Have you ever noticed how important food is to all critters? Bass fishermen concentrate their efforts on identifying what bass are feeding on that day in the area they are fishing. Many trout fishermen are even more tuned into what their prey is eating. They select flies based on what insects are hatching at that moment. This technique is called matching the hatch.
Deer hunters should pay just as much attention to the current food selections as trout fishermen. There are currently beautiful wheat food plots at The Proving Grounds. They are lush! However, I don’t believe deer have consumed one blade of the wheat yet this fall. The reason is there are currently plenty of acorns. If I selected a stand overlooking wheat last week, I’d would have only seen a deer if it was traveling through the food plots (based on Reconyx trail camera images). However, I harvested one of my hit list bucks by paying attention to what deer are currently consuming – acorns. Does are traveling to eat and mature bucks will be checking out the does.
When I go trout fishing I see some insects buzzing along the water’s surface. I rarely catch my limit of mature trout. However, my buddies that are skilled trout fisherman recognize different species of insects and know which ones trout are most likely to strike. I approach deer hunting the same way. I’m most successful when I know what deer are most likely to consume and where they are finding that food source.
Just like the skilled fly fisherman that cast his fly between the overhang that is providing trout cover so they can approach the food, I wish to place my stand where deer are likely to travel while in route to the food. Knowing what food deer currently prefer and where they prefer to feed on that item is the key to hunting pre, during, and post rut. How you hunt the food source may vary (distance from cover, etc.) with the time of the year, but the knowledge required to understand the current preferred food doesn’t change.
Growing Deer together,
I harvested a nice buck yesterday at The Proving Grounds. It was a thrilling hunt that included the buck grunting/balling, and then responding to my grunts by approaching my stand and actually walking a ¾ circle around me. It might have walked all the way around my stand looking for the source of the grunt he heard except the Z7 launched.
There’s much to be learned from that experience. Deer, and most wild animals, are excellent at determining the source of sound. The woods are rarely quiet as Hollywood portrays. There are small branches breaking and other common sounds that probably are not given much attention by mature bucks. Other sounds, such as metal clanking, etc., are not common and probably serve to alert deer.
Bucks grunting are a normal and frequent sound in the woods this time of year, especially in areas where the deer herd has been managed to allow a substantial portion of the bucks to mature. Hence, grunt calls, as long as they are within the normal pitch and tone of real bucks’ sound, are commonly heard by deer during or just before the rut. Therefore, I use grunt calls extensively this time of year.
I prefer a call that produces a lot of volume. I will commonly look around to make sure there are no deer in view, then begin by grunting very softly. Loud grunts may alert deer that are close by and don’t expect a mature buck to be that close. If there is no response, I call again using more volume.
The second way I use a grunt call is to attempt to make deer I observe to approach closer to my stand. I simply judge how far the deer is from the stand, then call just loud enough so they can hear the call. I typically call softly and increase the volume until the buck acknowledges the call.
Don’t be scared to use a grunt call. This week throughout most of the whitetails’ range is a great time to use a grunt call. I use a homemade call that a friend gave me. It can produce a lot of volume and the tone is medium to deep. Grunt calls are one of my favorite tools to harvest mature bucks.
Growing Deer together,
It’s been warmer than normal throughout most of the whitetails’ range. There was great acorn production in some areas and much corn still standing in others. The combination of warm temperatures when deer have their winter coat and easy access to food make for difficult hunting conditions. During these conditions, mature bucks simply aren’t very active during daylight hours and don’t need to move far to feed. However, there are fewer acorns and less corn available as the fall progresses. That combined with a cold front in the Rockies pushing east should make for some good hunting in the Midwest by later this week and the East by early next week.
If you’re a hunting local turf, plan on hunting the prime travel corridor locations when this next weather front reaches your area. This could be a period of substantially increased daytime deer activity!
If your “suitcase” hunting (hunting an area far enough from home you packed a suitcase), then hunt as close as you can to a suspected bedding area without disturbing deer until the weather changes. Try to locate travel corridors but don’t hunt them and condition deer to your presence until conditions change and deer are more likely to be more active during daylight hours. Remember that spooked deer are difficult to hunt so make sure your scouting activities aren’t alerting them to your presence.
Harvesting mature bucks on a sustained basis requires much more strategy and skill than harvesting immature deer. Mature deer readily avoid areas they associate with danger. They rarely give hunters a second chance. That’s why watching weather patterns and limiting your intrusion into areas they travel until the conditions are favorable is critical to harvesting mature bucks consistently.
Growing (and hunting) Deer together,
It is 70+ degrees with blue skies again today. Although I’m seeing active scrapes and rubs I haven’t observed much rut behavior from the tree. Oftentimes hunters assume that the rut changes date because they don’t observe rut behavior at the same time from year to year. After reviewing literally hundreds, if not thousands, of conception dates from harvested whitetail does it is obvious that the actual timing of breeding doesn’t change drastically from year to year. However, the amount of daytime activity is based on several conditions including weather, specifically daytime temperatures.
Imagine running a long race for a very valuable prize when it is hot and you are forced to wear a winter coat. That is an illustration of mature bucks during these pre-rut days when daytime temperatures are above normal. Temperatures seem to be a bit less of a determinate of daytime buck activity during the rut because the prize is very obvious to them. However, during the pre-rut there may not be enough excitement to cause the bucks to be cruising during the daytime with their winter coat on.
These conditions can change at any time. This is a huge advantage for home turf hunters and a good reason for suitcase hunters to schedule as many days as possible for their trip, allowing time for weather conditions to be favorable. Understanding a deer’s reaction to specific weather conditions is a key to harvesting mature bucks on a sustained basis.
Growing Deer together,
I’m trying to finish some projects so I can go hunting this afternoon! The temperatures are approximately 20 degrees cooler this afternoon than they’ve been in weeks! I believe decreases in temperature of this magnitude prompt increased activity of mature bucks during daylight hours.
I and several other scientists have attempted to determine the weather conditions that prompt deer to move during daylight. We’ve analyzed huge datasets of deer movement collected by personal observations, radio telemetry collars, GPS collars, trail camera images, etc. Unfortunately, no reliable trends have been reported. That’s not to say that some patterns don’t exist. The deer are just keeping them a secret.
It’s probably because we scientists haven’t analyzed the appropriate combination of factors yet. It becomes a very complicated analysis to consider deer activity data compared to multiple factors simultaneously. It would be simple if when the barometric pressure dropped two percent, deer activity increased 20 percent. However, using barometric pressure as a single factor rarely yields predictable results. When barometric pressure, temperature, the difference of temperature from normal, the change of temperature during the past 24 hours, cloud cover, moon phase, moon declination, precipitation, etc., etc., etc., are combined the data and results often are a useless mass of charts.
It’s very difficult to have a large enough data set to ensure the results of the analysis are meaningful. For example, I’m working with a grad student at the University of Georgia to analyze 11 years of observation data from one of my research projects. The observers that collected data for this project were trained and consistent throughout the project. We logged more than 1,000 hours of observations annually for each of the 11 years. We harvested more than 1,000 deer as part of that project.
Deer are champions at surviving. They not only respond to changes in the weather, they also respond to predators and other threats. It’s tough to sort out why deer are moving because the researcher never knows all the factors wild, free-ranging deer are analyzing and responding to.
It’s frustrating! However, the ongoing research is fun! In fact, I’m ready to go collect some more data this afternoon!
Growing (and studying) Deer together,
For those of you who attended Field Day you may remember the remarkable shed that Terry brought along that day. Andrew McKean, of Outdoor Life, has seen the shed and is currently hunting the property that it was found on. I spoke with him about the Three If’s you should consider when finding a shed and wished him hunting success on his quest for the Giant in the Mist.
Right now I’m seeing more rut sign during mid-October than most years. Last week I observed a mature buck chasing a doe. I also watched a fellow hunter rattle in three bucks, and another hunter on the same property rattled in a fourth. It’s time to use those aggressive calling and rattling techniques throughout most of the whitetails’ range!
I doubt many does are currently receptive. However, the bucks are ready to dance in many portions of the whitetails’ range. I suspect that calling is much more effective than most hunters realize. Mature bucks probably respond to calls a higher percentage of the time than hunters realize, but they detect the hunter’s scent before the hunter sees the buck.
If you’re serious about pursuing mature bucks I encourage you to:
- Control your scent as much as possible with good hygiene and clean clothes.
- Select stand locations that can be accessed without your scent alerting deer that are currently in the area or will be traveling through the area to approach near the hunter’s stand.
- Remain vigilant on the stand.
To consistently harvest mature bucks, hunters need access to property where mature bucks are present. In addition, hunters need to realize that mature bucks are in survival mode most of the time. That’s why they are so fun to pursue. It’s the challenge of the hunt, not the kill that keeps me motivated. Harvesting mature bucks consistently certainly provides a significant challenge. I’ll be taking that challenge again this weekend. I’m sure I’ll learn something new. Mature bucks are excellent teachers if the student pays attention.
Growing Deer (and learning) together,
I had the privilege of hunting in eastern Kansas recently. For this hunt I sat north of a fallow field and used Nikon optics to scout long distance looking into the wind. I observed two mature bucks crossing a fallow field from approximately 125 yards. The wind remained out of the south. I felt very confident I knew where the deer were bedding and where they are feeding. The landowner had created a bedding area/sanctuary not far south and east of the fallow field. There was an 8 acre feeding plot planted with soybeans and wheat to the northwest of the stand. Adjoining the fallow field to the east is a stand for mature oaks that were dropping acorns. I felt strongly that if we could place a stand in those hardwoods and approach them in the morning with a northwest wind, we’d have a good chance of harvesting one of those two bucks. I snuck into the hardwoods that were between the fallow field and the hardwoods after lunch and hung a stand. However, the wind remained out of the south for a couple more days so I scouted another portion of the farm and observed the fallow field. We observed the mainframe 9 just before dark again crossing the field. That night a cold front passed and I decided it was time to move and attempt to harvest the mainframe 9. I arrived early the next morning and was in the stand well before daylight. I used extra caution to limit touching vegetation while approaching the stand and remained very quiet through the first hour of daylight. Four does and fawns passed behind the stand. The wind had picked up enough that it was shaking large oaks. Just a tad after 9 am I spotted the mainframe 9 about sixty yards away. He was consuming acorns and moving in my general direction very slowly. It took several minutes for him to get within range. I drew my Mathews Z7 when he was about 25 yards out, but he quickly moved behind the canopy of a tree. I opted to let the Z7 down and wait for a better shot. He finally approached to within eight yards of our stands facing them head-on. I came to full draw again when he reached for an acorn on the ground. He remained facing the base of my tree for several more minutes. He finally took a step and exposed his vitals. My arrow was true and it was grip and grin time!! I estimated the buck to be four years old and his green gross score was 151”.
I enjoy the stats, but the memories of how that hunt unfolded are more enjoyable to me! I’m confident I was able to harvest that deer because I was patient, spent more time scouting than hunting, and waited for good conditions for the situation. I felt certain the buck was traveling through that patch of oaks regularly. However, mature bucks rarely continue a pattern once they detect a hunter in an area they use frequently. The results were well worth the wait for me. I really enjoy patterning mature bucks. The pre and post rut is the time to pattern a mature buck. I hope you have an opportunity to enjoy a similar experience.
Growing Deer together,