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Bruce: Hello, everybody. In the world of whitetails, this is Bruce Hutcheon, your host at Whitetail Rendezvous, and I’m very excited today to introduce Ace Luciano. He’s an outdoor professional, consultant, author. He’s done a lot, folks. And so, Ace, say hello to the listeners.
Ace: Bruce, I’m excited to be on your show. Thanks for having me.
Bruce: Give us a little background of Ace Luciano and the things you’re doing today.
Ace: Well, Bruce, a long time ago, two people fell in love and, no, I’m just kidding. Bruce, I have been in the outdoor arena for a little over the past, a little over a decade. And I’ve obviously been a hunter and outdoors my entire life. And I have to tell you that my introduction to deer hunting was miserable. I shot my first deer ever in Montana. It was a mule deer, which I had always been told for my young life were darn near impossible to eat. And I shot it on the last half hour of the last day of the season, having hunted for ten straight days with a high temperature of ten below.
Bruce: Oh, my word.
Ace: It’s amazing I ever went deer hunting again, but I got the bug and have since gone to hunt deer and dozens of other big game species, if not hundreds, all over the world.
Bruce: Well, that was a great transition to the story behind the story. So let’s just stay with your first deer. Where were you? Why did you spend ten days in sub zero temperatures chasing a critter?
Ace: Well, I was very fortunate to spend the first 21 Thanksgivings of my life in Montana, and my family has access to and owns some land out there, and some friends. So when I was a kid, that was where big game hunting was done. It didn’t even occur to me that we could hunt in our back yard in Illinois. We went to Montana to hunt, and that’s where my uncle was, where his farm was, so that’s kind of what we did.
And we were fortunate in that we had a lot of different things available. I cut my teeth hunting birds as a kid. There was a lot of ducks, and goose, and pheasant hunting in and around where I lived, but we could do all that in Montana and deer hunt as well. It was also an exotic location, a lot different than when I looked at out my back door.
So, I caught the bug. My dad was a big hunter, and he and my uncle would go off and hunt for the week and come back with deer and elk. It was always a very exciting thing. It was kind of, there was always a lot of suspense. You know, back then, you weren’t in touch with people every second of the day. There was no such thing as a cell phone. So, we really didn’t even know what happened until we got a call from a pay phone somewhere between here and there that said, “Hey, we’re on our way back and we all got bucks”.
Bruce: That’s great.
Ace: That was basically my start in deer hunting. I chased, we chased that deer for ten days because, back then, you could not hunt until you were 12. And the year of my twelfth birthday, we could not get out there until late in the season. It seemed like back then, although are talking about global warming, etc. well, it was awfully cold back then in November in Montana, and for some reason, the deer just weren’t where they had been. I’m very excited today to go out in that kind of weather, although nowhere near as much as I was back then, and the goal was to get me a deer.
As a matter of fact, my father didn’t shoot a deer that year, because we were all trying so hard to get me my buck. So we went after it. Back then, I had inflated rubber boots, and the same coat I wore to school, and nylon snow pants, and cotton long underwear. So, it was nowhere the comfort, and gear, and breathable membranes and things like that that we have today. And yet, imagine that, I not only survived but grew the love deer hunting such that now I have piles of all that gear.
Bruce: So, let’s transition from the wilds of Montana to the wood lots where whitetails call their home. How did that happen?
Ace: Yes. Well, you know, I live in Wisconsin, and Wisconsin is known for their whitetails. As a matter of fact, when I grew up, used to go from Illinois to Wisconsin to deer hunt, from my area, anyway. Back then, the golden triangle that they refer to in southern Illinois hadn’t yet been discovered, and people very often from Chicago and north traveled to Wisconsin to deer hunt.
So I spent my life basically looking at places. Where did I want to be? And Wisconsin, it’s funny, we actually have three distinct areas here that whitetail are hot, and they’re all very different. The main area of Wisconsin, where the majority of deer are shot, is actually what we refer to as our southern farm zone. That’s where it’s the majority agricultural land, very high deer densities, some as high as 50 to 60 per square mile. As you move north into the state, they have what they refer to as the central farm zone, which is your mix of farm and woods. And when I say woods, I mean farm and big woods. Woods over five, six hundred acres interspersed with farm land.
As you get further north in the state, we have what we call the northern tier. That’s where there’s only the occasional crop grown and it’s more big woods. Traditionally, that has been Wisconsin’s deer area. That’s where guys go to hunt. You hunt the north woods, and contrary to popular belief, it’s actually a much more difficult hunt. The deer densities are much lower. There are some areas where the densities are as few as six to 10 deer per square mile. So, the hunting methods that we use are entirely different than those that are used in southern Wisconsin. But I would say that hunting the big woods is, appeals much more to my passion than sitting on a tree line in a corn field. Does that make sense?
Bruce: Yes, it does and I went to school at University of Wisconsin, Lacrosse, and started in 1966 along the Baraboo River, and I’ve hunted all the way up on Lake Superior, all the way down probably, I don’t know how close Prairie du Chien is to the Illinois border, but it’s not that far.
Ace: It’s a stone’s throw.
Bruce: So I’ve hunted a lot of the zones you just talked about. Talk to me about hunting the big woods. And we’re talking thousands of hardwoods, thousands of acres of hardwoods. Aren’t we?
Ace: Hundreds of thousands of acres of hardwoods, and pines, and interspersed. You know, for, again, for a decade I’ve actually lived north of the Wisconsin border, which people don’t realize is Michigan. It’s funny how many people forget their geography, but straight north of Wisconsin is Michigan for the majority of the border. And that area, and into northern Wisconsin, is the northern border forest. It’s very, very thick woods interspersed with more open wood lots. Up there, we plan our deer hunting around their cutting patterns.
So, the woods there, it’s mostly national forest land and state forest land, in northern Wisconsin. And because it’s a sustainable resource just like deer are, there are areas that they select cut, there are areas that they clear cut, and your deer hunting can really drastically improve based on some of the cutting patterns on the timber companies that lease cuts or have private land that they cut and open to hunting.
It’s definitely an entirely different method of hunting. We are oftentimes putting on serious miles going back into the woods looking for open hardwood ridges that deer are feeding on for food. We’re looking for places like beaver ponds that tend to open up areas and create that edge habitat that whitetails love. We also look for things like the northern cedar swamps and Tamarac swamps that grow thick, good thermal cover. Where they border with the more open hardwoods is a great place to look to ambush a buck, especially when they’re in rut.
Bruce: Let’s talk about ambushing bucks in the big timber. We know there’s over ten million people that chase whitetails every year but, anywhere from down in Florida all the way up to, as you said, you know, Northern Wisconsin then up into Canada. It’s all a little bit different. So, let’s expand that a little bit. Let’s talk about how you set up a stand, a ground blind, a tree stand in that northern tier.
Ace: Well, here’s what I’ll tell you. I am a firm believer that anybody can shoot a deer, a good deer, when you have control over access, food, and harvest. What I mean by that is, let’s say I have access to hunt on 400 private acres. And on that 400 private acres, I have a food plot that is planted in a preferred food source for a whitetail deer. I control the number and method of people accessing that property, right? As well as where and how it’s hunted. That’s a lot of things that I can do to put the ball in my court to kill a big whitetail. And I’m a firm believer that just about anybody can go sit in a stand that’s been set up like that, and kill a big deer, right?
Ace: But I don’t think that the ability to do that makes people great deer hunters. It might make them good deer growers. It might make them great deer shooters. But I’m a firm believer that the guy that goes out and regularly harvests a, what we call a branch antler deer outside the ears, if you can do that every year in northern Wisconsin or anywhere in the northern border forest zone, you’re a good deer hunter.
And I’ll tell you, the guys that do it regularly, they’re almost the stuff of legend. And we basically learned from them. One of the things I learned a long time ago is, all wildlife likes edges. Anytime I find an edge in the woods, I mark it down, and I start watching it, and monitoring it. And quite frankly, the advent of trail cameras has been a big boon to the big woods hunter. You wouldn’t think so, but boy, it can really… You might find an area that is just loaded with deer sign, and you put a camera out there and realize, you know what? There aren’t even any decent bucks anywhere near the area that you’re looking at. So you can eliminate large swaths of forest.
What we basically do is we start big and narrow down, narrow down, narrow down until we find a couple of key, core areas, and when we do that we find that year after year, the same areas tend to produce until they change. That change can be a cut. It can be something as simple as a windstorm coming in and knocking over some trees can totally disrupt an area. But overall, in the big woods, when you find an area that produces good deer, that area will produce year after year provided you don’t…you’re selective in what you shoot.
Bruce: How much do you use Google Maps or Topo Maps when you’re looking at, as you said, hundreds of thousands of acres, to help you find the areas that you want investigate further?
Ace: The first thing we do, is look at an aerial photo or an aerial on Google Maps to try and narrow it down and sometimes it’s a simple process. Sometimes you’ll look at an aerial map like that, and you might have a long walk to look at a whole lot of nothing, because maybe that area now is a clear cut, which could be good, it could be bad. Perversely, it could be an area that looks like a clear cut but now is grown up five, six years because the map hasn’t been updated.
One of the things I’ve found is that the more rural you are, the less often the maps are updated on most of the online map sources. There are some that are very good, but one thing that doesn’t change, that I’m a big fan of, is topography. You know, fields don’t generally change, at least not in our lifetime. So, when you can get into areas that have rivers, streams, large, high ridges, things like that, those are areas that we key on first, and then we look at the areas, where in that area the deer are traveling, where they’re eating, where they’re bedding.
Bruce: Great advice. Let’s talk about your ah-ha moments. The times when you’ve been puzzled, that just something hasn’t come together in your pursuit of whitetails, and all of a sudden, the light bulb goes on. Can you share a couple of those with us?
Ace: Yeah. Having spent the most time pursuing whitetails in the big woods, my ah-ha moment was when I realized that if I wanted to kill deer regularly, I couldn’t do what I saw being done on most of the shows that are out there. In other words, I could put a stand up but I might, even if I sat a stand for days on end, I might not see a deer, but one or two deer in two or three days. So my big ah-ha moment was to realize that there are areas where yeah, you could sit and post up and experience some success, but you very quickly realize that if you want to put the hurt on a decent deer, especially if you’re gun hunting up north, that means you’re moving.
You might post up in the morning and then in the late evening, but during the day you’re out going after them, and you’re out trying to find tracks, you’re out trying to, you know… Even bow hunting, I find myself putting on serious miles whenever I hunt the north woods.
Bruce: I’m taking a note. I hope listeners, you are taking notes, because a lot of us never hunted the big woods. I’ve been fortunate to do that a couple of different times, and it’s a different scenario, because you literally could walk 2, 3, 4, 5 miles a day, and as you’re talking I’m thinking of the Benoit brothers that are legendary. They would get on a track. They’d know it was three and a half inches or larger. They’d know it’s a big deer just because of the print, and they’d stay on it until they put the deer down, or night fell and they had to break off the track.
Ace: It’s funny. One of my favorite books is Big Bucks the Benoit Way by Bryce Towsley, who now that I’m in an industry has become a personal friend and is a source of great advice on big woods deer hunting. But I’ll tell you, another ah-ha moment that came to me was when I realized that the vast majority of deer that’s out there is targeted towards the guy that hunts out on the back forty and not the guy that’s really out there. And the day I realized that was when I had spent the coldest, wettest hunting season of my life in the north woods and literally, even bow hunting, was it rained, it was cold, miserable, we were wet, and it didn’t matter what we had. I had Gore-Tex gear that, boy, it just seemed after two or three days in the rain, I still wasn’t dry, and I was cold.
And that was when I sat down and said, “You know what? I really need to re-evaluate what I’m doing and what I’m using out there”. And there were several things I found. One, I realized that the key to staying warm in the north woods is moisture management. That was key. And I took that revelation and applied it to just about everything I did, from Kansas to Alaska. My number one concern when I was out hunting was always moisture management. I rarely wear cotton anything anymore when I’m hunting at all.
That was a big revelation, because growing up and having the flannel shirts, and hunting jeans and things like that was a big turn for me. I will never forget when I contacted a company that I’ve since become affiliated with, Rivers West in Renton Washington, I called them, and I told them exactly what I hunted in, and I said, “I have no problem spending money for quality gear, but I need some reassurance that the money I’m spending is going to be good money. Because I have four or five outfits that I can either wear one and sit, and not be successful or I can wear my lighter weight stuff and be on the move, but then if I have to sit I’m uncomfortable, and I’ve never been able to find a balance. They were my solution, and I spent good money. I’ve been happy ever since. That was over ten years ago.
Ace: Actually, 2003, so it’s darn near 15 years ago.
Bruce: I’m going to change it up a little bit because you’ve been very successful in, I’m going to say, corporate America sales and marketing. Every place you’ve gone, you’ve been the top 1%. How did you take those experiences and those personal traits, and transfer it over to your hunting life?
Ace: I wish I was as successful deer hunting as I have been at selling things, because if it were as easy to kill big deer as it was to be successful in business, holy cow. I mean, I would have a wall full of wall hangers. The real… I tell everybody, in life there are just times when no matter how hard you try, you wind up not winning. And the difference between winners and successful people, and people who are not successful are the ones that take those moments in life where they don’t win, and they let it get to them.
We’ve got a guy that was pretty famous in Wisconsin, you may have heard of him, his name was Vince Lombardi. And he’s the reason why Green Bay is called Title Town, USA. One of the biggest things in Vince Lombardi’s arsenal, was that he believed that winning was a state of mind. He used to say the Green Bay Packers never lost a game. Sure, there were some times when they have been behind on points, when time ran out, but they never lost. And that was something that I’ve really taken to heart and applied to both my career in the corporate world, my career in the outdoor world, and quite frankly, hunting itself. Because if you judged your success just by your ability to kill Boone and Crockett bucks, there are a darn few successful people out there.
Bruce: Agreed. Before, you know, we set up this interview, we were talking, and you said something that’s near and dear to my heart and that’s kids. Just talk to me and impact for a couple minutes here, the importance of men mentoring or bringing kids alongside so they can experience some of the experiences that you’ve had.
Ace: Well, first, I got to tell you, I’m worried. I’m really worried. I’m worried about the future of our great tradition of hunting. And it goes beyond our ability to have things like guns and all of that because I really believe that while that is a very important fight, and we’re fighting it well, I believe that long before we lose the ability to keep and bear arms we may lose, if not the ability to hunt, the societal desire to continue hunting.
And I’ll tell you why I think that. You know, in this month, the February, 2015 issue of Petersen’s Hunting Magazine, there is an article, there are two articles in there, one that talks about killing, you know, hunting to eat, and another that contrasts trophy hunters versus meat hunters. The overwhelming concern to me was that killing to eat seems a revelation to the hunting world and the hunting industry. That’s concern number one.
Concern number two, is that due to things like antler envy and the privatization of a great deal of, let’s face it, the deer herd in North America, we’re seeing a lack of kids going out and being able to hunt, and experience success, and experience traditional deer camps. I was a really lucky kid. I was raised a boy among men. And I really feel like we’ve lost that today. So much that, that I dedicated a good portion of my life, my free time, and my income to serving as a youth mentor for several different organizations. I really believe that we’re not winning the battle anymore.
Last year was the very first time in decades that we experienced an uptick in hunting license sales. Now, that’s good news, but it’s not news that we can hang our hat on. And there’s still a lot of work to be done out there. Fortunately, there’s a lot of great organizations out there doing just that. Organizations like Ducks Unlimited, like the National Wild Turkey Federation, like Whitetails Unlimited, like the United Sportsmen’s Youth Foundation, whose ultimate goals are to get more kids out and connected to hunting, and the outdoors. But I have to tell you that if you are a hunter and you don’t every year take out two new hunters that aren’t related to you, shame on you. I really believe that. Shame on you. I have, I talk to hundreds of people at outdoor shows every year, and through my service with the non-profit group United Sportsmen’s Youth Foundation, the number one thing we hear is, “Well, these kids hunt. I take kids out hunting all the time. I take my kids, I take my grandkids. I take my nephews, my nieces”. That’s great. You’re in a hunting family. But what about the kid from a single parent household who has never hunted, doesn’t know anybody that hunts, and lives where he thinks a cow is a wild animal? What about that kid? Who takes that kid hunting?
If every one of us took just two kids like that hunting every year, we’d never have anything to worry about. Because enough of them would really develop the passion for hunting that you and I have, Bruce, that the future would be certain. But unfortunately, due to numerous circumstances, the urbanization of society, the lack of access to good quality hunting opportunities, and the lack of responsible and, let’s face it, ethical and good example mentors out there for those kids lead them to other paths, to where they’d rather sit on a video game than go sit in a deer blind. Am I crazy? Do you see that too?
Bruce: I’m sitting here smiling because I just hope our listeners are hearing your words and your passion, because ladies and gentlemen, this is hunting’s future that we’re talking about, we’re having a discussion about today. It’s the kids that come up, and you have the opportunity, each one of us does, and I’m going to raise my hand and say, I’m going to do a better job at that. I’ve got, my kids are doing well, and yes I have been involved in different programs taking kids out, but think about that. And take them scouting. It doesn’t even have to be during the hunt. But this is the future, just what Ace was sharing with you. This is the future of the hunting tradition in our country.
Ace: Well, you know what, Bruce? It goes even beyond that, because what I tell people is, “You know, taking a kid out and sitting in a deer blind for six hours isn’t a great first experience with hunting”, right? I don’t know about you.
Ace: But my first hunting experiences were not hunting deer. They were hunting for squirrels, and rabbits, and birds, and doing things that were very active, and very engaging, and had a lot more action. The problem that we are seeing, the problem that I see everywhere I go is that you can’t even get permission to take a kid squirrel hunting because people say, “Oh no, we don’t want you walking around because, you know, we don’t want the deer hunting maxed out here. We don’t want you spooking the deer. We don’t want you here”, and that’s the wrong attitude.
So I would call out to those people as well. If you own property, if you own land, and somebody asks you to take a kid hunting or asks if they can take a kid hunting on your land, I urge you to reconsider and let them do it. Because let’s face it, is it really going to blow your whole season to let someone walk through a portion of your land to shoot a couple squirrels? Probably not. Probably not.
And what it might do is, it might save the opportunity to hunt deer for your grandkids and your great grandkids. And I’m as guilty as any. We have access to some private land, and when it came time for us to bring some kids on there I had some reservations. I thought, you know, I probably should do it this time and that time, and I caught myself. What am I thinking? You know what? Yeah, let’s take a group of kids out there. Let’s get them out there. Let’s get them out turkey hunting. Let’s get them out squirrel hunting. Let’s get them out there, and you know what? I’ll commit, I’ll do it every year. And so we do that now. And you know what? The hunting is no different than it ever was. It really isn’t.
Bruce: Good words, ladies and gentlemen. I just hope you’re listening. Ace, we’re going to wrap up now with this segment and I’m sure looking forward to having you back on because 30 minutes went really quick. But Ace, you’ve got a couple minutes here to share what you’re doing, how do people get in touch with you, if they’re passionate or the youth mentorship resonates with them, how they would get in touch with you. So, sir, take it away for a couple of minutes.
Ace: Okay. I’ll tell you, there are two things right now that I’m really passionately working on. One of those is 2AO. If every one of your listeners goes to www.2amendment.org. I urge them, go and register their businesses, and you can also register as an individual. 2AO is a second amendment organization for business.
And I have to tell you, I started, I didn’t even get into archery hunting until I was much older. I started shooting a gun when I was four years old. One of the cherished rights of living in the United States is our ability to keep and bear our arms. And those rights are under assault every day. There are great organizations out there that do a lot of great things like the NRA. I’m a firm believer that every person that owns a firearm should be a member of the NRA, but I’m also a firm believer that people that are out there that are business owners that work for large and medium sized corporations should also be a member of 2AO. Here’s why.
We’re doing for business, and for your employers, and employment, and employees, what the NRA does for the individual. And quite frankly, we work a lot in partnership with the NRA, because we’re actually doing a different section of the market. So, I would tell you join 2AO, click on there, we’re looking for people to get involved. If there is a state chapter in your state, get in contact with them. If there’s not, volunteer. We’re looking for people that are active, that want to pursue a future of the right to keep and bear arms.
The other thing I’m very passionate about is kids. I believe that kids that hunt and fish don’t go out and get into trouble. They don’t go out and rob people. They don’t go out and do drugs and other things. They tend to be more responsible, because they are given the responsibility of a dangerous and deadly weapon. So, more kids hunting, equals less kids getting in trouble, one. More kids hunting and fishing, equals more quality time with your kids or all kids. So the future of our sport and of our heritage lies in today’s youth.
I’m asking everybody out there to join the United Sportsman’s Youth Foundation and take two. Everyone talks about you have the one mistake, so what do they do, they take the film board and the cricket gather, and what do they say, they say take two, to do over. Well, we’re asking everybody to stop what we’ve been doing in the past and start in the future, and take two. Not just start over with a new commitment to bring more youth outdoors, but physically take two kids that aren’t related to you, that are new to the sport, out hunting in the outdoors and shooting. If everybody does that, we will always be able to enjoy the rights and privileges to bear arms, to hunt and fish, to recreate in the outdoors, that we experience in the United States today.
Bruce: Ace, thank you so much for being on Whitetail Rendezvous today. And ladies and gentlemen, follow up with Ace, and you can get a hold of me at my website or on Facebook and Twitter. Ace also has Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, plus his own company pages, so please reach out and let us know what you think, and let us know how you want to get involved with these programs.
Ace: Right. You can always reach me at www.AceLuciano.com or simply Google me. If you Google Ace Luciano, you’ll find me.
Bruce: Ace, thank you so much for being on the show. And to our listeners, may your next hunt be your best hunt. Thank you so much.
Ace: Thanks, Bruce.
Ace: Great. Thanks, Bruce.