By Mark Kenyon
Mature bucks in Michigan aren’t easy to come by. Especially during hunting season! With around 1 million deer hunters in the Great Lakes State the pressure on deer is incredible and any buck that makes it past a 1.5 old needs to become very smart, very fast. Given that, the chances of seeing and killing mature bucks in my home state are not nearly as high as they are in many other Midwest whitetail meccas like Iowa, Ohio, Illinois, etc. For many people I know in Michigan, just one mature buck sighting in an entire season is considered a success.
As difficult as it is to come by a big buck in my state, it defintely isn’t impossible. The past 5 days of hunting (Oct 26/28, Nov 1/2) in Michigan that I’ve had are clear evidence of this, as I’ve had 4 mature buck encounters over that time span. Without a doubt, that’s the best stretch of hunts I’ve ever had here at home. So how did this all happen? I believe it comes down to three key factors…
1. Pressure: As mentioned above, deer are under tremendous pressure in Michigan. That said, the best strategy I’ve found for seeing big bucks in MI is to offer deer on the properties I hunt as low pressure a situation as possible. This year I’ve hunted fewer times per stand than I have the last few years, and I’ve obsessed about disturbing as few deer as possible when I did hunt. I’ve left my best stands untouched throughout early October, and only hunted the fringes of my better properties when the wind was perfect. This paid off big time. All four of my mature buck encounters took place during my first or second hunts of a given stand. My big learning this year was that sometimes it’s better to hunt smarter, than harder. I’ve done that this season, and it’s been my best yet!
2. Cold Fronts: Weather has a huge influence on deer activity and behavior, and as most of us have experienced, few things get deer moving more than cold fronts. As I mentioned above, I’ve tried to hold off on hunting my best stands until conditions were ideal – the conditions I really wanted were cold fronts and I got a great one during the weekend of Oct 26-28. When that front dropped temps by 30 degrees I knew I was in for some good times, and it played out just as I thought. The first two days after the front hit, deer were moving like crazy. Including a 130″ 10 pointer I saw on Friday, and a 140″ 9 pointer I saw Saturday!
3. Swamp/Food Source Transitions: All four of my mature buck encounters took place on the transitions between swamps and food sources. Swamps offer possibly the best cover for deer in my area of Michigan, and when you have a large swamp, you can count on a big buck being nearby. I searched out these swamps and got hunting access on the edge of a few. The food source that has been the hottest in my area this fall has been soy bean fields. That said, where soybean fields bordered swamps I thought I might have a good chance of seeing one of those big boys. That happened in each of these encounters. Bucks moved out of the swamps on to the bean fields to feed and check out the local does.
So there you have it. I was able to have four encounters with mature bucks in five days of Michigan hunting by keeping low pressure on my properties all season, by waiting for a cold front before hunting my best spots, and by focusing on transitions between swamps and hot food sources.
While it’s not easy to see and kill mature bucks in highly pressured areas, it is possible. Keep at it and you too could see the results I have recently!