July 02, 2015
Looking through my study the other day, I came across an old treasure - a whitetail hunting book entitled Mapping Trophy Bucks, a volume written by a friend of mine, Brad Herndon.
The book is, in my mind, at least, a modern classic of the sport, a resource that is still readily available in a number of bookstores, not to mention online.
While the advice and instruction of some deer hunting books waxes and wanes with the passage of time, not to mention the advent of new techniques and technologies, the truths contained inside of Herndon's gem are timeless.
From where I sit, they remain as true today as they were when he penned the book more than a decade ago. And even in an era of trailcam proliferation that tries to reduce deer hunting to a time and a place, the truths put on paper by Herndon will still be just as true a decade from now as they are today.
The gist of the book is that hunters can find good deer hunting spots before they ever leave home, utilizing mapping resources like those online at Google Earth or through studying a good old fashioned topographical map supplied by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Be they electronic maps or those printed on paper, the Indiana deer hunting expert, outdoor writer and wildlife photographer believes that maps remain one of the most important tools that a hunter has at his or her disposal each season.
“You can get a topographical map of that area and figure out several places to kill a big deer (in a place like) Iowa before you ever leave (home),” said Herndon.
He knows from experience, having learned how to use topo maps and aerial photos from Jay Mellencamp, a fellow Hoosier State deer hunter and the uncle of singer John Cougar Mellencamp.
“I was at Jay’s house in the 1970s and had heard that he had killed a lot of nice deer,” said Herndon. “Well, he had killed a lot of nice deer, bucks in the 130s, the 140s, and the 150s.”
“That was unheard of in Indiana at that time. I had never even seen a deer like that.”
When Herndon asked Mellencamp how he had killed a particular buck, he got an unexpected answer – a map pulled from a drawer.
“He had looked (on the map) and saw a saddle that he knew deer would come through when the wind was right,” said Herndon.
“I thought how in the world can a guy look at a piece of paper and kill a trophy whitetail?”
“I (then) thought, ‘I want to be able to do that.’”
Over time, Herndon has gone on to be able to do just that.
Today, as an expert with such tools himself; Herndon routinely uses maps to knock over trophy whitetails or to put his wife Carol in the right spot for her own trophy buck.
Even after years of map reading and on the ground hunting experience, Herndon admits that something new will leap off the printed page at him.
That occurred one night several years back as Herndon sat reviewing a topo map of a favored hunting locale in Indiana.
While studying the map, the hunter noticed a subtle saddle on it that he hadn’t noticed before.
Herndon admits that it didn’t look like much on the map. And having already skirted the area, he knew that the whitetail sign in the surrounding vicinity was hardly encouraging.
Still, knowing that deer often take the path of easiest and least resistance, further map study in his easy chair convinced Herndon to hang a stand in that location.
It turned out to be a good choice, sign or no sign.
“It was December when I first hunted it,” Herndon recalled. “I saw 11 deer on that first hunt.”
In fact, Herndon actually ended up shooting at, and missing, the biggest buck of his hunting career to that point in time. The 12-point giant was hit by a vehicle the next year on a nearby highway and ended up net scoring 182 inches.
That experience and others just like it have helped to cement in Herndon’s mind the fact that hunters, himself included, can always learn something more about their hunting properties through desktop scouting.
“I still study maps of my hunting areas to see if there’s something I’ve missed,” said Herndon.
With a wall full of Hoosier State trophy whitetails, not to mention more than four decades of deer hunting expertise, Herndon has more than enough credentials necessary to have his name on the front of such a book, a book whose ultimate goal is to help a hunter unlock a property’s deer hunting secrets.
“That's the whole idea, to learn how to read a map and look for such things as choke points, inside corners, saddles, or things that will serve as travel corridors that deer would use,” said Herndon.
According to Herndon, locating such terrain works throughout deer country because whitetails, even big mature ones with serious sets of headbones, can be somewhat lazy at times.
That means they’ll often try to take the easiest travel route possible from “Point A” to “Point B.”
While admitting that the American Midwest he hunts is a bit different in topography and agricultural practices than other deer hunting states are, Herndon still believes that his principles will work anywhere whitetails roam.
That's because in his mind, a deer is a deer is a deer, no matter the time or the place.
“The deer in Indiana and the Midwest, they’re obviously a lot bigger bodied deer (than in some other places),” he said. “But (when) it comes to movement, their nose, and their intelligence, I don’t think there’s any difference in a deer in the Midwest, Canada, or even Mexico.”
Or in a deer that roamed the woods back in 2003 versus one that does so here in 2015.
“The (hunting) principles are still the same,” adds Herndon. “Deer will use choke points during the daylight hours to avoid being seen and they’ll try to travel from one place to another in the easiest manner.”
That being said, the author admits that even with an armful of topo maps and aerial photos, it still isn’t easy to tag a mature old trophy buck anywhere.
“An old deer is a sharp deer and (he) is hard to kill,” said Herndon.
But not an impossible deer to kill, mind you. With plenty of such wise old bucks under his belt, the author admits that sometimes, the hunting journey is just as rewarding as the big-antlered destination is.
“It’s great to kill a great big deer, but that’s almost anticlimactic at times in terms of figuring out how to do it,” said Herndon.
And with months to go until deer season, time spent figuring out how to do it - to kill a wall-hanger of a buck - is perhaps the best way that a deer hunter can pass the offseason time, especially when reading the sage deer hunting advice of an old friend.