Hunting deer is both challenging and rewarding. It’s also the reason so many of us love doing it. Like many hunters, when I first started hunting it really didn’t matter how much bone a buck had on its head – it was more about harvesting a buck regardless of its size.
Today I choose to hunt a more elusive creature, one I like to refer to as the ghost of the woods. A mature buck is a different animal to hunt than small bucks and does. I’m calling a mature buck a 3 1/2 year old and older. A buck of this age is all about survival and that makes them a tough nut to crack.
With the exception of the rut, a mature buck is normally the last deer to enter the fields at night and the first to leave in the morning. He is in bed before most deer think about heading to their bedding areas. Once pressure is abundant, a mature buck becomes almost invisible.
So how do you find a big buck? I can tell you in 20 plus years of hunting, I have had more close encounters with big bucks than the average hunter. I don’t have a barn wall full of mounts to show for it, but I have gained some great memories and a ton of experience through lessons learned.
Pressure on Bucks
A sizable buck will not tolerate pressure. If you walk into the woods in the fall and leave scent, there is a good chance you just changed a buck’s pattern. I have learned over the years that you don’t take chances. Always be scent free whether you are hunting, scouting, or checking trail cameras.
You can get away with leaving scent if it’s early in the season and you don’t come back for awhile. Set your tree stands and blinds a few months before hunting season then slip in undetected once you decide to hunt. Use travel routes that make sense and play the wind in addition to being scent free.
Most deer become accustomed to certain things like vehicles, farmers, the landowner mowing lanes, people cutting wood, and so on. You can use this against a big buck if it makes sense. A friend of ours hunts on 400 acres that is weaved with driving lanes. For years they have driven the lanes on a regular basis with tractors, golf carts, ATV’s, and UTV’s. The deer are not spooked by the activity unless you step off the vehicle and start walking. So hunters are dropped off right at their stands and picked up afterwards. There are many big bucks on this property and a few mature bucks are killed there every year.
Head for Cover
It didn’t take me long into my hunting career to figure out that mature bucks like thick cover. Most of these buck hangouts are in thick nasty cover that is nearly impossible to hunt. Some of these spots have likely never been hunted and that is exactly why a buck will reside there.
The best way to hunt a thicket is to set up on the edge of it in the right wind and try to catch the buck entering or exiting. If you can overlook the thicket and get a shot into it, that’s even better.
I have had some super close encounters by slipping into a thick area and sitting on the ground by making a quick natural blind. This is not for the weak at heart. Being on the ground in a buck’s bedroom is risky. I’ve had bucks come within feet of me and it isn’t something you’ll soon forget.
It’s tough to know where to sit once you’re in the thick stuff but just try to stay on the downwind side of the thicket and back up against a downed tree or some thick brush. You’ll find it challenging to draw a bow on a buck this close but the experience alone is exhilarating.
Time of Day
This is one topic that gets a lot of lip service. I know it’s common to hunt at dawn and dusk but when hunting big bucks you have to think outside the box. I recently read an article that stated most of the record book bucks were shot in the middle of the day between 10am and 2pm. This isn’t a fluke in my opinion. Like I stated, a big buck is a different animal.
Most hunters themselves are patterned by mature deer. Deer see hunters park in the same spot, walk the same routes, and sit the same stands. They know when the hunter is there and when he isn’t. Therefore, many bucks cruise during the middle of the day searching for does and then again at night. During pre-rut and rut – try slipping into a stand during the middle of the day when most hunters are heading back in.
Being successful at hunting big bucks takes patience, experience, and some untraditional hunting methods. Try using these mature buck hunting tips and see if you can down the buck of your dreams this season.