6 tips for finding big deer
A hunter's guide to tagging the largest bucks
Hidden bedding areas are a buck’s best-kept secret. Other than during mating season, bucks will spend several hours a day bedded in carefully selected locations. Granted, deer don’t sleep for long, but research has shown that they’ll stay in the same bed for more than two to three hours at a time, resting, chewing their cud and grabbing a little shut-eye in 10- to 15-minutes snatches. Though they may be resting with their eyes closed, and perhaps even sleeping, don’t be fooled-their ears will still pick up the slightest sound that’s out of the ordinary and bring them to full alert.
Remember, big bucks don’t get big hanging around in wide-open spaces. For bedding spots, wise old bucks always select a location that’s the most concealed or gives them the best vantage point over their surroundings, whether in the forest or in areas such as field edges or thickets. And at that they either select a site higher up on forested ridges so they can look down on most of the woods around them, or they’ll opt for dense cover such as a grove of cedars or a low-lying thicket. The last two locations always provide sufficient vegetation to hide from predators, as well as enough branches to act as tripwires to alert them to any approaching threat.
In one area where I’ve hunted for more than 15 years, there’s an isolated bedding area that went undiscovered for a long time. Along the edge of a small, marshy lake, little did I know there was a tiny island obscured by cattails. Each year, as the gun season would get underway, the bucks that I’d been watching over the previous months while scouting would vanish.
At first I speculated that there were just too few does in the area, causing them to move elsewhere during the rut. Then during a hunt several years ago, my cousin spotted some dense cattails that seemed to protrude too far into the lake and even rise up into some dogwood shrubbery. To him, this suggested there was firm land out there, and since our hunt had been very quiet over the previous couple of days, he elected to walk out into the cattails to check it out. By the time he was halfway to the undiscovered island, about six deer burst from cover and smashed through the cattails, angling past him back to the shore. We each got a buck that day.
- During the pre- and post-rut, bedding areas are the second best place to hunt for big bucks (the best place is where they feed during the early morning and evening). From mid-morning to mid-afternoon, hunting over or directly beside a known bedding area can yield some of the biggest bucks.
- Areas of secluded, dense cover, such as the tiny island where I hunt, should never be overlooked, especially if the deer are experiencing any degree of hunting pressure. I know some hunters who have found similarly sheltered hot spots-only the islands are larger, providing even more sanctuary-and have adapted their hunt accordingly by using a canoe to gain easier access.
Mature bucks have a reputation for being ladies’ men, always allowing the does to travel down trails and enter fields first. This gesture, however, is no act of chivalry. Rather, bucks strategically hold back for a minute or two to verify that the area is secure, using the does, as it were, to test the waters.
About six years ago, for example, I was hunting in a large tract of forest when a doe came around the knoll that I was sitting on. I fired, and as soon as the echo of the gunfire had faded, a movement caught my eye. Running away up a nearby ridge was a buck. I figure he’d been on the doe’s trail and I’d simply shot before he’d come into sight. If I’d held for just a bit longer, I would have discovered that the doe was not alone.
- When you spot a doe, especially during the peak of the rut, wait and watch for her suitor. Also watch the doe for signals that she’s in heat. If she emerges and calmly commences feeding, then odds are she isn’t in the midst of her 24 hours of receptiveness. However, if she pops out and is acting frisky by prancing here and there, holding her tail out to the side and urinating frequently, then keep your eyes glued to where she first came into view. Chances are that at any moment a buck will strut onto the scene. Even if the doe isn’t in heat, remain conscious of where she emerged from; there’s always the possibility that a wandering buck will pick up her trail and seek her out in the hopes that she’ll be interested in him.
And that’s what makes it all worth the wait.
This article was originally published on September 5, 2006