A month ago, during the first eight days of our Minnesota firearm deer hunting season, two of my three sons took four dominant breeding bucks (party hunting) on the public land where we have been hunting whitetails for thirty years, increasing our total of mature bucks taken there since 1990 to 105. That’s amazing buck hunting for four hunters. Being dominant breeding bucks, all were the largest of bucks in each of their separate, square-mile breeding ranges. Two were 10-pointers, one was a 9-pointer and one was an 8-pointer. All were taken via stand hunting—one from a new portable tree stand and three from ground level stands, using natural cover as blinds. Two were taken during the first two legal shooting hours of the day (our usual reward for getting up at 4AM daily), one midday and one during the final legal shooting hour of the day. Lures, baits, minerals and food plots were not used to take any of these bucks. Our deer numbers were at a historic low due to severe winters and year-round hunting by overabundant wolves, averaging about five per square mile, we often had sub-zero temperatures in the morning, the moon was bright morning and evening beginning on day four and our wolves were especially bothersome, making hunting more difficult. However, 2–4 inches of snow covered the ground (photo above), the first of the three two-week breeding periods of the whitetail rut as in progress and mobile stand hunting—moving to new stand sites near freshy made deer signs made by mature, unalarmed bucks every half day—contributed greatly to our hunting success. Three bucks were taken at stand sites never used before, located downwind or crosswind of trails or sites where older bucks were expected to appear (based on deer signs and a truthful knowledge of the whitetail rut learned via my 50 years of wild whitetail field bstudies). Stand sites never used before have always been our most productive for taking older bucks because approaching bucks then have no reason suspect a hunter is waiting in ambush there. All four were taken for different reasons. The 9-pointer was taken from a stand site that had been used one, sometimes two half-days per year for a decade or so to take an older buck almost every year until its effectiveness ended in 2016. Its effectiveness was restored last November by a new approach trail—a new series of connecting deer trails coursing through very dense cover from a different direction. Patience—waiting for the proper wind direction to approach and hunt at this ground level stand site—plus a doe in heat, made it easy to take the 9-pointer. Great preseason scouting, a doe in heat and great shooting accuracy contributed most to taking one of the 10-pointers. The discovery of very fresh tracks made by a mature buck while on the way to a known feeding area, a new ground level stand where the hunter was well-hidden by natural, unaltered cover, selected and put to use immediately after discovering those tracks and another nearby doe in heat (revealed by blood spotted urine along the way), contributed to taking the other 10-pointer. The 8-pointer was soon taken in another area after 1) discovering doe urine spotted with blood (revealing the doe was in heat), 2) immediately taking a round-about route (well to the west, then downwind and then northeast) to avoid tainting the triangular area throughout which doe in heat pheromone was spreading southeast with airborne human scent and 3) soon selecting a new ground level stand site near the southwest side of that triangle, sitting crosswind to watch for a buck being lured northwest toward the urine and nearby doe. Again last November, my sons and I continued to prove moving to a new stand site every half-day to wherever a mature buck and other unsuspecting whitetails are active right now or were active minutes or hours earlier (as revealed by their fresh deer signs) is far more productive than stand hunting at one stand site day after day and year after year. This is a buck hunting method well worth learning.
During the more than three-quarters of a century I’ve hunted whitetails, always hoping or intending to take a buck 3-1/2 years of age or older, I’ve been forced to change the way I hunt several times. The reason was, mature whitetails, especially older bucks, have been amazingly adaptable to any new hunting method or lure us American deer hunters came up during all those years. Whereas it usually took a decade or so for an overall deer populations to become notably more difficult to hunt after leaf numbers of hunters in the area began using something new such as tree stands, buck lures or various calls, for example, individual bucks 3-1/2 years of age or older typically became impossible to fool again after surviving only one encounter with a hunter using them. In time, my hunting-related studies proved the this was also true of stand sites. A well-hidden stand with a well-hidden approach trail used by a silent and well-hidden stand hunter might fool an older buck more than once, but no stand site is long immune from discovery by noses of experienced whitetails that happen to be downwind. Once discovered, however, wherever all hunters are stand hunters, mature bucks (and does) do not normally abandon their ranges, only the area within 100 yards or more of discovered stand sites (the size of the area dependent on surrounding density of cover), thereafter living normal lives elsewhere within their ranges.
In time it became obvious to my three sons and I that a stand site never used before—within easy shooting distance downwind or crosswind of very fresh deer signs made by an unalarmed buck—provides the very best odds for taking a mature buck (or any other deer for that matter). As long as a new stand site has not been made obvious by human destruction, construction, intense trail scents or rapid motions or sounds made by the stand hunter, a buck of any age will have no reason to initially avoid it, unless the buck is directly downwind.
The trouble is, if your stand is located in a portion of a mature buck’s home/breeding range where it is located right now or where it was located a short time earlier (where your stand should be, made possible by hunting only near fresh deer signs made by an unsuspecting buck), a newly used stand site is only likely to remain undiscovered by that the buck for a few minutes to a few hours after a hunter begins using it—the period during which you are either most likely to take that buck or that buck is most likely to identify you and begin avoiding you there, with or without you knowing it. Logically, then, to keep your odds favorable for taking a mature buck, you should switch to a new (unused) stand site 100 yards or more away downwind or crosswind of fresh deer signs made by a mature buck every day or half day. To avoid wasting time at stand sites unknowingly discovered by our antlered quarries, my sons and I change stand sites (elevated stands and ground level stands) every half day. This more than anything has enabled the four of us Hunti#us to take our usual self-imposed limit of four mature bucks per year practically every year since 1990.