This article was recently published in Maryland Fishing and Hunting Journal

Spring means trout fishing! These scrappy, tasty, and fun fish are a wonderful way to get over a long Winter. Rainbows, Browns, Goldens, and Brookies make up the school of choice. Waters can be crowded with fishermen but join the party and have fun.

Most eastern trout fishing is thanks to stocking programs. State agencies and cooperative fish and game clubs raise and release trout into public waters. These fish fill the creels and spirits of many fishermen. They are also healthy and delicious.

Maryland only stocks Rainbows, Browns, and Golden trout. Brook trout are not stocked in Maryland. There is some reproduction and year long trout waters but most of the trout waters are seasonal. The warm summers often heat up over 70 degrees which kills off any leftover trout. Some will migrate into cooler tributaries and spring fed areas.

Pennsylvania has way more trout waters and a larger diversity of trout opportunities. They also tend to stock larger, brood, fish, along with Brook trout. There are also many Catch and Release areas that offer year around trouting. PA. also has many cooperative hatcheries that also stock local waters and offer Kid Derbies. The clubs also take pride in raising healthy, quality fish.  A little bit of computer surfing, and networking can identify these wonderful fishing opportunities.

Catching Spring Trout is not too difficult. Like any fishing, it boils down to presentation. Whether you use flies, bait, lures, or other legal enticements, the offering needs to look like it is not attached to anything and floating free.

This means light line and rods. Newer Fluorocarbon monofilament lines are almost invisible. They do require knowing how to tie a proper knot. Great equipment is cheap and available. You can get a 5-foot Ultra-Light rod with a decent reel, loaded with line, for under $50. Hooks, lures, and spinners are also inexpensive. A light fishing vest or Artic Creel is also a good addition. If you plan to wade, a pair of decent hip boots or chest waders may be required. Don’t forget to wear a proper fishing hat.

The most popular trout baits are worms, corn niblets, Power Bait, Cheese Balls, and meal worms. A small #10-12 hook will do the trick. Do not be afraid to try new things. Floating Power Bait in a pond can be a difference maker if the bait is able to float above the submerged weeds.

Spinners and lures can be deadly. Look at Silver Blue Foxes, Panther Martins, Mepp’s, and Rooster Tails. Small minnow float crank baits and Rapala’s can also be good choices. You need to practice and master accurate casting, or you will lose plenty of tackle.

Do your homework. Find a Trout Mentor to show you the ropes. A few hours with an experienced fisherman can be priceless. Maybe a local derby would be an opportunity. When on the water, ask questions and be friendly to the folks catching fish. Trout Fishermen are generally very friendly and helpful, especially if you have a kid in tow.

Fly fishermen are a different breed and may not offer much support. They prefer their space, privacy, and isolation.

Even though there may be a truckful of trout stocked where you are fishing, generally, 10% of Trout fishermen catch 90% of the fish. This is because they learn and retain fishing skills. They tend to use finer 2-4 lb. test lines and better rods and reels with good drags and strength. They wear Polaroid glasses to help them see into the water. Through practice and experience, they learn where the fish are. There are many great tips and tricks that only come from time on the water.

Trout rarely stay where they are stocked. In a few days, they can quickly spread out. Generally, Brookies head upstream, Rainbows go downstream, and Browns look for cover. Golden trout or Palomino’s are easy to see at first but they to look for cover. The herons and ospreys are also good fishermen.

Just because the water has not been recently stocked, Trout can be abundant. You just need to use your skills and hunt for them. Learn to read the water. Look for undercut banks, log jams, and submerged structure. It is not uncommon for trout to migrate several miles from where they were stocked.

A good strategy is to start with a spinner. Let’s say a Mepps #1 in silver. Cast this spinner and watch for trout to be chasing it. Make sure that the hooks are always sharp. Trout are light biters. Once you locate some trout, maybe change rigs, and use a size 10 bait hook, secured with a proper Clinch knot. Add a small split shot or two 10 inches above the hook. Add a piece of corn or cheese ball. A power bait ball , about the size of a Pea is all you need. Cover the hook completely. Cast the bait upstream a couple feet above where you think the trout is. The bait needs time to sink. Allow the bait to sink and drift on its own but close the bail and feel for the bait. When you feel a bite, usually a tug, or bump, set the hook sharply enough to make a connection but not jerk the fish into the next County.

The thing about catching fish is that you need to catch fish to learn how to catch fish. Try to remember the places, methods, and situations where you were successful. Take some notes and record dates, times, baits, etc. These records can be useful. Also search for maps of watersheds to learn where fishing access is allowed. Knowing the trespass laws and other regulations is your responsibility. Know the limits, Restrictions, and regulations. Not all waters are managed and regulated the same.

If you plan to keep a limit of trout, be prepared. Fresh fish are best if put on ice. If you are on a Catch and Release area, make sure to carry forceps, a trout friendly rubber fabric net, and learn the proper way to safely secure and release some trout.

The most important Trout tips to learn are the ones you learn after you already know everything!

Montana Grant

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

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

Hunters have their favorite spots, friends, and weapons. They become attached to these things because of past success. For some hunters, trying new places, friends, and weapons is a challenge.

You will never have enough hunting places. Always look for new and fresh opportunities. Hunting areas go through cycles.  Back inn the day, I was the park Ranger for a large, wooded, suburban park. When I first scouted the area, I rarely saw a deer. Maybe a few tracks, but no huntable population. Two decades later, the Park was crawling with deer.

Deer populations change due to food, disease, pressure, timbering, and basic environmental/habitat changes. A decade is a blink in time. Your great hunting stand location is great for a reason. When a neighboring landowner cuts down their trees, alters a crop, builds a house, or makes a dramatic change, your hunting spot will change too. Usually for the worst. Therefore, proper management of the land and critters are so important. Everything is connected and hunters do not always have control over their hunting spots.

Hunting Buddies are harder to find than a wife. As we age, our pool of potential candidates decreases. We are no longer in school where there are a ton of other people. Jobs do not always have large numbers of co workers to pick from. No matter how hard you try, finding a safe, reliable, and skilled partner is hard. Many of the best hunting buddies come from a random meeting.

You cannot make a hunting buddy. It kinda just happens. One of my buddies, Dave, literally ran into his best hunting buddy. While driving, Dave collided with Archie who was riding on his motorcycle. The accidental meeting led to a future turkey hunting partner. They hunt together to this day.

Many hunters are favor a certain weapon or style of hunting. As a young man, I was taught to still hunt. This style of hunting required you to know the wind, have sharp eyes, and be physically tough. Most hunters today sit in a blind or tree stand. Some bait the area to attract the deer instead of “hunting” for them.

Different weapons have different ranges. For a reasonable archer, 20 yards is the range. In my life, I have never tagged a big game animal with a bow at more than 18 yards. Getting close is an intimate way to hunt. It requires more skill and time than drilling a critter at 500 yards. It is like the difference between having sex or making love. One style is more exciting than the other.

Whatever weapon you choose, you must learn the safety requirements. You cannot bring the bullet, slug, arrow, bolt, or buckshot back once it leaves your weapon. Pulling the trigger or releasing a shaft is an incredible responsibility. No critter is worth an injury or death.

Different hunting habitats will often determine what weapon is the best choice. If you hunt an open field or area, then a long-range weapon is needed. The longer the range, the more practice you will need. Being a marksman is a perishable skill. Without constant repetition, you will lose this practiced ability. That one perfect shot is the result of hundreds of trigger pulls from the bench.

Archers require a different arsenal. These weapons may range from a homemade primitive bow to a modern crossbow. A more modern recurve may be your choice. Compound bows are now capable of speeds over 300 feet per second. Each weapon has its pros and cons.

After successfully harvesting deer with most of these weapons, I challenged myself to make a truly primitive bow and arrow. A friend mentored me as I shaved and shaped a limb of Osage Orange into a fine bow. The string was made from sinew from a roadkill whitetail. Each arrow was hand crafted using turkey fletching’s, and knapped chert points. Once I was practiced, using a 3-finger release, I went on the hunt. It was amazing to see a sharp rock on a stick fly from a limb and pass through a deer at 15 yards. What a challenge!

Many developed areas have strong deer populations but restrict what weapon you can use. This means a shotgun slug. The range is less but todays modern sabotted slugs can accurately reach out to 300 yards. Back in the day, when we shot “Punkin balls”, anything over 50 yards was a hail Mary shot.

These restricted areas may also allow a primitive Black Powder weapon. Vintage flintlock weapons require a different skill set than a modern breech loading style. Newer bullets and balls are consistent, more aerodynamic, and accurate. Scopes and other high-tech gizmos offer advantages.

The best shot that I know hunted a huge, open cornfield, in a county where only shotguns were allowed. This was back in the early Punkin Ball days. Accuracy was limited to maybe 50 yards. Keith hunted in a thousand-acre field, where the deer stacked up for safety and privacy. In the middle of that field was a sunken Goose hunting pit. Keith would get into the pit and use sandbags to support his primitive, 50 cal. Black powder Enfield rifle. Even from the blind, Keith needed to take shots of several hundred yards. Using practiced shooting skills, Keith always came home with a huge buck.

Near where I live, we have a Weapons Restriction Zone. This means no rifles. You can use almost anything else and additional tags are $10 each. Most hunting is along a watershed and near developed homes. Access is hard but the deer are abundant. During one season, I challenged myself to harvest a deer with every legal weapon. This meant a Black powder Hawken rifle, shotgun, pistol, and bow and arrow. Each weapon required a different hunting style and strategy. Ironically, every deer was harvested at less than 30 yards! Sadly, the area that I hunted so successfully is now subdivided and developed. No hunting allowed.

My point is to challenge yourself to become a genuinely great hunter. Search out new places and destinations. Mentor new hunters and companions. Pull the trigger on several practiced weapons. Adapt, adjust, and overcome.

During this challenge, you will discover that the best part of hunting is the hunt!

Montana Grant

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

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

Many hunters appreciate Food plots and question how to effectively manage their hunting Forest properties. It is true that with proper management, you can improve and enhance the deer habitat and herd.

Managing your woodlands means several things. Food plots certainly add nutrition, but you must also consider, bedding, year around food sources, genetics, diversity, minerals, habitat, shelter, and population size of the deer herd.

 Deer can destroy a forest. Routine browsing, feeding, and rubbing can eliminate healthy trees in a few seasons. You will be able to see a browse line that becomes too tall for deer to reach, especially along the forest’s edges. Not only are the trees damaged, but so is the entire ecosystem. Deer are just one member of the forest population. Overpopulation of deer means greater risk for diseases, reduced quality, fawn mortality, winter kill, and ultimately fewer deer. Migration to healthier areas will invite deer to move elsewhere.

During pre- pioneer times deer populations were 10-25 deer per square mile. Forests were the main habitat, with fewer edges and fields. A squirrel could jump from tree to tree from the east coast to the Mississippi River. Once trees began to be thinned, habitat improved, and the deer population grew until over harvesting of trees and deer occurred.

Maintaining a deer population of 15-25 deer per square mile will result in a healthy mix of trees and plants. Birds and small mammals are important when spreading seeds from one area to another. To repair/ restore a ruined forest, you need enough time to restore mature fruit bearing plants and trees. This may take 1-2 decades. Trees that produce food are the best choices. Oaks, Maples, ash, and seed producers are on the menu.

Approach your forest as a Steward, or Park Ranger. Create a plan and set goals. Many state forestry agencies will help for free.

Plan sustainable lumber harvests. This will allow more light onto the forest floor to support ground shrubs and food plants. Allow the forest products to pay for itself. Firewood sales can be huge.

Harvest deer to manage the size of your deer herd. Does can birth twins and triplets as they age. Also harvest cull deer to maintain a genetically healthy herd.

Do your homework. Understand the ecosystem that you are managing. Work with nature to create prime habitat and healthy critters.

Create a map of your property so you can visualize deer movements based on trees and feeding/bedding areas.

Caring for your property will increase the value of your land. You can also reap the rewards of great hunting, recreation, and wellness. Think about the forest’s growth in decades and not years. Consider adding some unique forage crops that twill make your habitat different. Sadly, ash beetles and Gypsy moths can target resident trees. Plant some trees that are resistant to future diseases. American Chestnuts once were the primary tree found in American Forests. When the Chestnut Blight arrived, they all but disappeared. You can now purchase blight resistant chestnut trees that can grow for 100 years and enhance your property. Chestnut lumber is also high quality and expensive. The nuts are wonderful for deer and other native critters.

Also look at planting White and Red Oaks near your hunting stands. Walnut trees produce nuts and future wood products. Persimmons along the forest’s edges are also a nice menu item. Deer also love unusual plants like poison Ivy, Greenbriar, and tuberous plants. Look at what and when is in season. Your goal is to create and manage a menu that the deer can survive on during all four seasons.

Make the trails and roads through your property food plots. These narrow, but long buffet lines can provide miles of clover, grasses, and other popular foods. Most of these plants are durable and survive some traffic from wheelers, animals, and vehicles.

Preserve some areas for bedding. Understand what a prime bedding area requires. Thick cover, visibility, air currents, sunlight, water, etc. Build a deer Band B and they will come. You want to keep the deer on your property, while inviting other deer.

 If you do not have a water source on your land, make one that the deer are comfortable using. Growing great deer for your neighbor is not rewarding for you. This could mean enhancing a spring, adding a stock tank, or redirecting a water feature. In extreme cases, a well may be the answer.

Make natural deer blinds and stands. Different weapons mean different ranges and needs. Place the stands based upon the deer movements during hunting season. If you add tree stands, make them so they blend in well to the environment. Elevated box blinds are more expensive, but these blinds last forever. Once in place, they become part of the forest.

A perfect deer forest is like an inclusive vacation destination. Everything needed is there. A family of deer can thrive on just 3 acres if they have everything they need. This is why there are so many deer in suburban communities where homes are built on 5-10 acre lots.

A great forest is a reflection on the landowner. Healthy trees, diversity, and critters mean that they understand their forest business. Revenue created by the first products will reward their hard work.

Oh, and you can hunt close to home!

Montana Grant

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

After a lifetime of fishing around the world, authoring articles and books, leading seminars at Outdoor Shows, and a career in education, Montana Grant often is asked repeating questions. Here are a few.

How did you get started in writing about the Outdoors?

               Lefty Kreh was my mentor. He is the Father of Modern Fly Fishing. His manner, sense of humor, and knowledge about the outdoors were amazing. When I asked him how to get into writing, he said three things.

1.) Get published as often as you can in a variety of venues. Network.

2.) Always write from your experiences and give honest feedback. It may not be what everyone wants to hear, but it will be the truth. Write simply, so others understand.

3.) Never take yourself too seriously. Always ask questions and learn from others.

Using Lefty’s advice, I began writing for local fishing and hunting clubs, and publications. Most of the time, there was no fee. On occasion, I would make a few bucks that went into buying more hunting and fishing gear.

What type of fishing do you most prefer?

               Whatever I am doing at the time. Fly or spin or a cane pole. Its all fun and has its own challenges. My favorite fishing Is when I am teaching others how to enjoy the sport. Anyone can figure out how to catch a fish but not everyone can teach others.

Who do you enjoy teaching the most?

               Kids, women, and beginners are my favorite outdoor students. Everything is new, they are enthusiastic, and the first catch is so much fun. “Sports clients” that already know everything are no fun to be around. Guiding these clients made for long, long days. You usually knew 15 minutes into the trip that they were already experts and just wanted me to row the boat or carry their gun. Rarely did they ever get to the point where they might ask a question.

Is Fishing as great today as it once was?

               Fishing has evolved and expanded. There are more fishermen today than I can remember I over 65 years. We learned how to fish on our own as kids. If you had a great Mentor that helped. We had no YouTube, Google, Videos, or apps to help us learn. There were some good books but when it came to tying flies, books were tough to follow.  Gear is so much better today. Quality lines, leaders, hooks, boots, vests, …everything makes fishing easier. When the movie a River Runs Through It came out, fly fishing exploded. It continues to expand as the new cool thing to do. Women have also crossed barriers and have entered the outdoor world in force. The fishing is still great, but the catching has declined.

What is the future for fishing?

               As the sportsmen and human populations grow, fishing will decline. Access is a huge problem. Everyone wants their own piece of heaven and then to restrict access when they get it. This forces everyone onto already crowded waters. Fish can only withstand so much pressure. Poor Catch and Release, full kept limits, and abuse to the fish and their environment will cause more deterioration. Many anglers venture to Montana hoping for pristine waters. We used to catch 40 or more fish a day. Now its more like 5-15, if you are lucky. Sure, you may have some better days, but the average, size, numbers, and consistency have declined. Crowded waters also tarnish the quality experience we once enjoyed.

“The most important things that we learn, are the things you learn after you already know everything!”

Montana Grant

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

This article was recently published in www.dannerholzwhitetails.com

Doe, or Antlerless hunts are becoming a common occurrence. There are several reasons for the need to increase local deer populations.

Car Strikes mean that folks can get hurt and insurance policies go up. Lobbies for Insurance Companies promote massive deer harvests. Usually, these happen in Antlerless season.

Farmers and agriculture areas need fewer deer to browse and eat their crops. They often get awarded dozens of Crop Depredation tags to reduce the threat.

Landowners often block off and restrict hunting on private land. Deer will concentrate and over browse these sanctuaries even faster. Within a relatively few seasons, the deer population will crash.

CWD, and other diseases spread quickly when too many deer are nose to nose. Once the deer are infected, dangerous die offs can occur.

The healthy size of a deer herd changes due to habitat, climate, predators, and genetics. Different areas can support more or less deer. Ecology says that if deer populations are left unchecked, Nature will find a way. Deer will eventually eat themselves out of house and home. Over crowding also means more deer-to-deer contact. As they touch noses and group up, disease can take over. With depleted food and health, deer populations can quickly crash.

In Montana, deer can get Blue Tongue! This hemorrhagic disease is spread by gnats and flies that bite the deer, in the Summer. Slowly the deer lose strength and begin to bleed internally. They search for water and almost always die. They die by the hundreds, in the same overpopulated area. I encountered this once when Pheasant hunting along the Musselshell River in central Montana. This area had a dense population of deer and the neighboring landowners refused hunting access. Little to no deer harvests took place for a decade.

Dead deer were everywhere. Many were summer bucks, still in velvet. I easily counted several hundred corpses, blue tongues hanging out of their mouths. Hunters that often went near to this area saw few deer after the die off, for several years. Gradually other deer moved into this area devoid of deer. Nature finds a way.

Harvesting late season antlerless deer is important. Proper and controlled population management is a helpful management tool. The problem is that antlerless does not mean just does. Many of these deer can be big bucks that have shed their antlers. Less cover, snow, and cold cause the deer to group up and become more vulnerable.

On a farm in Dorchester County, Maryland, I went on a late season Crop Depredation hunt. My brother and I had 32 tags to fill. The landowner wanted does removed. We set up, and the large herds of deer wandered into the field, just before dark. Some deer had antlers, but most were without. The landowner fed the deer and only trophies were harvested.

It was not uncommon to see dead mutated deer, deer covered in lymphoma growths, winter kill deer, or stunted deer, on this property. The forest edges were pruned neatly by browsing deer. If not for the corn, wheat, and soybean crops, the deer would starve. The huge area was surrounded by swamps, so the dense deer population was somewhat confined and isolated.

As the deer filed out, we began shooting. One shot per deer, out to 350 yards or so. All were antlerless and most dropped in their tracks. We hunted from modern elevated and weatherproof box blinds. My coat was off, the house was heated, Modern windows opened and closed, sandbags were on the ledge, and I sat in an office chair, and went to work. Our stands were at opposite corners, so the deer were flanked. Needless to say, many crop tags were filled in one evening. About half were not does. Some of the deer were BIG bodied shed bucks. Probably not the deer that the landowner wanted removed. Everything was legal and ethical, we followed instructions, and the population of deer was reduced.

 No deer went unused. All were butchered and given to needy folks, friends, and the landowner. We certainly enjoyed full freezers. No Wanton Waste occurred. It took several trips on a Gator to transport the filled tags to the barn.

The next year of hunting saw fewer bucks. There were still plenty of does since most female deer had twins. Some small spikes and forks were seen. There were no trophy bucks to be found. The next year the landowner shut down all hunting and the population began to increase dramatically.

Deer management is not just a Fall or Winter project. Management occurs year around and hunters are the best tool for the job. Proper habitat and Fall harvests can do the job. In the Fall, bucks can easily be identified. Most good hunters can do this at short ranges, but it is hard to identify antlerless bucks, at long ranges, even with good optics. Selective and smart harvests can manage a healthy and buck abundant population for a lifetime.

Once the landowner can estimate a deer population in their area, a trained Biologist can make suggestions and recommendations. Most State wildlife agencies will offer their services for free. Having hunters help with the harvest is also essential. Place specific and safe stand sites for them to use. This will put them where you want them and ensure safety. Mentored Youth hunts ae a perfect way to train inexperience hunters for the future.

Deer populations recover quickly. Yearling does tend to have single fawns and older does tend to have twins. OLD does are often sterile. Great bucks take 2-3 years to grow a respectable rack. After 7 years, most bucks wear down their teeth and begin to degrade. Old deer do teach young deer how to survive but at some point, selective harvest is a good idea.

Many Biologists suggest that a healthy deer herd needs one buck to mate with 20-25 does. Ironically, they say the same ratio for pheasants. The truth is that there is no one best recommendation. Habitats are different. Some can maintain healthy herds of more or less deer.

Maryland’s deer population nearly went extinct. In the mid 1900’s the only deer found in Maryland were in small areas of Garrett County. Aberdeen Proving grounds, and other military bases, began stocking several sub species of deer along with some private landowners on the Eastern Shore. Habitat destruction, deforestation, and over harvests were to blame. Some of these deer came from Northern states and Canada. Sika deer came from Japan, and Fallow Deer came form Europe. Soon deer began to make a recovery and in the late 1900’s deer seemed to be abundant throughout the state. The first legal, licensed deer season in Maryland saw fewer than 100 deer checked in! Today the harvest numbers in the hundreds of thousands.

Habitat can also recover quickly. With smart and planned field and forest management, a deer utopia is only a few seasons away. Without quality management, habitat can become a deer wasteland for decades. Deer are perhaps the most researched critter in North America. If you need answers, a quick Google search will supply them. There is also a book called “White-tailed Deer” authored by the Wildlife Management Institute. This text offers more answers than you can think up questions for.

Deer Management can ensure healthy herds of deer. Without hunting and continual smart management, deer herds will fluctuate wildly. In many cases the deer herd will grow faster than the habitat can recover, and the downward cycle will continue.

Hunt harder and Smarter!

Montana Grant

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

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

Big, Old, Smart, and Massive Bucks do not get that way by being stupid! These Trophy Bucks have a knack for avoiding hunters, traffic, and death. Because of this, they survive to become every hunter’s dream bucks.

Famous Old Bucks often earn names like Old Mossy horns, or the Swamp King. Maybe they are named for a specific area, stream, or feature where they live. A Big Bucks habits may earn him the name as The Ghost, or … We have all hunted these Famous Beasts.

When I scouted my hunting haunts early in the season, I often encountered heavy, massive sign. HUGE rubs, scrapes, scat, and tracks. On occasion, I saw these massive, old bucks. It was common to see them feeding in open fields. I would also find HUGE sheds that were evidence of Big Bucks in the area.

Once the season would begin, my expectations of this specific buck were high. Many smaller bucks would get a free pass as I keep my sights on the Big Beast of the forest.

BIG BUCKS need to be at least 4.5 years old. A buck in captivity can live nearly 20 years. In the wild, even a smart old buck may only be able to survive 7-10 years in perfect conditions. After about 7 years, wild bucks begin to have smaller and thinner antlers. Their bodies may still be large, but antlers seem to be at their peak between 4-7 years of age. One of the main reasons for this decline is that the deer’s teeth begin to wear out. Once they can not consume, chew, and grind enough plants to survive, they decline.

Less than 5% of most Buck populations include a Big, Old, Smart, Massive Buck. Once most bucks grow branched antlers, they end up on the meat pole. Back in the day, any buck with spikes over 3 inches was a legal target. Without a scope, hunters rarely tagged out. It was thought that these smaller spikes were genetically inferior and needed to be removed from the herd. In fact, many of these Spikes could grow massive racks over time.

Once States began to manage for larger bucks, these Spikes became protected. Antler requirements of 3 points to a side, or other standards, became law. Within a few years, more branched and bigger bucks began to show up.

To grow a massive rack, bucks need great genetics, healthy and abundant food, proper minerals, age, and plenty of places to hide. In more developed areas, with roads, and interstates, Big Bucks are less common. It is just a matter of time before a sanctuary is discovered, the buck tries to cross a road, or … More remote and rural areas tend to be better options for enormously Big Bucks.

When hunting a Big Buck, you usually get one chance. A buddy and I once leased a woodland island on the eastern shore of Maryland. The area had a history of massive bucks. During an early bow hunt, my friend Larry was still hunting an edge of the island. We were surrounded by corn and soybean fields. Suddenly 3 of the biggest bucks Larry had ever saw were standing just inside the woods.

He raised his bow and tried to get a shot, at less than 20 yards. Each buck was a s big as the next and were all together and unaware that Larry was at full draw. He was going to shoot whichever buck gave him an ethical chance. None did. Larry could no longer hold back the bow and had to relax the pull. All three bucks saw the movement and … We never saw those bucks again.

Big Bucks have escape routes, cover, and experience on their side. They are not smart but wise. After a scary encounter, they adjust and adapt. It is hard to not remember a close call, predator threat, or simply a comfortable environment. Experiences are the best teachers.

Old Bucks learn fast and quickly become Man Cautious. Routine human activity does not seem to scare them. Farmers, school buses, and random interruptions become a part of their living rooms. Many bucks become nocturnal. Thanks to their great night vision and other senses, they can own the darkness.

Many Big Bucks are “Lucked”. Just like Larry’s accidental encounter, the Buck may get caught with their antlers down. Sadly, many great deer end up as Roadkill. In remote areas like Montana, as Big Bucks age, they get slower and fall to wolves or other predators. Some hunters end up on excellent properties that serve as sanctuaries and provide many years of awesome opportunity. Once the hunter learns all the Hidey Holes, nooks, and crannies, they can begin to target the Biggest bucks.

Recent radio tracking and studies offer a lot of great information for hunters. Big Bucks tend to have Core Areas. Even in broken country, a Big Buck may range over several miles during the Rut but spend most of their time in a relatively small spot. These spots tend to offer specific needs. First, they are High Security spots. This means that here is little human traffic. Often this area is in a swamp, island, or rough area. These oval shaped areas offer the bedding at one end and the feeding at the other. Water is also nearby. Seasonal mast trees or other foods are also nearby. Natural salt lick sites are also common.

Trail Cameras often film these Big Bucks, that are never seen during the day. Nocturnal movement is their way of life until the Rut. Most of these trophy deer are lured into the light and out of their secret places to chase a hot doe. Typical!

Experienced hunters avoid these Big Buck areas until the Rut. Big Bucks avoid pronounced trails used by other deer. Even when chasing a doe along these well used paths, the Big Bucks hang off to the downwind side. They are cautious but for about one week, they have just one thing on their mind. This is when many great Bucks falter and end up on the walls of hunters.

Big Bucks are an ultimate hunting challenge. If you wait for that one special Big Buck, your freezer will rarely be full. Take the first honest and legal buck that God sends down your path. It takes every trick, tip, and skill that a hunter can use to have success. Over the course of a lifetime, you will tag some great wall hangers.

Every legal, honest, and ethically harvested Buck is a trophy!

Montana Grant

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

This article was just posted in www.dannerholzwhitetails.com.

Deer Hunters, that fill their tags routinely, understand Good Scents. Commercial grade scents are expensive. A shot glass full of Code Blue or Tink’s 69 can cost $20. Using scents is important to attract deer, attract Bucks, cover human scent, or de-scent gear and clothes.

Back in the Day, hunters used what they had to deal with scent. A cover scent may have been to tred into several cow patties on the way to the stand. An attractant scent meant stomping onto apples as you trekked into the woods. Storing your gear and clothes in a large sack stuffed with fresh leaves, or acorns, would cover your scents.

Today we have clothes threaded with silver to illuminate scent. HECS clothing masks your electromagnetic fields, thanks to thin wires woven into the fabric.

Scent wafers can mimic dirt, apples, pine, or just smell like deer. Other critter scents are used for attraction or masking. Sprays, mists, washes, detergents, and treats. Scents add stink to cover stink!

Deer are masters at using their noses to sniff out danger. If you are upwind of a deer, your odor will always give you away. The only time when scent helps the hunter is when the Rut is going on. Bucks, or Bulls, focus on mating, and fail to smell out hunters or other dangers. When they are distracted by a more powerful scent, they neglect to smell danger.

In Montana, elk always win when scent is an issue. You could take a shower in non-scent and use every other scent cover, and still get busted. After just a few minutes marching afield, and human sweat takes over. The only real solution is to always hunt into the wind. This works great until the wind swirls.

We used to make our own Western Maryland scents. If someone tagged a deer, they would share the “Stinkers”. Tarsal glands found on the inside back knees were full of scent. We carefully sliced them off and pinned them to our pantlegs. Hooves could also be cut off and placed into a mesh sack, that was dragged behind the hunter. Placing the Tarsals where you wanted the deer to stand was also important. Freezing them allowed them to be reused and re-scented. Use latex gloves when handling these powerful scent glands.

Buck urine was used to enrage other bucks. Doe urine was used as an attractant. Labeling the containers helped. Different scents mean different strategies. To remove fresh urine, we used a large syringe. I used the same syringe that I inflated Bass fishing rubber worms with. Do this before you dress the downed critter. Trim away just enough hide, in the pelvic area, to expose the bladder. Now use the needle of a syringe, like a Turkey Injector style syringe, to draw out the urine. Inject it into a glass container, and label/date.

Latex gloves are always a good idea when handling scents. You never want a human scent to contaminate the wild stink. You also keep your skin from stinking for days.

To use the urine scent, we placed cotton balls into a 35mm film canister. This is when film was still used in a camera. A string between the lid and cannister allowed us to hang the Scent Bomb in a small branch. Reflective tape wrapped around the cannister helped us find them after dark. Each time afield, we freshened our cotton with fresh urine. You can do the same with commercial liquid scents. All scents are best kept refrigerated. You can also freeze unused scent for the next season. Spoiled urine has a rank and different aroma.

Deer Tails make for great attractants. I have carried tails and used them to attract deer. When a deer thinks they have seen or smelled you, shake the white side of the tail at the deer. The natural movement will relax a deer. Now they will move and perhaps give you a shot. The deer tail also has scent. Some hunters hang real scented tails on their decoys, or in the spot they want a deer to approach. It is the tied to a string so they can manually wag the tail.

Gel scents also work well. They can be smeared on branches, trails, or debris. Never put deer scent on your person. Place scents away from where you are located. You want deer to smell the attractants and not you. I have seen bucks follow my scent trails days after they were placed and removed.

Deer hooves have scent glands between the toes. Different deer can identify one another by each deer’s natural odor. Dragging them behind you as you walk makes a path for other deer to follow. Hang the hooves where you want a shot. Deer are gregarious animals and find comfort in companionship.

Masking scents need to be made from what is in the area that you hunt. If you hunt near orchards, then apples or fruit need to be mimicked. Throw some into a tub with your gear so that you smell like the area. Acorns, leaves, soil, manure, etc. You need to have an odor profile that allows your human stink to be camouflaged by the natural aromas.

Scents that will ruin your day are smoke from cigarettes, cigars, woodstoves, or fire. Fuels like gasoline, propane, or kerosene will also give your location a way. A down wind deer can smell you from as far as a mile under the right conditions. Food odors also can be an issue. Your spicy sandwich, steaming coffee or tea, soup or… You know what I mean.

Scents like these can be used to redirect deer. Placing these scents in areas where you want deer to avoid can be a good strategy. Maybe there is a fence crossing where your potential buck always seems to escape. Place human scents there to funnel him toward you, based upon wind direction. Fresh human urine will also work. Store some in a jar and deposit it where you want deer to avoid. Bags of human hair, hanging in a bush, will do the same.

I once had a buck hang up. He smelled my mock scrape, scented the hooves and tarsals, and had not smelled me. He stood still for 20 minutes. At that point I had to try something new. I then grunted on my grunt call and poured some water, from a water bottle, onto the leaves below. The buck lifted his head and walked straight in. I drilled him at 12 yards. Remember that deer have more than the sense of smell!

Scents do not always work, but they are always important. When conditions are right so are the scents. Understanding how, when, and where to use them will increase the odds of you beating a deer’s nose.

The Nose Knows!

Montana Grant

Being outdoors never gets Old!  Waking up early and heading afield is special. Watching a lifetime of sunrises and sunsets is also wonderful. As we age, each hunting season becomes one less. Familiar forests, marshes, fields, and prairies are comforting.

Hunters understand their senses. We feel, see, hear, smell, and are most comfortable outdoors. As we age, we slow down and lose some skills. Dragging a big buck, loading a boat onto the trailer, rowing a drift boat, or disrupting a daily routine becomes harder. Fortunately, technology and new gear and garments helps. A 4-wheeler, Gore Tex, compression underwear, liner socks, and modern accessories are just a few.

Back in the day, I carried a pair of foil wrapped baked potatoes to keep my hands warm. These spud warmers later became lunch. Next came liquid fuel hand warmers that leaked and stank of lighter fluid. Solid fuel sticks were next. Today we use a shake and bake style disposable warmer.

Punkin Balls might have hit a pie plate at 50 yards in the early years. Now a proper sabot shotgun slug is accurate to 300 yards and more. Recurve bows could shoot an arrow at less than 200 fps. Now compound bows can hit a target further and faster. Times have changed. It is easier and more comfortable to hunt today than ever before, even as we age.

Walking in an Oak Woods feels like home to me. As an Appalachian born boy, acorns and nuts forests were always special. Turkeys, deer, trout, squirrels, and grouse never had a chance. The forest was comfortable, peaceful, and relaxing. It is where I went when life got tough or sad. In Montana, I only smell pine and sage, no acorns. Still a fairly good smell, but not home. The outdoors makes us stronger and happier.

Hunters evolve as they age. At first, we are driven to harvest a critter. Without a filled tag we feel unfulfilled. No meat meant a wasted trip. As we age that changes. Just the opportunity to hunt becomes more important. Any filled tags are just a bonus.

The greatest trophies from hunting are not the antlers and feathers on the wall. These are certainly special but are more like memorials and memories. The greatest trophies are the friends and companions that we shared them with. That is our legacy.

We all began our hunting careers thanks to a Mentor. They may have been a man, woman, family member, or just a friend. Someone took you out and showed you how. Hunting is not a do it yourself sport. If you do hunt alone, then you, like a lone wolf, are lonely and alone.

I have an old Winchester 30/30 lever action rifle. It is topped off with a side mount 4 power Bushnell scope. Not expensive or fancy. This was the rifle that I used to harvest my first buck. Since then, 17 other newbie hunters tagged their first deer with this same rifle. Now that is Mentoring. Sadly, no one has needed this lucky rifle, or me, in a while. Maybe my Grandson will become a hunter.

When my son Kyle nailed his first buck he screamed, “that is the most exciting thing I have ever done!” The 6-point whitetail was chasing does on an island in the Madison River. We had practiced with a Daisy 30/30 look alike BB gun, just as I had. Watching him tag his first buck was better than so many of my harvests. We used the old standard round point ammo. Today the Lever Evolution rubber tipped bullets drastically improve accuracy and range. The next new hunter will have a new advantage with my old rifle. Hunting with my son was awesome but now he works all the time.

My Dad never took me deer hunting. He had hunted deer as a young man but… Instead, I found other Mentors. One of my first Mentors was Doug. He had an arsenal of guns and even more stories. We hunted and fished together. He was aging and had time to teach a young buck some lessons. I learned to still hunt with him in the mountains of Pennsylvania. Once I learned how to deer hunt, I took my Dad.

We have also had shallow friends just because they were after our hunting spots. Their camo was good, the friendships were one sided and we seldom got an exchange of the gifts. After the lease or permission dried up so did the friendships.

An old Korean War Vet named Gino taught me how to shoot. My single shot Ruger became a special and accurate weapon after his instruction. My friend Keith taught me how to really shoot, hunt, and cook. We spent hours on his range, and kitchen, in Garrett County, MD., honing our skills. I have had many friends that shared and showed me the right path. I remember them all. Sadly, most of them are at the end of their trail or gone. Their wonderful legacy lives on!

Times have changed. Our world is smaller. More development, more outfitters, and private land closures, more non hunters. Sadly, the end of hunting sooner than later. If meat is not in a foam tray covered in plastic, from the store, it is not meat. Most folks that eat meat today are so removed from what they eat that they simply have no clue where it comes from. It comes from the store.

What saddens me the most, is how so many of the hunters and fishermen that I mentored have forgotten me. They are busy, focused, and have their own families now. Time is limited and they only can afford so many friends. They remember and appreciate their mentors but assume that these sportsmen have more buddies than they need.

The truth is quite different. The Older Mentors had plenty of friends. Now they are old, sick, dead, crippled, or simply exhausted. After age 60, many hunters are on a wing and a prayer. The phone rarely rings. Many older buddies would if they could but…

I do not understand or accept it. It would seem that the gifts of enjoying the outdoors would be so important that the students would want to reach out. Most do not. I wish it were different. Hunting as an older man or women is harder. One fall, or accident could mean the worst. So how do you haul that big critter, hunt the dark forest, or venture back into the wilderness.? As young men or women, we never looked back. Nothing was too hard. The gifts that we gave simply do not get returned.

Old Hunters also regret hunting with great friends. Our students live far away or have families. My friend Pete is a wonderful companion and I hope we hunt together again soon, before I get too old. I know that he would if he could. His father Don always has a special place in my heart.

As Old Hunters, we do our best. Many of our aged brethren know of what I am saying.  We may be a bit slower and not as graceful, but our experience and knowledge make up for our declining health and energy. At some point, maybe we just need to fish.

Hunt hard, hunt harder!

Montana Grant

For more Montana Grant, hunt him up at www.montanagrantfishing.com.

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.