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Deer Hunting 101: Targeting Mature Whitetail Deer

Deer Hunting 101: Targeting Mature Whitetail Deer

Deer Hunting Tips That Will Help You Bag Your Next Trophy Buck

Every deer hunter dreams of that monster buck stepping out into the shooting lane on a cold fall morning. Statistics suggest that this opportunity happens once every seven years to a determined deer hunter on common land. Not every state and area is equal when it comes to deer size and concentration of mature deer. All across the US, hunters start in October and end in January on their quest for giant whitetail. This blog will give you data and statistics to help you increase your chances of seeing a mature buck in your hunting area, no matter what state you hunt whitetail. The rest is up to you.

Whitetail deer

Mature Whitetail Deer (Photo Credit:

A trophy whitetail deer, in my opinion, is a mature 3.5 year or older buck. In most places across this country, hunters shoot 2.5-year-old deer thus it makes it more difficult for a whitetail to become mature in non-trophy managed areas. If a deer does make it this old, he is smart, cautious, and probably knows how a hunter looks and smells.

Deer Hunting Tip #1: Scent Control and Wind

 Deer hunting and Scent Control

Scent Control Is Imperative For Deer Hunting ( Photo Credit: Bone Collector )

Deer have a keen sense of smell, and they use it to steer clear of danger in the woods and fields. Mature deer will usually move into the wind or place the wind at an advantageous angle to smell waiting danger. As hunters, we have to mask ourselves as much as possible in the stand. Scent lock clothing, scent free soaps and shampoos, and scent masking sprays all work to decrease your human scent cone and increase chances for a mature whitetail. I have seen people store all their deer hunting clothing in a bin with pine limbs or evergreen limbs to reduce scent and it seems to work well. Don't forget to wear rubber boots when hunting because rubber does not absorb scent like other materials when walking through the woods. The best way to keep your human scent out of the woods is to not go near where the deer go, use a bicycle to ride to your stand and don’t go to your trail cams too often.

Stand placement is also crucial when it comes to wind. Hunters never want the wind to be blowing in the direction the deer will approach. If possible have multiple stands to hunt during different wind directions.

Deer Hunting Tips #2: Camouflage: is it necessary?

Camo While Deer Hunting

Camo Is Required While Deer Hunting ( Photo Credit: Realtree )

When it comes to camo its best to understand the way deer see. Deer pick up on a high ultraviolet spectrum similar to most animals. The sun is the largest producer of UV light. Do not use detergents that will reflect UV light. For example, if it glows under a black light, the deer can see it. Deer will pick up on reflective surfaces such as scope glass, a watch, or some bright clothing. Deer see red the worst out of all colors; thus red camo would be the ideal cover up due to the difficulty of them depicting depth within the camo. However, the most critical factor when it comes to being seen by a deer is movement. A deer's eye is designed to key in on movement so do not move when the deer is looking in your direction. If you do move, move very slow, and they will not be able to pick up on movement because the change in UV light will not be a flash to them. In conclusion, the most important thing to do when you see that big buck is don't jump, but move slowly and remain calm.

Deer Hunting Tip #3: Deer Patterns and the Use of Trailcams

Deer Patterns

Knowing Deer Patterns Will Make You A Better Hunter ( Photo Credit: )

Deer use the same game trails year after year. They walk the same trails as they have in the past when moving to and from food, or roaming territory. You can notice these trails in the woods if you look hard enough. Broken branches, trampled leaves, horned trees in a line, erosion on the ground are all signs of a game trail. Set trail cams on these trails and also over scrapes to get pictures of deer in the area. Bucks will walk different paths than does when moving through a particular area but I have seen many bucks take the same trail year after year. It is essential to find these trails when hunting to catch your deer moving through the area, or moving to and from bedding and feeding. Don’t forget to take into account wind direction! Use your trail cams to see what times deer are moving through and what deer are in the area.

Deer Hunting Tip #4: Moon Phase

Deer Hunting and Moon Phases

Deer Hunting and Moon Phases ( Photo Credit: Acurite )

How much does moon phase affect deer movement? The answer is, enough to matter. The best tip is to read the moon to figure out when deer will be moving. Figuring out the moon allows for hunters to understand the solar/lunar feeding times which can put you at an advantage when deer hunting. Any hunting app or website should have these times. I see most of my bucks on the significant feeding times or right before dark. During the rut, I will see the significant feed times to be during the middle of the day which I will often see roaming bucks. A good rule to remember,  sit the significant feeding times during the early morning or early evening. Old timers say the deer move at night during the full moons. The scientist in me suggest that does come into estrus very close to the full moon and bucks are moving for a few days during that time. When the moon is full a significant feed time occurs at night when the deer can see and move. Take the moon phase into consideration by looking at solar-lunar feed times.

Deer Hunting Tip #5: Weather

Weather effects deer

Weather Patterns Influences Deer Movement ( Photo Credit: Legendary Whitetail )

The weather has a significant influence on deer movement and activity. Before a cold front comes through, in the fall, their barometric pressure will rise, and this will make the deer move. Animals can sense the weather change coming and move prior because they know conditions will be deteriorating and food will be harder to access. It is great to hunt right before the cold front and for a few days right after. You will see an increase in rubs and scrapes for a few days after the cold front. When the temperature is below average for your area hunters will see more deer activity during the day than having above average temperatures. When your area has above average temperatures deer will move more at night. Take this into consideration when targeting whitetail. This tip will only increase your chances of crossing paths with a mature buck.

Deer Hunting Tip #6: The Rut

Deer Rut

Deer Rut In Full Swing ( Photo Credit: Deer & Deer Hunting )

Where do I begin? The rut is the best to hunt during deer season. The rut peaks in different areas at different times, but is usually consistent year after year. The does in the area go into heat around the same time every year. This is when the bucks will follow and breed them. The rut is a fantastic time to catch a mature whitetail being stupid following a doe. Does will come into estrus once a month until they become pregnant. Most does are bred by 1.5-year-old bucks. However, the big deer cannot stop the urge to breed and chase does. Grunting, running, snort wheezing, and fighting are all aspects of the rut that is incredible to watch from the deer stand. In my area where I hunt the rut occurs the first week in November, but it varies a few days year to year. Does will come into estrus every 28-30 days if they do not get bred during the first rut. This is when people talk about the second and third rut. Trailcams will pick up 2-5 bucks a day moving through our area during the rut. Research and watch your deer to figure out when the rut is happening in your area and makes sure your in the stand.

Deer Hunting Tip #7: Food, water, and cover

Deer Cover

Deer Cover and Food ( Photo Credit: Advance Hunter)

Deer need three essential things to survive; food, water, and shelter. If you have all three of these, then you should have deer on your property. Deer move from cover to food then back to cover. Unless there are roaming bucks or, bucks chasing does. In many states, your allowed to bait deer but check your rules and regulations. Deer feed safe in the cover and don't usually come out until they want to eat or drink. The best places to set stands for hunting deer are along transition areas to and from food or hunt watching the feed. More mature bucks are wary about coming to food in broad daylight with no cover, but sometimes you will get lucky. For mature bucks, I like to hunt more near the cover than the food. During the rut, some deer do not eat due to the pursuit of does. Set your stand on a trail between the bedding area and food. Hunt with the wind in your face coming from the bedding area and you will have the best luck. Remember to give deer adequate space during stand placement to reduce chances of the deer flagging you. Some hunters will hang on portable deer stands to get high in the tree to prevent detection.

Deer Hunting Tip #8: Use of Scents, Decoys, and Calls

Deer Hunting with Decoys

Deer Hunting with Decoys ( Photo Credit: Peterson's Bowhunting )

The use of doe urine in estrus can bring a buck into range. Deer have an incredible sense of smell. I like to out doe pee on fresh scrapes or pee pads made by bucks in an attempt to keep them in the area. Some people hang a cloth or scent cotton drip from a tree. This tactic works as well. Mature bucks will use their sense of smell to track and follow does in estrus during the rut. Use this tactic to your advantage when deer hunting to try to fool a mature buck.

Grunt- Mature bucks have a long 7-9 second grunt while younger bucks have a 3-4 second grunt. Use a grunt call to get bucks to stop, come out of cover, or even get a little bit closer for a shot. When grunting I have used the young short buck grunt the most and have had some decent results. Bucks will usually come to check it out unless they are following a doe. At this point, I will switch to a snort wheeze. The snort wheeze is a buck mating call. A sign that he is excited and about to breed: the snort wheeze will get mature bucks fired up during the rut because they hate when other bucks are breeding nearby does.

 Rattling bucks into range is one of the most fun things you can do. Rattling imitates two bucks fighting with their antlers. In dense cover areas with lots of mature whitetails use a rattle to get mature bucks into range. Rattling works all day long during the rut. Do a short 30-second sequence then get ready. Mature bucks will move into range and look to see what the commotion is. Many large mature bucks have been called into range by rattling, but this tactic is highly effective during the peak of the rut.

Deer hunting is all about timing, preparedness, and being in the right place at the right time to catch your big buck in the open, during daylight. All of these tips if followed should increase your chances of harvesting a mature buck in your area. The number one most important rule when deer hunting is to hunt more and be safe. The more you hunt deer, the more chances you will have at that large mature Whitetail Deer of a lifetime. Questions concerns or comment, comment below or email us at At Hunting and Fishing Depot we want to hear about your deer hunting trips. Show us all of your big buck photos to be featured on our social media pages. Make deer hunting a priority this year and target big mature whitetail deer.
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Thomas Clarence - November 9, 2020

It was really interesting when you talked about how it is hard for whitetail deer to reach maturity in areas that are in non-trophy managed areas. If I were to guess, a trophy managed area is a large area of land where deer are raised to a certain age before hunters are allowed to come in. I would imagine that hunters could buy or reserve a deer that they want to hunt once it has matured.

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