The rut is winding down in many places throughout the whitetail’s range, and I’ve recently received several emails from hunters expressing concerns about not seeing many mature bucks. There are many reasons hunters don’t see deer. The most common one is hunters read sign and hunt, versus predicting where deer will be based on current sign.
Last week I was faced with this situation. I was chasing a buck named Handy. I’d studied the buck using Reconyx trail cameras for 2 years. However, I’d seen him in person only once. I saw Handy about a month ago, and he was 100-plus yards away while I was bowhunting.
Missouri’s firearm season was about to open, and I once again got images of Handy. This time the images were in a food plot named Clay Hill. The pictures were taken just a few days before the opening of rifle season.
It was very tempting to hunt from a Summit ladder stand that was already placed on the edge of Clay Hill. However, the pictures indicated that Handy was in that plot chasing does. It was early November, and prime rut where I hunt.
Rather than react to the pictures, I predicted that more does would become receptive daily this time of year, and they would be seeking cover as a method to limit being constantly harassed by bucks. Handy was the dominate buck in the area, and he’d be where the does were spending the most time. In other words, Handy would likely be in thick cover versus visiting a food plot.
Based on this prediction, I opted to hunt from a Redneck Blind that was about 400 yards from the Clay Hill food plot and overlooking several acres of brush and native grass – an area managed for bedding and escape cover.
Early that morning, I heard a gun shot and received a text that my daughter, Raleigh, had tagged a mature buck we called Gumby. I was torn between going and celebrating with Raleigh, and staying in the blind watching for Handy.
Raleigh is 18, and I decided to give her time to do an interview with Matt (one of our cameramen) and tell about the hunt in her words. (You can watch Raleigh’s hunt by clicking here.)
While I was giving Raleigh and Matt time, I noticed some does at the edge of the bedding area. A few moments later, I noticed antlers coming through the brush. It was Handy. The strategy worked perfectly! You can learn about the entire strategy to tag Handy by clicking here.
The hunt for Handy was successful because I used the trail camera pictures to predict Handy’s pattern versus reacting to old sign.
Remember – sign indicates where deer have been, and it’s not necessarily where deer will be. A better strategy is to read sign and base strategies on changes in habitat (food, cover and water) and stages of the breeding season.
Editor’s note: Be sure to check out Dr. Grant Woods and his popular on-demand web series that shares current information about deer hunting and deer management. The free videos focus on what the Growing Deer team of experienced hunters and deer managers are doing in the field week to week, including action-packed hunts, proven hunting strategies, habitat management, food plots, trail camera techniques and the gear it takes to get it all done.