A Visit to Dunhams

Big Bob called me up yesterday and said that Dunhams was having a big sale and he wanted to go out and look at pistols and such. I didn’t have much else to do, so I tagged along.  Dunhams is new to the Greater Cincinnati market. Where Field & Stream was big on decor– kind of a BassPro Lite– Dunhams looked more like a bare-bones version of Dicks.  It was funny too:  just like every Dicks I’ve been in, Dunhams had guns and hunting in the back left corner with fishing and camping up the left wall and boots across the back.  Somebody is trying to be very Dick-like.

If you remember, I wrote a brief review of my trip to Field & Stream last spring. My chief complaint at the time were prices. Maybe I have passed the point of being a respectable curmudgeon and have fallen off the cliff into crankdom. In F&S’s case, I have been back twice since my initial visit and walked out empty handed.  When you compare prices to what can be had online, it makes it not worth the gas.  Save a very few sale items, I found the prices at F&S were remarkably high.

The same goes for Dunhams.  A Bushnell scope I know well was stacked on the counter marked at roughly twice what I paid for it last winter.  .223 ammo was around twice the price I was expecting. I ended up buying a box of 12 GA #6 squirrel loads.  They were on sale for $7.

Unlike Field & Stream, Dunhams had a fairly decent assortment of oddball rifle ammo.  They had 35 Whelen and 45-70 and even 204 Ruger.  The prices however, were exactly equal to the every day price of my favorite family gun store, Hibberd’s in Cleves.    I know.  Bob and I went there immediately after leaving Dunhams in Harrison, and I felt I needed a reality check.

Credit where due:  The counter staff at Dunhams was more knowledgeable and evolved than the average counter monkey.  Bob and I both got serviced immediately, and they did not try to impress us with their knowledge.

One other thing, and this matches my impressions of F&S:  The place was packed, but  the check out counter staff were bored.  There were two clerks.  One did not have her register open and we still breezed through.


Ten Year Anniversary

It was August 2004. My job was stagnant. The solder factory was up for sale, and all my big projects had been put on indefinite hold. I did not have much to do, but the company still needed me and the pay was good. I just had to figure out how to stave off boredom. I went for long drives at lunch, and I thought about things. On the homefront, we had purchased the farm a few years earlier, and I had done a lot of rehab on the place. With two sons poised on the brink of being suburban mall rats, I offered them an alternative: deer camp as a lifestyle.


I had always wanted to be an outdoor writer, but I really could never fit the mold. My stories were not about gear. What I wanted to write was about the process of becoming a hunter and about founding a camp on my own. I had been adding pages to my website (www.blackholecoffeehouse.com), but the format was just not what I needed. Then I heard about blogging.

The story I tell is exactly how it happened. I’d been out driving at lunch, and had this epiphany about how Jesus must have figured out who he was and what he was supposed to do. It kind of fit where I was at that point in my life. I came back and looked around for clues as to what to do next. There were instructions for starting a blog on one of my screens and a post about Genesis 9:2-4 on the other. It did not fully make sense to me at the time, but I figured I would go for it and see what happened. Ten years down the road, I realize it still doesn’t make sense to everyone, but it has to me.

What have I learned in the past decade:

1) Deer and turkey hunting are activities that are grossly over-merchandised. Bass fishing and golf are more so, but so much of the cargo meant to lure hunters is so needless.
2) There are no invisible rays or unseen forces at work. Anyone who is trying to tell you different is trying to sell you something.
3) The only thing better than deer hunting and turkey hunting is doing it with your kids. Watching them take a deer or a turkey IS better than doing it yourself. Back in 2001, I was out with Mooseboy and told him that this might be true, and I was itching to find out. My last son stopped being a “Yute” this year and will hunt as an adult this fall. I am here to tell you it is true, and I cannot wait until my grand daughter can start going out with me.
4) You cannot hunt when you are cold or hot. Learn to make yourself comfortable. I used to have to will myself to stay on a stand 2 hours, and I was miserable after the first hour. Now I can sit for 4 hours and I am sorry to get down and attend to the matters of being the patriarch of deer camp.
5) If you want to hunt deer , find a place where deer  are and hunt them there. Do not try to hunt them where they are not. That sounds stupid, but a good number of the questions I field from  hunters are trying to lure them or somehow manipulate the deer’s behavior. This is a fool’s errand.
6) Anything you see on TV is fake. It bears no resemblance to real hunting.
7) Everyone wants to learn master techniques and expert lessons. Nobody really wants to spend time learning the stupid beginner lessons. Those tips from the master are there to sell you something. The stupid no-brainer things are what gets you a deer.
8) Bathe.
9) Big bucks need a lot of calories. They need to roam to find the food that gets them the calories. Doe are easier to please. Please your doe. Make them happy and then use them for bait. The big guys come.
10) I have hunted deer with just about everything out there, except a pistol. I meant to do a pistol, but I got side-tracked and put that project on the shelf a long time ago. Challenge? Risk? Who besides the poor deer really is at risk? You want a challenge? Try being patriarch of a deer camp. Just try to fill your tags with clean shots and leave the risk at home.

Back in the early 80′s at the dawn of my deer hunting career, I was talking to Jay Bond, proprietor of Bond’s Archery in Burlington, Kentucky. I was trying to gather secrets from a master bow hunter. In those days, there were a lot fewer deer, and it was hard for me to tell if there were any deer to hunt. I asked Jay how he knew. Jay said that he could tell if a deer had recently walked through freshly fallen leaves. I asked him how. Jay said that he just knew. I thought he was being obtuse.

I was out scouting recently, and I passed an opening in a cedar thicket, and commented to myself that a small herd of deer were using this spot to cross. I caught myself and thought of Jay Bond, and realized he was right: you really do just know. I cannot tell you exactly what got me looking at that patch of ground. If anything, it was just that the grass and forbs were not as high or as healthy as one I had seen a few yards before. It comes from 30-some years of hunting. You just know.

As I finish this off, I am looking through the shamanic magic mirror.  This month is yet another record month. Y’all read over a thousand more pages than any other month. Most of you are still finding me as part of web search, and a lot of you are coming by way of my usual haunts like 24HourCampfire, D&DH, and T&TH, but a growing number of you are showing up from places I have never been.  I guess that means the word is getting around, and I am gratified and honored to have you here.  You are also coming back more, you are  staying a good long time, and reading several pages every visit.  Thank you. I appreciate your appreciation.



The Status of Shamanic QDM

At our camp, we have no particular standards. This is the first year we will all be adults– my youngest turned 16. I think it is rather goofy to have kids passing on less than ideal deer unless they choose to do so.

I know there is a lot of stuff out there about QDM and such, and I am not saying it is complete hokum, but there needs to be some sense of proportion. It used to be that I really thought I was doing the right thing by trying to kill doe and eschewing smaller bucks. However, in the 13 seasons I have been on the plot, my ideas have changed. It may be heresy to y’all, but hear me out.

Remember as you read this that I have 200 acres. QDM catechism states you need 300 acres as a minimum. Additionally remember that there may be as many as 3000 hunters that hear my shot on the Opener– that’s about 1 hunter per 4 acres. We have no more than 4 hunters on 200 acres.

1) To me, the secret to big bucks on my size plot is making the doe happy. I do a lot of habitat improvement, and I try to give my resident doe a place to raise their fawns in peace. Then I turn around and use them for bait come fall.
2) The big buck I spy today may be in another county by next weekend. Big bucks roam on a range much larger than my 200 acres. My plot is really too small to successfully manage antlers without putting up a high fence.
3) Taking doe is fine, but taking the matriarch of a herd is detrimental. They are the ones that make the decisions on where to go and what to eat. I don’t want to exterminate them or honk them off. After I have hunted my 1 buck (all KY allows) I go hunting for 1-2 doe. I try my best to take the younger females. If I screw up and take a button I don’t worry too much. They still taste good.
4) I never think about thinning or culling or that sort of thing. We are in a zone that is very liberal; we can take as many antlerless deer as we want, but only 1 buck. There is going to be no more than 15 deer on the property at any given time. 1 may be mature buck. It matters not a whit what I choose to shoot this year. Next year, the deer will replace themselves from the surplus that surrounds me, and I have no control over what comes in.

My personal goal was always to hold out for a buck that is bigger than any I’ve previously shot. Then in 2007, I shot a real monarch, and realized it might be the biggest one I ever shoot. Since then I have had to revise my standards:
1) I still try to shoot one bigger than what I killed the previous year.
2) If I burn my buck tag on a wounded deer (2005) I count that as a reset. Ditto if I eat tag soup (2012) or only take doe (2010).

As to the rest of our camp,  [i]Der Bauernhof am Loch im Ende des Stumpfes[/i]:

Moose? He has never passed on a spike. He says he would like to take bigger, but somehow the gun goes off and . . .
Angus? Angus is the uber-sportsman. He shot his first doe in 2009 and then passed on numerous deer until he got a nice buck. He is willing to go the whole season, waiting for the right set of antlers.
SuperCore? The man is a machine. He will drop two in one outing, but age is creeping up on him and the memory of cleaning two deer in a day is making him think twice.

One last thing: I really had to scratch my head back in 2012. I let a nice 10 pointer pass on the Muzzleloader Opener in October, and then ended up with tag soup in rifle season. I realized in retrospect that the reason I passed was that I enjoy the whole Deer Camp scene in November and I did not want to screw it up burning my buck tag. I’ve passed on nice bucks before, but this was a wake-up.

As I commented later:
Still it was funny how passing on the one last year kind of forced my hand this year. The year before that, I had a buck-of-a-lifetime come through just at the edge of my range, and I had held fire, because I did not want to risk anything but a good shot on such a fine animal. You string enough of those passes on your belt, and you start getting into Buck Fever territory. That is another subtlety of the sport they don’t teach you. You can only be picky for so long before you and the rest of camp stop thinking of you as the ultimate sportsman and start thinking of you as Nervous Nelson.[/quote]

From: And So It Ends Again


O.D. and the Squeaky Toy

There are little white country stores up and down Route 10 all the way from the Ohio River to . . . well, frankly I have never been past Germantown on Route 10, however, I suspect there are stores like that all along the length of the road as it winds through the Trans-Bluegrass. I used to favor the one at Lennoxburg, but after Jake retired, I have been trying others. It is a lot like finding a new church; you visit around a while until you find a place that is comfortable.

Deer Hunter with Squeaky Toy

Deer Hunter with Squeaky Toy

All these stores are the same and yet quite different. They may look fairly modern on the inside until you look down and see floors that were laid during Grover Cleveland’s administration. Some serve franchised frozen pizza or broasted chicken. Most all have a little dust on their soup cans. They can all be counted on for a quick baloney sandwich. I look for one with a wood burning stove and a few metal lawn chairs, and at least a few deer heads hanging on the wall. You will know I do not mention establishment names. The reason is that I do business in all of them from time to time, and I want to stay on good terms with the proprietors.

The current one I favor is close to camp. We came to it after O.D. was thrown out of another one. You know already about O.D. and his brothers, so I will not go into the whole lineage. I was not there for the incident, but I know O.D. has a real knack for suckering people into stories. He will wait until a stranger’s back is turned and then say something outlandish to get them hooked and then rely on the help of his confederates to reel them in. In this case, he overheard a customer ask about the vegetable soup.

“I tell you I had a bowl of that soup last week.” said O.D. like he was talking to the other guys. “Back then, the green ones were the stronger swimmers.” The prospect changed his mind on the soup and left the store in a hurry. The owner tossed O.D. out. The rest left in sympathy. I showed up a few days later and commented on all the empty chairs. I got told off, and I am biding my time before I venture back. Well, at least I was.  I have heard since that the store is closing and they owner is looking for a buyer.  It took a while for the whole flock to settle on a new roost. This new one has a chair that favors my back.

I came by a while back and O.D. was already there with his poodle. Now you may wonder how a dog gets to sit in with us, and you may wonder why a guy like O.D. would own a poodle. However, the dog and the man are sort of a package deal. The poodle is a standard/toy mix and so comes in about 40 lbs. She’s sturdy and wickedly smart. O.D. acts like he ignores her, but you can tell the two dote on each other. O.D. swears she is the best squirrel dog he ever owned and does a fair job running down rabbits as well.  He also claims she calls deer for him.

The dog has her eccentricities. For instance, she keeps a squeaky toy with her at all times. She gently cradles the toy for months on end, and then one day she will get it in her head and tear it apart in minutes. Whoever has O.D. holding court in their store knows to keep a small supply of dog toys handy. The toys have varied over the years. One February, it was a paper valentine that O.D. gave his dog. Another time she favored a blue bandana, but usually it has to have a squeaker in it. The current one is a plastic Santa Claus.

It was getting on towards Noon, and a fellow drove up in a fancy 4-wheel drive truck with camo panels on the hood and sides. There was a $20K ATV in the back, and all sorts of white hunting decals filled the back window. O.D. motioned with his eyes as we all sat talking; we all scoped the guys out. You could tell O.D. was planning something.

The two men, in their knee-high lace up boots and Under Armour shirts and $300 Fart-lok suits, came in and started straight back for the deli case. The proprietor followed them and talked them into corned beef sandwiches. While the sandwiches were being made, the two hunters roamed the store, browsing. This store, like many has a small hunting and fishing section. You have to be careful in places like this. Some of the stuff does not turn over real fast, so the plastic worms you buy may crack and crumble when you try to put them on your hook. However, the ammo turns over pretty rapidly, as does the turkey calls. O.D. caught one of the guys thumbing through the deer calls.

“Now, you may not believe this,” said O.D. to his friends, ” but I have seen this dog call deer.  She takes her squeaky toy out when we’re hiking about, and while I’m resting she’ll get out away from me and hit that squeaky toy-”  O.D. paused and then added   ” Show the guys how you call deer.”  Babette is very jealous of her squeaky toys.  A man might draw back a bloody stump reaching for one. O.D. is the only human that can touch it, and Babette only lets him,because he carries it for her in his pocket when they are traveling.  O.D. reached down with his hand and Babette responded as she always does, growling and snapping and mouthing the toy so it would squeak.

“Call the deer!” said O.D.  “See that?  That’s just what she does, and I borrowed it from her last week of season last year and I tried it out.  It worked for me too. ”  He then snatched the toy up from the dog and started hitting on hit like it was a fawn in distress.  “Big buck came trotting up behind me, and caught me on my blind side.  I put the toy back down, and this buck came in and  stole the damn thing!   I look up and see this buck with a squeaky toy in his mouth and there he goes ‘SQWEEEEEKEEEEE !   SQUWEEEEEEEEEKEEEEE!    ‘  Running through the woods like a Jack Russell Terrier.   I could not believe my eyes.”

“What happened?” I asked.  O.D. almost had me sucked in now.

“Well, ” said O.D.  ” I could not get a shot at first, but eventually he started to tire, and he stopped and laid the toy down to catch his breath.  I put the B.A.R. on him and nailed him– didn’t go more than 10 yards before piling up.  That was that 6 pointer y’all saw.  He looked bigger when he was on the hoof; that rack was a fooler– only six points.  I would have thought it was eight.”  He dropped the squeaky Santa back to the floor and the dog growled menacingly and began guarding her toy again lovingly.

We all started talking about the buck, and managed a glance at the two guys waiting on their sandwiches.  Sure enough, the one went over to the other and pointed our way.  They went over to the little rack of stuff next to the dog food and found a squeaky pork chop an a big-eyed squeaky frog  and put them on the counter next to their sandwiches.  They made sure they didn’t look over at us until they were just leaving.  One finally did acknowledge us and mumble something about having a nice day before walking out.

O.D. waited until the door shut before saying, “And that Gentlemen is my work for today! I think Charlotte’s cooking something good for lunch. ”   He reached down and grabbed the dog’s toy, shoved it in his pocket and got up to leave.  The dog followed in perfect rhythm so that it would not appear O.D. was holding the door for her.  They hopped into the truck and left.


Hornets in the Garden of Stone.

The Garden of Stone is a place at deer camp where we’ve been killing deer like crazy since 2008. It is a 200 X80 yard long pasture. My big luxury box, Midway sits at one end and my favorite treestand, Campground sits at the other. Deer come out into the middle to feed. The name, Garden of Stone, comes from the fact that I started putting a small rock next to where I’d shoot a deer so that I could pace it off later. Pretty soon, there were stones all over the mid-section of that pasture.

The Garden of Stone

The Garden of Stone in 2009

The guy who hays our fields has been a little remiss the past couple of years and let blackberries grow in a couple of spots. They sprouted from all the deer poop. This past Saturday, Angus and I went out to mow down the worst of it and set up some shooting lanes.

I was out on the Cub Cadet. Angus was armed with a 21″ Snapper self-propelled. I had him on the blackberries at the other end of the field. All of a sudden I saw Angus come past me at a dead run. He was running about as fast as I have ever seen him.

It turns out Angus had run over a hornet’s nest in the blackberries. He said he knew he was in trouble when the mower ran over something that nearly stalled it out and a huge plume of wasps came shooting out the discharge. He dropped the mower and ran. I went back to check. These were what appeared to be bald-faced wasps, beefy black suckers with yellow markings. There was a cluster of them the size of a softball swarming on the throttle control, and stinging the heck out of everything else on that mower. The nest was cut in two and sticking out the front of the mower. Miraculously the boogers had not touched Angus. I’m sure if he’d tripped or stopped to swat them, he’d have been dead.

We just left it there until evening. I came back with the truck. I used a grapnel on a 25 foot cord to snag the handle of the mower, then tied the cord to 50 feet of rope and the other end of the rope to the back bumper. Angus then put the truck in gear and gently towed the mower to safety. At first the hornets got mad and attacked the mower, but we left it alone about 30 yards from the nest and came back after dark and got the mower.

After separating the mower from the nest, I made sure the windows were all rolled up and proceeded to run over the nest repeatedly with the truck. That caused a cloud of hornets. Some of them stung the windshield and windows, filling them with globs of yellow goo. We then drove a half-mile back to camp and left the truck parked away from the house. A few hornets followed the truck and buzzed the house, but left us alone. When we went back, the cloud of insects was gone.



Deer Intelligence and the 4-way Stop

I have tried to answer the question “How Smart are Deer?”  for most of my hunting career.   I know they can’t be THAT smart.  However, the thought has been rolling around in my head since I did that last piece about Ken Nordberg.    I was on my way to work this morning, and I saw something that provided me some insight. I wish I had been aware enough at the time to have taken a video, but I was well down the road before I realized the significance of what I had seen.

During the week, I stay in town on the north side of Cincinnati. I grew up there. The place is inundated with deer. They are starting to allow a limited amount of bow hunting, but the boogers keep breeding at a rate far beyond the rate that the cars and the hunters can stem. Most days I have at least one close encounter with one or more deer.  They may be in a neighbor’s yard, crossing the road in front of me, or standing in my own yard staring at me.  I have been here nearly a half-century, and I can remember when finding a deer track in the woods was rare treat.  Now they are about as numerous as the dang squirrels and rabbits.

One place I frequently see deer is where my little Cul-de-Sac crosses the main road.  It is a simple 2-laner running through a margin of farm-turned-to-suburb on the edge of town. .  Speed limit is 35 MPH. There are a few stop signs to break up the flow. Traffic is brisk during morning and evening rush, stacking up 2-3 cars at the signs. The deer have always been using a corridor about 100 yards to either side of my road to cross the main road.  What I realized is that the path they are using has become increasingly compressed.  For the past couple years, they have  been concentrating their crossings closer to the corner.  This morning I finally figured it out:  they are using the crosswalks!

I came up to the 4-way stop in my truck.  The matriarch of the 4-deer herd was already across, standing at the  left hand corner on the far side. Two daughters and a fawn were on the near side, next to me. They crossed the main road in the crosswalk to my left and then waited to see what I was going to do before crossing in front of me on the other side, following the lead doe.  I realized as I was watching this that I had seen nearly the same thing happen last night as I was coming home, but I had pulled through the intersection before seeing the matriarch cross the second time.  KYHillChick sees them doing this.  Angus sees them crossing there going to and from school.  It is not just this herd either.  We have seen others and we have also seen solitary bucks.

The crosswalks have been there probably 50 years, but it was only about 3 years ago that they finally put up stop signs.  Before that, it was kind of a free-for-all.  One old guy had volunteered as a crossing guard back when we first moved into the neighborhood some 40 years ago, but he died during Reagan’s first term.  The traffic has gotten progressively thicker over the years.  The city finally broke down and threw up a 4-way stop.  The deer have adjusted.  I’m sure they do not read signs, but they are pretty car savvy. What is really remarkable is that they never cross diagonally.  It is always within a few-feet of the crosswalk, and they always stop and look both ways. They also treat the crossing as a two-step operation.  You would think these beasts would just scamper to the other side in one swell foop.  Nope. The crossings are fairly meticulous.  I’ve seen parts of several.  This was just the first time I saw it all happen in one session.

I think part of what kept me from seeing the profundity I was witnessing was the matter-of-fact way they went about it.  These deer have recognized some benefit inherent in crossing at the crosswalk.  Mind you, everywhere else, the deer in our neighborhood are notorious jay-walkers.  They could care less about where they cross the pavement, or whose yard they trespass.  They do not seem to give a wit about anything. Dogs do not bother them. Pedestrians do not faze them.  I watched a lady with a yappy dog try to shoo some out of the way the other day and the deer were not budging.  Something got them focused on this particular intersection. What is even more odd about all this is there is another 3-way stop with a flashing light 300 yards down the way.  That one has been around longer than 40 years, and the deer have never shown the slightest interest in that crossing.

Deer are not like people. I do not for an instant mean to anthropomorphize them.  However, I find it interesting that these deer have empirically witnessed the effect on the cars’ behavior at the new stop signs in this location, and they have exploited the crosswalks as a result.  I report this to give you an idea of what we are encountering in the woods.





The Doctor, the Shaman, and the Elephant

Before I go any further in this endeavor, I want to commend Doctor Ken Nordberg and his son John. Their efforts in the field of deer hunting are exemplary– Ken for his body of work and John for his effort to make Ken’s work available online. The only “gentle nudge” I can make to John is to hurry up and make all  the out-of-print almanacs available again in .pdf format.

The Blind Monks and the Elephant

The Blind Monks and the Elephant

Back a long time ago when your shaman was at shaman school, the teacher gave us a book that contained the story of the blind monks and the elephant. The monks stumbled on the elephant and began to examine it.  The result was one monk finds the tail and says the animal resembles a rope.  Another grabs the trunk and says it is a powerful snake. Another starts feeling a leg and says it is a tree trunk.

I look at Ken and myself as two of the monks. He has spent the bulk of his time up in Minnesota tracking big bucks in the North Woods. I have spent most of my hunting career in the Ohio Valley, and for the last 13 seasons a single 200 acre plot in the Trans-Bluegrass of Kentucky. Deer Hunting is a vast subject, and I have grown to respect Ken’s body of work. I was reading him early on in my career, and I stumbled on his website a while back. I can look back now and see influences. I can also see where we have touched the same part of the elephant at times.

Dr Ken Nordberg's The Whitetail Hunter's Almanac 1st Edition Front Cover

Dr Ken Nordberg’s The Whitetail Hunter’s Almanac 1st Edition Front Cover

The Internet has really opened things up for deer hunters. In the past, we had to rely on a few limited and biased sources for information:

  •  Our peers and mentors– If Uncle Fred was listening to a football game when the big buck came out in 1956, it might be that you would be hunting with an AM radio turned down low in the 1980′s. Don’t laugh. I read that suggestion back in the early 80′s.  Ditto for smoking flavored pipe tobacco, hunting over a small campfire and other superstitions.
  • Magazines –  Frankly, magazines are there to sell magazines and sell what their advertisers are hawking.
  • Books — Don’t get me started on the hooey I have read about deer hunting in hardcover books.

My point is that the Internet has given us a chance to compare notes.  I see something. I write about it in an online forum.  Somebody tells me they have seen the same thing. Somebody else says we are full of beans. . . this is terrific for deer hunters. Finally the blind monks are starting to talk to one another.  In Doctor Ken Nordberg’s case, I am attempting to stand on his shoulders.

Why Adult Deer Easily Spot You– check out this article!

Why Adult Deer Easily Spot You, from October 2006 is a great example of all the things I want to explore in Doctor Nordberg’s work. Some of the piece is dead-on in my view. Some of it is colored by Ken’s bias. Some of it is probably dead wrong. However, even at his worst, Ken is giving a cogent view worth reading.

Let me tear down the fallacies first, and get the nit-picking out of the way. Orange is not black to a deer, nor is it white, gray, or invisible. If you go by the latest actual research on deer, deer are what is known as Red-Blind/Protanopic– they have a deficiency of red receptors in their eye in comparison to the human eye. As a result, they see hunter orange as something akin to the yellow of a freshly turned sugar maple. Compare this doctored pic to the pic of Katy on Ken’s site.

Ken's Katy at her stump

Ken’s Katy at her stump

Is Ken wrong?  Ken bases his assertions about deer learning about hunter orange from hunting in a northern wilderness with low deer density.   I would not toss out what Ken is saying.

Is hunter orange a dead giveaway? No.  I switched from the minimum hunter orange Kentucky allows (solid vest and hat) to a full orange clown suit a few years ago, and I did not see  a decrease in sightings. Do I wear a full face mask? No, I did, but I found that with my eye glasses that fogging was a problem. I switched to a solid green wool balaclava over a decade ago. It exposes my eyes nose and mouth, but that is it.  I was wearing one for every one of my big bucks. Are deer getting smarter? No, but individuals do learn, and the longer they live the more they learn.  Old doe and old bucks are very savvy critters. However, there are things that keep them huntable:

1) They have no culture. Deer do not gather around the campfire and listen to the old ones. I have seen younger deer disobey a matriarch that was snorting wildly and go check out what was up in the tree. I have also seen deer completely ignore a snorting matriarch and nibble acorns in apparent bliss. In both cases, the snorting matriarch had seen me kill her mother and her son in previous years. She knew me. I knew her.

2) Deer get stupid.  All my big bucks were shot during either the Rut or the False Rut in October. I have had a buck with a nice  rack approach me on the trail like he had romance on his mind. I have also been bald-faced busted by a mature buck and gotten him to go back to feeding by barking at him like a squirrel. Deer have their moments, but they are not geniuses.

3) I believe we anthropomorphize deer waaaaay to much.  I am convinced deer have a totally alien view of life and death, their own mortality, and what it is to be predator and prey. As a result they do not act as we do. If you follow me on the D&DH forum, you know this is a pet subject.

Now that I have torn down everything Ken wrote, let me build it back up and start to agree with him.

Hunter Orange is not an impediment, at least not in my experience.  Mind you, I hunt in a portion of Bracken County, Kentucky that is radically different from Ken’s Minnesota woods. Mine is a mix of field and woods– mostly fallow farms.   On the opener, we can average 3 shot-strings per minute in the first 4 hours of hunting.  I’m going to take a wild stab and say there might be a hunter every 4 acres of  19 square miles worth of earshot in the first half-day of the Opener. There are also a lot of deer– maybe 45 per square mile, but I’ve heard higher numbers cited.  We also never have snow of any significant amount in the Ohio Valley in November, so there is a lot less contrast in the woods. Suffice it to say that Ken and I hunt in very different places. Even though deer get shot at from every quarter in rifle season, I have seen them look through a 2X4′ solid orange curtain at close range like it was not there. It was up a tree and it was not moving.  I have also seen them get into a frenzy at 200 yards when a gust of wind blew a corner of a camo blind. It is more about movement than color.

The most important thing is this, and on this Ken and I agree:  at our camp we pack our outer layers in, we get in the woods early, we try not to be obvious in our ingress. We sit instead of stand. We prefer to sit in trees, and we try not to be obviously silhouetted against the sky or the ground behind. We try to break up our human form.  I use ponchos on my own body , camo skirts around my treestands and burlap or die-cut camo in front of my ground blinds.

The deer? They are different too.  My deer are used to constant contact with humans.  Ken’s deer might run at the sight of a human. Around my ridge, the deer are constantly exposed to humans, dogs, farm machinery and automobiles.  I prefer to accentuate that rather than try to fight it.  I make myself available to the deer every chance I get through scouting.  If one confronts me, I talk to her like a neighbor or a tenant. Deer will often stand and listen. There is only a few weeks a year when that relationship changes, and it is too late for the deer to notice the difference. On the way back from Roosters one night, I was picked up by a sheriff’s deputy who thought he had a potential DUI.  I don’t think he ever bought the story that I had stopped to converse with a herd of doe, but I blew  totally clean on the Breathalyzer, so he let me go.  I’m sure the headdress and turtle-shell rattle assured him I was an upstanding citizen.

About the same time, (October, 2006) that Ken published his article on how deer spot you, I was setting up NewStand, a 15 foot buddy stand overlooking Heartbreak Ridge.  KYHillchick, Angus, and the dogs were all out helping. Mid-afternoon, when we were at our sweatiest, two nice bookend bucks came by to watch.  I have a picture of them taken with a trail camera that same year.


These bucks stood around like a couple of kids at a construction site for about 10 minutes.  The dogs were quizzical, but did nothing.  We stopped work and watched.  The deer watched us for a bit and then sauntered off.

Now, did I get a shot at them in November?  No.   200 acres is a big plot, but it is small for two bucks.  We never saw them again.  Ken has an article on hunting big bucks. I do not want to get in Ken’s face. Ken is writing about his direct experience, and I figure it is dead-on as he sees it.

However, my guess is those two bucks left the property within a couple of weeks of our last sighting. By November, they might have been anywhere in the county or over in the next county.  With a lot of deer, there are a lot of mouths competing for food.  Bucks have a tremendous appetite. They roam.  I have heard 25 square mi. I have heard more. Our county is 41 square miles.  If you run some numbers assuming about a million deer in Kentucky, it means there is about 62,500 2.5 year-old or older bucks in the whole state or about 1.5 per square mile.  In earshot of my rifle on the Opener, there might be 30 and perhaps 63 in the whole  county.   How many 7.5 year old monster bucks? In our county, where deer outnumber people by a hefty margin there are probably 2.  That number assumes even distribution of deer across the whole state of Kentucky. In reality, along the Ohio River that number goes way up. So take a guess– 5? 10?  The problem is there are not all that many, and the chances of one showing up on my plot are small. At the same time there are probably 3000 or more rifle hunters that heard my shot.

Yes, we have had mature bucks take up residence for an extended time. The biggest we have had was The Chandelier. Back in 2008, everyone in camp saw it except me, until I was coming back from a scouting session at Midway in early November.  We bumped into each other  as I came around the corner going to Virginia about a half-hour after sunset.  We had a brief look at each other before he galumphed off into the gloom.  That year, all my neighbors were squawking about the monster buck, but no one ever shot him.  He put in a couple more appearances in our part of the county after that, but then he was gone.

Does my experience make Ken wrong? Does it invalidate his work?  No.  What I am saying is that there are times when the pursuit of an individual buck may make sense, but in a place like mine you are probably better off keeping the doe happy, giving them a nice place to raise their young, and then turning around and using them for bait come fall. Did that strategy nail the Chandelier in 2008? No.  Did I end up with a nice buck?

Shot For Just Being Ugly

Shot For Just Being Ugly

The whole story about that buck is here:  Shot for Just Being Ugly.

The fact that this guy was out there breeding doe and that I had another buck by my stand on the Opener tells me The Chandelier was long gone. We heard reports over the walkie-talkie about a monster cruising through. Under the circumstances, I thought the Mortimer Snerd Buck was a reasonable conciliation prize.  The day after, I got a photo of a nice 6 pointer going through, but after that  the bucks dried up. The best I can say is that I did the best I could.  For all I know that big one was hiding out in somebody’s flower bed in Milford when the shooting stopped that fall.

Does this make the elephant any clearer to you?  The point of all this is not to say Ken’s wrong and I am right. The point is to say that Ken is petting one end. I am petting the another.