Core Areas of Whitetail Bucks and how to Properly Hunt the Core Area
There are many deer hunting strategies one may employ to harvest a trophy whitetail.
1. You can scout field and food plots and set up your tree stand on the location where you see a trophy whitetail buck entering and exiting the field.
2. You can study aerial photos and select topographical advantages, like funnels, and play the waiting game.
3. You can hunt scrape lines.
4. You can hunt rub lines.
But what about when you scout an area of timber and find a buck’s “core area”. Recently I hung a game camera on a clover food plot placed inside the timber on a small field, which cannot be viewed from the road. I call these types of food sources, “hidden feeding sites”. Hidden whitetail deer feeding sites are locations where crops are located on a field totally hidden from any roadway that can be seen by passing vehicles. After hanging the game camera for five days I returned to retrieve the camera only to discover a monster Boone and Crockett Buck was using the food plot, but only at night. Immediately I called a couple of our “annual pass” hunters that have purchased deer hunting on an unlimited basis for one year. With an annual pass one can hunt Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas for an entire year on an unlimited basis for the cheap price of $15,000. While at first that figure may seem high it is relatively low when compared to purchasing a lease in five different states or buying five deer hunts in five different states. IMB Outfitters only sells six annual passes per year.
I called a couple annual pass holders, and told them they should come out as I knew where some big bucks were at right now, and that if they wished they could look in our photo gallery at the infrared camera page and see the deer for themselves. A couple hours later the annual pass holders called and indicated they would come later in the season when the rut was going on as the photos I had obtained with the trail camera were taken at night. Their theory was the bucks couldn’t be killed because they were moving at night. I disagreed with them respectfully and was unable to convince them to come on out and start hunting in early October. While I respect their opinion of hunting during the rut, I don’t agree that whitetail bucks captured at night via game cameras are only moving at night, however I realize some bucks are nocturnal. I also realize that during non rut conditions you need to be in a whitetail bucks core area.
After they declined to come out and start whitetail deer hunting, I ever so gently slipped into the food plot and determined what direction the big whitetail bucks were coming into the food plot from. I went to that end of the food plot and found a few decent deer trails leading into the food plot at the Southern end of the food plot. It was here I would begin to try and locate the whitetail bucks core area. I found a faint log road that looked to be the chief entrance into the Southern end of the food plot. My guess was that this faint log road if walked in reverse would take straight to the whitetail bucks core area. Scent free, rubber boots, medalist scent elimination clothing, and all with the right wind I began slowly walking down the faint log road that was leading into the food plot. Of course the further I walked down the log road the deeper I was getting into the timber. The first 100 yards of the log road just held some minor tracks and nothing more. The next 50 yards of the log road revealed a whitetail deer scrape that was active but no rubs were present thus far. The 50 yards yielded two more active scrapes that were slightly larger. It looked as if the whitetail buck had just hit the scrapes as they were very fresh. Then scrapes along the log road became more and more frequent and all of them were active and fresh. Looking to my right was two cedar trees about 18 inches in diameter. Both were literally demolished. Huge sign post rubs were on these cedar trees, and underneath them was the largest scrape of all. Within that sign post rub area I discovered a half a dozen active scrapes. Now a mere 150 yards was left of oak timber before the log road dropped off the ridge top, and into a nasty dense bed area, that looked something like out of Africa. I stopped walking and began to back up. I had found the perimeter of the trophy buck’s core area. The sign post rubs, frequency of scrapes, and amount of tracks will become denser as you get closer to the core area.
The dumb whitetail deer hunter would have kept walking down into the bed area, and went to find a tree stand setup down in the bed area or too close to the core area of the whitetail buck. Since I’ve been deer hunting a few years I knew better than to go any further no matter how much interest I had in looking. The last thing as a whitetail deer hunter you want to do is kick up a 5 year old Boone and Crockett Deer off his sanctuary and spook him from his core area. If you do this sometimes the buck will return without problem having associated no danger with you spooking him, some bucks will move to another core area, and some bucks will go nocturnal. Sometimes we give the whitetail deer too much credit, and sometimes we don’t give them enough credit intellectually. Somewhere in the middle is where their intellect lies. However the smart whitetail deer hunter doesn’t just charge into a whitetail bucks bed area to begin a series of hunts. Stay on the bed areas outskirts or what I call the core area of the whitetail buck.
I chose to setup where the sign posts rubs were located on the big scrape. Let me interupt here to say this. Note that during this scouting mission I did not have a deer stand with me. I do this on purpose. If you take a deer stand with you while doing scouting for whitetail deer, one is prone to hang the tree stand at the first good ambush location. Perhaps if I would have had a tree stand with me I would have gotten over anxious and set up the stand at the entrance to the log road, or at the first scrape I came to. I may never have continued my journey down the log road to discover the bed area of the whitetail deer. Perhaps I wouldn’t have ever discovered the sign post rubs.
Upon determining that I needed to stay a good 125 yards away from the bed area, and begin a series of hunts over the sign post rubs and biggest scrapes, I had to pick the right tree to hunt from. I don’t just hunt from “a tree”. I hunt from “the tree”. In this case I located “the tree” however it was a pin oak that took much work to set up a tree stand in. I marked the tree with a small piece of orange tape. I returned the next day and hung the tree stand. The scrapes again were active, thus that told me I probably hadn’t been detected so far by the whitetail buck or bucks using the scrapes. I hung the tree stand in the middle of the day by myself without making too much noise, and left after cutting minimal shooting lanes. With shooting lanes in core areas you can cut too much, or not cut enough. You have to be able to have some windows to shoot through or there is no point in sitting there. However you can cut so much that the deer notice something is wrong. After I erected the tree stand and prepared my shooting lanes I left. That’s right I left. Patience and stealth is the key to being successful in core areas of whitetail bucks.
Two days later I returned for my first hunt from the location. As I sat in the tree stand I was about as excited as I’ve ever been. I kept envisioning this monster buck walking up the log road, hitting the scrapes, and taking one of my arrows through both his lungs. That night I only saw 3 does. The dumb whitetail deer hunter would have moved the tree stand closer to the bed area for the 2nd hunt into the area. The wise deer hunter is patient.
The next day the wind was wrong for the tree stand. As bad as I wanted to hunt the monster buck in his core area I refused to do it in the wrong wind. The next day I had the same wind. I refused to hunt this location again. Wrong wind direction. We are literally talking about a buck I know I can kill, and am having trouble sleeping at night because I want on that tree stand so bad, but I had to discipline myself and stay out until we have the right wind.
The end to this scenario is unknown as I have the wrong wind again today, but tomorrow looks super. Perhaps I will post the results of this venture at another time, but we need to address several things in order to prepare you for hunting core areas of whitetail bucks.
WHERE TO START HUNTING THE CORE AREA: Whitetail deer hunters have to begin starting the core area on its outskirts. I’m not telling you to stay 500 yards away from the core area. I’m simply telling you not to begin hunt the core area from its closest distance to the bed area. Start on the outskirts and every couple hunts that you don’t see the trophy buck, move the stand location a little closer to exactly where you think the buck is bedded. In the scenario above I will probably make 100 yards moves closer and closer to the bed area until I put an arrow through his lungs for him.
WHEN TO HUNT THE CORE AREA OF A WHITETAIL BUCK: No matter how impatient you are as a person or how good the deer sign looks, don’t hunt the core area with a bad wind. This will push the buck from the area quicker than anything else.
WHY WE HUNT THE CORE AREA OF A WHITETAIL BUCK: You want to hunt core areas of trophy whitetail bucks as this is where the majority of their time is spent. As one may assume you want to be where he is. Especially during non rut conditions, I feel if you wanna kill a monster buck you need to either have one patterned on a food source or find the core area. Anything less is most generally luck. (Not to say luck isn’t a part of any trophy whitetail buck strategy that produces results.) Think in simpler terms. If you wanted to kill me, you could wait at one of the restaraunts I eat at, or wait where I pick my wife up from work, or you could sit in my living room and wait for me to come home. When you hunt the core area you are in the living room. Success rates soar in the core area for harvest of a whitetail buck.
SENSITIVITY OF THE CORE AREA OF THE WHITETAIL BUCK: Remember that unlike hunting other ambush locations you will need to take special care and take enhanced precautions to effectively hunt a bucks core area. You will want to cut as few shooting lanes as possible. You will want to sneak into your tree stand and not just walk in. You will never hunt the core area in the wrong wind. You will be on special alert as in the core area it will be denser more often than not. One minute you may have no deer in sight and the next minute they be right under your tree. Core area hunting of whitetail deer, in close proximity to the bed area is not a location for a casual or novice whitetail hunter. When using a climbing tree stand you don’t just want to climb up the tree. You want to crawl up the tree and make no noise with the climber at all. Move easy. Use scent elimination products from Hunter Specialties and Medalist Clothing. Don’t rattle horns. I know rattling horns for bucks does work but more often the buck will be immediately placed upon alert and be looking for your location. If you want to give your location away in a core area of a whitetail deer then go rattling some horns. You won’t even know he’s located your position, but he will. Especially during non rut conditions in the Midwest, Boone and Crockett Bucks don’t run blindlessly into a hunter smashing a set of horns together.
HOW OFTEN DO YOU HUNT THE CORE AREA OF THE WHITETAIL BUCK? Be careful. Not wreckless. Remember that every time you sit in a tree stand, whether you are seeing deer or not your body is depositing human scent beneath your stand. I rarely hunt a core area with a bow, more than 1 out of every 3 days. Have a backup or alternative location to hunt so you won’t wear out an area.
WHEN TO GIVE UP ON HUNTING THE CORE AREA OF WHITETAIL BUCK. As aforementioned you should start hunting the perimeter of the core area of the whitetail buck at its further destination that you believe may yield a shot chance. Then every couple hunts move 100 yards closer to the bed area or whatever distance you feel most comfortable with. You’ve exhausted all strategies when the series of whitetail hunts is over and your actually positioned in the bed area, as you’ve moved closer and closer from the outskirts of the core area. After a couple hunts in the bed area if you haven’t seen him then one of a few things has occurred.
1. You’ve been detected at some point and he has left the area for good, only to return during the rut to chase does.
2. You’re hunting a buck that is solely nocturnal.
3. He’s moved onto another area.
Sometimes you just gotta know when your beat and quit to move to another location. The quickest way to lose the battle with that trophy buck is being over zealous and getting in too close too fast and hunting it too often. Core areas will cough up huge deer if you hunt them right and follow these rules.