Today I’m excited to introduce you all to a new contributor here at Wired To Hunt, Jeff Sturgis. Jeff brings an incredible array of whitetail hunting and habitat management experience to Wired To Hunt and I’m sure that you and I will have plenty to learn from him over the coming months. Back in 2004, Jeff was named the QDMA Deer Manager of the Year and his strategies and focus on designing properties and habitat for deer hunting success have been incredibly succesful. But what I believe makes him unique compared to most other habitat/management specialists, is that he also likes to focus on how the same design principles he looks to create on private ground, can also be found naturally on public ground. Whether you hunt public or private , Jeff has strategies, insights and experiences that will be relevant and helpful to you. I’m looking forward to learning right along with you as Jeff begins sharing his vast knowledge with all of us here in the Wired To Hunt Nation. Welcome to the team Jeff! – MK
By Jeff Sturgis
Hi, my name is Jeff Sturgis of Whitetail Habitat Solutions and I’m looking forward to contributing to Wired To Hunt! My day job is designing whitetail habitats and hunting opportunities for clients to help increase their chances of whitetail hunting success. My typical client has 60-80 acres, and I work on approximately 60 clients’ parcels a year across 8-10 states from MN to KS, to TN to PA and most areas in-between. Throughout the year I also put on several seminars, presentations and habitat days, as well as write several dozen blog posts and a few subscription magazine articles. I most recently published a book, “Whitetail Success By Design”, and have more on the way! I also hunt a lot, and have very specific concepts I follow on private and public land that have led me to great success for over 20 years.
For my first Wired To Hunt article, I would like to share with you the three tactics that helped me have some recent success on two hunts, in two different states. Specifically, I was able to harvest a mature buck in both Michigan and Wisconsin over the past two weeks by focusing on using the below three tactics. Read on, because you can take advantage of these same ideas during the amazing cold front taking place this coming weekend!
I was at a taxidermist shop a few days ago and a pretty good hunter explained to me that he was going to be sitting that particular night, but there were “pretty poor conditions” so he didn’t expect much. My thought was, “why hunt”? When I enter the woods, I expect success and if I don’t, I have found that it is better just to sit inside, on the couch. Here are two reasons why:
1. Each stand has a perfect time of the year, a perfect time of the day, and a perfect set of weather conditions to sit it in. When a particular stand is used, use it with the expectation of a very high measure of success and then move on to the next stand. In the first 14 sits of the year this year I used 11 stand locations in 2 states, so it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that the two bucks and 1 doe that I harvested came from stands that were being used for the first time for the year. If I don’t expect an opportunity when entering a stand, I don’t hunt.
2. By not hunting stand sets during less than desirable circumstances, those stand sites tend to improve the longer they are not used. In my experience each sit deteriorates that location’s potential while on the other hand you can let those same spots age like a fine wine! How do you do that? It’s simple…sit on the couch. Your “Best” stand may be burned out after a couple of sits for the rest of the season. However, your most average of stands can be turned into your next “Best” stand simply because you have neglected to use it for the entire season and you have allowed it to “age and improve”.
Morning Bedding Activity
“Couch Hunting” has a lot in common as it relates to my personal success while hunting during the morning. Whether sitting in a stand for the first time for the year or hunting in the morning, 80% of my mature bucks have been killed using at least one of those tactics. When quiet, cold mornings follow warm and stress-filled weather changes with high winds, rain, or snow…it’s time to get in the woods! I have found two types of hunting when it relates to morning success, including: Those that kill a lot of bucks during the morning, and those that don’t. There are a few morning tactics that I like to follow to experience consistent success:
1. During the early season, long, remote, food-rich transitions between high quality food sources and bedding areas can be a great choice. Deer are still in their summer patterns of eating, sleeping, and being fat and lazy. I like to get as close to the bedding areas as possible, without spooking any deer that might possibly be in that bedding area as you get into position. A cold morning can trigger increased morning feeding activities so get into position within an acorn-filled woodlot, adjacent to a young hardwood cutting, or along-side fields of early successional growth or fruit bearing trees.
2. Take a seat between bedding areas, on a long, brush filled, natural or man-made deer travel corridor. This is exactly the type of stand set up that can be phenomenal during Mid-Oct or later when bucks are beginning to get a little “rutty” in the morning, but a very bad sit during the first couple of weeks of the season. Why? Because early season hunting means hunting feeding patterns when deer, including bucks, typically travel straight to feed, and straight back to bedding. When bucks begin laying downs scrapes and raking up a few trees within the woods, hunting between defined bedding areas can lead to consistent success.
3. Back-side bedding area sits: Whether you have defined bedding areas by either using a chainsaw, or by identifying natural bedding conditions during your scouting efforts, using a morning approach that allows you to sit on the down-wind edge of that bedding area can be a great tactic! It’s important to stay away from food sources during your approach, and the greater the distance the bedding area is from established food sources the better your hopes can be that an active morning buck will be somewhere in-between while you slip into your stand. This is another Mid-October or later tactic, when bucks are becoming much more active with the approaching rut.
It doesn’t matter if it’s the early season, “October Lull”, pre-rut, rut, or late season…I hunt cold-fronts. Getting back to the conversation I had at the local taxidermist, the day was warm, we were between very good October cold fronts, and although hunting is a part of my career, I didn’t even have plans to enter into the woods until the next cold front passed. It doesn’t matter what the moon phase is, or if the deer are rutting or not, allowing each passing cold front to predict your hunting activities will lead you to success. My favorite times to hunt cold fronts are during the first two days of quiet weather following the front, with a high priority placed on the first day. There are three types of “hunting” cold fronts that I like to pay strict attention to, including:
1. The Early Season Feeding Cold Front: This front occurs within the first week of October, when food sources are changing, testosterone levels are on the rise, and mature bucks are often shifting from their “lazy days of summer” ranges to the high quality food and cover habitats of fall. Hunting those long transitions between food and cover during the morning can yield some success, but this is a great time to be in a stand during the early afternoon. The harsher the weather, including high winds and driving rain, the better, because deer are forced to sit tight where feeding opportunities are limited. Harsh weather and noisy woods equals high stress and deer are forced to burn energy. Deer experience a double attack of hunger while sitting tight and depleting energy levels at the same time and as soon as the weather breaks…the need to feed is at a very high level, especially the first evening. By the 2nd evening deer have had their fill and although cooler temps may still increase the urge to feed, the first evening will typically be much better. There is often a secondary front that follows the initial feeding front, and pay attention to the weather to make sure that you don’t miss every opportunity to catch a front.
2. The Pre-rut Cold Front: Following the 20th of October, pay special attention to the next major cold front. 2007, 2010, and 2011 each offered opportunities at 5 year old bucks for me within days after the 20th of October, following a Pre-Rut Front. The weekend of October 27th, 2012 will be one of the best weekends to be in the woods the entire season, let alone October. Do whatever you can to get into the woods!
3. Rut Cold Fronts: After the Pre-Rut Cold Front has passed, each passing front until Mid-November can yield phenomenal results. This is a great time to use “Couch Tactics” to increase your odds per sit. Many hunters wait until this time to schedule their week of “rut hunting”, when in actuality during a 9-day window there are typically only 3-4 really good cold front days to hunt. It pays to be flexible with your vacation days and keep in mind your best hunting days may have already passed during the Pre-Rut Cold Front.
The mornings of October 12th and October 20th were very good to me. Both mornings featured frost, light winds, and cold temps following quality October cold fronts. Both mornings found mature bucks moving through long transitions into bedding areas while I sat in fresh stand locations that hadn’t been visited in several months. Those MI and WI sits were part of highly predictable patterns of success that were waited on to capitalize on during the “perfect” conditions of wind, weather, time of year, and time of day. I believe that you can design your own dose of “luck” while keeping an alert eye for the next approaching cold front to employ both “Couch” and “Morning” tactics for Whitetail Success!
– Jeff Sturgis
For more details regarding Jeff’s book, services, or hunting strategies visit WhitetailHabitatSolutions.com