Hunting Nocturnal Bucks During the Day
Whitetail bucks reach their full potential of the antler development around age five or six. Unfortunately whitetail biologists in the Midwest suggest that only one of 2000 whitetail bucks will live up to seven years of age. Some of these bucks are killed by vehicles, others are taken by hunters, harsh weather conditions, or sickness and disease. While I’m no whitetail biologist I have been an outfitter for 13 years in the Midwest and simply do not believe the aforementioned statistics. I believe far more whitetail bucks exceed five years of age. I believe they elude the modern day whitetail hunter in whitetail biologists by moving mainly during night time hours. Thus the question presents itself, how do you hunt nocturnal bucks during the day? This is the topic I intend to address over the course of this narrative. There are strategies whitetail hunters can use in order to successfully hunt whitetail bucks that have turned nocturnal.
Prior to visiting the subject of nocturnal whitetail bucks we must present some ideas to set up the mindset of what really lurks in the timber, and the quantity of mature bucks that exist. While whitetail biologists suggest only 1 out of 2000 bucks reachs full maturity our statistical data over 13 years suggest 1 out of every 100 deer reach 6 years of maturity.
Rather than focus on whitetail deer let us visit another story that occurred in 2007 in the state of Iowa. Two men approached a local game warden and ask if it was legal to kill mountain Lions in the state of Iowa. The game warden indicated no law prevented anyone from killing mountain Lions because no mountain lions were residing within the state of Iowa. 45 minutes later these two gentlemen took a half a dozen coonhounds and treed to mountain lions. The two men shot the cats and made the front page of the newspaper. Many accounts of mountain lion sightings across the Midwestern United States have been reported, however most often times game wardens and even myself laugh at the thought of a mountain lion being nearby. In fact I have hunted to approximately 60 at outings per year for deer over the past 30 years of my life, and have never seen a mountain lion or anything that appeared to look like one on any occasion. While many people believe whitetail deer are the most elusive big game animal in North America I would strongly disagree that at ranks second to the mountain lion. Mountain lions move primarily at night and are simply not dumb enough to attempt to negotiate terrain during daylight hours. I would expect that any wildlife biologist would decline to agree that mountain lions reside in Missouri, Iowa, or Illinois. In the aforementioned scenario biologists indicated a species was completely void of an entire State. How right were the experts about the mountain lion scenario?
It is literally my job to find trophy deer for my hunters each year, and believe me my hunters don’t understand the concept of “I’m sorry thank you for giving me your money but all the big bucks are nocturnal.” No way, my job is dependent upon immediate results from everyone that hits our camps. We either produce or we look like chumps. Therefore I can absolutely tell you without a doubt how to get on bucks you think that are nocturnal or how to hunt buck that are nocturnal during the day. This portion of whitetail deer hunting or outfitting is without a doubt a daily problem to solve throughout the year. Just as sure as there are mountain lions in Iowa there are plenty of big bucks to spare, and you can get to trophy bucks (weather permitting) as long as you employ strategies outside of normal thinking.
In order to harvest nocturnal whitetail bucks during daylight hours you must be creative, persistent, scout relentlessly, know when to move in closer or to back off, understand the perimeter of the monster whitetail buck and just how close you can get, know what you can get away with, play the wind, play the weather, implement different entry and exit strategies to treestands, spending time in the woods, play musical chairs and not overhunt an area, never overlook any piece of your hunt location, and much more. These topics will be visited over the course of this article. Don’t hand me the excuse of whitetail bucks are nocturnal and unhuntable unless your hunting in terrible winds, bad weather, or very high temperatures during cold time periods. You can get to them. These nocturnal bucks are somewhere all the time, even when its daylight. They don’t just disappear during the day like earthworms and only come out at night. They don’t crawl in holes in the ground and arise as darkness falls like vampires. You must understand that where there is a will there is a way, but quitting never accomplishes much in the world of nocturnal whitetail deer activity.
When we begin to talk about how to hunt bucks that are nocturnal during the day, we must understand we speak of bucks that exceed the score of 150 inches to maximum measurements as big as the new world record. While many marvel at the biggest bucks ever killed by hunters remember that the two biggest bucks on record today were found dead. They had eluded humans all their lives. In fact I believe many new world record bucks exist in the back of old barns which farmers have picked up while farming and do not realize what they have found. To support this theory I visited a farmer who I leased earlier this year and he showed me a couple deer he had found dead that would absolutely score in the top 10 largest whitetail deer of all time. Oh yes. Guess where they still are to this date. In his barn in a cabinet. Oh you might be surprised what you don’t know. Believe me when I began outfitting over a dozen years ago I had many preconceived ideas of the hunting industry from products to celebrities to strategies. Within a few years I felt like I was the five year old kid that had found out no Santa Claus existed. If I were to put a pen to everything I have discovered half this hunting industry would be suing me over publishing the truth. All I want to say in regard to aforementioned comments is, “There are plenty of big bucks to spare in the Midwest, if you are with the right outfitter on the right ground.”
Let us begin to discuss the issues that surround hunting nocturnal bucks during daylight hours.
Without the proper amount of scouting you can simply forget consistent success of any kind when hunting trophy whitetail bucks, especially those whitetail bucks that seem to be nocturnal. Scouting is the year round project that leads to pinpointing the locations of mature whitetail deer. While I’m old school and believe by watching a field in the evening with a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope is a more effective way to find big deer, I rely heavily on trail cameras to reveal whitetail bucks in the areas we hunt. Many whitetail hunters believe that scouting takes place during to time periods. The timeframe lying prior to deer season where we watch huge bachelor groups of bucks enter food sources. The other the time frame whitetail hunters seem to want to scout whitetail bucks is during the Pre-rut when huge rubs and scrapes begin to appear. While both these timeframes are definitely important, as a whitetail deer outfitter I am forced to discover the whereabouts of trophy deer at all times and adjust to whatever changes in travel patterns that trophy whitetail deer make.
I’m a firm believer a successful whitetail outfitters can never own too many trail cameras nor spend too much money on labor and exhausting the efforts of scouting. Continual scouting plays a huge role in hunting nocturnal bucks during the day. Ongoing scouting tells you whether mature animals inhabit your hunting area. Ongoing scouting for whitetail deer will also tell you where these deer eat, sleep, hide, exit, and enter. Oh yes you must figure out their core areas of movement and the only way to do that is by scouting.
It's easy to get wrapped up and excited about big rubs and smoking hot scrapes, but you must consider when that sign was actually made. It's very common for a buck to leave sign on a particular property at night and yet almost never be on the property during legal hunting hours. In this case it would be easy for a hunter to conclude that the buck is nocturnal, and that hunter's notion may even be backed up with trail camera photos from the property. However, it may be that the hunter is hunting in the wrong spot. Even when a hunter is hunting on the same property where a mature buck is spending his daylight hours, that hunter could be hunting in the wrong location. To be consistently successful you have to have more than a generalized idea about what the deer are doing on the property you hunt. You have to know precisely where the big boys like to bed.
Many whitetail hunters make the mistake of scouting on foot beating down the woodlots through every crack and crevice in search of whitetail buck sign. This is a huge mistake. Hand to hand scouting like this can run the biggest of bucks from an area, and thrown them off patterns in a new York second. Now don’t get me wrong, I realize we all must scout to some degree however when you enter a woodlot to scout don’t go waltzing through thick bed areas, take friends with you, ride 4 wheelers into key areas, etc. Move like a cat. What your looking for in the woods is the transitional areas of lowspots, funnels, major deer trails, and topographical advantages that lead from beds to food sources. Mark your trees where you needs stands and get out. Go in to hang them again and then watch your agricultural fields from a distance with binoculars to locate big deer while utilizing trail cameras to be your eyes in the timber. Don’t ever sit in your woodlot or piece of timber to scout your deer herd. Save that for later so you have the element of surprise while hunting nocturnal deer during the day. Don’t allow the deer to pattern you. Often times I can locate most of my tree stand locations by years of experience using aerials photographs.
Know the Perimeter of the Mature Whitetail Buck
As a whitetail hunter you simply must know what you can and cannot get away with when hunting nocturnal bucks during daytime hours. It is easy for me to sense how much activity a mature whitetail buck will allow without leaving an area, but much harder for me to put into words. You must realize that any whitetail buck their lives to be beyond five years of age is nothing short of lucky or extremely intelligent. I lean more toward the intelligence side of the coin. Therefore a mature whitetail buck will not put up with too much human activity within their core area. While it is true the core area of a whitetail buck can be many miles, I find it 95% of the time the core area of the truly magnificent whitetail buck is more like a hiding spot and normally doesn’t exceed a couple acres and outside diameter. Oh yes it is a game of hide and seek. I have watched a mature whitetail bucks bed in steel drainage culverts. I have watched mature whitetail bucks bed within 5 yards of a major interstate every single day. I have watched mature whitetail bucks discover the densest of thickets on a tract of timber and never leave the constraints of that particular bed area until late in the evening and they arrive back to these places very early in the morning. If your job as a whitetail deer hunter when hunting nocturnal bucks during daylight hours is to find these core areas without disturbing your buck and successfully set up a tree stand location that will produce results. The mistake most hunters make when attempting this feat is getting too close to fast.
Allow me to elaborate on this important aspect of hunting nocturnal bucks during daytime hours. In early October of 2009 I was hunting a monster buck in the state of Missouri with my bow. I had grown weary with the buck as all the trail camera photos I had if the animal were at night time. He was traveling to a small clover field to feed each evening however the clover field was surrounded by timber. The first piece of the puzzle I had to solve was what direction with the approaching from. I walked the circumference of the small clover field and discovered a very faint log road leading downed deep into the oak timber. Without touching any twigs or blades of grass and shod with rubber boots I quietly and slowly began to walk down the log road. A couple 100 yards into the timber the log road went down a steep embankment across a creek and up the hill into one of the most dense thickets I have ever seen in my life. Certainly I could have stormed across the creek and up the hill to set up a tree stand near the dense bed area, however this is not what I did. I simply set up a tree stand on the Ridgetop overlooking the creek in an effort to see where the monster buck was traveling from in order to get to the food source. For all practical purposes I was hunting nocturnal bucks during daytime hours. I was chasing a ghost. Every single time I set up in this location I saw trophy bucks, however due to my impatience and the lack of time I have to hunt I arrowed the first Pope and Young Buck that dared to walk past my tree stand. Needless to say I done very quickly with my bow hunting in Missouri. While many of you will frown upon the fact I did not arrow a Boone and Crockett buck the reality is the big buck I had been getting trail camera pictures of was nowhere near this dense thicket. The mammoth buck was laying between the clover field and the road in a small ditch or a tree stand had never been hung throughout the seven years I had leased this farm. It literally took me all year to figure it out. This buck still lives. This year mock my words, he will die. The biggest buck was never in the dense thicket. The biggest buck was watching us walk in and laying near the road. A great example of how we underestimate a whitetail deer’s ability to survive. Hunting nocturnal bucks during daytime hours was not needed in this situation the rather the cunning ability to realize the biggest deer on the farm was laying right under our noses.
It the biggest buck would have been in the thicket my strategy would’ve been effective. My plan was to observe the thicket from a great distance in an effort to see how to approach the area without running him out of the core area forever. It was a smart move and one to be considered however don’t ever refuse to consider the obvious and most undisturbed locations for massive bucks to hang out during daylight hours, as these areas are void of human scent. You can’t just blindly charge in on a major bed area without watching it a few times first from afar to see how whitetail movement is evolving from the given location. I must admit most often times the biggest bucks are in the dense thickets rather than the obvious locations.
Remember in an article I wrote several months ago entitled, “How to Kill a Boone and Crockett Buck” I stated the biggest bucks in the world bed and spend the majority of their time in one of two places. These include the thickest densest areas in the timber, or the dumbest most obvious places to be discovered. The densest areas provide the most hard to reach locations for any whitetail deer hunter, while the most obvious places are the very locations all of us overlook and would never want to hunt.
Being Persistent and Spending Time in the Woods
Most things that are worthwhile don’t come easy. Many hunters become discouraged early on when attempting to put down a mature whitetail buck. One your scouting of a given area has taken place, and you believe you have located the core area of a monster whitetail buck it is now time to be persistent. Paying your dues and putting in your time is the key to success when hunting nocturnal bucks during daytime hours. Over the course of this article I am telling many stories in an attempt to bring the reader to a new mindset surrounding whitetail deer movement. Now I’ll tell you a story you simply won’t believe but it’s true.
Three years ago in pike county Illinois I had three hunters from Texas that had purchased what we refer to as an annual pass. An annual pass allows a deer hunter to hunt all five states we provide hunts in for one low fee. That fee is $15,000 per man. Thus envision for a moment if three men bought three annual passes then you know simple math would tell you they paid me $45,000 to hunt. If they were to hunt Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska. They arrived in camp during late October in pike county Illinois to kick off their tour of the Midwestern United States. From five Starr lodge on the first morning they hunted with this they returned from their hunt and ask if they could speak with me in private. As we found a private location to speak, the leader of the three hunters stated, “We didn’t see any Boone and Crockett deer this morning.” I was a bit flabbergasted to think these men would be discouraged after one outing when they had the whole season ahead of them just because they didn’t see a deer over 170 inches their first morning out hunting. Rather than chastise them I simply and politely stated, “Well fellas I appreciate your passion. We have some great bucks here, but we every hunter doesn’t see a 170 inch buck every time they go into the woods. If you will be patient and be persistent we will get on some monster bucks.” Believe it or not these 3 guys after one morning of deer hunting without controversy AT ALL said, “Well that’s all we had to hear. You can keep our money. We are going home.” This mindset is present among a minority group of deer hunters because they have been watching too many television shows secretly filmed in high fences and believe 170 inch plus deer are behind every tree.
Although I like deer hunting better than Turkey hunting, when I first began Turkey hunting I simply couldn’t understand if a gobbler was screaming his head off then why did it take so long for him to make it within gun range of my position. Four after all if the Tom Turkey is literally screaming to mate why would it take so long for him to make it was then barrel range of your location? While animals have no sense of time. I have literally watched a certain bucks piddle or hang out in small areas or what seemed like hours. They’re in no hurry. They have no deadline to meet. They are at peace and are not in a rush to make it to your stand location. Because of this you must be persistent and put in enough time to be successful when hunting nocturnal bucks during the daytime. Monster whitetail bucks have survived by being cautious, slow, an observant. Likewise you must be patient, persistent, and never think a whitetail deer should meet your expectations or timetables that you place upon them. In short…………………….. Pay your dues or don’t fill your deer tag with the buck of a lifetime.
When whitetail bucks seem to be traveling only at night it is time to get creative. Look over your aerial photographs of the farm you are hunting and try to pinpoint areas that you have not entered before. Hunt locations from the depths of your creativity. Never overlook the obvious. Always be willing to think outside the box when hunting nocturnal bucks during daytime hours. It would be obvious if you are not having big buck encounters in locations you are hunting then the big bucks in your area are not in locations which you have convinced yourself they lie in. Be a open minded enough to move to a new spot. Persistence and creativity are two of the strongest characteristics that successful whitetail deer hunters possess. Think, think, think.
Learn How to Approach Your Treestand Without Being Detected
You can scout for whitetail deer. You can find whitetail deer. You can place tree stands correctly for whitetail deer. You can put time in the woods to kill whitetail deer. You can be creative to successfully hunt nocturnal bucks during daytime hours. However if you don’t learn how to approach a tree stand without being detected by the deer you hunt the aforementioned instructions are useless. It would stand to reason if you’ve located a massive whitetail buck in a dense thicket that is south of your position that you would never enter the tree stand hunting the thicket with a north wind at your back while walking in. Who would also stand to reason the closer you get to the tree stand you elect to hunt quieter you want to be. You also will not want to walk in wide open spaces where you can be seen by the buck your hunting as you approach.
I have learned through my years as an outfitter that if we’re watching a big buck enter a food source every night but anytime we go into hunt him he never comes out then he’s watching us walk in. Find ways to make it to and from tree stand locations without being detected are you will fall under the false pretense that whitetail bucks have gone nocturnal and are impossible to hunt. Let me take this time to suggest that when you believe whitetail bucks have gone strictly nocturnal during times of movement that more often than not it’s because of the mistakes you are making while hunting which are allowing the same bucks you pursue to detect you before your hunt even begins.
Whitetail Bucks can be forced to nocturnal travel when weather is funky. Heavy daytime rain with no rain at night can force nocturnal travel. High daytime wind speeds with low night time wind speeds force nocturnal deer activity. Also high temperatures during normally cool times of year will force nocturnal buck movement. Also overhunting can force nocturnal movement.
However, remember that certain types of weather conditions force whitetail deer movement. For example. A weather front will force deer to move prior to the storm to feed. After a heavy rain when deer have been forced to bed up for a long period of time they will crawl out of the woodwork to food sources. A sudden drop in temperature will force deer movement. Also harsh weather conditions will force deer to move to food sources because of starvation instincts. Some bucks will move right before a major storm, especially during the late season. Other bucks may be moving at mid-day but not during the traditional prime deer movement and hunting periods. In fact, I bet a lot more bucks follow this trend than any of us realize. Bucks will adapt to the dangers they encounter. As a smart hunter, you have to counter this by hunting them at a time or place they least expect it.
Multiple Tree Stand Locations
Multiple tree stands locations are needed to prevent your deer from being overhunted. I have watched many a hunter be stubborn and sit in the most scenic or their favorite location day after day because it looked good. As a result they left a ton of human scent and overhunted the area. Keep a statistical record of what stand you hunt and when you hunt it. I would suggest to you that every whitetail hunter should have at least 6 to 10 treestand setups to rotate from. This will prevent overhunting an area. This is essential when hunting nocturnal bucks during daytime hours. I call this type of hunting, “Musical Chairs.” You simply cannot continue to hunt the same spot over and over. The human body disperses scent all the time. Each time you hunt a location you leave scent. You must have several big deer located and rotate hunting different locations to prevent bucks from becoming nocturnal. The hunter that pursues only one deer, or that dream buck only during the season severely cripples their odds of success. Be smart and don’t ruin great tree stand areas that you have erected because you are being over anxious.
The aforementioned suggestions will assist you in hunting nocturnal bucks during the day. Trust and believe you can do this. And the golden rule is don’t get out of your tree stand until the last second of legal shooting light exists.
I often hear hunters refer to bucks as being "nocturnal." More often than not, the term seems to be used as an excuse for lack of sightings or success. Now I'm not about to suggest that mature bucks are out waltzing around during daylight hours as readily as other deer, but I also don't make excuses for my lack of success. In fact, the only excuse for my own lack of success in any endeavor is my own lack of effort. I know for a fact that mature bucks do move in daylight during all phases of the season.