Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Early Season Bucks

 It is safe to say deer hunting has its many mysteries. Hunters are baffled every year by the new tricks deer will pull off to keep that everlasting reputation of being the elusive animal it is. Just when you think you have the game of deer hunting figured out, a deer will change course and do something so unexpected. But I have found that the most mysterious trend of this forest edge dwelling creature is how it can be at a certain place, at the exact same time, for days, just to not show up on opening day.  This brings the age old question into play once again, “Where did he go?”
Good Friend Charles Ormsbee With a Buck he harvested Oct. 1st 2011

                A whitetail, despite its reputation of being elusive, is a very social animal. A whitetail will roam the field edges all summer, playing, eating and for the most part not worrying. You can see the same trait during the winter as well. Most whitetails, during the winter months, will conjugate in areas where food is abundant and shelter is of plenty. When most hunters get fooled is when they scout a particular buck all summer only to have that deer vanish comes opening day. This can be brought on by many reasons. Pressure by small game hunters, the elevation of deer scouting by other hunter and even weather can affect this sudden shift in a buck’s pattern. But what most hunters don’t understand is this sudden lack of daylight movement is mostly the result of Mother Nature in all her perfection. To kill a mature buck, you must first respect the biology of his very being.

                A buck that is mature and has seen the battlefields of rut knows well enough what he is facing when November arrives. Just like a senior football player in high school has seen what it takes to compete, the buck will prepare for the arena of breeding rights. He will depart from his normal summer routine to his confines. This is usually somewhere he is safe and alone. Just like the senior football player lifts weights all summer to prepare for battle, a buck will spend the warm early days of fall rubbing trees to clear the velvet from his antlers. To a fine shine and in pristine condition for battle, the buck rubs the trees in his solitude, awaiting the frost tipped mornings of November. The buck will limit his movement, only feeding at night and bedding most of the day. Just like the Football player who waits in the locker room before the big game, the buck is focused and intent on being the superior buck of the land.
A mature northern Michigan buck in route to feeding just before dark.

                To kill a buck that primarily moves at dark, you have to think outside of the box. I do most of my deer hunting in the highly pressured Northern Michigan and on public land. I am consistently successful due to my hard work and some luck. I always tell other hunters, if you can kill a 3 ½ year old buck every year in Northern Michigan, you can kill a good deer anywhere.  Killing them early in the season takes patience and hard work. Pinning down a mature buck is not easy. In the big woods of northern Michigan, there are ample places for a buck to find solitude during the early part of fall. Finding these areas can be done by using satellite images, trail cameras and good ole fashion walking.

                Trail cameras are a weapon commonly used and for good reason. They have been increasing taxidermy bills since their first year in the woods. However, when referring to early season scouting, this is where they are most commonly misused. Hunters place them over food sources and mineral sites. This is fine if you want to get a good idea of the roster of bucks roaming the timber you hunt. But if you want to pin down a buck to kill in the early season, you need to get away from the food, for more reasons than one. For example, the reason I am writing this article, bucks will soon be nocturnal after the season opens. In most states this is around the first of October. Your night time pictures of bucks eating off your mineral sites will do you no good when trying to fill a tag. Finding where that buck is bedding and the trails he takes to food sources are key factors in early season success. You can accomplish this by moving your trail cameras away from the preferred food source, even if it is 100 yards at a time. Concentrate on lightly used trails coming into the food sources. Mature bucks very seldom use the same trails as does. Once you know the trail the buck prefers to use, move back farther until you get that buck on camera during daylight hours. I always say, for every 100 yards further you move back in the woods, you are giving yourself 5 to 10 minutes more shooting light.
A mature Northern Michigan buck harvest early October of 2013

A deer can bed as little as a 100 yards away from a food source, but I have found that here in northern Michigan, it is on average of a ½ mile. This means you are going to have to incorporate some other methods of scouting. If you are using trail cameras, you have obviously set foot in the woods you are preparing to hunt. Do not be afraid to wander a little.

When scouting on the ground, there are no wrong or right ways to do it. You walk and you look. Knowing what to look for will help decipher an area used by a mature buck. If you feel that you have stumbled upon an area a mature buck is using for bedding, turn around and walk out. The longer you are in there, the more scent you are leaving. With that being said, you will know a buck is using an area as bedding simply because there will be beds. There will also be multiple piles of deer droppings. The key to knowing if a mature buck harbors those woods is there will be multiple rubs. It will look almost as if a buck looked at an acre of trees and tried taking them all out. You won’t miss it.

Hunting these areas require tactfulness. Get in early in the morning, put the wind in your favor and set up an hour before dark. There is a good chance you will see that buck come back from his night feeding. When hunting these spots in the evening, it is crucial you walk in with the wind in your face. Once again, get in early. One trick I use to lure bucks out of bedding is a soft grunt call. This will get him curious and could get him off his feet long enough for you to get a shot. Your other chance of seeing him is when he decides to get up to go feed.

Just like your night time pictures have shown, he will be feeding at night. So you want to cut him off before he gets there, while there is plenty of legal shooting light. This is where the previous scouting techniques come into play and are crucial. So keep these tactics in mind the next time you are planning to pin down an early season buck.

This should give you a good idea of what you have been doing wrong or maybe what you have been doing right. There are different variations to this tactic. No one situation will be the same. Keep an open mind and think like the buck. I hope this helps you this upcoming deer season. If it does, be sure to message me at michigangonewild@gmail.com, or on our Facebook page. You can also check out our website at www.michigangonewild.com.  This is Alvin Sitkiewicz signing off. Stay Wild!