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Buck Hunting versus Deer Hunting: Scent

All experienced deer hunters know there is a difference between buck hunting and doe hunting when it comes to whitetail deer.  As a hunter we always tend to see more does and small bucks than we do monster bucks and as we know this is for good reason.  As we head into deer season I just want to recount some of the major factors that experienced hunters use to ensure they see those monster bucks, starting with scent.

Scent is possibly the single most important and easiest to overlook aspect of buck hunting.  If you manage to make it to the stand and a doe is in the vicinity she may flag you and run.  In the same event a buck may have been in the vicinity but you’d never know it.  Perhaps it is God’s implanted survival of the species, but the largest male bucks will always approach an area from downwind and may smell you even if you are careful.  Whitetail deer can smell seven separate scents at the same time and identify them, so throwing on your carbon suppressed and silver lined clothes and spraying down may be relatively useless if you skipped the other steps to avoid scent. 

Additional areas successful hunters keep in mind to ensure a scent free approach to the treestand are:

  • Keep your clothes separate from scented clothing (soaps, cleaners, or other scents)
  • Use scent free soaps on your body and hair
  • Avoid lotions and colognes like the plague
  • Spray off with a scent killer and be sure to get the bottoms of your boots
  • Avoid gassing up the vehicle on the way to your stand site
  • Walk to the stand with heavy clothes off to prevent too much sweating then put them on in the stand

Got any other things that work great for you?  Post them in the comments below and we will try to update this article to include them.

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After The Shot

I wanted to talk a little bit about some of the things to do and look for after the shot. After you have made the best ethical shot possible on a whitetail, the first thing I think about is shot placement.  Was it a little back... maybe a little low? What was the whitetail's reaction post impact? If the buck goes down in sight then your hunt is all but over short of putting the tag on him. If the buck runs off where you couldn't see or hear him fall and your not sure of the shot, that's when things get a little tricky. If your not sure about the shot then it's best to wait rather than taking the chance of jumping him up. First thing I do is locate my arrow and look at the blood sign on the shaft, vanes, and the beginning of the blood trail. If you have a lot of bubbles it's a lung shot. If it's dark red it's a liver and or gut shot. You mainly want to go with your gut feeling on what to do. I always try and remember through all the adrenaline and excitement that the hard part is over.  All I have to do now is wait and hope the following day, if the weather allows, I can put my hands on my prize.

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A Buck’s Nose may be to the Ground, but its Eye is to the Sky (2/2)

A Buck’s Nose may be to the Ground, but its Eye is to the Sky (2/2)

Ok, so now from my previous entry to the juicy stuff! “How does all that mumbo jumbo science terminology and technical stuff help me find and kill larger deer?” Once a hunter has a firm understanding and grasp on a whitetail deer’s behavior, movement, or patterns it swings balance of power (or advantage) from the deer’s keen senses back to a more even playing field. This dramatically increases the odds of seeing and harvesting larger more mature deer.

The rut cycle ebbs and flows like a wave from one phase into the next. This year the rut is predicted to appear “normal” or more accustomed to what one might expect. It will hit heavy and hard, and die off rather quickly, unlike last year. Expect to see a lot of deer on their feet in late October through mid-November (add roughly a month for Southern States) barring any suppressant activities (I’ll discuss this later). So to balance the scales on this season’s “rut”, the most opportunistic times of each phase of the breeding cycle will be listed below based on the moon calendar.

The best days predicted for white-tailed deer hunting for the Northern States this year (2011) will be between November 13 & 18. For the Southern States, December 12-17th looks to be the prime time to be in the woods whitetail hunting.

  • Seeking Phase Northern Hemisphere: Starting in late October [26-30th] but peaking by the end of the first week of November [6-10th]
  • Seeking Phase Southern Hemisphere: Starting in late November [28-31st] but peaking by the end of the first week of of December [6-9th]
  • Chasing Phase Northern Hemisphere: Overlapping the end of seeking phase in November [9-12th] but peaking in the middle of the second week [13-17th]
  • Chasing Phase Southern Hemisphere: Overlapping the end of the seeking phase in December [8-12th] but peaking in the middle of the second week [13-16th]
  • Tending Phase Northern Hemisphere: Moving through the chasing phase in November [15-20th] with the main breeding taking place [21-24th]
  • Tending Phase Southern Hemisphere: Moving through the chasing phase in December [15-19th] with the main breeding taking place [20-23rd]

“Suppressants” can alter the predicted whitetail rut schedule, so there are several things to remember when planning your time to be in a treestand. Most hunters know that warm temperatures will put a damper on deer activity during hunting hours rather quickly as the animals will turn nocturnal to stay cool. If this happens play to that and hunt early morning and late evening in areas that you’ve seen your query. Increased hunting pressure will also cause deer to become weary and pursue mostly at night.

As a hunter we always bring our “A” game, but in case you need to pull out the stops: Take every extra precaution with scent, noise, and repetition to prevent that monster becoming suspicious of your presence. If you aren’t seeing the deer you’re accustomed to spotting, consider a possible change in food source that you didn’t account for. Did the farmer plant a different crop? Or did the crop not do as well for any number of given reasons. As the rut intensifies, deer burn an extreme number of calories. During their quick replenishing period they may be in a different area cashing in on the highest nutritional food available. Finally, nothing will induce them faster than low light conditions. If during this expected “rut” period a large storm front moves in that constantly is producing dark hazy days and cloud covered nights, look for the action to pick up early. This is especially true if the front is accompanied by a cold front! Watch out and be prepared!

Hope these pointers help you in your pursuit of a trophy! Let me know how accurate these predictions are in relation to the areas you hunt!

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A Buck’s Nose may be to the Ground, but its Eye is to the Sky (1/2)


The Moon-Phase Rut Prediction Calendar (whitetail rut, or white-tailed deer rut) has been scrutinized by many deer hunters over the past couple of decades but the theory behind how it works has a lot of credence. For those unfamiliar with this tool, it is essentially a guide  developed by Wayne Laroche and Charles J. Alsheimer that allows one to plan when, where, and how to hunt based on the predicted rut schedule for a certain area. This is accomplished by breaking the rut down into its primary parts and distinguishing when each of these phases should occur according to the deer’s breeding pattern in concurrence with the waning and waxing of the rut moon. This is the second full moon after the Autumnal Equinox and happens to fall on Thursday, November 10th of this year (2011).

Right now I can already imagine several readers rolling their eyes thinking, “We’ve heard this hunting gimmick before. Of course someone would say the rut will be in the fall around November, we all know that.” I however, want to encourage you to keep an open mind to this theory because the science behind the claim makes sense and has been tested.

In one study, whitetail deer were transplanted from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere when breeding times should be opposite due to seasons and light variances being reversed. However, the deer that were transplanted amazingly switched to the breeding patterns of the Southern Hemisphere deer even though the species normally only breeds once a year. Following the breeding season the gonads of the deer hibernate thus reducing or eliminating the desire to breed. Knowing this, there must be trigger that tells the whitetail species it is time to reproduce.

Just as humans are affected and controlled by hormones so are animals. A major player in the hormonal balancing system in the body is the Pineal Gland. It regulates and controls the amount of melatonin secreted into the body based on the amount of light stimulating it. The levels of melatonin are critical in the reproduction cycles of many animals. (Horses, sheep, hamsters … and, yes deer)  For all you science nerds out there, or guys who need a little more proof, here’s the explanation: Pineal Gland and Melatonin (a link to the Colorado State University’s biomedical hyper textbook).

As stated earlier, Laroche and Alsheimer studied deer movement and activities in relation to the moon phase and discovered that the whitetail rut actually took place in 3 cycles (seeking, chasing, and tending) which overlap each other according to the amount of light remaining. Feeding and resting take place before and after each sequence. I will quickly explain the phases before detailing the expected dates that each is supposed to take place.

  • The seeking phase of the whitetail is the first noticeable sign that the breeding season is almost at hand. Buck activity spikes dramatically due to their desire to find receptive does. Does are not yet in estrus and are not interested in the other sex. Often it is young inexperienced bucks roaming early as their hormones are changing for the first time and they are trying to figure out the whole breeding game. As the seeking phase progresses bucks will test the scent of a doe to see if she’s coming into estrus by flehmening (lip curling) and normally walk straight into the wind to see if one is nearby.

*Tip: This behavior makes for great stand hunting as bucks are on the move. Be patient in your selection because the young bucks will be more plentiful than the bruisers who have done this dance before and are waiting for the does to heat up. Bucks become especially susceptive to calling and rattling since they are establishing a hierarchy and any outsiders’ presence is viewed as a threat. Capitalize on a mature buck by giving him the impression you are challenging for his home range.

  • The chasing phase is the segment of the rut that emerges as does are about to enter estrus and are not as eager to get away from bucks. Often does will run a short distance and stop to make sure a male is nose to the ground trailing her and not giving chase to another doe instead. A buck’s pent up hormones often cause him to be over eager and aggressive, which can lead to long exhausting chases until the time when a does allows him to join her.

*Tip: Recall all the areas that mature does roamed during the spring and summer. Your trail camera pictures and thorough notes will help you lock down their home ranges. This information will become crucial during this part of the rut when they come into heat. Remember that while you may not have spotted a mature shooter in your area the scent of a doe that is hot-to-trot will bring in the boys who typically roam at night as well as bucks from different “area codes”. 

  • The tending phase of the rut is marked by bucks finally getting the opportunity to accompany a doe. Their daily routine will be identical for roughly the next 24-30hrs as she is bred. A buck will only leave the doe’s side to chase off intruders who are trying to sneak in quickly while he isn’t looking. Once the doe is bred the buck will leave her and resume the pattern of searching (seeking) for another doe in heat.

*Tip: Often hunters feel the woods went “dead,” when in fact the bucks are actually tied down or in turkey hunting terms, “henned up.” If this occurs take note because your buck to doe ratio may be skewed. More does may be present in your area and readily available to bucks. If this is the case the bucks do not need to search heavily or travel far to find another doe so deer activity is kept to a minimum. Tracking and still-hunting with the aid of optics may be the method of choice as the bucks are 8 doe to himself, but don’t expect him to travel far since he doesn’t want to lose sight of her!

Check out my next blog coming Tuesday, which will detail the expected dates these events are scheduled to take place.

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The 5 Glands of a whitetail

The whitetail buck has five glands that function and control their activities in their environment. The whitetail buck's glands go hand in hand with the visual and audible communications throughout the deer herd.

  • Forehead Gland: Which many believe that's when a mature buck rubs his horns and basis on a tree to make a sing post it's just for sight purposes. In fact it's don't to secret the forehead gland on the tree to show their status in the herd.
  • Tarsal Gland: This gland in located just inside the hocks on the hind quarters of the deer. During the phases of the rut you might see a mature buck rubbing his back legs together and urinating on the tarsal gland to freshen a scrape.
  • Preorbital Gland: Which is located on the inside corner of the eye. When an buck is making a scrape a lot of time they will rub the preorbital gland on the leaves and branches as another form of communication within the herd. Some also say it may be a visual way to communicate also.
  • Metatarsal Gland: It's located on the bottom outside of the leg . In fact very little is known about this gland. Study shows that it may be used in correspondence with regulating body heat. I believe it's used to perhaps scent mark trials in high grass, as another form of communication.
  • Interdigital Gland: This gland is located between the deer's toes. Experts theorize that's its used by deer when danger is in the area and they scatter, they can find one another through the scent trail.

The whitetail world is very complex it seems but when it comes to survival they also use every advantage to survive not only from deer hunters but other dangers in the wild as well.

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