Keeping Track Of Summer Bucks by T.R. Michels
Too often I hear of whitetail hunters waiting to scout until about two weeks before the season. If you want to find out which bucks are out there, and where they are, two weeks of scouting is just not enough time. Fall scouting should actually begin in late summer. In the Midwest, and in many other areas, you should begin scouting while the bucks are still together, and in velvet. Being in velvet is important because it means the buck’s testosterone levels have not yet begun to rise, which means they are not aggressive, and they may still be traveling together in groups.
I begin scouting in earnest during the last two weeks of August, when I often see groups of bucks traveling and feeding together. I go out in the evening, and look for deer, but more importantly, for food sources the bucks will be using at this time of the year. One of the best places to look for bucks is at fields of legumes; alfalfa, red clover, or clovers used for wildlife mixes. Another good place to look for bucks is at groves of oak trees.
Now, I’ve heard about hunting deer near oak trees, and I know that deer prefer white oak acorns over red oak acorns. But, in some areas there are very few fresh white oak acorns around by the opening of the deer season. After giving seminars at Game Fair in Anoka, Minnesota for the last 14 years I know that the white oak acorns in central Minnesota usually fall from the trees by the second week of August, because I can hear them hitting the top of the tent while I am sitting in my booth at the show.
I also know that the acorns fall from the burr oaks in my back yard in southern Minnesota by mid-August, and the red oak acorns aren’t far behind. That means that by the time the archery season opens up in mid-September most of the acorns are gone, and the ones that are still left are old and worm infested. If
they are old and worm infested deer don’t like them much, which means there may not be many bucks under the oaks when you scout, or when you hunt. That’s why I look for bucks at alfalfa and soybean fields. But, if you have acorn on the ground when you scout of hunt, that’s another place to look for bucks.
By watching bucks in late summer, when they aren’t spooked, you can get a good look at them to see if there are any large racked ones you’d like to hunt during the season. Over the last few years my wife Diane and I have had several different large racked bucks within fifty yards of the truck. On one occasion we had two 120-130 class eight pointers sparring in the ditch while we were parked on the county road 20 yards away. They were close enough that we could hear their racks clicking together. Unfortunately it was too dark to take pictures. We also had a 140 class eight pointer and a 170 class ten pointer fighting in CRP field at about 75 yards. It was only the second time I had seen the eight pointer, and the fourth of fifth time I had seen the ten pointer. Seeing them told me that they were still alive, and gave me a general idea of where to look for them once the rut began.
But, there is a problem with scouting this early. By the time the hunting season comes around, and especially by the time the scraping phase kicks into high gear in mid to late October, the bucks will probably be somewhere else.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard hunters tell me that they saw a nice buck in the summer, but couldn’t find it during the hunting season. While doing your scouting remember that, sometime between late summer and early fall, usually between mid-September to mid-October, the testosterone levels of the bucks will rise high enough that they become aggressive, and they won’t tolerate each other. This results in the breakup of the summer buck groups, with each buck moving to it’s own fall home range. In the midwest bucks may move from as little as a 1/4 mile to more than 10 miles. But, research in Idaho showed that whitetail bucks there moved an average of 24 miles between their summer and October-November fall ranges. This move from summer to fall home range is dependent on the amount and type of habitat, and the number of does and other bucks in the area. The less habitat there is, the farther the bucks may have to move. The more bucks there are, the more they have to spread out. The better the habitat, the more deer it will hold, and the less the bucks have to move to find the does.
Even with as much scouting as I do, I often lose track of the bucks within a couple of weeks of them shedding their velvet in late August or early September, and I may not see them again until peak scraping kicks in mid -October. While I’m scouting I always find scrapes as early as the first week of September, especially in the areas where I see the bucks feeding, because the bucks start scraping as soon as they shed their velvet. Actually they scrape at licking branches all year long, they just don’t do it much until after they shed their velvet. But, I start seeing scrapes in previously unused areas (where the bucks have moved to from their summer ranges) in mid-October. Once I see scrapes opening up in new areas it’s time to watch the rub routes and scrape lines in the evening and morning to see which bucks are using them. When I find one of the big bucks I can choose a strategy to hunt that buck.
If you’re seeing big bucks in the late summer and early fall, but can’t find them during the hunting season, I suggest you spend a little more time watching feeding fields in the morning and evening, and doing a little more leg work looking for rubs and scrapes two to three weeks before peak breeding.
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