July 01, 2016
The fourth of July celebration for many deer hunters includes fireworks, dancing around the camp fire after dark and scouting for local bucks. Savvy hunters know that July is the month when the corn is not tall enough to conceal bucks and the warm weather and abundance of pesky bugs causes bachelor groups to move into open fields come sunset. It is perfect timing to scout and locate the buck of a lifetime.
Fact is, when the sun is high and the weather is hotter than a firecracker whitetail bucks become active. Sure they may reserve activities until the sun touches the horizon and late afternoon breezes sweep away swarms of biting bugs and temperatures fall. But they gather in bachelor groups and venture from swampy lairs in search of open areas where they can feed, relax and escape pesky critters. It is a gathering of male deer like no other season and hunters who understand deer and their habits know that bucks become more visible in summer than any other time of year.
Part of this is because testosterone levels are not soaring and males mingle, join together in groups and spend time learning their local territory as a group. At first the old mature patriarchs will lead the pack, initiate younger bucks to the home turf. But as the summer progresses the older deer may take up position in the rear of the herd and they can be the last to venture into open fields during broad daylight.
With fond memories I recall an outing in southern Michigan where I had been scouting a monster buck. The boys in bright brown began meandering from the nearby woodlot an hour before sunset. At one point there were seven bucks in one small location the size of my living room. They mingled, licked each other, cleaned one another’s ears and spend time side by side as if to line up in an effort to keep biting flies from attacking. At one point the two largest bucks stood side by side and began licking each other on the forehead, ears, eyes and antlers. The huge black velvet racks wavered tall above the grass like the headgear of an Alaskan caribou. During summer bucks like to mingle, travel together and are more visible in local fields and crop lands than any other time of year.
If your goal is to score on a dandy buck this season I have some helpful tips to guarantee success. Begin by scouting during summer. Drive county roads at sunset and locate bachelor groups. Some folks like to shine deer at night, which is legal in Michigan until 11 p.m. But it is my opinion that shining can be the kiss of death when it comes to alerting adult bucks. If you persist shining smart deer know what’s up and soon dash for cover the instant they hear a vehicle. Shining can educate bucks, chase them out of traditional gathering locations and make big bucks more difficult to locate. Once you scout a particular big buck next get permission to hunt from landowners or lease property. Finding new deer hunting ground in Michigan is becoming a tough proposition. Few farmers let you hunt for free and most expect you to dust off your wallet and come up with some green gratuity for the privilege to hunt private land.
Now comes the tricky part. Scout the area but do not drive the monster deer from his home turf. Try to pattern deer; learn their travel routes, feeding behavior, bedding locations and more. Many times when hunting the difference between cooking venison steak or not filling your tag boils down to how well you know the travel routes of deer in your area. Many times it is a good idea to find the travel corridors, travel routes and runways bucks prefer and set up in their core area. More often than not whitetail hotspots are often small locations that are roughly 50 yards wide. Find these locations and set up in one and you are on the road to buck success. Look for bottlenecks, creek crossings, ponds that offer fresh water, preferred foods like apples, tall grass bedding locations and get in the zone.
Don’t stumble into a big buck’s turf and blow him across the fence to the neighbor’s. Approach scouting like a sniper sets up his target. Don’t let the deer know you are there. Be patient. Keep out of sight and use the wind to your advantage. Never approach a buck haven with the wind at your back and stay away from hot locations if the wind is not right. Wait until the wind is in your favor and abort scouting missions if the wind is swirling or shifts abruptly, sending your human smell directly toward deer. Rather than spooking the herd, get out. Sure wish I had a dollar for every time I put on my camouflage outfit, wiggled into position and the wind ruins my opportunity to take photographs. The same holds true while hunting.
Your task is to get in and out without
detection. Tall order but don’t over-scout
and leave too much human scent in the area. Use the Minimal Disturbance Entry (MDE) methodology and stalk your location without alerting deer. Hunters make the common mistake of staying in a treestand too long and getting pinned own by feeding animals. On photo outings I bail out soon as the sunlight is too dim for quality shots and I’ve learned to do the same while deer hunting. If you have deer coming to alfalfa, beans, food plots or open hay fields it is a good idea to leave when you can still see your way out. No, darkness does not mean you are safe, deer can see sharp in total darkness.
Another tip is to practice with your weapon. I know that modern crossbows and rifles are very accurate. But the key to accurate shooting often hinges on how well you know your weapon and how to use it. Gun hunters should practice during the dog days of summer when the gun range is not over run with crazy shooters. Now is the time to try those new bullets, buy that new illuminated scope and sight in long before hunting season. Archers need to practice at least once a week and crossbow shooters should toss a few bolts throughout the summer and be fully prepared for opening day.
So, you locate a dandy buck. Acquired permission from the landowner and you are all geeked for archery opener. Well, I hate to spoil your fun but if I were you I’d hold my horses until late in October. The reason is simple. Few if any trophy bucks are tagged on October 1. By waiting until late October and early November the big bucks come out from hiding to participate in the rut. This is when testosterone levels are soaring and buck movement is at an all-time high. Keep in mind that the vast majority of monster bucks are harvested while they are out dancin’ and prancin’ with a hot little doe. Oh sure, it is always fun to join the boys at buck camp for laughs, drinks and cards. But don’t alert your trophy buck just prior to the upcoming key hunting period.
Hey, it’s time to start scouting. Get off the couch, switch off the TV and hit the woods with binoculars in hand. You might spot the buck of a lifetime.