Every big buck is a little different, but hunters who remember these common behaviors will fill more tags
Just like people, every mature buck has its own personality. Some have bad attitudes. Others are hard to rile up. Some are lovers, hell-bent on breeding, while a few rarely partake in the festivities. Some bucks are downright cowards.
Yet despite their differences, almost all mature bucks have plenty in common.
1. They Are Slaves to Their Stomachs
Food is king. Reliable food sources are where you’ll reliably find deer. This rule is a useful one — as long as you do your homework. Scout with food sources in mind, and always pay attention to what deer are eating and when they’re hungry for it. What’s hot this week? Green soybeans? Waste grain? Hard mast? Soft mast? Natural browse? Different food sources peak and draw deer at different times, and numerous food-related transitions occur throughout the season. Make sure you shift your focus accordingly.
Tactical Advantage: Mark all of your mast-bearing trees on a map. Locate other natural browse and agricultural food sources, too. Keep a record of when they peak, and hunt along those guidelines.
2. They Must Drink Water
A 200-pound buck will drink anywhere from 3 to 5 quarts of water per day, depending on the air temperature and the water content intake from his food. Bucks often bed near water, and they will frequently detour for a drink before eating each evening.
Tactical Advantage: Deer don’t need to drink from lakes or rivers. A small stream or even a mud puddle will do in a pinch. Locate small, secluded water sources near prime bedding cover, particularly in warm weather, and hunt them.
3. They Choose Beds Wisely
Mature bucks don’t sleep just anywhere. Terrain plays a big role, and deer prefer to bed in concealed locations with their backs against a hill, fallen log or other secure feature. They also tend to face into the wind and watch their back trail.
Tactical Advantage: In hilly country, expect bucks to bed on the top half of ridges, usually on the downwind side. In flatter terrain, bucks are more likely to put water or other terrain features at their backs. Pockets of cover that offer visual and wind advantages are likely hotspots, too.
4. They Become More Confident with Age
Deer that are 6 ½ and older often fall into more rigid routines as they age. In some cases, they also seem to become more confident, and even begin moving more during daylight hours than they did at 4 ½ and 5 ½.
Tactical Advantage: If a mature buck starts showing himself in daylight, hunt him as soon as conditions allow. His patterns could change if you wait too long to move in, so make a calculated decision.
5. They All Move During Daylight
Deer do not sleep all day. They are crepuscular animals, which means they’re most active at twilight – not midnight. They might move 50 yards or 500 yards, but they all move at some point during legal shooting hours. Your job is to determine where deer are bedding, how far they’re traveling, and the best place to be to intercept them.
Tactical Advantage: Pinpoint any food sources close to bedding areas that might pull double duty as staging areas. These are often small patches of mast or natural browse within 50 to 100 yards of their bed. Use a good entry route to your stand, and set up on the downwind side of this staging area.
6. They Use the Wind
Contrary to popular belief, deer don’t always walk with the wind in their face. But they do use it to their advantage at all times. For example, bucks typically enter and exit fields from the lowest point possible. Why? Regardless of wind direction, thermals pull air (and scent) down at sunset and push it up at sunrise. Low areas are the best place to monitor the shifting winds.
Tactical Advantage: Understanding how deer rely on the wind is crucial for selecting your entry routes, stand placement and exit routes. Visualize the setup by plotting likely buck beds on a map, then mark the wind direction. Consider prevailing winds, actual winds and thermals, too. And remember — wind direction is influenced by many factors on a micro scale, such as how it blows through a hollow or around a ridge. Never take the weatherman’s word on the matter: Just because your favorite app reports a perfect northwest wind doesn’t mean it will flow in that direction at your favorite treestand.
Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.