I first met Indiana’s Tim Nussbaum while participating in a chat room back in the mid-2000s. One summer several years ago, a group of us dedicated whitetail nuts met for dinner; and after we ate, Tim took us back to his home where he showed us his trophy room. It was an impressive group of mature Indiana bucks to say the least.
Over the next several years, Tim would continue to add bucks from Indiana and Ohio to his collection. During the 2007 season, Tim and two others leased some ground in southern Ohio. Although Tim consistently kills mature deer, his success didn’t happen overnight.
He learned to hunt mature bucks just like everyone else. He killed some immature bucks with his bow, and then he decided it was time to try for an older deer. In 1991, he arrowed his first mature buck, a non-typical that was his biggest buck yet. After that, Tim decided he’d only take mature bucks.
“After I killed that buck, I decided ‘I’m doing this again!’ I had never in my life let a buck walk by me without putting an arrow in it. So, the first thing I had to do was learn to pass on younger deer,” Tim explains.
Since then, Tim has risen his standards. Now he only takes bucks that are at least 5 1/2 years old. While he’s killed many impressive bucks over the years, it’s what he’s done during the last two deer seasons that places Tim into a different class of hunter.
I bumped into Tim in March of 2020, and I asked him how his 2019-2020 seasons went. He told me that he’d killed two 170-class bucks. I made plans with Tim to cover his success in a North American Whitetail article. Then, as if what he accomplished that season wasn’t enough, he had an even better 2020-2021 season!
The smallest of the last four he’s killed between Ohio and Indiana was a 160-class typical 8-point. The largest? A massive, gnarly 190-class non-typical.
Before we get too deep into Tim’s recipe for success, we should look at his educational background to understand his unique approach to killing mature bucks.
HUMAN AND DEER PSYCHOLOGY
Tim received a B.A. in Psychology and an M.S. in Mental Health Counseling back in the 1980s and 90s. He’s also held a Mental Health Counselor License for the State of Indiana, and he has been helping people with mental health treatments since 1986. Nowadays, Tim is a vice president at a community mental health counseling agency in northeast Indiana.
It is because of his love for human psychology (and human behavior) that Tim credits much of this success for mature buck hunting. “I honestly believe that the behavior formation of a whitetail’s brain is mapped in it,” Tim says. “You’ve got to remember that the brain is mapped; it’s not a matter of memory, but what’s engrained in them.”
Tim explained the concept further. “For example, when you’re a younger buck and you’re out there traveling, you run into much more danger. The older bucks understand the more places they go that they aren’t familiar with, the more chances they have to die. The more a buck stays in an area that he’s intimately familiar with, the less likely he’ll be surprised.”
Tim’s psychology background led him to ponder the question: What is it that allows a buck to become mature? To help answer this question, he started to change how he scouted. During his offseason forays, Tim decided to try to get inside the head of specific bucks that he knew survived the hunting seasons. He went into known core areas in the post season to determine why bucks were using particular areas. This is when things really started to click for him.
Through his scouting and trail camera findings, Tim believes that a mature buck will limit his core area to as little as five acres. “I’ve found that when they get into these smaller areas, it’s an area where they’re not threatened by other bucks,” says Tim. “The older, older bucks don’t want to fight the rest of their lives. They become very keen on how to avoid death. Death to them means going into places that they don’t know and fighting bucks they really don’t need to be fighting.”
Tim says that since whitetails are a prey species, they are constantly trying to survive. Tim uses that concept when hanging his stands. He plays the “odds game,” and tries to find where a buck feels safest. Then that is where Tim will hunt the deer. Commonly, Tim will kill a buck on the very first sit in a stand that he has hung that same day. In most cases, Tim is already keenly aware of a specific buck’s presence in an area, because of his trail cameras and scouting during the off-season.
PUTTING THE PUZZLE TOGETHER
Tim’s hunting strategy is a combination of trail camera intel, boots on the ground scouting and understanding how deer use the terrain in his area.
Some of Tim’s ideas are simple to understand, such as his decision to not check trail cameras outside of a short mid-day timeframe. Also, he is very careful when he’s travelling to and from those cameras.
“During the season, I never check my cameras before 11 a.m. and after 2 p.m.,” says Tim. “I’ve got a three-hour window, and I’m making sure I’m not walking through bedding areas. I really pay attention to my ingress and egress, especially during the hunting season.”
Tim is also always ready to take advantage of any intel he receives during his in-season scouting. “Whenever I’m out with my trail cameras, I never leave the house without a tree stand; because I might get some information on where a buck comes in and makes his scrapes,” says Tim.
Picking up on fresh scrape sign is something Tim uses to his advantage. However, it’s not necessarily because of the scrape itself, but because of what he can learn from the scrape. “You’ve got to understand that when a deer is coming out of a field and making his scrape, you know right where he’s going to go in,” says Tim. “It’s likely that he’s on a linear in-and-out route, and not an elliptical one. So, that evening, it’s more than likely he’s going to come out in that same spot.”
Tim says that this behavior is likely because whitetails are creatures of habit, and since the buck didn’t get harmed making the scrape, he’ll be comfortable returning to that spot later on. “The older they get, the more they become slaves to that safe routine,” says Tim. “I’m taking advantage of their behavior — their predictability; it’s the highest odds you’ve got out there!”
However, Tim doesn’t carry this philosophy into the rut. “The rut is chaos; I don’t rely on the rut,” says Tim. “My go-to period is the pre-rut, Oct. 27 to Nov. 7. Let chaos (the main breeding phase of the rut) happen for a week or so, and you can go hunt if you want, but you’re not hunting with any predictability.”
CALLING ALL BUCKS
Tim prefers not to rattle to bucks at all. He believes that, although rattling can bring bucks in, the bucks come in more cautiously because they know conflict is occurring. “At that point, they don’t know that a hunter is involved, but I know their behavior, and they’re going to think, who is my adversary,” says Tim. “And as they safely circle in to check who their adversary is by scent checking at a safe distance out of range, they’re going to smell me, most likely.”
Although he doesn’t rattle, Tim uses a grunt tube. It’s worth noting that Tim still uses the same grunt tube he’s had since 1988. Tim feels the double-walled construction of his tube emulates a mature whitetail’s esophagus best. “I ‘blind’ grunt, and the myth is you shouldn’t blind grunt a lot,” says Tim. “It goes like this: baaat, baaat, baaat, (followed by a few second pause) and then baaat, baaat, baaat (followed by a bit longer of a pause) baaat (and yet another, slightly longer pause) baaaaat!”
Tim says that this calling sequence is realistic to a whitetail.
“I’ve told the buck I’m running; I’m chasing, I’ve slowed down and I’ve stopped,” he explains. “When a buck is tending a doe, they’ll get their antlers and guide them to a place. They’re grunting as they’re chasing. When they slow down, or when they stop, the grunting doesn’t speed up. A slow moving or a stopped buck will grunt more singularly,” explains Tim. “What I’ve just told any mature buck in the area is ‘I’ve got a hot doe over here, there’s one buck, there’s no fight involved,’ and he just stopped, which means she stopped,” he says.
Tim only blind grunts in specific situations. In fact, he used his special grunting technique to kill his best typical buck back in 2012.
On Nov. 7, 2012, Tim had one of his most memorable hunts in Ohio. The previous day, he checked trail cameras at noon; and he had a buck he’d named Diesel checking scrape lines during daylight just one hour prior to Tim showing up. Tim quickly prepared a stand and waited for the next morning when the wind and weather would be right. The next morning, Tim fired his grunt sequences into the woods where Diesel had checked scrapes. As he finished the first sequence, Tim saw Diesel sprinting through the woods at him.
Diesel gave Tim a six-yard shot. That was Tim’s first ever booner.
PATTERNS OR GENERALITIES?
I’ve always had a hard time understanding that some hunters “pattern” specific bucks. I understand the term, but I’ve always felt that there were too many variables that could get in the way. The wind being perhaps the most notable. I asked Tim his thoughts on this.
“Pattern sounds precise, and there’s nothing precise about this,” says Tim. “All you can do is play the best odds: put yourself in that position and pay attention to the simple stuff.” As the bucks in Tim’s area near maturity, he focuses in on the specific routes these bucks use, and where they prefer to bed and eat. When Tim is ready to try to take one of them, he’s stored all this information in his brain and finds where the highest-odds spot for the buck is. This is how Tim killed his 2019 archery Ohio deer.
For that deer, Tim did some boots on the ground scouting after a heavy rain. While scouting, Tim located a scrape line that was fresh. The scrape line was in an area of ridges where a buck he called Wivels historically frequented. “I found a spot on Nov. 2 where my scent would blow off the ridge,” says Tim. “But it was near some bedding areas near the scrape line. After just 20 minutes in the stand, I started my grunt sequence. I put down my call, and when I looked back up, he was on a deliberate walk straight to me.”
On that day, Wivels walked through the same bedding area (on the same path) that he did almost exactly a year before. That prior knowledge helped Tim kill him. “I didn’t forget that he liked that pre-rut spot,” says Tim. That hunt ties perfectly into one of Tim’s tactics. When Tim finds a 4-year-old, he studies the buck’s routines closely. If the deer lives to be a 5 1/2-year-old, he’ll likely keep those habits.
In fact, this was also the tactic Tim used to kill one of his best bucks. It was a deer he’d named Devilish, and he killed Devilish during the 2020 Indiana firearms season.
In 2019, Tim noticed that Devilish always came out from one “cove” — a low, grassy area sandwiched between two swamps. In 2020, Devilish grew into a giant, and he was now on Tim’s radar. “The rut happened, and I lost track of him,” says Tim. “But I was positive he’d use those generalities more often than not.”
Tim decided to wait for the post-rut. A time when he believes his odds are once again stacked in his favor, as the rigors of the primary rut and the generally colder temperatures can force a mature buck to come out and feed.
So, on Nov. 26, Tim placed his hay bale pod in the field that overlooks the cove. That evening, as if on cue, Devilish did the same thing Tim had watched him do many times the prior year, and he was there waiting for him with a rifle. Devilish sports outstanding character, and grosses over 192.
WRAPPING IT UP
If you’re looking to take your trophy whitetail hunting to another level, it’s a good idea to adopt Tim’s philosophies, because his success shows he’s onto something.
You can’t kill mature bucks like Tim does without having an intimate understanding of a mature buck’s psychology. Take note of a specific buck’s behavior, and try to get inside his head and find where your best odds to take him are. Then, wait until you get the right scenario to go in for the kill.
Tim wants to thank Emily Deneve, of Plunge Creek Photography, for taking his photos. Also, he wanted to thank his taxidermists: Bob Sutton of Sutton’s Taxidermy, and Paul Fites and Brittany Hall of Wild Wings Taxidermy. Also, he thanks all of his friends and family that have supported him over the years.