I started this challenge back in February of this year (see My 2018 Hunting Challenge) with naivete of a true amateur huntsman. I know enough about hunting and the outdoors to essentially not get lost in the woods, but to be honest I really do not know a lot about deer hunting. I am capable of noticing deer sign (i.e. rubs, scrapes, trails, scat and beds), but when it comes to putting the entire puzzle together I tend to make mistakes. One mistake I make year after year is in scouting. Most of my hunting takes place on my family’s private property in Mississippi that is a 7 hour drive on a good day. With my public land hunting area being less than 30 minutes away, I have way more time to get out into the woods and work on what some might call being a woodsman or a huntsman.
My first scouting trip took place also in February of this year (see 2018 Hunting Challenge – Update) which resulted in some positive signs of deer along with the very first dead head I have ever found. It was a shame that this deer didn’t make it through the season because he would have been an outstanding buck to harvest. I ended up locating some good deer sign, but access to where I could get a treestand was a challenge.
The second scouting trip was about 80% failure, 20% success and 100% too thick to hunt. I made my way back to where I scouted previously and tried an access route to a clearing in the forest canopy using a drainage feature I found scouting online. This idea worked fairly well for the first 100 yards, but ultimately the forest undergrowth was too much and I had to back out. I did find a nice trail that led up a ridge where I could get in a tree that would cover the ridge and the drainage bottom. I still may use this area as a back up stand location if the wind is not in my favor in my other areas.
Having felt somewhat defeated on these first two scouting trips I decided to change up my tactics. In order to be efficient at scouting I had to rely heavily on online scouting using the OnX Hunt App (www.onxmaps.com). I really didn’t want to use this product because I felt that it was being over hyped on social media and podcasts, but in the limited time I have used it, my opinion has totally changed. It’s not that this is some revolutionary application that you couldn’t mimic using GoogleEarth and some free plug ins, but it puts all the tools you would need (i.e. satellite photos, topographic contours, property boundaries etc.) in one easy to use interface. I’m not going to list out all the pros and cons of the product or try to sell it to you, but if you have to cover a large area and want to get a head start narrowing down an area to scout, I would suggest you try the 7 day free trial. Hell, try it twice by using a different email address for the second week (I did and then ultimately bought the year subscription just for the state of Texas).
I narrowed my new hunting area down based on good access points, good clean edges in the vegetation, water sources and changes in topography (all the stuff I currently think and have been told that deer want). With this information I placed a couple of game cameras in the Sam Houston National Forest two weeks ago.
Two Weeks Later….
We had a packed weekend planned, so I had to squeeze this camera-checking mission in on Saturday between breakfast and a family bowling excursion that afternoon. I took my 5 year old son with me and even though I had to carry him most of the way, we still had a great time. I taught him about public land (encouraged by my new Keep it Public hat, www.keepitpublic.org), never giving up on yourself and how to be an outdoorsman or how to at least try to be one.
If you have read my previous posts about my hunting challenge, you should have a good idea of what I am trying to achieve this year. I set out to challenge myself to bow hunt on public land in an area that not many other hunters use due to the long access route to get there (hopefully). I chose an area that I think has all the right ingredients to harvest a mature whitetail buck during the early part of bow season. The hike to where I plan to hunt is a little over a mile through the woods over relatively flat ground, but if you live in Texas, you know that even a mile walk in the late summer/early fall is a recipe for heat stroke if you are not careful. My son and I loaded up our packs with water, snacks and a toy truck (my son’s idea, not mine) and we headed into the forest.
My son has checked cameras with me before on our property in Mississippi, but this time we had to do a little more hiking to do so. It gave us plenty of time to talk and for me to explain to him as much as I could about what was going on around us like, what sounds we were hearing, what types of trees were growing around us and what different tracks we were seeing in the mud. I probably over compensate on the outdoor knowledge with my son because of the amount of technology he is exposed to on a given day. It is a paranoia of mine that he will grow up totally unattached to the land in this country. This paranoia is exacerbated by the constant talk in magazines, websites and podcasts on declining hunter numbers and the high average age of hunters currently holding licenses.
Along the way my son started pointing out deer tracks to me. He had seen them before in Mississippi, but usually I was the one pointing them out. This time he was all over it with his eyes glued to the ground looking for sign. I started to show him how to determine the direction of travel, the potential size of the deer and if it was a doe with a fawn in tow or not. He grasped the concept pretty quick and then proceeded to point out every track in our path for the next couple of hundred yards. His enthusiasm is encouraging to me.
This Land is Your Land
We stopped halfway to our destination to have some water and a banana that my son packed for himself. While he was loading up on potassium, I started to explain to him where we were. He knew that we were in the forest, but I wanted to re-iterate to him that this was public land. It really is a concept that was lost on me for a really long time, about 31 years. This land was our land, we could explore, hunt, fish and camp whenever we wanted (as long as it was in season). I hope that he understands that and appreciates it at a younger age than I did because I feel that I really missed out on it over the years. As we stood there talking I couldn’t help but notice my son’s attention start to fade as he squinted and looked inquisitive about what was going on around us. Birds were chirping, trees were swaying and creaking in the wind and butterflies were fluttering from flower to flower. I’m pretty sure he totally absorbed everything I was explaining to him (not really, he is 5 but he will get it eventually). I took the last bite of my son’s banana, chucked the peel into the woods and we stepped off for the last half of our hike.
Game Camera Successes and Failures
I don’t know what it is about setting up a game camera, but I am pretty bad at it 75% of the time. It is something I have tried to get better at over the years, but I keep making the dumbest mistakes due to rushing the placement of the camera. I either set it too high or two low resulting in partial pictures of deer or worse, thousands of pictures of grass moving back and forth in the wind. Needless to say, this time was no different for one of my cameras. Once we got back to the house and loaded the SD card into my computer, I had 2200 pictures of a vine that I forgot to cut moving back and forth in front of my camera. The camera wasn’t a total bust because I did manage to snag some good pictures and videos of two different bucks at night. After swapping out the SD card in one camera and removing the other camera from the woods we made our way back to the truck.
Unintentional Hunting Prep and a Lesson in Life
My son wasn’t too excited to walk back to the truck and asked if I would carry him. Without hesitating I told him absolutely and then tossed him up on my shoulders. One of these days he will be as big as me (6’3” and 195 lbs) and I won’t get to do things like that anymore. The good thing is he weighs about the same as all my hunting gear so it made for good physical preparation for bow season.
Along the way my son wanted to pick some flowers for his sister and his mom. We passed multiple flowers as he sought out the perfect color for mom (yellow) and for his sister (pink). I eventually got him off my shoulders to give him a better shot at seeing the types of flowers he wanted to pick and sure enough he picked a good one for mom. As we made our way down the trail looking for a flower for his little sister, my son started to whine about being tired. I reassured him that he was going to be fine and to keep walking for a little bit while my shoulders took a break. He then uttered the two words that I hate hearing come from my children, “I can’t”. I probably could have just let it slide, but I don’t want my kids to think that they can’t do anything they put their mind to. Instead of just telling him that he could do it, I decided to tell him a little story about me becoming a Marine after high school. It doesn’t really sound like a story that is relevant, but it was the best story I could think of in the moment. I wanted him to know that there was a time in my life where I was faced with a difficult challenge, had to believe in myself to accomplish my goal and that I never gave up even when I may have doubted myself and others may have doubted me. He seemed to understand what I was talking about and I think at least some of that story soaked in.
The more I get my son outdoors the more I realize that we talk more about life than the outdoors. I teach him a few things about understanding trails or animal tracks, but the big lessons always seem to be about life and growing up. Right before we got to the truck my son said that when he grows up he wants to be just like me. I swallowed hard trying to avoid my voice cracking and then told him that I love him. I can’t wait to check our cameras again in a few weeks. I wonder what life lessons my son and I will cover.
-The Family Outdoorsman
If you’ve made it this far and are wondering where the game camera pictures are….well here you go. Looking forward to seeing more bucks throughout the summer leading up to bow season.