Now is the time to begin scouting so you can take a bruiser opening day…
Looking for a dandy buck to hunt come archery opener on October 1? Well, now is the time to begin scouting and the information you gather during summer can put you on a bruiser come opening day. The idea is to locate bachelor groups, learn their habits and target a specific animal on his home turf. Sounds simple and actually summer scouting can drastically increase your odds if you follow some simple rules.
First, catch them with their guard down. Summer is a time of relaxation for bucks. More specifically their testosterone hormone level is at an all-time low and they are nonaggressive, spending long hours grazing to rebuild body fat burned off from the rut and long cold winter. Summer is the season when big ole mossy horned monsters venture from area swamps and become more visible. It is not uncommon for adult bucks to vacate woodlands, swamps and distant hideouts in search of energy-rich lush green grasses and other food sources found in open fields. There are two time periods when adult bucks are somewhat vulnerable, easy to spot and pattern; during peak rut when they are sex crazed and summer when they are feeding heavily in the wide open. Summer bucks prefer grazing in open fields, grassy open ground, around apple trees and locations that somewhat isolate them from swarms of biting insects.
Farm country bucks prefer cover during hot sunny weather but soon as the long shadow of trees stretch across the landscape and daylight diminishes they move to open locations. My hottest Michigan buck magnet is alfalfa fields where bucks tend to congregate throughout summer. Newly planted fields of the leafy substance have unbelievable drawing powers and bucks will migrate several miles to feed on the sweet, lush plant. Soy beans attract plenty of deer too, depending on the variety; some draw deer great distances while others are totally ignored. Some soy bean flowers give off unusually attractive odors that draw deer. Field corn is always attractive to deer in search of food and dense cover when the planted crop reaches shoulder height. Bucks like the taste of corn milk when munching on young plant ears and love the moist husk, corn smut which is very nutritious and they also suck down tender tassels like fresh cooked noodles.
Food sources are your best bet for locating bucks during summer and Michigan has a long history of providing great deer sightings for those who cruise country roads at sundown armed with binoculars. But don’t overlook the potential apple trees have. Last year was perhaps the biggest apple crop I have seen in Michigan and deer went crazy over the abundance of fruit from summer through fall. Take my word for it, bucks love wild crab apples. Crab apple trees provide bitter fruit but deer and turkeys rally around the thorny trees and love to linger under the thick canopy while they taste the tender fruit. I think part of the appeal is the bite size apple that is full of tasty seeds. Crab apple trees bear fruit relatively close to the ground where deer can nibble with ease and the leafy canopy offers a natural umbrella from burning sunlight and summer rain.
A sneaky trick to find a big buck is to place a Stealth Cam under a local apple tree. Sure, baiting is not legal during summer but native fruit trees bearing fruit are fair game for scouting with trail cameras. Last year I placed my Stealth Cam G42NG under an apple tree and was pleasantly surprised to locate a dandy 140’s class 8-point in my neighbor’s back yard.
If your goal is to tag a dandy buck on opener I suggest you use your trail camera this summer and get images of the deer you hope to harvest. Try setting it along likely trails, waterways, feeding areas, under fruit trees, then get out of dodge. Part of the trick to consistently taking bucks is to not let them know you are in the area. Those who walk their property and scout daily by stumbling all over their hunting grounds alerting wary bucks and any deer with good headgear is gone by opener. Some savvy hunters use quads or ATVs to set out Stealth Cams, bait or scout. This is a good way to not stink up your hunting grounds. However, some deer are quick to pick up on the sound of the motor and vacate before you see them. The idea is to stealthily locate bucks and observe them without deer knowing you are present. Smart scouting begins with use of a motor vehicle to cover vast acreages and country roads, this tactic is a sure fire method for identifying deer numbers in your area and locate new big buck hot spots. A late evening cruise down a country road could uncover the largest buck of your life and early morning scouting can be productive also.
Summer is also the season when bucks are discriminated against by doe with fawn and literally chased from their home turf by angry protective does. Part of the reason many road kills during spring and summer are bucks is because doe are chasing them away from new born fawn. As a result, bucks tend to join in bachelor groups that travel together and share the same food sources and habitat. Often the leader of bachelor groups is the dominate buck and he tends to rule the roost and keep subordinate bucks in check. As summer progresses and testosterone levels rise the dominate buck becomes more aggressive with subordinates and eventually he will illustrate his prowess by lowering his ears and charging smaller bucks. Your task is to find the big boy on your hunting ground, locate bachelor groups and determine any movement patterns that could eventually lead to hunting success. The biggest problem is locating a shooter buck.
Michigan’s deer herd is comprised of less than 5% adult bucks and finding a quality animal requires a lot of scouting, patience and time invested. Unfortunately unlimited doe permits and multiple buck tags has led to further demise of quality buck populations and Michigan’s buck herd is primary comprised of yearlings with small racks.
It is my opinion after extensive turkey scouting this past spring that buck populations are down from last year and antler growth has been affected by the extremely cold and wet spring of 2014. However, there are fair numbers of two year old bucks that will carry respectable racks this coming fall and a few big bucks are also available. Keep in mind my scouting turf is southern Michigan and larger deer tend to survive where there is ample agricultural food source, little hunting pressure or property owners exercising some form of quality deer management. Unfortunately the deer population on vast areas of state land is almost totally destroyed. The DNR should be ashamed of the poor deer numbers located on the land they manage, or mismanage.
However, there are still some big bucks on private land in southern Michigan. I’ve located one big old stomping buck that is already carrying a mossy horned rack with antlers the diameter of a beer can. Another monster roams country fields spring and summer but come archery opener he avoids hunters by dashing for shelter in a housing complex that is closed to hunting. Some big bucks are still available in Michigan but finding them requires plenty of scouting. Don’t make the common mistake of scouting during fall when bucks are no longer in bachelor groups feeding in local fields. The advantages of summer scouting are many. Most importantly you get a glimpse of bucks in your hunting area long before season arrives. If you are not happy with the number or size of deer perhaps it is time to take a tour of new locations and nail down new hunting turf long before opening day.
If the weather gets very hot you can expect deer will flock to area waterways. Look for them along ditches, in local ponds, around lakes or Great Lakes coast. I’ve photographed plenty of bucks dashing into waist deep water to avoid deer flies and cool body heat. Whitetail deer are opportunistic feeders and some like to feed on plants that grow along waterways. During the sweltering heat of summer bucks love to wade into water and gobble submerged vegetation that is wet, succulent and very nutritious.
It goes without saying that summer scouting can enhance your opportunity of locating more and bigger bucks. However, the key to hunting success often hinges on how you set-up. The trick is to locate travel routes and place your stand in easy archery range without being detected. One strategy is to use an ATV to haul steps, tree stand and accessories to a likely hot spot without leaving human scent. Some savvy hunters also erect ATV camo netting to hide the transportation under the treestand and use the ATV to enter and exit the woods without leaving human scent. Others carry equipment to the stand site during lunch hour when deer are resting deep in the forest. It is always wise to set up your stand and vacate the area for several days. One trick is to set up just prior to a rain storm that will immediately wash away any human odor.
Experienced buck hunters learn to hunt stand sites only when conditions are ideal. This holds true for any deer season or photography outing. Those who allow their scent to blow into
whitetail hideouts quickly alert wary adult deer
and hunting opportunities go tube city pronto.
Last fall I was in a deer camp where one hunter walked downwind to his stand and his human
odor blew into the buck holding area all day. The ignorant hunter saw no deer for several days to shoot with his fancy rifle that could drill a target the size of a quarter at 200 yards. Sometimes you need to use common sense and have more respect for the keen senses of wary adult bucks. Make one mistake and your hunting can go south at lightning speed.
Many hunters make the common mistake of staying in the stand after dark and they spook deer as they exit. It is a much better idea to keep your stand site pristine and deer sightings high by exiting the stand soon as the light is too low to see monster antlers and you can see if you are spooking any animals as you exit. Wise hunters use several stands and seldom hunt the same for more than a couple days and switch hunting locations as the wind switches direction. Others hunt a site and allow the area to rest for several days before they revisit the area. As a rule, the more you use a particular stand the fewer deer you see. Most big bucks are taken the first night you take stand in a new location.
Whitetail photography is my passion. For me it is the ultimate hunt and the reward is a quality image worthy of the pages in Woods-N-Water News. Photographing big bucks is much more difficult than shooting them with archery gear and it has taught me many valuable lessons about big bucks and how they react to human encroachment. Keep in mind that few magazines use photos taken from a tree stand, so my work is done at ground level. My strategy requires the ultimate in stealth, perfect camouflage, and complete silence when stalking kissin’ close and scent control that requires two layers of Scent Lok. At times it will take many hours to eventually get a quick shot at the particular buck I’m hunting. Other times I spot them, slip up kissin’ close and get fantastic photos without alarming deer. However, it has been my experience that once I encroach on the turf of a big buck my chances of seeing him again go down the tubes. Getting quality telephoto photos often is a once in a lifetime opportunity, then I need to switch hunting locations, approach from a different angle and try to catch deer off guard again. This requires advances woodsmanship, a complete understanding of stealthy tactics that work, patience, agility and a large handful of luck. I’ve learned to never underestimate adult bucks, they are sly creatures. If you want to score on bucks you need to understand their habits and respect their super keen sense of smell, sharp eyesight and extraordinary hearing. In most cases the reason hunters fail at taking a targeting buck has little to do with the deer but rather mistakes made by the hunter causes the target buck to vanish.
Summer scouting can provide exciting whitetail sightings and gives you a head start for the archery opener. Savvy scouts can locate deer at lightning speed and have a fix on some big boys when average archers are busy practicing. Sometimes the big dogs don’t come out to play until almost dark, others are always hiding in tall grass, crops, behind bushes and it takes a good pair of binoculars to study their awesome racks. If you are persistent, cover enough ground, use quality glass and donate many evenings to scouting missions you will be amazed at the results. Now’s the time to scout for bucks!