I’m really excited today to launch a new series on Wired To Hunt and introduce you all to our newest contributors, Neil and Craig Dougherty. Neil and Craig are the authors of one of my favorite whitetail related books, “Grow Em Right: A Guide to Creating Habitat and Food Plots“, and have been featured often on TV, in DVDs, in presentations, and in numerous publications. Additionally they own North Country Whitetails, a wildlife consulting company, for which they manage over 300,000 acres of habitat for mature whitetails. Additionally, Craig was the the Chairman and is now a member of the National Board of Directors for the Quality Deer Management Association.
Now, this father son team is launching a new book, “Whitetails: From Ground To Gun” and they’re here to share the concepts from this book with the Wired To Hunt Nation. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be featuring excerpts from their new book, in which we’ll explore topics ranging from whitetail habitat creation, all the way to strategies to finally harvest those bucks you’re working to manage. I’m thrilled that we’ll be able to have this opportunity to learn from two such experienced hunters and managers in the whitetail world, and I’m confident you’ll see why soon. So kick back, and enjoy. Today we have a brief introduction to the concept of hunting whitetails from “Ground to Gun” and a terrific story which illustrates exactly why this way of hunting works! – Mark Kenyon
By Neil and Craig Dougherty:
“Thirty-eight days into the archery season, Neil finally moved on a buck he had been watching since before the season. The pieces of the plan were coming together and it was time to kill him…
The 10-point first appeared on camera during the first week of our initial camera survey. Like most of our mature bucks, he first showed under the cover (and safety) of darkness. We didn’t have to look too hard to know he belonged on the “shooter list,” in fact, he belonged at the top of the list. Bucks like this one are hard to come by in our area of western New York; he clearly was better than 99% of the bucks in our area or, as we like to say, he was a member of the “top 1% club.”
We took one look at the buck and began working on a hunting strategy. Our first task was to learn more about him. He could be a “traveler” passing through or we could be in luck and have photographed a “resident” buck. The “travelers” show up for a photo op and are never seen again. The “residents” generally show up on camera on a somewhat regular basis; their home range can often be identified by triangulating with camera locations. Until we knew more about how he was using (or not using) the property, it would be counter productive to even think about hunting him.
Neil set a few more cameras in some of the areas he suspected the buck would frequent and sure enough he showed a few more times on 3 strategically located cameras. He seemed to be working a 100-acre section of our property. The problem was, he would disappear for days at a time which generally means we were dealing with “a traveling man” who liked to wander about the neighborhood. “Travelers” don’t live long in our part of the country. A neighbor caught him on film a mile away confirming our worse suspicions. We were dealing with a “traveler” and that’s what we called him.
We were also dealing with a buck that appeared to be almost completely nocturnal. His nocturnal wandering habits were keeping him alive for now but before long, the rut would be in full swing and he would throw caution to the wind and start moving during daylight hours.
We’ve been managing 500 acres for almost 25 years, and have come to understand how important land and habitat is to whitetails. We’ve planted dozens of acres of food plots, created hundreds of acres of cover, and set aside hundreds of acres of “off limits” whitetail sanctuaries. We spent hundreds of hours on the land, figuring out the rhythms and cycles of the land; what grows when and where and sometimes even the “why” of natural things and how deer use them. For the first time in our hunting lives, we were actually beginning to understand how deer interact with the land and how important land is to understanding deer. We started to connect the dots and the stage was set to grow and kill mature bucks like “Traveler.”
The buck seemed to be hanging out on a 100-acre or so section of our property. It encompassed 12 acres of food plots, 50+ acres of improved cover, and 5 or so off-limits sanctuary areas. Six or 7 doe family groups called the area home to complete the picture. It was the perfect spot for a wise old buck to settle in.
Our strategy was to settle him in the area by giving him plenty of room and keeping the pressure off him. We’d let our cameras do the work for us. We put the 100 acres completely off limits to hunting and other activity other than checking cameras (once per week at mid-day). We would hunt him when the time was right. We wanted to create a “comfort zone” for him to set up in for the breeding season.
Hunting pressure was mounting in the neighborhood and, if the past was any indication of the future, he would begin to feel the pressure and head for a safe place to set up for the rut. We are surrounded by thousands of acres of big mountain country which is pretty safe to lay up in but the surrounding mountains offer little in the way of quality habitat. If we could “anchor him” on our property, it would only be a matter of time before he showed during daylight hours. Our food, cover, and ample population of “soon to be in estrus” does would entice him to come home and stay home (at least we hoped). It would also only be a matter of time until he started working the hunting complex Neil had built a few years earlier with bucks like him in mind.
And boy, did he ever come home (as the amazing “welcome home” photo below clearly shows). With the developing rut, he not only came home but started to move in the light of day as 4 consecutive days of daylight pictures indicate. He was home, in love, and no longer nocturnal. He was also using the hunting complex Neil had designed. Our cameras had caught “Traveler” on the large destination plot a number of times since the breeding pictures were taken; there was a good chance he would stop by to check out the resident does who feed there every evening. He had become a bit complacent and was doing a good deal of doe-checking in and around the plot. And for good reason, we were 38 days into the archery season and the area had yet to be hunted!
The hunting complex featured a large 6-acre destination food plot, some heavy sanctuary cover and some smaller hunting plots. It was designed with the prevailing winds in mind which were primarily from the SW-W-NW. Years of layout experience went into the design which was carefully laid out with air movement in mind. Any wind from the W-NW would pass across the 6-acre field, then climb above the surrounding woodlands (which rapidly fell off into a valley). The area had all kinds of “clean air” which is what we look for in hunting locations.
We’d set a stand back 30 yards off of the field a few months earlier. The stand overlooked a “natural” crossing gap created by strategically placing brush barriers along the field’s perimeter. You could shoot into the woods, cover the gap, and shoot 10 or 15 yards out into the field if need be. Best of all, the downwind side of the stand featured plenty of “safe air”, so the hunter would not be detected by deer moving downwind of the stand. It was a high probability stand which had already produced a number of mature buck sightings. Neil needed a steady NW wind to hunt it and the weatherman cooperated right on schedule. The hunt was officially on, exactly 52 days after we first laid eyes on the buck.
Neil approached the stand from an access road he built 2 years earlier. The road circumvented the field and the sanctuary bordering it on the downwind side. The deer laid up in the heavy cover would have no idea the hunt was on. Neil’s downwind approach allowed him to slip into his stand undetected with as little scent pollution as possible. He felt he could stay with this stand as long as the wind stayed in the W to NW. Sooner or later, the big ten would drop by the field to check out the evening migration of does; the trick was to be there when he showed.
The downside was that every sit would put pressure on the area and one mistake with “Traveler” could “queer” the area for the season; it would only be a matter of time before this mature buck would know he was being hunted. He would clear out of the area or go nocturnal; he’d be unhuntable until winter weather set in sometime in December. An awful lot of bad can happen to a nice buck like this between the beginning of November and the middle of December.
The evening parade started late in the afternoon. Does and fawns came to the tender greens by the dozen but the “Traveler” wasn’t among them. By the end of the evening, Neil had watched a half dozen young bucks feeding and harassing does but nothing with any age showed up.
Had the buck left on one of his walkabouts again? Was he “busy” some-where else on the property doing his “thing” with a doe in the right mood? Maybe a neighbor got lucky and got an arrow into him? Had he cut Neil’s track and left for safer places? He could be almost anywhere and anything could have happened. Neil played the “what if tapes” all night but by morning, he was back to the plan. He’d stay with this area until the area went “cold” or he had a compelling reason to hunt elsewhere. The wind held which enabled him to play the same hunt card the second evening out.
The stand faced the woods and used a tree to shield the hunter from the field. You had to carefully pivot and peer around it to check out the field which Neil did every 15 minutes or so. An hour into the sit, he pivoted to the field side and saw what he was looking for. The big 10 was following a group of does into the field a few hundred yards away. Even at that distance, there was no mistaking that rack and mature buck body. He marched into the field and started working the does. He went from group to group with little on his mind other than love. Finding none, he didn’t hang around for long; he left the field in the direction of a couple of smaller hunting plots tucked away among a series of off-limits sanctuaries.
Neil was elated; the plan was working. The buck was still alive, using the area, and definitely “on the muscle.” He was behaving like a careless 3-year-old, not the mature old warrior he was, and the night was young! If he hooked up with some does on his “patrol,” they might just drag him back to the big destination plot which would be covered with deer by nightfall. Neil gave himself a better than average chance of catching some “Traveler” action by nightfall. This could be it!
Forty minutes later, Neil picked up the motion in the woods a few hundred yards away downwind of his stand. As the motion turned into antlers he knew the buck was back. His (by now it’s “his”) buck was trailing a doe/fawn group a few hundred yards back in the woods. “Traveler” had picked up with a doe group headed for their night-time snack. They were back in the timber and heading straight for the brush gap under his stand. They were in a “safe air zone,” so there were no worries on that account. The does were looking to feed and headed straight for the field but ol’ “Traveler” had become cautious and was taking his time. He veered from the doe group and started working downwind of the field. He was in no mood to head straight into Neil’s trap. He was a different deer than he was an hour earlier. He was cautious and acting like the old man he was. More than likely he had cut Neil’s track on his earlier loop and was now on the slow and easy. He eventually hit the field 150 yards away and started cautiously working Neil’s way. A lesser buck would have stayed with the does but this guy has seen a few things and was starting to rethink his plan. Another set of fresh man tracks and he might just be “outta here,” maybe for the season. It was definitely a touch-and-go situation.
The need to breed eventually won out and the fog of testosterone once again took control. He moved from doe to doe, slowly closing the gap between him and Neil. He stopped broadside at 31 yards and Neil burned the pin into the buck’s 10 ring and squeezed. The buck was off at the shot, tail down and hugging the ground. He was still on the run when he disappeared across the field but Neil still had a good feeling. The blood wasn’t all that good but the trail ended in a happy ending 20 yards from the “twin oaks” and 5 yards from the exact spot Neil’s grandfather’s ashes were spread a year or so back. A fieldstone etched with “Kindred Spirits” marks the spot.
Ground to Gun Hunting
We offer this account not to “buck brag” or entertain, but to illustrate how the “Ground to Gun” hunting works. Understanding the land deer live on and how they use it is the secret to taking big mature whitetails. The tools of the trade are science, technology, boots on the ground, and learning to think like a deer. You bring them all together and change the way you hunt whitetails forever.
Savvy whitetail hunters who study deer and consistently take mature bucks from hard-to-hunt areas have a feel for it. You see bits and pieces of it flashed on TV and in magazine headlines, but it is more than a 15-second sound bite or a page of print and a picture. “Ground to Gun” hunting is a way of thinking about, and hunting, whitetails which represents the future of deer hunting. It is more than the sum of its parts and has never been brought together in one place – until now. We refer to it as it G-2-G hunting for short.
Neil could not have taken his buck had we not created an environment for him to thrive in. Were it not for the food plots and cover and sanctuaries and a hundred other wildlife-friendly features we’ve added to our property over the years, we would not be attracting and holding mature bucks on our property. This is the stuff of G-2-G.
He could not have taken this buck if he had not spent thousands of hours watching whitetails. Were it not for scouting cameras, and our network of field reporters, and thousands of hours in hunting stands, and a heavy dose of deer science, we would never have developed the insights and under-standings necessary to consistently take mature whitetails in tough-to-hunt country.
We’ve put it all together in “Whitetails: From Ground To Gun”, what we believe to be the most complete book on hunting mature white-tailed deer ever written. We say “most complete” because few, if any, books on hunting whitetails cover the ground or land side of the equation (at least not beyond a cursory treatment.) They talk guns, and gear, and tactics, and even some deer behavior but they seldom, if ever, mention the importance of understanding land in the context of deer hunting. They leave out the first “G” of the “G-2-G” equation and never seem to connect the dots between the land, the deer, and the “how”of hunting them. This book though will connect those dots, and place you solidly on the path to becoming a G-2-G hunter.”
– By Neil and Craig Dougherty
For more on these topics from Neil and Craig, check out their new book “Whitetails: From Ground to Gun“
Quality Deer Management Association CEO Brian Murphy describes this book by saying it “provides detailed insight into what makes a great hunting property and how to consistently harvest mature bucks. It is a clear roadmap to QDM success.”
Pick up a copy today (click here to buy “Whitetails: From Ground to Gun”)