scope (www.swarovskioptic.com).
Several of us on the team will be hunting this week, and I’ll give you a report as soon as I get back to a computer with Internet access. In the meantime, happy Thanksgiving to all.
Nov. 3 NAW blog entry
I just dropped off cameraman Lance Tangen in southern Minnesota, and I’m about to hook up with another of our cameramen, Mike Clerkin, at the airport in Minneapolis. Then we’ll be heading to the state’s southeastern corner, where we’ll be hunting the gun opener this weekend.
Oct. 24-28 Lance and I had a great bowhunt with outfitter Mike Fishbeck at Pecan Creek Ranch (www.powellhunting.com), near Christoval, Texas. I’m not going to reveal exactly how this hunt turned out, but I will say with confidence that we got plenty of great footage for an exciting 2007 TV program. Although the rut hadn’t yet kicked off there in Tom Green County, we saw nice bucks in bow range every day.
Lance and I used several techniques on this hunt, but mostly we waited in ambush near feeding areas. I can vouch for the pop-up ground blinds from Sportsman’s Guide (www.sportsmansguide.com), as both my cameraman and I were able to hide inside one with deer at close range. The key is putting brush (in our case, freshly cut juniper) around the blind, to help it blend even better into its surroundings.
I just spoke with Stan Potts, who’s had an interesting time of its since our last blog entry a couple of weeks back. Stan and cameraman Tim Potts (his son) bowhunted private land in western Kentucky, where they enjoyed awesome decoying action in mid-October. Then Greg Miller and his cameraman, Brach Pulver, bowhunted the same area. At last check they were still in the woods in Kentucky, but we should have a detailed report from them soon.
After their Kentucky hunt, Stan and Tim headed east to Ohio, for a bowhunt with Joel Snow (www.fivestartrophyoutfitters.com). Stan says he saw an absolute giant a few days ago, and Tim shot great video footage of the buck working a scrape. I got the distinct impression that Stan will be returning to Ohio later in the season, hopefully for a closer-range encounter with that deer.
This weekend, Stan and Tim kick off their bowhunt with Chad John (www.sugarcreekoutfitters.com) in western Illinois. According to Chad, the big bucks are really starting to
move in Illinois, a claim backed up by some of the reports our Web site has been receiving in the past few days. (Check out our Rut Reports for up-to-date details on buck activity around North America.) Greg and Brach will also be heading to Illinois next.
Elsewhere in the Midwest, Don and Kandi Kisky are also having great luck bowhunting near their home in southern Iowa. In fact, Kandi already has arrowed a couple of great bucks, and their son, Kaleb, has shot a beautiful deer of his own. Driving north through that region yesterday afternoon, Lance and I saw quite a few whitetails (including some fair bucks) feeding in fields along the highway, so this spell of cold weather has them pretty active during the last days of the pre-rut.
What about the remaining member of the NAW TV team, Dr. James Kroll? He’s wrapping up some projects so he and cameraman Scott Landherr can head to northern Saskatchewan in mid-November. Meanwhile, NAW editor Duncan Dobie is traveling to the South Texas Brush Country for a gun hunt this weekend. In short, the 2006 season is really starting to rock, and we’re out there in the middle of it. We hope you are as well!
P.S. Be sure to check out our brand new North American Whitetail Online Video section, which can be found at www.northamericanwhitetail.com/video.
FRIDAY, OCT. 13:
Greg Miller and cameraman Brach Pulver just checked in with our latest report from the field, and it’s a good one. Tuesday afternoon, on their first outing of a return trip to North Dakota (see Sept. 13 report below), Greg arrowed a beautiful 10-pointer.
The weather was nasty, with snow and rain blowing as our guys arrived in camp that day. Due to the difficult filming conditions, they almost didn’t go out . . . but then changed their minds. Good thing they did.
“It was one of those last-minute decisions that panned out,” Greg says. “This is pretty open country with a good bit of agriculture, including alfalfa, potatoes and hay fields, plus some big oaks and poplars. We were hunting near an oxbow in a river bottom that afternoon. Brach got some great footage, including the buck doing a lip-curl before he came into bow range.”
Greg’s friend Scott Swanson, who arranged for access to this property, also has been able to set up bowhunting access for us in the suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul. That’s where Greg and Brach will be heading later this month, for another pre-rut bowhunt. If chilly weather hangs on and buck activity continues to heat up, we could be getting another happy story from our team before long.
FRIDAY, OCT. 6:
I just dropped off cameraman Lance Tangen at the airport in Eugene, Oregon, following our hunt for the whitetail world’s most geographically restricted huntable subspecies.
We were after Columbian whitetails, and we got one — a respectable 8-pointer – on Oct. 3, our fourth day of hunting with Eric Bunn and Brian Pumlinson’s Western Oregon Outfitters (www.westernoregonoutfitters.com). Getting that buck was an exciting end to what could be the most unique whitetail hunt in the U.S., and it’s going to make a great episode for 2007.
Most whitetail hunters have never heard of the Columbian subspecies. In part, that’s because the world’s only two herds are restricted to the area around Roseburg, Oregon, and the lower end of the Columbia River valley shared by Washington and Oregon. It’s also because for more than a quarter-century, nobody could legally hunt these deer. For various reasons, all hunting was halted in 1978, when the subspecies was placed on the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There’s still no hunting of the Columbia River herd, but the population near Roseburg, in southwestern Oregon, now has increased to the point that limited hunting resumed in 2005.
Although the deer density around Roseburg is high (for both whitetails and blacktails), you sometimes have to look over a lot of ground to find the right buck, especially with the short gun season being several weeks prior to the rut. Fortunately, we had an Arctic Cat (www.arcticcat.com) ATV and a 20-60X Swarovski (www.swarovskioptik.com) spotting scope, which was mounted atop a lightweight Carson (www.carson-optical.com) “The Rock” tripod.
Guides Dan Dawson and Kevin Anderson were great to work with on this fun hunt. They’re hard workers and excellent at spotting deer at long range, which is crucial in this big country.
My buck was shot at around 175 yards, using a Thompson/Center (www.tcarms.com) Pro Hunter in .280 Rem. This was the first deer I’ve taken using Hornady’s (www.hornady.com) 139-grain moly-coated bullet in a “light magnum” load, but it definitely won’t be the last. That load packs a punch.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 23:
East-central Kansas has become legendary in the world of trophy whitetails, and for good reason: A number of the best bucks in the record books have been shot here. With that in mind, Dr. James Kroll (“Dr. Deer”) and cameraman Lance Tangen of the NAW Television team headed up there this past week for an early blackpowder hunt.
Outfitter Dan Bell (www.bellwildlifeservices.com) hosted this trip, on which James was carrying his .50-cal. Thompson/Center (www.thompsoncenterarms.com) Encore muzzleloader. With open sights being mandated, James equipped his rifle with a Pro Series Magnum MuzzleDot fiber-optic sight from TruGlo (www.truglo.com). His ammo choice was Hornady’s (www.hornady.com) 250-grain sabot.
The weather was cool, which normally would be a plus in early season. Unfortunately, with those lower temperatures also came high winds and rain, as a freakish late-summer storm system swirled across the Great Plains.
As you might guess, blowing rain and expensive video cameras don’t mix. With that in mind, James and Lance started out watching the edge of a soybean field, dry and comfortable inside their Guide Gear portable ground blind from Sportsman’s Guide (www.sportsmansguide.com). Unfortunately, they soon realized that the big bucks weren’t getting to the field before dark, so our guys relocated into a thin strip of timber between the beans and some CRP acreage. That’s where James set up his Summit Deer Deck (www.summistands.com) near an overcup oak starting to drop its acorns. From that vantage point out guys saw several bucks on morning and evening sits, but none of the animals was old enough to meet James’ criteria.
Although this storm-
plagued hunt didn’t result in a buck being harvested, James says Dan runs a solid operation and that the trophy potential in the area is high. In fact, the all-time No. 1 non-typical in Kansas was shot just a few miles away, by rifle hunter Joe Waters.
THURSDAY, SEPT. 13:
Greg Miller and cameraman Brach Pulver just returned home from an early bowhunt in north-central North Dakota, where friend Scott Swanson had set them up on some private land. Our guys didn’t come home with a buck, but Greg says they did pick up something of real value: a lesson in avoiding warm-weather insects.
“One day we were set up only about 20 yards from the water,” he recalls, “and the mosquitoes and flies really were buzzing around. We started up our ThermaCELL (www.thermacell.com), and within only a few minutes every bug was gone for good. That product definitely makes early-season deer hunting a lot more enjoyable.”
Greg and Brach are eager to return to that North Dakota property for another bowhunt in early October. Stay tuned for the results of their return engagement.
THURSDAY, SEPT. 8:
Every year since we began shooting video for NAW TV in 2003, we’ve had multiple guys kick off their bow season with Mike and Esther Watkins of Trophies Plus Outfitters (www.trophiesplusoutfitters.com) in northeastern Wyoming. This outfit offers some of the best early-season whitetail action in the world, and Greg Miller and Stan Potts proved it again this week.
On the third morning of the season, Greg arrowed a beautiful buck. Then, the next morning, so did Stan — hunting from the same Summit Deer Deck (www.summitstands.com) tree stand Greg had just scored from!
“These two hunts are going to make an awesome show for next year,” Stan says. “We got a lot of great footage.”
While this hunt featured much cooler, damper weather than some Wyoming hunts in previous years, temperatures were still warm. Stan says he was really impressed with the performance of the new ScentBlocker (www.scentblocker.com) UltraLite outerwear he had on.
Tim Potts filmed his dad’s hunt in Wyoming, while Brach Pulver filmed Greg. The latter team has now moved on into North Dakota for another NAW TV bowhunt before returning home to Wisconsin for that state’s bow opener in mid-month. Meanwhile, Stan and Tim are winging it back home to Illinois to plot their next whitetail adventure.
MONDAY, AUG. 28:
Here at NAW, we’re always interested in ways to expand our whitetail horizons. So on Aug. 23, cameraman Lance Tangen and I headed to Ulmer, South Carolina, for a rare opportunity: to gun hunt free-ranging velvet bucks. This part of the state has one of the earliest of all gun season, kicking off Aug. 15 each year.
Our hunt was with Terry and Connie Hiers of Blackwater Hunting Services (www.blackwaterhunting.com). This deer-and-turkey service has access to over 6,000 acres of private land, and some impressive bucks have been shot there in recent years.
Although there were thunderstorms popping when we got there, with daytime highs well into the 80s, we saw a good number of deer. And, several were bucks — just not the right one. At this time of year the bucks are still in bachelor groups, some of which contain up to 15 individuals. That makes for some awesome filming and hunting if you happen to be sitting where they come out of the pines to feed, but it didn’t work out that way for us. We hoped that in 3 1/2 days we’d at some point or other end up in the right spot, but we never did. Even so, I’d gladly hunt with Terry and Connie again. They don’t overhunt their land, and they have a great lodge with outstanding food and service.
Summer in the South means hot, humid weather and plenty of bugs, but neither proved to be a problem on this hunt. Why? Because of our gear.
Whenever mosquitoes started buzzing around, we’d just crank up our ThermaCELL (www.thermacell.com), and that was the end of our problems. Not only did mosquitoes stop landing on us, they didn’t even get near us. That was a big help, because if there’s one mosquito in the county, he’ll come looking for me.
I also had great results using a new product from Heat Factory (www.heatfactory.com). It’s called a “cooling vest,” and it has internal pouches for up to eight reuseable freezer gel packs. You recharge the gel packs in the freezer for a couple of hours before you head out, and they help you stay cool for several hours in the field. Wearing this vest under ScentBlocker (www.scentblocker.com) outerwear helped me stay comfortable in the heat without sacrificing scent control.
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