Have you gone through a season when everything that could go wrong did, when it seemed that every hunter you know has harvested a buck but yourself.
What do you do when the chips are down in the waning days of deer season?
If you haven’t harvested that buck yet, don’t lose hope, because some of the biggest deer of the year are taken during the final days of the season.
Many modern-day hunters place game cameras in strategic places to locate shooter bucks and keep track of their whereabouts throughout the season. Sometimes, cameras alert those next-generation hunters that a trophy or shooter buck has moved onto their property. Having cameras out can keep hunters abreast of current events, knowing whether a deer is still working their property or has moved on.
During the rut, many bucks will venture outside their core zones in search of hot does, and that’s when they’re most vulnerable. Inevitably, most of those bucks will be susceptible to falling victim to diehard hunters driven by an unrelenting desire to achieve success in the woods, no matter the situation or how much time remains.
That’s just the situation I found myself in a couple of years ago.
Although I had harvested several does and one nice buck for the freezer, I wanted another buck, preferably a mature one that had shown up on my game camera a few days after Christmas.
There was just one catch, however; the buck was showing up near my stand only after dark. I never had pictures of him during daylight hours. Although I didn’t know his routine, the game-camera photos drove me to stay in the woods until the final days of the season. I’d hunted my stand early, mid-day and at last light, hoping for a glimpse of him, but it just didn’t happen.
Thinking outside the box
During 8-to-5 working hours, I concentrated on work, but subconsciously, I was thinking about a place where I might intercept that old buck. My stand sat high atop an intersection of several ridge drainages that the bucks used to traverse the difficult terrain.
I could watch from afar, but it was obvious this buck wasn’t going to get there until after dark, so I brainstormed where he might be coming from.
Just to the west of the stand lay a creek drainage, a streamside management zone that runs along a property line, bordered by thick pines to the east and a cutover to the west. Deer use the creek bottom to travel north and south, but I didn’t know whether the buck would use the area as a transition zone for access to the area near my stand. If he came through with daylight remaining, I might be able to intercept him.
On the last Thursday of the season, I left work with the creek drainage on my mind, not knowing where I’d take a stand, but knowing that I wanted to watch the corner of the cutover and area where the stream management zone intersected with another property line. Nobody had been hunting the area, as it was on the backside of several properties and the cutover was barren and wide open.
I parked at the gate and made a 5-minute walk to the edge of my planned hunting area, then began my descent to the stream, stalking and glassing.
I used a three-step, stop-and-look, then a four- or five-step, pause-stop-and-look routine. I stepped as slowly and quietly as I could, pausing to view the area in front with my binoculars.
Stealth mode was a key to slipping into the area unobserved so that I didn’t bust the deer before I could take my stand.
I’d still hunted and stalked about 10 minutes when movement caught my eye about 125 yards to the west. I’d seen something move on the ridge straight across the hollow along the cutover line boundary. All I could see was a dark spot on the side of the hill, so I raised my rifle and looked with my scope. I could see that it was a deer, but what kind I didn’t know.
Then the deer raised his head, and his rack filled my scope. With no time or place to take a prop, I settled the crosshairs on his lower neck and squeezed the trigger.
The rifle roared, and the buck collapsed in a heap and didn’t even twitch. I watched him for a couple minutes to make sure he was down for good and then made my way across the hollow. Turns out the 9-point buck was nipping on browse and facing downhill, in my direction when the 130-grain Hornady .270 bullet met its mark.
The quest for my buck ended before I ever took a stand, thanks to good fortune, timing and entering his sanctuary area in extreme-stealth mode. The buck had likely spent most of his late afternoons in the area before arriving at my stand well after dark.
While it’s not always possible to intercept a buck like this, it is a possibility, and with a little planning and effort you might be able to do the same thing.
Sometimes you just need to think outside the box and do something different, and you might surprise that wary old buck that’s probably already patterned the hunters.
Vick: Keys to trophy bucks
Patience, perseverance, tenacity and passion are elements of Mark Vick’s hunting repertoire that pushes him to accomplish things other hunters aspire but lack the will to do. When it comes to killing trophy bucks, Vick, from Collinsville, sees the waning days of the season as a prime time.
While many bucks and does are wary of the season-long hunter onslaught, many are also tired and hungry from all the rutting activity that has occurred. That makes them vulnerable, especially for hunters who are still spending time in the woods, and that means the odds are increasing in the hunters’ favor. It certainly worked for Vick last season.
Vick had spent a long season in the woods, and he had passed on many small bucks. He was still looking for a trophy, a wise old buck that was the biggest one in his territory — you know, the survivor: the buck that goes nocturnal except for during the rut or when the opportunity to be with a hot doe occurs.
While different areas of the state produce different quality deer, there’s no area that gets more hunting pressure than East Mississippi. With roads every quarter-mile and food plots and stands on every powerline or open spot that will hold grass, the pressure put on deer there is second to none.
That usually drives the older, wiser bucks to become nocturnal. A few dedicated hunters like Vick keep going despite the odds being in the buck’s favor.
“I spotted a good quality buck on my game camera and was after him,” Vick said. “I’ll usually let the young bucks walk and let my son Brett shoot the does and occasionally harvest a buck of his own, but I hold out for the bigger deer.”
Vick likes to use long distance when hunting.
“When I’m hunting, I want to see as long a distance I can,” he said. “I like to hunt cutovers, long-distance lanes or food plots, too. By hunting long range, I can cover a lot of ground and not worry about disturbing the area or leaving my scent there and spooking the bucks.”
It only takes one time to spook a quality buck, and that might be the only chance you’ll get during daylight hours. Bust him one time with your scent, and it may be all over.
Vick made a last-minute trip to one of his Kemper County properties last January and picked a stand that overlooked a 300-yard long food plot that had been in a cutover that had grown into a pine plantation the deer were using regularly.
“I didn’t have long to hunt, but I knew that I could get into the stand undetected, and I just had to try him again,” Vick said. “I knew that there was a doe coming in regularly, and I hoped that he would follow her in.”
That’s exactly what happened. After a doe came in and fed for a while, Vick looked up and saw that the buck had entered the lane, staring in the doe’s direction. Since they was so far from his stand, there wasn’t a problem with the scent scaring the buck, but Vick new that a buck of that caliber could be gone in the blink of an eye.
Amazingly, the buck strode into view at 5:15 p.m. and offered Vick a 225-yard shot. He centered the crosshairs of his 7mm magnum on the buck and squeezed off a shot.
The rifle roared, the buck crumpled and Vick’s season-long quest was over.
The 30-minute hunt after work had turned into the hunt of his lifetime. With very little gunfire in the woods that late in the year — with most hunters licking their wounds or getting ready for fishing, golf or turkey hunting — one old buck made a mistake and thought the season was over.
Vick’s Kemper County trophy sported 13 points, scored 152 B&C and was a fitting end to what had been a frustrating season to many hunters.
Vick made him pay. Tenacity, desire, and a passion for chasing wise, old bucks are what kept him going to the very end, despite the odds being in the deer’s favor. The lush strip of green winter grass was too much for the old buck. Was he hungry? Maybe he was looking for one more doe, or just maybe he thought the season was over.
Precision marksmanship, gear
While Vick has used many rifles, he settled on the 7mm Magnum and has two go-to guns
“You may think that the 7 Mag is too big and kicks too much, but that isn’t the case,” Vick said. “I have a Browning X-Bolt stainless steel with a port that throws the sound to the sides and doesn’t blow the shooter’s ears out. And it doesn’t kick you like a mule either, just kind of a soft push.”
Vick also has a Z6 Swarovski scope with a 30mm tube, about as good a scope as you can buy. It’s clear in low-light conditions and hardly gets too dark to shoot in legal shooting hours.
“When a buck walks out at 300 yards, I want to know that I can shoot it,” Vick said. “The further you can shoot, the better off you are. My 13-year-old son, Brett, has made every shot he’s taken with his 7mm Magnum Remington 700 Sendero with a bull barrel, too.”
Practice makes perfect
While it may be a little late to talk about practice late in deer season, there’s no better time to get started. Vick has learned that having quality equipment in good working order and knowing how to use that equipment is the most-basic element of becoming a successful hunter,.
“When I get a new rifle, I want to shoot it a lot and be able to consistently hit something the size of an orange out to 300 yards,” Vick said. “When I’m shooting out of a shoot house or on sandbags, I’m confident that I can make the shot out to that distance as well, but that only comes after putting in a lot of time at the shooting range, too.”
Vick has consistently killed bucks at 180 to 250 yards, and that comes from having quality equipment, spending time at the range and keeping that equipment in top working shape. By practicing and putting in range time, a hunter can determine his limitations and how far he can effectively shoot his weapon. Then, when the moment of truth arrives, success is a great possibility.