Big Buck Q&A

Know the answers to these 3 questions and you'll be well on your way to tagging a trophy buck.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Q. Where do the big boys go in November when the rut is kicking in and hunter pressure picks up?

A. Despite the increased presence of hunters in the woods, big bucks still rut. Hunt these spots for your best chance at a shooter.

Overgrown Fields: Come rut time, many bucks migrate to a pasture, a dried-up swamp or a section of CRP ground that has grown over with grass, weeds and cedars. If you have a spot like that on your land, hunt there. The big boys feel hidden in the broken cover, but can still see does-and other bucks-coming and going for 100 yards or farther. If a doe looks or smells right, a buck can easily break for her. Or he can bust out of cover and close the distance to challenge a rival.

Glass from a tree stand on the downwind side. It's easy to look down and out into the scattered cover and spot deer on the move. The "statues" are another story. One day last fall I spotted a massive eight-pointer in the shade of a pine tree. He stood there for an hour, cutting only his eyes. A lot of bucks do that, so glass slowly and look carefully for the twitch of an ear or the glint of sunlight on an antler. If you spot a bruiser out of bow or gun range, sit tight. He-or another shooter-might move closer later in the day. Or try some grunting or rattling to call him in.

Ridge Thickets: My all-time top spot for a morning stand is on a long, flat hardwood ridge dotted with four or five copses of brush or honeysuckle. Bucks from dinks to 10-pointers will troll such a hogback, quartering into the wind and sniffing for hot does, ambling from one thicket to the next. If you're the only one hunting the area, watch those covers for three or four days in mid-November. There's little doubt you will spot at least one nice rack.

Set up on the high side or head of a ridge, where the rising thermals will carry your scent up and away from a deer's likely travel route. Sit there until at least 1l o'clock each morning. There's a good chance a shooter will slip onto the ridge late to bed in one of those thickets. Pro tip: "Look all you want for buck hideouts, but don't overlook thickets where does hang out," says Jim Crumley. A few years ago, the Trebark camo creator bowhunted an Illinois outfitter's best "doe area." He didn't get a doe, but he did videotape a 10-point, drop-tined titan.

[pagebreak] Q.I hunt on public land where there's a ton of pressure. How do I score with so many hunters around?

A. Whining about the pressure won't help if crowded areas are all you have to hunt, so learn to use the competition to your advantage. Here are three ways to make the presence of other hunters work for you. Hang tough: You spend days or weeks scouting and then hanging a tree stand. Either you spotted a stud in an area, or you found a lot of big rubs, scrapes and tracks there. Once the rifles start cracking, don't get flustered, second-guess yourself and give up on your spot too early. More trophies than most people realize survive the initial gauntlet of shots. You chose this spot for a reason, so keep your confidence. Hang tough and hunt your stand for at least three or four days. You might kill a big buck yet.

Find Sanctuaries: Once the guns have boomed for a week, your stand on the edge of a field or out on an open ridge will go cold. The surviving bucks are skittish as wildcats and largely nocturnal. It's time to narrow down the numerous acres you're hunting and home in on areas that will provide sanctuary from other hunters. A safe spot doesn't have to be large or even remote (though the latter always helps). The real key is that other people must have overlooked it for the past few weeks. It should be a place where not one guy has set a boot since the season began.

Scour an aerial photograph for pockets of cover off the beaten path. But remember, it's not just about vegetation. An old buck might hide on a rocky bluff, on the se of a ravine too steep for a man to still-hunt on, etc. Most people are good at finding brushy cover but neglect rough terrain with depressions and contours that can also hide a deer. Don't be one of those people.

Play the wind and stalk toward a place where you think a buck might have escaped to. You might get lucky and nail him on the way in, but it isn't likely. Do some low-impact scouting on your approach. Check the edges of a thicket or bluff for tracks, rubs and scrapes, any sign a brute has moved in to elude hunters and hook up with does. Set up 150 yards or so downwind of the sign, preferably on a ridge or point where you can cover several entry and exit routes.

Hunt All Day: Thirty years ago in Outdoor Life, you might have read the suggestion to find a stump in a good spot and sit on it all day long. That old advice is still some of the best we can offer, especially when the rut and hunting pressure both are on. Set a stand or blind near one of those sanctuaries we just talked about. Climb in with your gear, some water, energy bars or snacks and a pee bottle (though scent-wise, it really doesn't hurt to urinate right off your stand) and sit for as long as you can hack it. Some guy clumping back to his truck at 10 a.m. might chase a shooter into your lap. An eight-pointer might romp past with a doe at noon, 2 p.m. or 4 p.m. Hunters returning for the evening hunt might also kick up a bruiser. You just never know, so stay awake and ready.

[pagebreak] Q. Where I hunt the weather is hot one day, cold the next and then rainy and windy. How do I deal with these varying conditions to fill my tag this year?

A. Dealing with weather can be a hunter's biggest challenge. Let's tackle each situation one by one. Temperature: Let me sum it up in four words: "Hot, bad; cold, good." Nothing puts a damper on deer activity like heat and high humidity. On cool, dry days, bucks will seemingly pop out of the woodwork to dog does till their tongues hang out. But if overnight the wind turns out of the south, the air soups up with moisture and the mercury soars into the 60s or 70s the following day, you won't spot half as many deer. You might not see a good rack for a week. The animals just won't rut as hard. Those that do will be doing it during the night, when it's cooler and you're home in bed.

Your best bet is to take off work and hunt like a madman on high-pressure November days when the temperature hovers between 20 and 45 degrees and nights dip into the 20s or teens. Some bucks will prowl then, no matter where you're hunting. Also, try to plan short-notice vacation days around fronts and clippers that bring good, cold weather down from northwestern Canada. If a storm rumbles through one night, bringing rain or snow and dropping the temperature 20 or 30 degrees, bucks will get a major jolt of testosterone and move well for a few days. Make sure you're out there. Even a minor dry front that cools the air only 5 or 10 degrees can put deer on their feet during daylight hours.

Barring that, if you have no choice but to hunt on a less desirable, warmer day, get on your stand early, well before light. Your only chance might come right at dawn, when a big buck is going to bed after taking advantage of cooler night temperatures to seek out does.

Rain: Fifteen years ago Montana deer-hunting expert Dick Idol told me that bucks love light rain or drizzle because the clouds and lack of sunlight create an ongoing twilight effect. Lightwise, it's early morning and late afternoon all day. "In the low light, you might catch a huge buck checking scrapes or chasing a doe anytime," he said.

I decided to test his theory on my hunts, from Saskatchewan to Texas to Virginia. Idol was definitely onto something. I've seen-and shot-some of my largest bucks on gray, nasty days when other hunters stayed home. The lower the humidity on a rainy day, the better the deer move. Go ahead and stay home in a downpour, but make sure you're in the woods on the drizzly backside of a low-pressure system.

Wind: Even though air currents and shaking leaves play havoc with their smell and sight, does and bucks are more active on windy days than you think. They just move in spots where we don't expect to see them. Few animals will feed out in a 5-acre field or on an open ridge where a 20-mph wind roars like a freight train. But that doesn't mean they are necessarily lying down and holding tight either. They simply move a few hundred yards to browse, mingle and maybe even breed in a draw, creek bottom or cedar thicket tucked out of the wind. For this reason, hunt low and, if possible, on the leeward side of terrain. A good strategy is to go out right now and hang a stand or two in wind-sheltered spots near a food plot or ridge where bucks rub and scrape every year. One day when the wind howls, slip into that stand and put this tactic to the test. [pagebreak]

Rut Know-How
Does the moon affect deer? The most intense ruts occur when a first-quarter moon appears in early November. This year should be a doozy, with a first-quarter on November 9. Hunt all day. With the orb full from November 16 to 23, look for bucks moving from 9 a.m. through noon. How should I hunt scrapes? ** Find a ridge or creek bottom laced with smoking scrapes and shredded rubs. Back off downwind and hang your stand on the nearest creek crossing, ridge point or other terrain feature that will funnel deer through the pawed-up corridor. **Should I rattle? Why not? The first three weeks of the November rut are ideal in Central and Northern states. Rattling works best on still, frosty mornings. Crack and grind the horns in 30- to 60-second bursts. Then sit still and watch for a buck circling in downwind. Should I grunt? If you don't, you're missing opportunities. Grunt loudly at every out-of-range buck you see. If he hears you, 8 out of 10 times he'll stop. Hit the call again after you get his attention and he might even approach. How vital are scents? It never hurts to set out two or three wicks juiced with tarsal or hot doe. They will help to mask your odor when you sit for hours in a tree stand. You might even lure a buck.he better the deer move. Go ahead and stay home in a downpour, but make sure you're in the woods on the drizzly backside of a low-pressure system.

Wind: Even though air currents and shaking leaves play havoc with their smell and sight, does and bucks are more active on windy days than you think. They just move in spots where we don't expect to see them. Few animals will feed out in a 5-acre field or on an open ridge where a 20-mph wind roars like a freight train. But that doesn't mean they are necessarily lying down and holding tight either. They simply move a few hundred yards to browse, mingle and maybe even breed in a draw, creek bottom or cedar thicket tucked out of the wind. For this reason, hunt low and, if possible, on the leeward side of terrain. A good strategy is to go out right now and hang a stand or two in wind-sheltered spots near a food plot or ridge where bucks rub and scrape every year. One day when the wind howls, slip into that stand and put this tactic to the test. [pagebreak]

Rut Know-How
Does the moon affect deer? The most intense ruts occur when a first-quarter moon appears in early November. This year should be a doozy, with a first-quarter on November 9. Hunt all day. With the orb full from November 16 to 23, look for bucks moving from 9 a.m. through noon. How should I hunt scrapes? ** Find a ridge or creek bottom laced with smoking scrapes and shredded rubs. Back off downwind and hang your stand on the nearest creek crossing, ridge point or other terrain feature that will funnel deer through the pawed-up corridor. **Should I rattle? Why not? The first three weeks of the November rut are ideal in Central and Northern states. Rattling works best on still, frosty mornings. Crack and grind the horns in 30- to 60-second bursts. Then sit still and watch for a buck circling in downwind. Should I grunt? If you don't, you're missing opportunities. Grunt loudly at every out-of-range buck you see. If he hears you, 8 out of 10 times he'll stop. Hit the call again after you get his attention and he might even approach. How vital are scents? It never hurts to set out two or three wicks juiced with tarsal or hot doe. They will help to mask your odor when you sit for hours in a tree stand. You might even lure a buck.