Trail Cam Fever

“Wow, take a look at this ten-pointer,” my son, John, excitedly blurted. He was viewing his newest trail cam photos on my laptop in our scouting camp. “Its tines are much longer and have more bulk than the antlers on that other ten-pointer I showed you. And here’s another buck, a 2-1/2 year-old. Its antlers are weird but they have a pretty good spread. Here’s a forky. This is amazing. All these bucks plus one doe with a fawn were at this one location several times this the past week, day and night. I figured it might be a good spot to place my camera because of all the deer tracks I’ve seen in the snow in that opening in past hunting seasons, but I never realized it was a feeding area. All these deer were feeding on grass there.

“If the wind is blowing from the south on opening morning,” John mused, “like it often is in early November, some of those six-foot pines on the adjoining slope northwest of that opening would make a dandy ground level stand site.”

“Do you mean you are no longer planning to stand hunt at the Moose Mountain clearcut on opening morning?” I asked. “That would be a first in about twelve years.”

“Well,” he replied, staring at a nighttime closeup of that 10-pointer, “where would you hunt this buck?” 

“That photo has you mesmerized,” I said. “It’s even got you convinced you can shoot that buck where it was photographed. Remember what happened to your brother Dave a few years ago after his trail cam photographed seven mature bucks on a deer trail east of Acorn Mountain. While he sat in tree stands near both ends of that trail during the following hunting season, seeing no bucks, other members of our gang took four of them, two about a mile away and two about a half mile away. The reason was, those bucks were doing different things during the period they were photographed and the period during which they were hunted. In October they were eating green grasses in graze areas and breeding was still two weeks away. During the following November hunting season, they were eating thin stems of red osiers and sugar maple saplings in browse areas, lesser antlered bucks were sometimes sneaking back from where they were temporarily hiding off-range, having been chased off by the rampaging dominant breeding buck before breeding began, and that dominant breeding buck was spending most of its time searching for and accompanying does in heat. Because each doe 1-1/2 years of age or older was in heat only once for 24-26 hours on different days during that first of the three two-week periods of breeding when 85% of does are bred (November 3—17 in our region), that dominant breeding buck was doing a lot of traveling—here one day and a mile away the next.

“That buck you are staring at is a probable dominant breeding buck. About the only time you are likely to see it in the vicinity of where it was photographed during our firearm deer hunting season is when and where that doe you also photographed is feeding and in heat. Our deer normally begin feeding on browse on November on 8th and our next hunting season begins on the 9th. There is very little of the kind of browse our whitetails prefer in that opening where these deer were photographed. Their favorite browse is most abundant in three nearby locations: the Moose Mountain clear-cut, that steep wooded slope northeast of that clear-cut and the east side of that string of beaver ponds west of that opening. Stand hunting at one of these browse areas would make the most sense, but it now appears, like most hunters who have photographed a big buck at a certain location with a trail cam, you are now powerless to hunt anywhere else.

“If and when you do finally come to your senses and decide to hunt at a more sensible spot on opening morning, let me know. Then to prove how ridiculous it would have been for you to sit on a stool among those pines overlooking that area where those deer were photographed, I might decide to waste my first half-day of hunting there myself.” 

Only Two and a Half Months Left

If you are a whitetail hunter, you know what’s on my mind. Last November, I made a page-long list of things I need to do before our next deer hunting season begins. At the top of the list is a number of jobs that definitely can’t wait until the last minute. Scouting four new stand hunting areas 20 or more acres in size in my hunting area is one. None have been hunted in 10–30 years. If I find deer signs in these areas made by mature bucks, which is almost certain, my next job will be to select two or more mature-buck-effective stand sites and approach trails (deer trails) in each area for different wind directions. This kind of work will take 2–3 trips north and must be finished at least three weeks before opening day. I’m really looking forward to getting started because well-chosen, never-used stand sites are by far the most productive for hunting mature, stand-smart bucks. Another task I have been intending to do for two years is use fabric paint to make my teepee-shaped portable blind to look like a small spruce tree. After finished, it will take weeks of weathering in my back yard to get rid of fabric & paint odors. I also need to rig up a two-piece metal support pole with adjustable straps for my deer camp woodstove chimney and order two 4-foot chimney sections and one elbow, Yes, I’m thinking with a grin, it’s definitely time to begin getting jobs like these crossed off my latest deer hunting to-do list.

How about you? Do you have a list? If you do, perhaps you have added several new items to your list after reading my many books, magazine articles and blogs and/or after viewing my recent, very popular buck and black bear hunting seminars on YouTube (well more than a million minutes of hunters watching them thus far). If you have, by now you should be thinking it’s finally time to do whatever is necessary to become a hunter skilled and knowledgeable enough to regularly see and take mature bucks, beginning this fall. To fulfill this goal, you’ve probably also been thinking you should order an autographed copy of my new Whitetail Hunters Almanac, 10th Edition soon. There’s a lot to learn from this unique and enormous book in the time remaining before your next hunting season begins, including how to use the six new fair chase stand hunting methods that enabled my three sons and I to take 101 mature bucks since 1990 on public land—evolved from hunting-related, scientifically-based, year-round field research with wild deer beginning in the early 1960s, like no one else has ever done before. If you order this book from my website, drnordbergondeerhunting.com (click on “store”), you will receive a FREE autographed copy of your choice of a previously published, yet available Whitetail hunters Almanac (while they last), each covering different subjects. I strongly urge you to select the 4th Edition, a guide to the many different visual signs made by white-tailed deer. To become a regularly successful buck hunter, one of your necessary prerequisites is learning how to recognize hunting values and information provided by a considerable number of deer signs.

Bucks With Antlers in April

It’s mid-April and some whitetail bucks still have antlers. This is normal for yearling bucks, the last of bucks to shed their antlers. Ordinarily, the first to lose their antlers are the big trophy-class dominant breeding bucks, 5-1/2 to 6-1/2 years of age (few survive their 7th winter). In my northern Minnesota study area, this generally happens shortly before whitetails stage their annual migration to traditional wintering areas, about the beginning of the fourth week in December. Early shedding probably reflects their worn-out physical condition. If not most dominant, bucks 2-2/2 to 4-12 years of age drop their antlers January through March in wintering areas. Though I have occasionally found pairs of antlers close together that were obviously from the same buck, most are shed several days apart at scattered locations. I have watched bucks with single antlers (see 2-1/2 year-old buck above), apparently anxious to finish shedding, bang their remaining antler repeatedly with great effort on tree trunks. Interestingly, from almost the moment a buck sheds its antlers, it becomes docile (non-combative) and no longer has an interest in breeding. This allows mature, less dominant bucks to breed the few does in heat (5%) during the third and final two-week period of breeding begining a few days before January 1st. I have watched yearling bucks actually charge antlerless dominant breeding bucks at this time, forcing them to turn tail and flee (revenge?). Later in winter, antlerless dominant bucks do occasionally battle with other dominant bucks—pummeling one another with fore hoofs while nimbly dancing about on their hind legs. Once snow melts in spring, mice, squirrels and porcupines begin devouring much relished sheds.

How to Make a Hunting Stool

Though you may not realize it yet, the most productive method ever created for hunting mature bucks is mobile stand hunting at ground level. While using this method, the hunter takes quick advantage of very fresh tracks or other signs made by older bucks, changing stand sites every day or half day to keep near them. Frequent changes in stand sites is necessary when hunting older bucks for two reasons: 1) from mid-October until the end of the year, older bucks are seldom active in one limited vicinty much longer than a day and second, today’s mature bucks are “stand-smart,” meaning they generally find, identify and begin avoiding a stand hunter within 1–30 hours after the hunter begins using one stand site. A backpacked stool enables the hunter to quickly and quietly change stand sites and always sit well hidden by natural cover near trails and sites currently being used by older bucks today, made evident by very fresh mature-buck-sized tracks and other signs, or will be used later today and/or tomorrow morning if not alarmed there meanwhile. For all these reasons, no hunting aid can keep a hunter close to big unsuspecting bucks throughout a hunting season as well as a folding, backpacked stool.

To date, the best backpacked stool I have ever used is one I made myself in 1991. To see how I made it, as is often asked, go to my website, http://www.drnordbergondeerhunting.com, click on the “Articles” button on the left side of my home page and then scrool down to the bright-blue-lettered title, “How to Build Dr. Ken Nordberg’s Portable Hunting Stool.” Once you build one and become accustomed to using it properly, you will consider your stool to be your most valuable tool for hunting mature bucks and/or other deer.

Amazing Spring Scouting

Beginning in 1991, to prepare for the days I would lead my students from all over America afield for instructions in my early May buck and bear hunting schools in the wilds of northern Minnesota, I scouted up to a week right after snow melt. It was then I discovered signs made by whitetails such as antler rubs, ground scrapes, evidences of browsing (see photo) and favorite deer trails were as fresh in appearance as when they were made or used during previous fall hunting seasons. When the ground is damp and soft in early spring, and before leaves begin growing on trees, shrubs and grasses, these deer signs plus freshly made tracks and droppings are easier to spot over greater distances than at any other time of the year. Newly made tracks and droppings then provide absolute evidence of the existence of mature bucks and other deer that will available to hunt in fall (not including yet unborn fawns) and at this time they are using the same trails, cover and range elements they will use after leaves have fallen next fall. During this one brief period in spring, before ticks and blood-thirsty insects become abundant, everything you need to know about where to stand hunt during the first days of the coming hunting season is laid out in plain sight.

Why Trophy Bucks are Phantoms

All serious whitetail hunters would like to take a trophy-class buck (having antlers measuring about 150 inches or better). The trouble is, few are ever seen by hunters during deer hunting seasons because they are the most skilled of whitetails at discovering, identifying and keeping out of sight or maintaining safe distances from deer hunters. Adding to the difficulty of hunting them are customary activities of such bucks each fall. Except for a week or so in late November, from mid-October until the final week of December, they rarely remain in one limited area much longer than a day. Throughout the latter half of October and the first days of November, such bucks (likely dominant breeding bucks) cruise their 1–2 square-mile home/breeding ranges daily, 1) making ground scrapes and antler rubs or renewing their appearances and intensities of musk odors every 24–48 hours (signposts meant to warn other bucks to keep away), 2) searching for other antlered bucks (previously conquered in battle) to evict and 3) visiting all mature and yearling does living within their breeding ranges, expecting to soon find one in heat. Once the first-two week breeding period begins in early November, such bucks are either accompanying does in heat (each doe being in heat for only 24-26 hours and only about 10% are in heat during any one day) or searching for does in heat. A second two-week period of breeding begins about December first and a third begins a few days before January begins. All this makes it difficult in fall to predict where a trophy-class buck that hasn’t abandoned its range because of hunting might be located from day to day.

Being the easiest of deer hunters to dentify and avoid, those who hunt on foot have the poorest odds for taking trophy-class bucks. Though stand hunters have better odds, because trophy bucks are a class of deer that typically discover and begin avoiding stand hunters wthin 1–30 hours after hunters begin using stands and because few stand hunters change stand sites throughout a hunting season, most stand hunters spend few hours, if any, close enough to trophy-class bucks to see them. To regularly take such bucks a different kind of stand hunting is needed: one during which the hunter changes stand sites daily or twice daily and is always located within easy shooting distance downwind or crosswind of very fresh 3-3/4 to 4 inch long hoofprints, shiny ¾ to 1 inch long droppings (likely clumped), a freshly made or renewed ground scrape or a feeding area currently favored by a trophy buck, made evident by fresh, above-sized hoofprints and droppings. Wherever such deer signs are found, the bucks that made them are usually not far away—right now or will be later in the day or the next morning (see photo above of Doc with a buck he dropped when it returned to renew its scrape 25 yards away early one November morning).

To learn much much more about how to hunt phantom bucks, go to my website, drnordbergondeerhunting.com and then click on YOUTUBE. If you haven’t seen my YouTube presentations, you are in for a big suprise.

 

Overused Buck Lures

Throughout my 74 years of whitetail hunting, there was always something new each year that was supposed to improve deer or buck hunting success. Back in the 1940s when I first began deer hunting, everyone was filing the buckhorns off their open sights because it was claimed they caused hunters to shoot high and miss deer. Soon after that half the hunters in my deer gang had peep sights, guaranteed to improved accuracy when taking quick shots at bounding deer (during drives). Then came scopes, difficult to use at first, especially when takng aim at bounding deer. The next new innovation of note appeared in the early 1980s, namely portable tree stands. These soon convinced hunters everywhere things could be purchased in stores that actually do improve hunting success. From sighting few deer short distances away per day, most of them bounding, early first time tree stand users were commonly sighting as many as twenty or more deer per day, including trophy-class bucks, and most of them were standing or moving slowly within 50 yards, providing easy shots. Then came doe urine containing doe-in-heat pheromone which could be used in every imaginable way to take a buck. This set the stage for a growing tidal wave of new and different innovations claimed to improve deer or buck hunting success. Like everyone else, I purchased and tried many of them, including rattling antlers, various calls, varieties of portable stands, gadgets that required the use of great quantities of doe-in-heat lure scents and more. Some enabled me to take trophy-class bucks from the outset but within 10 years no buck in my hunting area older than a yearling (except a couple older bucks that were drawn near by the conservative use of rattling antlers) could be fooled by them with one exception. Our portable tree stands were the exception, continuing to be productive if located at well selected, mature-buck-effective stand sites never used before during the first first, second and sometimes a third half day following 4–5 days of no hunting at one site.

Why do hunting aids lose their effectveness, especially for hunting older bucks? As we later discovered (via tracks in snow), unseen bucks 3-1/2 years of age or older and many mature does were almost routinely discovering us at our stand sites within 1–30 hours after we began using them, thereafter avoiding them even during following years. This makes sense. Contrary to what is commonly believed, mature whitetails have excellent memories, meaning, once learned they are unlikely to make the same dangerous mistake twice. Moreover, because younger whitetails readily imitate actions of older whitetails taking unusual precautions to avoid sites, sounds and scents used by hunters, they are likely to continue taking the same evasive actions despite never knowing why.

In time I begin to wonder if the once very effective grunt call and/or lure scent I continued to occasionally use, perhaps imperfect to begin with, was now actually making it easier for mature bucks to identify me and pinpoint my location without seeing or smelling me, thus making it easier to avoid me. Whatever the reason for waning effectiveness, it was becoming more and more obvious it was a consequence of overuse—continuing to use them too often, too long and perhaps improperly (blowing on a call too loudly, for example) at same or new sites throughout our hunting area because they worked so well initially. With this probability in mind, I began a new series of studies to discover ways (precautions) to overcome any damage we had done.