Big Buck’s Highest Priority
What is a big buck’s highest priority, Food or Safety?
The answer is SAFETY!
In the first edition of my book, Zen Hunting, there’s a slight discrepancy. In one chapter I say the buck’s highest priority is food, and in another chapter it’s safety (or survival). The 2nd edition attempts to separate the two, but it’s really impossible.
The problem comes from real-life observation and experience.
First, a buck can’t survive without daily food intake. I cited David Long’s observation that bucks can’t even stay bedded for the entire day without occasionally getting up to feed. However, while hunting the Utah-Cache unit for three years in a row, I observed that big bucks never up and feeding during daylight hours. As an example, the four times I busted the infamous Droptine buck, he was bedded. Never was he on his feet during daylight hours.
What it comes down to is hunting pressure. As soon as hunters file into the woods, the bucks become completely nocturnal. You’ll still find plenty of tracks and sign because they are indeed feeding at night, but nowhere is a buck found feeding during the day. Bucks simply adapt to a nocturnal lifestyle that negates daytime feeding.
This makes perfect sense. The bucks of Monte Cristo are the smartest I’ve seen. If it comes down to eating or starving to death, the bucks will gladly starve to death. But they don’t really have to because they’re feed at night, and only at night. In this example safety far outweighs eating.
The hunting pressure on Monte is ridiculous and has been for decades, yet there are still trophies haunting the woods (and my nightmares). As I put it in my book, “These are the neurotic decedents of lone survivors.” It’s simple adaptation; survival of the fittest. The bucks that feed during the day get shot!
I’m certain that there are plenty of other areas where big bucks wander around, stuffing their faces with vegetation during the day. I’ve even seen it in Central Utah, but not up north.
Since I’ll be hunting Monte again this year, it’s my job to figure out how to approach these deer differently to beat the odds. I’ve done it before, and here’s how I’ll do it again:
- Hunt the opener. In my book I have a whole sub-chapter entitled Never Hunt the Opener! My thinking has changed a little since then. It’s true that on opening day most bucks have already noticed the increased traffic/ATV noise and bailed onto secondary ridges or deep, dark, holes. But I realize now that there are always a brave or stupid few that will wait until they actually see a camo-clad dude before bailing out. These bucks are still in their summer routine and therefore huntable. My best chance is to catch them on the opener.
- Hunt mid-week and late in the season. After opening day, my plans change. Since I work most weekends, I can schedule my hunts between Tuesday and Friday. I’ve found that the best day to hunt is Thursday. After the weekenders terrorize the deer, it takes half a week for them to calm down. By Thursday they feel more secure and let their guard down. Therefore your best odds are Thursday and into Friday before the weekend warriors come smashing back into the hills. Also, the hunting pressure falls off dramatically during the last couple weeks of the bowhunt, making September the best time to be out.
- Hunt the Beds. The most difficult thing in the world is hunting big bucks in their beds. First you have to find their beds, preferable while pre-season scouting. Big bucks use multiple beds, so you’re not just looking for one bed. Second, these beds are generally found in deep and steep cover and perfectly situated to detect predators from a distance using wind and terrain. It is possible to hunt deer in their beds using ambush techniques or a super-stealthy still-hunting approach, it’s just not probable.
- Hunt the Secondary Ridges: After opening day I will bail off the top and start hunting secondary ridges and deep, steep areas. By then I’ll have multiple backup areas that I’ve cataloged from my diligent scouting trips. It sucks dragging a deer up miles of vertical slope, but there’s no other option.
The methods you use to hunt big bucks is relative to the amount of hunting pressure the area gets. Once again, you must understand the nuances of your prey and adapt yourself as a predator. In high-pressure areas remember, Safety First! Big bucks only care about surviving.
That’s all there is to hunting high-pressure trophy mule deer. Well, that and a ton of luck.