Funnels and Deer Signs

When I was learning how to hunt deer, they always told me to look for sign and hunt the funnels. Deer signs were easy. They were big and yellow and they had a picture of a deer on them. In some places, the deer were shown just standing. In other places, the deer were leaping. You wanted to hunt the ones with the walking deer; they were easier to shoot. If you were lucky, you found one with a few big slug holes in it. That meant somebody had hunted that sign successfully. You wanted a fresh sign too– one that was all bright and shiny yellow and not some rusted old sign. Deer wouldn’t come to the old beat up ones.

Hunting a sign was easy. All you had to do was go into the woods a ways away from the sign and then wait for a deer to come through. The state had made it illegal to hunt too close to the signs. That was so it was sporting for the deer.

Funnels were a much harder thing to figure out. I looked for years for a funnel in the woods. I finally got a nice shiny metal one and put it up on a post. Sat by it for days– I did see deer, but they were always running away. I even tried hanging my funnel on a deer sign, but that didn’t work either. Trucks would come by and knock it off. I couldn’t understand what the whole thing was about funnels.

They told me I was stupid; store-bought funnels wouldn’t attract deer. You’d have to find one in the woods or make your own. Now how in the heck is a deer going to know which ones came store-bought and which ones are homemade? If I bought one and left it out in the woods over the wWinter to rust, could I then use it?

The more I thought about this whole funnel thing, it was just hooey. It wasn’t a proven scientific method like the Jon-E Handwarmer I always carried with the special Jon-E buck lure dispenser. However, that’s another whole story.

Deer Signs: they were a sure bet. But how did the deer learn to come to those signs? I tried making one and putting it out in the woods. That didn’t work. Mine was plywood, and the state’s was metal, but I couldn’t imagine the deer cared about that. After several attempts it finally dawned on me that there was something else going on.

Salt. You needed the salt. States put down salt to clean the roads of ice, and then they put out signs to show the deer where salt was being left. All that salt was going somewhere– it sure as heck wasn’t piling up. The deer were coming by and eating it. If you put out salt and stuck a big yellow sign over it, the deer would come to it. I tried salt with a sign, salt with a funnel, salt with a funnel and sign both. It didn’t seem to matter. Salt all by itself worked. You didn’t need the sign. I thought about writing the state to tell them they could save a lot of money on signage, but then I figured word would get out. Besides, they’d all called me stupid. Let them go rot by their stupid signs.

I’ve kept this as my secret until now. Now that I’m shooting deer on a regular basis, I thought I would just share it with you all. Ain’t it funny how dumb some hunters are? They go for generations thinking deer behave a certain way and it’s all something else entirely.

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Shamanic Guide: Take no load for granted

Never take a load for granted. This weekend was proof of that. I had two rifles out this weekend. These were slam-dunk no-brainers, that I had been putting off in lieu of some tougher loading projects. The fault was mine—these were problems I should have been discovering in June, not September.

The first was the Savage 99 in 308 Win. It’s the one I’ve been talking about recently.

The other was the Marlin 30-30. See Ode to a 30-30

I thought it was going to be a quick exercise. Fire a few rounds out of each, prove the rifles were still shooting where they should and put them away for gun season.

The first problem was the Savage 99. I couldn’t get it to group with last year’s rounds at all. I tried some from a batch I loaded last week, and everything smoothed out and I was back to MOA cloverleafs. What happened to this batch that had been on the shelf since last November is anybody’s guess. Oh well. I’m glad I had a fresh batch to fill the gap.

The Marlin was a bit different. This was a light 150 Grain / H4895 load. I’d used it for two years for #2. The H4895 made for minimal recoil. I had been shooting tacks with it last year. This year I added a crimp die. The theory was a light crimp with the new die would increase pressure only slightly and even out any variations. I had expected a more accurate rather than less accurate load. To test this hypothesis, I crimped some of last year’s rounds. Blech! The crimp had screwed everything up. It wasn’t until I tried three rounds out of a hot barrel that things finally settled back into a 1 inch group. Since there is no way to get a barrel pre-heated while deer hunting, this load is now on the re-work list. My next step is to knock a bit off the velocity and try again.

Moral1: Take nothing for granted. Test every load and every batch. When moving from batch to batch of a known load, make sure to take a sample of the previous batch along to test against the new one.

Moral2: Don’t put a good deer gun away at Thanksgiving and expect it to be shooting the same at Labor Day.

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More stuff of Dreams

I was talking with #3 son last night about our weekend, and he reminded me of an incident the morning before I heard the elk in the night. It got me to thinking. I’ve posted this on a couple of forums, and folks tell me this probably was a herd of elk.

Saturday morning (the morning before “Stuff of Dreams”) we were hunting squirrel at the back of the property. We have a campsite in the midst of a large grove of old oaks, and #3 son and I were just sitting atop the picnic table waiting for a bushtail to come out onto one of the limbs. The campground is astride a saddle. Deer bed frequently on one side of the saddle and move throughout the day across the top of the saddle to feed.

All of a sudden, I heard a weird noise coming from the cedars about 100 yards away and crosswind. It was most like a deer snort, but it was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. It was higher and whinier and had much less of a breathy quality to it. There were also a lot more calls than with a whitetail– maybe 10 or so over a short period of time. Figuring it for just a weird-sounding deer, I responded with a run of deer contact bleats. I called over about a 2 minute period. Nothing happened, so we went back to concentrating on squirrel.

About 5 minutes later. There was a huge (I mean HUGE) ruckous on our downwind. Branches flew every which way, saplings bent. Leaves were coming off trees, and there was a brief thundering of hooves downhill and away from us.

The pattern matched exactly what happens when a whitetail comes out of its bed on the East side of the saddle, encounters a swirl of human scent coming from our campground and then does an end-around towards the downwind side to get a better grasp of the situation. However, the size of the disturbance left our mouths hanging open. A bulldozer could have made less noise.

If you regularly have contact with elk and have hunted them this whole thing must have sounded pretty mundane. You have to understand, for a guy who was born and raised in the Ohio Valley, a free ranging elk in the backyard is as exotic as an elephant. This is on a farm only 63 miles from Cincinnati.

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Shamanic Guide: Why the poopy loads?

I loaded up a bunch of .308 Win for the Savage 99 yesterday. They’re light as 308’s go, they’re more like a hot 300 Savage. Why? Why not load these puppies up to the max? Why not hunt with a 300 WSSSSM or a SAUUUUUM?

Why? Why go to all that bother? Whitetail dear are not that hard to kill. The fact of the matter is that if you stay away from pushing the envelope, you do not have to worry as much about:

1) Recoil. It’s amazing what a 5% or 8% reduction from the maximum load does to recoil. Flinches are expensive to acquire and much more expensive to get rid of. I try to avoid the issue all together.

2) Expense. A lot of guys will tell you that you need premium bullets. I use Hornady now, and I used Remington Corelokts prior to that. I’ve never seen a deer that knew the difference.

3) Accuracy. Take any rifle, knock 5-8% off the maximum load and take it to the range. You can half the size of the spread in a hurry. This is a cheap quick fix to a lot of accuracy problems without the hassles of bedding, etc.

4) Safety. I’m an absent-minded professor type. I know I’m not the brightest star in the firmament. Do I want to trust my life to a guy like that loading the hottest possible loads?

I look at it a bit differently than most. To me, it’s a trade-off. I can cook hot loads that can bag a deer at 300 yards, and I’ll spend all summer at the range walking back and forth to the 200 yard backstop in the hot sun. Or I can cook up 50-150 yard loads and spend all September and October in the cool of the woods scouting for better spots to ambush deer. To me, a 25 yard kill beats a 200 yard kill– it’s certainly cheaper (in time, effort, and money), and to me it’s more fun. What’s more, I’m getting to know the deer a lot better.

Don’t think you have to have full-house loads with whitetail. Both my regular hunting ’06 rifles shoot reduced 165 grain loads. At 5-8% reduction from max they get very accurate. My .308 165 grainers are loaded to be nothing more than a hot .300 Savage (about 2600 fps). Using H4895, you can make very light shooting 30-06 loads that will be very accurate, cheap and fun to shoot, and they’ll still knock down deer.

So why didn’t I buy a 300 Savage? I’m just cheap, I guess. I fell in love with the Savage 99 last year. I will tell you that 300 Savage is the quintessential deer load, but there are few rifles being built for it anymore. On the other hand, everyone makes a 308 or a 30-06, and they’re the cheapest. I can also get cheap military brass for a 308 and enjoy years and years out of a set of those military case walls. In the end, I’ve got a slightly stronger rifle and stronger brass shooting 5 % off maximum load doing the same job a 300 Savage would be doing pumping it to the max and then some.

Here’s the recipe:

Take Nato 7.62 brass (this last batch was Lake City 88). EBay is full of these auctions. They’re stronger, but have less capacity. That’s okay. That’s a plus for what you’re trying. Tumble clean and then deprime and full length resize. It’s also mil brass. You’ll also need to swage out the crimp in the primer pocket.

Trim back to the minimum length the first time out for uniformity. You’ll hardly ever see these grow afterwards.

Use 150 or 165 grain SP bullets– Hornady Interlock or Remington Corelokts are fine. I orginally started with 150 grain Hornadys, but for some reason the Savage 99 did not like them. I had 165 grainers on hand and they worked just fine.

I’ve tried H4895, Varget, and BL-C(2). All performed well, but the Varget gave the smallest group. Start with the minimum load (-10%) and work up to where you’re pushing the bullet at just over 300 Savage velocity, and you’re getting a reasonable pattern at 100 yards. For me, the magic number was 2600 fps. If you don’t have a chronograph, figure it’s about 5-8% off the maximum.

Stop. Go no futher. Get away from the bench and go scouting.

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In Praise of Coopers BBQ of Llano, TX

Several folks have agreed with me on Cooper’s BBQ being a shrine of the Texas Style. If you’re hunting in the Texas Hill Country, this is THE place to go for bbq.

Cooper’s was the highlight of my trip to Texas. I got to eat ribs under the picture of W. I figure anyone who can claim Cooper’s as his favorite place to eat is the right man for leading the free world. I can’t get mesquite easily at home so I’ve been using red oak skid runners from work. It comes real close.

For those of you who don’t know Coopers, it’s this little BBQ joint in Llano. They have these huge pits fired with mesquite coals. They’ve got beef ribs, pork chops, prime rib, chicken and sausage all done up with a dry rub (mostly salt and pepper) and basted with a sop (beefbroth and vinegar). Everything gets dipped in the sop before being slapped on brown paper and put on your tray. You pay by the pound, and all the fixins are free.

http://www.coopersbbq.com/home.asp

I found recipes for a rub and a sop that come close, and I now do most of my barbeque that way– either on a new braunfels horizontal smoker or a weber kettle. One of these days, I’ll post the recipes.

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What’s that Freezer Suit?

I received some personal e-mail asking what the heck a freezer suit is and how to get one. I referenced it in that piece on ponchos. I worked for a frozen foods company, and regularly had to work out on the floor. Some of the plant was kept at 40 F , parts at -2 F and some parts were -20F . They sold suits to the employees based on your work environment. I was writing the database that tracked the purchases, so I knew just what I wanted.

Mens & Boys Suits Coats/Overcoats (mfrs)

Htc Incorporated 517-523-2167

4731 S PITTSFORD RD

Pittsford, MI 49271-9623

I checked 2 years ago and they still make these suits. If you called them tomorrow, you’d get one custom made before the cold hits. Whenever I wear this suit in public, I have requests for the address of the manufacturer.

These guys make a cheap freezer suit that is perfect for sustained working in -2 F and below. Mine was green oxford nylon– a perfect color for the woods. It had a set of bibs and a coat and a detachable hood. The whole thing ran me less than $120. I’ve had the suit for eight years, I haven’t worked at the joint since 1998, but the freezer suit still looks new. They’re built to wear like iron. It’s oxford nylon, so it’s a bit noisy, but with a cover-up or poncho over the top it’s perfect for late season deer hunting.

When it’s rifle season in KY, I can wear it under my orange poncho, and nobody sees but a small piece of the fabric below the knees. I have a skyline poncho for late season bow hunting and crow hunting. I pack the coat in in a duffel bag and only wear the bibs until I’m on my stand. Even then, I generally wait about 15 minutes to cool off until I don the coat and zip it up. From that point on, I’m toasty warm.

When it gets down below zero, I wear it to work, but I have to keep the windows rolled down in the truck to keep from overheating. It’s about on a par with a good snowmobile suit– warmer than most. I also have a snowmobile suit– it’s falling apart after a lot less wear.

The only thing I have against these freezer suits is that they are not meant for rain. They have no protection against water seeping through the outer shell. However, if you’re out in stuff below 20 F, your chances of encountering liquid water in any form are about nill, unless you want to wade a creek. Above 20 F, I’ve got a bunch of other clothes to wear.

In between uses, I keep my freezer suit in a duffel bag, packed in sodium bicarb to absorb odor.

Also remember that this does nothing for your hands and feet. Without good mittens and boots you’re still going to freeze something off. I also wear a heavy poly-pro balaclava to keep all but my eyes covered.

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Shamanic Guide: Some Basic Misconceptions

Before we go further with this beginner’s guide, please let me disabuse you of some of the common misconceptions held among deer hunters:

1) You cannot hunt just anywhere.

2) Always obey all the rules. The game warden can come on private land and arrest you

3) Hunter Ed is not for kids. If you have not taken it, do so.

4) Forget gimmicks. There is no magic recipe for bagging a deer

5) Most of what you hear from old timers is wrong

6) Camo is not a replacement for being a good hunter; A scent suit is not a replacement for watching the wind

7) Camping out over a scrape or rub is not the best way to get a deer



You cannot hunt just anywhere


A good part of this project will be spent telling you where to find a good spot to hunt deer. States determine when and where you can take deer on public and private land. Local municipalities may have stricter laws. Private landowners also have a say. Always make sure it is legal to hunt deer where you intend to go and always get written permission of the landowner. There is no such thing as “the land is not owned by anyone.”

Always obey the rules. The game warden can come on private land and arrest you

There is somebody watching. Over the years I have had a few occasions where I was glad the warden was not watching. I have never purposely counted on it.

The game warden can and does come on private land. As a matter of fact, I had my first meeting with a game warden just this Spring on my land. My wife saw him pull up. He got out, introduced himself to her and when he heard that I was hunting, he set off to find me. My son and I were coming in from Turkey hunting. My wife watched him put the sneak on us; he was quite good and got within less than 50 yards before we saw him. He was pleasant and polite, but managed to get all the important questions in nonetheless. In our 20 minute encounter, I produced both hunting licenses and tags.

The fact of the matter is that game wardens can go nearly everywhere in the outdoors they chose. The state gives them the right to do so. Anytime you hear from a landowner that no warden is ever going to set foot on his land and live you can be certain the landowner has no experience in these matters. Think this through: landowner shoots game warden in the back for simple trespass and then calls local police to retrieve carcass.

Yeah, right.

Hunter Ed is not for kids. If you have not taken it, do so.

In most states, first-time buyers of hunting licenses are required to show completion of a Hunters Education class. Some folks are grandfathered in and are not required. I was, and I did not attend in my first twenty years of hunting. I finally went with my son when he wanted his first license. It was a weekend well spent. I learned a few things along the way, and I had my head re-arranged on a few other things. This is not a waste of time.

Forget gimmicks. There is no magic recipe for bagging a deer

I have a collection of scents, calls, gizmos and decoys. I have had some success with many of them. None of them have ever seriously improved my chances of bagging a deer. This project will have discussions of all of these gimmicks. Suffice it to say that there is no shortcut to hunting deer. That is one of the things that makes it so special. Furthermore, the gimmick that worked at this time last year, may not work this year. There are more variables at work than you know at this stage of your development. Stick to the basics.

Most of what you hear from old timers is wrong

When I started hunting, it was common knowledge that the bucks sent the does out in front to scout out trouble. It was common knowledge that if you found a rub or a scrape, you had a buck well patterned. It was common knowledge that round-nosed cartridges were brush busters, and that you had to wait a half-hour after shooting a deer before pursuing it so that it would bed down and stiffen up.

It’s all wrong. Learn to trust your own senses and sensibilities.

Up until the past twenty years, most of what was written about deer hunting was based on less than scientific knowledge and less than vast experience.

There were not that many deer around years ago, and anyone who could remember a decent-sized herd was dead. As a result, a lot of anecdotal stuff worked its way into deer hunting culture.

If Uncle Jed managed to bag a deer once while cooking his lunch by a stump, Uncle Jed might think it wise to go out in the woods and cook soup in order to attract big bucks. Jed’s kids might do the same. If twenty years later, someone bagged another buck using the trick, the legend would be considered successful.

Camo is not a replacement for being a good hunter

Every maker of camouflage clothing wants you to believe that you will disappear using their brand of camo. Balderdash. There is a chapter in this book on clothing and camo. You cannot clothe your way to success. I have a few favorite patterns, but after 20 years, I recognize they are my favorites and not necessarily that of the deer. If you stay quiet, don’t move very much and stay downwind of the deer, you will be successful, no matter what you wear.

Activated carbon scent suits are no replacement for simple good hygiene and common sense.

Camping out over a scrape or rub is not the best way to get a deer

Rub activity starts as early as August. Scrape activity starts in October or November. Scrapes and Rubs are a good sign of wear a deer has been, not where he is going. A lot of deer activity is nocturnal—so is rub and scrape activity. If you see a rub line, you know you are on the right track. If you see a scrape, you are in the right neighborhood. That’s it.

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The Stuff of Dreams

As a shaman, I have to expect the world of dreams to regularly supersede mundane reality. It is just part of the job. Saturday night was no different. It was a wonderfully boring day at deer camp. I had done some touch-ups on the utility shed, done a little squirrel hunting with #3 son, taken a nap and done up a mess of ribs on the grill. I do Texas style beef ribs modelled after my memories of Cooper’s BBQ in Llano– W’s favorite.

I checked the web before turning in: nothing on Drudge. Weather.com was predicting no rain for a week for Cincinnati as well as our patch out on the northern edge of the Bluegrass in Kentucky. After a month of spending weekends on the road and a hard summer at work, this had been the ideal way to decompress. We turned in about nine—too early to actually sleep, but Girlfriend and I just lay about listening to the late summer night noises and eventually drifted off.

Along about 2 AM, that perfect lull ended. I awoke for no apparent reason from a sound sleep. As I lay in bed, I saw a flash of lightning. I figured it was car lights—remember, no rain for a week. Then thunder rolled out over the ridges. That’s odd. It just could not be. I waited several minutes. There were a couple more flashes. The cattle on the neighboring farms took to lowing. Then, it happened.

They told me getting stung by a hornet was like getting hit with a baseball bat. I’d heard that since I was in short pants. Sure enough, the first time I got stung by a hornet, I immediately knew what had hit me. They were right. It does feel like a baseball bat. I had watched outdoor shows all my life. I knew exactly what it was; it just took a long while to believe what I was hearing. It was loud, it was close, it was clear. It was electric. It was an elk– One bugle, followed by three chelps. My guess is that it was within a few hundred yards of the house, and undoubtedly on my land. I sat up and listened for more, but that was it. Barney was up and at the windows in the flash, but all he did was peer through the screen and listen as I had.

In a while, I went out on the porch and listened some more. The cows were still going off now and then. The lightning and thunder were intermittent. What I was listening for was now gone, submerged back into the ocean of the night. While I was up, I closed up the truck windows and put a few tools in the shed and locked it back up. When I went in I fired up the PC and checked the weather radar. Sure enough, a large thunderstorm was moving through about 5 miles to the south. Mount Olivet and Cynthiana were getting pummeled, but we would probably get no rain until much later. I went back to bed and listened for a while before drifting back to sleep.

We had one elk through here a couple of years ago, came through about 5 miles to the south sporting a tracking collar. A few people saw it, and then it was gone. Every year now, we send in our $10 to the elk lottery for a once-in-a-lifetime chance at one of the 10 yearly elk tags. The elk are coming—more counties are getting included in the Elk Restoration Zone every year. Outside the zone, including my area, deer hunters can take an elk without even burning a deer tag. They just need to alert the wildlife officer so he can come out and inspect the carcass before processing.

So there you have it. The stuff dreams are made of—an elk in the backyard.

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In Praise of Ponchos

Shaman in Poncho

Some hunters I know sound like girls from my Mom’s generation waiting for the Paris fashion shows. They blow big bucks when the new fall styles come out– tree bark is out . 3D Sticks and mud are in. Goretex? That’s so last year, Man.

I can’t say I was ever poor, but I have had little discretionary income to spend on hunting. My first hunting bow was bought used and I hunted with it for over ten years. I don’t spend a lot on hunting clothes. I still have a lot of clothes to hunt with however. Back at the dawn of my hunting experience, I couldn’t afford a full set of camo. I still don’t own a Goretex anything. What I do own is a few coveralls and a vast array of camo cover-ups and ponchos.

I have a fabric store up at the strip mall that has a small section of camouflage. When I was single, I got a few strange looks. Now I can drag the wife in as cover. I look over the selection for sturdy 100% cotton and buy 2 yards of the stuff. Years ago, I bought an old used sewing machine and I take the fabric home and sew it into a poncho. How do you make a poncho? Try this.

Start with a paper grocery bag. The magic of a poncho is in the hole in the middle. Everyone needs a different hole. Mine is a diamond shaped hole a little more than 6 inches across and a little more than a foot long. It’s narrower than my head, but it stretches out and slips over my noggen easily. The front half is a bit longer than the back half. I went through a few paper bags until I found the hole that worked for me.

Take two yards of camo material. Pin the hole pattern in the middle across and a few inches further forward than half way back to front. Cut out your hole. If you have a machine to sew it up, you’ll want to put a half-inch hem all the way around the outside and around the center hole. If you don’t have access to a machine, buy a pair of pinking shears and use them to make your cuts. The fabric store has them.

shamanic deer poncho

shamanic deer poncho

When you are stalking or walking to your stand, wear the poncho belted across the front and flowing free out the back. Belted, it won’t catch on much. If you wear a pack, slip the poncho over the pack. In your stand, undo the belt and let the poncho hang. It really breaks up your form. On the ground, you will become an amorphous cammo-covered blob when you disappear under your poncho.

Forget the $500 super quad goretex parka’s. I wear a cheap green freezer coat when it gets too cold. I can wear anything under the poncho and as long as the arms aren’t something too electric. Snowmobile suits are great too.

I use a poncho turkey hunting. It covers my hands nicely, so I can work a box call with impunity. When it rains, I wear a plastic poncho underneath. It keeps my rifle dry in gun season. It keeps the snow off my muzzle loader.

Sometimes I’ve tied the poncho between two trees and peaked through the hole. In a heavily hunted area, I’ve covered a deer carcass with it after tagging to keep it from being snagged by the next guy through.

All total, I have about a dozen ponchos. My Hunter Orange poncho is painful to see in the sunlight, but it gives me maximum visibility while still insuring that I remain a light-grey blob to the deer. Some are tree bark pattern. Some are sticks and leaves. I have one for tall grass. The best one (see the picture above) is a brown and orange and yellow splotchy-looking pattern that cost less than $2 a yard. For some reason it’s fooled more early-season deer than all the new 3-D stuff. I couldn’t figure it out until I used it as a tarp one day to cover my gear while I stalked on the ground in a light drizzle. Coming back in the fog, I absolutely couldn’t see the pile until I was standing on it. The camo pattern had taken on a life of its own as the folds of fabric had created ramdom shadows and bunchings and so forth.

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Shamanic Guide Forum

I have been dinking around with the Snitz forum software since January, and I decided this was as good a reason to bring it out. I have created a forum at

http://forums.blackholecoffeehouse.com

I would invite anyone to come and:

1) Let me know what you think

2) Let me know you’re out there

3) Pitch in and lend your wisdom on whitetail deer hunting.

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