So many are interested at DIY hunting, however not many find success in them. In this episode, Josh Honeycutt of RealTree.com shares with you some great advice on becoming a successful DIY hunter. An associate editor producing DIY content, Josh takes us into his own hunting experiences and the strategies he implements during his hunts. What is more, Josh shares how he got his non-hunting family to love he does.
LISTEN TO THE PODCAST HERE:
Deer Hunting Editor Realtree.com – Josh Honeycutt
We’re heading down to Kentucky, and we’re going to talk with Josh Honeycutt. Josh is the Social Editor for Realtree.com. Josh, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Bruce. I appreciate you for having me on.
We’re going to deep dive into how you got to where you are and we’re going to start off with Realtree.com. Tell us how you get connected with those folks.
It all started before I was in high school. I’ve been in the outdoors ever since I was able to walk doing some outdoor activity in some way or another. I credit my father and my grandfather for introducing me to the outdoors. It has been a pretty cool journey. I got into high school, I started to think about careers. I wanted to figure out what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure what that was but I knew that I wanted to be in the outdoors as much as possible. I found the outdoor industry as many others have as well. I tried to match up what my strengths were to my passion and figure out what that career could potentially look like. For me, in high school that was English, language arts, writing, media type of things. I loved to work with video and that led to a career in the outdoors. I started trying to freelance writing when I was a senior and it was tough. It took about a year to get published. I probably received about 20 or 30, maybe 40 rejection letters before I finally got published in a magazine and it was Kentucky Outdoors, a local magazine that we used to have here in the state. It snowballed from there.
It took a year or two after that, I started freelance writing for Realtree.com. Will Brantley, who is now with Field & Stream, was the editor for Realtree at that time. I was doing a lot of freelance writing for him and for the website. That’s how I got introduced with them and it snowballed from there. I was able to write for a lot of other publications such as Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, North American Whitetail, Whitetail Journal, Bowhunting.com. A lot of great websites and magazines there are prominent in the industry. I was blessed with opportunities to write for those which essentially led to a job with the NWTF. I worked as their communication specialist down in South Carolina for a couple of years. I was offered a job opportunity with Realtree and I was honored to take that and accept that position. I’m the Associate Deer Hunting Editor for Realtree. I hit up any deer hunting, big game hunting, bowhunting, some gun hunting. Any land management plot content on Realtree, whether that’s writing, whether that’s video content, whatever the media is, that’s what I do.
At Realtree.com and the deer hunting realm that you’re in charge of, what’s the number one question people query you guys?
It’s a broad range of questions that we get, probably the most popular which makes sense to me is all the DIY type content. People who want to learn how to do things, how to be successful, how to kill big deer or simply how to kill a deer and do it on a budget and do it DIY style. Which is me, that’s who I am. That’s probably the number one question as far as the general topics that we get.
You talk about DIY, there are a number of heads up on your wall, Josh. For the most part those are all DIY deer, correct?You're only as good as the ground that you hunt on. Click To Tweet
Those are all DIY deer, all Kentucky deer. I’ve got another room with Kentucky deer and some other states as well.
Let’s give three things to our readers saying, “I want to be a successful DIY hunter. I’ve killed a few bucks but I’m not consistently killing bucks in multiple plots or multiple timbers.” What would you tell them?
When it comes to hunting, the DIY hunter hunts a lot of new ground. It takes a lot of time to find the right place. I would rather have 20 or 30 acres of land that has the right configuration of habitat, that has all the right circumstances surrounding it than I would a 250 or 300-acre farm that has lesser habitat. It doesn’t have the right configuration of components that you need in order to have a good piece of ground for a deer hunt. It takes time to find that. The first thing I would say is cliché but I would say, “Scout way more than you hunt.” It takes a lot of time and effort to find a good place to go deer hunting. Especially, if you’re in the market for big bucks, which is not what it’s all about for me. I love getting in the outdoors but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like to shoot a big deer every now and then.
The first thing is you’ve got to learn how to find the right ground. Whether that’s private, whether that’s public, either way it’s the same. A lot of that goes into that, you have to scout both in the field, you have to scout visually. There are enough plethora of tips that we could throw out there as far as how to get that ball rolling. The first thing you need to do is decide whether you want to hunt there at home or whether you want to hunt out of state. If you want to hunt there at home, the first step is to call the DNR, pull some stats, figure out where the biggest deer are coming from, figure out where the most deer come from, figure out where the least hunters are at. I will say I’ve found some good success over the years in hunting spots that weren’t necessarily where the biggest bucks were coming from in the state. It had the least hunter concentration which can lead to some good pockets of untouched ground that also produce big deer.
You’ve got to scout visually. There are a lot of different maps that I use, I’ll use aerial maps, topo maps. I’ll use a lot of these maps that give a lot of topography. Our big game records companies like Pope & Young and Boone & Crockett map that they put out, I look at those maps. I’ll look at agricultural maps to figure out where the hot pockets, the big pockets of agriculture are located. There are all these different types of maps that you can use. You think of it in layers, take the aerial map and you slap another layer on it. It paints a picture and helps you determine, “These are the areas that I want to focus on.” Once that happens and you’ve narrowed it down to four to seven, whatever the number is until you find the spot you want to hunt. Narrow it down digitally and then get in the field and start scouting. Even though we have the digital age and we have all these great useful tools, important tools, you’ve still got to get boots on the ground.
When you hit a new piece of ground that you’ve done all the background work, all the digital work and maybe even looked at hard maps and all that, finally you got two or three places within 100 miles of your home. What are you looking for? What’s the first thing you’re going to do on those three properties?
Every situation is different but for me, I like to do all of those boots on the ground, most of those boots on the groundwork. I like to do it from January to June. I don’t like to invade places that I’m going to be hunting and I don’t like to invade places that other people are going to hunt either. I don’t want to mess anybody else for that. I’m going to respect other hunters as well. Traditionally, unless it’s a rare instance or a special case, I didn’t like to get in the field and do a whole lot of boots on the ground scouting. I don’t do like to do a whole lot of invasion except January to June and more specifically, I like to do it from January to about March.
As soon as you figure out where those properties are located that you want to focus on and where you want to home in on, get out there, scout those properties. You want to look for deer signs. That sounds cliché but that’s the best indication unless you put up trail cameras and do a lot of scouting from afar or glass and stuff like that. The number one way to figure out, if you’re living there or not, is to look for signs. There are tracks, rough signs that are leftover from the fall, there are a number of things.
I like to get out there and I like to see first and foremost if there are deer there. Not every property is going to have deer and not every property is going to have big deer. You’ve got to, first and foremost, figure out if there are deer there, you do find a lot of good deer sign. You want to try to figure out if there’s a deer that you want to hunt and you can do that by looking for different types of rough signs. The old saying, the old myth, “Big bucks make big rubs and little bucks make little rubs.” That’s obviously a myth. At the end of the day, most of the time it takes a big buck to make a big rub, not saying that they don’t make little rub too. You’ve got to find there are total indications that will let you know whether or not they’re mature deer there on that initial look at the property.
Once you do that, then it’s a waiting game, you’ve got to go on a shed hunt, that’s another good way to determine. It’s not always going to guarantee that deer lives there or it is going to be there come next fall. At least, it lets you know that there is a big deer in the area. Also, I like to do late season or postseason trail camera surveys. If you’re scouting a property, if it’s public land, you wouldn’t be able to go in there and put any bait out. If it’s private land, I have done some late season, postseason and I will say this, make sure you check your state’s game laws. There are a lot of these states that will have a cutoff date when you can and can’t bait deer. Make sure you check your local state laws on that. I do like to do late-season and post-season trail camera survey because that’s a good bet of whether or not there are still deer in the area.
It doesn’t guarantee that they’ll be there during the early season, it doesn’t guarantee that they’ll be there during the rut. I have noticed over the years that if you do find deer in an area during the late season, it’s a pretty good bet that they’re going to be there next late season, especially if you’re able to notice a trend over a couple of years. There are a number of things that you can do and don’t think we could fit it all into a show here. Those are the initial things that I do, from initially starting out scouting digitally and getting out on to the property that I potentially look at the hunt quality.
How do you catalog all this data? Are you walking around with a GPS? What are the hunting apps and putting pins down, “Here’s a rub, here’s a crossing, I got two trails coming together. I got this trail poking around this hillside?” All the things you’ve seen. How do we make sure that we catalog that so when I get back home I go, “I saw that rub, where was it?” People do it, I’ve done it. I’ve got to remember the spot and then I don’t mark it and then I’m screwed.
I’m a bit of a new school and a bit of old school. I’ll start out with purely look in the field scouting. Something I’ve started doing the last few years and I don’t do it every time I go out, but I try to do it as much as I can. I’m going out there and scouting during the postseason or late season or whenever it is, any time of the year for that matter. I like to carry a physical hard copy, a paper copy of the aerial of that property that I’m scouting. As I’m scouting that property I will scour, I’ll walk every bit of. I go into it with a shed hunting mentality where you zigzag back and forth because that’s what it takes to learn a property. You’ve got to go down, walk down one side, go over 50 yards, 40 yards or however much. You’d come back the other way and it takes a long time to do stuff like that. If you’ve got time, that’s great. I don’t always have time to go in-depth with it.
As I’m scouting those properties, I like to mark anything I find on the aerial map, anything from rubs, to scrape, to trails. I’ll trace all trails that I find on that aerial map. I will physically mark those on that. I’ll match up to my GPS on my phone to the hardcopy map and I will draw those trails on the map. I have a legend that I keep in the back of my mind and on those maps to identify scrape, rubs, bedding areas, feeding destinations, areas that might be staging areas, anything I find. I’ll even mark what I think is a good stand location on there so if there’s water, it’s another big one. I’ll mark water sources as well. That’s what I do as I’m in the field.
Once I get back home, I’ll log that visually as well. I’ve got three different apps that I use. I won’t name any names as far as the apps go. I’ve got one app that I use purely for stand locations. It marks all of my treestands, actual treestands where they’re located in the field as well as potential stand locations and I keep those color-coded. I also have an app that tracks where all of my trail cameras are. I run about 30 trail cameras in the field each year. I have one app where I mark deer signs. You could do all that in one app but in my case, in my experience, it seems like sometimes those apps get a little bit cluttered if you try to use them for a ton of different things. You can make layers and stuff like that but I’m OCD. I like to keep them all separated by an app. That’s what I do.
When it comes to trail cameras, I don’t delete a trail camera picture. I keep all of my hundreds of thousands of trail camera pictures. I don’t know exactly how many I have but I have a big drive of photos from trail cameras over the last however many years. I keep those catalogs in an organized way. The way is stair steps, I have it by year then I have it broken down by state then by property. Within the property, I’ll have folders for each camera check that I got in. That helps me to identify or go back and look at things that maybe I want to remember from last season or go back and check from last season.It doesn't take as much time and effort to go out and enjoy a rabbit, squirrel, or bird hunt as it does a big-game hunt. Click To Tweet
Also, something that I do for each year, I keep a folder for each individual unique buck that I get on camera. Over the years, I’ve noticed that it helped me learn these whitetails’ patterns that you wouldn’t necessarily pick up on if it wasn’t the fact that you saved all of the trail camera photos. If you didn’t save all of the rut sign that you found that you thought was associated with that particular deer. Whenever you’re available to go back and look at past years for that deer, especially for deer that you have on-camera or see for consecutive years. They can help paint a picture and help show you how to target that deer potentially and how to hunt that deer during the upcoming season.
You’re talking through all that and I’m going, “That sounds like a great eBook.”
I’ve written a lot of articles on these topics on Realtree.com. You can find anything I’ve talked about and way more. You can find multiple articles on it on Realtree. You can either go to Deer Hunting Nest or you can go to my personal blog at Brow Tines and Backstrap. You can find a lot of stuff in there as well. All definitely important topics you consider as deer hunting.
It gives you some insight, somebody that’s, one, a successful deer hunter and two, is honing his craft as a writer in the outdoor industry. That’s available to anybody. Can everybody do it? No, because writing is hard work. It is not easy work at all. You can still get your foot in the door and do some things that readers like to read to like this show. I get emails all the time saying, “Thanks, that one tip helped me close the deal on one of my hit list bucks, he was a phantom buck. I changed it up and here’s a picture of them.” That’s what it’s all about because we’re all out here trying to help each other become better whitetail hunters. To become a better whitetail hunter, you have to have better gear, especially after mature deer in the warm-up we were talking about. You got to have a good gene pool for both, not only a buck and the does. Let’s talk about that for a little bit because people are going to understand what’s happening to the does that are bred. Why it’s important to help the does get through the winter.
I’ll take a step back for those who are fresh to deer hunting or new to deer hunting or have been doing it a while but simply do not find the success they’re looking for. You’re only as good as the ground that you hunt on as far as big deer goes and just deer in general for that matter. You can’t kill a deer that isn’t there so I will say this. It’s because somebody kills a big deer doesn’t make them a great hunter. You can take an above-average deer hunter and put them on a poor property and then take the below-average deer hunter and put him on a great property. The below-average hunter skill-wise, he’s going to kill big deer most of the time. My point from that is you’ve got to find good ground to kill good deer and deer in general. You can’t kill a deer that isn’t there.
You’ve got to find those properties where that genetics is located. You’ve got to find the properties where the habitat harbors those populations of whitetails. As you also noted, it’s not about having good genetics buck-wise, you’ve got to have healthy does of good genetics as well. The whitetail doe is just as responsible for a whitetail buck and the size of his antlers than a buck is, the sire. That’s because of a number of reasons, a whitetail doe contributes approximately 50%, maybe a little more of the genetic makeup of that rack for starters. You’ve got to factor in the fact that the whitetail doe is the one raising that whitetail buck fawn, up to 1.5 years old, give or take a bit of time there. The lactation is a huge factor, the time of birth, the time at which that doe was bred is a big factor whether it’s early-born or late-born fawn. A lot of research shows if a whitetail buck fawn gets a late start or a bad start, that has the potential to affect even the subsequent rack each year after that. If his first rack is affected by the conditions, he finds itself in its effects the years following. It’s one of those things where you got to find the good ground because if you can’t find a good ground with deer on it, you’re not going to be as successful.
To capitalize that, if you’ve been hunting the same 40 for a number of years and every once in a while you’ll see a decent buck, a 2.5-year-old buck. Most of the bucks you see here are young deer and you never see the mature deer. Start figuring out what’s on your ground, why it isn’t supporting mature deer or are they completely nocturnal. To me, whitetail hunting is 365 days a year and plus. What I mean by plus is when you’re driving to work, it gets crazy but you’re trying to figure out the puzzle and it is a puzzle. If you studied the deer, they’d tell you the solutions. Josh, what are your thoughts?
When it comes to deer hunting, it doesn’t matter if you just want a doe for the freezer or if you want to get a big rack for the wall or both. Even if you want to take somebody else and get them into the outdoor, whatever the case is, it’s all the same. As we know, you’re only as good as the ground you hunt. I spend way more time each year trying to plan where I’m going to hunt. More specifically, how to target because what I do a lot of times is, I will target specific deer. I’m not saying that I won’t kill another deer that walks by me, but I do go into each hunt with a plan to kill a specific deer. I’ve found the most success with that. It seems to me that I slip up less often or spook less deer whenever I go in with a plan to target a specific deer that I think is killable. At the end of the day, you’ve got to find those properties that the deer own, that takes a lot of time and effort, it’s not easy. There’s nothing wrong with being a meat hunter. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to go out on open rifle season and killing whatever you see. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and you’re no lesser of a deer hunter than the guy who spends 200 days of the year scouting. You’re as much of a deer hunter as that guy.
What separates the deer hunters from the people who consistently go out and kill big deer on a regular basis are those who are willing to do the homework, putting the time and effort that it takes to be successful like that. Nothing against the people who want to go out on the open day rifle season, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’m that guy too. I go out on the open day rifle season every year. Whether I’m the one hunting and taking somebody with me and allowing them to have the hunting experience. You have to take the time when you’re targeting big deer and you want to kill not just big deer but to be consistent each year to fill the freezer. Sometimes this is what it takes, you have to be willing to go out and do that. Do the homework and make that effort to not only find the good property but to learn those properties and then learn the deer that are on those grounds.
It comes in three stages, a big scale. If you want to look at it a big scale, you’ve got to find the right property, that’s the first step. You also have to learn that property and figure out how you use it. Once you figure that out, each and every individual deer is different as well. It may sound cliché to say it but every deer has its own personality. It’s a lot like humans in that aspect. Every deer has its own habits, its own preferences and that’s also where a lot of deer hunters get mixed up. It’s where I personally got mixed up for a long time and I finally realized both through mentors who’ve helped me learn and some things that I learned from myself. Every deer is different and you’ve got to try to get inside the mind of the deer that you’re after. If you’re targeting a specific deer, you’ve got to figure out what makes that deer tick. You’ve got to figure out how it thinks, how it behaves, how it reacts and all the many other factors that play into it. You’ve got to find the right track. You’ve got to learn those properties. You’ve got to learn the deer that’s on those properties and willing to do those three things and you’ll find a whole lot more success whenever you’re targeting whitetails that you want.
Thank you, Josh. Along the way there’s been a couple of people in your family that’s helped you become a hunter that you are and forged your philosophy on whitetail hunting. Let’s share some stories about those folks.
I was born to a family with quite a few hunters. Part of that being a backcountry boy from Kentucky, there are a lot of deer hunters, turkey hunters and all the types of hunters living around here. I’m in a good place, a good part of the country for that. I was blessed to have a father who introduced me to deer hunting and a grandfather who introduced me to turkey hunting. That way, we do all of it, but my dad’s thing was deer hunting, my grandpa’s thing was turkey hunting. I was blessed to have somebody to show me both. I could say those are my two favorite types of animals to hunt, whitetails and wild turkeys. I’ve been blessed with some opportunities to hunt some other things as well.
Those are my two passions and I’ve credited my father and my grandfather for that. Getting me into the outdoors as soon as I was able to walk and show me what those experiences were. Showing me what the outdoors was and how to enjoy it, not only enjoy it but how to cherish it, how to promote that heritage and how to share it with others. I grew up in the outdoors and that was my thing. Growing up, I played baseball, that was another passion of mine. At the end of the day, when it comes down to it, choosing over baseball game or hunting, if I could only do one over the other for the rest of my life, it’s obviously going to be hunting. That’s why I’m where I am now.
The second part of that along the way you got married, what happened with your in-laws?
I live a blessed life and I thank the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with that, thank God for that. I was blessed to meet my wife at an early age. I’ve known her since we were in diapers but we met in a sandbox. We started dating when we were sixteen and we’ve been married for a couple of years. When I married my wife, I married into a family of non-hunters, they were anti-hunters. They have anything against it. It’s hard to be an anti-hunter in South Central, Kentucky. They saw my interest, they saw my passion for working. They decided they wanted to see what that was all about. It started with my father-in-law. He’s the first one to inquire about it and re-inquire about it. He wanted to go deer hunting and turkey hunting. I was able to help him get his first deer and his first turkey. He was the first of my in-laws to decide he wants to go hunt and it spread from there.
I was blessed to get my wife. I was able to get her in the field and she got her first deer ever during the 2016 season. She had a pretty good start in the outdoors, killing 120-inch eight-point buck. That’s a lot bigger than my first deer but she enjoyed it. She was also able to take her first turkey as well. She took to the outdoors. I was able to introduce both my sister-in-law, my wife’s sister and my grandfather-in-law to the outdoors. My sister-in-law, she didn’t get her deer, she missed one but that gave her a taste for it and she’s ready to go again. What was cool and the highlight of my season, I killed one of my biggest deer ever. It was a 140-inch velvet drop tine buck. I killed it with a bow here in Kentucky during the early season. The highlight of that season is me being able to take my grandfather-in-law and help him get his first whitetail during the late season here in Kentucky. The smile on his face and reaction he had was rewarding for me and it was a good time.Deer hunting is a long chess match. Click To Tweet
When we’re talking about putting deer on the wall and deer in the freezer, what’s up with Kentucky that all of a sudden you’ve known there are some big bucks down there but you see more and more photos of some hellacious big bucks?
It’s incredible. First and foremost I have to credit two things, I have to credit KDFWR, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. They’ve done an amazing job helping to manage the herd here in Kentucky. You can go back many years ago, there were hardly any deer at all in the area where I hunt here in South Central, Kentucky. There were a few whitetails. Due to a lot of restocking efforts and a lot of the re-introductory efforts that took place, the areas of Kentucky that hadn’t seen deer in a long time now have a healthy population of whitetails. All of the deer that I’ve hunted here in Kentucky have been in areas where there weren’t whitetails or weren’t many whitetails for a long time in the mid to late 1900s.
It’s been great for the management side there from the wildlife agency. I have to credit the hunters because the hunters are managers too. The deer hunters in Kentucky, especially I can’t speak for every deer hunter out there but I can speak for those that I hunt with. I can speak for the neighbors that hunt around me and close to me. I can speak for the people that I know. Here in Kentucky, we take pride in our deer herd and we take pride in the well-being of it. It’s not about killing the deer, it’s about taking care of that resource and managing that resource, making sure that it thrives. That was a big factor in the whitetail population coming back because the agency can do everything they want to and everything that they can possibly implement. If the hunters don’t accept that and adopt that then it’s not going to be as successful but it has been because of that. In general, looking at the hard data, hard fact, I don’t have anything like that in front of me now.
There are a lot of things in play here in Kentucky, number one, we have a great habitat. We have a solid habitat. I’ve been blessed to hunt in quite a few states for deer, turkey, ducks more stuff like that. I’ve seen few places that rival the habitat that we have here throughout much of Kentucky. Second of all, I have to attribute it to the agriculture and the abundance of food sources we have here. You can have all the genetics in the world and it’s not going to make much difference or it’s not going to make the difference that it would if you don’t have the quality habitat, quality food that we have here. I have to attribute to that, but genetics is a key thing as well. We have those here too. Kentucky over the last several years especially has cranked out some big whitetails, a lot of Boone & Crockett deer. I don’t know exactly where we rank right now for all time Boone and Crockett, we’re in the top five but if you went back many years ago, we weren’t even close to that.
As far as the rate, I don’t have the hard data in front of me. I have written articles on this. You can go to Realtree.com and read a lot of data specific articles that we’ve written and published in partnership with the Boone & Crockett Club. Along with the data and research that they have, one of the big things is I would say I don’t know exactly if it’s Kentucky or not. If we’re not the number one, we’re right up there at the top as far as the rate of big deer that’s being cranked out per state. Not only per state but per square mile, that’s a better look at because of the different size differential between the states. That’s something a lot of people forget about. Kentucky is not a big state, it’s bigger than some but it’s not as big as a lot of states like some of the Midwestern states that crank out big deer every year. I would say per square mile and even per state, the rate of which Kentucky is cranking out big deer is unprecedented and if it’s not number one, it’s close to it this year and the last couple of years.
Thanks for that. Let’s talk about the weather, it is 100 degrees and it’s July and August’s best year but then you avert back to January, February and March. When their fawns are dropping it might be 60 degrees, 55 degrees. What impact do you think that’s had on the herd in Kentucky?
Kentucky has good habitat, good agricultural food sources, good natural food sources as well. A big one is also geographical location. We also have good soil which relates to the other ones that we’ve already mentioned. The geographical location as far as the climate goes, we’re blessed if you’re in Kentucky. We don’t see a whole lot of winter kill, few deer do we find that is suspected winter kill. It gets cold here, we’ve been at the single digits. It’s probably been the coldest winter we’ve experienced in a long time. The coldest winter we’ve had is probably many years they were saying. On the average, we’re blessed, we don’t have a whole lot of cold winters. We don’t have those harsh northern cold winters at Iowa or Kansas. Even though they’re not any further north of us. They’re colder out there and we don’t have those harsh winters that Nebraska and Kansas, Iowa and Wisconsin and all those other big buck states have. We’re blessed in that regard in the wintertime. We’re also blessed in the springtime because as you mentioned the fawn crop, it’s temperate climate here. Compared to a lot of other big buck states in the country, that’s a big factor, that’s a big bonus for us.
What’s good too is I’m no biologist but from my personal observation, the fawn drops here in Kentucky at least on the places where I hunt and monitor with trail cameras sightings and stuff like that. The biologists I’ve talked to work in the area. We’re blessed to have a synchronized fawn crop here in Kentucky which is big. That limits the amount of predation on that fawn drop for the year. As you know, I’m sure the closer that all the fawn drops the better. That means something is going to be consumed by predators less, like coyotes and bobcats, whatever the predator is. The black bear population in Kentucky has boomed. We see black bears in places where we’ve never seen them before, at least not in modern history.
The fawn crop and all that stuff, we’re blessed here in Kentucky too because we see the synchronized fawn drop for the most part. That’s huge because that allows more of those fawns to reach maturity. That means the fawn recruitment rate is higher. I’m sure the last time I checked the Quality Deer Management Associations data, Kentucky is the last state or one of the few states still to have a fawn recruitment rate over 1.0 per doe or one fawn per doe. That’s one of the big successes and I attribute that to good habitat. I attribute that to good management on the agency part as well as the hunter’s part.
Let’s touch on realty reasons for the hunt. Let’s share with readers what that is and what it accomplishes?
I’m primarily an editor and writer, that’s my duty. One of the other things I’ve been tasked by Realtree is to film, produce and edit a web series called Realtree’s The Reason For The Hunt. It’s a cool series and we’ve had a lot of great positive feedback on it. We’ve released four episodes already. Each year, we’ll have five episodes and each season, there will be five deer episodes, five turkey episodes, small game stuff mixed in there as well. One of the cool episodes for that, it was probably the highlight of my season. I was able to chronicle my grandfather-in-law’s first deer hunt. He was the centerpiece for episode four of that series. It wasn’t about him though, it was about all of my in-laws who got in the outdoors. It included my wife’s first time. It included part of the story from my father-in-law’s first year. It’s cool because I was able to tell that story of how they got into the outdoors and show the experiences that they’ve had. Their first experiences that they’ve had in the outdoors was cool because I was able to get my grandfather-in-law, he was 74 years old when he killed his first deer. My father-in-law, my sister-in-law and my wife, it’s neat, we got all of them involved.
Where would our readers find that series?
You can go either to YouTube, RealtreeOutdoors and you can find the playlist that says Realtree’s The Reason For The Hunt, you can find it there. You can go Realtree.com, go to the deer hunting nest, go to the video section of the deer hunting nest and then you can find all of our videos there that we produce and publish. You can find them all there either of those locations you’d be able to find on that series.
Let’s talk about youth recruitment in hunting. People my age, we get older and we’re not hunting anymore. We’re not getting the recruitment that we need and here’s a gentleman such as yourself that’s been successful. Not only making a career but hunting and getting other people involved in hunting. What are your thoughts on that?
That’s absolutely crucial. We have to get people involved in the outdoors and used to. I’ve been blessed to hear a lot of stories from my father and my grandfather. They told me how it was and I’ve heard stories from them to understand how things were back in the old days, calling my dad, my grandpa told me. It’s important and as I was saying back in the old days and not even the old days, I would say several years ago, introducing your kid to the outdoors was enough. That was enough to keep the heritage alive and it’s even enough to help the heritage grow. We’re at that point where that’s not enough anymore. We have a lot of the older generations of hunters either passing on or getting older and getting out of hunting. It’s put a big whipping on the hunter recruitment rates.
You have to introduce people to the outdoors outside of the people that are closest to you. Taking your kid, that’s not enough anymore. You’ve got to introduce as many people as you can. Take other people in your family, take your friend, take the guy or girl down the street, take them in hunting. One thing I’ve been passionate about is getting people into the outdoors. Honestly, the wall looks back here behind me with deer on it and another wall on the house has deer on it. I love to kill deer, but I take way more enjoyment out of taking others and seeing them enjoy the outdoors and personally being able to fill a tag.
Two or three things you could say, “Mr. Smith or Mrs. Smith,” or any of our readers on the show. What you would say is, “Try these three things to get either your own kids, neighbor’s kids outdoors.” Forget about deer hunting, get them outdoors.If you make that first hunting experience a bad experience, the odds and likelihood of people coming back aren’t going to be nearly as good. Click To Tweet
First and foremost, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with starting somebody out on a deer hunt. My advice is to start somebody out on a small game hunt. Get somebody, especially if it’s a young kid. If it’s an adult, it’s a little bit different. If it’s a young kid who maybe doesn’t have the patience of an adult or doesn’t have the experience or the ability to do it. I would start a lot of people out on small game hunts. It doesn’t take as much time and effort to go out and enjoy a rabbit hunt, squirrel hunt, or a bird hunt for that matter as it does a big-game hunt.
I would encourage people to start people out on things that may not even be anywhere close to deer hunting. Maybe starting out on a turkey hunt, starting out on a squirrel hunt. It depends on the personality of the individual. Whenever you can start somebody out with something that might have a little more action because deer hunting can be slow. I relate deer hunting as a chess match and it’s a long chess match. It can be a season-long or years-long chess match. When it comes to other types of things like squirrel hunting, turkey hunting can be a chess match too but turkey hunting is a little bit different. There’s more action involved and there’s more interaction involved especially when you’re calling the bird.
If they’re going on a hunt like that, it can be more productive as far as keeping the interest to for individual. Traditionally you see more action, you see that action a bit quicker, that would probably be the primary thing that I would encourage others. Pay attention to who it is that you’re taking, engage their interests, engage their interaction and their excitement level. If you see that they’re not having a good time or they’re cold or they want to go back to the house and whatever the case is, don’t keep them out there. The goal is to make them a hunter. If you make that first experience a bad experience, the odds and likelihood of them coming back aren’t going to be nearly as good.
Readers, use a pop-up line. Don’t put a kid until he’s ready upon a two-man stand where every time they fidget, somebody seizes them. With a pop-up line, they can go to sleep, they can have the hard chocolate. They can be on their PDA or whatever you want to call it. They can be doing stuff while they’re waiting for a turkey to come in or deer to come by. That’s my two cents. A guy shared with that said, “Bruce, make it easy for him.” I like how you said, “If they’re sick and tired of what they’re doing, get the heck out of there, leave.” What’s your one big thing in whitetail hunting that helped you become a better hunter?
I don’t know if I could choose one thing but a couple of things in front of my mind here from our discussion. It’s because I’m an outdoor writer and editor, I’m definitely not an expert. I’ve been blessed to learn a whole lot of lessons over several years. I’ve been on here on the service in whitetail wood. I’ve had a lot of great mentors who’ve taught me a lot of great lessons and showed me the ropes. The whitetail deer, that’s the best teacher that I have found and the teacher that has taught me the most about the outdoors, about life in general for that matter. You can learn a lot of life lessons in the outdoors and hunting. A lot of it relates to things that aren’t just hunting related. It’s one of those things, in general, you never stop learning, always try to improve. Never think that you got it figured out because when you think you got it figured out, that’s when that whitetail is going to show you that you don’t have anything figured out. They can humble you really quick.
I’ve had a long Ohio chase. I’ve hunted up in Ohio after I killed my Kentucky deer during the 2017 season. I didn’t throw my tag in Ohio, they whipped me well up there. It’s one of those things, never stop learning and always make sure you pay attention. There’s a difference between observing and paying attention to what you see in the outdoors. Paying attention to how the deer use the land, paying attention to the whitetail behavior. Study the deer that you see, every time you’re in the field, observe those whitetails. If they do something, the back of your mind tries to figure out why they did that. Try to figure out why they used this trail and not that trail. Observe the body language that they exhibit as you’re observing them in the field.
That’s my number one topic or if I could say off the top of my head. When you’re trying to target big deer, the number one thing that I have learned and realized over the years is understanding that every whitetail buck has its own personality. It has its own identity, it has its own habits, actions, preferences. Those preferences are vetting locations, watering locations, food sources, not every deer likes the same food. You wouldn’t think about that but not every deer will pick beans over corn or corn over soybeans. That’s been the big revelation for me over the years is learning that every single deer is different. If you’re trying to target a specific deer, you want to kill a specific deer, you’ve got to figure out what makes that deer tick. The game plan to kill that deer might be 180 degrees different from another deer that’s on the same property. That would be the number one thing for me is never stop learning, always observe in the field and learn that body language and understand what every single deer do.
Josh Honeycutt of Realtree.com on behalf of thousands of readers across North America, this has been a great opportunity. I always learn and never stop learning because the whitetail buck is a worthy quarry and they can make you a better hunter every single year. Josh, thank you so much.
Thank you, Bruce.
About Josh Honeycut
Josh Honeycutt…is the Realtree.com Associate Editor | Deer Hunting Editor
He is an outdoor writer, photographer and videographer seeking to share with others what the outdoors has inspired within him.
He work as the associate editor and deer hunting editor for Realtree.com. He also work as a freelance writer and have sold material to publications and websites such as: Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, North American Whitetail, Whitetail Journal, Bow and Arrow Hunting, Fur-Fish-Game, Game & Fish, Turkey Country, JAKES Country, Modern Pioneer, Fieldandstream.com, Outdoorlife.com, Bowhunting.com, and numerous others.
His byline has appeared in more than 50 publications and websites in the last five years. He is a member of the: Professional Outdoor Media Association, Outdoor Writers Association of America, Southeastern Outdoor Press Association, Kentucky Outdoor Press Association and Tennessee Outdoor Writers Association.