December 02, 2013
By Dr. James C. Kroll
Have you ever been in the woods during the rut and wondered where all the big bucks are? Of course you have. Every whitetail hunter has.
Let's look at a hypothetical mature buck and lay out his typical day during the rut. I'll base this not just on my own observations but also on tendencies borne out by years of using radio-telemetry and GPS units to track movements and activity patterns. Perhaps through this you can get a better idea of just what the big bucks are doing while you're afield.
This imaginary day is taking place as the peak of the rut approaches, and it involves a buck that's dominant within the local herd.
Our buck is on his way back to one of his bedding sanctuaries after just breaking up with his first "girlfriend" of the breeding season. The two have been together for a couple of days, ever since he bumped into her at the edge of an alfalfa field.
By now our buck has grown tired of constantly guarding the doe from others — especially other mature bucks. He knows most of these rivals; they settled their differences back in the summer, whether by kick-boxing on their hind legs or via subtle gestures. The really pesky bucks are the 2 1/2- and 3 1/2-year-olds. They know just enough about what goes on during the rut to be irritating. Over the past few couple of years, more than one of these youngsters has slipped in and bred "his" doe while he was dealing with a more mature rival.
Although the rut is just getting under way, our buck already is showing signs of conflict. Along the angle of his jaw he sports a fine new scar, similar to those on old German officers in World War I movies. A trickle of blood ran down his neck earlier, but the bleeding already has stopped. His right ear is split from its tip down about two inches, and he walks with a noticeable limp favoring his left front foot. Yet he feels no pain from any of these wounds, thanks to the high levels of testosterone in his bloodstream. He just wants to get to his sanctuary and bed down for the morning.
Our buck carefully works each of his signpost rubs in a tight circle around his bed, then drops — first to his front knees, then lowering his rear end to the ground. Here he'll stay as dawn comes to the deer woods.
The buck continues to lie with his back to the wind and his eyes on the slope extending gently beneath his bed. No way will he be surprised by an intruder. He's never really slept since reaching his bed; he's just been resting and listening to the sounds of the woods. Other than a distant gunshot now and then, it's been relatively quiet.
This year's rut was particularly intense in the beginning, but now most of the mature bucks have found dates. There's a false peace in the woods. Our buck's rumen is making noises, and he senses it's time to put something into it.
He stands slowly, watching and listening, basically doing everything in reverse order from four hours ago. He stretches and defecates, sniffs one of his signpost rubs, gives it a lick or two with the base of his antlers, then stands quietly. He has no thought of moving quickly. It's daylight, and sudden movement could easily be detected. Besides — what's the hurry?
Our buck browses around the general area of his bed for only a few minutes, then lies back down. That snack is enough to satisfy the "bugs" in his rumen. A wad of undigested food slips back up his esophagus and he begins to chew, working the forage from side to side. Back down goes that food ball; up comes another. He's grinding the contents of his rumen into finer and finer particles to aid digestion by the bacteria, protozoa and fungi in the rumen liquor. Then he again stretches out his neck and rests his chin on the ground.
Once again our buck gets up and stretches. But this time, he walks stiff-legged away from his sanctuary. He's heading for a nearby pool off the side of a creek. Reaching the edge of the water, he slurps up his fill. He could quench his thirst with running water nearby, but the noise would make it hard for him to hear.
After taking in roughly a half-gallon our buck raises his head, water streaming from the sides of his mouth. He plucks at a few leaves and stems of plants along the edge of the pool, then slips back out of sight into the thick underbrush.
Our buck doesn't like to return to the same bedding area each time. It's only a short distance to another bedding sanctuary, this one within a plum thicket on a rocky ridge only about 400 yards from his earlier bed. Reaching this new spot, he lies back down to rest quietly. Again, there are no other deer around.
The buck rises from his second bed and inspects his signposts there. By now, testosterone levels in his blood have risen, and he's angry at the pine sapling in front of him. Driving forward with his front legs and shoulders, he hits the small tree with a loud "whap," then rubs up and down with the base of his left antler to freshen the visual appearance and smell. He stops rubbing to sniff the quality of his work, then gives it a few more touches of scent from his forehead.
Then the old buck just stands there, as if formulating a plan for the evening. Even he probably doesn't know how he's deciding where to go next. But then, he heads off down one of the three rublines leading from his bed along the mid-slope of a small drainage. Once again, he's somehow put himself in position to drop down and away, should an intruder come over the ridge, or up over the top if a threat appears below.
Our buck's pace is ever so slow, as if he's on "cruise control." There's plenty of time to get where he's headed for the evening.
At the same time this is going on, hunter Robert Wallace is heading to the spot he found earlier in the day. It's a small grove of saplings on the downwind side of a nearby soybean field. The grove sticks out into a narrow part of the field, making it appear to be a perfect ambush spot. Yet Bob is too experienced to sit right in what he recognizes as a staging area. The wind isn't in his favor for that, and he knows that by the time a big buck reaches the location, daylight will be all but gone anyway.
Bob has decided to hang his stand about 100 yards downwind from the staging area, but offset from it a bit to keep from being scented. Now, in his return to hunt it he takes care not to walk on any existing trail.
This is a great setup, and Bob knows it. A staging area is a social meeting place for deer because of the elements present: a nearby food source, an open understory with visibility and a position downwind from the direction does will be heading in the evening. Bucks come to staging areas right at dark, work their signposts and hang around, waiting for the does to pass.
Bob has picked well. The mature buck he's hoping to arrow fully intends to visit this spot today.
Both Bob and the old buck anticipate success in the staging area. And as darkness approaches, Bob sits frozen, perched on his portable 14 feet above the ground. The wind is moving left to right, parallel to the rub line revealing the location of the buck trail.
Meanwhile, the buck is 200 yards away and closing at a leisurely pace, moving in much the same way as an old bull in a pasture. With each step he swings his front legs outward and downward, dragging his front feet through the light skiff of snow.
Now the opponents are a mere 100 yards apart . . . yet neither has any idea the other is near. Still, Bob is ready, bow in hand.
Suddenly, from far to the west the faint sound of antlers clashing and bucks grunting drifts into the scene. Bob can't hear it, but our buck can. The big deer stops, turns toward the sound and ponders his next move . . . and then wheels around and dashes off toward the commotion.
Bob remains on alert, never realizing his chances of taking a dominant buck on this sit just went to zero.
Although our hunter hasn't heard the distant buck fight, it has drawn plenty of attention. It began when a 3 1/2-year-old buck bumped into a doe that was just coming into estrus. The buck couldn't keep a secret, and before long the doe has quite an entourage chasing her. The chase started around 4:40 p.m., but now it's in full play. The buck that started it already has been replaced by a more mature one . . . which already is having trouble fending off our old buck, which has just arrived on the scene.
As darkness falls, the chase is well over a mile from Bob. He's left his stand disappointed and has returned to the truck, trying to come up with a new plan for tomorrow. This stand looked so good. But our frustrated bowhunter never saw or heard anything to confirm that hope.
Of course, Bob just as easily could now be sending photos of his trophy to his buddies. Luck simply wasn't with him this cold November day.
The odds are always against us. So the next time you go hunting, remember this imaginary tale. Success is often a matter of persistence.
It would be nice if we could lift the brush and trees to see where the bucks are and what they're doing. But we can't. Then again, if we could, it might take a lot of the fun out of it.
1. Missouri Department of Conservation
This monster was found in St. Louis County, Mo., in 1981, and scored 333 7/8 B&C. And no, that's not a typo. Before the days of trail cameras and the popularization of deer management practices, there were good ol' boys, flannel shirts and Granddaddy's war rifle. In those days, a hunter actually found this deer after it had died and reported it to the local game warden. After confirming no foul play was involved, the buck was finally scored and easily holds the number one spot in the B&C world record book. The state of Missouri still displays the deer, proud to sit atop this list of eye-popping trophies.
2. Portage County, Ohio
This buck, which holds the No. 2 spot all time, was hit by a train in Ohio in 1940 and hung in a local sportsman's club for years. The buck was finally scored by fabled outdoor writer and antler collector Dick Idol after he acquired the rack, and it scored 328 2/8 B&C. Not too shabby. It was recovered in Portage County, Ohio, and now lives with other trophies at Bass Pro Shops.
3. Tony Lovstuen
Call it a case of beginner's luck or simply being at the right place at the right time, but either way, 15-year-old Tony Lovstuen isn't complaining. Lovstuen headed out with his dad for a youth season hunt in Monroe County, Iowa, in 2003 and downed the No. 3 non-typical whitetail of all time. Not bad. The buck had an official score of 307 5/8 B&C. Lovstuen and his dad were hunting from a ground blind when the bruiser walked out, and after an ill-placed shot and a good night's sleep, they tracked the buck the next day and celebrated their success.
4. Timothy Beck
Ever since deer management efforts have been ramped up, Indiana has produced a strong number of trophy deer. Timothy Beck's 2012 trophy is a case in point — the No. 4 all time non-typical scored 305 7/8 B&C. Beck shot the buck with his slug gun in peak rut season. And while it may still be considered a sleeper state by some, Indiana ranks 7th in B&C non-typical entries over the last decade.
5. Jerry Bryant
While states like Indiana may be considered sleeper states, Illinois is definitely the heavyweight favorite in the ring, and for good reason. A good example is Jerry Bryant's 304 3/8 B&C trophy, which was killed in Fulton County, Ill., in 2001. The massive buck holds the No. 5 spot for non-typicals and was taken with a crossbow. Bryant, who had a prior injury from a work accident, shot the buck as it trailed a doe in front of his treestand.
6. Tony Fulton
Tony Fulton's No. 6 all time non-typical is a sight to behold, with 45 scoreable points and a total score of 295 6/8 B&C. Fulton killed the monster buck in Winston County, Miss., in 1995. After his wife told him to get his butt in a treestand and out of the house, Fulton headed to a small family property and a stand that hadn't produced a deer sighting all season. Fulton was happy to see a doe walk out, but shocked when the No. 6 non-typical of all time gave chase. A fairly poor shot meant a difficult tracking job, but Fulton finally located the buck and claimed his spot on this list.
7. Scott Dexter
In a state like Illinois, it's no surprise when a trophy is bagged, but that doesn't make it any less special. Scott Dexter found that out firsthand in 2004 when he killed the No. 7 non-typical of all time, scoring 295 3/8 B&C. Dexter was hunting with a muzzleloader on the last day of that season and until then had never seen the buck. After a slow archery season, Dexter was elated when the No. 7 non-typical of all time walked out in front of him, and he didn't miss his opportunity. The buck was killed in McDonough County.
8. Jonathan Schmucker
Jonathan Schmucker and his fellow community of Amish farmers knew about this buck but tried their best to keep it a secret from outsiders. Trying to ensure that one of the locals killed it, Schmucker was finally able to pattern the buck in 2006 and would watch it pass through the fields from his barn roof. Finally, during Ohio's archery opening season, he used his climbing treestand to get in a prime location. Schmucker fired his crossbow and dropped the buck, which scored 295 3/8 B&C and was killed in Adams County, Ohio. The buck holds the No. 8 all time spot for non-typical whitetails.
9. Michael Beatty
As any bowhunter can attest, it's a difficult thing to leave a wounded buck overnight before tracking. That's the decision Michael Beatty faced in 2000 when he downed the No. 9 trophy on our list, a 294 B&C buck killed in Greene County, Ohio. With drizzling rain coming down, Beatty decided to pick up the trail in the morning, and it paid off big for him. He suffered through a sleepless night, but found the buck just 30 yards from where he stopped tracking the day before.
10. Buckhorn Museum & Saloon
In Wild West fashion, Albert Fredrich, owner of the Buckhorn Saloon, used to give hunters drinks in exchange for the giant antlers they'd bring in. God bless Texas. That was way back in 1892, so by the middle of the 20th century the saloon had amassed quite the collection of rare antlers. In 1955 someone followed a lead to the saloon, where two sets of giant antlers were x-rayed and scored. As it turned out, the bigger set was a pair of sheds, but the smaller set was legit and scored 284 3/8 B&C — good enough for the No. 10 spot on our biggest non-typical whitetails list. We can't say much for the taxidermy job on this one, but the rack itself is a dandy.
11. Wesley O'Brien
Maybe it's the luck of the Irish, but whatever it is, Wesley O'Brien won't complain. As a native Texan on a Nebraska whitetail hunt in 2009, O'Brien spotted what was obviously a massive buck about 250 yards away. He put on his best stalk, got within 100 yards, and let fly with his .270. The buck ran about 30 yards and then dropped, and when it was all over, O'Brien said he'd take luck over skill any day of the week. We'll have to agree with him on this one. The buck, which now holds the No. 11 spot all time for non-typical whitetails, scored 284 B&C and was killed in Richardson County, Neb.
12. Larry Raveling
There are some stories that truly are stranger than fiction. That's certainly the case for Larry Raveling, who was on an old fashioned Iowa deer drive in 1972 when he saw a giant deer with a cloth entangled in its antlers. The legend of Old Rag Horn was born, and it lived on with a bit of infamy after Raveling shot and missed over its back that same day. A year later Old Rag Horn had been shot in the leg but lived, which is when Raveling caught up with the deer again. This time he didn't miss, killing the No. 12 non-typical of all time — which scored 282 B&C — in Clay County, Iowa.
13. James McMurray
Thanks to a strong effort by the state of Louisiana to promote deer management, areas like Big Lake started producing trophy deer in the 1990s. That was good news for public land hunter James McMurray, who killed the No. 13 non-typical of all time in Tensas Parish, La., in 1994. The buck scored 281 6/8 B&C and also captured the Louisiana state record.
14. Joseph Waters
Patience is a virtue, we're told, but it's not always easy advice to follow. Joe Waters knew all about it, especially after a slow deer season in 1987. He'd almost given up on killing a buck, and had even thought about tagging out on a doe and calling it a day. But his dad's encouragement to stay patient stuck with him and he held off. A few hours later, the No. 14 non-typical whitetail of all time was dead at his feet. The buck scored 280 4/8 B&C and was killed in Shawnee County, Kan., in 1987.
15. Neil Morin
Alberta farmer Neil Morin had been studying the giant buck around his property for some time, and he'd gotten it into his head he'd be the one to kill it. He was driving home one afternoon when he spotted the buck, and he quickly went back to get his rifle. Morin was able to stalk the buck to about 30 yards, at which point he shot his .300 Win. Mag. and took down the No. 15 non-typical on our list. The buck scored 279 6/8 B&C and was killed in Whitemud Creek, Alberta, in 1991.
16. Harold Smith
Harold Smith's No. 16 non-typical of all time scored an official 279 3/8 B&C and was killed in Ta Ta Creek, British Columbia, in 1951. With a massive 33-inch outside spread, the deer looks like some kind of mule deer/whitetail hybrid. Its origins may be a mystery, but the status of this record is not — it is firmly placed in the No. 16 spot.
17. Doug Klinger
Doug Klinger killed this 277 5/8 B&C trophy in 1976 in Hardisty, Alberta. In case you haven't noticed, our Canadian friends from the North have a propensity for producing some of the biggest whitetails around, including the No. 1 typical of all time, killed by Milo Hansen in Biggar, Saskatchewan.
18. Del Austin
Del Austin is something of a modern day archery hero in Nebraska because of his No. 18 all time non-typical trophy, which scored 277 3/8 B&C and was killed in 1962. The buck was killed in Hall County, Neb., and was nicknamed 'Old Mossy Horns. ' Austin's friend had been hunting the infamous deer for five years, but it was Austin that finally dropped it. In the hunting world that's just the way it goes.
19. Kyle Simmons
Kyle Simmons rarely asked for time off, but when he did, chances are it was related to deer season. Simmons kept regular trail cameras on the trail of a monster buck he'd been chasing in Jackson County, Iowa, and finally connected in 2008. He killed the No. 19 non-typical of all time, scoring 275 5/8 B&C, on October 16 out of a climbing treestand.
20. Helgie Eymundson
In November 2006, Helgie Eymundson and his wife both took shots at the No. 20 biggest non-typical of all time, but neither were able to connect. Blame it on the cold if you want, but Eymundson couldn't rest until he'd tracked down the monster buck. His persistence paid off, and in 2007 he killed the No. 20 buck on our list, scoring 274 B&C and killed in Cross Lake, Alberta.