Put the odds in your favor instead of just hoping a big buck walks by…
Over the last few years I have found myself hunting for individual bucks more and more. In the past I generally sat there hoping a nice buck would walk by my location. Now I have a handful of bucks that I’m expecting to encounter in my setups. Intimately knowing your hunting ground and its resident deer population is the key to this method. Now this is not as easy as it sounds. It takes hours upon hours of scouting, shed hunting, prepping trees, trimming access routes, and gathering information to be successful. It is also helpful to have multiple hunting locations; public, HAPland, private lands. This isn’t a reality for most hunters, but I think it can be with a little extra time and effort. Here is a break down on how I track down individual bucks through out the year to hunt during the season. It all starts the day the hunting season ends.
Immediately after the season can be a difficult time to locate mature bucks. They are ultra wary after a long hunting season of being pursued, shot at, and likely even wounded. Bucks will move very little and will often form mini bachelor groups again. They will be living in and around the nearest and best food sources available which means if your ground does not have any, your bucks could be miles away. Food sources or transition areas to food sources are a great place to set up a camera or check out tracks.
Weather plays the biggest role this time of year. When the weather turns harsh mature bucks that survived tend to resurface. A mature buck’s track will measure over 6.5 inches in length from tip to tip so be on the lookout in fresh snowfall. Sometimes an individual buck will have a track that can be recognized due to a certain physical characteristics as well. Now is great time to analyze last hunting season. Keeping a log book will let you quickly reference where and when you saw that nice buck. You can also cross reference the time of year, time of day, direction of travel, wind direction, etc to paint a picture of this buck’s tendencies. This information in addition to the information you gather over the next couple months will be the key.
Once the snow melts is a great time to find out what your buck was up to last fall. Prior to green up last year’s sign will be very visible. Thoroughly scout the area and any surrounding area you can get permission to (even if you can’t hunt it). Leave no stone unturned, but the main concern should be finding areas where a certain buck beds. He will often have multiple preferred areas according to wind direction, pressure, and time of year, but any information you can get on a certain buck puts you in better position to take him. Mature bucks tend to like solitude during the fall and often bed in those little spots that get overlooked by hunters. The thicket behind the abandoned farmhouse, the brushy fence row in the middle of an open alfalfa field, the small thick area of a creek bend are all good bets to find a mature buck bed. His bed sometimes sticks out like a sore thumb, but not always.
A bed 4-5 feet in length should get you excited. Examine the immediate area because there will likely be some impressive sized rubs and clumps up scat 5-6 inches in circumference. Actually get in the bed to see what the buck sees and to feel what he feels. While in the bed ask your self “why does he bed here, when does he bed here”?
Shed antlers are great to find, but I’d rather find a mature buck’s bedroom any day of the week. Besides, if your ground doesn’t have food this time of the year you won’t find many sheds. Don’t let the lack of shed antlers be an indicator of how many bucks will frequent your ground during the fall.
Now is the time to set up on these bucks and trim shooting lanes. This process is very disturbing to deer so getting it done months before the season is very important. Set up as close as you think you can get away with on individual beds and trim access trails so that you can get in undetected. Remember, you have to climb your tree as well without being seen. I’ve made the mistake of setting up too close only to watch the buck slip out the back door as I climbed my tree during the season. Try to have all of your pre-rut and rut stands in place and prepped by this time as well.
In the summer bucks are a different animal. They are tolerant of each other and are frequently seen grazing in bean and alfalfa fields well before night fall. This gives you as a hunter a unique opportunity to locate a buck to hunt in the fall.
Trail cameras are great this time of year because the last thing you want to do is march around your hunting grounds in the weeks just prior to hunting it. Trail cameras set up in strategic locations will give you the information you want with out you physically being out there. Good bets for trail camera locations in the summer months are food sources, fence lines, mock scrapes, and mineral stations (no longer legal in Michigan). These are good locations because you can check them without disturbing their sanctuaries or bedding areas. If possible wait for high winds or better yet rain to check your trail cams and shower and dress as if you were hunting, ultimately trying to remain as scent free as possible.
Bean, alfalfa, and corn fields along with fruit bearing trees are great bets for trail cameras in the summer. A field edge mock scrape on a preferred destination food source will likely draw in nearby bucks for a picture. I use mock scrapes a lot just prior to the season. Put them in areas you can access quietly without being seen or smelled. You can often use a blow down, fence line, or even hinge cut a tree to your advantage to make it difficult for a deer to cut your track when you go check your cameras.
Glassing is also a great way to get the jump on a big buck in your area. I’ve located a few bucks by driving by hunting ground during low light conditions, but in reality you will rarely see a big buck glassing from the road especially on Michigan’s pressured lands. Getting into the interior of the property and glassing from a distance could help you locate the buck you’re after. Just prior to the season sit in an area where you can watch the deer move in and out of the bedding areas. Again, it is very important to dress and prep like you are hunting always trying to remain as scent free as possible and paying attention to the wind. The deer should have been relatively un-pressured the last few months and you don’t want to pressure them just days before the season starts. Summer patterns change quickly so doing this for 1-5 days prior to the opener will give you the best chance at patterning a buck for an early October kill.
2009 Bow Buck
In 2009 I was tipped off about a wide racked buck on public hunting ground by a non hunter in the mid summer months. On my second time glassing the area I was fortunate enough to spot the beautiful buck grazing in a nearby bean field. Over the next month I glassed him three times and he seemed to always come out in the same general area within 30 minutes of dark. I closely monitored wind direction, weather, and trail usage.
In August we got a day with driving rain and high winds. It was a perfect day to scout in the summer as the rain would keep my scent down and the winds would hide my noise. I entered into the timber where the buck appeared to be bedding. Upon entering the woods I was surprised to see how open it was. About 80-100 yards into the timber the under brush got very thick, so thick you couldn’t see through it. It appeared to be pockets of red brush which create a very good habitat for deer to bed in. I was fairly confident I was approaching the fringes of the area this particular buck called home. I picked out a tree about 40 yards from the edge of the thick cover. The weather had allowed me to get in undetected and pick out a tree location to return to later on. Generally I would try to hunt this buck in the evening but due to the fact that he bedded so far into the timber I felt it was impossible for me to access this location without bumping him on an evening hunt. I elected to hunt him October 1 in the morning and beat him into his own bedroom.
I snuck into my tree the morning of Oct. 1 two hours prior to daylight. I saw very little action the entire morning until about 9 am. Two hunters were exiting the timber about 150 yards away making all kinds of racket. My eyes caught a flash of white as I saw the big ten point silently slip out the back side of the red brush. The hunters had bumped him out and didn’t even know it. The bedding area had worked for this buck as he escaped and I felt confident he would be back.
I returned October 6, which was the next day I had similar wind directions. Again I was in my tree an hour and a half before daylight. I heard deer walking under me in the darkness, but when light arrived I saw nothing. I was fairly frustrated and intended on getting down around 10. At 9:15 I was glassing the nearby cover. I couldn’t believe it! The buck I was after was bedded in nearly the same spot not 60 yards from me. I could just make out his white tines in the red brush. After attempting a few unsuccessful grunts I put the calls away and decided to wait him out. The day was grueling because I hadn’t planned on an all day hunt. To make matters worse it started raining mid-morning.
The experience of watching a mature buck bed all day was so valuable. His patience was amazing as he barely moved other than to stretch, which he did three times over the next nine hours. With daylight fading he got up and started browsing on the nearby ground cover. He was making his way in my direction but at a snail’s pace. I prayed he would emerge from the cover with enough shooting light. Finally he took his final steps out of his bedding cover. I had five minutes of shooting light left when I released my arrow. My arrow hit its mark and the buck took off like a bullet. I recovered the 142″ buck 150 yards away in a standing cornfield.
My next hunt was on a farm in a different county. This farm had a few good bucks on it and I was well aware of a favorite bed among big bucks on this farm. I was sitting two hours when I saw a great buck emerge into my shooting lane from the cattail chocked pond. I hesitated because I thought the buck may be only 2.5 years old, but when I studied the buck through the binoculars I concluded he was mature and sported a beautiful 8-point rack with split brow tines. I grabbed the bow to prepare for the shot but the buck had sensed something. He quickly exited the area and I missed my opportunity because I hesitated.
Scouting, preparation, and a little luck presented me with two separate mature buck encounters early in the 2009 archery season.
Hunting a buck’s bedroom or near it is the great way to shoot a particular buck but sometimes that doesn’t pan out. If the buck seems to be moving so little during light that you can’t encounter him near his bed or is bedding on another property, you may elect to focus on him during the pre-rut when he is more likely to be on his feet during daylight hours or possibly the late season.
Using this method has allowed me to take five mature bucks early in the archery season in the last nine years along with several other mature buck encounters that resulted in no shot and unfortunately some misses also. Most of these occurred on different properties, one of which was on public ground. So utilize nearby public lands, HAPland, and knock on some doors to secure some additional private land. This will give you more ground and more opportunities to track down big bucks living in the neighborhood. By focusing your time on where big bucks are, you are putting the odds in your favor instead of sitting in your tree “hoping” Mr. Big shows up.