Deer Season 2017: Big-Buck Q and A To Help You Out

Some questions and answers from the BIG DEER files, with hopes the strategies in the answers will help you out this fall.

sd sioux falls buck 2008

Mike, is it true that once a buck sheds velvet, he’s ready to breed? Jacob, Oklahoma

Bucks peel velvet from their antlers from mid-August through the first week of September, so the fuzz has been off a while now.

The day a mature buck becomes “hard horn,” his demeanor begins to change, he gets more aggressive by the day and yes, he is ready, willing and able to breed a doe. But in reality he won’t get that opportunity until mid-October, when the first does come into early estrus.

It was warm where I hunt last fall, with temperatures in the high 60s and 70s well into November. We saw fewer deer than normal each day and hardly any of them came to our corn fields, even though there were few acorns in the woods. Weird, tough season! What can we do if it’s warm again this fall? Paul, West Virginia

Paul, hunting in heat is the new norm these days, and I get a ton of questions about it.

Warm temperatures change how and where deer feed and move for sure . As to why you had fewer deer coming to your cornfields, this could be the reason. Missouri biologist Grant Woods points out that during an extended stretch of warm fall or winter weather, deer prefer to feed on green forage (weeds, browse, etc.) and forgo corn or even soybeans, since the grains are rich in carbohydrates and digesting them generates more body heat that the animals don’t want or need when it’s hot.

Strategy-wise, move your stands off grain fields, and set up back in the woods near green thickets and other browse areas where does and bucks will forage both morning and afternoon. Set some stands in creek bottoms and other cool, shady funnels leading to or from the browse.

strommen--tree stand west

How high do you typically hang a tree stand? Pat, New York

Over the years, I’ve experimented with stands from 15 to 25 feet, and have now settled on 17/18 feet as just about right, at least for me. This is high enough where the wind is good, and if you move skillfully, deer won’t look up and bust you. At this height, you have a nice sight plane down and out to lung vitals for a shot.

Mike, I’ve heard that a big buck can learn you are hunting him, and move around to avoid your stands. Do you think that’s true? Joe, Arkansas

A mature buck can’t reason you are in the woods hunting him, trying to kill him. But he most certainly feels (and smells, sees and hears) your presence and disturbance, perceives you as a possible threat and tries to avoid you at all costs.

New science backs that up. Tracking and charting 37 GPS-collared adult bucks over three years in South Carolina, researchers found that late in hunting season, the bucks moved an average of 55 yards farther away from tree stands than they did earlier in the fall. The big deer had seen, smelled and sensed bowhunters in and around those stands over the weeks, and had skirted them right out of bow range.

When you’re hunting a big buck in his small core range, don’t over hunt your best stands, but rest them periodically for a day or 3. Once in a while, move a stand 50 to 100 yards where the wind is right (a climber works great for this) or set up for a quick ground ambush. Try to surprise a buck from a new spot where he doesn’t expect you to be.

Most every time I sneak into my tree stand I jump three or four deer. What am I doing wrong? Travis, Tennessee

Travis, you are accessing your stand poorly and from a wrong direction, most likely walking too close to a bedding area. Check your maps and Google Earth, and chart a different route in. Put the wind in your face or move in a cross wind as you sneak in a new way, and use foliage and terrain breaks (deep creek bed, ditch, etc.) to cover your moves. You goal is to get to your stand every time without bumping deer–your odds of seeing a shooter buck later in the hunt go way up.

I was surprised to read in one of your articles that you actually pee off your tree stand. Is that right? Rob, MD

Rob, I carried and used a pee bottle for years. But now, I look around to make sure no deer are coming and let fly right off my stand. Urine is 95% water. Many deer scientists that I know and respect, including James Kroll and Grant Woods, have deduced from their studies that human urine does not spook deer, and in fact it is a mammalian attractant that may bring a deer close on occasion.

I say use all your scent-control precautions (wash, spray with Scent Killer, etc.) but when you have to go, let fly. I should note that many great bowhunters I know totally disagree and would never do it.

winter rub

Mike, we’ve got some large trees that have obviously been rubbed by generations of bucks over the years. What’s up with those rubs? Dave, Indiana

Trees with scars that have healed and thickened over the years, and upon which current bucks rub their antlers each fall, are “sign-posts.” Some biologists believe these trees are rubbed mostly by older bucks (3½ years and up). One theory is that the older bucks deposit pheromones on the rubs, and this plays an important role in the dominance and subordination process in a herd.

Does and all size of bucks have been observed interacting with sign-posts—they often nuzzle and smell them—but generally only mature bucks rub them hard. Sign-posts are typically blazed in areas with high deer traffic, and should be markers for your strategy. While you won’t hunt over a sign-post per se, it makes sense to scout out from the big rubs…look for cover edges, funnels and trails where bucks travel…find pockets of acorns and other spots where they eat…and hang tree stands accordingly.