4 Tips to Locate Mature Buck Home Ranges in the Offseason

by Braxton Taylor

Hunters have an undeniable fascination with giant antlered, big-bodied bucks. If you’ve decided to take on the challenge of understanding mature bucks, you’re in danger of becoming addicted and obsessed. However, studying mature bucks can also increase your fun in the woods.

Mature bucks are king in the big woods. They live in constant survival mode due to hunting pressure, predators, and the drive to carry on their bloodline. It’s no wonder that they are rare creatures. Young bucks or does have basic survival instincts, but a few years of experience make a seasoned buck’s senses sharper than any other deer in the woods.

A mature buck may seem impossible to kill, but remember, they don’t possess critical thinking skills. There are a few things to look for during the offseason that will help you outsmart a wily old buck. And, you can do it in his home range.

Central Areas of Activity

A hub is a central area of deer activity. They occur where wind and thermal currents dump into terrain, cover, or both. Mature bucks might use a hub when hitting a community scrape at night, but most often use them to check the status of estrous. Bucks also need a place to feed and socialize with other deer.

The hub may be a primary food source, like state-managed crops. But there are usually better prospects in a big woods setting. A good example is a place where several drainages meet or a new clear-cut meets the edge of hardwoods. A thick understory cover that deer can use as a physical barrier will add value to any of these places.

Bedding Cover and Terrain

If you’ve started researching how to hunt mature bucks, I guarantee you’ll read about hunting buck beds. Bed hunting is an effective strategy, but it isn’t made for every hunter, much like every football player isn’t made to be a quarterback.

The task for offseason scouting is to locate as many potential buck beds as possible. Maybe you will hunt them; perhaps you won’t. The critical thing to learn is how to intercept that buck in his travel to or from that bed.

You’ll find the most pronounced buck bedding on the end of ridge points and where the ridge edge drops off to steeper terrain (commonly termed “military” crest). If you can find obvious bedding terrain on a mapping app like onX, so can every other hunter. That will mean more hunting pressure to overcome. Mature bucks will use these standard bedding features. But in heavily pressured areas, they often avoid them.

Hidden benches or shallow ditches with edges surrounded by deadfall trees are challenging to find. These spots are difficult to find in person, much less via a map.

An edge like that will have a near-perfect escape route if the cover is thick to one side. The first time you see a buck jump out of a pile of rocks, it will surprise you. After that, you’ll understand the value.

Bucks will always take advantage of their best option for security. It may be sight-based bedding where bucks can watch the common danger, like people hiking towards them in the dark. Or it could be classic wind-based bedding where a buck lays on a hill’s wind-protected side. The wind will blow over his back, and a rising thermal current will hit his face.

Hilly terrain is your friend in these big woods. You can utilize a fold-in terrain to avoid their sight while using wind and thermals to disguise your scent during your approach.

Isolated Food Sources

Breaking down large tracts of land is intimidating. It helps to think small about isolated food in the big woods. Green briar or berry patches are my favorite big woods food sources. Poke berries in the middle of a five-year-old clear-cut can be magnets for bucks waiting for darkness to hit the main food source.

Do you have moist ground that grows mushrooms? Is there a thicket with Osage oranges? One way to help yourself learn what deer eat is to identify the plants in your neck of the woods. Learning to read feeding sign such as rooted soil with deer tracks, half-eaten leaves, or nipped tops of shrubs and saplings will tell you what’s desirable and what isn’t.

Signature Buck Sign

Like an old-school bandit that leaves their mark on the scene, mature bucks often leave a signature. Maybe they have an abnormal point to their antler that leaves a distinct gouge in the trees they rub. They could even prefer a specific type of tree at a certain elevation.

I’ve witnessed that particular signature made by a respectable 8-point I chased a few years back. That deer rubbed every solitary laurel bush he could find at about 1,300 feet. They were all on a straight path about five inches in diameter. In addition to that, there were scat and tracks that no small deer could make. I’d love to tell you the time I hunted that deer ended with a buck in my truck. But all I got was a glimpse of a spooked deer when he heard my tree stand squeaking on frozen bark.

Tracks are another sign that can lead you in the right direction. Not all mature bucks have a large track, but you’ll rarely find a young buck with a big track. If you have large tracks in the area you’re scouting, there is a good chance a mature buck made them. The four-finger width rule is what most hunters consider a mature bucks track, but stride length can also be a good indicator of size. The longer the stride, the bigger the deer.

Scouting with snow on the ground is your best friend for reading tracks. Avoid being fooled by tracks in the snow with melted edges, or that appear to be made while a deer was running.

Wrap Up

Like a detective who works hard to crack the case, hunters who consistently kill big bucks work hard to understand a mature buck and its surroundings.

Gather the evidence and ask yourself questions about the fundamentals. Where can you locate primary and secondary food sources? How far from food is the closest bedding area? Is there a water source close by? How many does use the location? Can the cover conceal a buck during daylight?

Big bucks don’t die at the hands of stagnant hunters. Taking a gamble on a new hunting technique is challenging. But the payoff will lead to better whitetail hunting.

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