The Four Essentials for Shooting a Trophy Buck
September 22, 2010
Any one of these four points will increase your chances somewhat, but not nearly to the degree that all four will when applied together. These important points serve one purpose: to put more mature bucks in front of you.
Let's take a look at what I mean when I use the words "hard work" in reference to deer hunting. Hard work to me means spending every waking hour available in the spring scouting hunting land from Tennessee to Illinois. Working hard means walking miles a day during my scouting trips over rough terrain and through briar-tangled thickets. It means walking up and down the same steep mountain four or five times to make sure I have not missed anything before I decide on a stand location.
Working hard is also going out at night after I've left my business and weeding two or three acres of food plots by hand with a flashlight strapped to my head. Working hard means personally hanging 25 to 35 tree stands each year. Working hard means getting up in the middle of the night after it starts to rain to pull a stand and relocate it a few yards to "just the right" location. Despite the inconvenience, rain covers a lot of the scent and disturbance that moving a stand causes.
Working hard means heading up the same 3/4-mile-long mountain 10 days in a row at 3:00 a.m. Working hard to me is spending Thanksgiving Day miles away from my family in a tree stand eating a cold sandwich instead of a warm Thanksgiving dinner.
Working hard is -- after putting in a full day's work on a regular job --spending the night working at my farming business so I can be in a tree stand the next morning at daylight.
I don't believe anyone can kill mature bucks legally on a regular basis without a lot of personal sacrifice and hard work -- unless, of course, you can afford to pay someone to do your work for you.
I've had many hunters tell me, "I would do anything to kill just one buck like the ones you have taken." I believe they would do anything . . . anything, that is, except put in the hard work and sacrifice necessary to get the job done. There is only one way to consistently kill mature bucks legally -- you have to earn them!
I'm often asked why I don't smile in photographs with huge bucks.
It's because I'm mad! You have to be mad to work as hard as I do to kill a mature buck.
HUNTING THE RUT
Generally speaking, the older the buck, the more he'll tend to be nocturnal. If a given buck has a routine geared toward daylight movement, his chances of being shot will increase each year. In a moderate to heavily hunted area, very few bucks with this trait will survive past their third birthday.
Considering this, we know that the older-age-class bucks we desire most are usually nocturnal by nature. This is the primary reason they are so hard to kill. Because these bucks are nocturnal, it takes something out of the ordinary to get them on their feet during daylight hours.
One situation that gets a mature buck up and moving during legal shooting hours is the desire to breed. It is my belief that no matter how nocturnal a buck is, he will move at some point during daylight hours during the rut. Therefore, it stands to reason that serious trophy hunters should concentrate their hunting during the breeding season. I've been fortunate in having killed a number of mature, older bucks. I've never shot one before the rut started to heat up. Nor have I shot one in the post-rut.
I realize there are exceptions to hunting only during rut. However, you will do best if you plan your strategies around proven deer behavior and tendencies. There are always unique situations in which mature bucks can be shot outside the rut. One such situation would be in a location where the season opens early enough so that a mature buck can be successfully hunted while he is still on h
is summer feeding pattern.
There are also places where relatively little, if any, hunting pressure exists. Some bucks with a tendency to move during daylight hours in these areas will live to reach maturity. Most hunters -- myself included -- don't have the privilege to hunt in locations where these situations exist. So for real-world mature buck hunting, I'll put my money on the rut every time!
Whether you are targeting an individual buck or a specific age group, it is my belief that hunting funnels is the most productive technique you can use during the rut. Hunting funnels during the rut will put the odds in your favor more than hunting other locations. Let me explain why.
Let's say that you've done a good job scouting and you've found a setup in a corridor where one or more mature bucks pass through occasionally. You might have a decent chance of success at this location if you hunt it long enough. However, keep in mind that during the rut mature bucks can be anywhere. They may be out of pocket -- chasing a doe that is on the verge of coming in heat. Or they could be tied up for several days tending a doe that already is in heat. These situations will greatly lower your chances of seeing a mature buck.
Now let's look at another scenario. Let's assume you are hunting not one, but three travel corridors at the same time. Would that not increase your odds three-fold? "Yes," you answer, "but how can one person possibly do that?" Simple: If you are hunting a funnel where three travel corridors merge together, you can hunt three corridors at once! Wouldn't this give you the same odds in one day as you would have hunting individual corridors over three days?
Now that you are covering several travel corridors during the time of year when mature bucks are moving during daylight hours, what else can you do to increase your chances?
INVESTING THE TIME
It's important to hunt every day you can during the rut. I realize that because of jobs and other obligations most of us can't possibly hunt every day during the breeding season. However, on the days we can hunt, we must realize the importance of hunting every hour possible. This means sitting in your stand all day long if your schedule allows.
I realize it is not easy to sit in a stand from daylight until dark. But I believe you will find it easier if you understand why it's worth the extra effort. Basically it's like most other things in life: If you see the benefits, you'll find a way to defeat the negative issues associated with the endeavor. I can personally assure you that mature bucks move in the middle of the day during the rut. I've killed quite a few and I've seen many more.
In fact, the last two mature bucks I killed were shot during midday hours. One was a 13-pointer that I arrowed in 2005 at 12:35 p.m. My stand was located in a doe bedding area, and a doe in heat lured him into bow range from thick cover.
The second mature buck referred to was taken on Nov. 7, 2007, the very day that Scott and I had the conversation over breakfast mentioned at the beginning of this story. I was hunting on land owned by my good friend Rob Saunders of Whitetail Properties. A huge-bodied buck had been seen by a hunter on Rob's property. This hunter described the deer as "a horse with horns." Of course, I was interested in getting a closer look at that buck. (Note: Whitetail Properties assists buyers in locating and purchasing recreational hunting properties throughout the country. Look for the popular TV show "Dreams To Reality" on the Outdoor Channel.)
Rob told me there was a good-size creek running through that particular property. I decided this would be a good starting point. I walked the creek bank, looking for the right creek crossing to hunt. As soon as I found a place with huge rubs on two different travel corridors that merged together at a shallow place in the creek, I knew I had found a good funnel.
At 11:05 that morning, just as I was contemplating having a sandwich, I heard a deer coming up the bank on my side of the creek. When I looked around I saw a large old doe standing in a small opening 25 yards away. I noticed her mouth was open and she was breathing hard. That was all I needed to see! I immediately reached for my Mathews LD.
As the doe moved from the opening, I heard water splashing. When I looked back at the creek crossing, I saw a huge buck wading the water. As he moved through the small opening where the doe had been standing, my arrow was on its way to his rib cage. The horse with horns went down 200 yards away.
His enormous body dwarfed his massive main-frame 5x5 rack (with a split G-2). I never had the opportunity to weigh the old buck, but I believe he was one of my heaviest ever. When I put a tape around his chest just behind his front legs he measured 52 inches. His neck measurement behind his ears taped 25 1/2 inches!
I never would have shot that huge buck if I had left my stand earlier in the morning. Neither would I have shot the buck in 2005 mentioned above if I had not been in my stand at 12:35. Surely, these two hunts point out the importance of remaining in your stand every hour possible.
GOOD LUCK OR BAD LUCK?
Another factor you should look at when considering the benefits of spending a lot of time in a tree stand is the luck factor. Everything must happen just right for you to get an arrow into a buck's chest. He may unexpectedly take a detour around your tree that leads him out of bow range. The wind may swirl in his favor at just the wrong time. He may move by you too fast for a shot. He may not turn broadside for you in an open shooting lane. A doe may lead him off just before he gets within bow range. These and other factors that are out of your control can cause you to miss a shot at a once in a lifetime buck. Some call it "bad luck." Whatever you call it, it does happen.
How can you turn the tables and put the odds in your favor so that you'll have good luck instead of bad? There is only one way I know to have more favorable luck: spend more time in the woods. A mature buck may be traveling just out of range and for some unknown reason he may turn and move by your tree stand. The wind may change in your favor as he approaches. He may stop with his head behind a tree at just the right time for you to draw and shoot. A doe might change his course and lead him by your stand.
I realize that sometimes it seems as though all the breaks go in the buck's favor. However, this doesn't have to be the case all the time. If you hunt long enough, some of the breaks will go your way. I spend a lot of time in the woods and I experience plenty of bad luck. But I also hunt long enough to experience good luck. In fact, the old saying "The more you hunt, the luckier you get" has a lot of truth to it. If you are at home sitting on the couch, good things will never happen to you in the woods!
Working hard, hunting during the rut, choosing the right stand locations in funnels, and putting in as many hours as your schedule permits will put the odds in your flavor like nothing else can ever do! And when you consider the rarity of
the animal that you are hunting -- a mature whitetail buck -- you must realize that it takes a combination of all four of these important points to give you a reasonable chance to succeed.
A WINNING COMBINATION
Let's examine some ways the four points we have discussed work together to put the odds in your favor. To begin with, the benefits of hard work should be evident. If you don't spend the proper time scouting, you may never in your hunting career find that one tree that the buck of a lifetime will walk under. If you get lazy, you may leave that one tree stand hanging in the shed that you could have used to kill your best buck ever! If you get up at 3:30 a.m. instead of 3:00 a.m. in order to make the mile-long walk to your stand, you may arrive just after daylight and spook your target buck. If you don't work extra hours at your job or business, you may not have enough time to hunt when the rut rolls around, and this "time crunch" could affect your chance of success. If you don't drag your aching body back out tomorrow you may be lying in bed or sitting on the couch when the best buck of your life walks by your stand. A lazy hunter seldom kills mature bucks on a regular basis. He might kill one during his hunting career, but it'll probably be because of luck and not because he earned it.
Now let's consider how the odds work for us when we hunt the rut. I believe the percentage of mature bucks that are up and moving about during daylight hours outside of the rut is very small. In fact, this percentage is probably under 5 percent. (I'm referring to animals that are at least 4 1/2 years old.) On the other hand, I believe that around 85 to 95 percent of mature bucks (with the possible exclusion of very old bucks) will do some moving around during daylight hours during the breeding season. By concentrating your trophy hunting during the rut, you can see how your odds of success will increase.
STAND LOCATION -- AVERAGE OR GREAT?
Let's assume that you plan to hunt a travel corridor four hours each day for at least 10 days during the rut. By doing this, do you think you'll get an opportunity at a mature buck? You might, but the odds of killing him are not in your favor, especially when you consider that it may take two or three encounters with this wily creature to finally to kill him.
Now let's see how the odds improve if you hunt in a funnel. First, you should make every effort to find a funnel where at least three travel corridors come together. The same buck may use all three corridors at different times. What's more, two or more mature bucks may travel the same corridors. In either circumstance, you increase you odds threefold that you'll encounter a mature buck. Surely you can see the benefits of hunting this kind of funnel!
Next, let's assume that you make a lot of sacrifices so that you can hunt 20 days during the rut instead of 10. This would double your chances again. The odds are getting better! But what would happen if you found a way to hunt 12 hours a day instead of four. What will this do for your odds? I believe the single most important thing you can do to improve your chances of shooting a mature buck is to spend more time in a tree!
I am no mathematician, but simple third-grade arithmetic tells me that by applying these principles, you can raise the odds in your favor enough to give yourself a reasonable chance to shoot a mature buck. Since all mature bucks have individual personalities, no amount of trickery, strategy or planning will increase your odds of success any better than working hard, hunting during the rut, hunting a funnel where at least three travel corridors converge, and hunting long hours. These four points -- if you're determined enough to apply them -- will truly put the odds in your favor!