2 Reasons a Mature Buck Avoids Your Trail Camera

graig hale kansas 2017My friend Graig Hale shot this great buck in Kansas one afternoon last December. It was the first time anyone had spotted this giant on the farm where Graig got him.

Brian Helman of 180 Outdoors scouts incessantly and has incredible knowledge of the bucks that live on the leases and farms that he manages in southeastern Kansas. Brian went back through thousands trail camera pictures he’d captured last summer and fall—not one image of Graig’s buck. Then he and checked tens of thousands of pictures from 2016 and earlier—still no picture of the old buck.

Generally whitetails in this type habitat—a perfect mix of corns, beans, food plots, oak strips and woodlots, and creek bottoms—have a home range of a mile or so, and a mature buck’s core area is smaller than that. But obviously the buck did not live on that farm, and to Brian’s knowledge had never stepped hoof on there before.

Why was the big deer there that one day last December? Where had he come from? I have 2 theories.

One, he might have been one of the few bucks that live on a farm for a few years, and then for whatever reason picks up and leaves, only to return a couple years later. We actually posted last September about a Kentucky buck that did just that.

BUT, a better explanation I believe is that this buck was pushed out of his core area by hunting pressure. Graig and I hunted the first week of KS rifle season in early December 2017. While there were no other hunters on the farm that Graig hunted that week, there was obviously pressure all around on surrounding farms.

It is true, and it’s been supported by many studies, that in the face of hunting pressure, most big bucks hole up and go nocturnal, but don’t leave their home ranges and core areas entirely. But I believe that sometimes a mature buck has just had enough. Day after day hunters plow through the woods and thickets where he hides…ATVs roar around…rifles crack. A buck says to heck with this, and goes on a “pressure excursion,” sneaking a couple miles or more off to a place where there are fewer people and where he might relax.

I theorize that the 5-year-old 9-point Graig killed had done just that, and that is why the buck had never before been seen on the farm before. I believe that had Graig not killed him that afternoon, the buck would have made his way back to his home turf in a couple of weeks when the season was over and the guns had stopped booming.

Bottom line, you never know when and where you’ll encounter a shooter buck, man. Your very best tactic is plan and scout as best you can, and then put in as much stand time as you can, right up to season’s end.

You can see Graig’s hunt for this buck on the new season of BIG DEER TV, coming summer 2018.

How To Tell A Mature Buck

Al old buck

I present you with this trail-camera image of an Alabama buck I hunted for a while last season. Three things jump out and tell you this old boy is at least 6 years old.

*Overall appearance is thick and blocky, with a deep, heavy chest. That is the first thing to look for and the easiest tell, as younger bucks are sleeker.

*You might have heard, “Look for a saggy belly, that’s an old deer.” Yes, and this is proof. A pot-belly does not show up until a buck is at least 5 and more typically 6. It’s one of the most reliable tells of a mature whitetail.

*Short face. And close up in bow range, an old buck’s face looks old and gray.

Now look at the rack, which is okay but nothing special. So what? This is a fully mature wild buck, a true trophy. Unless you’re crazy, you’d be fixing to trip the release or press the trigger.

BTW, I never saw the buck above in daylight, as he was completely nocturnal. Sound familiar?

How Will the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse Affect Deer?

eclipse map

On Monday August 21 a total solar eclipse will arc across the United States for the first time in 99 years, providing a rare sight for tens of millions of people from Oregon to South Carolina.

We humans are prepared for this event and looking forward to it. But what will the deer and other animals do when the moon blocks the sun and darkness descends and the temperature drops in the middle of just another day in their lives?

Truth is, nobody, even the scientists who live for a 100-year event like this, really knows.

While there is scant scientific info from eclipses in past years and decades, there are a lot of anecdotal stories—monkeys flipping out in the sudden darkness, birds flying around wildly, snakes going berserk…. Most of this is probably hyperbole and rumor.

But I did see where some hospitals are stocking up on anti-venom for Monday’s event, so maybe there is something to the snake thing. This makes me nervous, as I plan to view the eclipse while hiking in Shenandoah National Park, which has its share of timber rattlers. In fact I damn near stepped on a yellow-phase rattler thick as your forearm the other day; I saw it and ran like hell and never looked back.

But I digress. I found some info from MNN that says crepuscular animals—creatures that typically move the most during the low-light conditions of dawn and dusk, like deer—often mistake a solar eclipse in the middle of the day for an early twilight. Crickets and frogs may jump into a dusk chorus, and mosquitoes and midges may start their evening swarms. And in the midst of a total solar eclipse, it can be dark enough not only to quiet down diurnal animals, but also to lure out the night shift. There are many reports of nocturnal animals being active during totality, including bats and owls.

While I don’t expect deer to freak out, it will be interesting to see if there is a flurry of moment as the sky goes dark at 2:00 or 3:00 PM. I expect that the animals might move at least some, and I’ll monitoring it on a phone app that is linked to 6 Spartan wireless cameras that just happen to be situated within the eclipse arc from Oregon to Kansas to Virginia. Will be fun to watch and see what happens.

This Total Eclipse tracker is very cool, click here to see what it will look like in your zip code on Monday.

Why Deer Love Mineral Licks After a Rain

mineralsThe smart deer hunter is always observing: Why do most of the bucks travel E-W in a patch of woods…why do does and fawns like a particular corner of a plot…why do deer flock to mineral licks after a heavy rain?

We’ve had a lot of heavy rain this summer, and an hour or so after each rain ends (no matter the time of day) my Spartan Camera app blows up with images of deer with their heads stuck in water-filled mineral holes. Must be something to it, so I reached out to biologists and mineral experts, most of whom had observed the same thing.

While we’re not sure why this occurs, we theorize that heavy rain roils a mineral site, pulling certain minerals off the soil and suspending them in water, where deer can “lick” them easily. As the water recedes, suspended minerals settle on the topsoil, again easily consumed by the deer. Water also causes leaching of the minerals, and perhaps that’s a factor.

Anyhow, check your cameras after a rain and see what you’ve got.

#1 Late-Summer Spot for a Trail Camera

best cam spot

My sketch of the top spot to set your camera this weekend is very rudimentary, so let me explain.

In this case there are two cornfields (might be soybeans or alfalfa where you hunt) with a row of trees and brush about 20 yards wide, splitting and separating the fields. Within that row of trees is a flat, grassy gap where the farmer will drive his tractor between the fields in a month or so. On an old gate post in the gap is the top spot to set a camera now, while the corn is still tall and uncut.

We have 9 cameras running on the Virginia farm where this gap is located, with some cams situated on field edges, others on clover plots, others on minerals in the woods. The camera on the gate post has been the most productive by far for catching bucks on natural movement.


First good buck showed in the gap in early July.


Later in the month…

va split brow

Catching the big split brow rolling through the gap really got us going.


We had a surprise traveler, going the other way from the bucks.

We’re pulling the card from the gap camera tomorrow morning, can’t wait to see who’s been by the last couple weeks.

If you know of a similar gap like this where you hunt, go set a camera there before the crops are cut and the deer movement patterns change.