I just got off the phone with one of my 2023 archery hunt clients. I asked him for three topics that he would say are his "three biggest question marks regarding Iowa deer hunting". They are listed below with my input below each one.
1) What is the likelihood of seeing a 160" whitetail over the course of a hunt?
Outdoor TV, even in its current form, still produces a false reality as to how many big deer are roaming around every single spot in Iowa. I wish that I could say it was 100% true, but it is not. Depending on the show, say Lakosky's The Crush for instance, it might be extremely far-fetched reality compared to what you should expect as the normal range of potential. Could you kill a 200" deer in Iowa? Yep. We've even done it.... once. Lee's killed at least 2 in the last three years. Well, that is not realistic to the average Joe coming into Iowa for a 7-day stretch. Possible? Yes, but so is winning the mega millions lottery. On the opposite end of the spectrum, say "The Hunting Public" team, a bunch of great dudes who get after it hard, show a much more realistic hunt. However, they are still producing content as well. Will you ever see 100% of the up's & down's of their hunts? No. What is missing? The slow time. They can't air the 6-8 hours in one day's sit that they saw one scrub buck passing through. You might see a glimpse of a 2-3 second clip of that little buck, but the picture isn't 100% accurate. Back to the question though, what is the odds of seeing a 160" deer over the course of a hunt? "Good." If you hunt per our instruction/guidance for seven straight days, dark to dark, we think the odds are "good", which is slightly above "fair" but slightly less than "great". We have had guys see 6+ 160" deer in their hunt. We have had guys see one 130" deer in their hunt. The range is really that severe. Weather, moon phase, Mother Nature, luck, the buck, the doe, other does, other bucks, neighbors, farmers, dogs, trucks, four wheelers, coyotes, bobcats, barometric pressure, wind direction/speed, rain/snow/sun, cloud cover, you name it. The variables that produce the shot or the lack thereof are wide, vast, and unpredictable. Take that for what it's worth. We just hope you listen to us 100% start to finish to most acute detail so that you can blame us if it doesn't happen. We'll take it. If you don't listen to us and do your own thing, we are no longer accepting that responsibility. That's hunting though. That is hunting wild free-ranging whitetail deer in southern Iowa. You just never know what you're going to get. Forest Gump knows... Box of chocolates.
2) How do calls (grunts, snort-wheezes, and rattling) work on Iowa deer?
Calling is a great topic that I like to discuss when my hunters ask me. There is such a thing as right vs. wrong when it comes to calling, but so much of that determination comes down to the specific variables of the deer and the hunt itself. "Situational" is what I say. Rattling only works sometimes. Grunting only works sometimes. Snort-wheezes only work sometimes. If you call incorrectly (too loud, too soft, too often, or just blatantly wrong), you're not likely to benefit from it. Even more so, you can completely hurt your hunt. We have killed deer due to rattling, grunt calls and snort-wheezes. We have also ruined hunts because of it. The smallest mess-up can cost you. I know, it's not the best thing to hear, but it is true. Rattling is the easiest, and if doing so with actual antlers, the sound is legitimate. A proper snort-wheeze from your own mouth is a valuable call. It's not perfect though. Some hunters want to have their "easy button" in the stand or blind to push that brings that deer in on a line to Point A where he's broadside at 20 yards. Hey, if we had an easy button, I'd mass produce those suckers and sell it off to the Primos boys. So, to answer the question, they can all work if done correctly and done in the right setting. Yet, you need luck on your side. It's not black & white, yes and no. I wish it was. I will add that one thing that is often not associated with any of the methods of calling is the visual aspect. If you call to a deer (grunt or snort-wheeze) and he turns to look and can't see a deer where the sound is coming from, he's likely not to investigate it. Having a visual break between you (the imaginary buck making the noise) and him is a must-have. He will then want to come investigate. With rattling, the visual aspect is almost a given. Often times, you rattle at a buck you've lost sight of completely trying to draw him back in, or you rattle every so often to spark interest from a buck you can't see. The visual break is already built into those rattling scenarios. However, do you think you'll rattle or call a buck off of a hot doe in the rut? Nope. You're likely to push him to push her further away. If you know he is on a doe, shut up. DO NOT CALL OR RATTLE. Resist the urge to try and change the game in your favor. He could bring her right back if you're silent. We saw it happen in 2020 when we had a shot on a 180" stud after 2 or 3 days of him bedded with a doe nearby. Some people summarize and say to not call at all. The risk vs. reward of calling isn't worth it. That is debatable. If you're smart about it, it could work. Just be careful with what you do. Hunting is a gamble anyway... You make the bet or you fold.
3) Decoys - Do we use them, like them, and how do they work?
Yes, we use decoys. We allow our hunters to use their own decoy, but we get to dictate how and when it is used. Whether it be a buck decoy or doe decoy, there is a right and wrong scenario to use them. I think there is another post or two about decoys, but I will try to summarize. The ideal? Evening sits, open-area setups (cut fields, large plots, wide-open field to pinch point/funnel, etc.) likely to cause an impulsive reaction to draw buck in, lower deer numbers in vicinity. How one sets up the decoy, ears, posture, positioning/angle, exact location of decoy, spraying down the decoy, extra deer scent added to area and decoy, etc., is all relevant. I can do it on the fly, but I'm not out there with guys doing this. I try to instruct as best I can before the hunt, but it will likely be a lengthy text message and a zoomed-in aerial map that shows how to setup the decoy in respect to the hunter's setup. All of this thought and effort going into it, a dumb 3yr old will come knock it over or a mature doe will blow at it because it's not actually moving because it's not actually a real deer. So, do it or don't do it? I'm game if we get it setup correctly and you know how to reset the decoy if it gets knocked over. Hunting over decoys is an adrenaline-filled hunt, especially if in a blind at eye-level. Yet, you can mess it up. Proceed with caution. You're likely to not know when using a decoy will work in your favor. That is the exciting part of it - the unknown. Yet, since I like using decoys, I'm likely to try it versus not.
If any of you have some topics that you'd like me to cover or questions you'd like me to answer in form of a blog post, please reach out via email MDLOutfitters@gmail.com.