“That Ruger FTW Hunter of yours really does like Hornady 250-grain GMX, doesn’t it!” commented Tim Fallon after showing him two targets I shot at the Lodge range with my .375 Ruger.
“Yes, sir!” I confidently responded. “Three shots essentially into the same hole at 50 yards and basically the same at 100. From the range card you did for me, sighted dead on at 50 yards it’s dead on again at 200 yards and only three inches low at 250.
“I trued it to that at the 200- and 250-yard steel plates,” I added. “At the latter I shot three inches low with a dead-center hold. And, I noticed on the range card that with the scope you mounted on the rifle for me, at 750 yards, I simply hold on target the tenth line down from the primary center crosshair. I have not trued at that distance, but next time I come to the ranch, I want to try to do exactly that. Not that I would ever shoot at a critter at that distance, but I do admit shooting at steel plates that far.”
“You coming back to the ranch before we leave for Sweden and Norway?” Fallon asked, knowing I dearly love spending time on the FTW Ranch (www.ftwsaam.com) which is thankfully only about 60 miles north of where I live.
“Based on how I shot today, I feel pretty confident being able to shoot a small-body Roe deer at 200 yards and a reindeer even farther out. In either instance I hope to get as close as possible before pulling the trigger. From what Stefan, with Scandinavian Prohunters, told us at the Dallas Safari Club convention where we had Patty Curnutte (www.theglobalsportsman.com) set up the hunt, we should with both get opportunities at 100 yards or less,” I countered.
“I do want to come back, however, right after we get back from our Scandinavian safari and do some whitetail scouting. If not for me then certainly for some of your clients coming to hunt later this fall,” I added.
I knew the FTW produced some absolute monstrous white-tailed bucks, the result of an excellent management program in terms of both range and herd. Each year the ranch does numerous controlled burns. Deer and exotic game populations on the ranch also are carefully monitored and controlled.
For the past several years my grandsons and granddaughter have hunted the ranch, helping Fallon and the crew with their management program by harvesting does and bucks with less than desirable antlers for their age. Deer populations need to be controlled to insure proper habitat management.
Along with my grandkids, I’ve helped with doe management as well. With proper habitat management, doe whitetails provide extremely good venison. But I have, on occasion, also hunted bucks on the FTW Ranch.
In 2015, took a 170-class 10-point with a short drop-tine. My choice of firearms for that hunt was a Ruger Model 77 Hawkeye Guide Rifle chambered in .375 Ruger, shooting Hornady’s 300-grain DGX.
Fallon and crew use a fair number of trail cameras to help them get an idea where bucks are traveling and, to some extent, when. Me? I appreciate trail cameras and the information gained from them when I’m scouting for other hunters. But when it comes to my personal hunting, I like being surprised by what might be found in the area I hunt.
Maybe I’m a bit old school when it comes to scouting for mature shooter bucks. I like doing so during the late summer, about the time bucks start shedding their velvet. But I do most of my scouting starting in late winter, then concede the summer to the deer, and start scouting again late summer to early fall.
During the late winter, I spend a fair amount of time looking for sheds. Over the years of hunting numerous places across North America for whitetails and looking for shed antlers, I have frequently ended up taking a particular buck within less than 100 yards of where I found his cast antler(s) the previous winter.
I have found some of the truly old mature bucks tend to have rather small home ranges. Not all of them, but some. Some of the bucks I have hunted decreased the area they ranged over as they got older. In so doing they became extremely knowledgeable of their home. These are the bucks that tend to be extremely wary and secretive. They know every square inch of their reduced range and know how to avoid hunters. These are the bucks I truly enjoy pursuing and matching wits with.
I look for their sheds and try to determine where they had their scrapes and rubs. Often these rubs and scrapes show repeated use of the same rubbing trees and same scrapes year after year. Being old school, rather than using “Google Earth” or similar apps, I tend to hand draw maps of the area I hunt showing the various features of the property.
I usually start my post-season scouting about two weeks after the deer seasons close. By then the deer are pretty well back to their normal patterns and they are not spooked badly by someone’s presence. With map and pen in hand I do my best to find all the rubs and scrapes in the area. I look for rubs with scars for past years’ use. And I look for scrapes that are deep and show a lot of use. I mark the location of these on my hand-drawn map. These will serve as reference points for where I will want to start hunting the following fall.
I return to the hunting area about the time the bucks start shedding antlers. Then I mark on my map where I find those antlers that look like they come from mature, or about to be mature bucks.
The only time I return to the hunting area during the early or mid-summer is if there is a dense thicket on the hunting property. If so, I go into the thicket and cut some winding, about six-feet wide trails in the thicket. These are laid out so regardless which way the wind blows I can hunt these “cuts,” particularly from the ground using my Nature Blinds’ Stalking Shield (www.natureblinds.com) and my Rattling Forks (www.rattlingforks.com) rattling horns.
I cut the vegetation down to about two inches above the ground. When finished, I fertilize these trails with Triple 13 fertilizer or whatever cheap fertilizer and I can buy at the local feed-and-seed dealers. These make great secretive and hidden food plots as well. Once all of this is accomplished, I do not return to these areas until I’m ready to hunt them.
If there are mast trees on the property, I spend some time in late summer looking to see what particular trees are producing acorns and soft mast, such as persimmon. I fertilize these during the winter with cheap fertilizer. I dig a shallow trench along the drip-line, where the outermost branches end, which is where the tree’s primary feed roots are. I pour in fertilizer then rake the soil back in place.
Fertilizing these trees makes their mast sweeter. Deer quickly pick up on the sweeter acorns and soft mast to the point where deer will feed on these trees before the do any other. By fertilizing mast trees, you can actually pull deer to one tree or a grouping of trees, creating a natural food plot.
For several years I managed a considerable chunk of property in Union and Crittenden County, Kentucky, on the Ohio River where Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana come together. The property had considerable honeysuckle, ideal winter browse. Honeysuckle responds well to fertilizer as well. In the area I hunted myself, I fertilized honeysuckle in select spots which were ideal for hunting. It was in one such natural honeysuckle fertilized food plot I shot my biggest Kentucky buck.
The only real scouting I do these days during the late summer is to check on food, or changes in land practices. And, I seldom do any up close and personal scouting during this time. I find a place where I can scout from afar using binoculars to check oak trees for acorns and/or watch for squirrel activity. If there are a lot of squirrels in the area, chances are there are going to be acorns. And if there are acorns, there will likely be deer when those acorns start falling.
Where I hunt in Texas, water comes at a premium. In mid to early September in Texas, mourning and whitewing dove seasons begin. I occasionally shoot a shotgun, but I love going on dove hunts. The difference is, while others are shooting birds, I like to slip away from the group and go find a remote waterhole I can watch, to see what kind of deer are watering there. Over the years I have used such scouting quite often, and more than one of my really nice Texas white-tailed bucks were scouted during dove season.
Two days after sighting in my rifle, I got a call from Tim Fallon: “Wait’ll you see the trail camera picture we got of a buck last night. Pretty sure it’s the old buck I told you about last hunting season. He should be nine years old this year based on what we know about him. It looks like he’s got the best antlers he’s ever had. He just might go 180 or better.”
Well, so much for my being surprised!
DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon airs on Sportsman Channel. Check here for air times.