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Hunting Big Woods Bucks:  Secrets of Tracking and Stalking Whitetails by Hal Blood

If you know anything about me, you understand I am an avid deer hunter.  If you’ve read any of my outdoor articles, you’ll know that I’m a stand hunter, meaning I find an area that I think a buck will come through and I sit and wait for him.  What you may not know is that I am having a flirtatious relationship with the art of tracking.  While I haven’t pulled the trigger on that yet (get what I did there?), I have been reading about and gathering information on the method.  Maine’s Hal Blood may be the best in the business, and his book, Hunting Big Woods Bucks:  Secrets of Tracking and Stalking Whitetails, is a must have for anyone interested in tracking.

This book and Hal’s teachings are more than relevant whether you are hunting the mountainous regions of New York’s Adirondacks, the never-ending green bluffs of Northern Maine, or even the remote forests of the Midwest.  Heck, even a food plot hunter in North Carolina will get plenty from the book.  Precisely, there is useful information for anyone who hunts where the big boys roam.  

Anyone can wake up and say they’re going to tracking.  To track a mature whitetail in the snow, however, one needs to find a track.  While Hal and his Big Woods Bucks team nowadays utilizes the OnX Hunt app, his knowledge and understanding of reading maps and topography go a long way towards locating an piece of wilderness that will hold deer, one in which he may find a track he deems worthy to follow.

Once deer sign is located, the hunter must understand what the sign is telling him.  For instance, the track must be fresh enough to potentially catch up to the deer.  Big bucks during the rut can cruise miles and miles searching for and checking on does.  It is imperative not to get on a track that is two days old.  Hal explains to the reader how to age tracks, as well as how to understand the behavior of the deer that is laying down the tracks.  Is he cruising endlessly?  Is he tired, something that happens in the late season?  Is he meandering and feeding?  If so, he may be able to catch up to.  We also learn what buck rubs and scrapes are telling us.

While tracking on bare ground is possible, it is much more challenging than with snow on the ground.  Since we cannot control the weather, Hal provides us with options in the event we cannot track.  There is always my method of stand hunting.  While this requires incredible patience and mental toughness, there are tricks to the trade that are important to understand so the hunter doesn’t blindly sit in a stand he has no shot in holy hell of seeing anything.  Not Hal’s preferred method of hunting at all, he is still extremely knowledgeable in what areas hold deer, information that will clue the stand hunter where to sit.  More than once, Hal has successfully guided a hunter into sitting on a stand every day for a week. 

Another way to hunt bare ground is to still hunt, a practice that requires the hunter to take a few steps, scan the entire area, and take another few steps.  It is easy to still hunt at an incorrect pace, one in which the hunter may miss a deer lying down on a bank well within shooting range or blowing every deer on the mountain out of there.  Hal provides the reader his expertise on this mobile method.

One of the features of the book is how Hal breaks down each week of the hunting season in his state of Maine.  While many states are quite different, it gives the reader an understanding of how deer behave from week to week.  For instance, a buck in early November is on the search for does.  He may travel miles and miles, sometimes taking a loop that will last a week or more, attempting to breed as many females as possible.  By the December muzzleloader season, however, that buck is most likely finished with his travels and may be exhausted.  How you hunt that buck in November differs dramatically in December.

Throughout the book, Hal provides stories and antidotes related to his personal hunting experiences or those in which he guided other hunters.  Each scenario is pertinent to the chapter or point he is making.  As someone who enjoys listening to or reading about deer hunting stories, this feature alone is worth obtaining the book.  Of course, we are also treated to stories about some of the legendary whitetail bucks he has taken, including The King.

Tracking may not be for everyone.  Some, like me, may be on the fence for one reason or another.  One thing is for certain.  Hal Blood is the master on the subject.  For anyone looking to gain more knowledge or understanding, it is imperative that they read Hunting Big Woods Bucks:  Secrets of Tracking and Stalking Whitetails.    

How to Bag the Biggest Buck of Your Life by Larry Benoit with Peter Miller

How to Bag the Biggest Buck of Your Life by Larry Benoit (with Peter Miller)-Originally Published 1974

Tracking whitetail bucks is a method of deer hunting like no other.  The idea is to locate a track and determine the sex of the deer, the size of the deer, and the age of the track.  Once the track has been deemed appropriate to follow, the hunter must match wits, will, and engage in a battle of endurance against the beast on his home turf.  Vermont’s Larry Benoit, patriarch of the famous Benoit hunting family, is often credited with revolutionizing the art of buck tracking, and his book, How to Bag the Biggest Buck of Your Life, originally published in 1974, is considered the classic read of the genre.

Becoming a successful buck tracker, like anything else, not only requires extreme practice and preparation, but also a keen understanding of the animal itself.  Benoit leads the book off with an extensive tutorial on the trophy buck, his mannerisms, his personality, and how the deer has mastered pure day to day survival.  Furthermore, Benoit provides a convincing reason as to why hunters should pursue these giants and not settle for smaller deer.

Much of the outcome of a hunt or a season is determined well before opening day.  For instance, you most certainly cannot track a buck all day for days on end if you aren’t able to walk across the street without huffing and puffing.  Benoit lectures the reader to not smoke, drink too much, or become overweight.  He explains the importance of being in shape for the woods, able to maneuver stealthily around blowdowns and other obstacles without making a sound.

Benoit dedicates time to outline important equipment, such as proper firearms and ammunition.  While he used a peep sight, he relents to say that hunters can use a scope, provided it is light.  More importantly, Benoit warns against bringing too much stuff into the woods, weighing the hunter down, which acts as a hindrance to the objective of traveling miles for that one specific buck.

Preparation is key, however, there is plenty to know once the hunter sets foot into the woods.  The hunter must be able to read tracks to avoid following a deer that was there three days prior.  He/she must know when to go quickly on a track, as to not lose ground, and when to slow down and sneak, as to not bump the deer.  In addition, there is a skill to shooting at a buck that most likely will see you and bolt before you ever lay eyes on him.  Benoit gives us his expert opinion as well as a taste of his personal experiences that dealt directly with these make-or-break matters.  The most fascinating aspect of the book is how he recaps the hunt that took 13 days to close the deal.

I know a lot of deer hunters.  Most, like myself, are sitters, who may still hunt a little.  Many, like myself, have a fascination with tracking and may not have the courage or the knowledge to take the method up.  How to Bag the Biggest Buck of Your Life, although written nearly 50 years ago, is certainly not outdated, and can give those hunters on the fence the one necessary boost to give it a go.