October 05, 2022
Bowhunters are obsessed with hunting whitetail deer, and justifiably so. Tasty, low-fat protein is pretty high on the list of reasons. However, there isn’t a bowhunter alive who cannot help but admire Grandpa’s “big one” hanging above the fireplace, or stop to stare at any impressive whitetail mount.
Typically, we read about tips that will help you take a big buck, but the following are a few traits and habits that will prevent you from tagging a buck like Grandpa’s.
The Other Guys Are “Lucky”
Ask any taxidermist if he has any regular customers who shoot big bucks year after year, and the answer will most likely be “yes.” If you have yet to harvest a trophy buck and you know someone who has shot multiple big bucks, check your ego at the door and have a serious talk with said hunter about scouting, stand locations, hunting techniques, and general tricks of the trade.
The successful hunter is doing several things you aren’t, and it’s up to you to discover the missing link by talking to him/her. Consistently killing good whitetail bucks requires overtime and discipline. The hardest-working, most dedicated bowhunters are ultimately the “luckiest.”
Convince Yourself Of Their Unimportance
You have never been a trophy hunter. No one ever stopped by your house to put their hands on your buck, and no one has ever wanted their picture taken with one of your bucks. You have been spared all that hassle of taking your cape to the taxidermist, getting it scored, answering unsolicited phone calls from friends, and dragging antlers to the state convention for an awards ceremony.
Who needs the memory of a massive 5x5 rack moving through the timber, then turning broadside as you suck it up, take a deep breath, pick a spot, and shoot the perfect arrow? You will remember it for eternity, and you’ve got to tell the story over and over to your taxidermist, friends, and family. Who needs it? Those little bucks taste fine.
Treestands & Field Edges
Scrape lines on the edge of an alfalfa field, every willow rubbed along the border of a cornfield, and a pounded trail entering the wheat stubble…all get us excited and there’s no doubt you will see deer. If you sat all night, you would really have action, because that’s when most of the activity is happening in these spots.
Newbies always sit the edge. I only have one stand overlooking a large cropfield, and I’ve never had a shot at a good buck from that stand.
The basic problem is, if the wind is blowing from the field to the cover, the deer will smell you and never enter the field. If the wind is blowing from the cover to the field, every doe that enters the field will blow and scare off the bucks lingering on the edges. Besides, big bucks do not like walking into open fields. With a crosswind, I have killed lots of bucks 20 to 50 yards from the edges of cropfields in the “thick stuff.” Try it, and you might start seeing more of the big ones.
Don’t Hang Your Stands In October
If you are hanging all your stands in October, you are new to the game — or a procrastinator. Early October is not a great time to scout. Stand locations should be determined January to April, when all the previous year’s rut sign is apparent.
Busting through the woods, cutting limbs, making trails, and hanging stands will definitely alter deer movement. Plus, the woods will look a lot different in late November when the leaves fall to the ground. I have found early April during turkey season to be a pleasant time to hang and move stands. Days are longer, sign is good, and there’s no rush. It is a great time to get kids, family, and friends involved in the process.
On-the-ground observations are worth thousands of trail-cam pictures and hundreds of maps. If bucks consistently run the edge of a picked cornfield, cross a creek 50 yards from your treestand, or make daytime visits to a pond just out of range, move your stand! I have moved a stand and killed a buck the next day. Scouting never ends, but it is useless if you don’t react to your observations. Make notes at the end of every season of all the potential stand locations for the next season.
Don’t Have An Exit Strategy
Everyone knows that a hunter should not bust deer getting into a ground blind or treestand. Deer will react and remember such intrusions.
The same is true with exits. A deer’s day is not over when it gets dark. Deer will continue to feed and travel after sunset, so cutting across a field to your truck or house and busting bucks along the way with scent or sound will severely impact future hunts. The best evening stands are between bedding and feeding zones, but only use those stands with a covert exit that leads directly to a road, field, or trail not used by deer.
Hunt Your Best Stands In October
In the Great Plains and eastern edges of the Rockies, October whitetail hunting is slow, and we are all just anticipating the November rut. Until the very end of October, buck activity is very early and late — plenty of reason for selectively hunting waterholes and food sources.
Studies have shown that all hunting has some impact on deer movement. Daily hunting may move deer off your lease or private land before the rut starts. Be cautious and picky about where you hunt, and minimize contact with bedding areas. Save a couple of promising stands for November, then hunt nonstop when the wind is good. Odds are, most well-seasoned bowhunters have killed at least one monster buck in the last week of October, so get to it when you think conditions are good.
Put Off Buying Warmer Clothing
Every hunter has abandoned a stand because of extreme cold. It doesn’t matter if the hunt is in Southern Alberta or Northern Florida — cold is relative. With today’s selection of lightweight, comfortable hunting clothing, no one can honestly claim they don’t have access to warm duds. As a bowhunter, I stick to down and wool. Buy the best garments you can afford, but I personally recommend any and all clothes from KUIU.
In addition, cold feet will end a hunt quicker than any other factor — true story! Every hunter needs a go-to set of boots on frigid days, so like the rest of your body, it’s imperative that you buy the best boots your budget will allow and then take care of them to ensure they last as long as humanly possible. I will add to this by saying whoever invented chemical hand and footwarmers deserves some kind of award!
Skip Morning Hunts
I love to deer hunt, but I must drive one to five hours to hunt my spots. As a result, most of my whitetail adventures require an overnight stay because I refuse to miss a morning hunt.
Morning sightings are often just as good as evening hunts. I killed my biggest buck in Nebraska after watching him exit an alfalfa field through a strip of trees at 9 a.m.
I moved my stand and killed him coming the other way that evening. I’ve certainly killed more bucks in the last 30 minutes of the day, but at least 20-percent of my deer have fallen soon after sunrise.
As an aside, the best time to kill a doe for the freezer is in the morning. It is a pleasure to follow a blood trail, recover, and skin a deer in daylight hours.
Don’t Hunt The Rut
Everyone has commitments and obligations that restrict their days afield. One primary requirement to harvesting a big buck in the northern half of the U.S. is to hunt in November.
The magazines are filled with articles about hunting cropfields in September, the pre-rut in October, and the second rut in December. But November is the best time to kill a buck. If you doubt it, review the Pope and Young Record Book for the kill dates of the biggest bucks.
If you live in the South, review your state’s top entries in the “Pope and Young Bowhunting Records of North America Whitetail Deer, Volume 4” (available at pope-young.org). It will give you a good indication of the best time to hunt the rut.
Don’t Set Any Goals
Most years, you just sit in the same oak tree in the corner of a cornfield. It is close to your house, requires minimal effort to get to, and you have shot a couple of decent bucks from that ambush.
It’s important for most people to learn, achieve, and better themselves throughout their lives. Every year, there should be a new goal or milestone in a bowhunter’s life. It may be improving arrow flight, acquiring a deer decoy, firing up a chainsaw to funnel deer movement, or building a couple of ground blinds. But you could just put off such things until next year.
Don’t decide to improve your land with an orchard or cloverfield. Goals to improve your shooting, habitat, gear, and knowledge will only make you more obsessed. Just leave everything the same.
Shoot A Small Buck
The largest 4x4 buck I ever shot was following 80 yards behind a 3½-year-old buck. A lot of hunters shoot the first buck. I know several bowhunters who talk big about holding out for large-racked bucks, then shoot average bucks every year. This is usually followed by rumblings about “ground shrinkage,” which, of course, is not true. These hunters are so afraid they won’t get a deer, that they’ll continue shooting at the first “good” buck they see in bow range.
My takeaway message from all these ramblings is this: If you want to kill a truly great buck, and you know that one exists on the properties you have access to hunt, then be patient and be prepared to eat tag soup as a result of your commitment to your goal. If you don’t believe the commitment part of this last sentence, just ask my buddy Jim Willems, who spent 24 days hunting a 192-inch buck that he’d only seen once in daylight. Jim killed that giant on the evening of Day 24.
When he’s not daydreaming about big whitetail bucks, the author practices business and real estate law in Broomfield, Colorado.