Deer license purchases are up this year in Wisconsin. That's good news for our sport. Deer harvest numbers are way down following the most active part of the season. That's not good for a lot of reasons. Most are blaming the DNR for inaccurrate deer herd estimates. Some are blaming the the regional subseasons and complicated regulations including the Earn A Buck (EAB) program. A whole lot of hunters are just complaining.
Like most of the hunters here I have my opinion too following months in the woods searching for the elusive whitetail. After spending many , many weeks scouting and then hunting from early fall through our snowiest (is that a word?) December in history I've come to this conclusion. It's my fellow hunter's fault. The deer harvest is down because we've changed our hunting method and it's not working.
I'm a primarily a bowhunter and I hunt on a 15,000 acre public hunting area about 5 miles from my house. The Wolf River cuts through this area so I'm able to scout a lot from my boat during fishing season. I also hunt small game there and pretend to go varmint hunting as well. This area contains about every terrain feature you'd expect to find in northern Wisconsin. Some of it is very accessible and some of it is true bushwhacking at it's finest. The animal population is high from the sign that I have seen during my scouting trips.
I learned to hunt and fish on the family farm located along the Wisconsin River in the southern part of the state. Bow hunters were still frowned on by a lot of the old timers and you wore red during the gun hunt. My brothers and I were pressed into service on the big deer drives until we were old enough to become shooters. Back then success was measured by how much meat you put in the freezer not the measurement of the rack. I don't even want to think about all of the trophy racks we threw back in the barn or down in the basement while we were busy butchering. We were worried about the lean days ahead and how good that venison was going to taste on Christmas Day not whether our deer would make it into the papers or on TV. Now before you think these are the ramblings of a cranky old fart hear me out.
I married my high school sweetheart and we left Wisconsin as Uncle Sam gave us an all expense paid tour of the planet for the next 20 years. I retired in Colorado so my kids could finish college and then took my lovely bride back to her favorite place in the world...Wisconsin. But before we arrived I had learned a few things hunting big game in Colorado and it has made me a very successful hunter back home. The secret to success? Learn how to stalk effectively. Have you watched any of those hunting infomercials on the Outdoor channel or VS? How many elevated semi permanent sky box hunter condos do you see placed over cultivated food plots in prime elk and mule deer territory out west? I mean some of these places that have sprouted up here need a building permit to go along with the lighted, all season ATV parking area and the escalator.
OK I can hear you yelling. I have made a few concessions to creature comfort myself but that's not my point. If you want to be consistently successful and put game in the freezer you have to learn how to go to the game. The game isn't going to come to you just because you spent a lot of money and that's what they guy at Walmart said would work.
. You can't expect to throw on the scent blocker, glance at your laptop for the latest trail cam photos, fire up the ATV , race to the stand, sprinkle some C'mere deer around before relaxing in the strato lounger until that stupid P&Y trophy whitetail shows up at precisely 9:06 a.m. and presents you with a perfect broadside 20 yard shot. It might work that way on TV (or in those petting zoos they "hunt" on in Texas) but it doesn't work that way in the real woods. Not for long anyway.
Before you start throwing things at your PC...wait. Hunting from an elevated position along established game trails is effective some of the time. I'm not condeming it. We used to do it years ago...but we didn't do it all of the time. Now if the deer stop coming around we run to the store and buy some more "snake oil" from some guy in Alabama who doesn't know a damn thing about whitetail hunting in Wisconsin. Hell he can't even spell Wisconsin right.
Instead we should hit the ground and find out where the deer have gone and if possible...why.
. Stop shopping, get out of the trees and start stalking. Hunt from the ground. I began hunting this public area without any help. I didn't know anything about the area but I did my homework and legwork and I have been successful when my friends and co workers were skunked this year. Some of them even offered to let me hunt in their stands. They felt sorry for me because I had to degrade myself and hunt on public land. Now I'm laughing all of the way to the freezer.
I arrowed a nice 145 lb doe the first day I bowhunted. She came in from my side and I shot her at about 12 paces...from the ground. She went down 28 paces away. The hardest part of that day was hauling her out of the swamp. Boy what I wouldn't give for my own helicopter...
I got my buck, nice 8 pt about 180 lbs, six days later near the same oak island inside the swamp where I took the doe. I taught all of the little creatures some new words and phrases as I grunted him out to the boat. Heres's a tip for you multi vehicle hunters. Ever try to lift a big deer into a boat in slippery knee deep mud while mosquitoes are swarming you in a sudden rainstorm? Me neither, until that evening. The trick? Find two or three stout branches or logs ahead of time and use them as an improvised ramp to roll or slide the deer into the boat. Hunting is so much fun!
OK I'm almost done. Hunting one way all of the time is like going fishing with one lure. You might catch a fish but the odds are against you. After awhile you'll get frustrated and quit. You might even start watching the DIY channel and offer to help your wife around the house (in severe cases such as that I suggest you seek therapy immediately). Get out of that treestand and walk around...slow. Really look for sign...don't pretend. Learn how to move and walk correctly. Always pay attention to the wind. Set up before the peak travel times if possible and know how to set up immediately if you happen upon some hot sign or a well used trail. Know how to move and reset if the conditions change. But most important...change your methods...because your opponent most certainly will. Now i's time to rearrange my gear. load up the .223 and grab my snowshoes...I happened to see these coyote tracks as I was scouting around for next year. Merry Christmas and good luck in the new hunting year.