Tag Archives: Whitetail Deer

Dear ol’ Deer Camp: 2018 Version

I shot the biggest buck I’ve ever taken off of our family farm this year. He’s not among the largest I’ve ever taken and barely would rest inside the top-10 by looking only at his antler size. But he’s special and will go down as one of the most memorable.

But that’s not what this recap post is about.


One of the most picturesque deer drags I recall!


It’s about spending the opening week of New York’s gun season with my family and seeing the sunrise on the season from a tree on our home farm for the first time in many years.

It’s about the cadre relationship that hunting camp provides.

It’s about cold mornings where the fireplace at camp feels a whole lot better than Mother Nature’s bitter touch on your cheeks.

And it’s about the reverence for a camp diary.

Each fall, many deer publications publish stories about deer camp. I love reading them all. Stories of the brotherhood that exists when families and extended families come together in the big woods of the north country, or in Michigan’s upper peninsula, … or anywhere else … have always caught my attention.


One of the spectacular views Mother Nature provided

This year was no different. I read an easily relatable story about deer camp, written in first-person by Dan Ladd (“The Joy of Deer Camp”) in New York State Conservationist magazine and got me excited before I even stepped foot into camp.

We weren’t necessarily at full capacity in our deer camp this year, but we had a bigger group than we’ve had in a long time. My brother Doug, uncle Paul, cousin Nicholas and nephew Matthew, represented three generations of family. My young son, Reid, also joined the group for a day of sharing the family woods!

Buck photo

My brother Doug and me sharing in the success!

Once a rookie of the camp himself, uncle Paul now represents the old guard. He married into our family over four decades ago. A “city guy” who married a farm girl in my late aunt, Paul had broad enough shoulders to join her brothers in camp, taking all of the ridicule that comes with being new to the sport of hunting. I’m happy to report he acclimated quite well and became a fixture at camp, to the pleasure of my late father and our family.

Uncle Paul shared stories this year about his first years in camp. Needless to say, he experienced a great deal of ridicule and good-natured hazing that would typically be reserved for a rookie joining a sports team. I’m a few years older than his son, Nicholas, who has been a mainstay at camp since he was a young teenager.


From (L) to (R): Brother Doug, me, Cousin Nick, Uncle Paul

My nephew, Matthew, came into camp riding a three-year streak of punching his tag (and was able to fill it again this year)!

There were drinks. There were stories. There were fun memories of our family members no longer with us. The pool table, even with its minor off-kilter intricacies, became proving grounds one evening. The poker chips had the dust blown off of them for an evening of cards.


Another beautiful view afforded by the snow.

Memories of successful hunts that culminated with shoulder mounts in the cabin were bandied about. Our camp diary, an invaluable asset that has 40 years of history documented, was utilized as a reference point a number of times. Uncle Paul has served as the primary scribe of the diary over its entire existence. Others add only when he’s not available to do so.

It’s often discussed, but there is just something cleansing for the soul when it comes to the time at deer camp. Having experienced some semblance of camp across a number of states, there are many common threads that connect the spirit of deer camps everywhere. Those who have experienced it know it and no documentation of deer camp can do it perfect justice.


My son, Reid, joining in the fun on a cold, cold morning!

Perhaps that’s why I remain a sucker to the stories – to pull those parts that carry a similar look and feel to my own experiences.

I look forward to introducing my own kids to it.

There also were successes. The best part of those during deer camp is the ability for everyone to bask in that feats. In this case, everyone played an important role in the process – especially with over a foot of snow on the ground!


Cousin Nick and I share a photo before taking to the woods.

Of course, the week culminates with figuring out who won camp’s big buck contest! This year, my buck was fortunate enough to take the honor.

Once the bags are packed and camp is cleaned, departure day comes with its sadness. More than 50 weeks of great anticipation and mental reps have ended with “goodbyes.” The countdown, though, to next season’s deer camp begins.

Failure in Familiarity

It simply hadn’t happened before, the path made by the old, wise doe.

Shooting Lanes

The view from old faithful. Updated travel routes kept the shooters out of archery range.

And with it, came little appreciation for the likelihood that the long-proven patterns of deer in this area of my farm had indeed changed.

It wasn’t until after I saw more deer, including a fine 8-point buck, make the same route from a common bedding area and into the hardwoods, that I realized deer aren’t behaving the same as they had for many years.

Even after briefly scouting the new, well-established trails on this new route well away from my faithful stand, it was hard to consider a change needed to be made. You see, many bucks have passed by this stand over the years, and no fewer than three bucks have been arrowed within 40 yards of this tree. Surely, this was the ideal location to be sitting.

Except it wasn’t. And it played a small role in not filling my 2018 archery tag. So too did my stubbornness to not change the stand location earlier.

Familiarity can be a detriment to an archery hunter. The reams of data that exist within a hunter’s memory from decades of hunting a familiar location can skew his or her decisions. That was reinforced enough in me this year that I’m eager to consider how I’ll change several of my stand locations for 2019.


This young buck followed one of the familiar trails.

Upon further pondering the challenges of familiarity, it dawned on me how valuable scouting can be to a new hunting location. These are often the most valuable – and fun – elements of hunting the unfamiliar. Those minutes and hours dedicated to learning about the local deer of a location can often be the primary indicator of success.

And advanced scouting before hunting familiar ground should  be no different.

It sounds simple, and it probably is. But when you’re coming from hundreds of miles away to ground you know as well as your backyard, you try to skip the scouting update portion of the hunt and take advantage of the knowledge you already have.

It’s easy to do, right?

Things change within the terrain (felled trees, food sources, erosion, etc.) that provide enough of a reason to, at minimum, confirm your intuitions.

I should have done that. I’ve learned my lesson. And leave it to those old, wise does to teach me.

Things Change While Anticipation of the Hunt Remains

Things are different now. Some parts are better, some are … well, different.

I was able to catch up with my buddy Nick Pinizzotto today, and we spent a good deal of time talking about the evolution of our hunting passion.

the view

In a little more than a week, I’ll be enjoying the familiar view from the woods with bow in hand!

Days of worrying about how big the buck might be on the receiving end of an Easton arrow have been replaced more by the full nature of the experiences.

That’s not to say that we don’t dream of big bucks, or that the experiences of yesteryear weren’t important. It’s just that the priority is … well, different!

Nick, who also serves as the Executive Director of the National Deer Alliance, recently moved back to his home stomping grounds in Pennsylvania. He became a father a couple of year’s back. Both of those life changes have an innate ability to change perspective on the true values of hunting. We spoke at length about the eagerness of hunting with our kids – how that trumps any time we spend in the

fun in blind

Having a little fun in the blind while waiting on deer can be an acceptable practice these days!

woods on our own.

I’ll be returning to my own home land in Western New York in just a week to spend several quality days looking for the biggest, oldest and baddest buck on the farm. The likelihood of seeing a buck soaring near the minimum Boone & Crockett standards are very low. I know that going in, but my excitement to get there couldn’t be much greater.

For starters, I don’t take the hunting part quite as serious. I still work hard and put in my time, but saying that is more of an indictment on how serious I used to take deer hunting.

nap in blind

So too can taking a brief cat nap!

Additionally, my new career has me headed to the woods during the heart of the rut without the backdrop of serious end-of-season stress that my former job at NASCAR provided. I’ll be able to dedicate my energy to the daily chess match with the land, trying to execute a strategy that puts me within reach of taking a great deer.

This trip also means so much due to the fellowship with my dear friend, Kenny Roberts. We’ve made this trip together for over a decade and it serves as our opportunity to catch up on family, friends, parents and life. Over the years, there have certainly been more laughs than tears during those conversations. That said, there always is some time earmarked to get serious about life and chat through many of the important stuff in each of our lives.


Greg Johnston with NYS’s No. 1 muzzleloader buck in 2017!

It’s likely I’ll be able to see another friend and frequent AHT contributor Greg Johnston, who 21 years ago joined me as the renegade who would skip out of classes at our Basilian Catholic college to chase bunnies and deer all over Western New York. Just seeing Greg is always enough to get you excited.

Just as special for this trip, though, is the land. I love it on our family farm. I took it too much for granted as a young hunter. It’s hard, as a teenager, to understand that very few have the opportunity to leave school, grab their bow and get into a tree before dark. I thoroughly cherish my time spent in those woods now. Those woods shaped me more than I can easily explain.

Here’s to the challenging week ahead that will be anchored with anticipation. I can’t wait for the journey there, the cabin upon arrival, the time together with friends while I’m there. I can’t wait to get into a stand and steal a small part of that magical time during November when the rut is in full swing.

Come to think of it, maybe not everything is different now.


Success Misses Something, Sets Course for New Traditions

The setting was magical and paid off countless dreams my imagination summoned for the last several months.

I was in my favorite tree on the west side of the Mississippi. The wind was ideal and delivered what this day’s forecast had predicted over the previous five days. The calendar corresponded to


The author with his 2016 Midwestern Whitetail Success.

those supreme days of November that eons of history have shown to be premium for having a shot at a buck-of-a-lifetime.

And I did.

It was an amazing feeling – euphoric in every way. Through the hours of jubilation that followed, though, I was quick to realize that something was missing. I knew it immediately, and I’d be lying if I didn’t forget for a moment that this great tale would miss an important piece that all others of its kind had held over the last two-plus decades of bowhunting.

Immediately following a moment like this, I have a small checklist of folks to communicate with to follow along with a fruitful hunt’s conclusion. My dad was always position No. 1 on that list. On this successful day, one of the most memorable and enjoyable of my hunting career, he was not there.

He passed away nearly three years ago, but him following along via phone calls or text messages when I connected with a big buck was among some of the best parts of the journey. No matter which state I was hunting.


Another view of the beautiful deer.

I think it was fun for him too. He often offered advice or positive reinforcement from afar, doing his part to feel like he was alongside me the way he was all those years tracking deer on our farm in Western New York.

I wiped away a few small tears selfishly wishing I could call him.

I knew I couldn’t reach him, but prayed he was following from afar this time too.

Don’t get me wrong. Being able to connect on a majestic Midwestern whitetail remains one of the best feelings a hunter could have. This time was no different.


A magical day, only one thing was missing from making it even better.

I celebrated success with some of the dearest friends a deer dude could ask for – both in person and by phone. It was just missing some of the individual tradition that had for so long accompanied the joy.

Like all traditions, this one must change too. For me, I welcomed the updated version of celebrating with my own kids, who are still too young to hunt, but know the passion the outdoors has sowed in my soul. I look forward to their successes afield someday. Then, I hope to become part of their small checklist too.

Maybe even position No. 1!

Chasing Game Through a New Lens

It would be a fib if I insinuated that the thrills were equal. They’re not.

But there is something about chasing the perfect photo that sparks a fire in me that closely resembles hunting success.

Bobber reflection on the water

Bobber reflection on the water (click photo to enlarge)

My wife commemorated my last birthday with a new D-SLR camera that has more bells and whistles than I remember on my SLR piece long before digital came about. I’ve enjoyed taking all kinds of shots since.

The good news is most of your professional style camera equipment today is fool proof … with limitations. For instance, I’ve been getting pretty solid photos in the first two months I’ve been shooting, but can understand where some of the accoutrements available can improve your shots.

Redheads swimming in their familiar lines on the water

Redheads swimming in their familiar lines on the water

Simply put, you can be as good as your wallet will let you!

Within this post are a few of my early shots with the camera and lenses I currently have. I’ve enjoyed the chase so far, trading my gun for the camera when seasons have gone out, or I’ve taken a hike on a Sunday (when hunting is closed here in NC).

I look forward to sharing more photos, and hope that one day I look at these and make jokes about the infancy of my photo-taking career!

An 8-point not seeming to mind the snow covering his face

An 8-point not seeming to mind the snow covering his face

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

My daughter and nephew having fun on a winter day

My daughter and nephew having fun on a winter day

A Greenhead's colors glowing on retrieve

A Greenhead’s colors glowing on retrieve

The familiar curiosity of a mature doe.

The familiar curiosity of a mature doe.

All Business!

All Business!

A winter day's meal

A winter day’s meal

From acorns grow mighty oaks

From acorns grow mighty oaks

Eyes into a best friend's soul

Eyes into a best friend’s soul

Lots o' divers

Lots o’ divers

The kiss

The kiss

Mallards retreat

Mallards retreat

American Widgeon

American Widgeon

A Hunting Future in Peril?

If you’re anything like me, the next couple statistics will scare you. They will make you think. And they may just make you consider introducing someone new to hunting next time you hit the woods.

According to a recent management plan released to the public by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the number of deer hunters in that state has decreased by 40 percent in since the mid-1980s.

Management Plan for White-tailed Deer in New York State 2011-2015

Further, an article by John Ozoga in the August 2011 issue of Deer & Deer Hunting notes that only 69 hunters replace every 100 who stop hunting nationally. Some states are as low as 26 new hunters per 100 churned out.

Not one thing about those statistics is good.

Few who follow the hunting industry can be surprised by those numbers. For years, we’ve been exposed to the steady decline of hunters in the woods. The aging population of America coupled with the growing movement of our country’s population to more urban environments is driving the significant drop.

As hunters, it’s time for us to put our crosshairs on recruitment – not just to save the future of our sport, but also to introduce new people to a sport that is cherished by so many of us.

I applaud New York’s DEC (something I rarely do, by the way) for initiating and developing a plan that includes a significant recruitment plan as part of its deer management. While still in the review stages, the DEC invested more than two years researching, assessing and developing the current plan. It currently includes six goals:

“1) Manage Deer Populations at levels that are appropriate for human and ecological concerns; 2) Promote and enhance deer hunting as an important recreational activity; 3) Reduce the negative impacts caused by deer; 4) Foster understanding and communication about deer ecology, management, economic aspects and recreational opportunities while enhancing DEC’s understanding of the public’s interest; 5) Manage deer to promote healthy and sustainable forests and enhance habitat conservation efforts to benefit deer and other species; and 6) Ensure that the necessary resources are available to support the proper management of white-tailed deer in New York.”

I personally think six goals is a bit lofty. In reading the 50+-page plan, I think No. 3 could be whittled down as it would be a likely output of accomplishing several of the other goals. That said, with the exception of getting a few objectives that really would be defined as strategies or tactics, the plan is well thought out and includes consideration for much of the feedback the DEC heard from hunters via several research-gathering tools.

So how does NY plan to recruit to help the hunter deficit? There are five objectives laid out in the plan.
1) Promote recreational hunting among all New Yorkers, as a safe, enjoyable and ethical activity and as the primary tool to manage deer populations.

2) Establish deer hunting seasons, regulations, and programs that are effective for deer population management and that encourage hunter participation, recruitment, retention and satisfaction.

3) Promote efforts to reduce harvest of young (less than 1.5 years old) bucks.

4) Improve hunter access to public and private lands.

5) Consider other forms of outdoor recreation with or affected by deer management.

The plan dives further into each of those strategies with several strategies for each objective. I encourage you to read these, and other elements of the plan. There are several elements of the plan that can help each of us come up with little ways we can do our part in recruiting new hunters.

Our sport’s tomorrow depends on us doing something about hunter recruitment today.