A Bowhunters Journal 2013
November 3rd Day 1
I arrived at my campsite for my annual public land deer hunting trip. This is my first bowhunt in Indiana and I have to admit I was a little reluctant to hunt Indiana public land and have been since my arrival back in 2001. Why you ask? Well the normal deterrents we all face when it comes to public land deer hunting. Things we have read, heard or even experienced ourselves on other hunts all contribute to our hesitation. As usual when I hunt public land I have my jon boat and although I’ve had bad experiences even with the jon boat I don’t think I would hunt public land without it and this property sets up well for the jon boat and that was the deciding factor to stay home this season for a change and give it a shot.
I set up camp and unloaded the truck so I could get the jon boat loaded in the back. Only a couple other campers in the campground and it’s very peaceful. I’m alone on this trip except my buddy Smokey a not so normal Yorkshire Terrier. He loves being in the woods as much as I do and gets just as excited when we arrive.
SETTING UP DEER CAMP
After setting up camp I made a trip down to the archery range provided by the property. Great range with a tower and targets out to 50 yards. I had the range to myself and enjoyed slinging a few arrows down range while some old school rock and roll drifted down to the shooting lanes from my trucks radio. It was great with sunny skies and 55 degrees you couldn’t ask for anything better for an evening of relaxation and checking out the bow.
This is my first public land deer hunting trip to this particular property. I’ve made many trips here to fish and have seen a few deer, but everywhere I have seen deer is closed to boat traffic now so the little knowledge I might have is fairly useless. You could say this is as blind a hunt that I have ever embarked upon. This is no big deal to me as I just love to hunt and this will just add to the challenge. I do feel a little pressure and would love to be successful on this trip to add to my material for writing articles. A little meat in the freezer would be great as well.
It’s really nice to have my computer with me. I am writing this in the bunkhouse of our 31 foot camper trailer and it is nice. Now I know you might ask “a computer while camping?” but rest assured I have done my share of roughing it when I worked in the bush of Alaska and I wrote on paper with pen. That was great too but I was a lot younger. I can also get on the internet with my IPHONE and that is great as well so I can post my journal daily as it happens. Oh how times have changed. I am just glad we can still bow hunt. I could take or leave the technology but please don’t take bowhunting away, that’s my mantra.
The rut predictors are saying it will come later than usual. I have never really paid a whole lot of attention to the predictors. My take on when the rut happens is sometime during the first 10 days of November. I think that the weather plays a role not in when the rut begins, but how much rutting activity you might see. Deer move more during shooting light when it’s cold. I think the rut is still going on at night during warm weather and the hunter sees little movement during the day when on stand, but it’s happening the first two weeks of November. That’s why some folks think that cold weather gets the bucks rutting but it has been proven, at least to me, that photoperiod (length of daylight hours) triggers the rut.
The weather man is calling for fairly warm weather for at least a week. The deer will be bedded all day, exhausted from the rigorous rutting the night before. I’ve been wrong before and I hope I am this time, but I feel like movement will be slow. Early morning and late evening should still have a little movement. With this in mind I must locate those doe bedding areas and attempt to sneak in close without alerting any of the deer of my intentions. Hoping that some bucks might stay up late in the morning and/or get up early in the evening. Time will tell and the time says midnight so I best turn in as 4am is mighty close to midnight. Wish me luck.
November 4th Day 2
Day 2 started with perusing the many aerial photos and maps I have for this property. Considering the wind I settled on one pinch point to set up on. Since I haven’t ever been to this property to hunt I decided to focus on terrain features and pinch points to hopefully get an eye on a buck sometime during my hunt. It is prime time for the rut to start really heating up and those mature bucks will be cruising for hot does. I have always liked terrain features and use them most of the time for public land deer hunting. I do however, prefer to scout the area prior to deciding on stand placement.
Buck sign isn’t always required for me to hang a stand in a good funnel or pinch point. If I’m able to scout I will locate some sign in the immediate area so if nothing else my confidence is high and I can sit daylight to dark. If you study your topo maps and aerial photos you can usually pinpoint a great stand location when public land deer hunting. Pick a funnel or pinch point where a cruising buck will show itself eventually.
I located a great little funnel area between two pine tree thickets. Knowing that deer love to bed around these evergreen trees I found a likely spot to hang a stand before ever laying eyes on it personally. I use google maps to pre-scout an area especially when bowhunting public land.
I launched the jon boat and slowly worked my way through the lakes standing timber some that were just below the surface. “This will be fun coming out after dark” I thought aloud as the 8 horse Mercury four stroke putted to the back of a bay and up a small creek maybe a 100 yards. The area looked really thick and I already felt good as this type of thick stuff is hard to decipher on an aerial photo.
I have not been deer hunting in two years. I took my first season off last year so I could bass fish. First season missed in more than 30 years and the last one missed as long as I am able. It was a long year waiting for this season to roll around. Needless to say I am a bit rusty and had to deal with all the “dang I forgot this or dadgummit where is that?” Murmurs to myself. After either finding this or figuring out how to do without that I was in a tree and bowhunting. It felt good even if I did leave my pack on the ground unattached to the rope that should bring it up to me with my bow.
With all that happened today it was still a great day in the woods. I only saw one deer but it was the right kind of deer. It was a mature ten pointer and it was beautiful. I did manage a photo but my video camera wouldn’t focus on the buck making a scrape after he walked behind some of the pine trees. His scrape was just 50 yards from my stand so the plan is to adjust my location to cover that scrape. I thought about hunting all day tomorrow but then decided it might be best to get on stand late morning.
An hour before dark the buck came out. He was very relaxed. This is a great thing to see when hunting public land. It means you’re in a location that hasn’t seen a lot of pressure. I feel like if I go in an hour before daylight I risk spooking the buck as he makes his way to bed during that time. I’m not sure how much pressure these deer get on this property, but it has been my experience that when you see a mature buck up and checking a scrape an hour before dark you are pretty much in his living room. So I plan to relocate my stand maybe 50 yards toward where the buck came out and within bow range of his scrape. It will be easier to do during daylight. I will sleep in tomorrow.
I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about the hunting here, but if today is any indication I would say this is a great public hunting area. I’m beginning to wonder if public ground isn’t seeing a little upswing in deer populations. With all the bad press that public land receives year in and year out and fewer and fewer hunters taking to the woods, public land seems to be, more and more, a little secret between us hunters that can’t afford or refuse to partake in leasing hunting grounds. I love the freedom and the amount of hunting land there is for us to use. It is a privilege to have access to these public hunting lands and we should not take it for granted. I know I don’t.
November 5th Day 3
Well today was a beautiful day to spend in a tree but the deer sure didn’t think it was a good day to move. I didn’t see a deer today. I was hunting the ten pointer I got the photo of yesterday and felt like he was just moving from bed to feed when I encountered him but now in retrospect I think I may have rattled that buck in. I’d performed a rattle/grunt sequence but it had been several minutes before the buck showed up.
I wasn’t sure if I had rattled the buck in or not and even refrained from using any calls once I spotted him. I felt like he was just moving through and maybe would come the 10 yards I needed for a shot. He was acting a little funny, but I thought he was just staging in that spot. In hindsight I think he was just scent checking the area for the two fighting bucks he thought he heard. Today I hoped to catch the buck moving again out of bed and up the draw by my new stand location. That didn’t happen and I held off on any calling today. Just being careful.
The reason I thought the ten pointer was just traveling normally yesterday was I thought he was making a scrape and I saw him, I thought, rubbing his forehead along the side of a small tree leaving scent like maybe a licking branch or scent post. I moved my stand upwind of where this took place and I didn’t find a scrape or licking branch, but I did see a few rubs but now I really believe the ten pointer was just scent checking the air for the fighting bucks and when he couldn’t see any deer and failed to catch their scent he just left.
I’ve seen bucks come to a rattle sequence this nonchalantly before but it has been rare and it took today’s hunt to process every move the ten pointer made yesterday evening. I came to the conclusion that I had successfully rattled in a nice ten point whitetail buck on public land.
As mentioned above I held off on the calls. I thought the buck would take the extra ten steps and give me a shot. I think once you have a mature whitetail within 50 yards it’s best to be quiet. that’s what I did. If it had come in frothing at the mouth and grunting looking to whoop some buck’s butt then I would have hit the grunt. If that wasn’t enough I would have tickled the horns with confidence. The problem was that the bucks demeanor was way too mellow and this is why I didn’t think I called that buck in. I just don’t think calling would have really brought this buck in just because he didn’t seem that aggressive.
If I had called I think it would have just pinpointed my location and with him searching he would have known something was amiss and the last thing we need on public land is another call wise whitetail buck. The way it stands that buck thought he heard a fight and after getting to it the two that were fighting had moved on and so he did the same, none the wiser, leaving him a little more vulnerable to my two bladed rage for later in the hunt.
November 6th Day 4
I wasn’t going to go hunting today at all. I was going to catch up on some camp chores and wait out the 20 mile an hour winds and rain. The wind never got up so I hurried off to the woods. It was raining and a little foggy, but a great evening for rutting bucks. It was quiet in the tree today, but at 3pm an 8 pointer materialized out of the rainy mist. I had finished a rattle sequence 15 minutes before. I’m not sure if I rattled him in or not. I think the rattling is altering their travel, just to come see other deer. The 8 pointer didn’t react to a grunt. I’m not sure, but in 3 evening hunts I’ve had two bucks almost present me a shot. I don’t think I would have shot the 8 pointer, but it’s still good to see bucks.
November 7th Day 5
The wind was wrong for the stand I have been hunting so I found another spot on the other side of the lake to hang a stand. It is a great pinch point with a good thicket between the lake and several small broken up fields. I was hoping to intercept bucks that might be scent checking these fields. I hung a hang-on stand. It is a great looking spot with clean entry and exit route from the jon boat to the stand. No scouting before this hunt, I just entered the thicket and located a suitable tree. I was just hunting the pinch point in hopes of getting a shot at a cruising buck.
The weather was nice but maybe too nice and warm for good deer movement. I didn’t see a single deer at this location but I left the stand just to have a spot when the wind is wrong for my other stand. I’m planning on sitting all day at stand #1 it will be my first morning sit and the weather looks great for the morning.
November 8th Day 6
Well the weather was perfect this morning. It was about 30 degrees with calm winds. The cold weather made it very foggy. The boat ride in was very nerve racking but fortunately I only hit one tree. I wasn’t able to use my spotlight because it turned the very limited visibility into blind navigation. At least without the spotlight I could make out some stars and a faint treeline. I was doing OK at idle but had to pull up the iphone map. Seeing that I was a little off course, I continued navigating with the map which showed my location so at least I knew I was still on the lake and not running aground the trees were still another issue. There were some close calls but at idle I was going slow enough to maneuver and miss the standing timber littering the area.
Finally, I made it to my stand and got set up. It was such a perfect morning I didn’t set up the video camera. The treacherous journey in had made me a little late. I usually try to be in my tree ready to hunt 45 minutes before daylight so I left the camera in the pack. It would have been a great time to have it set up because I had two small bucks make rubs just below my stand. One fork-horn worked my mock scrape and rubbed the tree with the licking branch that I put Code Blue Rack Rub Gel on. I’m sold on Code Blue Rack Rub Gel for mock scrapes. I wish I would have got it on video because a smaller fork-horn rubbed a pine tree for several minutes just 15 yards from my tree.
I finally saw some does. A single doe came straight to my tree and about 5 yards away turned and got real nervous. She was smelling something she didn’t like. When I say busted I mean freak out snort stomp circle and repeat kind of busted. This doe finally started doing that. Then a doe and fawn came in about an hour later and did exactly the same thing. I was trying to figure out what was going on.
I realized it must have been my cover scent. Not too sure does care for doe in estrus smell. I’ve had does freak out by the smell of doe in estrus scent in the past. Does that are being pestered all night by bucks really just want to get to bed without any hassle. They know that if there is a doe in estrus around there will be a buck pestering them all day.
I shut the lid on the scent and 30 minutes later a great buck starts moving in closer the same direction the does had came. This buck only had 7 points but it was an awesome looking rack with no tine less than 9 inches. He never knew I was in the world and turned just 10 steps short of giving me a shot and moved into the thickets on the hill. The bucks sure didn’t notice whatever the does did which is why I think it was the doe in estrus that spooked them. I saw 5 bucks this morning 3 shooters all less than 75 yards and they all came from different directions and never winded me. Two of the shooters cam down the same trail those does came down.
The fork horn that worked the mock scrape walked down into a thicket and at about 100 yards he went flying out of there snorting and going nuts. I heard what sounded like another deer in the thicket that crashed through when the fork horn blew out of there. I don’t know if a buck will snort when another buck gets after him or not but the wind was perfect for where all that took place so I’m not sure what that was all about. Being in the woods and trying to figure these deer out is a never ending process and probably why we do it.
I noticed a nice buck easing along the ridge above me. I tried a can call to get his attention. He never paid any attention, but that little fork-horn buck busted out of the thicket 40 yards away. He was searching for my call.This told me where the deer are in the rut. The little guys are getting excited while the big boys know it isn’t time yet. I saw another great looking buck this evening but failed to get a shot. It should be a matter of time on this location I have now named shooter buck ridge. I plan to hunt all day again tomorrow but I saw forecast for 30 mph winds. I might have to call it then because the tree I’m in will probably be dangerous at those wind speeds.
November 9th Day 7
I awoke at 3:30 am to the coffee maker brewing that great predawn medicine. It’s my birthday and I have had some great hunts on my birthday in the past. None as good as this one. I’m usually in the woods on my birthday and my family understands. My wife wanted a fall wedding in the mountains and I made sure that it was early fall. I didn’t want to be in the woods on our anniversary every year.
The jon boat had a thin layer of frost on the seat. There’s nothing better than a frosty morning to a bowhunter in November. I was excited about hunting my new stand location. I had moved my stand about 75 yards to where I had spotted the two shooters the day before. The new tree was one of those triple trunk trees that split about 4 feet above the ground. It was a pain getting into the climber but well worth it once I was up 20 feet. I positioned the stand in the middle of the three trunks to use them as cover. I love it when I find a tree like this one or a tree next to another tree that will break my outline and conceal my movements.
Those same bucks travel up a draw right by this tree. With a steady light breeze blowing my scent above their trail I was confident in the stand location. The bucks had moved through between 9 and 10am but I was alert because even though it was just 75 yards from my last stand I could see much more of the ridge above and draw below so I was prepared for anything on this great morning.
The stand move was a little aggressive. I decided I wanted to put a move on these bucks and not wait for them to come to me. I don’t like to do this on public land because mature bucks will leave the area, or go nocturnal with the slightest intrusion. The decision to get aggressive was based on the relaxed nature of the bucks in the area. They were moving well before dark and well after daylight. This told me they had not been pressured too bad. At least not yet. With this in mind I decided to make the move closer to their travel route and it payed off big.
The mornig sun rose with that familiar chill you to the bone temp drop. It’s always coldest as the suns rays begin to penetrate the trees. The squirrels started digging in the leaves and the birds were singing. It was perfect and once again I wondered why everyone doesn’t bowhunt. It’s mornings like this that makes those hikes in the dark all worthwhile.
I saw the fork horn again in the draw below working the same mock scrape I had made a few days before. I guess it was his scrape now. He wanted to go down into the same thicket as yesterday but just kept staring in that direction and finally decided against it and meandered around above it browsing on leaves and maybe an acorn here or there. I really think a buck ran him out of that thicket yesterday when he went in it and he didn’t want any part of that this morning.
I watched this young buck for several minutes before scanning the ridge above me for deer.You might have a shooter sneak right by you if you get caught up watching deer that aren’t your intended target. This is what happened as I scanned the ridge and saw a shooter buck entering a stand of cedars about 80 yards from my stand. I’m not sure if the buck ever got within bow range but I sure would have liked seeing if he had.It had chocolate brown antlers and 8 nice points. Boy do I love big 8 pointers.
It was still early and I knew with the rut getting serious there should be more deer moving. I settled in to hopefully get a shot at that big 7 pointer. Or maybe another buck I saw ghosting through the thicket yesterday. The stand move put me in between both of these bucks trails. I could see a few rubs along the trail that the big 7 used. It was visible along the bench below me. There was a thicket below that trail that was so thick it would be difficult to see a deer. I could hear every movement in there because of the dry leaves. The squirrels were driving me crazy. The one thing about squirrels digging in the leaves is it keeps you alert. Thinking it could be a deer.
I had been listening to these squirrels for a half hour or so and had pretty much tuned them out. Then I heard something in the thicket that sounded a little different and I started paying attention. It sounded like a deer walking in the thicket but I couldn’t tell for sure. It definitely sounded different and with more of a walking cadence. I couldn’t see any sign of a deer even with the Nikon 10×42’s. After several minutes of listening to this I decided I would give a light grunt. The grunt call has sealed the deal for me on many whitetail bucks over the years. On this hunt the grunt call will seal the deal for yet another.
My intentions was to pull whatever was walking around in the thicket below into bow range. My focus was on that direction when I hit the grunt call with a low short grunt. I had switched on the video camera and had it pointed at the thicket. I was sure I would get a response to the grunt. Well, I got a quick response and it took me off guard. I heard the sounds of footsteps coming from behind me from the direction of that cedar thicket. He was coming in from behind me. Isn’t this how it usually happens? Nothing is predictable in the deer woods except the unpredictability. It all happened so fast and before I knew it the footsteps stopped right under my tree.
I could here the deer below me taking in long sniffs. It was scent checking for whatever had grunted in his living room. I still couldn’t see the deer but the way it was acting I was sure it was a buck. I was hoping it was the big 8 pointer I saw slipping into those cedars earlier. The deer was somewhere under a tree limb that was still loaded with leaves. It continued scent checking the air but was standing still and I only prayed he would come just a few steps to investigate. After what seemed like minutes but I’m sure was only seconds the deer emerged from behind me and I could see the chocolate colored bone and 8 points. It had to be the big 8 from the cedars.
The buck was actually sniffing the ground next to my tree. I could actually feel his antlers scraping the tree I was in. My bow limb hit my stand. I had to wait while the buck looked around for the grunter right below me. I was so afraid this was as far as he would come. Finally the buck walked to a mock scrape I had made before climbing the tree. Was it too close? Once I was up the tree and looking at where it was I was afraid that it was. Luckily it proved to be in the perfect location and helped me arrow a great public land 8 pointer.
I had put some of the Code Blue Rack Rub Gel on the branch above the scrape. Code Blue really is a great scent. I’ve seen it work for me on two different mock scrapes. Before using this scent I had never seen a buck work any of my mock scrapes before. I have had bucks work my mock scrapes but not while I was hunting over them.
The buck went straight to the licking branch. It was inhaling it deep into his lungs and rubbing his antlers on the branch. Finally he turned, presenting me with a broadside shot at 12 yards. This buck had totally given up on the grunt now. I took the shot as the buck was leaving his preorbital scent on this licking branch. I guess to tell the stranger that he lived there too. The shot looked good and the buck took off. After 30 yards he went off the side of a bluff and hit the creek below. Then he ran up the creek bed. I could hear him crashing through the woods. Then the woods went silent. I knew he was down.
I have been public land deer hunting for years and have had the privilege to hunt some great private lands. This hunt was by far the best week of bowhunting of my life. Best thing is, it all happened while public land deer hunting. I learned a lot about mock scrapes and calls and how important they can be for success during the rut. Do your research before ever getting to your hunting land. This spot was located with google earth before the trip. It ended up being a public land sanctuary that I hope to return to year after year. If you have any questions I would be glad to respond just leave them below in the comment box. Thanks for reading and I am glad to share this journey with you.
“I recently read your article 13 bow hunters journal. I really enjoyed reading it and have been thinking about hunting several public land areas here in southern Indiana. I’ve planned on using my 10 ft jon boat for an area that has strip pits. What size jon boat do you use. I think I’m going to need a bigger one for bigger bodies of water.” Jerrod
“Thanks for the compliment on my article. The jon boat I use is a FISHER 1436 with an 8hp Mercury four stroke. This would be the smallest boat I would use on large bodies of water. I have used this one on Kentucky lake but it would be too small if the wind gets up much. My little jon boat gets 20 mph, believe it or not, with the 8hp. My suggestion would be a four stroke. They are heavy. The 8hp weighs about 90 pounds. I used to load the boat on top of my truck removing the motor every time. This really eats into time. You have to get up a lot earlier if you have to travel away from where you are staying.
I’ve since devised a system that allows me to load the boat with motor into the back of my truck. You can unload and load the boat within a couple minutes. I loaded the boat with this buck in it and it worked great. A trailer would be nice, but I tow a camper. I have to put the jon boat on top of the truck. I then set up my boat loader system for the duration of the hunt. It works great. I can explain the system to you sometime if you like. I might do an article on it on my website sometime. If you have any other questions feel free to contact me. email@example.com