By Mark Kenyon
I have great news.
“Holyfield” – the dandy three year old Michigan buck I passed last year, with hopes of him making it to four and being my #1 target buck in 2016 – is back!
In my first post in this series – “Planning the Hunt for Holyfield: How To Analyze Mature Buck Patterns Before The Season” – I outlined the entire history I have with this buck, as well as some of the pre-season analysis I’d conducted this summer by way of studying past trail camera photos and sightings. And with opening day of the hunting season now just a little over a week away, I wanted to give an update on what I’ve done since that initial analysis and how I’ve fine-tuned my plan to hunt him in the coming days.
So first, the big news noted above, was a huge relief for me this week. Last year Holyfield seemed to spend his summer on a neighbor’s property about 3/4 of a mile away but once velvet came off in September, he moved into my area and was there consistently. My hope was that he’d do the same thing this year and only one day after returning from my two week trip out west, I finally got the confirmation I was looking for.
While glassing this property from the road an hour before daylight on Sunday, I spotted a big framed buck step out of the cover and look out towards the road. Immediately I knew it was him, as he still had that tell-tale clean eight point frame – just bigger, heavier and a year older. My heart leapt abut a quarter mile high and the 2016 hunt was officially on.
That said, after observing his surroundings for a minute or two, he simply turned around and headed back into the cover, leaving me to begin this next phase of analysis and planning.
An Updated Analysis
In the initial “Holyfield” article I posted earlier this summer, I described the analysis I’d done to that point and my main takeaways, but I’ll summarize those again briefly. To begin this whole process, I uploaded all of my Holyfield trail camera photos from 2015 into DeerLab’s trail camera analysis tool and it helped me see a couple big things. First, when looking at DeerLab’s heat map feature, it was easy to see that the vast majority of Holyfield photos – especially those during daylight – were occurring up towards the far west section of this property, and this jived well with what I’d seen for myself in-person too. Additionally, given my observations and the photos, I determined that Holyfield seemed to be commonly using two different bedding areas in this section throughout much of the season (see second map below).
But the big AHA moment came when I looked at the wind directions that correlated with his daylight appearances, and I saw that the vast majority of these were happening with a S or SW wind. As I noted in that earlier post, I typically would never hunt this area with those winds, so this was a big revelation and a big clue that I needed to change things up in 2016.
Now, back to my encounter with Holyfield earlier this week. Immediately after watching him emerge from “Bedding Area A”, I went to check the weather to see what the wind direction was that he had bedded there on. It was NW. This got me thinking, while my trail camera photos mostly showed Holyfield arriving on the food source from the adjacent bedding cover with SWish winds, several of my long-distance observations occurred with NWish winds. So I then went back and looked at each individual in-person observation I had of Holyfield, what the wind directions were, and where he came from during each encounter. Long story short, this little exercise seemed to point to Holyfield choosing which of the two bedding areas he uses based on wind direction. With Northish winds, he seems more likely be bedded in “Bedding Area A” and on more Southish winds, he seems to be bedding in “Bedding Area B”.
This was confirmed even further this morning when I had a chance to get bino’s on this area again, and sure enough, I saw Holyfield. This time though, at 7:15 AM, he was heading from the food plot up towards “Bedding Area B”, and guess what the wind direction was? Southish. Sticking to the pattern.
So, very long story short, here’s what I think I know. Holyfield spends a lot of time up towards the front (west side) of this property – frequently bedding in Area A or B and feeding into the food plot system I created that lies right in between. It seems he shows up in daylight more often with the southern winds and when that happens, he’s usually coming from Bedding Area B. When he has the more northern winds, he tends to bed in Bedding Area A, and while not as frequently as with Southish winds, he does still sometimes come out into the food plot during daylight with these conditions too – but I think a lot of that depends on my own activity. I say that because Bedding Area A is right next to my usual access route into this property. And in the past, before I knew he was bedding here, I’d go walking just 50-80 yards south of his potential bed, crunching away on leaves and making a ruckus. I now know that I can’t do that any longer.
Setting The Stage
With all of these pieces of the puzzle now relatively organized in my head, I’ve got a pretty solid plan for the first few days of the fast approaching season – at least as solid as you can get in this quicksand we call deer hunting.
I worked my tail off in late August to get the aforementioned food plot in the ground because I knew how much it dictated deer movement, and Holyfield in particular, in 2015. That said, despite some serious weed issues I was able to get about one acre of quality food growing in this plot, split evenly between Whitetail Institute’s Winter Greens and Whitetail Oats Plus, and deer already seem to be gravitating to it. That was step one.
Given my assumption that Holyfield would eventually relocate to my farm in early September, I decided that I would completely stay off the farm between the end of August and opening day on October 1st – so in those final days of summer, I finalized several additional projects to help with my early hunts.
First, given my realization that Holyfield is more daylight active on this food plot with Southerly winds, I decided I needed to find a way to hunt here with those conditions. In the past I never could, as there are no trees on the northern side of this food plot system, so in mid-August I brushed in a little ground blind into the food plot screen of egyptian wheat and sorghum that I have surrounding the plot. I then cleared a path from the back of the blind, through the brush, down to a creek behind it – which I can use to access and exit this set. This would be my south wind set-up. In the map above, you can see this blind marked by the north blue dot, the red line shows my access route, and the green arrow showing where my wind would blow to.
Next I installed a fake scrape tree in the middle of the main food plot, equally 30 yards from my south-wind ground blind and my north-wind tree stand – hopefully increasing my chances of getting any buck in the food plot within shooting range. And finally, I set up a trail camera pointed towards that mock scrape, with hopes of it further helping me document future activity – although I haven’t checked it since setting it in late August and I won’t until after my first hunt in that area. You can see the north-wind tree stand marked with the south-most blue dot, with the red line showing my new round-about access route that will hopefully keep me from educating Holyfield of my approach, as well as the green arrow showing the wind I would hunt with there.
The Final Plan of Attack
So the ambush is set, the pieces of the puzzle have been studied and now I wait. Opening day is October 1st and in between now and then I plan on obsessively checking the weather, hoping for a cold front, and scouting this area from a distance. Those 3-4 days before opening day are going to be important – as I want to get a good idea of whether or not Holyfield is coming out to feed before dark during that timespan. If he is, depending on which wind I have, I’ll be setup in my north-wind treestand or south-wind ground blind on opening night. If he’s not showing up in daylight during those preceding days, I might not head in until I get a get cold front/high pressure system/good moon time/etc that might give him that little nudge to move earlier. I want to play this one carefully because I’ve got a great set-up, and a deer that is consistently on my property and following patterns conducive to an early kill. I just need to make sure I don’t give him any reasons to change that.
And there you have it. I hope through this long rambling explanation of my thought-process you can pull out a few ideas that can be applied to your own situation. And in the coming days I’ll be sure to keep you updated through my journal entries on how things go. Hopefully, if all the stars align, we’ll get a chance to see this plan come to fruition in a little over a week. Fingers crossed.
This story was brought to you in part by DeerLab, which was founded by a Wired To Hunt reader/listener. If you’re interested in checking out this tool, DeerLab is going to offer a special extended 30 day free trial for Wired To Hunt audience members, including the ability to upload/analyze 250 photos (rather than the usual 50) within that trial period. Visit DeerLab.com/w2h to check it out.