Patterning And Hunting Mature Bucks

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mature buck
Here is another shot of a mature buck.

The point is, those two bucks were both big, mature bucks that acted as if they came from different species. It is a lesson that we should all take to heart. There is no such thing as a stereotypical mature buck. They are all different and you have to throw out the textbook and hunt them as individuals.

Getting To Know Mature Bucks

Suppose you move into a suburban neighborhood and would like to get to know all of the people that live around you, but you don’t want to seem pushy. You decide to sit on a bench on a street corner and see what you can learn. You will quickly meet most of the neighborhood children as they ride their Big Wheels up and down the sidewalk and play tag in the nearby yards. They will be just as curious about you as you are about them.

As the days go by, you will also meet a few young adults as they walk along the sidewalk on their way to visit a friend or as they head to work. Their behavior makes them predictable and being more talkative, trusting and sociable you will get to know them quickly.

Spending a little more time, you are also likely to meet most of the middle-aged people even though their schedules and increasingly reserved personalities make them tougher to get to know personally. However, some of the older individuals in the neighborhood will remain a mystery. They have a wide range of deeply ingrained personalities. Some may be very social while others have become somewhat eccentric and aloof. It may be years before you get to know all of these people. And some of them you may never get to know at all.

When sizing up deer you need to think in the same terms. The more visible a deer is, the easier it is for you to get to know it. Young bucks are very visible and exceedingly easy to pattern. But, what you learn from watching lots of young bucks isn’t particularly valuable in helping you to determine what a fully mature buck with a more defined personality is likely to do.

When speaking with whitetail research biologist Dr. Grant Woods Ph.D. about this subject of individual personalities. Dr. Woods assured us that the individual personalities of the bucks would take precedence over all other factors in determining their daily habits. In other words, as you may have already learned, there was no such thing as a stereotypical mature buck. They are all different.

Dr. Woods elaborated by saying that a certain percentage of the bucks that seem to disappear are still around. They may not be smarter but they do have personalities that produce behavioral patterns that keep them out of sight. In other words, you don’t see them because they move very little and then only when absolutely required.

This transition usually starts to accelerate when the buck reaches 4 1/2 years of age. It is at this point that they start to become a different animal. Their systems gear down and deer movements become much more a product of their dispositions. Some may be aggressive and come rapidly when they hear rattling. Others may hang back or even slink away at the same sound. You have to learn about the buck as you would a shy person, a little at a time.

deer tracks
Tracks can help you pattern a specific buck if there is something unique about the buck’s footprint.

Sources Of Information

The very best source of information when patterning a certain mature bucks is actual sightings. From the sighting, you can tell much about his personality. Is he aggressive? Did he show interest in your deer calling? Where was he going? What time of day? What was the wind direction? Where did he come from? Why do you think he was moving? Why do you think he came from where he did and why did he go where he went? How did he carry himself? Was he ultra-cautious, taking only a few steps before stopping to study the area or was he more of a bull?

Your own sightings are better than anyone else’s but don’t hesitate to quiz everyone that lives or works around the area where the buck lives to find out if others have been seeing him. Again, when and where and which direction he was going are the key bits of information.

Trail camera photos are the third best source of information. The trail camera tells you where the buck was at a certain time. That is very useful information. From that, you can make a few guesses about where he might have been coming from and where he might have been going.

Big tracks are the next best source of patterning information. They show direction and possibly time. However, because it is hard to be sure the big tracks you find are from the buck you are hunting, they are less useful than sightings or photos.

Other buck sign falls below tracks in terms of the value it provides. Yes, a big buck rub offers some hope, but it is hard to say which buck made it. A different mature buck with a stunted half-rack, for instance, can make a very impressive buck rub. A buck doesn’t have to have a big rack to make a big rub. While buck rubs are worth noting, don’t go out of your way to find them and don’t read too much into them.

It all feeds into the gray-matter computer and hopefully onto an aerial photo or topographical map. When trying to understand the buck’s personality, his individual quirks and anything at all that might lead you to figure out where he will be at a certain time in the future, you need to organize everything you know so it is all in front of you. Without, question, the best place to hunt a mature buck is where you have recently seen him, and where his slowly developing pattern suggests his travels converge. Move in on these spots once you have a hunch. You’ll never know for sure until you get there and put in some time.

Keep An Open Mind

Hopefully this has been more than just a rambling discussion on the unpredictable nature of old bucks. To make it practical, you can hunt them one of two ways. You can rely on pure luck because you are just out there hunting any deer and “he” stumbles by, or you can hunt a single mature buck intentionally by learning as much as possible about his individual personality. Without question, the second approach is the most rewarding, but if you set your sights on hunting one buck exclusively, prepare for many more failures than successes.

No textbook can define what the buck you are hunting is likely to do next, and no set of techniques will produce success like a recipe. They exist for younger bucks, but mature bucks are all individuals and you have to hunt them as such.

Three Types of Mature Bucks

Invisible Homebodies

Some bucks live in a small area but you rarely, if ever see them. They are nocturnal. Their shed antlers show up in the same area every year and you are surprised you never saw the deer on the hoof.

Visible Homebodies

These are some deer hunters favorites because they are much easier to kill than any other type. They live in a small area but move often during daylight. I think one in four or one in five mature bucks is reasonably visible.


Some bucks have a huge range during the rut, but they commonly only travel at night. They are very hard to kill on purpose because they aren’t around much. I have seen many bucks during the rut that I knew were not local deer. I’ll see them once and never again, and we never find their antlers though we comb the farm.



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