Hunt Better: Deer Are Lazy
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Something I was reminded of twice in recent weeks was how deer are lazy. That’s why saddles are an effective means of hunting in areas of harsh topography and why deer frequently adopt bush-hogged trails as their own through thick fields of brush and tall, dense grass. A few more examples…

Streamside management zones (SMZ; e.g., a narrow vein of hardwoods splitting two much larger compartments of regenerating clearcuts) are one way that deer traverse thick difficult areas. This screenshot is taken from where I took my North Carolina rifle buck at Christmas. The late season bachelor group worked down the SMZ and into the powerline rights-of-way before veering down into the creek bottom which eventually led out to a winter wheat field a quarter mile distant.

Another shortcut for deer is depicted in this next picture. This is a public land tract in Ohio that I scouted over New Years break. The shaded yellow is thick, nearly impenetrable brush and thorns that has a few beat down trails laced through it. The hourglass pinch in the middle is where I marked a pine tree for future reference. Even after 2 gun seasons and only being 300 yards from the nearest parking area, deer droppings covered the ground and a few late scrapes had been tracked up recently. Just like we learn the shortest route to work for our morning commutes, deer learn the fastest way to navigate through thick cover. They are far more adapted to close quarter navigation than we are but they still take the path of least resistance–even if that resistance is still capable of turning back all but the most determined of hunters. If the ridge to the south masts heavy next fall, this will be a spot I focus on during early-mid October. High hopes!

6 Year Forecast for “Once in a Lifetime” Hunting Adventures: Part 2, Mid Term
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Some of these hunts are pending a series of mild winters and contingent on herds recovering in areas hit hard by previous die-offs. In all honesty, the Kodiak trip which is 2017’s big adventure got planned for 2 reasons: A) we bought hunting licenses and tags at 2016 prices which all doubled on January 1, 2017, and B) deer numbers are high and the older age classes are well developed following a string of mild winters…fingers crossed these next several months are equally forgiving and it should be a hunt for the ages.

Wyoming Unit X Mule Deer – Venturing back to where we chased antelope is on the docket, but this time for mule deer. That said, it will be several more years until my dad and 2 other buddies have enough points to draw the tag. The unit choice is still subject to change as I’ve heard mixed reviews for the quality of the hunting there, but I think it’ll be a good hunt if we dedicate enough time to weed through the high herd numbers and locate some solid mature animals.

Wyoming Elk – No clue on weapon or unit at this point, but I know I’ll have nearly 2 handfuls of preference points begging to be spent. After “guiding” dad on his muzzleloader hunt, this will be a chance to chase a bull in new country of my own.

Colorado Mule Deer – Same story as above. I’ll have 10 points in 2022 and this is another hunt with limitless possibilities – early season rifle, early season muzzleloader, archery the week before, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th season rifle. All I know is that Colorado is THE state for a balanced quantity/quality mule deer hunt and it will be one I look forward to with great anticipation. This is another hunt that may receive some pre-hunt unit scouting as I mentioned for our pending Wyoming Region G adventure.

Wyoming Antelope Unit X – We’ll be back in the requisite preference point range to go hunt speedgoats again…and we will. You can look back at posts from this October’s hunt and deduce that I will hunt this unit as often as I can draw the tag from now until I have a very compelling reason to not.

Montana Bighorn Ewe – If I’m honest with myself, I’ll never spend the money to chase mountain sheep in my lifetime nor can I see myself getting vested in the decades long rollercoaster ride of potentially never drawing a lottery-permit ram tag in the Lower 48. That said, Montana has some unique opportunities to hunt bighorn ewes in some of the premier sheep hunting units in the entire world with just a year or two of preference points required. That I will do. In addition, I’ve got some leads and have done considerable map work in scouting Montana’s Region 7 for rut-crazed November mule deer. Can you say combo hunt?!?!

Toying with 10 hunts in 6 years in probably a bit optimistic, but I should realistically be able to pull off 7 or 8 of these. Lots of looking forward to do on these 2 lists!!!

6 Year Forecast for “Once in a Lifetime” Hunting Adventures: Part 1, Near Term
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I’ve always kept the perspective that any moderately expensive, out-of-state hunting trip that requires a good deal of forethought, planning, and preparation would be many peoples’ once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with a schedule which allows me considerable flexibility and just enough extra & supplementary income to justify taking my “once-in-a-lifetime” trip every year or two – oh yea, and a very understanding wife!! As I’ve written many times, a good portion of a trip’s enjoyment is embedded in the gear planning, honing of strategies, pouring over maps, and day dreaming of the trip’s unfolding. Oftentimes the trip itself is more misery and hard work than pure enjoyment, but the memories any trip – tags filled or unfilled – are almost always sweet.

Having a long-term focus to my hunt planning affords me several benefits. First and foremost, it lets me plan. This is straight-forward but I can look ahead on academic calendars to see when fall breaks coincide with season openers, have tentative hunt schedules in mind when the brainstorm of the next family vacation or trip arises, and always have a goal in front of me. As superficial as it sounds, knowing I have an upcoming hunt penciled into the calendar can erase a bad morning at work and provide an extra boost of motivation when needed. Planning ahead also helps to manage a growing inventory of preference points for different species in different states.

Recently, I broke my hunt planning into 2 discrete segments…my near-term 3 year plan and mid-term plan (the 4-6 years out range). Anything I don’t have scribbled into the near- or mid-term plan but for which I am accumulating preference points would fall into the someday down the road in the faraway long-term.

(I have my likely hunting partners listed in the graphic’s parentheses).

Wyoming Region G Mule Deer – This will be an ultra-physical hunt in some big and brutal country. Some of the biggest mule deer in the world call this region home and wilderness doesn’t impose undue restrictions on unguided non-residents like myself. Many of the skill sets we’ve employed in our Colorado elk hunts will be appropriate to apply on this one. In short, it’s a dream come true. With an early rifle season up in alpine habitats, this will be one for the memory books. Realistically, this is a hunt that could produce the biggest mule deer buck of my lifetime, and I’ve contemplated taking a few days this summer or next to hike into some basins to scout some bucks, glassing spots, camping locations, and water sources.

Kansas Whitetails – It’s been too long since my dad and I have chased bucks in the Sunflower State. We’ve done 2 muzzleloader hunts and 1 archery hunt in the past and we’re long overdue in chasing the big river bottom bucks that Kansas does such a good job of growing. Unsure of weapon/season choice at this point, but this is an easy one to plan so not too worried about the details at this point.

Black Bear in Montana – There is no better way to knock the dust off 5 months of winter and early spring than to visit one of the most beautiful corners of the Lower 48 with a bear tag in pocket and watch the magic of spring unfold. For a long time I said that I only ever wanted to take one bear, but after doing so in 2014, there’s good reason to believe that bear will not be my last. The adventure level on this hunt is through the roof, there is game all over, and taking a no-baiting/no hounds bear in the Montana mountains is an utmost and worthy challenge.

Elk in Colorado – Dad is closing in on having enough preference points to cash out on a muzzleloader tag for the unit where we chase OTC archery elk. It’s an 8 day, middle-of-September season and I know exactly where we’ll be camped out for the duration. I’ll likely not buy an elk tag for me (maybe a fall bear tag?), but concentrate instead on getting dad on a bull with the smokepole. I’ve no doubt that if the altitude doesn’t kill him and if he can put the sabot where he wants it, dad will get one or more opportunities to take his first ever elk.

Kodiak Island – More details forthcoming. Yep, I typed it and you read it correctly – Kodiak.

2017 Outdoor Aspirations: Looking Forward
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I’m a bit of a sucker for New Year’s Resolutions and am definitely a list junkie, so here goes for 2017.

*3 float fishing trips – ideally I can hit the local creeks several times in pursuit of smallmouth bass. Anything 3 pounds+ would be my personal best, so I think that’s what I’ll try and best.

*1 decent crappie fishing trip & 1 decent bluegill fishing trip – these two are intertwined as I learned last year. This time though, my commitment is that if a crappy crappie fishing trip is again salvaged by a swarm of hungry bluegills, I will go back and fill a second cooler with ‘gills. We enjoy eating them as much as crappie from past years, and Raelyn had an absolute hoot reeling them in one after another after another. Hard to beat that combination.

*1 fishing trip just to focus on catfishing

*Continue playing the preference point game in Wyoming and Colorado, and maybe (!!) throw my name in a couple New Mexico draws and considering a bighorn sheep preference point in Montana to stage a future DIY ewe hunt in the Breaks.

*2 squirrel hunts – fun and yummy

*Take down wooden lock-on’s by end of January and complete deer stand prep/scouting for fall by end of April

*5 shed antlers – this goes hand in hand with getting my deer season prep work done early. Hopefully I can kill a couple birds with this stone.

*November deer hunting trip to either North Carolina or Pennsylvania and take 3 whitetails total for season

*[Mystery adventure to be disclosed soon enough!!]

2016 Outdoor Aspirations: Reflecting Back
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Before I jump to 2017, let’s have a look back at my goals post for 2016.

*Crappie fishing (>60 keepers). Last year, Raelyn was my fishing buddy and we’ll build on that this year. Fun is the #1 goal, but tasty fillets in the freezer is a close #2.

*20 miles of canoe floats. This equates to roughly 4 float trips where smallmouth bass are the principle target. I fell just short of covering 20 new miles of waterways last year, and that will be a goal for this year as well.

*Catfishing. Don’t have specific objectives here other than to just get out and go catfishing as the weather warms into summer. Again, fair chase protein is the name of the game.

*Permission to hunt private property in Ohio. This is almost solely for the purpose of having a place where I can set up a double ladder stand to take Raelyn this next fall. Hunting deer on public land doesn’t lend itself to taking a kindergartner hunting with any reasonable expectation of at least occasionally seeing deer.

*Colorado archery elk. We are continuing the every other year pattern and making our 3rd trip to chase elk in the high country. I’ve been doing some gear shuffling (stay tuned for those updates in future posts) and have started a training regimen to get back in mountain shape. This will be mid-September per usual. Can’t wait to lay my tired head down on some hard rock while shrill bugles serenade me to sleep.

*Wyoming rifle antelope. This is the other big one for 2016. My dad, dad’s hunting buddy, Andrew (college roommate and past partner for Montana bear 2014 and WY combo hunt 2007), another one of my hunting friends, plus myself are planning to cash in our 3 preference points and go hunt speedgoats in October. This will be a blast and unit scouting is in full force for me right now.

*Ohio deer hunting. Let’s just say that I’ve eaten tag soup on mature public land bucks the past 2 seasons…not planning on that becoming a 3-peat.

*NC deer hunting. Getting back “home” for some deer hunting is a fixture in my annual plans, but forgetting about it and forgetting to plan sometimes means it just gets pushed off the calendar. That happened in 2014 and I really missed hunting deer at dad’s place that fall. I’ll probably target the same window that I hunted this year – mid November as the bucks are losing their minds.

2016 Grades

Complete fail with regards to crappie fishing, but salvaged a passing grade when Raelyn and I located a huge complex of bluegill beds loaded with hungry fish. C

Canoe floats and catfishing – is it possible to get an F-?

Private property for deer hunting in Ohio: B-. Getting into the controlled hunt and participating in Granville’s urban hunt salvaged the few (failed) attempts I made at acquiring permission to deer hunt on private land. I did make a late season connection that might pan out for next year, but it’s a 90 minute drive from the house…meh.

We went elk hunting. B+

Wyoming antelope hunt. A++

Ohio (A-; only bitter taste is the fact that some whopper shooters made daytime mistakes in front of my best archery stands and I wasn’t there to take advantage) and North Carolina deer hunting (B+; didn’t make a trip in November but made the most of a few Christmas break hunts).

Infolinks 2013