Learning to Hunt Again

I don’t necessarily come from a hunting family.  My dad introduced me to hunting when I was younger, but we never really spent that much time in the woods.  We did most of our hunting over feeders in South Texas and after I killed my first deer (I was 13 years old) I don’t really remember deer hunting all that much.  Honestly, I didn’t shoot another buck until I was 30 years old.  There were a number of years after high school that made it difficult for me to hunt.  I spent some time in the Marine Corps, moved to Tennessee for my Bachelor’s Degree and then to Louisiana for my Master’s Degree.  I also didn’t deer hunt much because I was never properly introduced to whitetail hunting.  Sure I had helped out with deer camp work, shot some deer in Texas over feeders, but that wasn’t really all that exciting to me.  I grew tired of sitting in a blind just waiting for the feeder to go off and then have a buffet line of deer show up.  It wasn’t until I started to regularly hunt my family’s property in Mississippi with family members that I gained an appreciation for whitetail hunting and what it meant to be a hunter.

Starting Fresh…In My Twenties

I started hunting again regularly about 6 years ago at the age of 25.  My uncles in Mississippi started inviting me to hunt with them and this is when my obsession started to really take off.  They would show me where to hunt, what signs to look for, how to hunt with the wind in my favor and a ton of other information.  The hunting that they showed me in Mississippi was totally different than what I had experienced in Texas.  They didn’t sit in box blinds, they climbed trees.  They didn’t have feeders, they planted food plots.  They used deer scents and deer calls.  They had to rely heavily on the wind and scent control to not get busted by deer.  This was a whole new world of hunting for me.

I took what I learned from my uncles and started applying it to another piece of property I was able to hunt in Texas that my grandmother in law owned.  This was a little tract of land in San Augustine County, Texas that was about 20 acres in size.  20 acres doesn’t seem like a lot of property to deer hunt on, but this place was bordered by a portion of the Angelina National Forest that didn’t allow hunting.  It was truly a great place that was close to my house that I could practice what I had learned from my uncles.  It was my laboratory for deer hunting.

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Panorama of a field edge I would set my treestand in.  I had an open field with a feeder and a strip of timber behind me that connected a pine tree field to the national forest

Success in Texas…kind of

Since my family’s property in Mississippi was leased by a hunting club I didn’t make it out there much until 2014.  I couldn’t afford the hunting club fees and I had this property in Texas that I could hunt on so it made sense to just hunt in Texas for the time being.  It wasn’t until November 2013 that I was able to put some of the things I had practiced to good use.  Almost two years had gone by since I had started hunting again and I hadn’t shot a deer yet.  I had learned a lot and although I like learning, I can’t mount learning on my wall and look at it everyday.  This weekend in November 2013 would be much of the same, I wasn’t going to shoot a deer.  In fact it was my father in law that was going to shoot the biggest deer of his life.

I went up to this property in Texas to hunt for the weekend because gun season had just started and I knew that this time of year in November the deer were starting to rut.  I got there Friday afternoon and immediately checked some cameras and climbed up into a tree.  For the next three hours I didn’t see a thing, not even a squirrel.  Sits like that really make deer hunting hard sometimes.  It can be so defeating when nothing goes your way.  I climbed down out of my stand a little early because I wanted to go check one more camera before it got really dark.  As I turned a corner into a pasture a little 6 point buck walked out about 20 yards from me.  I figured since I knew I wouldn’t shoot this buck that I would just grunt at him and see how he reacts.  I grunted once and he immediately perked up.  He looked around the pasture to see what buck made that noise and he started walking around while sternly placing each hoof down like he was the biggest deer in the woods.  He eventually spotted me and took off running, but I was able to call him back three different times.  That night my father in law showed up to hunt for the weekend and I told him that the rut was on. 

The next morning we sat together underneath a group of trees in the middle of the same pasture the 6 point was in the day before.  At first light the feeder went off and for the next hour nothing was moving.  It started to look like a typical day of deer hunting.  I decided that it was time to start blind calling and see if I could maybe draw in a buck that was roaming around.  For the next two hours I rattled, grunted and growled every thirty minutes, so much so that my father in law basically told me to shut up because nothing was going to come around with me making that much noise.  He tapped me on the shoulder and said that he was going to back to the house.  I told him to let me rattle and grunt one more time and if nothing happens we can go get some breakfast.  I smashed my pack rack together as hard as I could and with my grunt tube in my mouth I grunted in between rattling.  I did this for almost 2 minutes and when I was done I let out a deep growl.  Almost instantly we heard a thrashing in the woods getting closer to us.  We both grabbed our rifles and before we knew it a wide 8 point jumped through the brush at the pasture edge and stopped 10 yards from where we were sitting.  My father in law ended up shooting him and then proceeded to shake.  I don’t think he even had time for buck fever to set in, that’s how quick this situation unfolded.  I would have loved to shoot that deer and mount him on my wall, but I was very happy to even be involved in that hunt.  

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My father in law with the 8 point I rattled in for him, a stud by East Texas measures…the deer that is

Hunting in Mississippi is on a different level 

I started hunting my family’s property in Mississippi regularly about 4 years ago.  I ended up joining the hunting club that leased it for about a year and then just showed up from time to time as a “guest”.  For three of those years I never pulled a trigger on a deer.  I scoped a few bucks and does while up in a tree, but I never dropped the hammer on any of them.  It’s not that I had some great dream of a giant Boone and Crockett buck walking underneath my stand begging to be shot, but I did have standards.  I knew I at least wanted to shoot an 8 point or greater and it had to have 20 inch main beams (the main beam is part of the buck’s antlers where all other points grow from).  The effect of having these standards not only eventually got me a buck I was proud of, but it gave me lots of time in the woods just observing deer. 

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Typical panorama of my stand set up in Mississippi.  I pretty much set up on the side of of ridge looking over a hardwood bottom.  

I ended up connecting with a deer in January of 2017.  He was a pretty good sized 4.5 year old 8 point buck.  This buck was truly a deer I was proud of because it was the first deer I have ever shot on my family’s property and he was by most standards a mature deer.  I had learned a lot in the years leading up to that deer, but to be honest I got pretty lucky.  He came in downwind of me and after looking him over for about 10 minutes I took a shot at him from about 30 yards.  I reflect back on that season and previous seasons a lot and I can always find things that I do wrong or could improve on.  I don’t want to rely on luck in future seasons.  I want to be successful every year, in multiple states on private and public grounds.  With the start of this new blog I figured this would be a good time to go back and look at what I did wrong last season and how I can take what I have learned in the past 6 years and apply it more aggressively going forward in order to meet my goals.      

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I was proud to harvest this deer as my first deer taken off of my family’s land in Mississippi.

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What I did wrong in the 2017-2018 Season

I did a lot of things wrong this last season and one of the biggest things I did wrong I do every year.  I DO NOT SCOUT ENOUGH.  Most seasons I get out to my family’s property in August, throw out some cameras and then check them at the start of bow season.  I only have four cameras and I generally set them out across the entire property and when I think one camera is hot, I will move the other cameras in that general area to narrow down where the deer are moving.  I think this is a pretty good idea, but the problem is that I am moving these cameras in bow season and it’s too late to be doing that.  I hope to resolve this scouting issue by encouraging my family to go to the woods with me to hike, camp and explore.  We might even stumble upon a shed or two while we are doing it.  This will not only provide quality time with my family outdoors, but I can knock out a little scouting while I am at it.

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I used to get my family out to check cameras with me.  My wife was pregnant with our daughter in this picture.
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Another family photo when checking cameras.  My daughter was more interested in pushing buttons on my four wheeler

Next season I want to focus on having multiple stand locations planned.  I only have a climbing treestand because I hunt on a budget and I really like being mobile.  In recent years I have gotten better about carrying my gear into the woods efficiently and quietly.  What I want to do next year is analyze an area that I want to hunt and have multiple trees picked out to climb for certain wind directions, deer movement patterns and timing of the rut.  That leads me into the next thing I did wrong this year.  

I can generally tell when bucks are rutting.  It is hard to mis-judge a bucks behavior when he literally has his nose up a doe’s hind quarters scent checking her every two seconds.  I want to get better at hunting deer when they are not rutting though, like in early October and November.  I have noticed from time in the stand that in these months the deer almost always ignore or shy away from my calls.  The bucks that I have seen are only interested in bulking up on food for the upcoming rut.  During these months I tend to call too much and I need to stop that.  I know that these deer are focused on feeding and bedding this time of year and I need to set up my stand in between these locations.  I am much more likely to catch a deer moving between food and bedding than to call one in grunting.

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This camera is in a spot I want to hunt more early season because this oak flat looks like a steamroller went over it.  I have hundreds of pictures of this buck eating all November along with at least 4 other shooter bucks.

What I did right in the 2017-2018 Season

I took what information I had from cameras, played the wind when picking my stand location and ending up harvesting a 8 point buck at 15 yards.  I probably couldn’t have planned that weekend better if I tried.  One of my cameras had way more deer crossing it than all of my other cameras combined and most of the deer were bucks.  Before I walked off into the bottom to get my camera I made sure to go in with the wind in my favor, grab the SD card and get out as fast as possible.  Once I saw how many deer were cruising this bottom I went in that afternoon to climb a tree and observe.  Sure enough I had deer all around me that afternoon including two yearling does that bedded down right behind the tree I was in.  Like I said, I made sure the wind was in my favor that weekend and it appeared to be working.

That weekend I also managed to recognize rutting behavior and was able to call in a 8 point within 10 yards of me.  This 8 point came up out of a bottom upwind of me in a full trot with his nose to the ground.  I immediately knew that this buck was on the trail of a hot doe and was going to be easy to call to.  As he got out of sight on top of a ridge I let out a couple of grunts followed by a deep guttural growl.  Within 15 seconds this buck closed the distance from about 100 yards away to within 10 yards of the tree I was in.  He only stood there for about 10 seconds then took off back up the ridge.  He never saw me or winded me so I can only assume that when he didn’t see another buck, he wised up and went back after the doe he was trailing.  He ended up stopping for a second so I could record him running off.  I love encounters like this because they really do teach me a lot about a buck’s behavior and how quickly a situation can go from calling to a shooting situation within seconds.  It pays to be ready for this, unfortunately my rifle was still laying across my lap.  The next day I had a similar experience and shot a different 8 point at 15 yards.      

The Learning Never Stops

I still have a lot to learn about what it takes to be a consistent successful hunter, but I feel that I have a great foundation to build on.  As long as I can grow season to season I will eventually get there.  I have always been a big fan of the DIY (Do It Yourself) lifestyle and hunting is a perfect sport for it.  It truly is something you have to do yourself.  No one is going to do the hunting for me.

-The Family Outdoorsman

 

4 Replies to “Learning to Hunt Again”

      1. Stephen and I were talking turkey hunting just yesterday. He wants to go and learn. He has never been. Pick some days and come on over.

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