Whether you realize it or not, you probably begin each season hunting for young bucks. When you set out with a plan based on what you think most bucks do, this is all but guaranteed.
Mature Vs. Immature
I realize this is a weird concept to grasp but think about it this way. There are two different kinds of deer: those 3.5 years old and younger and those 4.5 years old and older. Almost everything we know and read about deer hunting is devoted to hunting the first group. The latter group has very little in common with the former. Compared to old bucks, young bucks are a lot easier to figure out and hunt, not only because there are more of them, but also because of their transparent behavioral patterns.
The behavior of older bucks is sufficiently opaque that even the best research is unable to see it clearly. I recently spoke with whitetail research biologist Dr. Grant Woods Ph.D. about the behavior patterns of mature bucks. Just this past year, Woods undertook a project to collar several bucks with $5,000 GPS data recorders. The devices monitored the buck’s coordinates every few minutes and stored them in the recorder’s memory bank for later retrieval. When I asked Dr. Woods what he learned about mature bucks that might help me shoot more of them, he said the data couldn’t be correlated. He now has more questions than he had before.
He assured me that based on the data and his personal observations; the individual personalities of mature bucks take precedence over all other factors in determining their daily habits. In other words, there was no such thing as a stereotypical mature buck in the same sense that you can stereotype younger bucks. All mature bucks are different from each other and as a class, they are different from young bucks.
In his book, Whitetail Magic, expert archery hunter Roger Rothhaar makes the following observation: “… my contention is that older bucks don’t rut much if any, and furthermore, without that motivation, their present area of residence is likely to be very small.” Mature bucks truly are a different animal that you have to hunt differently.
How To Hunt Mature Bucks
I’ve tried for several years to crack their code, to come up with a step-by-step approach like a page from a recipe book. I didn’t even care how complicated the recipe got as long as it eventually produced something good. Unfortunately, these older bucks are not as predictable as flour and eggs. My recipes always produced flat souffle. Strategies that put you in front of lots of bucks are usually not the ones that regularly put you in front of old bucks.
You have to throw almost everything you’ve learned about bucks in general out the window and focus on just the one or two you are hunting and start your education from scratch each year. It is like hunting a new species of the game each year that you have never hunted before. All you know going in is that the animal you are hunting is wary and reluctant to show itself. You can no longer ask yourself what a buck is likely to do–that’s easy compared to the real question: what is this buck likely to do? The answer to that question is much harder to come to.
About Individual Bucks
The first job is simply finding a mature buck to hunt. In my experience, the best way to do this is to watch protein-rich feeding areas during the summer. Even many of the mature bucks will show themselves in alfalfa, clover and soybean fields. Sometimes we never see them again, but now is one of the few times when we can actually watch and learn.
Once found, you can focus on two of the very, very few generalities regarding mature buck’s personalities. First, you may be able to hunt them where they feed. Second, you can hunt them later near the places where does feed.
Hunting Where He Feeds
If you hunt in a state where the bow season opens in late August or early September, you have the privilege of hunting the buck while he is still on the same semi-predictable summer feeding pattern that you discovered in August.
As soon as mature bucks shed their velvet they become much more difficult to pattern and the bucks stop feeding in any kind of predictable way within just a few days. If you can hunt him before, or shortly after, he sheds his velvet, you have a decent chance to shoot him near his summer feeding area.
When the buck stops showing up at these places during daylight, it’s time to look deeper on the cover. Typically, mature bucks will make the first big rubs of the year and do it shortly after they shed their velvet. Finding these September rubs will help you find the trail he is using. Hunt at least 50 yards in from the field edge.
Doe Feeding Areas
As the rut approaches, mature bucks love to watch doe feeding areas from the security of cover until just before dark. By then, most does and small bucks are out. If there was danger near, they likely would have found it or it would have found them. Look for vantage points, the high ground near feeding areas where a buck can stand and watch the field in safety. These staging areas are perfect places for an evening hunt in late October and early November.
There is nothing wrong with just hunting bucks. It is fun and rewarding. But if you take on the challenge of hunting mature bucks you will be discouraged until you realize that they are not anything like younger bucks. You have to hunt them as individuals as if they were a completely different species.
Tip of the Month: Some archery hunters take mature bucks more consistently because they use trail cameras to help them learn as much as possible about the individual personalities and home ranges of the bucks they hunt. When information is scarce, every little piece of the puzzle is critical.