Hunting The Core

16 Nov

Here is an article I wrote for an outdoor magazine earlier this fall.

I’ll be completely honest with you, I have a pretty serious problem when it comes to whitetails. This article is being written in July and will more than likely go to print in the October issue and I am already losing sleep trying to figure these animals out.  The majority of this article was written between the hours of midnight and 2:00 A.M.  So what am I thinking about… I’m thinking about the bucks on my hit-list, their core areas, and how the hell I’m going to get them in one of my shooting lanes.

The first thing we need to do is define what constitutes as a mature bucks core area. The time of year has a lot to do with how large or small a buck’s territory is and what food sources are available. During the spring and summer months there are plenty of fresh greens and row crops to browse on. The larger fields can also double as bedding areas. I feel that the bucks cover a larger area in the in the summer months as opposed to the early fall when they are establishing dominance in a tighter core area where does might be frequenting. Let’s not forget acorn and other forms of mast. Depending on how abundant the yearly acorn crop is can greatly influence deer movement. If the mast crop is plentiful and you tend to hunt field edges, you may not see the any mature deer the first part of October. As we all know, all bets are off during the rut and the movement during the late season and winter months strictly revolve around available food sources.  With that said, no matter what time of year it is there are certain criteria that these core areas need to have. Food, water, and safety.

Food and water are pretty self-explanatory, and depending on where the food and water are in relationship to the bedding areas can determine how far these bucks are traveling to the food and water sources. Ponds, rivers, and creeks are your standard water sources here in Iowa. Depending on the terrain you hunt there might be other water sources you may not know about. In some of the deeper draws there may be locations where water will accumulate from rain or ground seepage. Although these are not large water sources, and could only be the size of a basketball, the deer don’t need to leave the timber or expose themselves just to get a drink. Trust me when I say if you can find one of these during a hot dry fall where water isn’t as plentiful, get a stand in there for an afternoon hunt.

In my opinion, the most important of the three is safety. Notice I didn’t use a term like “cover”. The reason I say “safety” is because deer are not confined to the timber or thick and nasty bedding areas that we are all used to. Yes, Iowa is full of your classic bedding areas like the previously mentioned but there are places I have seen deer live that don’t fit your typically bedding area definition. I have witnessed mature bucks live everywhere from your typical thick timber, terraces in the middle of an agriculture field, and even 20 yards from a fully operational hog confinement. It doesn’t matter what the scenario, if the deer feel comfortable, that’s all that matter. In some instances they are OK with a little pressure; it’s as if they become conditioned to the pressure. All you have to do is put in your time scouting and make your move when the conditions are favorable.

Just like humans, different bucks have different personalities, different places they feel comfortable, and travel different distances from their beds each day. I can remember two specific examples in 2009 where I observed two different deer do two completely different things. The first was a 5 year old buck I watched through my binoculars during a weekend hunt in mid-October. For two straight days he stayed confined to a bedding area that was no bigger than my living room. He would stand up two or three times a day to stretch his legs and browse on some greens and acorns that were near his bed. About an hour after sunrise each day I watched him drop off the side of the ridge he was bedding on to get a drink in a very small creek below.   He was there when the sun came up and he was there when the sun went down. I had two trail cameras on two trails leading in and out of this area and only received one picture of him within a ten day period.

The second buck I want to discuss was never seen from the stand. I observed his movement strictly through the use of trail cameras. Five different trail cameras that covered about one square mile to be exact. I can’t imagine this buck bedded in the same bedding area every day. If I had to guess, I bet this buck had a different bedding area for every wind, hit a different food source every day based on wind, and used different trails to travel based on wind direction. These bucks are very difficult to pattern as this particular buck was nocturnal fore almost all of his known existence.

Once we have a general understanding of what a bucks core area “could” look like and how they move based on the time of year, we can start putting together a game plan in order intercept their movement. Previous year’s knowledge such as trail camera pictures, shed hunting finds, sightings from the stand and current year’s trail camera pictures play a huge role in trying to locate one of these target bucks. My trail cameras are up and running almost all year long. From May to August they are over top of my mineral stations for one reason and one reason only, taking inventory of what deer are in the area. In mid-September I move the cameras to popular fence crossings, pinch points, and over any scrapes that might have already opened up. In mid-October a majority of my trail cameras are over scrapes. By this time of year I am checking my cameras on a weekly basis to see if there is any daytime movement. I try not to get excited if I get a picture of a mature buck during in the middle of the night, but it’s good to know that he’s in the area.  As the season progresses and the cameras begin to show daylight movement, that is when I will start contemplating moving in the area to actually hunt. Until then, I am watching movement from an observation stand or hunting does in other locations.

I can’t express enough how important trail cameras are to the way I hunt. The information they provide help me determine where I will hang my stands. As we all know, hunting the early season can be uneventful at times. This time of year the bucks are still on a bed to feed routine and in the right conditions can still be patterned effectively. Because I don’t like to hunt field edges, a majority of my hunts take place on travel routes along ridgelines between the bedding areas and the food sources. If you have a buck showing up on a trail camera on a food source right after shooting light, this may be a great option for you as I have found over the years that mature bucks like to hold up in a staging area and scent-check for a while before entering a field or food source.

As soon as the cameras start heating up in mid to late October and when the bucks begin to become more interested in the does, that’s when I start focusing on fresh sign and doe bedding areas. One of my favorite tactics is to get in to a doe bedding area really early in the morning in hopes of catching one of the big boys scent-checking the downwind side before he beds down for the day. I also love to hunt pinch points this time of year as a cold front or high pressure system can get the deer on their feet during daylight hours looking for their first date of the year. When the rut hits, you will find me in pinch point, bedding area, or over top of fresh sign.

After the rut starts to slow down and the deer go back to their bed to feed routine, I once again move my stand locations to the travel routes in the timber between the bedding areas and the food sources. Depending on how available the food sources are in the late season areas you hunt can make or break the amount of movement you see. If you do have a big buck in the area and you have recognized his current food source, watch the weather very closely and wait for the conditions to get bad. It always sucks to sit is freezing temperatures, but these are the best conditions for late season buck activity.

As this season gets into full swing remember to pay attention to the popular bedding areas, what food sources are in season, fresh sign and the travel routes your target buck is using to navigate the property you hunt. If you play your cards right you might just get a crack at a buck of a lifetime.

One Response to “Hunting The Core”

  1. Dustin October 4, 2016 at 2:29 am #

    Very good read

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