While most Michigan deer hunters are enjoying the beach and busy with family vacation or fishing, some hard core buck hunters are busy scouting during summer. Truth is big bucks are wearing impressive headgear come the warm weather of July and about the time fireworks are booming in the distance, many become easy to find and document. Spot a trophy with an impressive crown of velvet and the spectacle can be powerfully addictive. Just seeing a monster provides the brand of excitement Michigan buck hunters simply love.
This time of year farm country bucks are using newly planted corn as cover and travel routes include fence rows and woodlots bordered by corn. The trick is to locate bucks and gauge their antlers before the corn is too high and bucks disappear like fleas in thick dog hair. If Michigan has a good growing season, corn is knee high by July 4th. In just a few short days it will grow chest high and spotting deer is difficult.
Sizzling hot weather associated with the holiday sends whitetail bucks into a defensive mode and they are often difficult to spot during broad daylight. Bright light, hot humid weather and pesky bugs cause savvy bucks to travel during low light conditions. While early morning is a fine time to see deer I recommend the final minutes of low light as the evening sun touches the horizon. A slow sinking bright sun and lengthening shadows causes deer to get up from their beds and begin the nocturnal chores of finding ideal food sources.
Late evening is when does scamper in open hay fields with new fawns, deer move from the thick cover to avoid swarming bugs and the cooler evening air generates increased buck activity. Some deer prefer fields of grass, others like agricultural terrain planted with beans, alfalfa, corn or wheat. Alfalfa fields rank at the top if I were to pick my hottest buck gathering locations.
Spring 2013 was one of the coldest on record. April was highlighted by temperatures in the 30’s, high winds and frost. Unlike the sweltering heat of spring 2012, plant life was slow to grow this past spring and Michigan finally saw increased leaf and grass growth by mid-May.
Buck antler size was affected by the cool temperatures and lack of thick vegetation and many bucks did not have visible antlers in velvet until the end of May. Hopefully deer will pack on the pounds and feed heavily on the greenery and whitetail bucks will have impressive antlers come July 4th.
The cool spring temperatures had an interesting impact on fawn birth rates. Many does held the newborns until the warm weather of late May and early June arrived. Whitetail deer can carry fawns as much as four weeks past normal birth due dates if the weather is wet, cold and high winds that can cause new born fawns to be susceptible to pneumonia.
Buck sightings for this old outdoorsman are down substantially from 2012, partially because during the turkey scouting season many yearling bucks barely had fuzzy bumps on their heads. However, June was highlighted by increased antler growth and I saw several bachelor groups of mossy horned deer roaming open fields. One Calhoun County alfalfa field held 16 bucks, 12 bucks in velvet were spotted in Cass County and I saw a pair of heavy antlered big boys with velvet crowns in Ingham County. Both of the mature bucks I photographed in Ingham were wide, outside their ears, and tines were forming with blackish bulbs on the ends, indicating the antlers were still in the growing stage.
July is an exciting scouting period for sportsmen searching for big bucks. Whitetail testosterone levels are very low and deer are not fighting for territory, sparing for receptive females, or fighting for dominance. July is a peaceful month for bucks. A time to relax, feed excessively, join together in bachelor buck groups and roam the land as brothers.
Summer is a time when big bruiser bucks are somewhat vulnerable, relaxed, visible and willing to enter open fields during broad daylight. Any other time of year adult bucks are very secretive, hiding in cover, avoiding openings in the forest or fields. Come sunset they roam the land freely but only under the cover of darkness. Summer bucks often hole-up during the sweltering heat of the day and when the sun touches the horizon they frequently visit fields and begin night activities.
Now, this is still no cake walk, spotting a 150 class four year old buck is a daunting task in Michigan. The main reason is DNR management policies allow unlimited doe harvest and with the two buck permit system the number of adult bucks in Michigan has taken a tail spin the last few years. Michigan has a reputation and long history of over-harvesting, over-hunting buck populations and the end result is a large yearly harvest of yearling bucks with non-impressive antler size. Savvy hunters schedule big buck hunts out of state. You pick it, any state surrounding Michigan offers bigger bucks aplenty like Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois and more.
However, if you put in your time, cover enough ground, knock on enough doors you can put yourself smack dab in the middle of an exciting big buck adventure. On the other hand don’t be surprised if you locate a Michigan monster with rocking chair sized antlers and after checking with landowners you find the deer is living in a sanctuary where you cannot get hunting permission. One trick is to set up on adjoining property and hope that come rut the big boy will make the mistake of wandering into your sights. The following anecdote best makes this point.
It was the 7th of July last year when I first got a glimpse of the big 11 point. Careful inspection with my Nixon 10×50 binoculars sent my pulse pounding as the 160’s-class whitetail slipped from a thick swamp into the open space of a bean field. He was joined by two other bucks, both in the 140’s class with heavy 8 point racks and large bodies. But the double 8 points looked small when compared with the big boy that had at least a 20-inch spread and skyscraper 12 inch G 2s.
I could not get hunting permission on the immediate property but fresh salmon caught off Pentwater worked like dynamite to blow away the neighbor and I traded fresh fillets for hunting permission. October was a bust but come November after the leaf drop the buck activity was at an all-time high. Suddenly huge tracks and large rubs on trees the size of my thigh began showing up near my stand. I knew the fresh sign was made by the mature monster buck.
It was a cold morning with fresh frost on the ground when I set up along a cedar swamp. At first light a small doe pranced directly under my stand and soon I could hear the sound of a buck grunting as I readied my crossbow for action. The suitor soon came into sight and I could see the skyscraper tines of my dream buck headed directly at me. My heart skipped a beat as I quickly shouldered the crossbow and the monster rack became visible through the Scorpion scope. But the buck slammed on the brakes at 40 yards, raised his huge black nose and began testing the wind. That’s when I could feel a slight breeze on the back of my neck and I decided to not wait longer and attempt a neck shot. I flicked the safety off, put the cross hair on the huge neck swollen from the rut and steadied for the shot. BAM! In the blink of an eye the trophy buck wheeled and charged in the opposite direction at lightning speed. Damn, I said to myself as I caught glimpses of the huge rack disappearing into the thick brush. I was busted. The big boy caught my scent and blew out of Dodge City like a firecracker was set off.
I felt sick, like there was an endless black hole in the pit of my stomach but the sighting gave me new encouragement because I knew the megabuck would be back in pursuit of the hot doe. I tried everything, switched stands, hunted morning, noon and evening but the big deer vanished from the face of the earth. Gun season was a bust, muzzleloader season produced no sightings but huge tracks traversed the landscape in the fresh snow. Then it happened again, the end of late bow season I got a glimpse of the big boy prancing through the underbrush in pursuit of a doe. He passed my stand at about 50 yards, out of range, jumped the fence and disappeared into the private sanctuary. Again I felt disappointed but on the other hand just seeing the impressive rack was very rewarding. But my point is that summer scouting helped me to find a dandy buck, get hunting permission on new turf and I had one very close encounter and a second sighting while hunting.
The good news is I spotted the brute this year in early summer and he is even bigger than last year! Guess it is time for me to visit the farmer and bring fresh salmon, walleye fillets or whatever it takes to hunt his property again.
Summer is a perfect time for early scouting, an ideal time to set out your trail camera near apple trees, clearing or along a well-used runway. Perhaps a drive through the country with binoculars in hand will provide the sighting of a lifetime. Try late afternoon outings; closely examine openings, hay fields, bean fields and corn that aren’t too high. Remember that mature bucks are still tough customers to locate but summer outings can provide enough sightings to keep you motivated throughout the entire hunting season.