This article was recently published in www.dannerholzwhitetails.com.

The buck was coming directly in front of my hunter. I had him shoot and test his weapon. We talked about how and when to pull the trigger. Excitement was peaking as the great buck came into range. “Get Ready, safety off, shoot when the buck steps away from the tree. I will grunt to stop him, then pull the trigger.”

All went as planned until the moment of truth. The buck stopped broadside at 50 yards and looked at me. “Shoot!” Nothing happened. The buck walked off and an opportunity was lost. My hunter was so excited, he forgot to take off the safety.

Last week I helped a friend tag his bull moose here in Montana. We hunted near Cooke City in an area where Ernest Hemingway hunted. After locating a HUGE bull moose, my friend Kirk was ready to fill his tag. When we first saw the bull, he was at 1000 yards and closing. After repositioning a few times, we got the angle and range right. The bull would pass in front of us under 200 yards.

Kirk was locked and loaded. For an experienced hunter, he was as excited as if it was his first kill. The bull had seen us and was plowing through the willow thick marsh like it was an open lawn. I set up Kirk’s tripod and he was set. “Get ready to shoot. Safety off. You have an opening coming up. Almost there. SHOOT!”

The rifle went off as I watched the hair fly off the Bull’s shoulder. “Hit!” He shot a second time but missed. “He’s done and going down!’ Kirk shot a third time to make sure. The great Bull was done! I have been through this situation many times. Sometimes it ends well and other times it does not.

Even the best marksmen have trouble when over excited. They spend money, time, and energy for that one special moment and then… Not all hunters are “gamers”. Kirk’s first shot was perfect. The round went through the top of the shoulders and lung area. The last shot, was not needed, broke the spine. We found that round when we were quartering the huge moose.

We have all shot or hunted with “Great Shots”. When I hear that, my hair goes up. Shooting at a range is way different than afield. One awesome trap shooter was anxious to hunt pheasants with me. My German Shorthaired Pointer, Krieg, was the best. We hunted wild birds along a corn field in Maryland. Krieg cracked on point. Get ready and let us walk in together. This AA shooter had busted thousands of clay targets in his lifetime. 

A huge cockbird took off just feet away. The cackling bird lifted off feet in front of this great shot. 3 shots later we watched that untouched rooster sail into the next county. This happened several times that day and he never hit a bird.

Excitement in the moment has saved more big Bucks than anything else. I tell my hunters to become the “Terminator”. Focus on the shot. Put everything else out of your mind. Sure, it is exciting, but focus on pulling the trigger. Once the critter is down, you can get excited and do a little dance.

Deer hunting is especially relevant in this conversation. Lots of bucks have bee saved by over excited and inexperienced hunters. Being a great shot is one thing but being a great shot when it counts is another story. Sadly, many great deer have been lost to lousy shots.

So, when do you shoot? I believe that every shooter must make that personal decision on their own. First, trust in your ability. Know your limitations. If you are comfortable at shooting 300 yards, then know your limits. Make the range measurements and stalk into your comfortable range. Different weapons also have limitations. Understand and know what a realistic and ethical shot is.

Today’s archers can hit a target out to over 125 yards. In Montana, many bowhunters crave a tag to hunt elk along the Missouri Breaks. This vast, open area is loaded with wildlife. Most of the bulls will not answer or come to the call. Instead of trying to stalk into a reasonable distance, they shoot from too far. Because of this, the archers set up along the coulees and wait for herds to pass on their way to and from the river.

They launch their arrows at that excessive range and hit the bull’s, but the arrows lack the power to penetrate and pass through. Many of the harvested elk have several arrow wounds due to shooting too far. One friend that tagged a huge 7×7 bull found 7 other arrows in the carcass. Most of the meat was festered and unhealthy to eat. Just because you can hit a target at great range does not mean that you should.

Accuracy comes from muscle memory. The more trigger time the better. You will not have time to think about the safety, trigger, pull, breathing, rest, and calm. You need to instinctively just do it! That one perfect shot is the result of thousands of practice shots. If you do not practice, you have already missed.

Take the first best shot that you are comfortable with. If you wait for something better, good luck. Too many hunters wait for the “Perfect Shot”. The perfect shot is the shot that you can comfortably make when the moment arises. Not every shooter understands this. If you have a guide mentoring you, listen, and pay attention.

Do not hunt if you are not committed to pulling the trigger. The finale of a successful hunt is a filled tag and meat in the freezer. If you are not comfortable with this, bring a camera, not a rifle, bow, or gun. Let your guide or mentor know your intentions and limitations.

I believe that you should take the first legal and honest critter that God sends your way. Over the course of a lifetime, you will tag plenty of trophies. It is important to also know how to shoot and kill the critter. Sadly, the only way to learn this is to do it!

Only you know when to shoot. The shot is your responsibility. You cannot blame someone or something else for what your skill level and limitations are. Like John Wayne said, “A man has to know his limitations!” Sometimes, the best shot is to know when not to shoot.

Aim small, miss small!

Montana Grant

For more Montana Grant, target him at www.montanagrantfishing.com.

This article was recently published in www.Dannerholz Whitetails.com

Hot meat is rotten and spoiled meat. Unless you are cooking dinner, your wild game needs to stay cool. Once you have shot your wild game, the clock is running. Make sure that you have a plan, and time, before pulling the trigger.

Remember that the meat you just shot is expensive! Depending upon the hunter, try to put a price per pound on your “free” meat. Your time, gear, license, practice, weapons, travel, camp, and accessories add up fast. If the meat you harvest is less than $20 per pound, you are doing better than me.

Many hunters prefer to butcher their harvest. If I plan to share the meat with others, my name is on the package. No hair, cooties, or crud will be on the meat. After all, hunter harvest is not inspected by the USDA. Taking pride in your meat gifts is important.

Several times I have harvested a deer for a family. I processed and gave the entire deer to friends in need. I know that you can just donate a kill but… Giving a family food reminds me of Daniel Boone days. The entire village shared from a hunter’s harvest. It is also a good idea to include several recipes that they can enjoy.

Early antelope, elk, and deer seasons mean hot weather hunting. Temperatures over 80 degrees are common. Once the critter is down, your goal is to quickly get it to a cool walk in refrigerator or some other cooling area. Have a plan in place.

Sure, it is easy to just take your critter to a butcher and let them do the work. It also increases the price per pound by several dollars. Figure on another $250-300 to butcher the critter, depending on the jerky, sausage, and special cuts.

Start by opening the body cavity to release body heat. Large deer and elk mean skinning and quartering. Some hunters quarter with the skin on. This may be fine later in the cooler season. Hide on protects the meat from insects and dirt. It is best to use cotton meat sacks in hot seasons to do the same. Keeping insects off is also important. Cutting the hide, rather than skinning, also dulls the knife more quickly.

If the stomach was cut or damaged, take special care to minimize contamination.  E Coli is a deadly bacterium that can cause major health issues. Digestive systems are full of bacteria so take your time. If you do have contaminated areas, wash, clean, and dry them.

The smaller sized meat will cool more quickly. Large bones will hold heat so deboning may be the best choice. Spread the meat onto a tarp or the hide. Keep the meat dirt free.

Transport and get ready for the next step. COOL THE MEAT DOWN! This means a refrigerator, or a cool area. Shaded creek bottoms are great natural cool areas. If the critter is in pieces, you may have enough extra refrigeration in the garage to do the deal.

Ice chests loaded with ice is a good choice. Lay the meat on top of the ice with the drain open. You can also make a makeshift cooler using an elevated wood frame with ice in the bottom. I once built a cooler in the creek using this trick. Water temperature is usually cooler than air temps. I used rocks and wood logs to construct a dry box in the shaded creek. The tarp had no holes in it and made a dry, but cool space. I placed 4 elk legs, and a bag of trimmed meat into the creek cooler. Another tarp on top, held down with logs, made the lid. We hunted another week before heading home. A thermometer said the box was a constant 50 degrees, especially at night. The meat was still fresh and aged.

Premium ice chests can hold ice for more than a week. Freeze ice in plastic milk jugs. They will also double as shower or drinking water. Block ice lasts longer than bag ice. You can cut small frozen water bottles up for ice in your drinks as needed.

Portable meat lockers are also a way to go. I have seen disassembled wooded boxes that you could walk in. A small air conditioner was added and run using a generator. The same idea can be made using utility trailers.

If you hang a deer, consider adding an ice jug into the body cavity. You want the meat to be off the ground and in a shady cool area. In this way you can begin processing a day or two later, depending on the temperature. If it is in the mid 30’s to low 40’s. the critter is good for a week or two. This resting time also ages the meat. Aged meat is more tender.

Hanging a critter by the neck allows the fluids to drain to the rump of the deer or critter. Try hanging the deer opposite. I prefer to hang the critter by the rump. You can hang from a stick between the knees or hook the critter at the pelvis. In this way, the deer will drain to the head, which you will not eat. Muscles tend to relax, allowing for a more tender cut.

Once your meat has been processed, wrap and label it properly. This means identifying the date and cut. You can wrap the meat in plastic wrap and then freezer paper. This double wrap works well. Vacuum sealing the meat removes all the air form the package. You need the right equipment, but this is a great way to preserve the meat. Depending on the cut and size, frozen, processed meat is good for 3-6 months. After that, the meat begins to get freezer burn and lose its flavor and quality.

Native peoples would smoke, jerk, salt, or dry their meat. These old ways will also work well.

Montana Grant

For more Montana Grant, find him chillin at www.montanagrantfishing.com.

Hopefully, Indian Corn is not a name that is offensive. If anything, Indian, or Flint Corn, has been around for centuries and has saved hungry populations around the world.

Corn, as we know it, is not a wild, native plant. It is a hybrid made from Teosinte, a form of wild Mexican grass. Corn is an American original. This grass was domesticated over 10,000 years ago. Originally, it was planted with other grasses to be used as forage crop for animals. When the plant hybridized with other grasses, small cobs began to show up. These cobs were only several kernels in size, but with more time and support, larger cobs were produced.

Columbus is given credit for bringing corn back to Europe. He found it on several offshore islands, in the late 1400’s. Columbus never set foot in America. Sugar cane is also a crop that Columbus took back to Europe. It is said that no Cancer existed in Europe until sugar and corn were introduced into the diet of Europeans. This may be true, but Cancer was also an unknown. Their primitive medical knowledge may have also overlooked cancer for generations.

Jamestown and the John Smith story most likely brought Corn back to Europe. He also took tobacco and several other native crops back with him. This was common for explorers. Today, Corn is found in China, India, and most cultures.

Indian corn was not grown for decorations. It was made to eat. Also known as Flint Corn, Maize was a hearty and tough crop. It was hard like the stone known as Flint. The kernels could be kept for several months. Todays, Dent Corn tends to rot quickly. You notice a dent in the kernel as it begins to decay in just a week or so after harvest.

Corn is relatively easy to grow. Since it is a grass, water was critical for a good yield. One cob can produce many seeds for next season’s crop. The cobs and silage can be fed to livestock. Cobs were also used for sanitary, toilet needs, and insulation.

Today’s common corn is also known as Sweet Corn or Field Corn. Dent, or Field Corn is grown for livestock feed or other products. Ground Corn is used a sanding abrasive for air blasting and sanding. A healthy stalk of corn can produce several large cobs. Farmers plant corn in rows for easy harvesting but this was not done until machines were used to cut the crops. Originally, corn was simply scattered into a plowed field. Pumpkins and squash were also planted in the corn fields to support the stalks and consolidate the fall harvests.

Corn needs large amounts of nutrients to grow, just like grass. Early people often dumped fish, manure, and other detritus into their fields to promote growth. Other crops like clovers and alfalfa would restore nutrients to the soil when the fields were rotated. Incan and Mayan cultures would add animal and human blood to each plant as a ritual to add nutrient to the plants. Corn had become a major component of their diets.

Maize could be ground into meal, flour, or used as popcorn. Since it came in many colors, corn could be called Blue Corn or Strawberry Corn. Entire cobs were carried with migrating tribes and used when needed. Native peoples would Par Boil corn in water for 12 hours. Once it was boiled and dried, it could be pounded into a usable meal or flour. Powder became flour, small bits became meal, and larger bits were ground again. Hominy and Polenta are also made from corn. The diversity of uses is what has made corn so important.

Today, 75% of our grocery staples has corn in them. Cereal, Ethanol, pharmaceuticals, fabrics, makeup, explosives, paper goods, and paint are all made using corn. Indian bread, porridge, and Jonny Cakes were common ways to prepare the corn. Pemmican was made by adding dried meat and berries to the corn and cooked into a cookie or cake. These cakes could last for months. Baskets of any corn surplus would be cached in caves for the next year.

Today we use Maize as a symbol of Harvest Season. Cobs are much larger than ever before. The colored kernels provide decoration for homes. You could use these kernels as popcorn or grind them up but make sure that the stores have not sprayed a clear lacquer on them to make them shiny.

Ironically, Indian Corn comes in 3 primary colors, Red White, and Blue. There is no information that I found to confirm that nations used these colors in their national flags, but Corn certainly helped to build nations. Many South and North American flags highlight these colors. The same can be said about European, African, and Asian flags.

Voting was another use for Maize. Voting barrels in 1623 were set up to decide upon political offices. Elections, and agendas. Corn kernels were added to the ‘YES” barrel and dried Beans were added to the “No” barrel. Cobs went to the outhouse, pig pen, or animal food. After the election was decided, the beans and corn became Succotash! All voters would enjoy the meal and discuss the future together. Nothing went to waste.

Corn in North America comes from the grass known as Zea Mays. When corn was originally grown, eating it was seen as demeaning and undignified. Only poor folks were including it into their diets. Wealthy people though corn was for the poor people and animals. Ironically, other delicacies like lobsters, crabs, and pork were also seen as poor people food or food for slaves. The French and Spaniards were offended by eating corn products.

Today cereal is an abundant use for corn. It is hard to find something in our stores that does not have some form of corn in them. Corn Starch, corn meal, oil, flour, and many other products use corn to prepare them.

Indian Corn, Maize, and Flint Corn are sold at most stores and Fall harvest events. Even Pop Corn can be purchased on the cob. I once hunted Geese and Ducks in a harvested Maize or popcorn field. When I was retrieving our downed geese, I noticed small cobs that were missed by the combine. The multicolored cobs were only 5-7 inches long. I picked a bushel of these cobs and hung them in my garage all winter. Popcorn was a fun snack!

Enjoy the great decorations of colorful Indian Corn this season.

Montana Grant

For more Montana Grant, find him popping corn at www.montanagrantfishing.com.

This article was recently published at www.Dannerholz Whitetails.com.

A healthy deer could thrive on just 3 acres. If there is water, cover, food, and privacy, deer would be incredibly happy In your back yards. Most mammals are lazy until they do not need to be. For a tree stand hunter, this could mean a long day afield with a big buck 50 yards away and never seen.

Deer, especially bucks, move when they must or are motivated. Years ago, I was sitting in a tree stand in Northern Baltimore County. I was overlooking a corn field and hedgerow, where there was a history of deer movement. Around 5 o’clock, a nice buck snuck under my stand travelling downwind and from a direction that I had never seen a deer travel in a decade. As the 4×4 passed below, I made a quick bow shot and was on the meat. As I climbed out of the stand, I noticed a lady in a long raincoat walking her dogs. Earlier, I had heard some barking. They had pushed the buck from his bed, and he was getting out of Dodge. The only problem was that the trail to Dodge went under my tree.

Predators, people, pets, kids, and farm animals have become motivators to make deer move. As properties get more developed, the suburbs are becoming more crowded. Most landowners will allow hunting when respectfully asked. Like it or not, these factors can and will impact your hunts. On another hunt, a Big Buck that I was targeting was finally making an appearance. To get to me, he needed to cross a large creek. He was marching across the 50-yard creek when a raft loaded with drunken swimmers came around the bend. I never saw that buck again.

Traditionally, there are 3-4 factors that cause deer to move. Wind, temperature, Weather, and the rut. Some could argue that wind, temperature, and precipitation are all related to Weather.

The RUT    Mating is a strong desire that all mammals have. Deer become obsessed with reproduction around the same time each year. Lunar phases, daylight length, hormones, and biology start the ball rolling. For several weeks, deer are on the move to address reproduction. Much of this movement is nocturnal but there is usually a week or so when Big Smart Bucks become sex stupid. This is when the chase does.

WEATHER    The weather makes it necessary for deer to move. Cold or warmer temps make deer move to higher, lower, warmer, or colder locations. Some of this relates to air currents. In the morning, as temps warm up, air currents tend to move uphill. The opposite is true in the evening. Scent is perhaps the deer’s most important defense. They relocate to where they can smell the most. Bedding areas will reflect this pattern. Good scouting can help the hunter stay in the game.

When it is warm or suddenly turns warm, deer activity gets shut down. Air temperature is a major impact on daylight deer movement. Temps over 55. degrees in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, slow deer movement. When temperatures rise above the normal temp for the season, deer activity decreases.

Wind can also be a slow down for deer activity. Swirling or high winds will confuse the deer’s nose. Movement of branches, leaves, and grasses also confuses the deer’s vision. This is when deer hunker down. If the wind is light and consistent, deer will begin moving into the wind toward low light.

Rain and Snow cover the food areas and change the dynamics of the habitat. The Barometric pressure that changes before and after the precipitation also alert the deer to find bedding and cover. When the Barometer is changing, going up or down, the deer will be on the move. In some cases, deer feast just before the storm, then head to bedding. Deer move the most when the Barometric drop is sudden. Once the weather settles in, deer will not move. As the storm ends, the deer will immediately increase activity. Studies show that deer activity and feeding tend to be highest when the Barometric Pressure is between 29-31 inches. This is the time to be on the hunt.

HUNTING PRESSURE is also a concern for deer movement. When deer feel the pressure, they tend to stay put and move only a little after dark. I have seen deer completely covered in snow and nearly invisible as I walked within feet of them. On one deer drive, we pushed through a thick clump of Mountain Laurel. As I stumbled over the branches, I thought I smelled a deer. When I stopped, the buck was staring at me from under a bough of laurel, just 5 feet away. Another driver had also passed within yards of this hidden deer. At first, I thought he was dead or wounded. Once I touched him with a stick, he was up and headed in the opposite direction.

The First Rule of Deer Hunting is to find the Deer. The Second Rule is to shoot the deer. The Third Rule is to go back to Rule Number 1!

Hunt Hard, Hunt Harder!

Montana Grant

For more Montana Grant, find him moving at www.montanagrantfishing.com.

This article was recently published at WWW.Dannerholz whitetails.com.

Is Bigger better? Does size matter? How big is big enough? These questions haunt many deer hunters. Of course, we are talking about Big Racks, Headgear, Horns, Hammers, or antlers! What did you think I was talking about? Anyway…

For many hunters, mating does, and deer lovers, Big Antlers are not that important. Veteran hunters needed to deer hunt for more than antlers. Filled tags meant filled bellies. After WW2 hunters were subsistence hunters. The sport was there but so was the need to eat. I remember my Grandpa saying, “You can’t eat antlers!” Piles of great racks were just tossed into the yard or trash. The real trophy was the meat!

Today’s hunters seek out the large antlers for bragging rights. The meat is often donated to soup kitchens and food banks. My how times have changed. Modern deer hunters are also enjoying some of the highest deer populations ever. There are more deer to grow more antlers. Many states have laws protecting bucks so they can come of age and grow huge racks. Weapons also give hunters more options, seasons, and opportunity.

Veteran hunters have antlers and heads mounted on the walls. For us older sportsmen, these represent memorials rather than bragging rights. After a lifetime of filled tags, Antlers remind us that the best parts are the friends, memories, and heritage. Harvesting a smaller buck or doe is simply fine. Every legally harvested buck or doe is a trophy.

Huge Rack hunters don’t begin at that stage. Hunters evolve as they gain experience and age. We all start wanting to harvest a deer, any legal deer. Once that step is mastered, we want to harvest a lot of deer. Next comes a Big Buck. At this point our confidence and skills have grown to where we want to harvest a Specific deer. At this point, we have our wall hangers, bragging rights, and full freezers. Now the hunt is about teaching others how to hunt.

The other question is do “Does” prefer bucks with big racks? We have all been taught that antlers are for competing with other bucks for the right to mate with does. Does were supposed to prefer bucks with big racks as symbols of healthy virility.

A recent Mississippi State deer management study looked at this question. Do does prefer big antlered bucks? The research team sawed off big antlers and replaced them with smaller racks. Since antlers are bone, there are no nerves, so the bucks felt pressure but no pain. Now a mature, healthy, buck with small antlers was returned to the herd. 25 estrous does were then placed into a fenced area. Mature bucks with small antlers, young bucks with big antlers, and other variations were tried. Each test lasted 36 hours.

The results showed that does bedded near big antlered bucks 79% of the time. Family connections have no impact. Bucks and does mate with any bucks and does. Other studies also show that hermaphrodite bucks or does tend to not mate at all.

Now this data is limited and is not entirely accurate. There are also many other factors that can lead to mating outcomes. During the Rut, does will mate with multiple bucks. Even spikes end up in the gene pool. When big bucks fight younger bucks and chase does through the forests and fields, they get worn out. Their sperm count drops and so does their energy. After a big battle or chase, the big, tired buck, may just be too tired to mate. Other bucks take advantage of this resting window. There is no guarantee that the big buck DNA will impregnate the doe.

Science also suggests that Does mate with whatever buck is available at the time they are in estrous. Opportunity is overcome by choice. The doe becomes pregnant when the estrus cycle is exactly right. If the doe mated with 10 bucks, only one will impregnate her with only his DNA. There is no guarantee which Bucks DNA will be in the offspring.

In controlled or fenced situations, does can be artificially impregnated with whatever genetics are desired. Certain characteristics can be maintained, added, or removed from the deer herd. The same is true when breeding cattle, horses, and livestock.

Ultimately, big antlers are a result of good genetics, health, age, and nutrition. If a spike buck has good genetics, the offspring can grow big antlers. Spikes and small rack bucks can get huge after 3-6 years. This is when they become true trophies.

Ironically, we are still intrigued that a doe, if given a choice, prefers a big antlered mate. Even though the mature, experienced, and healthy antler reduced mate is feet away, she will choose the young, inexperienced, and smaller mate since it has bigger antlers. Large antlers do not correspond to the size of any other mating parts. They do show age, fighting strength, and health. The doe must be assuming that big antlers mean better survival and future reproduction.

Perhaps we are reading too much into this. Nature knows best! Does breed when the time is right. Whenever, whoever, whatever, when the timing is right, conception happens.

During an evening bow hunt, several seasons ago, I watched an estrus doe cruise under my tree stand. Behind her was a 3-legged buck. His nice rack was a matched, average 4×4. The butt on this buck was huge. He must have lost his leg in an accident or… The other leg built up strength to compensate for the loss of his other leg below the knee. The handicapped buck showed no signs of being handicapped.

I had an easy Bow shot at this pretty nice deer. To some, this 3-legged buck was a perfect deer to cull from the herd. Instead, I let the buck pass. If this deer was able to survive the loss of a leg and overcome this handicap, it must have some great genetics and desire that need to stay in the herd.

The Scientific study concluded that antlers stimulate reproduction. Size, age, and experience do not. The body weight, and size, of deer can dramatically change annually due to weather, drought, or other hardships. Antler size can stay relatively the same.

Big Antlered Bucks are preferred! Generally, an estrus doe or a hunter will pull the trigger on a bigger rack over a smaller when, if the choice arises. What is most interesting is how Nature finds a way. The Science and cycles of nature are simply amazing.

Big Racks Rule!

Montana Grant

For more Montana Grant, find him at www.montanagrantfishing.com.

This article was recently published in WWW.Dannerholz Whitetails.com.

Antlers are bone! They are not horn, which is a modified hair cell. Since antlers are shed annually, they need to regrow each season. Now is when that antler growth is crucial.

Bones on deer heads begin at the Pedicle! This bump is found on the buck’s foreheads. Antlers grow up from the Pedicle and detach at the same point. Proper pedicle development will determine quality antlers. Pedicles develop after birth and take about 4-5 months to show up. Once the young buck begins to produce testosterone, and gain appropriate weight, the bony protrusions, antlers, will begin to grow.

Young bucks can determine the health of a deer population. Body growth supports the growth of the pedicle, and later the antlers.

Mature bucks drop, or shed, their antlers at the end of winter. New antlers immediately begin to form. It was once thought that the bucks shed antlers because they became too heavy and broke off. In fact, the blood flow ceased, and the antler bases eventually pull free. A tinge of blood is common on the pedicle and antler bases.

DNA is a big part of bucks with big antlers. The racks grow in mass and size until about 6-7 years of age. Then the antlers begin to grow smaller. If proper food and health are consistent, the Buck will add tines and thickness to what becomes a great rack.

Bucks with young, small antlers, or spikes, were once thought to be inferior. These bucks were targeted as cull deer. It turns out that a buck with spikes inn their first season can become great branched bucks as they mature. Button bucks are often late born fawns. Bucks that are healthy will produce their first polished antler by 6-7 months of age. One reason for this is the immature pedicle. As the pedicle increases in size, so will the antlers. It is not uncommon for spikes to mature late in December and be shed in February.

When the blood flow stops nourishing the velvet and antler, the velvet will fall off. This is when the buck polishes their antlers. There is no itching or pain since bone, antler, have no nerves in it. When bucks rub on trees, they are shining up their headgear to attract does. The velvet is often eaten by the young deer or other deer in the herd. Does also eat the afterbirth. These are the only times when deer may be considered an omnivore.

Spike antlers that are smooth and consistent in size and shape are a trait of healthy bucks. If a bur, uneven length, or other irregularity shows up, it shows the buck has undergone trauma or is unhealthy. Spikes less than 3 inches long are a sign of less maturity and a later drop fawn. Late season velvet covered bucks are in this category. Since most fawns are born in late April and May, they are often enjoying a food filled Spring. This begins the healthy nutrition for these future bucks.

Yearling bucks can have branched antlers. Forks, 3×3, or even small 4×4 racks can occur when weather, genetics, nutrition, and quality of life all fall into place. Bucks living around ideal food crops, agriculture, or food plots can fall into this category. True trophy racks happen for just a few seasons.

When fawns are born really late, they may show no noticeable antlers. These button bucks are often harvested during antlerless deer seasons. Bucks can be born in August and September if a late previous Rut occurred. These deer will also have a harder time surviving the Winter. Nutrition decreases as the Fall becomes Winter. If these bucks do survive, the next season can get back on track for more normal antler growth.

The photoperiod determines when bucks shed, Rut, and go into reproduction mode. Day length is critical as the clock to determine healthy cycles. The longer the days, the more plants can grow. The more plants, the more available food and cover.

Stress is also a determining factor for antler growth. Areas with more predators means that the deer are chased, or under constant stress. Suburban areas or places near railroads or traffic means more car strikes and mortality. Social stress also is at issue. When bucks compete for which Does, that they want to mate with, injury, broken antlers, and stress are a problem. In extreme battles, antlers may lock up or end in death. Young spike bucks are willing but bigger bucks will often horn in on the action. The goal is for Does to mate with the strongest and the fittest. It is not uncommon for does to mate with several bucks. Spike bucks can fall into this group even if their DNA does not add to the gene pool. At least they learn what to do. The DNA from a healthy spike buck could be of high quality to produce future trophy bucks.

Mature Does ultimately produce each year’s best quality bucks. Since they are dominant and familiar with the habitat, they know where the best food, cover, and survival areas are. They also tend to breed with only the better and bigger bucks.

The overall population of an area also will impact antler growth. More deer means more competition for food, bedding, reproduction, and quality living space. Fortunately, these areas also are the homes of predators like coyotes, wolves, lions, and regional predators. Disease also shows up in areas with bigger, more crowded populations. Thinning the herd assures survival of the stronger and healthier critters. As the deer herd changes in population size, so will the predator base.

Like most things in life, “The One Thing” is that there is “Never just One Thing!”. Annual buck antler size is a symptom of a healthy or stressed deer herd. Even in a trophy deer management area, harvests of big antlers changes with the weather and other conditions. Therefore, when a hunter harvests a really great buck, it may be their buck of a lifetime.

Enjoy the Big Boned Bucks when you can!

Montana Grant

For more Montana Grant, find him loving deer at www.montanagrantfishing.com.

This article was recently posted in the Maryland Fishing and Hunting Journal.

Shills, Palominos, Bananas, or Rainbow Albinos are all the same. These names refer to the Golden Trout. You can catch these hatchery reared hybrid trout in Maryland, Pennsylvania, other states, and in their home state of West Virginia. True wild Golden Trout exist in western lakes and originated in California.

Golden trout are not natural or a native species, they are hybrids. Many trout purists’ frown upon these colorful and strong fighters. Remember the saying that, “you can’t catch a fish that you can see,” holds true with the golden trout. They stand out like sore thumbs in the river, but rarely give your bait or lure a look. Anglers will sit on these Golden Beauties all day without netting one.

Biologically, Golden trout will not reproduce naturally with other species. Since the fish do not need to reproduce, food and energy goes into their muscle and size. They grow fast, fight hard, and offer variety to stocked fisheries.

We all enjoy catching fish but catching unique fish adds to the fun. Catching a golden fish is even cooler. Maryland stocks these hybrids in the waters where Put and Take fishing is allowed.

Golden Trout originated in West Virginia. The Petersburg Hatchery worked for years to isolate the golden gene that led to this unique, mutated, rainbow trout subspecies. It took West Virginia several years to develop this strain. In 1949, West Virginia received 10,000 rainbow trout fry from a California strain of rainbow trout. All but 300 died. These fish were bred over the years to create a brood stock that went on to produce a single embryo that started the Golden strain.

In 1955 the Petersburg Hatchery noticed a yellow-mottled fingerling swimming with the rest of the trout. This fish was named “Little Camouflage” and moved it to a separate protected pond. In 1956, Little Camouflage had grown to 14 inches and the spotted colors had turned into a wide band of golden scales. It turned out that this unique fish was a female.

In 1956, 900 eggs from Little Camouflage were fertilized with milt from a regular male rainbow trout. The resulting fry showed none of the mother’s color characteristics. That winter, these fingerlings were sent to rearing ponds with 500.000 other trout. By February, hatchery staff noticed that 300 became golden in color.

As the fish aged, they entered their “Golden Years”. The staff repeated the experiment with the 300 survivors and 90% of the offspring showed Golden Colors. Through selective breeding, the hatchery was able to produce a consistent Golden trout. West Virginias Bicentennial was in 1963 so the Golden Trout was stocked across the state. One Golden was stocked for every 10 Rainbows.

My first experience with BIG GOLDENS was along the Schaffer’s Fork, in West Va. The Catch and Release area were stocked along with tons of BIG trout, including Goldens. On that trip I netted a 25 ½ inch beauty. When you walked down the railroad track access, you could see these Giant Golden Pigs in every pool. My memories are still vivid because of these beautiful, huge, strong fish. My fishing buddy was a Maryland Cold Water Fisheries Biologist. He was also impressed.

It took Maryland a while to get on board with the golden trout in their stocking program. Previous hatchery managers, and administrators, felt these hybrids were a joke. Despite requests from anglers, Golden’s were in the dead zone. Times have since changed and Maryland has developed their own Golden trout program. Every load of stocked rainbow trout will have Goldens in the school.

Now these gold nuggets are stocked from 10-25 inches. Fishermen that catch them brag about their colorful and fun experience. Anglers disagree on their catchability. Because they are so brightly colored, they seem to seek shade and heavy cover. They seem to be reluctant to bite until you are not paying attention. Once you hook into a monster Golden Trout, you too will become a Golden Trout Fanatic.

Pennsylvania stocked Golden Trout before Maryland. My first golden catch was a 14-inch beauty caught in Deer Creek, in 1966. The trout must have swum downstream from the Keystone State, and ended up along Telegraph Road, under an old wooden bridge. I tried to catch that fish for hours. I had it hooked several times but got so excited that I would lose him. Finally, with help from my Dad, the Golden Beauty was in the net. That was the only trout in my creel that day. This was probably the first documented Golden Trout harvest recorded in Maryland. The Baltimore Sun papers sportswriter, Bill Burton, took my picture and published the story.

Finding Golden Trout in a stocked stream, is not hard. They stand out like a neon light. If you are wearing polaroid glasses, you will see them. Where the Goldens are, so are other trout. Some fishermen call them “Judas Trout” because of this. They give away the position of their more camouflaged rainbow trout brethren.

Golden trout fight hard! Inch for inch, these trout fight their butts off. If your line or reel has any flaws, they will be exposed by a hard fighting Golden. Thin line is needed to regularly fool these reluctant biters. The strong battle will result in a break off if your drag is not set properly.

Maryland and Pennsylvania anglers have the potential to catch a Grand Slam. This means that in one day, you can catch every species of trout available. Brook, Rainbow, Brown, Golden, and Cutthroat.  Many of the hatchery eggs come from Federal hatcheries such as the one in Ennis Montana. Your Fishing License fees and trout stamp pay for the stocked and wild trout programs.

Go for the GOLD!!!

Montana Grant

For more Montana Grant, catch him at www.montanagrantfishing.com.

The Corona Virus is doing its worst. So, what could be good about this international pandemic?

In Montana, we are always looking for the upside. How could this virus make hunting and fishing better? Here are some thoughts about the future positive outcomes.

               Salmon fly Hatch    When was the last time you fished this hatch without a crowd of Non-Residents horning in on you? Well, this year should be great! With limited travel, quarantines, Airport challenges, and more important challenges, non-residents will be staying home.

               Spring Turkey Hunt    Fewer hunters makes for better hunting. That will be the case for Montana Spring Turkey season. Competition will be lighter since many out of state hunters will be staying home.

               Mother’s Day Hatch     The May Caddis hatch will be reserved for locals this season. This consistent hatch was always a great local afternoon hatch until it wasn’t. Promotions of this hatch have invited tons of Out of Stators to visit town when the bite is on.

               Spring Walleyes      The May and June walleye fishery has seen increased crowds over the past few years. This year it will be local luck only. Rip some lips.

               Yellowstone Park    The Park will be less crowded as the Corona Virus sidelines manty tourists. Just traveling through the park will be better since fewer tourists will be around. You will not need to see herds of Japanese tourists waving their selfie sticks and flags. Enjoy the park like it used to be.

Canceled trips    Since folks need to work more, after being quarantined, vacation plans will change and be canceled. This means less hoards of fishermen, hunters, and tourists to Big Sky Country. Now for some, they will be saddened from reduced sales but… that means more fish, critters, and crowds for the locals.

Use it or lose it! If we don’t take advantage of this opportunity, you will not reap the rewards. A less crowded river, forest, or park translates into a more quality experience. Now I know that some folks Silver Lining can be another’s Black Hole but…

Enjoy it while it lasts!

Montana Grant

For more Montana Grant, find him healthy and happy at www.montanagrantfishing.com.

Trout fishermen are going Mad over the Madison River. The only thing groups can agree on is that no one wants to be told what to do. The guides and outfitters want to make money, the shuttle drivers want to make money, Ennis businesses and trout shops want to make money, and fly fishermen from around the world want to spend money. “Money” is also a common connection.

Public fisheries are paid for by the public. The fish are public property, and the resource is managed based upon public input and agencies paid with public funding. It does not seem fair when private entities get to make money off what is a valuable resource for all of us.

The groups that pay for the resource’s management, regulation, and protections should have the voice. Fishing licenses, management stamps, fees, and contributions pay the bills that build the fishing accesses. Recreational tubers, floaters, and users that pay nothing, crowd, trash, vandalize, impact and abuse our “public” places but contribute no money to support them. What a sweet deal. Just look at the Lower Madison River during the summer.

What makes us the “Maddest” is that what is truly at risk is the fishery itself. Too much pressure ensures that the resource will be lost. How much fishing pressure is too much? Do we have to wait until the bottom falls out before we act? Trout Unlimited says to follow the Science. They will not take a side until the data is all in. Maybe they need to be renamed “Trout Limited”. In the meantime, fishermen are getting madder.

A recent yearlong FWP survey has surfaced.

               70% of interviewed Madison River anglers are non-residents

               Only 18% of anglers were from Gallatin County, MT.

               Most non-resident and non-commercial use are between Hebgen Lake and Lyons Bridge

               50% of Madison Commercial floating is between Lyons Bridge and Ennis.

               21% of non-resident Madison anglers are from California, Utah, and Colorado

               25% of interviewed anglers were first time visitors to the Madison River

               70% of interviewed anglers felt the fishing was “acceptable”.

               55% of interviewed anglers said that the number of floaters, between Lyons and Ennis is unacceptable.

               70% of interviewed anglers felt the number of fishermen on the river is unacceptable.

Did anyone ask about the fish? How many guided trips come from out of state? Do fishermen understand proper Catch and Release techniques? Could Guides become better stewards of the resource through education and training? Should experienced guides have input into how fishing is better protected? Should some stretches be managed as Guided trips only?  Is it time to exclude spin fishing from the fishery? Have cell phones, photography, and action cams become a liability to fish survival? Should a Fish Safety/ Resource Training Course be required before fishermen are allowed to fish?

Madison River veterans have historically seen the fishery change. Like it or not, the trout numbers are down. Catch and Release mortality is up. During an evening Caddis hatch, back in the 80’s and early 90’s, 30 trout heads would be rising behind every rock in the river. Today, you may see 6. Big trout are fewer, and trout without hook scars are rare. Numbers are down from 30 years ago but up from 1995.

In 1995, Whirling’s Disease was introduced into the river through illegal stocking, dirty boats and boots, and lack of attention. 90% of adult Rainbow trout disappeared. Brown trout, which are also non-native are immune to the disease and survived. What were thousands of trout per mile declined to hundreds. It takes 3-4 years to grow a 14-15-inch trout. Recovery takes time.

Fly fishing quality or “acceptable fishing” are based on what you are used to. Nonresident fishermen generally come from areas where only stocked, seasonal fish are the choice. Their local fisheries are already stressed, crowded, and overfished. Montana at its worst is more “Acceptable” to this audience.

Without a quality population of fish, the fishery will become a boat ride, floating, and fishing, but rarely catching. For many, drifting down the Madison is a glorious celebration of nature. The wildlife, vistas, water, and experience are exceptional. Many guests will be satisfied. For fly fishermen, the lack of fish will not make this fishery “inviting”. Just look at the once awesome Bighorn River. This fishery has also traveled the same path. Overfishing, inconsistent water flows, poor reproduction, disease, and mishandling of fish has made this once famous fishery far less.

The FWP has a big and important job to do. New legislation is on the way. Crowds are not just Commercial. It seems that local examples, and history, are not enough evidence. Dollars dictate decisions. Trout Unlimited is still waiting for data.

Even if they do it right, someone will still be Mad!

Montana Grant

For more Montana Grant, find him supporting fisheries at www.montanagrantfishing.com.

Taking risks and trying new things are how we learn. We will never get our limit of knowledge in our lifetime. The best lessons are learned through trial and error. Big mistakes mean big opportunities to grow. To become a successful outdoorsman, we need to embrace the adventure, failure, and challenges.

Here are 10 things well learned learned that will help you become a better outdoorsman and person:

#1. Attitude is important!

               Hunt, fish, and live your life with a positive attitude. Every cast is an opportunity for a bite, every hunt could lead to a big buck, and life is supposed to fun. I expect a bite on every cast. If you don’t, what’s the point? If you think the fish won’t bite or the deer won’t move, and that life is miserable, you will always be right and unhappy. Lighten up and enjoy what life throws at you.

#2. Be a Student of the Sport!

               Old dogs can always learn new tricks. If someone else is catching more fish than you, introduce yourself and ask some questions. Make new friends and take every opportunity to learn. Today’s shows, seminars, readings, and clubs are great ways to network and keep up with the best new tips and gear. “The most important things that we learn in life are the things we learn after we already know everything!”

#3. Be Comfortable!

               If you only trek outdoors on the “nice days”, you will miss out on most of the best hunting and fishing. Today’s quality fabrics and clothing offer incredible comfort and function. You don’t have to wear the same boots from 30 years ago. Treat yourself to some new gear! If you are cold, hungry, hot, or just uncomfortable, you will not be attentive to your trek, hunt or cast. Hand and toe warmers are a godsend. Under Armor-type constrictive garments wick away moisture, support your joints, and improve circulation. Lightweight tree stands have swivel seats and shooting rails! New boats are equipped with all sorts of comfort features that are worth the investment. If you are not comfortable, you will not be motivated.

#4. Move more and Eat less!

               Staying in shape becomes tougher with age. It is easy to find excuses to stay home. All of us fight the battle of weight and staying in shape. Fitness memberships help but hunting and fishing can be a workout too.  It is important to move and exercise when hunting and fishing to promote flexibility and muscle strength. A trout stream or mountain ridge is a lot more exciting and beautiful than a gym. Attack your sport within your limits and enjoy. You also have the chance to bring home a meal and a story or two. Lazy Boy chairs are for lazy boys and not sportsmen!

#5. Stay True to the Limits and Rules!

               Anyone can be a cheater, poacher, or thief. They are lazy, greedy, and brainless. Sportsmen follow the rules and take pride in what they accomplish. Telling truthful stories about great hunting and fishing trips are part of the celebration. It is always easier to remember the truth. These exciting and honest moments change a person in so many ways. Kids who get into trouble need to learn how to hunt and fish. The rules, limits, guidelines, and laws define right and wrong. Out of control kids don’t know what limits and rules are. Sports are a great way to teach them. Poachers know the rules but choose to ignore them.

#6. Safety First!

               Always anticipate what may go wrong. Be prepared for the worst case scenarios and you will stay safer. Outdoor sports happen in dangerous environs. Storms, bears, snakes, bees, insects, cuts, bruises, and accidents can happen in a second. We don’t need to fear them, we just need to be aware and prepared for them. An updated and modern first aid kit is a must. Life vests, modern gear, and newer weapons offer better safety features. CPR and First Aid classes are important.

#7. Teach Others the Sport!

               The greatest outdoorsmen show others the way. Being a Pathfinder is more important than ever. Men are an important part of our children’s lives. Many single-parent “Soccer Moms” were never taught the hunting and fishing heritage. They want their kids to be active and involve them in what they know. Teaching others how to enjoy the outdoors is the best assessment of the kind of sportsman you are. Nature, fishing rods, and hunting are great daycare alternatives. They teach patience, respect, and are great fun.

#8. Change it up!

               Do the opposite of what is expected, to reap huge results. Use a big fly during a midge hatch, fish downstream instead of up, try a new spot, be creative and unique! I once used a HUGE Joe’s Hopper to fly fish the Henry’s Fork. This technical river required skill, fine tippets, and perfect presentation. Everyone was fishing with tiny dry flies so I went BIG! I was catching so many huge trout that a fisherman called the game warden on me! They thought the “kid” was using bait. If you do what everyone else is doing, you can expect the same results.

#9. Fish and hunt for fun!

               Don’t measure the success of the trip on the filled limits or tags. The true bounty is with the adventure, memories, and experiences. Plan to have a great day no matter what happens. You will discover that you are more anxious and excited about every aspect of the day. The rest will take care of itself. Most of us will never catch enough fish or critters. We will never adventure outdoors enough.

I once called in 5 bugling bull elk for a client in a single morning. Every bull was huge and offered a bow shot within 20 yards. He missed every shot because he was so excited. This experienced worldwide unfilled tag hunter had the best hunt of his life and his tip proved it.

#10. Celebrate the Sport!

               Every year we get one less hunting and fishing opening day. We never thought about that when we are younger but….embrace every opportunity and friend as you share the outdoors. Great hunting and fishing buddies are harder to find than a good wife, husband, or partner. Enjoying nature is better with a buddy. It is also safer. As our population grows, more impact will continue on our natural resources. The more folks that celebrate and, love nature, will help to protect and conserve it. Celebrate, share, and teach others to appreciate and enjoy our outdoor legacy.

The best outdoorsmen are the ones that can excite and teach others how to be their best. That is what the Outdoor legacy and heritage is really about!

Hunt and fish with pride!

Montana Grant

For more Montana Grant, visit his blog at www.montanagrantfishing.com.