Every fall, mature deer go into hiding. They can be difficult to find, let alone hunt. Even so, seasoned hunters regularly harvest mature deer. What’s the trick?
As in any hunt, luck is a factor. That aside, harvesting mature deer in the fall requires critical thinking and perseverance — skills that can only be perfected by spending countless hours in the woods, learning your adversary’s habits. Here’s a cheat sheet to get you started.
1. Understand Your Prey
Unlike young bucks, mature male deer don’t run around chasing does in heat. They’re homebodies, spending most of their time bedded down in their “safe space.” They only move when it’s safe to do so. In short, you need to find their hideout.
2. Look for Clues
Start your search in the more remote areas of the land where you’re hunting. While walking into the woods, think of yourself as an investigator scouting an enormous crime scene. Tree rubs and bedded areas are clues that can lead you to a mature deer.
Shed hunting is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with deer bedding patterns; deer tend to shed their antlers near the places where they spend the most of their time. Just remember: spending too much time in a mature deer’s territory in the off season can ruin that location for hunting.
3. Look for food and water sources
In general, a mature deer gets his nutrition from what’s available close by. Life-sustaining acorns, for example, are found deep within the forest.
That said, deer have to eat, and they have a diverse diet. They eat grasses, leaves, soybean, corn, berries, twigs, fungi, fruit, legumes, bar and clover.
Look for potential food sources, keeping an eye out for the above-mentioned evidence of a deer’s presence. By the same token, scan for water. Keep in mind that if the nearest water source is exposed, a mature deer may only drink at night.
4. Exit and Entrance Paths
Mature deer choose locations where they can see and smell predators in advance. In fact, the mature buck’s sense of smell is his first line of defense. So be mindful of your scent and the wind direction.
After finding the ideal bedding area of a mature buck, pay special attention to exit and entrance paths. Remember your quarry has chosen his home carefully and knows to bolt when danger is near.
Hunting a mature male deer is a skill, an art and a science, an outdoor pursuit that gets easier with practice. Which is why it’s so rewarding. And so much fun.