To learn how to bag more trophy bucks, it pays to look to those who do it well. What do they do? How do they hunt?
These master Missouri big-buck hunters share their tips.
Tim Kjellesvik, from High Ridge, is a diehard bowhunter. For anything. “Bowhunting is a passion,” he said. “I spend all the time I can hunting some type of critter with my bow. It only makes sense. The more you hunt and practice shooting in a realistic hunting situation, the better you become at chasing big whitetail bucks.”
Shooting well is only one piece of the bowhunting-for-deer puzzle, especially for those hunters who consistently kill big bucks.
“I use a matrix of methods to find big bucks,” Kjellesvik said. “Trail cameras, personal observation and human intelligence from people who frequent areas I hunt are my three key elements for consistHanging trail cameras in the heat of summer up through August gives Kjellesvik a good idea of what animals are hanging around his hunting areas.He still believes in the value of scouting. “Scat, tracks, bedding areas, sheds, topography ... all of these things can be discovered by putting feet on the ground and factored into a hunter’s trophy buck calculus.”
Kjellesvik finds late season scouting especially productive. “The seemingly invisible deer trails of the fall become stark, icy white veins networking though the woods when a snow falls. Deer traveling those paths compact the snow, causing it to melt slower and at the same time betraying the paths they take.”
Kjellesvik arrowed two big bucks during the 2017 archery season. He had never laid eyes on either one. He placed high confidence in the word of others and killed both bucks the first mornings he hunted each one.
Two more key elements in Kjellesvik’s bag of tricks for consistent success are physical training: running, lifting, cycling and avoiding junk food, and shooting 3D from his deck on a regular basis. “I practice with the same heads I hunt with: DirtNap Gear DRT broadheads,” he said. “Consistently killing big archery bucks is all in the minute details.”
Alex Rutledge, from Birch Tree, Missouri, is a well-known name in the bowhunting arena, having worked as a pro staff member for H.S. Strut for decades and currently as owner of American Roots Outdoors with Alex Rutledge.
Rutledge is passionate about bowhunting bucks. “I live it year-round,” he said. “I constantly study the deer on my place through the use of trail cameras on trails, food plots and my sanctuary.”
Rutledge resides on his farm in southern Missouri. “I established a feeding sanctuary in my yard several years ago,” Rutledge stated. “I don’t hunt within 400 yards of the sanctuary, but my feeding regimen is critical to both the growth of my deer herd and the health of individual animals.
“It takes the guessing out of the equation,” Rutledge said. “I paint a picture for myself of what deer live on my farm and the surrounding area.”
Rutledge utilizes Eagle Seed for his food plots. “I helped them create a Smorgasbord Blend,” he said. “My idea is to create something that attracts deer to my property. I begin by planting what I call the main draw in the middle of my property. Next, I plant teaser plots 200 yards from the main draw, but the real smorgasbord is in the middle plot.”
Rutledge utilizes another key to his deer management system that pays handsome rewards. “I do not shoot does early in the season, ever,” he said. “Think about it. Shooting does early on creates a danger factor for the deer. The disturbance it creates spooks deer, and they quickly learn to stay on high alert. I patiently wait until later in the season when the bucks start following does into the food plots.”
Scent control is another vital key to Rutledge’s deer hunting system. “I wash my clothes in Scent-A-Way, and I use Ozonics continuously. I actually leave my hunting clothes in the running Ozonics unit while I’m walking to my stands.”
Kyle Duke, of Charleston, in the Missouri Bootheel, bowhunts along the Mississippi River. The farm he hunts consists of 900 acres broken up into soybean fields and 200 acres of cottonwoods and sycamores.
“The soybeans are a huge draw for deer,” Duke said. “Still, I like to plant turnips and wheat in the fall. Deer begin to use the food plot greens heavily by mid-October, and by mid-November they are working on the bulbs.
“I’ve disciplined myself to hunt big bucks,” Duke related. “I learned early on in my bowhunting career that if I wanted to kill mature bucks, I had to stay out of the food plots until late October.”
Duke employs a rather unusual technique of hunting off to one side of his food plots, about 50 yards. “Bucks looking for early estrous does often skirt the food plots. I’m there waiting, usually in the thick stuff.”
Duke is also adamant about spending a lot of time in the stand once he begins hunting. “So many guys look for excuses not to get in their stand. If you want to kill mature bucks, you have to put in the time and be patient.”
Modern bowhunters understand the value of scent control. Duke is no different. “I have a washer and dryer in the garage. I wash my clothes often in scent killer and always take a shower before heading to the stand.”
After the leaves fall, Duke pushes his stand height to 25 feet. “I don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb,” he said. His intense methods have paid off handsomely over the years. In 2017 he arrowed a massive 9-pointer with 6 3/8-inch bases.
Mid-Missouri bowhunter Gary Klossner has consistently arrowed big bucks over the years. “Hunting big bucks takes time and dedication,” he said. “It’s a busy world, and I wanted to create my own big buck draw, so I bought a farm to create my own deer hunting spot.”
Klossner initiated the plans for his deer hunting mecca in the spring of 2014 by bringing in a dozer to clear a main ridge, while leaving surrounding hardwood cover. After burning and substantial cleanup efforts, he planted winter wheat for that first year. He did not hunt the farm in 2014.
Klossner quickly realized that his deer hunting efforts would be a year-round project. He transitioned his food plots to clover and soybeans with a couple of small turnip plots, creating a smorgasbord for deer. “My six acres of food plots provided carbohydrates for late season and greens for warmer weather. It was a one-stop shop for deer and became a quick draw for area bucks.”
By late summer of 2015 Klossner was seeing two good bucks on his trail cameras. On September 25, he began his first bowhunt on his property, not expecting much to happen. However, shortly before dark a wide spread 9-point buck entered the food plot in front of him, offering a 17-yard shot. His first bow kill on his own creation scored 153 inches!
All of Klossner’s hard work and expense were paying off. Running soil tests; applying lime, fertilizer and weed killer; burning thatch; dragging a rock rake over the ridge plots; and picking up rocks and debris by hand took untold numbers of man hours, but the rewards proved handsome.
The fall of 2016 looked especially promising for Klossner. His trail cameras revealed that three shooter bucks were using the food plots regularly. One stood out. “A chocolate-antlered 15-pointer became my focus,” Klossner said.
Klossner patiently waited until he thought the time was right to make his first attempt to take the magnificent buck. “I went to the farm at 11 a.m. on October 18 and walked to my stand in shorts and boots,” he said. “It was hot. I carried all of my equipment and hunting clothes to the stand and returned at 3 p.m.”
The unseasonable heat continued. It took Klossner over an hour to get dressed in the stand. “I sprayed everything with scent eliminator,” he said. “Every movement caused me to sweat. I paused often to dry off and spray down again. Too, I turned on my Thermacell and Ozonics.”
The first deer stepped into the food plot at 5:30 that evening. “The wind was not good,” Klossner said. “But I trusted my Ozonics.”
With 15 minutes of daylight left, the big chocolate-antlered buck entered the plot. Klossner muttered to himself. “Oh my God, it’s him.” The grand buck turned broadside, and he released his arrow. “I thought I’d missed and worried about a poor hit. I didn’t push the buck.”
Well after dark, Klossner checked the shot site and found little sign. He immediately backed out and called Doug Fink, owner of a leashed dog tracking service. “It was a long night,” Klossner said.
After arriving and visiting a few moments with Klossner, he put his tracking dog, Cash, on the scant blood trail. “I thought the dog headed in the wrong direction,” Klossner stated. “But, only 7 1/2 minutes later Cash found the buck of my lifetime. The 15-point chocolate-horned buck scored 184 7/8 inches!”
Mike Bailey, of northeast Missouri, has been bowhunting farms in Putnam and Schuyler counties since 1984. Despite the fact that the farms have lots of soybeans, Bailey annually plants food plots of clover and turnips. “I over-seed the clover in February and plant turnips in the fall,” he said.
“I didn’t start killing big bucks consistently until I started wearing ScentLok clothing,” he noted.
Bailey likes to start bowhunting early in the season, but prefers hunting later in the season, if he has a tag left. He still had a tag in his pocket on October 21st of 2017. He had hung a stand in a cedar tree in a thick spot bordering a food plot and hayfield. “The tree was so small I could only get 9 feet off of the ground.”
Bailey’s ScentLok worked perfectly. A massive buck came by chasing a doe. “I knew it was big,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it, though, when it scored 183 inches!”
Bailey had taken the biggest of his big bucks.