August 14, 2014
By Jeremy Flinn, Wildlife Biologist
With the season just on the horizon, deer hunters are now becoming more engaged with their hunting areas. From trail cameras to sitting on crop fields and food plots, the “pre” hunt is on for their target bucks. For some, it will happen fast. Locking in on the buck they were looking forward to seeing this year. But for many of us, it is not that simple. In fact, not only are many hunters not seeing their prize buck, they aren’t seeing any shooter bucks whatsoever. Bottom line is we know they are there, but even the army of trail cameras can’t locate them. So the question at hand is, should you be worried?
No matter if your season starts at the beginning of September or October, the answer is simple … no. This isn’t some kind of “Big Buck Therapy” lesson; it’s a simple explanation of what is going on in the deer world during this time of year. Regardless of if you are in “Big Ag” or “Big Woods” country, a buck’s home range, the area in which he spends at least 95 percent of its time, is the smallest it will be all year.
When the author first set up the trail camera and attractant in the new site, he only caught fawns (like this one), does and small bucks. (Jeremy Flinn photo)
Before we get into the fine details of the area a buck is covering during this part of the year, it is worth mentioning that just because you spend every night on a soybean or alfalfa field or because you have a camera for every 50 acres on the property, does not mean you will see all the bucks in the area. In actuality, if you see 60 percent of them you are doing pretty well.
Why is that? Well, scouting is a lot like hunting. You don’t see all the bucks in an area when you sit in a stand do you? Even with trail cameras, it still takes bringing a buck into a 40-foot-by-40-foot area to trigger the camera for a picture. Sure attractants and bait help, but also you are combatting lush native vegetation, acres of crop land, and even in the desert-like areas of Texas, you can catch a summer thunderstorm that will explode native foods.
But the big factor at play is the way bucks are moving and behaving. During this time of year bucks, even mature shooters, will rarely have a home range greater than 300 acres in most wooded and agricultural landscapes. That still may seem like a lot to most of us. But then narrow it down even further and say that on average, research shows that these bucks will spend at least 50 percent of their time in less than 35 acres. Now your “one camera per 50 acres” doesn’t seem so overkill, does it?
Also, at this time of year bucks are in bachelor groups. Although you may see a “mixed bag” of ages, my personal observations tend to show one-and-a-half- and two-and-a-half-year-olds together, and three-and-a-half-plus-year-olds together. So when I start to see a three-and-a-half-year-old on camera, there is a good chance the ones I am looking for are not too far away.
And don’t expect to throw out mineral, attractant, or shelled corn that day, and get a shooter on the camera that night. If it is a new area, it may take a week or more just for a buck to cruise out of his 35-acre comfort zone and find it.
Here is the good news; it’s only going to get better. As bachelor groups split up and soft, velvet antlers turn to white, polished racks, bucks’ home ranges will begin to expand rapidly, often doubling or tripling in size. New bucks will begin to show up on camera, some of which will become “home bodies” others will disappear as fast as they showed.
But that is why it’s called hunting. The pursuit and challenge is where all the fun is at. So stop worrying about what you are or aren’t, seeing right now. It won’t be long before you have so many choices, you won’t know which shooter to hunt!