How Our Mature Buck Beliefs Negatively Affect Our Whitetail Success

by Braxton Taylor

I grew up thinking that big bucks were almost unkillable. While I was surrounded by people who hunted, almost no one ever killed a deer that was even 3.5 or older. When someone did, it was a big deal.

Our lived reality was in stark contrast to the hunting videos and magazine articles we consumed. It didn’t make sense, and for years, I struggled with that disconnect. How could some people consistently kill big deer? I couldn’t even find one most summer evenings while running around with an old pair of binoculars. Let alone ever shoot one.

It took a lot of seasons of hard bowhunting and enough encounters to make me realize something about mature bucks—I was thinking about them in a way that held me back. I gave them too much credit and believed they’d beat me. When you walk into the woods with that as your dominant thought, they are going to beat you.

It doesn’t have to be that way, however. You can change how you view them, which will change how often you kill them.

Surround Yourself With Success

The group of hunters my dad hung out with when I was growing up (I desperately wanted them to accept me into their clique) were not very successful. They rarely killed does, and while they focused on bucks, they almost always killed nothing or dinks.

There was one guy in the group, Donny, who was different. He sometimes killed big deer, and it was almost always because he tried something the other guys wouldn’t do. He was ahead of the game by a lot back then, and his success showed it.

If you hang around with a bunch of hunters who aren’t very good at it, you’re going to hear a lot about how hard hunting is. You’re going to witness very little success, which is easy to internalize. The opposite is also true. Hang out with a skilled crowd and you’ll level up if for no other reason than others’ success can help demystify your own beliefs.

Try To Fail Upward

Whitetail hunters almost always fail when they hunt. At least if you measure a sit as successful or not by the presence of a blood trail at the end. We are conditioned to fail. We expect it.

But failure is a many-faceted beast, and it can mean many things. Failing by going to the same treestand over and over because it’s easy is different than failing by going mobile and trying to hunt over fresh sign.

One is a passive type of failure where your odds mostly sink a little more with each hunt, and one is an active type of failure where you’re trying to figure something out. Guess which one will likely lead to more mature buck sightings?

If you think you won’t see one because they are all nocturnal or there are no mature bucks in your section, it’s easy to sit that burned-out stand. After all, what does it matter? If you think you have a chance to get in front of a mature buck if you look for him enough and use the element of surprise, you’re going to be better off. This is true even if your failure rate is almost exactly the same as a hunter who never tries.

This is because whitetail hunting success is tied to time in the woods and breaking our own patterns. It’s hard to do that if it feels like a lost cause.

Dare To Be Even More Different

The worst thing that can happen to us as hunters is that we witness deer activity that reinforces our beliefs. If we think the bucks are all nocturnal, and we sit on the edge of a field night after night in October, we will mostly be proven right. The big bucks must be nocturnal because the does and youngsters always come out, and the Booners never do.

But the Booners are often just last in line. They are deer, and they mostly do deer things. They walk the same trails as does, they bed on the same ridge as forkies. They just don’t put themselves in harm’s way as easily as the rest of the herd.

Most people think mature bucks are super elusive, but they are mostly just letting the rest of the deer test the waters first. Instead of sitting on the alfalfa and wishing on a mature buck, it’s better to backtrack the deer’s travel and try to catch him staging up in the cover. It really can be that simple, and it can boil down to what we believe about deer.

Believe In Yourself

The one thing that changed my attitude about big bucks and whether I’d ever kill them was seeing them while hunting. That’s it. For years, I never did, so I assumed I was right about my prospects. As soon as I started seeing a good deer or two during a full season, I realized that the problem might not be with the bucks but with what I thought about them.

It is said that courage and confidence lead to decision-making, and I think this applies to deer hunting. If you don’t trust your scouting or your hunting skills, you’re likely to default to easy mode so you can accept expected defeat. Conversely, if you put in the time to build a hunting plan and believe in your work, your trajectory will be different.

Try to put yourself in a position where you believe you can make the right decisions and then see them through. Again, you’ll mostly fail, but not always. The few times you get around a mature deer will inform your decision-making process from then until your last season. You’ll kill more big deer, have more fun, and realize that both come from just believing a little less of the BS around big bucks and a little more of the truth about yourself.

Feature image via Matt Hansen.

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