It can be tough to pattern mature bucks. In most places, a buck doesn’t live to old age without learning to avoid predators. As a starting point, I always study the preferred sources of food, cover and water throughout the seasons and varying conditions where I hunt.
I add a fourth habitat characteristic, which I call security. Cover can be any area with thick vegetation. However, areas with thick vegetation that are frequently disturbed by humans or other predators don’t provide deer with security. Security is an area that deer associate with minimal treats.
Trail cameras can provide much more information than scat, tracks or evidence of browsing. This sign doesn’t tell us with confidence if it was made by a buck or doe, or the deer’s age. They also don’t tell us the time of day the deer was present.
The best way to fully benefit from using trail cameras is organizing the images and using that data paired with a map. I typically learn much more about a deer’s travel pattern plotting it on a map versus looking solely at individual images.
Knowing that deer need food, cover, water and security on a daily basis, I typically use Reconyx trail cams to monitor sources of high-quality food because it is usually in limited distribution during deer season in many areas. I also monitor other areas such as travel corridors, scrapes, etc.
It’s important to note that I don’t place trail cams near my stands. The camera itself doesn’t seem to alert deer, but my frequent use of the area to install and to check the camera can condition the deer, especially mature bucks, to avoid the area during daylight hours.
When patterning bucks for hunting, it’s also important to study where to place and approach stands without deer patterning the hunter. You should be able to enter, hunt and exit your stand without alerting deer. This is just as important as the stand location itself.
As you prepare to hunt this fall, consider using these scouting techniques and then prepare to have some great encounters with mature bucks!
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.