When I first decided to make the switch from hunting any deer to primarily targeting mature bucks, I had a heck of a time. In fact I went three straight seasons without tagging a buck. It truly was, and still is, a different ballgame. That said, over those same years I learned a few tough lessons that eventually did lead to me successfully making the switch. Here are those key lessons that made the biggest difference.
1. Learning how bucks use wind
I always knew it was important to play the thermals and do my best to avoid getting winded by deer, but when I made the switch to mature bucks I eventually learned that I needed to learn how deer used the wind too. How will a buck use the wind when entering or choosing his bedding area? How will he approach this doe bedding area during the rut based on the current wind? On what wind directions will a buck enter the field in this location? All of these questions and many more are part of my thought process now that I’m after the oldest bucks in the area.
2. Plotting entry and exit
When I was after does or young bucks, I could bust deer out of a field on the way out of my stand and still see them again the next day. That’s not the case with the big boys. It can sometimes be a chore, but taking the long way around, or preparing a quiet clear trail to hike in on can make a huge difference when targeting mature bucks. Now I spray access trails with an herbicide before the season to remove vegetation, occasionally rake and remove debris, and even have planted strips of screening cover to hide my access and exit when passing by food sources.
When it comes to hunting mature deer, the devil is in the details. Over those first frustrating years trying to make the switch, I again and again saw seemingly tiny little things get in the way of success, until finally I realized that’s what this whole switch is about. Details. When hunting mature bucks, shortcuts are no longer allowed and taking the easy way will not lead to bloody arrows. These days I know to consider every single tiny aspect of my hunting strategy and to always strive for perfection. That means practicing a strict scent control routine. It means obsessing over trail camera photos and historical patterns. It means checking and rechecking gear. And the list could go on and on.
4. Quality over quantity
The final, and possibly most important lesson I learned was the fact that quality hunts are more important than the quantity of hunts. Mature bucks respond quickly to human pressure, and every time we access our hunting property or certain stands, we create some kind of human pressure that can negatively impact buck activity. That being the case, I’ve learned to minimize my pressure on my best areas significantly, while waiting for certain conditions that will give me the best odds of seeing the bucks I am after. If those conditions aren’t present, I won’t risk blowing a spot just to hunt it. I’d much rather have one hunt with the perfect conditions at the right time, than five willy-nilly hunts throughout the year where things aren’t in my favor.