Will Summer Whitetail Bucks Stay On Your Property This Fall?

spartan buck scrapeYou set cameras and scout and look all of August, and locate a big 10-pointer and a couple of great 8s, any of which you’d love to tag this season. Will the bucks stay on the property and in the same general area come late September and October? Or will they go AWOL, never to be seen again this season?

Tennessee researcher Bryan Kinkel has conducted extensive preseason censuses of the whitetails that live on his clients’ hunting lands across the Southeast. His observation data and trail-camera photos show that 50 percent of the older bucks may spend the spring/summer months at one end of their home range, but then shift to another core area for fall and winter. These seasonal ranges may have little or no overlap. His data shows these shifts most often occur around the time bucks shed their velvet–roughly September 5-20. So that furry-racked monster you spot in a bean field this weekend might be long gone when bow season opens.

How far might he go? Missouri biologist Grant Woods says it could be a few hundred yards or several miles or anywhere in between. If you hunt 1,000 acres or more, it’s no big deal. Most of the bucks that shift will still live in your zone, you just need to scout more after September 20 to pin them down.

The problem is when you hunt 50 to 300 acres, like most of us do. “On a 300-acre property, a buck that shifts only 500 yards or so could move right off your property and onto a spot where other people are hunting,” Woods says.

The good news: While half the mature bucks might leave your land in mid-September that many more that summered elsewhere are apt to move in and stay on your property this fall and winter. Generally a property sees a zero net loss of total bucks from summer to fall and winter, but the identity of those bucks can change dramatically.

So when you see a new a big buck pop up for the first time on one of your cameras in October or November, that explains it!

One more thing about buck movements, which could be good or bad news for you. “Our telemetry studies show that bucks range less as they get older and older, and their summer and fall/winter core areas overlap more,” says whitetail biologist Mickey Hellickson. So a buck that comes and goes off your land when he’s 3 ½ and 4½ might stop moving around so much if he lives to the ripe old age of 6, which is very rare for a wild buck. A really old buck might summer and winter in 100 acres on the property you hunt (good) or he might move off your land one August and never come back (bad).

8 Scientific Facts About Whitetail Deer

big rub

The Right Rubs: In the book Whitetail Country Michigan biologist John Ozoga points out that the first good-sized rubs–on trees 2 to 4 inches in diameter–that you find in late September were made by bucks 3½ years and older to mark their home ranges and “to proclaim their control over a given area.” Other bucks and does will see the fresh blazes, and they might come over and lick or rub their heads on them. But those deer will get a whiff of the rub maker’s fore-head and salivary scent, and they’ll know who’s living there large and in charge.

Finding clusters of big rubs is a key strategy for your entire season. From late September through December, most of the bucks that blazed those rubs will spend 90 percent of their time on the same ridges and in the same bottoms where you find the sign. So find the early rubs; scout out from them a couple hundred yards for the best food sources, trails, funnels and bedding thickets; and hang some tree stands at strategic points. Hunt those stands all season, and you’ll see some shooter bucks.

Scrapes: Back Off! QDMA biologist Kip Adams points to a comprehensive University of Georgia study of free-ranging deer that live on a 3,400-acre property that is hunted each fall. I put the most stock in studies that deal wild, hunted deer, not pen whitetails.

Most all deer research over the years has found that bucks check scrapes mostly at night, and the Georgia study, the largest of its kind, confirms it. The researchers tallied thousands of trail camera images and found that mature bucks check scrapes mostly between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.

Why waste more hunting time sitting and watching scrapes where a good buck isn’t likely to show up until the wee hours of dark? “You’re much better off setting up and watching a heavy trail or edge of thick cover several hundred yards off the freshest scrapes you can find,” says Adams. “That’s where you might catch a buck moving to and from the scrapes in first or last light.”

Back Off Scrapes Altogether: By mid-November in most areas, it’s time to back off scrapes altogether. Karen Alexy, lead researcher on that Georgia project, says that bucks most often make and hit scrapes two to three weeks prior to the rut. “After the peak, we found that bucks almost completely stop visiting scrapes,” she says, “so you might be better off hunting bedding sites, travel corridors, or feeding areas.”

Low-Pressure Stands: In a South Carolina study, researchers analyzed hundreds of interactions between hunters and deer, and found that mature bucks traveled 55 yards on average farther away from hunting stands at the end of the season versus the beginning of the season.

This confirms something I have been writing about and saying on my TV shows for years: Mature bucks can learn your habits and pattern you. As the season progresses they see, smell and hear where hunters walk into the woods, climb trees, walk out at midmorning or after dark… You get the picture. The bucks then start to skirt those stand locations and access points to avoid you.

This fall, change it up. Say you’ve been bowhunting a big 10-pointer for a few weeks from the same 2 stands in a 200-acre block of woods. You saw the deer a couple of times early in the season, but it’s been awhile since you’ve seen him now.

Check the lay of the land on maps or Google Earth. Then at midday, slip into those woods and set a couple of new stands along trails, in draws, at creek crossings, etc. You don’t always have to move far; you might set some of those new stands on good cover edges or funnels only 40 to 70 yards from your original stands. Play the wind and be as quiet as you can as you set the new stands.

When you sneak back in and hunt those fresh stands, you have a good shot at surprising that buck in a spot where he doesn’t expect you. As he moves on a pattern to avoid your first stands, he might walk 10-20 yards below one of your new stands. Take him!

High or Low? Missouri biologist Grant Woods put GPS collars on deer and found that old bucks generally bed just over the top of a ridge, usually on the east side. “That’s probably because most of the time wind currents come from the west,” he says. “When a west wind goes up and over the top of a hill and swirls, it creates an air cone that picks up and carries scent from all directions.”

Woods, a hard-core bowhunter, notes that he rarely hunts on tops of a hill because of the eddy-like, unpredictable air currents up there. “You’re a lot better off hanging a stand lower on the side of a ridge or mountain, or on a flat where you can catch a buck sneaking up to his bed or coming back down from it.”

Think Green (Part 1): Biologists in Michigan, Minnesota and other northern states have found that 5- to 40-acre conifer swamps, with trees 10 to 25 feet tall and canopies 50 to 70 percent closed, provide the best thermal cover for deer. If you bowhunt the late season up North, look for green covers of that size, and hang a stand on a nearby trail.

Think Green (Part 2): After killing a deer late in the season, Pennsylvania ruminant nutrition specialist Phil Anderson pokes through the paunch to see what the critter had been eating.

“Ever killed a doe or buck in December when the woods are brown, but the rumen contents (of a deer’s stomach) are bright green?” he asks. He points out that deer love tender, green shoots year-round and particularly in the winter. The animals sniff and dig around the woods and find them under rotting leaves.

Next December and January, be on the lookout for spots where deer have dug and pawed the leaves (deer sign is narrower and more linear than wild turkey scratching). Get down on hands and knees and investigate. If you find little green shoots popping up, set up there and fill your last doe or buck tag.

Beat the Head Bob: In a study funded by the Georgia Department of Transportation in hopes of reducing deer-car crashes, Dr. Karl Miller and others focused on the whitetail’s vision. They confirmed that to get a good 3-D look at a strange object, a deer has to shift its head and stare at it from several different angles. You’ve seen that before—a deer sees you and starts head-bobbing as it tries to figure out what the heck it is looking at.

The next time a doe or buck looks up into your tree stand and starts head-bobbing, freeze. When the animal dips its head and appears to look away, stay frozen. Only when the head-bobbing stops for good and the deer relaxes and seems satisfied that you are not dangerous should you shift in your stand and draw your bow. A deer’s eyes are well adapted to detect movement.

Why Do Deer Jump The Bow String?

early season bowhunting

Hey Mike: Wondering if you could settle a friendly argument. A buddy and I were discussing deer jumping the string. I say it is all noise related and they instinctively react; he says it could also be visual—they see the arrow coming. Wondering your thoughts? Also, do you ever see a bow being fast enough that you don’t have to worry about them jumping the string or is that impossible? Thanks–Jake in WI

Jake, you win, it’s an instinctive reaction. I heard a guy say one time, “It’s like when somebody blows a horn or sets off a firecracker close, you jump.” When a deer hears your bow go off in his natural environment, same thing.

I’ve heard people say a deer might see the arrow and react…I guess it’s possible a doe or buck might glimpse the blur of an arrow out the corner of their eye, but I doubt it happens often.

Actually, “jumping the string” is a misnomer, it should be called “ducking and rolling.” Doe or buck hears your bow go off, drops its chest down toward the ground and whirls to run in one motion. Can’t see it with the eye, but watch a slow-motion video of it, and it’s amazing.

Some deer drop at the bow sound, others don’t. Unpredictability has to do with distance to deer, quietness of bow, foliage that does/does not muffle sound, etc. You never know, so hold the correct sight pin on bottom third of the vitals. Deer drops, you pierce mid to high lungs; deer does not drop, you sear heart/low lungs. Either way, you kill deer.

I suck at physics, but I understand the speed of sound is around 1,126 fps while the fastest compound bow shoots an arrow at 360 fps or so. So no, I am reasonably sure there will never be a bow that propels an arrow that deer cannot jump (or rather duck).

Summer 2018: First Trail Cam Bucks

md dan june 2018 buckOur friend Dan says, “I’m keeping an eye on this one.” He just did his first card pull of the summer and has more than 1,300 pics from just 2 cams…”15 different bucks so far, this one is the biggest for now…3 others have potential with a lot of growing to do in the next 2 months.”

Dan says more bucks are likely to show up on their “summer range” soon in his area. Last summer, by mid-July, Dan had accumulated more than 10,000 images of deer, and 30 different bucks. It’s a unique and interesting situation, click here for details.

By Dan’s standards the buck action at my Virginia mineral/camera sites is minimal right now, though the wide rack below popped up on my Spartan Camera app last night, he’s gonna be a cool deer. Send me your trail cam images and stories to share, I’ll always keep your location secret.

va buck june

Whitetail Management: A Little Land Work Leads To A Monster Buck

Now is the time to put in food plots, work the timber, create mineral sites, and otherwise improve the private property you’ll hunt on this fall. You don’t have to go hog wild and spend thousands of dollars doing it, especially if you live in the right big-buck zip code. Here’s proof that some sweat equity mixed with smart scouting can pay off big.

A few years ago Mike from Iowa obtained a small chunk of ground with a cabin on it. He scouted and hunted a couple of seasons, but didn’t see many bucks bucks, either on camera or from a tree stand. “My confidence in the farm was low, but after doing some timber-stand improvement and putting in food plots one off season, I had hopes that things would change for the better.”

iowa bow giant 2013

Then on November 2 that year Mike recalls…

I was still trying to work things out on the property, and I bumped several deer on the way in to my stand that afternoon. Before the evening was over I had passed on a very nice buck–and I was second guessing myself. I decided to leave everything in the stand so I could just slip in quietly the next morning.

The wind was right and it worked like a charm. I was settled in the stand plenty early, and I had some serious quiet time with God. I enjoy that peaceful time before sunrise. Just after legal shooting light I heard crunching behind me, straight downwind. I turned to look and immediately grabbed my bow and hooked up my release.

The buck was already at 30 yards and in the open, but a couple of large limbs from the tree I was in blocked the shot. My first thought was to wait for him to move from behind the limbs; then it crossed my mind that anything could happen and I needed to get my shot off before he got awaay. I leaned way back and tried to clear a large limb, but couldn’t. I squatted, leaned way out, settled my pin and let her fly.

I was shooting for 30, but the deer was actually at 25. He may have jumped the string as well…either way, my shot was high. As he bolted, the arrow appeared to fall out with poor penetration. I immediately nocked another arrow and was ready for a follow-up shot if he stopped. When his tail started to cork screw I thought “dead deer,” but mind you I had seen the arrow fall away. I started looking for room to squeeze another one. The buck moved slightly and gave me a tiny opening. Before I knew it, the second arrow was away, a clean pass thru this time.

As the deer hustled off I saw what looked like two mortal wounds. I thought I heard a crash, and I started sending text messages. After a few minutes I located horns with my binos and the emotions swept over me. I knew he would be my best deer to date, and as soon as I walked up on him I knew he was a net Boone and Crockett buck.

On my way back to the cabin to get help, I walked up on 3 good bucks in another food plot. I have changed my mind about this property being a low percentage spot! A little timber improvement and quality plotting turned this place around in a hurry, and I see many years of pleasure ahead for our clan here at our cabin farm.

On yeah, the buck scored 183 2/8″ gross, and 178 6/8″ net.—Mike from Iowa