Preparations for the Property Walk & Field Day on March 14th have us doing a lot of habitat work.  This year, more than most, I am excited to hit the woods and make these improvements.  This is because of the unknown buck beyond my 63 acre property line that could pass through and just might like what we are doing.

With the harvest of the Iron Buck, I learned something that I had always read about, but never truly realized.  Big mature bucks have a decent range or home radius.  I've always worked on improvements in hopes of getting a mature buck to use my property as his core area.  Give him food, water, shelter, low hunting pressure, and the opposite sex and he has no reason to stray beyond my property boundaries.  That is a great concept and a good practice, but is this a reality?  After chasing the Iron Buck approximately three miles as a result of a poor shot, I now realize that the impacts of habitat improvements reach out much further than my slice of heaven.  That is becoming my focus instead of trying to simply hold bucks on a small property.  If I can attract bucks from afar, then holding them is less of a focus.  Would it be logical that if I can attract bucks, then most likely I am holding them anyway?
The far reaching impacts of our habitat improvements became more clear as word spread about the buck harvested.  Two other hunters had watched the Iron Buck for most of the year leading up to the hunting season.  He was feeding on ag beans, corn, and frequented hay pastures during the warm months and visited their trail cameras.  Both hunters had him on their respective hit lists.  So what made him decide to leave that core area from March '14 through September '14 and take up residence on our property during hunting season?  Why did he do this in '13 and '14 as evident by numerous trail camera photos?  Was it simply the cover?  Was it food?  Was it the number of does inventoried on my property?  Was it minimal hunting pressure?  Obviously this is a question that cannot fully be answered 100%, but I'd like to think it is the combination of all of those things.

Now I look at aerial satellite photos online completely differently.  What is out there I haven't seen?  A couple of years ago a 200" deer was sighted just a mile south of my property and stories indicate he was harvested.  That particular deer created somewhat of a local controversy as just about every deer of that caliber will do.  To this day I don't know what actually happened as the buck never surfaced in photos posed with a happy hunter.  I saw trail camera pictures of the deer during velvet from a good friend and property owner.  On occasion I would think he might just visit my property this fall.  Now after the '14 hunting season I believe this could happen with other monster bucks.  I could have a 200" giant pass through, like what he sees, and stay during the fall months.  Now every time I pull my trail camera photos I don't just think about or hope to see the same group of bucks in the plots.  Basically I am drawing a 2 mile radius around my property as my sphere of influence.  I still want the resident bucks to stay home....please stay home!  But all bucks within 2 miles of my property are more than welcome to visit October 1st through January each year.  

Looking at the photo below, there is a lot of deer habitat within that 2 mile radius.  Imagine if I can get others to join a QDM Cooperative?  Just think of the possible mature deer that can be grown within this 2 mile radius?  Other coops are seeing huge results.  I plan on focusing efforts to develop one locally to see how much more can be done.  In addition, I'm trying to figure out how to fit in time to scout from the truck this coming summer in this 2 mile radius.
Life is funny sometimes.  Make a mistake and your eyes get opened to other opportunities.  If I hadn't made a bad shot on the Iron Buck, I never would have known where his true core area was located.  The fact it was 1.2 miles away from my property, as the crow flies, would have remained a mystery (see aerial photo below).  But now I know that my property attracts bucks from afar.  Now I have the confidence that what we are doing each time we enter the woods is making positive improvements to deer habitat.  Now I realize that I can accomplish my dreams without owning 1,000 acres of hunting property.  That in and of itself makes my wife happy since I had talked regularly about how to buy more property.  Not a good idea when you have four kids that will be going through college soon.
So the message to everyone is expand your property boundaries by rolling out the red carpet.  Make your property as thick and woolly as possible.  Give them natural browse, food plots, water, low hunting pressure, and a harem of does.  All you need is a small piece of good hunting property to get a shot at a mature buck.  You just never know who will drop by.
The holidays are over and now deer season has ended.  If you are serious about land and habitat management then cabin fever is a term you are unfamiliar.  Now is the time to hit the woods to make the improvements that will pay off next October.  Now is the time to venture into those areas you dare not venture during the season for fear of pushing that target buck off of your property.

Each January we walk the property to check on buck beds, identify new rubs, old rubs, and evaluate trail usage to determine if previous habitat adjustments worked as planned.  This year has yielded some great findings and generated exciting plans for habitat improvement.  

First, we have found a new hot bedding area of a mature buck.  This could have been the area the Iron Buck made home or it could be the bedroom of the JTR Buck.  This location was clearly evident by the rub lines and bedding areas.  Rub line may be incorrectly stating this area as it isn't a line....rubs are everywhere!  The area is a south side location we had yet to make improvements, but the topography was perfect.  It was quite the ah-ha moment and we wondered how we missed identifying this location for thicker cover.  In the end, we all reserve the right to get smarter.  And the only way to do so is by checking your property after each season to learn how the deer are using it.

The plan for improvements include four top areas or activities to target:

1.  North of Ponds:  This area is where the new bedding area was discovered.  This was targeted in '14 for improvement, but we never completed the project.
2.  NW Staging Area:  This area has great up side and topography to funnel deer to the property.  We have to clear the area between the two streams enough to let light in for growing good forages.
3.  Connecting Trails:  The network of trails needs to be finished to tie together all of the property features.
4.  West Side Bedding Areas:  We have two more ridges that run from east to west that do not have any man-made buck beds.

Hinge cutting is our main tool for making improvements.  It is simple, but can be dangerous.  I have reviewed and observed several articles, blogs, and videos lately with many incorrectly illustrating this process.  Almost all show making angle cuts instead of a flat horizontal cut.  In an effort to spread the word, I have listed the following link from the QDMA Forum as a reminder of how to safely hinge cut.  Hinge Cutting -Safety and Control

Click here for the full details of the 2015 Property Improvement Plan.  We will be highlighting many of these improvements at the second ATW Property Walk and Field Day scheduled for March 14, 2015.  We already have 50 individuals registered.  See the link to be added on the standby list in case others drop off.  Photos of the some of the latest activities are listed below.
I saw a post on Archery Talk where the question was asked....."How do you hoist bow / gear into the tree?"  I realized by reading the post that sharing my process might be beneficial to some.  As a result, I have outlined my process that I feel is very efficient, quiet, and easy to implement.

1.  Backpack attached to bottom of climbing rope with carabiner.
2.  Retractable hunting hoist attached to backpack.
3.  Bow attached to end of hunting hoist.
4.  Climb up to stand with lifeline attached to prusik knot (Slide up knot as you ascend).
5.  Pull up backpack attached to the lifeline and hang on limb (retractable hunting hoist lets out line as you pull up backpack).
6.  Pull up bow attached to hunting hoist.

This system eliminates pulling up a ton of weight all at once and makes handling the gear easier vs. trying to unpack a bow that is attached to a backpack.  In addition, the backpack serves as a weight to hold the line tight as you slide up the prusik knot.  Always remember to keep your anchor point or the prusik knot above you to limit the drop distance if you slip and fall.  See the video below illustrating I can go from the ground and have equipment in the stand in just over a couple of minutes. 

I recall at the end of the '13 season stepping back and reflecting on the season and what went right and what could have been improved.  I thought I should do the same this year.  In doing so, I looked back to those past blogs to see exactly what had been posted.  To my surprise, I had forgotten that I posted a blog dated 12/30/13 titled Top Draft Pick.  This buck became The Iron Buck.  The buck I harvested this year was a special deer, so much so that there was something that stood out the previous year enough to cause me to write the blog.  So I thought I would look forward into '15, but also reflect on '14 quickly to ensure learnings are captured.

Reflection on '14:

There were several things that went well during '14 with multiple goals reached.  First and foremost, Luke shot his #firstdeer ever.  I think it is still too early to tell if he will always have the itch to hunt deer, but he did a great job.  My task will be to create additional opportunities for Luke that keep his interest and continue to make it fun.  Maybe in '15 we try a crossbow.

The second goal achieved was shooting a deer over 150".  The Iron Buck is a deer I have always dreamed of shooting.  As I sit here writing this, I am looking at the antlers on the fireplace mantel.  It brings to mind all of the work completed throughout the year to reach this point.  It also stokes the fire to work even more for that next mature deer, no matter how large.

So here is the list of positives that provided the results for this season and improvement opportunities for next year:


1.  Trail Camera Use:  Cameras have been one of the best tools for me to figure out how and where to hunt without pressuring deer.  My plan for '15 is to even expand the number of cameras for areas I can access without increasing pressure.
2.  In & Out Trails Cleared:  Mowing and raking the in and out trails allowed me to access stands each morning during the rut without bumping deer.  This tactic was even used when setting the new stand on Nov. 9th where I shot the buck.
3.  Aggressive Moves:  I will constantly be aggressive with making moves to get closer to the deer.  Setting a new stand on Nov. 9th based on trail camera photos and stand observations put me in the exact spot deer were moving.  This ultimately led to getting a shot at my deer.
4.  Using the Tractor:  Use of the tractor when clearing trails and setting up the new stand enables me to enter the woods and not bump the deer hard.  Again, they are used to the tractor so it doesn't push them off of the property.
5.  Staging Areas:  With the help from Jim Ward, the new SW Staging Area has created a focal point for deer movement.  Every buck on the property visited this spot, and it was the favorite spot of the Iron Buck.
6.  Water Hole:  This continues to be the final piece to the puzzle for patterning shooters.  I have used camera data the last two years and this was the spot the most critical data was obtained.
7.  Buck Beds Work:  Tracking The Iron Buck, the first place he went after being shot was a good set of buck beds located on the west side of the property.  This told me he had been there multiple times before and felt this was a safe location.  Providing that secure location has always been the goal of buck beds.  They absolutely work!

Improvement Opportunities:
1.  Stand Archery Practice:  The shot on The Iron Buck was too low from the angle and elevation.  I will be practicing from the stand more and analyzing the arrow angle entering the target.  Another two inches higher and I think the tracking job would have been only a few yards.  Maybe I should ask for another 3D target from Santa?
2.  Zero Scent Use:  In the past, my approach has always been zero scents.  Then Ever Calm came out.  Last year, I thought it was a good product.  This year I truly believe that was the cause for three deer reacting negatively when they crossed down wind.  When I ditched the product and cleaned all of my clothes and gear, I was back to better scent control and the zero deer reactions down wind.
3.  Shooting Lanes:  Each year when setting stands there is a lane that should have been cut or not cut far enough.  These always seem to be realized from the stand when a good buck comes through.  This happened with The Iron Buck.  Before getting a shot, he was within 35 yards of my location standing still quartering away.  Luckily a hot doe got him to come back.  Focus on shooting lanes!
4.  Setting Stands:  Although I have 11 stands set on the property, I still don't think I have this aspect figured out.  I tried to hunt various sets to prevent burning out certain stands, but some obviously produced more buck travel than others.  I need to find better stand locations for those that are slow.
5.  NW Section:  Habitat improvements and setting the right trap is still an opportunity.  This is a natural hot location for bucks to travel given the topography and adjacent properties.  We need to improve this and create funnels and good stand locations with easy in and out trails.
6.  Trail Camera Photo Inventory:  I should have connected the dots better on The Iron Buck.  A simple review of the '13 photos would have given some insight to his pattern.  I didn't realize he was on the property the previous year until the rack was on the mantel.  I assumed he was a transient buck, which was 100% wrong.  I won't make that mistake again.
7.  Water Hole:  This is a huge positive with opportunity to improve with more Bentonite.  The Water Hole loses water due to the number of deer tracks punching through the clay.  Fortunately we received enough rain to refill the hole regularly.  That may not happen in the future.

2015 Draft Picks:

I don't know if I can do it again, but I feel the easy #1 pick for the next buck targeted for the wall is the JTR Buck.  This buck has showed early on he has good potential and he is a resident buck, even more so than The Iron Buck.  I tweeted about this buck on multiple occasions as he constantly visited the SW Staging Area.  He doesn't have the mass at this point when compared to The Iron Buck, but I believe he has longer tine length and could put on several inches next season.  If I had to guess, I would say he is a 3.5 year old deer.  The question is how much does he grow and specifically does he blossom into a 10 pointer?  The Iron Buck didn't make the jump to a main frame 10.  He made up for it in mass, and then some.

The property improvement plans for '15 will be designed to enhance the JTR Buck's core area.  We want the cover and security to only get better.  In doing so, the natural browse will be improved.  This with the food plots and adjacent agricultural food sources should be enough to fill the food and nutrition needs.  We will not change tactics on hunting pressure, unless the trail cameras provide a pattern in the early season we can jump on.  Access to the property will be done as always.  These deer are comfortable with the tractor and equipment we use for habitat improvements.  

There is a second buck that has potential if he makes it to the next season.  He is a main frame 8 pointer with a 9th point on the right side.  I saw this buck in person multiple times this hunting season, but have yet to find any camera photos.  As a result, he may have been a transient buck.  He was extremely active during the rut and was even jumped bedding right on the edge of the Main Plot with does.  I believe is also 3.5 years old, which creates an interesting scenario.  

A third buck is of interest with a special characteristic.  Every photo I have of him is with his head held up and back.  I'm still trying to determine what to name him, but he clearly has potential of becoming a shooter buck.  I have his photos below the JTR Buck.  I believe he is also 3.5 years old.  

Time will tell which bucks blow up into shooters.  Will any of these make the jump to a main frame 10 pointer?  How much mass will be added?  And probably the most intriguing question is, what kind of action will there be during the rut with multiple 4.5 year olds on only 63 acres?  That possibility probably excites me the most.  I can't wait to see the potential of these bucks become a reality.  

JTR Buck

Player To Be Named Later

For those following the blog, you may recall my Oct. 5th entry on "The Importance of Your #FirstDeer".  Well, I'm proud to say that Luke did it!  He got his #FirstDeer on Nov. 16th shortly after 10:00 am.  See the photos below.

Hunting with a 9 year old can be difficult.  It isn't as easy when it comes to scent control and getting to a morning hunt on the edge of a food plot without bumping every deer in the county.  As a result, I took a new tactic.  Luke definitely wanted a morning hunt, so I had to get creative on how to get him to the stand.  I decided to drive him in on my John Deere Tractor.  That's right....we drove to the stand using the tractor right at shooting light.

I'm sure I bumped a few deer off of the field, but the fact we used the tractor minimized the impact to the deer.  This proved out quickly upon my return.  Within 30 minutes we had deer entering the field.  They are so used to the tractor that it has become normal to them and they don't fear the tractor.

We settled into the stand and fired up the Mr. Buddy Heater, as it was definitely a cold morning.  I got him set up and we practiced getting into position for a shot with his 44 Mag. Rifle.  Then we began playing the game of..."where do you think the deer are going to come from?"  He always wins at this game and guesses right each time.

After about an hour and a half, the first young bucks appeared into the field.  Of course they were chasing does hard and at a pace preventing any kind of decent shot.  He began to get a little frustrated and I was able to calm him down assuring him another buck would step out and feed a little to give him a shot.  I had no way of guaranteeing that, but as a dad you always say those things to help the moment.

Sure enough, at a little after 10:00 am a small 6 point buck stepped out to our left.  This buck was walking in a NW direction and stopped to feed in the Winter Wheat and Rye Grain section of the plot to feed.  The buck was completely broadside, but slightly behind the Walnut tree that for some reason I spared when we cleared the food plots with dozers back in '07.

I got Luke set up quickly and started the video rolling.  As you can see in the video below, I didn't set up the best of angles for getting his facial expression through the process.  Frankly, the deer entered too quickly and I was not prepared.  Luke's first question when I told him another deer had entered the field was...."Does it have antlers?"  I answered yes and it was on.  He wanted to shoot that buck no matter what.  As we talk about a lot on forums and other blogs.....this is what hunting as a 9 year old is about.  I could care less how old the deer was, as long as it was enjoyable and an exciting experience for Luke.

I had to coach him a little to get the stock shouldered and shooting form straight.  He did this very well and was coachable through the entire process.  He then put the cross hairs on the buck and squeezed the round off as instructed.  The buck immediately jumped indicating a good hit and ran NW into the edge of the woods of the Main Food Plot (South Section).  Luke's first reaction was a fist pump with his left hand into the air.  We both were excited and he wanted to immediately climb down and go after the buck.  Waiting at this point was a bit of a problem for him, but I explained the process and we slowed it down by making a call to his mother to give the good news.

Upon entering the field, it took us a little bit to find the blood trail.  We found hair right away, but the trail needed a few extra yards.  Once we found the trail it ended within 30 yards of the woods.  The deer had expired quickly after being hit in with the hollow point 44 Mag round.  Luke was the one to walk up on him and we verified the deer had indeed passed.  The pictures below are where we found the deer.  We then contacted my Dad so he could come out and I proceeded to get the tractor to help get the buck back to the front section of the property.

As a father, this was a special moment.  What makes it even more special is the location on the property it occurred.  Luke shot his deer within 10-15 yards of where Bailey shot her first deer, which was a buck.  This is also within 30 yards of where I shot my first buck on the property back in '11.  What are the odds that all three of use would shoot our first deer within 30 yards of the same spot?

I continue to realize how special of a place our 63 acres has turned out to be.  I stated in the Oct. 5th blog that this was the top of "my lists of prioritized firsts".  For that to happen 42 days later is truly a wish come true.  

Congratulations did it!  Hopefully this is the first of many successful hunts.  I'm sure you will be shooting Booners before I can blink my eyes.  Hopefully I am there for every single one along the way.
My annual hunting vacation started Nov. 6th.  I had scheduled time off through the 16th, giving me 11 full days to try to get the job done.  As with past years, it took a few days to put the pieces of the puzzle together.  By Nov. 10th, I had most of the information needed setting the stage for a fantastic hunt the morning of Nov. 13th.  

The buck I was after was initially named The Trident Buck.  This was because his left G2 had awesome mass and was in the shape of a spear.  This buck showed up on trail camera Oct. 19th.  I had never seen this buck before, but as in past years, this was about the time for new bucks to take up residence.  He definitely became a regular with seven different visits documented on all four property trail cameras (see photos and video below).  These visits helped me pattern the buck and develop the strategy needed to get the opportunity.  That opportunity came on Nov. 13th and he proved his name needed to be changed.  Meet the Iron Buck!
It took me several days to piece the puzzle together using the trail camera photos and the video. The video was critical.  Once I saw this one, I knew I needed to target the North Ridge of the property.  This is the same area I shot the '13 Buck and is hot every year.  The video told me I needed to be on stand extra early.  I targeted no later than 6:15 am since the video time stamp was 6:20 am.

Let me back track just a moment.  After day three on stand, it was evident that I needed to set a new stand on the north side.  I had witnessed from the North Large Oak Stand several younger bucks traveling along the tractor trail that crossed the newly formed connecting trail Jim Ward had put together earlier in the year.  This was a major intersection with three trails crossing.  Tree options were limited so I chose a large Tulip Poplar just 12 yards off of the main trail and 10 yards north of the small trail they were using to come up out of the East to West running valley.  Since the area was somewhat open, I elected to set the stand at an approx. 30' height to avoid line of sight of both bucks and does.  This would prove to be a problem on Nov. 13th.

Setting a new stand in the middle of this critical week of hunting isn't something I prefer to do.  However, this tactic is often necessary given what the deer are telling you from the stand.  When setting this stand, I used the tractor and left it running.  This gives me the cushion of setting the stand without bumping the deer in a manner that will render the stand useless.  I later cleared my in and out trail using a leave rake.  I love this tactic because it allows me to access the stand without making a noise in the morning or evening.  No deer were bumped using a clear trail the entire eight days I hunted this year.  See photos below.
Now the stand was set.  The evening of Nov. 12th, I talked with Jim Ward about the strategy and how to get an opportunity at this buck.  He looked at the photos and video and agreed this was a nice shooter buck.  He also agreed with my tactic of sitting on the north side.  Since I now had four stands on the north side, the question was which stand.  The NE stand was excellent last year and I was seeing multiple bucks each sit at this location.  However, we both agreed that the new stand would be the best option given the travel patterns.  As a result, I planned on sitting in the North Center Stand all day of Nov. 13th.

I arrived promptly at 6:15 am.  The trail camera time stamp is off 33 minutes, so disregard the time.  It was by far the coldest morning since I started hunting on Nov. 6th.  The wind was out of the NW at 5-10 mph and forecasted to shift from the WNW.  The first deer to approach the stand was before dark, at approx. 6:45 am.  It was still dark, but I could make out the outline in the brush.  The deer approached from the SE heading right into the wind.  I was certain this was a buck, and he turned, flagged, and went the other way.  Did he smell me, or simply see my outline in the skyline?  I feared this was my missed opportunity, but I was clearly wrong.

The morning started slow, with very little traffic.  Then at about 9:30 am, I heard a noise over my left shoulder and spotted a nice buck to the NW of my stand location.  It was the Iron Buck.  He was bird dogging a doe moving left and right with his nose to the ground.  Although a doe had not passed through, he was trying to pick up a trail heading east.  I picked up my bow off of the hanger and prepared to get a shot.  The buck crossed my in and out trail and stopped at about 40 yards just east of the trail.  There was not a clear shot at 40 yards and I had to let down the string.  The buck walked NE of my location towards my truck and into the brush.  The adrenaline kicking in about shook me right off of the stand.  My right leg and tail was shaking something awful, clearly a case of buck fever.  This is why we hunt.

I told myself that I needed to pull it together as he could easily return.  I noticed that the wind had shifted slightly and was now blowing directly out of the west.  After about 10 - 15 minutes, I spotted a doe heading straight south from the north along my west side.  At that very moment, I heard the Iron Buck grunting and then spotted him running down my in and out trail from the northeast.  He had winded the hot doe and was on the move.  I grabbed the bow off of the hanger, attached my release, and quickly drew in anticipation of him crossing my path.

As the buck approached he never left the in and out trail.  He trotted right to the corner and then suddenly stopped looking straight up at me quartering towards me.  I had the 20 yard pin on his left shoulder and wanted him to continue on the trail to give me a broadside shot.  It was evident he was about to bolt.  I squeezed the trigger and the arrow hit the mark right behind the shoulder, but again he was quartering towards me which isn't an ideal shot.  As the buck ran off, I could plainly see the 2" cut right behind the shoulder.  I was hopeful of a heart shot.  I aimed at the location in fear of him ducking the string.  The Matthews HeliM didn't give him the opportunity, but I was confident of the hit.  The time was now 9:46 am.

The adrenaline again kicked in and I had to sit down to keep from falling off of the Lone Wolf Stand.  I immediately called my wife to tell her I had just shot a great buck.  I then began to lower my gear and take down the stand.  I knew either way my time in the stand today was over.  I had seen the arrow on the trail with my binoculars and walked over to investigate.  A clean pass through shot with blood on the arrow.  There was a lot of belly hair at the spot of the shot and the blood trail was easily picked up within 10 yards.  Given the height of the stand, I knew there was a steep angle and was not surprised by the belly hair.  The blood trail was solid so I decided to give him at least an hour and took my gear and stand back to the truck.

After an hour, I went back to track down the deer I was sure was dead.  The blood trail was awesome and I simply strolled along not needing any effort to look for blood.  At 150 yards I began to realize my shot was not a clean kill.  At the top of the next ridge I found were the buck had stood.  There were two huge pools of blood, but still no buck.  I decided to pull back out and wait another two hours.  I went back to the trail camera to pull the card.  Maybe I was fortunate enough to get the shot on camera.  Below in the slide show is the only photo showing the buck immediately after the shot.  Again, disregard the time stamp as it is about 33 minutes fast.
I connected with a friend of mine and we went back to pick up the trail at the top of the ridge.  As we followed the trail, it was clear he was heading for thicker cover.  To my satisfaction he went straight for the buck beds created a couple of years ago at the point due west of the Main Food Plot.  Below are the pictures of where he bedded down.  It is hard to see, but there was clearly blood in the leaves at two spots indicating he was bleeding out both the entry and exit holes.  The disappointment was that he was not dead.  Since we had pushed the buck, we agreed to track him down the hill to see at least what direction he was taking.  After another 75 yards we pulled back again.
Location where buck had bedded down. This was a buck bed we created, indicating he had used this bed previously since this is where he immediately headed.
Buck bedding area where Iron Buck first bedded down.
Now it was decision time.  I had waited additional hours and it was close to 3:00 pm.  It would be getting dark in another couple of hours and my chances to recover the buck would lower.  The amount of blood was extensive, except immediately after the spot he bedded down.  This gave me a clue that he was clotting up.  But the more distance after where he bedded, the better the blood trail.  

This plus the fact he was not yet dead gave me concern.  It wasn't a gut shot so the question became to continue to push him until he bled out or let him rest.  I obviously had not hit any vitals as it was now 5 hours after the shot.  If pulling out, my concern was the blood trail would be lost, he would eventually die, and simply become coyote food.  After consulting with Tom Rothrock and Jim Ward, I elected to push on.  He was now off of my property so this required contacting other land owners.  After gaining permission, I tracked him along the edge of a corn field adjacent to the west edge of my property.  He had to cross a small ditch and the blood trail was again solid.  The trail proceeded west of the corn towards the small creek.  At that point, I jumped the buck again.  He was approximately 70 yards from me when jumped.  Again, it was clear he wanted to bed down and try to stop the bleeding.  This happened multiple times and the blood trail was awesome.

Re-enforcements wife, two of my kids, and my oldest daughter's boyfriend, Luke M.,  came to help.  We also were fortunate enough to have another friend, Dan H., pick up the trail along with two of his kids.  That made the posse number at eight.  Without there help I don't think I could have tracked this deer as far as we did.

The trail finally ended after approximately 3 miles.  We found him down at the edge of a corn field just into a patch of tall weeds.  It was now 9:00 pm and the amount of blood lost was staggering; thus the name..."The Iron Buck".  He was truly a warrior.  I was heart broken that my shot did not produce a quick harvest.  I also pushed him out of respect, knowing that if I did not he would end up with the coyotes and I could not stand that thought.  That had happened to me with my '12 Buck and I was determined to find him before the varmints.  

Below are several photos of the best buck I have ever harvested.  I have dreamed about a mature buck like this one.  The mass along the main beams and tines is impressive.  My preliminary measurement has him at 162" gross. The initial live weight was only 250 lbs.  With the amount of blood lost, I would say he was probably 275 - 280 lbs.  The field dressed weight was right at 220 lbs.  A truly mature buck believed to be at least 5.5 years old.  I will be sending in the teeth to the lab for analysis to determine actual age.

I have to thank everyone that helped me all along the way this year.  The list is long and distinguished.  My wife and kids especially for understanding why I practice this hobby and push so hard to hunt.  My friends have been awesome and always help me when I ask.  My hunting buddies who I network with and bounce ideas off of are always great and teach me endlessly about Whitetails.

This is my fourth buck in four years.  It was a long trail to get my hands on him, but the Iron Buck was worth it!  The work on the property with hinge cutting, connecting trails, staging areas, food plots, etc. is absolutely paying off.  Thanks for following the blog and All Things Whitetail.
I wrote the following from the stand on Nov. 11th.  The pinnacle of the season happened in the immediate days following, but I wanted to present in chronological order.  There will be two other posts following this that details our successful hunting season.  Thanks for following......Andy

This is officially the midpoint of my annual time off to hunt.  It seems that each year while spending hours in the woods there are moments where I begin to question why?  Why get up at 4 am?  Why suffer when it is cold, rainy, or windy?  A Twitter message summed it up best.....spending days on a 27" platform in a tree is a different kind of crazy.  So I thought I would take a moment to reiterate why the deer hunting quest.

First, this time off is a major stress reliever for me.  My job doesn't have the level of stress of an emergency room doctor, but I deal with people all day long and make decisions to protect employees.  The time in the woods lets work stress go....Serenity Now!

I love being outdoors and in nature.  The shear raw aspect of nature is amazing.  What is learned through observation of wildlife and habitat never ends.  Ultimately it is a connection I can make that has no boundaries.  It is simple, yet complex.  It makes me feel good about being alive and wanting to do everything I can to protect and improve it for current and future generations.

Probably the most exciting aspect of the annual hunt is the challenge of getting a mature whitetail.  Reading the signs in the woods and figuring out where to set up a stand.  Trying to get that one special buck into bow range.  That moment becomes a culmination of a year long process which includes: habitat improvement, shed hunting (even though I am terrible at that), food plots, setting up stands, cutting shooting lanes, practicing archery, trail camera photos, scent control, getting quietly into the stand, and so much more.  All of this comes down to a few seconds that generates a wide range of emotions.  Those few seconds are as addicting as any drug (not that I would know about drug addiction).  The adrenaline rush cannot be imitated as expressed by my daughter when she said, "why is my heart racing?"  My response was simply, this is hunting.

There are many aspects of whitetail hunting that fuels my fire including watching bucks from velvet to hard horn.  Furthermore, taking inventory of bucks and guessing age makes the summer fun.  Then fall rolls around and the signs confirm they are real.  Scrapes and rubs are the signature letting me know they are truly here and in the woods with me.  A rub says so much such as how big, what direction he was traveling, and most importantly...where he frequents.

I am always impressed with how deer are ghosts.  You can be sitting and all of sudden they appear out of nowhere.  Furthermore, you can be watching a deer and it vanishes into the brush as quickly as appearing with simply a flicker of their tail.

All of the above is what makes this a challenge for me.  And one I hope I never grow tired of.  My hope is that my body grows tired before my spirit for hunting.  Thus another reason why I sit in a tree for 11 days straight, or until I shoot a buck.....I will be 45 years old in March.  At middle age, you never know when it will be your last time in the woods.  Each sit is special and not taken for granted.

If you are reading this, most likely you have the same affliction.  Although these words are an effort to describe this feeling, it can only be truly experienced.  Welcome to the enduring challenge.  If you are not a member, maybe you have what it takes.  Give it a try....I dare you.

Below are a few photos taken with my phone from the stand.  Details are listed in the captions of each photo.  Much of this information became critical to my success on Nov. 13th.  
Sunset from the North Center Stand.
SW Staging spot with tons of trail camera photos of bucks.
Rub along the South Entrance Lane. Look at second photo later in the week for noticeable change.
Rub along the South Entrance Lane after 11/13/14. Lane always has new rubs each year. Another Bass Wood Tree.
100% Tie-Off from Ground-To-Ground. Zero risk of falling. Lifeline with Prusik Knot.
Mock Rub Worked! One on top is mine, bottom is from a buck.
Big bucks are hitting the Cedar Tree Rub on the NW section of the property.
Fawns decided to bed down under my stand right before my 1:00 Lunch / Bathroom Break.
I decided to take a photo with the fawn under the stand. Long sits on stand make you do silly things.
Nov. 13th was a pivotal day. Coldest sit of the week, but a lot of action. See other blogs detailing results.
In and Out Trail to North Center Stand. I cleaned it off on Nov. 9th, which proved to be critical on Nov. 13th. Note the black trail camera (small dot) on the north side of trail.
Young 8 pointer showed up in the SW Staging Area sporting a major laceration on the right side. Most likely from an arrow. Didn't seem to bother him given he chased does for 30 minutes.
Another angle of the 8 point buck with laceration injury.
SW Staging Area rub. I observed multiple bucks hitting this rub while on stand. Staging areas are awesome.
Life is full of firsts.  Deer hunting is no different, which is why we all remember our first deer (#FirstDeer).  The importance of this cannot be overlooked or minimized.  I can tell you exactly where I was and every other detail about the hunt even 27 years after the event.  I can even tell you that I was shooting a Browning X-Cellerator Plus bow with laminated wood and that my arrows were fluted aluminum to maximize flight.  For those of you too young to know the old compounds, I can clearly tell you that 50% let off sucked.

The last couple of months, QDMA has highlighted photos of First Deer in their bimonthly magazine and also on Twitter (#FirstDeer).  The importance of a first deer is huge to us hunters.  For most of us, it stoked the internal fire that keeps us hunting to this day.  That thrill of a First Deer and the associated adrenaline rush is a good addiction.  I would even argue that this rush is the foundation to the lasting future of deer hunting, which I will elaborate on in a minute.

Here is the photo of my #FirstDeer.  My parents recently moved and my mother finally dug this out of a moving box.  As you can see this was a 1.5 year old buck, which is typical of many of the First Deer photos I've seen posted lately.  What I most definitely remember about this buck is that the antler size didn't matter.  What mattered was that I shot this deer with a bow and couldn't have been more proud of it.  What a personal accomplishment evident by the smile.

My 9 year old son studied this photo extensively, down to the point of asking why a KC hat dad?  He later commented during his youth hunt last weekend that he wanted to shoot a buck like my #FirstDeer. can analyze this comment in multiple ways, most obviously that Luke wants to be like his father.  Hopefully that is a good thing.  However, I would say a #FirstDeer sets in motion many other firsts.

My love for deer hunting let me have a front row seat to my daughter Bailey's #First Deer pictured below.  She shot a half rack buck that was a 1.5 year old.  This was taken with a 20 ga. single shot.  Now she is striving to get her first deer with a bow!  It would be great for her to achieve this first.  My son didn't get a shot last Saturday and Sunday, hopefully he can get his first when gun season arrives in November.  Imagine if they accomplish this first how it could perpetuate other firsts?  Imagine their children wanting to repeat their accomplishments and get a First Deer?  Imagine my first grand child shooting a deer on our 63 acres?  This has to happen in order for deer hunting to survive!

Think of some other firsts.  I shot my first deer back in '87.  I then became busy with college, getting married, starting a family, developing my career.  All necessary firsts.  Then moving back to Indiana in October 2000, I wanted to get back into hunting.  This led to shooting my first 9 pointer and eventually buying 63 acres.....a huge first in 2006.  This led to other firsts including: planting food plots, building a box blind, joining QDMA, learning about hinge cutting and buck beds from Jim Ward, shooting my first wall hanger, planting trees, shooting a 4.5 year old buck, shooting a 5.5 year old buck just last year.  I can't imagine all of these firsts happening without the First Deer in 1987.

The above firsts are setting the stage for the future.  Here are my lists of prioritized firsts to be accomplished:
  1. Getting Luke his first deer.
  2. Bailey getting her first deer with a bow.
  3. Shooting a 150" class deer.
  4. Shooting a booner.
  5. Tagging a mature deer on public land.
  6. Harvesting a 200" deer.

Clearly for me the most important firsts are at the top of the above list.  But, we all have to have firsts to push us to the next level.  Hopefully all of you have memorable firsts this deer season.  When that happens, send me a short note.  Good luck!

We talk a lot on here about hunting safety.  That is primarily because of my profession as a Environmental Health & Safety Manager.  I think hunting related incidents are extremely tragic and all can be prevented.  In fact, a man from my county was found a couple of weeks ago in the woods 24 hours after falling from a tree stand he was checking.  He suffered a broken back and it is uncertain if he will ever walk again.  No one knew how to find him once it was determined he was missing.

The hunting season has started in some states and now we will begin to hear about other falls and even fatalities.  I've preached before about wearing fall protection, but that isn't where I am going this time (you can click on the search categories in the right column to look up the previous blog to watch the video on fall protection).  What kind of hunting plan do you leave each day you go to the woods?  Your family deserves to know where you are going to be.  In the event of an incident, they have to be able to find you and get help.  This is especially important if you hunt alone like I often do.

Your plan could be a simple as posting a map of your property on the refrigerator and marking your planned hunting spot with a magnet.  This can be effective, unless the conditions change when you arrive to the property (e.g., the wind direction isn't as listed on the weather channel).  Now what?  Do you stay in a stand with the wrong wind because you don't want to change your hunting plan?  There is a better answer.

With the advancement of technology, there is an easy solution to all of this where you can notify your family or friends in real time your location.  Text them a waypoint from Google Maps with your exact location.  This is an awesome way to directly communicate what stand you are going to hunt.  This also allows you the flexibility of switching stand locations in the middle of the day and being able to update where you are in real time.

The reason I am writing about this is that I thought this was a more common practice by hunters.  My son just finished a hunter education course today.  During the first session Thursday night, I made the comment to the class that I use Google Maps to text stand locations to my wife.  The response by others in the class was surprising to me.  I had multiple people approaching me during the break asking how to use this feature.  Even the instructors had not considered this as an option.

Someone reading this may be thinking.....if I fall and die all this does is allow rescuers to find the body.  What if you don't die?  What if you break your back and have to lay on the ground for 24 hours while mosquitoes suck you dry?  What if you only break your leg?  This is pretty simple.  Take two seconds once at the stand, go to Google Maps on your phone, click on the waypoint and select "Share".  Your phone should give you the option of sending a text with a link to you location.  Test this feature out with your family and friends and verify they can pull up your location.  This may be the difference between life and death if you have an unfortunate incident.  Plan to hunt safe, but also plan for help if you need it.
This is the time of year that all of us really look forward to the hunting season.  Just spend 5 minutes on Twitter and you can easily see that fact with all of the photos and comments being made about the approaching season.  We look outside and can't see any of the physical signs that Fall is around the corner, but we begin to count the days and know it will come quickly.  August is almost over and September will fly by.  With this in mind, I begin to develop an inner panic that I am not ready for the hunting season.

I've been working tirelessly at the 63 acres the last few weekends and even took a couple of well earned vacation days.  The main goal has been to get the Fall plots planted to provide that diversity that we strive so hard to give to the deer herd.  We also make the final adjustments to buck beds, connecting trails, staging areas, and set tree stands.  The sum of all of these activities helps us reduce pressure on the herd, especially the bucks that are as we speak beginning to turn from velvet to hard horn.

Here are some of the detailed activities undertaken the last few weeks to avert panic and settle in to the early hunting season just around the corner:

  • Buck Bed Maintenance:  Luke and I spent a couple of days finalizing and clearing the extended growth that had taken over a couple of buck beds.  The video below shows the work completed along the Southwest section of the property.  Much work over the last couple of years has gone into establishing this area with a network of beds on the ridges and establishing staging areas and connecting trails to tie everything together.
  • Connecting Trails Maintenance:  A storm had knocked down a large tree across one of our main connecting trails from the SW staging area up to the network of beds on the SW ridge.  We spent some time clearing this tree, but also cut a lot of vegetation that made the trail almost impassable over the summer.  The hinge cutting in the late winter and early spring settled cutting off a few sections of the trail.  This is normal when hinge cutting and trees are knocked over in various directions.  Sometimes they shift and have to be cleaned up as needed.  In addition, we seeded cereal rye grain and winter wheat along these trails to compliment the outstanding Chickory as illustrated below.  What a green carpet through the woods.  I truly believe these trails will become a major travel corridor for the deer during the hunting season, especially during the rut.
  • Staging Area Maintenance:  Both major staging areas (SW and North) have had exceptional growth of the forage seed planted in the spring.  With a few weeds and the forage growth, it was necessary to mow these areas in preparation for planting fall annuals.  We have chickory and clovers in these areas, both getting hit regularly through the day and night as illustrated in trail camera photos.  The chickory will be a major draw to the herd in late September and through most of October.  These areas were also seeded last week with cereal rye grain, winter wheat, winter peas, and soybeans.  Again....diversity of forages for the deer.
  • Water Hole Maintenance:  The watering hole we prepared last season delivered huge results and was the location we identified the 5.5 year old I shot on Nov. 12th.  This summer it dried up quickly.  I believe it was due to the amount of deep hoof prints into the clay that provided a means of the water draining through the soil.  As a result, we spread 100 lbs. of Bentonite over the water hole after we used a gas powered compactor to smooth out the surface.  We received a good rain this week so I can't wait to see how it looks this weekend.  Hopefully we are full again.  I would hate to have to truck in water, but will if needed.
  • Food Plot Planting:  Last year we attempted to plant ag soybeans in an area without tillage.  The attempt failed drastically.  This was primarily due to timing as we didn't plant before a rainfall and the August was somewhat dry in '13.  This was a field trial, so nothing ventured, nothing gained.  This year, I wanted to ensure we had some beans for the deer to forage on during the early season.  

    The concept is to provide forage prior to the pre-rut and rut phases.  This is the only forage we plant in this manner on the SE entrance area since the first cold frost will kill the beans. Given they will not mature enough to produce pods, the deer will switch to other food sources on the property.  This will prevent deer from being in this area when accessing the property in the heart of the hunting season.  The photos below show the area tilled.  It should be noted there was a pile of bricks and stones removed from this field and I had to disk it very slowly to not tear up the blades.  This area was specifically reclaimed by DNR back in the late 90's as the entire property has underground coal mines that were in operation in the early 1900's.  Thus the reason for the bricks and large rocks.

    All of the plots were fertilized with DAP and Potash last weekend.  Refer to the photo below illustrating the fertilizer spreader cart obtained from my local co-op.  I realize this is very late in the growing season to fertilizer.  The up side is that we will see a huge improvement right before the hunting season and this should set us up for success next spring with our focus on pH adjustments pending soil sample analysis.  The plots grew extremely well even before fertilizing, with a lot of tonnage produced throughout the Spring and Summer.

    The Main Plot South Section was planted last week.  I am extremely excited about this field going into this Fall.  We planted a wide variety of forages in only a 3/4 acre plot.  First we planted the blend of Eagle Seed Broadside (soybeans, radishes, winter wheat, and turnips).  Since a bag only plants 1/4 acre, we broadcast this along the north edge of the field in a nice strip.  The remainder of the field was heavily seeded with cereal rye grain, winter wheat, winter peas, and ag soybeans.  All of the seed was soaked in a bucket of water for roughly 1 hour.  The idea behind this method is to swell up the seed with water to imitate what happens to seed when it rains.  By swelling the seed, we get a good jump on sprouting.  The amount of water the seed soaks up is impressive.  You can physically watch the water level drop in the bucket in just a couple of minutes.  The other benefit of swollen seeds is that it is a buffer in the event we do not get an immediate rain....which we didn't.  It did finally rain about 4 days later so I am very excited about what this plot will look like in October.  I think our variety of food plot forages going into this year will be one of the best in the 8 years of owning the property.
Tree Stand Maintenance:  We have 11 stands placed throughout the 63 acres.  This gives us many options to control the hunting pressure and enable hunting the wind as much as possible.  I like to have each stand in great shape before the season starts.  Straps have to be inspected if the stand was left out all year long.  I pull as many stands as possible, but time doesn't typically allow for all to be pulled. Therefore, I try to rotate to keep the stands fresh.  In addition, we have to inspect the fall protection lines.  Finally, all shooting lanes and brush have to be cleared or touched up as the amount of growth over the year is extensive.
While conducting tree stand maintenance, I found this tree frog making a home out of the strap buckle 30' up in the tree. Awesome camo...nature has it figured out.
Archery / Shooting Practice:  One of the most enjoyable parts of preparing for the fall hunting season is practicing archery.  This is even more fun when your 8 year old son (now 9) is shooting with you.  We spent at least three different days shooting out at the property.  As you can see, Luke is starting to grow and have fun learning the sport.  He as thrilled in this photo as this illustrates his best arrow grouping.  I can't wait until he actually hunts this Sept. during the youth season.  Sept. 13th is the Hunter Education Course he is signed up for and we have a 44 Mag. rifle on order for him as a birthday gift.  Shooting practice will begin in Sept. with the rifle.
As you can see, we have been very busy preparing for the archery season here in Indiana.  I am excited about what the bucks will look like when they shed their velvet.  I have averted panic with hard work.  Now I just need to do so when that mature buck steps out at 20 yards so I can make the shot!  Good luck this season and stay safe.