How to Hunt A Big Buck at a Feeding Area

Okay, you just found fresh tracks made by a big walking buck on a deer trail that leads toward a nearby whitetail feeding area. Walking means: 1) the buck wasn’t alarmed and 2) the odds that it will return to this feeding area during the next few days are therefore very good unless the buck 1) changes its diet (switches from graze to acorns or browse, for example), 2) a breeding phase of the rut begins or 3) someone (perhaps you) alarms the buck in or near the feeding area before you begin to hunt there.

If you alarmed that buck about the time you discovered those tracks while scouting two or more weeks before the opener, chances are that buck will be feeding there opening morning. If you alarmed that buck enough to make it bound about the time you discovered its tracks during the hunting season, it will probably be somewhere off-range for the rest of the hunting season. To avoid seriously alarming a nearby buck or other deer upon discovering its very fresh tracks – freshness revealing you are likely within its sight, hearing and/or smell – do not halt to assess those tracks. If you are seen or heard doing this, a whitetail will likely become convinced you have just selected it as a prey, after which it will soon abandon the area (fast or stealthily) and not return to it for four or more days. Instead, continue walking non-stop at a moderate pace, head pointed straight ahead, until out of sight and hearing and well downwind. Whitetails seeing, hearing or smelling you doing this will not become alarmed and abandon the area. Then decide what to do.

If you discovered those tracks early in the morning or late in the day, chances are that buck is feeding in that feeding area right now, in which case you should hunt there now.  Begin by waiting thirty minutes, giving any deer that heard you pass time to settle down and begin feeding again. Then head back, following a deer trail (for relative silence) from downwind or crosswind, walking softly non-stop (so you don’t sound like a stalking wolf or hunter) and keeping well hidden from deer in the feeding area by intervening cover or terrain. Do not approach within 10–20 yards of the edge of the feeding area where your movements are certain to be noticed by the motion-sensitive eyes of feeding whitetails. Then silently sit down on your backpacked stool where well hidden by natural, unaltered cover and where you have one or more natural shooting windows through cover to the feeding area. Plan to silently wait there without discernable motion (skillfully stand hunting) until 11 AM in the morning or darkness in the evening.

If you discovered those tracks midday or after sunset, either react as above or return later or early the next morning.

If you discover those tracks while scouting two or more weeks before the opener, head noisily toward the feeding area, thus letting the buck know you are coming, giving it adequate time to abandon the area without haste or great alarm so it won’t abandon its entire home range.  Then select and prepare (if necessary) at least two widely separated stand sites no closer than 10 yards from the edges of the feeding area where at least one stand can be approached from crosswind whatever the wind direction and without being easily seen or heard.

 Upon doing any of the above, your odds for taking that buck during one of the first three periods whitetails normally feed after you begin hunting there will be as good as they can be. After that, because you and I are not as skilled at getting to stand sites unidentified by nearby whitetails as we like to believe, all bets are off. Its then time to search for more very fresh tracks of a big buck to key on.

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