6 Reasons Bucks Vanish

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

Real-life hunters don't always have the luxury of seeing the same bucks year after year.

It’s a lot like the relationship between a man and his toilet. If a man has a choice, he’ll always pick his toilet over some “foreign throne” in which to do business. (And don’t even act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

In much the same way, mature bucks are quite selective about where they prefer to live. Bucks not only favor certain locations over others but also single out certain beds over others within those areas. 

Many mature bucks will bed in the exact same location, in the exact same spot, looking in the exact same direction. 

And they’ll do it over and over again.

Last winter, I was doing some postseason scouting and came across a good rub line. I followed it back into a bedding area where it stopped next to a massive buck bed in a nasty second-growth thicket. It was worn down to the dirt. Tell me whatever buck was using that bed didn’t like that exact spot. That finding emphasized something: Mature bucks don’t randomly choose beds, and I suspect they don’t choose very many of them, either.

I spotted numerous bucks on camera last season that I fully expected to see again this year. So far, only two have returned (that I know of). Appalled, I began racking my brain, trying to figure it out. Below are a few of the reasons that flew around in my mind.

1. Disease Outbreaks

BTV, HD, EHD, CWD…and the list goes on. There are droves of diseases that plague whitetails. I didn’t find any deer last year—or this year (yet)—that I feel died from disease. But it can happen.

2. They Got Shot

Deer get shot. In the places I hunt, more bucks die by bullet or by arrow than by natural causes. And I think that’s a dang good thing. So don’t get mad when someone else kills the deer you were after. Be happy for them. It means our hunting heritage is still alive and well. Glory to the deer hunter.

3. Love Killed Them

A lot of bucks die from the rut, not at the feet of other bucks, either. A culmination of exhaustion, battle, depleted food sources, and reduced body weight can create the perfect storm for death. And many bucks that die during the season, or soon after, do so from physical stress brought on by the rut.

4. Habitat Encroachment

This is the deer hunter’s worst enemy. This is the main reason I don’t see many bucks return from year to year. My best spot to hunt is bordered by a construction/mining site. As it grows, it continues to take habitat with it. This pressures deer enough to push them out. Not all of them vacate the area. But some do.

5. Greener Pastures

Face it, your spot is rarely the best one in the area. I’m not complaining. I am lucky to hunt the places I do. I’m grateful for them. But it sickens me to look at aerials of the places I hunt and see nearby properties that appear to have it all. Yes, I’m a “land luster.”

6. Ya’ Just Ain’t Seen ‘Em Yet

Deer are pretty slick critters. Just because you haven’t seen them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Stick to the plan, and sometimes, eventually, they’ll show back up, even when it seems they aren’t around.