A three- or four-year-old buck is by now a wise old animal. By this stage of the deer’s life he’s likely to be sporting a trophy-class rack and weigh in as the undisputed king of the forest. To attain this status in modern times means the buck is taking advantage of sharpened instincts, great habitat, and lots of experience.
True trophy bucks sometimes live in an area and hunters never even catch a glimpse. Trail cameras may provide the edge and occasionally catch the image of a buck that makes the most experienced hunter let out a whistle.
Old bucks possess the uncanny ability to avoid human contact. Even when a hunter knows an area well a trophy class animal may remain just a shadow. But if the buck feels pressured, no matter where he lives, there are predictable types of habitat he’ll move into. Pressured bucks hide in some tough spots and if you’re going to bag a big one you’ll have to go in after him.
Whitetails live everywhere from the deep unbroken forest to suburban backyards and it’s difficult to say where a specific buck will hide when pressured. The best way to approach the question of where he’s going to be is to avoid guessing and approach the quest step by step. Apply what you know of deer psychology and the principles of deer behavior.
Here’s what you need to think about.
The most common big buck refuge is the most inhospitable, thorny, and waterlogged place it can find. There are still a few places, even in urban areas, where no man has gone before and it’s right in the middle of the brambles and muck where you’ll find the deer. Old bucks have established their territories long before hunting season and they’ve taken the pick of the litter of hiding places. Huge racks glide effortlessly through tangles that rip a hunter’s jacket off his back.
The best way to hunt the impossible tangles is to scout the edges for paths in and out of the mess. Start with the obvious. If there’s a corn field nearby, check for sign between the field and the impenetrable cover. When it’s time to set up on the opener make sure the travel route is in your sights. Old bucks have established their territories long before hunting season and they’ve taken the pick of the litter of hiding places. This is one reason an old animal tends to survive the hunting season and die later of old age.
Big bucks also head for the boonies when hunters hit the woods. A spot that is remote and fairly open can be the domain of a monster buck as easily as the thick stuff if no one is pressuring him. Pressured bucks tend to take up residence on those spots on the topographic maps that are about as far away from the road as you can get. Be willing to walk miles to the center of nowhere if a trophy buck is the target.
Using public and private property not open to hunting is a favorite hunter-avoidance tactic of big bucks. They can’t read the no hunting signs but it’s obvious where the two-footed intruders are trodding and where they aren’t. Scout early to find out where bucks cross the magic dividing line as they move between bedding areas and row crops, water, mast, and other sources of food and cover. If possible, get permission to hunt the private landholding.
In areas where habitat and food are scarce the deer will be concentrated on or near the existing cover. Eliminate the obviously poor choices from a deer’s perspective and hunt the rest.
The most frustrating hiding place is the dark. There isn’t anything you can do about that. These animals simply avoid human contact by foraging at night and moving from spot to spot by moonlight. Hunting seasons handcuff hunters with time restrictions and it’s almost as if these bucks know how to read the hunting regs. Get set up before sunrise and hunt right to the limit in the evening.
There’s no doubt that pressured bucks go into hiding. The challenge is in knowing how to find them.