Traveling for Big Bucks
Posted on October 17, 2012
Tired of going season after season without tagging a trophy buck on your home turf? If so, then hit the road and score on a giant buck!
Watching a gigantic whitetail buck tend a doe is not something you get to do everyday. In fact, most hunters go their entire lifetime only hallucinating about such an occurrence. However, that is exactly what Wisconsin native, Gary Hintz, found himself doing one November morning in 2010 from the comforts of his pickup. His son, Seth, accompanied him and rolled some footage as the buck pursued his love passions. Imagine sweetening the deal with the fact that Gary could hunt this spot. He knew he had to try for that particular buck. With a treestand hung just inside the woods from where this monster now stood, Gary knew the next day would find him in that tree with a certain buck on the hit list. When the buck’s sky-high rack was quartered away, some sticker points created a perfect circle, and Gary fittingly nicknamed him the “hole in the horn buck.”
The next day found the whitetail veteran climbing into that well-placed treestand that overlooked a worn scrape line. Gary had high hopes that the giant buck would still be in the area. Blowing several grunts from his call, Gary’s senses jolted to life when he spotted the monster from the day before working the scrape line. All the pieces of the puzzle had been placed perfectly up to this point. Now, only one piece to that proverbial puzzle remained; getting a lethal arrow into this magnum deer. Once the buck offered an easy 24-yard shot, Gary placed a perfect arrow, which quickly brought the monster buck to the ground. With a score of 154 inches and a weight of 263 pounds, the giant non-typical 13-pointer is exactly the type of buck Gary set out to harvest. The 6-Â½ year old buck proudly hangs in his house today.
Time For a Change
When it comes to bowhunting trophy whitetails, many hunters find themselves discontented with their home area. After years of not putting down a whopper buck or even seeing one, it’s no wonder why. That’s when it is time to change the pace and find a place capable of producing a legitimate shot opportunity at a bruiser buck. That’s the decision Gary knew he needed to make.
That monster buck Gary took in 2010 was just one of many Illinois bucks he has arrowed over the past 12 years. Gary resides in Wisconsin, and there came a time when he just grew tired of all the hunting pressure near his north woods home. Gary is really into target archery and had talked with several fellow competitors at some winter shoots about bowhunting. Stories of the Prairie State and its giant whitetails beckoned for Gary to go and see for himself.
Hungry for the monster buck action that he had only heard about, Gary took a road-trip to Illinois. His plan was to attempt to secure hunting privileges on some private land. With a determination not to be reckoned with, Gary drove 998 miles throughout Illinois in just 4 days before he finally overturned the right leaf. Hunting privileges on a 3,000-acre farm was going to serve him very well in the years to come. Residing in an area that gets hammered with pressure, Gary was thrilled with the prospect of seeing if this land was all it promised to be. As a courtesy, Gary slides the landowner some cash each year to keep the relationship strong. Doing so gives a landowner the idea that you are thankful and not just taking them and their land for granted.
While it’s no secret that Illinois produces some giants each year, the states of Kansas, Iowa, Ohio, and Missouri are also known for the same thing. How come Gary chose Illinois? Up and above the stories he heard at those archery shoots, he also knew that because Illinois borders Wisconsin, he could spend more time there since it is much closer to home for him. The other reason was that he could be guaranteed a license each year. “Licenses are issued through a lottery system, but there are always leftovers,” said Gary. “It’s really comforting knowing you will get a license every year,” he added.
Season Starts When Sheds Drop
Gary’s season begins when he searches for sheds in early spring. This is a time to see what caliber of bucks made it through the hunting seasons. Gary has found tons of sheds in his 3,000-acre honey-hole, including some that belong to bucks he has harvested. On top of that, it is extremely entertaining for Gary to get rid of the cabin fever at the end of a brutal Wisconsin winter and take a springtime road-trip to his favorite place to hunt whitetails…Illinois!
In the summer months, a good way to see what bucks are roaming the area is to get situated near a bean field where bucks are trying to pack on the protein for the upcoming breeding season. For the first time since he started hunting in Illinois, Gary took a summer trip to Illinois this past year and did some glassing on bean fields. “It is really neat to see big bucks feeding right underneath your stands,” he said. “The velvet makes their racks look so huge!” This is a great way to get the fuel burning for the upcoming season while taking inventory of the bucks in your hunting area.
Photos Provide The Evidence
Gary relies heavily upon trail cameras, particularly when he can’t be in Illinois. “I leave the cameras out all fall,” said Hintz. This enables him to track what bucks are using certain areas, and what time of day they are moving the most.
If you want to be a great road-trip hunter, then you should also rely on trail cameras. These cameras stand on guard even while you are hundreds of miles away only dreaming about monster bucks. Every aspiring road-trip hunter should get their hands on several good quality trail cameras and use them extensively.
The property Gary hunts in Illinois has several wooded ravines. “I always place my 4 trail cameras throughout these ravines, since bucks favor these secure travel routes,” Gary told me. “I get a lot of great bucks on camera in these areas.” Specifically, Gary puts his cameras on scrapes in these ravines, which provide the evidence he needs to know if he should hunt there or not.
Learn and Utilize Terrain Features
When you go road-trip hunting and find land to hunt, the first priority is to learn the terrain features. Topographic maps paint the picture of terrain features without the need to walk the entire property. Once you locate terrain features that are likely to facilitate deer traffic, also study aerial photography in order to see what kind of bedding and feeding areas lie in the surrounding areas.
Gary learned this property very well in order to take the bites of success that he has always had an appetite for. “The ravines that I place my trail cameras in also serve as good stand spots,” said Hintz. “I have many stands placed in these ravines for different wind directions, since there are north and south running ravines and east and west ravines,” he said. This affords Gary a place to sit regardless of the wind direction.
The spot where Gary took the “hole in the horn buck” was in a little patch of timber that is only 80 yards wide, with CRP surrounding the timber. With his stand placed smack dab in the middle of the timber lot, he can shoot to each edge. It is a perfectly concealed funnel area that routinely brings monster bucks on a suicide squeeze toward Gary’s stand as they tend does or check scrapes.
Learning terrain features on your chosen hunting ground and knowing which areas bucks prefer will level the playing field. With terrain features, you can typically set your stand in such a way that will enable you a chip shot when a big boy comes through. Bottlenecks and other terrain features that pinch deer in tight make bowhunting shots closer and easier to make in most cases.
When hunting these natural funnels, Gary favors trees with lots of cover so that he can sit 12- to 15-feet high. “Bowhunting shots should be close,” said Gary. “Hunting from lower stands also gives you better shot angles in most cases.” Like Gary, I prefer those close-range, high percentage shots as well.
Early, Rut, or Late?
When it comes to hitting the road for an out-of-state bowhunt, when is the best time to go? For Gary, it is the rut. “I always go to Illinois in early season, but the weather is usually hot and bucks will move nocturnally,” said Hintz. “The rut brings a whole new dimension to the Illinois bow season. Monster bucks are on their feet and in search of a hot doe,” he added. “This is the time to be in a tree if you want the best chances of tagging a giant.”
When it comes to road-trip bowhunts for whitetails, the rut tends to be a favorite for most bowhunters. This is due to the fact that scouting is less crucial since bucks are liable to be anywhere at any given time. In early and late-season, you really have to pattern a buck if you want to run an arrow through him. With a limited schedule of time to hunt on a road-trip, the rut typically offers you the best chances to tag a road-trip monarch.
Learn From Mistakes
Gary Hintz began his annual Illinois road-trips back in 1999. I specifically questioned Hintz on what mistakes he made as the new kid on the block when he first started hunting there. “We always hunted big fields where we would see a lot of deer, and some big ones,” he answered. “The problem was that we were doing a lot of watching and hardly any killing. Moving stands into the wooded draws and funnels quickly changed that problem,” he added.
Spending some time in observation stands is not a bad thing to do. But, to kill the biggest bucks, you will likely need to buckle down in some security cover where the bucks will more likely respond to calling sequences. As a rule, you will see more deer in big wide-open areas, but the deer that you do see in tighter cover will usually be more mature and offer you that doable bowshot.
Foggy Morning Monster
One warm evening in November of 2009, Gary Hintz was doing some glassing and spotted 3 bucks that would score 150 or better tending does in a 40-acre patch of CRP grass. The next morning, Hintz sneaked into the area as close as he dared and climbed into one of four stands that were available for different wind directions.
Not long into the foggy morning, Gary spotted a huge buck about 600 yards away. Using a Wayne Carlton buck grunt that was designed for western deer hunting, Gary beckoned to the buck with some very aggressive grunting. Unbelievably, the magnum buck made a 600-yard march right to Gary’s stand. A 15-yard shot sealed the envelope on that phenomenal morning hunt. With a score of 156 inches, you can be sure Gary’s non-resident license was put to good use.
Get On The Road!
When it comes to hunting around home, you either have great hunting or you don’t. If you are like Gary or myself, you just don’t have the kind of hunting opportunities around home that fulfill your monster buck longings. If that’s you, then a road-trip might be all it takes to get your fill of monster bucks each season.
Conduct some comprehensive research to find yourself a whitetail honey-hole away from home just like Gary did. It might take you thousands of miles to find land that has big bucks, but every mile is well worth it if it leads to a pile of big racks and unforgettable memories like it has for Gary Hintz. This road-trip gig also lead Hintz to some really close lifetime friends, including Steve Franklin, who actually helped Gary to find the land he now hunts. Big bucks and best friends are what hunting is all about!
Lots of bowhunters hunt in an out-of-state context. However, a very elite group of hunters enjoy the kind of success that Gary Hintz does each season. If you follow his proven process outlined here, you will get your chances. Monster bucks are within your reach. But, if one thing’s for sure, they won’t come to you. You have to go to them! Go and explore God’s Creation! Get on the road to monster bucks!
By Darron McDougal