Welcome to the host site for outdoor writer Steve Sorensen’s “Everyday Hunter” columns. For a complete index of all columns, go to EverydayHunter.com.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Join Your Local Buck Bachelor Group

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, June 18, 2011.)

Ever wonder what's going on
in buck bachelor groups?
Spring gobbler season has been over for only a few weeks, and it's already time to begin thinking about the fast approaching fall seasons. Licenses for 2011-2012 are available now, but buying your license is only a small step in preparation.

If you want an opportunity at a mature buck this year, the big step toward that goal is to begin scouting how.

Yes, the heat of the summer is an unpleasant time to be in the woods. Yes, bugs are abundant and ready to eat you alive. Yes, dense foliage makes visibility impossible. And yes, it's hard to evaluate bucks that don't have fully developed headgear. So why bother?

Here's why. Bucks in bachelor groups are now offering you a great opportunity to get to know them. Every wonder what's going on in those bachelor groups?

Bucks are different from does. Does travel in family groups -- mother and her fawns, maybe a sister and her young, perhaps even a grandmother is still included. These females invest their energy into nourishing, teaching, and protecting the young.

Whitetail bucks invest their energy in macho stuff. They hang out with the guys. They do some sparring. They establish a pecking order. And the mature bucks, the ones that know the rut is coming, are sizing up their competition. They have a unique way of doing that. They spread their scent around.

The problem is that until rutting activity becomes more intense, you won't find the traditional evidence of spreading their scent -- you don't find many scrapes. But you can make a bachelor's club bulletin board that bucks will check out -- it's called a licking branch, and it might be the key to your next mature whitetail.

Contrary to what many hunters think, the key to scent communication isn't in the urine that's deposited in scrapes. Urine dissipates quickly. They key is in what's on the licking branch above the scrape.

An article in the August 2011 issue of Deer and Deer Hunting magazine (written by yours truly) cites a Missouri State University study showing that the majority of the buck activity at the scrape involves applying pre-orbital scent to the licking branch. When a buck applies this scent from the scent gland in front of his eyes, he's sending the message, "I'm in the game!"

Even young bucks who aren't yet sure what the game is are instinctively driven to apply their pre-orbital scent to the licking branch.

When other bucks show up at the licking branch, they'll put their noses on the branch and catch a whiff of the other bucks that have been there. Then they'll apply their own scent to that bachelor's club bulletin board, each one leaving his calling card -- his unique identifying scent.

They do this year-round. You can do it too, and join that bachelor group of bucks. The time to begin is now.

Find a licking branch. Deposit a tiny amount of pre-orbital gland lure on it. Set up a trail camera, and watch the bucks get interested. They're asking, "Who's the new guy?"

You don't need to find an established licking branch. You can make your own. Just select a flexible branch no thicker than a pencil about 5 feet off the ground near a deer trail. Soon, bucks will discover it and even though they'll never see you, you'll be a member of the group. You'll get acquainted with them in your trail camera photos.

And, the more mature the buck, the more likely he is to take an interest in the scent you place, because he wants to know who he'll be competing with for breeding rights.

The heat of the summer brings a low-impact scouting opportunity with pre-orbital gland lure. (I get mine from a West Virginia lure maker named Smokey McNicholas.) Because it's not a water-based scent, it has staying power so you don't have to visit the site more often than once every week to 10 days.

If you want to take an inventory of the bucks in your area, join a bachelor group by using pre-orbital gland lure in front of your trail cameras. You might be surprised at the bucks you see.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

What I Learned From a 500-Mile Gobbler

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, June 4, 2011.)

Tension mounted, but Dad’s whispered
words kept my thinking clear.
20½ pounds. 9-inch beard. 1-inch spurs.

That’s not one of the gobblers I shot this year. That was my first, way back in ’73, and to this day he remains the most memorable for the lessons he taught me. The hunt remains vivid in my memory, and hooked me forever on spring gobbler hunting.

I drove more than 500 miles, arriving home from Boston late at night. I tiptoed into the house and up the stairs. My vigilant parents were lying in bed wide awake, waiting for me to arrive safely home.

Dad had told me on the phone that he had located a gobbler, but as I stood in the doorway to their bedroom he said, “It’s raining. Do you still want to go?”

“That’s why I’ve been driving for the last nine hours.” I wasn’t worried at all that a Dad who would do anything for one of his sons would cancel our hunt.

A few hours of sleep were enough to erase my fatigue. I downed a bowl of Cheerios and dressed in my old woodland camo. When I discovered that the slide on my pump shotgun was broken, Dad handed me his old Ithaca double. We climbed into the International Scout and headed up Cobham Park Road through pelting rain.

By the time we stood on the hillside in the darkness the rain slackened to a drizzle. Two hundred yards downhill a throaty gobble broke the silence. We were novice turkey hunters but knew enough to close the distance, so we descended about a hundred yards to set up.

The root ball of a storm-toppled black cherry offered the perfect backdrop for father and son. I sat almost in Dad’s lap, and once we were comfortable I squeezed some air across the latex reed on my Penn’s Woods diaphragm call. The yelp was realistic enough to trigger an instant gobble.

That old boy spent the next 45 minutes cautiously putting one three-toed foot in front of the other, advancing toward my amateur calling. Tension mounted, but Dad’s whispered words kept my thinking clear. I enticed the gobbler to about 40 yards, and he began circling to our right looking for the hen that existed only in his imagination.

I followed him with the shotgun, so slowly the movement was undetectable. I twisted my torso as far to my right as I could and then inched the buttplate of the shotgun across my chest from my right shoulder to my left. When I realized I needed to take the shot, I was looking down the barrel with my left eye.

From that awkward position, I fired the full choke barrel on the antique shotgun. I remember running toward the flopping gobbler and putting my foot on his head.

Turkey hunting lessons are sometimes tough to learn, but that hunt eliminated several myths I had believed up to that point.

Myth: Gobblers clam up during the rain. Not so. Rain doesn’t bother them a bit. In fact, if it’s a thunderstorm that’s keeping you out of the woods, you’re probably missing some great turkey hunting action.

Myth: Your calls must be perfect to get a gobbler to come. False. I was certainly no expert caller then, and I’m not now. Some real hens are surprisingly awful, and gobblers come to them every day.

Myth: You can’t move when a gobbler is in sight. That’s fiction. Movements are always a calculated risk, but at times you can get away with very, very slow motion. More than once since then I’ve pulled them off successfully.

Myth: Some days you’re better off staying in bed. Usually wrong. Although some things are more important than hunting spring gobblers, rarely is staying in bed one of them.

Myth: Nothing is better than lugging a longbeard over your shoulder. At the top of the hill that day, we met a couple of hard-core turkey hunters who were also after this great bird, and it really felt good to be the one carrying the trophy. But Dad’s point of view was the right one – nothing is better than watching your hunting partner be successful, especially when you’re passing the hunting tradition from father to son.