Parker Temple eased toward his stand on an early morning deer hunt and climbed to the top of the ladder to wait for daylight. He was eager and for good reason. It was the peak of the rut and he was hopeful to see some action.
Temple’s wait would be along one. Dark gave way to thick fog, making visibility almost non-existent. His stand was on the edge of 2-year-old cutover, adjacent to a nearby food plot.
“I’d hunted the stand several times and saw a few younger bucks, but nothing big enough to shoot,” said Temple. “The fog lifted around 9 a. m. and I could see across the cutover, so I started looking for deer out there too.”
The area was chock full of scrapes and rubs, and though he was yet to spot it, Temple was sure that a big buck had been frequenting the area. The action heated up around 10 a.m., and the hunter spotted movement 325 yards away in the cutover.
“It didn’t take but one look at the buck through my scope to know he was a shooter,” Temple said. “I propped my rifle on the ladder stand and squeezed off a shot, and the buck just flinched. I took another shot and this time he reared up and ran about 15 yards and stopped. I kept shooting until the buck finally disappeared.”
Temple shot five times and was puzzled at the deer’s reaction. He was concerned that the big buck may have escaped unharmed.
“I waited about 45 minutes and walked along a ridge until I got to the area where I thought he might have gone,” said Temple. “But I couldn’t find blood or anything.”
Temple’s concern grew when he couldn’t find any sign of the deer.
“I’d marked one oak tree as a reference point and I turned around and located it and walked toward it and walked right up to the buck,” he said. “He was by far the biggest deer I’d ever killed and he was so into the rut that he didn’t run like most of the deer do when they’re shot at.”
Ironically, Temple had scored on four of his 5 shots, but the buck was just so big and charged up that the bullets hardly fazed him. The trophy buck sported 9 points and totaled 157 Boone and Crockett inches, was in full rut and weighed 215 pounds. It was aged at 7½-years old.
The time of kill was 10:20 a.m., and there’s a lesson there. Most hunters would have long departed to the comforts of a warm camp and breakfast.
Practice, practice, practice
Temple’s 325-yard shot may seem unlikely, or out of reach for most people, but he’d already put in time at the range and he knew his capabilities. Long-range practice leads to consistently making long- range shots and is a must for hunters who frequent wide open fields, cutover, power lines, or gas lines.
“I believe in having my gun on the money and I spend a lot of time on the practice range and make sure it’s still on by practicing a couple of times during the season, too,” Temple said. “We’ve got 200- and 300-yard targets and we practice at those ranges regularly.”
Temple has two rifles with bull barrels, a .308 and a .25-06 and both are flat-shooting, deadly calibers. Temple killed this buck while shooting his Ruger M77 .25-06 with a bull barrel.
“My uncle Richard got me started on the bull barrels and they’re really good at long range,” he said.
Big sign = big bucks
Temple believes in finding fresh buck sign and hunts areas with the freshest sign when possible.
“I’ll look for areas that have big scrapes, decent rubs, and I’ll key on transition areas once I find an area that has plenty of activity,” he said. “I’ll hunt between green fields or other food sources and their bedding areas when I can.”
A main reason Temple was in the cutover stand where he killed the big buck was because he’d found a lot of fresh sign, big scrapes and rubs all along the trail and around the stand that he had chosen. He was also seeing a lot of deer movement there, and the smaller bucks surely hadn’t made the sign he’d seen. Only mature trophy bucks leave such big scrapes and rubs.
While most hunting clubs and leases have green fields, not all are the same and you must find out which the deer prefer. According to Temple, you can get a good idea by checking them out and finding out which ones are being utilized and in which ones the deer are feeding heaviest.
“I also like to hunt SMZ strips and other isolated places that I can get to where I can hunt and watch trails in areas that are not being pressured by other hunters,” said Temple, who added that by watching large semi-open areas like cutovers, he is able to see more deer movement and adjust accordingly.
While many hunters prefer hunting in the late afternoon, Temple really likes mornings.
“I really like to hunt in the morning time, specifically mid-morning during the rut,” Temple said. “Three of my best bucks that I have mounted were taken during the rut between 9 and 11.”
Temple believes that if more hunters hunted during the morning hours, many more would prefer that time of day. As it is, most hunt late afternoon leaving the midday hunting to people like Temple. He’s just fine with that.
“During the rut, the bucks are hot on the trail of does, or looking for hot does and they may appear any time of the day regardless of what time it is,” said Temple.
Temple’s best buck taken during mid-morning was the 9-point that scored 157, but he also killed an 11-point and another trophy 9-point that weighed 195 pounds during that same time period.
During the rut, the does may be feeding early and late, but the bucks throw caution to the wind and roam more openly due to nature’s urge. That’s one reason Temple likes hunting during the morning hours.
Another factor that has a big influence on deer movement is the lack of hunting pressure during the mid-morning hours. If most hunters are back at home or at the camp, there’s less activity in the woods and the deer know that, too. When you’re out there in the woods, you’re in their home, and they know when you enter just as well as you know when somebody comes into your yard or house.
Hunt does to find the bucks
Collinsville resident Justin Giles is a lifelong deer hunter who has been very successful hunting East Central Mississippi during the rut. Giles uses his knowledge of the deer and their mating habits to harvest rutting bucks.
“Find the does and you’ll find the bucks during the rut,” Giles said. “And you’ve got to key in on food sources to find the does.
“You’ve got to find where they’re feeding and what they’re feeding on. Once the bucks start rutting you’ve got to find the hot does to be successful. In my area the rut usually occurs around the end of December through mid-January.”
The rutting activity will center on the does in estrous and the best way to find a rutting buck is to find the areas the ladies frequent. It’s how successful hunters like Giles uses the bucks rutting tendencies to his advantage.
Find their food
By the time the rut occurs in Giles’ area most of the natural early-season food sources have been depleted, leaving deer to scrounge for anything they can find. Water oak acorns, honeysuckle and a few natural plants may still be found, but the abundance of early-fall nutrient-rich foods including white oak acorns and other crops are long gone.
While some farmers and hunters leave strips of corn and other grain in the fields for deer, such areas are becoming rare. Hunters must locate the available food sources and key on them.
Although hunters in Mississippi aren’t allowed to hunt over bait, it is legal to have feeding stations. Hunters should check their state hunting and feeding regulations to determine what’s legal in your area and how to do it properly.
More than a few clubs and landowners feed deer throughout the year in areas they keep off-limits to hunting. Some of the areas have planted crops such as soybeans, corn and assorted mixes of deer food, along with supplemental mineral sites. Some hunters take advantage of the food sources and learn the lay of the land, the deer’s bedding areas and then utilize that information to either intercept deer before they get to their feeding areas or before they arrive back at their bedding areas in the morning.
While most bucks follow does and never show themselves during daylight hours in open areas, they can be intercepted by hunting well away from the green fields and other food sources. Giles wants to be close to their feeding areas, but not right on the edge of or in them
“I like to hunt around green fields and in the afternoons during the rut,” said Giles. “If I can find an area that’s not pressured by other hunters, I’m going to hunt near those food sources, but not right on them.
“If possible, I’m going to be far enough away from their feeding areas to keep the area free of human scent, but close enough to catch a glimpse of them before it gets too dark to see them.”
While many people hunt green fields and see does all during the fall without seeing bucks, that can change in the blink of an eye during the rut.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re using the green fields or natural forage like acorns, honeysuckle and other browse, if the does are feeding there, the bucks will follow,” Giles said. “The older bucks are really wary but their natural urge will overcome their normal fear and natural instincts of self-preservation.”
And sometimes that’s just the edge you need to harvest that trophy buck. You must be ready at the blink of an eye, because sometimes that’s all you’re going to get.
Putting it all together
During last year’s Christmas break, Giles spent a lot of time scouting for food sources and buck sign. Once Giles located a core area that was full of scrapes, he started reconnaissance trips to determine the best location to intercept the buck that was leaving his calling card.
“I found an area that had been planted in winter grass during previous years that was surrounded by cutovers and small pine plantations, which provided plenty of thickets for prime bedding areas,” Giles said. “The area I picked out had about a dozen hot scrapes that were being worked regularly and there were plenty of does frequenting the area also. In fact, the old winter grass had come up voluntarily and provided the only good source of food for the deer.”
Eventually the young hunter patterned the does by hunting different areas and utilizing game cameras. Once he established that the does were visiting the area every afternoon, he found an adequate stand sight and made plans to intercept the buck he was sure would come.
That buck showed up a few nights after he set out a game camera but it only appeared in the area well after dark. After determining that the buck was a frequent visitor to the area Giles picked out two stand sites for his climber based upon the wind direction.
Giles was determined to get a shot at the buck that would be his best ever and he utilized both the wind direction and scent killer to do that.
“I found the area where the does were feeding during the daylight hours and determined that the bucks were showing up shortly after dark,” Giles said, adding he made a plan and stuck with it. “I decided to hunt the buck only when the wind was right, and there was only one tree where I felt comfortable putting my climbing stand. I put the stand in there one day and left the area alone, just waiting for the wind to get right and the buck to show up.”
In keeping with his philosophy of keeping scent to a minimum, the young hunter checked the wind daily. If the conditions and wind weren’t just right he was go somewhere else, or not hunt at all. He also set the climbing stand well away from the action, providing limited viewing of the area by one small narrow lane. He would get only one chance, and if the buck came through too fast it would be all over.
“I did everything possible to keep my scent down and away from the area and from the buck, because I knew one whiff of human scent and that buck would never visit the area again during daylight hours,” said Giles.
Finally a day came when all of the conditions were right and Giles was primed to take advantage of the opportunity. He sprayed down with scent killer, almost going overboard. Still unsatisfied, Giles went a step further.
“I broke off a couple of pine limbs and rubbed myself down, and then put the limbs in my boots to help cover my scent,” he said. “And then I put out Tinks 69 on my tree stand and all around the stand. I wanted to kill my scent and entice him into range thinking a hot doe was in the area.”
His plan: The buck would walk nearby, get a whiff of the scent and come in before dark.
Giles settled in for a long afternoon wait, but things happened quickly.
“About 4, a doe came out and started feeding in the semi-open area and I spotted him following along just in the smaller pines,” said Giles, who would have only one clear shot at the buck as it crossed a small lane. “Just as the buck got to the opening he hesitated for a moment, and I centered my crosshairs on him, squeezed the trigger and the rifle roared,” Giles said.
When the smoke cleared Giles had harvested a trophy 12 -point buck in full rut.