Hunting Mature Whitetail Deer
If they had their way, die-hard whitetail hunters would be in their blind or tree stand every day of the season. However, if your goal is to harvest older bucks, a shift in strategy is in order. With higher age structure comes more experienced and wary bucks, and the number of trips to the field becomes less important. In fact, too many trips can become detrimental to big buck success. Here are the basic ideas to consider before grabbing your gear and heading out to the deer stand this season.
Quality or Quantity?
Hunters often think of quality vs. quality regarding the bucks they hunt. In this article, however, I’m referring to the hunting outings themselves. Every time you decide to set out for your stand, you’re risking your success; not just for the immediate hunt, but also for future ones. More often than we want to admit, we educate the deer we hunt – especially when we repeatedly pound the grounds of our favorite hot spots. Make no mistake, deer (especially old ones) will change their behavior in response to hasty field decisions. Even worse, they end up patterning us as hunters. This becomes even more profound in areas of high human pressure (especially hunting pressure).
An Honest Look at Risks
First off, never go to a spot based solely on convenience. I used to have a great stand about 50-yards from the hunting cabin. I took many bucks from this location and hunted it often over many years. It was too easy to drive up just in time to sling my bag in the corner and head out, regardless of conditions. I wasn’t the only guy who loved this spot, and it didn’t take long for it to get worn out. Sure, I continued to take deer from it, but it eventually stopped yielding any mature buck sightings. Simply put, if big mature whitetails are your end game, don’t mistake proximity and convenience for sound hunting logic.
Even during favorable hunting periods, such as the rut and pre-rut, do you take time to assess the inherent risk of your presence in the field? Most deer hunters, if honest, will admit that potential risk is sometimes tossed aside largely due to the exciting prospect of hitting areas with high deer numbers. It can be hard to resist.
It’s counterintuitive, though. Knowing what we know about whitetail senses and behaviors, it should behoove us to consider a kind of cost-benefit analysis prior to traipsing through our most valued hunting grounds. Will you likely spook deer on the way in or out? Is the prevailing wind one that will likely blow your cover, once settled? Consider each basic question individually before moving on to the next one. It really doesn’t take much effort. Research projected conditions, study trail cams, and weigh the risks in total – and therein will lie your answer.
Yes, it’s hard to avoid a hot spot, much less staying in altogether when the risks are stacked against us. However, adhering to a mindset that emphasizes the long game will increase your odds of getting a shot at an experienced cagy whitetail.
If you’re fortunate enough to have multiple hunting setups or properties, consider them all – and be willing to hunt a favorable spot over a specific buck.
Ouch. The decision to stay away is indeed painful when you know a brute of a buck roams one of your honey holes.
High Reward and Caving
In deer hunting terms, high reward situations mean different things for different hunters. One man’s old 120-inch 8-pointer is another man’s Boone and Crockett class mammoth. When pursuing mature whitetails, it really doesn’t matter. The types of deer that different areas hold mean defining trophies differently. Whatever the case, there is a bevy of justifications for boldly chasing the big one. Reasons include neighboring competition and limited hunting opportunities. Armed with the knowledge of an adult shooter buck, we can come up with a whole lot more of them, too.
Let’s be honest here; sometimes we’re going to plow forward with an immediate eye on the prize. Unfortunately, once we get to this stage, it’s tempting to throw all caution to the wind. But there is still an opportunity to apply logic and caution. Again, revisit the present factors and conditions, such as entry and exit routes and wind direction. If you must go in during less than ideal circumstances, be smart. Don’t disregard them altogether. For example, to the extent possible, be vigilant with your scent management practices. Further, offset the negative by thinking outside the box. One good strategy is to set up in your stand much earlier, giving the area time to calm down during prime-time hunting hours. For that matter, go out hours in advance.
Looking back, I’ve probably lucked into a few good bucks, but it hasn’t been the norm. Preparation is key, especially when it comes to hunting large mature whitetail deer. Such creatures are largely guarded when it comes to humans invading their space. The fact is, we often educate them, though unintended. Earlier in my hunting career, I’m sure I doled out masters’ degrees to many of them. I can’t help but think about the many one-and-done sightings of shooter bucks I’ve encountered. I would be crazy to think that my choices in the field didn’t have a lot to do with them.
When it comes to seeking trophy-class bucks based on proper age structure, take time to ask yourself all the right questions. And then be honest with your answers and don’t rely on luck. Remember, your time is valuable and it’s all about maximizing your time in the deer woods. Here, less is more, and you will ultimately get more shot opportunities at mature whitetails – hopefully, the kind you dream of.
Based in Texas, Jerald Kopp is President of 1st Light Hunting Journal. His articles cover a variety of topics about hunting and the outdoor lifestyle. Jerald is an avid outdoorsman with deer hunting and whitetails being by far his greatest passion. He was introduced to hunting and fishing at an early age and has been enjoying it for 40+ years. In 2005, he established the Empowerment Outfitter Network (EON) – a faith-based non-profit organization that provides hunting opportunities for disabled and terminally-ill children and youth. When not hunting, he spends his time traveling and enjoying life with Amy, his wife of over 30 years. Jerald and Amy have two adult daughters and a son-in-law.