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Help me with mountain whitetails

JLS

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I'm just completely out of my element here. I've spent two days hunting mountain whitetails. The area I am hunting is private timber lands, ranging in elevations of 2500 feet to 5500 feet.

I've attached a couple of images of the loop we made today.

rattling loop.jpg

rattling loop topo.png

Most of the rattling sets we did today were on the northern aspect of the ridge, in a Doug Fir and Tamarack canopy. It's the standard NE Washington understory, some small fir trees, elderberry, alder, etc. Visibility ranged from 20 yards to 100 yards in some places. We covered about 5-6 miles today according to the Fitbit.

It was 55 and windy today.

Yesterday, my rattling sets were higher in elevation, and done along ridgetops and in saddles. Again, primarily Doug Fir and Tamarack canopy, although one set was in some Ponderosa on a southern aspect. I did about six different sets yesterday, covering 7-8 miles.

It was 34 and unsettled yesterday. Snow flurries, low cloud ceiling.

In two days, I haven't had a single buck come in. Also, in two days, I've only seen a total of six deer, none of them bucks. I've spent some time glassing clearcuts and reprod, and have yet to see a buck cruising. Out of five total days in there now, deer hunting and elk hunting, I've seen a total of three bucks.

I am pretty well convinced that this area has a very low deer density. Is this the norm for mountain whitetails? Should I scrap this area and look for somewhere with higher deer densities?

Is it the norm to have days where nothing comes in to a ratting set? I've been rattling for about 15 minutes, and waiting for about 15 more after I quit rattling. More grinding the antlers than just crashing them together.

Am I setting up in appropriate locations, or should I be going into the thicker stuff along the bottoms? I've been trying to focus on finger ridges and saddles. Sometimes the upper part of the ridge and sometimes the lower, depending on wind.

Any pointers you might have for a whitetail rookie? I'm pretty determined to get this game figured out, but a few more days like this makes hiking the Rocky Mountain Front for muleys pretty damned appealing.

rattling area.jpg
 

VAspeedgoat

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I'm not familiar with the area you are hunting, but at first glance I would assume that you are right and the deer density is very low. In the east and midwest anyways, whitetail are an edge creature meaning that anything like an old clear cut, hardwood thicket, or creek bottom is where they like it. They stay on these edges to feed alongside cover. In big timber country, like what it looks like you are hunting, these edges are very subtle. I like setting up on pockets of sign rather than a "good" spot. In other words if there is a couple of scrapes and some big signpost rubs set up and rattle there. Chances are good multiple bucks have there tterritories overlap in these types of areas and they aim to defend them. In big timber a good blancket of snow will help you decipher movement and deer numbers. At this time I am assuming all of the mast crops are proably gone so look for browse like berry brambles and fresh alder or maple sprouts. Good luck. Hopefully someone on here has something better for that area.

Also don't be afraid to make a lot of noise while rattling. Start slow but end pretty loud, throw in some grunts for good measure.
 

JLS

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VA,

No mast crops. All browse in this neck of the woods.

I have found very few rubs.

I can't find a deer scrape. Moose scrapes on every ridge, but no deer scrapes.

I'm using a grunt/rattle sequence that is not subtle. It's been very effective for the guy that taught it to me.

I know what you mean about subtle edges. I've found a number of deer in edges between various stages of reprod.

Thanks.
 

Gerald Martin

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JLS- sounds to me like you are doing things right. No scrapes or rubs doesn't mean diddly. I don't think I've seen more than a handful of scrapes in thirteen years of hunting mountain whitetails. Coming from the east I found it hard to believe, but the bucks just don't scrape like eastern whitetails do.
They do rub some, but not in the orderly lines of travel like eastern whitetails. The biggest indicator of sign as always is the amount of scat you find.
One possibility is that you may be moving too quickly with a run and gun approach??? If the bucks aren't in the mood, they aren't in the mood.
I've had much better success getting bucks to respond to calling after I've seen them than just blind sets. Did you try to call to any of the bucks you saw to view their response?
Most of the whitetails I kill are taken by old fashioned still hunting and glassing.

Deer density might be low, especially if you aren't seeing any deer spook out in front of you. In all areas there tend to be pockets where deer seem to congregate with areas of lower density. I'd try to cover some different areas to see if you can find higher densities.

Good luck.
 

VAspeedgoat

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It deffinately sounds like it may be time to punt. I've had similar experiences on a couple trips to Maine. For no reason at all some areas would have no sign at all and five miles down the road there would be sign everywhere. I wish I had something inspiring to say but it may be time to look elsewhere. Sometimes hunting lowere vs higher is enough but that doesn't seem to be the case. One thing you could try since you are doing a good bit of walking is to use a scent drag on your boot. Keep the scent fresh and check your backtrail often. My buddy had his buck in Maine come right to him. Its worth a try. With the lack of buck sign though, it would make it hard for me to stay put. But, after reading Geralds post I'm probably comparing too much to the east. Are there other options or is this the only option to fill the tag?
 
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Randy11

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I agree with Gerald. Your method seems sound to me, it just sounds like a lack of deer. I'd personally mark five more similar spots on the map and make it my mission to check them out before the peak rut. Chances are you'll stumble in to a higher population of deer somewhere in there.

I like to double my rattling setups as glassing setups. It seems more productive and gets me to sit longer. Rattle for five minutes, glass for 10, rattle for 5 etc.

Also, there's a a very good chance there's a buck in the area that just isn't feeling it yet. Where I hunt there's a huge difference between the 8-12 and 18-22 for buck movement. It's very similar terrain, latitude and elevation, so I doubt it's much different over there.

Even when I'm in those dates I like so mich, and hunting my favorite spots where I know there's bucks in, I'll get a buck to come in maybe 1 out of 5 setups. You've got to stick with it.
 

JLS

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Gerald,

Thanks for the response, I was hoping you'd chime in.

I don't thin we are moving too fast. Some of the miles are road miles in between cuts, and some in the dark. Hunting miles yesterday was probably 3ish miles in a little over five hours.

We aren't even bumping deer in the dark.

I haven't been close enough to a buck to try grunting. Every buck I've seen has been across a canyon in a clearcut, 600+ yards away.

VA,

I thin it's time to punt also. There is a lot of country to hunt, this was close and convenient, and walk in only. I'm headed back to MT on Thursday night, so I don't know if I'll get out again this year or not. Season ends on Thursday.
 

JLS

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Randy,

I was looking for your input tool Should I be rattling at the edge of the clearcuts? I've been dropping off the backside of the ridges adjacent to the cuts.
 

Randy11

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Randy,

I was looking for your input tool Should I be rattling at the edge of the clearcuts? I've been dropping off the backside of the ridges adjacent to the cuts.

That's the way I do it. In your picture I'd be sitting in a brush pile maybe 20-50 yards out of the edge of the timber, on that open ridgeline. In a spot where I could glass both the edge of the clearcut and hopefully the bottom if there's a brushy creek down there.

My goal is to bring the bucks out of that thick stuff, to the edge where I can get a look and shot. Ideally I'd know there's active trails going from the cut in to the timber within 100-300 yards of my set up.

In my experience the bucks don't go far into the timber to bed, just enough to feel secure. They'll get up and come peek in to the cut to see what the ruckus is about.

There's definitely more than one way to skin the cat though. When I'm hunting with my dad he thinks of completely different set ups than I, and does just as well if not better than I do. He really likes setting up in old ponderosa stands.
 
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thecrittergitter

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Pretty much all I've hunted growing up is mountain bucks. Love hunting them, well, used to before the wolves took a huge toll on populations. Randy11 and Gerald are on point with their comments from what I've found. I used to see a lot of mountain scrapes when I was in high school but rarely see any now days.

I did far more still hunting timber than I did rattling......more because of impatience than anything but we certainly rattled in our fair share of bucks. Rattling can be good, but if I were in your shoes, I'd just lace the boots tight and keep them going;) I've killed far more deer that way than sitting around rattling.
 

ric

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I have been hunting the same country for over 30 years. First and most important, you need to slow down, way down. I rarely cover more than a mile in a days hunting. The deer are there, just not responding to rattles and grunts and bleats. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't, but if you are covering miles, you are bird hunting, not deer hunting. Scrapes don't mean anything, nor do rubs. Cover yourself in cover scent and slow down, and just keep doing it, and you will find one.
 

bobbydean

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I enjoy this thread. Never hunted a whitetail in my life. I think the deer are not there. the last poster, ric , had a very strong suggestion. Slow down, and still hunt.

It is hunting and it is great. I have not tagged more often than I have tagged. Had a great time every time.

Enjoy the hunt.
 

VAspeedgoat

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I'm enjoying this thread as well. It's amazing hoe different the same species can be from place to place. Definitely worth trying what ric said. I'm always up for still hunting so I'm kinda biased. But what do I know, I'd be the eastern tenderfoot wandering around complaining because I didn't see any scrapes. Ha! Great thread.
 

kenton

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Sorry to hear you're not having any luck. I haven't hunted whitetails in the mountains before but I do rattle quite a bit and have had some very interesting encounters doing it. However, I would never do it in an area with a very low deer density. I would guess a quarter of the bucks I've rattled at have either turned and run away or slowly moved in the opposite direction. In places with lots of bucks, its just one of those things you have to accept because enough bucks come closer to make it worth the risk. In places without many bucks it would not be hard to scare off literally every buck you were going to see. Just a thought.
 

nbell

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I know what you are going through. My opinion for what it's worth is it is a little early in the year. I hunt not too far from where you are and historically I don't start before the 17th of November. I am going to start my trek for them Monday so I guess I will have a better idea. I know the area I'm in has a very high population of deer, but in the timber seeing/ killing them is the challenge. Some years I've had good luck rattling and others not so much. I have had years that I go days with out seeing a deer, then all of the sudden they're everywhere. I personally believe that until they begin to chase does serious, hunting the timber is flat hard. Best of luck to you, and hope it's not the same for me next week.
 

b0nes

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I've been hunting just east of you in the Selkirk on the idaho side. This was my third weekend hunting up there, deer density are quite low but last weekend I found a crazy rub line on some huge trees. Today I was still hunting in the rain and came up on decent 4x5 and took him at under 20 yards while he was making a scrape under a tree. Only scored 125 but I'm happy with him having already killed a big muley this year. That country holds some giants but I doubt they they are dumb and there few and far between. The ruts picking up so stick with it. The thick country is hard to hunt.
 

morley.tyler

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I'm w/ ric. I grew up and hunt 40 miles due east of where you are. Slow down to what you see as "still hunting" speed and then reduce that by 50%. Go slow. Get into the timber. Look for sign and tracks. Parallel the deer trail by 10-30 yards and creep along. Stop every 5-7 steps and look. Look hard. Strait lines don't belong in the woods (deer legs, backs, antlers). Keep the wind in your face. Slow down, the deer are there. You're blowing right past them and they are holding tight until you're gone.
Slow down and get a big one. Rut should be Prime in those woods this week!
 

JLS

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Ric and Morley,

Is it worth my time to sit on and glass clearcuts? How much time should I spend in the timber vs. sitting on cuts/saddles/finger ridges?

How much sign is enough to keep you in an area? In some areas, I find a decent number of deer tracks in the skid roads, others there is none. Am I looking for fresh tracks everyday, or will they only cross every few days in certain points?

What kind of timber cover are you looking for?

This is my quandary, I'm trying to relate this to mule deer or elk hunting. If they aren't there I move on. In this case, I'm not sure if they are there or not. I see some sign, but not a lot. Shouldn't I be seeing deer that I'm bumping if I'm going too fast?
 

morley.tyler

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I'd be on the best clear cut or logging road you've found in the dark and hope to catch a dumb one. This is the week... Then I'd find some hot tracks and follow them into the timber. Find a/some does. Bucks will be a few steps to minutes behind. Doesn't take a lot of sign to get me excited, these are whitetail, not elk or mulies. They don't live in herds.
 

morley.tyler

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Pretty thick timber where you're at. A long shot (except for the clear cuts) will be 100 yards. Cedar is great if that's where you're at.
Get a big one. Go slow, wind in your face.
 
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