It can feel like a curse when you first start whitetail hunting. The does and young bucks are challenging enough, and the mature deer are just something else. They almost seem mythical, and without trail cameras, most hunters wouldn’t even know they’re out there.
But they are, and they aren’t magical beasts that can vanish at the snap of their hooves. They live out there, bedding, feeding, making sign, and generally doing deer things. While they aren’t as common as does and young bucks, they aren’t as rare as we’d like to believe, either.
Even so, most hunters won’t kill one this season. Or next, or pretty much any season of their entire hunting career. Those same hunters will attribute that lack of success to the cunning nature and total rarity of the deer, but the truth is, it’s mostly on them. The deer are killable, they just require the right skills and effort. This all starts with understanding what we, as hunters, bring to the table.
When I quit drinking, I started working out. It was a necessary move for my physical and mental health. Now, it’s just a part of my life that I couldn’t do without. While I pretty much run or lift, every day that I’m not on the road, it’s not easy. People think it is, because I do it a lot, but the motivation is rarely there.
I almost never want to run, and often, don’t want to go to the gym. It takes discipline and there’s no way around that. You know what else takes discipline? Deer hunting. If you want to kill a mature buck, you have to scout. You have to hunt when you don’t want to. You have to put in the effort when the motivation simply isn’t there.
If you don’t, you won’t kill mature buck with any consistency (unless you have an amazing spot to hunt). It’s that simple, even though it’s far from easy. Look at it this way, every time you didn’t winter scout cost you a little bit. Every time you didn’t hang a set for an east wind thinking you wouldn’t get it, or set yourself up for a few more morning hunt options, it cost you. Every time you checked a trail camera and it didn’t show big bucks moving, so you didn’t hunt, cost you. Finding a way to always do the work is probably the biggest difference between the dreamers and the big buck killers.
Hunters love to blame their spot, or their state, for their lack of success. They’ll argue that the pressure is too much in their area, or the DNR issues too many tags, or whatever. If there is a universal positive to trail cameras, it’s that they show us what’s out there. On private, on public, wherever—mature bucks are out there.
They can be found on heavily hunted public land, although not in the numbers as they might be found on tightly controlled private dirt. They still exist, and knowing that and acknowledging that is a huge step toward killing them.
Instead of leaning into the tired excuses for not killing a buck, figure out how to work with what you have. If you only have one spot to hunt, find another. It’s possible, and it’s important. If your state has a super early gun season and you can’t bowhunt the rut, get better at early- or mid-season hunting. If your scouting efforts and trail cameras show 130-inch bucks as the top end, hunt them and don’t bemoan the lack of 160s. Work with what you have available.
When we assign too much mysticism to them, we give ourselves an out. If you think big bucks are all nocturnal and all possess a sixth sense for detecting hunters, you won’t hunt them as hard as you should.
Think of them as just another animal. They need to eat, drink, lay down sign, walk here and there, and generally live within the confines of a square mile. By understanding that, you realize what’s important is figuring out how to get close to them. You have to find their sign, their tracks on the trail, or figure out where to leave a camera so you can get clued into their staging areas.
Work the land and the deer together and understand that they are out there somewhere. They do make mistakes. Big deer, when they do move and you get to watch them, are often way more cavalier than we expect. The average mature doe with fawns is far more likely to bust you in a tree than the average mature buck who feels like it’s time to cruise down the ridge and check a few scrapes.
Don’t give them too much credit, they honestly don’t deserve it. They aren’t pushovers, of course, but they are still rabbits with antlers. Treat them as such, and you might eventually start to breathe the rarified air of a true mature buck killer.
For more info on big bucks and what they do, check out these pieces: How A Spreadsheet Can Help You Kill Your Target Buck, Can You Identify A Mature Buck By Droppings?, and How Spooked Is Too Spooked When It Comes To Mature Bucks.
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