Saturday, November 22, 2014

Tip of the Week: Whitetail Deer Behavior and Movement Pattern Studies Reveals How To Hunt Mature Bucks

© By Othmar Vohringer

In this "Tip of the Week" I would like to draw your attention to two interesting studies that had been done in order to learn more about buck travel patterns. Knowing how bucks behave during all stages of the rut enables hunters to make the right decisions on stand placement. In my profession as an animal behaviorist I have studied whitetail deer behavior at great length and I am convinced that the knowledge I gained from these studies ultimately were the biggest contribution to my success as a hunter.

Knowing the habits and behavior of whitetail deer will lead to a better understanding why animals do what they do. With that understanding we can develop strategies that ultimately will result in more encounters with mature whitetail deer bucks.

Where Are Bucks Hiding? New Study Reveals Insights into Buck Behavior is written by Daniel Xu for the OutdoorHub.com

GPS Reveals Early Season Buck Movement Patterns This article, posted on the Quality Deer Management Website, provides lots of charts and aerial images to illustrate buck movement patterns. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hunting Bucks On Public Land

© By Othmar Vohringer

I am probably not wrong with the assumption that most hunters in America and here in Canada hunt on public land. Here in North America we’re extremely lucky to have so much public land available to hunt. No matter where you live you never have to drive far to access public hunting land. The downside of public land hunting is that you have a lot of competition from other hunters, and that means hunting educated deer that are masters at humiliating hunters. Many hunters are of the opinion that public land does not hold big mature bucks, but looking at the Pope &Young or Boone & Crockett records will quickly reveal that every year a fair number of trophies are entered that have been taken on public land.

With that said, it is absolutely possible to take a big buck on public land. However, to do so you have to abandon everything that you have read or heard about buck hunting strategies. Most of the tactics discussed in the hunting media pertains to private land deer. Since I hunt most of the time public land deer I will reveal here what I have learned over the past 10 to 15 years.

Pay attention to the competition.
Humans are lazy and habitual. This means that hunters rarely venture far from the truck and almost always walk the same route and hunt the same spots season after season. Knowing this is important for the successful public land hunter. One of my preferred public land scouting times is right after the season closes. It is then that I am able to see the “sign” hunters have left behind and make notes of it. Just remember this, on public land hunters influence deer movement patterns.

Scout from home
.
Google Earth has become for me a vital public land scouting tool. It is on Google Earth where I can clearly see the structure and layout of the land before I even set foot onto the land. When I look at Google Earth I look for spots that other hunters often overlook. Out of the way places and locations that don’t look like deer holding areas peak my interest. Often a small woodlot out in the open is overlooked by other hunters and so are small swampy areas and places that are not easily accessible. Most hunters head for the field edges and the big timber. These are the areas deer go to ones the pressure intensives knowing that no hunter will bother them there.

Check the boundaries.
Public land often borders onto private farmland. Walking the boundaries will reveal deer trails that lead from the public land onto private land. Often times these trails are used by the deer during hunting season as escape routes, hanging a stand near such trails can provide you with good hunting opportunities. Just be early in the stand and wait for the other hunters to enter the land and push deer your way.

Barriers.
Many public hunting lands have rivers and streams flowing through them. Most hunters wouldn’t think of crossing waterways or are not equipped to do so. Deer on the other hand have no hesitation whatsoever to get their feet wet crossing rivers and streams to escape from hunters onto small islands, into swampy or tall grass patches. Walking along such waterways after the hunting season closes will show where deer cross rivers and streams. I’ve made it many years ago a practice of mine to always carry a pair of hip and chest waders with me when I scout and hunt on public land.

Conclusion.
Hunting public land can be frustrating and almost always is hard work. But rather than letting hunting pressure get to you, do as the deer do. Avoid the hunting pressure and other hunters by finding the places that other hunters overlook or can’t be bothered to get to it. With a little effort and scouting right after hunting season closes you will find these deer refuge areas.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Call and Rattle In Rutting Bucks

© By Othmar Vohringer

In all fairness it needs to be said that there are places where rattling and calling simply does not work well, mostly because deer wised up to the excessive amount of fake buck fighting and calling. This holds especially true on public land. It also holds true in areas where the buck to doe ratio is skewed in favor of the does. In such areas, which is almost everywhere were deer are not managed for an equal buck to doe ratio, bucks simply have no need to fight for breeding rights.

Yet, even in areas with skewed buck to doe ratios you can have success with calling and rattling a buck to your stand. Forget about aggressive calling and mimicking life-and-death buck battles. Instead tone it down a notch or two. Instead of aggressive rattling stick to “tickling” the antlers together, mimicking a sparring match between two bucks. This is often all it takes to get a buck curious and come investigating. Actually to tell the truth, I have much more success with gentle rattling than with banging aggressively the antlers together. My thinking is that even a large buck would rather come to investigate a sparring match than a full blown fight where he has to risk getting his butt kicked.

What applies for rattling also applies for calling. My experience is that many hunters make three mistakes when calling deer. These are; calling to loud, calling too often and to aggressive. Deer are gentle creatures that don’t like to be yelled at they also do not talk nonstop with each other and are seldom aggressive. When I call deer I strictly call deer that I can see. Blind calling has seldom worked for me. To call in bucks during the rut I stick to soft doe bleats. I keep it short, no more than two to three bleats and then I put the call away. If the buck hears the call he will either respond or not. If he doesn’t respond more calling will rarley change his mind. In fact I found quite often that by calling more the buck becomes suspicious and either walks away or if he does come in will hang up in thick cover.

How you’re set up will also play a big role in how effective deer calling and rattling works. Setting up a stand on deer trail intersections and near funnels yields the best results, deer rarely go out of their way to investigate a call. In the morning stands near doe bedding area are a good choice as bucks will frequent these places in the search of does. In the evening take a stand near a doe feeding area as the bucks will be hanging out there too. While it is true that bucks travel constantly during the rut they do not so randomly. The bucks know where the different groups of does bed and feed and they cruse from one group to the next on established routes. In other words, where the does are bucks aren’t too far from them.With that said, stick with the does and the bucks will not be far away.

Conclusion:

Tone your calling and rattling down a notch or two. Set up near the does because that is where the bucks will be too and if you want to make the illusion perfect to fool a buck with rattling and calling use a decoy as well. Attract a buck by sound and then confirm what he heard by providing him with a visual stimuli.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Rut Tactic: The Sure-fire Rut Setups

© By Othmar Vohringer

A heavily used overgrown fence-row.
To get you one giant step closer to filling your buck tag during the whitetail rut make sure that your stand is set up at the right location. When choosing stand locations think funnels and wind. As bucks frantically travel back and forth in their territory in search of hot does they use funnels that provide them with quick access and cover to get from one place to another one. Bucks are masters at using the prevailing wind and air currents to their advantage to sniff out danger and hot does.

Here is what to look for.
If you did your pre-season scouting you know where the doe bedding and feeding areas are, from there look for features in the landscape that “funnel” deer movement through a small spot between the two locations. Buck funnels are everywhere you just have to find them.
Here are a few examples of what constitutes a funnel.
  • Narrow fingers of timber leading out into an open field or connect two larger wood lots.
  • Narrow and shallow creek crossings.
  • Overgrown fence-rows.
  • A segment of broken barbwire fence where deer easily can cross.
  • Saddles (shallow points between two hills).
  • Woodland corners.
These are just a few examples of landscape features bucks frequently use to access doe holding areas. To make the set up work in your favor make sure you are downwind from the buck travel route. Bucks always travel downwind from doe holding areas to scent-check if any does are in heat yet. If you can set up in a funnel and downwind from the doe feeding or bedding area and the path the buck travels you got yourself a sure-fire whitetail rut setup.

Here are a few examples of buck travel funnels. (Illustration © By Heidi Koehler)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Rut Tactics: Using Decoys To Bring In Bucks


© By Othmar Vohringer

Using a deer decoy during the rut to lure a buck to your stand or ground blind can work extremely well. But like everything else, decoying has to be done right. Just randomly setting up decoys and hope for the best is bound to fail. In this segment of Rut Tactics I will provide you with a few tips on how to make your decoy set ups get noticed by bucks.

Timing:
To have any chance at decoying success the timing has to be perfect. Used at the right time, a decoy can significantly increase the chances of a buck responding to it. Fail to get the timing right and bucks will ignore the decoy, or worse get spooked by it. My experience is that the best time for decoying begins in the pre-rut phase and right up to the peak of the rut. The closer it gets to the peak rut the better is the likelihood that a mature buck will respond to your decoy.

Why is timing so important? During the rut bucks are single minded driven to breed every doe that they can get and to fight every buck for it. In their breeding frenzy a roaming buck will be attracted by anything that looks like a deer.

Another important consideration of timing is to set the decoy up when you hunt and not before. This seems to make sense but I have encountered hunters that set up decoys the evening before they hunt. It’s a big mistake to do this. The whole premise of decoying is to fool a buck into believing that there is an actual deer and not to give him time to figure out that the decoy is a fake deer.

Presentation:
A typical decoy set up using existing deer travel funnels .
Next to the timing of using decoys, the success of decoying boils down to presentation. In order to have any chance for the decoy to be taken seriously by a buck and to give you a good shot at it ones he comes in, you have to pick the right place to set the decoy up.

First, the decoy has to be set up where deer are traveling, meaning active deer travel routes. Deer, even a lovesick buck, will not go out of their way to investigate something that looks like a deer when he knows that it is not an active travel route. In fact he will get suspicious about it. In my experience the best place for decoys are funnels and crossing points. The bottom line is. You need to be where deer will travel and see your decoy.

A decoy should always be placed where bucks can spot them form a fair distance away (see image above). You also have to pay close attention to the wind. Bucks often try to approach decoys from downwind. Make sure that the buck cannot go downwind from your stand position without stepping into one of your shooting lanes first.

Next pay close attention in which direction the decoy faces. There are several opinions where a decoy should face, while some believe a decoy should face away from the hunter, others are of the opinion that the decoy should face the hunter. From experience I share the later opinion. Here is why. When a buck approaches a deer he tries to get downwind from it to scent check it. Then the buck approaches the deer from the front, he wants to look the other deer into the eyes. As the buck turns to face the decoy he will at some point come broadside of me and give me a shot. By doing so the buck is fully focused on the decoy, he will not notice when you shoulder your rifle or draw your bowstring. Conversely, if the decoy faces away from you and the buck approaches it he will look in your direction and might see you move. Because of how a buck approaches another deer, in this case a decoy, it is important to place the decoy in such a way that the wind blows directly from the decoy to you and that the decoy faces you.

How far should the decoy be placed from the hunter’s position? That depends what you’re shooting with. If I hunt with a bow I place the decoy no more than 30 yards from the stand, preferably a little closer. With a firearm the decoy can be placed further away from the setup, provided the decoy is still clearly visible to any approaching bucks. Distance from the hunter to the decoy is important because a buck will typically keep a safe distance from the decoy before they walk right up to it. Preferably I like to get a shot at the buck before he walks right up to the decoy. It doesn’t take very long for some bucks to figure out that a decoy is a fake deer, then swaps ends and departs in a hurry.

Should I use a buck or doe decoy?:
Most of the time I use a buck decoy and sometimes a buck and doe together, the later seems to work especially well if the buck decoy mimics a smaller buck. A larger buck will have no hesitation to come rushing in, trying to run the smaller buck off.

I rarely use a single doe decoy, as my experience has been that it attracts mostly other does and fawns. What I have experienced a time or two with single doe decoys is that an older doe got suspicious, somehow these older girls seem to have sixth sense of things that are not quite right. It is these older does that can make all other deer nervous with their paranoia and eventually convince the others deer to vacate the area and by doing so take bucks that might lurk around with them. By using a buck decoy the does will usually stay clear of it. Bucks on the other hand will approach the decoy with the full intention of kicking this intruder’s butt, especially if the decoy as I said earlier mimics a smaller buck.

Complete the illusion:
When I use decoys I want to create a lifelike illusion. To do that I use scents, calls and rattling antlers that are appropriate for the time of the rut.

Conclusion:
If you haven’t had much luck decoying deer in the past, try some of the tips provided here and see how decoying deer can work for you too. I am often asked whether full body or silhouette decoys are better. Personally I like the silhouette decoys from Montana Decoys. These decoys look lifelike and fold up to a small format that will fit easily into a backpack. To me this is important. Especially when I use a climbing treestand, spot and stalk or have to hike a long way to my stand, I don’t feel that I also should burden the load by carrying a life-sized full body deer decoy when the are other options that work as well as a Montana Decoy.
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