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Hunt Mature Bucks as Individuals

Every buck is different, especially the older ones, so you can't expect to hunt them the same way.

Hunt Mature Bucks as Individuals

Field Editor Bill Winke killed the Double G4 buck on Nov. 3, 2012. Amazingly, the giant, 7-year-old buck was the most visible deer on the farm, never leaving a roughly 30-acre home area.

One of the most interesting lessons I ever learned about buck behavior came from two deer that lived on my farm at the same time. I ended up killing them both in 2012, when they were both 7 years old. So, they were both old bucks, but that is where the similarities end. In fact, those bucks were an amazing study in how the behavior of one buck can be so different from another of the same age class.

In this column, I will move quickly through the timeline and explain how the behavior of these two bucks evolved as they aged. Then I will draw a few interesting conclusions.

The Timeline

I nicknamed the two bucks “Double G4” and “Loppy.” Not surprisingly, their names came from antler characteristics each buck exhibited when they were young. I was aware of Double G4 in 2008, when he was a 3-year-old, but didn’t start hunting him until the next year. I found Loppy when he was very likely 4 years old the following fall. Both bucks were living on the same ridge in the middle of the farm in 2009, when I figured they were both 4.

2009: A few times I saw both Loppy and G4 on the same day. G4 was a mid-160s bucks and Loppy was just cool, with a lopsided rack that would not score much but had great character.

I was not able to kill either buck in 2009. I saw G4 three times and got a few trail-cam photos of him. He covered about 300 acres that I knew of; his range was likely bigger, because the neighbor talked about him too.

I saw Loppy three times that fall also, but always within the same 50-acre area. He may have been ranging wider, but I can’t say for sure. Despite my best efforts to end it in 2009, the hunt for both bucks carried over into the next fall.

2010: Double G4 was still living on the same ridge. He had grown into a high-170s buck that inspired awe on the very few trail-cam photos I got of him that season — all at night.

Loppy had moved about a quarter mile to the west and had grown a really cool, multi-branching Christmas tree where one of his brow tines had been the year before. I can’t really say if they had been standing side by side which one I would have shot. I really liked them both and hunted them relentlessly.

Both bucks were now 5 years old. I got only a few photos of them, and all the photos of both bucks were at night. I know I was at least near their core areas, but they just didn’t move much. Though I hunted that area and those bucks 50 straight days, I never saw either one. So, the hunt carried over for another year.

2011: As 6-year-olds, these bucks kept changing. G4 grew into a monster, grossing well over 200 inches as a typical buck, and Loppy had lost the Christmas tree — dang it — and was non-spectacular, to be honest. I still wanted him because of our history, but he was not a buck to get many second looks hanging on the wall.

G4 was still in the same area where I started hunting him in 2009, but Loppy had moved another quarter mile to the west — now about a half mile from where I started hunting him!

By moving cameras using a system that I evolved during those years, I was able to keep tabs on both bucks and learn a lot about them.

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Loppy rarely showed up on camera during daylight in 2011. We got a bit of summer video footage of him on the beans that year, but zero daylight photos and zero sightings from the field during the season. G4 was just the opposite — he was super visible. It is interesting how much different they became at this age. Seemingly, G4 had done his time as a ghost and was ready for daylight.

I killed another buck on that same ridge where G4 was living in November (I have two buck tags for the rut in Iowa, being a landowner). When that other buck was gone, G4 started working on his suntan. He became the most visible deer on the farm, often the first deer out in the afternoons, arriving even before the does and little bucks. And he would use the same feeding area day after day.

Imagine a giant buck with such seemingly reckless behavior! I thought about him every day. He must have felt bulletproof out there. As a 6-year-old, G4 acted more like a yearling; he had reverted to his childhood. I would like to say I killed him that year, but I didn’t get it done. I had him within 40 yards three times, but each time I messed up or he just got lucky. So, the hunt for both Loppy and G4 spilled over into its fourth season.

2012: As I mentioned at the beginning, I was fortunate enough to kill both Loppy and G4 in 2012, but prior to each fateful day, their personalities took even more interesting twists. Loppy moved another quarter mile west (he was now three quarters of a mile from where I started hunting him) and G4 once again lived on the same ridge and was still highly visible. G4’s entire range (as best I could tell) was now about 30 acres. Think about a daylight-active giant living on just 30 acres. I will never see another opportunity to hunt a buck like that for as long as I live. He was truly a once-in-a-lifetime deer.

It was just a matter of time with G4. I hunted him carefully, because it made no sense to hunt him aggressively — his behavior and history suggested he wasn’t going anywhere. After missing him from a blind at 30 yards in late October (I thought it was 40 yards as the light was getting low), I killed him a few days later, on Nov. 3, about 200 yards from that spot.

Winke-Mature-Bucks-Inline-1200x800.jpg
Winke killed Loppy on Dec. 20, 2012. Although Loppy was the same age as the G4 buck, he was far less visible and largely nocturnal.

I won’t say G4 was easy to kill — you still have to be careful to keep them from knowing you are hunting them — but he was the easiest buck to hunt that I have ever encountered because he was so visible within such a small range. I stayed out of a small valley, where he lived adjacent to the ridge, because of swirling winds. But nearly every time the wind was right to hunt the ridge, I saw him. What a crazy deal.

I doubt G4 was dumb. To my knowledge, I never bumped him. So, he never had a decidedly negative experience with people. It pays to be careful, but it pays even more to be lucky enough to have a buck with that kind of personality living on your farm.

OK, back to Loppy. He was showing up on trail cameras regularly by 2012, but always at night. On Dec. 20, a big snowstorm came through and the next day was very cold with high pressure; the perfect recipe for late-season success. I headed right to Loppy’s area and was very lucky when the buck came out an hour before the end of legal shooting time.

It was the first time I had seen him in daylight since 2009, three years prior. It took him 30 minutes to feed his way within bow range, but I finally got a nice, clean, 25-yard shot.

Lessons Learned

As we compare Loppy’s and G4’s personalities over those years, you can clearly see a huge takeaway — every mature buck has a unique personality, and you have to hunt them as individuals.

I believe you can hunt generic younger bucks with a standard method. But once you select one buck to hunt, you have to learn that deer and really zero-in on his specific behavior. Some will be homebodies while others roam. For example, I once hunted a buck that kept getting away until he was 8 years old. That buck never was a homebody. While most bucks have smaller ranges as they age, he never did.

Also, while most bucks become more daylight active past a certain age, usually age 6, not all of them do. Loppy didn’t.

This information is not just for people who have the good fortune to hunt old deer. I have seen these same differences play out in younger bucks. Really starting at age 3, bucks start to develop their own tendencies. You have to learn them individually if you want to enjoy consistent success hunting specific bucks.

I really enjoy that style of hunting and look for any opportunity to hunt a certain buck, just so I have an excuse to learn what makes him tick. Some are similar, but others have vast differences (such as Loppy and G4). That’s what makes this quest so much fun and so fascinating. Good luck this fall!




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