Monday, November 13, 2017

Attracting More Bucks With A Horizontal Rub Tree

© By Othmar Vohringer

One aspect of hunting that has always intrigued me is the fact that you always learn something new. It’s no different now after hunting whitetail deer for over 25 years, every time I go scouting, hunting or talk to fellow hunters I learn something new. Hunting is indeed a continues education process.

Last week I learned from a video (linked at the bottom of this column) that hunters can attract more bucks if they install a horizontal rub tree. The story goes that in 2015 Ted Miller, while researching elk, observed that bull elk liked to rub their antlers on fallen (horizontal) trees. As an avid deer hunter he thought that whitetail bucks might like to that too.

Back home he went about to install several horizontal rub trees by tying small tree trunks between two trees and on fence posts. Game cameras hung up nearby showed that whitetail bucks, like the elks he observed, not only liked the horizontal rub trees, they also visited them regularly. In addition more bucks from neighboring properties came to visit these rubbing trees too.

The idea of horizontal rub trees is simple and easy to implement, so easy in fact that I decided to try that out at the end of this hunting on public land where I mostly hunt. Here in British Columbia where I hunt this is legal. With that said if you would like to make a horizontal rub tree too on public land it is wise to consult with your regional hunting laws first.

There are a few spots where I hunt that are ideal for that type of tactic and my Muddy Game cameras should quickly provide the evidence if horizontal rub trees work of BC whitetail and mule deer too.

If you already have some experience with horizontal rub trees please share your experience with us in the comment section.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Understanding The Body Language Of Deer

© Othmar Vohringer

Deer communicate with each other by three basic means. By far the most common form of deer communication is by scent, followed by vocalization. Far less known is that deer also communicate through behavioral patterns. Behavior patterns are very complex, in fact so much so that the common term “body language” has evolved. However, for the sake of simplicity I only will focus on a few of the most common behaviors that hunters witness quite often. I will explain what they mean and what the deer are “telling” you with it.

©Heidi Koehler
The Alerted Deer.

The deer stands still with its ears pointed forward and is directly staring at you. In this position the deer sometimes flicks its tail up and down in conjunction with head bobbing, or moving the head from side to side. In high alert mode the deer will also stomp the ground with one of its front feet.

The deer has seen something that caught its interest and is now alert but does not know what exactly it is. The head bobbing and tail flicking has two meanings. A.) The deer tries to entice the object to move. For example, predators often move at the sight of rapid movement. B.) By moving the head from side to side and flicking the ears the deer tries to see the object from different angles and pick up the faintest sound with its ears. Stomping the foot on the ground also serves to alert the other deer within earshot.

What to do?
This is a situation where most hunters go “I’m busted” and walk away. Now you are busted because the deer has seen you move. What you should do is to stand absolutely still. Avoid direct eye contact; deer seem to have a sixth sense for being stared at and they don’t like it. It can take several minutes until the deer is convinced that you’re not an immediate threat and either will slowly move off or resume its normal activity. If the deer moves calmly away, flicking its tail ones or twice, signalling ‘all is well’, remain in your position a while longer and then try to follow the deer quietly.

©Heidi Koehler
The Submissive Buck.

Instead of carrying his tail in a normal relaxed fashion the buck has tucked his tail firmly between its legs. As he wanders about he constantly looks around as if he is being followed. The overall behavior of the deer seems edgy and nervous.

Bucks have a very strict hierarchy; to avoid physical conflicts the lower ranking animals act submissive and are very cautious. If a dominant buck is in close proximity the lesser buck will increase the submissive behavior a notch by lowering the head slightly and letting his ears hang down. If you see such a buck close to a doe and he suddenly moves off it is a sure sign that the big boy is very close by, even if you can’t see him yet.

What to do?
If the buck is legal you can take him if he presents a shot. Or, you can wait for the dominant buck to appear. The more tense and skittish the buck acts the closer the big boy will be. Wait him out. If you see a lesser buck in a field near a doe suddenly moving off without apparent reason while looking into a particular direction start to pay attention in that direction, the big one may step out any minute.

©Heidi Koehler
The Dominant Buck.

This buck carries his head high, rump and neck hair bristling as he marches around his domain. There are only two scenarios where this buck will lower his head as a behavioral gesture. One is in a semi-submissive position when he approaches a doe in heat. The other is an aggressive gesture with the hair on his neck and rump standing upright when he approaches a contender. Often this behavior is accompanied by several deep guttural grunts.

This buck is the undisputed monarch of the deer woods and has first pick of every doe that comes into heat. Except for the mature does all other deer are intimidated by him and have to wait at the sidelines until this buck has picked the doe he wants or had his fill at the waterhole. Every buck in the area is well advised to keep a healthy distance from him.

What to do?
If he is outside your comfortable shooting range you can bring him closer with a challenging buck grunt or some antler rattling. The dominant buck is quite often a younger deer in the prime of its strength, endurance and stamina.

©Heidi Koehler
The Seeking Buck

Behavior: The buck pins his ears back close to his head, with the nose high up as he audibly sucks in air through his mouth and blows it out through the nose as he scent-checks the air. On the move the buck hastily walks along with the head stretched far forward and nose to the ground, like a bird-dog, following a scent trail.

The buck has heard a sound or caught a whiff of scent that excites him and he is ready for action. The cause for this behavior can be from a doe in heat or a strange buck that has entered his turf.

What you can do?
If this behavior is mixed with aggression the buck has caught the scent of an intruder. Use an aggressive grunt call to bring him to your stand. If the behavior is sheer excitement, the buck follows a scent trail of a hot doe. In this case you can use a doe-in-estrus bleat to bring him in.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, studying animal behavior is a fascinating subject and by deciphering the meaning of it can get you a giant step closer to filling your tag with consistency every year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Hunting Coyotes Makes Good Deer Conservation Sense

© Othmar Vohringer

The hunting season of 2016 is history here in British Columbia and with that most hunters put their hunting equipment away for the winter. However, there is a hunting season that is still open (in some Wildlife Management Units until June 30th and in others until March 31st). I am talking about coyote hunting. There are several benefits hunting coyotes. In most areas coyotes are grossly overpopulated to the point were they have become a nuisance and a danger to pets, livestock and wildlife populations. In a few rarer cases they pose a danger even to humans. It is estimated that coyotes can kill as much as 56 percent of the deer fawns born in the spring, but they also can create havoc on grouse and other wildlife populations. With that said it makes good conservation sense to hunt coyotes after the regular hunting season closes.

Another benefit of hunting coyotes is that the fur prices have increased over the past two to three years. A prime coyote pelt can fetch upwards of 68 dollars for a Western coyote and 40 dollars for lesser quality and Eastern coyote. In other words, by hunting coyotes all winter you could substantially support your hunting budget. But before you can think about selling fur to finance your next hunting rifle or a few boxes of ammunition there are some vital aspects of coyote hunting to consider.

One of these considerations is the firearm caliber you should choose. If you hunt coyotes for fur the deer rifle will render the fur useless. Typically coyote rifle calibers are small to prevent damage to the pelt but with enough power to dispatch the animal humanly. The generally accepted calibers are as follows. On the lowest end of the scale is the .17 HMR. This caliber has an extremely flat trajectory but lacks the punch needed for long range shooting (beyond 100 yards). In the middle of the scale are the .204 Ruger, the .223 Remington (my favourite), the 220 Swift and .243 Winchester. So called “coyote loads” of these calibers with soft-tip bullets in the 55 to 60 grain weight generate enough energy and punch out to 200 yards to kill a coyote instantly with minimal fur damage. On the upper end of the scale would be the .22-250 Remington- a potent caliber for coyotes out to 300 yards. However, the loads used in this caliber would not necessarily be my choice for getting prime coyote fur as the bullets often make quite large exit holes, meaning fur damage.

Hunting tactics for coyotes are different from deer hunting tactics. If you think that deer are wary critters think again. Part of why coyote populations reached such high numbers is because they are extremely cautious critters. Most times when you see them is when they run away from you. Because of this wariness they can’t be hunted by stalking up to them or driving along logging roads. Coyotes are most successfully hunted by setting up on a location where you have a good view of the surrounding landscape yet be camouflaged enough that approaching coyotes can’t spot you from a long distance away. Once set up, coyotes are called into shooting range by imitating coyote welcoming howls and distress calls of injured prey animals such as rabbits, fawns and birds. Other good calls to use are magpie and raven calls since coyotes follow these “air surveillance agents” around to find an injured or diseased animal. It is legal here in British Columbia to use electronic coyote calls that come pre-programmed with a variety of sounds that will get the interest of a coyote. In addition to calling, the most successful coyote hunters use a decoy to provide visual stimuli, and for good reason. As I said above, coyotes are very wary animals. If they come to a call they tend to hang up a long way out to survey the area for the easy meal whose cries they heard. If they can’t see anything they often leave but by using a decoy – this can be something as simple as a strip of fur over the ground moving with the wind – you will add to the realism and convince the coyote to come closer.

If you never hunted coyotes there are many good sources on the internet that provide all sorts of valued information for the beginning coyote hunters, including how to prepare and care for the pelt in order to gain a good selling price.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Respect Private Land

© Othmar Vohringer

To respect private land is part of the hunter ethics creed, but not everybody adheres to it. In conversations with landowners I hear complaints all the time. This is not good because the negative impressions some hunters create will ultimately affect all hunters equally.

At the top of the list of the most common complaints I hear is trespassing without obtaining permission first. According to the “British Columbia Trespass Act” it is an offence to trespass onto land to which you have no permission. This could lead to prosecution, fines and paying of damages if any occurred.

Hunters shooting game on private land from the road is another. Under the Wildlife Act a hunter commits a criminal offense if shooting a firearm from a road and shooting a wild game animal on private land, even if it is during a legal season. This is regarded by the law as an act of poaching. A hunter shooting from a road at game on private land to which he has no permission is a double offense case that will lead to prosecution and a trial in court. Sentences for this multiple offense are the loss of hunting privileges of one or more years plus confiscation of firearms and heavy fines, or even jail time.

Even when landowners grant permission to trespass on their lands it leads to complaints about some individuals. On top of the list is property damage. Such damages include driving vehicles across hay and crop fields, cutting fences, cutting down trees for firewood, shooting at signs and discharging firearms to close to buildings and erecting permanent treestands. Another complaint is that hunters having permission invite family members or friends onto the property. Getting permission to hunt on private land is not a free pass to do whatever you want and, unless negotiated otherwise, only you have permission, not your family and friends. Every landowner has his own set of rules and stipulations that an ethical hunter will obey. As a hunter on private land you’re only a guest, a privilege that can be revoked at any time without having to give a reason, don’t make it a bad reason that will affect others too.

This list is followed by complaints that hunters disregard the conditions the landowner provides with the permission to trespass. Things like not leaving gates the way you found them (open or closed), leaving campfires unattended and leaving bags of garbage behind. In one case a landowner told me of three hunters he gave permission to hunt on his land with the stipulation that a certain easily recognizable buck is off limits to the hunters. The disappointment and understandable anger of the landowner was big when one day he saw the hunters driving past his house with that very buck in the back of the truck. While wildlife belongs to all people, and in this case the hunters acted in a perfectly legal manner by taking that buck, they clearly violated the trust and a promise they made as part of getting permission to step onto private land. The result of this breach of trust and promise resulted in an action from the landowner under which now all hunters have to suffer in that he refuses permission to every hunter. “Burned child fears the fire” comes readily to mind here.

Wildlife management is very important, especially on private land where wildlife often causes damage to crops. Hunters could be a great asset for landowners in controlling wildlife populations and the damage they create. Yet it only takes a few irresponsible hunters to put all hunters into a bad light. Hunting on private land is not a right, it is a privilege based on mutual respect, trust and common-sense manners. As a hunter on private land you’re invited as a guest. That means not only do you have to respect the law but also the conditions the landowner attaches to this privilege. You wouldn’t like it if someone trespasses on your land without permission, neither would you appreciate a guest that takes advantage of you and does whatever he likes. That brings another saying to mind; “Don’t do unto others that you don’t want others to do unto you”. It’s simple really. Show some respect for landowners and the law and we all will be better off for it.

Friday, September 23, 2016

What constitutes huntable land?

© By Othmar Vohringer

It doesn’t matter if you have permission to hunt on private land or if you hunt on public land. There are places that hold deer while others are not or just a few. For example here in the southern interior of British Columbia there are places that you can look for days and count your blessings if you see one or two deer per square mile, while just a few miles in another direction you will encounter deer practically at every step. Why is that so?

In this segment of Whitetail Deer Passion I would like to explain to you what to look for to find a huntable area. With “huntable area” I mean places that hold good deer populations. Huntable areas, or deer magnets as I call it, fulfill the same requirements no matter where you hunt. These requirements are the four basic needs that all animals need to survive and prosper. These basic needs are; food, water, cover and shelter. That’s it, not more and not less. The closer together and plentiful these basic needs are together the more deer will congregate in that area. If the four basic needs are spread further apart or not readily available the fewer deer the area will hold. Any other areas that do not satisfy the basic needs will be void of any deer.

How to find a huntable area

For some it can be a daunting task finding places that are deer magnets. This is a task that can be learned on the internet from the comfort of your home. Even I can’t tell you where you find them. I only can tell what to look for. It takes work and time studying aerial maps and driving around. Granted it can be a daunting task trying to locate these places deer frequent in large numbers. Especially in heavily urbanized areas, heavy hunting competition or where public land is in limited supply it quickly can seem impossible to find good deer populations. But let there be no doubt, it can be accomplished. I developed a system for myself when I look for deer magnets, and it will work for you too.

My system begins with studying aerial maps of any given area I want to hunt. Thanks to Google Earth looking over aerial maps is no problem anymore and can be done by anyone with a computer. The birds-eye view Google provides lets you see land features very clearly. By zooming in on any given area particular features you are looking for can be inspected. I use the zoom feature to find the four basic needs deer need. Once I find them my next task is to find out if that area is public hunting land or private land. If it is private land I will visit the land owner and ask for permission to trespass the property. (Tip; don’t ask right away for permission to hunt. Ask for permission to look around first.)

If the identified area is on public land it’s time to put the hiking boots on your feet and start diligently scouting with binoculars, aerial map (Google Earth printout), note pad and GPS. On private land you obviously have to wait with scouting until you get permission from the landowner to do so. NEVER trespass on private land without expressed permission from the landowner.

Finding good hunting land is never easy and never has been. But with a bit of effort and learning about the requirements deer need, plus a good dose of Whitetail Deer Passion, it can be done by anyone.

 This is what I consider a poor hunting area. While it has lots of cover and shelter the area lacks quality food sources and above all water. Such land has very few deer and they have to travel far to fulfill their requirements.

This is a good hunting area. Here deer find all their basic needs in relative close proximity. Land like this has all the ingredients (food, water, cover and shelter) to support a large deer population.  
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