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How to Tag the Most Mature Buck on Your Property

A step-by-step process to target and kill the biggest deer in the area.

How to Tag the Most Mature Buck on Your Property

Photo by Jason Loftus

Hunting a big deer is a difficult endeavor. Hunting the biggest and/or oldest deer on the landscape is even more difficult. That’s exactly the challenge that some whitetail hunters strive for, though. The task of going head-to-head with the savviest whitetail in the land is a serious feat. Therefore, here’s how to kill the biggest buck on your property.

1. Cast a wide net.

Those who hope to shoot the biggest buck must find it first. That’s a multi-phase effort. First, deploy as many trail cameras as possible over a large area. Where possible, glass from afar, too. Run cell cams in areas more sensitive to human intrusion. Post regular cameras in spots that are easier to check in person.

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When possible, understand every element of your target buck, even down to where it beds, sheds, etc.

2. Understand what your area has to offer.

You might be aiming too high if you hope to shoot a 160-inch deer on a 20-acre Florida tract. You might be selling yourself short if you shoot the first 130-inch buck on Midwest ground. If you hope to kill the biggest buck on your property, you must know what caliber of deer that is. Know what your property historically produces so you can determine if a buck that shows up is the one to hunt, or if you should wait a little longer.

3. Home in on your target’s core area.

Every buck has a core area, which is where deer spend the bulk of their time, especially daylight hours. These areas generally range from 30 to 50 acres. Drilling down on it and learning how the buck uses and maneuvers the property is a big part of achieving success. There are several steps to this.

4. Locate its bedding areas.

First, determine where the buck is bedding. If scouting during the offseason, find the exact beds. If in or near season, don’t push that far in. Instead, locate the general bedding area to find the deer without pressuring it too much.

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Understand how deer use your property at certain times of the season.

5. Pinpoint destination food sources.

Once the bedding area is discovered, start pinpointing destination food sources. This will identify the established line of movement. Food sources change throughout the season, though. Find the current sources and look for upcoming food sources that will peak at various times throughout the year. Predicting these movements can put you in position as deer move into new areas.

6. Identify transition routes and staging areas.

Knowing where bedding areas and food sources are located are most important. But finding transition routes and staging areas are crucial elements, too. Because these are the best locations to harvest the target buck. When it comes to mature bucks, hunting bedding areas of a morning or afternoon is risky. And sitting over large food sources likely won’t produce a sighting. But mature bucks are likely to hit transition routes and staging areas between the two endpoints.

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Used correctly, trail cameras play a great role in finding and patterning big bucks. Used incorrectly, these can do more harm than good.

7. Anticipate pattern shifts.

Deer have short-, mid- and long-term patterns. As mentioned, deer shift to different bedding areas and food sources throughout the season. Understanding why deer have changing bedding area and food source needs is part of adequately anticipating pattern shifts. As weather and hunting pressure push deer into different bedding areas, and as food sources predictably change, be there as these patterns alter.

8. Find interception points.

Every property has ideal locations to intercept deer movement. These areas are interception points and offer solid odds of getting in and out cleanly, as well as a decent chance at shooting the target buck.

9. Hunt when conditions align.

Mature bucks tend to move less in daylight than other deer in the herd. Because of this, it’s good to hunt when the conditions align for success. For example, cold fronts, temperature drops, rain events, and other daylight-movement sparks can get deer on their feet earlier in the day.

10. Hunt low-pressure timeframes.

Everyone hunts weekends and openings weeks. If you share private land access with others, or hunt on public land, it’s good to hunt low-pressure timeframes. Oftentimes, this window is outside of peak times. Hunting weekdays, especially Tuesday through Friday, is a great way to avoid other hunters and see deer moving more freely.

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Hunting mature bucks isn’t easy. Knowing what makes them tick makes it a little bit simpler.

11. Make the first sit count.

Most mature 4 ½-plus-year-old bucks are tagged on the first sit in a stand location. Each hunt thereafter produces lower and lower odds of success. It matters to make the first hunt count. And if you’re feeling confident in the situation, consider using high-impact tactics such as sitting with a just-off wind direction, which should encourage that buck to move a little earlier during daylight.

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12. Reflect on its historical tendencies.

Those who hunt the same bucks for multiple seasons should reflect on historical tendencies. Oftentimes, deer repeat similar behaviors, tendencies and patterns year-over-year. Identifying these similarities can set up a hunter for success.

13. Study current habits and strike accordingly.

Most recent info is of the utmost importance. Because patterns change so frequently, it’s vital that hunters strike when a deer presents a window of opportunity. Don’t let that window close without taking a shot.

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The author poses with the biggest deer he had to hunt at that time. Image courtesy of Honeycutt Creative

14. Be disciplined and persistent.

Hunting mature whitetails requires discipline and persistence. It requires knowing when to move in, and when to wait. And when things don’t work out—because they rarely do—hunters must keep their wits about them and continue to make sound, educated decisions.

15. Keep him there during daylight.

If you get through this season and don’t tag that buck, go back to the drawing board during the offseason. If you own the property, or have permission to manipulate the landscape, consider making property changes to improve bedding cover. That’s the priority because you need that buck to spend daylight hours on your property. Then, if you have enough ground to add food sources, do that as well. Lay out the property for maximum hunting efficiency. Then, hopefully, next season will produce better results.

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Small watering holes can be great for targeting ultra-mature bucks.

Bonus: Mistakes to Avoid

While certain steps are good for targeting mature bucks, other actions can have negative effects. Avoid the following mistakes when attempting to kill the biggest buck on your property.

  • Not practicing a good scent regimen.
  • Misunderstanding how mature bucks use the wind.
  • Failing to keep an eye on wind direction and conditions.
  • Using poor entry and exit routes.
  • Hunting areas that rarely if ever see daylight mature buck movement.
  • Hunting too aggressively or passively.
  • Ignoring the freshest rubs and scrapes.
  • Hunting areas that receive a lot of pressure.
  • Misgauging buck age and antler scores.
  • Getting beat by buck fever.

All things considered, tagging the biggest deer that roams your hunting land isn’t easy. But it certainly isn’t impossible. Take the right steps, and odds increase.




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