Pressured whitetails, is there such a thing?
September 01, 2007
|The author with a monster record book buck. |
Years ago as an inexperienced deer hunter I used to marvel at how the deer seemed to disappear after the first or second day of gun season. Now many years later with only mature bucks on my mind, I marvel at the magical way that these mature bucks seem to evaporate, whether they are being hunted or not. I sensed that there would be an educated answer to this mystery, and I surely wasn't convinced that these across the board disappearances could be solely contributed to the standard pressured whitetail theory.
I had a lot of questions, but unfortunately very few answers, and even fewer resources to turn to. These type of thoughts usually take me into unchartered waters where the lack of studies would allow opinions and counter opinions to take on a life of their own. With that in mind, it's safe to say, any conclusion that I may reach in this article, will have absolutely no scientific value whatsoever.
Now that I have slipped through the minefields of wildlife biologists, I can continue. Here in Michigan we have been privileged to hunt some very private farms with absolutely no hunting pressure from us, or any others surrounding other farms. Yet, the sign of mature bucks consistently told us that they were around and just as consistently the big bucks would stay out of sight. The one common denominator that would change our way of thinking was, every buck that we have ever known totally disappeared after age 2-1/2, (that is, the ones we hadn't been able to harvest). So the question came up, if there was no hunting pressure on any of our several leases in three southern Michigan counties and all of the big bucks were doing the exact same thing, how could they possibly be reacting to hunter pressure? There must be another reason.
The more I thought about it, the more my thoughts settled on genetics and aging. Can either or both help create a life altering role in which a naturally recurring process totally alters a buck's life cycle at a certain age?
Although there are several states with high numbers of deer hunters, Michigan leads the pack. So does that mean our deer are automatically pressured? Not really, some inexperienced yearling bucks do bare the brunt of hunter pressure somewhere. Their lack of life's experiences in such matters usually ends that way. But by the time they reach 2-1/2 years old their experience begins to show. They become harder to hunt. At 3-1/2 years old and beyond, they simply stay out of sight. If you were lucky enough to harvest a buck of this caliber it's because he made one mistake too many. Any buck, whether he lives on state land or private land, always have a choice to either retreat deeper into state land or jump the fence if, or when, they feel threatened.
Several years ago I found myself in a hunting camp in South Carolina with Milo Hansen, current holder of the world record typical buck taken in Saskatchewan in 1993. Milo told me about that hunt in which he and several neighbors organized a drive pushing this buck from one wood lot to another, forcing the giant buck into large open fields, many shots were fired. I personally saw the mount of that great buck up close and one bullet went through the main beam. A quarter inch either way would have shattered the beam, along with the world title. One thing for sure, this was indeed a pressured buck.
So barring fully organized deer drives there aren't too many ways that you can pressure free ranging mature bucks without them taking immediate evasive action, if they so choose. Especially on farm lands in Michigan which usually consist of small acreage. Any farm buck that feels threatened will simply go away in a heartbeat, and once they cross that fence line you are left with only a memory.
Once on that new farm he isn't about to display any of the mistakes that he has learned from. A hunter would be hard pressed to learn anything from this nocturnal buck.
A deer's life cycle revolves around food, water, safety, and reproduction. Once a buck reaches a certain age safety seems to become his primary driving force. Some bucks take it a step further by opting out of reproduction, the most dangerous point in their quest for survival, and they seem to realize that.
So, can this new found discretion be contributed to age, a learned trait or is this the results of later in life genetics kicking in?
They say that if you want to know what your bride will look like later in life, look at your mother-in-law (actually, that applies both ways). It is uncanny how much your looks or body shape will take on duplication of an aging parent as you age. Is this long range genetics at work in humans? If so, why shouldn't it apply to animals as well?
When I look at a 1-1/2 year old buck I see the equivalent of a teenager who wants to experience life with decisions that lack experience. When I look at a 2-1/2 year old buck I see a mature young adult entering college. Which means their decisions are based more from life experiences, and less from impulses. Discretion is the motivation which will carry them further into the next level of discretion. From this point on in a buck's life, 3-1/2 years of age and beyond, a tremendous transformation takes place. All of a sudden these mature bucks discover that all of their life needs have been safely condensed into a much smaller core area where their daily travels and movements are kept to a minimal.
Safety has now become a mature buck's top priority. What was once a hectic dangerous pace, now is replaced by 20 hour naps in his new daily routine. This is one reason why he is seldom seen. I like to make the comparison of mature bucks to us old guys. No longer do we feel the need to frequent bars for companionship, nor do we drive at night much, and very few of us would dare attempt to date a married woman. We recognize the dangers involved.
On the other hand a buck is well aware that it is safer to move about at night. It's not that he turned nocturnal to escape any outside influences, instead it is a cycle brought about by a driven quest for safety. And yes, these bucks could be hunted if you could pinpoint this small area located by its unusual amount of droppings, or rubs and scrapes from the year before. By the following year the buck would have forgiven your intrusion. You would most certainly have to slip in and out within two days before you are detected. That means taking every precaution possible, wind direction, Scent Lok clothes, spraying down with scent eliminators, and stealthgoing in and coming out.
Every year many hunters in Michigan and elsewhere bring home huge trophy bucks, but when asked if they knew of that buck's presence, 99% said no. Simply put most of these bucks were caught out of bounds chasing does in daylight miles from safety. It isn't unusual for a rutting buck to travel several miles in a single night searching for estrous does, (that's what gets them killed) and there is nothing to stop a mature buck from relocating to a new area every night of the week, regardless of the rut or not.
We have photos and tapes of bucks that were killed anywhere from 3-8 miles from where we taped them. Mature bucks come and go as they please, and that's just one of the reason why they are so hard to pattern, and fun to hunt. So if you're up to a challenge, give the big boys a try. They're still out there.
Questions or comments, or for a free catalog of A-Way Hunting Products, please call (989) 435-3879 or visit us on the web,
Editor's note: Fred and Greg Abbas, hosts of A-Way Outdoors television will be giving a new and exciting seminar at this year's Woods-N-Waters News Outdoor Weekend titled, "Whitetail Success Through Unorthodox Methods." Fred and Greg will be showing new secret deer hunting tactics that nobody in the hunting world has ever seen before. Well traveled, Fred and Greg have taken over 300 big game animals from around the world, with most taken with bow and muzzleloaders. Fred is the inventor of the famous "Bowgrunter Plus" deer call. Fred also invented the new award winning "Scent Web", an aerosol propelled deer attractant. Fred holds the outstanding distinction of being the only hunter in Michigan's history to tag and register 4 trophy book bucks in one season (1990, the last year Michigan allowed a 4 buck limit). Along with these other feats Fred is Michigan's top ranking trophy hunter with 37 trophy buck entries. Together, Fred and Greg have registered over 55 trophy bucks in various trophy books. This is one seminar that you don't want to miss.