Archive for January, 2020

Recapping the 2019 Season

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

This year had its share of ups and downs, and it led me in a lot of different directions. My complacency ended up costing me a few good deer this year, and I’ve vowed to keep that from happening in 2020. The last few years, I’ve said that I was going to find a few bucks in the late summer/early fall that I could hunt with my bow or muzzleloader. Unfortunately, competitive archery prevented me from making that happen. 

  In the beginning of the year, I decided I would let archery become secondary. Instead of shooting, I would focus on the upcoming deer season. Well, when the time came to do that, I was shooting better than I have in a few years, so I hopped on that train and road it to the finish line. I’ll never regret doing that because I had some top finishes at national events, and it felt good to be returning to a level that I used to be at regularly. 

  As we rolled into hunting season, I had a hard time getting motivated. I used to enjoy every day of every hunting season, but as the years have passed, I have a hard time getting into it when the woods are inundated with leaf cover. It makes it difficult for me to be confident when I’m blazing my way through a jungle every day and big deer in big woods aren’t putting on the miles they do once mid-November rolls around.

  With a lot of rain, heavy wind and cool temperatures in the beginning of the season, the leaves came down earlier than normal. Before the leaves began coming down, I had some cool encounters with deer while hunting with my bow. I only saw one deer I wanted to shoot in the Adirondacks and couldn’t get a shot at it due to low light. I passed three small bucks with the bow before the Northern Zone season closed. I’ll consider this year’s Northern Zone bow season a success. I picked my days wisely and was rewarded with buck sightings. Although I didn’t shoot an arrow, I did have one good opportunity at a mature buck.

  As muzzleloader season closed and rifle opened, I felt confident about my chances. I found some decent sign for early season, and sign of that sort has led to a lot of my success over the years. Early season has always treated me well when I find where good bucks are laying down some sign.

  Going into the season, I had decided to hunt a lot of different places. Instead of throwing all my eggs into one basket, I would hunt different areas for one or two days at a time before rotating through many other spots. I also wanted to gain more knowledge about places I had scouted but not seriously hunted. On the other hand, my dad decided that he would do less tramping around this year and focus more on one or two places. As he has gotten older, he thinks it’s in his best interest to reign it in a little bit and spend less time still-hunting and more time sitting. Instead of putting on 8 to 10 miles a day, he thinks 4 to 5 isn’t too bad. The guy kills me. I can recall two or three days over the course of this season that we probably put on 10 miles in the Adirondacks, walking from sunup until sundown…………………but he’s reigning it in. I just go along with it, and I must admit that it’s awesome that he still gets around so easily. I’m not looking forward to the day that he does slow down. His presence is the primary reason for my success over the years. There is no debating that.

  The first week of the season, I passed a small buck and didn’t think twice about it. I enjoy taking deer, but I want to give it my best shot to take a mature deer. I enjoyed watching the deer, and I even learned a little bit in the process. After spotting deer, I think many hunters pull the trigger too early and don’t give themselves the best opportunity to kill the deer. Many of the deer I have passed tend to give several better opportunities than the original one I thought I had when I spotted the deer. Sometimes waiting for the deer to come to you is a better option than blazing down the woods. I have had enough experiences along the way to know when to hold them and when to fold them. If I sense it’s time to fold them, lead starts flying through the timber. If you don’t take the shot when you have it, sometimes you never get another chance. For some reason, that tends to happen with the bigger bucks. They have a sixth sense, and that quality makes them more difficult to kill than the immature bucks.

  At the end of the first week of the season in the Adirondacks, the region got hammered with torrential rain and heavy wind. Some places got as much as six inches of rain in less than 24 hours, and this weather event caused many changes in the woods. Places where normal pre-rut activity occurs annually were flooded, and many trees came down and blocked perennial passageways that deer use. With all of that going on and an abundant beech crop, my plans had to change on the fly: I needed to find some areas to spend time in since previously scouted areas became unhuntable.

  The first weekend after the storm was ideal for hunting. Unfortunately, due to other obligations, I could only spend that Saturday in the woods. My Dad and I hunted in an area where we knew there would be a chance to see some deer. It turns out that we picked the right place, and I passed another small buck that morning. After walking around the rest of the day and realizing how many things had changed, I knew we would have to do a few things differently after returning from the Midwest. 

                                                Off to the Midwest

  My trip to the Midwest took place a little later this year than previous years, but I didn’t mind. Looking at the extended forecast, I saw that we were supposed to have ideal weather conditions for hunting. Once I got there, that forecast went down the drain quickly. Brian and Dad went out a few days before me, so they didn’t get their normal time in the woods to check things out. This held me back a little bit when I arrived. I felt lost and didn’t have a lot of options to choose from when I got there. It was disappointing early in the week, and I wasn’t feeling overly optimistic about my chances.

  Brian tagged out early, and Dad missed a few deer, but I wasn’t seeing much. When I finally returned to the area where I killed the buck last year, things started picking up. I saw some deer and found some good sign. 

  Being the second year we’ve hunted in this area, we quickly learned that it’s essential to hunt active scrapes, especially if you’re using trail cameras. Although I have scaled way down on trail cameras in the specific areas where I hunt in the Adirondacks, leaving none in some places, I have ramped up on them in potential hunting areas in the region and the areas we hunt in in the Midwest. If you use the data these cameras give you and keep track of it for a few years, it will be easy to identify a lot of things that can lead you to success. We have learned in this area that if bucks are coming to scrapes, especially in the daylight, you should set up on those scrapes and wait them out. While scrape hunting isn’t great in a lot of places, the cameras told us we should be focusing our efforts around scrapes.

  When we are in the Midwest, we put cameras in all sorts of pieces of woods. This year we had them as far apart as 50 miles. We might not check them until we pull them out of the woods, but we will have gained knowledge for future use. Other times, we can use the knowledge we gain in one day and use it immediately. It just depends where the cameras are located. I have recently started doing the same thing in the Adirondacks. I now have cameras all over public land within two hours of my house. I might put some in the woods during the season and leave them until the next season, or I might put them there in September and pick them up in January. I do it to gain as much information as possible. I no longer chase cameras while I’m hunting in the Adirondacks. I found myself becoming too involved with seeing what was on the cameras every time in the woods instead of hunting. After gaining the information I needed from them and researching it, I no longer need them in the areas I hunt the most. If something changes, I might bring them back in and set them up again. For now, I’m content with different things I’ve found and learned. It has helped me achieve success on a regular basis again because my focus is 100% on hunting, not checking cameras or moving them around the woods. 

  The knowledge gained on my Midwest trip will serve its purpose for next year, too. We also found out that a lot of the big bucks were moving in that 10-2 timeframe. They weren’t moving at dusk and dawn as much as I would’ve hoped. When we are in good spots next year, we will know that those all-day sits could pay off in a big way. Putting the puzzle together can take a long time, but once you complete the outside of the puzzle, the key pieces in the middle will start falling into place. At that point, your odds will increase, and you’ll waste less time trying to figure things out.

                                November 11 came and went

  Traditionally, Nov. 11 has always been one of my best days in the Midwest. If I were to give anyone advice about hunting in the Midwest, I would say that being in a tree somewhere on that day should be a priority. Deer activity has always been good at that time.

  After the day got past me, I began to wonder if I would get the job done. I hadn’t seen many deer, and it felt like I couldn’t make the right decision. That’s when I got out of my own way and decided to listen to my gut after Brian and I checked a camera that had been sitting idle for a few days.

  A handful of bucks had been in front of it, and one nice 10-pointer was in front of it nonstop, both in the dark and in the daylight. After seeing that, I knew I had to return the next day. The day was November 14, another date that has been good to me over the years.

  I had a short sit, as the buck that had been in front of the camera the last few days showed up at 7:30. I made a good shot, and it died a few hundred yards from the stand. While waiting for Brian and Jeff to come help me recover the deer, I found out that Dad had also shot a big buck. After pulling the camera where he shot it, we discovered that his deer had also been in a scrape a handful of times during the 24 hours before he shot it. That type of intel is the type that allows us to succeed. Many people ignore the obvious things and just return to their “old reliable” spots every year. While we have those places, too, we might not sit in them at all on given years. We always hunt near the most active sign and the places where big bucks are working. It greatly increases your odds. Don’t waste time in wastelands, even if those wastelands were Walmart Supercenters in past years.

                                           Back to the Adirondacks

   As Brian, Dad and I battled sickness, our trip home wasn’t too much fun. Looking back on it, I think I probably had the flu. Now, a month later, my ribs are still bruised from coughing. It still feels like someone is punching me in the ribs every time I move.

  Instead of getting in the woods right when we got home, we let a few days pass. Looking at some of the sign we found in the woods, I think we probably missed the best rutting activity of the year. It appeared that bucks had been chasing does, as I saw the evidence in the snow to prove it. I also found some big tracks that led me to fresh rubs and open scrapes. 

  Although I passed up a few more bucks in those first few days home, the activity quickly went in the other direction and slowed to a crawl. As with anything in life, timing is everything. We just didn’t hit it right to stack the odds in our favor. Looking at the calendar, I thought we would be set up for success. It’s amazing how just a few days can make all the difference in the world when it comes to deer hunting.  In my younger years, I never would have known what was going on, but as I’ve gained many years of experience, it has become much easier to decipher everything happening around me.  Paying attention to these things, learning from them, and adjusting on the go are essential if you want to be successful. Far too many people repeat their process day after day and year after year, and these people wonder why they can’t consistently see bucks.

  As I wandered through the woods the week before Thanksgiving, I saw that deer were holed up in pockets……………here today, there tomorrow, nowhere to be found after that. I could see where they were digging through the snow for beechnuts and destroying different flats on different mountains. I couldn’t find any hard evidence that they were staying put in any certain areas for any length of time, but I did see that they were bedding right where they were feeding. After lying down and letting their dinner settle, they wandered to another area and repeated the process. I’ve never found as many beds in places where deer were feeding as I did this year in the Adirondacks. I think that’s what probably allows many people to have more success during heavy mast years. If you put on enough miles, you’re bound to run into the deer where they’re feeding. If you’re a sitter, your odds go down significantly in big woods when the deer don’t use their general travel routes. Instead, they’re wandering all over the place to eat mast crops and find does. They’re not cruising through natural funnels that does use when the food is sparse and forces them to rely on browsing to get their fill for the day.

  Although things got frustrating, I knew the big bucks were still roaming through the woods. It drove me to go the extra mile and catch up to one. When I started going to the Midwest many years ago, I didn’t have much interest in heading back to the big woods. After seeing that many deer and letting a lot of nice bucks walk past me, it depleted my interest from hunting in an area where I was lucky to see any deer. Now, I’m more driven than ever when I come back. The trip out there reinvigorates my desire to find what I’m looking for in the big woods. It makes me work harder and pay more attention to what I’m doing while in the woods. This approach has helped me become a better hunter. It has made me work harder. I’ve also gained a great deal of knowledge about how deer act.

                                              Put Your Time In

  If you followed my season, you probably saw that I don’t take much time off from hunting. I try to get into the woods as much as I possibly can. While work sometimes keeps me from doing things I want to do, the flexibility of my schedule also allows me to be out there more than many other hunters. 

  I kept at it day after day from sunup until sundown. I didn’t waste a minute of daylight. I’ve often heard people say they’re not hunting because the weather is crappy. Well, deer live in the woods and can’t escape the weather. That’s what drives me to be out when there’s a blinding snowstorm or torrential rain. I know that my odds aren’t that high to connect on anything on those days, but I know my odds stay at zero if I never leave the house. I’ll take the low odds over the no odds on any given day. If I only have a tiny chance of success, at least I have that chance. There are many people out there who are far better hunters than me, but I know there aren’t many who are outworking me.

                                           Remembering Why We Hunt

  Many people think I’m all about shooting big deer. While I like shooting big deer, I also like shooting deer. I don’t have any standards to passing on deer. I shoot deer that excite me, and sometimes a small buck might excite me more than a larger one. Every hunt is unique and carries its own challenges with it. I try to take advantage of what’s in front of me and create memories that will last a lifetime.

  While I didn’t shoot the biggest buck in the woods this year, I killed a respectable 3 ½ year old. We age all the deer we kill, and this deer was 3 ½. Looking at him, I’d say it’s safe to assume that he was probably never going to carry a big rack, even at 6 ½ if he made it there. The amazing thing about deer and antlers is that we will never truly know what could have been after we pull the trigger or release the arrow. We make a choice at that moment in time, and we must be good with that choice. Luckily, I’ve had very few regrets since I started passing up bucks 25 years ago. I may go home empty-handed, but I no longer feel the need to shoot an animal to feel successful.

  When you can go to the woods and not put pressure on yourself to shoot a deer, shooting deer will become much easier. Pressure creates tension, and tension causes us to do things we wouldn’t normally do. When I was younger, I put all sorts of pressure on myself to shoot a deer, and at times, the season became miserable…………………and I became miserable. I couldn’t believe I was letting deer hunting affect the way I acted toward other people. Now, I sit back and take it all in. I relish in the memories of past deer hunts and try to see if I can make new memories. If I don’t, I always have the other ones to look back on and smile about. I also love following the adventures of my friends. I cheer for them to be successful every day I step foot in the woods. I’m their number one fan.

                                                   Wrapping It Up

  This was a great season for many reasons. The primary reason was that I was able to go hunting. I also spent more time with my dad this year than I have in a long time. We hit it hard almost every day of November and early December. I’ll be forever thankful for the time. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that time is fleeting. 

  People don’t see the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. Instead, they think that successful hunters are just lucky. I’ve been around enough successful people that I’ve learned many of them share the same traits. They are up early. They don’t waste time. They set goals. They give 100% in their efforts.

  I’ve also seen how hunting can bring out the best and worst in people. I’ve been able to witness it up close and from afar more times than I’d like to count. Egos get in the way, accusations are made, and friendships are lost. What makes these things happen? Well, it usually comes down to jealousy of some sort. If it’s not that, disrespecting your friends who have shared hunting ideas, tactics and places can lead to bad blood. In turn, people go back to places others brought them, then they bring their whole tribe of people. What happened to being ethical and respecting people? I’ve been told that everyone is brought up differently and that is what causes the dissention. I’m not sure I agree. I think it’s easy to respect others and stay in your own lane. If you need to make a new lane, then go ahead and make it. Find your own way.

  I’ve been debating on keeping this online journal next year. I ran into a lot of issues this year that were somewhat disturbing, including the major amount of money I had to use to fix my truck after someone decided to pour turpentine into my gas tank in hopes of stranding me miles from nowhere. These things I encountered involve integrity, ethics and respect. In some ways, I’d like to take all of you with me for a few weeks. I’m certain that not many people would sign up for a return trip. Nothing about what I do is easy, and I enjoy doing things that way. I enjoy the hard work. Yes, I’ve gotten lucky here and there, but nine out of ten times, the only reason I’m successful is because I simply outworked most other hunters. If anyone has any comments or viewpoints, I’d love to hear them. Send me a private email or comment below. I hope all of you had a fantastic 2019 hunting season and thanks for following me on my journey. I hope I made it enjoyable for you.