How to Hunt Big, Old, Mature Bucks

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A 12,000-Word Road Map to Success That's Packed with Pure Big-Buck Knowledge

It's deer season. And you've got your hopes and dreams set on a big mature buck. Maybe you've already seen the deer. Maybe it's only come to you in your dreams. Regardless, it's gonna take a little luck, work and know-how to make it a reality. Here's much of what you need to know to make it all happen.

(Denver Bryan photo)

Bedding Habits of Mature Deer

Getting close to mature bucks is a tough task. It’s certainly an endeavor that isn’t accomplished without sound judgment, attention to detail, habitat awareness, terrain-reading abilities, and skill. It’s very difficult to do without an understanding of buck bedding behavior.

Here are eight common bedding habits that mature bucks live and die by. And in more cases than not, these things are what keep them alive.

1.  Using Advantageous Terrain

There’s a difference in hunting deer and hunting mature bucks. Deer — does and young bucks — will often bed much closer to food sources than mature bucks. In many cases, they bed in locations that provide much less security, too.

Mature bucks generally choose beds that provide some sort of advantage over predators. This is often directly related to the terrain type. For example, bucks frequently bed at the end of a ridge on a point. Bedding on these points usually allows them to see, smell and hear danger before it gets close enough to kill them. Look for areas that give deer the upper hand where you hunt, and that’s generally where they’ll be during daylight hours.

2. Hugging Tight to Food When Unpressured

Bucks that are pressured behave much differently than bucks that are unpressured. That’s just the way it is. Outside of hunting season — mostly the spring and summer — virtually all mature bucks will bed close to food sources. They do so because of lack of fear. Hunters aren’t chasing them at this time and their behavior reflects it. For those who hunt areas where the hunting pressure is relatively controlled, it’s possible to hunt mature deer once the season begins that exhibit this same reckless behavior.

3. Bedding in Remote Locations When Pressured

The flip side of this is when hunters start hitting the woods. Everything changes once those mature deer catch wind (pun intended) of hunters. They relocate to bedding areas that provide better security and sanctuary. They move less during daylight. And the game gets that much harder.

4. Staying Close to Water

This is a very important variable that people often overlook. They get so wrapped up in food sources that water falls by the wayside. Studies show that deer often go to water before food when they get up in the evenings. Although not as important as cover and security, my experiences show this is an important factor when bucks choose bedding locations.

5. Their Backs to the Wall

Believe it or not, bucks often bed with their backs up against a log, rock or other object. This gives them additional cover and helps shield their presence from predators. It isn't as easy for hunters and predators to see deer when half their body is covered up.

6. Facing Downwind

Typically, bucks will bed against these solid objects (logs, rocks, etc.), watch downwind with their eyes, and cover their rear (upwind) with their nose. Of course, those ears are always on a swivel, too. This “system” allows deer to better protect themselves from danger.

7. Watching Their Backtrail

Just as it’s ridiculous to think deer always walk into the wind, it’s also ridiculous to say that deer ALWAYS do No. 5 and 6 above. That said, most of the time they do practice those two things. But even when they don’t, bucks almost always seem to bed down and watch their backtrail for predators.

8. Caution Varies

How cautious bucks are varies from buck to buck. Every whitetail has a different personality. Some bucks are warier than others. That’s just the way it is. Beyond that, based on my experience, bedded bucks are warier of a morning than of an afternoon. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe bucks are restless and hungry by the afternoon and are more apt to throw caution to the wind. Maybe it’s because they fear a predator might follow them back to bed of a morning and so they’re more careful in their habits. Regardless, I feel bucks are more “on edge” when returning to their bedding areas than when they leave them.

-- Josh Honeycutt

(Shutterstock / Tom Reichner photo)

Feeding Habits of Mature Deer

Food is extremely important in deer hunting. Food is at the center of everything — even the rut. So when we’re trying to stick a big deer, we have to take into account their feeding habits.

1. They Are “Concentrate Selectors”

This not only applies to big deer but all deer. What this means is deer consume the most nutrient-rich, highly palatable foods they can find. This often means they bite off the top of a plant, tip of a new shoot of grass, or bud on a tree or plant. They generally do not eat the entire plant, just the best part of it. Then, when they’ve bedded down, they’ll regurgitate what they’ve eaten, chew their cud and digest it further before swallowing it again.

2. Food Drives Everything

Food is king. It’s always king no matter the time of the season or year. Everything revolves around it — even bedding areas. Granted, mature deer choose bedding areas based on the security they provide. Bucks will travel great distances to reach a food source. But in areas where deer don’t receive as much pressure — golden nuggets of land in the deer world — they give up some of that security to bed closer to food sources. In areas that are pressured, bucks will travel further and you won’t ever see them on those major food sources. That means you have to hunt further away from food sources and closer to bedding areas.

3. They Feed in Staging Areas First

I generally don’t hunt over major food sources when I’m trying to kill a mature deer that’s on my radar. It is possible to catch a careless buck working a big field in daylight. But it’s rare. However, it is much more common to see a big deer on its feet in daylight feeding in a staging area. These can be small food plots, pockets of dropped acorns, etc. Find these locations between bedding areas and major food sources. That’s the best way to kill a mature buck while it's eating.

4. They Take Meandering Routes to the Dinner Table

Does and young bucks typically take a direct route to the food. They don’t take as many precautions as mature bucks. The old ones, they take meandering routes to food sources. They play the wind. They play the thermals. They take travel routes that are strategic for them. In order to understand how this applies to where you hunt, you have to study that place and think like a wary deer.

5. Most Don’t Make It to Major Food Sources Until After Dark

As previously mentioned, most mature bucks don’t make it to major food sources until after the sun sets. It’s a survival tactic. Move less in daylight and run into less hunters. How do we overcome that? Hunt further away from these food sources.

6. They Like Their Salad with Dressing

I’ve personally noticed that deer — and mature bucks — seem to move more right after a good rain. I don’t have any data or science to support why that is. I just know they do. Who knows, maybe they like their salad with dressing.

7. Food Source Preferences Vary

Every buck has a different personality. Therefore, food source preferences will vary from buck to buck. Some bucks prefer beans to corn. Some prefer corn to beans. Some don’t prefer either and stick to browse. Every deer is different. Determine what the individual deer you’re after prefers by scouting.

8. Deer Take Cuisine Vacations

Recent studies have proven that deer go on excursions. They’ll leave their home range and go elsewhere for a period of time. This can range from hours to days. But they take these “vacations” periodically. Now, I don’t know what causes them to do this. No one does. And I’m not suggesting food is the reason. But one thing is for sure, they ain’t eatin’ at home when they do. They’re using food sources they typically don’t use. So if the deer you’re hunting suddenly disappears, or if you see a new deer for a short period of time, this is likely what happened.

9. Feeding Habits Aren’t Really Habits

Deer are very fickle creatures. And food sources are always changing. Because of that, their behavior, bedding areas, and travel routes are always changing, too. You have to stay ahead of them and know what food sources deer will be hitting before they hit them.

10. Deer Eat During the Day

Don’t think deer don’t move during the day. They do. And bucks don’t lay down from dawn to dusk. They get up to feed. They get up to drink. They get up to relieve themselves. However, when mature deer do feed during the day, it’s generally within 100 to 150 yards of their bedding area. So if you can find a good food source close to a thick bedding area, you’ll be in the money for some action.

Don't Miss: What Deer Eat: A Seasonal Guide to Nutrition

-- Josh Honeycutt

(Denver Bryan photo)

Watering Habits of Mature Deer

Killing a mature buck isn’t easy. It’s actually pretty darn difficult. Because of that, I try to get inside the mind of a mature buck. That includes understanding bedding habits, feeding habits and watering habits. Those are a white-tailed buck’s three basic needs.

1. They Will Drink Several Times Per Day

Deer are fairly large animals. A 200-pound buck will typically drink 3 to 5 quarts per day. This number fluctuates, but it does generally fall within that window.

2. Temperature Dictates Quantity

As mentioned, the amount of water that a deer will drink varies. The biggest factor in this fluctuation is temperature. The hotter it is the more water is needed to stay hydrated. Makes sense, right? This isn’t something mature bucks are immune to. So especially on those hotter days, incorporate water into the hunt plan.

3. Buck Beds Will Be Relatively Close to a Water Source

Recent studies show that many deer — especially mature bucks — often bed close to water. Of the largest buck beds I’ve discovered in heavy cover, the vast majority of them have been located within 75 yards of a water source, even if it was a very small source.

4. Deer Often Go to Water Before Food of an Evening

Other studies show that mature deer — and deer in general — often go to water before food. You can take advantage of this by hunting near a water source located close to a bedding area.

5. They Don’t Need Large Sources, A Puddle Will Do

Don’t think deer require a nice, pretty pond or bubbling brook to drink out of. A rain puddle from the day before will suit them just fine. That’s what makes it nearly impossible to use whitetails' need for water to kill them during times of rain. But you can also use this to your advantage when it's drier. Put in small water sources just outside of bedding areas, on travel routes, in staging areas, and within food plots for better success.

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-- Josh Honeycutt

(Shutterstock / Warren Metcalf photo)

Habits of Mature Rutting Bucks

Two words that you don’t often hear in the same sentence are “rut” and “habits.” But one thing is for certain, bucks do certain things habitually during the rut each fall. You just have to know what to look for. And you have to know how it applies to your deer hunting. Here are seven of those things.

1. They Religiously Search for Does Within Their Home Range

Bucks are very devoted to finding does during the rut. That’s what they do. And they cover their home range and then some in search of does each fall. However, every deer’s personality is different and will travel more or less based upon their own inclinations.

2. They Feed Much Less During the Rut

Again, it depends on personality, but most bucks feed much less during the rut. Instead, they spend the majority of their time searching for does. They lose a lot of weight during this period and spend the summer and pre-rut building up fat stores to get them through the rut. In fact, bucks can lose as much as 20 to 30 percent of their body weight by rut’s end.

3. They Move More During Midday Lunch Hours Than Other Times of the Year

Bucks are adaptive. They learn to move when people don’t. Pressure affects them. That leads to quite a bit of midday movement during the rut.

4. They Cruise Certain Areas More Than Others

Mature bucks know where and how to find does during the rut. That’s why you’ll commonly find bucks cruising through doe bedding areas, leeward ridges, field edges, pinch-points, saddles, etc. Focus on traditional rut stand locations to target bucks during the rut.

5. They Spend Less Time Working Rubs and Scrapes Once Does Begin Entering Estrus

Once does start entering estrus, bucks spend less time laying down rut sign. Instead, they’re more devoted to tending those does. Then, once the bulk of the breeding is over, they’ll go back to tending scrapes more.

6. They Drive Estrus Does to the Thickest Cover

Mature bucks know that estrus does mean competition with other bucks. That’s why, when they find an estrus doe, they’ll push it into the nearest thick cover they can find. This helps them to defend the doe as other bucks try to move in.

7. They Spend 24 to 48 Hours with Estrus Does

Bucks will spend anywhere from 24 to 48 hours (sometimes even more) with a doe when it comes into estrus. This is referred to as the lock-down period. It’s a very difficult time to hunt. You’re either in the action or you’re not. The best thing to do is hunt in or near thick cover when this phase begins.

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-- Josh Honeycutt

(Shutterstock / Jim Cumming photo)

Understand That Every Buck Has Its Own Personality

Every deer is unique. They have different facial characteristics, body size and antler structure. Most importantly, they have different personalities. That’s what makes every deer hunt different. Some bucks have personalities that make them easier to kill. Some are harder. Below are some of each.

Mature Buck Personalities We Hate

The Celibate Buck: The buck that doesn’t chase tail (there are bucks that don’t breed) poses a problem for most hunters. The vast majority of deer hunters rely on the rut to fill their buck tag. I do it. It’s a smart play, unless you’re hunting a deer that doesn’t partake in the festivities.

The only way to get to this buck is through his belly. Hold fast to the early season mentality and focus on food sources. This buck likely beds in the thickest cover available that is away from other deer. Keep that in mind when you're scouting and choosing setups.

How to Recognize: He’s timid around other deer. Use video mode on trail cameras to see how he behaves.

The Night Prowler: Most bucks refrain from much daylight movement throughout most of the year. Some bucks refuse to emerge during daylight at all. I refer to these as the night prowlers.

There’s only one option with this deer: Hug him. Get as close to his bed as you dare, and wait for him to slip up. Don’t hunt afternoons. You’ll bust him. Hunt mornings instead. Climb into the stand two to three hours before the first hint of daylight, and wait for him. Hunt until after lunch. You may not see him initially, but he’ll get up and stretch a few times throughout the morning.

How to Recognize: You’ve never seen this deer in person. He never steps foot in the open during daylight. All trail camera photos are at night.

The Loner Buck: This buck may not seem to pose a challenge at first. But don’t underestimate this deer. I’ve learned something about this type deer during my hunting career: Habits are meticulous. This buck chooses bedding areas carefully. He always plays the wind. It’s virtually impossible to touch this deer because his bedding area is either impenetrable or set up for him to detect danger.

Target this deer the same way you would the night prowler: Slip in early in the morning and get in tight. The alternative is waiting until the rut. He’s not really a dominant buck, but he will breed if given the opportunity. Odds aren’t as likely as with more confrontational bucks, though.

How to Recognize: You never see him interact with other bucks. He doesn’t appear in trail camera photos with other deer. He’s always alone when you see him in the open — even during the early season.

The Unpredictable Deer: This type of deer is rare. I’ve only knowingly seen a few bucks act this way all of the time. Some deer are just very unpredictable.

This buck is on one camera today, another tomorrow. He occasionally shows up during weird daylight times. It’s not enough to go on and plan a hunt, though. He shows up on camera at night. But it’s never at the same times then, either.

The only way to attack this personality type is to hunt. Set up where you think you should to kill this deer. Follow your gut. He moves in daylight. He just never does the same thing twice. Time and dumb luck is what it will take to get this one.

How to Recognize: Most bucks have at least a hint of a pattern. There’s at least a little regularity in movements. You never see a pattern with this buck.

The Sensitive Buck: This buck won’t die at the hands of aggressive hunters. Decoys are a no-go for this buck. He isn’t aggressive. Buck grunts and rattling won’t lure this deer in, either. It’s best not to call, but if you do, use a doe bleat.

The best way to kill this deer is by being patient. He’ll still behave like most bucks. He’s just soft and shy. Use conventional tactics that aren’t aggressive. He’ll eventually slip up.

How to Recognize: This buck rarely appears in trail camera photos with other bucks. When he does, he exhibits subdominant traits. Look for him to “nose up” to other bucks, have loose posture, keep his head down, etc.

Easiest Mature Buck Personalities to Hunt

The Daylight Walker: This one might seem a touch obvious. And in reality, it essentially encompasses most of the other seven personalities on this list. But at the base level, a daylight walker (a deer that travels lengthy distances from its bedding area during daylight) is significantly easier to kill than a buck that travels only a short distance from its bed during legal shooting hours.

How to Recognize: This deer is easy to see. You spot him when scouting from afar, from the treestand, and especially on trail cameras. Simply, if the deer ventures out in daylight, it’s a daylight walker.

Plan of Attack: Just because this buck is a daylight walker doesn’t mean it’s predictable or on a consistent pattern. Use a combination of scouting from afar and trail cameras to learn about this deer. But be careful. Just because it moves frequently during daylight, doesn’t mean it is overly tolerable to pressure and human intrusion. Once you have a solid plan in place, move into the area that you feel is the best spot to target the buck.

The Predictable Deer: This buck is both moving in daylight and on a regular pattern. You can’t ask for anything better, really. I mean, the deer is pretty much handing itself to you on a platter. You just have to make sure you don’t screw everything up.

How to Recognize: This deer uses the same bedding area, food source, watering hole and/or trail consistently. Regardless of which one(s) of these “your” deer is doing, it still takes work and effort to realize the deer is in fact a predictable one.

Plan of Attack: You have to learn a buck in order to learn its habits and weaknesses. Don’t hunt this buck too soon. But don’t wait so long that its patterns change, either. Because they will alter behavior eventually if only because of changing, seasonal food sources. Spend a few days scouting the deer and then strike when conditions are right.

The Homebody Buck: This deer is not a wanderer. It might have a small home range, but it definitely has a small core area. For a buck to qualify as the homebody type, it has a core area of 30 acres or less — in which the deer spends 75 to 80 percent (or more) of its time.

How to Recognize: This buck shows up on trail camera a lot — both day and night. It might hit one of your cameras periodically throughout the day and/or night. Or it might hit numerous trail cameras within a small area within a 24-hour period. Regardless, the deer is living there and you need to learn as much about this deer as possible.

Plan of Attack: This is the perfect time to deploy the tactic I call blitzing a buck. Position multiple trail cameras around the buck’s core area to determine how this deer is moving about the landscape. After a week or so, plot all trail camera appearances on an aerial map. Note the time of day and direction of travel with each sighting. You might also note the historical wind direction, temperature and any weather event that occurred at the time the trail camera photo was taken. Then observe the information you have. This will paint a picture on where the deer is likely bedding, feeding, how it uses the land and key situations/times it does so. Make your stand accordingly.

The Potbelly Pig: Food is king in the world of whitetails. Most deer behavior revolves around it. And while food is priority No. 1 for all whitetails, some of them seem to be more controlled by their belly than others. I can relate . . .

How to Recognize: This deer is seen feeding more often than other mature bucks. You’ll witness it feeding primarily in early afternoon hours. But you also might spot it on a food source during morning hours and midday as well.

Plan of Attack: Focus on food. This deer is obviously venturing out of its bed during daylight hours. So don’t risk pressuring the deer by pushing back into cover to hunt it. Wait for the deer to come to you since it’s moving so far during daylight. Set up on the food source it’s predominately keying on. And remember food sources change. Deer follow the transition in available food sources. Until you tag the deer, you’ll have to transition your stand locations as well.

The Curious Buck: Most all deer are inquisitive by nature. But some deer are over the top. This type is attracted by just about everything. It seems to investigate nonstop. And I’ve even witnessed on one occasion where a particular buck was much less afraid than other deer, and instead of fleeing, was curious about things that other deer would naturally be afraid of.

How to Recognize: It’s constantly checking things out. You might see this deer — whether in person or on trail cameras — nose up to things. It might react more often to calling and rattling than other bucks. This deer might even be the last to leave when something causes deer to clear the field. But one thing remains the same — it’s inquisitive.

Plan of Attack: This might be the time to get aggressive with calling, rattling (at the right time of year) and even scents. I’ve never been big on using scent drags. But they have their place, I suppose. I really like mock scrapes for this particular type of buck, though. Better yet, if you can easily access the mock scrape without pressuring the area or alerting deer to your presence, freshen up the scrape around the same time each day (preferably a few hours after daylight or a few hours before dark). I’ve noticed that some bucks will naturally deduce that the new “intruder” buck is visiting that scrape at a certain time (when you freshen it) and try to intercept it on its “pattern.”

The Immature Whitetail: This is one of my favorite buck personalities to hunt. Most bucks will be in bachelor groups until late September or early October. Most of them will be grouped with bucks close to their age. But every now and then you’ll see a mature buck grouped with one or more 1½- or 2½-year-old bucks.

How to Recognize: It’s been my experience that this type of mature buck is susceptible to falling in line with the behavior of the younger buck(s) and move more during daylight. Typically, it’s as if the younger deer is/are a bad influence on the older one, instead of the older buck being a good influence (in terms of less daylight movement) on the younger whitetail(s).

Plan of Attack: Pattern the bucks and determine where they’re moving most during daylight. Hang a couple stands for two different wind directions and wait until the time is right to move in and hunt.

The Bully Buck: Like people, some bucks are just pure bullies. They run around beating up on all the other bucks. They might even be seen pushing does around. It happens. But the fact remains — these deer are aggressive and primed to do battle.

How to Recognize: This type of mature buck is common in all age brackets. But it’s especially notorious among the oldest and biggest-bodied deer in the herd — especially in areas with a balanced age structure. As for spotting the deer, it postures frequently, walks rigidly around other deer, makes bluff charges and is ultimately quick to confront other whitetails. It engages in fights with others and will typically exhibit extra aggression, even when it’s apparent the opponent is merely attempting to spar.

Plan of Attack: Aggressive tactics such as calling and rattling are key. But don’t do it without a plan. Bully bucks are still smart and will likely circle downwind of your setup after the calling sequence. Make sure your stand location is positioned in such a way that limits their ability to get your wind. Or at the very least, be able to intercept them and get a shot off before they do.

The Breeder Buck: Again, this is the most common deer on the list, especially during the rut. But allow me to clarify one thing — there is no such thing as a breeder buck in the sense that they breed all of the does. Studies have proven that while mature bucks will breed all or most of the first does to enter estrus, during the peak of the rut, younger bucks get in on the action, too. This is especially common in areas where buck-to-doe ratios are skewed with more does than bucks. All said, some mature bucks are more apt than others to spend daylight hours searching for estrus does. These are easier to kill.

How to Recognize: This deer might not have moved much in daylight during the early season. But the tail end of the pre-rut has flipped his switch and he’s moving more than ever in daytime. You might see the deer cruising from the stand. If so, pay attention to where the deer is coming from or where it’s going. A bed-to-feed or feed-to-bed trail/pattern will look different than one where a buck is checking scrapes and searching for does.

Plan of Attack: Your approach will vary depending on the stage of the rut. If it’s the pre-rut, set up just outside the buck’s primary bedding area on a scrape line. Get as close as you can to the deer without bumping it. If the rut has started, but the bulk of does haven’t really started entering estrus, set up near the known doe bedding area that’s closest to the buck’s bedding location. Once the rut has kicked in gear, set up in traditional rut stand locations such as saddles, benches, pinch-points and funnels.

-- Josh Honeycutt

(John Hafner photo)

How to Conduct In-Season Scouting Without Pressuring Deer

In-season scouting is a topic that few hunters agree on. Some advocate for it. Others advocate against it. I’m caught somewhere in-between.

I think it’s important to always limit the amount of pressure you put on deer whether during the season or outside of it. During the season, pressuring deer (especially continuously) damages your chances of seeing deer move during daylight. But it’s also important whenever the season isn’t open as well because pressure stresses deer. And ongoing stress hurts the physical health of a whitetail. Nonetheless, here are some things to keep in mind when conducting in-season scouting this fall and winter.

Methods for Low-Impact Scouting

I always begin with low-impact scouting tactics that aren’t as likely to spook deer. Time permitting, that’s the most logical sequence of events. Don’t pressure deer if it isn’t necessary. If low-impact methods gather the information you need, why do more and risk alerting deer to your presence?

The first thing I like to do if the terrain allows is to scout from afar. And “from afar” doesn’t have to be several hundred yards. It can be shorter distances. The key is to sit in a location that doesn’t bump deer walking in, while there, or while walking out.

Another low-impact scouting tool is to use trail cameras. Put them up in areas where deer likely already expect human intrusion. These are typically large food sources and major trails close to food sources. Your presence in such areas typically doesn’t result in major home range, core area or pattern changes unless you’re constantly spooking deer.

The third and final low-impact, in-season scouting method is to hang an observation stand. You’re actually hunting now; but it’s in a location that puts you in position to see how deer are using the area. And who knows, if you get lucky, you might even get a shot from that location.

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Times to Not Invade Bedding Areas When Scouting

There are only a few times you shouldn’t scout heavy cover — If you already have enough information; if others have already been applying a lot of pressure in the area; if you know the property well enough that scouting is less important; and/or if you plan to hunt funnels and pinch-points during the rut.

Outside of these scenarios, you’re better off scouring the property once to learn as much about it as you can, despite the pressure that follows it. Don’t worry about pushing deer out of the area. One trek around the block shouldn’t cause that. So don’t feel like you can’t peek into the heavy cover once to see what you find — especially if it’s still early in the season.

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Don’t Feel Like You Shouldn’t Put Boots on the Ground

There are two sides to the scouting coin — low-impact and high-impact. Sometimes, the low-impact tactic doesn’t get the job done and you have to turn to the high-impact methods. There are really only two high-impact methods you can rely on — boots-on-the-ground and placing trail cameras closer to the bedding and staging areas.

It’s common to read in modern deer hunting literature that any pressure is bad. And that can be true. But it’s more often a half-truth and the information you gather while in the field is worth the limited pressure you apply while out there.

I’m a firm believer you can bump a buck from its bed and get away with it. He’ll come back. After all, if you think about it, the bed served its purpose and allowed the deer to detect danger before danger detected it. It makes sense to believe that a bump or two would increase the buck’s confidence in its bedding choice. Granted, a deer will likely uproot and find a more secluded bed if it’s continuously pushed from it. One scouting trip afield shouldn’t cause that, though. And knowing where that deer beds is invaluable information when planning for future hunts.

It’s also effective to place cameras in areas deer are more likely to frequent during daylight hours. That said, I’d place those there for long-term scouting. Or, if you have minimal time to hunt, take a trip before the hunt and place cameras near likely bedding areas. Leave them running until you return to hunt. Using this method applies some pressure, but it provides valuable information — especially if you aren’t already familiar with the area.

So get out there and scout this fall. Do what it takes to punch that tag and put venison on the kitchen table.

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-- Josh Honeycutt

(Realtree photo)

How Mature Bucks Use the Wind

The age-old question often comes up when hunters begin discussing big, old smart bucks. How do they use the wind to travel? Every time I hear this come up, or see it on a forum, I know we’re in for a long debate with more opinionated arguing than the presidential debate.

Three False Theories and a Right One

There are those who swear that every big deer they see travels with nose into the wind. Others claim that deer walk the wind to their back. And let’s not forget the ones who claim it’s always a crosswind. Common sense alone should tell us that if deer "always" walked a certain direction based on the wind they would end up drowning in an ocean after a two-week, one-direction wind.

Rather than agree with one side or the other on debatable topics, I try to learn from the best teachers — whitetails. When I hunt, I’m not just out there waiting for a shot. I’m observing whitetail behavior. I take note of the wind directions in correlation to buck movement every time I see one. And what I commonly hear in conversation does not match what I’ve learned from four decades of deer observations.

I believe that the guys who see deer walking wind-to-tail see that observation because they believe that’s how deer travel. Therefore, they set up for deer to move in that manner. And the same can be said for the wind-to-nose and crosswind-only theories. The deer I see outside of the rut travel from point A to point B going from bedding to food or water, and back to bedding with little regard to the wind.

That said, there are certain times when I do see them use the wind outside of the rut. One example is in hilly terrain when deer enter a field. If the field has a low spot, older bucks tend to enter from that low spot when entering in the afternoon/evening. I’ve heard some say that is to keep them from being as visible. Perhaps that has some validity to it. But I think it has more to do with catching the dropping thermal air current that occurs around sunset. If you test the air current like I do (with milkweed plumes), you will see the thermals pulling all around the high spots in the field down to these low spots.

Another exception is when hunting pressure becomes a factor. See, I learned long ago there is usually a stand in place in a lot of the best spots on pressured land. But if you look downwind 100 yards or so (just out of sight of the hunter’s stand), I commonly find where the older bucks are circling around the hunter unnoticed.

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Wind in Correlation with Buck Bedding Areas

Buck bedding is something I have really studied hard. Why? Mature bucks move very little in daylight and you need to get in close to kill them. In my four decades of hunting, I have found that bucks bed in certain spots based on wind direction. For example, a buck will bed on a thick edge looking into the open with wind coming out of the thick stuff to its back. That type deer will almost always come into its bed by coming into the wind — smelling its bed. Then it’ll turn around and watch its back trail. Think about it. That’s a pretty smart move for an animal. They don’t have ground scent coming in from one direction and wind scent blowing from another. They only have to worry about a predator smelling them with one line of scent. Which is why it’s so hard to track a mature buck and kill it in its bed. That deer is set up to watch you coming down its trail.

On the flip side, based on my observations, when bucks leave their bedding area they pay little attention to wind direction. That might sound wrong. I hear many hunters say different. But my 40 years of observing pressured and un-pressured bucks, I don't see a correlation. I do see them come out faster, further and with more confidence when the wind is blowing to them from the direction they travel, though. This might be why some hunters see more deer traveling this way. But, in my opinion, it’s simply because they’re hunting too far back from the bedding to observe other movement.

To me, a deer has what I call a “safe zone” — a circle around its bedding area where it thinks it’s safe from harm. In this area, it can smell you, see you, and/or hear you approaching. A mature buck feels safe here. And it will get up and move in daylight because of it. When the deer gets to the edge of the safe zone, it slows down and shows a little more caution. Some hunters have a different definition of a staging area, but I refer to that hesitation area as the staging area. My advice? A hunter’s best position is to set up right at the edge of the safe zone in the staging area.

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Using the Wind During the Rut

During the rut, some of this buck behavior changes. Cruising bucks (day walkers looking for does) tend to walk with a crosswind while trying to smell as many areas as possible. They do this while looking to pick up the scent of a hot doe. It’s common sense if you think about it, though. Walking into or away from the wind will only give you the scent you have already been smelling, but crosswinds will give you new areas to smell with each step. Just make sure you’re on the right side of that crosswind when you set up.

In hilly terrain, you can really narrow down the cruisers. These deer tend to cruise leeward (downwind side) ridges. Furthermore, they cruise the top one-third of the ridge where the rising thermals and wind coming over the top (from the opposite direction) meet. This allows them to smell from below and above at the same time. Hunting cruising bucks in this type of terrain is as easy as checking the wind direction and mapping out long, connecting leeward ridges.

We hear a lot of talk about hunting the downwind side of doe bedding areas. I don't totally disagree with that, but there’s more to it. Oftentimes I find bucks cruising the up-wind side. Might sound a little crazy. That said, observations have shown that they cruise the side that does enter and exit out of the bedding area. All the while smelling the ground scent on the trails.

You’re golden when both the entrance and exit trails are downwind. But when they differ, you need to look at the sign to decide. Generally, you can't see the faint buck trail cause it only gets used during the rut. However, the doe trails coming out of the bedding will often be marked at the buck and doe crossing with a rub or a scrape.

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-- Dan Infalt

(Russell Graves photo)

How to Increase the Odds of Killing That Big Buck on Trail Camera

I constantly have hunters tell me of a giant buck they have on the property they hunt, yet they can't kill it, or even see in daylight. But get a lot of trail camera pictures and see plenty of sign (rubs, big tracks, etc.). A lot of guys conclude that the buck is nocturnal, or just too old and wise to get killed by a smart hunter on purpose. But in reality, the hunter is probably stuck in a pattern of hunting a certain way that is stopping him/her from getting an opportunity.

Let’s face it — most of us are not hunting the huge cushy managed farms most TV hunting celebrities are hunting. So why would we think those tactics would work on pressured public or the back 40? If pounding antlers together, tooting on grunt calls, bathing in deer urine, sitting in funnels, and sitting over the top of food plots really killed giant bucks as efficiently as often proclaimed, we would all have walls full of giant bucks. In the real world, doing the same thing everyone else does will result in the same success everyone else has.

I remember one buck in particular that gave me quite a challenge. I had seen him many times glassing during the summer, saw his big tracks and rubs all over the hunting area. I knew the area well and was sure it would be a piece of cake to kill him. I hunted all the known buck bedding areas and hunted areas where heavy amounts of his sign showed up, yet I never laid eyes on him. The sign kept showing up on food edges, and the area was not that big or dense. I was sure he was within a small chunk of public, so why couldn't I lay my eyes on him?

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I had to change my way of thinking. There is no such thing as a fully nocturnal buck. I had to be hunting in the wrong spots. I started to look at it from a different point of view. Many hunters hunted this parcel, and this buck knew he was being hunted. So, if I were that buck and everyone was trying to kill me, where would I hide, and how would I survive if I had to hide in that woods? When you start searching for great hiding spots, rather than spots that look like they should have deer, your hunting will greatly improve.

I took a map of the property and broke it down into grid sections of about 10 acres each. Some bigger, some smaller based on openings and thickness. And I wanted to know everything that happened in that area when I hunt it. I crossed out areas that had no cover and picked sections small enough to know if he was there when I hunted. Cover, density and how far I could see determined the size of each section. Once the area was broken down into sections, I picked the best spot to hunt in each section, then started hunting them down based on where I thought he was hiding the most.

What was interesting about this particular buck is that I hunted thru the sections and was almost out of sections when I got to one section I never would have hunted if I had not grid sectioned that parcel. This area was mature hardwoods with very little cover and very little deer sign. But it was an unhunted section and I was sticking with the plan to the end. About 30 minutes before closing time, a noise and some movement caught my eye. A nice buck came out of a small brush patch surrounding a fallen tree. It was him and he came right to me where I arrowed him.

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This was many years ago, and the first time I used this tactic, but certainly not the last. This buck taught me how important it is to look for the overlooked, and to hunt a property down. He is hiding there somewhere. You just have to find him, and you’re certainly not going to do that rotating thru the same stand positions over and over like everyone else. The hunt for that buck was a stepping stone that started to open my eyes that the concept of picking a spot and waiting for a buck to come to you, was greatly flawed. I believe the majority of hunters that are struggling with killing mature bucks on a regular basis are making that mistake of waiting for the buck rather than seeking him out. They would likely do better tossing a dart at the map and hunting wherever it lands on a day-to-day basis rather than to keep hunting that same spot that likely every buck over 4 years old knows about.

Mature bucks only move a short distance during daylight, so the chances of being within that short travel window can be really slim if you hunt the same spots over and over. By spreading out over a large area, you will eventually run across him, a different shooter, or simply run out of time. If you grid a property and have a couple dozen sections to hunt, and start with the best, you should run into that buck or a different good buck fairly quickly. If you get eyes on him, or at least a daylight picture, you can abandon the plan now that you have daylight intel. If a buck disappears during the season that you were seeing, you can start over. If it’s private land, you could have a stand preset in each area.

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I still use the grid system on some properties, but after a while, you start improving at hopping around and hunting down a property without actually grid sectioning a map. During the 2016 season, I heard rumors of a huge buck on a conservancy I drew an early November bowhunt on. On that property, I had two weeks to get it done and had multiple opportunities before finally shooting a nice 10-pointer. I simply hunted a different section each day. Other hunters on the same property complained of only seeing small bucks, but they hunted the same areas every time they hunted and tried to get the bucks to come to them.

Most hunters just hunt the sign or the food and go to the same areas over and over while the mature bucks are living in overlooked spots. Grid patterning forces you to hunt those spots you would otherwise overlook. If you take a 100-acre farm and break it into 10 sections, you can hunt that down in 10 hunts (five hunts with two people). No buck is completely nocturnal and if you force yourself to get into its daylight movement area, you should get your shot; or at least make a small adjustment and get your shot within a manageable time frame.

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-- Dan Infalt

(Shutterstock / Tony Campbell photo)

Times Mature Bucks Are More Apt to Move in Daylight

Big bucks are smart. They aren’t easy to get close to. They’re oftentimes reclusive, stuck in their ways and driven by survival. That makes hunting them more difficult than hunting other deer. But there are certain things and times to hunt that can help increase the odds of success. Here are five of those.

Dawn and Dusk: The research shows that mature bucks move most at dawn and dusk. There’s no changing that. And the data suggests that’ll always be true regardless of time of year, hunting pressure, etc. While midday hunts can be very effective, your best odds of killing are still in that first and last hour of legal shooting light.

When They Have the Wind in Their Favor: Mature bucks almost always use the wind to their advantage. That includes when they bed, feed and go to water. That’s why they’re more likely to move in a given location during daylight if the wind is in their favor while doing so. That’s where just-off winds come into play. Hunt those times when deer think the wind is in their favor, but it’s just good enough that you’re able to get a shot off without the deer smelling you.

Fronts and Significant Temperature Changes: Major increases or decreases in temperature have the ability to spark sudden deer activity and movement. I’ve witnessed this on many occasions. The amount of daylight activity increases noticeably when this happens? So, what’s a significant temperature change? In my opinion, it’s any temperature swing (up or down) of 15 to 20 degrees (or more) within a 24-hour period. These typically follow fronts and pop-up thunderstorms.

Key Weather Events: Rain. Snow. Thunderstorms. Anything else inclement-weather-related. These things encourage deer to move — especially if they occur in early morning or late afternoon. Some hunters say this isn’t a factor. But I’ve seen too much evidence to suggest it isn’t true. As a matter of fact, I just filled my 2018 Kentucky tag on a once-in-a-lifetime 8-point buck — in the rain.

When There’s Less Hunting Pressure: If there’s less hunting pressure, you can just about bet there will be more daylight activity. Deer that aren’t hunted as hard are typically more likely to move farther from their beds during daylight hours. It’s true. But, luckily, it is possible to find yourself in such situations on both private and public land if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to set yourself up for success.

-- Josh Honeycutt

(Brad Herndon photo)

Reasons Not to Call to Whitetail Deer

Calling is a tactic that is either loved or hated by most modern deer hunters. It either works a lot for them, or it rarely does. There isn’t much in-between. But I’m in-between. There are certain times that I will call to deer. But more times than not, I won’t. Here are five times that I generally will not. And then I’ll list the times that I do.

It’s Early in the Season: I’m not a big advocate of calling during the early season. In fact, I don’t really like to call except for the last two weeks of October and the first week or so of November. That’s when you’ll likely see the best results with calling. Outside of that, if you do choose to call, don’t be too aggressive unless you realize the situation calls for it. Instead, use subtle social grunts.

The Buck Is a Homebody: I’m less inclined to call if I know that buck is living in that area, there isn’t much risk of the deer leaving, and the rut is still a ways out. Why call to a pressured deer when there’s still time to use a lower-risk tactic?

I Know the Buck’s Personality: Every deer has its own personality. And if a deer is timid or anti-social, calling will likely send it running (the other way). That’s why scouting is essential and getting to know the personalities of the bucks you pursue is crucial. Obviously, you can’t always do that, though. So, reading the deer’s body language becomes extremely important before you make the decision to implement a calling strategy. You can learn a lot about a deer in a short time when observing them in the field.

The Deer Is Able to Circle Downwind: Generally, deer that are called to will try to circle downwind — especially pressured deer. If the terrain allows them to do so, and there’s a high probability they’ll circle downwind before coming into range, calling can do more harm than good. Keep that in mind when setting up stand locations if you’re the type who likes to deploy the grunt tubes each fall.

I’m Hunting Pressured Deer: If I’m hunting in an area where I know the deer are pressured, I’m much less likely to call to them. And in most cases, I’m definitely not blind calling. Those who hunt deer that see more hunters have heard calls. And they aren’t as likely to respond to them.

The Other Side — Times That I Will Call: If I’m hunting in an area where I know the deer are pressured, I’m much less likely to call to them. And in most cases, I’m definitely not blind calling. Those who hunt deer that see more hunters have heard calls. And they aren’t as likely to respond to them.

-- Josh Honeycutt

(Russell Graves photo)

Tips to Rattle in More Deer

Rattling and grunting can lure bucks from September through January. But there's no doubt that the tactics work best during the breeding season, and especially during the two-week scraping phase that I call the "hard pre-rut." A sexually frustrated buck on the prowl for the first hot doe of the year is stoked to come to your grunts or mock fights.

Finally, calling can work anywhere in North America, from Alberta to Virginia to Georgia. But again there's a caveat. Rattling and grunting work best on private, tightly posted and intensively managed lands where the buck-to-doe ratio is near 1:1. On such a place the rut is short and intense, and there is keen competition among mature bucks for the sexual favors of the relatively few does. But most of us hunt places where the sex ratio of whitetails is not so balanced, where fewer mature bucks live per square mile and where the hunting pressure is less controlled. Still, hang in there and keep rattling and grunting until you strike a big deer pumped to respond.

The Salad Bowl Approach: Bucks grunt, snort and wheeze as they fight. A hot doe with a grunting buck on her tail might bleat. You get the idea. Mix your calls. The more rutting sounds you throw out there during the late pre-rut and into the chase stage, the better the chances that one of the calls will strike a buck and pull it in.

Horn Hangin’ Trick: Tie one end of a 20-foot rope to a set of rattling horns. Climb into a treestand, carry the loose end of the rope up with you and tie it off to a stand brace within easy reach. The rope shouldn't have too much slack, and the horns should rest on the ground beneath your perch. Let's say a buck cruises into view an hour later, just out of bow or shotgun range. Well, pull and twitch the rope. The horns will clack like two bucks sparring. The "hangin' horns" trick cuts down on movement in a stand. A buck that focuses on the sparring at ground level might not look up and bust you as it sneaks in.

The Ultimate Scent Trap: I use a lot of buck lure when rattling and grunting late in the pre-rut. I soak boot pads and lay a rutting-buck trail into a calling site. Then I walk around my stand a couple of times. Finally I hang the boot pads (or wicks misted with fresh buck juice) on a tree limb to either side of my stand and 20 to 50 yards downwind, depending on whether I'm archery or gun hunting.

It stinks where I call, and that's the way I like it. When a buck responds to rattling or tending grunts, it expects to smell other deer. Many times a big deer will circle downwind of calling to sniff out a buck fight or a buck-tending-a-doe scenario. That's why the scent-posts are out there. I want a buck to smell 'em and stop before it gets downwind and busts me.

Any brand of buck lure will do. One that I like and use a lot is Tink's Tarsal Gland and Trophy Buck Lure, which combines both tarsal and interdigital secretions. In addition to masking your scent, the strong-smelling odor of a rutting buck might induce another buck to come in and check out your calling.

The Tick and Grind: During archery season in late September or early October, spar to mimic a couple of subdominant bucks jousting with their antlers and feeling each other out in the social order. Tick and grind a set of horns (or work a rattle bag or box) for 60 seconds or even up to three minutes. A live sparring match (not an all-out fight) between bucks sometimes lasts that long. In many areas sparring is more effective than hard rattling because it appeals to 1 1/2- to 2 1/2-year-old bucks, the ones most likely to come in and gawk at your calls. But the tick and grind can lure alpha bucks as well. A stud deer might shudder at the thought of two subordinates roughhousing. If it runs in to show who's the man, you might get a shot.

Rattle Near Does: If a spot has fresh rubs, scrapes and big tracks, great. But concentrate as much or more on doe feeding and bedding areas — lightly pressured food plots and oak woods in the afternoons, and deep-woods thickets and similar security spots in the mornings. Bucks hang around those areas a lot, especially late in the pre-rut. When you rattle or grunt near does you increase the odds of a buck hearing your calls and coming in for a peek.

Focus On Big Funnels or Bottoms: Don't outsmart yourself and look for too much cover or too much smoking sign. Sometimes, especially when rifle hunting, it pays to simply set up where you can watch a big chunk of country. Does on the brink of estrous run draws, hollows and the brushy edges of creeks and rivers every day. Where hot does travel bucks are sure follow. The more ground you can see, the better the chance that you'll spot a cruising buck. Use sharp rattling to reach out and touch a deer in a big funnel or bottom, and try to reel it close with more rattles or some grunts.

Try It in a Ridge Thicket: Try calling on high ground laced with brush, honeysuckle or similar cover. Many bucks bed and travel in and around ridge thickets, so you're in good position to start with. Also, you should have a good view of funnels, flats or fields below. The kicker: The wind and thermals are normally fairly steady and predictable on a ridge, so if you set up smartly, deer are less apt to smell you. Bucks like to work the steady winds as they prowl around and scent-check for does, so it's a perfect scenario to strike 'em with rattles or grunts.

Stick Tight to a Barrier: I've saved the best for last. Whenever possible, put some type of terrain barrier 50 yards or so behind your treestand or ground blind. Some examples: a thick windrow, a deep river, a steep bluff or a fenced pasture. We've mentioned several times that mature bucks like to circle downwind to get a whiff of fighting or grunting deer. But if you can block a circling buck with a barrier, you force him to approach your calls from the side or out front where it can't wind you and spook.

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-- Michael Hanback

(Realtree photo)

How to Decoy a Buck

A battle-scarred buck walks into an open field and spots your decoy. His ears lay flat against his head, and the hair on his neck bristles. With stiff legs and rigid back, he slowly closes the distance to chip-shot bow range, ready to trash that fake intruder. Not all deer hunting is passive. This is, as they say, “making it happen.” And if you do your part, it’s a common experience when you’re hunting over a decoy.

Tools of the Trade
- Standing buck decoy
- Stakes
- Rubber gloves
- Scent-eliminating spray
- Patience

When to Decoy
First Window: Halloween – November 10th
Second Window: November 24th – December 5th
Mornings typically produce the best results during these windows.

Deer Decoying's 7 Sins

Decoys can work for sure. But they can also spook deer when used incorrectly. Before learning how to use a decoy, you need to learn how not to use them.

  • Don’t use decoys in feeding fields during the afternoon. You’ll spook does coming in to feed.
  • Don’t lay the decoy, bow and backpack down in the grass while you tie your boots. You’ll contaminate the whole system with scent.
  • Don’t handle your decoy with bare hands.
  • Don’t set a decoy in thick areas. The farther they can be seen, the better.
  • Don’t put your decoy more than 10 to 15 yards from your tree.
  • Don’t use a decoy unless the rut is kicking. Using a decoy early or late will only educate deer.
  • Don’t take any shortcuts. Do everything right, or expect to fail.

Map it Out
It’s vital to have a game plan. You can’t just wake up one morning and decide you’re going to toss a decoy out for the heck of it.

  • Think ahead. If you’re hunting one evening and see bucks chasing does, go ahead and plan for a decoying attempt the next morning.
  • Plan an entry route that has quiet access that will not bump deer.
  • Allot plenty of time to slowly walk in. You don’t want to work up a sweat.
  • Face the decoy in the right direction.
  • Upon arrival, make sure you set the decoy up properly and remember all factors.
  • Use a grunt call to add realism.

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-- Josh Honeycutt

(John Hafner photo)

Steps for Curing Buck Fever

You've waited for this moment all year long. The big buck you've been dreaming about is drawing closer by the second, nose to the ground, chasing a hot doe. She angles 25 yards past your setup. You know the moment of truth is imminent, and your adrenaline surges into overdrive. Step by step, here he comes. Antlers swinging. Leaves crunching. Man...look at those eye guards...look at that frame...my buddies are going to flip when they see me with this deer!
 
Then he's there, broadside, in chip-shot range. You raise your bow, hit full draw and watch the arrow flash ahead, right over the deer's back. The broadhead slams into a tree with a loud crack, and the buck scrambles out of sight. How in the world did you miss such an easy shot?

Hours of shooting practice, bow tuning and scouting. Treestands hung. Trail cameras checked. Hundreds of dollars spent on gear. All put together to produce one vital moment of action. A vital moment you just completely blew. Yes indeed, buck fever is one of bowhunting’s worst experiences. No one is immune to it, and there are no instant cures. But instant is the key word. 

It's OK to get excited. That's why we hunt and shoot a bow. But we must take control before the excitement progresses to a point of ruining things. To do this, we have to have a plan to become mentally stronger.

If you've suffered buck fever, or target panic as many call it, here are five things you can do to get your shooting back on track. 

My Name's Joe Hunter, and I Have a Problem

The first step in conquering buck fever, and I know you've heard this before, is to admit there's a problem. Tell yourself and your buddies, "Hey, I get pretty excited on game, and it affects my shooting." If they laugh or call you a sissy, who cares? Don't be ashamed of buck fever. The problem occurs because you love bowhunting and because making a good shot is of such importance to you that it makes you overly excited and nervous. That's not a bad thing. Only caring too much about something often foils our concentration. And this is the part we need to straighten out.

Autopilot Your Shot Sequence

Review the basic steps behind a good shot. This will properly structure your mind so it approaches shooting more systematically. This is where practicing a specific shot sequence becomes important, so it becomes second nature over time (it usually takes 30 days or more). The sequence can be as simple as seven steps, or it can be as long as 16, but make it as detailed as you can without being too complicated to execute. 

My personal shot sequence goes like this:

  1. Nock arrow
  2. Set my stance
  3. Hook up release
  4. Raise bow to level and set bow-hand position
  5. Draw bow (slowly and without raising bow much if any); inhale a deep breath during draw
  6. Find my anchor; center pin in peep
  7. Sight calibration with target; relax bow hand
  8. Exhale a half breath; establish aim
  9. Direct my mind to shot activation; expand back muscles until the shot breaks by surprise.
  10. Check conclusion / back tension; hand should lightly touch my ear.


When practicing, I routinely step my way through the sequence, never going out of order or skipping a step. I want my subconscious mind to be ultra clear as to how I want the shot to be processed. If it is, it will carry these steps out on auto-pilot, even if my conscious brain is bogged down with excitement and nervousness. 

Talk it Through

While the subconscious mind can handle multiple tasks at once, the conscious mind can only do one thing well at a given time. If this is the case, what should our conscious mind be thinking about when shooting a bow?

Some archery coaches believe it should be solely on aiming, while others say it should be on the process of using our body's muscles to activate the shot, since the subconscious is fully capable of keeping the sight pin on the target (aiming) without any conscious action.

Their point is, if you focus on aiming while waiting for the release to go off, you'll often divert your mind back to the release to check on it, and then back to the aiming phase, and over and over again. This creates confusion -- not harmony -- for the conscious mind.

Joel Turner, who coaches archers across the nation, believes in this kind of subconscious aiming. But he also believes in the power of word association and speech for keeping the conscious mind totally occupied and focused, so it can assist the body in triggering the shot without interruption. He believes conscious direction is needed for the mind to really concentrate, particularly under pressure.

This is why he suggests using an internal mantra to keep the shot active and to keep the conscious mind busy. A good example would be the phrase "keep pulling...keep pulling...keep pulling."

"When it is said in a smooth, revolving fashion, it gives the conscious mind guidance as to exactly how to pull and at what rate," Turner said. "When the conscious mind is totally engulfed in the shot activation, buck fever or target panic is non-existent. The mantra is just a tool to get you to concentrate. "

Shoot by Surprise

No longer should we "control" when the shot is fired, but on consciously focusing on the muscles needed to execute the shot. This will prevent the visual cue of seeing our sight pin close to the deer's chest from short-circuiting our brains, keeping us more focused on the mechanics of the shot and not the sight picture itself.

This is where "back tension" comes into play. Every release aid can be shot totally by subconscious action, but only through proper release fit / adjustment and through the "tightening" or "pulling" of our draw-side back muscles or arm / elbow unit.

If you’re like most bowhunters and shoot a wrist-strap release, adjust it so the trigger bisects the first crease (or slightly above) your index finger while you’re at full draw. This will allow you to point your finger downward, so you can curl the trigger like a hook. At full draw, you should be able to rotate the right shoulder blade in toward the other and feel the pressure of the bow’s weight in your back rhomboid muscle. This is the movement you’ll execute to “trigger” the shot.

Now with an arrow nocked and the bow drawn, standing only 5 yards from the target butt, pull with your draw-side shoulder blade, allowing your forearm, hand and finger “hook” to take in the pressure of the trigger. The shot should come in about 4 to 5 seconds. Play with the trigger tension setting on your release aid until you get it right.

Once the shot is a methodical, sub-concious process, you'll be ahead of the game. (Hafner image)

Separate the Shot

Once you engrain your shot sequence and the muscle memory required to smoothly get through a surprise release, the next step is the most important, according to Turner. This step involves separating the shot into two distinct parts: aiming and then the actual shot activation. These two steps should occupy your mind every time you prepare to shoot.

"You must have a plan before you step up to the line or shoot at a big buck," Turner said. "If not, then you're just hoping for good results instead of setting yourself up for a good result."

Once you establish your aim, switch all your conscious thinking to using your mantra until the shot breaks. If the pressure is really on, Turner suggests saying the mantra with even more aggression in order to keep the mind from losing focus. He used the analogy of weightlifters and how they talk to themselves to pump more weight. They aren't all nicey, nicey about it. The same goes for shooting under pressure. Get bold when telling yourself to "keep pulling..." until the shot breaks, all by surprise.

After learning this shooting plan, it's important that you go out and test it under stress. If you aren't mentally centered halfway through the draw, then you must let down. Don't shoot a bad shot. If so, you'll be sliding back into your old ways of shooting and reinforcing bad habits. Stay disciplined and shoot every arrow with 100 percent concentration. 

If you ignore buck fever, it will almost surely stop you from enjoying the sport, if it hasn't already. My advice is to try the steps outlined in this article and stop it before it becomes a problem. Simply trust the training, and soon this dreaded affliction will be a thing of the past.

-- Joe Bell

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