A Whitetail Calendar By: Lee Totten
Most hunters will proudly admit that they are passionate about hunting! “If I could choose between $1,000,000 and hunting, I’d happily choose… Whoa! There’s a buck in that field!” Some hunters will spend hours upon hours in hopes of harvesting possibly 2-300 pounds of wild game meat each year. “I gotta fill the freezer!” Other hunters spend the same amount of time chasing an infamous “hit list” buck. “I’m a trophy hunter!” Both mindsets are perfectly acceptable as long as we appreciate the fact that we get to participate in the greatest pastime ever created – sorry, baseball.
I grew up in a household with a dad who loved to hunt. Now in his mid-50s, he still has me chasing him up and down the hills of Allegheny National Forest. However, not everyone grew up hunting, and not everyone experienced all the different kinds of hunting available. For example, my dad did a lot of archery hunting when I was a kid, but when he broke his arm – at the elbow – when I was only 10 years old, he permanently hanged up his bow. This meant that I did not get to learn that aspect - the wonderful, amazing aspect - of hunting from an experienced hunter. Instead, I got that itch 15 years into my hunting career.
So, as I hit my 30s, I began to scratch the itch that archery caused. Picking up a Bear Attitude from eBay for $225, I took my first dose of a new addiction. The hunting passion I already possessed was doused in flames, and it burned out of control! I’m skipping meals to go for walks in the woods. I’m selling my shoes to buy a new grunt call. I sit at work, rocking back ‘n forth in my chair, trying my best to not watch YouTube videos about mock scrapes and creating natural funnels. My name is Lee Totten, and I am an addict.
With my new addiction came an understanding that hunting is no longer seasonal. As an analytical guy – my job title is literally “financial analyst” – I read articles and watch as many informational hunting videos as possible. I enjoy learning everything I can about archery as well as whitetail deer and turkey – my animals of choice. Arrow momentum, kinetic energy, rutting tendencies, roosting areas, etc. all grip my attention. While I continue to learn more, I learn that preparing for hunting seasons is just as, if not more important than the hunt itself. This concept prompted me to do as much research as I could.
When I heard about food plots, prepping your woods for different seasons, and when you should be scouting versus when you should be leaving the woods unpressured, I began to wonder if there is an actual calendar that a novice hunter can reference as a strategy guide. Like most millennials and decently-tech savvy individuals, I Googled such a premise! No avail! Scouring the internet, I found calendars that showed when Lancaster Archery is having competitions and when local rivers are being stocked with trout. Despite both of those topics interesting me, they were not the calendars I had hoped to find. I decided: no such calendar exists.
Now that I am disappointed with every professional hunter that I watch on TV and have never taken the time to create such a calendar, I will fulfill that need! I will compile a true calendar of what a hunter should be doing, throughout the entire year, in preparation of giving themselves the best chance to harvest their deer of choice. Novice hunters, not unlike me, can reference the calendar to know what they should be doing during each month, to bolster those chances. Each week I will outline the research I find on the tasks that you can be completing each month up to, during, and after deer season. This week, let’s take a look at January - the month that, despite coming after most deer seasons - actually starts the year!
You’re coming fresh off rifle season, maybe a late archery season, or even a muzzleloader/flintlock hunt. Maybe you harvested your target buck. Good for you! Are you retiring now? If not, then get back to work! If you want to continue having the success you experienced this past season, then your preparation needs to continue as well. A buck doesn’t breed one doe and assume his legacy carries on. No! A buck breeds that doe, slurps some water, and jumps back on the dance floor in hopes of finding another doe in estrus. Grab yourself some H20 and get back to work. Here are some tasks you will be completing during this month:
If you are lucky enough to own your own parcel of hunting paradise, then you can bypass this saddening step in the hunting process. However, if you are less fortunate - I don’t mean “poor” - and resort to hunting on public land, then you will be spending most of January in a deep sadness. Removing your treestands from your safe little piece of public land is a necessity. You can’t risk leaving your items on state game lands for the next 8 months as they will most likely become someone else’s new treestand. I know what you are thinking, and yes, it is difficult to carry a treestand while sobbing uncontrollably, but remember that you will be back in the woods in no time!
- Clean all of your equipment that sat through the cold days and snow while in the woods.
Your camera and treestand most likely sat through some brutal weather over the past couple months. Some treestands can endure those elements with very little wear, but most treestands should be stored dry and in a dry area. For example, my garage is not heated, so simply placing a wet treestand in a cold garage can result in freezing and oxidation (rust) on the small components that might not be stainless or aluminum! I like to take an old rag and spend 5 minutes cleaning off the melted snow, and I detach the pad from my treestand’s seat. This ensures that, when I get it back out in the late summer/early fall, it will not have preventable damage.
- Inventory your deer.
There is some contention that January and February are ideal times to inventory the bucks that survived rifle and late seasons. This may be true, IF you feel comfortable leaving your trail cameras out for an extra couple weeks. Like I mentioned before, sometimes leaving your gear on game lands can lead to someone else adopting your property! However, if you have the capability of leaving your cameras out for a few weeks in January, this is a great time to see which deer outsmarted the orange army.
Ideally, you will also have some snow to amplify deer sign and possibly provide a foundation for patterning the deer in the summer before archery season. If legal in your area, you could also provide a temporary food source to help the deer get through the cold months and show up on your camera. Even if you don’t feel comfortable leaving your cameras out, that food source can keep the deer near your designated hunting areas a little longer. Maybe this keeps them out of the teeth of coyotes on neighboring parcels, or, at the least, you are providing some nutrition during the lean months.
- Sling some arrows.
The first couple months of the year are the hardest for deer hunters. Most of us are thinking about the deer that got away. Some of us are reveling in the victory of harvesting our target buck. In either case, you are still, most likely, sad that you aren’t hunting! I know that January was dreary for me. My hair grew out of control, my pants got tighter from the binge eating, and my DVR crashed when I tried to watch Deer and Deer Hunting for 6 days straight. Excuse me, DirecTV, but if I want to wallow in self-pity while watching Steve Bartylla explain mock scrapes, I will!
The funk of January can be somewhat squelched by going to your local archery shop and slinging some arrows! If you don’t shoot archery, go fire off a few rounds of the .308 - not at the archery shop, they frown upon that. Hunting season may be limited to select weeks of the year, but shooting season goes year-round.
Next week I will cover the second month of the year: February. Every month has its tasks, nuances, and benefits. As we delve into the challenges and opportunities, please feel free to comment any inconsistencies you might read. No one is above learning something new about their passion. Me especially. All of the information I provide is done so after doing a lot of research and referencing numerous professionals. When it’s all said and done, hopefully we have a full calendar of events that a new addict can use as a guide to optimizing their chances at harvesting the deer of a lifetime.
By: Lee Totten
By: Lee Totten