Introduction | BWB System Chart | Fear of Getting Lost | What to Wear | What to Carry | Scouting | Hunting Methods
Everything seems to run a lot smoother and easier when following a system. Fast food restaurants follow a system, so we can eat a burger or sandwich anywhere and it will be the same. Henry Ford came up with a system to make automobiles faster and cheaper. Sometimes a system is built intentionally and other times it is developed by figuring out the best way to do things and then doing them the same way every time. A system is often developed by trial and error as well as by failures and successes.
Back when I was a Lobsterman, I figured out how to do things as quickly and easily as possible from building traps to hauling them on a daily basis. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I had in fact developed a “System”. Lobstering was hard enough work without making it any harder. I did the same thing in my outfitting business, whether it was baiting bears or setting up remote camps, I developed a system that not only I could follow but that all my guides could as well.
From my first trip to the “Big Woods” of northern Maine in search of a big whitetail bucks until now, I have experienced and learned more than I could have ever imagined. Not only about deer but the woods, water, weather, clothing, equipment etc. When I began guiding, I also began to learn more about people as guiding is a people business. Teaching clients how to hunt was as rewarding for me as I think it was for them. Most everything I had learned deer hunting was from trial and error as well as failure and success. Everything was a learning curve from navigating the woods to what clothing to wear to be comfortable. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was in fact creating a system for success for hunting Big Woods Buck’s. Whether you are a novice or experienced hunter, by following this system you will no doubt become a more successful hunter no matter what game you are hunting.
The chart below outlines the “Big Woods Bucks System”
Hunting the Big Woods breaks down into three basic techniques: tracking, still-hunting, and stand hunting, each of which has its own advantages.
The system works for any type of Big Woods hunter.
It all starts with knowledge. Knowledge is important because:
Knowledge = Confidence and Confidence = Success
Fear is the biggest obstacle to success in the Big Woods
Fear of getting lost is number one and can be overcome through knowledge of navigation.
How do I start? Where do I go?
- Maps: Topo, Delorme Gazzette, Earthmate APP
- Compass: Mapping, Navigation
- GPS: OnX, inReach
What to wear (Quiet, warm when wet)
- Why wool?
- Coat, Pants, Gloves
What to carry (Do I have everything I need)
How to scout – what to look for (How do I know when I’ve found a good spot?)
- When to go
- Signpost rubs
- Big Woods forestry 101 (what do deer eat) (Food and cover = Doe Country?)
How to hunt (Patience, persistence, practice, time)
- Stand Hunt
- Still Hunt
Maps are critical to being able to navigate in the Big Woods. Maps not only show you the roads in an area, but they also show you the terrain including mountains, streams, lakes, and swamps.
These things are critical to navigating the woods as well as finding the easiest way out of the woods. Maps come in many forms from the USGS topographical maps which are the standard for accuracy and information, to maps downloaded into a GPS.
A GPS is a handy tool to carry while hunting but I find the maps are hard to read in any detail on the small screen. OnX solves this problem. OnX is a smartphone app that uses your phone’s internal GPS and downloadable maps to help you navigate the woods. OnX is a great product for GPS navigation, and you can download and use it right on your smartphone.
I may be old school but I still also carry a topo map when going into unfamiliar territory. I use them not only for navigation but also to locate likely looking deer areas. A map will show the streams and bogs where signpost rubs are more likely to be located. They also show saddles in ridges and mountains where deer are likely to travel. These things are key in breaking down the Big Woods into the best places to hunt. Maps will make it easier for you to take that first step to becoming a Big Woods Hunter.
When I was growing up, we lived in rural areas, so I had access to the woods on a daily basis. When I wasn’t playing ball or building forts with the other kids in the neighborhood, I was roaming the woods.
Although the woods were not as expansive as woods of the North country, there were some fairly large tracts near home. Even at eight or ten years old, I might spend a day in the woods but would always find my way back home. When I was ten, I started deer and rabbit hunting with my father and grandfather. They would both let me wander around in the woods on my own. I never had any problem finding them or getting back out of the woods because I could always find a road, powerline etc. I never had a compass back in those days or even considered that I needed one. It wasn’t until years later when I started hunting in the big woods that I realized it was going to be critical to carry one.
There are many types of compasses from a pin-on directional ball compass to a clear bezel map compass. I carry two compasses with me for two separate purposes. I carry a mapping compass with a clear bezel in my pack to use with a topo map. I also carry a simple handheld directional compass in my pocket to reference my direction when needed. I recommend carrying two compasses at all times in the Big Woods for two reasons. One is that you may lose one and the other reason is that if you ever doubt your compass, you can double check your direction using your other one. A GPS has a compass feature built into it. “Never use this compass!" it is an electronic compass and susceptible to false readings, not to mention that the batteries may die. When using a GPS to navigate, read the bearing to your destination and then use your directional compass to navigate your way there.
The GPS is a handy tool to use while hunting in the Big Woods. You can mark your vehicle or starting point for the day and always know the distance and direction to it. You can also mark good areas you find in the woods that you may want to return to. The GPS has given hunters more confidence to venture further into the woods than they normally would have. Do not however, substitute a GPS for a compass and knowing how to use it. The satellite system that a GPS work from are controlled by the Government. The satellite system can be shut down at any time leaving a GPS useless. Hopefully it doesn’t happen when you need it most but I would leave nothing to chance.
Becoming proficient at map and compass is the first step in gaining the confidence to hunt in the Big Woods. This confidence will set you free to roam the haunts of the Big Woods Buck.
What to Wear
Deer hunting the in Big Woods of the North country, means that you will have to contend with all types of weather from warm and dry to rain, snow, and cold. Temperatures can swing 40 degrees or more in a matter of hours and what starts out as a mild sunny day can turn into a snowy cold one before the day is over. To be able to hunt in all these conditions a hunter must wear the proper clothing. You may find yourself miles back in the woods when the weather takes a turn for the worse. Without the proper clothing, you will either be cold and uncomfortable or find yourself hightailing it back to your vehicle.
The early hunters, trappers and pioneers of this country knew to wear wool clothing to protect themselves from the elements. They knew from experience that wool clothing would keep them warm even if they ended up taking a dunk in the water. If it were not for wool clothing, most people would not have survived the explorations of the 19th century. When you look at old hunting photographs, most likely you will see the hunters in wool clothing whether it was a wool suit and bow tie, customary in the turn of the century or the classic wool plaid which came into favor in the 40’s. Wool clothing has always served hunters well. When I began deer hunting at the age of ten back in 1967, everyone wore wool checked pant and coats. My father bought me my first set of wool clothing as soon as I was able to carry a gun in the woods. There really wasn’t much other choice back then except for cotton and nobody made hunting clothes from it.
Why is wool clothing the best choice for hunting? Wool has natural properties the go well beyond the most commonly stated which is that “wool is warm even when wet”. This is a true point and wool has saved many lives because of it.
Another natural property of wool that is naturally odor resistant. Most people don’t know this because they have become conditioned to think that they need special clothing or spray to mask their odor. I can’t tell you how many times that I have had deer standing feet from me and never knew I was around. One time I had just shot a ten-point buck as he ran towards me and dropped 40 feet away. As I stood there watching the buck, a doe ran past him and straight at me. That doe must have thought I was a tree when she ran up to me and stopped with her front feet almost standing on mine. She was looking back at the buck with the back of her head about a foot from my chest. She stood for about a minute and then bounded off, but stopped again 20 feet from me looking at the buck again. This doe stood there for another minute or so before bounding away never knowing I was around. That experience happened when I was in my twenties and since that incident, I have felt that if I wore wool, I would be scent free.
Wool does not burn. It may smoke or smolder a little but you cannot light it on fire. If you burn a hole in your wool socks, it is the synthetic fibers needed for stretch that burned, not the wool. What has this got to do with hunting? Not a lot except you may feel a little more comfortable huddling around a fire to warm up!
Nowadays most hunting clothes are made from some kind of man made material. The manufacturer of these materials all claim theirs to be the best but believe me after guiding hunters for the past 25 years; I’ve seen it all as far as hunting clothing goes. I have yet to see any clothing made from any material that can hold a candle to wool, especially when hunting when there is snow, rain and cold involved. Don’t get me wrong, if a hunter is sitting in a tree stand there may be a better choice of insulated clothing, but for moving about the woods, you can’t beat wool. Wool will naturally air dry fairly quickly. If you get caught in a snow or rain shower you will stay warm and be dry before you know it. Wool is quiet, which for me is one of the most critical aspects of being a good hunter. Other materials may feel quiet to the touch, but they will slap and pop going through brush. The one exception is polar fleece, but it is completely useless when wet.
I feel the only reason that the majority of today’s hunters do not still wear wool is because other materials were marketed better. I remember a lot of clothing was marketed as being just like wool only better. I don’t believe we man can make a better all around material than what God created to protect sheep from the elements for thousands of years! I guess I am just one of those dyed in the wool guy’s. We have a saying in hunting camps of the North; cotton is death so wear your woolies.
What to carry (essentials)
Hunting in the Big Woods requires that you carry everything that you might need for the day or possibly a night with you. Your safety and survival might depend on it. Accidents can happen and that’s no different when hunting. Anything from falling in a steam to spraining or breaking an ankle can turn a normal hunting day into a survival situation. You don’t have to let these possibilities discourage you from hunting the Big Woods, you just have to be prepared in the event that something like this happens.
If you are a stand hunter you may choose to use a back pack, for the extra room it provides to carry any extra clothing you may need. For tracking or still hunting a pack needs to be as quiet as the clothing you wear. It also should not be bulky and have straps and buckles that catch in the brush. I never carried a pack during my days of hunting in the woodlots of southern Maine. But, after my first trip to the Big Woods, I knew that it was essential to carry one. Thirty-five years ago there were not many choices in a belt pack but I managed to find one that was made of a Polar Fleece material with a water resistant liner. It had two compartment so I could separate items and an adjustable waist buckle. That pack lasted me twenty years and served me well. When it was time to replace that pack, I looked high and low for another like it to no avail. All the packs I looked at were either made with stiff noisy material, had too many pocket and buckles or both. Because of this, I decided to design and make my own pack. I made a prototype out of wool using the basic design of my original pack with two pockets. I added a GPS pocket on the top and lunch divider inside. It worked so good that we now produce and market this same pack as the Big Woods Bucks tracking pack.
Below is a list of the things that I carry in my pack at all times or what I call “essentials”. Everything I carry weighs less than five pounds including my lunch. You may decide to add things or substitute some things but I developed this list during my thirty- five years of hunting the Big Woods.
- Space Blanket
- Dragging Rope
- Nylon Twine
- Map Compass
- Spare Ammo
- Spare Batteries
- 2 Types of Fire Starters? Tinder
- Flagging Ribbon
- Pea-less Whistle
- Spare Gloves
- Plastic Tie Wraps
- Chocolate Bars
- Knife (can be carried on belt as well)
Anything that needs to stay dry such as fire starters or gloves, should be kept in Zip Lock bags to keep then dry.
For most hunters scouting for deer is a matter of finding the food source that they are using whether it is an acorn field or an oak ridge. Then they look for the nearest swamp or thicket that the deer use as their bedding area. Most hunters will then find a trail connecting the two and set up a stand. This method of scouting will not work in the Big Woods for a couple of reasons. There are no fields or agricultural crops. Deer can find food just about anywhere, so most of their feeding is done as they wander about their territory. Food consists of anything from plants, mushrooms, and berries to buds and leaves in a regenerating logging area. Newly logged areas are the closest thing to an agricultural crop that there is in the Big Woods. As deer move about feeding they will usually lay down where are feeding or move off to a vantage point where they can watch their backtrack. The territory of a mature Big Woods Buck might cover an area that stretches 10 miles in any direction. They feed and bed anywhere along their travel route and may not return to an area for days. To hunt one of these bucks, you have find where he travels.
To scout for bucks in the Big Woods, we must find the sign that they leave along the way. A buck will lay down scrapes as he travels. Most of them will be found where there are does. Since a scrape is a function of the rut, it only makes sense that a buck won’t waste time making a scrape where there are no doe’s. Scrapes made around doe areas are a good place for a stand during the rut. The location of scrapes may change from year to year as the doe’s move to different food sources so one year’s hotspot may not be so hot the next.
Rubs are the other sign that buck’s leave along the way. A rub can tell us things about a particular buck such as his direction of travel and size or age. There are three type of rubs that a buck will make, hooking, common and signpost. Of the three, the signpost is the most important. A signpost rub is created by a buck rubbing the same tree year after year. He places scent from his forehead glands on the rub to mark his territory. A buck may have many signposts throughout his territory and quite often several bucks will use the same one. These rubs are key to figuring the travel routes of a buck. This is important as they are good places to stand hunt, still hunt, or to pick up a track in the snow.
Big Woods deer move about their range at different times of the year. Where they are feeding in the summer may not be where they are in the fall. They also migrate to wintering areas in December so scouting is most effective just before the season opens or in the spring as soon as the snow melts and before the woods turn green again. I am always scouting while hunting. Quite often when tracking a buck, I will end up in a new area so I take note of what I am seeing. I will also scout the week before the season starts as the leaves have been down for a while and tracks will be visible. Also, the bucks have usually started laying down sign by now. The advantage of scouting in the spring is that all the sign made in the fall is still visible. The rubs will have faded from the sun and some leaves may have blown into the scrapes, but the sign is there if you look closely. I believe that most bucks only travel through about ten percent of their home range, so finding these travel corridors is critical and is why scouting is so important
Stand hunting, still hunting and tracking are all effective methods of hunting in the Big Woods. Because deer densities are generally lower in the Big Woods, a hunter must employ the principals that I call the “3 P’s”. These principals are practice, patience and persistence. Big Woods hunters know the success rate is low so making the most of an opportunity is critical. The opportunity for a shot may come and go in a matter of seconds. You must practice your shooting enough to make it become second nature and your gun needs to become an extension of your arms. To do this you need to find a gun and action that fits you and practice with it. I’ve seen way too many bucks get away from my clients over the years because they were fumbling with their safety or their scope didn’t fit them right.
Shooting is not the only thing to practice. There are plenty of things that you can practice outside of the season, so you’ll be on top of your game when it’s time hit the woods. Some things are simple to practice like walking in the woods. Learn to walk quietly by knowing what things make noise when you step on them. Learn how to navigate easily in the woods by using the lay of the land. Practice your map and compass skills. Learn how to start a fire easily in any weather conditions. If you practice these things before the season starts, you will be ready for anything when the time comes to concentrate on hunting.
Hunting in the Big Woods also takes plenty of patience. If you are a stand hunter, you will not see deer filing by your stand all day like you see on the TV shows. You will not be trying to catch a buck traveling from a bedding to a feeding area. You will have to wait patiently along a travel corridor where there may be a signpost rub or a scrape line, and catch a buck traveling between the doe areas. I have had clients sit on stand day after day without seeing a deer and becoming discouraged. The hunters that stuck with it until the end would quite often get a shot at a buck. Having patience also holds true while still hunting or tracking. I have to admit that patience is not one of my attributes. I can’t count the times that I spooked the buck I was after because I was too anxious to take the next step or try to see over the next ridge. As I get older I have finally realized that slowing down and having a little patience is a lot easier.
The third “P” is persistence, which is the most important one of all. Persistence means that you never give up or throw the towel in. It is an inherent human trait to give up on things when encountering resistance. It could be anything from a mountain hike to the latest diet, it’s just easier to give up. You might plan on sitting in your stand all day, but by noon you decided to go back to camp and sit by the fire. You might have planned to still hunt over a mountain to the swamp on the other side, but half way up the mountain you got tired and turned around. You may be on the track of an old buck and when he crosses a stream you leave the track because the water is over your boots.
These things are all easy to do and maybe you have done some of them. The best advice I can give any hunter that takes to the Big Woods is to be persistent. Persistence will overcome any shortcomings that you may have. Stay on the stand that you took all the time scout, that buck will eventually show up. Get up over the mountain and down to the swamp and you just might bump into a buck. Find a way to get across that stream and you just might catch that buck laying in his bed on the other side. I think the old 80/20 rule applies to hunting. Twenty percent of the hunters kill 80 percent of the bucks and I believe those are the hunters that are the most persistent.
“Big Woods Bucks” was founded on the principals of providing hunters with a knowledge base through our books and videos as well as providing clothing and gear to make them better and more successful hunters. We have our own line of wool clothing designed specifically for the rigors of this kind of hunting. It is made with the highest quality materials for years of use. You can purchase it and any other of our “system” products from our online store.