Anyone who says that bow hunting mature bucks is easy is probably talking out of their you-know-what.
Some seasoned hunters who’ve honed their skills over years may think whitetail hunting is an easy game, but that’s likely just because they’ve developed keen woodsmanship and marksmanship skills as well as knowledge of their local hunting grounds, weather conditions, and deer behaviors. What they chalk up to intuition or ease is the culmination of years of practice, observation, and hard-won hunting acumen.
With some practice, knowledge of what to look for, and patience, you too can score booners and fill your freezer this year. Here's how.
1. Become an Expert in Whitetail Behavior
Attracting big bucks means developing an understanding of how they behave, where they go, and what their habits and preferences are. After all, bucks are, by and large, creatures of habit.
Understand their routines, locate their bedding area, and observe their eating habits and food sources, and you’ll be in an advantageous position come hunting time.
To do this, MoonGuide emphasizes the importance of scouting more than you hunt:
“Killing [a] mature deer is all about predicting what he will do before he ever does it again and the only way to do this is through scouting. I want to know where he eats, drinks, sleeps, breeds and how he gets back and forth from all the above. The world of the whitetail is changing constantly during season, so my scouting doesn’t stop here either, I’m always looking for the freshest sign. The last thing I want to do is waste valuable time during season hunting the wrong area.”
It’s also important to understand how many mature bucks are in one area. Usually, the answer is that per every square mile, there may only be one record book buck.
How many mature bucks is that per acre? Typically, for every 100-250 acres, you’ll see one mature buck.
This means that you may not encounter one every time you hunt unless you’re extremely strategic, and even then, luck will have to be in your favor. It’s also why we recommend hunting bucks during the Rut.
2. Time Your Hunts Wisely
Typically, bucks are most active in the early morning and late afternoon. But as P.J. Reilly notes in his piece “Hunt Midday Bucks During The Rut”, the rules change during the Rut:
“During the summer months and early fall, when a buck is focused primarily on food and water, he'll generally be most active during daylight hours early in the morning and late in the afternoon. If he's got a few hunting seasons under his belt, he might not venture out of his secure bedding area at all after the sun comes up or before it sinks below the horizon. When his testosterone starts to rule his actions and does begin to come into estrus -- typically beginning in late October across the northern half of the U.S. and in Canada, and progressively later as you head south -- a buck's going to be prowling for love, regardless of the time of day.”
The takeaway? If you haven’t tried midday hunting during the Rut, you might be missing out. But if you’re hunting in the early fall or summer, stick to early morning and late afternoon hours.
3. Be Patient & Hone Your Woodsmanship
For many hunters, the trickiest part of hunting a mature buck has nothing to do with hunting him, but rather, having the patience and discipline to wait until conditions are optimal to go in for the kill shot.
We know that this can often be easier said than done. But we can’t overstate the importance of having patience when attempting to score a Booner.
4. Pay Attention to Weather & Wind Direction
If you haven’t already done so, using weather changes, wind direction changes, and thermals to your advantage during hunting season could be a make-or-break strategy.
Whitetail Habitat Solutions offers valuable insight:
“The weather will guide you to success. You can count on it, you can plan for it a week to 10 days out and it will rarely let you down...My favorite tactic that has accounted for over 80% of my top 25 bucks, is to hunt the calm, cold conditions on the back side of the front...if it is cold and somewhat calm following prolonged warm temperatures…don’t miss out!”
If you’re not paying attention to thermals, you’re missing out. As Tony J. Peterson notes, deer “live off their noses”, so changes in air currents resulting from hotspots on the ground are important to pay attention to:
"If you think they [Deer] don’t know the conditions in which rising air will tell them of dangers below, or when sinking air will clue them into potential danger above, you’re fooling yourself. Deer, especially mature bucks, spend their entire lives in roughly one square mile, and they know where, and during what conditions, the wind favors specific routes and bed choices in their home range.”
On a related note, because of Bucks’ keen sense of smell, you need to make sure you’re properly masking your scent and using attractants to your advantage as well. This includes everything from using scentless deodorant and colorless, scentless laundry detergent, to using deer attractants.
5. Work On Your Marksmanship
You can hunt during all the right conditions, setting up your treestand on the back side of a tree 50 yards from buck’s bedding areas, masking your scent, timing your shot perfectly, and more. But if your marksmanship skills are off, it will have all proven fruitless. That’s why Harpole’s Heartland Lodge underscores the importance of working on your marksmanship skills.
You can do this by spending time at the range, or with virtual archery aids. It’s also usually a good idea to shoot from farther away than you’re used to so that making a kill shot from the required distance is easy and intuitive.
It's also a good idea to master mature buck grunt calls to pique the interest of bucks, sending them your way.
Attract Deer to You More Easily With Tectonic Feeders
As RealTree notes, “food drives everything” for mature bucks, including where bedding areas are. But when eating during the day, deer generally don't venture more than 100-150 yards from bedding areas.
Want to bring bucks to you? Locate their bedding area, then train them to feed during the day by placing the Tectonic Deadfall Deer Feeder 100-150 yards from there.
Want to learn more about deer feeding times? Check out our blog post on Deer Feeding Times.