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Friday, June 29, 2012

A Passion For Bowhunting Unites Family

Long before husband and wife bow-hunting teams were part of the outdoor TV landscape and long before there were outdoor programs dedicated to getting women involved in the outdoors, Janice Maxfield was bowhunting. Janice fell in love with the sport when her boyfriend and future husband Joel Maxfield, introduced her to the sport.
“I grew up in a family that enjoyed the outdoors,” says Janice Maxfield. “As a child,
I fished with my brothers but it wasn’t until I met Joel that I got into bow-hunting. We
weren’t dating long before I realized if I wanted to spend time with him, I better take up bow-hunting because that was what he spent all of his time doing.” Things haven’t changed much in the last 20 years. Both Janice and Joel work for Mathews Archery. Janice is the new accounts manager, and Joel is the vice president of marketing. Since they work for Mathews, they probably get to hunt more than the average person. Even though Janice has been able to bow-hunt big game across the country, one of her favorite bow-hunting memories is when she tagged her first doe more than 20 years ago. 
Janice recalled, “Joel and I often hunt near each other but not in the same stand. That was the case on this particular hunt. I was in the stand by myself and he was hunting another area. We were dating; I was 18 years old. When Joel pulled up to pick me up after hunting, I was already down from my stand waiting for him. He assumed I got cold and quit hunting. When he found out that I had shot a deer, he was so excited. He picked me up, hugged me,  and twirled me around in a circle.”
Years have passed since Janice killed that first doe. Through the years, her passion for bow-hunting has grown. Janice and Joel have as much passion for bowhunting as anyone I have ever seen. Having spent some time with both of them, I can tell you that Janice is as hardcore as any bow-hunter you will find in the woods.
“I love bow-hunting and the sport of archery. I think shooting a bow and bowhunting are fun” she said. “I like being in the woods and enjoying the solitude that comes with it. I like the fact that bow-hunting season is long so I don’t feel rushed like I do when I’m gun hunting and there are only a few days to fill my tag. I also like being able to travel to different states to bow-hunt. Since the bow seasons are so long in most states, there is plenty of time in the fall to travel around and hunt.”
Janice gives a lot of credit to Joel for all he does to prepare them for the fall season.“Joel loves bow-hunting and preparing for the hunt. He spends a lot of time scouting and hanging the stands which makes it easier for
me,” Janice explained. According to Joel, he helps but he doesn’t have to hold her hand.
“Janice has been bow-hunting a long time and doesn’t really need my help. I spend a lot of time on the road in the fall and she goes out on her own and bow-hunts,” Joel said. “After all these years, one of the things that amazes me about Janice is her unique style of bowhunting. There are times she calls me and tells me she
shot a buck. I start asking her questions about the shot or where she is hunting. When she explains herself, I think to myself, ‘I don’t think I ever would have done it that way, but wow! Great thinking.’ She just has a way of getting the job done.”
Long before Mathews Archery, Joel co-owned an archery pro shop and Joel and Janice participated in a local archery league. Janice says that is where she fine-tuned her archery skills. “Joel has always been a great teacher but the local archery league we participated in years ago had a few women that were shooting in the league. Many of them took me under their wing and gave me a woman’s perspective on archery and bow-hunting. I think that really helped me when I was younger,” Janice noted.
One thing is certain: Janice, like many bowhunting fanatics, has taken her fair share of trophy bucks and is calm and collected in the process.
“I don’t often score the bucks I take. That isn’t the most important thing to me. I have taken  bucks as big as 150 and like most hunters, I have to work very hard for the bucks I get. Many of the deer I have taken, I shot on the last day of the hunt or even the last half-hour of a hunt,” she said. “I am very patient and can wait if I have to. If you want to kill big bucks, you have to let the smaller bucks pass by and wait for the big
ones. I think I do a good job at that.”
There is no question that women, in general, are more patient than men ... and that is also true in the woods.
Janice and Joel have a son, Andy. Just like his mom and dad, Andy caught the bow-hunting bug. “One great thing about our family is we can go on hunts together. Joel spends a lot of time on the road hunting in the fall,” Janice said. “Andy and I meet up with him every chance we get so we can hunt together as a family. Andy has taken a number of different animals with a bow including whitetails and bear. Recently Joel took him on a bison hunt and he got a bison with his bow. That was really cool!”
Like all of us, Janice has a few deer hunting stories that stick out in her mind that she will always remember.
“A few years ago, my parents died a few months apart. My dad died in August and my mom died in December. I killed one of my biggest bucks that year in November before my mom died. My dad had just passed away and I didn’t feel like going on a hunt, but I went anyway.  I tagged my buck on the first day of my hunt in Kansas. Joel and our son, Andy, were there so it was very memorable as a family. I rarely tag out on the first day so it was very special. It was like my dad was there with me. Joel filmed the hunt, which made it special because we rarely hunt side by side. Usually someone else is filming my hunts. I have now taken several bucks out of that stand.”
Janice recently took a mule deer buck at almost 60 yards. That hunt was also very memorable. “I have spent most of my time hunting whitetails so going out West to hunt mule deer was fun. Spot-and-stalk hunting is a lot different from sitting in a tree stand. We had a few blown opportunities during those six days before I actually scored, but in the end, I got a nice buck and had a great time,” she said.
Joel, Janice and now Andy have become familiar faces on Mathews TV, a show hosted by Dave Watson on the Outdoor Channel. Being on film has added a different dynamic to bowhunting for Janice.
“Being on film can be tough,” Janice said with a laugh. “Sometimes when I am being filmed I have to pass on shots I would usually take because the camera man doesn’t have a good view of the buck. Other times we have to quit early because of low light. Filming for TV isn’t always fun, but I will say it can be fun to look back at footage and relive a certain hunt. It takes away from the solitude a bit but over the last few years of being filmed, I am getting used to it and am fine with being on film now.”
When Janice started bow-hunting, Joel set up a bow for her that was designed for a man. All the gear she used was tailored towards men. Times have changed and Janice believes that is a good thing.
“When I got into bowhunting, there were some women in the sport but not many. Over the years, I have taken women under my wing and introduced them to the sport. It is much easier getting into the sport for women than it was 25 years ago. Now there are bows designed for women,” Janice said. “I think that is great and I always encourage women to get involved in archery and bow-hunting. It’s a great sport for
the entire family.” 
In a day and age when so many bow-hunting folks want to be hunting celebrities and see their faces plastered all over television, it is refreshing to interview people like Janice and Joel. Both of them love bow-hunting, not fame. Janice is an accomplished bow-hunter who isn’t one to toot her own horn. In fact, she doesn’t talk much about her bow-hunting accomplishments unless others ask. The Maxfield family has built a life around the sport of bow-hunting and were just as passionate about bow-hunting before they worked for Mathews Archery. You might see Joel, Janice and Andy on TV but that is not what is important to them. Spending time together doing something they are passionate about is what is important to them. Bowhunting is one of those unique sports that can bring a family even closer together. It certainly has for
Janice, Joel and Andy.
By Tracy Breen

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fall Food Plots

By Mike Lambeth Fall is in the air and deer season is upon us, or soon will be in most states. The anticipation is finally over, so hopefully you have been shooting your bow or your favorite rifle all summer, and your shooting eye is honed. Do you have a spot picked out on your hunting grounds, where you hope to ambush a big buck? Maybe, you have hunting property you’ve just acquired but are not really sure where to start. If this article finds you unsure of what to do to have a good deer season, maybe you should consider planting a food plot.
That’s right, now is the time for a fall food plot. In most states fall plots need to be planted by September 15, however, in many southern states temperatures have been unseasonably warm, so if you’ve missed the planting window, hurry and plant now!
Before you spend time and money on seed and preparing a food plot, first consider this: What are your reasons for planting a food plot? Do you want to plant a plot to provide supplemental feeding for the deer on your property? Are you interested in planting a plot that will attract deer, so you can hunt over it? Maybe you want to grow a food plot so you can observe deer from a distance. If you answered yes to any of these questions, you can glean some insights below from a knowledgeable wildlife biologist.
Certified wildlife biologist’s Grant Huggins and John Holman operate Fresh Tracts, ( or 580-223-3332) a comprehensive wildlife management service. Their multi-faceted business helps to educate landowners on stewardship, whitetail management, fisheries management, and land management. In a nutshell, these guys are pro’s when it comes to answering questions on making your hunting spots better for whitetails. With over 40 years of combined experience these guys definitely know their stuff!
Huggins believes that deer need more than 14 percent of crude protein in their diets if they are going to be healthy. “Optimally” he said, “16 percent is better and more desired.” “When the higher protein level is achieved it does two things: Does have better milk for fawns, and bucks grow better antlers.”
The savvy biologist agreed that planting a fall food plot will help insure the health of your local deer herd, while increasing your odds for hunting success. Huggins suggests planting a fall  food plot with a mixture of three small grains - oats, wheat, and rye - which ironically is generally the order in which the deer will eat the crops.
Oats will grow first and flourish until eaten up, causing the deer to move on to the wheat and then the rye, which is the heartiest and resistant to cold temperatures. Huggins cautioned that rye grows best in a sandy soil, while wheat does best in a heavier soil base like clay. “All of these seeds are considered annuals, however, rye is better able to re-seed itself,” opined Huggins.

Can one seed blend grow nearly year round? According to Huggin’s research,
While doing graduate work at Texas A&M, Huggins became aware of a seed blend that will flourish in most areas, and actually provide a high-protein sustenance that continues for nine months.
“I like to call it a ‘slam dunk’ mix,” opined Huggins. “The blend consists of 40 pounds of a small grain like oats, wheat, or rye, 40 pounds of a hearty legume like iron and clay cow peas, and 10 pounds of arrow-leaf clover.” Huggins explained the science behind the super blend. “I like to plant oats because they usually last until spring when the weather starts getting hot,” he said. “The cow peas generally are the first to germinate in the fall - usually with edible amounts two and one half weeks after planting. This is an excellent food source for early bow season, however, the first frost will usually kill it out, but the oats are growing and become the food source. In April, the clover starts growing in the hot weather and will sustain the whitetails until July.” Huggins’ blend above is formulated for one acre of ground.
Huggins says that getting rain soon after planting any food plots is an added booster, and that adding fertilizer is a step that shouldn’t be omitted. Remember the goal is not just to grow crops, it is to attract deer.
Once you determine where your food plot will be planted, hopefully you will have time to take a soil sample to have it analyzed by a local agriculture office. Most of these soil conservation stations will test your soil for a minimal fee and then suggest nutrients to make your crops grow better.
The next consideration is to decide how your crops will be planted. The two most common methods are plowing and then broadcasting the crops, which is usually the easiest and doesn’t require any expensive implements to accomplish. The other and probably best method is to drill the seeds directly into the soil. This method requires a seed drill which can be a costly investment. The drill must be calibrated precisely to implant the seeds at the prescribed depth.
Fertilizer is an expensive addition to a food plot, but necessary in the overall scheme of proper food plot management. Having a soil analysis takes the guesswork out of which fertilizer will work best.
Another excellent legume that southern whitetails love is Austrian winter peas. These hearty peas should be planted by September 15, however, if you hurry now is not a bad time. These deer delicacies germinate in 8 to 10 days and are able to be grazed upon in three weeks time. They work best when used in a mixture with a small grain and should be planted 15 to 20 pounds per acre. When using small grain with winter peas reduce the small grain mixture by 25 percent.
The best all-around soil for food plots is a sandy loam and experts recommend building food plots on land that is open, and easily tilled. Huggins recommends planting multiple food plots for the best success.
Another time-tested tip from Huggins is to build a small enclosure on a food plot to be used to evaluate the food plot’s growth. These enclosures only need to be four feet by four feet, and serve as an uninterrupted area to compare to the rest of the food plot. “It is easier to tell if your plot is growing much, and know how much of the perceived slow growth is actually heavy deer browsing,” opined Huggins.
Huggins said for hunters that choose to use game feeders in conjunction with a food plot might observe a few things. Game feeders will attract hogs in areas where the porkers are prolific. Huggins suggested that game feeders should be placed in areas outside of food plots. He explained, “Because of the nature of wild hogs, you shouldn’t place a feeder on a food plot. Once the hogs find the food they will root up a large area around the feeder and eventually destroy your food plot.”
Instead, Huggins suggests hunters place the feeder within sight of their tree stands in another area off the food plot, and he advises that hunters can use hog panels to keep pigs away from the feed. Huggins says that corn is most widely used grain in feeders and serves as an excellent way to give deer energy, in the bitter cold snowy months where feed is scarce.
If you have never planted a food plot, give it a try. A food plot becomes a magnet for deer and will double your hunting pleasure. Call Grant Huggins at (580) 223-3332 and he will be glad to answer any questions. He is also available to do land assessments, formulate a wildlife management plan, why heck he even has a deer hunting school he and John Holman operate.
Finally, Huggins advises that on years when acorns are abundant, whitetails will eat the high-protein nuts first before any other food sources. So if your deer aren’t invading your food plot, find an area strewn with acorns and hang a stand. You’ll no doubt see what you’ve been missing.

By Mike Lambeth 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Blurry-Faced Hunter Kills First Axis Deer on Hawaii's Big Island

Don't sleep on Hawaii as a hunting destination. These days the beauty of the island and its natural resources are at risk as a result of a seemingly harmless act. Axis deer were illegally introduced to the island and like most deer have had no trouble adapting to the landscape and climate of Hawaii.

The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources is now trying to protect the The Big Island from the impacts of the axis deer (these deer have been living on Maui for decades). The deer have become known pests within the agricultural community and are threatening native and culturally significant plants on The Big Island, many of which are endangered to begin with.

Last year a partnership was formed between conservation groups and agricultural groups to address the threat of the axis deer on the Island. On April 11, 2012 as part of an official program to eradicate the invasive axis deer, the first axis deer was taken during a hunt on the Big Island, according to Big Island News.

The DLNR provided proof of the kill in a photo showing the hunter with the axis deer on his back. To protect the hunter's privacy they blurred out is face (seems a little excessive if you ask me).

It was only after a year of extensive field surveys, training and coordination with land owners and managers that hunting was decided upon as the most effective way to manage the axis deer population. The goal of the program is to eliminate the non-native axis deer population before Hawaii’s ranchers and farmers face the same problems now occurring on Maui and other places where deer populations are rapidly rising out of control.
The first attempt to bring axis deer to the Big Island for game hunting began in the 1950’s and 1960’s – a process which was halted by protests from the farming and ranching community who were already aware of the risks of this animal.

Now, over 50 years later, ranchers and farmers are again raising their concerns over the threat these deer pose – especially in light of recent flurry of reports of deer in areas dominated by local agriculture.

Islands typically rely heavily on imports, but Hawaii has been working toward greater food sustainability. That means protecting agriculture from the axis deer is a battle the state must win. Using the state’s hunters as a way to control the axis deer population will surely help. It’s a tactic that is used in suburban areas of many states in the lower 48 and it has proved to be successful. It’s the hunters who will save Hawaii from the invasion of the axis deer.

by Marc Alberto

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Get Your Rifle Ready for Hunting Season!

Content from

After almost thirty years in the gun business I have learned one thing that you can count on from one year to the next; as soon as the 4th of July passes, fall hunting seasons change from next season to “THIS SEASON” overnight.  It’s time to get your guns out and make sure they are ready for this season’s hunts.  First and foremost, you want to repair those little things that broke last year.  At the time you said, “No problem, I have a year to take care of that.”  Bad news… your down to a few weeks now. Clean that barrel for accuracyThe common problems that seem to carry over from one year to the next include scopes that have fogged up, broken parts like safeties, swivels, damaged sights, or stripped screws.  Most of these are simple little fixes that don’t really take that long to fix.  If you’re a do it your self kind of person then it’s time to get out to the garage and make some quick repairs.  If you plan to take this work to a gunsmith you had better head right over to his shop, you see; if he is worth his salt, he is already busy with a few dozen other guys guns.
Minor repairs are not the only things to consider.  Remember last year you swore you would have a better trigger before you took this gun out again?  Or, maybe you planned to have the stock bedded to improve accuracy.  Many shooters discover that the old scope is just too hard to see through in low light, after looking through their buddy’s scope one frosty morning last fall a new scope became a priority.  Even if you’re sticking with an old scope make sure the scope mounts and rings are tight and that none of the screws have broken off.  You would be surprised how many accuracy problems are simply loose scope mounts and rings.

One of the simplest things you can do to improve accuracy is to give that rifle a good cleaning.  Pick up the correct cleaning gear for your caliber.  The best cleaning rods are one piece-coated rods; they have no joints that can catch on the barrel during cleaning, potentially damaging the bore.  The coating is designed to allow the rod to slip freely through the barrel without acting as a lap that will cause scratches or undue damage to the bore.  There are many good cleaning solvents, if your rifle is new or has seen little shooting then a solvent to remove carbon and unburned powder will suffice.  If you have an older rifle that used to shoot well but then accuracy “suddenly” fell off, it’s a good idea to try a solvent that is made to remove copper fouling.  Simply follow the directions on the bottle, the maker tells you what method will work best with their product.  If at all possible clean the barrel from the breech to prevent damaging the crown.
A mistake that many shooters make when cleaning a barrel is to think that if a little cleaning is good them MORE will be better.  If solvent is left in the bore too long, some of them have the ability to pit the bore, especially those solvents containing ammonia.  For best results and accuracy, stick to the manufacturers instructions.  When your done cleaning it’s a good idea to wipe the bore down with a patch soaked with oil, like Rem OilÒ, Tri-FloÒ, Break FreeÒ, or one of the other high quality gun oils.  This will protect the bore in storage, be sure to wipe the bore dry with a patch or two before firing as oil in the bore can act like an obstruction and increase chamber pressure.
Once you have all the repairs and upgrades taken care of and the gun is clean its time to sight in.  If your rifle is unchanged from last year, and it was sighted in correctly at that time, then you can go straight to a 100-yard range for sight in.  If you have new sights or a new scope it is easiest and fastest to start the sight in process at 25 yards.  If your gunsmith collimated or “bore sighted” your gun in the shop that only promises to put you on the paper.  By starting close you can fire three shots to be sure where its grouping, then adjust the sights or scope accordingly.  Then fire another three shot group.  Once you’re centered up on the bull it’s time to move out to 100 yards and fire another group.  By starting in close at 25 yards you can save a ton of ammo, it can be hard to make adjustments if your not on the paper, at 25 yards the odds are pretty good that you will be on the paper if the gun has been bore sighted.
If you have a rifle that has a muzzle velocity of  2700 feet per second or more; and that covers most high powered rifles. You can use a rule of 3 when sighting in.  The idea is that the kill zone on a deer or antelope is about 6”.  In the chart below you will see that the “Trajectory Peak in Yards” is the point at which the trajectory of your rifle is 3” above the line of sight and starts back down.  The majority of all game is taken under 100 yards so this system will work for most all shooters.  An old-timer once told me always aim at hair and you will nearly always make a hit.  Check out the “Point Blank Range,” that is the point where your bullet will drop 3” below the line of sight, and you can shoot up to that distance without even considering hold-over, if your sighted in for the indicated zero.  Many shooters simplify this concept by sighting in 3” high at 100 yards.
Cartridge / Bullet Wt. Velocity Feet Per Second Point of impact @ 100 yards Trajectory Peak (3” high) at __ Yards        Target “zero” in Yards Maximum Point Blank Range (3” low) at Yards 10″ Holdover in Yards
243 Winchester   100gr.
25-06                    115gr.
260 Remington   140gr.
270 Winchester   130gr.
7mm-08              140g.
7mm Remington 175gr.
30-30 Win.           150gr.
30-06                   180gr.
338 Win.             225gr.
35 Whelen         200gr.
375 H&H             300gr.
The load data in this table is derived from published factory load data for the specific cartridges. Sights are assumed to be 1.5″ above the center of bore for these tables, as most scopes are at this height.
It’s not unusual to hear clients ask about a new custom rifle for THIS SEASON.  Frankly, by this time of year if a gunsmith says he can build you a nice custom rifle in time for an October 1st season, you should check his references.  By extension, if a gunsmith does not have a backlog you want to know why, before you invest in a custom rifle with him. The majority of rifle builders have a backlog of many months and delivery times of more than a year are common among the best builders.
Much of the reason for long delivery time for custom work is that it is handwork.  It requires the personal attention of an experienced gunsmith; most of them only have two hands.  Then of course there is the perennial problem with days being limited to 24 hours.  Bottom line, if your gunsmith has good references, be patient and you will get top-notch workmanship.

by Fred Zeglin

Monday, June 11, 2012

Michael Waddell’s Strategies for Early Season Deer Hunting

I love to bow hunt probably more than just about anything, and this is the time of year many of us live for. But we need to approach early season much differently than the rut. Bucks aren’t charging around reckless like they will be come November, but that’s okay. If we play our cards right, the early season could pay off much better than even the rut, simply because we’re getting the first crack at these big boys. Here are six tips that will have you driving a wallhanger home in your truck.

Scout It Out

Even if you’ve hunted a place a million times, scouting is important. Deer will stick to traditional patterns from year to year. However, food sources change, plots and crop fields might be planted differently, woods get cut, and swamps dry out or flood depending on the rain. All of this can affect where deer are bedding and feeding, the latter being the most important. In the early season, you’re going to focus on food sources as bucks try to beef up and prepare for the rut. Identify these spots and hang stands well before the season. Set up trail cams and spend time glassing where deer routinely enter a field or food plot. It’s hot, so deer will bed near food, which is everywhere at this time of season, so it’s important to have multiple locations pinpointed.

Know Your Food

You need to identify all of the potential early season food sources and hunt them as deer hit them. Woods will be greened up meaning there’s plenty for bucks to browse; however, they will still seek out the most nutritious foods. If acorns are plentiful, particularly on white oaks, deer will be there when they start dropping over any other food source. Plots planted in clover are good September or early October magnets; however, if agricultural fields of soybeans and corn are nearby, it will trump most small food plots hunters plant, particularly as the weather begins to cool.

Water Wonders

Deer get a lot of the moisture they need from the late-summer foods they eat, so if you live in an area with abundant flowing streams, flooded swamplands, or near large creeks and rivers, you’ll be wasting your time trying to set up along the edge of a creek, hoping to catch a big buck coming to drink. Odds of catching a deer in one drinking spot are thin. But if you hunt in drought-stricken areas such as Texas and Oklahoma or other dry areas, a stock tank or isolated pond can be a great spot to hang a stand. Scout the travel routes around the water source, identify where most of the tracks are made, and set up there to catch an antlered monster coming to the drink.

Don't Force It

A lot of stands are accessed by fields, which is where the deer will be feeding at dawn. If you’re hoping to score on a buck as it goes to bed in the morning, but the only practical way you have to get into your stand is through the field where he’s likely to be feeding, don’t go. Wait and hunt the spot in the afternoon.

Hold Your Shot

Bucks are likely still in bachelor groups the first week or two of most bow seasons. That means you don’t want to shoot the first buck that steps into view since a bigger dude might be right behind him. Note the make-up of these groups from trail cam photos and scouting. Identify the one you want in the bunch and try to hit him when he shows up with his buddies to feed. If you see one of his partners, you know your target buck is likely nearby.

Make an Evening Exit Strategy

Remember, if you walked through a field to your stand in the early afternoon, deer will likely be feeding in that same field when it comes time to go. Just blowing out of there after dark can spook that buck you’re targeting and run him from the area. Instead, mark an alternate trail that loops you deep through the woods and gets out without going near the field. Or, if nothing else, be prepared to sit tight until it appears deer have fed out of the field and moved on.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Common Ground

Common Ground

By Sallie Schneider Sauber

From a very early age, my brother and I learned respect for guns — and Dad. I’ll never forget the time I pointed a dart gun at my father and chanted, “I’m gonna shoot you, bang bang bang.” Snatching it from my hand, he roared at me never to point a gun at anybody, not even a toy gun. I never forgot.
Sometimes brother and I would tag along during duck, dove or pheasant hunts. I was content walking along the rows of corn stubble sporting Dad’s way-too-big button-down camo shirt and searching for the occasional ear of field corn left behind by the combine, or just sitting still in the weeds near the ditch, my heart racing in nervous anticipation of the shotgun blast, that, at any given moment, would bring down the sound of nature’s hush along with the mallard overhead. We never carried guns, but what a great time we had going hunting.
I must have been 8 the first time dad took me deer hunting. Still no gun and yet the rush of being 20 feet off the ground and the thought of a seeing a deer without it seeing us was enough to keep me in that stand all day long! Sitting for hours in a deer stand is really just a meditation, a way of becoming one with your surroundings. You learn the rhythms of things. The way the weeds move in the wind when you’re looking at them from 200 yards away is different than the way an antler looks when a buck turns its head.
Two-hundred yards out, the color is the same but the rhythm is different. You learn to hear differently, or, perhaps not at all. If you hear a deer crashing through the brush, then it’s not a deer. Dad always told me that, but it took me at least 10 years to accept that squirrels and birds sound much bigger than life when everything else around is so quiet.
I learned the art of being completely still for hours at a time in sub-zero weather — nose dripping down my face, and toes so cold I couldn’t feel them. Some sort of right of passage I guess, or maybe I did it out of respect for the deer. If an animal was going to die at my hand, the least I could do was suck it up and suffer the cold for a day. Dad never promised it would be easy, and being a girl, I felt like I had to prove myself that much more.
When I was 12, I shot a beautiful 8-point buck. Actually, Dad and I shot at the same time, but he always gives me the credit. It hangs on the wall in my living room. Other less impressive deer taken over the years have been, as we say, “for the meat.”
Common GroundDeer hunting as a teen was rough. It just about killed me to have to forego hairspray and makeup (dad assured me the deer would smell me from 10 miles away), although I’m not sure who I thought I was going to see out in the back 40 of rural Ohio. And don’t let the hunting clothes fool you, the pictures were taken post shower and makeup. So there I was, a girl with a gun and a fair amount of vanity. At least I was able to stay focused on my intentions once I settled into the stand.
As time passed, hunting with Dad became second fiddle to friends, boys and late night parties. Then I lost my mom in 1994. I stopped hunting altogether because she died while I was out hunting.
Never once during my struggle did Dad try to persuade me to hunt. He was quiet and patient and continued to share his love of the sport with his granddaughter, Savannah. I know he missed the hunts we shared, even when we came away with nothing. I used to think it disappointed him when I missed a shot, but I realize now it never really mattered. That was his way of staying connected to me. Our worlds are separate and the outdoors is where we meet in the middle, our common ground.
Years passed, and on a warm day in late September, Dad asked if I wanted to bowhunt for a couple of hours. “Dad, I’ve never even held a crossbow, and I haven’t hunted in eight years.” He coaxed me into taking a few practice shots in the yard before we went. Once I was comfortable with the bow, we took off around 3:00 in the afternoon.
The scenery was awesome. It was a pleasant 60 or so degrees, and the sun was behind us as we sat in the stand watching a monster buck 500 yards distant. All we could see through the binoculars was a huge white rack shining in the sun and bobbing in and out of the brush. With the experience came an understanding of what Dad must have felt as he watched his 1999 trophy buck make its way closer and closer.
There was no persuading this majestic creature. We hoped he’d come toward us, but we weren’t counting on it. As the sun faded, fog began to settle and we eventually lost sight of the massive rack across the field.
Dad climbed down from the stand and walked toward the horizon.
I said a prayer as I sat watching the big fireball in the sky float behind the trees. The air was still and the backdrop was breathtaking. I felt God’s presence as I pondered my place and I said, “You know I’m struggling with whether or not this is right. I need you to give me an answer.”
About 50 yards away, a doe stood out and began walking toward me. I had plenty of time to set up the shot and make it clean. Pop went the bolt, and the deer disappeared into the thick.
The scene was heaven on earth. The sun was sinking fast, and fog was now on the ground. The moon was just over the treeline, and one bright star dotted it like an “I”. A calm came over me like never before since my mother’s passing. I knew God was speaking to me in this place.
Dad went down to look for a sign as I guided him to where I thought the deer stood. Nothing. He looked for nearly 15 minutes and found not one white hair or speck of red. The temperature was plunging, and it was nearly dark. We drove back to the house for a quick bite.
Ten-year-old Savannah was back at the house waiting for us. She wanted to help find the deer.
We drove into the field where I shot and began looking around when Savannah called out, “I found a trail!” Dad and I rushed over to where Savannah stood and found the deer with the bolt right next to it. I made peace with myself that night.
My son is too young to carry a gun, but ready to tag along with his grandpa. I don’t know if hunting will be their common ground, but I do know this: If they come home with nothing to show for the hunt, the memories will still mean more than any trophy buck hanging on the wall.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Perfect Practice

We all know that practice makes perfect—but taking your archery skills to a higher level takes perfect practice.

There’s no telling what situation or scenario you’ll find yourself against while in the forest or field. The ‘unscripted’ is truly nature’s beauty and beast. Hunters have fantasized the idea of grunting a mature buck into a broadside position ten yards from their perch countless times – in reality, it’s the immediate quartering away shot before he bolts or the white knuckled, nail biting, last second prayer we encounter before our buck-of-a-lifetime vanishes behind brush. There is no storyline to this fairy-tale other than expecting the unexpected.
Simulating unique scenarios and injecting a hint of realism into your archery practice will morph your talent, enhance your confidence, and prepare you for the dynamics you will encounter on judgment day. Maximize your shooting capabilities by raising your ‘pin’ to a new level and shrinking your bull’s-eye to laser point focus.
Splicing arrows into my Big Green Target may elevate my archery mechanics, but it won’t make me any better of a hunter. Do you remember the last time you shot archery outside? If I were to guess, I’d say that you were practicing somewhere around the 15-yard mark, standing straight up, feet perfectly squared to the target, and you held back your bow until the last gust of wind mellowed before your easy release. Now ask yourself, when was the last time you killed an animal that came into chip shot range, by himself, and stood broadside waiting for you to release? It just doesn’t work that way often enough.
Taking your archery practice to a higher-level is an essential building block step in your killing abilities. Dedicate time to create your very own mock-hunting experiences that you can share with your friends and family. You may want to implement tree stands, ground blind stations, and moving targets. There are endless opportunities and a mixture of fun situations to mock. It is a great way to increase your accuracy and boost your overall shooting confidence.
Below you will find a few tips that help increase lifelike hunting situations in your practice regimen.

If you plan on hunting from an elevated position, practice from treestand level. Shooting your bow from a deck or a gentle sloped rooftop will mock your average treestand shot. This will give you a firsthand perspective of what angles you’ll be shooting from once season begins.
Place your archery target in an assortment of positions. Tweak your angles broadside or quartering away to create natural challenges. This will give you the opportunity to slip your arrows into the correct crease and kill pocket during crunch time.

Take a Knee…or Two:
I never thought of practicing shooting from my knees until I ventured to eastern Colorado last fall and stalked monster mule deer with my bow. This tree-less praire of muley paradise was my wakeup call and proved impossible to take a simple standing shot. Belly crawling hundreds of yards, inching through tall wheat fields en route to a nearly hidden tine was an experience never to be forgotten. There was not one time we stood up and walked toward deer – neither will you.
Once we got within range, it was time to forget how cold and wet your hands felt from the snow, or how much your knees ached from clomping through bumpy fields. It was time to make the kill.
It takes a smooth and silent draw cycle and an immediate decision to align your pin on the buck’s vitals and let carbon fly before he busts you. Always be sure to carry a trusty rangefinder when hunting open fields or vast landscapes; objects in view may be closer than what they actually appear. My Halo rangefinder is always strung around my neck to give me the confidence that I’ll need when analyzing distance.

Take a seat:
Shooting a bow from a seated position can be difficult. You are against several variables that may deter your shot. The bottom cam kicking up dirt, weeds, or bumping your kneecap will toss an arrow off course and out of bounds – not to mention the extra strength it takes to crank the string back and hold the bow steady. Sitting against a tree and using it as a natural blind while turkey or elk hunting is a must when using string and string.
Last spring I shot a turkey using my bow while playing peek-a-boo with a gobbler behind a huge oak tree. As the gobbler walked into my decoys, all I had to do was draw and quickly slink an arrow into the back of his tail fan. He pompously strutted into my setup and once he turned away, I killed him.
Like many of us, I’ve had just as many good hunts go bad and some just plain raw, but you’ll never know when you have to take an awkward shot at an animal.
Creating the most realistic practice will ultimately build enough confidence and experience to make your shot count when the moment of truth surfaces. Practice these different kinds of shooting forms and key in on perfect practice to help you on your adventure.

by Brandon Wikman

Monday, June 4, 2012

Share The Tradition

I’ve always found that the most treasured feelings in life are rooted from passing on education. Whether it’s a father admiring his lessons as his son attempts riding a bike without training-wheels or a mother and her daughter preparing homemade cookies, moments like that are never forgotten. As outdoors people, we have the blessed opportunity to pass on a legacy we hold dear to our heart and soul. We’re able to enlighten new people, teens, or beginners into the sport of hunting.

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It’s both a unique and thrilling experience to educate, role model, and enrich someone’s life. I believe everyone deserves a little hunting and outdoor culture in his or her life. This past week proved to be a life changing experience for one of my friends during her very first turkey hunt.

A week before season, my friend Karlee and I scaled the central Wisconsin hills in search for turkey sign. Scouting is by far the most critical phase in preparation for the hunt. It’s essential to understand the land layout, food sources, and roosting areas during a turkey hunt as well as any hunt at that.

We moved along the alfalfa field, until she spotted a handful of fluffy feathers buried beneath the grass. I explained that this was a roosting area, by the looks of all the white pine trees along the field. I explained to her that the branches of white pines are like beds to turkey. They spend half of their life sinking their claws into the bark and sleeping throughout the night. We continued on our mini-journey through the woods in pursuit of hardcore evidence of my favorite feathered-critters.

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A week had passed and the hunt was coming faster than we both realized. We found ourselves driving to the morning setup. I had to give some credit to Karlee. She was really a trooper. She woke at 3:30am, a time that she’d probably never seen before.
Karlee and I slowly crept into the forest’s darkness. We tiptoed through the woods, over a small stream, and under an old barbed-wire fence. She told me it felt like we were on a mission. I told her she couldn’t be any more right!

The morning setup was only a hundred yards from where Karlee found the turkey feathers. A jumble of white pines and a small patch of cedars is the only thing that held back Karlee’s first turkey. As morning light danced upon the horizon, the woods came alive. Morning songbirds sung a sweet melody as the geese chimed in every now and then. The squirrels began rummaging through the forest floor and deer sluggishly walking back to their beds after a long night of gorging. I knew it would only be minutes until I’d watch Karlee’s eyes pop from the shriek of a gobble.

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The turkey began claiming dominance with thunderous gobbles soon after the crack of dawn. I nudged Karlee to pick up a call and softly begin chiming love toward their direction. She was able to ignite a few gobbles from her box call. We waited motionless for another five minutes until I spotted a gobbler fluttering through the air en route to Karlee’s yelp. The gobbler pompously walked into range while strutting the entire time. This scenario was absolutely perfect, one that doesn’t come too often when hunting these random critters.   

Karlee steadied her shotgun as the bird high-stepped his way in looking for the imaginary lovesick hen. When the tom crossed the 20-yard mark I told Karlee to fill his face with bb’s. She did just that! An eruption of bb’s burnt through the air splattering into the gobbler’s face. We both couldn’t help laughing. She looked completely speechless. She was glowing with pride and shaking with turkey-fever. I soaked every moment of it up. All the while I thanked God because I knew in my heart that this was an experience that she’d never forget for the rest of her life.

We gathered the big gobbler. It weighed nearly 24 pounds and sported a 10-inch beard. I took at least a hundred photos of the bird and Karlee in different settings and situations. She couldn’t quite figure out why I was so camera-happy. Little did she know, I was documenting a historic moment in both of our lives. I can promise you that Karlee’s first hunt will be a conversation piece with her friends and family for years to come. I was just pleased to have everything turn out perfect. Hunting to me is simple, it’s about making lasting memories with people you enjoy spending time with. So go spend some time with someone that makes you happy in the woods or on the water. It will surely be an experience you won’t forget. 

by Brandon Wikman

Friday, June 1, 2012

Think white-tailed bucks fight for dominance and breeding rights only during the fall? Think again.

It was Labor Day on the calendar, but the photograph reeked of mid-November. My buddy, Ross, a local farmer and fellow white-tailed deer hunting nut, sent me a stunning photograph of two giant bucks, antlers hopelessly locked, bodies hopelessly lifeless. The smaller buck was a 150-class 10-pointer with chocolate-colored antlers; his dueling partner was a Boone and Crockett Club candidate with a broad, gnarly rack.
"These were found by a neighbor of ours just the other day," Ross' written message said. "What's up with that? I thought bucks locked antlers only during the rut."
I used to share my friend's belief. Aggressive behavior—in the form of sparring, fighting, chasing and vocalizations—was something bucks only did as they challenged each other for breeding rights during the fall. The rest of the year, bucks were meek, sly creatures that ghosted through life while trying to keep a low profile. Experience and observation, however, have proven that belief wrong.
I first saw the error of my ways one August evening several years ago. My friend Ted Marum—a highly successful whitetail guide from Buffalo County, Wisconsin—and I were out glassing and filming whitetails during the last week of August. As a small bachelor group of bucks fed into a lush alfalfa field, a lone buck wandered in from a different block of timber. The other bucks stopped feeding to watch the new kid, and the closer the stranger walked, the more agitated the larger bucks in the group became. Finally, one of the larger bucks in the bachelor group strutted down toward the lone buck. Posturing aggressively, the two bucks circled each other, then clashed antlers briefly before the intruding buck trotted off the field.
"Wow," I said after lowering the video camera. "You don't see that often this time of year."
"Actually, I think it's just the opposite," Marum said. "I've seen 10 knock-down buck fights in my life, and seven of them happened in September, right after the velvet shed. I think bucks are extremely aggressive toward each other during that period."
Social Shakeup
When I asked my friend to explain himself, his response made perfect sense. "For starters, bucks have spent the summer in bachelor groups. They definitely have a pecking order established then, but since their antlers are in velvet, that pecking order is largely based on body size and posturing. Once bucks lose that velvet, they're no longer afraid to damage their antlers. Not only that, but their testosterone levels start rising as fall approaches. You take a buck with any kind of attitude, and now he's got antlers to back him up. Put him next to another belligerent buck, and there's gonna be some fighting."
The breakdown of summer bachelor groups only amps up the tension. As bucks break away from their bachelor groups to establish home areas for the fall, the most dominant bucks settle into the best habitat. Other bucks disperse to find their early fall hangouts—and inevitably run into bucks they've never met. On occasion, these bucks decide to duke it out to see who's the toughest. Marum (as well as most wildlife biologists) believe these early dominance battles are important, because they save bucks a lot of hard, and potentially more dangerous, fighting once the rut kicks in.
This phenomenon holds obvious implications for early season whitetail hunters, who typically focus their efforts on ambushing bucks as they travel to food sources. While there's certainly nothing wrong with this approach, my experience has proven it's also possible to push a buck's aggressive buttons during the early season. Rattling, calling and decoying—all tactics primarily associated with hunting rutting whitetails—can also be employed during the salad days of early fall. Indeed, if used properly, these aggressive hunting methods can help you bag a mature buck that might have eluded you if you'd only opted for the passive, ambush-style approach of the typical hot-weather hunter.
Here's a look at using aggressive hunting tactics for early season bucks.
Dupe 'Em With Dekes
I've been a decoy nut for many years now, but I never thought of using them prior to those few frantic weeks before the rut. That changed, however, after Marum and I talked about early fall aggression. Only a few weeks later, Wisconsin's archery season had just begun, and I'd wrangled not only an afternoon out of the office, but an invite from Ted to hunt his home farm.
"The wind should be perfect for you to sit in that back bean field," Ted had told me on the phone the night before. "And a buddy of mine was hunting there last week and saw three ‘shooters.' They were jacking around with each other, but nothing came close."
"Sounds like a good place to stick a decoy," I said, half-expecting my friend to laugh.
"That's exactly what I was thinking," Ted replied. "Keep antlers on it and face it away from your stand and into the field." I agreed, and toted the plastic buck with me for the half-mile walk to the stand.
Does, fawns and turkeys kept me entertained for much of the evening, and the pleasant fall breeze and changing colors helped remind me of why I bowhunt. Dusk was falling when I noticed movement on the field edge more than 100 yards away. One quick scan with my binoculars proved it was a mature buck with his nose deep in beans. Normally, I'd have felt desperate in this situation, because with only mere minutes of shooting light left, it was unlikely the buck would feed within bow range before dark. But I had an ace up my sleeve; the decoy was facing dead-on toward the feeding buck, so I reached for my grunt call and issued the whitetail version of, "Hey dude!"
The buck's response was immediate and decisive. Lifting his head from his supper, he spotted the decoy instantly. The buck raised his head, stared at the fake for a long minute, then plodded in assuredly to introduce himself to the stranger. By the time I'd grabbed my bow and clipped my release to the string, the buck was 50 yards away and closing. When I hit full draw, the buck was nose-to-nose with the decoy. Thirty seconds later, I heard the buck crash in the nearby timber, my arrow deep in his vitals. From the time I'd spotted the buck to the time he died, less than 2 minutes had passed. I was thrilled as Ted helped me drag the buck out of the woods. Our unique plan had come together perfectly.
I've come to believe early season hunting is one of the best times to decoy whitetails. Not only are bucks highly curious and often aggressive (especially toward a buck they don't know), but much of the hunting done at this time of year is on or near food sources such as fields or oak flats. These open-cover sites are where decoys shine, as one of the keys in decoying is simply getting a buck to spot your fake. But there are other fine points unique to early season decoying. The first is to use a buck decoy. Though a doe deke could certainly lure in a buck during the early season, it will also prompt curious does and fawns to investigate and these "girl groups" will mill around your fake until they spook and alarm any bucks in the area. Second, face your decoy toward the expected entry trail of a buck. When the real deal appears, he'll interpret the direct stare of your impostor as an aggressive maneuver. Assuming he's bigger, this should be all it takes to tempt him in.
Grunt, Rattle And Roll
Like decoying, calling and rattling are tactics most hunters reserve for the rut. But the hard truth is that whitetails grunt, bleat, mew and "talk" to each other all year. Further, bucks can—and do—fight and spar with each other any time of the year that they're in hard antler. This makes shelving your deer calls until November as big of a mistake as keeping your decoy in mothballs.
Need proof? My buddy Doug Wiles was afield on the mid-September opening day of the Wisconsin archery season last fall. He was hunting in an "Earn-a-buck" zone, which meant he first had to register a doe before he could kill a buck. Such was Doug's mission when he spotted a small group of does and fawns picking their way through an oak flat. Plucking a small "can" call from his pocket, Doug coaxed in the lead doe, which responded to his bleats with a chorus of her own. In the span of a few minutes, the doe had returned a dozen calls and wandered within bow range. My buddy promptly sent an arrow over her back, but after skittering off, the doe began bleating again, louder than ever! Doug responded in kind, and soon heard another whitetail marching steadily toward him from behind. This deer was no doe, but a 10-point monster that Doug estimated would score 160 Pope and Young Club points! My friend sat and watched helplessly as the curious trophy plodded past at 15 steps and sauntered over to harass the does. Soon the entire herd disappeared over a hill—and Doug enjoyed a long, hard cry!
Rattling antlers work for the same, obvious reasons. If bucks are sorting out dominance by engaging in everything from sparring matches to full-blown battles, it only makes sense they'll investigate horn tickling and the occasional full-blown rattling session. Will they come charging in with the fury and drive they exhibit during the rut? Probably not, but if your antlers or rattling bag coax a buck within bow range, I doubt it will matter to you whether he came in running or sneaking.
Successful early season calling comes with qualifiers, however. Though bucks can be vulnerable to calls at this time of year, they rarely speed into the fray, often preferring to slink in silently—and usually downwind—of the "deer" they're hearing. Remember, the incoming buck probably doesn't recognize the "voice" of the deer he's hearing, and unless he's the bull of the woods, he's not taking any chances of being surprised. Also, the thick cover typically present during early fall prevents him from seeing very far, which makes him rely on his nose even more. Finally, remember that the mood of the deer often has more to do with his willingness to come to a call than any other factor; some bucks are simply lazy or non-aggressive, or the buck might simply be a wimp that's never up for a challenge.

How do you overcome these challenges? For starters, make sure your stand or blind is located near an obstacle that discourages a buck from circling downwind. Setting up within bow range of a fenceline, creek bank, field edge or other obvious barrier will discourage a buck from circling and will help "steer" him in for a shot. Second, when calling to bucks you can see, do your best to judge the mood and/or personality of the deer. If the buck stares your way but won't come, call softly whenever he puts his head down or looks away. You can often get in a buck's head by badgering him with calls from an intruder buck. But if he seems nervous or spooky, save your efforts for another day. The buck might have just been whipped in a fight, or simply isn't feeling randy at the moment. Finally, remember to adjust the volume of your calling/rattling to the conditions. It's always easy to amp up the volume on a buck that's not responding, but nearly impossible to change his mood if you've taken things too far and intimidated him.
It's easy to pigeonhole decoying, calling and rattling by saving these "aggressive" tactics for rutting bucks. But whitetails are highly social creatures that participate in a pecking order that is dynamic and ever-changing. Decoys, grunt tubes, can calls and rattling antlers can, under the right conditions, push a buck's aggressive buttons long before breeding begins. Fool just one good buck with them, and I'll bet these tools will become part of your arsenal as soon as the deer season opens!

POSTED BY: Scott Bestul