By Mark Kenyon
There’s nothing in the world of whitetail hunting that excites me more than hunting a single, specific buck. The opportunity to observe and analyze the behaviors of an individual buck and then try to put a plan in place to arrow him is both incredibly challenging and rewarding. As some of you likely recall, in 2013 I was able to cap off a three year journey of this kind with a Michigan buck known as “Six Shooter”. In 2014 I got a shot, after two years, at “Jawbreaker”. And last year, in year three of the hunt, I killed “Glenn”. This year in Michigan, I’ve got a new candidate and I call him “Holyfield.” Assuming he’s back this year, he’ll be my #1 priority in my home state.
The History So Far
The story of Holyfield began last summer, when a friend of mine on a neighboring property sent me a summer trail camera picture of a relatively tight and tall eight pointer that looked to be a solid three year old. I hadn’t seen him on my property yet, but I was excited to see a good one in the area. Just a few weeks later though, in late September, he showed up. It was just a few days before the season opened and I was out scouting one of my food plots from a distance. While filming another three year old buck feeding in the plot, I noticed this new buck nearby in the brush, heading out towards the other deer. It was the deer from my neighbor’s pictures, he had a nice heavy eight point frame and big body, and he immediately moved towards the top of my hit-list.
Just a couple days later though, on our archery opener, I killed that other three year old, and given that I’d now taken a buck off the property, I decided that all other bucks on the farm would get a pass that year. “Holyfield” now was off the hook. Good thing for him too, as he apparently took up residence on this property from that point forward and became, in my opinion, pretty killable. I captured dozens and dozens of photos of him in September and October.
A couple weeks later, back in the stand I killed my earlier buck from, I shot a doe and then watched as Holyfield fed out into the food plot minutes later. I watched him for 30 minutes as he fed in the oats and then eventually walked right underneath my stand on his way to chase a few does. I watched with the bow on the hanger, increasingly more and more excited for 2016. Over the next month, Holyfield continued to frequent my trail cameras, but with me on out-of-state hunts, I didn’t have any in-person encounters.
That is until December rolled around, and again Holyfield was out feeding in his favorite food plot during daylight. I observed him once from a long distance, along with five other bucks, and twenty or so does. And he continued to show up on that plot very frequently, five more of those times that month were during daylight. Needless to say, he was a big fan of the Winter Greens plot. With all of these photos and encounters, when the 2015 season wrapped up, I knew Holyfield would be my obsession for 2016.
With the 2016 season nearly here now, I’ve begun putting a plan in place specifically for this deer. And a lot of that has revolved around looking back on those past encounters and trail camera photos and seeing what kind of patterns/tendencies I can uncover. Quite often what a buck does one year, or how he reacts to certain conditions, will repeat itself (to a degree) year after year. For that reason, analyzing past year’s data can be incredibly helpful when planning for the upcoming season.
Every time I encounter or photograph a mature buck, I ask the question “Why?” and the accumulation of those answers eventually points me in the direction of how to hunt these bucks. I want to know where that deer was, where he was coming from, what time of day it was, what the wind was, moon phase, barometric pressure and every other data point I can possibly attach to an encounter or photo. Finally, with that information available, I can then look for correlations between any one of those variables and activity with a given buck. I’m looking for those “Aha” moments that only occur when you’re willing to dig in deep and pay attention to the details.
Over the past few years, I’ve been trying a number of different online tools to help me analyze this type of data and this year it’s no different. Observing, journaling and looking back on past experiences certainly can be helpful – but it’s difficult to pull big-picture trends from that kind of material without doing some serious mental work. These online tools make it a lot easier and this year I’ve been testing a tool called DeerLab to help with this process for Holyfield. With DeerLab I’ve been able to upload all of my trail camera photos of him, attach them to a location and tag them with the “Holyfield” label, then automatically, DeerLab pulls in all the weather data that correlates with each photo.
Now, as I’m trying to understand what locations and conditions were the most conducive for Holyfield to be on the move, I can see the data all in one place, attached to each individual photo. With this information available in this format, for example, I’ve been looking back at each photo of Holyfield during or near daylight, and then trying to understand what factors were consistently present. Not surprising, in Holyfield’s case, many of his appearances coincided with cooler than average temperatures for that time of year.
Whether you use an online tool like I have or just manually collect this info yourself – this type of analysis is so important when targeting specific mature bucks. One way or another, I’d encourage you to keep track of as much data like this as you can around your photos and encounters.
But, more important than just the individual encounters/photos are the larger trends we can pull away. Until I’d actually looked at this big-picture kind of analysis, I only knew that Holyfield showed up in September, stayed all season and was most visible during daylight in early October and all of December, with his most frequent appearances being on or near one of my main food plots – usually coinciding with cooler weather. This is a great place to start, but when I dug in deeper, I uncovered something very interesting.
As mentioned earlier, I place a lot of importance on correlating certain weather conditions to behavior, and what I found in Holyfield’s case was a real eye opener. As you can see in the graphic above, pulled from Holyfield’s profile on DeerLab, almost all of my encounters and photos of him, especially up in that front food plot, were taking place with south or southwesterly winds. This makes sense when I see it now, as a south or southwest wind would blow any scent from the food plot right into the main area I believe he’s bedding – so he’d be able to head out to feed or check for does on these nights with the wind coming right to him. But this was a particularly important realization for me, because in the past I’d never hunt this area on south or southwest winds. In retrospect, this might explain why I wasn’t present 7 of the 8 times that Holyfield was out there during daylight. And in 2016, if I hadn’t seen this data, I wouldn’t be hunting with that wind either.
But, now that I know that this is almost the only wind he’s coming out here on – I might need to get creative and find a way to be out there with those winds. It’s going to be a major change in my hunting strategy, that I would never have considered if it weren’t for this more in-depth analysis and it just might be the difference between just looking at a lot more photos of him this year and actually killing him.
The Plan From Here Out
There’s plenty more analysis to be done, and I’ll cover more of the data I’m looking at in future posts. But for now, here’s the plan. There’s two months to go before the season opens and my main objectives are to finalize my food plots and get my cameras out and running in the right places to hopefully start capturing photos of Holyfield when he arrives back on the farm. Last year he didn’t settle into my property until early September, so I’m banking on that annual pattern repeating itself. I’m also going to use these next few weeks to do some thinking about how I might be able to access/hunt this food plot area on those south/southwesterly winds. That might end up being the key to this whole hunt and while I don’t have an answer yet, I’m planning on figuring it out.
Over the coming weeks I’ll expand on the analysis and plan for hunting Holyfield, including how I’m going to approach the season, what conditions/timeframes I’ll consider hunting, and how I’ll be adjusting based on new intel. But until then, I’m going to continue to study, wait and dream. October 1st is just on the horizon and I can’t wait. The hunt for Holyfield begins soon!
This story was brought to you in part by DeerLab, which was founded by a Wired To Hunt reader/listener. If you’re interested in checking out this tool, DeerLab is going to offer a special extended 30 day free trial for Wired To Hunt audience members, including the ability to upload/analyze 250 photos (rather than the usual 50) within that trial period. Visit DeerLab.com/w2h to check it out.