If killing a B&C buck were just luck, then why have several people done it multiple times? Here’s some advice that may shake up the way you look at hunting for giant bucks.
By Bernie Barringer
A tiny fraction of whitetail hunters have taken a buck that scores over 170 typical or 195 nontypical, the minimums for entry into the Boone & Crockett record book. Many hunters feel like it’s just a stroke of luck to have a buck that size walk by, and often, that’s all there was to it. However, that doesn’t explain why some hunters kill them with a shocking degree of regularity. Several hunters have killed multiple B&C bucks over the years, which proves they are probably doing things a little different than you and I when they take to the whitetail woods. In talking to them, I have come up with a list in no particular order of six things they are doing that you’re probably not doing.
You are not hunting where the Booners live
This may seem obvious, but you have to hunt where there are. You don’t have to live there, but if you don’t have Booners where you live you must go to them–or move to where they are found. Tim Young packed up and moved to Iowa and has shot two giants there and one on a roadtrip to Kentucky. Scott Buckley packed up his family and construction business and moved to southern Iowa, where he has killed several 170-class bucks on public land.
Rod Owen, Adam Hays, Stan Potts and Ben Rising travel extensively to find and shoot big bucks in states other than their own. They may hunt leased or permission land, but that land may be far from home, and it contains giant bucks. “You have to find them first,” says Adam Hays, who has taken nine Booners including four over 200 inches. “Your best bet for finding a giant will be near sanctuaries where there is no or very limited hunting. These areas will be close to city limits, parks, industrial zones, wildlife refuges and even large tracts of land that allow no hunting. Hunting a specific animal will make you hunt harder and smarter also, just knowing he’s there!”
Rod Owen agrees. “Killing a Booner isn’t the hardest part, the hardest part is finding one.” Ben Rising has shot four Booners in the last two years. He says he often spends more time looking for a buck and getting access to hunt where the buck lives than actually hunting him. Scott Buckley seeks big bucks in areas other hunters aren’t willing to go and sets his sights on individuals.
You don’t understand how fickle big bucks can be
You can’t take chances with human intrusion, checking scouting cameras too often, or hunting in the wrong winds. To shoot a Booner you must do everything right, and get lucky too. Patience is the key. Rod Owen tells about how he waited weeks for the perfect conditions to hunt a giant buck, but the wind switched so he immediately got out of the stand a RAN all the way back to his truck. He later killed the giant from that very stand.
“People go overboard trying to get intel on these big bucks and end up hurting themselves in the long run,” according to Ben Rising. They “dig too deep” he says, risking alerting the deer that he’s being hunted. According to Adam Hays, patience is the #1 key. “Sometimes the most difficult part of hunting a big buck is actually not hunting him at all,” he says. “having the patience and the discipline to wait until everything is perfect before diving in for the kill.” Successful Booner hunters don’t push it too hard, they make strategic, surgical moves.
You are not willing to do whatever it takes
You are spending your time watching Monday Night Football, you’re hanging out with buddies, you’re fishing when the big buck killers are scouting. The hunters who shoot Booners make sacrifices, they are consumed by the pursuit and learning everything they can about the deer and the land they inhabit. The drive to shoot giant deer is at a level far above the average deer hunter. “There are hunters and there are killers,” says Rising. “The drive has to be far greater if you are going to consistently kill big ones.”
Scott Buckley crosses streams and thickets on public land that stops most hunters in their tracks. Getting beyond barriers that hinder the everyday hunters puts him into bigger public land bucks.
With his truck stuck in a snowdrift. Steve Niemerg waited out a blizzard in a farmer’s house for two days, then instead of going home when the blizzard quit, he went hunting and killed a giant Booner that very evening. Killing multiple Booners can take over your life. Not just hunting them but hours of scouting, more time scouting, in fact, than actually hunting. “Killing mature deer is all about predicting what he will do before he ever does it,” Hays says. “The only way to do this is through scouting. I want to know where he eats, drinks, sleeps, breeds and how he gets back and forth from all the above.”
You are not hunting during the peak times
There are a few specific short periods each year when most Booners are shot. Hays is a big believer in the moon’s position as an influence of big buck movement. Rising says that paying attention to all weather factors and waiting for the right moment is key. Hays claims that a wind direction that’s good for the buck, but bad for you, can be the best time to hunt. “For me, the Holy Grail of whitetail hunting is finding a big buck’s weak spot,” he says. “Somewhere along his travel pattern where I can get within bow range of him while he’s using the wind to his advantage.”
When a peak time arrives, you must put the rest of your life on hold. You might be surprised to discover that most of these true giants were not shot during the rut. Most big buck killers agree that they prefer to kill Booners before the chaos of the rut arrives and the deer are in more predictable patterns.
You are not passing big bucks
Those 170-, 180- and 200-class bucks were once 150 bucks. If you aren’t willing to pass up a 4-year-old 150, you will probably never shoot a 6-year-old 180. A friend in southern Iowa who owns a large farm told me he kicked a guy out of their hunting group because he wouldn’t pass up the 4-year-olds that most people would drool over. Passing up bucks that would make you the envy of your friends is possibly the hardest hurdle for most deer hunters to get over.
“People like Adam Hays and me have learned not to smoke the tag on the first 4-year-old 160 that comes by,” says Rising. “We only have one tag in Ohio.” That’s a tough hurdle for most hunters to get over. If you are happy with a 150-160 then so be it, but if you want to kill bucks approaching 200, you will have to let them walk.
Another important part of this equation is to understand and recognize which deer are younger and have the potential to become giants. The only way to do that is to study the bucks themselves and analyze age, score and potential of every buck you see.
You are taking shortcuts
Most hunters rely too much on gimmicks and don’t go to the extremes necessary. You may be choosing great stand locations, but aren’t choosing your entry and exit routes wisely enough. You aren’t using discipline to wait for perfect conditions. These big buck killers are scent control fanatics, but they don’t use that as an excuse to take shortcuts with the wind. They all agree that scent control is an honorable goal, but the belief that you can totally eliminate your human scent and ignore good woodsmanship is a ticket to forkhorn land.
Hanging a treestand during the rain, letting those cameras sit for weeks and only checking them with the right wind, having the patience to wait until everything is precisely right, these are the characteristics of a person who kills multiple Booners. Hunting mature bucks is all about strategic moves at the right time in the right place. There are no shortcuts, you must make every move with precision.
Six Strategies Summarized
- You have to hunt where giant bucks are found. Either travel there or move there. The more big bucks are available, the better your odds.
- You cannot take chances with giant bucks. They have the game figured out and you must play by their rules. If you tip them off that they are being hunted, your odds of killing them just plummeted.
- You have to go farther and work harder than the other guy. Killing big bucks takes time and it needs to be a high priority you your life. Anyone who starts to think about hunting just before the season opens doesn’t have a chance of consistently killing giants.
- You need an understanding of peak times and the weather conditions that give you the edge. Understand wind and thermals along with bedding and movement patterns. The rut can be a great time to kill a Booner, but big buck movements can be random. Most consistent big buck killers prefer to hunt them before and after the rut.
- You must be willing to give a pass to lesser bucks. Self control is paramount. If you are hunting to impress friends, you may be shooting big bucks with the potential to become giants before their time. You must do this for yourself, not for others.
- You can’t cut corners in any way. Truly big bucks are masters at survival and know all the tricks. You must learn to play the game by their rules and win by their rules.