Where'd He Go?

Picture 018 If you’ve been able to capture some great trail camera shots of bucks like these, you probably have high hopes for tagging one of these giants any day now. I don’t want to be the party pooper, but the rut causes some bucks to up and disappear creating tense times as you hunt for the whitetail Houdini.

Picture 021 My good friend Cody Warne operates Warne Ranch Hunts (www.warneranches.com) and keeps tabs on the big bucks roaming his property like a mother hen watches her chicks. These deer were roaming his property late this summer. Even so, Cody, like many deer managers, discover that their properties don’t always have what it takes to keep a buck from roaming, mature or immature. Most studies indicate that bucks are more likely to disperse as 1 1/2-year-olds and less likely to move after they reach the age of 5 1/2 years. Most interesting is the fact that most move in the fall.

Picture 053 Why do they roam and set up a new home? Nobody knows for sure, but here’s one fact. If you manage well you’ll end up with a high proportion of older bucks. In October, bucks set the pecking order and if a buck feels he’s a rung down on the ladder with too much competition it may put him on the move for a new area with less competition. This is especially true of immature bucks pushed around by too many young and old bucks alike. They may roam to look for an area with less buck competition, but with does for breeding. Once there it could mean home sweet home forever. That’s not a reason to manage any less, but to provide the best you can for your deer including food, water and refuge … lots of refuge.

Picture 054 If you do suddenly find yourself looking for a lost love in the form of antlers, intensify your search. Bucks feeling the pressure in the North Country resort to deeper and thicker cover, which is in no short supply.  In the South, mesquite-choked canopies in South Texas to Louisiana swamps and Georgia pine forests offer whitetails a medley of escape cover to consider. In the East, two elements will attract pressured whitetails: vertical distance and distance from public access. Whitetails are not afraid to clamber to heights and habitat more to the liking of bighorn sheep in any zones. Finally Western whitetails, particularly those living on the fringes of the prairie and the mountains, have no aversion to escaping into the rolling prairie hills where sharp-tailed grouse and prairie dogs frolic. Keep looking and keep the faith.—Mark Kayser