Whitetails Across America: What’s in store for whitetail hunting 2016?
by Dana R. Rogers, Editor Whitetail Territory
Years ago, I used to “Chase the Rut;” I’d load up my pickup with supplies, stands, decoys, bow, and all the gear it would hold. I would spend several weeks hunting in three different states; and though taxing, I had the time of my life. I might find myself decoying in Nebraska, sitting in a funnel on a hardwood ridge in Iowa or Illinois, and then end up in a heavy river crossing in a South Mississippi swamp.
Whitetail deer offer many different and varied hunting opportunities. They are every man’s game and can be hunted with multiple weapons and in about 45 of our states counting Coues deer in Arizona and New Mexico, and Columbia Whitetail in Oregon.
Just Do It!
The turkeys were talking and just about to fly off their roost, as I settled into the hang-on stand I’d packed deep back into the Missouri River flood plain. in this piece The stand was on a parcel of public land in Nebraska. It would be a bit before the ribbons of whitetails would filter back into the thick oak and cottonwood bedding area I was watching over. I managed to arrow a fat whitetail that morning and drag it out—the effort was hard, but the reward was priceless. Once I cared for the meat, it was time to head East in search of another whitetail with my Hoyt.
Being fortunate to secure permission on a small parcel in western Illinois, I drove straight through, and set up camp the following evening. I studied maps and aerial photos, which showed some great possibilities along a creek draining between an alfalfa field and harvested corn. Three days later, I’d bounced enough stand locations, and I was rewarded with a nice representative 4×4 from the Land of Lincoln.
I took some time to seek more permission and learn the lay of the land in western Illinois. After a few days of laying the ground work for future trips, I loaded up my gear and headed south to Mississippi. I found miles of public land to hunt, as well as timber companies that allowed access for a small fee. I had a great time and the weather was fantastic! I wasn’t successful in arrowing a Mississippi whitetail that trip, but I had a grand time. Overall, that trip was a resounding success. I was able to hunt three different whitetail states over a three-week period and spend less than $2,000.
What’s in store for whitetail hunting 2016?
Let’s take a look at a few highly successful whitetail hunters and managers across the country and get some insight into those states and what you may find awaits you there this fall.
Mid-West – Illinois: Matt Duffy owner and operator of The Country Lodge
Target Dates: All our hunters want to come the first two weeks in November. That’s when we kill a huge percentage of our deer. If we are talking about pure “success” measured by the opportunity to harvest a mature buck, I would have to say November 5-15. If we are measuring “success” by the ability to harvest a SPECIFIC mature buck, I would say the first and last 10 days of season. In my opinion, they are never in a more defined pattern than those to time periods. If I could only pick one of those, it would be the last 10 days of season.
Strategies: The single strategy that has helped the most is to maintain positive relationships with our neighbors. If the neighbors aren’t on board, it makes everything else so much more difficult. I am thankful that we have such good relations with our neighbors. The other big thing we’ve done since we opened was to hold steady on our hunter numbers. We keep our numbers super low and that makes a huge difference. I could easily run twice as many hunters on our farms each year, but our success would soon reflect that. We are also OCD about hunting the wind. If the wind isn’t right we don’t hunt, no exceptions. If the wind switches mid-hunt, we change stands.
Challenges: For me, the biggest challenge is always the river. It wreaks havoc on our food plots, access to our farms, and stress on our deer and when it’s up during season we lose control over hunting/harvest pressure because the deer go somewhere else.
Illinois Intel: There is NOT a 150” behind every tree in IL. The deer herd has suffered a part of the state, but others are thriving. Do your homework. Don’t just follow the hype.
Eastern Seaboard – Maryland: Mali Vujanic owns and operates Outdoor Essentials, LLC.
A full service, multi-faceted Wildlife Management and Consulting company. He is also a longtime Associate Consultant for Tecomate Wildlife Systems out of Texas. Mali and his team write, build and oversee hundreds of Wildlife Management programs for his clients throughout the Eastern Shore. www.OutdoorEssentialsLLC.com and www.facebook.com/OutdoorEssentialsLLC.
Target Dates: If your goal is to put yourself in the best position to get a crack at a mature buck here in Maryland, November 12th thru the 17th is pretty hard to beat. By this time the gloves are off and the rut is in full swing. Given the right weather conditions, it’s not uncommon to see mature bucks on their feet throughout daylight hours, particularly if the weather is on the cool side.
Strategies: I’m big on pinches and hard funnels, areas where deer are forced to travel through a tight situation. I like to hang 2 stands on other size of the pinch for different wind directions. I place trail cameras at these pinches to determine times and directions along with how many mature, breedable does are using the spot. I don’t like to bounce around stand to stand…actually, I hate bouncing around. I like to concentrate on these pinches and dedicate several straight days in that spot. It’s literally just a matter of time for the deer to funnel through. Stick it out, hang in there and hunt the pinches HARD. It’s a big winner in my book and I have consistently killed giant bucks in the pinches.
Challenges: Perhaps the most overlooked challenges anyone can face is choosing the proper entrance routes to and from their stands. No matter how hard you try you are going to move deer going in with a flashlight and leaving the stand after dark. And the worst part is, you will never know if it’s the buck you are hunting for! Then there is the scent trail we leave on these same routes. It’s imperative to scrub and wash your hunting boots and keep them in a container all by themselves. I even go as far as burring them in the garden-standing up, for periods of time (weather permitting). And boot dryers are a must have along with odorless foot powder. One last thing…. When I am leaving my stand, I always, always spray down my hang on, and the last 6 feet of the ladder stick to the ground with scent killer spray. There can be a lot of activity in the woods after we leave, particularly during night time hours. To me, these are huge challenges that play a huge roll in our successes and simply cannot be overlooked.
Eastern Intel: After traveling the country for whitetails the last 20 years, one thing all whitetails have in common is everything! They are all smart, keen sense of hearing and smell and they have a perfect memory. Here in my region of Maryland we have a very long season and the potential for getting a crack at a mature, high scoring buck can be greater than many of the states in which we border. Data has shown that at one time, little Maryland ranked in the top 10 Boone and Crockett states and the top 8 for Pope and Young. While the rut allows us to hunt whitetails when they are most vulnerable, don’t overlook the very opener of our season followed by our late Muzzleloader season. Many quality bucks fall to hunters at this time, with emphasis on the late Muzzleloader season. That is, without a best kept secret here in Maryland!
Southwest – Oklahoma/Texas: Tom Boyer, of Boss Buck Feeders in Seagoville Texas.
Target Dates: In our area of central Oklahoma my target dates are the pre-rut in mid to late October. I know most people like the peak of the rut in November. Personally, I prefer the less pressured early season when mature bucks are just separating from their bachelor groups and getting interested in the does. They are still able to be more easily patterned on food sources at this time.
Strategies: My favorite strategy for getting close to mature whitetails is to first establish a feeding area with preferred foods to attract whitetails. This can be done effectively with Boss Buck feeders, planted food plots, and agricultural farming operations. With these established feeding destinations. I find the hottest “staging areas” used by the deer prior to entering the Ag field, food plot, or feeder locations. Whitetails are drawn to these staging areas and often mark them with rubs, scrapes, and fecal matter. Dr. Deer James Kroll has a product on the market called “Stage” that is designed to create or establish staging areas when hunters are limited by small farms or designated areas on a hunting lease with friends. It is a powerful draw that I employ on my hunts around the country away from my farm in OK. Bucks in particular tend to spend time in these staging areas in daylight hours because they are inside the protective cover. Does funneling into and through these staging areas on their way to the food source, make these hot spots for daylight buck activity. Making sure to always hunt these staging areas on the right wind is the most crucial element. Nothing can beat a whitetails nose so I always exercise discipline and only hunt these stands on the best winds. Sometimes hanging multiple sets to create options for wind direction helps me to hunt a staging area more frequently.
Challenges: I’d say privatizing land and shrinking farm and ranch sizes. Limiting deer habitat and increasing the hunting pressure on them creates a real challenge for regular guys who lease farms and ranches for deer hunting. Couple that with the rising cost to lease private hunting land and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the average deer hunter to acquire good hunting ground. Having a really good feed program greatly improves your odds of attracting and keeping whitetails on your property.
Texas/Oklahoma Intel: Always question your guides and outfitters on eastern hunts about their feeding program and ask to see CURRENT pictures of bucks using their feeders or food plots. Most Eastern farms are relatively small in size as compared with the Corn Belt / Midwest. Hunting with reputable outfitters that make the necessary annual investment in a supplemental year-round feeding program will greatly increase your odds of tagging the buck you hoped for. The camera data to support the presence of mature whitetail bucks should be verified by the date stamp on the pictures. Just make sure the outfitter works as hard for his money as you do. Be wary of any outfitter that cannot produce trail camera pictures. The low cost of cameras these days allow even the most novice hunter to afford them. A licensed outfitter that cannot produce data is either lazy or a part timer, so either way you should keep shopping.
Plains States – South Dakota and Nebraska:
I do a lot of whitetail hunting in the western plains and it is a very different type of hunt and scenario that occurs in the other varied habitats. The whitetail deer is still basically the same animal though with regard to food, water, cover, sanctuary and procreation needs.
Dates: The best dates for rut activity and hunting success for me has been from the 5th of November to about the 12th. That means bowhunting in the states I hunt most of the time. Rifle seasons will likely be open in many other western prairie states at that time though.
Strategies: Run and Gun or ambush? The Heads Up Decoy is a great new tool that is very effective in luring in bucks seeking out does. You can also use it very effectively if you find a locked down buck/doe and sneak in to challenge the protective pair. Much of the time though I am sitting in a ground blind or stand along a travel route and funnel pinch. Scouting from long range with quality optics like my Leupold Golden Ring spotting scope to try and pattern local movement. Once I’ve found what I want I plot an entry and egress solution that gives me the best odds of making it in and out clean. Hang and hunt or rotate appropriately. The grunt tune, decoy and rattling are always in my bag of tricks.
Challenges: The open prairie is vast and even the farm country and riparian breaks offer visual pros and cons. You can see them but they can see you for a great distance. Cover post Ag harvest is the low hole in the bucket out west. Find cover you can get access to but don’t overlook terrain features like small creeks, rolling terrain and breaks. Western Whitetails also simply use the vastness of the open plains for safety and security, which makes glassing more critical. Like everywhere else, it’s awfully tough to gain permission to private lands anymore without an ‘in’. Make contact early and be willing to earn your keep.
Prairie Intel: Some of the states in the prairie region like Kansas have very little public lands. States like South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana offer quite a bit of it but you have to sift through the parcels that hold game and those that don’t. Look to BLM, State School Lands, Walk-in Programs and if you have a canoe or boat, check out water and river access that can tip the odds in your favor by heading in through the back door to access remote locations. Also there are many Indian tribes that offer non-tribal hunting, there are some great opportunities there that are under-utilized. I hunted with Todd Chasing Hawk of Chasing Hawk outfitters on the Rosebud Sioux Tribe a few years ago during the late Muzzleloader season and had a blast. I tagged a 5 ½ yr. old 140 buck even though the EHD had decimated the heard. The heard has since rebounded and offers fantastic whitetail opportunities.
There is great whitetail hunting all over the US. Many states can be hunted annually with over the counter whitetail tags or through primitive seasons like archery or muzzleloader. Get a plan together and research some opportunities. You’ll be glad you did. As always when out in the field, Respect the Land, Respect the Landowner, and Respect the Wildlife.