2016 Late Muzzleloader Blog Updates

In 2014 my son Forest took the late muzzleloader spot and after less than an hour of hunting, took a nice mature buck we had nicknamed Captain Jack.  In 2015, the late muzzleloader season was met with some unseasonably warm, foggy, rainy, weather making for a tough hunt…unfortunately my hunter didn’t pull the trigger.

This year, as I did in 2014, I will be posting a daily blog on Forest’s hunt.  Our first day is today.  We plan on checking some cameras (those we can get to with the wind we have today) later this morning and evaluating those cameras.  We have 1.5 acres of standing corn and a little over 3 acres of standing beans to hunt over.  The farm has been empty of hunting activity since mid November.  Should be a good hunt!

I will update this blog each night/time I have something pertinent to report!  Happy Holidays for those of you spending this time with family and friends…we’ll be in the deer woods!  Below is his buck from 2014.


Forest with his biggest and oldest buck to date.

UPDATE 12/23  1:40 PM

We were able to pull about half the cameras.  SE very cold winds with light rain and sleet today.  We are sitting a ground blind overlooking a standing corn field.  Forest is targeting a buck we call Vendetta…a buck we have a long history with on this farm.  There are other deer on the cameras that might score higher, but this buck is old and we are going for him.

“Vendetta” in our standing corn field. He’s been coming out to this corn and a standing bean field pretty regularly.

Update 12/23 6:47 PM

Well, the first night was not as awesome as 2014…but we did see our target buck.  The corn the buck was using was still standing making it nearly impossible to shoot in to.  So this afternoon Forest and I drove over some of it to make a shooting lane or two for a ground blind we needed to sit with a SE wind.  The noise and stuff we think made the deer move late as all the deer we saw came out at quitting time.  9 deer in total, 7 bucks, with “Vendetta” being one of the bucks.  We think we got out clean so hopefully he’ll show again.  Monday looks to be our next best day as tomorrow and Sunday look to be a little warmer with more SE winds and rain.

Below are two more bucks we would like to see on this hunt, but we have no good plan to take either one.  The big 10 pointer has been on the new farm all fall but shows very little day time activity and the giant 8 point seems to be mostly nocturnal also.  If our paths cross I’m sure Forest will take either one…but for now we are targeting Vendetta!

Update 12/24  5:58 PM

Slow night.  Misty, very light rain, fog…not your ideal late season weather.  It was getting dark a half hour before quitting time because the fog rolled in.  Saw 3 deer total, 2 small bucks and one unknown.  SE winds again limit our sitting where we can only see a small section of corn we ran over.  The tripod stand in the picture below offers a view of the entire corn field plus standing beans to the southwest…we need a westerly wind to sit that tripod.

Image from our ground blind.

Packs fully loaded for late season hunting. About a half mile walk mostly uphill to get to our evening spot.

Update 12/25  6:10 PM

The weather has been a challenge.  Ask me what would be the worst weather for a late season hunt and I’d tell you warm with lingering low pressure, fog, rain….That’s what we’ve had since showing up.  But, tonight the front is blowing through and tomorrow should bring westerly winds for the first time and high pressure.  Tomorrow should be much better hunting.

This morning we sat an observation sit on the new farm and got soaked.  We ran to the truck around 8 AM or so and just missed thunderstorms and a down pour.  Tonight we sat that same ground blind for a SE wind…more rain, fog,  We saw 6 bucks tonight and 2 does.  Biggest bucks were 2 two year olds.  Tomorrow nephew Brady will be in camp!

This is 2 in the afternoon and the fog already setting in. It was way before legal shooting and it was dark tonight.

Update 12/26   8 PM

Well…the front that moved through last night brought strong westerly winds and sunshine today.  Perfect for late season hunting.  The morning was cold.  We sat an observation stand again on the new farm and saw 3 small bucks, 2 does, and 2 fawns.  About what we expected as that farm has no food source and at this point marginal habitat (that will change).

Tonight, we sat the tripod stand for the first time.  It is probably in most years the best late muzzleloader stand on the farm.  It works very well for a westerly wind.  To our SW we have a couple acres of standing beans…to our north and west that same 1.5 acres of standing corn.  We saw 7 bucks and 4 does, all of which fed in the beans and corn.  1 buck, a real nice mature 8, a buck we weren’t expecting showed up around 4:40 but quickly made his way from the beans to the corn without offering a clean shot.  Once in the corn he disappeared, showing back up again right before quitting time on the beans again.  Forest made a split second decision to shoot and leveled the cross hairs on his chest for the shot.  I had a poor angle to watch but Brady saw the whole thing…the buck ran off at the shot like he wasn’t hit???

Giving the buck some time, we went back an hour or so later and found only one small spot of blood about 70 yards from where the shot was taken.  After an hour and a half more of looking for blood and deer we have come to the conclusion he was only nicked?  This is Forest’s first miss/wound with a firearm…and it doesn’t feel good.  Hindsight being what it is, Forest thinks in the heat of the moment it almost seems like he must have rushed the shot.  We hope we see him again!

We don’t have a lot of history with this buck and never expected him to come out tonight…but this is the buck Forest missed tonight. A solid mature buck.

Update 12/27 9:15 AM

Sat a mostly observation stand this morning overlooking a draw on the new farm.  Saw 9 bucks roughly (it was hard to keep track) and the same number of does and fawns.  All the deer were on a feed to bed pattern.  What we didn’t expect was to see 3 mature bucks and one new one, another really big 8/9 point.  If the pattern holds, these bucks could be on a bed to feed pattern tonight?

A new buck on the new farm. Forest pulled the card as we left this morning and we had a hunch one of if not more of the bucks we saw this morning was on this camera…turns out this nice one was.  (Cameras are not updated for daylight saving, this was at 6:43 AM)

Update 12/27  6:55 PM

Today was a good day all in all.  We saw roughly 41 deer, give or take, in total today.  Another 23 deer or so tonight with roughly 10 bucks (its hard to keep track).  Our approach was to see if the deer would replicate their pattern we saw this morning and move bed to feed tonight in an opposite fashion from this morning.  They did, only no shooters came by.  The nicest deer we saw that Forest could have shot tonight was a 3 year old ten point…came right by with 2 other bucks at about 80 yards.  We were hoping a shooter would have followed that same path.

This farm is hard to hunt right now.  We purchased it in August of this year so no improvements were made.  The deer pattern is west to east in the evening and opposite in the morning…but they are not following a single path.  Rather, they are spread out over several hundred yards.  Making it worse, if we move in closer there stands a very high chance deer will get down wind blowing the whole sit.  So for now, we are using the observation blind as our hunting blind.  Tomorrow’s plan is the observation blind in the morning, back to the old farm corn and beans tomorrow night!

Update 12/28   9:30 AM

Sat the observation blind on the new farm this morning.  8 deer total, 6 bucks and 1 really big mature buck.  They followed the same pattern of east to west movement (very early) all across the valley about 300 yards from us on the south side.  So the dilemma is how to get closer for this pattern?  If we simply move in on them they are likely to bust us because more times than not at least some deer use the north side of the draw which would mean they get down wind…blow…stomp…etc.

What we did was put out a small tripod chair after this morning’s hunt on an open knob far enough south and open enough that any deer following this pattern will see the chair far in advance.  The hope is they see the chair and it alters their pattern north enough to be closer for a shot.  Our thinking is the chair is small and harmless enough to just nudge the deer a little farther north.  By placing it out in the open, the deer will see it early and from far enough away that hopefully they won’t spook but instead will just alter their path around???

Tonight we are back on standing corn and beans on the old farm.  If we don’t close the deal tonight, we’ll be back on the new farm hopefully watching more than an empty chair across the valley!

Update 12/28  6:40 PM

What will kill a late season hunt?  Warm weather, maybe some clouds, your dad dropping his video camera right at prime time…all of the above!

We sat corn and beans tonight and by all measure had a poor sit.  Temps got to mid 40’s today and it clouded over.  You could just feel that deer would not move.  And, they didn’t all that much.  We saw 1 doe, 1 fawn, 3 bucks with one buck being a super 8 point 3 year old.  But by all measure…a farm with little pressure since late November, standing beans, standing corn…you would just think more than 5 deer.  Then, to make matters worse, dropping my camera off my lap and landing on the bottom of the blind making a very loud clump didn’t help matters all that much.

Tomorrow, it’s the observation blind on the new farm.  Will it work or will we be watching a small tripod hunting chair from 300 yards?

A fitting view of how the hunt went tonight.

Update 12/29  7:30 PM

This morning’s hunt saw no mature bucks but we did see 12 does and fawns and some of those were positively affected by the chair we left out…pushing them more north.  One group was pushed far enough north that they were well within range.  The bucks either changed their pattern (doubtful) or they simply came through before light.

Tonight was something.  Wind gusts at the start of the hunt reached 40mph.  At times I honestly questioned the sanity of sitting in the tripod stand we were in.  Toward quitting time, the wind laid down nicely and the deer starting pouring out into the beans and corn. 18 does and fawns and 7 bucks…with 2 big mature bucks and 1 likely mature buck.  All three mature bucks came out right at or after quitting time, we were able to watch them feed on beans through our binoculars.  We would be guessing as to which deer these 3 mature bucks were (and we have been guessing) but it was so late and far enough away that we could only make out their body size and antler frames…big bucks but only guesses as to who.

Forest passed on a super 2 or 3 year old buck earlier in the night.  I say passed because he could have shot it but we both knew the buck the moment it stepped out…a super nice 10 point with long G2’s and 3’s.  I was glad to see this buck this late season hanging on the farm.  If he’s 2 he’ll be what dreams are made of some day!

Forest passed this buck we call Moto tonight. I chose this picture because he was literally standing within feet of where this picture was taken.

Update 12/30  6:15 PM

Sat the new farm observation stand in the morning.  Saw 11 does and fawns, 3 bucks…2 decent 3 year olds and one busted up big old mature buck we call Juggernaut.  All activity was before legal shooting, in fact without the use of our binoculars we would not have even seen these deer.  The morning pattern we have been seeing is holding but the activity remains well before sunrise.  With that being said, we have thrown in the towel on the new farm for this year only because we have a bunch of work that needs to get done on it like interior food plots, hinge cutting box elder, fence repair and demolition…etc.

One of a hundred rubs in the bottom ground on the new farm. The place is tore up.  Found this one while hinge cutting box elder.

Forest found our first shed of the year…this old buck was on the new farm all fall. Earliest shed we’ve ever found.

Tonight we sat the corn and beans on the old farm.  Walking out to the stand it was SW winds and temps over 50.  That’s right, December 30th and 50.  Can you guess what we saw…that’s right a lot of corn and beans.

Update 12/31  8:30 PM

We didn’t hunt this morning spending our time instead on taking down 1300 feet of 5 strand barged wire fence on the new farm.  Much more work to be done there but honestly it is already better than what I had anticipated at this stage.

So, now onto tonight!  Going into tonight’s hunt we thought it really looks like it’s coming down to tonight.  The weather on Sunday looks once again warm and cloudy.  The forecast showed cloudy and colder temps today…almost a full 20 degrees colder than yesterday and just as we were going in on stand tonight (in the old tripod once more) the sun showed itself as high pressure took over.

We check weather almost hourly and going into tonight’s hunt we both felt like it had to happen tonight.

The Hunt for Vendetta!  We seldom go after one deer.  We hunt travel routes of the deer in general, food sources, bed to feeding patterns, but we don’t generally target a specific animal.  That’s not to say we don’t have certain animals on our minds each time we go out…or a hunch about a certain pattern.  But this muzzleloader season was different.  We had a solid pattern on a buck Forest called Vendetta.  He was on our farm all last year and was a definite home boy.  He specifically used a draw between the stands we call mid-funnel and crossover.  We had no doubt that if we wanted to kill him this would be where it would be.  The pattern held true as we saw him late the first night of our hunt…and then nothing.  We continued to hunt the old farm beans and corn but the weather would not cooperate.

We felt going in tonight that this was our last chance at Vendetta, and the tripod was our best hope. We can see standing beans and the standing corn he used regularly. Would he show tonight?

Just as the sun went down on the horizon, deer starting pouring out of the timber, all bucks.  One, then two, three…seven in total.  Two nice 8 points but nothing mature.  No Vendetta.  Six does made their way out.  The tension was building  and I said at one point I’m just waiting for Vendetta to pop out on this corn, not really expecting it.  Then down a small shooting lane in the corn stood two deer.  Hard to see, I picked up the binoculars…”a good buck, big” I said.  Pick up your head I thought.  Damn it already, pick it up.  It’s him!  The front deer was a small buck and was blocking Forest’s shot…yet I had a clear opening.  Another 2 year old deer had come in and had us busted.  We couldn’t move…Vendetta takes one more step and it’s over…no shot.  Just as Forest moved to shoot out my window Vendetta turns to his right and Forest has his opening…then ccaapowww.  That familiar muzzleloader sound…and then nothing but smoke?

“There’s no way I missed…I was right on him and solid”

Forest wanted a good hunt this year. “I hope it’s not over in 45 minutes like last time.” Well, not sure he wanted it to last 9 days, but it was a great hunt in 2016. (Tomorrow was the last day we could hunt)

It is always fun hunting a mature buck you have history with. Vendetta was a great 5 year old buck.

Final Update 1/2  9:00 AM

We sat yesterday morning to try and fill Forest’s doe tag but only saw bucks, 6 of them.  Nothing big but another fun morning.

So…the final numbers on 10 days of hunting are 76 bucks and 86 does and fawns.  We did not separate out fawns when counting each hunt but assuming a good portion of those sighting were fawns, and that half of those were buck fawns, I would say the overall buck to doe ratio on the two farms is pretty good.  Although, the overall population is higher than I would like it.  Another point; I’m sure some of you are saying yeah but you didn’t see 76 different bucks?  No we didn’t.  But we kept an informal count of the different bucks we did see and it is somewhere between 25 and 30ish, with a healthy portion of those in 2 and 3 year olds and even mature bucks.

One more point I’d like to make.  We had through those 10 days a perfect track record of predicting deer movement based on the weather.  There were days we predicted great movement…it happened, days we predicted no or very little movement, again it happened.  We were even able to predict lethargic movement where deer would move but with less purpose.  That was something pretty neat for us to see!  Temperature played the largest role in deer movement!

One more note.  Some people no doubt will say “hey I thought you never hunted mornings this time of year?”  Well, that is mostly correct.  Hunting mornings can usually do more harm than good.  The mornings we sat on the new farm were from an observation stand far from deer movement and we were able to get to that stand by walking clear around any potential to bump deer.  It wasn’t the best for hunting but allowed us to observe food to bed patterns that will help us on this new farm in years to come.  Our thinking was we were taking in valuable information and at the same time still had a slim chance of having a shooter walk withing range.  No doubt, habitat improvements and other schemes we are already planning will change the scattered movement we saw.  We only hunted one morning on the old farm, where we sat the majority of our night hunts over food sources and that was yesterday morning after Forest had killed his buck.  Killing a mature buck in the morning this time of year still proved to be an almost impossible task!

I hope you enjoyed this blog of the 2016/2017 late muzzleloader hunt from south central Iowa!



3 thoughts on “2016 Late Muzzleloader Blog Updates

  1. Tom, I think your daily up dates are great.Like reading a good book and reading to get to next chapter to see what happens next.

  2. Congrats on an awesome buck Forest.
    All the work that you guys put into the farm, well deserved to harvest a great mature buck!
    Thanks Tom, I enjoy reading and learning from your articles and blogs!

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