The answer is SAFETY!
In the first edition of my book, Zen Hunting, there’s a slight discrepancy. In one chapter I talk about the buck’s highest priority being food. In another chapter, it’s safety (or survival). The 2nd edition attempts to separate the two, but it’s really impossible.
The problem came about from real-life observation and experience.
First, a buck can’t survive without daily food intake. That’s obvious. 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 clearly observed that big bucks were hardly ever 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 find plenty of tracks and sign, proving they are indeed feeding at night, but nowhere is a buck found feeding during daylight. The bucks simply adapt to a nocturnal lifestyle that negates daytime feeding.
This makes perfect sense. The bucks on Monte Cristo are the smartest bucks I’ve ever seen. If it comes down to eating or starving to death, the bucks will gladly starve to death. But really they don’t have to because they feed at night, and only at night. Therefore, safety far outweighs eating.
The hunting pressure on Monte is ridiculous and has been for decades, yet there are still occasional 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 sure there are areas in the state where big bucks wander around, stuffing their faces with vegetation during the day. I’ve seen it in Central Utah, but not Northern Utah.
Now that I’m forced to hunt Monte again, I must figure out how to approach deer differently to beat the odds. Well, 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-section 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/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. I will hunt them on the opener.
- Hunt mid-week and late in the season. After opening day, my plans change. Since I work weekends anyway, 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. So your odds go up on Thursday and into Friday until 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 throughout the year, 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’s possible to hunt deer in their beds using ambush techniques or a super-stealthy 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 during my diligent scouting trips. It’s hot and it sucks to drag a deer up miles of vertical slope, but it might be my chance.
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 these two words: Safety First! The 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.