Montana Hunting & Fishing News - October 2016

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4 - Hunting & Fishing News



f not used properly, decoys can hamper your chances of getting a shot at a buck, especially the mature bruisers that have been around for a few seasons and seen a thing or two. Here are a few tips we’ve found useful over the years while using a Montana Decoy.

If You Have It, Use It

Can you count on one hand the hunting equipment you’ve purchased over the years that is sitting in the closet collecting dust? Us too. It’s inevitable. If you purchase a deer decoy from Montana, we want you to be 100% satisfied, so if you have one, go use it. You never know when that buck of a lifetime wants to come closer to investigate.

Right Decoy, Right Time

Be sure you’re using the right decoy for the right phase of the season. During the early pre rut is probably not the best time to use Estrus Betty though she works well late pre rut and of course during the peak. Instead use The Freshman, which will entice other bucks to come check him out, maybe spar a little. Dreamy Doe works well throughout the entire season, adding a certain comfort level when other deer see that a mature doe is hanging around.


Proper placement of the decoy is vital to success. Make sure it’s close enough for a shot, but not so close that it might expose your location when you move or by giving away your scent. Remember that bucks are likely going to stalk up to another buck head on while they’d approach a doe from the rear.

Appropriate Calls

Periodic grunting and/or snort wheezing, even rattling, will help grab the attention of deer within earshot. Once they come in to see what the commotion is about, the decoy will help seal the deal.

Add Movement

If you find yourself on a stalk, but the buck you’re after isn’t paying attention to the decoy, add some movement by raising it up and down. Most dominant bucks won’t stand for a lesser more inferior buck to invade their territory. Here is where the Quickstand is a very useful tool to have, especially if you’re hunting by yourself. Once the buck commits, stake the decoy with the ease that only the Quickstand can provide, and get ready.

Use it as a Shield

This, too, pertains to stalking, but can also be a useful tactic when walking into a food plot where deer are already feeding. The ultra-realistic feature of the decoy provides great cover for stalking, hiding and preparing for the shot.

Know When To Draw

After you’re set up has worked perfectly and a dream buck is stalking in to your decoy, be prepared to draw, but be sure you choose the right time. Luckily, that buck has devoted so much of his focus to the decoy you should have a bigger window to get ready for the shot.

Proper Scent

Deer have excellent noses, so utilizing estrus or buck urine to entice that sense of smell is a great way to draw in bucks that you might not have otherwise seen. Remember that using doe estrus outside of the rut is unnatural and will only hurt your chances. During the pre rut, try buck urine, making it appear that The Freshman is trying to establish himself as the dominant deer in the area. Also, take care to wash away any human scent by washing the decoy with scentless soap and even covering it with pine needles for a day or so.

Bedded Pose

Using The Freshman and Dreamy Doe in a bedded position, as if he’s claimed her as his own, is a great combination to use during the peak of the rut. As we’ve mentioned, this just won’t sit well with a dominant buck. Light calling works well here though placement is paramount as you’ll see in the video.

The Herd

This tactic conveys safety in numbers. A mature whitetail buck doesn’t make it through multiple seasons by being careless. Instead, he exudes ultimate caution and a herd of deer in a food plot will make him feel more comfortable about going to feed. Plus, bucks haven’t thought about much else than does over the last few weeks and are looking to recharge on whatever food sources they can find. Montana Decoys are the only decoys that allow you to pack in a “herd” without making multiple trips. October 2016


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with a tag in your pocket? For most people the answer is no. I have talked and hunted with some great mule deer hunters who have hunted and killed some big bucks, including Dave Seida, Burton Thompson, and Kim King. I have also spent time reviewing and measuring bucks using the Boone and Crockett score charts, read many books that cover this topic, and I recommend three, below. A Boone and Crockett Club Field Guide to Measuring and Judging Big Game, First Edition 2003, Fifth Printing Hunting High Country Mule Deer by Mike Eastman, Sixth Printing 2008 Public Land Mulies: The Bottom Line by David W. Long, Third Printing 2008 Two themes appear regularly from every guy I have ever talked to, and every book I have read about field judging. You will know a big buck when you see one: As Kim King told me, “Truly big deer are easy to judge…the ones that are in the 170-180 range are not.” This basically means if you are questioning how big a buck is, then it’s not big enough for you to be happy with. You can’t kill big bucks if you’re shooting little ones: To find a monster buck, you have to resist temptation when smaller bucks cross your path. Obviously most dedicated meat hunters are not concerned with horn size, but I bet most hunters are flexible. There is a spectrum with dedicated meat hunting on one end and dedicated trophy hunting on the other end. The state, unit, type of animal, difficulty in drawing the tag and who I am hunting with, each affect where I will land on the spectrum for that particular hunt. For example, if I backpack deep into Region G in Wyoming, head back to New Mexico 2B, or someday, hopefully, draw the Henry Mountains or the Arizona Strip, I will likely be pushing the far edges of trophy hunting on the spectrum. However, if I am hunting with my 9-year-old son in an over-the-counter unit with low success rates, I will probably be pushing towards the meat hunter end, with a huge emphasis on enjoying the hunt with my son.

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SCORING THAT MONSTER There are three similar methods to score your buck, but I mainly refer to the Boone and Crockett method. A typical buck has four different types of measurements that get added together for the Gross score.

-The inside spread of the main beams. -The length of the main beams, which is the longest antler that all of the other points extend off of. The main beam is also usually the point that is farthest forward toward the nose of the buck. -The tine measurements are taken. The tines are listed as G1, G2, G3, and G4 on the score charts. Remember the front tine is the main beam and has its own score. The first tine is called the G1, the eye guard and they are a bonus as some bucks do not grow them. The G2 is the farthest back and is usually the longest of the tines. The G3 and G4, and any other tines are then measured. -The mass measurements. There are four places they are taken for each antler (see chart). The four areas are added together to compile a GROSS score. Each measurement is then compared to the corresponding measurement on the other antler, and the difference in each specific antler is added up and then deducted from the gross score, to compile the final NET score. FINDING THEM EARLY Get out there over the summer if you can. Bucks may spend the summer in different places than hunting season, and if you can find them during the summer you may get a much better look. As their antlers grow, they are covered in velvet and full of blood, making them sensitive to the touch. The sensitive antlers make walking through trees and brush very uncomfortable and can lead to bucks being out in the open. Most states do not have hunting seasons during the summer, so they are not likely to be pressured until the first archery hunts around the beginning of September. This coincides somewhat with the bucks losing their velvet and going into hiding. Harvesting a buck in velvet can be very challenging as several factors affect when they lose their velvet and you may have no velvet bucks left during your hunt. Judging a buck still in the velvet can be tricky because antlers in velvet appear more massive. They are not finished growing yet so you will be guessing how much more antler growth may happen, but as the summer progresses you will have a better idea of the size of a buck’s antlers. FIELD JUDGING One of the most noticeable and sought after characteristics of antlers is width, although it is not the most important factor in determining score. Many people care about how wide a buck is, and that can lead to some confusion when you’re judging. Per Boone and Crockett scoring methods, the inside spread of the main beams is all that is added into the score. The outside spread is recorded, but not added or subtracted from the score. Inside width in the range of 25”-30” is great, but you need to have reference points on the deer to mentally use as a tape measure when looking at it through a spotting scope, or binoculars. The average spread of a mature mule deer buck’s ears is 20-22 inches. Some deer have ears several inches wider than that, but if you use the 20-22 inch rule as a guide you will not be disappointed. People who talk about 30 inch bucks are usually talking about the outside spread. If you can find a big buck with inside beams several inches outside its ears, you found a truly wide buck. For example, most B & C bucks are in the 25-30 inch range, and the world record typical mule deer has an inside spread of over 30 inches. (continued on page 30) Burton Thompson and his dad Robert

October 2016


You Can Still Use Elk Calls In October Hunters Specialties


eptember is behind us and it’s time to put down the Mathews and pick up your rifle. So do you leave your elk calls at home? Most would say well, the rut is over and you’re not going to have any success using elk calls during the gun seasons. I’m a true believer that your elk calls can be a huge tool throughout the elk seasons. Now how you use them and when you use them is the key. Now, true, as fall gets later your elk are not as vocal as they were mid to late September. However, I have had success using locate bugles during October. Keep in mind, this is much like shock gobbling a turkey in the spring. All we are doing is trying to have them give away their position. With your favorite bang stick in hand, just having a starting point as a bull elk gives his position away with a half-hearted bugle or possibly a few chuckles and it’s game on! Now don’t be that guy that is blowing a call nonstop throughout the day. A few single note locate bugles from your Mac Daddy bugle before the sun comes up can be very effective. Another call I like to have in hand is a diaphragm elk call. I will always have one hanging off my lip while in the elk woods. If you walk up on a herd of elk and they get startled, a simple cow call from a diaphragm can stop a herd of elk for a standing shot. Also, if you have to follow up with a second shot this has helped create a second opportunity. The benefits of a diaphragm elk call are huge, but the main benefit is that your hands are free to handle your gun in a safe manner... 8 - Hunting & Fishing News


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don’t care if you’re hunting the desert floor of Arizona or the 13,000’ high country of Colorado: only a small percentage of any given area will hold big mature mule deer. In my book, Hunting Big Mule Deer, I dedicated an entire chapter to learning how to recognize big buck country. You must hone your ability to size up buck country quickly or you’ll waste countless days and boot leather hunting country that likely doesn’t attract big deer. Google Earth is a great tool that can help you recognize buck country and plan your hunts. Once you know what you’re looking for, a few minutes on Google Earth will show you more country than you’ll be able to hunt in a lifetime, let alone a season. You can also check out these other articles on utilizing Google Earth for scouting and hunting. Below are some Google Earth images of deer country that occurs in most of the western states from desert to high country where big mule deer are found. I’ve given it my best shot in predicting where bucks will be during particular seasons and also share how I might personally hunt each area. I hope this information can help you on your next mule deer hunt.



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This is a typical desert mule deer habitat with limited water. I’d start by trying to locate the water and deer tracks. Assuming there is water near each of the circled “bucky” areas, I’d then hunt these places. (continued on page11)

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Hunt The October “Mini Rut” By Mike Hanback

From Mike Hanback's Big Deer...

Mike: I’ve read about an October “mini rut,” and I’m a believer. I’ve always had good luck seeing bucks on either side of Oct 15. A few years ago on October 11th, bucks were chasing everything that came into a field. A nice 3-year-old got in on the action. He actually did a lip curl for several minutes where one of the does had stopped to pee. Later, a second buck came along, trailing that same doe’s path and stopping at the same spot for several minutes before continuing on the scent trail. Makes one wonder if maybe a few does do cycle a month early. Are you aware of any proof of this? Bob from WI Bob: Yes, every scientific rut chart/bar graph you’ll see will show that some does come into estrus in October, as evidenced by the chart above from the Minnesota DNR (don’t worry about the 1994 date, deer have always bred during the same time frame and always will). But October breeding is spotty and hit-and-miss. If you’re lucky and in the right spot when a doe comes into early estrus, ... you’ll see a buck or 2 rutting, or more since her smell will pull them out of the woodwork. One study...points out that 80-90% of does are bred in November, and only about 5% are bred in the October. That is “mini” for sure, but hey, as soon as a buck sheds his velvet in September he’s ready, willing and able to hump a hot doe, no matter if it’s October 11 or December 20 (also evident in the chart is more late breeding than most hunters imagine). I ran this by our friend Dr. Grant Woods, who confirmed that a few older, healthy does come into estrus early in October, while the majority of them get hot weeks or a month later in November. Grant says, “It’s important for hunters to consider that the peak of doe conception and breeding behavior by bucks are not simultaneous.” So those bucks you see prowling, scraping and even sniffing at does right now are exhibiting normal pre-rut activity, whether there’s an early hot doe in the area or not. Bottom line: Forget what you might have heard about the “October Lull,” come October 15 you need to get in your bow stand and start hunting hard. Bucks are starting to move, some does are ready, and it’s only going to get better! 10 - Hunting & Fishing News


It could take me five days to hunt an area like this, and even longer if I’m finding bucks or big tracks and there’s not a lot of pressure to move the deer. Orange arrow The orange arrow is the wind direction. The prevailing wind often determines which direction you’ll approach areas from. Bucks can smell you at roughly a distance of half of a mile and under; however, it’s often the terrain-driven thermals that will dictate your terminal approach. Monitor and obey the wind at all times. Area X The three spots marked with an “X” show possible feeding areas that are next to bedding areas with some north facing aspect. I’d either find a way to glass these from a long distance or, if that wasn’t possible, still hunt these mesas slowly at first and last light. Area Y On these mesas marked with a “Y,” bucks will feed on top and bed on the sides that typically have some north facing aspect; it all depends on the time of year and weather. Area Z These areas marked with a “Z” show classic bedding areas. These are steep, rocky places with brush and have some northern aspects.


This is riverbottom/agriculture/BLM country. Bucks can get old and big in places like this for three reasons: 1) limited access due to checkerboard private/public; 2) highly nutritious feed in the fields; 3) the simple fact that many hunters ignore these places because they think all the big bucks live in the mountains. Even if I can’t get access to the private land, I’d still scout this area. Private agriculture tends to have little cover to hide deer during daylight hours and is usually adjacent to public ground with cover, which means that bucks are very likely to spend daylight hours where I can hunt them. Orange arrow The orange arrow is the typical prevailing wind. W area The area marked with a “W” is a place that I’d glass the fields from the public road the first and last 30 minutes of daylight for bucks. Big mule deer bucks won’t venture into the fields very far so watch the edges near cover. X area The area marked with an “X” shows an island that might never see a hunter. I wouldn’t worry a bit about the houses located across the channel (until I’m ready to shoot). I’ve killed several big bucks on public ground and within sight of houses. Big bucks have an uncanny ability to go where no one else goes even if it’s only a few hundred yards from civilization. Y area The area marked with a “Y” is a BLM section that bucks will use for bedding cover. You may have to access it by boat. I’d place trail cameras on any trails near the fields. I’d look for tracks and buck beds. I’d only go in and still hunt it with the wind in my favor and move carefully. Z area The area marked with a “Z” is more remote country bucks might be using. I’d check the sandbar areas for big buck tracks. (continued on page 32) October 2016 11

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Strategies For Montana Fishing In October By Brian McGeehan - Montana Angler To book a trip with Montana Angler call 406-522-9854 or visit their website at


ne of the most frequent questions I am asked when visiting anglers are planning their fishing trip to Montana is “when is the best time to come out”. That question is impossible to answer so I generally try to feel out what is most important to someone: nice weather, lots of action, dry fly fishing, big trout, etc. If your top priority is catching big brown trout the answer is easier: October. There is no better time to fish Montana for large trout than October (and even November). Brown trout which tend to make up the majority of the trophy size trout that we see each year spawn in November and early December. Browns are notorious for becoming more aggressive prior to the spawn.

The aggressive nature of browns in the fall combined with the fact that they are on the move running up river and sometimes into tributaries can produce some heart stopping action for lucky and persistent anglers. Late fall fishing isn’t just about targeting huge trout, there can also be some great dry fly fishing over the baetis hatch. For most of our guides, however, we get caught up in chasing really big fish in the autumn months. Hunting huge browns in the fall isn’t for everyone and if you are going to play the game there are a few important guidelines worth considering. Dress for Success October and November in the Northern Rockies can be notoriously unpredictable. Days can be warm and sunny or the snow can be blowing sideways. Make sure you prepare for any kind of weather from hot and sunny to cold and wet. If you are traveling all the way to Montana to chase big October browns you don’t want to be shut out just because some bad weather blows in. Although October and November are dry months, there will always be some early winter storms that move through and these often produce great conditions for browns that love low light conditions. I still wear Gore Tex waders but I also have long underwear and fleece pants to layer underneath as well as plenty of layers on top. Don’t forget the gloves and winter hat either. Arrive at Peak Times Although big browns begin moving in late September, the best fall run fishing isn’t until after the middle of October and sometimes as late as mid November. The peak fishing on the Madison run above Hebgen in Yellowstone is usually the third week of October while monster browns on the Missouri usually don’t start showing up until November. Throw Giant Streamers Most anglers know that big browns are predators and that fishing streamers is a great way to target them. If you are going to throw streamers in the fall don’t underestimate how big of a fly a huge brown will eat. I have seen big browns regularly eat relatively big trout in the 15” range - they often can’t swallow them all at once and spend a day with a big tail sticking out of their mouth. If you want to move fish over 24” make sure you are stripping the biggest streamers that you can find. I usually have to tie my own tandem hook streamers that are around 10” long. These massive flies are best fished on a seven or eight weight. They won’t put you into many small trout but if you throw them long enough you are sure to see some huge fish at some point. Try Egg Patterns Whitefish, brown trout and brook trout are all fall spawners which means there are a lot of eggs bouncing around the rivers in October and November. Although huge browns tend to prefer a big meal, eggs are so packed with nutrients that even the largest browns will still eat them. There are days when fishing egg patterns under an indicator will outfish every other method for big browns. Target Spawning Runs Although any large river that holds big browns can produce a monster in the fall, targeting fisheries that receive a spawning run of browns from a lake or larger river downstream is a good option in late October and November. Most of these fall run fisheries are no secret. Expect to see some other anglers if you are chasing browns on these fisheries that include the Madison in Yellowstone Park, The Lewis Channel in Yellowstone and the Missouri between the lakes. There are other locations that aren’t as well known that also produce a great run of fall browns if you do some legwork and experimenting. Even on the famous fall run fisheries like the Madison in the park there is always plenty of room and on a weekday with a bit of fall weather you will often see very few other anglers. November fishing is also extremely productive and the fishing pressure dramatically drops off with very few visiting anglers in the state and most of the locals out hunting.

October 2016 13

Big Game Forecast 2016: A Look Into What Hunters Can Expect Around The Region MFWP Region 7 ...Taking to the woods with rifle or bow in hand is a hallowed tradition in our state. Secret spots are held sacred -- passed down from father or

mother to daughter or son only in whispers or, better yet, the experience of a long day afield. And while we can’t give you any insight into a new secret spot, we can give you a good idea of what animal populations are like across the state, recognizing of course the value of a day spent hunting Montana’s most majestic wildlife is never directed by population estimates alone. General archery season starts Sept. 3 and general rifle season begins Oct. 22. Montana hunters enjoy an uncommonly long hunting season, with the avid hunters who pursue both archery and rifle hunting having more than three months to be in the field. Around the state Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ wildlife managers in general are reporting solid numbers of elk, deer and antelope. Southeast Montana The badlands, farmland and rolling prairie of FWP Region 7 is home to a vast number of animals, including a dynamic and healthy population of mule deer and a growing number of elk. Antelope Montana antelope populations are continuing to recover and grow from previous years’ winter kills and low fawn numbers in central and eastern Montana. Summer production surveys indicate that antelope numbers have increased 86 percent from the low in 2012, and are now 8 percent below the region wide long-term average. Antelope numbers in the northern portion of Region 7 are near long-term average. In the western portion of the region, antelope numbers continue to increase but remain well below historic averages. Antelope numbers are best in the southeastern corner of the state, and FWP recommends that hunters head in that direction for antelope this fall. This year, FWP is offering a few more special licenses, which reflects the improving population. Successful antelope license applicants may recognize increased fawn production in many areas as populations respond to this year’s favorable weather and habitat conditions. As always, FWP wildlife biologists and game wardens will be operating hunter check-stations throughout the state to collect biological information and ensure regulations are followed. All hunters are required to stop at check stations. Elk These are good times for elk hunters as Montana elk populations continue to be strong across most of the state. In many hunting districts, however, access to private lands can be difficult, which can affect hunting success given landownership patterns and distribution of elk. Even if you didn’t draw a special permit this year, remember that Montana offers numerous opportunities to hunt for elk with just a general hunting license. Here’s a regional rundown on what elk hunters can expect this season. The 2016 winter surveys indicated that elk in Region 7 are continuing moderate growth and gradual expansion into unoccupied available habitat. FWP biologists observed strong calf recruitment (50 calves per 100 cows) and an excellent composition of bulls (41 per 100 cows). 14 - Hunting & Fishing News

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The Missouri Breaks (HD 700) and Custer Forest Elk Management Unit (HDs 702, 704, 705) remain the two “core” elk populations. Outside of these areas, elk numbers in Region 7 are low, distribution is spotty and elk are primarily found on private land where public hunting access is limited. Bull hunting is by permit only in HDs 700, 702, 704, 705 and the far western portion of 701. In HD 703 and in the rest of 701, hunters can pursue either-sex elk with a general license. New for the 2016 hunting season is the 007-00 B license. This license is valid for antlerless elk throughout Region 7 except for the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and the Custer National Forest. An easy way for hunters to remember where they can use the 007-00 antlerless elk license is that it’s valid everywhere except what is green on a Bureau of Land Management ownership map (green being national forest or federal wildlife refuge areas). It is important for hunters to note that there are no elk shoulder seasons in any of the hunting districts in Region 7. Additional antlerless opportunities exist in the region via a general and/or B-license, and hunters are encouraged to review the regulations for more details on those opportunities. Deer Hunters who witnessed a drop in mule deer numbers in many areas of Montana a few years ago will see improving populations this year as favorable weather and habitat conditions kicked in during 2014 and 2015. Additionally, in many areas of the state, fawn recruitment has been excellent and populations are doing well. Even if you didn’t draw a special permit this year, remember that Montana offers numerous opportunities to hunt for deer with just a general hunting license. Here’s a regional rundown on what deer hunters can expect this season. Spring trend surveys show that mule deer populations have climbed to 47 percent above long-term average and populations are 29 percent higher than last year. The population increase is a result of another year of excellent overwinter survival and fawn recruitment (56 yearlings per 100 adults—which includes bucks and yearling does). Buck ratios continue to be high at 37 bucks per 100 does post-hunting season but, as in the past couple of years, hunters can expect to see a lot of young bucks in the population. The mule deer population is currently comprised mostly of young, reproductively fit animals. That is characteristic of a population undergoing rapid population growth. Tough 2009-10 and 2010-11 winters resulted in heavy mortality and reduced populations region wide. Those winters were followed by several years of mild conditions and excellent deer production, with the youngest of those strong year-classes of deer just now beginning to reach maturity. While deer numbers are generally high region wide, numbers remain just below long-term average in HD 702. Whitetail numbers have continued to increase in Region 7. EHD outbreaks have been localized in scale and small in magnitude since 2012. Local hunters will recall the last major EHD outbreak in 2011, which caused heavy mortality in whitetails throughout many parts of Region 7. “We are at a good place right now with whitetail numbers,” said John Ensign, MFWP Region 7 wildlife manager. “As deer densities increase, the risk of major EHD outbreaks increases. The disease is transmitted by a biting midge. When you get deer in close proximity, it’s an ideal situation for disease transmission.” “It’s impossible to stockpile wildlife, including whitetails,” Ensign said. “Whether in the form of disease, drought or harsh winters, Mother Nature always intervenes.” Hunters who do their homework by scouting and visiting with private landowners should have success locating good areas to hunt whitetails. October 2016 15

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Where do bulls go after the rut? ©Ronhood|

The grueling gauntlet of the elk rut is over - so where should an elk hunter begin the quest to fill an elk tag in late October and into November?

Head for the nasties: Battle-worn bulls will seek solitude now after the dust of the rut has settled. And once the sound of humans with high-powered rifles start to invade the landscape, big bulls will head straight for the nearest hidey-hole they can find. The worn down bulls will seek out secluded pockets of dense cover near dependable water sources to recuperate. Like a wily whitetail buck, they often move little unless forced to, as they attempt to pack on calories and heal, out of the sight of hunters.

Here’s where you can find them: Timbered ridges: If you are lucky enough to have a snowy covered landscape, look for tracks heading in and out of timber patches. These are classic bedding areas for post-rut bulls. Hunt the spine of steep ridges. These are places that catch plenty of breezes coming through, allowing an elk to bust approaching hunters. Shady, timbered areas also create more water sources for elk, hidden wallows keep elk from having to go outside of their comfort zone, thus remaining inside the timber until right before dark. If you can figure out the bulls travel route, you can bust him coming out at dusk, or moving into the timber early in the morning. These elk will stay in these pockets until pressure moves them to another area.

Don’t overlook the obvious: A secluded niche that offers protection from the elements and hunters, and with food and water nearby is all an elk needs to wait out the hunting season. These pockets might be as close as the edge of town or the next ridge over from a road that leads into the mountains. Hunt the edges of private ground where you know pressured elk like to roam. Scan Cliff Bases: Elk really start to move with the changing fall weather, and as the hunting season picks up, the moist bases of rock slides, cliffs, and rim-rocks are popular spots for solitary elk. Cliff walls provide protection from at least one side. Bulls will stand periodically to move and feed, allowing you to spot them in opened areas. You can then make a game plan to get close enough for a good, clean shot.

Hunted elk are nervous elk, and begin to move into the thick timber at daylight. Determine their destination:

Elk follow the path of least resistance, although it does not appear so when you are in pursuit, and, because of a bull’s tendencies to hide out in the darkest patches of the forest you'll need to get off the beaten path to find them. Post-rut can be the toughest time to lay eyes on a bull elk, but odds are the deeper into elk country a hunter gets, the better your chances of finding an old bull biding it’s time and re-energizing for the upcoming winter. 16 - Hunting & Fishing News

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Lighters: They’re cheap, so I get a bunch of them. I carry one in my pocket, another in my day pack, and spares in my vehicle. I’m constantly needing a lighter to start a campfire, or light a stove or lantern. Fire starter: I am a big fan of military surplus trioxane bars. They’re great for starting a campfire, and you can also heat water with them in the field by setting a small, metal pot or mug on top of one. They come in a three-pack for about $5 at military surplus stores or online, and they’re packaged in a tough, waterproof, foil wrapper. Compass: I own a GPS, but I still carry a compass. I glance at the compass at the start of my hunt to orient myself to certain landmarks so I can reference them later. My GPS unit is handy, but it’s electronic and requires batteries, which means it can fail. A compass is more reliable. Photo: IF&G

Use Your Survival Gear For More Than Emergencies By Roger Phillips, Public Information Specialist, IF&G


was hunting with a friend last fall and gave him some bad intel about an area that was new to him, but I knew well (or so I thought). “Walk in that direction for a while and you will come to an old fire road. We will meet there,” I told him as we separated. The road was much closer than I expected, and he walked past it assuming he needed to go farther. He would have soon figured it out and returned, but I decided to use an “emergency” signal whistle to get his attention. After a few shrill whistles, he came into view. “What’s up?” He asked.

This wasn’t close to an emergency situation. At worst, it meant we would have spent a little longer than expected tracking each other down, but it was a reminder you don’t have to wait for a life-and-death situation to use your survival gear. When I was a young hunter, I took the Boy Scout motto “be prepared” to extremes. Although I was usually under the watchful eye of my dad, I carried a bunch of survival gear that went unused for years and eventually got left behind. Since then, I’ve pared things down to the basics, and while I can’t recall an outright emergency, I’ve found other uses for the stuff. I don’t carry everything on every hunting trip because it depends on where I will be, the type of hunting, the weather, etc. But I’ve found these items are handy for more than survival situations. 18 - Hunting & Fishing News

Space blanket: Fortunately, I’ve never had to deploy one for an emergency, but they’re handy to lay meat or quarters on to keep them clean when you’re butchering an animal in the field. A word of caution: don’t wrap meat in them for transport. Space blankets are designed to retain heat, and you’re trying to let the heat escape from the meat. Signal whistle: See above. Cheap, lightweight, doesn’t take up much space. A couple quick blasts will get someone’s attention, and the sound carries farther than shouting. Wide-mouth, plastic water bottle: This is in addition to a water bladder that I have in my pack. I leave the bottle empty and use it to stash other items inside to keep them dry and unbroken. I can fill the bottle from any water source when I am butchering an animal so I don’t sacrifice drinking water to clean up. Spare long-john shirt and socks: I don’t always carry these, but on several occasions I’ve gotten damp and chilled. Changing into a dry shirt and/or socks made a huge difference for warmth and comfort. Store them in a waterproof plastic bag. Lightweight rain jacket: Like many outdoors people, I’ve shied away from fully waterproof jackets in favor of water-resistant “soft shells” that breathe better so I don’t get sweaty and clammy. But I know a prolonged rainstorm will eventually soak through my soft shell, so I carry a lightweight raincoat as a last defense against heavy rain. It might only get used once or twice a season, but I like knowing it’s there. Parachute cord: I have a parachute cord bracelet attached to my pack at all times. Cord comes in handy for a variety of things, including broken boot laces. Instant soup, hot beverages: Hot soup, hot chocolate, tea or instant coffee can warm you up and provide an energy boost. High-energy food: There are so many energy bars and similar calorie-dense foods on the market that you can carry a lot of calories without much weight or bulk. I carry a variety of them for snacks and keep others stashed for emergencies.

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2016 1850LS Solid fall musky patterns often revolve around fall spawning baitfish like tullibee and whitefish.


F or diehard anglers, fall fishing may be the most coveted time of the year. While every angler seems to participate for season 2016 1950 FISH HAWK WT

openers and early season weekends, many anglers put the rods away and park the boat during the fall so the mystique of fall is not only great fishing but also fewer people. Even on good bites on well-known fisheries, boat ramp parking lots sit relatively empty. For hardcore anglers who are obsessed with fishing, fall might be a favorite time of the year. I have often felt that fall fishing is the exact opposite of spring, but there are many similarities. Some of the same locations often produce and many shallow patterns come alive again as water temperatures drop. Like the spring, late afternoons can often produce better as water temperatures can bump up a degree of two. The mornings often require gloves and the boat is often covered in frost. Here is where the spring and fall however are very different. Spring bites often get better when water temperatures progressively warm up and slow down if the temps fall off after cold fronts.

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Fall bites seem to get better as water temps fall and get worst if a warm spell progressively bumps water temperatures back up. Cold fall weather seems to make the fishing better while hot unseasonably warm weather often sends the fish patterns into disarray.

What is also neat about fall fishing is that everything seems to be biting. Fall is one of the best times to target trophy walleye, musky, bass and pan fish. If there is one sure fire pattern for bass and panfish in the upper Midwest, focus on deep break lines that have good green weeds. Deep coontail that grows two to four feet off the bottom along a sharp breaking drop off is a magnet for fish in the fall. Weeds also don’t always have to be green to hold fish in the fall however. Many of the pondweed and cabbage species do die off and brown up after they seed out by late summer but brown weeds will still sometimes hold fish if there is good water circulation. The key for brown and down weeds to hold fish in the fall is close access to deep water and good water circulation. These weed patterns can also be hot walleye and musky locations as well. What makes fall weed patterns different from spring patterns is that spring weed patterns often also correlate with warmer water. Spring finds us finding fish over large shallow flats and protected bays that warm up faster.

Fall weed patterns often occur over sharp breaks and exposed areas that have that good water circulation.

Another top location for both big walleye and musky are shallow boulders and rip rap. Big rocks seem to attract fish any time of the year but really seem to become even more important in the fall. On some fisheries, fall-spawning baitfish like tullibee concentrate along rock and rip rap creating a prime feeding opportunity for larger baitfish. Some anglers sometimes overlook this fall-spawning Kalins Grub Close Up: Some of the best fall fishing baitfish connection. Baitfish that spawn and locations are often community spots that turn on when the crowds quit fishing concentrate in the fall include ciscoes, whitefish and tullibee. Many of these fall baitfish spawning patterns need rock and are also heavily influenced by wind.

Can remember situations where I found almost all of the baitfish and relating predators concentrated on one specific spot on the spot that seemed influenced by wind.

Deep weeds correlating on sharp break lines are high percentage locations for bass and panfish in the fall.

Some baitfish seemed to stack on the down wind side of the reef for example in the calmer water where as the upwind side was completely dead of life. When the wind died, that specific spot dried up and the activity shifted. Shallow rock patterns also seemed to pick up as dark approached as these baitfish moved up to spawn after dark.

Deep reefs that combine sharp break lines and a hard bottom are classic fall walleye locations on many natural lakes. Can’t talk fall fishing for walleye without mentioning current and bottleneck areas. River systems also come back to life with fish movements that recharge some holes and troughs where some of these fish will hold through the winter. Regardless of water and species, I have often felt that some of fall fishing’s best and most consistent bets are simply community spots. Community spots are typically really good locations that get ruined by the sheer number of boats. In the fall when so many people quit fishing, these are some of the best locations. No secrets, no need to outthink other anglers. You simply have to commit yourself and long after the crowds are gone, you can find some of the best fishing of the entire season for a variety of fish on a variety of water.

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Top ten angler prizes $700-$200-best 15/24-days count last day is separate Captains $250-(4 prizes), Smallest lake trout $250-(2 prizes), Largest lake trout-$500 - see rules for entries Top lady anglers $300, $200, $100 - $100-totals used Youth anglers - (17-13) 1st-$200, 2nd-$150, 3rd-$75, 4-5th-$50 (12 & under) 1st-$100, 2nd-$75, 3rd-$50 will also be entered in the lottery drawing Weekend Prizes-$300 and $200 will be announced each week Golden Angler Award (70 & older) $200 & $100 Bucket Competition - 10/7, 10/22, & 11/6 - weigh in your 4 heaviest lake trout under 30” Last Day: $300, $200, $100 PLUS heaviest lake trout under 30” - 1st 200, 2nd $100 BONUSES: Your total at the end of the 45 days determines your bonus. YETI Cooler - 1 ticket for every 10 lake trout entries. (Fri. - Sun.)

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Enter online at or pick up entries at local sporting good stores - or you can even enter when you check in your fish at the check in stations during Mack Days. It is easier if you enter before the event begins.

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Say Hello To Success: Where to chase the Fish this Month Brought to you by


s autumn's magical fall season takes over here in the west, area anglers will have no shortage of outstanding opportunities to land quality fish in nearly every river or reservoir across Montana. Trout fishing will be at a climax as catch rates pick up dramatically now. Anglers now have the chance to catch larger fish as they have bulked up during the summer months and now continue to gorge as the water temps cool down. Brown trout will be the target of many anglers as they move closer to the shorelines. Trout aren't the only fish available either. Despite their "warm water" classification, bass fishing can be excellent in the fall, and fishing for popular panfish species, such as yellow perch are excellent as well. The walleye, whitefish and pike bite will also be on right now. The key to catching a trophy now will be time spent on the water. Here are just a few spots to look at: [Top brown trout destinations] Musselshell River - Central Montana's Musselshell River is home to some trophy browns that rarely see a fly or lure. Large trout can be taken from the river in it's upper stretches near Martinsdale downstream to the Hwy. 191 bridge at Harlowtown. Rig up with an olive or black streamer and be ready for browns that can reach in the 18-inch plus mark. Countdown Rapalas, Panther Martins or worms dredged through deep pockets also work. Good access spots are at Two Dot Road Access Site or simply hit the Hwy. 191 bridge access. The further you hike away from the access points, the better your chances of finding something special.

Brown trout - fishing Gates of the Mountains with Walleye Hunter Outfitters Book your trip at (406) 459-5352 Missouri River - It's no secret spot by any means, but you'll want to hit the "Mo" this fall as big brownies begin to head towards shorelines and creek inlets. It's trophy time for trout in this pristine part of Montana. Try a Marabou jig - Kit's Tackle or a glass minnow jig to land big browns. Nymphs and streamers on the fly. Madison River - The Madison River is home to monster fish, and especially big browns above and below Hebgen Lake. Nymphs, midges and streamers all collect fish now on this Southwest Montana stream. Beaverhead River - As fall progresses, the Beaverhead offers quality brown trout fishing. The browns are plentiful, big and can't say no to a fresh streamer on the move. Follow up your streamer with a Pheasant Tail or a soft hackle caddis pattern. Spinning gear will attract rainbows as well, and you can cash in with an orange colored Panther Martin.

Marias River - You can fish the Hi-line near Chester as brown trout prepare to spawn in the Marias River below the dam. Woolly Buggers on the fly or Krocodile Spoons on small spinners will land plenty of fish as we head further into the fall. This is a lesser-fished brown trout water, but can be very productive for 16 to 18 inch fish from the bank. [Montana whitefish bite] October is the month for whitefish in Montana. Here are four good rivers where you can load up: Flathead River - Along the Flathead River from Columbia Falls to the Old Steel Bridge, anglers line the banks sacking up lake whitefish that spawn from October well into November. Small jigs (green seems to be the color), soft plastic lures like Kastmasters in green will catch these tasty fish this fall.

Fresno Reservoir - An underutilized source for mountain whitefish is west of Havre. The tailwater area below Fresno is a good spot. Why? Because no one fishes for them here - whitefish are usually caught incidentally while anglers are targeting the walleye that exist in the reservoir. Small minnows and worms do well to catch whitefish in the 2 to 3 pound range. Missouri River - Again, the Missouri will be loaded with great fishing and the whitefish can be a good target now. A small fly like a soft tackle caddis is productive, or drop a worm down. Target the Wolf Creek Bridge area about a mile upstream for good success in the slack waters. [Bass, walleye, pike bite] Nelson Reservoir - Near Malta, area anglers are changing tactics now as we head into fall. Northern pike are going to be the main focus in October instead of walleye. Put away your bottom-bouncers and instead throw out minnows and crankbaits for aggressive pike that are feeding abundantly near the shore. Bait up a leadhead jig with a sucker minnow and jig in 12 to 18 feet of water for northern pike. Who knows, maybe a walleye or two will hit as well. Thompson Lake Chains Largemouth bass will consume most anything now. Spinnerbaits and jigs with a trailer will pick up bass. Fish the edge of weed lines for good fishing hits. Thompson Lakes also has good populations of brown and rainbow trout and can produce excellent fishing in the fall. Be prepared for sudden weather changes in October here in Montana. Good fishing.


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that can live to be 100 years old and is characterized by its vacuum-like mouth, sensitive whiskers, small beady eyes and armor-like scales. The White sturgeon can reach 15 feet long and weigh more than 1,100 pounds. There are eight species of sturgeon living in North America, but only White sturgeon are found in Idaho. White sturgeon can be found throughout the Pacific Northwest from Alaska to California. In Idaho, they are present throughout the Snake River up to Shoshone Falls, and in the lower Salmon River. The Kootenai River also has a distinct White sturgeon population that is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Despite their wide distribution in Idaho, sturgeon face significant challenges from a history of overharvest and extensive changes to their river habitats. Idaho Department of Fish and Game is working with Idaho Power and College of Southern Idaho in the middle Snake River to help conserve White sturgeon. Part of this effort involves stocking hatchery sturgeon from wild parents to help increase population numbers. The main goal is to ensure sturgeon populations are healthy and can continue to support recreational sport fishing. Over the next seven weeks, Fish and Game will present a series of blog articles to take readers behind-the-scenes in what it takes to spawn these huge fish as part of this amazing program. Each article will show one step in the process from collecting adults to spawning, rearing and releasing juveniles. “Many Idahoans don’t realize how much effort goes on behind the scenes when it comes to managing sturgeon populations in Idaho,” said Martin Koenig, Fish and Game’s sportfishing coordinator. “Our new blog features will be a great way to give folks a glimpse into the details behind some of our lesser-known conservation efforts.” October 2016 23



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By Eddie White

T he leaves change brilliant colors, and the air temperature starts to fade from the hot summer, to the shortening cooler autumn days. As rifle hunting season is about to take off there is a break

and opportunity to spend a day on the water, chasing walleyes. Always searching for new ways to chase fish, this year we decided to run bottom bouncers on the river. Delighted by the results, I figured an article on “how to” was in order. It is a simple, yet extremely effective method of fishing. From mild to wild rivers, this technique flat out works. Searching out the right water can be the hardest part to get started. In general, the same areas you fish traditionally will be the same places to start. For us that like to power fish, bottom bouncing the river is a great technique to cover a fair amount of water in a short amount of time. Current seams running off sand bars with dead water on the other side, are always a good place to start. GOOGLE: A very under utilized tool, if you’re new to reading water, or know how and want to gather more information, google: “how to read a river”. Then hit the “image” function, there are piles of pictures to be able to sort through. Google maps, or Google Earth, is also a fantastic tool. If you zoom in close enough you can actually gather quite a bit of information on locating places to try. Google updates their satellite images frequently, and searching out new spots is a great way to get a fishing fix if you can’t be out on the water. GEAR: Keep it simple! I will typically run 40 lb power pro, with a shorter 10 lb mono leader. Standard bottom bouncers from 1 to 2 ounces. To avoid the never ending snags, shortening up your leader to 3 or so feet always helps. In a river system, I do not think that a longer leader is necessary, considering the water is in constant motion, you have to take the time to think about the debris a fish will see in a days time. BAIT: Again on the simple! Some night crawlers, minnows, and twister tails is all that one will need. For a crawler harness, try and key in on colors. If your standard go to is not working, do not be afraid to change. It is not that the fish are not biting, it could be the bait, the color, or the presentation are wrong. SPEED: Always start going up river. Making constant “s” turns, this allows your speed to stay in a relatively steady zone, especially in faster water. Generally start at around 1 mph. As you “s” turn keep in mind, with every turn, the outside rigs will move a bit faster, and the inside rigs will move slower. Which will give a different effect and can trigger a reaction strike. When you reach the end of your run, do the same thing going back down river. Going into, or with the current will give the same fish, that may not have reacted going up, a chance to react going down. QUESTIONS: Please give me feedback! On the bottom of the page is my contact information. Whether it be a how to question, or a picture of your success, I am always eager to see results. Eddie White owns and operates The Minnow Bucket in Huntley Montana, also a writer, seminar speaker and tournament angler. Contact Eddie at: on Facebook at or by phone at 406-696-1281 October 2016 25

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Waterfowl Vision: Beating the Odds To fool fowl, it’s all about the eyes


By Joe Balog

hether one pursues whitetails or waterfowl, rabbits or reindeer, understanding your quarry is one of the keys to successful hunting. Certain species exhibit incredibly advanced natural traits that demand full considered and preparation. Whitetails, for example, have about 60 times as many scent receptors as humans. Their noses simply cannot be ignored. And when it comes to hunting waterfowl, it’s all about the eyes. Birds, as a whole, posses some of the most advanced vision in the animal kingdom, and waterfowl are no exception. Research of avian eyesight reveals characteristics hard to comprehend by human standards. In fact, once we consider the effectiveness of their eyes, it’s hard to believe hunters kill any ducks or geese at all. In order to begin to understand how waterfowl see, it is helpful to recognize the fundamental differences between their eyes and our own. Most game birds possess monocular vision, rather than the binocular vision that we have. Because a bird’s eyes are located on the sides of its head, in most cases it is physically impossible for both eyes to focus on the same object at the same time. Waterfowl are an exception. Most waterfowl species do enjoy a very narrow field of binocular vision, right in front of their bills. Monocular vision eliminates the intricate 3-D views that we see as humans. Overall depth perception is dramatically compromised. Ducks and geese compensate for this, however, by turning their heads back and forth, occasionally viewing the same object with each eye at different times. Hunters can observe this behavior when landing Canada geese attempt to gain perspective on the distance to the ground. Ducks can also often be seen bobbing their heads in flight while looking at decoys or other birds on the water. While monocular vision limits a bird’s 3-D viewing ability, it greatly expands their overall field of view. A mallard duck can see 360 degrees around its head, as compared to a human’s 260-degree range. This is an adaptation for predator detection. Waterfowl have evolved to survive, in part, by being able to view their entire surroundings. Monocular vision makes waterfowl hunting extremely challenging. Just hiding from the birds seems impossible. But their optical advantages don’t end there. The advanced eye structures of ducks and geese further increase their ability to pick out potential danger, including hunters on the ground. Our eye structures have built-in obstructions, which ducks and geese lack. Whereas human eyes contain blood vessels throughout the retina, these vessels are contained in a single, small organ known as a pecten within the eyes of ducks and geese. This feature gives them unimpeded vision far surpassing that of human beings. The eyes of many birds, including ducks and geese, also contain cone cells that are sensitive to ultraviolet light, which is invisible to the human eye. The reasons for this are debatable, as are the practical implications to hunting. Most scientific sources agree that much of this UV-sensitivity is present to assist birds in discerning between the varying plumage colors of their peers, and may be important in choosing mates. In addition, it’s been found that some food sources, including select berries and seeds,

emit ultraviolet light, which may help some birds locate key food sources. Whether or not ducks and geese use this ability to find certain grains or wetland seeds is unknown. What is known, however, is that most ducks and geese see much better, both in colors and in terms of focus, than humans. In addition, it is believed that many birds see both slow and fast moving objects much better than we do – an ability waterfowl may use to guide their migrations by following the subtle flickering of far-off stars. While all this biology is fascinating, it supports what most waterfowl hunters already know: Hunters must stay fully concealed if they expect to have a chance at fooling waterfowl into coming their way. Because ducks and geese can distinguish between colors incredibly well, hunters must not only consider how good their camouflage looks, but how well it blends with the surrounding terrain. When viewed by a duck or goose, the darker camo typically used for timber hunts, for example, stands out like a sore thumb in light cornstalks or a dried out cattail marsh. Also consider the contrast presented by a lack of concealment. After a generous review of scientific literature, a once-debated factor is now clear: Ducks and geese can easily pick out the human face, so always cover it with a facemask or paint. The importance of blind concealment can’t be understated. For years, I’ve watched as unsuccessful hunters fail to consider what their hiding spot looked like from above, rather than simply at ground level. While it can be difficult to get effective overhead concealment, hunters should take every opportunity to ensure they do so. An easy method is to secure area foliage – like dead reeds or flooded corn stalks – onto stout dowel rods with zip-ties. Place a couple of these stakes around each hunter and the dog stand to provide tufts of overhead cover. When choosing a manufactured blind, consider the look from above as much as anything. Ameristep’s layout blinds incorporate total concealment via Realtree camouflage with built-in grass straps for attaching supplemental vegetation. They also include fold-open doors or a flip-up lid for hiding the hunter’s face. The slanted design of Avian-X’s popular A-Frame Blind effectively hides most of the blind’s interior from above, and the narrow opening at the top can easily be concealed with natural materials. Like the Ameristep layout models, the large and portable Avian-X A-Frame includes built-in grass straps and pockets for easy and complete concealment using natural vegetation. Once hunters are well hidden, the next duck-defying visual consideration is the look of our decoys. When hunters set out a decoy spread, they are inviting extreme scrutiny by some of the sharpest eyes in the animal kingdom – eyes that are on high alert for the slightest imperfection. Extreme realism is a must. Avian-X decoys are regarded by many as the most realistic available. The company’s Topflight Duck Decoys have fooled ducks for years, thanks to the intricate relief of their carving and their highly-detailed paint schemes. In addition to their standard Topflight Mallards, Avian-X offers Backwater and Sleeper/Preener Mallard Packs that take mallard decoy spreads to the next level by adding the natural and relaxed feeding, sleeping and preening poses that put incoming ducks at ease. They even offer an Early-Season Mallard Pack that effectively duplicates the look of mallard drakes in the eclipse plumage that’s so commonly seen throughout much of the early hunting season. Unique weather situations also affect decoy appearance and, therefore, must be considered. Decoys featuring traditional paint and hard plastic bodies often produce unnatural glare under many conditions – particularly on frosty mornings and sunny afternoons. Softer molding compounds will help, but fully-flocked blocks, like the entire Avian-X AXF Canada goose line, will immediately eliminate this problem. Under rare occasions, ducks and geese seem to ignore what their eyes are telling them, and bomb into the spread without concern. Those days, however, are few and far between. More often, those beady little eyes do us in. These advanced organs function well beyond the scope of most hunters’ knowledge. So if you’d like to finish more ducks and geese, start paying those eyes the respect they deserve. Cover up completely, and utilize the most realistic decoys you can find. All eyes are upon you.

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How To Score And Field Judge Big Mule Deer (continued from page 7)

TWO MORE THINGS TO CONSIDER ABOUT WIDTH Avoid making a judgment regarding width when a buck is facing, walking, or running away from you. Bucks pull their ears back to listen to the danger behind them as they head away from it, which can cause the inside width to appear much wider. Boone and Crockett does not allow inside spreads that are wider than the longest main beam. This means your inside spread credit can never be longer than the longest main beam on the buck, so a 30” inside spread will only be recorded as 25” if the longest main beam is 25”. This highlights the importance of symmetry when looking for a big (book) buck. MEASURING MASS On a Boone and Crockett score sheets measurements are signified by the letter H, and are numbered H1, H2, H3, and H4. H1 is the lowest measurement taking the circumference of the antler at the smallest point between the base and the first point, the G1. Each of the next three measurements are between the next antler point coming off the main beam. These four mass measurements on a mule deer are the most consistent from big bucks to medium size bucks, as the variations are not as extreme for other measurements. Truly big bucks may have six inch H1 measurements, where a medium size deer may have 4 -5 inch H1s. Mass is the characteristic I look at last, as the other characteristics have more of an impact on score. The more mass a buck has, which is sometimes described as being heavy, or heavy horned, will help the buck score higher. FORKS The factor that affects the score the most, is tine length. As Kim King told me big bucks should have long tines on all four corners. Another way of putting this is big bucks will have deep forks 11”-12” deep. Unfortunately, many bucks will have deep forks on the back, and crab forked front forks which are shallow resembling, you guessed it, a crab’s claws. Obviously this type of buck will not score as well because if the front forks are not deep, the main beams will probably be shorter and the inside main beam spread will be narrower. Keep in mind that two-thirds of the score basically comes from having great front forks due to the main beam length, the inside spread credit, and the G3 length, which is why bucks with deep forks on the front, and “weak” forks in the back score better than deep back forks, and weak front forks. Obviously having a buck with deep forks on the back and front is the best case scenario, so let’s look at a great buck that Kim King took that scored 197 3/8. It was very symmetrical and grossed 201 2/8 without eye guards, and a small cheater. Really think about inside spread, and how deep and symmetrical the forks look as you examine his photo. ...Field judging mule deer and trying to find a big one is very challenging. One of the reasons many people hunt is to challenge themselves, and trophy hunting can definitely add to that challenge. Hunters who are good at field judging got that way because they took the information and put it into practice, and that does not happen overnight. If you are interested in becoming skilled at field judging, soak in as much information and knowledge as you can, learn how to measure bucks, and then start putting it into practice. Go on hunts and practice field judging. If you can’t get tags for units that have bucks worth field judging, find people that do have those tags and offer to go and help them glass for bucks and pack them out. If you go on these hunts take a pad of paper with you and as you watch bucks, guess what each measurement would be and then add them up, and consider taking pictures or videos to study. Compare your numbers to any bucks you harvest. Anytime you are around bucks that have been harvested, take a few minutes and mentally add up the score, and then put a tape measure on the buck, if the owner will let you, and see how close you were. Look online at the multiple “guess the score” threads and blogs, and see how much better your skill gets as you practice. GOOD LUCK OUT THERE FINDING BIG BUCKS.

30 - Hunting & Fishing News


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This is mid-elevation mesa type country. Although this is a photo from Utah, you can find this country in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and southern Idaho. Bucks love mesas as they feature varied terrain with multiple escape routes. Mesas are hard to glass and, consequently, can hold some old bucks as long as road densities and hunter numbers aren’t too high. Orange arrows The horizontal orange arrow showcases prevailing wind, the curly and uphill arrow are daytime thermals. Red lines The red lines show the road access on top. Hike at least a half mile from roads unless there are very few licenses. B1 to B7 These areas show possible bedding areas. Notice they’re just off the edge of the mesas in the cover. Try to glass these areas from above. Still hunt slowly and glass every angle as you approach these spots. Your shot maybe less than 100 yards due to thick brush so be ready. If I’d scouted a big buck in this area, I’d only hunt here the entire season, nowhere else. F1 to F4 These are feed areas with some northeast aspect, which in dry country holds moisture and feed. Hunt these during the August/September season by glassing at first and last light. By October, bucks will have mostly vacated this open country. H20-1 and H20-2 I’d have trails cameras on these two water holes by late June. It’s the only water within a few miles so those cameras will eventually show you the bucks. R1 to R3 The country below these mesas is too rocky for bucks. Pressure/rut Bucks might end up down in the lower country with increased hunting pressure or the rut. Plenty of feed and cover can hold bucks here.


This is some mid elevation 8,000’ to 10,000’ Colorado pinyon-pine and juniper country. It’s thick, steep, and hard to glass; therefore, it will hold some big bucks. It has some roads that are roughly a mile between each other, which is still enough to grow big deer unless hunter numbers are high. 32 - Hunting & Fishing News

It could take me up to a week to hunt this entire mountain correctly. Although I might not kill a buck, I know I’d be hunting where they live and a real giant can show up in country like this. Yellow lines The yellow lines are ridgetops above brushy draws that I’d hunt if the weather was mild and hunting pressure wasn’t too high. I’d hunt with the wind in my face and glass very carefully any opening I came across. I’d also watch closely for tracks and ambush points. Red lines The red lines are roads. Bucks might be near these on a third or fourth season hunt in Colorado if there were very low tag numbers. Otherwise, I’d hunt away from these roads. The road on the right side of the photo is one I might use to access the country to the north and east. D1 to D4 These points show draws where bucks will retreat to when hunting pressure increases or when bucks experience high wind and blizzard conditions. With those conditions, still hunt the draws with the wind in your favor. Hunt up one side of the draw so you can glass the openings on the other side. S1 to S6 These are areas where bucks could be found in the summer scouting season as long as water is located within a mile of these areas. If I had an early season archery or muzzleloader tag, I’d hunt near these “S” areas, glassing at first and last light.


This is typical Colorado aspen/oak/pinyon-pine and juniper country where some of the biggest bucks in the west live. The top of the ridge marked by the white line is around 11,000’ in elevation. Orange arrows The arrow starting in the upper right of the photo showcases the prevailing winds. The other orange arrows are daytime thermals. The daytime thermals will mix with prevailing winds to create finicky, swirling winds in certain areas. This creates a problem for hunters, but bucks love these places. M1 area You might catch bucks at the first and last few minutes of light in this meadow. Glassing, still hunting, and ambush hunting area all great tactics for this location. M2 area This meadow/bench might be a good spot to look over at first and last light. M3 area This meadow is just too big and flat to hold bucks once the season opens. Mesa This mesa, with a feed area to the west, has enough cover to hide bucks. Still hunt it and watch for big tracks. G1 area The bench near G1 could hold some bucks. I might glass the area from above. G2, G3, F1 and F2 This is some of my favorite country in this photo. This spot has plenty of varied terrain, feed, cover, and even some vantage points near G2 and G3. X1 to X3 While most hunters would head for the tops, don’t expect the bucks to be there in any numbers. It’s too rocky with low amounts of feed. X1 to X3 mark the places up high where I’d expect to find some bucks, but only before the snow and rut hit. Bucks living in this country would be extremely hard to glass and most hunters would give up quickly. A patient hunter/ambush hunter should hunt these areas with the wind in their face along game trails, saddles, and bedding areas. (continued on page 42) October 2016 33

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Annual breeding population survey estimates 48.36 million total ducks, with mallards at record high of 11.79 million

N orth America’s spring duck population remains high, but returning birds initially found a lower pond count in key areas of the breeding

grounds, according to the 2016 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey released... The annual survey, which has been conducted jointly by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service since 1955, puts the breeding duck population at 48.36 million, slightly lower than last year’s record population of 49.52 million, but still 38 percent above the long-term average. “The duck numbers are amazingly good,” said Dr. Frank Rohwer, president of Delta Waterfowl. “Mallard numbers are especially surprising, and show why they are the most abundant duck in the world. They adapt to conditions exceptionally well.” The 2016 survey marks the highest estimates ever recorded for mallards and green-winged teal. Mallards increased 1 percent to 11.79 million, 51 percent above the long-term average. Green-winged teal populations grew by 5 percent to 4.28 million, which is more than twice the long-term average. The news was not as good for pintails, which dropped for a fifth-straight year. Pintail numbers declined by 14 percent to 2.62 million, which puts the species 34 percent below the long-term average. Blue-winged teal numbers fell 22 percent to 6.69 million, but remain 34 percent above the long-term average. It’s really clear that pintails overflew the prairies,” said Rohwer, citing a 60 percent decline in breeding numbers in southern Saskatchewan. “Pintails and bluewings didn’t find the seasonal and temporary wetlands they prefer for breeding, so much of the population did not settle in the prairies. When pintails overfly the prairies, production is always down.” The May pond count registered 5.01 million — 21 percent lower than last year, dipping 4 percent below the long-term average. Pond counts dropped 30 percent in the North-Central United States, which covers the Dakotas and Eastern Montana. Pond counts fell 16 percent in Prairie Canada. It’s the first time since 2007 that May pond counts fell below the long-term average. “Wetland conditions are not very good compared to recent years,” Rohwer said. “I think duck production will be down. We have high numbers of ducks sharing fewer ponds. Ducks just don’t do as well when they’re crowded.” Late spring rains in the Dakotas and across Prairie Canada could help later-nesting species such as gadwalls. “Gadwalls will likely take advantage of the improved water conditions we had late May and June, and mallard production should be helped by it, too,” Rohwer said. “Mallards are strong renesters.” Wigeon continued a strong trend, increasing 12 percent to 3.41 million. Wigeon numbers are now 31 percent above the long-term average. Shovelers declined by 10 percent, but still check in at 3.97 million, a strong 56 percent above the long-term average.



Among diving ducks, scaup increased 14 percent to 4.99 million, which places them right at the long-term average. Canvasbacks declined by 3 percent to 736,000, but remain 26 percent above the long-term average. Redheads, which have remained near record breeding numbers for the past five years, jumped 8 percent to 1.29 million.

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“We’ll be hunting flocks with more adult ducks in them this season, but the flights should be strong,” Rohwer said... .

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Idaho Fish and Game is fired up about increasing elk populations in

its Lolo Elk Zone in the headwaters of the Clearwater River. Through a cooperative effort with Forest Service and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the two agencies and RMEF are proposing controlled forest fires known as “prescribed-fire treatments” to improve habitat for elk and other wildlife. Officials with the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests want to use them to burn more than 100,000 acres over several years, particularly in the remote backcountry areas where once-prime elk habitat has grown into dense forests that provide little or no forage for animals. “That seems like a lot, but it’s only 3 percent of the land area on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests,” said Forest Supervisor Cheryl Probert. While a small percentage of the forest will be treated, prescribed fire can provide a big boost for elk. “We’re trying to have landscape-level treatments to have a population-sized impact on elk,” said Clay Hickey, Fish and Game’s regional wildlife biologist. In the last 25 years in Fish and Game’s Lolo Elk Zone, elk herds have declined from about 15,000 in the late 1980s to less than 1,500 - a 10-fold decrease. The Lolo Elk Zone encompasses areas around North Fork of the Clearwater River, Lochsa River and Selway River drainages. There are two main reasons for the decline, according to Jerome Hansen, Fish and Game’s Clearwater Region Supervisor: poor elk habitat and predators. Fish and Game is addressing both. “On the predation side, we’re working hard at implementing our Lolo Elk Zone predation management program by focusing on wolves, mountain lions and bears,” Hansen said. But any gains from reducing predators is likely to be short lived if there isn’t a corresponding improvement in the habitat. Elk need vast fields of grass and brush to thrive and repopulate, and the best way to get them is with prescribed burns... October 2016 35

REGIONAL NEWS Upland Bird Forecast: Above Average To Average In Most Of The State By Roger Phillips, Public Information Specialist Idaho Department of Fish and Game


normal winter and a wet spring in many areas provided a mixed bag of broods with some areas reporting large populations of birds compared to last year and others spotty or lower, but still similar to long-term averages.

Bass Caught... Shatters 39-Year-Old State Record Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife


Snohomish County angler has set a new state record for the biggest largemouth bass caught in state waters, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) confirmed today. Bill Evans of Bothell caught the monster bass Aug. 8 in Lake Bosworth in Snohomish County while fishing with a Strike King 5-inch Shim-E-Stick, wacky-rigged on a 1/0 hook. It weighed 12.53 pounds and measured 23.0 inches long with a girth of 22.5 inches. The previous record was set by Carl Pruitt in 1977 at Banks Lake with a fish weighing 11.57 pounds, nearly one pound less. “As soon as I set the hook, I knew it had to be a big one because the bottom pulled hard and it just wouldn’t quit,” Evans said, “When she finally tried to jump, she could only get her head out of the water.” Evans realized how big the fish really was when he started lifting it into the boat. “She just kept getting heavier and heavier,” he said, “I put her in the livewell, but she didn’t even fit – her tail stuck out”. He found the small lake on WDFW’s Fish Washington feature available on the department’s website ( The map-based webpage provides access to fishing advice and videos, as well as information by county and fish species location for lowland lakes, high lakes and marine areas.

36 - Hunting & Fishing News

Many of the reports are based on field observations from biologists and other Fish and Game personnel, while others are based on established, long-term surveys that help determine population trends. Like most hunting, location is critical for upland birds, and regardless of season forecasts, hunters should cover lots of ground and remember that if birds aren’t in your favorite hunting spot, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Hunters are encouraged to keep moving and trying new areas, and also pay attention to seasonal changes in habitat use. Birds can, and will, move based on weather conditions and seasons. Upland game birds are a favorite of many experienced hunters, and also a great opportunity for novice hunters. The birds are found throughout the state, there’s lots of land available to hunt, and in many cases, all you need is a hunting license and a shotgun to hunt them. You can read more in Fish and Game’s Beginners Guide to Hunting. Fish and Game manages 32 wildlife management areas throughout the state, which can be good places to start before seeking other areas. The department also leases about 360,000 acres through its Access Yes! program that pays private landowners to allow public hunting on their lands.... Panhandle: The Panhandle is coming off a banner 2015 season. Snowpack in 2015-16 was below normal and spring weather was relatively mild. The Panhandle is behind the average annual total rainfall, but periodic summer rains kept forage green. Production was average and brood survival should be high. Grouse are not as abundant as last year, but hunting should still be good and above the long-term average. Because of the summer rains, grouse are distributed across a wider geographic area, so hunters might not see as many birds along roads this year... Clearwater: Overall, population trends were mixed, depending on the species. Fish and Game staff survey 12, 20-mile upland game brood routes annually from mid-to-late August across the region to index game-bird population trends and productivity. Surveys are used to monitor annual changes and long-term trends in regional populations. Due to low detection rates, the surveys are imprecise and should be interpreted cautiously... Southwest: Most upland bird populations are up compared to 2015, and hunting should be good to great across the region. Great production during 2015 followed by short winter and early spring 2016 were favorable for upland birds, so carryover should be high. Spring and early summer conditions were good for production. Quail and chukar had very good production this year. There have been reports of large chukar broods near the Bruneau and East Fork Owyhee Rivers, the hills above Emmett, Andrus Wildlife Management Area and Lucky Peak Reservoir. Although overall pheasant numbers are down, large broods were observed along established brood routes. Southeast: Conditions in the winter were close to average with more snow than in previous years. The early nesting season received good precipitation resulting in excellent grass and forb growth, but summer was extremely dry. Observations have been mixed with some reporting large broods while others are seeing very few young birds...

REGIONAL NEWS Minnesota’s Pheasant Index Up 29 Percent From Last Year Pheasants Forever


nother mild winter, good nesting season conditions and a slight increase in grassland habitat in the pheasant range all combined to increase Minnesota’s roadside pheasant index by 29 percent compared to last year, according to the Department of Natural Resources. “Grassland habitat is critically important to pheasant populations,” said Nicole Davros, a DNR research scientist who oversees the August roadside survey. “Over the past two years we have had weather that benefited pheasant numbers, but in the long term we’re still looking at a downward trend in habitat and that drives the population trends.”

The 2016 pheasant index is still 14 percent below the 10-year average and 48 percent below the long-term average. Loss of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres statewide remains a concern, as Minnesota may lose about 393,000 acres of CRP land by 2018 because of reduced spending on the program at the national level. Through the federally administered CRP, farmers are paid to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality. Although CRP acreage continues to shrink in the long term, these losses have been partially offset by acquisitions of land for wildlife management areas and waterfowl production areas, and through more land being put into easement by landowners. Many of these acres were permanently protected through funds provided by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. The acres show the importance of the public investment in permanent conservation compared to temporary programs. However, grasslands are still in short supply overall in the pheasant range.

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Photo: Logan Hinners, Pheasants Forever

ome pheasant hunts I’ve been on resemble track and field events more than hunts. The dogs are trying to hunt, but the hunters are moving so fast they’d be lucky to sniff out a rotting skunk. A lot of pheasants, instead of running, simply sit and hide. Going too fast on a pheasant drive is either inexperience, too much coffee or a case of hunters forgetting the dogs have the high-powered nose. People have a poor sense of smell and don’t really appreciate what it means to have a cosmic sense of smell. Many don’t understand dogs need some time to sniff around and sort things out scent-wise. Dogs ‘see’ with their noses afield. Take a look, dogs often hunt with their eyes closed because they don’t need them and often open eyes get injured in heavy cover. If you’re going to speed through good cover, you may as well put your guns down, tie on some tennis shoes and go for a jog because the dogs sure aren’t going to find anything unless it’s in front of their noses to begin with. Sure, some young roosters are going to flush close and easy early season. You can also employ blockers to intercept birds that flush way out. But let’s use our brains here folks: Dogs have an incredible sense of smell and hearing, which they often use to detect prey, so give them time to use both. When I was young, I often walked too fast until someone older and wiser told me to slow down. Of course, it’s hard for young folks to walk slowly and for old folks to walk fast. If you’re panting and sweating, you’re going too fast. Walk like you do when you’re window shopping, saunter. It is especially important to go slow when hunting with the wind, as is often necessary, when the dogs need even more time to sort out scent trails by back tracking into the wind and cross wind tracking. If there’s no wind and the cover/air is too dry for good scenting, sauntering is even more effective for the dogs and your game bag. 38 - Hunting & Fishing News

Let the dog ‘take over’ Letting your dog take the lead may seem bird hunting heresy. But think about it, once afield hunting we’re only there to shoot what the dog flushes or points. The dogs are in the driver’s seat, and we are merely passengers. That may not sit well with some ‘Type A’ controllers, but they aren’t out there to hunt anyway. In most cases, humans can’t find the birds. Photo: Mark Herwig That’s what a dog is for. Let them do it. Train yourself to let go and let the dog lead. I’ve had to train myself to truly and sincerely trust my dog and follow his lead except, for example, when he’s chasing deer or about to run into a busy road. I even tell my dog afield “you’re in charge now buddy.” It’s also a reminder to myself that the dog is in charge and my task is to follow him and walk slow enough not to push him off a scent trail. I have a springer and they, like other dogs, can be ‘hurried’ off a bird trail. Don’t do this. Are you out there to walk in a pretty, straight line or shoot roosters? If the latter, let your dog take over and follow him. Pay attention to the dog Watch your dog closely when you are hunting, especially its head and eyes. Dogs take their lead from their masters, as they’re trained to do. If your body language is to go jogging, they’ll do their best to find birds, but their priority is to stay with you, especially flushing dogs. But when I slow down, my dog immediately notices and puts the slower pace to very good use doing what he does best: detecting and following fresh pheasant scent and flushing birds within range. Experienced flushing bird dogs will check in to see where we are and let us know where they are. If you look as they pass by, you’ll see your dog lift its head from the ground or turn its eye and look at you – especially early in a hunt. He’s judging your pace and adjusting his/her accordingly. Try this. Let some ‘jog’ hunters go by you and see what your dog does. He’ll stick with you -- and will find more birds. While your buddies are at field’s end wondering where the birds are, you’ll be shooting at the roosters they just blew by. I’ve even back tracked over poorly hunted ground and shot birds. Stop, look….shoot! I often employ the ‘stop’ to get roosters mid-field and just short of a field’s end. This technique came about by accident. On a drive, I’d sometimes stop mid-field for a drink of water. Also, we often stop at field’s end for the same or to chat about where to hunt next. Then I noticed something: often while doing this the dog would either flush a rooster or one would flush just out of pure fear they had been discovered. I clearly remember one time in South Dakota when a buddy and I stopped to yack at field’s end and two roosters, one after the other, flushed within five yards. I bagged both of them without moving my feet. That’s a lesson I’ll never forget. This discipline (and you know the definition of discipline: doing something that goes against your grain because you know it’s worth doing anyway) is particularly effective against roosters that have had jog hunters flying by them all season. They just sit down knowing the hunters flying by will drag their dogs along with them and within a few minutes they can get on with their lives. Slowing down is sort of a modified still hunting technique for pheasants; a bit quicker form of ‘stop-look-listen’ that novice hunters are taught. It’s not always easy to insist your fellows walk slow, stop off and on mid-field or stop short of a field’s end. This is especially tough to do in the morning when everybody is full of energy, it's cold and folks are buzzed on coffee. You become the controller, the spoil sport, the know-it-all. In these instances, I just go off on my own if I can. Don’t we get outdoors to forget about work, about hurrying up and getting things done and to reconnect with nature’s ancient rhythms, enjoy her beauty and reassert our cunning predatory instincts? Focus on becoming a human-being instead of a human-doing. You’ll be more relaxed, have more fun and get more birds. Guar-an-teeeed. Mark Herwig, who has hunted pheasants in every state that has ‘em since he first chased roosters in 1968, is editor of Pheasants Forever Journal and Quail Forever Journal. Email him at

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HOW TO FIND BIG MULE DEER AREAS USING GOOGLE EARTH (continued from page 33) Lake While this lake off in the distance has buck country all around it, I’d expect plenty of hikers and hunters there, too.


This type of terrain is typical of Wyoming, but I’ve hunted similar country in Colorado, Idaho, and Montana. While most hunters think of archery and early rifle hunting in places like this, I find that big snow in early October can be the best hunting. No matter when you hunt, remember that bucks in country like this rarely encounter humans and will disappear much quicker than their lower country compadres. Hunt carefully, don’t skyline yourself, and always obey the wind! Prevailing wind While the prevailing wind will come from the southwest, it will likely affect the high ridgetops the most. I’m more concerned with daytime thermals in country like this. Obey the wind! Too rocky This country is too rocky and very low feed for big bucks. You’ll find more mountain goat in this type of terrain, but not many bucks. 42 - Hunting & Fishing News

X1 This is a really good hillside in the early season before bucks are pressured. I’d backpack in with water up to G1 and glass the X1 area for a morning, evening, and morning session. Bucks will likely bed in those timbered strips. X2 This is a feed area adjacent to a bedding area. In the early season, I’d glass from G2 for a morning, evening, morning session before I’d move on. If I spotted a big buck feeding at the timber’s edge and he got away, I’d set an ambush in the afternoon downwind from X2 and hope to catch him at dark entering the open country. X3 to X6 These areas are my favorite place in this entire shot. It’s a big mountain with semi-timbered basins, benches, avalanche chutes, and some semi-open ridges with great feed. The mountain can really only be glassed from long distances on the ridge from G3 to G4. I’d camp near there and glass the mountain for several days trying to narrow down where the bucks are. Once I had a good idea of the bucks in the area, I’d approach the areas with the wind in my favor and move in very quietly. Shots are likely to be less than 250 yards here. Although I may see other hunters, I don’t think the bucks will leave the mountain as it has plenty of timber. If it snowed, I’d hunt all day looking for tracks and bucks staying out of the cover longer. I may hunt a mountain this size for a week, especially if I’ve seen a big buck there. Robby Denning is author of Hunting Big Mule Deer: How to Take the Best Buck of Your Life and co-owner of the hardcore gear website,

October 2016 43



You’ve been there. It’s opening morning and as

your headlights turn into a public-land trailhead you see the shimmering sight of license plates glowing from Montana, and from states across the country. You’re about to enter the race for public-land deer. Cole Kayser with a public land buck ©Mark Kayser

More than one-third of Montana falls under public ownership. That adds up to more than 30 million acres. That’s a lot of public land, especially when you compare it to some states that due to their breadbasket character only have scattered parcels. Regardless of this attention-grabbing headline you’ll still likely be in a race on any public lands that hold good deer hunting. It’s hard to keep an area secret once someone Facebooks about seeing a big buck on a corner of BLM or a state parcel. Fortunately, you still have your health. Your grandma repeated that phrase and it still holds true today. To win the race on public land you simply need to outrun the 30 percent of people that are as healthy as you. You are healthy right? Nearly 70 percent of the nation’s population is either overweight or obese. Stay in shape and you have the first element of winning the race on public land in the bag.

Next, you need to study the usage patterns of your targeted property. Where are the trailheads? Is there access through adjoining public lands? Where is the roughest country? Are there shortcuts where I can go from the trailhead to the best hunting in the shortest time possible? I scout area for deer density and big buck potential, but at the same time I contemplate how the other hunters will also be hunting a particular property. Since deer pattern hunters as easily as hunters pattern deer, I never try to hunt the same way as other hunters. I set a path for the roughest country on the map because the odds are the mature bucks will already have a room rented there. I also avoid the easy path to that country. It’s the same path every other hunter will use. By circling wide, crossing deep canyons and working the edges I feel like I have a higher probability of running into a buck trying to avoid a Coleman-cooler ending. Programs like ScoutLook Weather,, can help in that research. Sometimes using that trick can bring you right back to the road. While hunting one property I looped wide and spotted some deer on the horizon. I made another move and discovered I was actually circling back to a county road. You couldn’t access the public land from there. In fact the trailhead was now almost two miles from my location. A strip of private land blocked the access and the deer knew it so they bedded in an adjoining draw within shooting distance of the road. Unfortunately the deer didn’t realize I didn’t mind crawling through the sagebrush and an hour later I tipped over a respectable 5-point mule deer buck.

As you review the access options of a particular piece of property consider any alternative entrance and exits points. Is there a way to access property from a state or county roadway? Are there old easements in place that allow access that are hidden in county plat listings? Can you access a property via a willing private landowner? A landowner may not give you permission to hunt their land, but they may allow you to cross a pasture to gain access to the rear of a public property. Finally, consider strategy to win the race on public land. Begin by using the public as your deer driving buddies. I always try and get to the backside of a public parcel or in a funnel where deer may show up as the main group of hunters leaves the trailhead at daybreak. My ploy is to have others push deer to me as I lay in ambush. That means getting up earlier and navigating terrain in the dark. You can do it with a Cabela’s Dusk Buster flashlight and a Garmin GPS loaded with OnXMaps mapping programs ( Give yourself an extra hour and you’ll be set when the army of hunters begins their dawn assault. Set yourself up in saddles, along timber edges and near other private property where deer may flee. Speaking of fence lines; hunting along private borders is also a strategy to consider. Deer routinely move from public to private and vice versa. Private property may hold feed and public may hold refuge so watching borders with the right stuff also leads to a winning-race strategy. Several years ago my son and I stalked a mature mule deer buck all day. He escaped my son’s Nikon reticle several times, but at sunset we found him bedded within 100 yards of a private fence line. A Hornady SST ensured he didn’t escape and we won that race for a public-land buck. 44 - Hunting & Fishing News

October 2016 45












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Rut By Mike Hanback

When the calendar flips to October 25, whitetail bucks morph from

guarded, secretive creatures to prowling, scraping fiends. In the first days of November they start hassling and chasing the does; they lock down with the girls for a week or so after that. Big deer pop back out for a few days and cruise for a last girlfriend, before going back to the feed and hiding out for good in December. This progression is as predictable as it is swift. You need to tailor your setups to each phase of the rut to take advantage of the changing buck behavior. Oct 25—November 1 Buck behavior: The rubbing continues as bucks maul trees and mark their core areas, now with more vigor. The hard-core scraping begins; multiple bucks paw and rub-urinate at the same scrapes. Solitary old bucks become more ornery and aggressive with each passing day, though they mostly stick to their core areas. Hot seat #1: Get going early Earlier in bow season, the best hunting was in the afternoons around food sources. Now, hunt hard in the mornings. Look for a small clearing in the woods, some 50 to 120 yards off a field of alfalfa, beans or clover. It might be an old log landing, strip of abandoned logging road, grassy glade…you get the idea. Slip in and set a tree stand on the downwind edge of the opening. As the rut approaches this week, many deer move off fields at first light and gather in these clearings to posture and sniff each other before heading deeper into the woods to their bedding area. Some bucks spar while others push the does around. A few years ago, I hunted such a stand on the edge of an overgrown log road 70 yards off an alfalfa field in Montana. At sunrise I glassed out into the field and saw 10 deer coming my way. Five bucks got to me 20 minutes later and started to posture and push does round my stand, grunting like market hogs. Finally I was able to draw my bow and smoke one of the 10-pointers. It was one of the best mornings of hunting I can remember, and that is when a “first clearing” become one of my favorite rut sets. November 2-10 Buck behavior: The seeking or trolling phase is in full swing. Bucks begin to expand their range, wandering out of their core areas to scent-check does. Around November 4, give or take, the seeking phase launches into the chase stage. If a hot doe smells right, she’ll attract several bucks. During the next weeks, bucks may lose 25 percent of their weight as they dog and breed does. Hot seat #2: Get a good view One late October day, Brent Irelan’s buddy missed a monster buck on a ridge that overlooked a soybean field. Bummed, the guy pulled his stand and moved to a new location. But Brent figured the giant was still around, so he hung a new stand on the ridge and hunted it. On November 6 a stick cracked. The Indiana bowhunter turned and saw the buck—a double drop-tine titan! Brent’s arrow was true. The rack netted 199 non-typical. This week there is no better spot for your stand than on an elevated ridge near a field of beans, corn, etc. A ridge is staging area near the doe feed and a hub of buck traffic. Both local and vagabond bucks cruise the ridge, rubbing, scraping and sniffing out does. Much of this activity will occur at night, but some big deer start to move earlier in the evenings, and linger after sunup this week.

Set your stand on a corner or edge of the ridge where the access and predominant wind are best. There’s a good chance you’ll see at least one good buck and maybe more. Brent Ireland passed a 150-inch giant on the ridge the day before he killed Double Drop. November 11-19 Buck behavior: Some bucks still chase, but this is the week when most mature does enter their estrus cycle. The woods might go cold overnight as bucks and does lock down and breed. In a few days, deer will start moving again, signaling the end of major breeding. Some bucks prowl again for a last girlfriend, though not with the same intensity they did a month earlier. Hot seat #3: Having been hassled by bucks for weeks, many does sneak out into CRP fields Thick cedar ditches and other out-of-the-way spots where the boys cannot so easily chase them anymore. Also, a mature buck knows when a doe is on the verge of standing for him. He’ll herd her out in the same type of cover, pin her down and stand guard for 36 hours or so, until he finally gets his way with her. With that in mind, set a stand to overlook a CRP field or similar weedy habitat where you can glass 100 yards or farther into the brush for breeding deer or loner bucks prowling for a doe. The challenge is to hang your perch for a 30-yard shot. Set up to watch a deer trail that comes out of the woods to the weeds, or on a fence line, gap gate or similar funnel. If you see sustained deer activity 100-200 yards out in the high grass and weeds, don’t be shy to move to where the action is. Glass for a cedar or ironwood out in the middle that might hold a stand, though a good tree can be tough to find in this type habitat. Or look for a spot where you can work into the wind for a ground ambush. If you spot a big-racked buck standing goggle-eyed and drooling over a doe, stalk him. If the wind and cover are right, getting within 40 yards is doable if the doe doesn’t bust you. Key on her as much as on the buck. November 20-30 Buck behavior: The rut winds down and the post-rut begins. Some spotty chasing and breeding still occur. Some bucks check scrapes they used back in October, though the secondary scraping phase is much less intense. But most bucks head for cover to lie up and recuperate. All deer hit the best last food sources. NOTE: This is the week when lots of gun hunters hit the woods; the pressure factor moves the rut-weary deer deeper into cover and turns them yet more nocturnal. Hot seat #4: Study Google Earth or an aerial of your land Mark in red spots where guys park their trucks and drive 4-wheelers into the woods, both on your hunt area and on bordering lands. Avoid the pressure zones. Look for thick, remote “buck holes” a half-mile or farther away from the pressure points. It might be a rough, rocky draw with thick cedars…or a half-acre beaver swamp with waist-high dead grass…you get the picture. As you look for these spots, keep in mind that the deer have to eat now. Ideally, there will be a corn or soybean field or other major food source within a couple hundred yards of a hole. Sneak back toward the cover and set a tree stand on a trail or funnel that leads in the direction of a food source. If you can set up in or near thick honeysuckle or other vegetation where deer might stop to browse, all the better. Hunt morning or afternoon. It takes time, work and smarts to find and hunt the buck holes, but that is how you fill your tag at the tag-end of the rut. Hot Seat #5: The Universal Rut Stand If you are a bowhunter who likes to hang one stand and hunt it patiently all rut, try this spot. Look for a ridge 100 to 200 yards off a corn or bean field and back in the timber. Scout and set your stand where a series of thin ridges, flats, shallow draws and a winding creek come together. This spot is a dumping ground for deer throughout the rut. Sneak in and sit all day. Morning or afternoon, you might spot an 8-pointer trolling on a finger ridge, nose to the ground, a 10-pointer trotting down a hollow, or a doe running with 3 bucks on her heel. Keep an eye on that creek and the cover around it because deer will travel up, down and across it all rut. Hunt this one stand for 10 or more days this November, and I can almost guarantee you’ll see at least one shooter and likely more. October 2016 47

M y brother in law Kenny is a knucklehead. He never listens to me. That may be because he is slightly smart and more talented, but he should still at least feign respect, since I am the one who set him up with my bow hunter sister Nicole, and their marriage By Skip Knowles

of 25 years is going strong, at least when she is not outhunting him as usual. So he should still listen to me. Case in point. He set out to try hunting coyotes for the first time on a Wyoming ranch we have hunted for years for deer. He said the coyotes had never been seriously hunted there and they were psyched to try it. Wyoming in unpressured areas can be incredible, I warned him, so he better be ready. And being ready means bringing a shotgun, I told him. That ranch is perfect, with low lying cliffs, rock bluffs, and the Powder River splitting it all between fields rimmed with cottonwoods and blow downs. But since he’s a knucklehead, he just brought rifles. He set up with three guys and immediately they were charged by three hungry dogs so fast one of them nearly bowled a guy over, and then another ran straight into the end of Kenny’s rifle barrel, knocking him to the side! Nobody so much as got a shot off. Hilarious, and a cool illustration of just how intense predator hunting can be—which is why it’s one of the fastest growing sports in hunting. Try shotgunning for coyotes and you’ll be addicted. The adrenaline rush is at least doubled when you kill them up close and personal. Despite all the intense marketing surrounding modern predator hunting, it’s really not that hard to fundamentally make the sounds that work well. Persistence and finding a place that has not seen a lot of pressure is in fact more important than being an expert caller. Kenny’s experience was proof of that! Watching predator hunting videos or TV shows, you might think you need a lot of high tech gear and a ghillie suit, expensive calls or a tricked out shotgun or rifle to kill predators. That’s just not the case. Fact is, any old rifle that shoots straight works just fine, as does any shotgun stuffed with lead BBs or buckshot, and although a .22 centerfire like the .22-250 is a nice investment for a dedicated open-country predator hunter, even coyote hunters in the wide open spaces are finding they shoot nearly as many coyotes with a shotgun. SHOTGUN SUPREMACY And the beauty of the shotgun is they all work. For sure, one set up for predators will be much more lethal right on out past 60 with a coyote-killing or turkey choke and properly patterned buckshot. Predator hunting is not a sport that involves a lot of shooting, so why not use the very best there is, the monstrously lethal Dead Coyote loads from HEVI-Shot in size T? Nothing compares, and anybody who has used it will tell you the same. Tune your 12 gauge up with a HEVI-Shot Extended Range choke and those 1 5/8 ounce, 3.5 inch loads and you are ahead of the game. Add a red dot style sight so you can tune your point of aim to the center of the pattern at long ranges and you will be shocked at the damage you can do. Truly any real turkey specific gun; ones with pistol grips, iron sights instead of a bead, or some kind of scope, are by design a perfect predator gun. But I have seen many shotgunners who throw those HEVI-Shot Dead Coyote loads in a regular old duck gun with murderous results. With a standard bead and non-custom choke they can still smash coyotes out to 45 yards. And most of the shots in predator hunting are closer than that, which is why many guys don’t trick their guns out. In one Nebraska tournament we hunted, most of the coyotes our team scored on were killed with a shotgun, and most of those were under 20 yards... Why the break from tradition? That’s because coyotes can exploit the terrain—rises, ditches or gullies—to come running in and pop up so close it’s tough to find one in the scope. I have set up with a friend behind me as a cut off guy before, and he witnessed a coyote come in ghost like, literally sniff both me and a different guy seated 20 feet to my left, and skedaddle after having been within 10 feet behind us with me and the other shooter never even knowing he was there. But what about the calling? Do you need that high dollar electronic call that can perform 15 coyote howls as well as “lost little piglets” and raccoon fights and chickens in distress? You do not. Buy and practice with a dying cottontail or jackrabbit mouth call and you are doing what has killed probably 98 percent of all coyotes ever called in and shot by hunters. They work everywhere, regardless of the presence of rabbits, surprisingly. It is simply a very primal sound that strikes a nerve with predators, whether it’s because they think they can steal a free lunch from a fox or because they think an intruder is hunting in their territory. Most likely, both. Electronic calls are fun and sometimes work quite well because of that wild variety of sounds, especially in areas where coyotes have wizened up to the more traditional calls, but an affordable handheld mouth call will get it done…and for the same reasons. Electronic calls are great if you can afford one, but don’t wait to go hunting if you only have money for a mouth blown call. The sound of a rabbit in distress is so strikingly similar to a squalling human baby that some pro hunters have reportedly recorded babies crying and used it to call dirty dogs. In open windy country, go with a loud volume call and stand on it with the “whaaaaa-whaaaaghhh-whaaa” sounds that accounts for some many pelts. In tighter cover and less open country go with the cottontail in distress and a more whining quieter sound. Blow a sixty-second series every 5 minutes or so, looking for motion between calling. Open reed calls are trickier to master but have more flexibility and are the mark of a pro dog killer. CALL OF DEATH The advantage of the electronic call is that it moves the sound away from the hunter, so an animal running or sneaking in is not focused on the exact source of the sound. This is a big deal because it makes it easier to turn or raise your gun and finish the deal than if you are being lasered by a call-shy coyote that has been shot at before. But if you practice your setups, pay attention to your downwind, wear camo and hold still up until the very moment of truth, you will shoot plenty of coyotes with a hand blown traditional call. To take the coyote’s focus off you, grab a decoy. Electric motion decoys are lethal but a simple rabbit or even a crow or owl decoy will work. Crows work not because they kill rabbits but because coyotes associate them with food like roadkill or a dead carcass and predators know crows are very wary, so they are a confidence decoy to a predator that takes the focus off you. It is definitely more satisfying to call coyotes in with a mouth call, so give it a try. But when you have hard hunted country and you plan on covering a lot of it, I reach for that e-caller most of the time. The mouth calls come in where finesse is required or when I know I’m getting to hunt lightly pressured country. You know, like my brother-in-law did in Wyoming. Now that he has educated all those coyotes, we’ll probably stretch our reach out with an e-caller when we hit that spot. And, of course, a shotgun! Don’t forget, calling is just a part of it, really. Focus also on finding areas that have not been hunted hard, and remember that predators will almost always circle downwind if possible before approaching. Also, be persistent. Bear in mind that even skilled predator callers expect to only score a coyote sighting perhaps one out of every four or five times they set up. So don’t give up—the adventure is worth it, which is why the sport has boomed. 48 - Hunting & Fishing News

October 2016 49

50 - Hunting & Fishing News

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