By Mark Kenyon
It’s a situation, that as whitetail addicts, we all dream of. A big, mature buck is calling your hunting property home and he’s a senile old sucker who hardly ever leaves his core area. It’s a perfect scenario and you’d think that this buck should be easy to kill, right? Unfortunately, many times it’s not. These homebody bucks are holed up in a small area for a reason, they know that spot well and they know how to survive there. That said, while there are plenty of ways to screw this situation up, if you’re patient, stealthy and smart – you’ve got a great shot at tagging this deer.
I personally found myself in this very situation during the 2014 season and through the execution of a well thought-out strategy and a little luck, I ended up getting a shot at my target whitetail. If you too are after a local legend, follow these five steps and you just might tag that homebody giant that’s been haunting your dreams.
1. Identify top buck bedding areas: When it comes to hunting bucks that stick close to home, the most important thing to understand, in my opinion, is where they bed. This is the core of their core and all of their other movements will radiate out from this. If this is a buck you’ve been hunting for some time, hopefully you already know his preferred bedding. But if not, the best time to determine where likely bedding areas are is during the late winter or early spring, when you can scout your property before green-up. Check out this video for details regarding how to locate and identify buck bedding areas –> 5 Tips for Identifying Buck Bedding Areas.
If you do a good job scouting, you’ll likely identify a number of different areas that bucks are bedding; take note of these, mark them on the maps and then think through which of these bedding areas offer the absolute most benefits to a buck. The best of these bedding areas will likely be the ones that your dominant homebody is using. Also be sure to think through what wind directions a buck will need to use these locations. Remember, a buck typically will like to bed with the wind to his back, so that he can watch in front of him and smell behind. This is also a good time to think through where the closest, yet still huntable, location might be to place a stand near this bedding area. While inherently risky, I’ve found that a well timed and targeted hunt close to a buck bed can be one of your best chances at a local bruiser. But more on that later.
2. Identify him in the summer: Once summer rolls around, you’ll need to confirm that your homebody buck is still around. And if you don’t already have a buck in mind, this is a great time to determine whether or not a target buck might be in the area. Use trail cameras and long distance observation to take stock of what bucks are using your property now, when they’re moving, and where they’re traveling through. If you capture photos, video or sight your target deer – take note of all the details. When it comes to targeting a single buck, especially if he’s a homebody, these little details about his patterns matter.
But, keep in mind, if this buck tends to stay close to home, that’s something you don’t want to screw up. Be especially careful not to put too much pressure on your property while scouting or checking cameras, even during the summer. Don’t check your cameras more than once every two weeks, keep your cameras on edges (away from bedding cover), and if you’re moving through the property be conscious of scent control and playing the wind, just as if it were hunting season.
3. Stealth Scout in September: It’s great news if your local buck is back and you’ve watched him all summer, but things can change when September rolls around. Once velvet comes off, many bucks will relocate to a new core area for the fall, so you’ll need to determine whether or not your buck is going to stick to your property as his core or not. Again, while being careful not to put extra pressure on the deer, determine if he’s here post-velvet peel with cameras or long-distance observation.
Bill Winke, host of Midwest Whitetail, explained on episode #16 of The Wired To Hunt Podcast, that when you’re trying to pattern a specific buck you need to cast an initially wide net with trail cameras. He’ll place cameras all over, as many as one every 20 acres, and run these until he can narrow down where his target buck is spending most of his time. Once you see some consistencies, move your cameras in tighter around this area. Winke too is especially careful with this trail camera surveillance, as he usually only places cameras near edges and either drives up to cameras or wears rubber waders to contain his scent. That said, if you practice a careful routine of surveillance and you’re getting consistent photos or observing your buck in mid-September or later, you can feel comfortable that he’s sticking around.
If your hunting season opens in September, this is also a great time to put together your plan for a first strike. Most bucks will be locked into a relatively consistent bed-to-feed pattern in September, so if you’ve got a good handle on this, you’ve got a great opportunity for a hunt. Focus on evening hunts, as mornings in September and early October are traditionally low odds hunts (more on that HERE), and stay close to active food sources. If your season is yet to open, continue your stealth surveillance into October.
4. Be Precise in October: As mentioned above, if you have your homebody buck patterned in the early season and he’s moving during daylight, wait for the right conditions and try a hunt or two for him early on, even if your season opens in early October. If this isn’t the case, or if you swung and missed, it’s time to ease back and observe. Don’t get overexcited and hunt too much at this time. October, in my opinion, is a month for precision hunting. If you’re after a specific homebody buck, you’re going to do a lot more damage than good if you hunt every single opportunity you have, with no clear plan. A few well timed perfectly targeted hunts are much more valuable than a bunch of mediocre sits.
That said, the key now is to take all the information you accumulated in the past and combine that with current observations to determine the perfect time and place to hunt your buck. At this point you should have a decent idea of where your homebody buck is likely bedded, and hopefully you have trail camera photos of him traveling to or using some kind of food source on your property. The big kicker now is daylight movement.
One of Bill Winke’s greatest lessons learned in hunting a specific buck has been to wait til a deer begins showing daylight activity before hunting him at all. If your deer is only on your cameras in the middle of the night, there’s little use in mucking up your property with a hunt or two when that deer is only moving under the cover of darkness. Maintain careful surveillance of your property through this period though, as you want to be able to strike as soon as you see evidence of an opportunity. In the aforementioned podcast episode, Winke explained that he likes to set up a trail camera or two on each of his food plots or large openings on his property and set them to field scan mode (aka timelapse), so that they will take a series of photos every 30 seconds or minute in the mornings and evenings. With these photos he can essentially monitor each of these food sources in their entirety, and get a very good idea of what kind of movement there might be. If you get signs of daylight movement, feel free to move in and strike fast. But if you’re midway through October and you’re still not seeing that opportunity arise, don’t lose hope …
5. Strike Before Halloween: Let’s say you’ve got consistent photos of your homebody and he’s clearly hanging on your property, but you just haven’t seen daylight movement yet. Since you’re patient and smart, you’ve avoided the temptation of any poorly timed hunts and instead have been waiting for the right time to strike. You know of several buck bedding areas he’s likely using and you’ve captured dozens of trail camera photos that seem to confirm that he heads out of a certain location most nights. You should be putting together a pretty clear picture now of how this deer uses your property and he obviously likes the area. The key now is to make sure you take advantage of this accumulated knowledge and this buck’s patterns before he ends up potentially disappearing during the rut.
We all know that things can get a little screwy during the rut, as bucks start chasing does, traveling to new areas and abandoning their patterns from the months before. With this being the case, you’re best chance at killing your local homebody buck is likely going to be before he gets caught up in the rut, so you need to put a plan in place to strike before that time. Luckily, the last third of October (sometimes even a little earlier) can be one of the best opportunities you’ll have of catching that big boy on his feet while still in your area.
As a buck’s testosterone levels rise through October he’ll progressively get more and more anxious to mark his territory and find an early doe ready to breed. Rubbing and scraping activity increases, and when the conditions align, this is one of those rare times when you might be able to catch a usually nocturnal buck moving during daylight to scope out some likely doe hot spots. Identifying the conditions that might trigger this movement are the key objective now.
For me, it all comes down to cold fronts. The first good hard cold front in late October is going to get deer on their feet, and will present one of the absolute best chances you’ll have at your big boy. On top of that, I like conditions such as light precipitation, a wind direction that’s ideal for the buck’s favored bedding/travel patterns (but still huntable), and ideally an early rising moon. If all of these factors line up, or some combination, you’ve got to move in and strike immediately.
With a good idea of where he’s bedding, and hopefully some indication of where he’s been feeding or traveling, try and get into and hunt an area in between those two locations. The closer to his bedding area the better, as these big old bucks are still unlikely to travel too far from their beds before dark. Speaking of, “nocturnal bucks” sometimes are really nocturnal, they simply don’t move far from their beds before dark. If you get close enough to those areas, you might come to find that your buck is actually moving ten, twenty of thirty minutes earlier than you thought – he’s just in an area you haven’t been observing. Although risky, when the above conditions are present, it’s often times worth the risk to dive in close for a hunt or two.
If your first hunt isn’t successful, hunt a few more times near his core area on those days following the cold front, and pay attention to your trail cameras. If you get new data or sign of him moving elsewhere, react fast.
This was exactly the kind of scenario that led to me getting a shot at my Jawbreaker in late October, 2014. I knew where he bedded and with what wind directions, and then I simply waited til I had those conditions along with a cold front. At that point I moved in, hunted tight to the bedding area, and got a shot at him the day after the front blew through.
6. Don’t give up: If your efforts are to no avail, and the rutting days of November arrive, don’t completely lose hope. Yes, many times a homebody buck will disappear during the rut, and maybe even get killed on another property, but there’s still a chance that he’ll stick to his ways and stay close to home. Focus from this point on your usual rut hunting set-ups (funnels and downwind of doe bedding areas), and if he’s around, he’ll hopefully pass through in his search for females.
Worst case scenario, if he survives the rut and you’ve got high quality late-season food on your property, there’s a good chance he’ll be back home in December. Follow a similar strategy as you would in September, with trail cameras and long-distance observation, and then strike near a food source when those perfect conditions align.
Hunting a single, specific homebody buck can be an incredible challenge – but at the same time, incredibly rewarding. The key is to be obsessive about studying this deer, while being equal amounts obsessive about keeping pressure on him low until the perfect moment. If you can make this balancing act work, you just might kill your local homebody buck and create a memory for a lifetime to boot.