By Cole Daniels
As the rut approaches, many deer hunters have visions of monster bucks dancing in their heads. Everyone wants a chance at the buck of a lifetime, but there is a reason those big boys become giant bucks. They don’t act like other deer. They don’t hang out with other deer. They know how to avoid hunters. To borrow a phrase from Yogi, they are smarter than the average deer.
Hunting truly dominant bucks is a low percentage game. As a hunter you are trading several opportunities for an average deer for a chance at one amazing trophy. It requires patience and an acceptance that you may come home empty handed. With today’s advanced trail camera technology, knowing the bucks on your property is easier than ever before. Trail cameras can tell you what bucks are on a given property and when they travel through it. That knowledge is invaluable. However, taking a picture of a buck and hunting him are two entirely different things.
Look For Sign
Take the average hunter to some good whitetail cover and chances are, they will find a well used rub line or trail. They are pretty easy to spot and these areas are great places to set up if your goal is to kill a deer. But if you are looking for a monster trophy, you’ll have to find less pronounced deer sign. Look for low traffic trails coming out of the heaviest cover in a given area. Once you find those trails, start looking for tracks. It will be easy to spot the dew claw mark in the track of a big, old buck. If the track is six inches or longer from tip to dew claw, you are hunting a trophy buck.
Bucks like this are not as interested in displaying dominance. They already know they are dominant. They will make scrapes and some rubs, but they won’t be as obvious as the scrapes and rubs you see on well used paths.
Once you find trails and are confident in this buck’s bedding area, try to find where he’s going to feed and work does. He is old and crafty, but he still needs to eat and he still craves the ladies. However, most veteran bucks won’t go out in the open during the day. Sometimes their desire makes them begin to move before the sun goes down. A big buck may leave his bed early and follow thick cover to a staging area to wait until dark. Again, these areas are subtle. A staging area could be a small meadow, a flat spot on a ridge, or just an crease in a forest.
Hunting funnels, or areas that bottleneck travel routes, is great strategy for hunting deer. You are maximizing deer sightings and your ability to get close to deer. Big bucks will often use several different routes to get to a given feeding area from their bed. Most will ultimately end up at or near the same area. It’s your job to find that area and be there before the big fella gets there.
Sometimes monster bucks are just too wary to hunt in staging areas and funnels. These bucks require you to get close to their bedding areas. The idea behind this strategy is to hunt a buck before he gets to the staging area in the evening and before he heads back to his bed in the early hours. Either way, you are going to want to arrive to the stand well before the time you expect the buck to move to avoid spooking him.
Getting close may mean within a few hundred yards. In these cases, a stationary tree stand works best because it’s quieter to get in and out of. If you are hunting public land and have to hang your stand that day, be sure scout out a few trees before hand so that you are not making more noise and leaving scent while looking for a good tree.
Let’s say you’ve hunted this buck for several weeks without any luck. He just doesn’t seem to budge at the right time or he takes a different trail than the one you are hunting. If the season is winding down and you still feel confident in his bedding area, hunt his bed. Set up as close as possible with a few caveats. First, you need to be in stand ultra early. This buck is out running around in the dark and you must be ready for him when he comes back. If you are climbing into your stand a half hour before daylight, odds are he will know you are there. Second, this is a time for fanatical scent control. You are hunting in his house and his nose is 1,000 times sharper than yours. He didn’t get old by ignoring human scent, so use every method of scent control you have.
This is obviously a morning strategy. Hunting a bed in the evening is only going to push this deer out of his bed. Even if you are obsessive about scent control you are probably only going to get one or two chances at hunting a big buck near his bedding area. Be sure to utilize those days during perfect wind conditions. Most of the time you will be hunting with the wind blowing toward his bed since you are attempting to hunt this buck as he returns to his bed. So chances are, he’s going to know you were there.
These giant buck strategies are outside the norms for beginning hunters. Sure, anyone can shoot a big buck on a good day. Even the big boys make mistakes sometimes. But generally this is an advanced hunter’s program. It takes a lot of time and effort and if you are looking for fast and furious deer action, there are better places in the woods to hunt. However, if giant bucks drive you, start looking for the trail less traveled.