By: Brandon Parker
There is an old saying when it comes to outdoor pursuits. Depending on the target, the exact phrase can vary a little bit. But when it comes to deer hunting, we have all heard someone say, “you can’t kill him from the couch.” I’m here to dispute that phrase as being absolute and give you some tips on why sometimes it is best to kill him with a little help from the love seat.
People have argued for many, many years on what is the most important factor when it comes to killing big bucks. But the MOST important factor is not debatable. And that is the fact that you have to actually have big bucks. Whether trail cameras are good for hunting is a topic for another day. But one thing is for sure, they zapped false hope out of a lot of hunters. Before trail cameras were around, there was always the hope/belief that a world class whitetail could be hiding out in the area you hunt. Now most hunters are fully aware of the size of bucks their area can grow. Not only have their eyes and cameras confirmed it, but knowledge of soil types and available nutrition is much more common amongst hunters these days(one of the few benefits of the internet). With all of that combined, it’s fairly easy to figure out if you are hunting an area that can grow a deer that you consider to be “trophy class.”
Let’s talk about pressure. I think hunters often get tripped up on identifying and reducing pressure on the whitetails they’re hunting. I am guilty of this as well. But the number one contributor to pressure is leaving your scent behind. Deer aren’t bothered that much, if any, by the sound of a rifle going off. Depending on the situation, riding an ATV through the area you hunt may not affect the deer one bit. If you hunt on a working farm where tractors, trucks and ATVs are being operated on a daily basis, you can get away with a lot of scouting/prepping with a truck or ATV. If your hunting area does not have regular activity involving motorized “vehicles,” then you could absolutely cause a mature buck to find a new place to lay his head to rest. This is why I love to scout right before or during a rain. Regardless of your hunting situation, it’s a good idea to be smart about your scouting methods. The bottom line is the one thing a mature buck is NOT going to tolerate is smelling the human scent you leave behind.
Knowledge of seasonal behavior of bucks is a valuable tool to help determine how often you should be hunting. Here in Mississippi, early archery season opens 2.5-3 months before the peak breeding season starts. This gives you way too much time to educate a buck that is simply on a bed-to-feed pattern. This is why, a lot of times, it is more productive to leave the deer alone, i.e., “kill him from the couch.” Now, much of this concept is based on access to a buck’s route from his bed to his preferred food source. If you can access and hunt his route with zero chance of detection, then all you have to do is play the wind. But let’s be honest, those situations are few and far between. And that is because bucks don’t get old without being really good at avoiding pinch points that give their number one predator the upper hand. Considering he is moving very little during daylight hours, it just isn’t worth the risk to alert him to your stand location by leaving scent behind for him to smell 30 minutes after you climb down. I’ve had good success with hunting a target buck in early season by hunting him the first time the wind was right. After that first attempt, I’m not just waiting for the right wind. I’m waiting for the right wind and the best weather of the fall up until that point. So if the wind is right, but it’s a full moon with a high of 80 in early November…I’m holding off. That day may not come. And honestly, I don’t hunt target bucks much in the first 75 days or so of the season. If that perfect weather day doesn’t come, I leave him alone until pre-rut activity starts up. To be clear, “success” in the whitetail woods, in percentage terms, is similar to battering averages in baseball. So getting a targeted buck in range in three out of ten attempts is what I call successful. I only hunt with a bow. Gun hunters should certainly have a better batting average than those that choose to go archery-only.
So, if I haven’t succeeded at loosing an arrow in my early season attempts at my target buck, I will wait until I know he’s starting to move around in daylight more often. Where I hunt in central MS, this is usually the last week of November. He’ll usually start showing up at the most preferred food source in the area before dark. This means he’s likely hooking trees and pawing the ground between his bed and that food source well before shooting light has faded away. During this time of the season, I will hunt his route more often as the days go by leading up to peak breeding season. But only if I have undetected access to his route. But my approach will be the same until around the 15th of December.
At this point, I will start hunting near doe beds in the morning and between doe beds and food sources in the afternoon. One thing I stay consistent with is not hunting preferred food sources very often. If a mature buck you are hunting is not on that food source when daylight fades, he’s most likely very close by. It is very hard to leave a hunting stand, in the dark, with deer feeding nearby, without educating them. “IF” I’m going to try and hunt a main food source, I make sure I have someone drive a motorized vehicle to my stand after dark. That way I’m not alerting the deer to the tree I’ve been hunting from.
Then things change around the 10th of January until the end of the season. Yes, there will still be does getting bred. But most of the breeding is done. Bucks are worn down and begin feeding heavily. For gun hunters, hunting a main food source can be very productive. I go back to being a little more conservative on how often I hunt during late season, but not as conservative as I was in the early season. But you’d be better off hunting his route to the source about 50-100 yards away. Shumard acorns between his bed and most preferred food source is a fantastic place to catch him on his feet in shooting light in late January. For that matter, anything the buck may be browsing on between his bed and preferred source is a great spot to get a shot at him.
You may have noticed I never mentioned hunting the buck in the morning during early season, pre-rut or late season. I am a firm believer that mornings are the easiest way to educate a buck. The fact is they are doing A LOT of feeding at night. If you have that perfect access scenario where you can get to his route without being detected, it may be productive. But when it is dark, you have no way of knowing if he might be 10 yards from the tree you plan to hunt as you’re approaching it. I also do not hunt bucks right by their bed. Plenty of people have had great success by hunting bucks’ beds. I am not quiet and stealthy enough to do this. Therefore, I let their bedding area be a sanctuary they never smell me from.
I’ll end with a couple of clarifiers. If you can only hunt weekends, use this info accordingly. Waiting on perfect weather is not really an option. But that doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind(pun intended). Take the safest access routes and play the wind. But even weekend warriors should do some “couch hunting” until the pre-rut. Use that time to shoot some does if you have some thinning to do. When mid-late November rolls around, get after him. One other clarifier is that a lot of what I’ve written is based on private land. The same tactics take place on public, but public hunters force bucks to change up their bedding areas more often than private land hunters do. Preferred food sources can be drastically different on public vs private. A ½ to 5 acre wheat plot with a corn feeder, surrounded by mast trees is a lot easier to pattern a deer around compared to a pine plantation with some oaks along drainages and streams. Or maybe the public you hunt has hardwood flats that are 50 to 100 acres or more. Public hunting, in my opinion, takes more micro-scouting than private does.
With all that said, next time you’re at hunting camp and it’s unseasonably warm and the wind is iffy, watch a football game or try and shoot a doe somewhere that you won’t booger Wally and hurt your chances at him when he’s “easier” to kill.
Be safe, shoot straight and keep them lines tight!