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BEARS from Ground Zero
By Native American Archer Judy Kovar
Ground Zero, the word means the site of a nuclear explosion. Or the target of a missile, bomb or other projectile. In 2002 I bowhunted the black bears of northern Quebec, and I did it from the ground. Bowhunting these monster black bears from the ground has to compare to ground zero. When five different bears come into the bait at one time and then proceed to fight over who gets to have the first bite. Picture large chunks of fur flying, growling and bears fighting and slapping each other with this bowhunter sitting on the ground not 8 yards away. I declared this bear bait as ground zero.
The phone rang late one evening and upon hearing Herman's voice I knew that it had to be Claude Marchand from St. Anicet, Quebec. But soon Herman's voice changed and I turned the TV down to listen. The two men were talking black bear hunting. I listened as Herman explained to Claude that I was a ground-blind hunter and that he also expected some protection for me if we bowhunted these monster bears. Herman and Glenn Hisey had hunted caribou at one of Claude's camp some years ago so they knew Claude and his capabilities. Soon Herman was handing me the phone so I could talk to Claude.
Claude's speech was a heavy mix of French and English phrases. Claude began to explain that he had been guiding for 15 years and that he knew what he was doing. He wanted the "Injun" to travel to his camp and bowhunt for bear. But, then He started talking about bowhunting the bears from a treestand and I quickly got him back on track. No treestands for this Indian! And the bait barrels had to be positioned at 10 yards, no more than 15 yards from my blind position. Claude then asked me a question, "Judy if you are on the ground does that mean that I have to sit with you?" I softly chuckled and told Claude that he could sit in a treestand.
I handed the phone back to Herman and suddenly realized what I had just committed myself to. A black bear hunt. I had been on two bear hunts, and I had been scared almost to cardiac arrest. I had become so scared of bear hunting that I even went so far as to write a last will, and funeral arrangements. I thought bear hunts were over for the rest of my life. Even with Herman and Claude's promise, I was again going to be facing a bear up front and personal.
Most Native Americans hold a special respect for our "brother" the bear. Bear hunting was a special hunt and the bear was to be honored in life as well as death. Grandfather Wolf always said, "A hunter must give of his or herself before the bear could be arrowed." Grandfather instilled within me that there will be a special moment when the bear and I meet. That our eyes will connect, predator and prey.
I was just hoping that the bear would know which one of us was supposed to be the "prey." And as far as Grandfather's plan for the hunter to give something of himself or herself before the arrow could be released...sitting at less than 8 yards on the ground behind a meager spruce limb blind was my "special gift." If a bear really wanted me I had little or no chance for a defense. I know now what a bear's microwave entrée must feel like - a human, sitting behind flimsy, sparse, spruce limb blind; pop the top and the meat/Indian is right there. Simple, easy for the bear and no fighting the small holes in the bait barrel. One tough old Indian entrée to go...
Herman and I had less than four weeks to complete household chores, figure bills and pack hunting clothes and equipment. Everyday I flung a few arrows at our bear target now situated in the garage. Claude's phone calls kept us informed of what the bears were doing and what baits were being hit. Claude's bear territory surrounds a park reserve, and the bears travel to and from its protected borders. When there are problem bears they are trapped and brought to this area. This unique part of the territory is classified as a "problem bear area" so there are no quotas. I thought great, that's all I need to find while I'm bowhunting...a bear with an attitude. But Claude would always end our conversation by saying, "Judy I know what I'm doing."
I looked up at the stars as I climbed into the seat of our Bronco and closed the door. Quebec here I come, and Grandfather can't believe that this Indian is hunting bear from the ground again.
When we crossed into Canada at Port Huron I realized it would still be 12 hours before I would meet Claude and his family. Then Herman suddenly informs me that the alternator isn't working, and with the sun setting we needed to find a repair shop. That mechanical problem was followed by a new gas tank, and a new battery; costly problems that we didn't need and I asked Herman if he thought that someone was trying to tell us something. We eventually arrived at Masham, Quebec and the home where we would be staying for the next few weeks. But, Claude had just left to go check the baits where he will put me to hunt. Early that afternoon the Indian and the Frenchman met for the first time.
Claude wanted everything to be prefect for my hunt, but he had no control over the weather. We spent the next four days at the lodge because of heavy rains, over nine inches. Everyday Claude and his guides were baiting and checking baits. I wondered what kind of bait would make these bears leave the safety of the reserve. Claude had purchased tons - yes, tons of pie fillings and preserves and jellies. And that was poured on blocks of chocolate and out-dated cereal and pastries.
My special bait location paralleled the southern boarder of the reserve. Claude advised me not to get into a hurry to arrow a bear, that several bears visited this bait location. I asked what he meant by the words "many bears?" Claude explained that the bait barrels were 45-gallon capacity, and that this particular barrel was filled every morning, but by the time we arrived to hunt, the barrel would be empty. Claude's knowledge and sign reading ability told him numerous bears were using this "special bait." This bear hunt was really beginning to scare me, and now I had to worry about not enough bait/food to go around. Not enough bait to go around for all the bears could only mean one thing; the Indian entree was looking pretty good for the hungry bears.
The following afternoon found me sitting behind my spruce ground blind. Claude brought 5 gallons of sweets and dumped them in the bait barrel. My heart was up in my throat as I nocked my Easton 3-39 shaft tipped with a Phantom broadhead. Only minutes when my first bear made its appearance, a heavy furred sow. I looked at Claude for a sign; a yes or a no. Suddenly a yearling bear appeared between the large sow and my position. The sow shuffled away and circled my position, all the while popping her teeth. With the evening shadows creeping forward the yearling left and my body went limp from the adrenaline rush.
The next four days were filled with numerous bear encounters and memories. Herman had spotted a huge 450-500 pound boar and was trying to arrow him. Every day's hunt seemed to produce another never seen before bear. It was time for this Indian to arrow a bear. Motion-less I sat behind the spruce blind and scanned the wood edge. Two bears walked to the bait barrel, but only one of tem ate. The large stocky bear watched as the smaller bear rummaged through the bait, and I looked at Claude for a sign.
His thumb went up and it was my turn. I reached for my Martin Cougar Elite and in one swift motion I was at full draw. The bear stood broadside watching the sow eat from the bait barrel. I laid the first pin just behind it's shoulder and released the Phantom tipped shaft. I watched as the arrow passed through the bear and fell gently to the forest floor. The bear whirled to the right of the barrel and started to run. It was running in my direction, and within a few seconds it would be upon me.
The bear traveled the less than 8 yards in record time, and only seconds and a few inches separated the two of us. I looked out of the left corner of my eye and I saw Claude grab the shotgun and stand up. He brought the shotgun up to his shoulder, and I waited for the blast. But no blast came, and the bear was seconds from my feet. There was no time or chance to nock an arrow.
I remembered when I was knocked down and trampled by a white- tale doe while I was in a blind a few years ago. Now, within a few seconds, I was going to have a wounded black bear in my lap. I glanced quickly at Claude who was still standing with the gun in his hand, and then I glanced at the bear.
What did I have to loose? I stood up with bow in hand, ready to slug or to stick the bow down the bear's throat. But, when I stood up, the bear saw movement and turned away, ending this unusual encounter. I was so weak that my bow was the only thing keeping me up. My legs were like rubber and my heart was beating wildly; my whole body was shaking.
I was sitting on the stool when Claude came to my blind. "Why didn't you shoot Claude?" I asked. He explained that the bear was too close to me for him to take the shot. He was afraid that the shot pattern would hit me too. "Let's go look for your bear." he said. I wanted to find out how many inches separated me from the bear. When we measured, we found that a mere 12 inches separated the predator from its prey.
As Claude and I went to look for my bear we heard foots steps. There were at least eight 8 bears lying around the forest waiting for their turn at the bait barrel. I followed Claude to the forest tree line and within minutes he had found my bear.
As we were traveling back to the lodge my eyes caught movement in an open cornfield, and standing there was a gray wolf. Claude stopped the truck so I could watch the wolf. It sounds silly, but I figured it was just Grandfather Wolf letting me know that his Indian did good.
Back at the lodge Claude and I told our story to the rest of the gang, and Claude was already talking about our Quebec black bear bowhunt for next year. He said that he learned many things from this "ground-pounder" and next year the blinds would be better. Before we left Claude's Bear Camp we shook hands and promised to be back next year. Here I go again, getting myself into another bear hunting adventure. Will I be scared again? You bet. Would I bowhunt these bears any other way? No. But, I have a renewed respect for the way my ancestors bowhunted; standing face to face with a predator, looking into the eyes of that predator, and sharing the moment.
Oh, it helps to find a bear that knows the difference between predator and prey. If you want heart stopping action, and lots of bears. Quebec is the place to go, and Claude is the man to hunt with. I remember what Claud said, "Judy I know what I am doing."
Claude's Bear Camp
1455 Conss Quesnel
St. Anicet, Qc JOS 1 MO
I used a Martin Cougar Elite bow set at 57 pounds
Easton 3-39 shafts
Buck Stop Bear Bait
Scent-Loks new Savannah series
Wolverine Scent-Lok boots
Interview with Mike Weaver, Part 3
By T.R. Michels
The first part of this series is at the bottom of this column, the second part is in the middle of this column.
In the second part of this series trophy archery whitetail hunter Mike Weaver and I talked about when and how to scout, how often to scout, and what sign to look for when you are looking for trophy bucks. Then we talked about what type of habitat Mike likes to hunt best. Next we talked about the importance of finding a buck's core area, and during which phases of the rut he likes to hunt. Lastly we talked about how the weather and the moon affect how you hunt, and how to hunt during the different hours of the day.
In the last part of the series we talk about how hunters can avoid being detected by deer, so that they can see more deer when they hunt. We also talk about using tree stands; and using scents, calls, rattling and decoys to bring in trophy bucks.
Q. What are the main reasons you think hunters don't see more deer?
The biggest reason hunters don't see more deer, or big bucks, is that they let the deer know they are there. They don't stay clean, and they don't keep all their equipment clean. When a buck smells a hunter, it avoids the area.
Hunters also make too much noise, and they move too much. They make a lot of noise when they put up their stands, their tree steps and their climbing sticks, and they move around too much when they are in their stands.
Q. Do you think deer are likely to spot you if you are wearing a full suit of orange in a tree stand?
I don't think deer will spot you when you are wearing a full suit of orange, if you are up high enough. If you are too low you will stick out like a sore thumb. The deer live in the woods, and if something looks out of place they know it.
Q. Do you think deer can spot you even if you wear camouflage?
I don't think it makes any difference if you are totally camouflaged or not. If you move too much the deer will spot you. I think you are at a real disadvantage when you wear solid orange, because I don't think you can get high enough that a deer won't spot you. Because orange is required in so many areas, and because so many hunters are wearing it, I think we are teaching the deer that orange means danger. I don't know what orange looks like to a deer, but it is a color that is not natural in the woods, except during the hunting season. The deer see orange, and smell the hunter, and they put it all together.
Q. Do you think one style of camouflage can work in all situations?
No. I think you should wear a camouflage that matches the area and time of year that you hunt. When the leaves are still on the trees wear a camouflage that has leaves on it. After the leaves have fallen you should wear a more open pattern. When there is snow on the ground you should wear a camouflage with a light background. You want to wear a pattern that blends into the natural surroundings, so it's hard for the deer to spot you.
Q. How do you go about eliminating human and unnatural odors?
Whether I'm scouting or hunting I use an unscented anti-bacterial body soap and shampoo to eliminate human odors, and unscented detergent to wash my clothes, so the deer won't know that I am moving through the area, or that I have been there earlier. I don't think you can completely eliminate human and unnatural odors so that a deer won't smell you, especially if it is downwind. But, the more you do to eliminate odors, the better off you'll be. If you leave too much scent around the deer will be able to pattern you.
Q. Do you use cover-up scents such as raccoon and fox urine, or earth, pine and cedar?
Cover up scents can work for you, and they can work against you. You have to use the right scents in the right places. Most places have foxes or raccoons, so you should be safe using fox or raccoon scents. If the scent is fresh, and not too strong smelling, you can use it when you go to your stand. I wouldn't use those scents when I am in a tree, because a buck might smell it from a long way off, and sneak in to check it out, without you knowing it. I prefer to be scent free. But, I do use an earth scent clothes wash, and earth scent spray on my boots, hat and clothes.
Q. Do you think it's important to wear knee high rubber boots and rubber gloves when you scout and hunt?
The only time I wear knee high rubber boots is when I'm scouting, and I spray them with earth scent. I wear my regular hunting boots only when I hunt, and I spray them with earth scent. I use rubber gloves to cut and clear out my shooting lanes, before the season if I can. I wear a regular left-handed glove when I hunt, and a three-finger tab for shooting my bow.
I think you should scout and hunt as scent free as you can, and pay attention to the little things, even when you wear rubber gloves and boots.
Q. How important do you think it is to be aware of wind direction and thermal currents?
It's very important to know which way the air currents are moving, especially when you choose a stand site. You should only hunt a stand when the wind and air currents are right. You should also have several different stand sites in one area, so you can hunt the area no matter what the conditions are. You might be able to use some stands in the mornings and not in the evenings. This is especially true when the thermal currents change.
You may not think thermal currents and wind matter because you don't see any deer. But, that's because the deer smelled you and got spooked. When a big buck smells a human it doesn't make any noise at all, it just turns a round and goes back the way it came, or it makes a big circle and goes around you.
Q. What types of hunting method do you prefer; tree stands, ground blinds, stalking or still-hunting?
I do ninety-nine percent of my hunting from a tree stand. Because I bow hunt I want to take every advantage I can get. When you are in a tree stand you can get by with more movement than when you are on the ground. The higher you are in a tree, the less chance there is that a big buck will see you when you draw back.
Q. How important is to set up your tree stand or ground blind so that it isn't silhouetted?
It's very important. If you hang your stand in a tree standing by itself, there is a good chance you will be seen by the deer. Try to hunt out of a tree that is as wide as your body, or a tree that has limbs and other trees behind you, so that it breaks up your silhouette. You can make a ground blind blend in with the surroundings by using the brush and shrubs in the area to break up the outline of the blind.
Q. Do you use ground blinds when you hunt?
I only use ground blinds when I have to; when there are no trees to hang a stand in. When you are on the ground you are limited (by the surroundings) as to how far you can see and shoot, especially if you are bow hunting. A bow hunter in a blind can easily be picked off by his smell, or the sound or the movements he makes. I have hunted from a ground blind, and I will again, but only if the situation is right. I prefer hunting from a tree stand, because it keeps me out of the line of sight of the deer, and I can see farther.
Q. How many stands do you own or use?
I own 12 stands, so I can hunt in different areas.
Q. How do you choose a stand site?
First of all I want to be in an area that a buck is using. Then I choose a spot that will give me the best opportunity to see and get a shot at the deer. I always want the sun at my back, not in my face. That way I can see better, and the sun doesn't shine off me. I also want to be downwind of the deer if I can. I won't hunt an area when the wind is wrong.
Q. Do you hunt the same areas every year?
I hunt some areas every year, because there are several trophy bucks in the area, and I am the only one that hunts there. There are other areas that I hunt with friends every once in awhile.
Q. Do you hunt the same stands or stand sites every year?
I have stands placed in the same trees every year, because they are the best spots for me to be in. I determine where those places are by the scouting I do.
I've taken trophy bucks off the same stands year after year. I've got one stand that I have taken nine Pope and Young bucks off of. When I take a buck off that stand, another one moves in. There is something about some areas that big bucks seem to like.
Q. How long before you hunt and area do you hang a stand?
Here in Virginia the bow season opens up on the first Saturday of October, and I have my stands hung by the first of September. I like to get them in four to five weeks before I hunt
When I hunt out of state I might hang a stand and hunt it from one to three days after I scout. Sometimes I hunt a stand the same day I hang it. I may also get out of my stand at mid-day and move it, and hunt that evening. When I go out of state I hunt aggressively. I scout, hang a stand, hunt it, and if need be, I move the stand and hunt again, all in the same day.
Q. How many stands do you usually have in the same area?
I may have five or six stands hung in one area, depending on the size of the area. I use multiple stands so that I can hunt depending on what the wind or air currents are doing, where the food sources are, what the hunting pressure is, and which phase of the rut it is.
Q. How many stands do you use to hunt one particular buck?
I may have as many as three stands set up for just one buck.
Q. How long do you hunt from the same stand?
If I have deer traveling by me every day I might hunt the same stand for up to two weeks; as long as the deer don't know that I'm there. If I hunt a stand the first day and spook a deer, I move. I think the old saying that "The first day you hunt a stand is the best" is wrong. To me the best day you hunt a stand is the day the buck comes by you. That might be the second, third, fourth or tenth day. When I hunt, I'm not after any buck; I am after a trophy buck. If the spot looks good, I'll stay there until I see a trophy buck. .
Q. How close do you place your stand to a trail, scrape, rub, or wherever you expect the buck to come from?
I setup about 20 yards away from where I expect to have a shot at a buck. If there are two trails that the buck might use, I split the difference.
Q. How do you approach your stand?
I get to my stand using the easiest route I can. I don't want to make a lot of noise, and I don't want the deer to smell me. So, I'm careful not to let the wind blow my scent into a core area when I hunt near it.
Q. Do you use deer scent when you hunt?
During the first three weeks of October I use buck urine. The last week of October and all of November I use a doe in estrous lure, along with buck urine. I put the scent on cotton balls in three different spots, about three feet from where I hang my stand, and about three feet above the ground. That way, when a buck comes in, he will be within my 20 yard shooting range. If you put the scent 20 yards from the tree, the buck might stop 20 yards on the other side of the scent, out of shooting range.
Q. Do you use deer calls?
In early October I use a buck grunt to try to get a buck to come in and see what other buck is in the area. During the last week of October and a most of November I use a buck tending-grunt, plus a doe-in-heat bleat to lure rutting bucks into shooting range.
Q. Do you ever rattle to get bucks to come in, and do you use real or synthetic antlers?
I do rattle, and I use real antlers. I start rattling in October, when I want the resident buck to think there are other bucks in his area. Bucks spar and fight to determine the pecking order of the group. So, even if they have already established the order of dominance, they are still interested in which bucks are fighting, especially the dominant bucks.
Since I am only interested in trophy bucks I rattle aggressively to make the buck think two bucks are fighting over an estrous doe. To further convince the buck I use a buck grunt, plus buck urine and doe in estrous urine. When bucks hear you rattling and grunting, they usually try to come in from down wind. So, when you use scents the bucks smell the deer they think they hear.
Q. Do you use decoys?
I will use a decoy, if I have an area that is safe to hunt. Decoys are the icing on the cake, because the buck not only sees and smells another deer, it also sees another deer. I put my decoy about ten feet away from the foot of my tree, facing the way I think the buck will come. I use scented cotton balls with buck and doe in estrous urine around the decoy, but not on it.
I like to attract the buck with rattling and calling, and then get him to come in close by using the decoy and scents. He will usually try to come in from downwind, and have his eyes on the decoy, which gives you a chance to pull up and pick your shot without the buck seeing you.
Q. Are there any other techniques you like to use?
When I rattle or call in a buck that hangs up out of range, I grab my pull-up rope (which has a set of rattling racks tied to the end of it) and jerk on it so that the racks rattle. The sound is down on the ground and the buck's ears and eyes may focus on the racks. Sometimes this brings the buck into range and gives me a shot. I always carry my binoculars and range finder in my daypack, along with granola bars and water.
Q. What' the best advice you can give a hunter who is after a trophy buck?
You have to have a lot of patience, and be able to put in a lot of time on your stand. Use self-control; if you want to shoot trophy bucks, you'll have to be able to pass on any good bucks that come in, and wait for the really great buck. You should let the good bucks go and get bigger. If there aren't any large racked bucks in your area, you have to go to an area where there are large racked bucks.
Interview with Mike Weaver, Part 2 By T.R. Michels
Scouting, and Choosing the Right Time and the Right Place to Hunt
In the first part of this series archery whitetail hunter Mike Weaver and I discussed trophy whitetails, and why Mike decided to hunt for them. We also talked about the best ways to hunt trophy whitetails, the best areas to look for whitetail bucks, how to tell if there are trophy whitetails in a particular area, and the importance of knowing that area. In this second part of the series Mike and I talk about when and how to scout, how often to scout, and what sign to look for when you are looking for trophy bucks. Then we talk about what type of habitat Mike likes to hunt best. Next we talk about the importance of finding a buck's core area, and during which phases of the rut Mike likes to hunt. Lastly we talk about how the weather and the moon affect whitetail hunting , and how to hunt during the different hours of the day.
Q. What time of the year do you like to scout, and why?
I like to scout in February and March, which is right after the season is over here in Virginia. When you scout after the hunting season is over, most of the tracks you see will be fresh, and you can get a good idea of which bucks survived the hunting season, and where they went to escape the hunters. There is a good chance that's where you will find the bucks next year.
Since you have to hunt deer where they are during the different times of the year, you have to look for them in July and August, when the bucks are in their early feeding patterns. If the crops in the area change or are harvested, you have to keep up with where the bucks are feeding, so you have to scout as often as you can. I like to scout in October too, when the bucks start to rub trees in their fall breeding ranges.
Q. What time of day do you scout?
During the hunting season I like to scout between 12:30 and 3:00. This is usually a dead time of the day, when the deer are in their bedding areas. When I scout during the hunting season I don't want to be running into deer and alerting them. When I scout right after the hunting season is over, I do it from mid-morning until dark. After the season is over I don't care if I run into deer, and I'll go into places I wouldn't go into during the hunting season.
Q. How do you go about scouting?
I scout the same way I hunt, and scouting is 70 percent of the hunt. When I scout I take a shower and put on clean camouflage, just like I would if I was after a big buck during the hunting season. I try to keep from sweating and getting unnatural odors on my clothing, and I carry a stick to push limbs and brush out of my way, so I don't leave any scent on them. I wear knee high rubber boots because I like to get down into creeks and walk in them to find a new or fresh trail crossing. I don't want the deer to smell my scent, because it might make them leave the area.
Q. How often do you scout?
In late January, February and March I scout as often as I can. I might scout every day, or every 3-4 days. I scout until I think I have learned all I need to know about the area. Once I've done that I won't go back until right after a good rain. After a heavy rain all the old sign will have been washed away, and any new sign will be fresh, from deer that are currently using the area.
Q. How often do you walk any particular area looking for sign?
Right after the deer season closes I'll walk an area looking for sign every day, if I need to, to try and make sure I stay on top of things. If a new buck moves into the area he might not have the same habits as the other bucks have; he may travel a different route. In September and October I walk an area very sparingly. I don't want to roam the woods any more than I have to, so I don't alert the bucks, or the does. When I go to another state. I have to look for sign. That means I have to walk quite a bit, but I try to stay clean and I move slowly, taking in every thing I can about the area.
Q. What type of sign do you look for to tell you that a big buck is in the area?
I look for big tracks, or a big clump of droppings, the bigger the better. And I look for scrapes with an overhanging branch. I also look for rubs made on big trees. Big bucks don't always rub on big trees; they also rub saplings, so, I check to see how long the rub is, or how high it is on the tree. The longer or higher the rub, the bigger the buck might be.
Q. What can reading sign tell you?
The size of a deer's track can tell you how large the deer might be, it can also tell you if it was made by a doe or by a buck. Buck tracks are usually larger, the front hooves are spread apart and the tips of the front hooves are usually rounded, not pointed.
If you find a rub, you can tell which way the buck is traveling by which side of the tree the rubs is on; it's usually rubbed on the side the buck came from. If you are standing in front of the rub, you are facing the same direction the buck was when it made the rub.
Fresh scrapes tell you that a buck will probably be visiting the area a lot, looking for does. Lots of fresh scrapes usually tell you that the breeding season is at hand. If you see two or three scrapes side by side, it probably means that more than one buck is using the area. But, bucks will use the same scrapes.
There is a lot more, but it boils down to this; you have to be able to put everything together to get the whole picture.
Q. How long after you see a buck or its fresh sign do you wait to hunt the buck?
In some cases, when the sign looks good, I may hunt the very same day that I scout. When I go out of state I may scout one or two days and then hunt.
Q. What type of habitat do you like to hunt in?
I like to hunt woods, agricultural fields, brushy areas, and especially bottlenecks. Whether they live in farmlands, wood lots, big woods or mixed habitat, big bucks use structure, cover and edges in their daily movement. I hunt all these areas at different times of the year, depending on where the food sources are and the timing of the rut.
In the early part of the bow season I hunt orchards and agricultural fields, because the deer are feeding on apples and grain, trying to put on as much weight as they can for the winter. I also like to hunt bottlenecks, because they cause the deer to move in a smaller area, which makes it easier to hunt. Hunting pressure can also be a factor as to where the deer travel. When they are pressured, bucks often use brushy areas, and gullies and saddles where they can travel in safety.
Q. Hunters hear a lot about finding a buck's core area, so you can get close to the buck. How do you locate a buck's core area?
When I'm scouting in wooded areas I look in the thickest area of the woods. Thick areas give the buck a sense of security. In most of the core areas I find the buck's bedding site is about a fourth of the way down a hillside, on the down wind side of the hill. From there the buck can see what's in front of him, and smell anything that comes in from behind him. Finding the buck's bedding sites is a good indication that you are in its core area. The core area also usually has one or more escape routes, and water close by.
Q. How often do you go into a buck's core area?
The only time I go into a buck's core area after I first locate it (on land that I hunt all the time) is after the season closes. I don't wan the buck to know that I am after him. I don't want to walk up on him and push him out of the area either. Sometimes, when I'm out of state, or when I'm hunting an area for the first time, I may go into the core area right away, just to make sure I have all the information I need.
I think you have to push a buck more than once before it will move out of the area. That's why I do my scouting after the hunting season in most of the areas I hunt. I get all the information I need, and if I push the buck out of its bed it doesn't make any difference, because the buck will be back in the fall. When I scout after the season is over I can go into the buck's core area as many times as I want.
Q. In relation to the buck's core area where do you like to setup.
After I find a buck's core area and its bedding sites I set up on a trail, in a saddle or bottleneck that leads to a feeding area. There are two things a buck is going to do during the rut: look for food and look for does. Since the does are going to the food source, the buck can find everything it wants in or near a feeding area. When you are after a buck, it pays to setup between its core area and the food source.
Q. Which phases of the rut do you like to hunt best?
I like to hunt during the pre-breeding phase; that's when you can pattern the bucks feeding habits, when they're rubbing, scraping and trolling. It's when you can set up on a scrape line and maybe catch a buck checking scrapes during daylight hours.
My favorite rut phase to hunt is the breeding phase, from the first to the middle of November. I've taken trophy bucks in October, November and December (which covers most of the rut), but sixty-five percent of my bucks were taken during the first three weeks of November. If I could only hunt three weeks a year I would hunt those three weeks.
Q. Does the weather affect how you hunt?
I'm able to hunt everyday, and I do, rain or shine. So, if the season is open, I 'm going to hunt. But, I do believe the weather affects how the deer move. I think they move better when the barometer is rising than when it's falling. They move well in a light rain; they don't move much in a downpour, but they seem to move quite a bit once the rain lets up. My main concern is when it's too hot. When it's too hot deer move mainly during darkness, after the sun goes down and it cools off.
Q. What kind of weather do you think is best for hunting?
The best weather for hunting in my area is when it's 30 degrees at night and warms up to about 50 degrees during the day.
Q. Where do you hunt when it's rainy, snowy, cold or windy?
It depends on the time of year. I don't change my tactics because of the weather. I might have to make a change because the creeks are too deep to cross, or the snow is too deep for the deer or me to walk through, or the snow is too deep for the deer to travel very far. The wind can influence how I hunt more than anything else; I like to hang my stands 25 to 35 feet high, and strong winds can make it hard just to stay in the tree.
Q. Do you rely on the moon to hunt?
I think deer are affected by the phases of the moon. When there is a full moon I think deer travel more at night, and they travel less in open areas during the day. During the new moon deer seem to move more in open areas during daylight hours. I plan my out of state hunts to coincide with the new moon phase, hoping it will give me a better chance to see deer during my time on the stand.
Q. What time of day do you think is best for hunting?
I hunt all day long, so my answer is based not only on what I've seen, but also on the time of day that I have taken deer over the years. I think the best time is between 7:00 and 12:00 AM.
Q. Where do you like to hunt in the morning?
In the morning I like to hunt in an area that the buck might use as it comes from the feeding area and goes to its core area, especially if the trail crosses a creek. After feeding most of the night the bucks want to get a drink before they go back to their core areas.
Q. Where do you hunt during midday?
When it's warm I like to hunt near a water source, sometimes from the same stand I use in the morning. When it's cold I like to hunt in cover where there may be food or water, and where the deer feel secure.
Q. Where do you hunt in the evening?
I may hunt the same stand I use in the morning; it depends on the activity in the area. Bucks like to leave their bedding sites on one trail in the evening, and return to their bedding sites on a different trail in the morning. If the buck uses a different trail in the evening I set up along the trail leading from the core area to the food source. I like to hunt areas where the trails go diagonally up or down a hill in a saddle or a gully, not the trails that go straight up or down the hill. I don't think bucks normally use trails that go straight up over the top of a ridge.
Q. How long before you hunt do you think you should be in your stand?
In the morning I like to be in my stand 45 minutes before daylight. I like to be in my evening stands by 3:00 PM.
Q. How long do you think you should stay in your stand?
In the morning you should stay until at least 12:00. This gives you the best chance to see and take a deer. The exception would be during the early season, when the temperatures are high. If the temperatures are in the 90's I don't think you should stay any longer than 10:00 or 10:30. During the evening you should hunt as long as it's legal. During peak breeding you should stay in your stand all day.
In the third and last part of this series Mike and I will talk about how hunters can avoid being detected by deer, so that they can see more deer when they hunt. We will also talk about using tree stands; and using scents, calls, rattling and decoys to bring in trophy bucks.
Interview with Mike Weaver, Part 1 By T.R. Michels
As I travel the seminar circuit each year I get to meet and talk to a lot of professional whitetail hunters, most of whom I have known for several years. The first time we see each other each year we usually ask the other guy how they did the year before. Some of the things I like to find out from the other guys are what techniques they use to get their deer. Because we meet at the shows, our conversations usually occur after our booths are setup, or as we eat before and after the show, which means there usually isn't time to talk a lot. So, when it's not too busy in my booth, and when I'm not giving a seminar, I sneak in and listen to the other guys, hoping I can pick up on some new hunting techniques.
A couple of years ago I got a chance to meet the number one Pope &Young archery whitetail hunter of all time, Mike Weaver, of Bassett, Virginia. Mike has been archery hunting whitetails for over 35 years. As of July 2003, Mike had taken 43 Pope and Young record book whitetail bucks with a bow. While I was listening to Mike's seminar I realized that his knowledge and hunting experiences as an archery hunter could be used not only by archery hunters, but by gun hunters as well. So, I asked him a series of questions designed to help gun hunters see more bucks. Mikes knowledge of trophy whitetail bucks; his approach to scouting; the way he chooses his stand sites; and his use of scents, calls, rattling and decoys, can improve the odds of even the most experienced hunter seeing, and taking, good bucks.
In the first part of this series Mike and I talk about trophy whitetails and why Mike decided to hunt for them. We also talked about the best ways to hunt trophy whitetails, the best areas to look for whitetail bucks, how to tell if there are trophy bucks in a particular area, and the importance of knowing that area.
Q. I've that found whitetail hunters often have different ideas about what a "good buck" is. I've also found that what individual hunters think of as a "good buck" often changes as they become more experienced. I think the first buck a hunter takes is a good buck, whether it was taken with a gun or a bow. I also think the first buck a hunter takes with a bow is a good buck. As a veteran archery hunter what do you consider a good buck?
I consider any buck that scores over 115-120 to be a good buck. Any buck that scores higher than 120-130 is a trophy.
Q. What kind of bucks do you look for when you are hunting.
I hunt for bucks that will score over 125, because that's the minimum score that will make it into the Pope and Young record book. I pass up a lot of good bucks that don't meet that 125 score requirement, because I don't need to take another buck just to do it. If a take a buck, I know he is going to go on my wall and make it into the record book.
I've learned to field judge bucks pretty well, so I know when to draw on a buck. I let one buck pass by me three times before I convinced myself he would score over 125. When the buck was measured, it grossed 126 4/8, and netted 125 4/8. It was mighty close.
Q. When did you first decide to hunt primarily for trophy bucks.
I decided to hunt for trophy bucks in the early to mid seventies, after I took a buck that scored 168 points.
Q. Why did you decide to hunt for trophy bucks?
I like the challenge of going after the bigger, trophy class bucks. Whenever I look at those racks on my wall I remember the hunt over and over again.
Q. Do you think you have a better chance of seeing or taking a record class buck when you are bow hunting, rather than gun hunting?
I think you have a good chance of seeing trophy bucks whether you are bow or gun hunting, if you stay in your stand long enough, and not let the deer know you are there. When I'm bow hunting I see bucks in October, November, December and January. Being a bow hunter gives me a lot of time to hunt and see bucks. But, I think it's easier to take a record class buck with a gun, because most gun seasons are held during the rut, when the bucks are on the move, while they are chasing does, or when they are being pushed by hunters. You can take a shot at a buck on the move with a gun; it's not very easy with a bow. You can also take a shot at much farther distances with a gun that you can with a bow.
Q. Do you keep track of what states or areas the big bucks are coming from?
Yes. I keep track of where the latest big bucks come from by checking the Pope and Young record book every year. When I learn about a good area, I check to see if there is a way that I can hunt there. But, before I go, I make sure more than one good buck has come from a particular area.
Q. What areas do you think are good right now?
The areas that have produced big bucks in recent years are Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Texas and Alberta.
Q. Where would you go to hunt for Pope and Young 120 or better class bucks?
All of the states I just mentioned; plus Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, North and South Dakota, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Q. Where would you go if you wanted to take a Boone and Crockett buck, that scored over 170?
If I wanted a good chance at a Boone and Crockett buck that would score over 170 I'd hunt Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin; plus Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Q. Do you usually go after a particular buck when you are hunting?
If a see a good buck in an area I'll setup to take that buck. I might not know there are other big bucks there until I am hunting. I once set up on a buck I saw, and never saw it while I was hunting. But while I was there, another big buck came through, and I got him. I kept hunting for the first buck, but I never saw see it again.
I like to hunt areas that have more than one big buck; it increases my chances of taking a trophy. In 1992 I spotted eight bucks feeding in a field. After I scouted the area I put a stand in a funnel, and I got four of the bucks during the season. Then I took another big buck in a different area. I ended up with five Pope and Young class bucks that year.
Q. Do you usually know the buck you take is there before you hunt it?
I may not know that a particular big buck is in the area before I go after it. I may find tracks or droppings that I think belong to a big buck, and feel it is a good spot to set up. I may never see a buck until the day that I get him.
Q. How do you determine where to hunt for big bucks?
I look for big tracks and big droppings. And I look for rubs and scrapes. If I find new or old rubs and scrapes I know that a buck has been there at one time or another.
I don't pay much attention when other people say they saw the biggest buck they've ever seen, because what might be big for them may not be what I'm looking for. When I hear about a big buck from someone who knows what big bucks really look like, I go out and scout the area to find out if the buck is what I am after. The only way I can tell that is to actually see the buck. But, I often check out the big bucks I hear about; I never know when it might turn out to be the bucks of a lifetime.
Q. When you hunt in a new area how do you determine whether there are good bucks there?
When I hunt a new area I get there a day or two before I plan to hunt, so I can do some scouting. When I am hunting early in the season I like to scout an area when the bucks are still in their summer feeding patterns, by checking the feeding areas with a good set of binoculars or a spotting scope. When I see a buck come out of a particular area two or more times I set up to hunt him.
Q. How important is it to know the area you are hunting?
I think it is extremely important. Whether you are hunting public or private land you should know the area from one property line or boundary to the other, and everything in between. You should know where the bedding and feeding areas are and where the oaks, agricultural fields and browse are; so you know where to hunt at different times of the year. You should know the area well enough to be able to sit down and draw a map of it in an instant.
In the second part of this series Mike Weaver and I will talk about when and how to scout, how often to scout, and what sign to look for when you are looking for trophy bucks. Then we talk about what type of habitat Mike likes to hunt best. Next we talk about the importance of finding a buck's core area, and during which phases of the rut Mike likes to hunt. Lastly we talk about how the weather and the moon affect hunting, and how to hunt during the different hours of the day.
Talk Forum / Message Board
T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors, PO Box 284, Wanamingo, MN 55983