Top tech for wily bucks

Top tech for wily bucks

Let's face it—the evolution of deer-hunting technology over the past decade has been nothing short of outstanding. From today's incredibly advanced and affordable trail cameras to scent-controlling camouflage apparel, hunters have never had it so good when it comes to gear. Whether you're heading out for the pre-rut, rut, or post-rut, there's now an ever-evolving array of equipment that can make your hunt far more comfortable, enjoyable, and successful. Outfit yourself with the following cutting-edge accessories and the chances are good you'll be rewarded with a mature trophy buck—and a freezer full of natural, healthy venison.

1. Trail cams

1. Trail cams

First things first—if you don't already have a digital trail camera, get one. No, I don't own shares in any of the companies making these nifty devices; I'm just a die-hard deer fanatic who's found them to be an exciting scouting tool. While these revolutionary cameras won't guarantee you hunting success, they just might capture a photo or two of a giant buck you didn't realize lived in your area. Or maybe you'll discover there are twice as many deer than you thought roaming your hunting grounds. Without fail, my trail cameras have shown me bucks I never knew existed on every property I hunt.

If possible, put your trail camera in place well before opening day and keep it afield all season long, checking it no more than once a week. When you do check it, be sure to wear scent-free, knee-high rubber boots to avoid contaminating the area with human odour; I wear Bass Pro Shops' Red Head ShurTrac 1200 because they keep me warm without the need for odour-holding inserts. Note that some cameras can even beam the images back to your home computer. Be sure to place the device in an area that promises deer traffic-next to an active scrape is one sure bet, especially if it's near a bedding site.

Everyone I know who uses a digital trail camera gets hooked. I certainly am. Over the years, I've owned and tested several makes and models, and so far I've found the Cuddeback brand to offer the fastest trigger speed-quick enough to capture a wild turkey in flight. I also use a Bushnell camera, which I like for its ease of use.

Camera tip: I prefer cameras with infrared technology, which is now readily available, rather than flashes for nighttime images. With infrared, the deer will still see the reddish glow of the LED when the photo is being taken, but I believe this is much less intrusive than the flash models I've used in the past.

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2. Scent-reducing apparel

2. Scent-reducing apparel

Next on the accessories list for any avid deer hunter, especially the pre-rut bowhunter, is a carbon-layered scent-control system such as Scent-Lok, which is found in dozens of name-brand hunting apparel. Hunters who take their time in the deer woods seriously should ante up and invest in one of these suits-thanks to the rechargeable, odour-eating carbon layer, they can easily serve as a foundation for your hunting apparel throughout the entire deer season. As deer hunters well know, a wary big buck's sense of smell is his best defence, but a carbon-layered outfit can give you a decided edge.

While these suits don't guarantee total scent elimination, they do trap a significant amount of human odour, reducing your odds of getting detected by a buck unless he's directly downwind. Make sure to also purchase a carbon-layered balaclava: there's no point trying to eliminate odour from your arms, legs and torso if you ignore your head, where most scent escapes. In fact, be sure to wear a balaclava even if you don't have a carbon-layered suit. And if you wear a cap, especially during the early season, make sure to wash it or replace it with a new one after every few days of hunting. Otherwise, the cap will build up a significant amount of odour that will, with continued use, permeate your hunting area.

Outerwear tip: It's vital that you wash all your hunting clothes before the season begins, and once a month thereafter. Use scent-free laundry detergent that's also free of bleach, UV brightener and fabric softener. For example, I use Sport-Wash from Atsko. For other detergent alternatives, check out the gear directory below.

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3. Scent eliminators

3. Scent eliminators

As a deer photographer for the past 20 years-and a deer hunter for even longer-I cannot stress enough how important it is to minimize your scent when trying to get close to whitetails. Scent control is the most overlooked aspect of buck hunting, and far too many hunters don't take it seriously. Before each season gets underway, I buy a new bottle of scent-eliminating spray, which I apply to my boots prior to each and every hunt. I also treat treestands and decoys every time I set them up.

Scent tip: Theoretically, the peak of the rut is the best time to be afield to intercept a trophy buck that's let his guard down to mate. As a result, scent control is generally not as critical during this frenzied time. If you want to see as many deer as possible, however, some measure of odour control must be maintained.

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4. Calls

4. Calls

Deer calls and rattling antlers (or so-called rattle bags) should be included in any avid deer hunter's arsenal. Nowadays, there's a multitude of grunt tubes and deer calls available, and some are excellent at mimicking deer sounds. The one I've relied on for many years is the easy-to-use True Talker grunt tube from Hunter's Specialties. It can make everything from a mature buck's drawn-out tending grunt to the bleat of a fawn, covering the entire range with amazing accuracy in tone and pitch. The True Talker has been available for a number of years and can still be found at most hunting retailers-a testament to its effectiveness.

As for rattling antlers, I've found the real deal works best. To me, a fresh set of sheds, or a pair removed from a buck taken the previous year, offers the most realistic sound. But sometimes, rattling bags can be more practical and easier to carry afield than actual antlers. And they work, too.

While devices such as Hunter's Specialties Rattling Bag have been on the market for some time now, Knight & Hale has come up with another call it says can accurately mimic the sound of two sparring bucks: the Pack Rack Rattling System. Like the rattling bag, it's small, lightweight and easy to use. And if there's a buck within earshot during the testosterone-building stage of the pre-rut, he's bound to check it out.

Call tip: If you're carrying rattling antlers afield, be sure to conceal them while walking to and from your watch so that you're not mistaken for a deer. And if you're hunting from a treestand, don't risk climbing the ladder with the pointy antlers in your hands or pack. Instead, always use a rope to safely raise and lower them to and from your stand.

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5. Scent lures

5. Scent lures

The deer urine industry has become big business in recent years, with many companies producing various compositions for different stages of the rut. Since the first three weeks of October are a tad early to blow a buck's mind with full-blown doe-in-estrous scent, I've found buck urine works as the best attractant during this stage of the pre-rut. Just hang a couple of urine-soaked scent wicks on the branches over an active scrape, and hopefully a buck will come to defend his territory from the perceived intruder.

By November, when the rut is on, it's time to switch up your scent lure to doe-in-estrous urine. With does coming into heat, this is the time to trigger that irresistible instinct in nearby bucks-ideally, your scent wicks will generate the first smells of a doe in heat, resulting in the big boys charging in to investigate.

Throughout the season, I reapply the scent once a week when I check my trail cameras, or whenever I pass by the area while hunting. When you're on your stand, the wicks should be placed 20 to 30 yards away, either out in front or to the side. Never place them downwind, as the buck then stands to also pick up your scent and vanish.

To discover which one of the many urine brands works best on the bucks you hunt, try experimenting. Place a couple of soaked wicks of one brand above an active scrape, then place a trail camera so both the scrape and the wicks are visible through the lens (create a mock scrape if you have to, assuming there are bucks in the area). If no bucks have been caught on camera after one week, try another brand of urine.

Scent lure tip: If you don't have a trail camera, you can still learn if bucks are attracted to your wicks. Simply rake the scrape much as you would a sand trap on a golf course, and study it for fresh tracks each time you visit. If your area is experiencing a dry spell, carry in a few litres of water in a clean container to soak the earth before raking it; that way, any fresh hoof prints will be visible.

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6. Decoys

6. Decoys

Decoys are another way to draw testosterone-charged bucks into range. The latest models are strikingly realistic-so much so, many hunters have mistaken them for the real thing. While the painted markings are extremely accurate, it's the lifelike eyes that seal the deal. Some models also sport heads and tails that bob and sway in the breeze, adding even more realism; the Scarface Deer Decoy from Primos is one such option.

On several occasions, I've watched bucks come in to the older style of static decoys, only to hold up out of range as though waiting for something to happen. Since the decoys remain lifeless, however, the bucks typically become suspicious and lose interest. The newer models with moving parts should entice bucks even closer.

Decoy tip: The most dominant white-tailed bucks in a particular area generally tend to be the most aggressive toward deer decoys. When a big boy is showing interest in your set-up, give him a call on your grunt tube when he's not looking your way. That should do the trick to lure him in to check out the perceived invader-and right into your gun or bow range.

On target : For bowhunters, there's no better way to practise for the moment of truth than by shooting at a full-size 3-D buck target, such as the Full Rut from GlenDel. These lifelike targets allow you to visualize arrowing the real deal, taking into account the positioning of the vitals. If you hunt from a treestand, practise shooting at the 3-D target from the same height as your stand so you get a clear idea of the trajectory needed. Some of these targets are so realistic, they can also double as deer decoys. Just be sure to place a blaze-orange bag over it when heading afield-you can never play it too safe.

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7. Treestands

7. Treestands

Hunting from a treestand is a favourite strategy for many deer hunters, as it puts them above the forest floor and out of the zone where deer normally perceive threats. And depending on wind direction and thermals, treestands can also help reduce the amount of human scent dispersed into the immediate area.

The key to hunting from a treestand is to have a variety of locations and set-ups to choose from. Hunting too often from just one stand—say, more than three times a week—is bound to educate the local deer. In short, they'll pattern you and learn to stay away from the area. You can avoid this by regularly changing stands. This flexibility also helps when the winds change and you need to move.

Portable climbing treestands are a good option for maintaining a seemingly random approach to your set-ups, allowing for opportunities from any number of different trees throughout deer season. Ameristep, API Outdoors and Summit Treestands are among a host of companies that make reputable climbers. Summit's Titan Climber is a nice, roomy model, for example, although it weighs five pounds heavier than the slimmer Viper SS, also from Summit.

Not all hunters are physically comfortable operating climber stands, making strap-on treestands a more common option. Companies such as API, Gorilla Treestands, Lone Wolf Stands and Summit offer an impressive array of models. API's Baby Grand, for example, has been one of my favourites for more than a decade.

Hunters who use strap-on stands typically also use strap-on climbing steps, such as Ameristep's Strap-On Tree Step, or a strap-on ladder to get up to their stands. Some hunters use screw-in steps, but I don't recommend them, as they can loosen over time (and in some regions, they aren't allowed).

When I have permission to hunt on private land, I prefer to construct an 18-foot ladder made from pressure-treated two-by-fours, which I fasten to the tree using metal L-brackets. I've found this to be the most secure, easy way to climb up and down from a strap-on stand. And with the foot platform at 15 feet-my preferred height to hunt deer from-the extra three feet of ladder makes it easier to get onto the stand, which is usually the most precarious part of the climb.

Where space permits, my favourite type of treestand is a ladder stand, which comes with a metal ladder already attached. Nowadays, most ladder stands are very well engineered-it's just a matter of finding one that meets your needs in terms of comfort, height and price. The Partner Pro from Big Game Treestands, for example, is one of many good options.

Treestand tip: Never climb up or down for your treestand using your bare hands. This will leave your human scent on the steps, and passing deer will hone in on it and get spooked. They'll likely even avoid the location in the future. Again, it's essential to keep your hunting area as scent-free as possible to ensure the most deer sightings, especially for mature bucks.

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8. Treestand safety devices

8. Treestand safety devices

There are several reputable manufacturers of treestand harnesses and other safety devices, but in my opinion, the FallGuy 20+ Retractor from Integrated Safety is downright revolutionary. Whoever invented this life-saving crossover from the automotive industry deserves a heartfelt pat on the back. My only question is, why wasn't it already invented?

Little more than a 20-foot retractable seatbelt that attaches to the tree a few feet above the treestand, the 20+ Retractor is incredibly simple. Once fastened, it ensures the hunter is always strapped in, from the moment his foot leaves solid ground until he safely climbs back down at the end of the hunt. Just clamp the tether onto the back of your safety harness and you're ready to start climbing. As you ascend, the line automatically retracts. If you slip, the sudden jerk will cause the belt to lock in place, preventing you from falling

Safety tip: Buy a safety harness that's equipped with quick-release clip-ins for the leg straps, which can easily be released if you ever get stuck or turned upside down. I use a reversible safety harness—cam for bow season.

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9. Blinds

9. Blinds

In recent years, few deer-hunting accessories have evolved as much as ground blinds. Some of the newest versions, such as Primos' Double Bull Blinds, Summit's Run-N-Gun series and Ameristep's Grizzly series, are well camouflaged and roomy. Some even sport bowhunter-friendly mesh that the archer can see and shoot straight through when a deer is in range. Today's blinds are also very easy to set up, take down and transport. My two small Ameristep G-10 Pop-Up Blinds conveniently fold down into a backpack, for example, allowing me to keep my hands free while stalking to and from my set-up location. Dome blinds are also great for hunting during bad weather.

Whenever possible, I prefer to build my own ground blinds out of any available natural vegetation. If necessary, I'll attach a length of camouflage material around the outside to hide my lower body. I always make sure such blinds are tucked under the overhanging branches of a tree in order to break up the outline of my upper body and the blind itself. Natural ground blinds are easy to build-with minimal disruption to the natural scene-and less likely to spook wary bucks.

Blind tip: If you use enclosed dome blinds, try to set them up a few weeks before the season opener. That way, the deer will have become accustomed to them by the time the hunt is on.

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10. Winter wear

10. Winter wear

The primary challenge of hunting the frigid post-rut season is staying warm and comfortable as the temperatures plummet. To last at least three hours in the woods during freezing temperatures, you need to keep your extremities warm-the head, hands and feet are always the first to succumb to the cold. That's why hand and foot warmers are truly great accessories for the late season. Coghlan's, Grabber Warmers, Heat Factory and HeatMax are among the many makers of these air-activated, disposable warmers.

Before heading out, I place one warmer pouch in each glove and boot. They easily double the time I'm able to stay afield, and I can't tell you how many of these pouches I go through each year. For my head, I wear at least two layers, usually an insulated balaclava covered by a thick toque. I also wear five layers of clothing on my upper body and three on my legs; as I slowly walk to my stand, I leave the upper layers unzipped so I don't break a sweat.

On the coldest of days—some December mornings I'll head out in -15°C weather-I take a hand-warming muff that clips around my waist. I then tuck in several hand warmers so my fingertips remain toasty warm for at least a few hours. To stay totally warm, the Heater Body Suit can make motionless hours on the stand pass in relative comfort. There are also several battery-powered heated accessories now on the market, such as Gerbing's heated camo gloves, seat cushions, vests and insoles.

For hunting in snowy conditions, snow camouflage is highly recommended. Buy an oversized suit so it will easily fit over all your other layers. If you don't have snow camo, tuck yourself into some evergreens, or set up against a large tree to make sure your brownish autumn camo doesn't stand out in the mostly white environment.