Adapting to the Unexpected with Aaron Hepler

Show Notes

It's your state's archery opener. You make the long hike back to a secluded spot where you never run into people. You know there's a big buck in the area, and that you have a good chance of running into him if you play your cards right. As you ascend the tree, you all of a sudden hear someone yelling to you. Your heart sinks as you realize there's another hunter already setup 50 yards from your tree. What do you do ? 

This, and many situations like it, happen all the time when hunting land that we don't control. The ability to adapt and overcome is essential for success on pressured land. But being adaptable is a skill that is honed, not one that necessarily comes easy. In this episode of the How to Hunt Deer Podcast, Josh talks with Aaron Hepler about adapting your hunting plans and strategy when the unexpected happens. The guys touch on public land etiquette, trail camera strategy, woodsmanship, and knowing when you're on the X and when you're just out of the game. Enjoy!

Show Transcript

Josh Raley: Welcome to the How to Hunt Deer podcast, which is brought to you by Tacticamp. This podcast aims to educate those who are interested in becoming deer hunters, brushing up on essential skills, or maybe just adding a few new tactics to the toolkit. Here we cover a variety of topics that are going to help you be more confident and successful in the field while you're hunting deer.

Thank you so much for tuning in with us this week for today's show. I had a chance to catch up with my buddy, Aaron Hepler. Now, if you aren't familiar with [00:01:00] Aaron, you can find his writing on the Exodus outdoor gear website or on the truth from the stand website. He's a hardcore public land hunter in the big woods of PA.

So I love getting his take this time of year, not only talking about, hunting those early season deer, but doing things like in season scouting, how his trail camera strategy helps him get on deer, how he's adjusting to hunting pressure. So we're getting into all of those topics today, as well as covering a bit about his hunting strategy for the rest of the season.

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com. Now let's get into this week's show. All right. Join me for this week's episode of the How to Hunt Deer podcast. I've got my buddy, Mr. Aaron Hepler on the line. Aaron, how you doing? Good, man. It's good to be back. Yeah. Good to have you back on the show. I was just telling you a second ago it just feels right to have you on the show in October.

I think we've typically talked like right before season starts. And we've talked early in the season, about some in season scouting kind of stuff. And as soon as the days down [00:04:00] here started to cool off, it was like, I had Aaron Hepler on my mind. So I don't know what that means, but anyway, so that's when I texted you, I was like, dude, we got to get you back on the show.

And you were like, absolutely. And man, so here we are. What what's going on in your neck of the woods right now?

Aaron Hepler: Nothing much, man. I, we were just talking off air about about the acorn drop and it's pretty intense right now. Our season opened Officially September 17th, there's like some special regs area.

I actually live very close to those areas, but I can never get in the mood to, to go out and hunt. And nine, it was 90 degrees for most of that first week into the second week. So I was bass fishing still, but our statewide season opened on Saturday. So got out got out on Saturday and we could probably dive into the weeds a little bit on that so

Josh Raley: far.

So good. So you got out Saturday. How was that?

Aaron Hepler: It was good. One, one thing we wanted to touch on is a little bit about hunting pressure. And I have been breaking down an area with a handful of buddies for[00:05:00]

five years now, maybe four years, five years. And we always rotate areas, but this area seemed to get a little. Less hunting pressure than anywhere else. And it was like very typical stuff around in and around clear cuts, not necessarily in the cut sometimes actually deep in the cut and sometimes, fairly off the edge.

Cause the edge seems to be what gets. It's, the most pressure, but I actually made my long journey into the it's far, it's, all together, biking, hiking, whatever you want to call it. You're in about four miles total. Oh, wow. Okay. And, I ran into three people and it was I was mildly irritated and I told you this and I said I would save it so we could talk about it.

And if you're listening to this, I wouldn't extend apology because I was mildly rude. But you let me climb half the tree.

Josh Raley: Oh no.

Aaron Hepler: So no, I had we have a good a solid 10 pointer. He's I'm [00:06:00] sure he's close to Pope, if not maybe a little over. He's perfect. He's perfect. Perfectly symmetrical.

And his main beams almost touch in the front, I think I sent you a videos of him like losing his velvet and stuff. We got pictures of him on four different cameras over half a mile or more. Okay. So he's very regular, but in particular we got we had him on a camera.

Pretty far below out pretty far outside of clear cut in the dark and in the cut during the daylight now This is in August. So it probably doesn't really matter now But we had him on the same day. So half an hour apart. He was pretty he was cruising pretty good So I had wanted to get inside like Somewhere in between that or in the cut because I had an idea that maybe he's bedded in the cut I think he probably won't now, because this is like a typical thing they do is they bet in the cut but once they start getting hunting pressure, they change completely and [00:07:00] they don't really go near that cut at all.

So I snuck into the cut my my buddy and I separated, we were hunting together on the first day we separated, I snuck into the edge of the cut, but I broke out a little sooner than I wanted to. So I was working my way down the edge of the cut into the. Main point of it that I wanted to be sitting and I found a tree with some cover and I heard people talking, but this is near a recreational trail.

And I'm probably describing this too much, but now I don't really care. I heard people talking and I had seen a lot of hikers taking this road this opening day, it's a weekend spot, whatever. So I figured, oh, there's just, some hikers moving on that service road or whatever that's close by and It's whatever.

So I took my backpack off, put my saddle on, hung them, stand on the platform on my back, took all my sticks off, arranged and put my bow rope on, put the first stick on, [00:08:00] climbed up the first stick, put the second stick on. And I started climbing up the second stick and this guy's Oh. Oh, hey!

I'm like, oh my goodness, you've gotta be kidding me. I like, look over, and there's two dudes. I think they were in a ladder stand. I don't know, I didn't look straight at them. I don't even know what they looked like. I was just irritated. So I see this guy, and my head is just above leaves that he can see me climbing this tree.

And I'm like, are you freaking kidding me right now? How far are we talking? They were like 50 yards away.

Josh Raley: Okay,

Aaron Hepler: so we're close. Yeah, they were close and I was like you have got to be kidding me right now. And I just waved at him and I climbed, took the sticks down, quick, put them in my pack.

Now I'm like now I know I got to move. So I don't really want to ruin these guys hunt. Like they got here before me or whatever. And so I like quick took my pack down, got everything. And I started walking back towards the service road, which was [00:09:00] past, like I basically had to walk right past them.

And I was like angling towards it. And he's. As I'm walking out, he's Hey, could you just shut up? I was just thinking in my head, dude, just shut up. And he's Hey, just so you know, there's another guy down that way. And I'm like, okay I'm not going that way. I'm going back out to the road.

Thanks. And he was like I'm just letting you know, and I'm like, thanks. I was so mad, dude. I was like... I wasn't mad because they were there. It's public land. They have every right to be there. I shouldn't have been rude. I was just like, man, why do you let me climb the freaking tree?

Josh Raley: Yeah, give me a whistle beforehand or something.

Yeah, because

Aaron Hepler: I was like, taking my time, being quiet, trying to find the right tree. I don't know if they saw me before that or, and I didn't hear them say anything or what maybe they were trying to get my attention. I don't know, but I was just man, now I'm like an hour into this [00:10:00] and I want to with the hike, I think it was around, so we started heading in at 1230.

And I think it was two 30 when that guy whistled at me to get down. So I was like no and I know it's still really early, we wanted to be in there and let things settle down or whatever. It's first day. And you take your time cause it's so far and you're going to sweat a lot and all that kind of stuff.

So I did go into a plan B and it was fine. It was a fun hunt. It was nice to be in the tree. The, like I said, the recreation was very busy and the area I ended up going to is not really anything stellar. It was just a nice plan B idea. And some hikers kicked out two does that were feeding around me for a little bit.

And then typical evening movement, some a little doe family group and a little spike came through the area I was sitting. And, I probably would have pushed in, but the spot that to push in a little further is better in late October. So I [00:11:00] stayed up to where all these trails converged and there's some white Oaks and honestly there was all these little sassafras shoots.

The deer love those short little baby sassafras. They eat them up like crazy. So there was a lot of that around and I could see that they were browsing on it. So I'm like, eh, I'm just going to sit here. It would have, it's pretty close to an area where yeah, I could have probably seen that bigger buck.

But I did, I saw then, so these, I think it was three, three does and a spike and they were eating like licking the base of my tree. Oh my gosh. I could send you a video, but that, I don't know how old that doe was. I don't know how to age doe on the hoof, without I know you can't age deer by antlers or whatever, but.

Yeah, like an idea that a 10 pointer is not a year old deer on this public land, like This doe, like her legs, like I couldn't fit my hand around, around the bases of them. So she was old and she was a little like on edge, but she was the one eating like literally at the [00:12:00] base.

I could have spit on her just straight down. Like she was eating sassafras at the base of my tree with a little fawn with spots still. So that was cool. It's fun. Yeah.

Josh Raley: Yeah, man. So we typically think about adjusting the hunting pressure as Like a game planning decision.

So we're like, we're doing that in the post season. Like we're looking where the hunter sign was last year and we're adjusting or we're driving the roads and we're seeing what parking lots are full. So we're adjusting or, that kind of thing. You don't often think about being the guy.

That walks underneath somebody's tree stand. Like you think about other people doing that to you all the time. I know I do. I run into that. But like you don't think about when you're the one that's got a, that's in that situation. Now you're flustered. Now you gotta make a good call. You gotta figure something else out.

And with a spot like you're talking about, your mobility is limited. Like it's not just, oh let me go hop back in the truck. and drive down the road to the next access point. It's, that's a significant commitment to get four miles back into somewhere. I don't care what you have. That's a chunk of [00:13:00] a way to go.

So let's dive into that piece a little bit. I remember last year I walked, I was walking out and I walked right underneath. I was walking up to a guy and almost underneath him, he waved me off. I'm like, okay, cool. My options were to either walk directly underneath him, and just totally blow out the trail that, that he's trying to hunt on.

Or, turn left or right and go through the thickest, gnarliest, noisiest stuff around. And, that's the one that I opted for. It sucked, but to go through, and I'm sure it ruined his hunt more than me just walking through there would've, now looking back, but, but it was one of those tough things, man. Like I remember just being frazzled by it and just get, being pretty stressed.

What's going through your head? You walk underneath somebody you find pressure where you didn't expect it. How are you adjusting?

Aaron Hepler: From an etiquette standpoint, you're talking about picking a different way. Once you're in their spot, I don't like.

Well, a, you don't really think you're like, Oh, all I got to do is [00:14:00] get to this other spot, like you're not really and honestly, like where these guys were hunting, there were trails everywhere. I don't know which one they're hunting. I just knew that the most direct access was to basically. I didn't go right under them or anything, but go right past them because you're going back to the access on the most direct route that you can.

Josh Raley: You're just trying to get out of

Aaron Hepler: there. Yeah. And then so that, that's, from an etiquette standpoint, but yeah like I said, I was like, you're like an hour into this. I think when you're hunting a spot, you should just really, we live in a world where there aren't really any secrets, and maybe you have to just, really just have to know the woods that you're hunting and know what other spots you can go to, because this, like I said, this is an area I've never seen another human back there other than people that like to hike. Maybe some mushroom hunters here and there, stuff like that.

But I've never seen [00:15:00] another person back there. There's a few things that make this place that like handicapped could get access to it and maybe they could drive people back or something like that. And, but anyway I think the thing that you got to know is like, Hey this is the time for the in season scouting stuff.

Okay. I know I have. These three areas where I could get easily somewhere between 300 and 500 yards away from that other person, give them their ample room, try to use your best etiquette. Cause we're, like I said, we're all buddies. We're all friends in the woods.

Like I said, I felt bad for being rude. I shouldn't have been rude. I was frustrated with stuff or whatever,

Josh Raley: but it's, I've gotta say you were a lot less rude than I thought you were gonna tell me about, , what you gave him was I'm just kinda oh, that Okay. All right.

Aaron Hepler: I mean to me I didn't know where we were going.

That was pretty rude. Okay. That was pretty rude. All right. That shouldn't have been, I, 'cause I probably sounded a lot, I can't make myself sound mad. I was pretty mad. And I think he could tell Yeah. [00:16:00] But. But again, we're all buddies in the woods, so you have to use etiquette and then you have to just be like, Hey, where can I go that I'm getting away from this guy a, so I don't ruin his hunt and B.

So he doesn't ruin mine. I don't know if that guy's a good hunter or not. Maybe he is. Maybe he's not, he's all the way back there. So he likes to put work in, so there's that part of it. And then if he's hunting in a spot that I know about, he probably knows about the deer that I know about.

We're all probably hunting the same, big buck or whatever. A couple of there's not as many this year, but there's a couple of good ones. And like I said to one in particular, but I think the thing that you got to know is when you're going to those other spots, if they were your plan B, you got to pick up on subtle cues like.

Like I said the deer were browsing a lot on Sassafras. Like actually the spot that I ended up sitting in when I climbed up, I was like, that was dumb. There's not one acorn tree around here and the whole place is raining acorns and there's not one in here, [00:17:00] but there were, but there was a lot of, like the trails were being used and there was a lot of.

Sassafras shoots that were being chewed on. And I didn't see a big buck, but I saw six does that were eating in the area that I was sitting in. And

You can't really say that's a bad thing.

Josh Raley: Yeah, for sure. So let's talk about that then you mentioned that there maybe aren't as many deer in there as there have been in previous years. I'm guessing a lot of that is going to be trail cam data. What do you think is.

Contributing to that. Do you think that maybe there's just been more offseason pressure? If these guys are back in there on opening day, they've been there before, probably in there beating it up during the summer. What do you think has led to a drop In the deer, do you think that you're on deer, just like you have been in the past and they're just more spread out?

Do you think that maybe you're just not quite on the X? What do you think is going on? I think

Aaron Hepler: it's a little bit of both. I think a lot of times when you have a camera that lights up all the time and it's year after year, and then one year it doesn't, it's [00:18:00] probably because somebody is in there.

Yeah. Or something like maybe a group of coyotes moved in the area. I know one area we hunted, there was some Bobcats and they seem to move out when the Bobcats were in there, like that kind of thing. I think a lot of times it ends up being hunting pressure and you find it out later, either the guy walks in front of your camera or or you end up finding his camera close by later on.

And I. I think that tends to be one of the things, but this year is different because we've had a lot of acorns in the past I think maybe three years ago we had a decent acorn crop and most of it was like chestnut oaks. So it was not, but this year I'm telling you, it doesn't matter what kind of oak tree you walk under, there is acorns.

Absolutely everywhere. It's like walking on marbles. Like you just, they're just everywhere. So I don't think bucks really have to move very far. And they haven't, cause they started dropping in August. There's a lot [00:19:00] of greenery, like the. You got to think the clear cut is one year older, so there's a lot thicker and there's plenty of stuff growing in the edges.

They're just not, they don't really have to move. So I think they are spread out. And the other thing that's messing me up that I've been talking to one of my honeys about honey honey buddies about is that man, it, there are a lot of bucks that look really similar this year. And you have to like really stare at them to figure it out.

Cause there was a, there's a really nice nine pointer that looks. Almost identical to the 10 pointer, but he's got a really, so when you see him like from a side profile, you're like, Oh, it's that 10 pointer. But then you realize Oh, that G4 on that side is a lot longer. And then he doesn't have, then you realize, Oh, he doesn't have it for on the other side.

But there's a lot of that. So interesting. Yeah. So there's a lot of like very similar frames like very close genetics, I think they stick to the same areas and, I think we have maybe [00:20:00] two of the same bucks that we had on last year that are that, yeah, that could be it, but they're just, most of them are typical frames.

So it's just hard to hard to tell,

Josh Raley: What about overall deer numbers? Are you seeing same number of does, or is it, even same number of bucks, just not as mature.

Aaron Hepler: There are way more does probably a little bit smaller than normal. But there, there seem to be way more does, and I wouldn't say way less bucks, but there are a lot more smaller bucks than bigger.

But like last year, we barely had any bucks that were like one year old, like four keys, but we barely had any of that. This year there's a lot more of those and a lot less. Mature bucks or mature. I'm talking like, three and older. There's a couple of two year olds but it's a different world this year and I don't know, there's been a lot of[00:21:00] the game commission here is doing a lot of work in this area recently.

So there, they did a lot of burns this year. And. I don't know. They're just going crazy on the cutting this year. So there are two brand new cuts that are one might, I didn't actually go in and look at it, but I'm going to guess that it's 300 acres and the other one's probably 500 total. Now they're not necessarily they're spread out from this, but it's not there in walking distance.

Like they're not really that far. As the crow flies, or my wife hates when I say that, but as the crow flies, they're not that far. You ever take your wife on a scouting mission and say as the crow flies, I've

Josh Raley: done that a few times. I don't take her out anymore. No, we discovered very early on.

She will go sit in a stand with me and enjoy it. Scouting, she hates because I'll get to a spot and I will just stand there for [00:22:00] 20 minutes. Yeah, it's

Aaron Hepler: my wife. My wife is very, she's a very athletic person. She, she played some serious sports. But she

when we're like on a hike, she wants to keep moving. If I stopped to look at buck rubs. And so she's okay, now I gotta work my heart rate back up, so I can take her on a nice, woodsy hike and she loves that right the scouting. She's like you go ahead you enjoy your time

Josh Raley: there, Yeah, oh dude, we're in the same boat.

I used to take my wife Hanging stands with me because yeah, I was the dummy. I would lug in dude I would literally lug in public land in Alabama a double man ladder stand I'd make two trips one trip with the thing on my back the next trip with all the ladders and I would take her in and you know trying to find a spot to set it up, but it's not like doing a hanging hunt, man.

Like you, this is stationary. Like it ain't moving for the year, so I'm like, sitting there trying to figure out the wind, trying to figure out what the thermals were going to do, trying to figure out what's the best direction. Okay, wait, is the sun going to be in my face if I'm looking that [00:23:00] way?

Doing all the calculations and she's dude, Put that freaking thing in the tree and let's go let's get a move on. We decided she didn't like that part and so she doesn't do it anymore and that's all right. Yeah, that's all

Aaron Hepler: good. My thing. I think I took my wife to hang stands once and I, I think hanging stationary stands isn't really a bad thing.

It saves you some time in the morning. Absolutely. And I think that I think they're best served during the rut though, right? Because you can pick out a rut funnel and. Be inside 30 yards most of the time, and then you're a little less concerned about when, but you also know what the thermals are going to do, during November it's going to be cold and, you can guess on the you're probably going to have a lot of Northwest winds and when you have fronts, you're going to have Northeast winds.

So you can do a little bit better at prediction on rut funnels. Then you can like, oh, this might be a good stand for an early season deer, especially in like mountain like, right? Yeah, you can really [00:24:00] get away with a good rut funnel and a and a a lock on stand or a ladder stand or something the only Negative to negative on public land is somebody else go and sit in it, right or Know that you're hunting there and why is this guy hunting there?

And maybe they can figure out it's a good spot or not that kind of thing. So Hey guys, just want to

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com. Share your hunt with Tacticam. I used to do it and I still hunt quite a few fixed position stands on on private, we've got food plots that are. They're going to be there every single year. Or we've got oak flats that just produce every single year. And it's just, those are the spots where we're going to be, but but yeah it's a lot harder, like you said, on public ground, it's a lot harder in the early season.

So man let's circle back to talking about these cameras that maybe aren't producing like they have in years past the spot itself. Doesn't seem like it's producing like it has in years past. And it sounds like it may just be a combination of a lot of different. Pieces like a lot of different things coming together that are maybe all contributing [00:26:00] to this.

What does the pivot look like? Are you going to be, I know you do a lot of in season scouting. So are you going to be back on the search to try to figure out if you're on the X or not? Are you going to be moving cameras? Are you going to leave them where they're at? What's that going to look like?


Aaron Hepler: Here's a benefit to a camera. So we've always put like a bulk of cameras in this area that I'm, that I hunted on Saturday, right? We always have a lot of cameras there between I think four of us. For us usually hand cameras or whatever. And I think the area is still going to be good.

I'm not going to go out and say it sucks. Like it's never sucked before. I think it might be on the start of suck. I don't know, but I do know that there are still a good number of does out there. So it's still going to be a player. I think in that late October, early November I think it'll still play.

I think that the deer's movements are going to be a little more narrowed, so trying to make sure I'm, we're staying on those corridors where they're, where they feel the most protected. I think that's probably [00:27:00] going to be the key in that area, but so the in season scouting thing is so important when you're on a hunt like this, because, or in an area like this, because you need to know Hey, these deer are mostly using this and you can't all, you can't like ever a lot of.

Especially writing for Exodus and like hearing all the story, you go to the booth or, and you hear the stories about, this guy killed one with a trail camera. This guy gets great pictures, but he never kills one that's on a trail camera. You have to be confident in the stuff that you know about deer outside of just what you get on pictures.

Everybody loves to run trail cameras. Cause I like to look at pictures of deer. If you hunt deer, you probably do too, but you have to know the stuff that you're looking at and start understanding what's fresh and what's not. And it's other than really just going to experience it. It's really hard to describe.

Like I could tell you like, Hey, like when you find something that's nipped off, get down and look at it and see if the top of that thing is green or if it's all [00:28:00] dried out and it was nipped a couple of weeks ago Are the raspberries that they were eating on all dried up, or are they like little pieces of them chewed up on the ground, stuff like that.

What's coming in next is the green briar, do the green briar leaves, I know deer like to eat maple leaves too. And when they're that red hue and they're on the ground, deer vacuum them up because they're sugary, I don't know. But that's... It's true because, there was actually a maple tree that was down where I was hunting and they were eating on the leaves on that.

You have to really look at stuff like that and you can't use, you can't say that you're If you didn't get out to hang trail cameras this summer, you can't say that Oh, I might as well not even go. Cause if I didn't get the scout, your trail camera is not your scouting. Your trail camera is your tool that you supplement your scouting with.

So you have to do the scouting first and continue to do it no matter what you're doing. So if you didn't hang trail cameras or if your trail cameras aren't telling you what you want, [00:29:00] a trail camera that doesn't tell you anything you want just means that the deer are somewhere else. So this is valuable okay, I just need to shift a little bit and find where they do like to be.

So the advantage to running cameras in a couple areas is that hey, you're going out to check them. So you're I don't check mine often. Like we checked once before the season at the beginning of September. And I think the other section we checked in August, we're learning like this next area, I only have two or three cameras in, looks like very little human pressure to me.

That's where I killed a buck last year or close by it. And I have two cameras on scrapes. Now I didn't expect to get a whole bunch of velvet bucks on a scrape. But these scrapes were both used all summer long one a little bit more. A lot more than the other. And that second one is hammered, goes all day long, using it every single day during the [00:30:00] summer.

And we had a couple of bucks on it. Nothing. There was one buck that was maybe a hundred inches. Other than that, they're all. Relatively small, but I, the scrape is massive. So it is definitely a community scrape. It's a scrape. Obviously does like to be near it. Cause they use it all day long. So we'll see what happens with that.

But I think the advantages is like, Hey, I know deer are here every single day. And now I know there's, I know the food sources and it's a weird spot, man. It's like big open timber. Like you wouldn't expect to see deer all day long on a spot like that. But I was just curious as to why the scrape was hit as hard as it was.

Cause like I said, it's open, mature timber and it's, it's not what you would expect, but there's definitely deer on it every day. So we'll see what happens.

Josh Raley: Yeah. I found a spot a couple weeks ago now where again, big open timber, you can see forever and walking through this little bottom and all of a sudden it's Oh, there's a bunch [00:31:00] of beds.

Why? I don't know. Why would they be here? There's zero cover, like no cover whatsoever, but there's all these beds and I'm bending down. I'm finding deer hair in them and stuff. It's okay, they're actively bedding in there. I guess it's to stay cool. They got a nice canopy. Maybe they catch some thermals coming down off the hill and cool off in there, but I don't know.

But when it comes to trail cameras, I'm thinking through thinking through this buck actually that I shot last fall and the way trail cameras can often work for us on public land is going to be a lot different than the guy who's got maybe a food plot or a feeder or something like that, where you can expect that buck is going to show up every single day.

in that food plot or on that feeder or whatever. When I was going back through some trail cam data, I actually had this deer that I shot last fall. I had him as a three year old from the year before. Only a couple of times like, like two or three times. And he was always back in the distance.

But he had this, that same like split to his G [00:32:00] three or whatever it is. He had that same exact split and look to his right. His, the right side of his rack. And so it's Oh, okay. So that's that deer this year. I got this buck. I think it was like October 15th, 16th, something like that. He was sprinting out of what I assumed to be a bedding area.

Because he had gotten bumped him and another buck came running up out of this thicker area. So I'm like, okay, so that's Intel. Finally, like the last day of October, he shows up and opens up a scrape. Cause I had hung a camera there in anticipation that this scrape was going to open up again this year.

And it did open up again, but it wasn't until till pretty late. And I got a picture of him then. And I got him a couple more times on that scrape. And didn't know it, but I actually got him on another camera on a travel corridor two times throughout the entire rut, like not a lot of Intel, but I ended up because of putting those pieces together and just making the assumption, okay, he's in this area, he was bumped from that direction.

[00:33:00] So chances are, he's betting that direction because the way he came sprinting through, put that together. I have two encounters with him and I shoot him twice. Five days apart or whatever. So he was really consistent. He really liked that area. Where I ended up shooting the deer and it wasn't far from my other cameras, but I didn't get them on camera a lot.

What is meaningful data for you to say, okay, a buck is in this area. So like, how do I differentiate whether or not these two pictures are just one off excursions that the buck made versus, Oh, he's in there all the time. Like this guy, he was in there all the time. I talked to some other people and they're like, Oh yeah, I've had pictures of him all season long.

I was just a little bit off the X when it comes to my camera placement. So what does that look like for you? Like, when do you consider it? Okay, I've got enough Intel, enough pictures. Where I'm pretty sure this guy's in there.

Aaron Hepler: I think I'm still learning that with trail cameras, but overall we use the example of that 10 pointer from this year, similar to other years, he shows up on a [00:34:00] camp, like you can recognize him in on every camera.

Versus maybe you'll have a buck on this camera, and then you'll have one on this camera, but you don't have this buck on that camera. He shows, if I put ten cameras in 300 acres, and he shows up on all of them, that's his area. Now the hard thing is, especially on public land is, I think, I, bucks don't use, they're not going to use the same trail every day to get to where they want to

Josh Raley: eat.


Aaron Hepler: Yeah. Ever. If you have, you never really going to know how many trails he uses. Cause there's probably freaking billion of them in 300 acres. But let's say you have 10 routes that, he takes from time to time. It's not that easy to guess which one he's going to use. So the one thing that you could do is like you could maybe look at a camera and say oh he's coming from, [00:35:00] this is really great for using video mode, but oh, he came from this direction.

That's the direction he's traveling. How does he like to use the wind? Because a lot of mature bucks don't put the wind in their nose and start walking. Like I would say more of the bucks that I've seen. Walk with a quartered wind that blows over their back right now. They can't see behind them So that kind of makes sense right because then they can get you know What's happening out to either side of them?

They get a little bit of a cross wind and then they can smell what's behind them and look at what's in front of them And here what's in front of them? So I think that sometimes mature bucks use the wind like that and I'm not saying all deer do it because maybe there are some mature bucks that you get a picture of.

And every time, if you look at the weather data, that buck had his nose. He was straight into the wind the entire time. But I think that's one way you could predict which route he [00:36:00] might take. Or at least you can do it by process of elimination. So like these five, he uses a Northwest wind, these five, he uses a Southeast wind or maybe there's two.

And now you're hunting a North wind and there's only a Northeast wind, there's only two ways he can use. So now you're like 50, 50 on that, so you up your odds there. The other thing is paying attention to cold fronts and everybody knows that what is your camera on that would make sense for that buck to go past that area during a cold cold spell?

Whether it be like he's probably going to chase those water is always in my strategy with that kind of stuff, with frontal stuff. The the first 10 pointer I, the first 10 pointer I killed with my bow on public It was going to be a 20, I think it was a 20 degree drop for morning temperatures.

So it was significant, but it was still hot. The high for that day, I think was 55. So it was still pretty warm for the end of October. And it was a kind of, it [00:37:00] was sunny, it was a sunny day. So it was pretty warm. It got pretty warm later in the day, but the morning was cold. So I'm like I know these deer have.

Full blown winter. Oh, just about full blown winter coats now. They're gonna start looking for does. And when they look for does... During those cold morning hours because that's like now they're like getting revved up because it's temperature dropped 20 degrees So now they're out cruising for does I know it's gonna get hot and he's gonna want water So I sat on a water hole and I didn't even use trail cameras then I didn't even own one.

So the thing about that is, is you put like a couple of pieces that work in your favor. Cause I knew there were like three trails that crisscrossed over this three main trails that crisscrossed over this thing. I knew does would probably come by me, which didn't happen. Mostly because of bear. Was using the water hole in the morning.

And I figured, Hey if anything makes sense, that kind of [00:38:00] makes sense. So you put that kind of stuff together and it's just like the scrape that I'm saying that I have a camera on that's been used all summer. Now, if I didn't put a camera on that, I would still hunt that scrape or somewhere near it because you're using your.

You're using what in this evidence that you find. If I didn't get a picture of a deer in there, there's a deer in there. There's trails, there's poop, there's food, and there's a giant scrape. Why didn't I get a picture on there? I don't know. Maybe the deer is sent in that scrape from far away.

I did get pictures on there, but if you hadn't gotten pictures on it, right? Is that you're skirting your camera? Did they happen to just run past the scrape? What's You know what tells you that you shouldn't hunt that? The only thing that helps with a camera is a little bit of confidence in that spot because I know they use it during the day, because if you would look at this scrape, you would see it and be like, this is a nighttime scrape.[00:39:00]

Like it's in the open. Why would you do there's some terrain going on, that they use cover, they can use the train for cover, but otherwise you're like. If I was a deer, I wouldn't use a scrape during the daylight, so there's that kind of thing. But I think that you need to put some pieces together and just say if you're not sure what to do, put the, put all the evidence in your favor.

So you know, now you know there's two routes that the buck likes to use. We decided for a northeast wind, right? And then you got a scrape close by, you see the fresh Fresh nip browse and you know there's a major food source here and there's a little bit of water here and there's a dough family group bedding that's here now you got 10 things and if some of those other if that other trail is missing a few of those.

Which one's better with the one that's hunt, the one that's got more stuff going on or you can look at as an opposing thing. If you have a lot of hunting pressure in your area and you're noticing that people are like, are doing the math and [00:40:00] putting all those things together and you feel that the bucks would be more sensitive to that.

Hunt the one with less, you just have to weigh that kind of stuff too.

Josh Raley: What about frequency though? Let's say you've got a spot with all the sign in the world. It's a spot you want to throw a sit at. You just want to confirm, what deer is in the area, which kind, what kind of deer is making all this sign or whatever.

Maybe it's that kind of in between sign, it's not a huge scrape, but it's a decent scrape. It's not a huge rub that real tall with, tick marks on the, yeah. on the trees back behind it. It's just an okay rub, and you want to have a little bit better intel. You get a picture of a big buck on there at what frequency of showing up or, whether it be daily or every other day or once a week or twice a season.

What's the frequency that you're looking forward to clue you in? And, because like we've really been alluding to it this whole time. Trail cameras don't show you everything. It's such a small snippet of what's actually going on out there. So if you make all your [00:41:00] decisions by them, you're probably not going to do super well.

You're going to end up chasing your tail. But is there a frequency threshold that you're like, okay, this is this dude's home. Yeah, he showed up on all 10 cameras. Did he walk past them all in one night or did he, you know what I'm saying? Yeah.

Aaron Hepler: So I think that, I like to fish too.

So in fishing, three's a pattern. I don't think that in deer hunting all the time though. I think if I have that, I think if I have three or four cameras that deer is on, or five pictures of that deer, I think that gives me confidence that he lives in the area, but it really depends on the picture too.

Cause. I think it matters at the time. If all those pictures are at midnight or 3am, you're not close. You're not going to kill that deer there. So then you need to shift your either a, your cameras or B just your hunting efforts in the direction that he's coming from, if you're, if it's already the season, like if you're [00:42:00] doing this preseason and now we're already in the season, just shift your hunting efforts.

Don't waste time moving your cameras. You're going to do more harm than good that way. Just because if you know the direction he's coming from now, you've been clued into it. Just go hunt it. Skipped, take your camera with you when you go hunt and hang it in there and see if you were right.

Because every time you're right, it's going to make you feel better for the next year. But I think the important thing is inside shooting hour, inside shooting light. And then if you, so I would say at least three pictures inside shooting light. And then if the other, let's say we're doing five, the other two pictures are somewhere within an hour on either end of shooting light you're pretty close.

Now if it's the opposite, you have three that are pretty close to shooting light and maybe one or two in daylight, probably want to move in the direction where you think those a little past the direction of where those like on the edge of light is happening.[00:43:00]

You'll get excited about pictures that you get in the middle of the night. If your camera has the function, I just. Tell you set it to take pictures between What at whatever hour what an hour before light in an hour after dark? Because then it's gonna take away your temptation to be like I got a picture of a deer in here And it was a picture from midnight and he came from the direction of the farm Way down over there, yeah, he's probably on the farm and maybe you'll kill him in the rut, but you ain't killing him now,

so that might be like, for a lot of people that might not be enough pictures but for me, that's plenty.

Josh Raley: And I wanted to run this by you just because of what I'm thinking. I was way more nailed down on this buck last year than I knew that I was like. Simply by trusting the sign and trusting my previous knowledge of the way deer bedded and use this area.

I was on top of him. Like I, I was not far from his bed [00:44:00] and he was acting weird for it to be the rut, like in all honesty, he was not up in, cruising during the day or anything like that. I think both times I shot him, I think he had just gotten out of his bed. He just had that slow lumbering early season buck look to him.

Other than maybe he was looking around a little bit more, but. And he wasn't, stopping to browse, but he was, he didn't look like a buck that was cruising. And but again, I only had a handful of pictures handful of pictures of him, but also had some other good deer was very confident in the area when it comes to, you talk about, if you're not on it right now, get out there and scout, get out there and hunt.

Don't necessarily worry about going in and revamping your trail camera strategy this time of year. You're going to do more harm than good. How concerned are you with with your own pressure that you're applying to an area if you're going to be diving in, if you're going to be scouting, if you're going to be hanging especially in spots where you maybe don't fully understand yet are you real concerned with your pressure?

And then, what's your ratio going to look like? Are you going to be going in there [00:45:00] and scouting and, being like, Oh, this is the best spot I found today. I'm just going to go hang here. Or are you really going to lean heavy on the scouting? Until you really find what you think you need to find

Aaron Hepler: all my scouting if I'm scouting now It's all live.

So as I'm working through an area, I'm probably gonna hang where I find the first best thing okay, as long as I as long as I get the things that I want from it like I know that it's fresh and You were asking you were saying something about rubs and like that kind of a scrape that's made now or any basically any type of rub Is kind of anybody's guess because they all look the same.

They might not be very aggressive yet, but it means that there's something there. So you should probably give it a chance. Cause sometimes it's the bigger bucks start making a sign first. So if you find fresh buck sign, you should probably hunt it. For me, I don't, I, I usually hunt an area more than once over a big area, but I don't normally hunt the same spot.[00:46:00]

More than two times an entire season mostly just because I have plenty to go try But also because I tend to lose confidence if I sit there more Some people feel fine sitting in a place like three or four times and I do as long as I space them out far enough But you know normally a localized area is only getting one or two sits for me this buck that's behind me.

I shot two years ago and we hunted we were hunting really, we were really hunting a different, there were three really good bucks and probably five or six other ones that we wouldn't mind shooting him, but we were hunting one big buck in particular and this one and I think between me and my buddy, we ended up putting I want to between me and my two buddies, we probably put in six or seven sits there, but it wasn't in the same, we were moving around a lot inside that area. And make the area [00:47:00] that year, make it a mile circle because we had a pretty wide net that year. So we did sit a lot then, but the deer was showing up on cameras all the time.

Like every time we would... Walk past the camera. When we were hunting, we'd pull it. He'd be on that camera. And then we had some cell cams out there that year. We get pictures of them and then try to go home, a day or two later. And not, he was just on cameras all the time. Where I killed him was.

Was again kill them near a waterhole. But it was one of those things where it's you get like a good gut feeling when you're scouting on I could kill a deer here and you can't just be like, walk in and find a bunch of trails and be like, Oh yeah, I could kill a deer here. You can kill a deer anywhere, really.

But you get that. I actually told my buddy lots of times, like one of us is killing a buck here this year, like this is the spot we're going to kill a buck. And and I killed that and I killed that deer there [00:48:00] probably could have killed the deer there last year, too. There was a little bit more pressure over there last year, but there were a couple of bucks that went through there in the mornings, but it's just it's just one of those spots where you're like, I don't know how you wouldn't kill a deer here,

Josh Raley: cool, man. Aaron, what do you what do you have on the docket, man? We're sitting here, we're recording this on, I don't know, October 3rd, is it? Yep. Yep. October 3rd. So what's the year going to look like for you moving forward?

Aaron Hepler: So I was telling you before my wife got a new job, so we're a little on the busy side, but I still have a good amount of time and I can she takes the kids with her to school and brings them back home.

So it's like sky's the limit for when I'm off. I worked the next couple of days. We'll see what the weather shapes up to be. But we're supposed to get I think we're supposed to get downpours on Saturday, and you can't hunt Sundays in PA, oh, okay. Yeah so hopefully towards the beginning of next week, I'll get out and right now though I'm all out of elk.[00:49:00]

I'm just about all out of deer and I think I'm going to go on a doe slaying fest until like maybe the October, like 22nd ish. I'll start really focusing on killing. I tried to kill one on the opener. Didn't happen. So now it's time to just put some meat in the freezer. That makes me happy too.

Josh Raley: So there you go, man. That's way high up on my list this year. Like I am definitely, I'm going to Wisconsin, got to do the whole rut trip thing, but I think even if I kill early in Wisconsin, I may stay an extra day or two and just try to feel every single doe tag that I have there because where I hunt, you can get extras.

So I might just, I might come home with six deer in the car. I don't know. We'll have to see.

Aaron Hepler: I have a buck tag and five doe tags. Nice. Yeah. I killed three does and an elk last year or three, did I kill three does? I think I killed three deer. I killed a buck and two does. Or did I kill three?

I might have killed three does last year. I [00:50:00] can't remember. I killed, I think I killed at least three deer and an elk, and it's all gone. You gotta get on it. I got to get on it. And Sundays, I may I got a new bass boat this year. So I may be on the, on, on the lake in October a little bit.

Josh Raley: Yeah, I don't blame you, dude. It's hard to, I don't know. It's, I like early season hunting, but when there's so many other things going on, you mentioned earlier, you've been bass fishing up to this point. And it's man, I've been like our neighborhood pool just closed last week.

Like we've been at the pool on the weekend, we've been doing all kinds of stuff not deer hunting just yet, but we've got a cold front blowing through this weekend. Monday looks like a great day to get out. I'll probably be going to my lease and not to the public spot down the road.

Just, there's a few things that I really want to learn about this new lease that I picked up, picked it up mostly for turkeys. But I want to learn a little bit for deer. So I'm going to get out there and do some scouting, maybe throw a sit at it. And so we'll see, but Aaron, man, thanks for coming on the show again.

I appreciate it. Where can folks find you and all of your writing?

Aaron Hepler: You can mostly find all my writing at [00:51:00] exodusoutdoorgear. com or over on at Clint Campbell's podcast, truth from the stand. I got a couple of good things going on there. And then I'm on Instagram and Facebook.

I'm not sure how to search me on Facebook. I think I always, people always have a hard time with that, but it's Aaron underscore Hepler for Instagram. So

Josh Raley: awesome, dude. Thanks for coming on the show, man. I appreciate you joining me again. And I look forward to. Getting some pictures. Maybe we'll kill didn't we kill on the same day?

We did we kill on the same day. Maybe we'll kill the same day again this year. That'd be pretty sweet That'd be pretty

Aaron Hepler: sweet. Yeah, cool. All right, buddy.

Josh Raley: Have a good one. Yeah, i'll talk to you That's all for this week's episode. As always, thank you so much for tuning in. If you dig this show, be sure to subscribe to this podcast, wherever it is that you get your podcasts.

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