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The Back 40

2014/15 Deer Season is finally over

Mon, January 19, 2015

Well, it’s finally over.  What’s left of the Illinois deer herd is safe…till next season.

“The sky is falling.  The sky is falling.”  More than once I remember these comments mocking my past blogs about the decline of our deer herd.  I was even called a “hack” by someone when an old blog was reposted by someone on an out-of-state site.  Sadly, I’d bet these same doubters are still around with the same opinion. 

I’m sure there are still some pockets in Illinois, probably many, that have an over abundance of deer.  If you happen to own or hunt one of these pockets, count your Whitetail blessings.  Though you may be tempted to kill a lot of deer on an over-populated property, remember, your property/deer may be what is need to re-populated other farms in your immediate area. 

As my blog title suggests, I am a small property owner/hunter.  Though it’s difficult to have a big impact when only managing very few acres, it is still our duty to do our part.  Maybe even more so since most of us hunt small properties.  With enough of us small-impact people acting as one, we can make a big impact. 

Over the last several years I have spoken with dozens of hunters who all say they’ve noticed a decline in their deer numbers.  This past season, however, it became the only deer topic discussed.  “Big buck” stories were replaced with “Where are the deer?” stories in every local gin mill.  The only people I’ve heard from that are not worried at all about this decline are the few I’ve read comments from on this site.  I’ve now come to the point where I couldn’t care less what those who think our deer herd is in fine shape think.  My guess is that they may be part of the problem…not the solution.  To be a part of the solution, you must first recognize and admit that there is a problem. 

Overhunting and EHD have been the major contributors in my local area.  Sadly, I feel that I can’t control either.  EHD is certainly out of my control, and after talking to some hunters in my area about not shooting anymore does, I feel like I’m talking to a brick wall.  I’m rarely on the side of more government regulations, but this time I am.  If hunters can not control themselves and the amount of deer they shoot, then regulation is needed.  Two either-sex permits per season for resident hunters.  One either-sex permit for non-residents sold through a lottery system.  That’s for all seasons combined.  Gun, bow, slingshot, rocks, whatever.  This ought to satisfy the trophy hunter and meat hunter alike.  And if someone is caught killing beyond their two deer per season, strip them of their hunting privileges in Illinois for five years.  Out-of-season violators get their privileges removed permanently. 

Illinois now has a new Governor.  Hopefully Mr. Rauner will be exactly what this state needs and will make well-advised changes within the DNR.  For those few who haven’t heard of them yet, join the IWA (Illinois Whitetail Alliance)…it’s free.  No other group is more on our side. 

Let’s all hope for a better 2016 season.  Like this year, I plan on shooting only one deer next year.  My herd was in bad shape this year.  Worse than I thought it would be.  Incidentally, my county had a higher kill rate this year.  Go figure.

John Soehn


Blood Trailing Tips Revisited

Tue, September 30, 2014

This is a blog that I wrote a few years ago and was asked to repost every year…so here you go.  This won’t help the seasoned hunter, but it may help the newer crowd.  Feel free to add your own blood trailing tips because I know I left some out.

You’ve just arrowed your deer.  What you do immediately following the shot may decide whether you find your deer or not.  Now is the time to keep your head in the game.  Pay attention.  Watch and listen.  Your hunt is far from over.  Here are some trailing trips that may help you find that trophy of a lifetime.  First we must talk about shot placement.  For archers, the only shots to take, in my opinion, are either broadside or quartering away.  They offer the best kill shot opportunities.  Your arrow will have a clear, and virtually unobstructed, path to the vitals.  Yes, you can take a slightly quartering to shot, but remember, you’ll probably be going through shoulder before you ever reach the vitals.  I shot my heaviest buck to date with a slightly quartering to shot.  The shot was only at 11 yards and I was able to blow through the shoulder and still have complete penetration through both lungs.  Head on or straight away shots should never be taken, especially from an elevated position.  I did hunt with one guy years ago in Kentucky who gave his buck a “Texas Heart Shot”.  Let’s just say that you could have looked for the arrow’s entrance hole for hours without ever finding it.  Bullseye.  The entire arrow disappeared and the deer dropped in 30 yards or so.  Though this was a quick kill, there is very little room for error.  How many people are need to track a hit deer?  Two or three is my number.  Any more creates too much noise and activity.  My eyes aren’t what they used to be, so I like to take one of my kids, particularly my son, Jake, who has eagle eyes.  This boy can find the smallest of drops 20 feet ahead of him with a flashlight.  So it’s good to bring someone along with tracking experience and better eyes than you have.  While on a blood trail, there are a few obvious, yet important things, to point out.  Don’t trample all over the sign left by the deer.  Mark the blood trail every so ofter so you can look back and clearly see the path being taken.  Always mark or have your tracking partner stay at the point of last blood.  Be quiet and move slowly.  If you jump the deer, pay attention to its path and see if it beds down again.  Mark that spot and back out quietly.  Give the animal time to expire or stiffen up.  If you’re tracking at night, use a normal flashlight such as a MagLight.  Forget about those red and green blood lights.  In my opinion, they’re worthless.  After the shot, take note if the deer left with your arrow or did you get a complete passthrough?  If he left with your arrow, was there an exit hole?  If you’ve had a complete passthrough, inspect the arrow.  What color is the blood?  How much blood is on the arrow?  A bloody arrow does not mean a dead deer, and a relatively clean arrow does not mean you won’t find your deer.  Some hits leave an arrow caked in blood with very little damage done to the deer.  A high muscle hit may leave a bloodier arrow than any other shot, but your recovery chances are very slim.  A muscle hit like this will leave very bright red blood for the first 100 yards or so, but will then end abruptly.  Human blood clots quickly, but a Whitetail’s blood clots up to four times faster, putting an end to a blood trail quickly at times.  If you have a high muscle hit, it’s best to wait it out for several hours, possibly till the next day (weather permitting).  Hopefully your deer will stiffen up and die or at least allow for a follow-up shot.  Deer react differently to different shots.  Though not all deer will react the same way to the same shot, patterns have certainly developed.  A good solid double lung shot will usually make the deer mule kick and run hard.  Heart shots will usually make a deer run faster than you ever thought a deer could run…usually tail tucked and low to the ground.  Gut shots will almost always hump a deer up.  They may mule kick like a double lung shot, but they’ll leave the area with a noticeable hump in their back.  Though a gut shot deer can travel long distances, they’ll usually stop within the first 100 yards and may even bed down right there.  Leg and ham shots will also make a deer stop after a relatively short distance.  Liver shots are tricky.  Most liver shot deer will either lay down and die within 150 yards, or take you into the next zip code.  So what do you do after each shot?  Here’s how I handle each shot.  By no means am I an expert tracker, I am just a guy who has tracked well over 150 deer…sometimes doing something right and sometimes screwing up royally and hopefully learning something from it.  I take each mistake and file it into my mental Rolodex.  Here are some of the things I’ve learned.  Bright red blood.  For some strange reason it always gets me all excited…followed by a feeling of ‘Oh, oh.”  Bright red blood usually means a muscle hit.  Not to be too negative here, but good luck finding your deer, you’re going to need it.  Muscle hits may leave tons of blood on the ground or none at all, depending on the location of the hit.  If you have tons of blood on the ground, don’t get overly excited.  Continue to track slowly.  Muscles blood will usually come to a fairly abrupt end.  Tons of blood, then a few drops, then nothing.  As I stated above, deer have clotting agents that will clot their blood four times faster than our blood.  Muscle only hits rarely result in death.  Though your deer may have bled a lot, it has to actually lose 45% of its blood to begin the death process.  That’s a lot of blood considering a Whitetail deer has 1 ounce of blood per pound of body weight.  That means your 200 pound (on the hoof) buck will have 6.25 quarts of blood in it.  He will have to lose about 3 full quarts before death can occur.  You know how big of a blood trail I could make with 3 quarts of bright red blood?  That’s why big blood trails can be deceiving, making us wonder how that deer can still be alive.  My rule on muscle hits….leave the deer alone.  Go after him the next day.  One of three things will probably happen by the next day.  Either you’ll find your deer dead within a couple hundred yards, or your deer may stiffen up and hold tight allowing for a second shot, or he’ll heal up to be hunted another day.  Leg shots are tough.  Leg shots can actually kill a deer quickly, especially a rear leg shot.  The femoral artery runs along the back and down through each of the hind legs.  Cut this artery and you’ll open a faucet on the deer.  If you know you have a leg hit, don’t wait.  Keep the deer moving.  Pushing him will keep the wound bleeding.  Letting him lay up will definitely cause the blood trail to end.  Keep him moving till you either get a second shot or he gives up the ghost.  Leg shots will usually produce bright red blood much like a muscle hit.  Gut shots.  Every hunters worst nightmare.  More times than not you’ll get a complete passthrough.  Your arrow will have some blood on it, but not much.  It’ll be covered in watery fluids and gut material and smell like….well….like a gut shot deer.  Do not push a gut shot deer.  If you shot him in the morning, wait till mid afternoon to track.  If you shot him in the afternoon, wait till the next morning.  More deer have been lost due to gut shot deer being pushed than anything else.  If you have a coyote problem like I do, you may find an eaten deer the next day, but pushing it will not help.  Just take your chances with the coyotes and wait it out.  Even with a 24 hour wait, your deer may still be alive, so track slowly and be prepared for a second shot.  Liver shots.  These can be tricky.  Shoot a deer through the liver, and he’s dead.  Nick the liver with one blade, and he’s dead.  The only questions are how much of a blood trail will he leave and how far will he go before expiring?  I haven’t shot that many deer through the liver, maybe 4 or 5, but I’ve learned something from those few occasions.  I even helped a family member track a liver shot deer once.  With a liver shot, you will more than likely get a complete passthrough.  Not much to stop an arrow behind the shoulder.  Your arrow will more than likely be sticking in the ground, covered in blood….dark red blood.  Liver shots always produce that darkest blood.  Don’t look for liver blood to be dark purple, just darker than normal blood.  The liver is a good bleeder and should kill your animal quickly.  Though I have read many times that you should wait at least two hours before picking up the trail of a liver shot deer, I have never seen them live anywhere near that long.  On the side of caution though, wait the two hours.  Don’t push your deer.  A liver-shot deer usually won’t go that far and will have a happy ending.  If your exit hole is low on the body, you should have a fairly easy blood trail to follow, even at night with flashlights.  With a mid body height liver shot, you should still have a decent enough blood trail to follow.  In my experience, all of my liver hit deer have expired in 10 minutes or less and have been pretty good bleeders.  Like I said though, wait the two hours to make sure you end up with your deer.  Lung shots….ah yes, lung shots.  Love ‘em.  That’s what we all aim for.  They’re the biggest vital organ, there’s one on each side, and they bleed like crazy and kill a deer quickly.  Cut just one lung though and you may have a problem.  I’ve been a victim of the one-lung hit more than once.  Deer can actually live for hours, several hours, with only one lung.  They can even travel great distances on a single lung hit, even if not pushed.  I’ve seen single lung hit deer bed within 50 yards of the hit, get up and walk 20 yards, bed down again….do this several more times, then get up and walk 150 yards or more and bed again.  Make no mistake, a single lung hit makes for a dead deer.  But it can also make for a very long tracking job and phone calls to your neighbors for permission to cross fences.  The double lung is what we all want.  Rarely will a double lung hit deer go farther tan 150 yards.  Sure, some may go 400 yards (I had one of those two years ago), but most will be dead in 20 seconds and cover only 75 yards.  When you lung punch a Whitetail, expect to see the deer mule kick….sometimes almost to the point of flipping themselves over vertically.  These deer will run hard and fast.  Once they stop to figure out what just happened, that’s usually their final resting place.  Not always, but usually.  A good double lung shot will cause tremendous blood loss quickly and the deer will be dizzy from a loss of oxygen rich blood to the brain within seconds.  If the deer stops, watch as he will probably spread his legs out to keep his balance….usually a sure sign that he is about to go down.  Keep an eye on him anyway.  Stranger things have happened.  Lunge blood is lighter in color than blood from other parts.  Almost pinkish.  It will also have tiny bubbles of air in it.  Don’t look for big frothy bubbles, just tiny ones.  Sometimes lung blood is almost frothy and can spill out almost with the consistency of a thin shaving cream.  Though not every time, far more times than not a lung hit deer will blow this light colored blood out of its nose as its lungs fill up.  Sprayed blood is a good sign of a dead deer.  Sometimes you can even hear a lunged deer coughing as it tries to clear its lungs.  The deadly double lung shot.  Go for it overtime.  The heart shot.  We usually don’t aim for the heart, it’s just a bonus that occasionally comes with a good lung shot.  Talk about a bleeder.  To hit the heart, you’re guaranteed a low exit hole.  A low exit hole along with a hole in the heart,…Ray Charles could find that deer.  When shot through the heart (and you’re to blame….sorry….80’s reference), deer usually run low and hard with a huge blood trail.  It can look like you opened up a faucet on both sides of the deer.  Plus, unless you somehow shot straight down or at some weird straight on ground angle, you probably also got at least one lung.  You can start climbing out of your stand before he even hits the ground.  But don’t.  Calm your nerves, then climb down.  Don’t ever climb down until you’re completely calmed down.  You just killed a deer.  It’s a good day.  Do’t ruin it.  Like I said, I’m not an expert, but I have learned a few things over the years.  To most of you, this stuff is all obvious and goes without saying, but hopefully someone gets something out of it.  I hope everyone has a great season.  Stay safe and kill the buck of your dreams. 
John Soehn


Who’s Excited About Deer Season?

Tue, September 23, 2014

As Illinois deer hunters, we have certainly been thrown a few curve balls these last few seasons.  EHD, CWD, poor game management, over hunting, and drought have all made the news too often. 

This, however, is a new year.  The year we can start taking matters into our own hands.  I’m sure you’ve heard of Voluntary Restraint by now.  This is the year to implement it.  Try to get as many neighbors on board as possible.  If your area is suffering from low deer numbers, let the ladies walk.  Let the young boys walk too.  That said, if I am in need of deer meat and my deer population is lower than I’d like, I’d rather take a basket rack out of the herd than a breeding doe.  In a few short years, you’ll have more deer and bigger bucks.  You are your property’s best manager. 

Like most small property owners, I didn’t need the state or anyone else to tell me how many deer to shoot.  When I first acquired my 50 acres, the deer numbers were very low.  The only reason I bought the place was because I knew it had tons of potential.  Although I’ve seen that potential realized the last few seasons, this year I’m feeling particularly proud of my efforts.  As strange as this sounds, I rarely get does on trail camera pictures.  I’d say my pictures are 95% bucks.  This runs parallel with my actual sightings throughout the last few seasons.  This year is different though.  This year I’m seeing does on camera with some consistency.  We haven’t shot a doe on my place in 2-3 years now and I think it’s finally showing.  My buck numbers as a whole appear to be about the same, but the number of quality bucks has jumped this year.  That doesn’t mean I’ll get one, but it certainly increases my odds.  Boy I hope I didn’t just jinx myself. 

Being your own land/game manager can be frustrating.  Neighbors aren’t always in agreement…especially when it comes to letting certain bucks walk or not shooting does.  Our own DNR seems to work against us at times.  It does work though.  I only own/manage 50 acres.  I feel as though my place doesn’t even exist when I hear others talk about their 300, 500, 900 acres hunting paradises.  My 50 acres is proof, though, that you can make a difference…even on small parcels.  My 50 is far from perfect.  There are still several costly things I’d like to do to increase my deer sightings and holding capacity, but the improvements I’ve made so far have really begun to prove themselves worthwhile.  I’m more than happy with the outcome of my improvements. 

I usually only have one buck that I am after, but let’s just say this year I feel a bit more fortunate.  My goal in the past has always been to get the one deer I was after.  This year my goal is to get each of my two kids a mountable buck…or at least one of them.  It wouldn’t be too terrible if I happened to get one as well. 

I hope your season is as great as you want it to be.  Be safe, hunt hard, and enjoy your time outdoors this deer season.  Feel free to share pictures of the one you’re after this year.  I’ll share mine when I’m hopefully kneeling behind him. 

John Soehn


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