Top 5 Big Buck Lures

Use this bag of tricks to add antlers to your wall this hunting season.

John J. Woods

October 27, 2008 at 9:30 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Deer decoys have surged in popularity as another tactic for fooling wily bucks.
Photos by JOHN J. WOODS
Deer decoys have surged in popularity as another tactic for fooling wily bucks.
Ever heard of a hunter catching a buck on a buzz bait? Sometimes it seems that deer hunters seeking trophy bucks are just like lunker bass anglers in terms of their pursuit. Each has their favorite spots to “test the waters,” and each has high hopes that the very next cast or shot will yield the trophy they seek.

When bass fishermen open their tackleboxes, they scan over a diverse cache of lure options. Buck hunters are really little different. We just call it a bag of tricks, strategies and tactics.

Practically every deer hunter has a list in his mind of favorite hunting places. It’s probably a place he hunts every season with consistent luck. The criteria for making that list is his success of observing lots of deer, the bragging rights to a good buck or two over the years, or it’s just a really special place to hunt. Likely that is because he knows every detail about the property, every land feature, wildlife food source, watering spot and bedding area. It’s a place the hunter counts on for active whitetail productivity year after year.

All of these unique types of white-tailed deer habitats are big-buck lures. A lot of different features have to come together to make up a hotspot so that big bucks will frequent them. Then add to that a couple other big-buck tricks to get the job done.

Let’s examine the profile of each of these top-five big-buck lures to find some answers.

Prime food plots

“The state deer biologist who met with us at camp a couple of years ago laughed when we told him we had 42 acres of food plots,” said Andrew Dulaney of Spring Lake Farms in Holmes County. “When driving the roads around the property, he would stop every few minutes. He was amazed by the biodiversity that existed on our habitat.

“He suggested we drop the food plots, and save the money. We had more than enough natural food resources to sustain our deer. We never listened to that advice.

“The fact is our hunting property is a narrowly characterized whitetail habitat. It is either large hardwood timber, farmland that has been in the natural process of reclamation for nearly 20 years, a couple sections of soft-wooded trees like cottonwoods, and our food plots.

“The plots are planted with a basic seed mix of Marshall ryegrass, oats and wheat with triple-13 fertilizer at 200 pounds per acre. That’s nothing special. The key part is that even with all the natural browse we have, including tons of oak mast falling most years, the deer still love the green sweet grass. Our food plots are where the deer show up every morning, often at midday and every evening.”

Food plots are definitely big-buck lures.

Furthermore, an examination of 16 years of hunting data on this 650-acre property found that nearly every buck taken there had been shot while on a food plot. The bucks might have been leisurely feeding with does or other bucks early in the season. Sometimes the bucks were just traveling through, making a rather quick dash across the open plot from cover to cover, but often offering plenty enough time for a calculated shot.

The food plots are the common denominator here. So what makes a man-made agriculturally based wildlife food plot a big-buck lure?

“Well, yes, certainly it is the readily available forage,” said Bill Maily, wildlife extension specialist with Mississippi State University. “Some of it is just good carbohydrates providing quick, burnable energy that deer require in the short term.

“Both grasses and, more importantly, grain crops will draw deer into feed, especially early in the season when plants are young, sweet and palatable to whitetails.”

Deer hunters who utilize wildlife food plots should also strongly consider seed plant choices that bolster higher levels of proteins. Deer not only love to eat these plants as well, but the nutritional benefits are an added plus. Such crops include various clovers, millet, peas, alfalfa, cowpeas, soybeans and jointvetch. Quality stands of these plantings will also increase potential for harvest of bucks.

Staging areas

Staging areas are simply any sites on the hunting property where does tend to congregate and hang out in larger numbers than might seem usual. These places are different than, say, a crossing spot where a nanny and a couple of fawns might dawdle about, feeding a bit, but just move on. These are genuine spots where social behaviors as well as feeding will take place. Naturally food plots with good green grass will be a top choice for does to come to feed, and gather about, but other locations can also be staging areas as well.

“We have an island in the middle of a farm field that consists of one huge old oak tree,” said Dick Harden of Clinton. “When that mammoth oak starts to drop acorns in the fall, the does, fawns and yearlings flock in there, standing around nibbling on those nuts sometimes for hours. We can always count on this spot to observe many deer coming, going and roaming around. More often than not, especially during the rut, bucks will start to filter into this place as well.”

The oak tree spot has become an annual deer-staging area replied upon each season.

Other habitat features can also come to be recognized as deer-staging areas, too. Any fruit-bearing tree or orchard is a likely place. Just one persimmon tree can be counted on to be a place where deer will gather each year as the fruit ripens and falls to the ground. The fruit lasts but a short while, but when the timing is right, plan to hunt in view of the tree.

Honeysuckle bushes and blackberry thickets are similar sites to scout regularly. Again, timing is everything.

Also note viable food resources that are productive during the rutting phase. Typically, bucks do not feed much during the rut, but the does will, and wherever the ladies gather, so shall the bucks eventually. Deer move from food source to food source, so know your hunting property well enough to know where those staging spots are located.

Habitat edges

Veteran deer hunters have learned early in the buck-pursuit game that unique little mixes of habitat edges naturally draw deer. These may be frequent travel routes out of the general view or dark shadow lanes where deer can slip around undetected. Any habitat harboring reasonable numbers of deer will have these places, because deer create them in their normal goings about from place to place within their home range. Finding these edges takes some careful scouting.

“Deer love duck holes,” says Sid Adams, who hunts near Durant on the Big Black River. “We have three ponds on our property that naturally fill from the drainage off a huge wood duck cypress swamp. Every year, I scout the edges of these duck holes, and every year I find active trails right alongside the ponds, complete with rubs and rub lines. This place attracts buck travel.

“From an aerial photo view of this place, the trio of duck ponds lies right down the middle between food plots on each side. There is about 50 yards or more of safety-zone cover on either side, which adds a sense of security for the deer. They can move north and south or back without being seen, but can pop out on a food plot anywhere along the route. These pond edges then become perfect buck lures, because of the consistency of their use by deer season after season.”

Other good habitat edges to scout include the corners of open fields bordering up against dark timber. Deer like to cut across these corners or stand for just moments checking out their surroundings.

Cutover timber areas are good, too, where the grown-up thickets mate up against any other type of habitat. This could be more timber, an open farm field or overgrown thicket. Any identified habitat edge is worth scouting for buck activity. Just be careful not to stink it up.

Doe, buck decoys

The use of manufactured deer decoys has really come on the scene in about the last decade or so. Their use grows every season as deer hunters realize under certain circumstances their application is a real enticement to even wary bucks. Decoys are not a “for-sure” thing, so the use has to be well-timed to be effective. Even then, expect some bucks just to be too smart or spooked by an ice-cold, motionless doe standing out alone in a food plot or staging area.

The use of a deer decoy is perhaps best applied successfully during one or all the three typical phases of the rut. These are usually noted as the pre-rut stage, the action rut chase phase and the post-rut. Each requires a slightly different application of the decoy in the field, but all demand close attention to detail and persistent observation.

“Staging a deer decoy during the pre-rut period suggests the use of a buck decoy posed in a dominant aggressive buck stance,” says Lawrence Taylor of Carry-Lite Decoys. “This is the time when bucks start to establish their territory ranges, and are less tolerant of an outsider buck setting up shop nearby.

“Set up a buck decoy with its head up and ears back for the full effect.”

A single doe decoy can also be used to add a confidence level to open food-plot areas.

“During the full rut, use a buck decoy with visible antlers, again with a high posture,” Taylor recommended. “Put the buck on the edges of open habitat or slightly back in the shadows such as a real buck would position himself. Doe decoys should be placed out in the open posed in a receptive manner, as cruising bucks will surely stop to check out any likely female prospects. The use of doe-estrus scents in this set-up adds a bonus tactic.”

That all changes as the season ages, according to Jerry Peterson of Woods Wise Calls.

“As the buck population wears down from full-bore rutting activities, the slower-paced post-rut phase sets in,” he said. “Decoying bucks now requires the use of a doe decoy in a less-aggressive yet still submissive stance.

“Set the head down or straight out with ears only slightly cocked. A feeding mode seems to work best now. Add some low-volume bleats for realism.”

The judicious use of deer decoys can certainly enhance a hunter’s chances of luring in a big buck.

Scents

White-tailed bucks exhibit a distinct inclination toward chemical dependency. They are attracted to natural doe scents that alert them to the receptive moods of a doe. These scents today are synthetically formulated or collected from natural sources, and packaged in a wide variety of combinations and concoctions. Such deer scents can be very effective as big-buck lures, and there are plenty of tactical options for their use.

“I use scents during the rut not to really attempt to draw a buck into my hunting-stand area like I would calling or rattling, but to catch his attention just long enough for a chance at a good field judgment evaluation and maybe the decision to shoot. A good doe scent might well distract a moving buck, allowing time to size him up,” says Bill Miller, executive director of the North American Hunting Club.

Doe scents can be applied to hunting areas in a number of ways. The most-popular methods include hanging scent drips from branches, or in a like manner, hanging scent wicks soaked in scent from low tree limbs. Some hunters use boot pads with scent as they walk into their hunting stands. This leaves a trail of scent right to them. Others use a scent drag tied to their boots and dragged behind as they sneak to their tree stands.

Scents, of course, are effective because their smell is carried on air currents around the hunting area. Hunters would do well, then, to monitor the prevailing wind directions for a proper set up in conjunction with hunting positions. If breezes are negligible, then another tactic is to post doe scents all around the area to attract potential bucks from all angles to the hunter.

Scent dispersal tactics used with good estrus doe scents have proven very successful.
Whitetail staging areas are excellent for staking out a stand to observe deer activity.
Study your hunting property to learn where staging spots are located.
Food plots have become a standard ploy for luring deer into the open.
Habitat edges are consistently used as travel routes for big bucks.

View other articles written John J. Woods


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