The task of finding a target buck looks so simple. Just run a few cameras, spend some nights behind a spotter, and that’s pretty much it. The problem with this is that much of the advice comes from people who hunt big chunks of private ground.
If you’re the sole bowhunter on a section of primo deer dirt, then finding a target buck (or several) isn’t too heavy of a lift. You know no one is going to mess with the bucks’ patterns, and they are very likely to stick around once they’ve shed their velvet.
For most of us, it’s not so cut and dry. This is mostly due to the fact that finding a few summer bucks doesn’t mean much unless you know they’ll stick around.
Bucks in the summer go where the livin’ is easy. Green, lush food sources that offer some shade and a nice breeze to keep the bugs down are ideal. The right spot will draw bucks in from a couple miles away, and therein lies a major problem.
You can run 25 cameras and spend a month glassing this type of spot, only to realize that most of the bucks you find will leave at the beginning of September. Summer range can be fall range, but it often isn’t.
This is due to a few factors, the first of which is prime summer food sources. If they are limited, the bucks will travel farther to get to them. The same goes for water sources. The rub here is that they often move into these bachelor pads until late August or early September. Pinning your hopes on a velvet bruiser now, might mean your number-one hitlister is totally reliable in August, and totally gone in September.
This goes for bucks you can actually observe, and for trail camera recon. Just because a couple of 140s swing through your plot in July randomly doesn’t mean they’ll be there in October.
As you start to try to find some bucks this summer, keep this question in the forefront of your mind—how likely is he to stick around into hunting season?
A lot of hunters think getting a few trail camera images is all the summer scouting they need to do. Merely being aware of a buck isn’t enough to make him a season-long target, especially if you hunt small properties or public land.
If you put in your best effort to find a buck worth hunting on 30 acres, keep in mind that you might have to work him on just five percent of his home range. If you find a hammer buck on public land right now, he might move onto a private parcel by the end of August when every bowhunter in the county heads out to take a look around.
A good line of thinking is to look at your summer findings two different ways. The first involves the individual bucks you can observe, or capture on trail camera images and videos. If you think some of them will stick around, you can legitimately target those individuals.
The second, is to forget the individuals and just be honest about the age class, or the average size of bucks you have to hunt. A hitlister doesn’t need to be a specific buck, even though that’s what the label implies. You might be better off summer scouting to take the temperature of the whole herd.
Is a two- or three-year-old type buck a real challenge in your area? Then the hit list should contain any age-class deer that you deem rare but possible. This, honestly, is a great way to enjoy deer hunting more than targeting a specific buck. When you have it narrowed down to one deer, or a few, every deer that isn’t a hitlister is a slight disappointment. That changes the tone of your hunts, sometimes in a negative way. Hunting an age or year class is slightly different, and can be more enjoyable for some hunters.
One of my twin daughters asks a stupid amount of questions. I love her curiosity, but it wears me out sometimes. That desire to know stuff, as annoying as it can occasionally be, is going to serve her well in life, though.
Curiosity is important, and it matters when you’re trying to find a target buck in the summer. Seeing him, or capturing a good image of him, isn’t that hard. It’s what you ask yourself about his behavior, and further try to divine about his life, that matters.
Ask yourself, how will the bachelor group break up? Who will stick around? If you keep glassing during the beginning of September, you’ll probably get your answer. Where is your buck likely to bed? Or drink some water? What fence crossings might he go through, or where might he end up feeding when the beans turn yellow or the acorns start dropping?
I recently did a podcast with Andy May, who is one of the best whitetail hunters in the country. He scouts all summer long so he is in the game all season long. This is a strategy that works, and anyone can do it. A great way to start is by going through the usual motions to find the right bucks for your situation, and then really diving into their habits to build up a database of useful information.
If you do that, the good-enough deer you find this summer will go from being another potential hitlister to being a true target buck.
For more info on how to scout summertime whitetails, check out these articles: How to Summer Scout for Public Land Whitetails, 3 Locations You Need To Put Trail Cameras This Summer, and The Best Gear for Summertime Glassing.