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Everybody thinks that, as somebody in the hunting industry, life has got to be a lot of fun and lot of glamour, but it’s not. Bill Winke of Midwest Whitetail shares wisdom and advice as he looks back on when he started with deer hunting. He believes everybody should go after their dreams but keep their eyes open while doing it. He also shares tips on how he hunts whitetail deer such as working backwards and finding food plots and your low-profile entry and exit routes first.
Bill Winke MidWest Whitetails
I am truthfully excited to have somebody that I learned a lot every single fall. I daily hope I get something in my email inbox from Midwest Whitetail’s Bill Winke. Bill, say hello to the folks.
It’s good to be here. I appreciate it, Bruce. Looking forward to visiting with you. You’d mentioned you wanted a little bit of background on me, so I’ll throw some stuff out there and then we can dive into the subject of hunting whitetails. I grew up in the northeast part of Iowa. Back when I was a kid, there weren’t a lot of whitetail deer and it was almost unhuntable, low number of deer. I was more of a bird hunter and ducks, pheasants, ruffed grouse, and fisherman. Deer hunting came on a little bit later. I know a lot of people grew up with deer in their backyard and did it since they were kids. For me, I only came into it maybe in my mid twenties after graduating from college and getting out on the world a little bit and seeing a few places. By the course of my mid twenties, it had been a long time ago. I used to think that was just around the corner but it wasn’t.
I’ve had a good education because back in the early ‘90s, I started writing for the outdoor magazine primarily from the standpoint of the technical writing, which was an offshoot of my mechanical engineering background, which was my first profession. I was working as a mechanical engineer and then I got into writing business and took advantage of some of that type of background to do some more technical writing about the product and how to use the products and so forth. That moved its way into the whitetail deer arena. Little by little, I’ve been in this industry and growing and learning and being in the field a lot, ever since early ‘90s profession. 2008 is when we started, that began on the web for our online shows at MidwestWhitetail.com. In 2010, we started producing Midwest Whitetail TV on the Sportsman Channel. We’ve been doing both ever since. The website is focused on the things that are happening during the current time. In the fall of 2015, we’ll be showing what we’re doing almost daily, whereas the TV episode will air in 2016 with that same footage. That’s my background.
Let’s talk about how you select a guy or a gal for your pro staff? I know we got our audience out there that says, “I’d love to be a pro staff for X company.” What do you look for in a guy or a gal to add to your team?
That’s a good question because I get a pile of people that ask about that. In fact, that’s probably the number one question that we get and the answer is fairly simple. Generally speaking, the people who are in love with video and enjoy teaching people are the ones who are successful. Because at the end of the day, very, very few people are going to become a celebrity or going to take it to the next level while they’re doing something professionally within the hunting industry. The people who come in to it from that standpoint thinking, “I want to be a pro staffer because I want to get discovered,” there’s half a million of us people so that’s not realistic. What is realistic is to be able to contribute and be a part of the team and to help people. You’re not going to do that and invest the time and energy that’s required if you don’t already love the video part of it because it’s not as much fun as most people think, the filming. It’s not nearly as glamorous as what people think it is. You do it because you love it and you’d be doing it anyway.Everybody should go after their dreams. You just have to have your eyes open. Click To Tweet
We don’t have very many pro staff that are successful that weren’t already doing something like this and already loved it. Our process is they just email Info@MidwestWhitetail.com. We send them information on how to apply for the pro staff. We have criteria that are important. It’s all in the application. They send in their audition material and we decide whether or not they are acceptable, and if so, at what level. We’ve got a little bit of a farm club, if you want to call it that, or a Triple-A team where the people can learn the craft. If they seem like they’ve got the right attitude, and then as they become better at it, then we can bump them up to full status on the pro staff. That’s how we do it. We’ve got a big pro staff because we cover basically the whole eastern two-thirds of the United States. That’s a lot of country to cover, so we’ve got a lot of people out there that’s from the system that we’ve come up with that works the best.
Let’s talk about whitetails. You’ve been at the game a long time. You’re good at it, in the teaching part because on every single episode or show that I watched, you’re giving people nuggets of information. Who helped you get started in the industry hunting whitetails?
The hunting part was natural. Getting started in the industry, obviously that’s not a simple thing and everybody got their own path. I got my start from writing for Petersen’s Bowhunting Magazine. A fellow that I met by the name of Greg Tinsley was the editor of the magazine at that time. This was about ’90 or ’91. We had spent some time together working together at the same company. I was working as an engineer. He was working as a public relations person. He went back to magazine as the editor. He encouraged me to contribute some items. Greg was an early inspiration. Another one who helped me a lot early on was Gordon Whittington who was the editor at North American Whitetail Magazine at the time. He’s still involved with the magazine but he’s more of a top-level person, he’s not the day-to-day editor. Gordon kept be under his wing too and it was tough.
Everybody thinks that life as somebody in the hunting industry has got to be a lot of fun and lot of glamour, but the first year I did it full-time, I think it was ‘91 or ‘92 and I made $8,000 that year. My wife wasn’t rich so we basically had to find a way to live on $8,000. I’ve built since, I’ve baled hay and I did other stuff on the side to make sure that we could afford to go to a movie once in a while. That wasn’t like in the 1940s when $8,000 would have been a lot of money. It was pretty funny, I guarantee it. It grew from there. A lot of people aren’t willing to be that patient and to take so much rejection, and that weeds a lot of people out. Definitely, there’s a great dream out there to be in the hunting industry and I encourage everybody to go after it. You have to realize that it’s not going to be glamorous and it’s not going to be quite as easy a path as what you’d hope. What I tell people, the best way to do it is either part-time, if you’re trying to do it and you’re building your own brand or go to work for a company that’s already in the hunting industry. If you’re a finance major or you’re an engineer or you’re a graphics designer, there’s need for those people at companies like Hoyt, Nikon, Realtree. They employ people like that. You can get into the industry without having to take a massive amount of risk. That’s the path that I’d always recommend.
It’s great wisdom for our audience that are saying, “How do I do that? What does it look like?” Most people that I’ve talked to who were successful at life, they paid a price. There are no shortcuts.
It seems like if you take the path less traveled, the pain and suffering is a little bit higher too, because the system is not in place really. You have to beat yourself against it until you figure out how to make your way down the road basically. I don’t discourage anybody. I think it’s awesome. Everybody should go after their dreams. You just have to have your eyes open when you’re doing it.
Let’s talk about the whitetail deer and you’ve got lots of opportunity to hunt and you have your favorite places. I’m thinking about when you look at a new piece of land, say you just picked up 100 acres someplace in Iowa and you haven’t hunted before, what do you do? What’s your first step?
My approach is to work backwards. This is something that has evolved over the years. It’s not just trying to do something different from everybody else. I truly believe that this is the best way to go about it. You’ve got to find your low-profile entry and exit routes first. You can’t hunt an area effectively if the deer know that you’re hunting them. I’ve got a good friend named Jim Hill. He gave me an analogy one time. He said, “If you’re going to try to rob somebody’s house, you wouldn’t go walking up to the front door banging on a bass drum, and then once you got to the front door, start sneaking around. You basically would have to start sneaking long before you even got into the neighborhood.” That’s the whole key to success if you want to call it that, with whitetail deer hunting.
You look for the best stand locations that you can find on this low-profile, sneaky, in-and-out routes. They’re not always easy to find. Sometimes you’re going to end up with some pretty marginal stand locations that don’t have a lot of deer activity right there. You’re better off starting in that location than to look for the best sign on the property where you’ve got the highest level of activity, run straight in there and put a tree stand up, and then as soon as you start hunting, just pile light it on top of that spot right away. Because what you do is either kill a deer right away, if you’re lucky or you educate a lot of deer if you’re not lucky. You can’t hunt them right in their highest activity areas very much without them knowing that they are getting hunted. That is the biggest mistake a lot of people make, so I’m always very, very conservative. I find those places where I can sneak in and out first and then work backwards from there.
I’m hearing and add on that you hunt the fringes of where the deer are, not exactly where they are.
Sometimes you can get exactly where they are if it sets up perfect, but it almost never does.. If you think about it, you’ve got to be able to sneak in and out without getting picked off by the deer, either on the way in. Let’s say you’re going into a morning spot. Obviously, you’ve got to avoid the places where they are likely to be in the morning, which is more of the open fields and the field edges. Then you’ve got to be able to sneak out of there after your morning hunt, which means you have to be able to avoid any places where the deer might bed because that’s where they are going to be at the time when you climb down to leave. When you start thinking about that, you go, “There’s not too many places where I can pull that off.” On top of that, the wind has to be perfect so that when you’re on stand, you’re not having deer get downwind of you and pick you off that way. You can’t have deer crossing the path that you took in and out because they are going to pick up on the ground, typically not on the ground, on the low vegetation, or they’ll pick up the places that you touched.
What I end up with a lot of times are fringe areas because the deeper you push, the more likely that you are to educate more deer. Once in a while, you’ll find those perfect setups, and usually revolves around either a ditch or a creek or something like that where you can get down below the banks, and you can get back in someplace that otherwise you might not be able to. That’s the only time that I’ve have had much success going deeper into the habitat is when I’ve got some terrain feature like that I can take advantage of.
Share with us one of your funny moments whitetail hunting. You’ve probably got thousands of them. Share those if you want.
I ran to some stretch about two or three years long. If there’s any bucks I caught up, I’ve got. It’s what I’ve been doing. I hadn’t encountered that too much the entire year. Maybe I have been lucky or for whatever reason. Maybe I hadn’t had the stops made during on that. It’s a pretty humbling thing because a lot of it occurred on camera. With the format of our online show, we pretty much are uncensored because we’re family-friendly. We don’t do a lot to sugar-coat stuff. If something bad happens, we go through it and explain, “This is what usually happens and here’s why and here’s what we’re going to do to fix it.” It seemed like deer after deer, maybe three different really good bucks over the course of the couple of seasons dropped at the sound of the shot and I didn’t kill it.
Something to do when I’m hunting that’s got a long time, somebody hunting for you. You get some pretty disappointing moments along the way and not necessarily you’re going to have a lot of disappointing moments. Those people are the ones that standout. They can put themselves in their position then and see it happening]. I’ve had some good deer get away. I think one up in Alberta goes back probably at least ten years now. It was an early season hunt and this great, big, giant buck came in. It was 180 inches minimum, big, typical, beautiful chocolate red antlers, just a giant-bodied deer. It was in September and he shed his velvet and just a gorgeous deer. He’s coming down this trail, and he’s about twenty yards behind me. It had been raining hard and I’d been standing in the stand looking down at the ground with hood up over my head. I thought, “The rain’s cleared, I better glance and see what’s going on.”
I look and there he is starting to enter my shooting line. I panicked and I thought, “I’ve got to move quick here. I got everything more or less in order before he was just leaving the other end of my shooting line. I was bringing my bow down, moving it down fairly quickly to get it into his lungs. It was such an easy shot. You just take a twenty-yard broadside shot for granted, and I never got the bow stopped. I triggered the release as my sight was still coming down across his chest while the momentum of the bow carried the air below his chest and it’s dumped into a rotten log that was past him on the ground. That made that exact sound of a heart shot or a long shot deer. I’m thinking, “This is perfect. I got him. What a great hunt.” He runs about fifteen yards and I thought, “He’s going to tip over.” I knew I was in trouble when he walked out into the alfalfa field and started to feed.
The video, as you were talking there, I’m sure our audience who gets the same thing all of a sudden, they’re in the stand and they’re going, “Oh no.”
It’s a lot more fun to shoot with success. It happens to the best of us when we go out in there and the disappointments.
Talk to me about food plots.
For me, they pay off during the late season. I think early and late. During the rut, I think you can kill bucks fairly consistently on travel routes and sitting over funnels and places like that, where the deer that are moving from point A to point B are likely to move through. You don’t necessarily have to have food to make the rut work. The early and late seasons, that’s when everything revolves around the food. You don’t have that same sense of urgency and stress during the early season like you do during the late season. I find the pay off for food plots is the late season.
If you’ve got good food and it gets cold and the deer, they had a little bit of time to get comfortable after the firearms season is over, you can expect them to start moving during daylight coming into a good favorable food source. That’s when they pay off. The strategy for the rut that I use here that works pretty well with food plots is having a small, like half-acre-sized, I call them micro-plots, that are tucked into the edge of the timber or someplace. Maybe there’s a logging road that gets a little bit wide and you can turn that into a 50-yard long by 20-yard wide food plot.
Both places are dynamite during the rut because even though the buck may not come in there to feed, every time he passes through that area, he feels the need to come by there and just check, has there been a doe through here that was in estrus, they need to freshen a couple of scrapes, they walk the length of the food plot and they mosey on. Those seem to be almost a hub for all the local activity in the area around those little small micro-plots. That’s where I think the food plots play the biggest role for me, early and late. Early season not quite as effective as late season, but both of those times can be good. Then having those little, small micro-plots during the rut that pulls all the activity into one little spot that’s within bow range, that works well.
What are your top three to five tips for somebody that is starting out in archery hunting for whitetails? What are your three to five absolutes?
The number one, thing is you have to keep the deer from knowing that they’re being hunted. You can set up in some spots that aren’t great as far as having a lot of deer activity around you, and you could eventually kill something if the deer’s still moving naturally during daylight. As soon as they figure out that they’re being hunted, a lot of that natural movement disappears, and it gets really tough to kill them. If you’re going to err, err on the side of caution and hunt the spots that you know you can get away with and not educate the deer. The problem is the deer can learn in a lot more ways than what we think they can especially at first. We don’t realize how sensitive they are to hearing things and seeing things. We think because we didn’t hear one snort or we didn’t see any whitetails flashing through the woods that we got away with it, but that’s not necessarily the case. You have to go through great lengths to beat all of their senses for a whole day of hunting. That’s the number one thing.
Number two, is try to keep it simple. I know a lot people get confused with all the different ways that you can hunt whitetails. Keep it simple. Basically, their lives revolve around their stomachs especially during the early and late season. Find the food. Work back into the cover a little away from the food. You should have some good success there. During the rut, find the funnel. You don’t necessarily have to know if there’s a scrape line or a rub line or something like that. You can get confused with all the sign and trying to interpret all that. Just find the places where they go around through an open gate or where they go around at the end of a deep ditch or maybe where they crossed a creek or maybe there’s a brushy fence line that connects to little, smaller wood lots. The deer walk along that brushy fence line because that’s a more secure route from one woodlot to the other. Those are all classic-type funnels. You don’t need to know a whole lot about what the deer are doing. You just need to know that you’ve got a spot where they’re concentrating when they’re moving. I think those would be the main ones. I’m sure there’s a million things that when you start diving into it that you can come up with. If you focus on those two things, you’re going to have a pretty decent, successful season.
Other than you own content, do you go to any specific sites on the internet looking to see what’s happening with some of the other people in the business?
Yeah, there’s a few. You can get so busy that you don’t have a lot of time during the season to browse around. I obviously check out The Weather Channel all the time to see what’s going on there. It’s not just the show on the Weather Channel, there’s two or three different websites that I use, that I look at to make sure that I know what wind direction we’re going to have that day and the next day. The reason I want to know the next day is that I’ve got to plan one day ahead always because you may not have the perfect stand for the next day. You’re sitting there thinking, “I could hunt here this afternoon but then what am I going to do tomorrow?”
Sometimes you’ve got to sneak in at midday and put a standup someplace and then sneak out and then go hunt someplace else in the afternoon and come back to the one that you put up the next day. You always have to try to stay at least one day ahead of what the wind is doing. It’s super important to have a good wind forecast and that’s why I want to go to more than one website because sometimes they get slight differences. Normally, they all pull from the same National Weather Service type of programming. Once in a while, you see some slight differences between them, which I’d want to know what those few are. I think Facebook and the social media will get some friends of one other people I have interactions. That’s pretty fun.
“A lot people get confused with all the different ways that you can hunt whitetails. Keep it simple.”
How about the moon phases? What do you think about that? What’s your take on that?
In a way, it’s a bit of sad. The reason I say that is because there had been enough studies that have been done during the ’80s. It’s exactly in that sort of food. It’s pretty easy to do. It’s an exact time. That has shown without payoff over the longer periods of time. At least in my part of the country, the peak season breeding of the rut is November 15 plus or minus a day. A lot of them at full moon every year. A lot of them at new moon every year. The moon phase has been the path when the breeders occurred. It may have had the amount of daylight activity that you see. With that timing, you wanted to hunt primary on the days on that.
It’s Bill’s turn to tell us about Midwest Whitetail and give out contact information. Bill, go ahead.
Everything that we do is on the MidwestWhitetail.com website. We’ve got another aspect of that site that we launched. It’s called Whitetail Watch. You can get to that through MidwestWhitetail.com or you can go to WhitetailWatch.com. The Whitetail Watch site is our own personal property. We’ve got a lot more interaction there who are regular to the shows. We do a lot of questions and answer it and more importantly we’ve got a lot activity. That’s the main focus of the Whitetail Watch to contribute primarily during the season. We keep everybody in the loop as real time as possible. It used to be weekly episode airs, some of that in Monday morning. Even though in drought season, we usually talk about deer management, on the property management and camping like that. During the season, if there’s a lot we put together hunting that season, take the deer along, not necessarily. We’re trying to go on that standpoint because there are not a lot of ideas of what we’re going to do. Most of the time, those strategies are in paperwork. We have to make impression on things. There’s a lot of to and fro and stuff as you could get. That’s what we do. The TV show, it’s on the Sportsman Channel. That’s a lot more pre-medidated and a lot better than sending a pile of script a little bit more than the online shows. It can be very unscripted. That’s the lap up of what we do. You can check it all out at MidwestWhitetail.com.
Bill, thank you so much and I look forward to having you or possibly some of your pro staff people on the show in future months. Hopefully, one of these days when I’m driving through Iowa to Wisconsin we’ll be able to have a cup of coffee.
Yes. I appreciate that and the time. Good luck to your students.
Thank you for listening to Whitetail Rendezvous. Have a great day.