Late summer offers Michigan sportsmen an opportunity to see the buck of a lifetime. There is a short window ofopportunity that only exists when monster bucks are in velvet, relaxed and often feeding in open fields. Now is the time to scout and perhaps fi
The following anecdote best describes this point. I could see the huge mossy horned rack sticking high above the tall summer grass burned brown by the sun as I slipped into camera range. Mosquitoes swarmed my hands, face and any exposed skin even though I sprayed with 40% Deet Deep Woods Off. Camera over my shoulder I crawled closer to the trophy buck eased to my knees and slowly stood up with telephoto camera up to my eye.
My heart was pounding as the monster 10-point looked directly into the setting sun, cocked his ears forward and stood in the bright orange sunlight like a New York model on a runway. I could see his flared nostrils, pink inside his ears and monster velvet rack covered with a deep chocolate fuzzy soft-looking material that made his huge headgear look big as a Booner.
His rack was symmetrical with 10 perfect points, long brow tines and enough mass to give him an easy 160’s scorable crown. He width was over 20 inches and at the base of the royal crown was a brush pile of bumps, over a half dozen sticker points and gnarled velvet nodules which gave his crown character and unique beauty. I worked hard to capture his image on film until the big boy caught the light reflecting off the huge 500mm lens and his eyes immediately signaled danger as he changed direction and charged directly away through tall grass for the safety of the nearby pine forest like a bull with his tail on fire.
For an instant I could not believe I stalked close to the big buck and I sat down in the tall grass to review the photos. Some were a tad blurred, probably because I was not holding the 11 pound camera perfectly still but some were perfect. As I reviewed the photographs my mind drifted to the events leading up to the sighting and eventual photo opportunity and I concluded that timing was key. You see trophy bucks do not make a habit of having their image captured on film and there is a short window of opportunity when they are visible, somewhat easy to spot and vulnerable to shutterbugs. This same opportunity gives hunters an ideal chance to locate the biggest bucks in the area, perhaps county or maybe the entire state. Now, is the time to scout late summer bucks, catch them when they are relaxed, undisturbed and willing to show themselves in broad daylight. Sightings are not only exciting but they can give you hope when spending long hours on stand and sightings can often lead to the kill of a lifetime. Here’s why.
Summer 2013 will go down in the record books as a cool season, highlighted by rain and 50 degree evenings and 60 degree day temperatures. Although the weather has helped to replenish water levels and alfalfa fields are plush with hay, whitetail deer movements have been somewhat dampened by the chilly weather. My scouting missions have discovered far fewer bucks than previous years. Perhaps because Michigan is lacking a long warm weather period and grasses are tall and sweet with freshly fallen rain. However, I expect more bucks to come from hiding when late August arrives.
Late summer is when bucks are still in summer patterns and antler growth has reached maximum potential. Spot an adult buck this time of year, just prior to velvet shedding and his rack appears enormous. Bucks in full velvet are a wildlife spectacle hunters love to see and they provide memories that last into the late muzzleloader season when snowflakes dance in the howling winds. In some states deer hunting begins when bucks are still in velvet and mossy horned racks are highly prized by outdoorsmen.
Some patriarch bucks begin to shed velvet in late August as testosterone levels increase and dominant deer prepare for breeding chores. Most adult bucks drop their velvet before immature smaller bucks. The process can take only a few days and usually starts in early September and most deer are brushed clean by September 20.
As days shorten, nights become cool; goldenrod turn bright yellow and some leaves on trees turn bright red or light yellow, whitetail bucks experience a hormone shift. Testosterone levels increase and bucks drop their velvet, bachelor groups break up and mature breeding bucks turn from docile grass eaters to restless roamers. Their disposition changes almost overnight and suddenly they become dominant, aggressive and showing somewhat agitated behavior. They are quick to rake their monster racks on grass, weeds, brush and small trees. They switch from mild mannered Clark Kent to the bully on the block in just a few short days. If they approach another buck they display dominate behavior, ears are laid back, antlers are thrust forward and any small buck that stands his ground will get charged and stabbed in the rump.
Soon as adult deer change from their normal summer routines they are much more difficult to scout and find. They stay away from openings in the forest, move into agricultural fields only under the cover of darkness and are unwilling to stand and stare at passing automobiles. If a car or truck comes down a county road smart bucks are out of sight soon as they hear the tires on gravel or see the automobile. September big bucks can become ghosts soon as their antlers are clean of velvet and bachelor groups disperse. Late September is a time of change for big bucks, even though the rut does not occur until late October or early November. Bucks become vagabonds; roaming their home turf, making scrapes and rubs and leaving enough scent to keep fellow competitors on the run.
While some older does come into heat during October a wise old buck will set up shop for the upcoming rut during September. Some hunters like to make mock scrapes during this period and monitor the locations with trail cameras. Savvy woodsmen know that solid ground work can help them to identify signs of a trophy deer in the area. Huge footprints found in sand pits, mud at watering holes and along major trails is a dead giveaway. September is also when primary scrapes are deliberately marked with a huge footprint made by an adult buck.
There are always young bucks traveling together during any season. Seeing young deer in the open during September can be a good indication there are no adult bucks in the immediate vicinity. A mature buck is different than does or young bucks. Deliberation is a good word to describe big boy’s actions. He is deliberate in just about everything he does. He struts when he walks, carries his head with enormous rack different and late summer is a time when he is relaxed. His nervous system is geared lower than other deer and he gains weight during the dog days of summer, accumulates fat and grows bigger than higher strung young bucks. He burns less energy through nervous tension and he often spends more time bedded and seldom allows himself to be seen or get into nerve racking human encounters.
Professional biologists tell us that deer cannot think. Well, I’m here to tell you big bucks have the ability to remember and they are skilled at avoiding human contact the vast majority of the year. Big monster bucks do not grow impressive racks by luck. They have made many decisions, the right decisions to live to be old, large bodied and carry impressive headgear. Lord knows a mature whitetail buck can think well enough to command this old hunter’s respect.
But summer scouting can help you locate the buck of a lifetime.
Discover a big boy’s home range
and you are on the road to scoring on a wall hanger. Of course you need to maintain maximum staying distance from the critter and make certain he does not suspect you are on his trail. Try to locate the mile square area he calls home. You better believe this is difficult because wise bucks usually have a six or eight mile travel zone but he will never stray away from home long because bucks seldom take unnecessary risks on unfamiliar turf.
Smart old bucks always have a place called home, a home cover where they spend the majority of daylight hours. Home cover is often very close to bedding areas and smart bucks have several locations where they will bed down with exit routes well planned. The concept that a particular deer returns to a given bedding location every night is a recipe for disaster for a buck with impressive head gear. Big bucks need ample cover with carefully laid out entrance as well as exit trails and they always have a back door escape to boot. As a rule, a buck’s home cover is in the very thickest brush but I’ve found monster bucks hiding in tall grass, corn fields, near fallen trees, cattails, thick cedar swamps and more. The most important element for a big buck to take up residency is the turf must be void of human activity. Jump a big buck from his favorite hiding spot and he may not return for many moons.
Big bucks are primarily loners but during the dog days of late summer they will join in bachelor groups, browse together, share home range and establish herd rank. Dominance and herd rank are two different things; rank is decided during summer whereas dominance is never a constant, never assumed permanent and constantly changes among mature bucks.
The time is now to catch that big boy off guard and get a good look at his impressive rack. The opportunity only lasts a few short days, then bucks enter early fall in September and they disperse. Decreased daylight stimulates glands, increases amounts of male hormone testosterone, velvet dries and falls off, testicles swell and in the next few days bucks become hyperactive.