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Wait! Don’t Make a Deer Tag Sammich Just Yet!

You prepared for months, maybe even years, for your DIY hunt. You spent a week or more working hard and analyzing sign, wind currents, deer movements and any other clues you could. You hunted hard during the peak time of the year, but still came home with an unpunched tag in your pocket. All is not lost. There may still be time for one last pass into the end zone, a “Hail Mary” so to speak. Have some time off over Christmas vacation? Can you get away for a long weekend the last few days of the season? Why not go back and give it one last try? You may consider me crazy, but I love the very end of the whitetail seasons in the Midwest. Most of them wrap up around the New Year, but some states give you a couple weeks into January. This is the time of the year when the bucks may be in their most predictable patterns of all. They are focused on finding cover that protects them from the harsh weather, and finding enough high-carbohydrate foods to help their bodies fight off the cold. This can make them quite vulnerable to a hunter who is willing to brave the elements along with them. If I can get away for one of these last minute hunts, I will head back to take advantage of the unique opportunities that late-season whitetail hunting offer. If this idea interests you, here are some suggestions to help assure you make the most of it. Make some calls Your first action should be to make a couple phone calls or send emails to biologists and conservation officers. Ask them specifics about where the deer are feeding. Ask them if they have seen herds of deer bunched up around a food source. They will have a feel for the numbers of mature bucks that made it through the gun seasons. Get some information about the weather. If it has been really cold and there is a lot of snow on the ground, the deer will be visible during daylight and predictably near the food sources. Sign is Obvious Once you arrive, it’s not hard to find the trails; snow makes travel patterns very obvious. Corn stubble will be stomped down and any standing soybeans, food plots and greens will be deer magnets. Read the sign, but also spend an evening glassing the food to determine where the bucks are entering the fields and at what times. Keep in mind that the short hours of daylight can work against you, but really nasty weather can have even mature bucks out in the open an hour or two before dark. They have to eat to produce body heat and to restore fat reserves lost during the rut. Even the most shy bucks can be just as visible as they would be during August. Dress accordingly Cold weather means you need to bundle up, but still be able to prepare for a shot unimpeded by bulky clothing. Body suits and warm bags are available, some with heaters built right in. These have significantly increased the length of time a person can stay on stand during extreme cold weather. Use moisture wicking base layers and fleece clothing as a way to trap heat between the inner and outer layers. Use a layering system that prevents you from getting all sweaty and damp when walking to the stand. Dampness will kill your comfort level faster than anything. Take a ground blind If you have ever sat in a treestand during December with wind chill temperatures well below zero, you know how difficult it can be. A ground blind allows you to get out of the wind, even to use a little heater to take the chill off. Bring a comfortable chair and you will be alert and ready when a buck does step into view. Ground blinds are mobile; and advantage that allows you to get on the deer quickly. While plopping up a ground blind in the open during early fall might freak the deer out, they do not respond as negatively around winter food sources. They need to eat. Brush the blind in good with natural materials. Corn stalks work perfect. A white sheet draped over the blind will help break up the outline enough to calm them down. Carbs are King The deer will normally be found near the best food source available. The carbohydrates found in corn and soybeans readily convert to heat so they are eagerly sought. Mast crops can be important feeds at this time, but they get cleaned up quickly and the deer move on. Farms adjacent to public hunting lands can offer some of the best hunting opportunities. The deer will spend their days bedding as near the food source as they can find good thermal cover. Short walks are the norm. Find the thick, weatherproof bedding areas, then find the high-carb foods and connect the dots. It really is that easy. Consider an alternate weapon In some states, your tag is good for multiple weapons. You may have spent the fall trying to punch your tag with a bow, but a muzzleloader might be a better choice for that late season hunt over a field where deer often feed just out of reach of your arrow. Muzzleloaders seem like the perfect fit for the mid-range shots that are so common during the final days of deer season. Several states allow the use of a crossbow at this time. A crossbow is not a rifle that shoots an arrow as some would have you believe, but it will extend your range by about 50%, which might just be enough to close the deal. You don’t have to draw a frozen and potentially squeaky, creaky bow in the close proximity of an edgy whitetail, just raise the crossbow and pull the trigger.   Don’t throw your tag in the trash can after November. Prepare for cold weather and

Arrow Impact videos: Bears

If you aren’t a hunter, you probably can’t appreciate this, but if you love to bowhunt bears, you will understand the amount of hard work, dedication and long hours on stand that went into getting these 13 shots. Enjoy.

Is chocolate in bear baits killing bears?

Chocolate and Bears Some states are considering outright bans on chocolate in bear baiting. That’s an overreaction and here’s why. It’s long been known that chocolate contains a chemical that can be harmful to many animals if consumed in large quantities. Theobromine is found in all forms of chocolate and it has proven to be harmful to canines and to bears. The worst offenses are caused by unprocessed chocolate, baker’s chocolate and dark chocolate. Unprocessed chocolate and other chocolates used in commercial baking and manufacturing have large amounts of theobromine, but is not palatable because it’s very bitter. The bears simply won’t eat it. Dark chocolate is used in some forms of home baking and in some candy, and has a bitter flavor, but not so much that it is unpalatable to humans and animals. By the time most chocolate reaches the consumer, say in a cookie, cake or pastry, the theobromine is reduced to the point that the only thing left is the chocolate flavor. Milk chocolate and white chocolate also have trace amounts of theobrimine but it has been reduced to the point that any animal must eat gigantic quantities of it in a short amount of time to be harmed by the theobromine. While bear baiters in general are aware of the potential harmful effects of too much chocolate in bear baiting, it’s rarely an issue because milk chocolate is the bait of choice and in most bear baiting, small amounts of chocolate are found mixed in among quantities of bait. Some examples of this would be chocolate chip cookies, trail mix with M&Ms mixed in, chocolate frosted pastries, etc. In 2014, four dead bears were found near a couple bait sites in New Hampshire. Toxicology testing revealed that these bears had high levels of theobromine in their bodies. In the area were two bait sites that had huge quantities of chocolate. These baits consisted of large chunks of milk chocolate. Because the baits were only being hunted on the weekends, the large quantities were being put out and the bears had free access to the baits because there was little human intrusion to limit their access to the baits day and night. In addition to these factors, there was a minimal amount of natural foods in the area. The forest in that area is primarily beech and the beech nut crop had failed. These factors all created the “perfect storm” so to speak in which the bears could freely gorge themselves on a food that was harmful, in fact fatal to them. Bears eat small quantities of chocolate all the time with no ill effects. Experienced baiters are aware that bears will not prefer the bitter types of chocolate that have the most theobromine, and if bears eat very much milk chocolate, they just look for better food in the area. In most cases, bears will simply not eat enough chocolate to make them sick. You can easily lose the bears from your bait site if you “over-sugar” them so good bear baiters use a mix of foods that mimic the natural forage of the bear in addition to sweets. As you might imagine, the death of these bears caused quite a stir among hunters and nonhunters alike. Because of the dead bears, the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department banned the use of all chocolate in bear baits. At first glance, that might seem like a reasonable reaction; and to their credit, the state wildlife department did look at some other options. But in the end, they determined that the easiest thing to enforce would be a total ban. But the hunters of New Hampshire are now significantly handicapped in their ability to harvest bears because three of the most effective baits for keeping bears coming back to their bait site are now illegal for all practical purposes. Any bag or box of pastries you get from a grocery store will have a few chocolate donuts in it, or at least some with chocolate frosting. Pick up a barrel of granola at a bear bait supplier and chances are very high some of will have chocolate chips in it. Most kinds of cookies will also have traces of chocolate. Trail mix, possibly the most effective and sought after of bear baits may have M&Ms or other small bits of chocolate in it. But none of these popular baits have anywhere close to the amount of chocolate it would take to make a bear sick much less harm one. Other states are now looking at the issue of chocolate in bear bait with a view that borders on panic. Michigan will discuss the issue in a forum on December 17 as they propose to ban all chocolate from bear baiting in that state.  These overreactions to an isolated incident are not the way to go about the business of hunting regulations. While the incident in New Hampshire is not the only case of bears getting sick or dying from too much chocolate, it’s an extreme case and should not dictate policy. The argument that the situation can be duplicated in other areas seems to be the primary flag that’s being flown in support of a chocolate ban. The other is the belief that canines such as coyotes and wolves may also die from eating bear baits with chocolate in them; a theory that has no concrete evidence to support it. The thought that carnivorous canines would eat large quantities of chocolate is hard for must hunters to swallow. The key to avoiding problems with isolated incidents where bears might suffer ill effects from eating too much chocolate is not to create hardship on bear hunters and the associated ability to manage our bear populations, but to better educate hunters and bear bait suppliers so they can be careful in their use of certain kinds of baits that might contain chocolate. No bear bait suppliers that I know of carry large quantities of pure chocolate. But

Electric Hunting Bikes: Game Changer

After hunting with a FatKat bike on two hunts, I cannot believe how much difference it made and how much more efficient I am in checking cameras, scouting, getting to and from the stand, hauling gear into the woods, among other things. I used the Crawler Game cart as a trailer and this combo is an incredible game changer. Man I am excited about doing more of this. Watch the video and you will get a taste of it, but until you have used one of the electric assist bikes for yourself you can’t really grasp the amazing difference. I will be discussing this more in future blog posts. . . . . . . .

Big snowfall for November

We got 14 inches of snow here in Brainerd, MN and the deer are struggling to adapt. My food plot is covered and the cameras were snowed in until I slogged my way out to them and cleaned them off. Too deep for ATV travel. Some areas got as much as 25 inches. Gonna be a long winter for these deer if we get more on top of this. Maybe we will get some 30-40 degree weather and melt some of it off.

DIY in Kansas: Heart Shot #2 Of the year

A cool north wind was blowing pretty strong when I stepped out of the motel room this morning. That’s perfect for where I was going. I got settled into the stand about 6:00 and watched the forest come alive over the next hour. Beautiful morning but I didn’t see a single deer for the first two hours so I was getting pretty discouraged. About 8:00 a doe came through 25 yards from me with her button buck fawn and she was moving with a sense of urgency in her step. I thought that was odd. About an hour later, a big 8-point buck came right on her trail and he was cruising through fast with his nose to the ground. I couldn’t stop him by grunting and he didn’t even slow down when I blew on the grunt call. I was disappointed because this was a really nice mature buck and a real dandy for an 8-point with long thick tines. I hoped that if the doe was interesting to him, maybe another buck would cruise through as well, or maybe he would find here and start chasing her back up towards me. Always the optimist. Another hour went by when I caught movement of a doe doing zigzags through the bottom to my left and I know what that means so I grabbed my bow and turned on the video camera. She was 40 yards away and going in erratic directions when I saw the buck behind her. He was a decent 3-year-old and I wasn’t sure if I should shoot him or not if he came within range. Things were happening fast and I would have to make a decision in a hurry. Sure enough, the doe turned directly towards me so I wasn’t able to move at all to direct the camera at her. As she moved by, he followed and stopped broadside at 12 yards and gave me a shot I couldn’t pass up so I sent an arrow through his heart. I started lowering my gear and by the time I got most of my stuff out of the tree it had been 15 minutes so I took up the blood trail which was very easy to follow and led right to him not far away. Strangely, I was never able to find the arrow at the impact or along the short blood trail even though I spent quite a bit of time looking. I took one load of gear with the bike and cart back the 1 3/4 mile to the truck, then came back for the deer. After field dressing and hauling him out with the cart behind the bike, I was ready to roll down the highway by 12:30 and once I got my gear out of the motel I hit the road and drove as far as Omaha. I will finish the trip home tomorrow and then decide what to do with the remainder of November. Pic of the buck in September sent to me by a friend.

Bear for Breakfast

I have been busy so it took a while but this week I pulled all the bear quarters and loins from both bears I shot in August out of the freezer. It took two days for it all to thaw out and then on Thursday afternoon it took me three hours to trim it all, weigh it and mix in the bacon for making sausage. I put 25% bacon in with the meat for fat, and this time it took nearly a 5-gallon pail of bacon. Luckily my sweet wife came home from work just as I was about to start grinding the meat. It took us three more hours to grind it and mix it, then stuff sausage casings and wrap it. I have about 20 pounds of lean meat sliced and ready to make jerky, and about 50 pounds of breakfast sausage all packaged and wrapped and in the freezer. The summer sausage is best if you let it sit in the fridge overnight before you smoke it. I spent Friday keeping an eye on the smoker  from time to time as I smoked 33 pounds of summer sausage. I smoked it for three hours at 180 degrees. Man is it delicious! It turned out fantastic. This morning, Cheri made up a big batch of biscuits and gravy out of some breakfast sausage and I feasted on it until I am stuffed and need to take a nap. Life is sure good for this bear hunter. Nothing like the good feeling of having a freezer full of meat. Now I just need to fill a couple deer tags and we will be set for several months.

Success in Manitoba… Finally

November 3, 10:00 p.m. Well we just got done getting a buck out of the bush. It’s a crazy story but bear with me. First of all the wind was great for a sit at the hayfield. A west wind is good because most of the deer come out of a tractor trail at the southwest corner of the field, which is where I have my stand. I only have two days left to hunt so I was thinking about which bucks I was willing to shoot. If that 9-point came through again, would I shoot him? I’m known for lowering my standards towards the end of the hunt. I got settled in about 2:30 and had a steady stream of deer moving through back and forth all evening. Lots of does and small bucks. About 6:30 there wasn’t much light left when two large-bodied deer appeared on the west side of the field and started making their way towards the deer in front of me. These were definitely two bigger bucks but with several does right in front of me I couldn’t make a move to even raise my binoculars. As they got closer I could see it was the 9-point I had passed up previously and a 10-point that I had only seen photos of. The 10 had a little longer tines and I decided if he gave me a shot I would take it. They started bothering the does and bumping them around. Soon they both began to concentrate on one doe and they ran her off to my right 100 yards or so. By now it was getting dark enough that I was concerned my chances at a shot were done since they had moved so far away. But shortly they turned around and started heading back at an angle towards me. The doe was zig-zagging with the 10-point right on her heels and the 9-point right behind. The heavy overcast was causing darkness to close in quickly. As they came closer, they looked like they might actually get within range. When they went behind a clump of trees that blocked my vision, I looked around and since the other deer were staring their way, I drew my bow so I would be ready when they came out the other side of the trees. It was a moment but here they came and they were closer. I saw the doe go through my sight picture and right behind her was the buck so I settled my sight pin in his chest in case they would stop and offer me a shot. Sure enough, the buck stopped right behind a patch of weeds that I had earlier ranged at 35 yards. I anchored the pin and touched it off. I heard the tell-tale “Thwack” of a solid hit. Pandemonium broke loose as deer were running everywhere. I hung my bow up and got my binoculars to my eyes just in time to see the 10-point running straight away to the north with a group of four other does and bucks. At the top of a hill 300 yards away, he stopped and stood still. The others all stopped to look back at him. He just stood there for the longest time as his head began to droop. I thought for a moment there it looked like he was feeding, but surely his head must be just sagging as he dies. This lasted quite a while and I could barely see when a doe looped back around and he took off chasing her. WHAT??!!!! I texted Tom to come clear the field with the 4-wheeler and when he arrived I got down and started looking for my arrow. We soon found it covered with blood from end to end. There was blood at impact and a good blood trail so we took it right up. We headed straight west into the bush, which was not what I expected. Another 30 yards of easy trailing found us looking over a dead buck which had been heart shot. When I lifted his head I could not believe my eyes, it was the 9-point. Replaying this whole episode in my mind I can only think of one way this happened. When they were behind that clump of trees for a moment, the doe must have made a circle or something, and somehow the two bucks traded places so the 9-point was now in the lead. When they came back into my view, I was concentrating so hard on getting ready for any shot that may come in the gathering darkness, I never looked at the antlers to realize that I was now about to shoot a different buck. At any rate, this is a nice buck and I am happy with him. There are a lot bigger bucks here, but after all, I do not want to set the bar too high so I have reason to come back and try to get a better one. Thanks to Tom and Deb for putting up with me for this week and working so hard at raising an amazing deer herd in the Canadian bush. Tomorrow morning we will skin and quarter the buck and put it in the chest freezer in my trailer. Then I will pull my cameras and ground blind and head down the road towards another hunting adventure in Kansas, where it will be a lot warmer, and hopefully the bucks will be running hard.  

Manitoba Hunt is Underway

October 31, Noon I arrived here in Manitoba and settled into the farmhouse where I stay for bear hunting and where I stayed during my September deer hunt here. Of course Lucky is on my mind and Sure enough he is still around. Tom had four cameras out and I put four more out yesterday. Between the eight Covert Scouting cameras, I have identified five shooter bucks. Two of them are familiar to me already, Lucky and the Heavy 10, which are showing up fairly regularly. All five are ten pointers but one of them has a broken G2 and the others are both on camera only during the dark. Tom has seen two other bucks that are bigger than any we have on camera so I might have a pleasant surprise one of these days. I have also been glassing the farm fields I can hunt during the morning and evening hours yesterday and I have seen a pile of deer, but no shooter bucks from the truck window. It has been very wet here and most of the hay that was cut in September is still down and rotting. Tom got about half his fields cut and then it started raining and hasn’t stopped. His insurance company was here looking it over. This is bad for the insurance company but good for deer hunting because the deer are still using these hayfields. There are a LOT of does in the fields in the evenings, and here it is the day before November so the bigger bucks should be pushing those does around in the daylight any time. I have a north wind tonight which is perfect for the south end of the hayfield so that’s where I am going. My second choice for mornings and evening will be the area where the Heavy 10 is showing up on camera. He doesn’t look all that big in the antler until you realize just how huge his body is, then a better estimate of those dark, chocolate antlers makes him a lot more appealing. I’m going out early for a five-hour sit which will seem like an eternity with this cold, damp wind and temperatures falling through the 30’s, but the odds of seeing a lot of deer and possibly a big one are too good to sit on the couch so I will endure the seeping damp cold with high hopes. November 1, 6:00 a.m. Last night was eventful to say the least. I got settled into the stand at 2:00 and I had does in the field in front of me from 3:00-6:00. Lots of does. At 5:30, a buck snuck in from behind me and began to push the does around in the field, scattering them several times. I recognized him as a buck I passed back in September. He’s a nice 9-point, probably 3 years old that will be a great buck next year. As always, I had a hard time not grabbing the bow when he was broadside at 25 yards several times. But I know there are a lot bigger bucks around. He finally cleared the field about 6:00 and then it was dead until dark at 7:00. He went up to the north end where I had a Covert Camera on a scrape and I got his picture which I will include here. The scouting cameras I have out are showing a lot of activity. The scrapes are getting pounded all night long but still no daylight photos of bucks at scrapes. The heavy 10 is very visible in daylight and very predictable just like he was in September. In fact the camera I got photos of him two months ago is taking pics of him every morning and evening again. Because I do not have a good stand for a morning sit in a south wind, I plan to glass deer again at daylight, then run the cameras again. If the heavy ten is once again on his pattern, I will go in there and put up a ground blind and see if I can get him. That is unless I get some photos of Lucky. I have not seen anything of him so I believe he is off with one of the first does to come into heat. The wind is supposed to be out of the south so it’s a perfect chance to go shoot the Heavy 10 if he shows up. The big broken 9 is in that area too, so I will have a choice to make if he appears. If I do not shoot a buck tonight, the wind is supposed to be north in the morning so I will hunt a stand on the hayfield in the morning. That will possibly give me a chance at Lucky, or one of the other big bucks Tom has seen and told me about but so far I do not have either of them on cameras.