Patterning And Hunting Mature Bucks

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hunting mature bucks
Hunting one buck, trying to sort out the patterns and decide where the buck is likely to be next, is a long mentally draining process. It is rewarding when it comes together and you see the buck or get a shot.

It is a common situation. You probably spotted a nice buck this past summer in your deer hunting area. He was probably eating soybeans, clover or alfalfa one lazy, hazy August evening and barely lifted his head when you drove past on the road. Ah, but when he did, it was quite a sight. Now it is burned into your memory and haunts your daydreams. You are determined to hunt only that buck this season. He is a mature buck and no dummy. Now what?

Every Mature Buck Is Different

Of course, you have to find some kind of consistency in his behavior that you can use to set up on him. That is easier said than done. It would be easy to construct a convincing argument that young bucks are all essentially the same, but when you start dealing with mature bucks, there is no such thing as textbook behavior. They are all different.

Gain information from any possible source about the buck you are hunting. Learn when they saw the deer, where it was and which direction it was walking.

Some deer hunters get so discouraged when the take on the challenge of hunting an individual buck because they never seem to do what you expect them to do. Of course, you are expecting him to do what every other buck did, or what the bucks did that you have successfully tagged in the past. It's like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Too many of them just didn’t fit.

In order to enjoy hunting individual deer you first have to enjoy getting to know them. Once you decide to take on that challenge, you have a big learning curve in front of you. You have to get to know that deer in the same way that you might try to befriend a shy stranger – a little at a time. He’s not going to show you who he is all at once. Instead, you’ll pick up a little here and a little there until you have some feel for his individual habits. The better you get to know that buck the better you can predict what he will do next.

Even if you never tag the deer, you’ll enjoy making it a personal quest, where you are hunting an animal based on what you’ve learned about him specifically.

Bucks A Deer Hunter Has Known

A deer hunter hunted a buck in Kansas a few years ago that his friend had seen, that his friend had seen and the school bus driver had seen several times. Every time he had showed up in and around a 360-acre patch of tall switchgrass. The deer was reportedly a big 5 X 5 in the 190-class. Obviously, he was a buck worth hunting hard.

A hedgerow surrounded the field, and on one end there was also a tree-lined slough with a small pond. The first afternoon this deer hunter placed his tree stand in one of the trees near the pond. Through freezing drizzle he thinks he saw the buck that evening as he chased a doe in and out of the field near a small patch of brush along its edge. He hunted the edges of that field for a solid week after that sighting and never saw another deer.

This deer hunter would handle the situation differently now. He would get right down from his tree stand and go after him. He has learned that you have very few opportunities to control the hunt when mature bucks are the target. When you have one in front of you, you need to try everything in your power to get him right then and there, because you may never see him again. It wouldn’t have been too tough to slip through the tall grass in the freezing rain to the brush pile where they were cavorting.

One important thing to remember when hunting a mature buck, you aren’t going to get a lot of opportunities. That has become painfully clear to this deer hunter over the years. You generally get one. If you screw it up, you are pretty much resigned to kicking yourself for the foreseeable future. That buck was vulnerable that evening. This deer hunter was too passive. There is a time for patterning and there is time for killing. When they are vulnerable you need to recognize it immediately, forget about observation and go into action.

giant mature buck captured on Cuddeback trail camera
Here is a giant mature buck that a Cuddeback trail camera snapped. Its photos like this that will keep you hunting harder and longer , that’s what it takes to kill a mature bucks.

Back in 1995, this same deer hunter had another learning experience. That fall he hunted a soybean field in Iowa where he’d seen a big, mature buck feeding. He was a ten-pointer that he guessed would score around 170 inches. He set up his initial tree stand in a draw leading from the timber to the bean field. He was there on the opening afternoon of the bow season. The buck came out 250 yards to the south of him and came along the timber, passed between another small point of trees and a tiny island of brush before heading out to feed. He nearly got within range that evening.

He believed it was a matter of time before he came within range of my tree, but he never did. It took him two additional sightings from the same tree stand before he realized that no matter where the buck came out of the timber, he always passed between the small point of trees and the brushy island before going out to feed. When the wind was right, he got there early and moved his tree stand into the small point of trees. Anticipation was high that evening. He was on pins and needles for three hours before the deer started coming out. It had been nearly ten days since he had first seen the buck and I knew he was finally in the right place.

Wouldn’t you know after all that time and energy, when the buck finally came through the gap the deer hunter missed him at 15 yards! It was right at the end of legal shooting time, last light. This was before fiber optic pins gained popularity and before he started to use ultra-large peep sights. He found it very hard to see his pin while focusing on the deer and hard to see the deer when focusing on the pin. As the buck passed through my shooting lane, he panicked and punched the trigger – missing him clean.

Contrasting Behavior

Here is another example of how different two bucks of similar age can act. Both of these deer lived in the same area at roughly the same time. One was a non-typical that ended up (when the neighbors found him dead) scoring in the 220 range. The other was a huge typical that would have scored in the upper 180s. Both were deer that a deer hunter wanted to shoot badly, but that is not the point here. The point is how different they were.

The non-typical was extremely visible. He saw him 11 times during deer hunting season. He often traveled recklessly with the wind at his back, never so much as looking from side-to-side. Clearly, it was just a matter of time before someone was going to shoot this buck. He hoped it would be him. Only luck had kept him alive this long. He had a ton of information on the buck. This deer hunter actually kept a map filled with sightings; he drew lines for the routes he saw him take. The lines converged on two spots and he hunted those places each time he felt the conditions were right. To make a long story short, he caught him at one of those places in early November. Though he had him close, he got away. That is another story.

The big typical lived in the same area at roughly the same time. He came out into a field he could see from the house during the summer, but he was amazingly cautious even in August when most mature bucks are trusting. During the month that the deer hunter watched for him, he saw him three times right at last light and a few times after dark using big, light-gathering binoculars. He hunted him the next fall but never saw him. He assumed he had moved away, but then one of his shed antlers showed up the next February right where he had been seeing him. Maybe he wasn’t there all fall, but the deer hunter bets he was.

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