Hunting: It’s About The Experience

By Nathan Unger

As I’m writing this I’m driving to my home state of Virginia for one last shot at a mature buck that has filled my dreams since January. The season is almost over and I’m not sure where it even went! So in an event to reflect on this past season, instead of giving out some pointers, I wanted to reminisce on what this year has meant to me and talk about some of the tokens I’ve gleaned from the experiences.

This has been one of those years where the experience has had to be more important than the kill. This is mainly because, thus far, I’ve struck out on a mature buck.   I’ve been in the woods 25-30 times this season which is pretty good considering I work a full time job. However, with limited time and fluctuating temperatures, I’ve had one heck of a time trying to match up the perfect conditions, and the few times I did, I still didn’t have any luck at a mature buck.

However, looking back on the season, I have constantly asked myself one question.

“Did I do everything possible to put myself in a position to succeed?”

My answer to that question, quite simply, would be, “No.”

Due to unusually warm southern temperatures the deer have been suppressed to nocturnal movement much of the season.  The two opportunities I had were difficult and required extreme patience which is my first token I took from this season.

1.) You can never have too much patience while hunting

I was hunting the weekend before Thanksgiving in northern North Carolina which during that time of year, during the rut, I typically see several deer. This specific day I hadn’t seen any. My first mistake was assuming that I wouldn’t see anything just because I hadn’t seen anything the first two hours in the stand.

I knew better than this.

At 9:30 a.m. after three hours in the stand I decided to adjust my swivel seat in our box blind. Low and behold I didn’t get a chance to spray some WD40 on it and it squeaked as I rotated. Next thing I know something behind me less than five yards away jumped up out of the thicket and pranced off. As I turned around trying to get a peek at what it was I caught a glimpse of white bone bouncing through the pine trees which leads to my second token I took from this season.

2.) Preparation leads to success

Had I either not moved or properly fixed my seat beforehand I would have had a nice mature 10 pointer at less than five yards. As I sat there mentally beating myself up for squabbling the opportunity, within minutes I heard more movement. After seconds of looking to see what the noise was, there was another mature buck trotting in the thicket behind me having no idea I was even there. My Horton crossbow was still sitting next to me because I never would have thought a second mature buck would have followed the first one I spooked. Clearly I was wrong!

3.) You HAVE to maintain mental toughness

Deer hunting, especially archery hunting, can be one of the most mentally taxing endeavors a hunter can experience while he or she is in the field. As I continue to gain experience bow hunting I never stop learning this. As many of you know, and many of you will learn, you will hunt often times without shooting anything, and sometimes you may not even see anything. This has discouraged me all season, but until you can learn these valuable lessons you can never truly enjoy the experience of being outdoors. As I’m writing this a young spike buck walked 30 yards from me and, for me, just seeing that young deer makes my hunt worth every hour even if I don’t shoot anything.

All this to say, don’t give up, don’t be discouraged, enjoy the experience and keep hunting!

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Deer Management And Why I Do It

By Nathan Unger

One thing I believe all or most hunters can agree with is that the deer population has to be managed in some way in order for our sport and livelihood to survive through the next century. However, not everybody practices management in the same fashion. So what I want to do in this article is provide some ideas of what has worked for me the last several years at the property I hunt now and provide some tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Growing up, shooting a buck was my only goal. It didn’t matter how big, how many points or how old it was I just wanted my first buck. At the time, two of my brothers were collectively aiming for the same goal. So what happened? All three of us shot our first buck the next two seasons. Two seven pointers and a spike buck.

My first buck (December 2012)
My first buck
(December 2012)

Season three (at this specific property) roles around in 2012 after we shot these bucks, and we wanted what any hunter wanted. To shoot a bigger buck. The problem was we didn’t see any, but little did we know the impact of shooting three  1 1/2- 2 1/2 year-old bucks the preceding two seasons was going to have on the age of the males in our herd. The next two years we made a pact (my dad, brothers and I) that we wouldn’t shoot any bucks that we didn’t want to mount. That way the consequence of our shots would affect our bank accounts, so we wanted to make those mounts count, and we decided if we wanted meat for the freezer we would manage the does in our herd.

That’s exactly what we did!

The following season we began seeing some results of our management. I was hunting towards the end of November in 2013 and was able to take a good 3 1/2 year old buck (picture is on the “Trophy” page).  The next year my brother was able to record his biggest buck to date – a nice 4 1/2 year old in late December. We really started seeing the fruits of our management at the end of the season in 2014  when we captured two 4 1/2 years old bucks on camera. This 2015 season, there are at least three 130″-140″ class deer with the potential to grow even bigger.

I write all this to say that when we started we didn’t look much beyond the current hunting season, and we believed that somehow big bucks would just magically appear out of thin air. After studying big bucks and educating ourselves on deer management we discovered that in order for them to grow you might just have to pass on them when they’re young.

As far as does our concerned, the age-old question posed is – “is it better to shoot older does or younger does?” What I’ve deduced the past several years from articles and other knowledgeable experts is if you want to grow your deer herd shoot younger does, and if you want to thin out your herd shoot older does. This is because older does our able to foster their young during the winter better finding cover and food sources more effectively, and they are able to protect their fawns from predators better than yearling does can.

Now, I understand that not everyone has the ability to hunt multiple times a year or has private property that they can manage overtime, so I get that. I really do. I know some hunters hunt public land that is pressured by other hunters so any deer is a good deer. I’ve been in similar situations before and understand not everyone hunts for trophies, and providing for you and your family is a  higher priority. So don’t think I’m trying to impress this belief that you should only shoot 4 and 5 year old deer.

However, I do think we need to be cognizant of the overall deer herd. We need to educate ourselves and others about this precious resource – about the negative effects of not practicing management, but moreover, educating others on the overwhelming positive effects of quality deer management.

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Four Things I Learned From The 2014 Deer Season

By: Nathan Unger

With each new hunting season comes new obstacles, new challenges and hopefully new trophies. That’s why each hunting season is just as exciting as the last if not more exciting.  Sometimes this means that unexpected scenarios occur that one needs to be aware of in order to be put in a position to put the big buck down. Here are five things I learned or was reminded of this year after nearly a decade of hunting.

1.) Preparation = Success.

This might be a no-brainer, but the little things that are done correctly ahead of time can put you in a position to succeed when you’re on stand during the peak time of the season. Those that hunt out of box stands can make sure to clean out leaves, wasp nests and other clutter that can make noise when you’re hunting. Make sure that stands are tightened and seats are oiled somehow. WD-40 is easy to use in order to eliminate squeaks and unnecessary sounds when hunting. Be sure that rotten wood is replaced and loose wood is properly tightened. These simple tasks can be avoided during the season and can provide great success when the hunting is hot.

2.) Spooking deer will not always ruin your hunt.

It’s always a hunter’s nightmare when he or she spooks deer walking into a stand. Unfortunately I learned this the hard way this year when I had a late start to my stand and spooked a herd bedding in the woods on a hillside on my way in. These deer either winded me or saw me or both, but either way it was not a good beginning to my hunt. However, a separate occasion I started walking into my stand and spooked a group that was bedding down in a thicket. Later that morning, my brother killed his biggest buck to date near where I had spooked the deer a couple hours earlier. The key to this success is playing the wind. This might be obvious, but it’s the solid truth. This was the first year in my hunting experience that I really paid attention to the wind, and nearly every time we had success was because the wind was in our favor.

3.) Know the food of choice each season

This year was an exceptional year for acorns which in my neck of the woods, pun intended, made it hard to hunt over food plots. Typically we’re fortunate enough to take a deer or two over our food plot each season, but this year we didn’t take a single one. Given, there were a lot of variables involved for not hunting the plots as much such as more deer on a certain portion of the property, hunting more often on or near the woods and hunting a deer we had patterned near a stand on a treeline. However, these variables all had three common factors: ample acorns, a water source and a bedding area. Piles and piles of acorns layered the ground this year which allowed deer not to have to travel as much, especially later in the season.

4.) Never take your property for granted

I think sometimes we forget how blessed we really are. Some hunters may have the means to hunt thousands of acres, and some may have less than one hundred. Either way it could all be gone in the blink of an eye. Whether it gets sold, ravaged by fires, cut for timber or the deer simply just leave it doesn’t matter. The point I’m trying to make is to enjoy the time you have while you have it. Enjoy it with friends or with family but don’t forget to take a moment to sit back and be thankful for the blessings given to you.

(Written by Mr. Nathan Unger. Nathan is a Senior at the University of Georgia majoring in Public Relations. Nathan is an avid hunter and a passionate outdoorsman from Southwest Virginia)

The Quest For Uni-brow

It’s always thrilling when you discover new bucks on your property that you didn’t know existed. Such is the case with the infamous buck Uni-brow we discovered the week before Christmas this year. He was first seen trailing two does followed by a couple of other smaller bucks. This was exciting because up until this point we thought that an eight point that is only 2 1/2 or 3 years old was the dominant buck in the area. This was clearly not true.

Three days later we spotted the buck at dusk crossing a creek bottom so fast that he didn’t present a shot. The odd thing, though, was that he was already with a bachelor group of bucks. The oddity wasn’t that he was with two or three bucks. He was with SEVEN! After the hunt that night we got together and talked about a game plan to get a shot on this buck.

Because this buck was so elusive we were not sure we would see him again since it was late in the season. Low and behold we were wrong.

Christmas Eve day my brother and I decided to get up and brave the rain to see if we could spot this buck. It had started raining early that morning, and was pouring by the time we arrived at our hunting destination. The stands we wanted to hunt were a solid mile into the woods, and the only thing we had to keep us dry was the roof of our Kubota over our head. We decided to park several hundred yards away and walk in for fear that the Kubota would get stuck in the mud. Today was not a day to get stuck while it was pouring rain.

The two of us had discussed the night before that we would be patient for the buck and not shoot any does since both of us had already gotten one a piece. With this goal in mind we began trekking through the woods in the torrential rain. We settled in early before light with cloud cover that provided several more minutes of low light. We got in our box blinds, and I began taking off my wet outer layer of clothing to stay dry. Nothing was moving the first part of the morning around my stand, but little did I know Caleb’s experience was quite the opposite. I could see several turkeys coming out of the woods down the hill about 200 yards off by a creek bottom, but still no deer.

Around 8:40 am, I heard a shot. At that moment I knew he  had a chance of taking down this big deer. In my excitement I immediately radioed him and waited for a response. “I don’t know if I got him. I made a good shot, but he came running out of the woods right at me,” Caleb said. There were still deer in the area so we had to stop using the radios for a little while. Finally, I get a call on the radio saying, “He’s huge!” Caleb tracked the deer’s blood trail down to a ravine where he had seen deer run before. “I knew where he was going,” Caleb said. The deer ended up in a ravine where the two of us had to drag him out and up a hill where our RTV couldn’t get to. Finally we got the deer loaded, and off we went back to the cabin. On the way back we called home to say we had gotten a deer, but didn’t stress how big it was. When we arrived back at the house it was all summed up by the first expressions of family members when they saw the big buck that will forever be remembered as the Uni-brow buck.

Caleb's deer on Christmas Eve morning
Caleb’s deer on Christmas Eve morning

(Written by Mr. Nathan Unger. Nathan is a Senior at the University of Georgia majoring in Public Relations. Nathan is an avid hunter and a passionate outdoorsman from Southwest Virginia)