By: John Eberhart.
10 Common Mistakes
Mistakes are part of the learning curve in every aspect of life, including hunting and it’s our option to either learn from the mistakes we make and become more proficient, or ignore or not realize they’re being made and keep making them.
Another option is to gain the trust of someone to the extent that you accept their experiences and learn from the mistakes they made in hopes that you correct or don’t make the same mistakes moving forward. It boils down to a matter of trust when accepting the words of others and because deer hunting is such a competitive and oftentimes egotistical activity, it’s very difficult to trust in what someone else has to say.
Statistically Michigan has more bowhunters than any other state and is second in gun hunter numbers to only Texas and one might think that a states licensed hunter numbers alone equate to that states hunting pressure but that’s definitely not the case until you take a state’s land mass into account.
For instance Texas annually has around 1,000,000 gun hunters compared to Michigan with around 700,000 but Texas has 268,581 square miles of land mass compared to Michigan’s 56,538, so statistically Texas gun hunter densities per square mile are 3.72 while Michigan’s, with 300,000 lest gun hunters is 12.38 per square mile. Basically a states licensed hunter numbers don’t mean much until the land mass of that state is taken into consideration.
Since I quit gun in 1991 I’ve made 22 out-of-state bowhunting trips to Midwestern states during Michigan’s gun season and can personally attest without any equivocation that Michigan is the toughest state to take a mature whitetail buck in. On those 22 trips I’ve taken 19 P&Y bucks and have relatively lofty antler criteria’s because there are so many mature bucks and they are relatively stupid and easy to kill.
What separates the few bucks that survive beyond their first set of antlers in most heavily pressured areas within Michigan from older age class bucks in many other states is they are conditioned to evade hunters due simply to our staggeringly high bow and gun hunter numbers.
Heavy hunting pressure has a direct influence on; how many bucks survive beyond their first set of antlers, the types of areas they move in during daylight, how much they move during daylight, how they respond to fake tactics, how much human odor they will tolerate before spooking, how they react to hunter intrusions during both scouting and hunting ventures, to what extent they search for hunters in trees, and pretty much anything else that has to do with making a kill. In most areas within Michigan, if you’re pursuing a particular buck and are fortunate to get an opportunity at him, a single mistake will likely determine the fate of your entire season.
Let’s survey the most common categories where mistakes are made by hunters in heavily pressured areas and in my 52 Michigan bow seasons, I’ve made and learned from several of them.
1. Scent Control Regiment
Hunters have had success for eons by simply hunting downwind of where they expect an opportunity, but it’s an undisputed fact that when bucks are pursuing estrous does during the rut-phases, and at other times, they can come from unexpected directions, often putting them downwind. It’s also very common when hunting transition zones for non-target deer to pass by and eventually be downwind, or to have other deer be with the one you want to take and pass downwind ruining the hunt.
Because odor is something hunters can’t see or touch, it’s easy for hunting companies to baffle us with false rhetoric and the downside is there are no federal agencies policing their legitimacy. Technology information on hunting companies websites is oftentimes relatively meaningless because they have a monetary reason to stretch the truth or flat-out falsify their information. Proof of this was on March 19th, 2016 Scent Lok won a lawsuit against Scent Blocker for false advertising claims about their Trinity hunting apparel.
To confirm to what extent any scent reducing or adsorption technology works, it can easily be done by Googling the technology or Googling Wikipedia and then the technology. When activated carbon is Googled, here are a few of the hundreds of adsorption applications activated carbon is used for in industrial, medical, and for worldwide governmental uses.
Gas purification, decaffeination, gold purification, metal extraction, drinking water purification, refrigerant gas adsorption, sewage treatment, every countries chemical warfare suits, by NASA in primary life support systems better known as space suits, gas masks, water softeners, paint respirators, filters in compressed air, volatile organic compound capture, dry cleaning processes, automobile filtration systems, gasoline dispensing operations, groundwater remediation, to adsorb radon for testing air quality, for oral ingestion in hospitals worldwide to treat overdose patients, in intensive care units to filter harmful drugs from the bloodstream of poisoned patients, to adsorb mercury emissions from coal power stations and medical incinerators, to filter vodka and whiskey of organic impurities, and being researched by the US Dept. of Energy to store natural and hydrogen gas.
By using a scanning electron microscope scientific calculations show that if all the surface areas of the primary, secondary, tertiary pores, and exterior surface of each particle of activated coconut carbon were flattened and laid on a surface:
A tablespoon of the carbon would have a surface area of over 3 ½ football fields and a pound (a small butter tub) of the carbon has a surface area equal to that of approximately 100 acres (more than a half mile in length and a quarter mile in width).
Just as NASA, auto industry, U. S. Dept. of Energy, hospitals worldwide, and every Dept. of Defense in the world didn’t pull activated carbon out of a hat and say, hey let’s use this stuff, neither did Scent Lok when they applied for and received the U. S. patent to exclusively use it in hunting garments. All other technologies used in the hunting industry for molecular adsorption have been proven to be quite inferior to activated carbon.
We are constantly emitting body odor in the form of gaseous and liquid molecules and a properly cared for Scent Lok Carbon Alloy® lined suit will adsorb 96 to 99% of those molecules.
A properly cared for Scent Lok Carbon Alloy® lined exterior jacket, pants, head cover, and gloves worn in conjunction with clean rubber or neoprene boots and a frequently washed in scent-free detergent pack will keep your human odor so minimal that scent detection will be a thing of the past.
During the 35 seasons I hunted without this regiment there were certain types of terrain features I would never set-up in do to wind thermals and swirling winds and occasionally my best rut locations would go un-hunted because the wind direction required for them, never occurred on my days off work. In the 18-years using a strict scent free regiment, no place is off limits and wind direction is a non-factor.
- Reacting to Hunter Competition
This topic is rarely mentioned in outdoor film or media because where most nationally recognized hunters hunt, they have little if any competition. Heavy hunting presasure affects deer movements more than any other factor PERIOD and not paying attention to, and adjusting your hunting to it, is a costly mistake.
Whenever scouting or hunting, all pertinent information about other hunters locations such as; quality of location, tree stand placement, the locations security cover, shooting lanes, are they hunting short crop field edges, do they bait, etc. should be noted.
You can estimate the competence level of other hunters by checking out their hunting locations. Most often they will not be much of a threat at taking mature bucks and will act either as deflectors or keeping them nocturnal, but you must learn their habits and adjust your locations, seasonal, and daily hunting time frame around them.
Most public lands in zone 3 and many parts of zone 2 receive hchp to such an extent that it’s common for remote hard to access areas to be the only places a mature buck will feel comfortable moving during daylight hours. For any realistic opportunity at a good buck, you must access these remote areas where other hunters are not willing to go because it requires too much work.
Accessing such areas may require waders, hip boots, canoe, boat, or crawling on your hands and knees through brush. These methods of access can get you to islands in wet marshes, across streams and rivers to otherwise inaccessible areas, or to openings surrounded by dense cover that you might see on an aerial photo.
Most hunters do their scouting and location preparation prior to season and mature bucks don’t have the thought process to differentiate between scouting and hunting and simply react to the sudden influx of human activity by avoiding the area or most often, turning nocturnal. Over molestation of an area during pre-season can totally shut down all daytime activity by mature bucks outside their secure bedding zones, negating any chance of early season success.
Then during the rut phases when mature bucks testosterone levels rise and they begin moving some during daylight hours they abandon their nighttime bedding to feeding area routines in search of estrous does, making most pre-season set-ups rather worthless.
Limit pre-season scouting to setting-up a couple trees for the first few days of season, and do it in a single day’s intrusion while using the same scent-free regiment you do when hunting. Make sure the locations have confirmed buck sign such as rubs, large tracks, or possibly active scrapes, and get out and stay out until you return with bow in hand.
Since well over half of the Pope & Young entries are taken during the rut phases, most scouting and tree preparation should be done during post-season while looking at sign left from the previous rut such as scrape areas, licking branches, rub-lines or clusters, converging runways, etc.
During post-season you can scout as often and prepare as many trees as you want without fear of altering fall movement patterns. The surrounding area and trees during the rut phases will also look similar to what you are looking at, indicating how much cover your set-ups will offer at crunch time.
4. Seasonal Timing for Rut Phase Locations
Hunting rut phase locations during the lull (between the first few days of season and the pre-rut) is a huge mistake because it will alter doe traffic during a time when mature bucks are primarily nocturnal.
In hchp areas realistic chances at mature bucks during the lull are extremely slim, but if you must hunt, have secondary locations where your entries, exits, and on-stand time will not in any way affect deer traffic in your rut phase hunting locations.
Another option may be to hunt with a buddy and mess up his area. If you must feel like your hunting and have no other options, hang a stand in your yard and pretend your hunting. Since all buck traffic during the rut phases revolves around doe traffic, rut phase locations should be left totally alone until then, so the doe traffic at them is not altered.
5. Tree Preparation
It is a cold hard fact that in hchp areas mature deer search for hunters in trees and unlike what is seen on TV and in video’s, they don’t stick around and wonder what you are once they see you, they immediately spook. This has a direct correlation on tree preparation and stand height. Setting-up too low, too exposed, and in inferior trees are common mistakes.
Early in the season trees offer foliage and background cover, negating the need to hunt high, but by the rut phases most trees have lost their foliage. When setting up a rut phase tree, go higher or pick a tree with a lot of wood in the form of crotches or large branches at your hunting height in an attempt to offer cover or get out of the deer’s peripheral vision. My preference is 25 feet or higher. This height will create poor shot angles and practicing and re-sighting from a similar height is advised.
6. Hunting Open Areas
Hunting short crop field edges are great if you want to look at deer or take subordinate bucks and doe’s. Unfortunately, if you’re pursuing mature bucks in hchp areas, this type of hunting is most often a waste of time. While big bucks are commonly taken along short crop fields on TV and in video’s, keep in mind where they hunt.
For consistent success in hchp areas you must commit to hunting locations that offer perimeter and transition security cover.
Most deer movements occur in the mornings and evenings, so of course that is when most hunters hunt. Mature bucks everywhere naturally have a midday movement pattern during the rut phases and it is a mistake not to occasionally try to take advantage of it.
Rut phase movements by mature bucks in hchp areas will usually be as follows: They will stage within cover or move into their secure bedding areas before first light and loiter or bed. If a doe passes, she will be checked physically or by downwind scent for receptivity, and if in estrous she will be pursued. If nothing of interest passes during the morning, utilizing the best available cover, they will scent check their core areas during midday (11am to 3pm) and either take up chase or bed down in a secure area until dark.
Unless with an estrus doe on her unpredictable route, a buck will transition through the best available cover when scent checking his core area, making vulnerable open areas relatively worthless as midday locations.
This midday movement during the rut phases is often a mature buck’s only point of vulnerability. Midday hunting is a boring yet lethal method that is often talked about, but rarely practiced. Many of my larger Michigan bucks were taken during midday.
- Daily Timing
During the rut-phases and whenever hunting at a mast or fruit tree, a common mistake are morning entry times. A mature buck will usually move into these areas before daylight and a just prior to daylight entry may spook the buck you’re pursuing.
All morning rut phase hunts and any small preferred feeding destination areas located within security cover should have very early arrival times. In such locations I’m always set-up and quiet at least an hour and a half prior to the crack of dawn.
In hchp areas overly aggressive use of tactics such as rattling, calling, scents, and decoys are common mistakes. Many hunters try to replicate what they see on TV and in video’s, assuming that deer everywhere behave in a similar fashion. The aggressive tactics seen on TV and in video’s may work great in managed or lightly hunted areas with multiple mature bucks, but not in hchp areas where mature deer rarely if ever hear those aggressive sounds. Keep noise tactics within the realm of believability for the areas herd composition.
While I have taken several mature bucks during the first few days of season with subtle sparring or calling sounds, my most consistent results have been during the rut phases.
Using cover scents that don’t fit the area or sex scents that don’t fit the time of season can lower the odds of an opportunity. For scents to work best, they must be used in moderation and during the proper time of season.
While I had success with decoys in Michigan in the early 1990’s, I don’t use in hchp areas anymore. It’s common for does to spook from decoys and when they do they rarely keep it a secret letting every deer within hearing distance know something is not right by snorting and pounding the ground. Since all buck traffic during the rut revolves around doe traffic, and bucks are primarily nocturnal prior to then, decoy use is not advised in hchp areas. Decoys have however worked awesome on my travels to states with low hunter densities.
In hchp areas most mature bucks likely have previous wounds and have heard or seen every trick in the book, making them very cautious when and if they respond to a tactic.
For tactics to work with any consistency, your location must offer perimeter and transition security cover, otherwise a buck will hang-up out of distance.
- Motion cameras
I am going to ruffle some feathers here since about every hunter likes to know what bucks inhabit their area and motion cameras are the best way of finding out. However using motion camera’s at your hunting location can be detrimental to success.
For those hunting hchp areas, think about this. A camera has to be set-up and checked periodically. This requires several intrusions at your hunting location and every intrusion will in some way will affect that locations traffic. If you have to use a camera, set them up in areas away from your hunting locations, not at them. Also in hchp areas, you better own a few because some will get stolen.
Last season I took a beautiful Michigan buck as a direct result of using a motion camera, but the camera was nowhere near any hunting location.
By far, the best pictures are those with you holding onto a set of antlers attached to the animal that grew them.
If any of these mistakes sound familiar, try correcting them and rack them up to the learning experience. When anyone including myself thinks they know it all, stagnation sets in and complacency takes over. Bowhunting is all about continuing to improve and bettering your odds of success.
Editors note: John Eberhart specializes in bowhunting heavily hunted areas and has 31 bucks in Michigan’s record book from 19 different properties and another 19 P&Y bucks from 13 different properties on 22 out of state bowhunting trips during Michigan’s gun season.
-There are thousands of hunters with several bucks in the record book but what separates John’s accumulative total of 50 record book bucks taken from 32 different properties from anyone else in the country is his were all taken from public and knock-on-doors for free permission properties without ever owning, leasing or paying a dime to hunt anywhere.
John also co-authored the books, “Bowhunting Pressured Whitetails”, “Precision Bowhunting”, and “Bowhunting Whitetails The Eberhart Way”. They are available at: www.deer-john.net