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.

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First good buck showed in the gap in early July.

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Later in the month…

va split brow

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

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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.

Best Woods Spots For Trail Cameras

I__00278Mike: Missouri just banned all feeding and minerals, even salt, in the county that I hunt due to two cases of Chronic Wasting Disease. Seems like a dramatic ruling for just two cases, but that is the way it goes.

When I put out trail cameras now, do you think that without the attractant, deer will still visit the same places? Or am I at square one? Eighty percent of the 400-acre farm I hunt is just woods, no food plots. Any suggestions?—Marc from MO

Marc: While it seems like an overreaction, scientists across the country have increased the alarm about the threat of CWD, so we all should expect more decisions like that.

To your question, if you have used the same mineral sites for years, and deer know where they are, it wouldn’t hurt to place a camera or two on the ones where you got the best pictures in the past. Even though you’re not putting out minerals now, some bucks will remember and check the dirt in those spots as they move around the area; certainly not as much as when you had minerals out, but you might get a random picture of a good buck. Try it for a while, and if no pictures move the cams.

But for most of pre-season scouting, set your cameras in these 10 great and proven spots for the woods.