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Schooled by Big Bucks

Turn Your Hunting Failures into Master’s Classes for Success!

Photo Credit: Jason Brewton

It’s an awful hard way to learn, or relearn lessons...the unforgiving school of hard knocks, close calls, and failures. Some of the best most impactful lessons are learned this way, however. The devil is in the details it seems, and when it comes to hunting mature bucks these details determine success or failure, a trophy or tag soup. My season isn’t over yet, but I’ve been taught, or retaught, some hard lessons this year that demonstrate just how important little details are for hunting big bucks. So here are a few that may help readers pay the taxidermist this year (like Jason Brewton -Sound Barrier Field Reporter with his Kansas monster - left) instead of the therapist!

Like many other hunters, I don’t have any property of my own to hunt, manicure, or manage for the perfect deer herd, shot opportunity, stand location, or opportunity to hunt. Public land, and hunting private by permission has changed the way I approach hunting, and made me become more aggressive and a “fly by the seat of my pants” style hunter. Maybe, a little too much. Preparing is key, but more difficult when utilizing this type of strategy, which leads to more variables entering into the equation. This is bad for having good outcomes.

Big Buck Lesson #1: Eliminate Variables

We should, at all times, strive to decrease our chances of failure as much as possible. That is, control as many variables as possible, or eliminate them altogether. Simply, the less chances we have to fail, the more chance we have to win, and the odds stack in our favor. Variables are things like our scent due to wind direction and leaving it on the ground, noise we make, other hunters messing things up, and ability of deer to choose their movements. We cannot control them all, but can maybe more than we think. This came into play recently for me on an Ohio hunt, as I simply had too many chances to fail on my hunts. One property I hunt I was having a very hard time finding out how deer use it, or choose their movements. There were too many trails, possible spots, and no good food sources to predict deer movement. Therefore, deer movement was random, and my choice of hunting location also felt very random. Also, wind was inconsistent, multiplied by thermal effects on the hilly property. I was winded several times due to this and planning where deer would be, just to have them show downwind of me or have thermals change the wind direction. Noise level is always high for a mobile hunter, and brushing new sets every day while walking through leaves crunchier than bags of potato chips was taking its toll and adding to hunting pressure on the property. Finally, I found a great funnel with some active scrapes. When I say funnel, I mean tunnel, as deer almost had to walk through it once they entered at the top. I got a windy day to quietly enter and use this cover sound to mask my trimming shooting lanes and set my stand (learn more about COVER SOUND and other sound concealment tactics HERE). Sure enough the first time I hunt it, deer were funneling through, and then, one of my hit list bucks showed up at the top of the tunnel (right).

Big Buck Lesson #2: Minimize Change

The goal of finding a great hunting spot is that deer have no clue they are being hunted. This includes trimming/setup, entry, hunting, and exit. You should make as few changes as possible, as deer notice these causing alarm, and this is especially true for big bucks. As the wide ten point made his way down the tunnel to my narrow shooting lane, I realized I would get a shot. The setup was perfect, except for 2 little details. First, I had done some trimming in order to have any shots in the thick brush. I did as little as possible, but this changed the landscape the buck was used to, and also left scent on the branches and brush. Second, I scattered some corn on the trail which was a foreign object. Why? Well I had originally been looking for a spot to take inventory of bucks still active in daylight, to maximize my time and hunting opportunities for the few days I had to hunt. Without thinking I scattered the corn when I discovered the area, which I immediately had misgivings about. Once it was down though, I just hoped this change wouldn’t spook the bucks using the area. Earlier in the evening a 2 year old seven point made his way through, but he was cautious, and I could tell he noticed the changes. As the big ten worked through the tunnel, getting just a few steps from my lane, I could tell he was also getting uncomfortable. He smelled my scent on the brush, but continued and I drew. One more step.. Just then, he stuck his nose to the ground and discovered the foreign object..corn. He reacted predictably and bolted at once running 70 yards. I’m confident I would have had a shot if not for the corn. I didn’t change as little as possible, and I paid for it.

Big Buck Lesson #3: Don’t Trust Trail Cameras

Your trail cam is lying to you, or at least only telling a half truth. In this day and age where trail cameras are cool and highly relied on, we can forget about old school scouting, and all the pieces of the puzzle. We should only use trail cameras for what they are: a small slice of time and information which we need to incorporate into the whole puzzle to make an informed decision. On my other property I had been getting pictures sent to me remotely all year of a good buck I

called “Bent Brow.” These were at random days and times, but told me he was

near the area and had been all fall. I had not seen pictures of him in awhile, and assumed he had relocated or was off chasing does during the rut. So when I arrived on this trip I threw out corn there to see what would show, and the first buck who came to gorge himself was, yep, Bent Brow, late the first night. Many other deer showed the following days, be he never came back, and all the activity was at night. I decided to hunt the other property instead (where I had the close encounter with the ten point). On my last morning, I decided to hunt this area and sneak in between a bedding area and the corn/camera point on a main trail as a hail-mary. A few years earlier I had a good encounter here with a big buck, who had similar patterns. That morning I saw Bent Brow for the first time after seeing 2 other bucks and having 3 a doe with fawns come directly under my tree. I wasn’t in the exact right spot, but got ringside seat to him working the ridge above me and bedding just 80 yards away. Maybe if I had put in more time here, put the pieces together better (knowing he was living close by, seeing multiple big rubs leading to the ridge, and knowing this side of the property was not hunted), I would have had a better chance and connected with this buck instead of dismissing it. Trail cameras are great, but don’t trust them as the full picture of your hunting location.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, but continued learning from the big buck school of hard knocks will hopefully make for success in the future!

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