By Scott Spitzley
Editor’s note: If you missed the first Hunting Beast Q&A with Justin Wright, be sure to give that a read by clicking here. This is another great Q&A with a lot of information packed in here. I hope you enjoy! - Alex
Today, we have David Toms, AKA "DaveT1963", saddle hunter from Texas. Dave is well known on the Beast to get it done on public lands across multiple states consistently and isn't afraid to get it done with his Traditional Bow still. David's first nomination vote was also in part by the "Big Buck Serial Killer" himself, indicating that you may want to grab a bucket of popcorn and get that mouse scroller button ready because this folks, is going to be a good read.
Q. How and when did your hunting journey begin?
David: My Love and fascination for all things outdoors began in the mangrove swamps of Florida in the early 70s, when I was 7 -9 years old. I was infatuated with snakes and soon found I could sell them to a local pet store and pocket some spending money. However, my mom was not as thrilled and insisted I proved I could identify them before she would let me go running wild in waste deep swamp water. So, I studied every book I could get my hands on until I could identify just about every native snake in those swamps. I knew every specie, where they liked to hang out and what they ate. This initially opened up the “Great Outdoors” to a young boy and soon I was out exploring and learning everything I could about the mangrove swamps around our home.
When I was eleven we moved to Texas, and trapping and hunting was just the next step for me. We lived on a small 200-acre farm in the NE part of the state. I was constantly outdoors and exploring. No one in my family, or anyone I knew for that matter, was a hunter so pretty much everything I learned was self-taught. I supplemented my field experience by reading a few books and any magazines I could get my hands on like Fur-Fish-Game. At some point, I think I was around 13 or 14 or so, I picked up an old second hand recurve. Fred Bear and Howard Hill short films were also popular then so I became infatuated with traditional archery – a fire that still burns in me four decades later.
That summer, as I was fishing and exploring the creek bottoms around my house, I began to take notice of the few whitetail deer that frequented the area. It wasn’t long before the desire to hunt them reared up and I began to live, think and breathe whitetail deer. Flamed by the articles from Myles Keller and his old Black Widow, I practiced everyday with my second-hand recurve; the two of us became inseparable. That was the first year I hunted and the first arrow I ever released at any living creature found its way into the chest of a small forkie. I was hooked from that point on.
Q. What type of terrain(s) do you hunt?
David: I have hunted a bunch of states over the last 4 decades. Everything from deep southern swamps, grasslands of the plains, farm lands in KY and OH, to the mountains of Montana. Just in TX alone I can and do hunt pine wood forest, cypress swamps, cattle country, plains, Hill Country, Mesquite flats, etc. and I typically hunt at least three states every year (usually TX, OK and either OH, KY or some other mid-west state.) I really want to try my hand at the marsh hunting stuff, especially after visiting Dan Infalt in WI.
Q. Putting down mature bucks consistently is obviously not an issue for you. What is the most important thing you put into your style that helped you have that kind of success?
David: Getting on and putting down mature bucks is ALWAYS a challenge. I literally spend 100s of hours every year scouting just to get on a decent buck around home. I am currently running 30+ cameras year round in three states all on public property. I hope I never create an illusion that this comes easy – man I struggle and have ups and down almost every year.
I do think from that first arrow, which by the way was too far of a shot and more luck than anything, I just believed I could. Confidence leads to persistence, persistence leads to success. Keep in mind, this was all with traditional archery gear. Most will tell you it’s some form of handicap – I just never saw it that way. Heck if Howard Hill and Fred Bear could do it, so could I (silly in hindsight, whoever said a teenage boy thinks right?) I honestly believed I was going to fill my tags and somehow I managed to get it done year after year.
In the beginning, like most, filling my tags was all that matter and I honed my skills by keeping the local deer population in check. Later, I became more selective and started pursuing larger bucks. I think my journey is typical of most bowhunters – we go through stages. When I got my license and my own vehicle, it just opened me to new areas and new opportunities. Back then, knocking on doors was common. Most looked at me strange when I asked if I could bow hunt – Texas was and is primarily a gun tradition state. Things are a bit different now and I hunt almost exclusively on public land. I could easily get on a good lease and kill much larger bucks every year, but the challenge of public land is where it is for me now. Perhaps I will change my mind when the walks are too long and the drags too far.
I think trapping taught me at an early age to pay attention to structure and how animals use it to get where they were going. I could not afford a lot of bait so I relied on many blind sets. You do not catch fur using blind sets if you aren’t learning to pay attention to the small details and habits of the animal you are after. Since trapping was one of the few sources of revenue for me as a teenager, I “had” to get good at it if I wanted new clothes, more traps, bows, etc. This attitude carried over into the deer woods. I became a student of deer. The discipline of self-study formed over those early years learning everything I could about snakes engrained in me a work ethic that I carried forward. If I want something, I have to put the work in first.
I would be reluctant if I did not mention two life events that helped shape me as a hunter. The first was I ran a successful taxidermy business in Texas and later in Montana. During that time, I had the opportunity to get to know many great hunters. Some of them were pretty well known in the industry. Others were just pure killers that never sought out fame and fortune but their walls would stand up to most other trophy collections. I took advantage of the opportunity and learned a lot from them. To this day, I remain in contact with several of them and continue to seek their wisdom.
The second event was I joined the USAF. This took me to new locations and I had to learn to be flexible and adaptive. In all aspects of life. It also helped me get into many hunting areas I would never have been able to go to on my own. I made so many great friends and have hunting spots in several states. Now I am retired, and more than halfway through a second career with the Air Force. Soon I will be retired for good and that will give me a much larger chunk of time for hunting and fishing.
Q. Being that we are having this Q&A series specifically for "The Hunting Beast" forum members. How and when did you stumble across the forum, and how much do you think the forum impacted your success?
David: I ran across Dan’s early YouTube video of how he sets up a stand about five years ago. While I had heard of Andre and Lone Wolf, I had not been on social media and thus I had never heard of Dan, AKA “The Big Buck Serial Killer.” So I followed the link at the end of the video and that led me to the beast site a few years back. I did like most people, ran a journal for a couple years, and I tried to relate some of Dan’s strategies to where I hunt. That is one thing about hunting today, there is no shortage of info available and the hunting beast site has some knowledgeable folks.
Q. What is YOUR definition of "Beast" style?
David: I think that is best left to Dan as he coined the phrase as far as I know. Personally, I would not consider myself, or my style of hunting, as a “Hunting Beast” purist. While I agree with a lot of the ideas on the site, and there are some very efficient killers there, I tend to do things a lot of beast hunters consider taboo. Things like preferring morning hunts, prepping trees and access trails, using mock scrapes, scents and calls, dissing moon charts, getting aggressive with cameras, and scouting every month. I’ve been told many times that my techniques and thoughts are not “the best way.” Perhaps there is some truth in that but I am not going to let the local bucks in on that just yet, as they apparently didn’t get that memo.
I think one of the dangers of any social group (especially on social media where there is no face-to-face communication) is they can begin to develop a “group think” mentality. The danger with that is when other ideas and techniques are presented they can be dismissed to easily because they do not fit what “the group” perceives as reality. No site is immune and it is just human nature – it is what led to the shuttle disaster at NASA. I encourage everyone to test everything and believe half of what you hear. No matter who says it including myself. Just because something does not work for someone, does not mean it won’t work for you and where you hunt. In fact, I think being able to step outside the box and take a new approach is one of the things that has helped me find success. I would not have killed a large number of the bucks I have if I religiously followed what I read on the internet or hear from “the experts.”
I approach a hunt much like a good chess match. I study my opponent and his moves, look for a specific habit or vulnerability, and then I try to exploit them. While there are some common basic rules, each player has a unique way they approach the game – to beat them you have to adapt to their style of play and then try to get ahead of them. I typically develop a detailed, yet adaptive plan. I go overboard sometimes in the planning, analysis and “what if” sessions. I think being a contingency planner for the Air Force, coupled with being a Lean Six Sigma facilitator – problem solving is natural to how I approach most anything. I like the analysis and planning aspects almost as much as the hunt itself. What I will say is this, there is one characteristic I see in most of the really successful guys on The Hunting Beast site – they are relentlessly persistent…. They just do not quit. I think I share that trait in many aspects. Many of my best bucks were due more to determination and persistence than any one skill or ability I possess. I certainly do not think I am some deer-hunting expert, at all…. Just a lifelong student. That and I love deer hunting, all of it, 365 days a year.
Q. Most of everyone on the forum correlates their style to hunting buck beds, but there is a lot more to it than just that. What do you think makes your hunting style different from others?
David: Fortunately, I have been blessed to hunt in many states/habitats. Many people have not had that opportunity. This allows you to see many sides to mature bucks in different environments. They do not all act the same. Beds while important, are only one piece to a much bigger puzzle. There are other equally important pieces of information. Where do the does hang out, what is the peak rutting dates, what natural browse is available in the area and how much is it utilized into the season, how much pressure is there, where do others park/hunt, what species of mast do you have available, when does it drop, what water sources are available, etc. It all adds together to create a “big picture” and can help you identify where any one individual buck may be MOST vulnerable to a hunter. A quick example: Rut hunting is typically thought to be the easiest time to kill a buck. However, in an area with poor buck to doe ratio and terrible age structure, a rut hunt can be largely non-eventful, as the bucks just do not have to travel or compete for breeding rights. Under these conditions, lockdown is often more pronounced and rut movement severely restricted at times. This can even manifest itself by a lack of rut sign like rubs and scrapes. Knowing herd and age structure in these instances can help you make better decisions on timing your hunt.
In my experience, an individual BED itself is not always the best location (I know not very “Beast” like) to ambush a deer. I seldom hunt a specific bed, as it would be a complete waste of time in many of the areas I hunt. I prefer to focus on bedding areas, and their entrance and exit routes to them. By getting in way before dawn and setting up on an approach, can a buck pass before its shooting light? Of course, just as a buck can lay in his bed until after shooting light in the evening. It is a game of choices and odds. Always has been; always will be. I cannot count how many times over the years I have had a buck pass by in the AM before daylight and then killed him a couple hours later. One mistake I think a lot of hunters make is they forget to stay on top of the local doe patterns. I guarantee you mature bucks don’t. From the time they shed velvet, until the time they drop their antlers, a buck will know what is going on with the local does. A wise hunter will also.
Let me start by saying I kill a fair share of bucks in the evening and I hunt them as much as I do morning hunts. I think it is no secret I prefer morning hunts for mature bucks. For multiple reasons. One advantage of hunting the morning is you pretty much KNOW what is on the buck’s mind; getting to his daytime bedding/hiding area. You can also pretty much assume he will use the wind to get there. That is what I call a vulnerability, it’s a trait or characteristic you can look for opportunities to exploit. It is not easy, but I assure you those places exists. Most of my better bucks have been killed in the AM, both in October and November.
In the PM it is much harder to anticipate what a buck plans on doing after he gets to his feet. Will he head to water? Will he go work a scrape or browse? Is he hungry? Is he going to hit an apple tree or acorns? Beans or corn? In my opinion, they just are not as predictable in the evenings. Many times, especially if it is hot, they may lie in their bed until after dark. People will cling to moon theories, sunlight, temperatures, and all kinds of potentially influential factors to explain away why buck movement was or was not good that evening. I say it is all par for the course – mature bucks are just not as predictable as many want to believe. Yes, there will always be an example where one is. However, in 40 plus years of bow hunting, I have come to conclusion that one of the key survival instincts of a mature buck is the fact that by their very nature they just are not as habitual as other deer. Probably a major contributing factor to why they have survived a few gun seasons.
In the AM, I am simply reducing the number of options or possibilities of what is on that bucks mind at that specific moment. Odds are he wants to go to his security cover and if I have done my homework, I have a pretty good guess where that is and how he will use the terrain and wind to get there. Does not mean it is easy or there are not specific challenges like wind, thermals, cover, darkness to contend with. However, there is a decent chance I know what he wants to do and that creates opportunities for finding vulnerabilities. The one wildcard is the RUT, this increases the unpredictable factor exponentially for any hunt AM or PM.
Not all areas are easy to navigate through and get close enough for an evening hunt. Well at least not without blowing a buck out of the area. I also believe sneaking into a buck’s bedroom is best accomplished when he is not there. That typically means getting in, with a well thought out access, several hours before daylight. I know, I can hear it already; I bump deer in the AM. Of course you do, and you bump deer in the evenings as well. It’s part of the game. In fact, I would bet that of 80% or more of the mature bucks bumped, the hunter has no idea. In my experience, most hunters fail in the AM because they lack a sound access strategy, they do not get in early enough, and they do not practice it. I run my cameras at night a lot of the time. Typically, I find thermals are also more predictable and winds more consistent in the AM and that doesn’t change until well after daybreak. The evening can be a crapshoot with winds, thermals, cloud cover, barometer changes, etc.
As I said above, I personally believe it is more difficult to sneak into a buck’s core area while he is present. There are areas where you had better work out or cut an access trail or you are not going to be in the game. Anyone that has hunted out west long enough also knows that the sun will dry everything up and sneaking in close in the afternoon can be next to impossible. Definitely harder than in a swamp or croplands. I know some will disagree with me and that is OK. IMO, you have not experienced thick until you try to work through a 20-acre plum, greenbrier, blackberry thicket in the south. Without an access trail, well good luck with that.
I have spent a lot of time in several Midwest states (I take at least one trip every year to the Midwest), and in my experience, that is without a doubt the easiest environment I hunt. It is not even close. It really boils down to have you scouted and found preferred bedding and food sources? If so, you set up to catch them from point A to point B. It really is that basic (I said basic not easy). That is why so many in Ag country downplay rut hunting, because it is less predictable and there is more competition in the woods. I have even heard some say that a better hunter will kill his buck in the early season; that rut hunting is easier. That is simply hogwash. I can see where folks living in areas with a fair number of decent bucks running around may formulate that conclusion because they are not usually hunting a specific buck. However, the truth is that during the rut, mature bucks are the least predictable they are all year. It is far harder to get on and stay on a specific buck that is rutting hard. The only redeeming feature is that they are on the move a heck of a lot more and they have a bad habit of following does into some compromising situations.
I typically have to work much harder and I am less successful in non-Ag areas. Any property has a carrying capacity as far as food is concerned. Many bucks do not live up to their genetic potential because of poor nutrition. Finding a mature or big-racked buck in low deer densities non-Ag areas is a lot harder than some may think. Then once you do locate one, you have one or two good cracks at him before he is on to you. You blow those and that might be the last one of the season. Unlike, OH, IA, KY, KS, etc., where you blow a chance at a nice buck (say 125+ for brevity purposes) and then can have another walk by at any moment. In those environments, it makes sense to take chances and be ultra-aggressive as you spoof up an opportunity at one buck there is a good likelihood another is in the area. People are quick to recognize the Northern big woods as challenges. What many do not realize is that there are many similar environments in the South and Southeast…. Think huge cypress swamps, pine forests, range or grasslands, etc.
I have rambled here as I have many thoughts on this topic. However, to summarize. Hunt the Midwest if you can, it is fun, there is plenty of public land available, and you might be shocked at the number of quality bucks you may see. In low-density areas without AG, which I know a lot of folks face, a far more precise, well thought out tactical approach is usually better in my experience. If you get on a good buck, study it and do your best to learn when and where he is most vulnerable. Then try to come up with ways to exploit those vulnerabilities. Finally, keep your expectations realistic and in line with your goals and where you hunt. I personally find it extremely difficult and challenging to shoot a 150” buck when one is not present (might want to re-read that one, satirical but too often true). It is easy to get caught up in all the YouTube and social media kill posts, videos and threads. There is a reason folks in low density areas have a hard time passing up any legal buck. Opportunities on mature big-racked bucks are just a lot harder to come by in some areas. However, options do exist, but it might mean restructuring how and where you hunt.
Q. You only have 1 week out of the whole hunting season to hunt, which week do you choose?
David: That has never been an option for me and I would not let it be for long. However, to answer that question, the most successful week for me over the last 4 decades has been the last week of October/early Nov. Let’s say Oct 27th – Nov 3rd, give or take a couple days on either end. My reasoning is simple. It has been a year since the big boys had some loving, a few local does have probably started to cycle in, they may have even had a little action, and we are quickly coming into the primary rut. Let’s just say the big boys might have a little anticipation and that may make them a little less cautious. Of course, a lot of it depends on the herd structure and the age structure. If every buck has ten does to breed then they just do not have to go “catting around” as much. Anytime a buck has to search out good shelter, food, water or the females, that makes him exposed more often and thus more vulnerable.
Q. You are on a blind 7-day hunt out-of-state Whitetail hunt on a piece you have never stepped foot on. Tell us what your strategy would be before heading there and what it would be going into it the day you show up.
David: I might call some friends in the area, talk to a biologist/taxidermist, study weather history, of course I would cyber scout etc. I would try to research what mast and crops are available, look for water sources, etc. Like I mentioned above, it really depends on where you are going. Terrain dictates a lot as far as ease of access, hunting from trees or ground, how you can scout, etc…. I envy the folks that can drive around in the evening and glass or shine (and yep I do it when I hunt OH, KY, etc.) – scouting does not get any easier IME. One other tip, look for last year’s big buck stories, public land hotspots articles, and YouTube videos, and then go somewhere else. Seriously, one magazine article or podcast can completely change the pressure on a property almost immediately. There are many opportunists out there and the word gets out quickly these days. Best to focus on areas that do not receive all the attention over social and traditional media sources.
I have always maintained there are only three real basic needs of a whitetail and one additional factor that comes into play. Cover or security, food and WATER are the three basic needs. I focus on the one that has the least availability at the location I am hunting. Out west in arid areas that might be water which to me is far too often over looked. In the open range grasslands it might be cover/security, etc… where it gets difficult is where there is an abundance of all three. In those scenarios, it often boils down to a matter of elimination through effort. The other factor I mentioned above is the desire to breed. During certain times, this can and often will trump the three basic needs. At least to some degree. Mature bucks do not typically make as many compromises as the younger bucks, but I have seen my fair share of studs doing some incredibly stupid things. Guess there is something to that Love potion #9 thing?
Q. Tell us what your summer scouting consists of.
David: I use a lot of cameras over mineral licks to take inventory on new properties. I do a lot of tree prepping in certain areas (based off post-season scouting) and I also clear access in some areas with difficult access. I also like to find what water sources are viable, especially those hidden ones not on a map. I check mast trees to see if there will be a crop and how heavy that might be (I hate years where the oaks are overabundant – bucks just do not move far until the doe thing comes into play.) But if I had to wrap it up in a nutshell, summer is where I try to determine what bucks are still alive and which ones I want to pursue, and I do that with cameras, glassing, and boots on the ground. I also will establish some mocks scrapes in late summer if I am still needing inventory or I find a new area with some big tracks. Not to sound like a repeating record, but it really depends on the area.
Summer scouting tells me “he” is in the area, but in season and post-season scouting tells me where he will be when I am carrying my longbow or recurve. I use cameras 365 days a year for that reason – there is no way I can effectively scout enough ground to find the kind of bucks I am after. Like I mentioned above, finding them is often the single biggest factor in many areas I hunt. Occasionally in summer, I will find a stud I did not know about on a new piece of property I have not scouted. When I do, I use my cameras to backtrack that buck back towards his bedding. Can this approach hamper my results, sure, but so can going into an area without the needed information. It is a balancing act when it comes to a new area. I do not believe the majority of people fail because they educate the bucks (the bucks are already educated on most public) I believe most fail because they do not know enough of the right information, for whatever reason. Many approach deer hunting like a crap game. They have a basic understanding of the game and then just take their chances. The truth about that approach is that it does indeed sometimes pays off. However, most of the time, the odds are not in your favor.
Q. Out of the four seasons of the year, which one is most crucial when it comes to scouting? Tell us why.
David: I think all seasons have specific goals that are important. In-season scouting keeps you on target – things shift, patterns change and you have to try to get ahead of what the bucks are doing. Post season reveals many details and the woods are just easier to read. It also tells you where the deer gravitate toward after months of pressure. Spring is when to determine who lived through gun season/late season. It is also a great time to be out picking up racks, scouting new areas and doing prep work. Already talked about summer scouting. Truth is its all important to me and I make time for all of it every single year. I scout and prep much more than I actually hunt. However, I love scouting so it is not a problem. I am also single, children grown and have a flexible career, so I can spend 100s of hours each year scouting. Many folks are not in that position. If I had to pick only one season to scout it would be post season and I would be thorough and try to add one new property each year.
Q. If you had anything to improve on, what would it be?
David: Man I could improve in almost every area. I am just an average hunter, a semi-decent shot with my bows, hard headed, too many commitments or irons in the fire, etc. I have newly discovered aches, pains and obstacles almost daily. Like I mentioned above, persistence and opportunity has gotten me more bucks than some magical skill I possess. However, at this point in my life I would have to say I need slow down and to enjoy the hunts more. When I was younger, I was too driven. I think many bow hunters are solitary by nature, I know I was. At some point, it would be nice to find an equally yoked and likeminded hunting partner – sure would make some of those drags easier. As I have aged, it is the camaraderie and the relationships I remember most.
Q. Tell us about your most memorable hunt.
David: I am going to copy and paste a story from my on-line journal. I have been really blessed in life and have hunted a lot of game in many places so I have many memories I would not trade. But I think this one hunt, for an old Montana monarch, really sums up the journey, and I might add even life itself, is all about.
“When I first took up trad archery is was important for me to get some deer under my belt. As seasons passed and I had taken a lot of deer I soon turned to better class bucks. Now, heading into my silver years I tend to focus on a specific buck. While it usually is an older buck it may or may not be classified as a trophy. To me it is the cat and mouse game that pursues (and I usually lose) that excites me. Finding that buck out and then working at finding and exploiting a weakness in his routine. I usually have five or six specific bucks scattered across several hunting areas that I am after on any given year. And then there is always the occasional surprise that just shows up. But for me, now, it is taking a specific buck on purpose - or at least trying to.
I remember a buck from a few years ago that I had pursued for four years. When I first saw him I guessed him as 4 1/2 maybe 5 1/2. I hunted for him for three years hard and we had many encounters but he always managed to avoid an arrow. Finally, on the fourth year I got my opportunity. He had gone down dramatically in score. At one time he was a prime and majestic five year old sporting a 160 inch ten point typical rack. On that day he was what I guess to be a 125 inch nine point. His face had greyed up quit a bit since the last time I had seen him. His gate was slower and much more purposeful and his body had lost significant mass.... further proof that he was probably 9 1/2 years old or perhaps even older?
I had him at 18 yards totally unaware and broadside.... a shot I don't miss very often. As I drew and picked a spot tight to his right shoulder, I knew immediately I wasn't going to let loose an arrow. We had too much history together and he had completely won over my respect by then. He had done what few bucks had done, he had avoided my best efforts over many seasons. Usually I get my buck; that or nature, car or another hunter does. I have seldom had the opportunity to hunt a mature buck for four years in a row. This had become more than just a hunt for a trophy.
As I let down my longbow, he must have heard me because he stopped and looked right at me. I made no effort to hide or to conceal my presence, and I know that buck knew I was there. Our eyes met for a brief moment and for me it was a moment of deep respect, satisfaction and most of all gratitude. A moment like I have seldom felt out in the woods before or since. He did not blow, alert or run, he just looked for a second or two and then continued on his way. He disappeared into a woodlot to the North where we had shared so many of our encounters together. Maybe the above recollection is my over dramatizing the scene as it played out from my perspective? Maybe it was just what I wanted that moment to be? Who knows but it is as real today sitting here typing about it as it was that cold November 3rd morning in the Montana wilderness.
I never saw that buck again - I would like to think he fell asleep somewhere and passed on to the next life in peace. I know it is corny and animals supposedly don't reason, but I hope that old monarch felt what I did at that moment when our eyes met for the last time. I hope that he could look back on the last four years and think like I did "that was one heck of a match."
To this day, that is the buck I think of the most when I look back on 40+ years of hunting with stick and string. Those deer or memories don't come along very often..... and for me, at this stage, that is what epitomizes "the hunt" for me.
So, in the final analysis, only you can make that call.... and only you have the right to make that call. Follow your heart.”
And lastly, have fun! Seriously, in the end, this journey is far more than some horn on the wall, and we all take a marble out of the jar with each hunt; life only gives you so many marbles.