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ESPN2: Hard work in whitetail country

7/22/2005
"Whitetail Country" guest Greg Miller is one of North America's top deer hunting experts. 

Spend much time around Greg Miller and odds are that you'll quickly come to the conclusion he's a likable, ordinary, down-to-earth guy from northern Wisconsin.

A likable, ordinary, down-to-earth guy who just so happens to know as much as anybody in all of North America about how to kill big whitetails, I might add.

Such a sterling reputation — proven by a deer hunting track record that spans back into the 1960s — is exactly why Miller will be Tom Miranda's featured guest on this week's episode of "Whitetail Country," scheduled to air this Hunt Sunday morning at 9 on ESPN2.

But when you tune into the Deuce, don't expect to find Miller divulging any silver bullets about how a hunter can easily kill a monster buck this upcoming fall … because they don't exist.

"People want everything handed to them on a silver platter, but it doesn't come that way with whitetails," Miller said.

Instead, the Wisconsin hunter said he's earned his deer-hunting success the old fashioned way: by acquiring well-deserved knowledge through plenty of time and hard work invested in the woods.

"When I started doing it, there wasn't any practical information out there; it was just the school of hard knocks," Miller said.

Over time, as Miller's whitetail expertise increased, he began to be more and more successful at tagging deer each year, especially mature bucks that often — but not always — carried big headgear.

Such increasing knowledge led the Wisconsin resident to begin a part-time writing career about whitetail hunting nearly two decades ago.

Today, those first articles have expanded into countless magazine stories, several books and numerous TV show and video appearances, all of which have turned Miller into one of the continent's most recognizable deer-hunting authorities.

That platform has helped Miller to do the two things he likes best: to successfully hunt the whitetail deer across the North American continent; and to help others learn to do the same.

Keep in mind that the Badger State resident believes some hunters will naturally be more successful in their woodsy endeavors than others.

That's because some people seem to possess better predatory instincts that help them watch the whitetail drama unfold in the woods in ways that others can't see or struggle to see.

But whatever a hunter's natural predatory abilities may or may not be, Miller also believes that a deer hunter must learn to always be inquisitive in the woods, asking questions about why a certain thing did or did not happen.

In other words, if you want to be a successful deer hunter, never quit learning about whitetails.

One way that Miller has done that himself down through the years is to never be afraid to ask questions about what others are learning — and to listen carefully to their answers.

"There were always people that were better than I was when I was learning how to hunt mature deer," Miller said. "I went and talked to them and just listened."

"We've got two ears and one mouth for a reason, I guess, to listen twice as much as talk," he added.

"Find out what those guys are doing and find out what they're doing differently. More than likely, a lot of times it's just little things."

But Miller also indicates that simply obtaining such knowledge can only take a deer hunter so far in the woods.

There's still the very important step of correctly applying such wisdom in the places where North American whitetails roam.

"I think that's where guys out there are falling short today," Miller said. "There's a lot of good knowledge out there, but guys are relying on it and not getting out there and putting their nose to the grindstone.

"Sure, they're watching videos, TV shows and reading magazines, but they're not getting out there in the field and actually working."

Miller continues to work hard at it each fall.

This year, his deer hunting travels will begin at the end of August and will continue "pretty much non-stop" into the new year right before the Archery Trade Association show in Atlanta.

Along the way, Miller will climb into deer stands in states ranging from Wyoming to Wisconsin and just about everywhere else in between.

While every trip isn't successful, Miller's knowledge, hard work and hours spent on stand often will pay off in big-antlered ways with some great TV and video footage.

Take for example the massive Nebraska whitetail he killed last fall during the pre-rut phase.

"He scored 177 5/8 inches gross and had 13 points," Miller said. "He was a 5X5 with stickers, five-inch bases, 21 inches inside and 27-inch beams. He was just big, big, big; he had it all."

How did Miller score on such a fantastic whitetail with a video camera looking on?

You guessed it, more hard work.

"When I hunt a brand-new, strange area, I'm going to ask questions of the outfitter and listen to this guy since it's what he does for a living," Miller said. "I want as much input from him as I can get."

"Then I want to look at topo maps and aerial photos," he added. "And then I want to go look at the ground myself."

While such a strategy helped Miller tag his scary big pre-Halloween monster last year in the Cornhusker State, he stresses that such a scenario doesn't always have to unfold on an outfitted hunt in a far-away state.

"People will pay good, hard-earned money for the hunt of a lifetime," Miller said. "But they'll often pay $2,000 or $3,000 to kill a deer the caliber of which they could have killed just as big or bigger within 25 to 50 miles of their home."

How? Again, through hard work and time on stand, said Miller.

That being said, if hunters want to become consistent at killing mature deer, they have to avoid making two critical mistakes.

"I'll talk to hunters who aspire to shoot bigger and better deer each year," Miller said. "But I find out that they're hunting areas where their expectations of shooting big deer are great but they're hunting areas where the reality of that is pretty low."

A second mistake that Miller often sees hunters making is a reluctance to eat tag soup.

"They're not willing to hunt a season without killing a deer," Miller said. "They're not passing them up (less-mature deer) and not being patient."

So what does all of this mean to the weekend warrior?

Simply this, while Greg Miller is one of the continent's best overall deer hunters, there really is no secret to his success.

For hunters willing to work hard, to do their homework and to invest their time in a good patch of deer woods, the payoff can be big … as in big antlers.