Tip 1: Hunt Where Big Bucks Live
The fastest shooting bow, best camo and most comfortable treestand are all irrelevant if you’re hunting the wrong areas. My late-grandfather use to tell me: “Boy, you can’t shoot what isn’t there!” Yeah, I know that’s a double negative and grammatically incorrect, but my Papaw was exactly right about the point he was trying to make.
You really need to hunt areas and regions that consistently hold shooter bucks. Research deer-harvest results online and call state wildlife biologist to find out what areas or counties typically produce the biggest bucks. These key locations are exactly where you’ll need to begin your search.
Tip 2: Expand Hunting Coverage Area
Maximizing your scouting and coverage area by utilizing a network of game-cameras is the most efficient way to pinpoint and pattern more shooter bucks. One well-placed game-camera is a good start, but it’s really only going to provide you with one small piece of the patterning puzzle. Plus, it dramatically limits your surveillance and monitoring coverage.
Strategically setting up a series of game-cameras near key spots, such as feeding zones, watering holes, staging points and bedding areas, will enable you to piece together a complete daily pattern. Operating multiple units simultaneously helps you locate and pattern potential hit-list bucks much faster and easier.
Tip 3: Game-Camera Setups
Hanging and closely monitoring a network of game-cameras is just part of the big buck equation. Game-camera setup errors, such time lapses in-between photos, camera angles, detection zones and a variety of other factors, can hinder your chances of capturing photos or video of giant buck within your hunting area.
In order to stack the cards in your favor, setup game-cameras with mock scrapes, rubs, buck urine, attractants or deer feed (in states where legal). Adding an attractant, spreading corn or apples, constructing a mock scrape or simply spraying buck urine on the ground directly in-front of your camera’s detection sensors will increase the amount of quality buck pics or video clips you’ll capture during the season.
Strategically setting up camera traps like mock scrapes inside of cleared photo lanes directly in-front of your game-camera will dramatically increase the amount and quality of your scouting pictures. (Travis Faulkner photo)
Tip 4: Target Multiple Bucks and Hunting Locations
Don’t put all of your eggs, or in this case, bucks, in one basket. In other words, try to pinpoint and pattern multiple shooters in separate hunting areas. Outside hunting pressure, terrain, alternating food sources, pattern shifts and individual habits, tendencies and behavior of a buck in a particular area can cause numerous problems and challenges without warning. This is exactly why it’s always a good idea to have more than one target buck and a few different hunting locations.
Tip 5: Increase Hunting Setup Options
Hunting the same stand over and over is the fastest way to educate a highly-sensitive buck that has survived a few seasons. We all have our favorite honey-hole spots, but there isn’t a single setup that automatically adjusts to changing patterns, weather, food source shifts, varying wind directions and numerous other factors that are out of our control. If you want to stay in the red-zone, then you’ll need to have multiple hunting-stand locations and setups that allow you to quickly adapt to changing conditions in real time.
Tip 6: Plan and Prep Hunting Stand Travel Routes
Sometimes the easiest route to your treestand or ground-blind isn’t always the best choice. In order to keep from routinely spooking, alerting and educating deer, you need to strategically plan and prep your entry and exit routes. These routes should always avoid running through whitetail high-traffic areas and allow you to enter, hunt and exit the setup without being detected. Prepping your entry and exit trails by raking away noisy leaves, cutting briars and trimming limbs will help you stay deadly silent when approaching and leaving hunting locations.
Taking time to clear all entry and exit routes of overhanging limbs, briars, weeds, sapling trees and noisy leaves allows you to stay undetected before and after each hunt. (Travis Faulkner photo)
Tip 7: Disappear and Stay Invisible
If at all possible, make an effort to utilize the terrain and your surroundings to stay out-of-sight. Avoid walking across fields, food plots or open wooded areas when approaching and exiting hunting locations. Use ditches, low-lying areas, shallow creeks, steep hills or long wooded ridges to shield your movement.
Completely brush-in all ground-blinds and treestands to naturally blend with the foliage and terrain of your hunting area. Keep your blinds’ interior dark, wear black clothing (and safety orange if required) and never sit too close to open windows. When hunting from above, hang stands higher than a deer’s detection zone and leave tree limbs above and below the platform to provide good cover.
Tip 8: Hunt Scent-Free
A mature buck’s main defense is his nose, so scent control better be at the top of your priority list. Nothing is 100 percent full-proof, but there are some measures you can take to be as scent-free as possible. For starters, always shower with scent-eliminating body wash and shampoo. Apply odorless deodorant and wash all clothing in an unscented laundry detergent. Store your hunting clothing in sealed plastic bags that can be carried into the field. Wear light, breathable clothing when walking to your hunting locations to reduce perspiration, and knee-high rubber boots that don’t hold or leave scent. After reaching your hunting location, change into your hunting clothing and spray down with a quality scent-neutralizing spray periodically throughout the hunt.
Tip 9: Exploit a Buck’s Nose
Finding sneaky ways to turn a buck’s main defense into a weakness is a lethal strategy that really works. The trick is to match your scent-application strategies with the current whitetail transitional period. During the early pre-rut phase, only use straight non-rut buck urine to trigger his curiosity. Mock scrapes with non-rut scents can be extremely effective or simply spraying buck urine inside of cleared shooting lanes near your stand will get the job done. As the season progresses, switch over to more territorial scents, such as tarsal glands and dominant buck urine. Just before and during the actual breeding phase of the rut, you can couple these territorial scents with estrous doe urine and hot drag-lines.
Tip 10: Attack a Buck’s Ears
Whitetails are vocal throughout the season and will respond to calls before, during and after the rut. The key is to match your calling vocalizations and sequences with each transitional period. During the pre-rut, utilize non-threatening calls, like social buck grunts and light rattling to simulate early sparring and pushing matches. As you get closer to the rut, hit bucks with more aggressive calling, such as challenging grunts, snort-wheezing and rattling.
A little later during the actual breeding phase, you can add estrous doe bleats and tending grunts to your calling arsenal. These vocalizations will work throughout the rut and secondary rut periods. Once the late post-rut phase rolls around, switch back to the non-threatening vocalizations that play on a buck’s natural sense of curiosity.
Matching your calling strategies with the current behavior and transitional phase of the season enables you to attack a buck's ears and create more shot opportunities. (Travis Faulkner photo)
Tip 11: Concentrate on Primetime Hunting Periods
Highly-sensitive bucks with heavy-headgear often follow tight nocturnal schedules and move through their core living areas like shadows. You can still connect with these ghost-like shooters by strategically picking the best possible times to be in your stand. When at all possible, try to hunt just before frontal periods and approaching storms. Periods with overcast conditions and light rain or snow also are excellent times to catch a sneaky buck off guard.
During the later segments of season, warmups after a cold snap or short breaks between winter storms should not be overlooked. Timing can be everything in life and the same can be said about deer hunting, especially when it comes to connecting with those hard-to-hunt veteran bucks.
Tip 12: Hunt with True Grit
If you want to consistently tag bigger bucks, you have to be willing to pay the price. This means hunting when you’re dead tired and powering through tough situations and conditions. When you work hard for a living, your days off are precious and you have to make each one count. Bad weather, fatigue and minor illness can’t be an excuse to keep you out of the woods. Hunting with true grit, patience and perseverance will generate more shot opportunities than just about anything else you can do as a hunter.
Remember, you can’t shoot monsters from your couch at home, so lace up your boots, hit the woods hard, and make your own good luck during the season.