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15 Steps to Shoot Your Best Buck Ever

Though nothing is guaranteed, you have to prepare a bit better to tag a big whitetail.

15 Steps to Shoot Your Best Buck Ever

The author poses with his best buck ever — a Kentucky whitetail tagged during the 2023 season scoring over 168 inches. (Honeycutt Creative photos)

Some hunters seem to kill big bucks year after year. They’ve beaten their personal best buck time after time. And you’re left wondering, what’s their secret?

There is no one magical thing though. Consistently tagging mature bucks isn’t easy. Finding a way to shoot your biggest deer ever isn’t either. Follow this 15-step plan that can be used to accomplish the latter.

1. Find That Buck

You can’t kill a buck that isn’t there. And you can’t tag your best buck ever if you don’t find it first. Oftentimes, the most difficult part of shooting a mature buck is locating one. Finding a deer that outscores the best on your wall might be easy. It might be difficult. Regardless, work to find a buck that’s your best deer ever, and you’ve taken a big step in the right direction.

2. Pass That Buck

If you have a younger deer that shows serious potential in the antler genetic department, consider passing it for another year or two. This is especially good to do if the deer is a year or two younger that the age class you typically target. And even if it’s a 4 ½-year-old stud, if the chances are good it’ll live another year, hunt that buck at 5 ½. Deer can make big antler jumps, and sometimes don’t grow their biggest rack until 7 ½ or 8 ½.

Honeycutt-Best-Buck-Pass-1200x800.jpg
The author first learned of the deer in 2021 when it was 2 ½ years old. In 2022, the buck blossomed into a solid 3 ½-year-old deer with a lot of promise. He even had numerous encounters with him, but elected to pass.

3. Pass Other Bucks

It’s not easy to pass a 140-inch deer. But it’s a little easier when a 170-incher is living on the farm. You can’t kill the biggest buck on the property if you shoot the No. 2 or 3 deer. Hold out a little longer, and you might be rewarded for having patience.

4. Learn His Core

Once you’ve homed in on a target, learn that buck’s core. Don’t invade the bedding area. You don’t want to alert him. But do as much low-impact scouting as possible. Post some cams. Learn how the deer is using and maneuvering the property.

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This season, the author worked diligently to learn this buck’s core area.

5. Pour Over Apps and Maps

Modern apps — such as onX, HuntStand, and others — harbor powerful tools. Pouring over app layers and physical maps can greatly increase the odds of success. Studying aerial-based layers can showcase quality bedding areas and potential food sources. Using topography-based layers can help pinpoint key topographical features that might hint at where a buck is bedding or using as travel routes. The power of 3D maps really help break down a property.

6. Find Bed-to-Feed Lines of Movement

Knowing where a buck beds, eats, and how he gets from point A to B is a major step in the process. If you don’t know where each of these are, the chances of intercepting it are very low. At that point, it’s mostly luck.

7. Find the Interception Point

Mature bucks grow old because they learn how and where to live to avoid hunting pressure. This is a very important element in bucks reaching older age classes. Because of this, there are very few locations within their home range that make them vulnerable. Hunters must find those spots. And usually, it’s a location that involves very good entry and exit routes that keep that you off that buck’s radar. And, of course, those entry and exit routes must connect to a spot that buck likes to pass through during daylight.

8. Be Patient

Once you find that spot or two where you think it’s possible to tag that buck, don’t play your hand until the right time. Be patient. Wait for the right conditions. Maybe until the first time the buck daylights on camera, or even a cold front. 

Honeycutt-Best-Buck-Final-1200x800.jpg
After many sightings and years of observation, this was his final encounter with the “Big 12.”

9. But Strike Right Now

Don’t wait too long though. Being too passive is just as bad as, maybe worse than being too aggressive. Strike exactly when the conditions align to chase that buck. Don’t wait until the window of opportunity closes.

10. Give Him the Wind

Some bucks don’t like traveling without at least a slight wind advantage. Even if it isn’t in the buck’s nose, it’ll use a quartering or crosswind. Finding the stand location along that buck’s line of movement where the wind is mostly in the buck’s favor, but is just off enough that it doesn’t smell you, can be deadly.

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11. Kill Him Quickly

If you find a big deer, waiting until the rut can be a poor choice. You never know where that deer will be, or where it will go. So, if you have a pattern on the deer, tag it before the rut starts if you can.

12. Use the Rut Crutch

On the flip side, if you still don’t have a pattern on the deer —  or if you haven’t found your biggest-buck-ever target — consider using the rut as a “crutch.” Not that the rut makes things easier, of course. Big, old bucks are still smart during the rut, but it might help.

13. Benefit from His Belly

Before the rut, it’s all about food. After the rut, it’s all about unpressured cover, security bedding, solar bedding, thermal bedding, and good food. Regroup, find these key elements, and you just might relocate that big target buck.

14. Don’t Make Mistakes

Throughout the process, try not to make mistakes. Big deer might give you one blunder. You might even get away with two. But they won't give you a third, and sometimes not even one. So, be meticulous, think through everything, and try to do things the right way.

15. Beat Buck Fever

When that buck steps out, be ready. That starts before the hunt and carries through the shot and recovery process.

Establish a good, repeatable shot regimen. Stick to a good archery practice regimen. Practice marksmanship on small game. Implement proper breathing before and after the shot. Learn to distract yourself from the size of the rack. Imagine a great shot placement (before sending it). Let the shot surprise you. Keep accruing in-the-field experience. Give the buck plenty of time and be smart about the recovery effort.

My Biggest Buck Ever

This season, I shot my biggest deer ever. It was a 4 ½-year-old Kentucky buck that I had three years of history with. It scored 168 6/8, which surpassed my previous best of 163 6/8. Of the above tips, numbers 1-11 as well as 14 and 15, all played roles in my success for “Big 12.” I used these concepts to shoot my best buck ever. And the good Lord willing, maybe I’ll get to do it again down the road.




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