Wise Guys

Eight new tricks to learn from bucks that have seen it all.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Around age four, whitetail bucks go underground. By this point in their lives they've earned advanced degrees in hunter avoidance. You hardly ever see a mature buck by day, but summer sightings, rubs and tracks tell you that a bruiser is around...somewhere. These bucks are smart, nocturnal, quirky and unpredictable. Deer this old and wise are individuals and you have to hunt them as such. So how do you get the drop on an animal this experienced? Here are a few amazing stories with some relevant tricks to put up your sleeve. With bucks like these, you'll need them.

1. Skyscraper
One December afternoon a buck with eight tall, spindly tines rolled into a soybean field and started pigging out. Mark Drury glassed the 2½-year-old deer and named him "Skyscraper." He spotted the buck again the next December in the same plot. Then the animal went underground for three years. He never once walked past any of the dozen trail cameras scattered across the farm. But the deer was alive and well. Skyscraper always cast his antlers within a quarter mile of the bean field. The last sheds Drury picked up (in March 2003) taped 171 inches. "If not for those, I wouldn't have known he was still around," Drury says.

Last November, a stranger popped up on one of the cams near the field, a stud that would give Skyscraper a run for his money. The rutted-up buck was thick as an Angus, and his 25-inch-wide rack had big drop tines shooting off each beam. In the meantime, a camera on the far side of the farm recorded what appeared to be an even bigger deer, a brute that would push 180. Drury decided to move a mile and go for the 180-inch titan.

One morning Drury heard hooves crunching leaves. It was the old double-drop buck, and he looked twice as big in the flesh. The brute approached to within eight steps and lip-curled where a doe had peed minutes earlier. Drury shook all over, but he kept it together long enough to put an arrow through the deer's lungs. Cradling the 191-inch rack in his hands, Drury realized the buck was Skyscraper! Take away the drops, and the eight-point rack matched Skyscraper's last set of 171-inch sheds. You never know how much antler a well-fed buck will put on in a year.

Lesson Learned: Skyscraper might have trailed a hot doe to the far side of the farm. Or perhaps there were more gals and fewer bucks to battle over there, so the 7½-year-old brute had learned to shift his core area during each rut. "Maybe that's why I never saw him or took his picture in October or November," speculates Drury. As old bucks do, Skyscraper would always come home to feed in December and cast his antlers nearby.

[pagebreak] 2. Homebody Buck
The young buck roamed the river bottoms and sloughs for miles, popping up all over the place in daylight hours. It's a miracle he survived.

"When the deer turned three and a half we always saw him on the same five-hundred-acre stretch of ground," says Jimmy Riley, head guide at Giles Island Lodge near Natchez, Miss. "Man, was he smart. He gave our guides and clients fits." As the buck got older, his core area shrunk, until he lived on just a few hundred acres. He left little sign and moved mostly at night. Riley figured nobody would ever kill him. On his day off, Riley climbed into a tree stand, hoping only to harvest a doe. A half hour before dark he looked up-and the buck was right there.

After pinching himself to make sure this was really happening, Riley zipped an arrow through the massive 10-pointer. The buck scored 1736/8 and ranks as the No. 2 archery kill in Mississippi.

Lesson Learned:
Hang some stands in a small area where you know a big deer lurks. Sit in those stands as many days as you can each fall. Contain your scent and be careful not to bump the buck out of his bedding area. If you are persistent enough, eventually the buck will make a mistake and prese you with a shot. $ king of suburbia

3. Case of the Vanishing 10-pointer
One time in Kansas I posted on a lake dam as two buddies pushed a brushy bottom below. Antlers flashed, and I got ready. A 10-pointer that would score 165 sneaked back between the boys. You hear about bucks pulling stunts like that, but to see it happen is a trip. When the shot was safe, I settled my scope on the deer-just as he dropped into the cover and vanished. I sat bug-eyed with my .270 up for 30 minutes. Nothing. My friends re-drove the brush. Nope.

**Lesson Learned: ** I walked down and investigated the scene to find out what had happened. The ground was pancake-flat with no draw or gully in sight. The monster must have kept his profile low for 300 yards and escaped into a patch of timber. It's the only way he could have gotten away unseen.

[pagebreak] 4. King of Suburbia
During an evening last September I looked out my kitchen window and saw a 140-inch buck. When the animal left at dusk, I investigated. He'd fed on a patch of clover that had greened up after a rain. The buck came back each evening, and I schemed how I could kill him in a nearby strip of woods when archery season opened in a week. But as soon as he ate up all the clover, he left. A month later a buddy thought he saw the deer in a cornfield a mile away.

Lesson Learned: I didn't get the deer, but he confirmed a lot of what I write about in my latest book, Modern Whitetail Hunting. In today's small, checkerboard habitats, bucks hop around and utilize a half dozen core areas to find enough food and cover to survive. To shoot one you have to move around and hunt different woodlots, strips and draws, too.

**5. Midday Mover **
For four years a buck cruised through an oak hollow on my lease. I'd see him three or four times each fall, always between 10 and 11 a.m. The deer kept banker's hours. Rifle pressure was heavy in the area, and I couldn't believe he kept surviving. But I watched him grow from a yearling to a muscle-bound 10-pointer. One sunny morning he walked too close and I smoked him with my muzzleloader. My watch said 10:47 a.m. Wrestling the 220-pound buck out of the woods, I realized that I was the only guy still on the property. The other hunters had left for home or work hours before.

Incidentally, I hunted from the stand for the next few seasons but I never saw another decent buck, so I pulled the deer stand.

**Lesson Learned: **My theory is that the buck knew the timetable. He had likely patterned the comings and goings of the hunters and their ATVs each fall. After moving all night, he lay low, perhaps in a thicket or ditch, for several hours. When the coast was clear he'd sneak to his bedding area and stay put until nightfall.

[pagebreak] 6. Doe-stand Monarch
In Illinois two years ago, Jim Crumley shot a 150-inch buck with his bow. He still had an antlerless tag left, so he climbed into one of the outfitter's best doe stands the next morning. An hour into the hunt a buck swaggered to within 18 steps of his stand. Though trembling, Crumley managed to raise his camcorder and shoot some incredible footage. The thick-bodied buck looked like it weighed 300 pounds. His 10-point rack was a dark mass of drops and stickers; a 14-inch brow tine corkscrewed up. Several whitetail experts have reviewed the film, and everybody scores the rack between 200 and 215 inches.

**Lesson Learned: **Without a doubt, that brute was (and probably still is) 99.9 percent nocturnal. Nobody at the lodge had seen the giant before, and nobody has seen him since. To spot a buck like that you usually have to use trail cameras and scout for signs of his presence.

7. Hide-And-Seek Buck
As he guided bowhunters at a Mississippi lodge, Brad Farris spotted a 160-inch 10-pointer in a long slough bottom several times. Then the deer vanished for a while, but Farris had a hunch he was still around. He kept sending clients to stands scattered across the buck's 100-acre core area. Another month went by with no sightings. Just as Farris was about to give up on the spot, an archer came in after a morning hunt and stammered, "As I was hiking out, a giant ten-pointer jumped up thirty yards off the trail. He was bedded right there in a fallen tree all morning!"

Lesson Learned: Farris checked the treetop and found huge beds matted in the grass and leaves. The spot stunk of musk. It was obvious the buck had been using this location a lot. Neither guide nor hunters ever saw the buck again. It confirms what studies from Illinois, Missouri and other states have found: When the pressure heats up, an old buck rarely leaves his home base. He hides like a rabbit and lets hunters walk by, sometimes remarkably close.

[pagebreak] 8. Case of the Fence-Jumping Bucks
Don Kisky sold the Iowa farm he had managed for many years and bought 850 acres a half mile away. The new ground had no food plots and had been gun-hunted hard for years. Kisky's expectations were mighty low, but one October afternoon he spotted a nine-pointer dogging a doe in a cornfield. He recognized it by its 165-inch rack-it was one of the bucks that had always lived on his old farm. Then, on Halloween, Kisky rattled and a 150-inch buck raced in just out of bow range. The next morning he whacked the horns again and a 213-inch monster whitetail with a 10-inch drop club came looking for a fight. Kisky stopped hyperventilating long enough to run an arrow through the buck's vitals.

Lesson Learned: Where had all those monsters come from? Kisky believes when deer numbers become high on a managed property, some fully mature bucks can't or won't compete with the aggressive 3½- and 4½-year-olds anymore. "I'm convinced some five- to seven-year-old bucks hop across the fence to live where the competition for does is not so keen," he says. If you manage your deer herd, your neighbors will reap some of the rewards.

More Amazing Facts

  • Between the ages of 3½ and 6½, a well-fed buck can put on an extra 10 to even 30 inches of antler each year.
  • Some scientists now say that whitetails' ears are tuned to pick up high-pitched sounds. Believe it. Clang a bow or gun on a tree stand and you might as well blast heavy-metal music. You'll spook any nearby bucks, or at least put them on red alert.
  • Scientists say bucks can smell and sort out up to six different odors at once.
  • In a Mississippi study conducted years ago, biologists dumped piles of acorns into a feed bin. Deer rooted out the sweetest white-oak nuts every time.
  • Whitetail expert Leonard Lee Rue III points out that because a buck's eyes are set in the sides of his head anderal times. Then the deer vanished for a while, but Farris had a hunch he was still around. He kept sending clients to stands scattered across the buck's 100-acre core area. Another month went by with no sightings. Just as Farris was about to give up on the spot, an archer came in after a morning hunt and stammered, "As I was hiking out, a giant ten-pointer jumped up thirty yards off the trail. He was bedded right there in a fallen tree all morning!"

Lesson Learned: Farris checked the treetop and found huge beds matted in the grass and leaves. The spot stunk of musk. It was obvious the buck had been using this location a lot. Neither guide nor hunters ever saw the buck again. It confirms what studies from Illinois, Missouri and other states have found: When the pressure heats up, an old buck rarely leaves his home base. He hides like a rabbit and lets hunters walk by, sometimes remarkably close.

[pagebreak] 8. Case of the Fence-Jumping Bucks
Don Kisky sold the Iowa farm he had managed for many years and bought 850 acres a half mile away. The new ground had no food plots and had been gun-hunted hard for years. Kisky's expectations were mighty low, but one October afternoon he spotted a nine-pointer dogging a doe in a cornfield. He recognized it by its 165-inch rack-it was one of the bucks that had always lived on his old farm. Then, on Halloween, Kisky rattled and a 150-inch buck raced in just out of bow range. The next morning he whacked the horns again and a 213-inch monster whitetail with a 10-inch drop club came looking for a fight. Kisky stopped hyperventilating long enough to run an arrow through the buck's vitals.

Lesson Learned: Where had all those monsters come from? Kisky believes when deer numbers become high on a managed property, some fully mature bucks can't or won't compete with the aggressive 3½- and 4½-year-olds anymore. "I'm convinced some five- to seven-year-old bucks hop across the fence to live where the competition for does is not so keen," he says. If you manage your deer herd, your neighbors will reap some of the rewards.

More Amazing Facts

  • Between the ages of 3½ and 6½, a well-fed buck can put on an extra 10 to even 30 inches of antler each year.
  • Some scientists now say that whitetails' ears are tuned to pick up high-pitched sounds. Believe it. Clang a bow or gun on a tree stand and you might as well blast heavy-metal music. You'll spook any nearby bucks, or at least put them on red alert.
  • Scientists say bucks can smell and sort out up to six different odors at once.
  • In a Mississippi study conducted years ago, biologists dumped piles of acorns into a feed bin. Deer rooted out the sweetest white-oak nuts every time.
  • Whitetail expert Leonard Lee Rue III points out that because a buck's eyes are set in the sides of his head and