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Can trapping make you a better hunter?

Why Trappers are Top Bowhunters By Bernie Barringer I don’t remember much about being 14 years old, but some things are burned in my memory. That was the year I became a trapper. I don’t remember much about school that year, but I remember my first muskrat. I also remember my first mink, fox and raccoon. I could take you to the exact spot where I caught each of them despite the fact that it happened more than 40 years ago. I can remember the smell of the river, the feeling of lugging a raccoon home in my packbasket, the sight of glowing eyes in my headlight while the other school kids wouldn’t roll out of bed for two more hours.   I carried the trapping over into my adulthood and make a good living through my 20’s catching fur in big numbers, working my tail off in order to stay one step ahead of the growing amount of competition that came with the high fur prices of the 1970’s and 80’s. Trapping taught me a lot about a lot of things; things that have served me well in life. Notably, trapping has made me a much better bowhunter. I have wondered from time to time if others have felt this way. I posed this question to two friends who spent a lot of time both trapping and bowhunting, Tom Miranda and Stan Potts. Both of these guys are bowhunting celebrities, you can watch them on TV most every week. Not surprisingly, they had some strong opinions and interesting observations about how trapping has made them a better hunter. The Value of Hard work and Persistence “At a very young age, trapping taught me a valuable lesson,” says Miranda. “If I work hard, I mean really hard, good things would come from it. The grind of tending traps, working in bad weather, skinning and stretching the pelts, the long hours of early mornings and late evenings make trapping a real job. “Trapping also taught me responsibility. I knew that rain or shine I needed to check traps. This requirement has helped in my hunting as I don’t ever let the weather bother me. If it’s prime time, I’m in the tree. My toughest bow hunt ever was in the Canmore bow zone of Alberta hunting bighorn sheep. It was 14 days of minus 20 and colder. Steep, slippery mountains, tent camping, deep snow, bitter wind chill and 10,000 feet elevation; hunting in extreme conditions is similar to trapping.” Attention to Detail A fox trapper realizes that his target animal has the entire world to walk around in, and he must make that fox step into a one-inch circle. That takes attention to detail and a very deep understanding of the animal’s behavior. “Picking a location to trap a fox or coyote is exactly the same as picking the right location to shoot a big buck,” according to Stan Potts. “Set location is everything in trapping. You look for land features that come together, such as ridges, terrain and habitat changes. You must pick the exact right spot both in trapping and in hunting. A lot of it is instinct, but instinct can be developed over time.” “A non-trapper sees a stream,” explains Miranda, “but a trapper sees the mink tracks under the overhanging bank. A non-trapper may see a farm field, but a trapper sees the edges, the funnels, the things that cause the animals to drift a certain way.” Potts used a technique common to trappers to better learn buck behavior. “I would pick up the tracks of a big buck at the edge of a field where he was feeding and just follow the tracks until I jumped him. I would pay attention to the lay of the land and how he used it. This really helped me better understand why picking the exact right tree is so important.” Scent and Wind Direction Picking the exact right tree for whitetail hunting has been a topic of discussion that has been hammered on for years, but trappers seem to have an upper hand when choosing the right locations. Part of that, according to both Miranda and Potts, is because hunters don’t spend enough time understanding how deer use the terrain and their senses. “A big buck’s number one line of defense is his nose,” Potts says. “A fox or coyote uses his nose to hunt. A buck wants to be quartering into the wind whenever he can. Just like you can use a canine’s nose to draw him into a trap, you can use the way a buck uses his nose to get him. “The perfect wind for hunting,” according to Potts, “is usually almost wrong.” Meaning that subtle variations in wind can make a big difference; you will rarely find a perfect wind, but you must play the wind angles correctly. Miranda agrees, “Trappers know that an educated coyote can be tough to catch just as an educated whitetail tough to hunt. Sitting tree stands with the wrong wind direction is a no-no just as is setting a dirty trap.” The Common Denominator You may have noticed that one theme seems to run through all these comparisons between trapping and hunting: Hard Work. “Successful trapping requires dedication, commitment and hard work.” Miranda explains, “So does successful bowhunting. Lazy trappers rely on luck for success as do lazy bowhunters. Go early, stay late, hunt in marginal weather, take into account moon phase and position. Top bowhunters make their own luck. Average hunters and trappers would say ‘I would rather be lucky than good.’ Top hunters and trappers say ‘Don’t Quit.’” While I no longer consider myself a commercial trapper, I still run a few traps each year to stay in touch with the land and with my roots. The hard lessons I learned from my successes and failures have led to success in bowhunting. So if you find yourself wondering why so many of the top hunters have

Whitetails: Start Shed Hunting Early

Finding Shed Deer Antlers: A sport unto itself These eight tips will help you find more shed antlers this year. And this video on building a shed antler trap is guaranteed to be a real eye-opener! I found my fist whitetail shed antler purely by accident. I was setting fox traps along a brushy fencerow and there was a shed antler which had been lying there for the better part of a year. I picked it up and brought it home. Despite the fact that it was somewhat chewed up, it was clear this antler came from a big 10-point buck. I became fascinated by the amazing phenomenon of antlers. Antlers are the fastest form of animal growth known to man; they can grow more than an inch a day. Every antler is different, like snowflakes, they all have unique characteristics. My fascination with antlers led me to become fascinated with the bucks that grew them. Over time I evolved from a bowhunter who wanted to just put some meat in the freezer to someone who appreciated the challenge of shooting a mature buck. Yet I found that the antlers themselves held a curious intrigue in and of themselves. Allow me to offer some tips from a lifetime of experience that will help you find and appreciate the amazing antler. Forget the Home Range Myth Because I started hunting shed antlers for the sake of the antlers themselves, I didn’t have any preconceived notions about their importance to my deer hunting. If you have read any articles about shed antler hunting, you have noticed that they all seem to relate back to how to shoot the buck that shed them. Frankly, I believe that the connection between where you find the bucks sheds and where you are likely to shoot that buck the following deer season is way overrated. In fact one of the largest matched sets I ever found was found more than five miles from where a friend shot the buck the following year. It missed making the Boone & Crockett book by less than an inch. Deer need to eat every day, and they will go where the food is. In the winter when the antlers are dropping, the food may be miles away from where that buck spends the majority of his time in the fall. Which leads us to #2. Find the Food Wintering whitetails need high carbohydrate foods and they need them every day. Find the food and you will find the sheds. Remember the Mantra that finding sheds is all about the food. Figure out where the deer are feeding and then spend the majority of your time divided between their feeding and bedding areas. The antlers are more likely to fall off when they are feeding because they are moving about. Corn, soybeans, milo, turnips and other food plots are key to the winter whereabouts of whitetails. Pay special attention to the windswept hilltops. Snow blows off the hilltops and any lost grain from farming operations will be more accessible there. The big set of matched sheds I mentioned earlier? I found one side on top of a hill in the soybean stubble and the other side in a thick farm grove 200 yards away. Winter Cover: Thermal and Solar There are two kinds of areas bucks tend to bed during the winter. Solar cover is the south sides of slopes that are somewhat open and allow the deer to bed in areas where the sun can warm them during the day. Thermal cover is the thickest, nastiest stuff they can find which they will use during cold, cloudy, windy and stormy weather. If you find these types of bedding areas within a short distance of a good food source, and you have a good number of bucks in the area, finding sheds could be like picking up Easter Eggs. You’ve hit the jackpot. Connect the Dots Of course the deer need to travel between the bedding areas and the food. Trails will develop between these areas and the obvious sign is easy to find and follow. The more snow the better. Get out early before the snow melts and find these trails for later use. A lot of sheds can be found on these connecting trails. Pay special attention to the areas where they have to jump over fences, climb steep creek banks, etc. These areas tend to jar the sheds loose. Look for the Other Side Antlers occasionally fall of together, but that’s somewhat rare. I do believe; however, that that the buck will put quite a bit of effort into getting the other side off because of the lopsided feeling he has with one antler. He’s shake his head, rub the antler on trees and push it on the ground to work it off. If you find a nice shed, put an exhaustive effort into finding the other side. It’s probably close by. “No Hunting” Doesn’t Usually Mean No Shed Hunting Some of the best shed hunting I found back 30 years ago when I started collecting bone was found in state parks where hunting was not allowed. Where these parks bordered crop fields on private land were often gold mines for shed antlers. The deer would feed in the fields and bed in the safety of the park. Surprisingly, most of these parks would have laws against picking any kind of plant, but nothing about collecting shed antlers. The deer would be bunched up there in great numbers during the winters which made them very fertile ground for shed hunting. Get There Early Back in the 1980’s there were very few people collecting sheds. No so any more. I would wait until late March when the antlers were all cast, and the snow was mostly melted before I would go shed hunting. Then one day I was walking a deer trail in a park in central Iowa and I came over a hill face to face with

A Buck with Two Names

A Buck with Two Names By Jon Tharp During summer scouting in August with trail cameras, a beautiful mature 10 pt was showing on a regular basis during daylight hours. I viewed his pictures and shared them with friends and hunters near my hunting property in Southeast Iowa. The buck appeared wide with decent mass but had a very distinct antler feature. Both of his g2’s were shorter than his g3’s. His g4’s were almost as long as his g2’s. The side profile of the buck reminded me of the Olympic medal podium, gold high in the center with silver and bronze lower on each side. I went back and forth as to how old and total inches of his antlers. I came to the conclusion that he was at least 4.5 and would gross score around 160 inches. I told myself that I didn’t want to shoot this buck for various reasons but believed he would be a nice buck for someone. The pictures continued to come in September and October at various scrape locations. Most of them came from one particular scrape with the buck usually traveling the same direction in the morning and evening hours. I was beginning to believe that he was a home body buck with a small range. I felt he was traveling to and from three different hinge cut bedding areas to feed in brassica/cereal grain/clover food plots. I never determined a consistent pattern but felt I had a good idea as to where he was bedding and feeding. Its one thing to know where a buck is living but the hard part is predicting what influences them to move during daylight hours. When they do move in daylight, it’s a roll of the dice for a hunter to be in the right place at the right time. We all know that a buck’s behavior and senses will weaken in November. I continued to scout with cameras through October and didn’t hunt or intrude on his area. I allowed him to move about freely on two different parcels of property hoping he would become even more comfortable with moving in daylight. Friends Barrett and John from Mississippi were arriving on November 5th. My hope was that the timing of the rut would have the “podium buck” on his feet in his core area as they began hunting. Sure enough, the buck ran past John at 25 yards chasing a doe early in his hunt. It was love at first sight, John was convinced this was the buck he wanted to hunt and tag. Over a period of seven days, John and Barrett viewed the buck nearly every day with three close encounters. Between the three of us, we tried every thing we could think of to get John within bow range for a shot. The buck’s small core home area became even more apparent. We knew where he was and seeing him daily but unable to get in the right place at the right time. John went home with a tag but left a hunting memory with me, naming the buck “Houdini”. As November ended and December began, so did the Iowa shotgun seasons. Ike and Matt traveled to Iowa from Michigan to try their luck on Houdini. He was visible on trail cameras in darkness during this time but never showed himself during their five-day hunt. The deer were given a break with the properties providing sanctuary during the second shotgun season. The weather turned cold with snow and many hunters stayed home. An early morning trail camera picture of Houdini on Monday, opening day of late archery and muzzleloader was a welcoming site. The picture determined the buck made it through fourteen days of shotgun madness. Randy was arriving on December 26th. The goal and target for his late season black powder hunt was Houdini. During the first morning of his hunt, I viewed the buck in the wild for the first time while checking a trail camera. He was in the exact location where John and Barrett viewed him on consecutive days in November. He bedded down in wide open CRP grassland while I viewed him through binoculars. This is the very reason the buck was hard to hunt, he was using the habitat and terrain to his advantage. It was difficult to get close to him without risking bumping him. Randy viewed the buck on his second afternoon of hunting in a food plot that I call the airstrip. It’s a long narrow strip of brassicas in CRP. The first velvet photo of Houdini came from that food plot in August. That night I advised Randy to hunt from a wooden structure blind called the “huntin shack” on the south end of the property. This blind was built and constructed by Randy in 2010. My thought was the buck went north from his bedding area the prior afternoon; he would return to the south property the next morning. The next day was the 29th, a new moon, which provided a minor activity period beginning at 7AM. Randy was in the blind early and Houdini followed the script but his magical escape ability came to an end. Randy was in the right place at the right time, he placed the bullet into the buck’s lungs from eighty yards. We approached the search together with me finding blood near the spot of bullet impact. After following the blood trail a short distance, I viewed something on the mowed path ahead. Upon closer view with binocs, I declared the Houdini magic show to be over. I high fived Randy as we walked to the magnificent animal. He was the legend of this fall, magically escaping us, our hunting tactics and cheating death for two months.