By Jason Wright, Co-Host Ultimate Outdoor Adventures TV
Early Season and Deer Patterns…
We know that one of the rewards for early season bowhunting is that mature bucks will oftentimes still be in their summer patterns. They have not had a great deal of pressure and may still be with bachelor groups. So, what does this mean for the bowhunter? You have a chance of catching a big buck still in his summer home range during daylight hours.
Next, you want to consider what food sources he is feeding on that may include: food plots, corn fields or a lush alfalfa field. In addition to the food source locate the WATER source and bedding area. Along with food, water can be a major factor, which is often overlooked, in deer patterns especially when the weather is unseasonably hot and dry during the early season. If you are fortunate to have land access where you have planted a food plot, this is the time of year you will see mature bucks feeding in a food plot during daylight hours, so take advantage of your hard work. What if you are hunting an area that doesn’t have a concentrated food source? Your next option should be to concentrate your stand/blind location(s) near a water source nearest to the bedding area. A trail leading up to the water source from a bedding area can be a PRIME stand location for this time of year. Keep in mind a mature buck will come down wind!
Although the month of August can be hot, causing many to sit inside rather than outside, it can be a critical month for the avid whitetail hunter. Bucks are formed in bachelor groups and are highly visible during daylight hours as they frequent water and food sources providing opportunities for successful scouting in your hunting area. This becomes even more exciting when several quality bucks are sighted on the land you have access to bowhunt. However, this excitement can oftentimes turn to disappointment and frustration as these bucks magically seem to disappear; some of you might know what I mean. Everyone in camp begins to scratch their heads and individual theories and questions are tossed out while sitting by the fire. Did they leave? Become nocturnal? Did a disease get them? Maybe the neighbor killed them?
During the evenings while pre-fishing a recent fishing tournament, I took advantage of my iPhone and sent out some emails to various big game experts/biologists. I also spent time reading various studies that have been conducted by universities and researchers concerning the movement as well as home and core areas of a whitetail buck. Every year throughout deer season our group is always going back and forth as to what the actual “home range” of a whitetail is and how its “core range” changes throughout the year.
The data that I collected showed that the average or normal home range of a mature buck is anywhere from 600 – 800 acres, but this was a bit misleading since some experts felt that there are certain bucks which are homebodies never leaving their home area while others are travelers roaming everywhere. Everyone also agreed with what most of us already know which is that a mature buck’s home range is quite small during the summer months because there is no need to move and is considerably larger during the rut due to its drive to breed. My own experiences have also shown that mature bucks will spend most of the summer and early fall on or very near an agricultural field but as certain crops are harvested these deer tend to shift their home range a mile or more away which can coincide with the rut. Some of the experts I called upon for answers felt this could have more to do with the changes in forage availability and that some blame it more on the rut. This could also explain why many hunters – me included especially in agricultural areas don’t see the bucks they watched all summer and throughout September.
What I found to be most interesting as a hunter is that the average size of a mature bucks “core” area or where he spends most of his time is only around 100 acres. This too is larger during the rut, but much of the data also stated that during the rut bucks spend most of their time in less than 20% of their home ranges. This makes it much easier to understand why mature bucks seem to disappear during the hunting season.
What does this mean to those of us that enjoy chasing big whitetails? Well, it’s obvious that it is important to determine what the core area is of the buck you have been scouting all summer. There are two ways to do this which is to get out there and scout as well as use the modern technology of today’s advanced game cameras. Some hunters get numerous pictures of a big buck throughout August and into September so he/she continues to hunt that area with no success or daytime sightings. Well, if the experts are correct, and mature bucks shift core areas within their home range seasonally, then you will need to shift your hunting. Many of us get caught up in our pre-season scouting and big buck photos in August so we set tree stands or ground blinds based on our pre-season efforts. But many bowhunters are still hunting those same stands late in the season based on what he/she found during pre-season or early season scouting. It might be possible that deer scouted early may not be there as the season progresses or possibly only at night. Paying attention to these details could possibly be the difference between killing those scouted bucks or hoping they are there the next season.
Buck movement during the rut…
Most of us that have spent time scouting deer during the summer months or listening to what others have seen during their scouting trips would agree that bucks tend to move only short distances this time of year and go from their bedding area to a fairly close food source. We would most likely all agree that during our time afield beginning during the pre-rut bucks begin to travel or cover larger portions of the “home” range but usually will return to their “core” areas within 24 hours. This was also confirmed by the research and information I received but what I found to be quite interesting was that approximately 60% of bucks during the rut will travel outside of their home range and often stay in this new location for up to 24 hours. This is most likely because they are trailing a doe in estrous and is when many bucks make a big mistake during daylight hours. This is obviously great for those of us that are in the right place at the right time when a mature buck shows up out of nowhere and an arrow hits its mark, but if it’s a buck you had been scouting the entire early season then it can be a disappointment.
These random travel movements could explain why some big bucks that have never been caught on railcam or watched from a mile away through a spotting scope seem to magically appear and either get harvested or vanish from your area, never to be seen again on the property you hunt. Again, we all are aware that big bucks don’t get big by spending time out and about during daylight hours and that leading up to and after the rut 70% of a buck’s movement takes place in the dark.
Another piece of interesting information was that of the research and data collected is that during the peak of the rut 70% of a mature buck’s movement occurs during daylight hours, which obviously explains why so many big bucks are harvested during this time of the year. Bowhunting the early season can be challenging if the weather is hot and the bugs crazy; however, the benefits can be memorable if the extra effort is put forth. This is also one of the better times of the year when you have the opportunity to catch a mature buck on his feet during daylight hours. Taking the time to analyze and pattern what your deer are doing as well as paying attention to details to control your scent can help you get the opportunity at a trophy buck during the early bowhunting season. It will also prevent you from having to dig into your ActionPacker that contains your “winter” gear. But, if you are unsuccessful in harvesting the buck you had been watching throughout August then you too might have to change your routine and locate the core area of the big buck you are pursuing.
Good luck this season and remember that practice makes you better – not perfect!