toptips

Top Tips for Georgia Bow Season Bucks

Originally Published in the Fall 2011 Edition of Rifle & Rod Magazine.

September in South Georgia brings high school football under the lights, marching band melodies floating on a fall breeze and most importantly – the opening of archery season for white-tailed deer. Every year more people join the elite group of hunters in Georgia that hunt white-tailed deer during archery season. These hunters must fend off mosquitoes, poisonous snakes and 90-degree temperatures, all for a chance at unwary deer that have yet to be educated by other hunters.

Unlike rifle hunting, bow hunting is an entirely different type of adventure. With today’s high-powered rifles, it’s not a challenging feat to drop a deer with one shot at distances of more than 200 yards. Because of the high amounts of energy behind a bullet traveling at such extreme rates of speed, a perfect shot isn’t required for a fast kill. But, with bow hunting, an almost perfect shot at an exact angle is required for a fast, clean kill. Add that with the fact that most archery hunters won’t take a shot of more than 30 yards and you’ve got an unbelievable disadvantage when it comes to trying to kill a deer with a bow versus a rifle.

But, don’t fret just yet, there’s still hope for killing a deer with a bow. Seasoned bowhunting veterans and rookies alike can learn a lot from other hunters. I’ve interviewed a few successful bow hunters from different regions of the Peach State to see what they consider the most important tips they could give other bow hunters.

Jeff Manley from The Rock, Ga. put down his rifle and has been bow hunting exclusively in 1996. Since converting to bow-only hunting, he has taken an average of three or four does a year and usually takes a mature buck once every three years. He was quick to say that he’s passed many 130- and 140-inch (antler size) 8- and 10-points for a shot at something bigger than the Pope-and-Young class buck he already has on his wall.

Jeff said the best piece of advice he could give any bow hunter was preparation. That goes for practicing every day, preparing your clothing well before the season and scouting for the best positions to hang stands.

“I start practicing almost daily in July to be prepared for bow season. With bow hunting is so important to make the perfect shot, and you’ve got to be able to do that even after holding your bow back for several minutes at a time. For that reason,  I try to shoot about 50 shots a day at about 45 to 50 yards. I even practice holding my bow back for several minutes at a time before I shoot so I can get my muscles toned for having to do that in the stand,” said Jeff.

He explained that practicing at greater distances made the shots of 15 to 30 yards he hopes to take in the stand seem that much easier. He explained he almost never takes shots of more than 30 yards unless it’s a perfect angle in an open environment where there isn’t much chance of the arrow hitting a limb and going off course.

Because a white-tailed deer’s number one defense is its nose and the ability to smell danger at long distances, Jeff is also very meticulous about the clothing he wears and how it is stored.

“Before the season begins I take all of the clothes that I’m going to wear and wash them in scent-killing detergent. Then I take several Scent-Lok bags, jumbo Zip-Loc bags work just as well, and I fill them full of leaves, tree bark and plants from the environment I will be hunting. I’ve got one set of clothes I wear for swamps, one set for hardwoods and another set for pines. I want my scent to be covered as much as possible in case a deer does get a whiff of me, it might not spook as bad,” said Jeff.

Jeff doesn’t rely on covering his scent alone to stay invisible to deer, he also will only hunt an area if the wind is right. Bow hunters should always hunt with the wind in their face and the deer approaching from upwind so the hunter’s scent is traveling away from the deer. Jeff said this stand position is a perfect scenario and might not always happen, but hunter’s should strive to position their stands in areas based on the normal wind conditions and only hunt them when the time is right.

“Not only do I only  hunt stands when the wind is perfect to hunt them, but I also walk out of my way to keep from spooking bedded deer with my scent before daylight. I have stands that I could easily pull a four-wheeler to the bottom and climb right up, but instead I walk almost a mile and a half from the other direction to keep from spooking deer I know are bedded close by. If I know there’s a  big buck in the area and there’s so many deer bedded around that I just can’t get in without spooking them, I’ll get there two hours before daylight and climb in my stand and wait,” said Jeff.

He said he always wears a safety harness while hunting from an elevated stand, and it is extremely important when getting in the stand two hours before daylight.

“I know a lot of people have a big problem with sleeping in the stand, but I hunt from Millennium lock-on stands which are extremely comfortable and almost impossible to fall out of. There’s still the possibility, but you’ve just got to be safe as you can and wear your harness at all times,” said Jeff.

Another seasoned bow hunter, Jeff Horne, originally from Bainbridge, Ga. who now lives in Valdosta, spends a lot of time hunting public land near Bainbridge. He not only hunts public land, but he also kills a lot of deer with a bow on public land, which is a difficult task within itself.

Horne was also quick to say that preparation was one of the most important parts of hunting, especially with a bow on public land that anyone has access to hunt.

Jeff said the first thing and probably the most important thing he does is a year-round process that he can complete without ever leaving the house.

“I spend hours looking at topographical maps.  Looking for particular terrain changes that give me the advantages needed for bow hunting.  The vast majority of my hunting is done on public land and thankfully around Bainbridge there is more than enough for one person to hunt.  This large amount of land can make it hard to narrow down spots sometime and with limited time actually afield, I have to be in the stand when I can go,” he said.

Jeff’s time in the field is maximized by focusing on key features which have been productive in the past for many different reasons.

“When looking at the maps, I look for creeks and other natural funnels for deer, but I also look for spots that are the farthest away from any road.  Most people use the satellite view on Google earth (which shows actual satellite images) but I have found that the terrain layer is very useful as well. Early in the season I look for small ditches that run through big stands of planted pines.  The ditches show up on the map and are a great spot to look for crab apples, which can also be found on old fence rows and firebreaks. I love to hunt big creek bottoms but during bow season I have much better luck hunt in planted pines.  There is a noticeable change in the temperature from a muggy creek bottom to a breezy stand of pines.  There is also usually less mosquitoes and more food for them in the pines during bow season,” said Jeff.

After finding these areas that “should” be productive for bow hunting, Jeff keys in and starts to look for actual signs that deer are in the area. Just because the area has food and is secluded from human interaction, doesn’t necessarily mean the deer are using it.

“Don’t waste your time on spots that are just “pretty.”  With ample land (public) to hunt, I only hunt setups that have it all, bedding, food and water.  Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect world so sometimes you have to pick, and then I revert back to which one has more sign,” he said.

You'll need a comfy deer stand you can sit a long time in. You’ll need a comfy deer stand you can sit a long time in.

Jeff Horne also agreed with Jeff Manley on only hunting a certain area when the wind and conditions are absolutely correct so you don’t mess up your chances at a buck of a lifetime.

“The key here is to only hunt your spots when the conditions are perfect!  As tempting as it is to hunt your best stand opening morning, don’t do it unless the wind is perfect.  The best chance you have at killing a mature buck is the first time you hunt a stand – so it’s worth the wait until everything is perfect until you hunt those best spots.  To add to this it critical that you have a way to get into the stand and out of the stand without being noticed.  This is even more important with bow hunting since you’re much closer to the deer than you would be with a rifle,” he said.

Kevin Cox from Milledgeville, Ga. is an avid bow hunter as well. He also put down his gun for good in 1996 and now only hunts deer with a bow. Like both Jeffs, Kevin likes to control his scent as a main means of camouflage from the deer.

“I keep all my hunting clothes in a plastic container until I put them on when I reach my hunting area. I wash them in baking soda or other odorless detergent and I only wear rubber boots as well,” said Kevin.

He also said he would not hunt a stand if he was unable to reach it without spooking deer or if the wind wasn’t right to hunt that particular stand.

When it comes to finding where the deer are going to be, Kevin said it’s all about food within the vicinity of a bedding area. This is particulary the case with mature bucks when the weather is still very hot.

“I really key on evening hunts in the early bow season in Georgia. Most mature bucks will get up just before dark and head to their feeding area. Many times in the mornings they are back to bed before light and your chances of spooking them are much greater. With that being said, I try and find the preferred food source of the bucks in September. That is usually agricultural crops like soybeans, corn and peanuts in some parts of the state but mainly soft mass where I hunt in Central Georgia. I key on persimmons if they are available. Crab apples, muscadines and early dropping acorns also. If I had to pick one food source to hunt near, it would be persimmons by a large margin. Bucks love persimmons! Over the years, I have taken more than 10 mature bucks from stands over looking this candy. Two were 5 1/2 years old and several more that were 4 1/2. The key is finding a persimmon tree or trees that are loaded with fruit and are in or near the thickest place you can find,” said Kevin.

He said the difference between mature bucks and younger bucks and does, is that the younger deer will linger further from a bedding area.

“You can shoot deer over the persimmons on field edges, but they are likely to be does or small bucks. The big bucks don’t move far in these warm temperatures. You must find the food that is near the bedding areas and the closer the better. When I hunt mornings in the early season, I try and hunt trails from the food to the bed if there is enough distance between the two. If not, I stay out except on evening hunts when the wind is favorable.,” said Kevin.

With the help of these three bow hunting greats, you should have a lot better understanding of the dedication it takes to kill a deer with a bow. It isn’t a point and click act like rifle hunting, and it takes a lot of preparation. So, get off of the couch and put some miles on your boots so you can get that buck of a lifetime without ever picking up a gun.

Author Drew Hall with a doe he killed with his bow during the 2013 hunting season Author Drew Hall with a doe he killed with his bow during the 2013 hunting season

 

 

UNDERTAKERXT

Hunter Specialties Undertaker XT Turkey Choke Review

I began turkey hunting several years ago and knew from the start that I didn’t want any disadvantages. Most older turkey hunters believe you should be able to call a turkey within 30 yards or you shouldn’t shoot it – I think turkeys got smarter, and hunters got less patient. That being said, I opted for my first turkey load to be Hevi-Shot to extend my range out to further distances. But, let’s face it, who wants to spend $5 a shell when you’ve got to pattern the gun to see how it shoots, before you even aim at a turkey. The good ole’ Winchester Supreme shells sure were nice at $10 a box for 10 shells at the local Wal-Mart. I decided I wanted to test out Hunter Specialties new Undertaker XT Super Full Turkey Choke with a load that everyone could afford to shoot. I compared it with the time-honored Rem-Full choke that comes with all Remington shotguns. I was testing them from my tried and true Remington 870 Express which I received for Christmas at the ripe old age of 12. I figured from the beginning that the whole turkey choke thing was garbage to get people to spend extra money on something that didn’t perform any better than the factory choke, but boy was I wrong.

Winchester Supreme plus UndertakerXT carnage Winchester Supreme plus UndertakerXT carnage

I tested the chokes from 20 and 40 yards with both the Rem-full and the Undertaker XT using 3″ Winchester Supreme, 1 3/4-oz., No. 5 shot. The difference in the two chokes was remarkable. My turkey head targets had a 7″ circle around a red bulls-eye which I will refer to as the kill zone. At 20 yards the Rem-Full choke put 76 No. 5 pellets in the kill zone, the Hunter Specialties Undertaker XT put 114, or 33% more pellets in the same-sized circle. At 40 yards the Rem-Full choke put 12 pellets in the kill zone. The Undertaker XT put 26, or 54% more pellets in the kill zone. I’d probably never shoot at a gobbler past 30 with this load with a Rem-Full choke, but not hesitate to pull the trigger up to 40, and maybe a little farther for a monster with the Undertaker XT choke.

The best part about the Undertaker XT is the ability to change the choke without the use of a choke wrench. Each choke is constructed of 41L42 chrome-moly, aircraft quality alloy  and is knurled at the end to make it easy to grip to screw in or out. I’m not sure if the ported holes make much difference in muzzle jump, because it’s hard to measure that, but it does look pretty nasty. I’d give it at least 10 style points. I didn’t notice a difference in recoil in one choke versus the other, but these 3″ Winchester Supreme 1 3/4-oz., No. 5 shotshells kick pretty hard, regardless of what choke you are sending them through. I was shooting with a Limbsaver recoil pad, and I think that did save my shoulder from permanent damage or at least a reason to do yard work the next day.

The UndertakerXT shown next to the Remington Full choke.

The UndertakerXT shown next to the Remington Full choke.

In my “expert” opinion, I’d say you can’t go wrong with this choke for lead shot. I didn’t test the high-density choke for non-lead shells, but I’d like to think it would perform as well if not better with the heavier weight of the pellets. The manufacture suggested retail price is $28.99 but you can find them in stores and online from $15 to $20. It is a very cheap turkey choke tube, that will vastly improve your pattern without vastly reducing your wallet thickness. Get yourself one for the 2014 turkey season!

The UndertakerXT choke tube on a Remington 870 Express 12 Gauge The UndertakerXT choke tube on a Remington 870 Express 12 Gauge

(Editor’s note: The Winchester Supreme STH1235 turkey shells are now marketed under the Winchester Double-X brand because it sounds cooler and the packaging looks more appealing, thus allowing it to kill 25% more turkey hunter’s billfolds.)

High-res version of targets from UndertakerXT and Remington Full Choke using Winchester Supreme turkey loads.

High-res version of targets from UndertakerXT and Remington Full Choke using Winchester Supreme turkey loads.

 

 

Duck Dynasty Camo Pattern Stencils

 

duck camo stencil

Duck Dynasty is all the rage these days. Whether someone’s arguing about Phil’s views on homosexuality, or talking best duck calls on the planet, there’s bound to be a beard involved. I don’t get too hyped up on all the licensed merchandise, but I did notice they have a pretty neat duck camouflage pattern. Since animal silhouettes can’t be copyrighted, I figured I’d just make my own pattern similar to theirs. It’d look pretty sweet on a boat, gun, cooler, near bouts’ anything if you ask me. If you’ve got the time, and want a fun project, I’ve got all the stuff here for you to make this pattern on your own. If you have a fancy vinyl cutter, I’ll even give you the digital file to cut out these stencils and make it really good looking so you don’t have to cut them by hand. Here’s a few examples of how it might look also. Let me know what you think and don’t forget to like my site on Facebook!

duck dynasty camouflage yeti cooler

duck dynasty camouflage shotgun

 

Free duck dynasty camo pattern

duck silhouette stencils

If you want the Vector file you can download it by clicking  here.

An American alligator and Burmese Python struggle in the Everglades National Park in Florida.

Are Florida Pythons On The Move toward Georgia?

Originally Published in the Spring 2013 issue of Rifle & Rod magazine.

An adult deer calmly grazes along the forest floor beneath a secluded grove of trees miles from the nearest human dwelling. All is calm in her world with no real natural predators since she’s much too large for a coyotes to take now as an adult. Her only worry is the occasional man or domestic dog that might give her a scare. But these are her woods, and neither a dog nor a man is a match for her natural ability to smell danger and her incredible camouflage coat which blends so perfectly with her surroundings. What she doesn’t know is a new, exotic predator has entered her habitat and she won’t hear or smell it as it approaches. A Burmese python is silently slithering up behind her, and seconds later the 80-lb. doe is being gradually suffocated by the constricting body of a 17-foot-long super predator. This might seem like footage of African jungles on the National Geographic channel, but the scenario just described actually took place in the Everglades National Park (E.N.P.) in South Florida.
Burmese Python being tagged by USGS researchers

There is now an established population of Burmese Pythons in a 2,000 to 3,000 square mile area below Miami, Florida that could reach the tens of thousands, and maybe even more. The Burmese Python, a sub-species to the Indian Python, is native to Asia and one of the six largest snakes in the world. Adult individuals of this species in their natural habitat average about 12 feet in length, but can grow up to 19 feet. Burmese pythons were originally imported to the United States to be sold as exotic pets.

An established, or breeding population, was first recognized in the 2000s. Herpetologist and snake expert Dr. John Wilson from the University of Arkansas says all of the media linking the snake explosion to Hurricane Andrew in the 90s is probably not sound.

“The press says Hurricane Andrew might have destroyed an exotic pet breeding facility that may have released a bunch of snakes. The data we have found is that probably wasn’t the source of it. The timing doesn’t seem to match up particularly well. The real core population is way down in a very remote area of the Everglades, about 40 miles from the nearest heavily populated area. It seems pretty implausible, that pet breeding facility in Miami could’ve cause this,” said Wilson.

“Surely, large snakes in the wild aren’t commonplace?” you say. Unfortunately, that question remains relatively unanswered. Wilson said the most important task at hand for python researchers is how to calculate an estimated population, so they can then find out how to properly control the problem.

“We have removed between 1,800 to 1,900 pythons in the last five years. But we don’t know if that is a large number of the population or not. Most of those are from the E.N.P. itself. It [the population] is certainly in the thousands, and could be tens or hundred of thousands. Given that so much of that area is completely inaccessible except by airboat or plane – we know there are snakes there but don’t know how many,” said Wilson.

Wilson described the E.N.P. as primarily a huge freshwater marsh with the southern portion having some mangrove portions with a little saltwater intrusion. He said the pythons were doing particularly well in the mangrove habitat and seem to have a very high tolerance of salt water.

There are several contributing factors to the Burmese pythons success as an invasive species in Florida. The most obvious reason for the growing population of pythons is that juvenile Burmese Pythons average about 22 inches in length as a hatchling. Wilson said these juvenile pythons are as large or larger the most native adult snakes in the E.N.P..

“A 22-inch snake doesn’t have many natural predators besides the alligator and is certainly capable of killing small mammals and birds soon after hatching,” said Wilson.

Burmese pythons have another advantage that most native snakes don’t have as well. The average clutch size of a female python is 12 to 36 eggs. In one remarkable case, a 17.5-foot Burmese python caught in the E.N.P. this year had an astounding 87 eggs inside of her at the time of her capture. But, unlike native snakes, female pythons guard their eggs until hatching, giving python hatchlings yet another advantage over native snakes. There’s a pretty slim chance a raccoon or opossum is going to eat the eggs with an adult python laying on top of the nest.

Burmese Python with nest.

Wilson said an adult python really only has one predator in Florida and that is the American Alligator.

“We have records of alligators eating pythons. We’ve even found skeletons where it seemed that a python and alligators died wrestling each other. But, a really big python would be a big meal for even a big gator,” he said.

So, what does a population of thousands of pythons eat in the wild? The answer is, “Almost every mammal they encounter.” These Burmese pythons are such prolific predators; they have all but wiped out all mammal populations in areas where pythons are present. In a study that was released earlier this year, Wilson described the findings as bleak for native mammals.

“We used [night] road surveys and looked for raccoons, opossums, rabbits and deer. We compared records over time and also from previous road surveys and we saw evidence that the mammals have virtually disappeared in areas inhabited by pythons. In the mid-sized mammals – raccoons, foxes, bobcats, opossums – we saw anywhere from an 85-percent to 100-pecent reduction. With marsh rabbits, which used to be extremely common, there hasn’t been a single sighting in five years,” said Wilson.

In addition to the direct effect on mammal populations due to snakes eating small- to mid-sized mammals and birds. Wilson said there are also the indirect effects of the snakes eating mammals that other native mammals prey on to survive. He said this was particularly threatening in areas of the E.N.P., which are also home to the endangered Florida Panthers.

“Based on the other species we’ve seen pythons eat, we think they could pose a direct threat to panthers as well. We’ve recorded them eating bobcats in Florida, and in native range they can eat leopards. We caught one last December that was 15 feet in length and had a 80-lb. white-tailed deer in its stomach. There’s reason to think pythons aren’t capable of preying on panthers,” said Wilson.

While the efforts to remove individual pythons from the Everglades continue, Wilson said the recent Florida Python Hunting season really had no effect on the population.

“There is a lot of research going on now as starting to find out how we could control them. It’s a long way off if not altogether impossible. The biggest problem is that we know they are quite common, but they are very secretive. There are some areas searched for a daily basis, and we haven’t been able to wipe them out. They just hide too well. We are still figuring out the best ways to catch them. We’re even working with detector dogs right now to improve our ability to find them,” said Wilson.

I know what you’re thinking now. All this talk about big snakes in Florida, but the Everglades are a long way from South Georgia and North Florida. “How does this effect me?” Can, a Burmese python even survive here. Well, the answer is, “Probably.” Dr. Wilson described Burmese pythons as generalists in terms of their habitat preferences.

“In Asia the Burmese Python lives in all different types of habitats. They are found from Thailand and tropical areas, all the way up through southern China, where it is wet, but relatively cool, and India where it is dry. They are also found in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains where it is not only dry, but also cool. So, they are found in a wide variety of habitats. Though they started in the Everglades in Florida, they are now found in a large variety of habitats, including heavily populated areas,” said Wilson.

Wilson said there’s no way to know for sure, but based on their wide range of habitat climates in their native home of Asia, it is likely that the Burmese python would also be able to survive in South Georgia. Especially in places with little human disturbance like the Okefenokee Swamp.

Senior Wildlife Biologist John Jensen of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division said that while there are established species of invasive reptiles in Georgia, the Burmese python has yet to make the list.

“ We get reports of some documented exotic snakes, but all we’ve ever been able to find are individuals. These are most commonly escaped or released pets and it is very unlikely that they would find a male or female to reproduce with outside of captivity,” said Jensen.

He said the established species were the brahminy blind snake, which is about 4 inches in length and lives underground, and several species of geckos which are common in the exotic pet trade.

If this established population of pythons were to move north at a rapid rate, are we South Georgians and North Floridians at danger of being attacked by a Burmese python outside our home? Probably not. Dr. Wilson said like alligators, pythons usually avoid contact with humans altogether.

“Pythons in captivity have escaped and killed people, but so far there has not been a confirmed python attack on a person in the Everglades. I tend to think they are similar to alligators. Under most circumstances, they are not hunting people,” said Wilson.

For more information on Dr. Wilson’s research on invasive Burmese pythons and other reptiles, check out his Web page at http://comp.uark.edu/~jwillson/index.html.

 

gerber-diesel-multi-plier

Gerber Diesel Multi Plier Tool Review

I’ve always carried a pocket knife, probably a lot larger one than I needed. For the past 3 years it has been a custom knife made by Joe Sangster in Vienna, Ga. It has a 3 1/2″ ATS-34 stainless steel blade and I can do most anything I’d like with it. It also looks pretty intimidating if I needed to deter an attacker. But lately I’ve longed for a tool that could do more than just a knife, I’m not saying I will quit carrying a knife, because I won’t, but I’d like something more.
Gerber Diesel saw in action
I decided to step into the multi tool world with one of the best selling multi tools on the market, the Gerber Diesel Multi Plier. What first drew me to the Diesel was, it’s a Gerber. Gerber is renowned for its dedication to quality and this tool is no different. I’ve been carrying it for two weeks now and I’m been amazed at the possibilities of use. I know I get a little too much satisfaction from saying, “I do.” when someone says, “Do you happen to have a ‘insert tool name here?’”

So far I’ve used it to clean ducks, cut wire, tighten screws, saw limbs, cut paracord, pry nails and evened opened a few letters with it. The best part about the Diesel is the one-handed opening ability. You just grasp the sliding buttons on either side and flick your wrist down and the pliers slide out the end and lock into place. When you’re done, they slide back down one handed as well. This is great for anglers who already have one hand in a fish’s mouth and don’t want to let go to use two hands to open a multi tool. The built in wire cutters make a great fishing line cutter as well.

I’m not exactly thrilled about the wharncliffe like blade shape, but it is razor sharp and I cleaned 16 ducks with it the last day of the season without it starting to dull. The partial serrated half cuts through 1/4″ nylon rope like it was dental floss. Another one of those times when you’ve just got to smile that a tool works like it should.
Gerber Diesel tools

I’ve seen a few complaints about how hard the tools to open were online, but the tools all have a lock on them. If you slide back the black plastic covering on the handle, any of the tools open effortlessly and lock into the open position when you let the lock slide back closed. I’m not sure what was difficult about that, but it did take me about 15 minutes to figure out the opening part, that’s why I made 8 second video for you guys to see. The Diesel is also available in all black for you guys who aren’t as good as losing stuff as me. I prefer the stainless because it shows up better when you drop it. Both models include a black nylon belt sheath with a velcro closure and an embroidered Gerber logo.

Gerber Diesel sheath

If nothing else, I feel like I look a lot manlier wearing a Gerber sheath. I can’t wait to find all of the new uses for it that deer season has just around the corner. Do you guys have a favorite multi tool that you like to carry? Share your opinion in the comments section below.