Though mature whitetail bucks make few trails of their own, trails in doe home ranges that have fresh tracks and droppings made by mature bucks on them always excite me. Generally, however, older bucks use most doe trails only temporarily, intermittently (unpredictably) and rarely twice in one day or two days in a row during hunting seasons.
One reason is, changes in wind direction often force older bucks (and other deer) to switch to different trails that give them a downwind advantage – able to smell and avoid predators or hunters safe distances ahead.
Another reason is, whenever whitetails travel into the wind from their bedding areas, to return they must somehow travel downwind. They do it by using alternate routes that provide especially dense screening cover, often changing direction, left or right, in a round-about way while avoiding trails and stand sites known to be currently used by hunters until finally able to turn into the wind well downwind of their bedding areas.
The third and most common reason they switch trails is, no matter how skilled you believe you are at stand hunting and traveling to and from stand sites, an older buck will discover, identify and begin avoiding you and your stand site within 1–3 successive half-days of hunting (or within 1–3 whitetail feeding periods), most often without your knowledge. For this reason, my sons and I change stands sites every half-day unless we have a very good reason for returning for an extra half-day – sighting a mature buck accompanying a doe in the vicinity, for example, or discovering very fresh mature-buck-sized tracks and/or droppings near the site.
There are three reasons why a mature buck may uncharacteristically use one or two deer trails daily for an extended period of time. One is, the trail is very near or within a mature buck’s secluding bedding area. Such a trail, however, is not often well-worn, therefore not often noticed or considered important by hunters.
About Mid-October when freezing temperatures first become common at night, all northern antlered bucks from yearlings to dominant breeding bucks begin marking their intended breeding ranges with no-trespassing signs – ground scrapes and antler rubs – made along certain well-used trails within doe home ranges. Within a week or two, by threat or battle, the big dominant buck will force all bucks lower in their square-mile buck pecking order to live off-range until the two-week primary breeding phase of the rut in early November comes to an end (except in farm or suburban areas where whitetails are crowded in limited areas). Thereafter, the only scrapes, that will then be regularly renewed in doe hime ranges, once every 24-48 hours, until breeding begins in early November will be those made by dominant breeding bucks, unless it is unseasonably warm, stormy or a hunter is known to be near. From mid-October until the first few days of November, then, dominant breeding bucks (trophy bucks) travel at least once every day or two along scrape trails in doe home ranges.
Many antlered bucks (not all) forced by dominant breeding bucks to temporarily live off-range during this period commonly make and regularly renew scrapes and rubs along one or two deer trails within their typically small and secluded refuges. Stand hunting near such trails during this period can be very productive. Such was the case when I took the 305-pound 12-pointer pictured above early one opening morning a few years ago. Only once did I get a quick look at the big dominant breeding buck that could force a buck like this to temporarily live off-range. It was the most beautiful and largest buck I have ever seen in the wilds.