The Hunting Beast is made up of quite possibly the most hardcore deer hunters across the country. Most people that are a part of the forum have a common goal, and that is to harvest mature bucks. There are all different types of threads ranging from debating theories on the moon to just talking about what kind of deer makes a person happy and it even includes big buck contests every year which can be a lot of fun. Dan Infalt, president of Hunting Beast, joins us to talk about deer hunting, putting out educational hunting DVDs, hunting on public land, what it takes to put a mature buck on the ground, and more.
Listen to the podcast here:
Deer Hunting Swamp Bucks – Dan Infalt
We’re going to connect with Dan Infalt. If you’re a whitetail hunter, you know who Dan is. He’s got a YouTube channel. He’s got The Hunting Beast. He knows how to DIY mature bucks and he’s got it down to science about finding the buck beds and then finding the best way to hunt on the cattails and in those swamps. Dan, welcome to Whitetail Rendezvous.
Thanks for having me, Bruce.
It’s exciting to see a Wisconsin guy. Everybody knows about Buffalo County but there are so many other beautiful, wonderful, mature bucks that come out of our state that nobody knows about. A lot of them come from DIY hunters, guys like yourself that have figured it out. They love the hunt so much but they won’t be at ATA, on Field & Stream and the Sportsman Channel. That’s the sense I get about you. We haven’t met personally but I read up on you enough. What drives you to do that? What drives you to be so good at a skill but not give a rip about being in the cover of magazines?
It’s personal passion. There are two kinds of people. Some people want everybody to see them and he wants to glow and some people are looking to accomplish things on their own. We go through phases. When I was younger, I liked the attention when I got big bucks and stuff. After a while, it became more of me against the whitetail thing. It comes with age, I guess.
If you’ve ever gone toe to toe with a mature buck, he’ll win more times than not. I’m not going to say 90% of the time. I hope it’s 60%, 70% and 80% of the time it wins. When you do get that win, it’s a wonderful thing. It’s not putting another whitetail on the ground, it’s what it took to get into it. Let’s sit and camp around that. What does it take for you to put a mature buck on the ground?
A lot of work. A lot of people think Wisconsin’s a cake walk because the number of big bucks that are shot here, but it’s a tough state to hunt because of the number of hunters. There are cushy spots and private lands and stuff, but I don’t seek that out. I like to seek out a deer on a level playing field, where everybody else goes. I like public land and its pressured and it’s hard. It takes a lot of scouting, work, planning and conniving to get onto those big bucks. I might hunt a 3,000-acre marsh or something that has three bucks that I’m willing to shoot. You’ve got to get on those bucks, you’ve got to find out where the core areas are and get in on them and kill them. It’s not as easy as one would think.
I know where core areas are on the farm I hunt along Baraboo River. There were three shooter bucks or three mature bucks on it. We took one and I had one in front of me but I didn’t shoot him. The two others we never saw. Finding core areas on ag land split up by oak ridges, you get pinch points and funnels. When I go into the cattails, I’m hurt. How does the guy figure that out?
To me, that’s the simplest ground there is. It’s the simplest thing because if you look at an aerial map of it, you can see plain as day. You can stand on a hill, look down and see where they go and what you’re looking at is the transition. There are some bedding areas in the cattails if you have higher cattails. Most of the time the beds are at the point of islands. They have little fingers at trees that go out into the cattails. Those are transitions were timber meets cattails. They’re not out in the middle of it. That makes it easy. I could look at a map of a cattail marsh and easily pick out the key spots.
What’s interesting is as soon as you get in that water a little bit, even in the high population hunter areas like I’m hunting, you lose all the hunters. It’s like they’re afraid to get their feet wet or something, but that’s where the deer are. I think people are probably watching TV, Sportsman Channel and stuff and they get this idea in their head that the deer live in the woods. They don’t. They’re going down in that water. They’re going off into that thick terrain. All the hunters are hunting in the woods.
I know the Baraboo River and the times when we would drive that. When I started whitetail hunting, we would actually drive the river bottoms. Guys were on both sides of the rivers and standers half a mile down and it was interesting. We wouldn’t get into the river but we were wet. We didn’t have hip boots and nothing. We had just jeans and rubber boots and we always kick big bucks out. When you went back in to try to hunt them one-on-one and figure it out, they schooled me every time. I failed the class and I wasn’t paying attention.
I find a lot of my creek bedding areas doing drives. I like to do deer drives too with a couple of dedicated hardcore guys. That’s taught me a lot of those bedding areas. What you’ve got to do there though is not just go back one-on-one and try hunting after you looked at it once, going through doing that drive. You’ve got to go back during winter and look at that. Look at where those beds are and think about why they’re in the spots there. Some of them are wind-based if you’re up on the edge of the timber, which always the trails going in and out of them. The good thing about cattails versus timber, farm country or anything, those cattails are thick and dense. There are only going to be so many trails and those trails are the trails that are coming out on. They’re easy to cut off.
One thing I noticed too doing deer drives, there’s one public marsh that we’ve been doing drives for several years. Every year it’s the same drive, the same spot, the same point that the big buck comes off. They’ve got patterns. They’ve got spots that they would bed and spots that the mature bucks prefer. It can take you a little bit of time to learn that. Once you learn a marsh, the same key spots will pay off over and over again. I can think of one tree that if I took you there, you’d say, “What’s special about this?” I’ve killed sixteen big bucks out of that tree. I can take you to another tree I’ve killed a dozen out of. I only hunt those spots once a year, so I don’t burn them out.
One day a year?
One or two, sometimes I don’t even hunt them because I get onto something else or whatever. There are certain key spots and it’s because of the way where the deer are bedding and stuff. A lot of people don’t take bedding into account enough. They think those deer travel around a lot turned to daylight and sometimes they do, especially younger deer. If you’re targeting mature bucks, those bucks are literally moving 100 yards, 50 yards in daylight. A lot of times I’m listening to them or watching them get out of a bed in those marshes or swamps and killing them 75 yards from their bed at the closing time. How would you do that if you’re 200 yards away, sitting over a rub line? It was the biggest mistake I see people making this, you walked through this timber and stuff, every place you see a big rub, you look up and there’s a tree stand there.
There is no regard for anything else. It’s because they know a big buck was there and that’s the way they think they’ve got to scout. A lot of that has to do with the perception to get out of these shows and stuff. I’ve sat and watched The Hunting Channel for a while and you sit there and say, “What did I learn?” All they did was watch a guy shoot a deer and told me how great he is, but I haven’t learned anything. I think a lot of people watch that stuff and they think that they’ve got to mimic what those people are doing. They forget that those people are on huge leases and that they’re the only one to have access to or manage outfitted lamb. There’s a huge difference when you start getting on public pressured deer. Almost every mature buck I’ve ever shot, when we skin them out, we find a broadhead or a slug in them or multiple. They can learn some hard lessons, but they don’t live to be five or six years old.
We took a mature doe and she was of the river bottom. We hung her up and we start taking her apart and all of a sudden, her whole front shoulders and her spine just let go. The only thing hanging were her hindquarters and the backstraps. My buddy came running, “You’ve got to see this.” What had happened is somebody had shot her back in her spine, but it didn’t severe it. There was enough bone structure to hold her and she was healthy. She wasn’t in bad shape but it was that fringe that little bit holding together. As soon as the muscle groups went, she came apart. They were astounded how resilient and strong that deer was.
We could not believe it. The bone looked like it had been sawed. It wasn’t on car crash or anything. It was a broadhead and cut it, but all the muscle groups held her together. She was healthy. She was hanging out with the rest of the does and living normally. The deer are tough and you’ve got to take extra shots and all that. Getting back to what you said, when we think about what we see on TV and reality, I don’t think they parallel. Your thoughts on that.
You’re absolutely right and they don’t parallel.
How do we change that if we want to change that or we let the people that want to become hunters find you?
I’ve been trying to change the world as you probably know. I put out those DVDs and I’ve got a YouTube channel and all that where I teach tactics. They’re real world tactics and public land stuff. There are a lot more of me showing up out there. It’s getting better. There are a lot more people learning woodsmanship and learning the skills than there was years ago
The sign is all there. If you get in Wisconsin, you will find all sorts of sign. The trick is to read that sign and take it back to where the buck’s core area is. Let’s talk about what the sign is around a buck’s core area.
I might be referring to something different than when people are thinking. I’ll define it for you. I’m talking about a bedding area. I’m looking for bedding areas. I’m realizing that those mature bucks aren’t moving very far from bedding. I’m camping outside of those bedding areas. I spend a lot of my winter time learning those bedding areas. I’m learning their routes in and out and then I leave them be and I don’t go back until it is kill time. I might not even go back. I might just go through and if I see a rub line I think, “There’s a bedding area over here. That’s probably where the deer is coming from.”
Maybe that’s where I stand up at one day. That’s the way I get into it. I look at it like a deer got this area I want to call his safe zone. You draw a circle around the bedding area, say a 100-yard circle that he feels he’s bedding at is safe. That everything is going on around in that circle. If you get inside that circle, you’d probably blow them out of there. My goal is to get them on the edge of that circle. I feel that when he gets to the point where he’s not feeling safe is about the time it’s getting dark on most days. That’s where I want to be.
Rub lines are rub lines. Some say he’s going to East and some say he’s going West. Some community where “bucks’ areas” come together, conjoined in there saying, “I’m here, you’re there. I’m going this way and you’re going that way.” When you think of all that, how can the rub lines take me back to his core area?
Most people when they see those rub lines and see those rubs, they get all excited. What it tells me personally is that there’s a buck there worthy of looking for if it’s a big rub or a high rub. What I want to do is find those bedding areas and find that sign in their bedding areas. These rubs are meaningless if you’re in the middle of the woods. It could be at midnight that deer did that. It could be at 2:00 AM. It could be that deer is a mile from there and he’s coming through there to feed or chase does or something. He’s laying a rub down but he’s nowhere near there during daylight. I want to find that sign where to me it is daylight sign, which means it’s coming out of potential bedding.
That tells me that if this deer’s bedding is here, he’s here during the day. Where is he in daylight? I’m looking for that sign near the bedding areas. I look at terrain more than I look at big rubs and stuff. I’m looking at how the terrain lays out, where the deer should be bedded, then I’m going to those spots and looking for those rubs coming in and out. I’m not saying a big rub doesn’t catch my attention because it tells me there’s a big buck in the area, but it doesn’t catch my attention to the degree it attracts attention from other people. If you look at it like this, if you could go find a rub line that meant you’re going to kill a big buck, everybody in this country would be killing big bucks every year.
How many people are setting up over that sign and they’re not doing anything? They’re not killing bucks but that’s the most common way people set up. They set up over rub, scrape line, rub line or a pinch point. If they’re not killing deer every year, I potentially have opportunities to kill big bucks every year. I’m not concentrating on rubs and I’m not concentrating on scrapes. I’m concentrating on how they come in and out of bedding. When you look at a rut, I’ve killed a lot of bucks during the rut. You take this one thing here. I kill a lot of bucks in pinch points. I’ve killed a lot of bucks on food plots. When I look at my top ten bucks, the ones that are five years old or older, every one of those was shot near the bedding. It’s like you get a whole different class of animal. You could shoot two and three-year-old bucks in pinch points and stuff. Once they get to that five-year-old range, they don’t make mistakes anymore. You’ve got to get close. Most of them are big bucks. I’m literally within 100 yards near bedding in marsh terrain.
How do you do that? I get it with the wind. Are you running and gunning? You’re not hanging the stand and leaving it, you’re hanging the stand the day you’re hunting.
You have to be mobile because the deer are way more intelligent than what people make them out to be. Those deer, if they come out of that bed and they smell you’ve been there, they aren’t coming out the next day in that spot, especially pressured land. You might get away with that on managed land or something, but you go to this public land and you make one mistake then it’s over. The way to do it is to plot and plan. I tried to figure out when the deer’s bedding in a certain area because there are timeframes that those bedding areas peak. You start to see year after year, it’s the same timeframe and you see bucks of the caliber you’re after in those bedding areas. I call certain bedding areas, primary bedding areas. It’s a bedding area where bucks bedding there all year and there aren’t many of those.
It’s more like seasonal bedding. Seasonal bedding, they’ll be around a food source like they bed in a certain spot when acorns are dropping because there’s a little island out there. There might be some seasonal bedding like cornfield or a bean field or something. The primary bedding is up there all year but they still peaked when mature bucks bed more than the other bucks. Get that timing down and you start getting something going on. That takes a lot more effort. A lot of times I’ll look at a bedding area and I think I’ve got to grasp at it by how it lays out. I’ll say, “I’ll do it this time or that time or whatever.” A lot of times I’m wrong. Sometimes it takes a few seasons throwing sits at something. One thing is if you’re going to a bedding area, it just tore up and ruts. I can tell you it’s probably pre-rut bedding there. You’ve got a bedding area that’s obviously you’ve got some big bucks sign but there aren’t a lot of big rubs. Maybe it’s early season.
I spent some time chasing some whitetail in Nebraska. I found an area what I call the core area set up. I wasn’t 100 yards from when the buck got up. The way I found it, it was all ripped up with rubs. There were twenty rubs and good-sized ones. I knew he’s bedding there because it was a perfect bedding area. Everything was right. I set up and a small buck came out, not the big one but I watched him get out of his bed. I said, “Does it mean that a core area, when you see a lot of rubs, that’s where he’s spending a lot of time and he’s getting ready for the rut?” What you said resonated with me because he was spending his time getting ready for the rut. This was in early mid-October. He got out of his bed and went to a tree and rubbed, this buck did. I had the part figured but the big buck wasn’t there. His dad wasn’t there; his uncle wasn’t there. It was a little guy.
That’s a thing a lot of guys don’t get too is those core bedding areas or primary areas, multiple bucks’ bed there. You might go there one day and a small buck comes on and you say, “It’s just a small buck,” and you move on. That doesn’t mean there’s not a big buck bed in there. I think back to a very large buck I shot in the marsh near my home. That was back when we had multiple takes and there was a rub line coming in and out of this bedding area. It was a couple of hundred yards from the bedding area. I knew when that rub line opened up, there was something good in that bedding area.
When it opened up, I went in there and that day I shot that big buck. A few days later I went back through there, I was going to go hunt someplace else. I looked at the rub line, it’s still being used. I went through another sit over there and another very large buck out of the exact same bed that the buck I shot got out of. He got by me without me. I was getting an arrow in him but I didn’t have an ethical shot. The point is back to back, two days in a row, two big bucks came out of that same bed. I’ve never seen that before.
Have you ever trout fish?
A little bit but not as much as you.
If you find holding water in a river, not a lake but a river, your fishing stream, big streams, little streams, rivers, whatever. If you find a twenty-inch-plus trout in a specific place within two or three days, there will be another 20 to 24-inch trout or bigger in the exact same place because it’s perfect for them. That makes perfect sense because if it had the same qualities, safety and all the things that other mature buck wanted, then the other guy is going to slip in there because it’s like, “I’ve got the best place in the marsh.”
The marsh behind my house, I’ve gotten to know very well. I probably know of 100 different bedding areas in this marsh. If I see a mature buck in an area, he normally comes out of one of five bedding areas. They’re taking those primary best bedding areas and they’re owning them. When you killed him, another one’s moving in. It goes right back into what I was telling you about those certain trees. I’ve killed so many big bucks out of the same tree over and over again. I killed one, another one moves in. It actually gets boring for me once you figure a property out. I like to move around because it gets boring if you just go setting up and killing. You start losing that whole chess stuff. I like the chess game.
During the wintertime, the mature bucks are changing up in the bedding area because of the thermal cover. They seek that out.
Even without the thermal cover they come out of the marshes and swamps. Some of them stay in there but the majority of them come out of those marshes and swamps. They go into the higher ground. Our marshes are frozen but I’m still hunting. I’m finding all those big bucks bedding on the edges of the marsh instead of in their bedding areas. In spots where you think it was, isn’t seem like a great spot. They don’t like walking on ice and they seek for thermal cover. They start going into thicker pines and stuff like that. You start seeing them this time of year, you see a little bit more of the open cover bedding where they’ll sit in the sun. They avoid the sun most of the year.
When you look at a composite, you’ve been doing for many years. When you started out, who helped you get along? Who said you need to do this?
I started hunting in the ‘70s as a kid. My father worked two jobs so that we could live in the country. We were poor. The old saying “One shot, one kill.” My dad said that he had a different meaning. It was because we didn’t want to pay for a second bullet because we were very poor. Pretty much he worked all the time and I went hunting on my own. I learned a lot of what I knew on my own and I started out mostly as a killer, just putting food on the table. I did a lot of hunting and a lot of killing. I got good at killing. As I got older and where we had more money and stuff, then I got into starting to hold out for bucks. A lot of people skip that phase. They want to go straight to the big bucks and that’s a difficult task. You have to learn how to kill a deer before you could start killing big bucks because they’re a little harder. That’s what I did. I killed a lot of deer for food and then progressed into wanting to shoot bucks and then I wanted to shoot bigger bucks. I got pretty good at killing big bucks.
That’s the one big changing factor for me was in the ‘80s, I met up with Andrae D’Acquisto before anybody knew who he was. We both wanted the same land. We ran into each other and we challenged each other. We both killed a lot of big bucks back then. We learned a lot from each other and we both had the same mindset. He did some things different than me and I did things different than him. I remember one time, we went to this big swamp and it was probably two or three-square miles. We were going to check this out because we heard there were some big bucks in there. We went in there and scouted all day separately because we didn’t hunt together. We talk about the hunt afterwards or whatever. We went out to go hunt that evening and he went one way and I went to another. In that three-mile swamp, we met at the same tree we wind up. When you get good at it, you start to get the concept down where you know where they’re going to be. I ended hunting there, that’s the way Andrae was. We pretty much started avoiding the same area after that.
That’s a story worth telling. I’m thinking, you spent all the time scouting yourself and you both came to the same conclusion but went different ways and ended up at the same place. The vines of information, knowledge, application and all the things. Some people do well and other people do parts of it. Guys like you got it down, but here you’ve got two guys who did the exact same thing. Did you kill a buck out of it that night?
I did not. It just wasn’t one home that day. A lot of these guys, they’ll walk to the marsh and they’ll go look at a point or something, they’ll find all these rubs coming from a bed, “I got it. This is it. This is what he was talking about.” It’d be the perfect setup and they think they’re going to go sit there and they’re going to kill a buck. It seems that way and some of these spots will look so good when you get in there and look at them. You realize, “I’ve been doing this every day of the season and I still haven’t got my buck yet.” It’s not as easy as it sounds.When you get good at hunting, you start to get the concept down where you just know where they're going to be. Click To Tweet
You passed some bucks. I can guarantee.
I’m letting bucks walk pass and probably some bucks that some of the people would shoot. The fact is that I do a lot of sits where it looks like a great spot and nothing comes out that day, where you don’t see a thing. A lot of cases I’d probably see more deer go on and sit in the oaks or going to sit in on filled edges, but I’m certainly not going to see that target buck. He isn’t going to be there in daylight.
Long distance scouting. We got this marsh. There’re some of the marshes I’ve tried to get in not very successfully. I can look at them from a hilltop and I can look down on them, especially the Baraboo River. Long distance scouting, do you apply that at all or you just do it on onXmaps, Google Earth and all the other tools that we have?
I usually use Google Earth. I like Google Earth because it’s got a feature on there where you can go back the date on maps. You go back and look at old maps in different years. The reason that that’s helpful is you get an image from a certain timeframe during the year or whatever and it will be much clearer than the rest or show the sign much better. You can zoom in on a cattail marsh and you can see the deer trails. What’s interesting about that is those deer trails stay at same spots for years. You can look and you can see an island or something. You’ll see a whole spider web of trails going through it and you’d say, “There’s something bedding there or there wouldn’t be all the trails going to it.”
I call them hubs.
You can see that easily on those maps. One thing to remember about these cattails is there are no apple trees out there. There are no acorns that fall into and they’re walking through water to their belly in a lot of those cattails. There’s only one reason they’re going on in these cattails, it’s to find a bedding spot that’s secure. When you find those trails in there, they’re going to or coming from bedding back in those cattails. That makes it a little clearer on what’s going on back there.
When you look at the swamps, how far away is the ag like? How far away is food? I know some oak ridges that run through swamps and cattails. I get that. We’re talking about corn, alfalfa or clover.
Those deer will go a lot further than what you think. I can think about a time I was hunting this island. This island that I’m thinking of is unique and it’s very remote. I’ve got to go through waist-deep water to get there. I get there and there’s a good bedding area off the backside of it. If I go out there when there’s been pressure, let’s say pheasant hunt starts that’s been going on for two or three days or gun deer season’s been going on for three or four days, I guarantee you see a lot of deer. Mature buck sightings out there are pretty much uniform. Early season or late season, there are always mature bucks back there. The smaller deer will get pressured and moved back here. Otherwise, the more inexperienced deer are heading more towards the food. If you go out the back way of that island and walk the other way, you’d have to walk through about two to two and a half miles of cattails in water to come out on the other side.
I can remember seeing a big buck get up in there, twenty minutes before dark and head that way. That’s the way he’s going to get the food. Security is more important than the food. They’ll walk two miles to food, but they’ve got to have that security. They’ve got to have a bed that they trust in, a place to sleep where they trust that they’re not going to get hurt. The thing with the marshes and swamps is they like to surround themselves with water. They like to get out in an area that’s surrounded by water. A big part of that is coyotes don’t go out in the water.
You’ll find coyotes in all that dry land, which you do not see them in that marsh until the marsh freezes, which ironically is the same time I see the deer come back out of the marshes. I think a lot of what they do is based on natural predators, whether they’re still in play or not. We’re more in play than natural predators, but even us. I go sit on that marsh during gun season. The whole parking lot might be full of maybe 50 cars in the parking lot. I get up in that marsh and I can’t see orange for a mile but you’re going into a woodlot and there’s a guy every 50 feet that wears a pumpkin patch. Where are the deer going to be?
The thing I like about where we hunt, we have basically a sanctuary right across the road. When the banging starts from the west, this ripples through and by the time it gets, we’ve got the deer that don’t live on our farm but they’re coming through because they’re going to the sanctuary where you can’t hunt. We killed some nice buck sitting on those funnels. They’re going to go through here, you sit there, you just wait and they do that. When you think about your gear, you mentioned you’re mobile. I call that running gunning. I think Todd Pringnitz taught me that number of years ago about how he runs and guns. You call it mobile hunting. Is there any difference or is it the same?
It’s the same. I’m going in with equipment where I can get in. I’ve got to be quiet and I’ve got to have stuff I can quietly and silently climb a tree and get into place in. I don’t want to use a climber. Most people that hunt mobile want to use climbers. The thing I don’t like about them is it tricks you to what tree you can be in. A lot of times in the public lands, you can’t cut limbs, you can’t cut shooting lanes. Even if you could, if you do, you took the deer off. I want to go in there once and make a kill. I want to go in there clean and quiet. I’m going slow one step at a time and I’m planning my path to the tree. I don’t need the equipment dragging on branches and stuff, making hollow tube noises or any kind of noise.
I want it confined to my back real tight and I want to slide in there and getting the exact tree I need to be. I’m testing the wind as I go. I always got a pocket full of milkweed and I’m checking the wind as I go in. I’m looking at what it’s doing and I’m deciding from a distance before I get over there exactly what tree I want to get in. The reason for that is because if they cross your scent trail walking, they’ll figure it out you’re there. It doesn’t have to be a target, if a different buck comes out or a doe or something comes out and smells where you walked and has a little fit or something, they could blow your whole hunt. I’m careful about how I go in and direction wise, what the wind’s doing and pick my tree. A lot of times I’ll hunt the same spot but I’m hunting a different tree. I don’t want to be restricted to hunting that perfect straight tree. I’m taking a stand and sticks in. I’m being careful about how much noise I make. If you were fifteen yards from me, I don’t think you’d heard me set up. I’m very quiet about it.
The other thing I do is because it’s such close proximity of the beds, I’m careful about how I climb. In those marshes, a lot of times if you get too high, they can look up from their bed in the cattails and see you in the tree climbing. You’ve got to know where those beds are and know how high you can get. You know if you can get high or if you can’t get high. I like to climb the back side of the tree. I’m facing the deer. I look around the tree towards the deer. I’ve got the tree in front of me as camouflage and I can see how high I can get while looking towards where the deer would be so I know when to stop and put my stand up or whatever. Even the way I set up is down to a tee.
Have you ever seen tines when you get up and all of a sudden you look out and there are tines?
I’ve got one YouTube video, it’s the number three video on The Extreme Whitetail Tactics YouTube channel. I climbed this tree and I know where the bed is. I’m climbing it, looking around a tree just as I was describing and I got to see a ten-pointer bedded there. While I was looking at it bedded, I was setting up this stand super slow and I was climbing that tree and got my shot off after he got up. Sometimes I could see the deer from the tree but usually not. Usually, they’re down into something and I’ve climbed up a tree and had him jump up and take off to the area ones bedded a little satellite, more towards you and he’s not in that primary bed. He jumps up, runs through and scares your buck off. A lot of guys because of that, they’ll sit back and are off like, “I spooked a deer. I’ve got to back off. I can’t get that close.”
My advice on that would be if you’re not occasionally kicking a deer out of there and swearing at yourself saying Dan Infalt is crazy, you’re not close enough. You’ve got to bump the deer, that’s all there is to it. Occasionally you’re going to ruin your hunt. You have to push those limits because if you’re not pushing those limits, you’re not getting close enough. Most of those mature bucks I shoot are on the border of closing time and they’re within 75 yards of that bed. If you’re too far that, you’re too far back. A lot of people are like, “I’m going to start back here and if I don’t get them, I’ll move in 50 yards.” If you don’t get them day one, he already knows he’s being hunted, now try and kill him. It’s like slapping them on the butt and saying, “Game on.” You’ve let them know that you’re hunting them. You’ve got to go in for that kill the first time you hunt. If it doesn’t work, you move on to the next spot. Some literally are scouting thousands of these spots. I’m moving daily.
The first time in, especially with your technique and style. I get in with people all the time and they go, “You’re crazy. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” I go, “Okay.”
The first time in is critical. I ripped apart my top whitetail. I went down and looked at what the stats in each one of them. Eight out of my top ten whitetails were kicking out of the first time I ever hunted out of a tree. The top two was the first time that year. It was the first time I sat that tree that year. That’s not to say I don’t sit a tree a couple of times a year. There are certain trees that I hunt two or three times a year. It’s telling when you start looking at those stats.
I had a guy that I was hunting with who said, “You saw a deer there but you’re not going back there.” I said, “No because he already knows I’m there. It’s not going to do me any good because he already knows that I been there.” He said, “How?” I just said, “They know.” I’m not a deer. All I know is they know and I know. I’ve got to go find out where he’s going to be next.
It’s interesting because I sat back and you see a deer walk through a certain area, then you move a little closer where you got a vantage point, you watch with binoculars. You watch him for a couple of days, you get the right wind and you’re going to move in and kill him. You move in there and maybe you decide you’re not going to kill him. Maybe he’s not quite as big as you thought or maybe the smaller ones come out and go by. They don’t show any notice that they notice you. You go set up your buddy there the next day and this deer will never come back. They know and they smell that you’ve been there. Those deer got noses that are unbelievable.
This is not deer hunting 101. It is but it isn’t. Dan dissected, analyzed, homogenized and distilled everything. He’s one of these guys that has it down. He lives whitetails and figures it out. He thinks whitetails and so many guys are hunting whitetails and they’re not thinking whitetails. What do you think about that comment, Dan?
That’s true. A lot of guys think more of themselves than they are. You should have a grasp on where those deer are living in and how they’re moving through woods if you want to kill them on a regular basis.
On our farm we had a lot of small sixes and small eights. There was a lot of deer to kill. We’ve all committed to let them go and let them grow. Once they get to that three and a half, four and a half, they’re schooling us.
They’ve learned your patterns. If you’re hunting the same trees and you’d do it with a lot of guys on these farms, they rotate their trees. They’ve got stands set up and they rotate through them. This wind we hunt those stands and they’ll have a lot of young bucks go through by on and then just never get those big bucks or very rarely. Those bucks, if they’re under one or two in their paths or they’re under three in their paths, but under four they know where those stands are. Under five, they’ve got those stands down the path.
They know when you opened the door.
They know when somebody’s in their area. I go on those farmers with a buddy or something and I look at how they’re setting up and I’ll be thinking, “Why aren’t they hunting? What are they avoiding?” I’ll go to some spot where they’re like, “That’s a dumb spot.” If there’s some deer cover, if nobody’s going over there, that’s probably where they are. Those mature bucks find ways to hide and not find people. I spend a lot of time in the winter following a deer around and look at where they walk in the snow and stuff. It amazes me when you go into a hunting area that is full of trees. You follow a mature buck’s track and you realize this thing just went 500 yards from his bed and never walked by a killable tree. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think those things are smarter than we give them credit.
We give them credit because they do know and, in some places, they look right up at you. You get all the best scent control, it doesn’t matter. It’s a wonderful game. It’s a challenge. What’s the one big thing that you wish you knew even for a long time? The sooner you would’ve learned it, the more it would have to accelerate your success?
I’ve been pondering that question for a while and it’s a tough one. I probably peaked as a hunter to wise, probably the late ‘90s. My kills have gone downhill a little bit since then. A lot of that has to do with drive, passion and stuff. The big thing is that I realized that it’s not that ordinary to kill a big buck every year. When I look at my younger years, I see this in young people and it bothers me a little bit. I put my family in strain, my kids and stuff. I wasn’t around at Halloween ever. I hunted all the time and I had to kill a buck. What I’ve learned is that’s not what hunting is about. It’s about the chase and it’s about pursuing a buck. It doesn’t matter if you get them or not. It’s the chase that we desire. You want to kill when you’re not satisfied, you still want another one. You still want to go out there and do it again. It’s the chase. If I had to pick one thing, I think that’s what it is. For me, I learned more about the chase and less about the kill.Hunting is about the chase. It’s about pursuing a buck. It doesn't matter if you get them or not. Click To Tweet
I call it the journey. I’ve been fortunate to hunt some places. I always remembered the people and the places. I’ve got some pictures or I got a head on the wall but I always remembered the other things. The conversations around the campfire, around the kitchen table, around the wood stove. There in much as the trophy, as the harvest. I mentioned your three to five things. I’m a beginner hunter and you say, “Bruce, here are three to five things I want you to do now so you’re going to be a better hunter.” What do you think?
Maybe, the first four is scout, scout, scout, scout.
How about practice? Can I practice with a bow?
You can practice. If you want to be a trophy killer, you’ve got to put some effort into it. It’s not something that you can go out there and do overnight. You can buy big whitetails. You can go out and lease the perfect property or whatever. If you want to be a hunter and learn how to kill a deer, you’ve got to go out and practice it. You’re not going to become that great hunter from listening to podcasts, from watching a video or from watching a show. That’s going to help you. That’s going to give you tips but you’ve still got to go out there and wear out some boots. You’ve got to get out there and learn these things. When people scout, they want to go on. They want to just walk a property and learn that property.
That’s a big waste of time. You’ve got to go straight to those bedding areas. Learn those bedding areas. Learn how deer come in and out of them. Most of the rest doesn’t matter because if you’re going to kill your buck, you’re going to kill him within a short distance to the bedding area. We’ll get back to what we’re saying about me going through that list of my top ten bucks. Three of them were shot in September, three of them were shot in November and four of them were shot in October. Most people got them all in November because they’re not hunting close enough to that bedding. For me, it’s been equal hunting those mature bucks. You could kill them all year round. It doesn’t have to just be November if you’re hunting correctly if you’re getting close enough to them. The thing is you’ve got to push those limits.
The only thing I can say is and I’ve been taught by a lot of people, Dan included, the best time to find your buck is the wintertime when everything shuts down, true or false?
It’s a little bit true. The best time to find them is during the season or when you’re tagged out, right when they’re bedding. During these times you can hunt them. The second-best time which is the time that you probably would be out there looking is right when the season ends. Don’t misunderstand that and think when you’re looking at bedding areas, you’re looking at deer’s beds in the snow or whatever you’re looking at winter beds. You’re looking at the sign that was from last November. Those beds, you could still see them. You’re not looking for those fresh beds. You’re looking for the ones from November or October. That’s going to help you immensely. You’ll learn that bedding area inside out and if you kick a few deer out there, you’re not hunting there until next year. You get in there, get your intel, do as little damage as possible, get out then go find another one. You’ve got to have a lot of those spots because you’re going to go into some of these, you’re not going to kill something. If you go into it over and over again, those deer are going to figure it out.
Case in point, hunting in public marshes, a lot of times some guys stumble into one of these bedding areas and see all the big rubs or something in the bedding area. They put up a stand and a trail camera and you see a trail go into it. They hunt the piss out of it until it goes dead. You watch that guy leave and it will take two seasons before the deer start coming back in there. It’s amazing how long they stay away. I’ve seen it happen in those bedding areas. If you over hunt these spots, you’ll burn them all. You’ve got to find a lot of spots and if you run out of spots, just put that stand on your back and start guessing what’s bedding. Look at how the land lanes. Go into points set up on it when there are rubs coming out of the point and say, “It’s probably coming out of bedding.” I do a lot of that too. I’m successful doing that too, walking those transition lines on the edge of the marsh, edge of a swamp, an island. I think they’re going to be bedding off that point, taking a cast out and throwing a stand at it.
Transition zones and the edge is the same for elks and for whitetails. That’s one thing that’s helped me be an elk hunter. Elks are very similar. They like fringes. They like the dark timber during the day and all that. When they’re feeding and where they’re going from here to there, it’s all the edges and transition zones and you find from the oak brush, to the aspens, to the dark timber, there are transition zones that the elk are going to be there, no question about it. I believe that the same with whitetail, on 100 acres rather than 100 square miles. It’s fun though, isn’t it?
The chase, it’s just the thrill, especially when you start doing it with a purpose. If you start learning those bedding areas, how the deer are coming in and out of it, you start hunting with a purpose. You’re going to a certain spot to hunt a certain pattern. When that deer gets up out of a bed, 75 yards from you, when it comes to you and you kill it, you feel like you accomplished something. It’s not like you’re sitting over a food plot and one comes wandering in. Your scouting worked out. There’s a feeling you did it.When you start hunting with a purpose, you feel like you really accomplished something. Click To Tweet
I’ll go back to Nebraska; the wrong deer came out but I finally figured it out. That piece of property, I hadn’t hunted before. In three days, I figured it out and I was happy. I walked away. I couldn’t have been happier. I have to do it again and again. People like you helped me immensely because they’re thinking, not hunting. They think and then they put application to it.
That’s what it’s all about, me helping you, you helping me. All these helping each other, you get that old school mentality where guys would never tell anybody their secrets and stuff. Hunting as a whole is so much better when we all work together.
That’s part of what happens on my podcast. I’ve got people saying, “Bruce, I’m going to start a podcast.” I said, “I’ll help you up to a point. I’ll tell you everything I know up to a point and then it becomes a job.” I’m not going to mentor them or coach them, but conversations like this, you take the bits and pieces and then you put it out there. People get better because they say, “I hadn’t thought of that.” All the time you’re thinking, “Exit, entry, where’s that bedding area and what side of the hill? How could I do that differently? Yes, you have to move that stand because it’s been there way too long.”
I can’t tell you how many deer we killed on the concussion stand but the stand stays up there, it’s been there forever. We used to take them during the archery season in that way. Now we take them during the rifle season. I’ve got to remove that stand because the deer know it’s there. They’re not going to come to any place close to it during the archery season. That will be interesting if I do what I need to do. I’m going to put up a single ladder stand then take that one out of there.
You don’t want to get one of those regrets where you never get it done.
One of my goals is to get a single ladder stand up and it’s not 50 to 75 yards away from where the stand is. I’m going to move it. I think that’s going to make a difference on this one buck for sure. I regress. Dan, it’s been a joy. Can we have you on again sometime?
Sure, anytime you want.
How do people find you on social media, Dan?
They just google my name and all comes up, videos and stuff.
YouTube channel and everything, he’s out there and you could just tell. He wants you to become a better hunter. I want you to become a better hunter. If you become a better hunter, we want you to help other people become better hunters, so they enjoy it. They get the passion, they get the journey and they get the comradery. Wisconsin has a huge hunting tradition. It’s absolutely huge but that’s slowly waning away. The guy that had started me hunting is 76 years old. He doesn’t hunt so much anymore. I still do but he doesn’t. We’ve got to make sure we’re bringing new people in. There’s a term that a friend of mine in Minnesota uses, the adult onset hunting. You’re going to hear more about that. People are writing about that. More adults are realizing, “It isn’t just about hunting. It isn’t hunting. I’m out there experiencing. I’m out there learning new skills. I’m challenging myself.” That’s where hunting is growing exponentially because people realize that, “I love the deer in the freezer. I love cooking up backstraps and tenderloins. I love it to death.”
There’s something about being eighteen feet closer to God. Sitting back and having time to think. We live in such a fast-paced world that a guy needs to have some tree time. I took two new hunters out and got them bucks this year. To me, that was more important. To see those new hunters succeed so that they’re happy and they keep coming back.
It’s been a pleasure. I look forward to meeting you. Do you ever go to the Iowa Deer Classic or any of the shows?
Occasionally, I’ll probably make it to Madison one.
I’m going to ATA and then I’ll be in Iowa Deer Classic for sure. I typically spend a month in Wisconsin in the fall, doing podcasts, hunting and seeing some of my old friends from college. Hopefully, we can connect.
That would be great.
Dan, thank you so much for being a guest on Whitetail Rendezvous.
You run a great show, Bruce. Keep up the great work.
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