|Late May practice session|
Even though I have deer hunting on my mind pretty much year round, late July is really when I start to get the itch to be back in the deer woods. Aside from a few seasons here and there where I got permission to hunt some private land from work buddies or family members, I’ve always been a public land hunter. That felt like a handicap when I was younger, but now I feel pretty fortunate to live where I do, there is more public land within an hour drive than I could explore in 10 lifetimes. That abundance of public land really influenced my hunting style which until last year was basically me bouncing around from area to area with a climber trying to avoid hunting pressure and catch a deer off guard until I got one.
That strategy is kind of the same now, though its become much more effective since I picked up some instructional scouting videos from Dan Infalt. I switched to a hang-on last year and the areas I’m hunting are chosen much more with bedding in mind and trying to get close to it, even during the rut.
There is some farm land here and there in my part of northern Michigan, but for the most part, close to home is big woods. We don’t have the best genetics or nutrition in my home county. No one has killed a B&C deer here in the last 100 years, and you can count on one hand the number of P&Y deer killed each year- and probably for multiple years in a row before you have to use the fingers on your other hand. 80” to 100” is a dandy and will probably end up as a shoulder mount. Hunting pressure doesn’t help either. Its not so much because we have a huge population of people nearby, but hunting is part of the culture, so most of the people who live here hunt. And most of the people who come from the big cities in southern Michigan or northern OH and Indiana come here to the big woods to have their deer camps.
I like the fudgies coming up to camp, and I hate it. Its good for the local economy, its good to see groups of friends and families hunting and camping. But in general, the way they see the big woods is so touristy. The big woods are a place they visit, like they are going to an apple orchard or something. They get their bag of apples, a gallon of cider, some donuts- and don't forget the hay ride! The farmer views that orchard much differently, he is part of it. And thats how I feel about our local big woods. Its where I live, not some tourist attraction. No matter how much some fudgie thinks about hunting or fishing or "up north" while he is in whatever cookie cutter downstate suburb or city he lives in, he will never get it. Yoopers probably feel the same way about me.
I got my first deer opening day of my second firearm deer season while still hunting through a cedar swamp. It stood up from its bed as I was making my way back to the truck for the mid-day lunch break. I pulled up a borrowed lever action .375 and dropped it. I thought it was a doe, but it was a 1.5 year old buck with 3/4” rounded off spikes. Like I said, our nutrition and genetics suck. If sand and potatoes grew big racks, we would be a big buck mecca.
That’s not to say that nice bucks don’t exist. I’ll usually have an encounter with one every other year or so while squirrel hunting. One of the biggest bucks I’ve ever seen was in my home county, the year of the Rompola buck, while we were driving into one of our favorite oak ridges. It wasn’t until about 4 years ago when I started seeing 6-point or better bucks while actually deer hunting. That was when I started leaving my home county for neighboring counties. And then last year I made my first out of state deer hunting trip and saw the five biggest bucks I’ve ever seen. It made me feel like maybe I’m not such a bad hunter after all, I just live in a place where finding nice bucks is more like ghost hunting.
I am not a trophy hunter, though. I will almost always shoot any legal deer that walks by. I would much rather eat venison than look at horns on the wall. Whitetail hunting culture over the last 20 years has deteriorated into a quest for antlers. Not that guys before weren't chasing big bucks, it just got ridiculous the last couple decades. Guys now know more about scoring deer on the hoof and the difference between G3's and G4's than how to read a topo map, and thats really sad. I don't know what a G3 is, and I don't care to learn, but I still like to chase mature deer. So far that chase has been a chess game, only I'm a really good checkers player and my opponent is Bobby Fischer.
Last night was my first night of shining and I only saw a handful of deer, and bunch of elk. Its tough to shine everywhere in Michigan during the summer as you’re not allowed to do it after 11pm, and until about late July, it doesn’t get dark until well after 10pm. The lack of ag or big fields where I hunt also makes things tough, but its still fun and a nice way to learn where the deer are.