Category Archives: Hunting and Wild Game Recipe Blog Entries
My friend Chuck Beams sent a variation of this recipe to me a couple months ago. We had it one night and it was so absolutely delicious that I had to make it again and share it with the world. There are so many wonderful meals that can be made with lean, delicious, healthy, all-natural venison. This is a perfect example. Whenever anyone says that venison is tough, gamey, or no good unless it is ground into burger, it is because it has not been prepared properly ahead of time and during the cooking process. With this meal the meat was as tender and tasty as you can possibly imagine.
Begin with some nice cuts of venison stew meat, tenderloin, or backstrap. Tonight I used stew meat cut from the hind quarter, shoulder, and neck. I have used backstrap before but I probably won’t again. I’d rather save those best cuts for other recipes. Trim every trace of fat and silver skin from the meat so that you have only lean red meat.
Put a 1/2 cup of water and two beef bullion cubes in a large crockpot. Add a layer of onions (I used both sweet and red this time) to the crockpot. Next, add a layer of mushrooms. I use baby portabellas. (Here in Opelika, Wrights has the best price.) Now, what would REALLY be perfect is to use Morels. Unfortunately they don’t grow in Alabama as far as I know. (Consider this a shameless appeal for anyone up north who wants to send me some.) Now add a layer of meat, followed by a layer of onion, another layer of mushrooms, and another layer of meat. Keep adding layers until you run out of ingredients. Along the way I also add a bay leaf to each layer. Now add some coarse ground pepper and maybe some rosemary, followed by a cup of white wine or white cooking wine. Finally, dump a whole family-sized can of cream of mushroom soup on top of everything. Crank the crockpot up to high and walk away for about 8 or 9 hours, then turn it down to low for an hour. What you will have for dinner that night will be a delicious hearty meal to serve over mashed potatoes or egg noodles.
Try this and tell me what you think. Share your favorite wild-game stew recipe with me now and I’ll give it a try too.
After my little stroll down sentimental street a couple weeks ago I figured it was time to tell you what I did that was useful with those “notches in the stock”. After the obligatory aging period I made them into all sorts of tasty things that my family could eat and share with other venison aficionados. More on that later.
One of our favorite meals in the Warmouth household is corned beef. We don’t have it very often but it is always a top choice when a birthday rolls around and mama takes requests for the birthday meal.
This year I decided to try my hand at corned venison. I had never “corned” a roast before and even though it was taking a bit of chance jumping right in with venison, I decided to give it shot. For good or bad, it is not unusual for me to think, “if they can do it, surely I can too.” And yes, for the record, that attitude has gotten me into trouble, hurt, and embarrassed at times. It’s caused me to spend twice as much time and twice as much money at times than if I was, well, less confident, and more conservative, but it’s also given me plenty of great experiences too. For that matter, the trouble, pain, stitches, and embarrassment have generally been good for me too. But I digress… back to spiced deer meat.
After a fastidious trimming of a five pound hindquarter cut, I was left with two beautiful roasts that looked as if they would make a delicious meal. The first order of business was to obtain a bag of Morton’s Tender Quick, which was easy enough to do following a quick inquiry with Jimmy Wright of Wright’s Grocery. Jimmy ordered it for me and even delivered it to my office. That is service you won’t get anywhere but from a hometown grocery store.
Having received that, I mixed 5 tablespoons of it with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, a tablespoon of coarse ground black pepper, a teaspoon of paprika, 4 crumbled bay leaves, a teaspoon of allspice, 2 teaspoons of garlic powder, and 2 tablespoons of pickling spice. I pulverized the spice mixture with a mortar and pestle, rubbed it all over the venison roasts, put the roasts a tupperware container and let it sit at 38 degrees for one week, turning it once a day. Last night I consulted with my wife on how she cooks a corned beef, then got up this morning and put the meat, a chopped up sweet onion, two chopped up potatoes, a bullion cube, a half cup of water, and a whole buch of baby carrots in the crock pot. I tied up the roasts to keep them together nicely. I don’t know if that was necessary but it gave it a pro look. I wanted to put cabbage in with it, but we didn’t have any and I didn’t have time to get some. By dinner time tonight the smell in the house was driving everybody crazy. As I dived into the pot with tongs and a spoon I thought of the words of Clark Griswold, “If this tastes as good as it looks, I think we are all in for a very big treat.” I just hoped that the ensuing table scene would turn out better than the Griswold’s. We kept an eye on Aggie.
The verdict? Delicious. Really. Everybody loved it. Even my wife, who is not a huge venison fan thought it was excellent. It was probably not as good as corned beef, but mainly because it was probably 99% lean, whereas corned beef has a lot of fat. My only criticism was that it had a bit of an anise taste to it and I am not too fond of that flavor. I’m not sure where that came from. Maybe the pickling spice had some in it. Nobody else could taste it but me. Corned venison was hardly any trouble to make, even though it requires a bit of delayed gratification, so I will definitely do it again.
Anybody have tips or ideas on making corned beef or venison? I’d love to hear from you and try out your ideas on the next go-around.
I admit it. I’m a sucker for nostalgia. Baby pictures of my kids can make me cry, I still have dreams about my dad, I sometimes search eBay for my first motorcycle; a 1967 Ducati Monza Jr., and my ideal vacation would be a return to the place where Janine and I went on our honeymoon. All of these things, and many others like them, strike a chord of melancholy within me. I guess it should come as no surprise then that this sentimentality can even find its way into my redneckedness. Yes, I’m even sappy about deer hunting. My favorite hunter orange hat is one that my Nana knitted for my dad back in the 70s, and the only rifle I carry into the woods is a 1927 Remington Model 14 in 35 Remington. Most of the deer hunting I have done in the past several years has been with a bow, but when I take a gun it’s a gun that has been passed down through my family for generations; from my great uncle, who bought it new, to my grandmother, to my father, and then to me. All of my life I have seen this gun propped up in the corner of a bedroom or stashed behind some clothes hanging in a closet. Occasionally when I was growing up I would ask my dad if I could see it. He’d take it out and let me hold it. I’d run my finger along the four notches carved in the stock; one for each of the deer that Uncle Leonard had taken with the gun. I’d examine the “L.M” carved into the foregrip and stock, marvel at the patent dates on the barrel going back to 1912, and savor the feel of that cold blue steel and rich walnut in my hand. I asked my dad time and time again if we could shoot it, but he was always a little apprehensive about it, what with it being as old as it was. Although he owned a good many guns, he was not an aficionado and he did not know if it was safe to shoot. After he passed away it became mine and on New Year’s Day 2009, after having become sufficiently satisfied that it was perfectly safe, I squeezed the trigger and fired off the first round that gun had shot in 50 years. It was very sweet. That morning my friend Corky and I shot up a whole box of ammo and I was in love with the gun. The next weekend found me in a tree on a white oak ridge at just the right time. When a nice mature doe came along, the old Model 14 roared to life and did its job once again. That sense of nostalgia came on strong as I connected the present to the past, carving a notch in the stock alongside the ones my great-uncle had made. The next weekend was MLK weekend and I was in the woods with my new love once again. This time as I sat along a creek bottom a heavy bodied buck walked by me at 15 yards. The iron sights were true to their mark and he dropped in his tracks. I didn’t shoot a deer with it in 2010, but that year I reached a new level of sentimentality. Having discovered that the Model 14 was also manufactured in 25 caliber, I figured it would be the ultimate in father-sonnery if I got one for Oliver to carry, while I carried the bigger brother to it. Before long I found one for sale in Oregon, and after a little dickering and bartering, it found its place in my safe alongside the 35. Oliver has yet to take a blade to the stock, but I shot a doe with his little 25 in December of 2011, but that’s a different story. MLK weekend of 2012 had me in a climber along the same creek bottom as where I had shot the buck two seasons before. I had seen a big buck from this stand two weeks earlier but he proved to be a little farther than my eyes and iron sights were able to deal with, and he got a pass. On this day though, I had been in the stand for an hour or so when I heard something just crashing through the woods. I looked to my left and saw an 8 pointer stumbling, staggering, and crashing into trees. Although he was a bit smaller than I would have normally shot, it was plain to see that there was something wrong with this deer. He stumbled past me at 25 yards, came to a stop broadside and became the 7th harvest for the family heirloom. As it turned out, this buck had been hit by a car, and from the looks of the injury, probably that same morning. All of that brings me to this morning’s hunt – MLK Day 2013. A north-northwest wind was perfect for the same stand along the same creek bottom. Nostalgia, along with a chill, was in the air. I walked in before daylight and settled in my stand under a leaden sky. The Model 14 rested across my knees, and a cold shiver reminded me that I was thankful for my Nana’s knitting. Within a half an hour a small buck trotted by, ears pinned, obviously perturbed by something he had seen or smelled. (Most likely Corky, who was hunting just north of me.) I watched as he dematerialized into an overgrown clearcut just beyond the creek. At 7:00 AM I caught the flicker of an ear on top of a ridge, some 80 yards away. Then full sight of a deer. Then two. As providence would have it (we Presbyterians don’t believe in luck, you know) the bigger of the two gave me a broadside shot at about 50 yards. This is a pretty far poke for me with iron sights in thick woods, but luck was with me (oh yeah, we don’t believe in that) and after a brief run the first deer of 2013 was on the ground. I settled my nerves, gave the gun a pat and thanked the Lord for a good hunt on a beautiful morning. The night before I had downloaded the book of John onto my iPod and I had intended to listen to it but the action had started so soon I had forgotten. My prayer of thanks reminded me of that, and just as I was about to get it I saw movement again on top of the ridge. Two more does walked along the ridge and each followed the same path the two had earlier. This time I watched and waited and the second deer, the bigger of the two, began walking toward my stand. I had intended to sit and wait for a buck, but when she got to within 15 yards of my stand I began to crave the feel of the 35’s recoil on my shoulder and hear the BOOM of her round. I settled the bead on her scapula and squeezed the trigger. Two deer within an hour of each other for the old Model 14 – what a great morning. Afternoon chores kept me from carving my two new notches, but finally this evening I got to do the honors. The last time I saw Uncle Leonard was at least 40 years ago, but tonight I am thankful that he bought this sturdy old woods gun for our family to enjoy.
How about you? Any nostalgic stories, or special family heirlooms that flip your switch?
I have a story for you now. This is something that happened while you were sleeping. Well, maybe not, but it is something you can’t see unless you are in the woods. I went hunting this morning; walking along my raked trail with my 100 year old heirloom rifle, looking for a Waverly whitetail with massive headgear. Well, my trophidus cervidae never materialized but I saw something that made my pre-dawn excursion through the pines and hardwoods worth getting out of bed for at 4:00 AM. I was standing on the trail alongside a tulip poplar scanning the woods for any sign of movement; the twitch of an ear, the flick of a tail, or the blatant swagger and bravado of a rutting buck on the prowl. As I looked to my left I saw something that I thought for a split second was a fawn (my brain was fully engaged in “expecting to see a deer any moment now” mode). Almost immediately though I realized it was not. My next thought was coyote, but it only took a second to dismiss that as well. What I was looking at was the ghost of the woods – a bobcat. This is only the third one I have ever seen live before, and I have never been so close to one for as long as I was today. I watched it as it trotted along, angling towards me as it came closer… closer… closer. I stood perfectly still as it trotted up, less than 10 yards away from me, totally oblivious that I was standing there. Suddenly, just before it was about to walk straight into me I caught its eye. It froze, its eyes locked on mine. I could almost hear its heart rate triple as it crouched down, leaning back on its haunches the way a domestic cat does when it spots a dog at close range. We stood there looking at each other for a good 30 seconds in very close proximity to one-another. It was the most beautiful animal I have ever seen in the wild. He looked like he was trying his best to be invisible while thinking “how did I get myself into this situation, and how do I get myself out.” Finally I think it convinced itself that I could not see it, and since I was neither walking away nor moving toward it, it began walking backwards, s-l-o-w-l-y easing away from me, keeping its eyes locked on me and crouching as close to the ground as it could get. After it had backed up several yards, it started to very slowly turn around so that its back was to me and began to trot away, still slinking as low as he could go. When it got about 25 yards away it began to canter faster and finally disappeared over the hilltop.
This was one of the coolest in-the-woods experiences I have ever had. I cannot imagine the odds of being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to have such an encounter with such an elusive creature. I didn’t come away with a buck in the truck, but I definitely had a smile on my face. God is good.
Anybody else have a close encounter with a bobcat, or any wild critter for that matter?
This is an article as it appeared in the Game and Fish publications throughout the south.
Hunting For Acorns
Many hunters bewail the years when the acorn crop is abundant. That may make it harder to find deer in food plots — and you may actually have to hunt them! Here’s how.
By Carl Warmouth
The stand was about two-thirds of the way up a hardwood ridge. I was overlooking a hillside bench that’s one of my favorite deer travel corridors. The bench ran the perimeter of the rise, connecting a thick pine bedding area on my left to a white oak flat to my right.
It was the afternoon of opening day of bow season. I was glad to be back in the stand where I’d killed two deer on consecutive days the previous fall.
Today, a 15-mile-per-hour wind blew from the direction of the bedding area, making the sweet gum tree I was in sway back and forth. It also made white oak acorns thump down on the ground like hail.
With an hour of daylight left, I was hoping the weatherman’s forecast would be correct. As if cued by my thought, the wind suddenly died.
This was the magic hour.
Minutes later, I heard water sloshing in a creek, just beyond my sight. A deer was crossing the creek and heading my way. I stood up in the stand, fastened the release to the bowstring, took a comfortable stance and waited.
Soon I saw movement — a patch of brown, a hint of white and antlers!
My strategy was to let him pass by me on the trail and take the quartering-away shot as he headed for the acorn-bearing oaks. What I hadn’t anticipated was that he would stop in front of me at 15 yards — broadside.
I drew the bow, settled on a fluff of hair behind his shoulder and squeezed the release.
I watched in disbelief as my arrow ricocheted off a twig I hadn’t seen before. With a loud crack! it slammed into a tree 10 feet behind the deer.
To my further amazement, the buck didn’t even flinch. He never even paused to look up as I nocked another arrow, ducked below the twig this time, and put a broadhead on target.
To me, hunting the acorn crop is as good as deer hunting gets. For me, it has been as good as the rut, if not better. Deer get stupid over acorns, and when they’re plentiful, you can count every deer in the woods having mast on its mind.
I’ve probably killed more deer that were feeding on acorns, or heading to acorns, than in any other situation.
That’s why it always surprises me to hear hunters complain about “too many acorns.” Throughout most of the South, 2007-08 was a banner year for acorns.
For me, it was the best year I’ve had for sighting numbers of deer.
And yet, I heard many hunters say that it was their worst year for deer sightings. Throughout the season and well into the post-season, I listened to hunters and read their posts on Internet message boards saying that the deer were just not moving. From what I could tell, for most hunters it was a feast or famine year.
But while the many complained, a few seemed to be enjoying the time of their lives. Those who weren’t having much luck made statements like, “There are too many acorns in the woods. So the deer don’t have to move,” or else, “The deer must all be moving at night. I’ve been hunting both mornings and evenings and haven’t seen a thing.”
Then there’s my favorite: “Our food plots are knee-high this year, but the deer haven’t been in them. There are too many acorns on the ground.”
Yes, I understand that many factors influence deer movement. But I can’t understand why a hunter would continue to sit over a food plot if he knows his quarry is eating acorns.
Early in my hunting career, I was taught that the key to success was to follow the food source. Time of day, moon phase, temperature, barometric pressure, wind, terrain and deer densities are all factors that a good hunter should take into consideration. But food sources top them all.
RIGHT SPOT — RIGHT TIME
In deer hunting, hunting over acorns may be as close to a sure thing as you can get. But it’s not quite as simple as merely hanging a stand in an oak tree and taking your pick of the deer as they parade by.
It can be that simple, but there are some clear strategies you should know — particularly if you’re bowhunting in the early season when close shots are the rule.
Hunting “the woods” presents its own set of problems and challenges, and can be intimidating to people accustomed to hunting over food plots. Let’s look at different situations at various times of the day and year, and see if we can lessen the intimidation of hunting the acorn crop.
|Coming in late also lets you hunt sites where bedding areas abut the oaks. In this scenario, setting up right in the middle of several oak trees makes perfect sense. You’ll be away from the bedding area and, while the deer graze on acorns, have plenty of time to make the shot.|
I have a friend who does not deem himself a good deer hunter. And yet every year, he manages to shoot at least one big buck and several does for meat. His strategy?
Go into the woods late.
He’s amused that I get up at the crack of dawn and reach my stands at daybreak He claims that deer are bedding down at around daylight, but get up a few hours later to move around and feed some more — just about the time when most hunters are calling it a day.
He insists that he discovered this not because he’s so savvy, but because he’s too lazy to get up early.
It took me a long time to get my mind around the concept of going hunting after breakfast. Most of us are conditioned to begin our hunts very early in the morning. We anticipate that first hour or two of daylight.
I don’t mean to take anything away from this strategy, but deer sightings are high during the early morning, and an awful lot of deer have been killed during this time.
The problem is, we get busted an awful lot when we approach an oak flat under cover of darkness. When I approached oak trees early during a year of heavy acorn production, I don’t think I’ve ever made it to my stand without getting busted.
Once I finally convinced myself to do a midmorning hunt, I was sold. I can’t believe how many frustrating crack-of-dawn mornings I endured while deer blew, and stomped and ran away before I realized I could avoid all that by going in at, say, 9:00 a.m.
When acorns are on the ground, especially during the early season when deer haven’t yet felt hunting pressure, the animals move throughout the day. It’s not unreasonable to expect deer to bed down just after the sun comes up, and then return to feed on acorns a few hours later.
In fact, my hunting journal shows that in heavy acorn years, I saw the most deer, both bucks and does, between 10:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Coming in late also lets you hunt sites where bedding areas abut the oaks. In this scenario, setting up right in the middle of several oak trees makes perfect sense. You’ll be away from the bedding area and, while the deer graze on acorns, have plenty of time to make the shot.
Another good option for a morning stand that can be used before daylight is at the very floor of a bottom.
Ordinarily, I tend to avoid these areas because swirling air currents make it hard to stay upwind of a deer’s sensitive nose. But the wind is often at its lightest early in the day, and if you pick the right day, this can be a killer spot.
On my hunting property, there are two big hills. Between them is a deep bottom, and on top of those hills are many big white oaks. At either end of the hills are thick bedding areas.
|Setting up along a travel route between oak trees and bedding areas can be effective at catching deer moving during the midday period. But I’ve found that sitting in the middle of the oak trees is more effective, particularly when those oaks are on a hilltop.|
I think this is representative of many hunting properties. Deer use that bottom to travel from their bedding area to the acorns.
I love to sneak into this spot early, taking care to stay far away from the oak trees, and wait for deer to come by as they leave to go bed down.
The main difference is that in the approach mentioned previously, I am set up right in the feeding area, waiting for them to return to eat. In this one, I’m set up near the bedding area, waiting for them to leave the feeding area. In one approach I am counting on the deer to come back to the acorns, and in the other, I wait for them to leave the acorns.
Setting up along a travel route between oak trees and bedding areas can be effective at catching deer moving during the midday period. But I’ve found that sitting in the middle of the oak trees is more effective, particularly when those oaks are on a hilltop. For some reason, deer seem to be attracted to hilltop oak stands between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.
At those times, an acorn-covered hilltop is going to be my first choice.
The advantage of being in the thick of the food source versus on the trail is that you can have a good long look at the deer as they move around between trees. Also, since it’s midday, you have plenty of time for tracking a deer, downing it and dragging it out.
If there are no oak-covered hilltops on your property, then any area featuring several oak trees, or a single “heirloom” tree among some pines will work just as well.
Much as I love sitting on top of a hill, surrounded by oak trees, that’s probably the last place I want to be during a late afternoon hunt. I’ll admit to you right now that I can be a stubborn, prideful slow learner. I’m ashamed to admit how many times I’ve sat in a tree well after dark, waiting for feeding deer to leave. It’s been more times than it should have been.
The circumstances were usually something like this: With 30 minutes of daylight left, I would hear the unmistakable sound of deer tromping thorough the woods. A few minutes later, I’d glimpse of three, four, maybe five deer feeding towards me, just out of range, moving slowly and randomly. That would remind me that deer really have nowhere they have to be and no deadline for getting there.
As the final moments of daylight gave way to darkness, those deer would just be getting into shooting range. By the time it was pitch dark, they would be feeding right underneath me. Occasionally, I could wait them out. But more often than not, I would have to spook them before I could climb down.
Of course, just seeing deer is a lot of fun. But if your goal is to actually shoot one, then a better approach would be to intercept them before they get to their feeding area at dark. Obvious enough, but sometimes easier said than done!
That is where a hillside bench comes in. It’s not always easy to predict from which direction deer will approach a feeding area. But if that feeding area lies atop a hill, they will almost surely travel along a hillside bench for at least part of the way up.
|As white oak acorns become scarce, deer focus their attention on the acorns of both red oak and water oak.|
Of all terrain features, a bench is my favorite. While flats and bottoms can be hit or miss, a bench seems to be a whitetail’s consistently preferred route through the woods. The bench can be as wide as 30 to 40 yards, or barely as wide as the trail.
When choosing a site for my stand, I tend to look for the place where the bench becomes defined. It will tend to fade out where the hill gives way to flatter ground and might pinch down very narrow if the hillside gets steep. If you can find the spot where it becomes defined, you’ll likely be just far enough from the feeding area to avoid getting treed, and just far enough from the bedding area to avoid getting busted.
Set up above that bench within your comfortable shooting range.
ACORNS THROUGH THE SEASON
Much can be said about acorn production in general terms, but there are very few absolutes. Oak trees with large crowns generally produce more nuts than smaller oaks. Excellent acorn years are sometimes — but not always — followed by poor ones.
Rainfall, wind, frost, disease, and many other factors can influence acorn production. But depending on the species, the effects might not be seen for two to seven years later. Similarly, one tree might produce an abundant harvest while a similar tree a few yards away might be barren.
Of the many different varieties of oak trees in the South, three species are of primary importance to deer hunters: the white oak, the southern red oak, and the water oak. All of them bear varying degrees of significance, depending on which is most abundant on a given hunting property.
In general, the white oak is by far the most important. A white oak’s acorns are less tannic and therefore, more palatable than the other two types. Deer prefer them over the acorns of other varieties. White oak acorns are typically the first to be eaten and as such should be the focus of hunters during the early season.
With last year’s heavy white oak crop, many acorns remained on the ground all through the winter. In fact, many went uneaten and became rotten and moldy, though in most years they get devoured fairly early.
White oak trees can be identified by their scaly or shaggy bark, as well as by their leaves that are multi-lobed and rounded on the edges. White oaks get hit hard by deer, and the evidence they leave behind can be easily seen — cracked shells and a ring of trampled leaves around the tree.
As white oak acorns become scarce, deer focus their attention on the acorns of both red oak and water oak. Red oaks’ leaves have pointed lobes, while water oaks’ leaves are kind of spatula-shaped. Through deer may browse on the acorns of these two trees opportunistically, they really focus on them starting in about late November.
|THE SAWTOOTH OAK ADVANTAGE|
|Early-season bowhunting in the South often means hot weather and dry conditions. Succulent browse is scarce, fall food plots havent’t come in, and white and red oak acorns have not yet fallen. This is when a planting of sawtooth oak trees can be of benefit to both hunters and deer.
Sawtooth oaks are an Asian variety that have become naturalized in North America and do very well in the South. The advantage of having these trees on your property is that they produce heavy acorn crops and the acorns are huge. Given a choice between white oak and sawtooth acorns, deer will still take the white oaks, but sawtooth oaks produce much earlier in the season than any other variety. Consequently, they are deer magnets during those first few weeks after opening day.
These trees also produce much earlier in their life than the other varieties. Sawtooth oaks produce acorns in as little as four to five years is they have plenty of sunlight, are watered well after transplanting, and are given fertilizer once they are established. Fertilizer application should not be done until the second growing season’s leaf-off period. A 10-10-10 fertilizer is generally suggested for landscape trees like sawtooth oaks.
I have cultivated many sawtooth oak trees by collecting the acrons in the fall, planting them in milk jugs and potting soil and transplanting them in the spring when they are already 12 to 16 inches tall. You can also buy seedlings from nurseries. A relatively quick return on your investment and a sure way to attract deer during the early bow season make sawtooth oaks worth of a second look.
This is when it becomes important for hunters to set up an ambush based on this food source. It’s easy to tell when deer have been feeding on these acorns, as nearly every dead leaf around the trees will be tuned over.
Since these oaks’ nuts are much smaller than white oak acorns, they fall in between the leaves and become buried. Deer and other wildlife scavenge on them voraciously.
Many sources of food and natural browse are important to a deer’s diet. In the South, planted food plots certainly have their place, but acorns offer a great natural forage base.
If you take a few hours to identify the various species of trees on your property and plan a strategy based on their location, you’ll surely be in a better position to score when deer season rolls around.
This is an article as it appeared in the Fish and Game publications throughout the south in August 2008.
Tricking Out Your Bike
We’re talking about more than sticking a baseball card in the spokes to make your bicycle sound cool. Make that mountain bike a deer-hunting machine! (August 2008)
By Carl Warmouth
With the right accessories, a mountain bike provides a very practical way to get into the woods for bowhunting.
Photo by Carl Warmouth.
From my perch 18 feet up in a sweetgum tree, I couldn’t even see my hunting vehicle, which was barely 40 yards away. I’d stashed the camouflaged bicycle in a brushpile, and it was hidden so well that I was beginning to worry that I might never find it again.
My eyes traced the route that I’d taken through the woods along the hillside bench, past the big red oak, and around the felled pine. I knew it had to be down there somewhere.
Suddenly, movement to my left broke my concentration. A patch of brown was moving through the trees, leisurely working its way towards me. Within a few minutes, a mature doe had closed the gap between us to within 30 yards of my stand. Then it stopped abruptly to peer intently at something through the woods, head bobbing up and down as it strained to make sense of the object of curiosity — and I saw that my bike was actually much closer than I had realized, less than 10 yards from the matriarch. The animal finally seemed satisfied that the inanimate object was no threat and resumed feeding on white oak acorns.
I waited patiently as the doe worked its way closer, and when it got to within 20 yards, I placed my top pin just behind its shoulderblade and released my arrow. The broadhead found its mark, and a few minutes later, I was giving thanks for my first kill of the season.
Before I started bowhunting, I had no idea of the joy that hunting unpressured deer brings. Only one other archer was in my hunting club, and those first few weeks before gun season started were truly wonderful.
An unpressured deer is a different animal: It moves around throughout the day, relaxed and casual in its movements. It strolls into open areas during daylight without even considering that it might need to look up into trees to check for humans.
But when trucks, four-wheelers and marching hunters break the eight-month silence and begin spreading foreign smells through the woods, it takes almost no time at all before the deer completely change their ways, transforming, seemingly overnight, into nervous, mostly nocturnal animals that proceed with caution, scenting the wind before emerging from thick cover. They pattern human movement — not difficult to do when humans are associated with running motors and exhaust fumes.
Hunters who want to avoid being patterned often park their vehicles a distance from their stands and take a long walk in, but unless you’re Ishi — and who among us wants to walk through the winter woods barefoot? — that’s a slow, noisy process. There’s no mistaking the sound of a human’s footsteps crunching through the leaves and snapping twigs along the way.
Getting to remote stands usually requires entering into the woods well before daylight; getting out requires long walks in the dark. Neither scenario makes for a silent passage. Striking a compromise between a quiet approach and a quick advance can be difficult — which is exactly what a mountain bike can offer.
Covering several hundred yards quickly is a simple affair for a hunter on a bike. Moreover, a bike seems to make less noise — or at least a less recognizable noise — than does someone walking; it certainly makes less noise that an ATV. Of course, if you’re riding in before dawn, you’ll want to have scouted the route before hand.
ikes can be surprisingly stealthy contraptions. One day a couple of years ago, I was riding back to my truck after a morning hunt. As I got within sight of the vehicle, I saw that my hunting buddy had made it back before me. Although I wasn’t trying to be especially quiet, I was able to ride right up behind him without him even knowing I was there. He nearly jumped out of his skin when I skidded to a stop!
On private land, a bike offers the benefit of getting in and out without spooking the deer onto adjacent properties — let the ATV riders push them to you! — while on public land it gives you an advantage over other hunters, getting you well off the main thoroughfares, past gates, and away from the hunters dependent on roads and big trails, and even those willing to do some walking in the woods.
If the mountain bike excels as a hunting machine, it shines even more in post-season scouting. If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t mind venturing into bedding areas once deer season ends, but you still want to get in and back out as quickly as possible. With the bike, you can do just that.
One tactic involves using the bike to ride primary doe trails, taking note of cross-trails — which are easy to see after the season is over — along the way. I don’t mind if I bump a buck at this time of year, either, since my bike and I will be long forgotten by the following fall.
Of course, a bike simplifies pre-season scouting as well. One of my favorite deer-related activities is a last-minute “speed-scouting” venture undertaken about a week before the season starts. I quickly beat a path across the property, checking cameras, surveying acorn crops, and looking for bucks’ hoof prints at creek crossings. My feeling is that the less time I spend in the woods scouting, the less likely I’ll be to spook deer. Scouting by bike allows me to accomplish in a few hours what might take days to do on foot.
SCENTED OR SCENT-FREE?
Another of the bike’s virtues: It’s basically devoid of petroleum aromas and other smells associated with internal-combustion vehicles: no gas, oil, coolant or transmission fluid to leave scent trails through the woods. Think of the bike’s tires as rolling rubber hunting boots: If your bike does double duty, its tires can obviously pick up scents from roads and parking lots, but if it’s a dedicated hunting tool, you’re virtually assured scent-free passages.
Of course, a thorough dousing with scent-eliminating spray never hurts, especially on the handlebars, tires and seat, where the maximum amount of human scent is likely to be deposited.
At the other end of the spectrum, a bike can be used purposely to lay down a scent trail. Try pouring your favorite estrous-doe urine into a small pump-spray bottle and spraying it onto a small spot on a tire. Every time that tire goes around it leaves an olfactory footprint just like a hot doe’s.
Opinion varies as to the effectiveness of scents for attracting deer, but I’ve witnessed at first hand non-human predators being attracted by a trail of deer odor.
During an afternoon hunt, I’d followed my customary practice and stashed my bike in some brush. With just a few minutes of daylight left, I saw a coyote approaching over my right shoulder, just trotting along at first. Suddenly it crossed the path that my bike’s doe-urine-anointed tires had rolled down as I rode in. Immediately picking up the olfactory cue, it crouched low to ground and began belly-crawling towards my bike, stopping to sniff each spot of deer scent left by the rubber. It stalked right up to the brushpile, and I believe that it fully expected to see a young doe bedded there.
After crouching and sniffing for several minutes, the songdog finally stood up and walked into the brush. It carefully inspected the bike, looked around the area, and then jogged off.
TRICKING IT OUT
The first step in building the ultimate hunting machine is picking out the bike. Personally, I didn’t want to invest a lot of money. A more passionate cyclist might criticize me on that point, arguing that you get what you pay for, and in retrospect, I might be inclined to agree with that view, as the model that I chose has required several repairs and upgrades over the past few years.
But my rationale for going cheap was that I knew from the onset of this project that my bike would be used for one purpose only: hunting. General abuse — crossing creeks and being tossed over barbed-wire fences, hidden in brushpiles and left outside for months at a time — was going to be the rule for this bike; it wouldn’t hang by hooks in the garage for very long.
The first order of business: Lose all the shine. After removing all the decals, I lightly sanded the finish and wiped the bike down thoroughly with acetone; then, every surface from which light could reflect was covered with olive-drab spray paint. My ride looked cooler already.
I continued the camouflaging process with adhesive vinyl in a popular camo pattern that a local sign company was able to order for me. The same material sometimes used to cover golf carts and panels on vehicles so I knew it would be sturdy. Applying it was more time-consuming than I’d anticipated, but in a few hours, the entire frame and several other parts were completely covered. (One tip: Putting the tape on in small pieces works much better than does trying to cover the whole thing at once. The small pieces blend together so well that everyone who’s seen the bike assumes that it was film-dipped.) The vinyl applied, I finished by breaking the remaining olive drab areas up with flat gray, tan, brown and black spray paint.
After three years of rough use, the vinyl covering has held up surprisingly well, marred only by a few predictable chips and scuffs, and the olive drab base coat continues to prevent any glare or reflections.
The next step: Accessorize the bike for hunting. My primary goal was to customize a bike that I could use to carry my bow and, perhaps, a small pack into the woods. (The design I eventually came up with works for rifle hunters, too.)
My first idea was to devise a means of carrying the bow across the handlebars somehow, but they were too narrow, and the handbrakes were in the way, so that proved impractical. The handlebars would have to serve another purpose. A visit to a local bike shop produced a large handlebar-mounted basket; perfect for carrying my backpack or other bulky items, it removes easily when not needed. A fanny pack fastened to the handlebars is another good option for carrying smaller items.
At the same bike shop I also found a cargo rack that mounted over the rear tire. Next came a homemade bow rack consisting of a piece of aluminum tubing, purchased at a hardware store and a set of bow/gun holders designed to mount on an ATV rack or handlebars. To make the bow rack I attached the piece of aluminum tubing crossways at the farthest rearward portion of the cargo rack, using nuts and bolts, and then mounted the ATV bow/gun holder to that. It worked like a charm, and I was soon making it silently to my stand in a third of the time that it’d have taken me to walk.
It wasn’t long before I was using my bike for other hunting chores, like hanging tree stands. Of course, you’re not going to carry a ladder stand through the woods on a bike, but lock-on type stands and even some climbers are easy to strap to the rack. By using the front basket to carry a bag of screw-in tree steps, a safety harness and a haul line, and tasking the rear rack to carry the stand, hauling my entire set-up to even remote parts of my hunting property was a simple affair.
But it didn’t happen without some trial and error. My first design flaw became apparent when I tried to carry a lock-on tree stand and a bow on the rear rack at the same time: not enough room. Raising the height of the bow holder with longer bolts and metal spacers solved that problem. By getting the bow above the cargo, I was able to make use of the entire length of the rack.
PACKING IT OUT
Admittedly, ATVs outperform bikes when it comes to one critical task: getting a deer out of the woods. Sorry, folks, but I’ve tried it all — plastic sleds, bike trailers, you name it — and there’s just no good way to lug dead weight with a bike.
Every stick, vine, rock, branch and felled log finds a way to impede your progress — and that’s just going downhill. Skinned ankles, banged-up shins and the never-pleasant lunging off the seat and onto the bar of the bike are good-enough reasons not even to try it.
When it comes to dragging that trophy buck back to the truck, you’re far better off either using a motorized vehicle or doing it the old-fashioned way with muscle power; go back for the bike later. If that’s discouraging, take heart in the fact that you might not have even seen that deer were it not for the bike.
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If you’re looking for a low-impact way to hunt, using a mountain bike will serve that purpose very well. It’s quiet, quick, versatile and just plain fun. If you’ve never tried it before, you owe it to yourself to pull that bike off those hooks in the garage, trick it out and hit the woods with it.