Where do the best deer hunters really live? Brantley and Hansen square off on the weather, rifles, deer dogs, hunting pressure and more to find out.
A Southerner will claim that no one retires and moves up North. They've got tastier food because they season it, smoother whiskey because they age it and prettier women because … well, they just do. Must be the mild climate.
And to all that, the Midwesterner rolls his eyes. No one orders an Atlanta-style pizza or a Birmingham beer. You can't tap a magnolia for fresh maple syrup or catch a stringer of walleyes from a cypress swamp. And let's not forget Tiffany Lakosky and Melissa Bachman, who have both favorably endured long Minnesota winters.
But we're not here to argue about those things. We're here to argue over deer hunting because hey, that's what deer hunters do best.
So many articles, TV shows and videos approach whitetail hunting with one size fits all advice. Problem is, planting a food plot and establishing a bedding sanctuary might work fine on private land in Iowa. But if you're leasing timber company ground in Alabama … well, there's nothing to till and everywhere for a buck to bed.
When you break it down, deer hunting up north or in the Midwest is wholly different in so many ways than deer hunting down south. That's why Realtree deer bloggers Will Brantley and Tony Hansen have squared off in Realtree's first-ever North vs. South Deer Hunting Debate.
So read up and weigh in with comments to help us decide where the best deer hunters really live. But above all, have fun and try not to take any of this too seriously.
"We like necked cartridges and big scopes down here. I don't think it's any accident Chris Kyle was born in Texas and Carlos Hathcock came from Arkansas." - Will Brantley
I once sat behind a rifle I'd never shot before and plugged a can of Tannerite at 700 yards on the first shot. The flash and blast were cool. But I'd seen a dozen guys before me do the same thing. I'm not saying there's no skill involved with shooting a rifle. But a shotgun or muzzleloader is far more difficult to shoot accurately at long range.
I'd be afraid of about anyone aiming a rifle at me from 200 yards. But swap it out for a slug gun, and I'd only be afraid of the guys who know what winter looks like.
On Hunting Pressure
"My son, Noah, brought home some math homework the other day. There's a real push around here to make education more 'relevant to the world in which they live.' Well, it's a failed experiment. The problem posed: 'There are 12 hunters going out on opening day. They will share one 120-acre hunting parcel. How many acres will each hunter have to hunt?' I told Noah to dismiss the assignment because it's painting a false sense of hope in him. Only 12 hunters on 120 acres? Ha. Those were the days that I've never seen. And neither will he." - Tony Hansen
The Michigan school system has missed a golden opportunity to blend Noah's math homework with both some philosophy and cultural studies. The question should've read, There are 12 hunters sharing a 120-acre parcel on opening day. Ten of them are Michigan locals, but two of them include Noah and Uncle Joe-Dale, who's in to visit from Central Mississippi. Assuming there are 14 deer living on this 120 acres, how many of them is Noah likely to kill under Uncle Joe-Dale's watchful tutelage?
The answer, of course, is all of them. Because while Uncle Joe-Dale may technically live in an area with a lower hunter density, his competition seems especially adept at killing stuff.
As my Arkansas game warden friend said to me years ago, Stuff down here gets got after.
Speaking of game wardens, Noah may have to remind Uncle Joe-Dale about the tighter bag limits commonly enforced in the Midwest.
"We love our vittles and so do our bucks. With a long growing season, 'hunting the food' could mean hard mast like acorns and pecans, soft mast like persimmons and honey locust, and of course the good stuff like green fields and bait piles." -- Brantley
Why do all of your foods sounds like some sort of dainty dessert? Do you also have Red Velvet Lace vines in the woods as well? Perhaps some Sweet Berry Meringue weeds?
Around here you have about three choices, and all of them sound as manly as the guys who hunt over them:.Corn or beans. You want mast? Fine. Acorns. Pronounced correctly, as in A-CORN. Not ache-urn.
Bait piles? Ha. You have piles. We have mountains. You've not seen a bait pile until you've witnessed the rush at Tractor Supply on 5-yard dump trailers the week before deer season. And those guys aren't hauling gravel. They're hauling deer bait. And they'll dump it all in one spot. Twice a week. There is a run on gravity wagons on Craigslist right now. Why? People use them as feeders.
On The Weather
"I have an entire room dedicated to hunting clothes. I can't order a pair of camo Crocs, a long-sleeved t-shirt and some 5-pocket pants and say I've 'stocked up' for deer season. I have eight different pairs of boots, good down to about 10 below zero. But I need to buy another pair for this season in case it really gets cold." - Hansen
Yes, the t-shirt, 5-pocket pants and Crocs are nice. But an unmentioned benefit of hunting a northern climate is being able to wear the same underwear for two or three days with no real ill effects. I'll sweat through two, even three pairs of boxers, on some early season days. In fact, I'd say there is no greater experiment in misery than that of mud-butt born from a September treestand sit in 100 percent humidity.
Sidebar: Good Gear Wherever You Hunt
Extend Your Slug Gun Range
The Nikon InLine XR is designed for muzzleloaders. But here's a secret: It's a pretty solid option on a shotgun as well. It was extended eye relief to account for heavy recoil, and the BDC reticle takes the guesswork out of bullet drop on long shots.
Stay Comfortable in All Weather
First Lite's Sanctuary jacket was designed specifically for stationary hunts in bitter cold. It's not cheap, but if you have to endure freezing temperatures for hours on end, it's worth every penny. For warmer climates, the North Branch soft shell jacket is a great outer layer that's comfortable in warmer conditions but suitable for those cool southern mornings when the temps drop below 72 degrees.
Hunt from Afar
The Browning X-bolt Long Range Hunter is built for, you guessed it, long-distance shooting. It has an adjustable Feather trigger, free-floated barrel and a target crown that ensures escaping don't affect bullet trajectory. It's available in .270 WSM, .300 WSM, .300 Win Mag and 7mm Rem Mag.
On Dog Hunting
"If you're going to track a deer or drive it through the brush anyhow, why not do it with a pack of black-and-tan hounds?" - Brantley
I'll admit the notion of sitting on a stump and waiting for a pack of dogs to run a deer by has some level of appeal. And I suspect in areas where there is enough land for the dogs to work without getting into a mess of trespassing trouble, and if they're able to bob and weave their way through the gauntlet of shotgun slugs that flies during gun season, it would work quite well. But it's a foreign concept here. We use dogs to chase rabbits, coyotes and bears. And the occasional postal worker.
On "Cull" Bucks
"You know, it wasn't until just last year when I read a story from a southern writer about 'cull' bucks that I realized 'cull' was actually a real word. All these years, I thought you guys were reinventing the proper way to pronounce 'kill' (as you're prone to do with many words in the English language). When in fact, you did mean 'cull', as in killing a buck for 'inferior' antler characteristics. - Hansen
Regardless of what some fancy deer biologist with a doctorate claims, the key word in Once a spike, always a spike is once. When you have five buck tags burning a hole in your pocket and only a three-month gun season … well, three months isn't a lot of time.
Indeed, the cull buck philosophy seems to be alive and well in the Deep South, and it's part of the reason why South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama all boast of the herd makeup they have today.
"To date, one of the biggest deer I've ever seen shot rushed in to an aggressive rattling and grunting sequence. I rattle up bucks every fall." - Brantley
I own rattling antlers as well. But I have never been able to master their use. I just can't seem to figure out how it is that you guys rattle the antlers together and hiss, 'Git riddy. Ima fixin' to kill a good un and he'll be comin' from yonder.
Rattling does work in areas of dumb deer and few hunters, a combination I've not encountered much around here. But this isn't really a Midwest thing because some of the dumbest deer I've ever seen reside in Iowa and Kansas. The bulk of them have busted antlers in mid-November and flock to rattling like southern gals to a Paula Dean buffet.
"You ever wondered why deer hunters have feet and boots? It's because they can walk. It's not only possible to hunt from the ground, but also quite popular in some parts. Want to see deer in 100,000 acres of conifer forest? Start walking. There is an art to still-hunting just as there is an art to doing an effective push." - Hansen
Referencing the pair of 4-foot canebrake rattlesnakes I nearly stepped on while hunting in Georgia a few Octobers ago would be a cliché. Everyone knows we have snakes down South.
To me, the more frequent, worrisome problem is the cornucopia of vicious, stinging insects, many of which nest in holes in the ground and will boil out mad as fire at the slightest hint of me walking close to them.
Yet, I love hunting from the ground as well. In fact, some of my most memorable bucks weren't big ones shot from treestands, but little ones stalked from the ground with my bow.
And to be fair, just the other day, I spent quality time with a massive nest of red wasps on the seat of a lock-on stand that I hadn't checked since last summer. I was attached to the tree with an HSS Lifeline and safety vest, which was a good thing since one of the wasps stung me just under the left eye, and that made me jump a bit. Had I been on the ground, at least I could've run away.
So you've got me, Hansen. Hunting from the ground is awesome and overlooked.
On Box Blinds
"One time I smashed a Rage broadhead into a window sill when trying to shoot my bow out of a box blind. But on a cold morning, especially with a gun and during the rut, there is simply no spot I'd rather be for a long sit." - Brantley
I remember well the days when I first discovered hunting videos. Watching all those southern guys climbing into their shooting houses made me happy. I was probably 9 or 10 years old at the time, right at that stage where playing with toys wasn't quite as cool but I still wanted to anyway. I figured if those guys could still play in their tree houses until they were full-grown men, well, so could I.
Before the days of hunting videos hosted by southerners, I'd never seen such a thing. Now, shooting houses are everywhere, here included. And I see no reason to dislike them.