Steve Bartylla on Patterns and Deer
Tip of the Day
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As mentioned in the “patterning” tip, the habitat, weather and rut cycles are all changing dynamically over the course of fall/early winter. Because of that, our stand locations must change with them, IF we want to stay in bucks from opening day to the season’s close.
This was an important lesson for me to learn very early on. When I was consulting for outfitters, most of their hunters were salt of the earth type people. Many saved all year for their hunting vacation, often a once in a lifetime trip for a lot of them. It didn’t matter if their hunt was in mid October, during an early November heat wave or during a December blizzard, that was their hunt and they rightfully wanted to make the very best of it.
The only way to help achieve that for them was to set stands specifically for each phase of season and virtually any weather conditions possible. When you have 200-500 hunters a year (I consulted for multiple outfitters) telling you what you did wrong, it either accelerates the learning curve at warp speed or you’re at high risk of receiving a blanket party. I preferred my approach to a midnight beating.
Because you all should be out in the woods scouting, stacking the odds for next season now, I wanted to cover matching stands to the phase of season. That way you can have this in your mind while scouting your grounds.
Almost no stand is good from the opener until its close. Nearly every location worthy of setting up on has a peak phase it should be hunted. Hunt it too early and you are at a high risk of blowing up the location, before it had a chance to get good. Hunt that same location too late and you’re likely wasting a sit. Match the stands to the phases of season, hunt them then and you’re 80% of the way there. The remaining 20% is accounting for weather extremes, but that’s tomorrow’s tip.
For today, we’re just going to cover the phases of season and what bucks want most during each. I wrote Advanced Stand-Hunting Strategies as my first book, as I firmly believe that it is mission critical to determine what bucks want during each phase and setup to take advantage of those wants. Do that and you truly can tag bucks through the entire season. For as long as this tip is, this is a very brief summation of the Cliff Notes version of that book.
Early season is all about food, water, comfort and starting to get serious about finding their niches in the buck dominance ladder. The bucks tend to keep movements down to a minimum, as they are resting and fattening up for the upcoming rut.
Mid October Lull is a bit of a misnomer, in that it’s typically the pressure factor that shuts bucks down a couple weeks after opener, not something that is programmed in. When that occurs, hunting the edges and inside of his daylight core area is about your only chance. If pressure isn’t an issue, keep hunting food, water and his trails between them and bedding.
The Scrape Phase is when the fights start breaking out, settling those differences of opinion bucks may have on where they deserve to be in the dominance ladder. It’s obviously also when they are advertising like crazy with their scrapes. Obviously, hunting the right scrapes is a rock solid approach, and yesterday’s tip shared how to find them.
Things get nuts during the Chase Phase. Some does will come in early, some late and most when they are supposed to. Just because the Peak Breeding Phase hasn’t occurred yet doesn’t mean that a few does haven’t already been bred. They most likely have, and now a bunch are right on the edge of estrus. This drives even most mature bucks a little batty. They’ve either already bred a doe or likely just missed out on her. Either way, they want more and they want it NOW. The problem is that most aren’t quite ready yet. So, they tend to run around like idiots, chasing any of those that are on the edge, as well as more than a few not close yet. Until they are ready to breed, the does try to lose their pursuit, typically by heading to the thickest cover they can find, to lose them. Rut setups, such as doe bedding areas and funnels are now hot, but so is setting up in those areas that does head to lose their pursuit.
The Peak Breeding Phase is all about funnels, doe bedding areas, water holes, in the northern states and Provinces, and hunting does in general, as that’s what the bucks are after.
Things get a little confusing after Peak Breeding. Your immature bucks are now into Late Season/Post Rut mode, where it’s all about food. In areas receiving real winters, cover becomes a draw, as well. Post Rut is all about hunting food and the trails they use to get between food and bedding or the protective cover northern deer head for to protect them from weather extremes.
The confusing part comes into play with the mature bucks. They know that a few mature does may be late and that doe fawns may well be trickling into estrus. Even in the UP of MI, a % of doe fawns come into estrus all but on the worst years. The harsher the winter an area receives generally translates into the lower the % of doe fawns entering estrus that first year, with 0 occurring during high stress years in the north and any occurring at all only during good-great years in the far north.
To enter achieve estrus that first year, they must meet certain physical and physiological thresholds. In other words, that doe fawn enters estrus when she big enough. There is no way to anticipate when that will happen. In PA, IA or any other midwestern or northern state, that could be in late November or mid December. Further south and it could be even later.
This isn’t the first time Mr. Big has done this rodeo circuit. He realizes this. So, he tends to keep looking for breeding opportunities. On larger, well managed grounds, this is about the only time one can count on new bucks randomly appearing and those older, homebody type bucks vanishing for a few weeks here and there. Now is when those bucks tend to roam the most, in search of those last breeding opportunities. They generally aren’t running as hard as they were, but they are still looking.
That’s a long way of saying, don’t give up on hunting the family group bedding areas after the peak breeding phase winds down. You’ll notice the scrapes around them starting to be opened up and worked again. When that happens, hunt those scrapes in the AMs on through midday (PMs are fine, too…..just generally tough to get in undetected with does already inside….AMs-midday sits are typically safer/lower impact). Hunt them and you just may run into a giant you’ve never seen before.
The pics are all from a scrape near a doe bedding area. Check the dates and times (off 1 hour, as I never “fall back” on their clocks) and you’ll understand why going back to those scrapes after the Breeding Phase ends can be a good move.
Match your stand placement and sits to the phase of season. When you realize that what a buck wants and needs changes dynamically over season, it only makes sense to mirror your stand placement to those wants and needs. Doing so keeps you in bucks far better than not doing so ever will.
As a side note, this is one area where those hunting heavily pressured bucks have an advantage. You are most often best served hunting the edges and inside his daylight core area from opening day to its close. After all, his survival depends on sticking to his safe area, regardless of the phase of season. Sure, your odds of tagging him there are the best from peak scrape phase through the rut. I’d personally suggest generally staying away from hunting those locations until then. Still, on any given day of season, that core area is the best odds of tagging a heavily pressured Mr. Big.