From a national perspective, whitetail hunting and management seem to be at a crossroads. Not too many years ago whitetail powerhouse states like Wisconsin, Alabama, and Nebraska were seeing all-time record harvests (2000, 2005, and 2010 respectively) and the Boone and Crockett club had never received more entries. But, now a handful of indicators are suggesting that the deer hunting bubble is about to burst — or maybe that it already has. Increased predator numbers, deer diseases like epizootic hemorrhagic disease and chronic wasting disease, and years of high antlerless harvests have put many deer herds on unstable ground. Hunters from corners of classic whitetail country like Montana's Milk River and the riverbottoms of Illinois have already seen drastic declines in deer numbers over the last few years. Then, several bad EHD outbreaks peppered the nation last summer and a brutal 2013/2014 winter struck much of the Midwest and Northeast. This could spell more bad news for deer hunters this season.
Jeremy Wade stopped by the Outdoor Life office this week while making the media rounds to promote his new season of River Monsters (it premieres April 6, 9 p.m. ET on Animal Planet).
Unlike a lot of fishing shows out there, people who fish can actually watch River Monsters without too many eye-rolls (it seems most of the other fishing shows on major cable networks are made for people who've never stepped foot in a boat). Sure, the show plays up plenty of dramatic angles, but at least Wade is a real, hardcore fisherman.
While most hunters spend their spring weekends waiting for turkey season, Aaron Milliken spends hour after hour studying Google Earth. He dedicates so much time to the virtual mapping program partly because it's his job, but also because he knows it's the first critical step in finding and patterning mature bucks. Milliken is a Land Specialist with Whitetail Properties (a real-estate company that deals some of the best deer hunting land in the country) and it's his job to assess properties and predict how trophy bucks will utilize them.
Earlier this month I spent a weekend scouting and shed hunting with Milliken on his home turf in west-central Illinois. Later this year we'll hunt the rut in this classic Midwestern whitetail country, but first we need to find the right place to hunt. Here's what we did to get started, first with aerial scouting through Google Earth and then by putting boots on the ground.
Not everything that happens in Mexico should stay in Mexico.
Lake El Salto might be the best place to catch the biggest bass of your life, but don't head down there expecting to find virgin water. The 14,000-acre lake, located 800 miles from the U.S. border, has a reputation as a premier destination for trophy largemouths. Every summer it draws flocks of anglers that even the drug war hasn't deterred. Outfitter Billy Chapman says he's hosted up to 3,000 fishermen a year, and he's one of only three on the reservoir.
I'm not a trained deer scorer, but working for Outdoor Life I see a ton of bucks each season and it's our job to track down their story. Part of that involves getting the score. By running down these trophy bucks each year, I thought I had a pretty good handle on eyeing up a buck and estimating its score.
But then I spent three days hanging out behind the scenes in the scorers' room and the Deer and Turkey Expo in Illinois. There were about 11 official scorers measuring hundreds of trophy bucks for the big buck competition. Most of the time I could eye up a typical buck and get within 10 or so points of its score. But some bucks absolutely threw me for a loop.
I found out that when an average deer hunter (like me) eyes up a buck and estimates its score, many times he'll end up way, way off. For example, the two bucks in the photo above. The buck on the left is clearly carrying more bone than the one on the right. He has heavier antlers, and it seems that he has higher tines. He should have a higher score, right?
There were a lot of cool looking bucks at the Deer and Turkey Expo in Illinois last weekend, but this one was definitely the most unique. Scott Setzer was hunting his go-to stand last October when he spotted the gnarly rack coming his way.
I met Jay Ramseier and his son Brad at the Illinois Deer and Turkey Expo last weekend while they were waiting to check in this beautiful 10-point buck. Jay shot the deer last November but had a heck of a time recovering it.
The folks at Whitetail Properties are planning the "The World's Largest Shed Hunt" on March 1, and to get participants motivated and educated, they posted this video on how to find more sheds. The basics of shed hunting are pretty obvious of course: look for sheds where deer spend most of their time during the late-winter months.
But this video divulges some insider info: bring binos for glassing distant habitat, check honey holes that get a lot of sun light, and focus on field edges.