Summer Buck Scouting…
Summer buck scouting can be very enjoyable, informative and help you score on a big bruiser come the fall hunting season. Go now, while bucks are in bachelor groups, highly visible and somewhat approachable with binoculars or camera gear. Summer scouting can give you a peek at this fall’s trophy and give you the edge on other hunters who make the common mistake of scouting come fall, when bucks are somewhat reclusive and difficult to pinpoint. Scouting now can give you an opportunity to watch bucks that are in bachelor groups, relaxing, unconcerned about hunters. More importantly, you get to jump start your season and summer scouting will provide the knowledge and confidence needed to spend long hours on stand this fall to score on a dandy. Buck hunters that are consistently successful are in the woods come July, prior to the bachelor group breakup. Here’s what they are looking for and why summer scouting is the key to fall hunting buck success.
With fond memories I recall a summer scouting trip to a southern Michigan trophy buck hideout. I discovered the location on a late evening trek, while driving country roads with cold beverage in hand and binoculars close by. When I spotted the big 10-point he was in velvet, about half grown and his massive rack looked like a fuzz-covered brush pile attached to his head. My heart skipped a beat at the sight of the mature buck carrying headgear like Bullwinkle.
Soon I was knocking on the farmer’s door. When the old woman slowly walked to the door I smiled, introduced myself and asked if I could swap fresh walleye fillets for the opportunity to photograph her trophy deer. I got the nod and soon the hotspot became my favorite summer hangout come sunset when big’ole bucks wonder from the swamps and lowlands to open fields.
Fact is, over the past few years I’ve discovered several big buck hideouts by scouting during summer. You see, summer is a time when big deer become visible. Sure, monster bucks will show during peak rut but any other time of year they are almost impossible to see. The trick is to catch an adult buck feeding in an open field during summer. More than likely, once you spot Mr. Big you will also see other bucks, sometimes more than you can imagine.
Come summer, bucks gather into bachelor groups. Truth is satellite bucks are drawn to the home range of mature trophy class deer when testosterone levels are low and bucks show a willingness to mingle. This time period lasts until mid to late August when testosterone levels begin to increase and bachelor buck pods break up. Big bucks, I’m talking 150 class trophy deer with impressive headgear, draw subordinate bucks like a magnet. Smaller bucks come to the older deer’s home turf like bees to honey and by July 4th you can count on many bucks funneling into a specific area dominated by a heavy racked boss whitetail. The exact location is constantly shifting based on crops, available food sources and availability of bucks in any region.
If a boss buck is harvested or dies from old age, the summer gathering location will shift to a new area where an adult buck has survived. The pooling of bucks in summer is not news, but the relationship between bucks is something that few writers have addressed because few are in the woods searching for bucks during summer. Truth is I do all my buck scouting from ice out in March and come summer have a good handle on buck survival, prior to the gathering of bucks. Come July and early August I have a handle on where big boys can be found and I still spend countless hours scouting for big deer that I can photograph and hopefully hunt come fall.
It is always a pleasure to see bucks in summer. They are relaxed, somewhat fearless of humans and living proof that they will be alive come hunting season. More importantly you can monitor antler growth and have a good understanding of the size of the antlers on bucks in your hunting grounds. Nothing fuels the fire and gets your hunting juices flowing like the sight of a bruiser with antlers wider than his ears that tower above his head. See ’em now boys and I guarantee you will approach your hunt this fall with great enthusiasm.
It’s not that fall scouting is a waste of time. But in my territory the land I have to hunt is relatively small and there is plenty of hunting pressure, so my goal is to finish building blinds, making shooting lanes and hanging stands while bucks are relaxed. Come September I stay out of my top buck hotspots and I keep off the land until I’m ready to hunt. This ensures that big bucks are not disturbed and often surrounding hunters that are scouting push big bucks onto my parcel. If you want to score on big bucks you need to respect their ability to detect danger and human influence. My suggestion is to avoid fall scouting! The trick is to keep bucks on your hunting land, not jump them and chase them onto adjoining parcels. Smart hunters avoid walking through likely bedding areas and stands are placed downwind from resting cover.
Summer is the ideal time to mingle with bucks, when they least expect it and you can learn their pattern, identify escape routes and pattern particular animals. This is also a good time to identify deer runways and big buck holding terrain. You can also get a handle on bedding locations, feeding spots and get a feeling for what bucks are doing on your hunting grounds.
Spotting big boys is a daunting task in Michigan. I have a strategy that works like magic: drive country roads and cruise slowly past alfalfa fields during the last few minutes of light. Truly big bucks seldom venture into the open until under the cover of darkness or low light. First year alfalfa draws deer for miles and they browse on the rich leaves until late August when acorns drop and deer head for the big woods. I’ve used my alfalfa deer spotting strategy in several states with unbelievable success. When I was working for TV host Babe Winkelman in Nisswa, MN, I set the local buck experts on their ears by showing them monster bucks in fields. On any given night I could spot 160 class bucks and my best night was filled with the awesome spectacle of forty three 10-points with two bucks scoring above Boone and Crockett 170 class. But Michigan’s DNR continues to mismanage our deer herd and their policies lead to the demise of the valuable deer resource. It is a well known fact that Michigan’s deer herd is over-hunted, yearly bucks comprise the majority of the kill and finding adult bucks in this state is difficult. However, they do exist and if you spend enough time scouting during summer you will eventually stumble onto a dandy.
This strategy requires good glass. My suggestion is to get a pair of quality binoculars and use them to check out deer. Even a Booner can hide his massive rack against the green underbrush during summer and smaller bucks are downright difficult to see if you are not looking at them with binoculars. Some hunters use spotting scopes to check out deer. Good idea but high power spotting scopes giggle too much, are useless when animals are moving or the light diminishes come dark.
Do you know what you are looking for?
Well, here are some important tips. Big bucks in summer take on a bright red or orange color; usually they have more color than does or smaller bucks. Bucks tend to be larger than does, fawns or smaller bucks and they frequently stand under an over-hanging branch on the edge of a field while doe and fawn play in the open expanse. Big bucks draw respect from other deer and you can identify their presence by watching the body language of other deer.
If you see small bucks looking back or does constantly looking a particular direction, expect Mr. Big to appear from the area where other deer are looking. When you see a large deer crossing a field and other deer move to give him a clear path, more than likely he is the boss buck. If you see several bucks walking single file often the largest buck will be leading the subordinates, showing them the way, walking them through his home turf, teaching them the patterns needed to live and survive.
If you do not have alfalfa fields in your area seek bucks in tall grass, beans and near water sources. Summer heat often drives deer to water and they will leave the protection of thick cover to drink and play in lakes, ponds or rivers.
Outsmarting bucks is a tough assignment, by scouting during summer you can gain the tools necessary to find a big buck come hunting season. You name it, farm bucks, swamp bucks or big woods bucks, they all are tough animals to figure out, but now is the time to locate mossy horned beauties and identify their hideouts.