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How to Harvest the Buck of a Lifetime

How to Harvest the Buck of a Lifetime 5218 words

All whitetail enthusiasts seek the whitetail buck of a lifetime. Most whitetail hunters dream of harvesting that new world record, or that odd looking non typical whitetail buck complete with drop tines. Of course it all starts with understanding the life cycle of the whitetail deer, or understanding what makes whitetail deer react to different times of the season. Typically does give birth to fawns in June in the Midwest and sometimes even earlier. During this time deer are not pressured by hunting seasons and are somewhat predictable as they travel to and from bed, birthing, and feeding areas on a near clockwork schedule. It is during this time bucks are beginning to grow antlers. To develop larger racks three things must be employed that you can control. Providing high quality protein foods, placing mineral licks to enhance antler size, and employing a deer management program wherein whitetail deer hunters on your lease or land tract cannot shoot a deer smaller than the desired size you seek. Normally a 130 minimum is common and leads to the production of Boone and Crockett Whitetail Bucks if you live in the right area or lease ground in the right area. Letís make one point clear from the start. If you donít live where big bucks live then youíre not gonna produce Boone and Crockett Whitetail Deer. Thatís why booking a hunt with an outfitter is an ideal strategy for all whitetail hunters. Just make sure you book with someone credible. I recommend IMB Outfitters located in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska. IMB also has future plans for Ohio and Wisconsin.

While whitetail deer hunters can employ these strategies to grow bigger deer it is all for nil if the hunter doesnít possess enough continuous ground to manage or is bordered by neighbors that practice deer management as well.

Early season hunting around mid September or October seldom results in the harvest of a 170 inch plus whitetail deer. During this time the big whitetail deer have plenty of places to hide in the greened up foliage and donít like to move during daylight hours as the heat and insects keep them mostly nocturnal. Thus booking an early season hunt can be productive but over the course of 13 years of outfitting we have only taken a couple Boone and Crockett Whitetail Bucks during early season hunts. When attempting to harvest a monster deer early season you need to head out to a shotgun only state as whitetail deer in shotgun or muzzleloader only states seem to use early season dates as times to load up on agricultural crop fields. Early season hunting does possess one aspect which is a distinct advantage over the whitetail deer. The hunter is able to pursue the whitetail deer before the whitetail deer knows its being hunted. Sometimes this element of surprise is all the advantage one needs to score big on a monster whitetail buck. However, during this time big bucks will be eating a lot. A successful whitetail deer hunter during this time period will have several different treestands hung on field edges overlooking crops deer are consuming. Hunt the stands sparingly to retain the element of surprise. Lowspots, waterways, and corners of these agricultural fields are the locations to focus on. These locations will be the likely locations deer will enter and feed within bowrange.

When the early season action dries up on the field one of several things has occurred. Most likely acorns are beginning to fall. Whitetail deer are bonkers over acorns with an emphasis on white oak acorns. A colony of white oaks bearing heavy mast production holding big rubs can pay dividends. Sometimes the rubs donít even need to be present as long as you have plenty of whitetail deer excrement in the colony of white oaks you are hunting. Another reason some field stop producing is you have overhunted them. However if you havenít done so then you can assume a nearby agricultural field (normally corn) has been harvested which is drawing deer to a different area. Always remember that corn holds more protein than any other grain or legume. Corn is most generally the key provided it has been harvested and the field it was in has not been disc under by the farmer. Early season hunting also needs to occur somewhere close to a creek or waterway but donít waste your time hunting over water as most farms hold water in numerous places. Whitetail hunters that rely upon hunting a pond thinking big bucks must come to it to drink simply havenít hunted long enough to know its generally a waste of your time no matter how many tracks are at the water hole unless your hunting out west where watering holes are scarce. The only time you wanna hunt watering holes is in places like Africa where water is so scarce that water is a legit attractant.

In determining if 170 plus inch whitetail deer are in your area you shouldnít really start intense scouting or glassing agricultural fields until around July. The reason is because antler development hasnít completed thus one can be looking at a deer they believe will score 150 inches yet may add another 20 inches of antler prior to the season.

Late pre-rut occurs during the last week of October. This is the time period that bucks establish dominance and begin to mark territory with rubs and scrapes. While more Boone and Crockett Whitetails are harvested during this time period than early season it still isnít the ideal time for the harvest of a Boone and Crockett Whitetail Buck. I find during this time period sometimes the really big deer are anticipating the rut and are feeding heavily at night in order to build fat and strength for the chasing of does in heat during early to mid November. During the late pre rut period or last week to week and a half of October the majority of scraping occurs. Also during this time most sign post rubs are created. The bigger the rub the bigger the buck. Also the biggest bucks make the earliest rubs. Its during this time you should be looking for huge rubs and big scrapes with large licking branches. Larger bucks will leave bigger calling cards and that a certainty. While Iíve never been one to hunt scrapes or rubs I hang out and hunt the areas that hold the biggest rubs and scrapes as they are indications a big deer or multiple big whitetail deer are in the area. This gives the whitetail hunter his first hint of what general vicinity to be in as big bucks wonít be far from the large calling cards they leave.

Always remember that hot does and food sources dictate what big whitetail deer do on a daily basis. Early season just forget hunting standing cornfields and find your green crops such as early stage soybeans, clover, alfalfa, and other green agricultural food sources. You show me a standing cornfield and Iíll show you a field that will hide deer from you until its harvested. Avoid cornfields that are standing at all times. Even in late 2007 in January I made the mistake in Iowa of hunting a cornfield in Iowa that had not been harvested. I thought since it was so late in the season that deer just had to be thick in the corn and by hunting its outskirts I would score. I was not successful. Deer hang up in cornfields, bed in cornfields, and normally donít exit standing cornfields until its dark because there is not reason for them to do so. They can feed in its dense cover without leaving the confines of it until after dark.

Rub that are large should be followed to the bucks bed area. Normally the bed area is the densest cover on the farm and can be found easily with an aerial photo as the bed areas will hold the darkest deposits of ink. Think in simpler terms. The thicker the cover the denser and darker the ink as less sunlight was allowed to this area while the aerial photo was being taken by the airplane or satellite. Normally you donít want to hunt inside the bed area but rather on the fringe or perimeters of it with the correct wind. When you find a lone rub look in all directions for the next one. Sometimes it helps to squat down on your heels and look from a deerís perspective. I use binoculars a lot when scouting out rub lines. Itís surprising how rubs show up so much better with binoculars than with the naked eye. Always keep an eye out for new rubs as they appear to see if the animal is still working the same rub line.

Lets discuss calls and rattling. I know whitetail deer hunter after whitetail deer hunter has told stories about how they called a buck in with a call but generally speaking, Boone and Crockett Whitetail Deer are very wary of deer calls and rattles. The reason is because they have been overused by hunters so much that deer have associated danger with calling techniques by whitetail hunters. The only time I use a deer call of any kind is when I see a big buck that is walking the other way and I know he is not coming my direction. Stop overcalling. The only exception is rattling during the late prerut time period. Most often times if a really big whitetail buck comes into a call he will come in downwind or come in so slow he will spot you or detect you before you detect him, when he might have strolled by your stand later in the hunt if you would have employed patience. Its sad but many times after a world class animal is harvested hunting companies contact the hunter and offer money to get the hunter to state he or she used their calls to get the deer to come in when its not the truth at all. Ten years ago, deer calls were super effective because they were new and deer didnít know any better than to come charging into the calls, but todayís educated mature whitetail buck often times associates danger with calls. In fact in my estimations I believe 90% of the time you are doing nothing but giving your stand location away. Think of this. Letís say you go to a stand and get bored. You involved yourself in a series of rattles and calls and doe bleats with a blend of grunts. Lets assume you do lure a monster whitetail buck in to your area but he detects you and see you in your treestand but you donít see him. Now he avoids that given area when if you would have been patient the mature whitetail buck might have traveled within weapon range of the treestand site if you were more patient. To be purposedly redundant. The name of the game is hunt where big bucks live, put time in the woods, (as much time as you can) donít overhunt a particular location, and leave your calls in your backpack unless you see a big deer that isnít coming your direction for sure. There are no shortcuts to whitetail hunting with the aforementioned facts and the exceptions of utilizing a good outfitter like IMB Outfitters, or simply having good luck. This sport of taking mature whitetail bucks isnít as easy as the television depicts it to be.

Hunting scrapes has been over glorified in the hunt industry to sell mock scrape kits and scents. I never scent up a scrape. In fact I very seldom even hunt scrapes as topographical advantages are so much more important. Normally very large scrapes are those which are being used by the entire herd. I have literally watched a dozen or more animals use the same scrape. A decade ago whitetail hunters thought that all one needed to do was hunt over some fresh scrapes and wait for a mature deer to wander into freshen the scrape, and then put the hammer down. Now we know that unless you have literally watched a particular trophy animal work a series of scrapes heís claiming as his own on a regular basis the truth is your probably wasting your times hunting scrapes as opposed to utilizing topographical advantages or food sources. Iíll be damned if Iím gonna sit and watch a scrape all day long, meanwhile in a funnel on the other side of the farm monster whitetail bucks are chasing does back and forth like nobodyís business. Its one thing to hunt a series of scrapes that run through a funnel or topographical advantage but itís a mistake to abandon all hunt strategies and babysit a scrape you have no idea what buck is using.

Now let us talk about decoying deer. Many companies have produced deer decoys which at first led some really good bucks into like suckers or turkeys to hens. (Youíll only understand that last statement if youíre a turkey hunter.) However much like some calls and scents decoys are no longer the hottest thing going. Literally in the Midwest most deer that see your decoy will stomp their feet at it in an attempt to try and get it to move. When the decoy wonít move then the deer turn and run away. I have said this before but will say it again. Most decoy hunts that are shown on television that are successful are filmed in small high fences to push sales of deer decoys. Think of it this way. Its not natural for a deer to stand in the woods or wide open field and never move. Whitetail deer now know that if it doesnít move and doesnít associate with the herd something is wrong and normally a decoy will foil your hunt. The only time I would even consider using a deer decoy is when I know a particular buck that is running subordinate bucks off the field on a daily basis. Other than that, remember that decoys are for turkey hunting, not deer hunting.

We wonít even discuss deer drives as I find them to be impersonal and borderline unethical not to mention unsafe. Many a hunter has gotten shot during the course of a deer drive. Think of this. You can try and outwit a trophy whitetail which brings meaning and ownership to the harvest or you can grab a half a dozen buddies and drive out a piece of timber and see who gets lucky. The deer drive definitely doesnít prove who the best whitetail deerhunter is. Itís a method that I personally have never taken part in as I want the satisfaction of knowing I waited out, or out smarted the whitetail buck I harvested. There are several nationally recognized big bucks that were killed on deer drives. While I can respect the deer I canít help but have some sympathy for the animal as he was not taken under conditions wherein he was outsmarted. I also canít recognize the hunter as a whitetail guru and follow him as he takes the buck on tour. He was just the guy standing in the right place at the right time. I respect the whitetail deerhunter who outsmarts and repositions deerstands in order to take a 130 or 140 animal more than a hunter who kills a 200 inch deer on a deer drive. Needless to say I wonít even talk about how I feel about hunters that use dogs to drive deer. The hunter isnít doing the work. The dogs are. No hard feelings on this one but Iím 100% to the bone whitetail enthusiast that believes in outsmarting trophy whitetails for harvest. Human brain versus the whitetail deerís elusiveness and instinct.

When your pre season scounted, hunted early season, pre rut, late pre rut, and the rut then your down to the ďpost rut blues.Ē While Iíve been successful a couple times on these normally bitter cold outings they are nothing short of work. These hunts normally consist of wearing in 5 pound pack boots with layers of clothing that are soak and wet by the time you get to your stand location. Deer are spooked and populations are decreased because of prior seasons. Mature deer are normally very skiddish or nocturnal making the outing nothing short of torture and work unless youíre a diehard post rut hunter. The post rut hunt is made even more unbearable when the Stateís gun season you are hunting has already taken place. States which offer good post rut hunting would have to include Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri only as far as Iím concerned with an emphasis on Iowa.

During the post rut hunting phase you are looking for many things if your hard headed enough to pursue trophy whitetails during this time. (Many of us are, including me.) Concentrate on where the deer are and where the food is. During the post rut it is likely your hunting deer that have little to eat and are forced to travel to specific food sources or face starvation. Thus on the farm your hunting you either need to have fields that have been harvested but not disc under or have food plots out for your herd. I have seen deer leave an entire area during the late season because they are forced to migrate to food sources that are not on the property you are hunting. A good idea is to ask your farm manager to leave some crops in the field and pay him for the deed. This will secure you some good post rut hunting, especially if the food left is corn, turnips, or perennial greenery.

Possibly the most important facet of hunting during post rut conditions is to find the areas which hold the densest thickets, evergreens, and protection from the elements of the winter that kill whitetail deer. You will need to move into these areas to get on big numbers of whitetail deer. No doubt. The nastier weather, colder temps, and the tougher environmental conditions get, the more dense cover whitetail deer will seek out. The good news is while this cover may sometimes be a tad difficult to access without being detected, once your in an area like this your on large amounts of deer. Why? Deer will lie together to keep warm. Look for evergreens, downed treetops, logged properties, thickets, etc. If you can find the dense cover next to the thriving post rut food source then you have both keys to drive the post rut trophy whitetail buck to the taxidermist. The dense cover requires one of two things from the whitetail deer hunter. If youíre just going to hunt the morning and the evening rather than all day you need only hunt on the outskirts of the dense cover. Now if you want to ďman upĒ and hunt all day then get in deep hunt the dense cover from sunrise to sunset as you will literally be trapped in the area with them, and an early or late exit will blow deer out of the area. You can only blow deer out of an area so many times before they discontinue using that area. So hunt the outskirts or ďman upĒ.

Haunt the best and densest area of the farm on all day hunts and you will be successful. It might be tough to do this but it is needed from you as a hunter. It will even be tougher if the first day or so you donít see the buck you seek. But remember in dense cover in the right state heís in there without a doubt. Itís literally a cat and mouse game. Hopefully youíre the cat. At least at the huntís end you can be proud knowing you waited it out and hunted like a soldier. Really this strategy should be employed during all rut and post rut hunts. As an outfitter in the Midwest for 13 years itís the hunters that will sit in the thick stuff all day long day after day that kill the really big deer. At times in these conditions it will be difficult to concentrate and more difficult to stay optimistic while on stand. Gut it out. Remember you are not out there to see a bunch of deer but rather to harvest the whitetail deer of a lifetime. Think of all the monster whitetails youíve kicked out of dense cover while rabbit hunting or even duck hunting swamps where you wouldnít expect a big deer to be living. Iíve just seen too much, too many big bruisers twisting and turning their racks as they somehow maneuver through a wall of bramble, briar and vines.

When you position your stand in these dense areas you want to get high. The higher the stand the better because the more holes and pockets you can look down into from your perch. The better the odds that you might get a glimpse of the monster whitetail buck you seek. I recently went into a dense thicket like aforementioned just days ago. I observed the layout of the ground closely and saw the top of one mature pin oak that would let me have the best possible view of the entire messy dense area. Although it took me 3 hours to cut down the many thick hard pin oak limbs I set myself up for success. Sometimes you just have to go the extra mile to get in the right tree instead of just a tree. When hunting in conifers the whitetail deerhunter might want to take a look at the other side of the coin which is to hunt low so you can see whitetail deer using evergreen or conifer trees as cover as an umbrella.

Always remember this, ďMajor bucks know the places they can go to escape hunting pressure, and they return to these same places season after season.Ē

Prior to addressing the importance and instruction needed to make the first shot count lets address the basic issues surrounding preparation for firearms maintenance or preparation.
1. Unload the gun by taking it outside and checking the chamber. Never handle a gun without making sure you have done this. A friend of mine lost his leg when cleaning his shotgun years ago because a shell was in the gun.
2. Clean the gun by taking the gun to a professional gun shop and having the crud and oil buildup inside removed. If you donít do this sooner or later you will pay the price in the field on a mature whitetail deer. Look carefully between the barrel and stock. If you even suspect there is dirt or rust then separate the two to clean the area thoroughly. The underside of the gun stock holds moisture and can rust away.
3. Tighten the scope or sights with the correct alum wrench with my suggestion of using locktight. A gun with heavy recoil can easily loosen bolts and screws. Just days ago while shooting my slug shotgun I watched the end screw from the scope mount fly through the air. If I had just tightened the screws I could have prevented spending the day repairing the gun and running from gun shop to gun shop in search of the proper screws needed for repair.
4. Wipe down the optics with an anti fog chemical. Dirty optics cut down on light availability in the field. Your scope should be as clean as your eyeglasses and no less.
5. Check how much ammo you have which you use for your firearm. If you suspect your low on ammo then go stock up, because as firearms season approaches the availability of ammo at local gun shops will decline more and more. I recall one season when I was in need of slugs. I live in a remote area and I spent one entire day driving for 5 hours to collect the ammo needed to practice shooting and provide myself with the amount of ammo needed to go whitetail deerhunting. If your sure you have the amount of ammo you need make sure the ammo is corrosion free and in top quality condition to hit the field with.
6. Tighten the receiver screws. Loose receiver screws allow a firearm to be removed from its proper bedding producing a barrel that floats and allots for a looser shooting group.
7. Clean the bore by running an oiled patch and then several dry patches through the gun. Trust me you donít want rust building in the barrel of your firearm.
8. Adjust your sling and make sure your sling screws are tight as they do loosen quickly.
9. Now it is time to hit the range and shoot the gun with precision.
10. Clean the gun one last time and check all the screws once more.

When hunting in the dense bed areas of the truly big whitetail deer often times because of the density of the ambush location or treestand setup the whitetail deer hunter most often times has to make the first shot count. With over 2 dozen record book animals to my name and half of them being whitetails I have very rarely had to make a follow up shot on an animal, thus it is critical the first shot taken is without room for mistake. The whitetail deer hunter must know his rifle and load. When hunting wide open spaces the hunter should select a high power rifle like my favorite 7 Millimeter Mag Weatherby. These types guns need to be delivering at least 1200 ft.lbs. of energy out of the maximum effective range of the rifle caliber. You can simply check ballistic charts across the internet or hard copy books provided by the hunt industry. You will want to begin acquainted with your weapon months before your hunt in an effort to see just what your weapon is capable of at certain distances. Donít be to proud to approach more experienced hunters, or gunsmiths and experts to gain the knowledge you lack. The whitetail deer hunter will also need to learn to hunt from various shooting positions. Anyone can shoot off a lead sled at 100 yards from a shooting bench, but how about when your in a treestand and wrapped up in heavy clothing with a safety harness which can entangle you in situations which prevent certain shots. One of the first things I do when I arrive at a stand is point the weapon in every direction from the stand to make sure I donít have blind spots or angles that prevent shots from occurring when that magic moment arrives. I would recommend shooting from treestands and elevated locations for practice. When hunting in dense cover often times a second shot doesnít present itself.

A pair of shooting sticks like the new Hunter Specialties rifle rest is collapsible and when gun hunting is always a tool that is in my pack. The last thing you want to have to do is shoot off hand from a portable treestand at a monster whitetail deer that has you half shook up. This is one of the very reasons I always hunt from a climbing treestand when possible as most climbing treestands have a shooting rail to rest your gun on. I consider myself to be a great marksman with a gun but as recent as this year I missed a great buck at 75 yards because I was forced to shoot off hand.

Rangefinders are a tool that can turn your inferior shot into a kill shot. My preference is Nikon as this company has simply perfected the rangefinder product. From a shooting position in the timber or on a field distances can often times be grossly miscalculated. When I arrive at a stand I rangefind different landmarks from my ambush site so I am aware of what distances are present for shooting whitetail deer.

You will also need to know the vital areas of a whitetail deer so you will know where to place shots on the whitetail deer. Many photos and graphics of vitals on whitetail deer area available online and in hard copy books and magazines. A classic mistake I have seen over and over is the hunter that wonít shoot unless he has the perfect broadside shot. While this is the most desirable shot it doesnít always occur like this in the timber. A whitetail deer hunter or any hunter for that matter should sight an animal, throw the weapon up, and shoot without knowing and being reasonably sure the shot will hit vital organs. You can even visit a zoo or high fenced whitetail deer farm and visualize where you would aim on the animals as they present different angles from which you are viewing them. Lastly you will need to make the shot. When Iím at the gun range I always hold my breath while taking the shot as breathing will move the gun. Then I take a good 20 to 30 seconds to make sure crosshairs are exactly atop the bullseye. From their I squeeze the trigger very slowly as to not ďflinchĒ, afterwhich I donít raise or lower the gun to see where I hit. (Thatís called following through which is employed in golf, baseball, and many other types of sports.) While its easy to accomplish these feats at a target at a rifle range off a shooting bench, we tend to forget all these steps when sitting 20 feet in the air in a treestand with the buck of a lifetime standing out in front of us. One must settle themselves down and make sure they follow the same steps when shooting at trophy deer in the field. The rewards of making the first shot count is crucial. I canít count the number of times I have heard a rifle off in the distance during firearms season, and seconds later hear the same rifle shooting 3 to 5 times within the next 30 seconds. These are the deer I know got away. These are the hunters that go home without the trophy buck they have worked so hard to harvest all year. While my final word on making the shot count may seem a bit crazy, even when I watch the animal fall I always put a 2nd bullet in the animal to make sure he doesnít get back up. Sometimes the whitetail deer will fall and then get back up and run off. My whitetail deer normally have two holes in them. The first shot and then the ďheís not getting back up shotĒ. If youíve never shot a deer that didnít stand back up and trot off it will happen sometime. Put another piece of lead in the animal for good measure.

Lastly, I canít stress enough that if you practice all the aforementioned suggestions your success will end up failing if you donít travel to hunt states where big bucks live. Again I would suggest a credible outfitter like IMB Outfitters and hunt the Monster Whitetails of the Midwestern United States. Good luck and good hunting.

Darrin Bradley

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