During the early 1990s, tracks in snow revealed mature bucks in my study/hunting area were going out of their way to avoid many of our previously used tree stands and ground level blinds, whether in use or not, including those many used only once for a half-day. Because my sons and I routinely take special care to ensure we are well hidden and downwind or crosswind of trails or sites where we expected to see a buck, it was difficult to imagine why this was happening. Deer tracks in snow finally provided a long ignored reason. During a day of stand hunting, bucks are as likely to pass downwind as upwind without the hunter realizing it. When they pass unseen within 200 yards downwind, upwind hunters are readily identified and easily avoided. Via airborne scents alone, mature whitetails can also accurately determine the hunter’s location, whether or not the hunter is moving and in which direction. Experienced whitetails today apparently realize a hunter whose source of airborne scents is not moving is a “stand hunter,” therefore harmless as long as a safe distance is maintained. Tracks in snow in my study area have often revealed some young and older downwind bucks and does will sneak near enough to take a look at what the hunter is doing. I’ve known several bucks that went out of their way to pass downwind of stand sites I had used before, doubtless to determine whether or not I had returned. Some even bedded downwind where they could monitor any move I made from my stand and the direction I took when I departed. The point is, in addition to any seen or unseen upwind or crosswind deer that may have identified us because our dark silhouettes were clearly visible against the sky or a background of snow or because of because of motions or sounds inadvertently made, lots of downwind deer that lived within the surrounding square-mile had learned all they needed to know to avoid us and our stands for the rest of the current hunting season and more. To minimize wasting time at stand sites soon avoided by intended quarries, my sons, grandsons and I began switching to new stand sites, always in sight of very fresh deer signs made by the same or other mature bucks near locations where they normally spend most of each day, namely 1) current favorite doe feeding areas and buck scrape routes along which scrapes are renewed every 24–48 hours during the 2–3 weeks before breeding begins in early November, 2) current favorite doe feeding areas early and late in the day and doe bedding areas midday during the two weeks does are in heat and 3) current favorite feeding areas of mature bucks and sometimes bedding areas of older bucks beginning mid-November. All stand sites we use are 100 yards or more apart from previously used stand sites.
A few older bucks recognize preludes to hunting seasons —shots taken by waterfowl and upland game hunters, for example — after which they disappear for the entire firearm deer hunting season. Generally, however, it takes 1–3 days — one for still-hunters and hunters who make drives and 2–3 for stand hunters — for all other mature whitetails (2-1/2 years of age or older) to realize they are again being hunted by human hunters. Inexperienced yearlings (including bucks) and fawns not led by mature maternal does are slow to realize this, making them the most vulnerable to skilled hunting. By day three, many mature does and all bucks 3-1/2 – 6-1/2 years of age will be using the tactics that enabled them to survive previous hunting seasons: traveling off-trail more than 50% of the time, for example, becoming less active during daylight hours and becoming more apt to abandon their ranges for the rest of a hunting season. Following nearly a half-century of widespread stand hunting, older bucks everywhere have become proficient at avoiding ambushing stand hunters, typically discovering and beginning to avoid stands with hunters in them within the first 1–30 hours they are used. Today, if stand hunting close to a trail or site currently frequented by an older buck, you’ll either get the buck within 1–4 hours or it will begin avoiding your stand site within 1-4 hours. The latter is most common.
Though some hunters strongly disagree (to put it mildly) when I recommend getting to a stand site one hour before sunrise in the morning, my three sons, three grandsons and I consider this precaution to be one of our most rewarding buck hunting practices. The reason is, about 80% of the 101 mature bucks we have taken since 1990, including three we took last November, were all shot near edges of feeding areas early during the first legal shooting hour of the day (beginning 30 minutes before sunrise). They were all taken on public land in a region inhabited by overabundant gray wolves and where where only one deer has been taken per 10 square miles for quite a few years. Our mature, especially wary, wolf country bucks generally head back to their bedding areas by 9:00–9:30 AM in the morning, but getting to our stands early is important for another reason. Mature bucks and other deer feeding near our stands are almost certain to hear one or more indistinct sounds or spot one or more indistinct motions made by us as we approach our stands in darkness (through dense cover downwind or crosswind). This arouses their curiosity, but as long as those deer are unable to positively identify us, they will not abandon the area. They will be especially alert and cautious for about thirty minutes, however, sometimes longer. They often move to nearby cover to hide their presence, but if nothing more is seen or heard from us after we are settled at our stands, they will usually resume what they were doing a half hour or so later, feeding, for example, and becoming visible, just about the time it becomes legal to fire at them.
Getting to a stand without seriously alarming deer along the way is not easy. It took many years of trial and error and some lessons provided by wolves to learn how to do it. To make it work today, we routinely use about 30 special precautions. It doesn’t work every time, but it works often enough to provide most or all of us with one or more opportunities to take an older buck almost every year. Not all hunters are capable of doing this, being unable to sit still 4-5 hours or being unable to hike to a distant stand in early morning darkness without seriously alarming deer along the way, for example.
No, we do not take mature bucks every half-day we hunt. On the average we take one, sometimes two on opening morning (in photo above is grandson Ryan with the buck he took 20 minutes before sunrise on opening morning, 2018), but by the end of a week, we usually have our self-imposed limit of four mature bucks. Yes, we have taken bucks during all hours of the day, so we are usually out there hunting them during all hours of the day. Yes, we have also taken quite few between 11 AM and 3 PM as well, particularly when a certain recognized sequence of weather events triggers brief but massive midday feeding…but no one in the world is ever going convince my sons and me, and now my grandsons, to quit making the effort to get to our stands one hour before sunrise.
Watch for explamaions about tho 30 precautions mentioned above in my fuure blogs, YouTube presentatios, Midwest Outdoors Magazine articles and my website.
Upon sitting down to write a January article for Midwest Outdoors Magazine on the morning of November 25th, numbers, letters and words suddenly wet crazy. They no longer had meaning. I no longer knew what they meant. I no longer knew the password needed to open my computer. Totally confused and frightened, I then realized I was suffering from a stroke.
About ten years earlier, before my wife died, her and I discussed an article she had read about how to realize when you are stricken by a stroke and what to do about it. Symptoms (depending on the part of your brain affected) are: 1) sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of your body, 2) sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding (like me), 3) sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes, 4) sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination or 5) sudden severe headache with no known cause.
My mother had suffered a stroke many years ago that left her paralyzed on the entire right half of her body. If she had been rushed to the hospital when it happened she might have been spared her terrible paralyses. Strokes can also be fatal. Jene and I learned from that article stroke symptoms can actually be reversed by quick treatment. Knowing this and remembering the two things the article said to do to improve your chances of completely recovering from a stroke, I swallowed two aspirins and called 911. At least I tried tu call 911. I could not put those numbers in proper order. After several tries, a woman finally asked, “Can I help you?” Though I could not tell her what was wrong (I was having trouble remembering words), I soon heard sirens of a police car, fire truck and ambulance approaching. Shortly I was rushed into the ER of Methodist hospital where treatments were begun to save me from permanent symptoms of my stroke.
Four days later I had surgery to remove the plaque from my left carotid artery in my neck that caused my stroke. In 6-8 weeks I will have potentially dangerous plaque removed from my right carotid artery as well.
Today, following two weeks of rehab, I am completely recovered.
Book sales having far exceeded expectations during our past Minnesota firearm deer hunting season, I returned home to find myself nearly out of Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Editions. The last of the few on hand were shipped yesterday after finally getting my house back in order following a foot injury on the 7th and a disastrous two-story water leak (gusher) in my house on the 12th. A new printing will arrive tomorrow morning, after which I’ll do my best to get caught up on book shipments by tomorrow evening. Sorry for the delay. I am now also past my deadline for two Midwest Outdoors magazine articles. Can’t wait to start writing again. I also have a number of new Blogs and YouTube presentations to prepare. Lots of new and interesting subjects evolved from this year’s buck hunting (with acceptable results) and field research.
Sorry for the delay in receiving books you ordered, Guys. If you are a deer hunter, you will understand. The Minnesota firearm deer hunting season has been in progress since November 3th (one of my most important hunting-related information gathering periods of the year). On the 7th I slipped off a snow covered log into a narrow space between two sharp rocks in a clearcut and injured my left foot (my first debilitating injury during a deer season in 73 years). Hours after I returned home on the 11th (after spending most of my last four days in camp while my gang continueed hunting), an ancient (my historic Queen Ann house was built in 1880) pipe connection in a wall of my upstairs bathroom popped apart and flooded two floors. Things are now back to normal (except my foot), so I am now finally back to filling book orders. You will receive your orders soon. I hope you all had or are having a great deer hunting season. Doc
There is not a stand hunter in America who can’t wait to return to a stand site where he or she took or saw a mature buck last year, or the year before or the year before that. I do it myself, even though my many years of hunting related studies have taught me there is a better, more sure way to take another mature buck.
The most productive buck stand site provides great downwind or crosswind silhouette-hiding cover for the hunter, means of getting there without being positively identified by nearby whitetails and fresh nearby tracks and/or droppings or a freshly made or renewed ground scrape made by a mature buck. Nonetheless, if it is located where mature bucks living in the surrounding square mile have discovered a hunter stand hunting one or more times, typically happening without the hunter realizing it during the first 1-30 hours of stand hunting there each year, the odds of thereafter taking a mature buck at that site won’t be particularly favorable.
There is a reason. Mature whitetail bucks and does have excellent memories. Wherever you have hunted two or more years, all mature deer (not including a few possible mature newcomers and lone fawns or yearlings) will remember what you smell like, look like and sound like (including your unique footsteps) from hunting season to hunting season. They’ll even remember the trails and stand sites you commonly frequented, making it easy for them to avoid you right from the outset of a subsequent hunting season, doing the things that enabled them to survive past hunting seasons.
The best way to overcome this mature-buck-hunting handicap is use a new (never used before) stand site often during a hunting season, each at least 100 yards away from any previously used stand site. Catch big bucks by surprise at stand sites where they have never discovered you before. They have no defense for this. As long as each new stand site has all of the above characteristics, each time you move your odds of taking a mature buck will again be usually favorable, but remember, only for a short time, not day after day for an entire hunting season or year after year. Older bucks are too smart to fall victim to that.