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Opening Day

Excitement!  That is the word that describes every opening day of deer season and this year was no exception.  Not only was I excited for the general hunting season but every hunter I talked to experience the same emotion. 

Even though excitement can cause a hunter to think of nothing but how big the first buck he will take will be, there are other things to consider.  For instance, do I have all of my equipment?  What caliber will I use?  What will the weather be like?  Even more important, what will be on the menu for the opening day meal.  All of these things must be considered and they were. 

There are a couple of other things that I had to consider that were just as important.  Like, how many bowls of Stoney's chili will I be able to eat?  For those on the Big Creek Hunting Club lease who have never had the pleasure of eating a Donald "Stoney" McFarlin meal you are missing out on one of the real treats of opening day.  I often say that Stoney can season and grill a monkey and make it taste like a gourmet meal. 

I received a call from my uncle Joe who told me that Stoney was cooking chili and had the entire woods rejoicing.  I am normally a fast driver but after getting rave reviews about how good Stoney's chili was I added a little more cement to my foot pedal.  Luckily there was no interference from the police along the way.  When I arrived I quickly unpacked and headed straight for the pot of chili that seem to have my name written all over it.  I had the first bowl and could not believe how good it was so I had to have a second one.  The chili was so good that I even went back for thirds.  Once Quincy showed up and smelled how good the chili was, he fixed his bowl and dove in.  However, me being the gentleman that I am, I couldn't let him eat alone so I went in for bowl number four.  Now, imagine a cold night with a few bowls of spicy chili and a few glasses of red wine.  How could it get any better than that?

The second thing that ran through my mind was that our president, Bruce was noticeable absent.  Bruce is recovering from a foot injury and we all wish him the best.  However, opening day without Bruce is not the same.  Bruce's excitement and enthusiasm about deer hunting is contagious.  While we all had a good time we felt for Bruce's pain and we certainly felt his absence.  Bruce is the kind of hunter that you can sit down with and absorb his knowledge of deer hunting.  In fact, this was the first time in 20 years that Bruce missed an opening day at Big Creek; so you kind of understand the emptiness. 

With Bruce's absence the one thing that truly encouraged me was how he kept his spirits up and how he wished us all success.  That speaks volumes about his character.  His doctor has given him a target date of Thanksgiving weekend to be able to hit the woods and join his brothers in the hunt.  If you know the men of Big Creek then you know that that will be a great time of eating, drinking and hunting.  After checking the moon phases and the weather, it looks like there will be a lot of deer who will meet their end with lead poisoning. 

Even though we had a great time on opening day, the hunting was kind of slow.  This was mainly due to the moon phase.  However, I was able to harvest a HUGE doe Saturday right before sunset. 

All in all, we had fun on opening day even though we sorely missed our leader Bruce.  But there is still a lot of hunting left and I truly believe the best is yet to come.  With that being said, I have one question and one statement.  Stoney, what are eating for Thanksgiving weekend and Bruce we are ready to see you at camp. 

Whitetail Deer: How To Use Clues to Track the Rut

Pre-rut bucks prefer to make rubs on slender saplings of aromatic species such as sassafras and cedar. Photos by Lance Krueger

The rut is coming. We know that much. Whitetails will gather and breed, bucks will relax their prodigious survival instincts, and the odds of seeing and killing deer tip toward hunters. But the rut rarely tracks with the calendar across the country, or even within individual states. Weather, crop harvests, hunting pressure, doe populations, and other localized factors also determine what the bucks are doing where you hunt.

So the time stamps on these clues will vary depending on where you hunt, but the progression of rut behaviors is consistent across whitetail country. Observe what’s happening around you, and update your tactics accordingly. 


Clue: Scrapes are freshly worked and filled with tracks. Nearby licking branches are
recently tended.

Action: Bucks are working hard to attract does, but the females aren’t ready yet. Set up along deer travel corridors, funnels, and pinch points to wait out bucks on the prowl. Put out a small-antlered, yearling buck decoy to irk a dominant buck into bristling up and delivering a thrashing to the upstart. Action could come any time, but morning and evenings are prime.

Intensifying Rut

Clue: Scrapes are frozen over and crusted or dry and inactive.

Action: Plenty of does are in estrus, so bucks no longer need to freshen their calling cards. Quit the scrape and rub lines and instead hunt where the does have moved—to food—with the expectation that bucks will soon join them. Set up on inside corners of food plots, harvested grainfields, still-green hay meadows, clear-cuts, or other feeding areas. Alternatively, hang a stand back in staging areas leading to the feed.

Heat of the Rut

Clue: You see (or hear reliable reports of) bucks out cruising at midday. You see road-killed deer on the way to work.

Action: What are you saving that sick day for anyway? Get out and hunt now—all day. Bucks cruise in broad daylight when their testosterone is at its peak. Place a portable ground blind on the edge of an open field or pasture, and set out a doe decoy that patrolling bucks can see from a distance.

The rut’s progression follows predictable patterns, regardless of latitude or weather. Bucks, like the central Ohio bruiser at left, will begin the breeding season by tending rubs and scrapes. Evidence of increasing rut activity includes roadkill, which indicates deer are being stirred up by breeding frenzy. One key sign that the rut is peaking is the sight of bucks tending does in open fields, like the Buckeye State cornfield above.

Rut Lockdown

Clue: Overall deer movement is disappointingly slow to nonexistent. Your friends say the rut
is over.

Action: Actually, the rut is in full swing. Does are hot and the bucks are with them in cover. You’re only seeing this year’s fawns and yearling does because mama is on a secluded date with a new beau. Some will call this hunting tactic taboo, but now is the time to set up at the edge—or even right in the middle—of whitetail bedroom thickets and hideaways. Be prepared to wait all day.

Clue: Farmers’ combines gobble up fields of corn, soybeans, and other grains, leaving swaths of golden stubble.

Action: In most places, the corn harvest continues into November. A freshly cut field is dynamite: For a day or two the whitetails find it hard to leave their once-perfect sanctuary. And bucks with estrous does love to mill about or bed in the safety of the big wide-open all day. But after a day or two, deer feel vulnerable and will leave open fields at daybreak.

Storm Front

Clue: The sun fades behind lowering clouds—a storm is coming.

Action: As nasty weather approaches, whitetails go on the move: Does and fawns feed hard to stoke up as the barometer drops, and bucks follow to shop the local singles scene. Hunt the highest-calorie, quickest-reward food sources available—grain stubble, food plots, hayfields, cutovers, and burns.

20 Tips To Make You A Better Deer Hunter

Whether you’re a veteran buck hunter or a newbie heading to the woods for the first time, the tips below can help you see more success this season.

Tip 1
Human odor spooks deer. Shower with a scent-free soap before every hunting trip, and try not to contaminate your hunting clothes on the way to the field. Keep them sealed in a plastic container or bag with leaves, dirt and other ground debris from around your stand until you arrive at your hunting location.  Doing so will allow your hunting clothing to take on the naturally occurring scents that permeate your hunting location.

Tip 2
Most hunters think that doe estrous is the be-all and end-all of big buck attraction.  Though estrous is a wonderful tool, it’s simply that.  Wise hunters know that during the early-season it’s important to take advantage of a buck’s territorial instincts. The scent of an estrous doe during early October simply doesn’t make sense to a buck, but buck scent is always worth checking out.

Tip 3
During the peak-rut, try a drag rag soaked in doe estrous. Often a buck will follow the trail right to your stand.

Tip 4
Many hunters spray down with odor eliminator just after suiting up, and prior to the trek into the stand, but experienced hunters will bring an odor eliminator with them to the tree stand. After the walk to the stand, apply an odor eliminator to your body, paying special attention to your hat and hair.

Tip 5
When muzzleloader hunting in wet weather, a piece of electrical tape over the end of the barrel will keep out moisture. You simply shoot through the tape when it’s time to harvest that buck.

Tip 6
One of the deadliest scent set-ups defies the accepted rule of playing the wind. Locate a long strip of timber or cover with the wind blowing along the length of it (blowing from one end to the other). At the windy end, pour some deer scent at several areas, then set up high in a tree stand just on the edge of the timber. If you’re set up high enough, your human odor should flow above the deer.

Tip 7
Practice setting up and taking down your tree stand before the season, and do so low on the tree.  Getting into and out of your spot as quietly as possible is key to having a look at a good buck.

Tip 8
You don’t have to own your own plane, or even by an airline ticket, to check out aerial photos of your hunting area, and there are no better scouting aids than aerial photos. Just search Google Maps for your hunting area.

Tip 9
Avoid trimming shooting lanes and otherwise disturbing your hunting area during the season. The time to clear shooting lanes is during summer.  Wise old bucks can become conditioned to the smell of freshly cut timber, and begin to associate it with human predation.

Tip 10 
If some concealment is good, then maximum concealment is better.  Tree stand blinds help to fool the wary eye of a deer, and provide the added benefit of shelter from harsh winds.

Tip 11
You’ve got a buck on adjacent land patterned, but it doesn’t cross over to your hunting area until after shooting time is over. What to do? Try tempting the buck to come over to your side with a deer decoy or by calling.

Tip 12
Be sure to douse yourself with tick repellant when scouting during summer and early fall. Tick-borne diseases can shut down your hunting season, and you don’t want it to be over before it’s begun!

Tip 13
Don’t underestimate the importance of being able to get to your tree stand undetected, and don’t think that going in under the cover of darkness will help. Make sure to use a creek or curtain of forest to cover your entry.

Tip 14
Wash all hunting clothes in a non-scented detergent each time you’re heading to the woods. Keep them in a plastic bag until arriving at your hunting area.

Tip 15
Try making a mock scrape. First, put on surgical gloves to prevent human odor contamination. Using a stick, scuff the leaves off of an area about the size of a hubcap.

Tip 16
During the late season, scout for reopened scrapes in deep cover. Surviving bucks are reluctant to get in the open country, but still look for the last hot does in cover.

Tip 17
When there’s snow on the ground, look for leaves strewn across an area where deer have pawed for mast. If there’s still some mast around, that might be a good spot to set up and wait for the deer’s return.

Tip 19
You’ve taken the shot, now what? If you find brown hair and pink or red blood with bubbles in it, most likely you got a heart or lung hit. Brown hair and thick, dark-red blood indicates a hit too far back, possibly a liver shot. White hair and watery blood with stomach matter indicate a bad hit.

Tip 20
Most falls from the tree stand happen while climbing into or out of the stand. That’s why it’s important to always wear a full-body safety harness when hunting from a tree stand.

The more deer hunting myths debunked the better. That's a fact. This is my attempt to take down hunting's overused cliches, one fact-less myth at a time.

1. It Can’t Happen To Me: Nothing flips my switch more than seeing treestand hunters in deer camp who refuse to wear a safety harness. The usual excuse is, “It won’t happen to me.” Which is exactly what most accident victims told a Consumer Product Safety Commission task force formed to review data concerning accidents. The Commission reported that the average age of victims who fell or hung to their death in treestand hunting accidents is 44 years old. These were treestand hunters with up to 20 years of experience that got lazy and too familiar with the risks. In 75 percent of the deaths, the subject was not wearing a Full Body Harness. In this group, 55 percent were using climbing stands and 45 percent lock-on or ladder stands. Most treestand accidents occur when getting into or out of the stand or when putting up or taking down a treestand.

For the most part, hunters believe it can’t happen to them. Many believe that if they do lose their balance, they could quickly grab something to arrest their fall and regain their balance. Of course these assumptions are both wrong. While lock-on and ladder stand accidents are common, climbers account for a lot of accidents, too, primarily when a hunter fails to attach the top and bottom sections and then loses the foot climber. Another sure way to get into trouble is to attempt to level a stand while sitting in it. Not wearing a safety harness in a treestand doesn’t mean you’re a tough guy. It just means you’re stupid.

2. Smoke Em Up: I was in an Illinois archery deer camp one year and woke up thinking the place was on fire. Instead, the outfitter had built a bonfire out of old leaves and wood and had his hunters standing in the smoke. “The smoke will mask your odor and the deer will never smell you,” he said. “You need to try this. You can even hunt with the wind at your back and the deer won’t spook.”

What are you smoking? Those hunters never got a shot all week, but they did have several stories about deer they had seen that avoided their stands. Most whitetail hunters have no idea how well a deer can smell, and that they use their noses as their first line of defense—always. Make sure you follow a meticulous scent control program each and every time to head afield, and always hunt with the wind in your face.

3. They Can’t See Me: Don’t you love watching those cable TV hunting shows and seeing bowhunters all camo’d up in a treestand—except for their shiny faces and hands? That program will certainly work if the deer never look up, and since many of these shows are filmed on private land where hunting pressure is nil and the hunters have weeks to get a kill on film—you rarely, if ever, see the one that got away. But I do. An uncovered face or hand will shine like a beacon in the night—especially if it is moving. With their less-than-20/20 eyesight, deer depend on seeing movement to warn them of danger, and are always on the lookout for something amiss or wiggling where it isn’t supposed to be. They can spot that shine from far away. Are you willing to risk your entire season on such sloppiness? I’m not.

4. Hunting in the Wind is a Waste of Time: Just because the wind is blowing doesn’t mean deer shut down their lives. Yes, deer do not like strong winds, which make it hard for them to detect predators amid the noise and motion of branches whipping around. It also affects their ability to smell out a potential problem and detect its source. The truth is, during strong winds the hunting can actually be very good—if you use it to your advantage. That means concentrating in areas protected from the wind, thus eliminating large chunks of ground where the odds are lowered on that day. A moderate wind doesn’t affect deer movement much, but during strong breezes, bucks tend to drop down to lower elevations, draws, hollows and valleys or protected bowls within which they can move about freely while escaping the harshest winds.

I’d rather hunt days with a light, steady breeze—but I’ve killed a lot of nice bucks on days with strong winds. But one thing’s for sure, you can’t do it if you’re sitting in front of the TV.

5. Peeing From Your Stand Will Scare Deer Off: The old wives’ tale has it that if you do not bring along a pee bottle to your stand and answer nature’s call on the ground below, you may as well head for the house and find a new spot to. Research has shown, however, that the smell of human urine does not noticeably affect deer, if it affects them at all. One research project with penned deer had the researchers spraying all sorts of things into scrapes to see which deer liked best. In one case they used four things—buck urine, doe-in-estrous urine, human urine and car air freshener. Results? With bucks, doe-in-estrous was the most popular, followed by human urine, then car air freshener, then buck urine.

Stay as scent free as possible, and don’t turn the ground near your stand into a public urinal, but if you have to go, just go, and keep hunting.

6. Scrapes are Great Places to Hunt During the Rut: There’s been a lot of research in recent years using trail cameras to find out when bucks are most active at scrapes. What the research has shown is that the best time to hunt scrapes is when you first find them in the woods—usually just ahead of the hard pre-rut. When the rut is in full swing, mature bucks will sometimes check scrapes, but they are more likely to be found cruising between doe bedding thickets and preferred food sources. Research has also shown that multiple bucks will freshen the same scrape, and they range in age from very young to very old, debunking the myth that only mature bucks work a scrape.

Staying safe is underrated, but staying safe while hunting is essential.  As hunters, we all eventually end up helping a new or young hunter get started in the outdoors. Hunting safety is the foundation that all good hunting careers are built on, and we all owe it to ourselves and new hunters to stress safety. Here are four ways that can help make that happen.


Gun accidents are actually rare in the hunting world, but injuries are prevalent and can often lead to death.  Some states don’t require hunter safety for all hunters, but every new hunter should receive professional instruction in safety anyway. If physically attending a class is not an option, there are online programs that a future hunter can take. One organization that offers classes is the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA). Being safe is a learning process so why not learn from the experts? New hunters deserve it.

Don’t Hunt Alone

Hunting with a partner is safer than hunting alone. Not only can a partner assist you if you need help, but they can also help you be more aware and help you with retrieving and loading game.  If certain conditions are lined up, a simple twist of a knee can end up being deadly. One of the most important benefits of having a hunting partner is to lessen the chances of getting lost.

Tree Stand Safety

The most dangerous aspect of trees stands is that they are elevated. Falling out of tree stands makes up a good portion of fatal hunting injuries. It is serious business to put one’s self 20 feet up a tree. For me, my greatest challenge while tree stand hunting is staying awake. All that fresh air and stillness makes me tired, and getting tired in a tree stand can be deadly. Wearing a safety strap or harness will guarantee that you don’t fall. Staying awake is up to you.

Know Your Target

Knowing your target is the epitome of common sense, but we all know of smart and capable people who have done dumb things. Nobody wants to live with the fact that they shot someone, so target recognition must be drilled into all new hunters. This practice will also make better hunters as it will help to ensure clean kills.

Muzzle Awareness

The number one rule of handling a weapon is to assume it is loaded. The number two rule is to always make sure your muzzle is pointed in a safe direction. Following rule #2 will cancel out rule #1.