How SNEAKY are bucks?
Big Bucks And Escapology...
December 01, 2007
It's late afternoon and I'm nestled in a ground blind during a wet snow storm. My visibility is almost zero. My scent is pushed to the ground by the snow falling straight from the heavens. My raincoat is drenched, droplets of water drip from the hood onto my muzzleloader, which has scope caps to protect the glass from the climate. Fog covers the field nearby, yet I'm convinced the big buck I've been hunting will be moving in the nasty weather in search of food or a receptive doe. Without warning I spot deer legs moving through the underbrush, coming directly at me. The animal is too close for me to take off the scope caps and shoulder the rifle. So, I sit motionless as the huge bodied deer glides through the snow and fog like a ghost.
His neck looks swollen and I gasp at the size of the monster's tall rack as he slips through the underbrush, cedar and pine. Suddenly he stops abruptly and stares directly at me. I didn't move, no attempt was made to lift the gun but the brute pinned me down in an instant. Perhaps he caught my scent; maybe he was shocked to see a blob at the base of a pine tree where it is usually bare. Snow filtered through the air like slow falling confetti at a New Year's Eve party. It covered his massive rack, sway back and long nose outlined by his gray face. For an instant we had a stare down, me looking at the monster deer, counting his 12-points, him studying my slumped form covered with falling snow. One deep snort and the monster switched directions and sprinted for the swamp before I could jerk off the caps, shoulder the gun and touch off a shot.
There I stood in the falling snow, gun raised, heart pounding but the trophy buck was long gone and the only movement I could detect was a squirrel scampering up a pine tree. My gut instinct was to follow the huge steaming tracks in the fresh snow. Hell, they looked like moose tracks they were so large. But I headed back to the truck, knowing that the smart old monarch was sneaky enough to keep far from me and certainly out of gun range.
I slipped silently through the fresh snow, knowing that the old buck was smart enough to know he could move through thick brush and tall grass without making a sound. Guess I beat him at his game, guessed right, knew he would be on the move, caught him kissin' close during nasty weather but failed to score because he got too close and pinned me down. Man, what a hunt!
This anecdote brings up an appropriate question about Michigan bucks. Just how sneaky are they?
These questions are best answered by experiences I've had while afield with bow, gun or camera.
It goes without saying that deer are artists at camouflage and concealment, especially when it comes to avoiding hunters. This is certainly true regarding bucks. A yearling buck will expose himself much more than an adult, this is due to instinct and age variables. When a buck becomes about 3 years old, which is somewhat rare in most of Michigan, he suddenly has a personality change. Mother Nature molds him into a different critter than younger bucks. Mature bucks don't get as crazy during the rut, they are less visible, and show themselves only when they are tending a doe-in-heat. Adult bucks become more nocturnal and most importantly they are reclusive. Fact is they spend most of their time alone, very concealed and they are extremely difficult to see. That's why hunters will spot a monster; only to have the mega-deer disappear, then reappear at a later date. It is my opinion that big bucks are very sociable, yet shy. They do not refuse to join other deer; they simply wait until the cover of darkness or low light conditions to venture into the open. You see, big bucks are very lazy and they prefer peace and quiet. So, they keep their distance from other deer but join the herd with coolness, sense of pride and standoffishness. I guess there is plenty of loneliness in their solitude. This makes them seem like they are hiding, but they are really concealing their presence or whereabouts.
Big bucks will do anything to avoid human interaction. If they see you, smell you or you jump them from their bedding area, they will disappear. Some bucks simply hide, and stay hidden in brush, tall grass, cornfields, cedar swamps, and marshes, locations mostly associated with water or lowlands where humans seldom travel. Others pack their bags and move to another sanctuary where they will be safe from human encroachment.
Because deer are sneaky critters and especially wise old bucks tend to be difficult to locate, during peak rut they will suddenly show themselves. This is when they are very vulnerable. The window of opportunity is extremely brief, in Michigan it begins after Halloween and peak lasts until gun opener. Come gun season the orange army moves to the countryside, invades the woodlands and sends a strong message to smart bucks. The sound of traffic on dirt roads, car doors slamming, guns firing, all signal the big boys to head for cover. That's when bucks really become super sneaky; few fall to gun hunters on opening day. Point is they purposely hide, period.
I was brought up by a deer stalker. My Father taught me how to silently slip through the forest, gun in ready position and catch bucks off guard. I use the same strategy today to photograph bucks. The results are interesting, some bucks will look at you, jump from their bed and run, helter skelter with flag showing, others tuck tail and scoot through the underbrush making little noise. I'm impressed with bucks that spot you and curl into a ball or place their chin on the ground and allow you to walk past. Smart old bucks usually will get out of Dodge long before you get close but on occasion I've seen them lay flat and let me walk pass.
LIE DOWN, DON'T MOVE
|Bucks will lie low to conceal their antlers and disguise their form.|
This is an indication to me that in the majority of hunting situations bucks go into a defensive mode and they lay down, stay down and refuse to move unless you step on them. This explains how you can have hunting success go dead the afternoon of gun opener because deer are tired of seeing hunters, tired of running and they take a break by laying low. Come mid-season deer that have been out feeding at night take to bedding areas long before daylight and they simply remain down until the cover of low light comes at dusk.
Never underestimate the trickiness of a big buck. I've had them sneak up on me without making a noise by walking sand trails, down worn runways or by slowly moving through the underbrush. Deer make very little noise if they are in the sneaky mode. Every year I hear stories from hunters who thought a deer was a squirrel playing in dry leaves. I've seen bucks slipping through marsh grass, not making a sound. On several occasions I've spotted bucks walking up ditches, in creeks, walking in water along lakeshore, in an effort to conceal their approach.
Deer have keen instincts. They know we can not see after dark, but they can see perfectly well. That's why they frequent back yards, fields, and bait piles under the cover of darkness. Most move when conditions are in their favor, usually under low light situations. This explains why bucks come out to play during rain, snow, sleet and when fog fills the air; they know they are safe when humans have difficulty seeing.
Because they are sneaky and they can slip through the underbrush undetected, you need to stay sharp, eyes peeled, constantly looking for the slightest movement. Some hunters make the mistake of sitting on a bucket while hunting. This is a bad move, because if you remain standing you can see twice as far, will see much more game and shoot more deer. The idea is to take stand where you can see deer, at close and long distance, yet remain camouflaged so that deer do not pick you up. Stand motionless, turn your head to check for deer, not your entire body. Avoid unnecessary movement, keep hands and legs stationary, don't smoke and you will be amazed at the number of deer you will see that are out of your hearing range.
Tired? I recommend you get out of your treestand before you fall, pile up leaves and take a short nap. You would be surprised at how many more deer you will see after a quick rest, when you are alert, checking all directions and have a heads-up attitude.
If you want to match wits with a cunning old buck your best bet is to sit tight and let him slowly come into range. Learn to look for bits and pieces of deer in the woods, a tail, legs moving, and the horizontal line of the back. Seldom will you see the entire body in the woods. Listen carefully and try to pick up the faint sound of a big deer purposely sneaking through the forest. Deer are always masters of the stealthy approach. You see, Mother Nature has equipped them with far better instincts than man's. Deer are silent stalkers, savvy about sneaking away from trouble, legitimate escape artists that possess the skills to avoid human interaction. They are experts at appearing or disappearing. They know how to getaway, runaway, or sneak away. If you ask me, I think they all have Masters Degrees in Escapology!