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Evaluations : Dave Conrad
Last Updated: Feb 22nd, 2007 - 18:37:03

Trophy Pursuit
By Dave Conrad
Jul 17, 2006, 08:06

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Dave Conrad

I will be the first to tell you that when I go after trophy whitetail, he will have the odds in his favor.  The main reason is I am entering his domain, or a better way to put it, his home.  I have to do my homework and it is mostly a 365 day a year task.

So what are some of the means by which to try and even the odds up a little?  Well the first thing you have to do is find an area where there is a mature buck.  I have two private areas that are about an hour apart from each other that I own and manage via QDM.  I also have a few other farms that I have secured permission to hunt.  They range in size from about 35 acres in size to a little over 600.  The 35 acre plot may be small compared to the others but it boarders a 1200 acre farm that is strictly no hunting.  

I usually have a good account of the bucks in the area, so from year to year I can usually determine which has survived the season.  The best ways are through scouting, looking for shed in the spring as well as talking to neighboring farmers.  For example last year there were two deer, a 150 plus class eight point and a 165 class 10 point, which survived the hunting season.  The eight point buck had broken his left main beam off during the early November timeframe.  I know because the second week I had him broadside at 15 yards!!  In late February the neighbor told me he saw him in a picked corn field.  The 165 class was seen by me as well as a friend later in the year.  Now if both of them made it through the rest of the winter and spring I will know shortly.  I have already spotted one large bodied buck during late turkey season in May.  I would have to say that it is the 10 point based on his body size.

Talking to farmers is another way to quickly gain access.  Many farmers in the conversation will gladly offer you access to their property in order to control the deer population.  It also doesn't hurt to ask, the worst they will say is no.  If no thank them for their time and cooperation, a pleasant conversation may sometimes get you granted permission.  If you do receive permission, show up a couple times throughout the year to offer help.  Just remember that farmers carry a wealth of information as they are out in the environment making a living.

If a piece of property is a new area with promise the first thing I do is scout in late February and throughout March.  This time of the year allows me to quickly spot trails.  If there is snow on the ground you can easily make out deer tracks.  But I like to go into an area where the snow has recently melted.  Trails are easily marked by the disturbed leaves which were earlier blanketed by snow. I mainly look for sheds but I also pay close attention to rubs.  I start out by scouting ridge lines which usually will turn up rubs.  I try and follow the rub lines in both directions.  These tell me where a buck was headed or which way he came from.  I hope to find thick areas near these which could be a bedding area.  The other extreme is finding a rub line within a short distance of a field.  These places can be staging areas for big bucks which you will certainly want to make note of.    

Once I have located a promising area or know of a buck survived the first thing I do is try and figure him out.  If it is a buck from the previous year his actions usually are similar from year to year.  But this is no guarantee.  If it is a new area I usually try to figure him out in two ways.  These two ways are used in what I call the preparation phase which is around mid July through August.  In this period the buck's antlers are mature enough where I can recognize him.  The two methods I primarily use are long range scouting and trail cameras. 


Long range scanning is very effective and helps me pinpoint where the buck is feeding.  Main places I setup are hay and soybean fields.  I also go over my notes from earlier in the year to make sure I scan those fields close to the noted staging areas.  I also jot down a reminder of the wind conditions during these scouting times a field.  This is important to me as it helps in determining where to setup the trail cameras.  By seeing how the bucks enter the field I can get a pretty good idea of where they are coming from.  I then try and slip in during mid day hours as to not alert the deer.  I recommend you use caution in covering up your scent as best as you possibly can.  Mature deer are known for switching travel routes and areas when they feel the slightest bit pressured. The trail cameras which number up to four are set in areas of travel corridors frequented by the buck.  I check the cameras about every week to two weeks.

When I have enough data from an area I remove the trail cameras and move on to the next phase which is stand location.  Based on all the information collected from earlier in the year as well as the past two months I determine where to place my stands.  The stands usually go up and are in place by the first week in September.  This gives the area plenty of time to settle down and any scent to dissipate.  I use hang on stands for the simple reasons they are easy to setup and take down and are very quiet.  On properties that I own I love the ease of a screw in step like Cranford.  It only takes a minute to put one in and you can carry several in a pouch and move up the tree quickly.  I also try to clear as much debris away from the path that I will take when walking to my stand.  This way I can minimize the noise, especially if I am approaching in the dark.

When hanging stands, where is the best place in a chosen area?  If it is on a ridge line or where two ridges meet I usually hang it on the top of the northern or eastern facing slope.  This is to take advantage of the predominately southeast winds.  But I will hang a minimum of two stands to cover all wind directions.  Fingers off a ridge are great places because they usually entail some sort of funnel.  Funnel areas between several ridges are probably one of my favorite spots.  These areas are deer magnets when it comes to the peak of pre rut.  

Inside and outside corners are also good locations when hunting field and wood edges.  The main reason is it's a point where several deer trails congregate.  I especially find this true if the area has an incline coming up from a stream or creek bed.

You can also change hunting factors to swing the odds in your favor.  If you find an area that has several trails or is too large to cover from a single stand you may add obstructions.  What I mean by this is deer like to take the path of least resistance.  Just like you and me when we walk through the woods we like to take the easiest path.  Deer are no different.  Take some debris, brush, fallen tree limbs or small trees and obstruct the trails making the deer travel closer to your stand.  

Once stands are in place I have about three weeks to prepare for the opening of the season and now I focus on my equipment.  My bow I will continue to shoot as I have been doing throughout the year but I tend to pay more attention to my clothes and accessories.  My clothes are a real stickler point with me as you can ask my wife.  When the previous hunting season is over my clothes go into marine watertight bags and then placed in resealable Rubbermaid tubs.  They are then secured in my hunting only area of the basement.  They are not removed until my preparation for the season.  

For preparation I first run a cycle or two through the washer with nothing more than a scent free/scent killing soap.  This makes sure that all previous soaps have been pretty much eliminated.  I then wash all my hunting clothes in the same scent killing detergent.  Once completed each load is then taken out into the woods behind my house and hung up to dry.  They are left there even if it rains until season.  If there is a chance of rain immediately before a hunt I take them down and store them within the Rubbermaid tubs still within the woods.  If there is no rain the day before a hunt I will go out and spray the clothes down with a scent killing spray.  I let them dry and then in the evening I will take them down and place them in the watertight bags.  I recommend the marine type that fold over to seal.  These are the type that guides use on rafting expeditions.  You can pick them up at any sporting goods shop.  These may be more expensive than plastic garbage bags but you will never have to worry about the rubber coated material tearing or ripping and they last several seasons.  

My morning pre-hunt routine starts by rolling out of bed early.  I will first take a shower with a scent eliminating soap.  I usually lather and rinse a minimum of two times just to make certain that I covered everything.  Immediately after toweling off I will apply a scent elimination gel and then use a scent elimination deodorant.  I then get dressed in clean clothes that I will travel in to my hunting site.  I make sure that I have all my essentials for the day which include my food.  I especially make sure that my vehicle was filled with gas the day before.  There is nothing worse than having a gasoline odor reeking from your hands.

Upon arriving at my hunt site I turn off my vehicle and grab my bowcase and the Rubbermaid tote of which contain the marine bags with clothes in them. I walk a short distance from the truck and then remove the Rubbermaid lid and turn it upside down on the ground.  This is my mat for which I will get dressed on.  It doesn't sound like a big deal early in the year when the ground is dry but just wait till you perform the same routine later in the year with snow on the ground.  I then strip down and dress.  A couple friends that I hunt with thought I was nuts for dressing in cold weather later in the season but after a few hunts they find themselves mimicking my actions.  Well my wife will never understand, as she knows I am crazy, crazy for bowhunting that is.  When finished I reseal the bags and place them in the totes.  I will then take a scent elimination spray and douse myself from head to toe.  I also include my equipment as well, bow, binoculars and safety line. This routine will virtually eliminate any foreign odor from contaminating your clothes.  I recognize there is no way to virtually eliminate all odors but this is the routine that I have found best in 30 years of hunting.

If it is a long walk in I make sure that I do not overdress.  The secret is to move slowly to your stand in order to not work up a sweat as well as not disturbing the area.  The cleared path from the preparation work a month earlier aids in a very quiet walk to the stand.  I also try to minimize using any type of light while traveling to and from my stand.

Once on stand I give myself another good spray down of scent elimination.  While on stand I try and focus on as much deer movement within my immediate area as possible.  This allows me to pinpoint areas that may be more productive then my current stand location.  If that is the case, I can quickly move my stand to accommodate the new situation.  

When do I move my stand, it all depends on the situation.  If the area is hot I try and move it immediately.  You can sometimes get away with a little noise.  Once while moving a stand I mistakenly made more noise than I wanted as the stand clanked against the tree while lowering it.  The sound must have sounded similar to a buck fight cause when I reached the ground I turned around to notice a buck standing within 20 yards.  I was so intent on moving the stand that the buck was able to approach without me hearing him.

While on stand, depending on the phase of the season, I have at least two calls with me.  During the early season I may only have a grunt call with me.  During the second week of October I pick up the rattling antlers.   My sequences at first are very light to imitate sparing.  But around the last week of October they intensify to all out battle.  I also will begin to use a doe estrous can.  I add the sniff wheeze to my arsenal which is a call that is easy to master with just your mouth.  I find this very effective on large bucks.  Last season I almost closed the door on that big eight point early in the season.  I was able to bring him in to about 50 yards before a doe meandered in front of him.  The next meeting was the above mentioned "broken rack" encounter.

Regarding calls, I recommend using them sparingly.  Too much is never a good thing other then to educate deer.  I also never like to have a call hanging loosely around my neck.  Experience will tell you that awkward shot positions can sometimes lead to an errant arrow as the call mysteriously finds its way between the bowstring at full draw.  Ouch!

How long to I stay on stand?  It once again depends on the phase of the rut and stand locations.  Early season I tend to change stand locations from morning to evening.  If that is the case I may stay on stand till 11 and then cautiously work my way back to the truck and then re-evaluate the situation for the evening hunt before I am back in stand no later than two o'clock.  But once the third week of October rolls around you can usually find me in stand all day.  I may once again change stand locations but I will be in the woods all day.  This routine usually stays the same right up until gun season.  After gun season has ended, in Ohio that is usually the second week of December, I then will fall back to my early season routine.  Hopefully my buck tag has been filled by Thanksgiving!

Now what are my feelings on hunting a stand on consecutive days?  I believe that if you take precaution on entering and exiting your stand it doesn't hurt.  Yes the more you frequent an area the higher the odds of maybe being busted.  But if it is a hot area the more your chances are to encounter that buck.  Now I am not recommending hunting the stand for three or four days straight.  In an area I will have at least two stand placements to account for the wind or for slight changes in the terrain.  Yes, I do wear scent eliminating suits but that is no excuse for "forgetting the wind".  Wind direction and stand placement are an important and integrated part of hunting.

Some stands are also intended to be day or evening stands only.  I find this to be truer with morning stands.  I have a hot stand that would be great in the morning but there is just no sure way of approaching it with out getting busted.  It is at the narrow end of a valley.  The deer usually bed in an area that no matter how I approach it will get busted.  However if the wind is out of the north I have another stand that is a little over a hundred yards away that is very easy to get into.  Problem is the wind is predominately from the southwest.  That stand did produce for me on my biggest buck to date, a 190 inch brute on opening morning of the 2004 season.

Hunt smart, throw in some luck and Dave grounds this trophy buck.

Once finished with a hunt I reverse the routine.  Leaving an area as cautiously as you approached is very important and will do no harm to your future hunts in that area.  Big bucks remember encounters and a lazy exit may result in consequences.  

Upon arriving at my truck I undress and place my clothes in another resealable marine bag.  These clothes are kept separate from any that have not yet been worn.  I will take these home and either rewash them or hang them and douse them with scent elimination spray.

I would like to address a couple issues regarding QDM.  I try my best to manage the deer herds in my area and taking a few doe every season is an important factor to overall management.  When's the best time to take a doe and which do I prefer.  I have a neighbor who loves deer meat so every year I try and harvest a doe early.  By early I mean the first week of the season.  I will usually wait until later in the morning as doe tend to bed later than bucks.  This enables me to concentrate on a buck up until that time.  I would hate to harvest a doe and then have a trophy buck amble by.  In Ohio you must physically tag a deer before attempting to harvest another.  I also try and pick out a doe that is two and a half years old.  This is because she hasn't reached maturity and chances are will only produce one fawn.  I will also try and refrain from taking a doe late in the season.  Reason being is that if a mature doe has been bred you have just removed two additional deer.  Now this may be good for the overall deer population but one or both of those unborn deer could possible be a trophy buck in the making.  

My thoughts on spike bucks take on the fact that they are much too young to determine potential.  By the time a deer reaches two and a half you can pretty much tell what his rack will be in the future.  And in Ohio since you can only harvest one buck a year, I have a few friends who don't mind helping me cull an unwanted buck.  For instance last year I had a buck that was a three and a half year old.  He had nice width but only sported nine points, nubs for brow tines and the mass just wasn't there.  That buck is no longer in the herd thanks to my friend and fellow evaluator for, Jon Silks.

Fellow Field Evaluator Jon Silks.

I hope I have supplied you with some good information on being able to help pinpoint trophy bucks.  One thing to remember is that you can't find a good buck without doing a little home work.  I also stick to the motto that you can not harvest a buck unless you are in the woods.  By this I mean a warm bed is more inviting than a cold, misty day in the woods.  But I find just such a day to be one of the most productive in the woods.  Harvesting a buck on such a day will give you more warmth and satisfaction then that bed.  I also believe that you have to have the mentality of eating a tag.  I certainly will not take a buck on the last day of the season just to fill a tag and the only remote reason for doing it is in the final minutes and a cull buck shows up.    

In closing I firmly believe it is a good point to documents your hunts.  Factors like weather conditions and deer movements may aid you in future hunts whether they are the next day or next year.  I find it interesting to go back over my notes from a previous hunting season.  It may lead to something forgotten that can actually seal the deal on a trophy buck.  


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