Gun seasons are opening all over the country. Maybe you’ve spent your fall trying to kill a trophy class whitetail. But often, with a gun in hand and a drive to fill the freezer, all bets are off.
Maybe it’s been a tough bow season, and you’re ready for easy hunting. Should you stop grinding now after all the work you’ve already done? Gun openers can be the last best chance to kill the one buck you’ve been watching.
There is no doubt that mature bucks know things are about to go down on gun openers. They hear the truck tires running over gravel, doors slamming, and deer scattering around them.
With your state’s gun season approaching, jump ahead of the crowd. It’s time to have a mature buck’s frame of mind, just like the ones you’ve spent time learning so much about this fall.
Don’t Settle for Traditional Cover
There are rare incidents of a brute hitting an open food source on first-day gun hunts, but relying on a spot like that, is a sure way to dwindling encounters. Take the extra steps to hunt the right cover. The spot you need doesn’t have to be behind the pressure or 5 miles away from access. However, it should have the perfect hiding place and a quick escape when the heavy pressure arrives.
The cover you want will probably be ugly and not the dreamy stuff. For example PA, everyone loves to hunt thin-ish mountain laurels with a nice oak stand nearby. It looks like good cover, and sometimes it is, but if that cover is the crowd’s focus, a big buck will catch on quickly.
Be where the deer want to be, not where you would like to hunt them. Places like a thick buffer strip of leafless sassafrass in the middle of a rocky ridge line, a bench with tangled green briar, or a creek bottom choked with rhododendron are all excellent hiding places for a buck that’s lived through many gun seasons. That’s the wisdom he has over his two and three-year-old cousins.
Many hunters say it, but only a few do it; skip going back to camp for lunch! I’m not telling you to forget to eat, but if you want to see something cool, wait until later to eat that sandwich you packed.
From hours of 11 AM-2 PM, hunters are breaking out their PB&J for a little pick me up. Be the hunter who eats first or last. If you can’t focus without eating, eat an early lunch while remaining on stand. Let everyone else lower their attention or leave the woods for a hot meal. Deer sense the lull in pressure and, on the opener, will feel comfortable moving around at that time.
One of the biggest bucks I’ve killed happened because I stayed on stand when everyone else was ready to eat. A hunter from our group told me he was going to leave his stand and walk past mine. He needed to get the lunch that he had left in my truck. I bluntly told him that I had seen people walking around the woods and that I’d appreciate it if he’d curb his hunger for a bit longer. Thirty minutes went by, and a few does lead a heavy-antlered 11-point right to me.
This private land farm buck felt the pressure of the day but also the lull in human activity. He only required a little extra patience and the knowledge that the typical lunch hour on surrounding farms happens between eleven to noon. Big bucks often die at noon during gun season, and most of the time, it’s due to letting everyone else eat first.
Embrace the Pressure
Gun season hunting pressure is why so many bucks live to see another day. Bucks that catch wind of all the racket know where to go to be safe. Stay aware of that surrounding pressure.
A drop in hunting pressure after the first few days of the season will cause bucks to let their guard down. Bucks who sense the lack of invasion will get lazy about bedding before light. Some may take longer than others to forgive the offense, while others may feel like they are the king of the forest. Daylight might cause speedy travel from point A to point B, but they won’t make it far when you’re there to intercept that vulnerability.
Should you run to the woods when you hear of a drive happening? Yea, that’s a good idea. But not how you might think. While the front side of another person’s drive may be a good place to see deer, bucks don’t get old by being fooled during deer drives.
If you see a drive forming, it will often work in your favor to get behind the drivers and wait. Most mature bucks have been through a drive or two and know what to do. Those bucks know to stay put in tight cover and wait until the drivers have passed. After the intrusion, a buck often leaves that resting place for untouched safety. That is when your ambush comes into play.
Bucks will slip away behind the drivers to flee the danger in the opposite direction of the drive. But they usually have a destination in mind. Make sure the place you are waiting is on a hidden terrain feature that can conceal a mature buck or on the travel route to that hidden gem.
It’s not a secret that cold fronts are good days to be in the woods. When the front starts, there is a big increase in deer movement. But a cold front with heavy hunting pressure may hamper the expectations.
Let’s say the orange army invades the woods on a Saturday, and then in the wee hours of Sunday morning, a front moves in. Deer may move but will likely bed before light breaks the sky. The hunting pressure will keep them tucked into safety as long as their stomach can tolerate it.
A mature buck smart enough to bed inside edible cover could remain in the same spot until after dark. But as the hunting pressure dissolves during the week, that buck will begin to feel more comfortable again. If the cold trend continues, his need to feed will override his need for safety. The cold weather will push him from bed earlier every day. Bucks can be killed over food at a time like this if you know the closest source to his preferred bedding.
Keeping it Simple
Creativity during gun season is only sometimes a necessity. From the tips above, you probably noticed the common theme that less pressure means better hunting. That could be as simple as taking a drive around access points and learning which ones are popular. Or it could mean a silent hike into the woods after everyone else has already been seated. If you know where the pressure isn’t, then you know where the deer will be.