How to Kill a Nocturnal Buck

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

Is There a Deer You Only Receive Nighttime Photos of?

Nocturnal bucks aren't easy to kill. But they're not impossible to tag, either. (Josh Honeycutt photo)

It happens every year — we see bucks on camera that only seem to move under cover of darkness. This can be extremely frustrating, yet fairly simple to overcome. It just requires a firm understanding of big-buck behavior and a skillfully executed plan.

Prerequisite Knowledge

There are several key points to understand before proceeding. The first, every buck is different. They all have their own personalities. One mature buck might move mostly at night, while another mature deer is a frequent daylight walker. It’s all dependent on the behavior of specific deer. Choosing to hunt those bucks that don’t mind the sun is a wise choice.

Another thing to remember is that deer activity is relative, and habitat is key. You can’t kill big deer where big deer don’t live. Learn how to read the landscape and make a cogent decision on whether or not the area can sustain mature deer, or if they’ll be spending most of their time on neighboring properties.

Lastly (for the sake of this article — there is still so much more to consider), I’ve noticed that mature bucks that rarely move during daylight often slip up and move when the first good cold front of October hits. It’s like a light switch flips and causes them to go off on a feeding frenzy. Monitoring the weather and waiting for such a time can be very effective. It’s how I killed my 2016 Kentucky buck, which hadn't been moving far in daylight. That is, up until the day I killed it. I set up within 100 yards of the buck’s bed and waited for it to slip up. The 5½-year-old deer came waddling out of the brush about 45 minutes before the end of legal shooting light. After a 10-minute stare-down, I plunged an arrow right behind the shoulder through the buck’s lungs. The massive drop in temperature got this deer up on its feet well before it normally left its bedding area.

Scenario: You Aren’t Close Enough to the Buck’s Core Area

For the most part, I consider the whole “nocturnal” deal to be a bunch of nonsense. But there’s a twist. There are some days that mature bucks won’t move outside of their bedding area during daylight. I do believe that. But I think the vast majority of bucks will move significant distances in daylight (outside the rut) when conditions are right. And I also believe virtually all bucks move at least short distances from their beds during daylight on the worst day.

The author with a 5 1/2-year-old Kentucky buck he shot this season. (Chantal Honeycutt photo)All of that said, it’s very possible that a buck is nocturnal in the area you’re focusing on. Just because you’re getting photos of a buck at midnight doesn’t mean it’s laying down until after dark. It could simply mean the deer is bedding away from that area. You might be inside the deer’s home range (average of 600 to 700 acres) but not in the buck’s core area (50 to 75 acres). It’s hard to kill it if you’re outside that core area, as bucks spend the vast majority of their time in their respective core areas. Trying to kill them outside of that zone is near to impossible, resulting in seemingly nocturnal bucks.

If you aren’t getting daylight photos of a buck, try moving locations. Post cameras in surrounding areas if possible and see what turns up. You might just be pleasantly surprised to see that same “nocturnal” buck moving in daylight.

Scenario: You Aren’t on the Buck’s Preferred Route of Travel

Another possible scenario is that you aren’t on that deer’s preferred travel route. I’ve had bucks on camera solely at night, only to move those cameras a short distance and get them on camera in daylight.

Mature bucks are creatures of habits.They often prefer certain trails leading from bedding areas over others. If your cameras or stand locations are posted in areas not preferred or frequented by the deer you’re after, the bucks might not pass by in daylight, leaving you to think they're nocturnal. When in reality, you just aren’t set up in the right spot.

Fix this by using the shotgun approach. If you’re getting only nighttime photos, but still think the deer is close by, post trail cameras along several consecutive trails to see which one(s) the deer is using. Once you’ve determined the right ones to focus on, wait for the right conditions with the highest odds of success before moving in for the kill.

Scenario: The Buck is (Mostly) Nocturnal

There have been studies to show that bucks truly are nocturnal for the most part. These bucks still move in daylight, but the distance in which they travel from their beds is minimal. They do well to move more than 100 yards from their beds before nightfall.

This type of buck is rarer than you might think, though. But the best time to target them is during the rut. While they might not run a country mile like their younger, more active cohorts, they’re still more likely to rise from their beds before dark when does are entering estrus all around them.

Determine where these bucks are bedding. Then, wait for the rut to kick in and set up on the downwind side of where the buck is bedded. This is the best method for "nocturnal" bucks.

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