Traditions Remembered

It was a cool November evening, I was walking down an old dirt road through the Oklahoma pines. There wasn’t anything special about this Tuesday evening, no cold front was coming, and it was in the middle of rifle season. “Why even bother go hunting?”, I thought to myself, but little did I know I was on what would be the most exciting hunt of my life.

Twenty sits in a stand, no shooters in range all year. Well I’ve seen a few, but there’s something you should know about me, I’m weird, yeah, real weird. I’m one of those guys that shoots a longbow, and wood arrows. I’m stubborn too, so rifle season didn’t stop me from taking my favorite stick to the woods. It’s not just any bow though, it was handcrafted in Montana by Trent Wengerd and shipped to me, one of a kind made just for me. I promised him it was going to win some buckles and kill some deer, and I wasn’t going to let him down. So, after all these sits in various stands over acorns, I decided to try something dangerous, something risky. I was going to hunt the bedding area, yes, I said the bedding area.


I knew if I wasn’t careful I could pressure the deer off my family’s eighty-acre plot. So, I hunted the mouth of the bedding area on a trail going to some oak thickets (the major food source I had been hunting). This area of the property burned down in a major forest fire a few years earlier. There were a lot of young pines and oak scrubs, with pockets of head high grass scattered throughout. Because all the trees were young and short, a tree-stand wasn’t an option, so I put my ghillie suit on and squeezed between a cluster of pines. I was only about ten yards from a fresh rub, which was on a heavily used trail. I trimmed some branches for a shooting lane, and had just begun to set my camera up on the tripod when I heard “CRUNCH CRUNCH”.

I looked up and I saw a buck about twenty yards away, walking straight towards me. I turned on my camera on and grabbed my bow, no time to focus the camera, he kept coming. Fifteen yards now, there was no shot, he was quartering towards me too hard. As he was about ten yards away he reached a small pine, and I knew he was going to have to walk around it, forcing him to turn more broadside. By the time he got around the tree he was only about eight yards away (no range finder, I walked this off after the shot.) and he was still quartering towards me, making this a tough shot, but one I was confident I could make. I quickly started my shot process, drew back, hit anchor, picked a spot, let go, and said a prayer (this last step is by far the most important of all when shooting trad). I watched the arrow connect two inches forward of where I aimed, and I heard the solid crack of the shoulder. My arrow snapped in half and the deer jumped skyward running in the air. Not only am I using a longbow, but its only forty-two pounds at my draw length. Yeah, this isn’t good I thought.

I listened as the deer crashed through the forest full speed, till I couldn’t hear him anymore. After almost a minute of listening I realized I hadn’t been breathing I was so nervous. There was blood everywhere, I grabbed my arrow and backed out. The buck had snapped the arrow about 4 inches from the tip. After an hour I went back to start trailing the blood. I knew based off the angle, the arrow either got through to the lungs and he was dead by now, or it wasn’t a fatal hit, which gave me a little comfort. The deer had run through tall grass and it had already soaked up most of the blood, thirty yards later I was out of blood.

Fortunately, I knew of great a tracking team a few miles down the road. I gave my friend a call and he brought his dog (all state tracking laws were followed). The dog started at the beginning of the blood trail and followed the trail a good way with no blood. Then, she found new blood and yanked us through a couple brush piles, I was on my hands and knees thinking she found a rabbit trail. Then I saw him, my buck was piled up under some brush and tall grass. After looking at my GPS I saw he only went 120 yards. I know for a fact however I would have never found this deer if it wasn’t for the help of this smart pup, and if I can’t find a deer I will always call her, as I feel it is my duty to make every effort to recover any animal I’ve shot. When I got closer, I saw I had blown through the shoulder and hit the front of the lungs. I credit this to my efficient arrow setup and nothing else. I’ve heard of compound shooters with 70 pound bows not get through the shoulder. But luckily for me I was shooting a 617 grain arrow, which was tipped with 225 grain single bevel vandieman broadheads, made of solid steel.

After thanking the tracker and cleaning the deer, I was driving home. And I was reflecting on my hunt. The deer wouldn’t score close to my best mounts, and it didn’t have any special features about it. However, it will go down as my favorite hunt so far. You see, I chased a buck all last year with my longbow, and one day I decided to bring my rifle instead. The monster buck walked right under my longbow stand and I took him with a rifle. The whole year since I regretted not getting him with my bow. After this, I learned success to me wasn’t measured in the inches of antler on the buck (although that sure doesn’t hurt), but it’s measured in the hunt, and the effort I put into the hunt, as well as the experience as a whole.

Shooting a deer from the ground that close, with a weapon that requires dedication and skill, rewards a hunter with feeling of accomplishment like no other.  I can’t help but grin when I think about using two sticks to kill a deer, and better yet, getting to honor some of the traditions of bow hunting.

That Bow Season Feeling (in Upstate New York)

Non-stop action

Early bow season 2018 – a true season to remember. The bow swinging in the breeze and the deer on the move. With new spots scouted out and some old ‘tried-true’; successful harvests have found me over the course of the whole early bow season.

Meat in the Freezer

The first came from a stand I had never been in. I had asked permission last spring to hunt gobblers with no success, but I knew it would be a nice spot to check up on deer later in the
year. With work being busy, I got up the courage to ask the owner if I could bowhunt the
property knowing there was another person set to gun hunt it.

Permission granted, I made a quick set after work and like clockwork the deer started filtering
into the corner I had chosen. A big doe and two little ones came first at 50 yards, then some 300
yards out. As I watched and contemplated a shot, biding my time, another nice doe made an
appearance at 25 yards. The bow drawn and tactacam rolling, I sent the carnivore and jak knife
clean through. It was the second week in October and the weather was cool, just about how you
would dream it.


I spent the next couple weeks hunting when I could, mostly afternoons, as I did not take any full days off to hunt in the week. Seeing deer pretty much every day; I was loving every minute of just being in the woods.
I made weekends about spending time on a small postage stamp of WNY land I hunt with a good friend and my girlfriend. We had a tough first weekend – with lots of deer coming in to only taunt our intentions of putting carbon airborne.

With a few weeks rest, the weather cooler yet we met back up and managed to nearly each harvest an antlerless deer. I was able to bring a mature doe in on a string to a mock Evercalm scrape and my buddy met success in his ‘five finger’ stand just riding the breeze. It was a proud weekend as I recorded his first bow kill on camera. The emotion and spirits were real; the kind that truly make for life-long memories.

Success – Hunting the Rut

The hunt is always on for me, pretty much year round I’m thinking, prepping, and dreaming of
November days just like these. A brisk 30 degrees, barely frozen, the is air wafting fresh, wet
snow. I picked up some tarsal scent from buck camp the weekend before. I set up in a stand I
had not hunted since opening week. I stamped that stranger buck scent in a few strategic locations, making it the first thing any wandering buck would wind. It worked flawlessly, so much so, that the deer were all over within 40 yards.
Now into full blown rut, it is the second week in November. No amount of self filming could have prepared me for the onslaught of activity. Camera set, the deer started and didn’t stop coming. When that 200 pound 8 stepped on the scene it was like magic. With 15 seconds to manage time, I opted to forego trying for the camera and steady the bow. He spotted me almost as soon as he stepped in, blew right by at 10 yards and made that classic stop at 25 to make sure his eyes weren’t deceived. I had branches but quickly drew and looked for an opening. It came fast,
between the hardwood canopy and overgrown saplings, he made one last glance and caught the green streak of the Nock Out contender 6 ribs back. The air escaped his side in a hiss, he disappeared down the hill – crash.

Celebrating, but still unsure; I waited to check my arrow, shining green, in a stained blanket of white. It looked great… but feeling just off about the shot, I gave it time, and after 4 hours I made the trip back out. I geared up my novice blood tracker pup and my friend and we set off. The blood was visible in the snow, then washed and pink from rain. The dog accepted my guidance as we followed.



Heavy prints and wet displaced snow told a story. Then sideways slipping hooves and eventually a landing strip, there he was.


Fall Decisions

Fall Decisions in the Midwest

Fall is a magical time throughout the Midwest. The warm summer days have slowly faded to cool crisp mornings. The colors are emerging and leaves are starting to fall. Bucks have shed their velvet and deer movement is picking up. I have always looked forward to this time of year. However, I find it challenging due the numerous activities available. And when I say challenging, the challenge is trying to make a decision on what to invest my time in.

I spend the summer months chasing the elusive muskellunge, which really isn’t very elusive here in Wisconsin. No matter how great the fishing is over the summer months, it’s always a better bite come fall. Typically I would fish for muskies through the month of September, occasionally sitting in a tree trying to get a doe in the freezer. The bucks around my property (a mere 4 acres) don’t move much until mid to late October. This year, instead of fishing through September, I had to put in the time to check baits every few days. I drew a bear tag for this year, which really adds to my indecisions on what to do on a daily basis. The bear activity came to a halt when the acorns dropped, but the deer movement increased with the cooler temps. The archery season for deer opened September 15th this year, so I’ve been ready with my bow in case that Pope & Young buck steps out. Even when I’m sitting over bear bait, a larger part of me is hoping some deer will walk through just to get some action.

On top of all of these decisions, small game season is open too! I just spent a week in Colorado chasing elk for my dad’s archery tag, and we saw dozens of grouse! It made my itch to grab a shotgun and hit the woods back home even harder to ignore. I know I can’t waste time on small game right now, not when there’s bigger fish to fry. A bear tag only comes around every few years, and it’s a big commitment. My wife could attest to that. I’m lucky enough to have a wife that will stay home with our son while I chase my dream, even when we both know I probably won’t see a bear each night I go out. That’s why fall is a magical time. You just never know. You never know what you will see. You never know what opportunities you are missing if you stay in for a night.

It’s easy to choose the day’s outing if you know you will be successful. Success is defined differently to each person, however. I could hit the river three times in a week and come away with three or more muskies, and call that a success. I could come away each of those times with no fish, and still call it a successful outing. The hardest part is deciding to hunt or fish for something that may not yield success by a harvest. The success is in the hunt itself; the preparation, the terrain, the weather, the calming sensation of Mother Nature. My indecisions of the fall season will never change, and neither will my success rate.

Trevor Wittwer
Fall Creek, WI


Black Bear Baiting/Hunting 101

The Roots of it All

If you happen to live in a state that is fortunate enough to allow you to bait during black bear season then this is already a win for you.  Hunting bears is an art and something I express almost all of my interest in when bear season comes around. My passion for whitetails is gone and it’s all about the bruins.  There’s nothing more exhilarating than having bears coming in all day eating, playing, fighting, and sparring. I bow hunt northeast black bears from the ground over a bait station.   Personally, I do it because it’s the highest adrenaline rush I have ever experienced and once you get the taste for that kind of adrenaline you can’t help but want more.

In a stand you will see them all day long no problem.  From the ground it becomes a chess match with the North East’s largest predator. Your scent game needs to be stronger than hunting the rut as I use a blend of dirt deodorizer and cedar. You best be a perfect shot because if you need to, you only get one shot at a bear with the bow.  Now, for the most part the bear is much more afraid of you than you are of it and have nothing to worry about but it only takes one time to be the last time. Your safety should always come first. Your senses need to be at their peak and you need to be alert at all times. You need to use your hearing for behind you and your eyes for the front as movement is detrimental to a bear hunt.  Whatever you choose to hunt from just don’t use a blind because they’ll tear them apart if they’re left out and will not bring larger bears in if you’re taking them in and out every day. Always respect the animal you’re hunting and never take them for granted.

The Strategy

The key to a great bear stand is to find an area with cover as bears don’t like feeding in open areas.  Find a place where bushes, deadfalls, and saplings are in abundance as they get a sense of security in these areas.  Another important aspect is being near a source of water because feeding from your bait barrel will make them very thirsty and the closer to a good water source they are the more likely you will keep these bears around.  Pick a tree that suits the spot you found to anchor your bait barrel to.

There are a couple methods I’ve used in the past as far as the actual bait barrel goes. The one I like most is taking a 55 gallon barrel (I use the blue plastic ones) and cutting two holes near the top to have a place to string a ratchet strap through to hook around the tree.  Then on adjacent sides cutting square holes out about 1/3 to ½ the way up the barrel. Large enough so they can get their paw in but not their head! This allows the bear to get the food without taking off with it leaving you with little to no pictures or opportunities for a harvest. The holes in the sides of the barrel allow the bear to line up a perfect broadside shot to your tree as you would face the uncut front side of the barrel directly at your tree stand.  

Bring ‘Em in Far and Wide

Now that set up is out of the way and you’ve got yourself one heck of a spot to start luring these beasts of North America in, it’s time to think about what to put in the barrel to keep them coming day after day.  You want to bait early and often, you’ll get the hang of it after a couple weeks. Learning your area is key and it will teach you how often you need to refill your barrel. I always start baiting a month or two ahead of the season so it gets your bears in a routine.

Now depending what your season is will be how you determine what to put in your barrel. My season here in NJ is a week in October (Bow) and a week in December (Shotgun). So during the October season you can put just about anything in there, sweets, protein, fats etc. as everyone knows, bears will eat just about anything.  Now when the December season comes around or if yours is November like Pennsylvania’s is even though they can’t bait, then protein and fats are your best friends. They need to bulk up and add a ton of weight heading into winter and will absolutely empty your barrel in three days if you have a decent amount of bears in the area (10-15).  That’s when you fill that barrel as high as possible with dog food, bird seed or any protein you can think of. Get a good fryer grease hookup and douse that barrel with 5 gallons of used fryer grease. Spread it all over, inside, outside, on the ground, on the tree, everywhere! The grease acts as a high distance attractant, much needed fat for the bear and as they roll and eat through the food they get covered in grease and track it through the woods for any bear to come across the tracks and follow it to your barrel.  This method has worked for my dad, my uncle, myself and many others in our neck of the woods in North West New Jersey.

For those of you that have spring bear hunts you want to focus on the sweets as too much fat and protein will irritate their stomach and digestive tract coming out of winter hibernation. A buddy of mine in Maine uses Oreos, marshmallows, chocolate syrup, and any type of sweet he can get a hold of in bunches from his bait dealer up there. Fluff is his main stay as whoever he works with can get gallons on gallons of expired fluff.  Once the barrel has been filled, stuff the access holes with sticks and logs, it’ll keep the raccoons, opossums, ravens, and crows out of it and will let you know when there’s something hitting it. So whenever your season is and whatever stand you prefer, these methods will give you a great, if not the best chance to take the bear of a lifetime.

P.S.  For those of you that are not allowed to use bait during the season, Signal 11 Peanut Butter Spray is a bear attractant godsend.  


Photography Basics: Capturing Captivating Pictures

I recently published a blog on our sister company about taking cinematic photos. In the age of digital where there are so many things shared, it’s nice to have content that you are proud of. There is no excuse for grainy, out-of-focus, boring photos as the technology we have at our fingertips makes it so easy to look professional. With applications like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and text messaging, it’s likely the average person sends upwards of a dozen pictures a day, and that equates to thousands of photos a year!

While I want to dive into some of the topics that I did in my fishing photography blog, I want to leave my Cervicide family with a piece of advice: Perfect practice makes perfect. If the photos you are already taking throughout the day (Snapchat, texting, social media) are done haphazardly, then you’re likely never going to be a great photographer. There is so much to process all at one time when taking a cinematic photo that in real world situations, like when you’re celebrating a downed animal, you’re getting a candid action shot in the field, or you’re taking a group photo at camp, sometimes there are only seconds to get the shot just right. This is why perfect practice makes perfect – you shouldn’t have to think twice about taking the right shot.

There’s a couple things that you need to process immediately in a seamless fashion to get a great action photo that doesn’t look staged. Photography is a dance and you need:

  1. The subject
  2. Capturing emotion
  3. Proper lighting
  4. Depth of field

Wow, sounds easy, right?

The Subject

So why is it that something so simple, that I can break down into only 4 categories can yield so many different outcomes? I conducted an experiment on our private Cervicide FieldStaff page where I asked our staff to upload a pic of their favorite Cervicide hat. I received a bunch of responses where the subject is nearly the same, but there were no rules. I’ll post some of the pictures below so you can see the difference of a cinematic photo vs. one that didn’t have much thought. Now stop and think about the 4 categories that I explained and you’ll have a better understanding that for a photo to truly look good, you need all parts to the equation.

Capturing Emotion

Why did I choose a hat? Well there was a reason behind it – it’s an inanimate object. Essentially it’s up to the photographer how to add emotion to an inanimate object. Place that same hat on someones head and now you just brought it to life. Is that hat drying out in the sun after being wet? Perhaps it was being tossed midair; there are all sorts of ways to add emotion to an inert object.

A great photographer lets the end viewers mind wander so the photo tells a story to them. The viewer’s mind should fill in the blanks. This is why there needs to be a sense of emotion in a photo. Even if the subject you’re photographing doesn’t have emotions, you can position the subject where emotion will bring it to life.

The next important thing I see a lot of hunters doing wrong with photos is not paying attention to the background. In order to nail this down, it is so crucial to practice this anytime you’re taking photos. Even when you’re using Snapchat you can practice this. The background is a perfect opportunity to tell more of the story without words. Put it this way, whitetail deer are huntable in almost every state. When a hunter takes a picture of their harvest, the backdrop can give the viewer a lot of information right off the bat. You get an idea for the terrain it was harvested in: farm country, mountains, maybe there was snow on the ground, or palmetto trees signifying southern heat.Was this in a remote destination or in a city? The background tells a lot of the story and it also adds depth to the picture which makes it more cinematic.

Take this photo for example. The lighting isn’t ideal and there are a lot of shadows being cast on the subject. Additionally, it doesn’t add much emotion or tell a story. As a viewer, this photo is not very captivating.

This photo has better lighting  and the background gives viewers an idea of where the subject is. It also tells a story and is captivating – what exactly is he doing? Where is he going? The viewers’ mind can wander and create a story all their own.


The next thing to help with a photo being more cinematic is the lighting. Lighting is such an important thing, and really comes into play for whitetail hunters as there are a lot of instances where harvest pictures are taken at dark. Before the harvest pictures, there’s an elephant in the room I need to address and thats the tree stand selfies. First off, one of the things I see a lot of guys do is snap a bunch of pictures from their tree stand. They are stuck in one position, usually their back to the tree and it almost never fails these pictures are taken about an hour after sunrise. To the hunter it’s bright daylight, they are bored, and they start snapping pictures. This makes for some really grainy pictures, poor usage of the rule of thirds, and angles where the backdrop just looks silly, and is very unflattering for the hunter. There are a few ways to make treestand selfies better (I personally think they are played out) and the first way to up the tree stand selfie game is to wait until there is adequate light!

Here I’ll post one of my all time favorite treestand selfies which has amazing lighting, background, and emotion by Brendan Kelley of Ohio. To get a shot like this you’ll need a DSLR camera with an f stop below 4. I would suggest that you manually focus the lens so it will stay focused on whatever you want (in this case your face). Sometimes the auto focus will jump around so much you’ll never get the shot. A fourth arrow camera arm to hold the camera and a timer are helpful tools, too. Brendan’s emotion in this photo is awesome. He’s focused and it looks like he’s ready to cut the arrow loose!

Cervicide Fieldstaff Bow & Arrow

I don’t want to offend anyone here so just go ahead and open up Instagram and search #treestandselfie and you’ll see for yourself exactly what I’m talking about NOT TO DO.

Depth of Field

Ok – Rule of thirds, I briefly mentioned this before, but let me dive into this one real quick. The idea of the rule of thirds is to divide your photo in 3rds from top to bottom and side to side. You either want your subject to be focused in the dead center of your picture, like Brendan’s above or you want to have the subject offset so you can add some depth of field in the picture. Just go on Google and type in ‘rule of thirds’ for some examples. If you begin applying this rule to your photos, you’ll instantly become more cinematic.

I intentionally didn’t get into harvest pictures with this blog as I’m going to leave that for another blog. I want you to take some of my advice that I talked bout and begin applying it to your pictures. Most importantly, start applying it to the pictures you already take every day. When you go to take a photo that you want to last a lifetime, you’re going to be so much quicker to do the right things automatically that you’ll be able to get more creative with your shots and move to the next level with your photography skills. Check out the blog post I did on Angler Pros as I dove into some of the concepts we just talked about and applied it to fishing.

Filming On a Budget, Part Two

Filming on a Budget, Part Two

Today, we’re sharing the second installation of our Filming on a Budget series. If you missed Part One, you can read it here.


A LANC controller* is a great accessory to have when self-film your hunts. With one hand, you can run all the necessary functions on your camera to record your hunts. Before I had a LANC controller I needed both hands to run the camera, which was not user friendly at all for the self filmer. With the LANC, I can run the camera with one hand and use a call or get my weapon into position for the shot with the other. If you do not have the budget for this and are on the fence between making this purchase or a shotgun microphone, get the shotgun microphone, having quality audio is crucial. The LANC I recommend is the Varizoom VZ-Stealth-LX Zoom Controller. This controller will provide you with some key functions such as zoom, focus and record and makes them easily accessible with one hand. You can get this controller for around $100.

Camera Arms and Tripods 

Another item you will want to purchase is a good tree arm and tripod. For tree arms, I use Fourth Arrow Camera Arms, I like Fourth Arrow due to their quick setup, stability and are not as bulky as some other arms. They will cost you $150 and up. You can also look at the Hawk Arms for a less expensive option. A great tripod to begin with is the Neewer 62″ Tripod, this is one I use and have been impressed with. It sets up quick and is study enough for my equipment.

Fluid Heads

Having a sturdy tree arm or tripod means nothing if you do not have a good fluid head to mount on it. I recommend the Manfrotto 128RC fluid head; you can get these used for around $100. This head will be more than enough to support your gear and provide you with smooth pans.

Editing Software

You are going to need some editing software for all that sick footage you got last fall. I use Final Cut Pro X, Premiere Pro CC and Lightworks, but for a beginner who wants to throw together a nice video, I would not recommend these programs. These are powerful programs with professional tools; from experience, this can be very frustrating for someone new to editing film. I have been testing PowerDirector 16 Ultimate and have found it to be a very powerful editor capable of producing some very professional video, and it is easy to use. Moreover, there are hours of great support videos online for PowerDirector. To continue my testing, I am going to be using PowerDirector 16 this winter to edit all my video. I would try PowerDirector 16 Ultimate ($65). Additionally, there are many free options online for editing software such as Davinci Resolve.


These are not necessity, just some nice equipment to add to your gear list.

  • A fur windscreen is great for cutting down wind noise; you can get one for $20.
  • Gear bags are also a nice accessory, Campbell Camera’s has some nice options starting at $50. Otherwise, many other companies like AlpsOutdoorz sell gear bags.
  • For audio, a nice pair of headphones allow you to hear what your recording sounds like in case you need to make adjustments (this can be crucial and play a hue role in recording quality audio. I would recommend purchasing a pair). Additionally, they can function as a game ear.
  • A lapel microphone, wireless or wired to a digital recorder can provide some great audio if you are filming another hunter from a distance. The mic will record what they are saying from their location, and allow you to use it when putting together your film.
  • Cell phone, we all have them and they work great for a second angle camera and for B-Roll footage. My phone shoots 4k with 240fps slow motion video with a slew of other special effects. Not good for a main camera, but hard to beat for B-Roll.
  • POV camera, Tactacam makes a great POV camera as well as a number of other manufacturers. Set these cameras in your decoy spread, on the ground by your turkey decoy, on your shotgun or bow, or mount it to your head for some sick shots.

Putting it Together

I hope this makes it easier for purchasing your first filming setup. All in you are looking at spending around $900. Keep in mind that all the equipment you purchase now, can be used with your next camcorder or camera if you choose to upgrade in the future. Also, the camcorder you buy now can be used in the future as a sweet second angle. Some things I have learned along the way. You are representing our sport, so stay humble and use this as an opportunity to teach others about conservation and management. It is not about trophies or the kill, tell the true story of the hunt, the successes, failures and what you learned from each hunt. Remember to look up, it is easy to be consumed with filming, get your eyes off the screen and look around, enjoy the hunt. Follow the law always. Keep your films clean. Be creative with your B-Roll. Good luck all of you on your future outdoor adventures and God Bless.

(Special thanks to Codi Makin for supplying the Canon Vixia HF R800 picture.)

*Note: The LANC Controller that I mentioned does not work in that particular camera, it does work in all the other Canon cameras, but not that particular one. They took that function out of that model unfortunately.

Why I Hunt

Why do I hunt? This is a question that I could answer in a sentence or write on for pages. Ever since my Dad took me hunting for the first time I have been hooked on it. Some people will call me crazy for getting up at five in the morning to hunt, but they just don’t understand what they are missing out on. Whether it’s watching that big buck come into range or calling a turkey in, that’s an adrenaline rush I could not describe to anyone else. If it were not for hunting and being introduced into the outdoors, I would not have majored in Wildlife Biology at Clemson now. Hunting has led me to have a love for everything in the outdoors.  To sum up why I hunt in three reasons would be to grow my understanding and love for the outdoors, for conservation, and to help introduce new people into hunting.

Every time I step into the woods, I either gain a memory for life or learn something about the animal or area I am hunting that will stick with me to better the next hunt. I’m always excited getting up in the stand or blind just to watch the sun rise or set and observe all the wildlife around me. It is amazing to see how active the outdoors really is, even if the animal I am pursuing is not moving. Since I have started studying wildlife, my love for all the species has grown since I have more knowledge about the other animals.

Hunting is one of the biggest contributing factors to helping conserve the habitats for wildlife in the world today. Part of the money from sales of firearms and ammunition contributes to helping conserve and protect wildlife thanks to the Pittman-Robertson Act.  Most non-hunters don’t understand how much hunters help manage and conserve the game and non-game species in the world. I believe that without hunting most game and non-game species would be over-populated and causing disease throughout their habitats due to their being to many of them. For example, deer are known for causing agricultural damage to crops and countless automobile accidents, if it was not for deer hunters this would be an even worse problem throughout the country. Conservation and hunting are the keys to ensuring plentiful amounts of wildlife for future generations to enjoy in our country.

Another reason I hunt is to try and get more people introduced into hunting. I have read where the number of people hunting is declining. I hate seeing this knowing how much getting into the woods and hunting means to me, so I am always trying to get my friends who do not hunt and know how much it means to me to start hunting. Without hunting I do not know what I would be doing with my life today. These are three of countless reason I could use to explain why I hunt and why hunting is so important in my life.

The Ruthless Rut

My uncle moved to Champagne, IL when I was in early high school. He lived there several years and came back with a 180’ 16-point Illinois giant along with several other Pope and Young caliber deer. After seeing those, I knew that I had to one-day hunt in Illinois. It became a dream and some sort of legendary place like it is for many people watching the hunting channels.

My dream came true shortly after graduating college when I finally saved up a few bucks and leased a 100-acre farm in south-eastern Illinois. I signed the lease in March of 2017 and my preparation began for the hunt of a lifetime. From March to September, I would get home from work and shoot my bow up to 60 yards and in every possible situation/angle that I could think of. If I was going to get the opportunity at a true Illinois giant, I was not going to miss the shot. This practice will come in handy a little bit later.

By October, we had stands hung and a small inventory of shooters (which blew my mind in comparison to the deer back in VA). Being nine hours away, these deer were far from patterned, but we knew that they were there. I had a few early season hunts with no success, but knew the real action would come the first week of November when we returned.

We arrived on a Tuesday night and had until Sunday morning to close the deal. The first day of hunting showed little action with only a few small deer making their way by the stand. Day two, the woods came to life. From the time that I hung my bow in the stand until dark, bucks were running does under me. There was a few hot does on the property and the next several hunts would blow my mind. Bucks ran all day long. I had a few shooters that I was able to lay my eyes on, but was unable to seal the deal.

Morning three, I was so excited I could hardly sleep. A few warm cups of coffee and I was up in the stand ready for another day of nonstop action. At daybreak, a small eight chased a doe in circles for a good 20 minutes. This was awesome to watch, but I was looking for his daddy. About an hour or so later, I catch some movement about 70-80 yards in front of me. I throw up the trusty binoculars and spot a doe. Then, I hear some grunting that sounds like it is coming from three different directions. About five minutes of picking through the brush, I am amazed as I see three different mature bucks that I would love to send an arrow through. Buck fever hits, I start shaking. After a short stint of panic, I collect myself and start ranging trees that I think they could walk by. The doe starts walking and closes the distance to 55 yards and the other bucks watch the biggest follow suite on her tail. I hear a sea of grunting and a few snort wheezes. I hope every hunter gets the opportunity to hear that in the woods. It was something that I could check off my hunting bucket list.

I see a break in the trees and I know that this is my only chance, I need to connect on this shot. The buck starts moving again and I draw back and settle in on my only opening. He hits the spot and I slowly squeeze my release. Thwack!, I hit him. It looks like I hit a little back, but I am almost positive it is a fatal hit. My mind starts racing as the buck takes off about 10 yards and stops. I can see blood coming out. What happens next leaves me at a loss for words. The doe turns and trots down a trail at an angle towards me. The buck follows her. After being hit! Crazy right? I load another arrow into the bow and he walks to another opening broadside at 45 yards. I double lung him. He runs into some brush and I hear a loud crash. At this point, I am almost in tears! My dream has come true. A 145” 10-point is down, and I am pumped! The first shot turned out to be a liver hit and although fatal, would have been a long and nervous track job. Thank the Lord for a determined old buck.

My mind was blown, and I gained a whole new understanding of the rut. This 5-year-old buck was pouring blood and literally stayed on the doe’s trail. He could care less what was happening around him to the point that I could load another arrow from my quiver hanging behind me. Everyone knows that the rut brings out the big boys, but I hope this post shows you truly how important it is to be in the stand during the rut and how determined an old trophy buck can be.

Four Tips to Maximize This Offseason

Turkey season is starting to slow down in most of the country as we head into the latter part of May and begin to enjoy the warm weather. This is an important part of the year that whitetail hunters have a little extra time to put towards things that will help them finally close the deal on that elusive old buck. Here are a few DIY things you can do to help prepare for the fall this off-season.

1. Plant a food plot

Food Plot

Okay I know the argument is coming, we all watch TV and see the massive food plots out west and dream of having this in our favorite spot. There is no way the average hunter can afford these. You are right, but there is still possibilities to create a good plot. On your own farm, lease, or private land that you have permission to hunt; a small plot is easier to make than you think. These are called ‘Kill Plots’ that are easier for the average hunter to make than it looks on TV. First, pick a good spot. Some of the best places for these are staging areas before larger agriculture fields or natural openings in a block of timber. The deer will hit your plot before heading out into the large fields feeding at night due to the cover provided in your plot compared to the larger agriculture fields. Once the spot is picked, get permission from the landowner or lessor if applicable. Having the spot picked already can go a long way in getting approval. Second, clear the area with some round-up or similar product that kills everything. Within a week or two, this area should be dried out and ready to go. Third, burn off the killed foliage. Be careful here and remember safety first. Create a solid fire barrier and make sure conditions are right. This will leave you with bare ground that can be raked or dragged with an ATV and it will be ready for seed. Third, go ahead and plant the plot and let it grow. Clover is typically the go-to plot for this and seed is easily picked up at Wal-Mart or any farming store. Provide fertilizer and other related products depending on the soil content in your area (that is a whole other post). Check out the Midwest Whitetail group on YouTube, they do a good job at explaining these types of plots and call them ‘Poor Man Plots’.

2. Organize your gear and make sure clothes are ready for storage

This one can be done as soon as deer season is over and is probably better done then. However, if most of you are like me you use a lot of deer season clothes and equipment into turkey season. There are many ways to store gear, but here is the best way in my opinion after doing this for a couple of years. Lay everything you use for hunting out in the living room or basement (If the wife is picky). Then you can begin sorting items between what you actually use and by season. For example, I had three sets of rattling horns and buck growlers this year, but I only use the same one of each year after year. The rest of it went on eBay and I put the current gear to the side for the rut phase ‘pile’. Once this is done, wash clothes with either no detergent or hunting detergent and dry them with no dryer sheet or hunting dryer sheets (make sure here, this is where a lot of people mess up). The detergent and dryer sheets are usually on clearance in various stores this time of year. Alright, so the next step is not necessary, but I personally am a little OCD when it comes to scent control. I hang everything up and spray with one bottle of spray and dry scent spray that lasts for about 30 days then a layer of autumn scent field spray. For your equipment, use some scent free cleaning wipes and then spray with a layer of autumn field spray. Air dry everything and then place in scent proof containers (anything from Walmart coated in scent spray and dried). I typically sort them by clothing and accessories used in each season and then place all necessities in the archery season box. Doing this will help give you a head start in being scent proof and fooling the nose of that old buck. Just because you are seeing does and young bucks consistently, doesn’t mean the old buck isn’t smelling you.

3. Minerals and trail cameras, start now

In the early part of my hunting career, I put out cameras, corn and minerals around late July or early August. That is where I was messing up, minerals need to be out early May to help bucks fully develop a good rack. There is research and conflicting articles on the internet about how much these help, but you will for sure get plenty of pictures on minerals. . The best part about this is following the growth of a buck that you will be hunting this fall. You get to see each stage of growth and trust me, when you kill him you will feel even more accomplished than usual. Last year, I put out minerals on my lease in mid to late May in Illinois and ended up watching a buck grow from little nubs to a monster 10-point that I was fortunate enough to kill in the rut. I also saw success doing this back home in Virginia my 8-pointer last year and previous bucks in the past. It was awesome to be able to show everyone the pictures of their growth and the result of me with my hands on him in early November.

4. Practice with your bow

How many of you have missed a buck or even doe based on shooter error? Everyone does it, even the professionals on TV. I would love to meet the seasoned hunter that has not done this. One of the best ways to prevent this is to practice year-round. I have a little agreement with myself that every day after work I will shoot at least three arrows at 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 yards. I know this is not attainable by everyone, but make sure you are at least shooting once a week if possible. This will really pay off in the moment of truth as your release will become second nature. You will be familiar with your bow and know how it performs. Things like target panic and unintentional releases will become almost nonexistent. There is no way to be a perfect shooter, but there is room to master the craft. One of the best ways to do this is to join a league and shoot 3-D tournaments. These can be a blast with your friends and a great way to meet hunters just like you in your area. You never know what will come out of these new connections. I am headed to Ohio this late season to go after bucks based off a connection I picked up with some shooting buddies. Not to mention these perks, but it is FUN. A lot of people even get the wife and kids involved.

It is important to note that these are not everything to do in the offseason to help prepare for the big buck of your dreams. However, these are important to help ensuring success this fall.