The 2006 Whitetail Hunter's Master Class

Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Your Instructor: Rick Kreuter, Occupation: Operates RK Outfitters (308-889-3782), Credentials:13-year trophy whitetail guide Learn How To Scout
For trophy whitetail guide Rick Kreuter, scouting isn't just a good idea-"it's a full-time job. Kreuter leases 100,000 acres in Wyoming, South Dakota, and Nebraska, and puts between 70 and 90 percent of his clients within bow range of individual record-class bucks, year after year. He does it by spending more time scouting in one year than most guys do in 10. Plus, he's pretty darn good at it. So we asked Kreuter to share some of his deer-finding skills. On the following pages are three advanced lessons, each accompanied by a field assignment, from the master of scouting. Do your homework, and your reward may be a big, fat, hat-rack buck.
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Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Lesson one: Know Your Area Inside and Out
That's advice from a man who has to get intimate with 100,000 acres. Still, Kreuter says that having detailed information on water, food, and topography is a key step. "Water sources are tops in my areas,-¿ he says. "From the early season throughout the rut, bucks will visit them regularly. I locate every drop. You also need to know which food sources are most attractive when. Keep track of any that can alter deer movement when they're abundant and in season, like acorns. Finally, study the topography to learn bedding areas and travel routes.-¿ Your Assignment:
Get a topo map, go to your hunting area, and mark: (1) Every significant water source, including springs, stock tanks, and beaver dams. (2) All significant terrain and cover features. "I especially like benches, saddles, and brushy transition areas,-¿ Kreuter says. "And seasonal bedding sites. In early fall, bucks bed on north- or northeast-facing slopes. When it's cold, they lie on south-facing hillsides.-¿ (3) Every major food source: alfalfa, corn, or oak stands, plus isolated oaks, soft mast, and browse. Everything you learn about your area's bucks should be applied to this map to determine top stand locations.
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Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Lesson two: A Picture's Worth...a Lot
The only way to be sure you're hunting a big buck is to see him first. And one sure way to do that is to take his picture in the preseason. "I hire only a couple of guides, but my scouting cameras are working for me all the time to determine buck quality,-¿ Kreuter says. "I put them in funnels, like a saddle in a ridge, or at the main access to a food source. Whitetails will always take the easiest path. With the landowner's permission, you can create a fence jump by tying the top strand of a barb-wire fence to the one below it. Or you can just leave a gate open.-¿ Your Assignment:
Place a scouting camera in at least one of the locations. But don't make the mistake of trying to get the classic full-frontal shot of a deer. "I like to mount the camera 12 to 15 yards off the trail and aimed slightly toward where the deer is headed, so I'm snapping a quartering-away picture,-¿ Kreuter explains. "Direct camera flash can spook bucks-"especially big ones-"and creates what I call -¿one-shot deer' that you never see again. If you use this setup, you'll avoid that, but it still allows you to figure out if it's a buck you want to hunt.-¿
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Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Lesson three: Study Individual Bucks
Reading sign and interpreting terrain is helpful, but for Kreuter, nothing trumps observation of specific bucks. "Whenever possible, I watch deer from a distance with binoculars. The best bucks often won't reach a primary food source until last light, so I begin glassing hillsides or transition areas just off the feeding field, where bucks are visible long before dark. I study their route and pick out potential stand sites.-¿ Your Assignment:
In open terrain, glass from at least half a mile away. In denser habitat, get closer if necessary and sit in a brushy fencerow, an abandoned building, or a high tree stand. As you glass, use a notebook to jot down the wind direction, time of day, weather, and details about every buck you see. This can reveal not just the best ambush but when to be there. "Last year, we watched a huge 8-point that we nicknamed Chimney,-¿ Kreuter recalls. "In a northwest wind, he'd leave his bedding area and reach the field well before dark, moving with the wind at his back. In any other wind, he'd wait until near dark and keep the breeze in his face. When you can observe a quirk like that, you're halfway to putting that buck on the wall.-¿
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Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Your Instructor: Don Kisky, Occupation: Iowa crop farmer, producer of Whitetail Extreme video series, Credentials: 26 years hunting whitetails; 25 P&Y; bucks How To Pattern Big Bucks
Don Kisky knows his trophy bucks. Literally. Of the 25 Pope and Young bruisers he's taken, he'd named more than half before they ever walked into bow range. And none were mere passing acquaintances. An expert at hunting individual bucks in their core areas, Kisky knows how to nail down the small territories where big deer hang out before the rut-"and how to catch them by surprise in their own living rooms. Here are three advanced lessons, plus three field assignments, straight from Kisky's playbook.
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Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Lesson one: Identify Your Buck
For Kisky, pinpointing a given buck's core area is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. The first piece he places might be a shed antler found in spring, the next a summer sighting or a trail camera photo, then perhaps a big rub. His initial goal is to create a snapshot of a buck's preferred non-breeding range, which he says commonly encompasses less than 200 acres. Then, by continuing to compile sightings and other clues, he nails down specific core areas within that range. "These can be as small as 10 or 20 acres, letting you really zero in on your buck.-¿ Your Assignment:
Put together a scrapbook for individual bucks. Note the location and hour every time you see the deer or get a trail photo of it. If your off-season scouting turned up other clues, record those as well. "Every piece of sign and every sighting is crucial,-¿ Kisky says. "There are no coincidences. Even if all you get is a five-minute glimpse one summer evening, you'll know that buck will be somewhere nearby come fall because before the rut starts, he occupies a lot less territory than you might think.-¿
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Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Lesson Two: Monitor Their Food Sources
You need to identify your buck's current feeding spot because (a) it's part of his core area; and (b) he'll bed and spend most of his time nearby. Stay on top of this, Kisky stresses. "Core areas aren't set in stone. If a buck's primary food source changes, he may move closer to the new feed. In Iowa, soybeans and food plots can be really hot in early fall. But once October 10 hits, acorns start dropping and you can't find a buck near those fields to save your life. Give him a week to get sick of eating only acorns, though, and he'll return to set up shop again.-¿ Your Assignment:
Observe, observe, observe. Even if all you have is 10 minutes on the way to work, or a half hour afterward, glass or set up trail cameras to monitor likely feeding areas. Once you figure out where your buck is eating, keep tabs on him until you're ready to hunt. "I'm no different than most guys,-¿ Kisky says. "I don't get a lot of time to hunt in the early season because I'm on the combine all the time. But I always have my binoculars on hand, and if all I can squeeze in is 20 minutes one day, I'll race to a spot to glass.-¿
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Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Lesson Three: Make a Surprise Visit
Now that you know where your buck is dining, consult your scrapbook to help determine the rest of his core territory, namely where he beds and his transition routes to the feed. Then wait for the right wind and spring the trap. "I put a 5-pound stand on my back and five tree steps in my pocket, and I hunt that spot immediately,-¿ Kisky says. "This gives me the element of surprise. In the last few years, I've come to believe this is a huge advantage when I'm hunting a big whitetail.-¿ Your Assignment:
On an early-season evening, don rubber boots, mist yourself with scent-eliminating spray, grab a lightweight stand, and head directly to a good ambush site. This might be the edge of a small food plot or oak stand or a staging zone off a cropfield. In either case, get there early so you have time to hang your stand quietly and prune conservatively. And, Kisky says, bring a set of rattling antlers. "We've killed many pre-rut bucks that came to light rattling. Bucks are curious and often aggressive when they hear sparring in their core area. If your deer believes there are intruders, he may waltz right under your stand.-¿
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Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Your Instructor: Mark Drury, Occupation: Founder of M.A.D. Calls, co-owner and producer of Drury Outdoors hunting videos and Wildlife Obsession on the Outdoor Channel, Credentials: 24 bucks measuring 150 inches or better Learn How To Call In Bucks
Mark Drury has called or rattled in more bucks than he cares to count, including most of the two dozen or so record-class whitetails in his trophy room. And he's learned something from every one. "I used to call pretty aggressively on all my hunts,-¿ says the Missouri expert. "But now I've learned to call with a purpose and a plan in mind, and it has made me much more successful.-¿ Drury shares his strategies in three advanced calling lessons, each accompanied by a field assignment. Follow them this fall and you could dial up a wall-hanger.
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Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Lesson one: Run a Sound Check
"Knowing a variety of deer vocalizations is key,-¿ says Drury, "as is understanding how deer will respond to hearing them according to their mood and the situation. I've had a lot of success with aggressive buck sounds like the snort-wheeze and the growl. And there are contact grunts, tending grunts, popping and clicking, and doe bleats.-¿ Not all these noises travel the same distance outdoors, he adds, so another key is learning the range of your calls and rattling. "We may think we're grunting hard at a buck, for example, but due to wind or crunchy leaves, he can't hear us.-¿ Your Assignment:
Purchase a good deer calling instructional CD or DVD, pair up with a buddy, and practice together as often as you can. Go to your hunting area, stand 15 yards apart, and critique each other's calling and rattling for both realism and volume. "Gradually increase the distance between you,-¿ Drury says. "Then repeat the exercise in varying cover types, weather conditions, and wind speeds. You'll become a better caller and also discover your effective range in real-life situations.-¿
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Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Lesson Two: Identify Peak Calling Conditions
"A buck in the right mood will come to a call on any given day,-¿ says Drury, "but you'll greatly improve your overall success by focusing on certain high-percentage periods. I think the absolute best times are the three weeks prior to, as well as the week after, peak breeding.-¿ He keeps a close eye on the weather, too: "Anytime there's a front accompanied by a temperature drop and a sharply rising or falling barometer, I'll be calling or rattling.-¿ Your Assignment:
Keep track of the phases of the rut on a calendar (see "Rut Tracker,-¿ p. WH18). Watch the weather forecasts, and plan your hunts to coincide with top calling conditions. "Once you're in the field, call and rattle according to the buck behavior you anticipate at each setup,-¿ Drury says. "At an evening food source, for example, I concentrate my efforts on the last half hour of light, when bucks are most apt to be on their feet.-¿ Just as important, back off when conditions aren't ideal, such as in a high wind. "I don't call then unless I actually see a buck.-¿
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Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Lesson Three: Fine-tune Your Calling Setup
The real challenge in calling whitetails, according to Drury, isn't getting a response from one-"it's coaxing him into range. "You can bank on a trophy trying to circle downwind of your setup, where he can bust you. And bucks in open fields are notorious for pinpointing your calls and locking up when they don't see another deer.-¿ But you can tweak your setups to avoid these problems. Your Assignment:
Whenever possible, position yourself with some obstacle-"a steep bank or a fenceline-"downwind and within range of your calls to prevent bucks from circling around and catching your scent. For field setups, stake a buck decoy just upwind of your position. If deer aren't responding to calls or rattling made from a tree stand, Drury gets down to their level. "My brother Terry and I have had great success with a tactic that we call rattle-and-run. We map out several bedding areas and go from one to the next, grunting and rattling from a ground blind for about 30 minutes at each spot. Eventually a buck will charge in looking for the intruder.-¿
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Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Your Instructor: R.G. "Dick-¿ Bernier, Occupation: Outdoor writer, photographer, and seminar speaker, Credentials: Author of three books on tracking (available from Big Whitetail Consultants, 207-892-3682; www.bigwhitetail.com), Bernier has tracked and shot 18 whitetail bucks averaging 221 pounds, dressed. How To Hunt Big Bucks On The Ground
If Dick Bernier hunted whitetails from a tree stand in the vast Maine woods near his home, his feet would probably freeze solid between buck sightings. So instead, he takes the fight to mature, heavy-bodied bucks by using the tracking and still-hunting techniques that his father taught him. "Tagging a big buck from your feet is a true challenge,-¿ Bernier says. "It's part art, part science, and mastering the skills needed to pull it off consistently will make you a better hunter no matter where you live.-¿ Here are three advanced lessons and field assignments from Bernier's ground-game playbook. Follow them this fall and you could walk up a monster.
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Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Lesson one: Identify Big-Buck Tracks
It may take Bernier hours to catch up to the deer he's after, so he starts by studying the animal's tracks carefully to ensure they were made by a good buck. "I look at width, length, and depth,-¿ he says. "A mature buck's print will be at least 3 inches wide and 4 inches long, minus the dewclaws. Also, the hoof of a heavy-bodied buck sinks farther into the snow or dirt, so I want the track I'm following to be deeper than others I spot. If I can find all these qualities in one track, I know I'm dealing with a buck in his prime.-¿ Your Assignment:
Go to a local woodlot or park and study deer tracks. Your first task is to separate buck tracks from those of does (see illustrations; the buck track is at far left). "Bucks, whether 6 months or 6 years old, will always toe-out when they walk,-¿ Bernier says. "Doe tracks, on the other hand, point straight ahead or toe-in.-¿ Once you can distinguish the sexes, measure tracks with a ruler or presized stick until you can readily recognize those of a big buck, according to the parameters Bernier gives above.
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Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Lesson Two: Learn to Read the Trail Ahead
"A set of buck tracks not only tells you what a buck has been up to but also hints at what he may be doing. This is critical to catching up with the deer,-¿ Bernier explains. "If the trail goes in a straight line, for example, the buck may be looking for does. When it meanders and pauses near browse or through an oak stand, he's feeding. A buck looking for a place to bed down will leave a J-hook trail. Learning to anticipate the animal's next move allows you to properly adjust your hunting strategy.-¿ Your Assignment:
Find a track worth following, then take up the trail. Try to "read ahead-¿ and let the sign dictate your speed. "If the tracks are beelining through the hardwoods, you can move fairly quickly to catch up,-¿ Bernier says. "When they start to wander, you should slow to a crawl and search for feeding deer. As soon as you see tracks making a J-hook, stop and look hard for the buck, especially to the sides. I've yet to shoot a buck straight ahead of me in all the years I've been tracking.-¿
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Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Whitetail Hunting Tutorial

Lesson Three: If You Can't Track, Still-Hunt
You don't need tracking snow to take advantage of a buck's hoofprints. A single fresh, large track in dirt or mud that heads toward likely bedding cover, for instance, tells you where to begin still-hunting. With intermittent tracks through leaf litter, Bernier has combined tracking and still-hunting to fill his tag. "The key here is a slow pace and sustained concentration. You want to pick up the track as often as you can, but also keep the wind in your face or against your cheek at all times.-¿ Your Assignment:
Check trails, logging roads, and field edges for fresh tracks that indicate where a big buck may be. Then begin moving into or quartering into the wind at a turtle's pace, using three tricks: "First, spend a lot of time on your knees,-¿ Bernier says. "The back of a standing buck is about 42 inches high, so you'll look over a lot of deer by standing all the time. Second, think constantly about quiet foot placement. Finally, avoid using a steady gait. Wild animals take several steps, then pause. Mimicking this rhythm keeps you from sounding like a human, slows you down, and improves your odds of bagging a trophy.-¿
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