I was a recent guest on Rut Fresh Radio to discuss the current buck activity in South Carolina. Check it out!
Deer decoys aren’t just for the midwest. You don’t have to be around agriculture fields or large, well manicured food plots but they can certainly help! From my experience, knowing your local peak breeding time and where does will be late October & early November are the key factors.
I’ve always thought the best decoy is a doe and I’ve killed several good bucks with that style. Why not mimic a doe in heat? What is a buck really looking for – a hot doe or rival buck? Why not entice a jacked up, testosterone fueled bruiser with a doe ready to breed?
When the first does enter estrous cycles, it’s time to implement this method. The estrous scent is unmistakable in the woods. Usually, in my part of South Carolina it hits the third week of October. At this point, bucks are up and running around with one task in mind. It’s then time to readjust your approach in the whitetail woods.
Through scouting and herd intel, you can lure a buck of any age class within bow range. Even in increased hunter density areas. It’s not an every hunt tactic to use. Only when conditions are right and wind is in your favor. I may only hunt with a doe decoy once a year and have gone a couple seasons without using it. It’s certainly not suitable for tight areas.
1. Know where does bed and where they travel to feed.
2. Scouting does is key during the rut. Hunt does to kill bucks. Don’t overthink it. If you find does, you’ll find bucks. You’re hunting bucks but they’re hunting does.
3. I wouldn’t target buck bedding areas. They are moving more and may be bedding at other sites.
This was my first decoyed buck. Late October 2008. He appeared on the edge of the field in tall grass with no shot and eyes locked on the decoy. I hit a low bleat call and he slowly eased in. I took several “practice shots” with the safety on to calm my nerves. This was my first buck on the Farm after passing bucks for 2 years.
- Food plots
- Ag fields
- Clear cut sites (next to dense or light cover).
- Thinned & burned pine blocks. It should be adjacent to thick cover or a staging area.
- Bottomland hardwood sites. Again, the area should be next to cover as mentioned above.
- Outside doe bedding areas. Play the wind and don’t spook the does.
I find it best to give deer a buffer of least 75+ yards before they lay eyes on the decoy. You don’t want to spook anything. Especially, a doe. That being said, I’ve never had a doe become alarmed from my decoy. They’ll look briefly but that’s about it.
10/20/15 – Peanut field surrounded by 5 yr old pine thickets. Does were feeding around the decoy. The perfect storm. After several bleat calls he charged into the field.
1. A buck has been cruising past you several times and you’ve been unable to get a shot off or maybe he hangs back in a staging area until dark.
2. A doe food source is loaded with fresh buck sign; scrapes, tracks, rubs and is prime for a mature whitetail to pop out.
- Position on the opposite side where you think a buck will enter your field of vision.
- Do not place the decoy close to your stand unless bow hunting. You don’t want deer possibly catching your movement.
- Use scent where legal. I prefer Tink’s 69 in the scent bomb re-usable cans. Play the wind and position the scent to drift where a buck should appear.
- Bleat calls can be effective but don’t overuse it.
- Grunt calls can be good to entice a buck within earshot to check out the scene.
10/17/20. The hunt for this buck lasted 24hrs and is a story for another time. The footage on my homepage is this whitetail.
*** Always be safe when transporting and setting up the decoy. Wear orange and never assume anything with other hunters. Even while on private land. Check local game laws before using a decoy. ***
This is a relatively short piece as I didn’t do any type of formal training with my labs. I used a basic system that turned my best friend into a deer recovery machine. Better than any hunter I know.
- Quicker recovery time of game.
- Ability to track wounded deer without a visible blood trail.
- A trained, skilled dog establishes obedience.
- You can assist neighbors and fellow hunters in your neck of the woods with tracking jobs. Maybe one day, you’ll need a favor from them or a hunting invitation!
- Incorporating your dog with the pursuit of whitetails creates a bond like no other. A bond that you won’t share with anyone else at deer camp.
My first lab, Duke, took to blood and the scent of deer fairly quickly. After a deer kill, I’d locate the animal but would not move it or step on any blood. I always wore rubber boots to help mask my scent. The idea was to know where the deer expired before releasing Duke. Sometimes he would stay on the correct path but if he did not, I could steer him the right direction.
It’s imperative to watch your dogs mannerisms and understand how he or she reacts when they follow the scent with good blood, no blood or when multiple whitetails flee the kill site in the same direction. Over time you’ll learn how your dog handles each situation. Keep in mind, they will encounter all kinds of smells: deer, raccoons, opossums and armadillos just to name a few. I’ll cover how to forge a thirst for deer over any other animal in the whitetail woods.
This buck dropped 15 yards from my doe decoy. However, I still used the opportunity to allow Duke to find the deer by walking him in downwind.
After several deer retrievals, you can start to gauge the dogs interest with deer and blood. However, it will take several seasons to fully develop the skill as it’s all about reps. The major key element for tracking success – allow the dog to spend time with the deer. At the skinning shed or the back of your truck, provide time for your canine to sniff, lick and get acquainted with the animal. They need to take in all scent glands, urine, organs, guts and blood. The latter is the most critical. If they try to, permit the dog to ingest blood as it’ll become a treat and create an primal craving. This alone will be the fuel to find the next wounded deer. The newly acquired love for deer should eliminate a dog from straying down a trail after another species when tracking.
Duke & Duck never miss cocktail hour at the skinning shed.
Both Duke and Duck developed a fondness for blood, raw meat and anything they could sneak from the skinning shed. Without question, this drove their natural instinct to hunt, track and use their nose. I’ve always given my dogs raw meat and organs at the time of kill. However, small quantities is crucial to leave them wanting more and to maintain solid health.
Do’s and Don’t:
- Do use a leash. I find it better to know exactly where the dog is and what it’s doing. However, you need to keep up the pace and not slow down your dog. I prefer a leash, as opposed to, the bell or barking method to reduce unneeded pressure on the deer herd.
- Do reward your canine when the deer is found. Positive reinforcement and a piece of raw meat has worked for me!
- Do let the dog stay on a trail even if you see no visible blood. If the scent runs dry you will be able to tell by the dogs mannerisms.
- Do keep in mind the wind direction and if you need to sweep in downwind.
- Don’t let people get ahead of the dog.
- Don’t let any hunters that aren’t skilled at tracking anywhere near the kill site or blood trail until the dog is trained.
A hunt I’ll never forget. Duke stopped and pointed a wounded buck that was bedded down purely on instinct. The deer has looking right at Duke. I never taught him actions to take with deer still alive. RIP buddy.
Very quickly your dog will learn when it’s time to track a deer and flip into “hunter mode”. Once training has been implemented and the fire is lit, you’ll have a better tracker than any hunter you know.
I was invited on the Buckin Struttin Outdoors Podcast as a guest for some whitetail junkie talk. A deep dive on the species and the challenges of hunting them.
Give the episode a spin and follow the podcast! I could talk all day about whitetails.
Are you tired of tough, deer processor grade burger patties lacking flavor and charisma? This is simple, easy and perfect for deer camp, kids birthday parties, tailgates and black tie wedding receptions. But seriously, it’s a no-brainer recipe. Make two batches as it will go quick!
Double batch for July 4th! Welles was pumped.
- 1 package of King’s Hawaiian rolls (this is a key. Don’t use anything else)
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (I prefer sharp cheddar but any good burger cheese will work.)
- 1lb ground venison (I prefer 1.25lbs for a little more meat)
- 1/2 cup chopped sweet Vidalia onion (don’t skimp on the onion)
- 2/3 cup diced tomatoes. This is a small amount and will mix well without a strong taste. Add more diced tomatoes for your preference.
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard.
- 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce.
- Salt and pepper.
- 1lb of bacon. Please don’t use low grade quality bacon. Think about the time, money and focus it took to secure your venison. Why waste it on cheap bacon?
- Bread & Butter pickles. Unless, you’re crazy like my wife and prefer hamburger dill pickles.
- 1 stick of butter. Real butter. Not that chemical infused imitation butter Fabio slings.
- 1/8 cup of brown sugar. There is no substitute for brown sugar. Simply, the best.
- 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce.
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard.
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds.
- Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Cook the pound of bacon to your liking. The finished product will need to be crumbled into smallish pieces. The sliders eat better with crumbles, as opposed to strips, in my opinion.
3. Without separating, cut the package of rolls horizontally in half and arrange bottom halves in a greased 13×9 inch baking pan. Pro tip – make sure to use a serrated bread knife and ask your wife for help.
4. Spread 1 cup of cheese over the bottom rolls and bake 4-6 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Make sure the pan is greased.
5. In a large skillet, brown the ground venison and onions; drain if needed. I don’t add fat to my ground venison. Try not to overcook the meat as it’ll continue to cook during the final steps.
6. Stir in tomatoes, mustard, worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Cook, crack another beer and stir 3-5 minutes or until combined.
7. Spoon the mixture evenly over rolls. Top with the remaining cheese and then the crumbled bacon. Place roll top halves on sliders.
8. For the glaze, in a microwave-safe bowl combine butter, brown sugar, worcestershire sauce and dijon mustard. Microwave until butter is melted, stirring occasionally. I find it best to cook at a 50% power so it doesn’t explode. A paper towel covering the bowl also helps. Listen, I get it, this mixture seems like it won’t blend well or taste good. However, this may be the secret of the “killer slider”.
9. Brush the glaze generously and evenly over roll tops. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
10. Bake, uncovered, 18-20 minutes or until golden brown.
11. Pour a whiskey and grab a plate full before the sliders are devoured!
This is not an original recipe as I found variations through several channels.
There’s no coincidence this tropical/ subtropical legume native to India doesn’t get much attention in the mainstream hunting industry as it only grows in the Deep South. You’re probably not going to see a discussion on a whitetail tv show and you’re certainly not going to hear a “serial big-buck killer” on a top podcast dive into hemp hunting strategies.
By no means is this warm season annual a silver bullet but it’s definitely an excellent addition for habitat diversity, wildlife security, protein forage and soil health in the Southeast.
- Tall, dense cover. Personally, I prefer that you may lose sight of deer when they disappear in a plot, however, some hunters may look at that as a setback. Mowing, laying down strips or raising a bush hog to cut a couple feet high is probably the best way to combat this concern. In our area of SC, the first frost is usually early November. Hemp will continue to grow back when cut until then.
- Hemp is not preferred over most agriculture crops, traditional food plots and native browse. Why is this a benefit? I’m glad you asked. We’ve found that sunn hemp typically remains untouched until September when in close proximity (for deer) to ag fields, food plots and quality native forage. They’ll hit the other sites first and as hunter pressure increases deer will drift in the hemp. However, deer will hit hemp early as the plant is sprouting up. It all depends on deer density and available food options. For instance, if our ag fields are heavy in cotton, deer will hammer hemp earlier than if corn, beans or peanuts are planted.
Check out this distinct browse line. Only leaves above 4-5ft are left. This photo was taken 9/19/20 in a small .5ac plot.
- Very little testing has been completed but the estimated crude protein levels exceeds 25-30% per the National Deer Association. As a comparison, in Wildlife Food Plots and Early Successional Plants, Dr. Craig Harper reports that soybeans offer 36.5% protein. Diversity is king, especially throughout the hunting season.
- Sunn hemp possesses many soil-building traits, including high rates of biomass production — over 20 percent greater than crimson clover and hairy vetch in research trials. It is not only resistant to plant root nematodes but actively suppresses them. In as little as 60 to 90 days it can produce 120 pounds of nitrogen per acre and can suppress weeds up to 90 percent.
- Sunn hemp grows well in sandy soils and is fairly drought tolerant which is a huge bonus in the SE. It thrives in hot, humid areas.
Roping off fields to allow browse resistant growth worked for about 4yrs. Look at the browse line snipped off up to the rope.
Instead of mowing, last fall I started laying over strips so deer could eat the leaves over 5ft. This field will be re-worked to create taller height around the food plot.
- Hemp will need more maintenance than most annual food plots as it grows about an inch per day until maturity. Mowed strips will grow back until the first frost.
- It will take deer a little bit of time to focus on hemp but they will hit it the first year. Activity and timing of browse will pick up every year after.
- Too much hemp year one may result in deer focusing on alternative food options. I suggest starting off with a couple test plots and evaluate results before planting in year two.
Early sprouts are highly attractive for deer. Monitor and if necessary, rope off plots or add milorganite fertilizer to keep deer out until the plant reaches 2-3ft.
My suggestions after growing sunn hemp for 5 years:
- Plant hemp as cover screens, plot borders or to create travel routes in larger fields.
- Utilize in sandy soils.
- Use sunn hemp in larger fields and plots where deer are not relatively close to soybeans, corn or peanuts.
- Plant, wait and observe. Sometimes deer won’t touch our hemp until mid/ late September and then browse it down to bare stalks. That could be great timing for Georgia bow season or the opening of South Carolina doe season.
- I would imagine that deer will pound sunn hemp quickly in heavier pine plantation areas where row crops are scarce.
- Hemp is an excellent source of nitrogen for soil. Rotate into areas to build up healthy soil.
- Post season, mow the standing stalks and let the organic matter breakdown into the soil bed.
- Diversity matters. Add hemp into your plantings with soybeans, clover, etc.
- Deer love the security and cover sunn hemp provides as they browse. It can pull deer out during daylight hours much more than lower height plots.
Young plants will continue to grow back after deer snip off the stalk. However, by Sept the stalk will become more fibrous and less desirable for deer.
I took this buck 8/20/18 in a sunn hemp field about an 1.5 hours before dark. We had a nice bachelor group feeding nightly in the field and it did become tough for a good clean shot within the hemp. I had not mowed strips or some of the height yet. It was a quick shot just as he crossed into the field edge.
Some people don’t like to leave lone trees in a food plot or field but they can serve a purpose for deer. This buck quickly high-stepped from the left side tree line and paused behind the lone, field edge oak assessing the food plot. His vitals were just barely exposed.
If you own or lease land in the southeast, most likely there are pine trees planted for income. Probably loblolly or longleaf. Tree farms get a bad rap by hunters and often viewed as “wildlife wastelands”. With proper planning and managed with a little TSI (timber stand improvement), pines can be a wildlife paradise offering safety, food and hunting opportunities.
It’s not headline news that the dormant growing season is an excellent time for controlled burns to promote native plant species. It’s an ideal and cost efficient mgnt practice to establish natural food plots, bedding and nesting cover. There are plenty of in-depth articles and podcasts discussing prescribed fire that you can easily find. I’m going to cover the advantages of hunting over burn sites and why I like it better than traditional food plots. However, a planted food plot is a key asset to create a destination feed site and to promote deer movement.
Frequency of prescribed fire results in various results. So much depends on soil and the amount of available sunlight through the tree canopy. We typically burn blocks in 3 year intervals but may be scaling back in some of the big timber sections to maintain a little more cover. The food diversity options for deer is crucial when hunter pressure increases and the mythical “October Lull” is thrown around.
Fire checks many boxes for wildlife diversity in the Southeast. Both dormant and growing season burns will produce different results.
By staggering out your age classes of planted pine stands, you can create a “checkerboard” type design on your property. This will provide more frequent future income and will also maintain diversity on your landscape. See example below. By clear cutting smaller 5-30ac blocks, you will produce high quality deer bedding thickets within 1-3 years whether you replant pines or let it grow up wild. The timeline depends if the soil is low or high ground. These pine thickets can last for 8-10 years on low ground and a little less time for higher, well drained soil. After that, it’ll be too open for bedding until the canopy is opened by the first and second thinning. At that point, TSI work can produce tender, highly digestible food sources for deer. Early, cold weather bedding starts within 1-2 years, while warm season bedding may take 3 years to begin.
The “checkerboard” design promotes deer movement with easy, safe transitions from thickets to forage within cover.
Climbing in big timber over control burn areas next to pine thickets, aka, whitetail bedding are some of my favorite places to hunt at the farm. In Whitetail Tracks , Valerius Geist details how security is more important than food. Think about that; deer will choose poor food options with better cover over premium food and insufficient cover. Safety is above all for the species and it’s how they’ve survived for nearly 4 million years. I always think about this when laying out hunt setups. A deer will be at ease and if they can vanish in a couple bounds. Always keep this in mind when establishing supplemental feeders, food plots and any type of forage created by fire or ground disturbance. Deer feel safe moving through vegetation height created by fire or early successional disking and can vanish quickly with pine thickets close by.
It looks deceiving but the vegetation height is 2-4ft tall. Ideal for deer to browse within cover and be a couple bounds from safety.
The first picture was right after a burn in February 2019. The second is the same block in May.
As the season progresses and hunters blow up the woods with activity on food plots and agricultural fields these areas will draw in deer movement during daylight. Especially, as deer plan to arrive at destination food sources after dark watching defeated hunters leave the area. Furthermore, rut hunting these blocks with bucks checking various pine thickets for hot does can produce results!
These bucks were killed 8/28/19 about 2 minutes apart. They were in a bachelor group of about 12. The story is for another time but I cut them off at first light coming to bed in a thicket. A designed planted pine hunt. No food plots or corn piles. Creating destination food sources, TSI and ample bedding thickets made this possible.
For an in-depth, comprehensive breakdown on prescribed fire check out the below podcasts. All are legit and incredible resources.
The whitetail hunt is 365 days for me. I’m not a “professional influencer” slinging product that promises state record success. I’m an average hunter wanting to share my experiences and journey managing my family farm in South Carolina. Everyone’s hunt is different and what works for me may not jive with you.
My passion for whitetails started 26 years ago. After several missed opportunities I connected on my first deer harvest at 11. Since then, deer have been my favorite game to pursue.
Over the past 15 years I’ve dialed in on wildlife habitat. Specifically, ways to incorporate timber management with hunting strategies.
New hunter recruitment has always been on the forefront at the farm. Since 2006, 20 new hunters have harvested their first deer. Ages 10-60. 10 women and 10 men.
October 2019 we hosted a QDMA (now NDA) Coastal Empire Branch mentored hunt. The following year we were nominated and won the QDMA Al Brothers Non-Professional Deer Manager of the Year award at Whitetail Weekend. It was truly an honor to be nominated and awarded by the founder and national treasure, Joe Hamilton.
Late September 2020 we hosted another mentored hunt in collaboration with Hunt to Eat and the Coastal Empire QDMA Branch. Three out of the four new hunters killed their first deer.
My style of hunting may not be for you. My management style may not suit your land or you may simply know a better way. Either way, maybe you’ll be inspired to take a new hunter in the field or embrace a venison carpaccio dish.
If you have interest in improving wildlife habitat or designing effective hunting setups, please reach out to me. Goals can range from seeing and holding more deer to growing larger headgear. It all depends on your hunt and what you enjoy.
It doesn’t simply have to be “growing big giant bucks”. Habitat practices will not only benefit whitetails but also, turkeys, bobwhite quail, dove and other wildlife.
Over the past 15 years managing our farm I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. Furthermore, I can share realistic results for whitetail management in the Southeast.
- Create natural deer travel routes
- Develop & maintain sufficient thickets/ bedding sites
- Integrate forestry & wildlife practices
- Increase hunter observation sightings
- Boost deer holding capacity
- Improve deer stand setups
- Pine stand & hardwood TSI (timber stand improvement)
- Better food source options. Native plants & food plots
- Doe mgnt/ herd balance/ fawn recruitment
- Improve trail camera surveys
- Supplemental feed program
Instagram: @southeast.whitetail | @markhaslam
June 2020 I recorded a podcast with Marcus Ewing, owner of the Average Conservationist. The episode details the majority of the conservation work we do at the farm. It also opened the door to collaborate with Hunt to Eat for our second annual mentored hunt.
The podcast features normal people with real jobs that give back what they can to conservation and wildlife.
Give the episode a spin and visit their website below.