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Outdoors with Mike Roux

Big Bucks are in Demand

Published on Monday, November 14, 2016

In recent years, more and more hunters are looking for a big buck rather than meat for the table. However, there are still many deer hunters who get as much satisfaction in harvesting a doe as they do in a nice buck. In fact, from a herd management standpoint, taking the doe is more important than taking a young buck. I can remember my Dad saying, many years ago, "If I kill a big buck it's because he's the first deer I get a shot at."

In today's hunt for big, wide, heavy-beamed antlers, deer hunting has taken on a new look. This is not a bad thing. Deer herds continue to grow from coast to coast. Herd management has taken a huge leap forward in many states. This all combines to give more hunters a crack at the buck of a lifetime each season.

However, the big bucks did not get big by accident. Hunting them is still a supreme challenge. A three to five-year-old, white-tailed buck has survived the pressure of several hunting seasons. He probably knows us better than we know him. He has learned how to avoid us. We seldom see him, but we frequently see where he has been.

These larger, older bucks seldom attain their size and age through luck. They have reacted instinctively to our presence in their habitat, whether we are casual visitors or while hunting. That having been said, getting a chance to harvest one of these brutes has more to do with us doing our homework than with luck. "Getting lucky" is usually the culmination of extensive scouting, effort and time.

Mike Roux manages to get close to big bucks on a consistent basis by knowing both the animal and his habits. (Photo by Chad Duncan)

One thing a consistent buck hunter knows and practices is not to "mess up" his best spot before the best time. Over hunting and over pressuring bucks before the rut is a big no-no. Once a buck identifies your presence, either by sight or by smell, he will instinctively shy away from that area. That is why I save my best spots for the rut, bowhunting secondary areas early in the archery season.

Another good tip is to hunt the bucks where they are, not where they were. Learn to use buck sign to your advantage. Sign made during the night is valuable information. It probably indicates that you will not see the buck there during the day. Daytime sightings are the most positive hunting signs there are. Bucks that are seen on a hardwood ridge at noon means noon is when you should hunt there. If a buck enters a wheat field at dusk, backtrack his trail to an hour before dark as he heads for the field.

Your best deer-hunting tool is your brain. You cannot out run these animals. You cannot out hide them. They can hear better, small better, and see better than you can. You must, therefore, out-think them.

Buck sign comes in many various forms. Droppings, tracks, scrapes and rubs all point toward a buck's favorite spots. But the ability to accurately interpret these signs is almost a lost art. We have become shooters rather than woodsmen. Knowing how the sign relates to the buck that made it is very important.

Reading tree rubs is the biggest, most common mistake made by deer hunters. The rubs serve as both visual and olfactory territorial markers for deer. If you have ever taken the time to notice, most rubs are made on trees with light colored wood. This is so other deer can easily see them.

As the buck makes these rubs with his antlers, he also deposits scent from glands on his forehead on the trees.  This scent is how bucks identify each other's territory. During the pre-rut sparing matches, each buck gets a snootful of the others forehead gland scent. That way one buck knows who he is trespassing on by smelling the rubs.

Bucks will return to rub lines to freshen them just like scrapes. The old tale of not hunting around tree rubs is wrong, especially just before the peak of the rut. A high concentration of rubs is a prime spot to look for a buck.

Scrapes are also often misread. There are different types of scrapes and much of what we used to believe about them is not necessarily accurate. First, the size of the scrape does not indicate the size of the buck, nor does it allow us to determine if it is a primary scrape. Usually a primary scrape has an over-hanging branch and the ground is severely disturbed under this licking limb. Scrapes made by bucks right before the mating season show a lot of destruction to the limbs and other saplings and vegetation in the area.

Missouri hunter Roger Lewis find big bucks by using some of the tips in tis article. (Photo by Mike Roux)

The best way to take a good buck every season is to decrease the luck factor by increasing the knowledge factor. If you put in the time and make the effort, you can keep your favorite taxidermist busy every winter.


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Mike Roux

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