December brings falling temperatures, snow, blustery winds and opportunities to slam dunk the largest buck of the entire year. Many Michigan archers are finding that buck hunting is more productive around Christmas than early October and the opportunity to zap a hog is very high. This is a time when the woods are quiet, the craziness of the rut and army of orange clad hunters during gun season is a distant memory. December is a perfect time to pattern large bucks and entice them kissin’ close for an easy shot. This was the case with hunting pal Brian Smith when he had two shooter bucks in range at once.
Smith settled into his tree stand a full hour before sunset, readied his TenPoint crossbow, slipped toe warmers into his boots and hand warmers into his fingermit gloves and leaned back, relaxed and tried to forget about the busy holiday season. His hunt actually started a few days earlier when his Stealth Cam G42NG scouting camera revealed a pair of shooter bucks. One was a heavy beamed 8-point and the other had white tines and 10-points. That’s when he stepped up his bait program, put down fresh corn daily during lunch break and sweetened the pie with Kaytee cherry scented bird seeds and bits of chopped apples. The bucks responded by raiding the dinner table just as the sun touched the horizon. Smith continued feeding the bucks, enticing them from the distant alder swamp and soon they offered excellent photos 30 minutes before darkness. Smith was chomping at the bit to hunt but the wind shifted from the north and he didn’t want his scent to blow into the liar of the sleeping bucks. During the night fresh snow fell and by noon the wind switched to southwest and Brian made his move. The entire time he was on stand he remained sharp yet daydreamed about the big buck images from his Stealth Cam.
From the tangled brush Smith noticed movement as a wide set of antlers ambled over the ridge directly toward the bait. He could feel his heart pounding as adrenalin rushed through his veins and he clutched the TenPoint with both hands. The adult 8-point was first to the chow and soon Smith could make out the tall white tines of a second approaching buck. It was his prize 10-point and the beautiful buck waltzed past Smith at 15 yards as he centered his Scorpion red illuminated cross hair on his broad chest. The bruiser was moving toward the 8-point with his head low to the ground when Smith gave him a sharp mouth grunt that stopped the monster in his tracks. Now the buck was at full attention, broadside with ears cocked forward, looking directly at Smith. He tried desperately to avoid looking at the big rack but while he centered the crosshair on the animal he could see the gorgeous rack in the corner of the scope. Thwack! Went the crossbow and Smith saw the big buck jump skyward, kick like a mule and scamper for the brush like his tail was on fire. As the trophy crashed through the woods Smith stood up in time to see the buck bulldoze into some small trees and fall nose first next to a log in the snow.
Smith’s big buck is a classic example of a new trend becoming popular among Michigan deer hunters. Come December when other hunters are no longer baiting savvy archers are finding shooter bucks by placing modern trail cams over food sources. Some are setting up over stubble corn fields but many more are experimenting with new spots, placing bait in new locations and monitoring the food with digital cameras. If no good bucks show up on camera hunters move to a new location and start fresh. The idea is to locate a dandy buck, tempt him close with food, and capture his image on a scouting camera and then set up for a hunt. Smart archers do not take random stands. In most cases they do not go afield until they find a buck worthy of hunting on camera.
This was the case with the monster 14 point super buck that Dave Summitt arrowed in Ingham County last year. The bruiser avoided Summitt throughout the season but when snow fell, temperatures dropped and the monster buck made regular visits to Summitt’s food supply. He did not hunt the brute until his Stealth Cam G42NG indicated the buck was feeding come sundown.
Truth is, bait is perhaps the deadliest buck hunting tool when winter weather arrives and deer go on a feeding spree. Bucks that are worn down from the rut are putting on the feedbag and develop a predictable pattern of feeding and resting. The scouting camera tells the story. Alerts hunters of big buck behavior and smart archers dash to the woods the instant they determine where big boys come to dine and what time they will show up for appetizers.
I know some hunters are dead against baiting. At one time I scoffed at the tactic because it did not produce the larger bucks I wanted to kill. But come ice, snow and winter conditions the table turns and baiting can be the key that unlocks the door to trophy buck success. I’ve learned baiting tricks the hard way because I refused to use bait. But when I nailed down a Booner and made every effort to shoot him with camera, capture his image on film, that’s when I resorted to using food. Wow! What I discovered is winter baiting is the best way to get quality buck photos and my hunting success for wall hanger bucks absolutely soared.
With fond memories I recall an outing to Washtenaw County in search of a perfect 10-point that would score in the high 180s. He was a stud buck, huge and his rack towered above his head like Santa’s rain deer. He was living on private land next to several subdivisions and would only come out to play during the wee hours of night when the city was asleep. When snow came I replenished my food sources and Stealth Cam images indicated he was slipping into a pine forest during broad daylight. I set out a bucket full of corn, cut up apples, sugar beets, carrots and dried cherries on a mild day with wet snow was falling. Slate gray clouds swept close to treetops and light diminished as I climbed into the tree stand, readied camera and cleaned the lens with handkerchief. That’s when I caught motion to my left and before I could turn on the digital telephoto camera and get it to my eye the huge buck was running into my lap. I got off a couple shots but the smart deer, hair covered with wet snow and unbelievable rack caught my movement, switched ends and disappeared. After looking at the pics I could see the bruiser had me pegged, looking straight up at me with surprised look on his face. His rack was at least two feet wide with tines 14-16 inches long and main beams that were over 30 inches. His massive rack looked dark against the white blanket of snow.
I sat in the stand until dark and came back the next day at noon to check the camera. The bait was hit by several deer, including a big 8-point but not by the monster. I spent several days baiting, checking cameras and soon it became obvious the huge buck was on to me. I never saw him again. The lesson I learned was when you have a big boy coming be ready to kill him on the first hunt because if he sees you, has a close encounter or knows you are after him, he will vanish, disappear like smoke in the fog.
There are several advantages to hunting in December. You can get permission on new hunting ground, fewer hunters are afield, bucks are regrouping, bucks are establishing feeding patterns, nasty weather can be used to camouflage your approach and exit from stand sites, deer are relaxed and willing to approach food sources.
Now, what is the best food to use?
Well, it is certainly my recommendation to use corn. Shelled whole kernel corn works like dynamite to flush old bucks from area haunts. However, just about any food will work and I like to mix it up once I’ve got a big buck interested. If you slice apples a buck will rush to the site to beat other deer to the aromatic fruit. Over the years I’ve found deer have different taste and if you hit on a hot menu stick with what works. Don’t overlook these: sliced pumpkin, sugar beets, ear corn, diced carrots, soy beans, bread, candy and more. Looking for a way to drop holiday calories? Take extra food to the woods and watch as deer charge samples of candies, cake, bread, stuffing, candy cane and more. One reliable trick I’ve learned is to spice up kernel corn with cherry or apple flavoring used to make cakes. I order concentrated flavoring online. A drop or two of LorAnn Oils cherry flavor extract in a 50 lb. bag of corn will bring bucks running like no other. One lesson I’ve learned about bait is deer are feeding opportunists and they like plenty of the same food you enjoy. I’ve got one large doe that absolutely goes bonkers over peanuts mixed with popcorn. Her boyfriend sports a 150 inch rack and this buck will kick and horn away the rest of the herd to get at carmel corn treats.
Perhaps the best deer bait a hunter can use is bird food. So, how many of your pals bait with bird seed? Most don’t understand the power of scented bird foods. I’m lucky because I have several friends who feed deer year round and they also put out food for birds and turkey. If I hit on a new apple strain I get samples to them and they report on results. Same with and other deer food, I give it tests run with friends that can actually observe how deer respond. Well, it has been my experience that deer prefer bird seeds that are flavored. My favorite deer bait is Kaytee Nut and Fruit bird food which has plenty of delicious seeds, berries, nuts and dried cherries that gives off a strong cherry aroma that draws deer at super long distances. This is the candy I use to bring ’em in, draw bucks from unbelievable long distances and the mix that brought the Summitt 160 buck kissin close for the shot. Doubt my word? Just buy a bag, open it and get a smell of this dynamite big buck magnet. Now, you’ll get the picture loud and clear. I mean once you get a whiff you’ll have to ask if your deer bait smells better.
The trick is to continually replenish food locations, keep the bucks coming and rather than spending long hours on stand waiting, hoping a buck will eventually show himself: guarantee success by using modern electronics to tell you when and where to hunt. Oh sure, there are those who want to go hunting just to smell the leaves, hear songbirds and simply go afield to enjoy the many gifts of nature. Fine, but there is a growing army of Michigan hunters who would prefer to avoid unproductive outings, stay indoors when winds are howling and cold temperatures can turn deer hunting into a bitter cold, boring outdoor adventure.
What about you? Are you finished buck hunting for the year because you don’t have the skill to get’em rockin’? Do you know how to locate and kill mature bucks when most hunters are busy with Holiday shopping? Are you missing out on the hottest monster buck hunting month of the entire season? Maybe you need to step up your baiting program and get a Stealth Cam scouting for you 24-7. The results could show you the hog buck of a lifetime.