1. What’s your opinion on some common mistakes people make when hunting trophy whitetails?
A.D. “I would say hunting ‘year-old’ sign is one—and not that year-old sign is not good, but in general, most people don’t scout enough and they hunt too much. If you could hunt a day and scout two, your percentages [for trophy success] would go way up. [Most people] find one good spot and jump right in it. I’ll find a spot holding four bucks in the 150-inch class and leave it and never come back, whereas most guys would spend all year there. I’m in a continuous cycle of scouting, then hunting, then looking for a new spot again.
“Or, a lot of guys will go in and set up a stand site in what they’ve determined is a hot spot—and then hunt it a day or two later. They just took their best opportunity, and let it cool down. I have stands that ‘turn on’ at certain times, and I’ve got to know when to use them. As an example, I found one spot that suddenly had huge rubs the size of your leg. It was just torn up, but due to a prior commitment, the next day I was leaving for a week of hunting elsewhere. I came back a week later, and the spot was ice cold. That opportunity had to be captured then and there. I needed to be there the next morning—not a week later. That’s one of the biggest handicaps out there. A typical bowhunter who hunts weekends will think he’s figured out a hot pattern, and then he goes home, and a week later everything’s changed.
“Another big mistake is the thought of ‘overhunting’ a hot spot. I’ve seen guys leave red-hot spots that were really happening—and just let them fizzle out. I would say don’t back off and let that golden opportunity slip away you. When you find really hot sign you need to get on it and stay on it.”
2. Your experience with trophy buck success in October also flies in the face of common wisdom. Early to mid October has traditionally been considered a time for bucks to lay low, and yet you’ve tagged plenty during this time period. How do you explain it?
A.D. “When most guys are experiencing what they call the ‘October Lull’ it’s actually a case of the mature deer making circles around established, over-hunted stand sites. You think those deer aren’t still moving around? They’re just making circles around [sloppy hunters]. I feel the best time to kill a big deer is during the October lull—I’ll bet 80 percent of my deer come from that time period. And in talking with some other good trophy hunters, I’ve heard pretty much the same. Because we’re always out moving around reading sign, we’re staying on those big deer. So we’re always patterning the deer—not letting the deer pattern you.”
3. What do you consider a trophy whitetail—an animal that makes the Pope & Young recordbook?
A.D. “No, not any more. Actually, I think a trophy is whatever deer trips my trigger at the time, but these days, I’ve been trying to raise that bar to 170-plus inches. And the last few years, I guess what I’m looking for is a 200-inch typical. I have access to plenty of 150- and 160-class bucks each year, and find myself passing them. And that’s because, if I know there’s a 180- or 190-class buck on the property, it’s tough for me to settle for anything less than what’s there. I know it doesn’t sound [wise], but it doesn’t make any sense to me to [settle for less than the biggest deer I know of.]
“You might think this crazy, but this past year, I was actually depressed that [my Illinois buck] was the best deer I knew of. I thought it would maybe gross 180 and net just below 170. But it had a pretty unique rack, and, considering I was filming for my TV show Whitetail Addictions, I thought I needed to take it. The gross score was 197 typical, and it will probably end up netting right at 180 typical. I had my heart set on a 170 typical and I didn’t think it would make it. In the end I guess I misjudged the score.”
4. You say you don’t like to hunt an area without knowing its potential for producing trophies, but how does a guy go about knowing the whereabouts of so many big bucks?
A.D. “I utilize a lot of trail cameras. In 2006 I was running about seven cameras, and this year, I’ll probably be using about 20. I think it’s a great scouting tool. In a lot of states you can’t shine any more. So if you want to figure out what’s on a property, it can really put you in the game.”
5. Do you use any special techniques for setting your cameras that maximizes your big-buck images?
A.D. “I’ll put them on trails coming out to fields where they are feeding. Mostly in the summer I like to target feeding areas. In mid summer, I like clover fields. Again, I’m just trying to get a glimpse of what all the best deer look like, and done right, you can pretty much get a picture of just about every deer that’s out there. During the rut, I’ll switch over to scrapes, and then you can monitor what time the bucks are hitting them. Last season we got photos of a big nontypical that was regularly hitting a scrape line between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. People saw those photos and asked me why I wasn’t hunting that deer. But I knew it was a waste of time.
“Traditionally, if all of a sudden you get a bunch of different buck images on the same camera set on a trail, and it’s more toward the rut, it gives you an indication that there’s probably a doe in heat in that area, and it’s time to hunt that spot. In the past I’ve set up a camera at one location on the way in to hunt another, and checked it on the way out [that same day]. That way you can really ‘fine tune’ your stand locations.
“There are a few negatives to game cameras. Some have a tendency to spook some deer. They can get used to it sometimes, and it can harass some deer, but once you get a picture of the deer, you don’t need to keep it [in that spot]. You can move on and find all the bucks on your grounds.
“But the benefits far outweigh anything else. You’re just getting a lot more information, and who’s got time to be in three different states? They definitely do not take the place of old-fashioned scouting, they’re just another tool to use.
“The [Wisconsin] buck I shot in 2005, I didn’t know for sure if that deer was around, and I had hunted that property for 10 days. I was getting pretty discouraged when I checked the camera and boom—that photo really lit me up. They can really make your confidence level soar.”
6. Lots of guys hunt hard and smart, but your results certainly stand out. What do you do differently than most?
A.D. “I think what I do better than most people is read the available sign—’read the defense’ so to speak. As an example, last fall I was hunting Illinois with my son Cody, when a big snow storm hit. Some guys sat in treestands for a week straight afterward, and didn’t see a deer. Not one. After that storm, with the deep snow and hard crust, they just weren’t moving. After a few mornings of no activity, Cody and I adapted to the situation and got creative with it. Instead of sitting on post, I made little pushes to Cody, and soon had him seeing 30 to 40 deer, and he ended up killing a 160-class buck.
“When I got out and did some scouting, I found that normally, there is a good funnel between [a certain] valley from the bedding to feeding areas, but the deep snow had them holed up. You could see where they were bedding, feeding and defecating in the same spot. They were just buying their time and waiting for the snow to soften up. They were stacked up in that spot, and when I did a slow push, they would bust out and then migrate slowly back to it. It was just like clockwork. For two days in a row the big buck with 13 does skirted Cody’s stand using a trail 50 yards away. On the third day we set a stand downwind of that trail. Cody shot the buck not seven feet off the ground. I pushed that deer off the same knob in a CRP bedding area three days in a row. That’s where those deer wanted to be, and they weren’t going to leave that area.
“Another big thing for me is watching the moon phase—and I’ve found that it’s so ‘on the money’ that it’s scary. When I’m not seeing stuff, sometimes you need to realize that, instead of beating your head against the wall, you just have to buy your time and wait it out, for the moon cycle to change. With [the wrong moon cycle] you could get to your stand an hour before sunup, and the deer will already be bedded. You watch the moon cycles, and soon you’ll be able to read that. Maybe you’ll be seeing deer out in the field for a week straight [on the way to your morning stand], and then suddenly there’s not a deer in the field, they’re already done feeding, and in the bedding area. And you can’t beat them to it.
“I’ve always known that deer react to the moon. I’ve always known that for a full moon, the evening hunts are terrible and that to have [any chance for success] I’ve got to get as close to the bedding area as possible, and maybe stay on stand later in the mornings—until about 10:30 a.m. As I’ve started looking at moon charts, I’ve looked at when I killed big bucks, and it’s been right on. I’ve been using [Bowhunting World columnist] Jeff Murray’s Moon Chart, and when it says bedding area, you’ve got to be an idiot to be hunting fields. You’ve got to be hunting bedding areas to be in the game. Why fight it?
“I’m not a scent guy. I don’t use them—but my whole hunting style is to have a buck completely and utterly surprised at the time of ambush. I don’t want to be rattling, calling, or coming [into my stand site] sloppy. Do it right and that deer just does not have a clue you’re there, and that’s the only way I know of for being consistent on trophy animals—you ambush them on what I call a ‘virgin set.’
“I don’t use any perfumed detergents or soaps—I just make sure everything is clean, and I use good hygiene. If I hunt in the morning, I’ve showered and I’ve got on all fresh clothes. Then I’ll get down and scout, find a new spot, then leave, shower again, and put on fresh clothes for the evening. I’ll be coming in again clean, and I’ll keep that cycle going. I’m always in a fresh new spot, and clean and ready to go.”
7. You’re known for hunting trophy bucks aggressively—one account has you actually bumping them out of their beds and then hanging a stand to wait in ambush for their return. Please explain how you came to, and go about this approach, which virtually flies in the face of most everything printed about hunting trophy bucks.
A.D. “I think a lot of people take [this tactic] out of context. Let’s say I’m going to a new property that I’ve never hunted before. In years past, it would take me almost a whole season to learn that property, to learn where the deer are bedding, and traveling through. These days, I like to go there two weeks before I hunt it. I’ll walk virtually every inch of the property and learn where most every deer beds, and I’ll read the sign, and jump specific bucks. And I can learn all that [I need to know] in basically a weekend of tip-toeing around. And then you’ve got a lot of the information without having to burn up a whole year.
“At other times during the rut, because I do so much scouting, I’ve found that when bucks have found a doe in heat, I’ll know it because I’ll jump several bucks in a tiny area. Somewhere there will be a doe in heat bedded in there, and another indication is that the bucks won’t jump up right away and run off. They’ll kind of stand around and jog off a ways, but linger. I like to jump right on those spots, and hang a stand immediately. To have found that kind of a situation just by hunting, that would be almost impossible.
“I get a kick out of guys who think that if you jump a deer, that he’s going to run five miles away. They just don’t do that. They have a home range, and if you know it, and know where he’s bedding, the better off you’ll be. That’s the best information you can have. If I know where a big guy is bedding, I feel it’s just a matter of time.
“Also, there’s a time to go running around and looking for sign like a bull in a China shop, and a time to be stealthy. When you know that you don’t want to screw up a spot, and still find out where a big guy is bedded, I’m going in with the wind in my face. And as soon as I jump that deer, I’m dumping down, out of sight. Often, they won’t even know what bumped them.
“I think it’s all in peoples’ minds about not hunting where they jumped a big buck. [Very few people have] the confidence to hunt that spot, because maybe it’s something they read over the years. The old ‘forbidden taboo’ area. I just can’t wait to dive into there and get in there. And a lot of it has to do with the size of the property. Maybe a guy already knows the property, and he handles it a little differently. If you only have a 20-acre area, you certainly don’t want to bump a deer onto the neighbor’s property. But when I hunt 400- to 600-acre parcels, sometimes I’ve intentionally pushed the deer and stacked them all on one side of the property. I’ve been doing this enough that I can really manipulate the deer, and how they react. Would I do that on 20 acres? No.”
8. We know that for the last few years you’ve used what is largely considered a relatively lightweight compound, of somewhere near 50 pounds peak weight. Why such a light bow?
A.D. “I’ve gone through a whole cycle as a bowhunter, from learning from my inaccuracies, to being able to hold it all together mentally, through what I call the ‘big broadhead’ syndrome—trying to shoot as big a broadhead as possible to do as much damage as possible, in order to compensate for poor shot placement. In the end it’s all about accuracy and shot placement. On the practice range in 70-degree weather I can handle 70 pounds very easily, but in 7-degree weather I prefer a lighter draw, and I’ve found I handle it better in all conditions. For me a lighter bow is more accurate, more forgiving, and it just plays into the whole hunting scenario. Guys who need more poundage for more speed, I just don’t get it. Whether you miss them at 340 or 300 feet per second, you’ve still missed. To me it’s all about shot placement, and handling equipment efficiently.
“In the past I’ve had buck fever so bad I couldn’t even get the bow back, I had tears in my eyes. When you’re paralyzed like that, you’d probably have problems at 50 pounds. But I think the lower poundage helps me with form that prevents that stuff from happening. These days I practice every day, but just a few arrows, and I make the first one count. I just need to make sure my form is fluid—I don’t need to shoot 500 arrows per session.”
9. After bagging 27 bucks eligible for the Pope & Young recordbook, what goal continues to motivate you to continue trophy hunting?
A.D. “Show me a buck that nets 200 [typical] inches, that’s the game I want to be in. It would be nice to find a deer of that caliber, and raise that bar. Right now Ivve set my bar at the 170-inch mark, and I’d like to shoot another. But if a 160 was the biggest one and there was no other big deer around, there is nothing you can do to change that situation— and so that might end up as my target. But right now I can change my situation—I can hunt several states. And so my goal is serious, and it remains.
“Last fall I went out to Ohio, hunting a property that was said to hold a 180-inch deer. It turns out I saw the deer in question very quickly [while on stand], and I guessed that deer probably grossed in the 170s, but would likely net 165 at best. I turned around that day and left for Illinois, where I also had a tag. [My hunting partner] thought I was nuts, but why would I burn up time chasing [that caliber] of deer around? I know what I want, and I go look for it.”
10. What are some lessons you’ve learned about filming and trophy hunting?
A.D. “It’s kind of stepped up the sport to a new level for me. I’ve always said that if guys saw the bucks I saw, they wouldn’t believe it. And now I’ve got the camera, and I’m filming myself. So if you really want to put some pressure on yourself, hunt [world-class-caliber deer] and try to film it yourself. I take a camera guy out [occasionally], but any time you’ve got twice the guys, you get twice the movement and scent. At some point in time, I pretty much figured out [filming myself]. My last two kills, two years in a row, are both Boone & Crockett-class deer in the 180s, and both times I’ve captured the shot on film. And this [past] year, with my Illinois buck, you couldn’t have had better footage with two guys. I’ve got a new camera arm that has really helped with that.
“For our show, Whitetail Addictions, we’re always looking for good footage taken by ‘average Joe’ bowhunters. We like to show what they do for a living, and how they handle the ‘addiction’ in their lives. We get all kinds of people, from machinists to investment brokers and everything in between.”
11. In 2005 you bow-bagged a buck on your own land in Wisconsin that ranked number two in the state at the time, and currently ranks number three. You knew that buck was around because you found its sheds and captured it on a trail camera shortly before shooting it, but how did you close the deal on such an awesome animal?
A.D. “That deer was living in a tamarack swamp, and feeding in nearby clover fields, after dark. I first saw him the year before, when he came out, running does on November 9. I never got a shot at him that year, but I picked up his sheds, which featured a 174-inch typical frame. Looking at those sheds, he was a 10 point coming to be a 12 point, and I knew he could grow enough to be a potential state record.
“He had a large, distinctive track, and the next year the tracks were still there, but I had no sightings of the deer as the season wore on. Then, using a trail camera, I got a photo of him. I looked at that deer, measured one of his rubs in the photo, and I put that deer within an inch of the state record based on the picture. That’s when I thought I could actually crack that nut—arrow the new state record.
“I knew he was running that same field heavy the year before, and when I didn’t see him I had a good idea of where he was bedded. I went in [the swamp] and busted a big deer out of there. I couldn’t see it, but it gave me confidence that it was him. A few days later I was on the opposite side of the field, and saw a [big rack] ghost into the swamp just at first light, near where I jumped the big deer. I walked over and saw the same tracks. So I went back home, got a shower, and went back and hunted that night. What’s wild is, when he came out [of the swamp] that night, he came out on the same trail that he came out on for the first time the previous year. Both times, it was November 9. It was that time, he was starting to come out to play. I actually got in there late, I ran into traffic, and there were a couple deer already in the field. I was on stand about and hour and a half before dark, and he came out just before dark. He ended up scoring 184 7/8.”
12. What are three things any bowhunter can do to improve his odds of bagging a true trophy whitetail?
A.D. “Number one—you’ve got to be hunting where there is a big one. A lot of guys still don’t get it. They hunt a property where they’ve never seen a big deer, or know of anyone who has killed a big deer there. And they wonder where all of them are. If you don’t have them, travel to some areas, or states that do.
“Number two—one of the most-important considerations is the wind. Never cheat it, always play it. Even if you use scent-control stuff, people just don’t realize how cagey the noses of trophy deer really are.
“Number three—get familiar with your equipment so you know it inside and out, and scout, scout, scout. Don’t be complacent with sitting the same places year after year.”