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Bow Hunting Road by Bernie Barringer - 4d ago

Don’t wait until the early season bucks hit the field in the evening, the best place to kill one is before they step into the open

By Bernie Barringer

The buck in my spotting scope was not a giant by any means. His thick, stubby 10-point frame would maybe go 130 tops. But for this part of north-central Minnesota where more than 80% of bucks are shot when they are yearlings, just seeing a 4-year-old buck is a rare occurrence indeed. What made this buck appealing was the predictability of his habits. I had seen him more than a dozen times in the same alfalfa field on late summer evenings. I felt I had a reasonable chance of shooting him in the first days of the season.

I had to take a couple weeks off in early September to chase bears, and when I returned, it was September 15, the evening before Minnesota’s archery season opener. I headed out to the field with anticipation and parked in my normal spot, scanning the field with a window-mounted spotting scope. By the last minutes of daylight, a half-dozen does had worked their way well out into the middle of the field, but the buck was nowhere to be found. My heart sank with the deepening darkness. I waited until I couldn’t see through the scope and then decided to head for home.

I drove the end of the dead-end road and turned around, and as I passed the field on my way back out and turned to go back on the blacktop, my headlights swept across the alfalfa one more time. But wait, now there was one more set of glowing eyes! I skidded to a stop and put my binoculars to my eyes; sure enough my buck in the headlights. He was standing in the corner of the field surveying the area before stepping out.  I glanced down at the clock in my truck: 8:30.

That’s when it hit me. He was right on schedule! I had been seeing him at about 8:30 since August when the sun was well above the trees at that time. He hadn’t changed his pattern, the shorter daylight hours had just caught up to him.

I never did shoot that buck, but I learned a valuable lesson from him. Earlier sunsets combined with a more nervous demeanor due to the shedding of velvet makes the bucks a little tougher to kill. Once the velvet comes off, they often spend quite a bit of time hanging back in the cover, observing their surroundings before venturing out into the open. Shooting them right at the edge of the field may not be the best option. A better option may be setting up back in the trees a ways in order to get a shot as they make their final approach. I’ve learned that there are three ways to up your odds of killing an early season buck using these regular patterns to your advantage. I’ll list them in a good, better and best order.

Good: Find the bedding area

In order to waylay a buck between the bedding area and the feeding area, you must first figure out with a reasonable degree of certainty where the preferred bedding areas are located. Bucks will often bed in the same general area each late summer and early fall day unless some environmental change moves them. That may be rain, high winds or human pressure. Each of these will cause the bucks to seek out alternate bedding cover. But if you can find the most preferred sites, it becomes much easier to determine their travel lanes to the food sources.

Primary evidence will be trails of course and rubs along these trails. I like to actually see the beds, the droppings and all the things associated with the bedding sites, and I am not afraid to bump the deer one time to do it. I find that the first hand knowledge gives me confidence in my set-up. I would suggest doing this at least 2-3 weeks before you are going to hunt. The closer to hunting it is the riskier it is.

Deer are accustomed to getting bumped in the summer by berry pickers, woodcutters, ATVs, etc. In mid- to late-summer I may even place a trail camera there which I will come back and retrieve in about a week.

Once you find the bedding area, it’s a simple matter to pick the best looking travel lane and set up on it. Stay just far enough from the bedding area that you can get in and out without tipping them off and make sure your wind is not going towards them. This technique allows you to have the best chance of seeing the deer in the daylight. But picking the exact right travel lane can be a bit of a longshot.

Better: Set Up on the Staging Area

Mature bucks become very good at letting smaller bucks and does run interference for them. They love to hang up 30-50 yards back in the timber and observe as the other deer move out into the field. Some people believe they are waiting for dark and that may be the case some times, but more often I believe they are just observing the behavior and body language of the deer already in the field.

They like to use semi-open areas where they can see around them well, and out into the field. These areas are obvious once you know what to look for. The bucks spend their waiting time alternating between standing still while staring, while occasionally nibbling on branches and rubbing trees. As fall wears on, some of these areas will have a lot of scrapes, and in fact, some of the scrapes start to show up soon after the velvet is shed.

Another clue that will help you determine where the bucks are entering the field is the sign left on the plants themselves. Does and immature deer tend to hit the open edge of the field and trot out into it 15 yards or so before beginning to feed. Not so much with mature bucks. They like to stand right at the edge of the field and nibble a little before walking out into the open. This sign will show on the alfalfa or soybeans.

When deer are feeding on standing corn, this difference is not so obvious because the deer feel more secure due to the standing cover. Then start feeding on the first ears of corn they see. The locations deer enter into cornfields are quite obvious because of this.

Trail cameras in these staging areas will help you determine the bucks that are using them and their timing. Resist the temptation to check them every day. Minimizing scent in these areas is critical.

Once you have determined the staging areas where the bucks are spending their last 30 minutes of daylight, you have to pick the right tree. Use the wind to your advantage and make a commitment to yourself not to jump the gun. It may take a few days to get the right wind but chances are you are going to have only a small number of opportunities to get the job done. Don’t take chances with the wind in this situation or all your hard work will have gone for nothing.

In these situations I do not hunt very high. It always seems that if I get over 15-18 feet, visibility becomes a problem. Thick cover in the canopy of trees makes it tough to see around you. Position yourself so you can see out in the field if possible; at the very least, have a good view of the surrounding woods in all directions. That usually means a 25-foot high stand will risk putting you out of commission.

Once you have picked your tree and put up your stand, make sure you get it trimmed out well. With leaves still on the trees and the thicker canopy associated with field edges, having enough shooting lanes can be a problem. Plus, the deer are more likely to be moving through the area, maybe milling around, rather than walking down an established trail. Clear several shooting lanes and keep in mind that these bucks often walk through the thick stuff adjacent to the trail the does are using.

When the time is right to hunt the stand, get there early in the afternoon to let your ground scent dissipate. Deer are going to filter through the area; it is critical not to spook them before the bucks arrive. 

Best: Plant a Secure Food Plot

Not everyone can do this but it is definitely the “Best” way to target these early season bucks. Instead of waiting for them to go to the food, you can bring the food to them. Tiny food plots placed in known staging areas can be dynamite. These plots can be anywhere from a half-acre to the size of your living room.

The advantages of these mini-plots are many. First, you can put them where you want the deer to be, even picking the tree you want for your stand and putting the plot upwind of it. Put up two stands for two different wind directions if you want.

Secondly, you can keep the deer right where you want them longer, which increases your odds of getting the shot you want. Rather than milling around the areas while you are trying to find an open shooting lane, they are right in front of you, staying put, as they feed. You aren’t shifting around 180 degrees in your stand to get a shot at a buck that came in behind you, because the buck is standing where you want him.

Third, the choice morsels in the food plot tend to distract the deer from what is going on around them. This can be very helpful in getting a bow drawn, or allowing you to stand for a shot if you prefer to do so.

And finally, the bucks tend to arrive earlier at these little food gems, increasing your chances of getting a shot in the daylight. Once they have had a few positive experiences with these staging area plots, they gain an increased comfort level and tend to spend a significant amount of daylight there.

Many seed companies produce blends of plants that are perfect for early season food plots. Check with them and pick the blend that is best for your area.

Every situation is different and the terrain and conditions where you hunt are not going to be the same as mine. In northern Minnesota, the amount of daylight hours changes by about 3-4 minutes per day in late summer through early fall. That’s about a half hour every two weeks. Chances are it’s not that dramatic where you live. But for sure, the increasingly early sunset times are eating up your chances of getting a buck within range during daylight, so choose from one of these good, better or best tactics and get your buck on his final approach.

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Getting bears to hit your baits is just the first step; keeping them there is another step. Heed this advice to increase your odds of success.

By Bernie Barringer

I’m convinced the most important factor in shooting a bear over bait for us DIY bear hunters is getting the bears associated with your bait quickly; then giving them a reason to keep coming back. This is especially true when you have a limited time to bait bears. If you are on a road trip, say you’ve drawn a tag in another state and you arrive to bear hunt, you’ve got to make things happen in a hurry before your timeline runs out.

I’ve learned some things that help through years of baiting here in Minnesota where we’re allowed to start baiting only a couple weeks before opening day of the season. Around here, particularly on public land, there’s a mass rush to get bait into the woods on the opening day of baiting. If you’re gonna get the bears on your baits you better do it right away and you better do it right the first time. Or someone else is going to be skinning the bear you could have shot.

A small handful of people choose to wait until the pressure is off when most other hunters have given up, but that’s risky as is illustrated by the fact that nearly 80% of bears harvested in Minnesota each year are harvested during the first week of the season.

I do bear hunting seminars at several sports shows each year and one of the questions that comes up at nearly every one of them has to do with hunters who get a couple bears hitting the bait for a week to ten days, then lose them. Happens all the time; it used to happen to me a lot. Usually it’s blamed on natural foods such as acorns which tend to drop in great numbers right around the opening of bear season. But I believe it’s more than just natural foods.

Let’s explore some aspects of my system that has significantly improved my odds of getting bears on my baits as opposed to the baits of other hunters, and kept the bears associated with my sites.

Out of all the variables that influence how quickly bears find your baits you might be surprised to learn that I believe location is the most important; even more important than lures. Now don’t think for one second I am devaluing the role of quality lures, but bear with me for a moment.

Bears travel in somewhat predictable patterns. They don’t often just wander aimlessly about the landscape. They tend to follow edges, such as shorelines, steep bluffs, tree-lines and even field borders. They also travel ridges, particularly mature males will go from point A to point B on the spine of a ridge. Look at it this way, if you’re a big old male bear who’s headed somewhere important, like where the food is found, are you going to push yourself through a thick swamp or get up on a hardwood ridge where the canopy allows you to move with relative ease? These ridges are great places to encounter big bears, especially if they have thick escape cover along at least one side that allows the bear to quickly duck out of sight. Add this to the fact that these ridges are most likely where you will find food such as acorns and beech nuts.

Those thick swamps and beaver ponds are really important to the bears, they are great places to lounge around when they aren’t feeding, and the water offers them a way to cool off and take in the liquids necessary to digest the huge amounts of calories they are taking in during the late summer and fall.

A good analogy that relates to this important location factor would be something familiar to any deer hunter who chooses a stand location for a rut hunt. Deer hunters know that bucks will be on their feet looking for does during the rut, so in order to increase our chances of encountering one up close, we choose deer hunting locations that funnel their movements down into pinch points, which increase our odds of being within range of these cruising bucks. Choosing a bear bait location for fast action is much the same. We are picking spots that increase the odds that a bear is going to come close by our bait site sooner rather than later.

So if you haven’t added two plus two and gotten four yet, I’ll tell you straight up that ridges between swamps or beaver ponds are dynamite bait site locations. But there is another important component to this. Bears, especially mature males, prefer not to expose themselves to open areas during the daylight. You need place your actual bait in some thick cover that allows the bear to comfortably approach the site without crossing an open canopy or field for every long. My best bait sites on the sides of ridges between swamps (or a swamp and another obstruction), where the ground vegetation is fairly thick and at least as tall as the biggest bear’s back.

Once you’ve found a couple ideal bait sites, you’re going to add the bait and lure it up good with some great scents that the bear cannot resist. Let’s talk about lures first.

I have used several different scent strategies over the years to draw bears to the baits. I’ve thrown Jell-O packets into the trees, I’ve done honey burns and bacon burns and other old favorites of bear hunters. But a few years ago I was introduced to a product called Gold Rush, which is an amazing, potent scent that is super concentrated and can be added to used fryer oil. That’s right, it’s a concentrate; you mix about an ounce or two of it with five gallons of oil and it smells fantastic, plus it carries well. All of my baits now get Gold Rush when I open them for the first time of the year.

I will also use Northwoods Bear Products sprays every time I put out bait. I like the fruity smells like blueberry, cherry, raspberry, etc. That’s probably more personal preference than anything but they work so I stick with what I know works. Once the bears are coming in, trails begin to develop and I like to spray the bushes on the sides of the trails so the bears get the sweet smells on their fur and carry it off with them.

The kinds of baits you use are critically important to keeping bears coming back to your baits often and filling them up. We don’t want a bear to have a few bites and then move off, we want him to fill his gut and then go lay up in a nearby swamp to sleep it off. That way he’ll be right nearby when he gets hungry again.

Bears are individuals and some prefer some baits over others, but I have never met a bear that didn’t like pastries. They fill the bear up and have the high-carbohydrate and calorie content the bears are looking for. But you can “over-sugar” the bears. I believe that’s a big part of why bear baiters begin to lose their bears after a week or so. The bears need a mixture of other baits to hold them. I like to add fruits, meat and trail mix. These are the things that bears really will appreciate when they start to feel as if they are taking in too many sweets.

Meats are not legal in all states, but if you can use them, beef trimmings from a supermarket or butcher shop are fantastic for bringing the bears to your bait over and over. Bears like the meat fresh. I do not add the meats until the baits are getting hit every day, because they spoil quickly. If I am not baiting a site often, say just once every 5-7 days, I will freeze the meat into a big block and then put it out frozen which gives it another couple days of freshness.

Trail mix has the ability to mimic natural foods and is the one bait I have found that can offset the trouble created by the mast crops that are producing right about the time the bear hunting season opens. Granola is another good option, which is nearly as good. Trail mix and granola seem to hold bears very well once they begin to cut back on their sweets intake. Over time, you’ll find that the bears are eating more trail mix and a lower percentage of pastries.

Success rates in states that use bear baiting as a bear harvest management tool usually run around 30%, so bear baiting is not a slam dunk by any measure. And it’s really hard work. But you can beat the odds. Be diligent in finding the right location, use the right attracting scents the right way, and use baits that offer a variety of the things the bears love, and you can significantly increase your odds of being in the 30% who are enjoying bear roasts and sausage along with a bear rug, rather than the 70% who end up eating tag sandwich.

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By Bernie Barringer

My first bowhunting road trip was a complete bust. In my defense, it took place more than 20 years ago, so I didn’t have the advantage of Google Earth, a scouting camera or looking at the weather on my smartphone. I basically went in blind, and my results showed it. I did see some does and small bucks, and I hunted hard and used some off-beat tactics. While I don’t remember much about that first out of state hunt in the early 1990’s, I do remember that I had no idea what I was doing compared to the strategic planning and hunting methods I use today.

In fact, one of my few memories from that first trip was lying on the berm of a ditch, my bow in the grass beside me, looking at deer filtering into a green hayfield 30 yards away. I remember wondering how I could possibly get to my knees and get my bow drawn on a buck without clearing the whole field. Poor planning on my part. They say lessons learned the hard way are lessons learned well. I have learned a lot, mostly by making mistakes.

I’ve come up with seven rules—things to do and not to do—that will help any DIY hunter be more successful. Adhering to these “do’s and don’ts” have helped significantly increase my success ratio. Two decades later, I am still making mistakes and still learning, but I’m coming home with a buck in the truck often enough to feel like I have some advice to pass along. I hope these seven tips help you connect on a DIY public land buck this year.

Do your homework

Before you ever pull out of the driveway, you should have a list of likely hunting spots. Online aerial photos help immensely when it comes to choosing hunting sites. Before I set off to a new area, I usually have a pretty good idea where I am going to spend much of my time. Things that look good on Google Earth are not always what they seem, but with some experience learning how deer use cover and terrain, anyone can shorten the scouting time by picking out likely looking spots from home.

I also call local biologists, game wardens and other parties to gather as much info as I can about the area. Biologists know if food plots have been planted on the public areas and they can offer information about deer populations, age structure, etc. A game warden can offer insight into the amount of hunting pressure an area gets. I have learned to ask not only about deer hunting pressure, but also about upland bird hunters, duck hunters, small game hunters and even if the coon hunters are running their dogs through the property at night.

Do your Scouting Diligence

Once you arrive, it can be tempting to hang a stand and start hunting as soon as you find a great looking spot. But you will be much better off to spend a day learning the property before actually hunting. Spend an evening with binoculars overlooking a feeding area, walk through the area trying to determine feeding and bedding patterns. Make note of great spots with sign or with the right terrain, depending on the time of the year and stage of the rut. I cannot overstate the value of knowing the property and how deer use it well.

Use your Scouting Cameras

Scouting Cameras are one of the most important components to my scouting and learning a property. I rely on them for two main purposes. The most obvious is learning how deer are using the property. A camera will tell you which direction deer are travelling at what time. It will show you where they are feeding and bedding. You can learn about the stage of the rut by observing the behavior of the bucks.

The second and just as important knowledge I get from cameras is an evaluation of what is on the property with regards to bucks and age structure. I have been known to pass up a 125-class buck on the first day of the hunt, then realize that it was the biggest deer I saw on camera or in person during eight days of hunting there. The decision of whether or not to shoot a deer that comes within range can be made a lot easier when you know what the potential will be. No sense holding out for a 140 if there aren’t any. Cameras placed on primary scrapes will inventory most every buck in the area within three days.

Hunt Only When it’s Time

There’s nothing worse than sitting in a stand wondering if you are in the right place or not. Should you be on the other side of that ridge? Closer to the feeding or bedding area? On a different trail? Sitting over an area that’s all tore up with rubs and scrapes?

Remember what I said about putting up a stand and getting in it too soon. Having confidence in your spot makes it a lot easier to stick it out for long periods, and confidence in your spot comes from thorough scouting. I can’t overstress the importance of not settling in for a long sit until you have done the scouting and learned as much as you can from cameras.

The urge to get in a tree and get to hunting can be very strong when you arrive at a new property, but don’t do it until it’s time. Once you have a thorough knowledge of the property, you can settle into a place where you will have the optimism needed to grind it out for long hours.

Stay Mobile and Flexible

The other side of that coin is the fact that things change and you must change with them. You cannot wait for the hunt to come to you, you have to stay aggressive. You have a very short time to make things happen, so you can’t overstay a spot when you have lost the confidence in it. Food sources can change overnight with harvesting of crops. Hunting pressure can move deer around and alter patterns. A cold front with its accompanying northwest wind can make any given stand unhuntable for 2-3 days.

You have to be very aware of what’s going on around you and react quickly to changing conditions. You need to have a backup plan for a major weather change. Stay attuned to the upcoming weather, and plan accordingly. I hate the sinking feeling of sitting in a stand one evening, looking at the weather and realizing I have no place to hunt in the morning due to changing conditions. Plan at least three sits ahead, and be ready to move a set on a moment’s notice.

Work Hard and Smart

Most people aren’t used to hunting hard for 7-10 days, which is the average amount of time I will spend on a DIY road trip. Most people hunt the weekends at home or maybe a couple evenings after work. Hunting from daylight to dark, moving stands, checking cameras, constantly analyzing conditions and deer behavior is foreign to the guy who just hunts a property from home and hunts when he feels like it. About halfway through the hunt, the temptation to hit the snooze button when the alarm goes off at 5:00 a.m. can be overwhelming. That’s especially true when you start to lose confidence in your efforts.

Chances are you laid out a pile of cash for a nonresident tag and you may only get one of these trips a year. You are going to regret it for months if you don’t give it your all. Work hard all day every day. Do the things necessary to keep your confidence up and your drive at a high level. Keep thinking ahead a day or two; try not to get into the habit of reacting to the changing conditions, but learn to get ahead of them and be ready. Today’s technology in the palm of our hands can be a huge help to us, but we have to use it.

Anticipate what’s coming and be ready for it. When that alarm rings, the feeling that you will be heading out to a spot that has a legitimate chance to produce a great buck is a feeling that will get you stepping into your hunting boots in the morning with excitement for what the day might bring.

Don’t Allow your Expectations to Get to High

One of the biggest mistakes made by travelling hunters these days is having unrealistic expectations. Outdoor TV has contributed to this, I believe. You watch two nice bucks get shot during a 30-minute show. If you don’t think about the background work that went into that short segment, you can get the wrong idea. The background work most likely was put in by an outfitter who knows the deer on his property well.

The first time I go to a new property to hunt, I like to think of it as a learning experience. If I shoot a buck, great, but if not, I don’t have grandiose dreams about driving home with a 150 in the back of the truck. That dream may become a reality someday, but it will likely be after you have hunted the property a few times, you really know it well, and you have past experiences to add to the well of knowledge you draw from when making your everyday decisions.

 There’s no doubt in my mind that hunting the same property many times offers a significant advantage to the hunter. But there is something to be said for the adventure of trying new areas and hunting new properties. My hunting includes a mix. I love the excitement that comes with seeing what’s over the next hill, but that’s tempered with the fact that I like to shoot a buck once in a while too, and I know my odds are better when I am hunting familiar ground.

So my advice is to take what the hunt gives you. Don’t make the mistake of letting the expectations of others dictate what you shoot or do not shoot. This is your hunt. If you are happy shooting a 120-inch 3-year-old on the eighth day, then do it. If you would rather let that deer walk and eat tag sandwich, that’s your call. The key is to go into the hunt with realistic expectations. Even the best properties do not produce a mature buck for even the best DIY hunters every year.

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Bow Hunting Road by Bernie Barringer - 2M ago

By Bernie Barringer

I’d found this spot the previous year but I didn’t hunt it correctly. The location was a narrow stretch of trees connecting two larger woodlots along the banks of a large river. The area surrounding it was a couple hundred acres of tall native grasses. It’s the kind of spot that jumps off the screen at you when you see it on Google Earth. It’s what I call a classic rut funnel.

Despite the fact that it is on Kansas state public hunting land, I was the only one hunting it because of the difficulty in getting more than a mile and a half back into it, and of course, the prospect of getting a buck out of there. If this spot was within a half-mile of the road, I probably wouldn’t be alone in there.

My trail camera was regularly getting photos of two nice shooters and a third buck that looked marginal. The third one was a ten-pointer with a kicker that looked to be a 3-year-old with amazing potential. He was often running with a big mature 8-point that had a thick, muscular chest and a wide, dark rack with long tines. That eight was the kind of buck you don’t see often on public land in any state, but this was a big area, far from human activity, so I wasn’t surprised.

The afternoon of November 6, 2013 the wind was right for this spot. It was nearing dark when I heard the noise of a deer walking through the tall, dry grass to the south. I tossed a loud grunt his way and suddenly he crashed towards me on a dead run, stopping at the base of my tree. I am always amazed at how perfectly they can pinpoint the source of a sound. I didn’t even have time to get my bow off the holder.

This buck was clearly the 10-point with the kicker. As he stood at the base of my treestand directly below me, I had a moment to analyze him in person for the first time. He was definitely young; in fact, I decided he may be only two years old. And I had him on camera several times accompanied by the big eight. He began to trot away just as I heard another noise in the dry grass. I grabbed my bow and drew it. Sure enough, the big eight stepped into view at 28 yards. He was what I call a “no-brainer;” he looked downright majestic with his chocolate rack and heavy, bull-like body.

I instinctively grunted him to a stop and sent an arrow on its way. I could see the Lumenok pinned to his rib cage as he tore off into the tall grass and then heard him crash about 10 seconds later. The hunt was a result of being in the right place at the right time, with the emphasis strongly on the Right Place.

Find The Killing Tree

That’s not the only great location I know of. Some of them are only good with certain crop rotations or other annual changes; and some of them are good every year. What makes them great is that the deer will always do what deer have always done with relation to certain terrain features when all other factors are equal. Cameras will help you find these spots to some degree, but to really pinpoint these little hunting gold mines, there’s no substitute for in-person experience; you need to hunt them to really figure them out.

We started with a broad approach and worked our way down; from choosing the right state, to choosing the best areas within that state and on to picking the properties where we will hunt. Now that we are on site, we are going to choose our specific hunting location, right down to which tree we are going to use to kill that big buck.

In my years of hunting public land in so many states, I have found that the entire process almost always comes down to one or two specific locations. After all the work is done before the trip, and the scouting, trail camera checking, hunting and observation takes place in the first few days of the hunt, it always seems to focus down on one, sometimes two, specific spots where I go all in. Usually there is one place where I decide to push all my chips into the middle and live or die there. Choosing this spot is all about confidence.

The Confidence Factor

When I first started doing these DIY road trips, I would arrive at a location and I couldn’t wait to get in a tree and start hunting. I often would find an area all tore up with rubs and scrapes and I would put up a stand and start hunting it. That proved to be an ineffective method of hunting. One of the reasons was a lack of confidence in the spot.

I’d be sitting in that great looking spot and I would hear bucks fighting just over the ridge from me, or I’d see a buck cruise down the crest of a saddle a hundred yards away, or maybe I’d see a line of does working down a trail out of range and I would wonder what’s over that ridge… is it a spot better than the one I’m in? I would quickly lose confidence in my spot and I would spend time looking for other spots when I should have been hunting. I would invariably end up going back at the end of the hunt to take that first stand down and realize it wasn’t in that good of a spot after all.

Before I ever put up the first stand these days, I want to fully know the area. I want to know what is over that ridge. I want to know what’s on that saddle and I want to know where those does were going. Then when I finally choose my spot to hunt, I can climb in the stand with the confidence that I am in a good spot and I’m not continually second-guessing myself. Nothing makes it harder to stay on stand all day than a lack of confidence in your location.

The Value of Scouting

There is no substitute for covering a lot of ground on foot. Put on a good pair of comfortable boots and put on some miles. I carry a backpack with trail cameras, some granola bars and drinks, deer scents, GPS, camera and lane trimming tools.

Back home you probably have deer hunting land that you try to manage. You are somewhat familiar with the deer’s tendencies on that land. You know where the bedding areas are and you stay out of them. You may even have areas that are considered inviolate that you never set foot into. If you are on a DIY hunt in a new area you have none of those luxuries. You need to find those places, and sometimes identifying them means taking risks that you would never consider on property that you hunt all the time.

You have to hunt and scout aggressively. You’ll bust some deer out of their beds. I hate that, but if you are going to learn the lay of the land it’s a fact of life. They may or may not be back the next day, but over time they will be back there; it’s a preferred bedding area for a reason. Deer on public lands are more accustomed to being bumped, then quickly going back to their normal patterns than most people realize. Walking a creek or ditch while looking for a crossing is a good way to intersect trails. These crossings often turn out to be good stand locations.

I use lures in scrapes and put cameras over them. I like the scrape drippers made by Wildlife Research Center and I use their Active Scrape lure and Special Golden Estrus to get the deer in front of my cameras. It’s hard to beat using a trail camera on a big scrape with fresh urine or quality deer lures when it comes to getting a quick inventory of the bucks on the property.

Observation Stands

I rarely hunt the first day I arrive at a new location. I usually try to find a vantage point where I can observe activity through binoculars during the evening hours. There is so much more information to be gathered by observation than by getting in a tree that first day. You’ll see how much hunting pressure the area is getting, if any. You’ll be able to observe the stage of the rut by observing deer movements. You might even find a great stand site by observing where the deer activity is concentrated.

Even when I do put up the first stand, it’s likely to be what I call an “observation stand” meaning that it is in a location where I can see a distance. This may be the edge of a field where I can see the entire field, or it may be on top of a ridge where I can observe deer traffic before actually moving the stand right onto a more specific location.

We all want to get in the stand and hunt right away, but trust me, a more methodical approach will pay off in the long run. If you go back to this same property in future years, you will have much of the actual legwork done so you can attack much sooner. But for the first time, not taking time to familiarize yourself with the area is a recipe for failure.

I like to start with one stand near an area that I can see visible feeding activity. I want to know where the does are spending most of their time on any rut hunt. In many cases that stand will be on the edge of a field or food plot. The observations from that stand will usually lead me to move it to an entry trail, a staging area or a trail that parallels the edge of the field where bucks will work inside the woods to scent check the does. Once I have the stand and equipment out there, I have a lot less work to do when it comes time to move it to a more specific location.

One time I put a stand right on top of an oak ridge because the deer’s movements were not readily identifiable even though they were feeding all through the area. Following the first evening in that stand, I could clearly see which direction the majority of them came from and I moved the stand down the ridge 100 yards and filled my tag the next evening.

Setting on Sign and Instinct

Because you have never been to the area before, you have little choice but to make your stand placement decisions on a combination of sign and instinct. The easiest part of that equation of course is the sign. You want to find not just sign but fresh sign. Fresh rubs, scrapes that are getting worked, evidence of feeding such as plants nipped off and ears of corn pulled off the stalks, fresh beds, fresh tracks in the trails; these are all evidence of recent activity that helps you gain confidence that you are in the right spot.

First person observation is the way to read the sign and to do that you need to get out there and cover the ground. Get to know the area well, and you will have a much better view of the overall picture, which will help you in your decision making process about where exactly you are going to spend your valuable hunting time.

The more you do this, the more you will have gut feelings about certain things you see. There is no substitute for time in the woods and experience. When you find yourself looking around you and saying, “This place just feels right.” Then you will know you’re well on your way. The instincts that make you great at choosing great spots must be developed over time. The more time you spend at it, the better you become.

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by Bernie Barringer

A road trip to a new area on a DIY public land hunt can be very intimidating. Consider these ten points that will up your odds of success.

The clashing of antlers in the creek bottom set my heart to pounding. I quickly put my binoculars up to my eyes but I could see nothing through the brush despite my 20-foot-up position. The noise was coming from a bedding area 70 yards away and it was clear two bucks were duking it out down there. I was deep into a public hunting area in Central Iowa, and I had put many long hours in several tree stands waiting for the right moment. Not to mention the three year wait it took just to draw the tag. This day it was an hour after daylight and I had planned to spend the entire day in this particular perch.

Suddenly, two deer came crashing toward me, a 3- year-old 8-point followed by a heavy, mature buck with thick shoulders and a muscular neck. The younger buck raced on by but the larger one stopped in a shooting lane 40 yards away. His rack looked small sitting on top of the body of a big old warrior. I had a split-second decision to make; I had passed up larger bucks earlier in the hunt, and this is not the kind of rack I dream of taking home with me when I come to Iowa. On the other hand, it was the 12th day of a 7-day hunt. I still had Kansas and Missouri tags in my pocket and November was slipping away. I settled the pin and touched it off.

Going to a new area and hunting on public land is a huge step. Most bowhunters are intimidated by the thought of just loading the gear in the truck and taking off cross-country to hunt a place sight unseen. They needn’t be. Here are a few steps that will increase your odds of being successful.

  1. Choose the right state. There are many variables you must consider when deciding where to hunt; the distance from home, trophy potential, availability of public land, cost of the tag, time it takes to draw a tag, and competition among hunters. If you need a couple years to save for the trip, start buying preference points in Iowa right now. If you want an over-the-counter tag for this year, consider states like Wisconsin, Missouri, North Dakota or Kentucky. Kansas, Illinois and South Dakota have application processes but you can get a tag every year in most zones. Learn the process and then choose the state that’s right for you.
  2. Choose an area within a state. Several states have Walk-in areas that are private land open to sportsmen. Some states have state forests or areas with large amounts of public hunting land. In fact, there are great trophy potential areas in many states but only in small sections of the state. Do your research to find the areas with a large amount of huntable land. The Boone & Crockett club’s Trophy Search function on their website allows you to search for the best counties in each state. Hunting forums for the various states are good places to ask questions. Bowhuntingroad.com, a site dedicated to road-trip hunters, offers helpful reviews of each state with maps of the best counties. I can be helpful to call the state’s deer biologist.
  3. Begin to narrow down a specific hunting area within that section of the state using Google Earth, topo maps and state DNR websites. Most states’ DNR websites have maps of each public hunting area. Compare them with aerial photography and start looking for stand locations that look good “on paper.” They don’t always look the same when you get on the ground but I have found some terrific rutting funnel locations before I ever left home.
  4. Once you arrive, do your footwork. Put your walking boots on and walk it out, searching for clues to current deer patterns and behavior. You need to take risks that you wouldn’t otherwise take hunting at home. You would never walk right through a bedding area or carefully search out a core area if you plan to hunt a piece of property for an entire season, but if you are only going to be there a few days, you need to know the area intimately, and the only way to do that is to get up close and personal. You are looking for the right tree; the tree you will eventually kill your buck out of. The only way to do that is to eliminate all the other trees! Keep in mind that you are not just looking for a great spot, but you are also eliminating spots, so the more you walk the more confidence you will have in the spots you finally choose.
  5. Utilize trail cameras. As soon as you arrive and get your boots on the ground you should be looking for places to put trail cameras and inventory the deer population. Trail cams also help you learn travel patterns. Pictures will help you figure out the stage of the rut, or where the deer are in their daily feed to bed patterns if it is not during the rut. I put cams on trails, rubs, scrapes, waterholes, bedding areas and field edges. It is not uncommon for me to have ten cameras out the first few days. When I feel like I have gathered the information needed, I cut back to just a couple that can be checked every day. On public land you may lose cameras to theft. It’s a fact of life and I try to just look at them as overhead expenses. Like a tank of gas, you just have to go get more when you run low.
  6. Don’t get in a stand too soon. It’s very tempting to get up in a tree when you find a spot that looks promising. But what if there is an even better spot just over the hill? It’s a lot easier to park yourself for an entire day in a spot when you have confidence that you are in not just a good spot, but the best spot. I like to spend the first evening after arriving sitting on a high point with a spotting scope. I watch the deer movement patterns and gather information about the deer population in the area. At times I may just gather information for a day and a half before I ever climb a tree. Resist the temptation to put up a stand at the first place you find that looks really good.
  7. Go deep. The vast majority of the local hunting pressure on public lands is within a half mile of the road. You will have to work your tail off to get to the best stuff. You must decide if you are on vacation or if you are going to hustle and bust your hump to get a buck. This is especially true after a week of getting up early and moving stands, checking trail cams, and working hard every day. Are you going to be lazy and hunt that stand in a marginal wind, or are you going to hustle out there and put another one up for the day’s wind direction? You will get out of your hunt what you put into it. Only you can decide how hard you are willing to work, and only you can push yourself to put forth the extra effort it takes to be successful.
  8. Cut costs on lodging and food. I have found creative ways to cut costs so I can hunt more. I have stayed in small-town motels that offered me a week for $200. I had to pay the $200 even if I shot my buck the first day to get this deal but it works. I have a travel trailer that I stay in at times. I spent the 12-day Iowa hunt I mentioned earlier living in my trailer in a buddy’s driveway. I have a small chest freezer in the trailer filled with food for the trip, and it was filled with venison on the way home. I have stayed at a Bible camp that rents out their cabins during the fall, and I have even camped in a tent. Eating out at a restaurant will add hundreds of dollars to your trip. I like my hot meals and I have learned methods to keep my motivation up by eating well. Most days, a crock pot full of chili, a roast, stew or even BBQ ribs is waiting for me when I come back after a long, cold day in a stand. A container with a frozen roast and all the trimmings can be dropped in the crock pot in the morning, and by the time I get back in the evening the motel room smells delicious. A cold roast sandwich makes for a nice snack the next day. I admit that despite the fact I walk miles and generate a lot of sweat on these trips, it’s no weight loss program for me because I eat like a king.
  9. Don’t set your standards too high. Keep in mind that what you see on outdoor TV is not what you are going to face when on a DIY hunt in a new area. You have no guide who knows the area and can put you in a great spot from the moment you arrive. It’s difficult to go to a new area, learn what you can in a short amount of time, and then shoot a buck. Very difficult, in fact. Your goal the first time you go to a new area should be to learn as much as possible and hopefully put yourself in position to shoot a representative buck. Put your grand dreams of shooting a 150 aside. It could happen, but it probably won’t the first year. My number one goal the first time I go to a new area is to learn as much as possible and enjoy the experience with no regrets.
  10. Keep going back. Once you find an area that has the potential to produce the quality of buck you are seeking, endeavor to keep learning that area. Each time you return you have a memory bank of experiences that allow you to hunt more effectively. I love the challenge of going to new places and trying to figure them out; but the reality is that I have been more successful by going back to the same places time after time. The learning curve is much shorter the following year. You no longer have to walk through the bedding areas, you already know where they are. You can sneak in and put up a stand rather than plowing around looking for the right tree. After I have learned an area, I can hold out for that wall-hanger because I have confidence in the areas in which I am hunting. There will always be changes because of weather differences, crop rotations, hunting pressure and other factors, but your memory bank is full of information that you learned previously which will help you sort it all out.

While dragging that huge Iowa buck out of the steep ravine and strapping him to a deer cart for the mile tote out to my pickup, I realized just how heavy and mature he was. His formerly 8-points were reduced to six when he broke his brow tines off. But I had gone to Iowa, spent several days learning and hunting on public land, and shot a mature buck. That’s something that gives me a lot of satisfaction, even if the buck is not record-book quality. 

If you are a hunter who has always had a hankering to go on a bowhunting adventure in a new area, don’t be intimidated by the seeming magnitude of it. Break it down into pieces and follow these ten steps. You might just come home with the buck of a lifetime.

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This was truly an amazing hunt in an amazing place. Spot & Stalk black bear hunting with a bow is a tall challenge. I shot the 43rd bear I saw in 6 days of hunting.

By Bernie Barringer

What makes a dream trip for a die-hard bear hunter? I suppose a dream trip is different things to different people. To you, it might be an exotic hunt in a far off place, or the opportunity to shoot the biggest bear of your life, or maybe the chance to experience new sights, sounds and smells while bear hunting. A dream trip for me may be a combination of several of those things.

If a dream trip for you means a rustic lodge in the heart of stunning mountain scenery, seeing multiple bears a day, waking up to loons calling, catching a rainbow trout on literally every cast, and moose steaks on the grill, then read on, because I found your dream trip.

The accommodations and meals were terrific on this hunt. Moose was on the menu a lot and the cabins were superior with great views of the lake.

My trip to Eureka Peak Lodge in the Cariboo Mountains of British Columbia was first and foremost a bear hunt. I shot the 43rd bear I saw. I’ll relate the events of shooting that bear in a moment, but since this trip was so much more than just a bear hunt, let me tell you the story from the beginning.

Just getting to Eureka Peak Lodge is an adventure in itself. I was in four airports during my trip, and the airplane that flew me into Williams Lake, BC was a small one. Let’s just say that every seat is a window seat! From Williams Lake, I was driven nearly three hours back into the mountains, about half of it on winding gravel roads.  I was told I would typically see my first bears on the drive to the lodge. I saw three.

Like so many of my spring bear hunts, this one was characterized by rain. It rained six of the seven days of my hunt. The outfitter, Stu Maitland, expressed that we I would see the majority of bears when the sun was out, and that proved to be true. When the sun would peek through the clouds the bears would appear.

The days were spent exploring old logging roads, glassing clearcuts and hiking trails, looking for a bear in a good position for a stalk.

My first day hunting with my guide Joe Morhart was rainy nearly the entire day. We hunted from breakfast until 5:00 p.m. when we headed in to have supper. Our cook Cherie had seen four bears on her drive down to her house about an hour away. One of them was a cinnamon that she had seen on the entrance to a deactivated logging road just a few miles from the lodge.

After a great dinner, we headed back out to hunt for a few hours until dark and our first stop was that logging road. It had been more than an hour since Cherie saw the bear but Joe said the bears don’t move far when they are feeding, so we should go have a look. We walked about 200 yards down the old logging road when we came to a fast-flowing stream. I looked up on the other side and sure enough there was a cinnamon bear. He moved out into the open 60 yards away, and if I was hunting with a rifle instead of a bow, my hunt would have been over right there. But with the stream in between us, we couldn’t get close enough for a shot and my cinnamon moved out of sight.

I need to relate how disappointing this was for me. You see I have this silly idea that I want to shoot what I call a “Grand Slam of Color Bears.”  My grand slam would be each of the four major color groups: Blonde, chocolate, black and cinnamon. I need the blonde and cinnamon to complete the slam. One of the primary reasons I booked a hunt in this area was because they have a large number of color phase bears in this geographical region. So I was really disappointed to let this cinnamon get away, but it was only the first day.

The next few days were spent cruising logging roads, glassing the logging cuts, and walking deactivated logging roads. In the spring, bears love to graze on the lush greens that are found along the roads. The woods are thick with little sunlight getting to the forest floor, so the food is found wherever the sun can get through. That means along roads and in logged off areas referred to as “Cut Blocks.”

The best way to encounter a lot of bears is to cover a lot of ground; that means driving a lot of these roads. If you see a bear, you slam on the brakes and plan your stalk. We alternated that strategy with hiking down roads that had been removed from use. These roads grow up into grass, dandelions and clovers, the exact things bears love in the spring. It was a nice combination of exploring these old roads in the pickup, mixed with hiking up the slopes and glassing. It’s quite a fun way to hunt. 

The bears proved Stu’s theory right. It rained off and on, mostly on, for the next five days, but when the sun would peek out, we would start seeing bears. Some of the bears bolted off into the brush when we saw them, and some were sows with cubs. Some were in position where we could make a stalk but they were smaller specimens and after all I was looking for a cinnamon or a blonde. We attempted a stalk on a handful of big ones as the week wore on and the list of bears I would not shoot began to shrink. Steve, another hunter in camp who was bowhunting Grizzlies with Stu as his guide, came back to camp one evening with photos of both a blonde and a cinnamon and of course they teased me to no end about that.

On the fifth evening Joe told me we were going to go on a “grand adventure” the following day. He was not kidding. We drove two hours to the shore of Quesnel Lake and loaded Joe’s ATV on the front of an 18-foot jet boat. Lake Quesnel is the deepest lake in North America at 2300 feet deep and that thought was with me as we headed across the lake with the “Quad” in the front of the boat. The scenery was stunning and it was nice to finally have the rain clouds lift so I could see the snow-capped mountains in the distance.

Loading up the Quad for a grand adventure on the other side of Quesnel Lake was quite an experience. The scenery is breathtaking.

We spent the day about six miles up the lake on Joe’s registered trapline. We cruised logging roads and glassed cut blocks again, and since there is no road access to this area, I was a little bewildered about how they built the logging roads and hauled the logs out. Joe explained that the trucks and equipment is hauled up there on barges, and the logs are strapped together in big rafts and floated down the lake with tugboats.

We stopped off for a few moments at a pristine mountain lake and ate our lunch, then pushed a canoe out into the lake and did a little trout fishing. There were so many times I just had to pause a moment to drink in the gorgeous scenic views.

When we saw a big black one feeding across a valley, we had to make a try for it. But we came to a river that was pretty high from all the rain. Joe took one look and said we could make it so we plunged in with the Quad. About half way across, the quad began to lose its footing but Joe gunned it and we hit the opposite bank. I had to bail off the quad as it seemed like it was going to tip over backward going up the steep bank. Climbing back on the quad after Joe got it up on level ground all I could think about was how we were going to get back across, especially if we had a big bear with us.

We didn’t have to worry about that problem because when we got to the area, the bear was gone and we never did see him again. We spent a few hours hiking and glassing that side of the river before coming back across. We did find a couple moose shed antlers while looking for bears. Now you have to realize that there was a small falls and then rapids about 20 yards downstream from the river crossing. I was not looking forward to trying to get back across that river.

This time it was worse. When the quad lost its footing in the middle of the river we began to be swept downstream and the quad turned sideways. Somehow Joe kept it upright while we were swept up against the boulders on the opposite shore and I grabbed my bow and climbed out onto the rocks just above the falls. Joe tossed me my back pack with my cameras and then gunned it, making his way upstream against the raging current to a point where he could get his wheels on dry ground. We were both wet up to the crotch with the cold, snow-melt water but happy to be safe. Grand adventure, you aren’t kidding.

Finding a pair of moose sheds was a nice bonus.

After a long day of hunting in this remote area, we headed back to the rocky beach were we had left the boat. We discovered that the wind had come up during the day, splashing over the transom of the beached boat, filling it with water and sinking it to the bottom. It took a lot of bailing but we got it back afloat and got the motor started. We got back to the lodge well after midnight and I had to get a fire going or suffer hiking in wet boots all day the following day. Finally, I fell exhausted into bed.

The following day was the final day of my hunt and I had decided I needed to shoot the first representative bear I see. I didn’t want to go home without a bear; the time for being picky was over. We saw some smaller ones and attempted a stalk on a nice big black. But the swirling mountain winds betrayed us.

Rainbow trout fishing was fast and furious. We pulled off the road at one spot and caught about a fish per minute for 30 minutes just standing on a beaver dam.

Early in the afternoon, we were heading towards an area with more logging roads we had not hunted before, when we rounded the corner and there was a bear on the side of the road. It was not a really big one, but it looked like it had good potential for a stalk. In fact, it just moved off the road a short distance and sat there.

Earlier in the week, I had given my rangefinder to Joe and asked him to use it to give me a range right before I shot. I had also asked him to video the shot. But when we bailed out of the truck, I grabbed my bow and in the excitement, Joe forgot both the rangefinder and the video camera.

The bear made a half circle and came back to the side of the road. It was clear he wanted to cross, so we started sneaking up the road, trying not to make too much noise crunching in the gravel. The bear came to the edge of the road again, but soon disappeared. We hurried a little farther and sure enough, he appeared at the side of the road and I drew my bow. I asked Joe the range and that’s when he realized he would have to guess. He said “40 yards,” and then suddenly the bear was moving across the road. Joe tried to stop him with a call but I had to shoot at the bear as he was walking quickly and I didn’t lead him enough so the arrow zipped through him just behind the rib cage.

I shot a nice representative bear on the last day of the hunt. It was the 43rd bear I saw.

I hate that feeling, but Joe was convinced we would get this bear. He said the bear would run about 100 yards and hang up. We drove down the road a little ways and then Joe said, “let’s go in right here.” Well I was skeptical but I have learned never to guide the guide. Sure enough, we got about 50 yards into the thick bush and Joe threw up his rifle and said he could see the bear through the scope. The bear was sitting there sniffing the wound on his side when I crept within range and put the finishing shot into him. Another lesson in trusting your guide.

We just wanted to get around this cow moose with two calves, but she got very aggressive and actually slammed into the truck twice before we got by.

This truly was a dream trip for me. The natural beauty of the Cariboo Mountains, the incredible fishing, the accommodations, the food and of course, the hunting were all terrific. With the benefit of hindsight, I should have bought the second tag (this is a two-bear area) and shot the cinnamon with a rifle on the first night, then bowhunted for the second one. I’m not complaining too much though, because I have an excuse to go back.

Information: Eureka Peak Lodge and Outfitters



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Bow Hunting Road by Bernie Barringer - 3M ago

Supplemental minerals have many benefits to the deer in your area, including some that most hunters are not aware of.

By Bernie Barringer

These days, it seems that everyone wants bucks with big antlers on their property. The sellers of mineral supplements have fed into this by telling potential customers what they want to hear. Ever see a package of deer mineral with a small buck on the front? Nope; the photos are all of giant nontypicals. Sensationalism sells.

Truth is, the right minerals can help the overall health of your deer, but the relationship between how much commercially produced mineral a buck eats and the size of his antlers is not as great as we would all like. Several studies have shown that feeding minerals to deer has little effect on the size of their antlers, unless the soils of that area are significantly deficient in calcium and phosphorous.

            Don’t throw out your bag of supplemental deer mineral just yet. There are several reasons to establish a mineral lick on your property. These mineral sites benefit not only bucks, but does and fawns; and they have some benefits to the hunter as well.

Bone Strength

            The annual growth of antlers is extremely hard on bucks. Those amazing bone growths on the head of a mature buck grow in about 100 days each year and while growing, they rob the buck’s body of nutrients it needs to have a strong skeletal system. Not only are all the nutrients taken in going to the growth of the antlers, but their body robs nutrients from the bone structure and directs them to the antler growth.

            The summer antler growing season is a dangerous time for bucks as their skeleton is weak and prone to breakage. They don’t move more than necessary and they avoid severe physical activity that could break a bone. Supplemental nutrients help the buck’s skeleton remain strong during this time.

Does and Fawns

            One of the ways dairy farmers increase their milk production is the addition of key nutrients and minerals. Minerals can do the same for deer. Healthy does raise healthy fawns, and the more milk they produce, the faster the fawns will grow, which helps them avoid predators. Improved growth rates in fawns can be tied to overall health as adult bucks and does as well.

            Studies have shows that healthy does with plenty of nutrients have increased reproductive efficiency. I am sure you have noticed that some does have only one fawn, some have two, and at times, three fawns are seen. This is tied more to diet and overall health than genetics. While most yearlings that breed have just one fawn, does having their second births more often have two or three fawns if they have plenty of minerals in their diet.

Bucks Hang Around

            Most mineral formulations taste good and the deer relish them for their taste in addition to their cravings for the nutrients. This may cause bucks to remain in the area rather than seek satisfaction elsewhere, like the neighbor’s property for example.

Having everything a buck needs on your property includes food, water, secure cover, predator control and of course a diet that includes all the nutrients they need. By providing all these things, you reduced the chances that your bucks are going to stray off the property into areas where they may be shot before they have a chance to fully mature.

Disease Prevention

Diseases such as EHD and Chronic Wasting Disease is on the mind of every hunter. It’s long been known that healthy deer have a better chance of fighting off disease. But one company is taking that even further. Ani-Logics produces a mineral supplement that contains minerals that help boost the deer’s immune system. They add Manganese, Copper, Zinc and Selenium which they say strengthens the animal’s ability to fight off bacterial and viral infections. A probiotic also helps the deer utilize feedstuffs which allows the body more energy to build antlers, body mass and immune function.

Camera Inventory

            One of the best ways a mineral lick on your property can help the hunter is the ability to monitor deer. A scouting camera set over the mineral site will keep a running tab of all the bucks on your property and help you monitor their growth. Virtually every buck that cruises through that area will stop for a moment and check out the mineral site, which gives you an opportunity to get a photo and observe the deer.

            So you can see that supplemental minerals are about much more than just adding inches to a buck’s headgear. The right mineral will improve the overall health of all the deer on your property; that goes for deer of both sexes and all ages.

How to make a mineral lick: Benefits of Minerals for Deer - YouTube
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Bow Hunting Road by Bernie Barringer - 3M ago

Don’t put your scouting cameras away after the season! Here’s a calendar showing where your cameras should be placed throughout the year to help you learn more about the deer and increase your odds of bagging a big one next season.

By Bernie Barringer

Once thought of as a way monitor deer movements, thus the name “trail camera,” the use of game cameras has become a sport in and of itself. Camera users have come up with all kinds of creative ways to use the cameras to monitor wildlife activity and learn more about all kinds of animals. Yet most deer hunters still bring the cameras out before the season and store them away after the hunt is over. That can be a mistake, because the more you learn about deer year-around, the better your chances of shooting one come fall. Invest in some quality Covert scouting cameras and put them to work for you all year. Let’s take a look at a ways to strategically place the cameras through the year.


Once the hunting season is over, I move my cameras to feeding sites. The winter weather concentrates the deer in areas where there is food available. I usually have a couple sites I put out feed which allows me to get photos of the area’s deer. Otherwise, cameras can be placed on food plots and bedding areas. Trails in the snow become obvious and are easier to monitor with the cameras.

Here’s another bonus to having your cameras in the woods this time of the year: You can monitor the shedding of antlers. Knowing when the bone hits the ground allows you to get out there and pick up the sheds before others get to them. I start seeing bucks without antler in numbers by the end of January, and the majority of the antlers are on the ground by the first or second week in March.

Having a mineral site with a trail camera on it during the summer will ensure you get photos of most of the bucks in your area.


This is the time of the year to put your cameras on mineral sites. Most all of the deer in the area will visit sites laced with a good mineral attractant. Some will show up regularly, some only a couple times a month, but if your cameras aren’t out there you won’t get a look at the deer. I use mineral and keep it replenished each time I check the cameras, usually about twice a month. It has worked very good for me and it really helps me inventory all the bucks in my area.

By the end of August, hunting season is getting close, and I start to transition some of the cameras to trails around their feeding sites. I learn which fields they are feeding in, and placing cameras on the trails will help me patter where they are moving and what times they are coming through. This information can be invaluable when hunting season opens in a few weeks.

By the end of summer into early September, find the food and you find the deer.


By the first of September I have all my cameras on trails related to the food sources. The bucks are in their bachelor groups and it’s a fun time to get lots of photos of them as their antlers become fully mature and shed their velvet the first week of September. Keep in mind that the food sources may not be the most obvious ones. The deer feeding in alfalfa and soybeans are the most visible, but there may be a lot of deer also feeding on freshly fallen acorns, hazelnuts and other mast crops. Archery season here in Minnesota opens the middle of September, and it’s hard to overstate the value of the placement of the cameras during the first half of the month.

Through the second half of September and into the first half of October, the bachelor groups are breaking up and the cameras help you keep track of where the bucks are going. Trails associated with feeding patterns seem to offer the best sites at this time, but by the second half of October, things will radically change.

By the middle of October, scrapes and rubs are showing up throughout my hunting areas and I am moving cameras as I see the transition being made from food-focused movements to breeding focused movements.  By the end of October, most all my cameras are on scrapes. I use scrape drippers to monitor the deer visits and inventory the bucks. There is no better way to get a picture of all the bucks in the area than by having a camera on a primary scrape the end of October.


By the first week in November, I put my cameras on the does. To find the bucks you must find the does, you need to know where they are bedding, where they are feeding and how they are travelling between the two areas. I have my cameras in doe bedding areas and on trails between doe bedding areas and trails leading to food sources.

Putting your cameras on active scrapes during late October will offer plenty of opportunities to get photos of the bucks.

The first three weeks of November is peak breeding time across most of the whitetail’s range in North America. The movements of bucks will seem totally random, and in a sense, they are, but they will be looking for does.

One mistake many people make during this time of the year is checking the cameras too often. You’re seeing nice bucks every time to pull the SD cards and you really want to get back in there and look at it again. However, for best results, you want to minimize intrusion into these areas so you do not change the does’ patterns and lose the information you have gained. Resist the temptation to check the cameras until you really need the info to make an informed decision on where to hunt.

By the last ten days of November, the rut is winding down. At this time you should have your cameras on pinch point and travel corridors where the bucks will be moving through, looking for the last remaining does that have not been bred. Pick places that up your odds of catching one of these bucks on their feet. The scrapes that have been ignored for the past two weeks get some more attention too.


The rut is over and the focus is back on the food. Deer are looking for high-carbohydrate foods to replenish fat reserves lost during the rut. They need to combat the cold and their bodies are craving the carbs found in corn and whatever acorns may be left. Cut corn fields and standing crops are the best places to find the deer, both bucks and does. They are once again grouped up and deer of all ages and stature will be found together around the best food sources.

After the season is over, the deer will find the food again, particularly high-carbohydrate foods like corn. Winter is a good time to learn which bucks made it through the season and monitor the shedding of their antlers.

At this time the deer will also bed in predictable places. On sunny days, they tend to choose south slopes of hills near food sources where they can soak up the solar energy. On nasty, cold or cloudy days they tend to head for the thickest cover around. Either way, they need to feed every day and the trails leading to the food sources are where you cameras should be located. This will help you learn which deer made it through the season and which did not. It will also help you fill that last minute bow tag if you are still carrying one in your pocket.

So if you have put your cameras away for the year, dig them back out and get them out in the right locations. It’s great fun, great exercise and you’ll be amazed at the great information you will gather.

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By Bernie Barringer

I found my first shed antler–a six-point right side–in 1979 while setting raccoon traps on a public hunting area in Northern Iowa. I was fascinated by what I found, partly because I had never seen a giant buck like that in person, and partly because I had just been introduced to the incredible cycle of growth, shedding and regrowth that takes place each year.  It’s a fascinating process that appears nowhere else in nature.

Within ten years I was a shed hunting addict and I had found dozens of them, including a matched set that would have easily made the Boone & Crockett record books. I learned a lot from the sheds I found, but one of the things I learned may surprise you. I believe the connection between where you find a buck’s shed antler in relation to where you are likely to shoot him during the hunting season is way overrated. This is particularly true in the northern half of the US and Canada.

One matched set I found provides a perfect illustration. I’d been watching a large group of deer that were feeding each evening in a field of soybean stubble. Of the two dozen deer I was seeing, six were bucks and two were big ten-pointers. One late February day, I could clearly see the big, blocky body of one deer that had no antlers and one of the ten-point bucks was nowhere to be found. I knew it was go time.

I headed into the thick grove of trees where the deer had been bedding and within five minutes found the deer’s left side. I looked for another hour with no success on the other side. A week later, I found the other side on top of a hill where the snow had blown off, allowing the deer to glean what soybeans they could find on the bare ground. The matched set would just miss B&C.

Fast forward to the next winter. I was at an antler scoring event 20 miles away when a guy walked in with a 168-inch 10-point buck he’d shot during that fall season. I recognized it immediately; it was the deer that had shed those antlers in the soybean field. Chatting with the hunter who shot it, I was surprised to learn that he had been hunting the buck on his property for three years and had lots of encounters with the deer. He was shocked to find out that I had picked up its sheds more than seven miles away for his property.

I could name another dozen similar situations. During the harsh winters in the upper Midwest and Canada, deer must totally concentrate on two things: Secure bedding cover and food. Nothing else really matters to them. They will find the best food source, even if they must go long distances to find it.

Where I now live in Minnesota, deer tend to group up during the winter. These are often termed “yards.” Dozens of deer will be found in a small area where there is food and they can pack down the trails in deep snow to help them escape predators.

Finding one of these yards is like striking gold for a shed hunter. It can be like picking up Easter eggs. Finding those sheds is fun, but there’s no relationship to where the buck which dropped them spends the remainder of the year.

The one thing that can be learned from picking up shed antlers in this environment is the knowledge of which bucks survived the hunting seasons. Most of the time, if a buck drops his antlers, it’s likely he survived the winter, because they normally drop antlers when the most difficult part of the winter is over. Those -30 to -40 nights in January and early February are the toughest. The majority of sheds drop between February 15 and March 15. By March 15, a few thaws are exposing more browse and most deer that are still alive will make it until spring greenup.

Even though not much can be learned from picking up dropped deer antlers, there are plenty of reasons to get out and find some bone. Hunting shed antlers is a great opportunity to get outdoors at a time of the year when there is little else to do. It’s great fun for the whole family, and it provides an excellent opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise.

The places you will find sheds in the north are all related to food and the nearby cover where deer feel secure. They have little to do with rutting activity or fall movement patterns. Still, you may learn a lot about deer behavior from looking for shed antlers, even if it’s not the kind of knowledge that will necessarily lead you to a buck during the hunting season. Just being among deer and around the fascinating phenomenon of antler growth, shedding and regeneration is enough.

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Bow Hunting Road by Bernie Barringer - 4M ago

By Bernie Barringer

My first bowhunting road trip was in 1993. I was living in Iowa and I travelled to northern Minnesota to bowhunt. Figure that one out. Iowa didn’t even have a nonresident deer season at that time. Today, about 20,000 applicants vie for the 6,000 nonresident Iowa buck tags each year. Being in the fishing business, I moved from Iowa to northern Minnesota in 2001, which set in motion a passion for travelling to bowhunt in other states.

I have since bowhunted whitetails in nearly a dozen states, some multiple times, and I have some favorites. I’ve had some great successes and some crushing failures, but along the way I have learned a lot and my passion for seeing what’s over the next hill burns as strong as ever. These days, I hunt from one to three other states every year. It’s hard to pick a short list of places I love hunting, but I would like to share with you my top five, and I will put them in no particular order, because your mileage may vary—the things that make one trip exciting for me may not mean as much to you.

Kentucky – Early Season

The archery season in Kentucky opens the first weekend in September. This offers a bowhunter the chance to get the jump on the seasons of most other states. The weather can be hot, but the deer are accustomed to it. They are typically in their late summer feeding patterns, often in loose bachelor groups and can be quite visible. These factors add up to some fantastic hunting opportunities. Tags are available over the counter.

Public land can be found in Kentucky, in fact there are some very large blocks of public land in the western third of the state, all of which offer good deer hunting. But some of the best hunting during early September will be found on private farms where the bucks are entering the soybeans and alfalfa fields in the evenings. Finding those bucks, then knocking on a few doors may get you permission to bowhunt a great place.

If you go, research the public land first so you have a backup in the event that you can’t find much private land to hunt. It’s not a bad idea to arrive a day or two before the season and spend evenings and mornings glassing. Hit the ground running, get some scouting cameras out, then get to hunting when you are ready.


No list of top bowhunting states would be complete without Kansas. The state produces great bucks every year and has enough public hunting land to spread out the hunting pressure. Kansas recently reduced the number of nonresident tags, so you may not draw every year, but when you do have a tag in hand, there are plenty of places to hunt.

Kansas offers a Walk in Hunting Access (WIHA) program that adds lots of private land to the hunting opportunities. This land is primarily open which appeals to upland bird hunters, but there are some fantastic deer hunting spots if you take the time to do the research.

The majority of the whitetails are found in the eastern half of the state, which features the more traditional farmland habitat. But don’t overlook the prairies of western Kansas, some really big bucks live in out-of-the-way places.


You will find another early season opportunity in Nebraska, in 2015, the state moved its archery opening day to September 1, which offers a chance for bowhunters to take a buck in velvet. The state has been coming on with regard to the quality of the bucks found there, and it has escaped the worst of the disease outbreaks that have plagued other Midwestern states. Numbers are good and size is good as well.

Apply for Kansas tags in the spring. Most zones offer about a 75% chance of drawing. The best time to go is during the rut, but late season hunts offer excellent action as well.

Like Kansas, the eastern half of the state is mostly farmland, while the western half is open prairie, mixed with center pivot irrigation fields. Whitetails are found throughout the state, but numbers are highest in the east and along major rivers. Mule deer mix with whitetails in western Nebraska wherever habitats overlap. And here’s some great news. Your deer tag allows you to shoot either species.

Deer tags are available over the counter, and in addition to being good for either mule deer or whitetails, you can purchase two buck tags in most zones. Talk about options; there is a lot of opportunity. Public land is abundant enough to keep you busy, but getting permission to hunt private land is easier than you might think.


Everyone has Iowa on their list of places they want to bowhunt, and for good reason. Iowa offers so much opportunity for excellent deer hunting and there is quite a bit of public land. Because the state only allows 6,000 nonresident tags, and the majority of those go to hunters who hunt with an outfitter, the hunting pressure on public land is well spread out. The state keeps cranking out big bucks year after year. While most of the world class B&C deer that come out of the state each year are shot off private land, the chance to shoot a 150 on public land is a real possibility for the hunter who works hard.

The best areas of the state for big deer are the southern third of the state, basically everything south of I-80 and then northwesten corner of the state. The Mississippi River corridor, along with the major tributaries, produce some giants each year too.

Here’s the real drawback for hunting Iowa, the cost and the wait. It will take 3-4 years of applying for a tag in the more desirable zones before you will be selected. Then the tag is going to set you back more than $550. The state would like you to send that money up front, but don’t take the bait. For at least the first two years, just pay the $50 for a preference point, then only send the entire amount when you have a realistic chance of drawing the tag. With licenses, fees and preference points, you are likely to have about $700 in tags lining your pockets when you finally hit the woods.

But it’s worth it. The first two weeks of November in Iowa is a magical time and place. At any moment, the deer of a lifetime may stroll within bow range.


Missouri is a bargain for nonresident deer hunters. For about $250 you buy a deer tag over the counter that entitles you to two deer and two turkeys. Public land is abundant and well managed. Large blocks of public hunting land offer excellent hunting opportunities. The Department of Conservation plants food plots and makes habitat improvements. Most of these areas are large enough to offer seclusion for hunting pressure by getting a mile or more away from the roads. Several public hunting areas are managed as bowhunting only.

The one drawback about all this good news: It’s no secret. The state gets a lot of pressure from nonresident hunters, especially in the counties right along the Iowa border. The public hunting lands in the northern tier of counties see a lot of bowhunters hauling stands into the woods each year.

The northern half of the state produces the best hunting for mature bucks, but it has been hit by disease the past few years. It’s in the recovery process now, and hopefully will get better.

Those are my top five picks, all of which I have hunted extensively and I plan to go back again and again. Maybe I’ll bump into you out there. For more detailed information on DIY bowhunting road trips, check out my book The Freelance Bowhunter.

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