1 MAP THE WIND
NEIL DOUGHERTY STEUBEN COUNTY, N.Y. North Country Whitetails (northcountrywhitetails.com) YEARS HUNTING: 16 BIGGEST BUCK: 4½-year-old 10-pointer
Habitat specialist Neil Dougherty’s best tool to consistently bag 4-plus-year-old bucks on his property is a map of wind patterns. It’s pretty simple: Dougherty starts with an aerial photo that has as much detail as possible (usually from globexplorer.com). On a clear overlay, he notes the day’s weather conditions, temperature, wind speed, and general wind direction. Then, using a good wind check, such as Wind Floaters or a child’s bubble-blowing gun, he walks the property, checking the wind every 100 yards (both length and width). He marks a small arrow on the overlay to indicate its direction for each test. “When I’m done, I can literally see how the wind swirls here or shifts there. And by making several maps over several days, I can predict what the wind is doing under a variety of conditions.” As he plans a hunt, Dougherty looks at the forecast, studies the appropriate overlay, and keys into the places where two or more air currents collide, especially downwind of feeding areas. This, he says, is where big bucks go, to test the wind for danger, to scent for does, even to bed. “Mature deer know where every one of these max airflows are. Now I do, too.”
2 FIND BIG BUCKS IN AUGUST
DALE LARSON OLSBURG, KAN. Bruiser Whitetail (bruiserwhitetail.com/index.html) YEARS HUNTING: 35 BIGGEST BUCK: 264 1/8 nontypical
The best time to find a big buck is right now, according to guide Dale Larson, who has tagged four bow bucks in a row that total more than 850 inches of antler. “The bucks are in bachelor groups and far more visible this time of year. Once you find the fields they’re using, you can check out two or three groups in an evening”–and potentially find the bruiser you’re looking for. Then you can make sure you’re hunting the right area come fall.
3 KEEP A DEER DIARY
PATRICK WILLIS CLARKSON, KY. Buck Country Outfitters (buckcountryoutfitters.com) YEARS HUNTING: 28 BIGGEST BUCK: 160
Don’t worry if you can’t figure out why a big buck hits certain areas at certain times, says guide Patrick Willis. All that matters is that you be able to predict when, something that you can do with regularity if you keep a hunting log.
“It’s not hard to do,” Willis says, “and you won’t believe what it can accomplish.” In a journal, he writes down the date, wind direction, weather, high and low temperatures, and moon cycle for every hunting and scouting session. Then he reports all deer activity for all his stands. And over time, patterns emerge. “It’s definitely worth your while. We have several stands that the average guy would never hunt judging by the visible sign and cover. Yet, if the log says it’ll get hot from, say, Halloween to November 7, we hunt it. And sure enough, the big bucks show.”
4 SPY ON A TRAIL
RICHARD BAILEY SASKATCHEWAN, CANADA Turtle River Whitetail Outfitters (bigdeer.org) YEARS HUNTING: 48 BIGGEST BUCK: 184
“Deer hunters are born suckers and buy into a lot of gimmicks when it comes to big deer,” says outfitter Richard Bailey. “But there is one modern tool that really does help.” To make sure he’s hunting locations with big deer, Bailey puts trail cameras in bottlenecks and travel routes. But not just any cameras–he uses silent digital units that function not by flash but by infrared light, which he says does not spook deer. “Heck, I have pictures of giant bucks sticking their noses on the lens.” But even then, you have to be careful. “I was onto a 200-plus-inch buck last year and practically had to chain myself to the basement floor to keep from checking my trail cams too often.” Bailey recommends doing so only once each week or two and on a rainy day.
5 EVEN THE ODDS
BOB BOROWIAK HOUSTON, MINN. YEARS HUNTING: 46 BIGGEST BUCK: 163
This local legend has arrowed 14 Pope and Young bucks in 14 straight seasons. But he’s quick to point out that it took him eight years to kill his first one, so it’s no surprise that his key to creating the perfect setup comes down to patience.
“You absolutely have to wait for the right wind,” Borowiak says. “Suits and shampoos and cover sprays may help some, but I don’t care how clean you think you are, if a deer is downwind of you, you are done.”
That’s why Borowiak won’t hunt a stand until the wind is perfect. “Last year, I had a 160-class 10-pointer and a 140-class 12 working the same spot. But I needed a north wind. I waited four days. I was pulling my hair out. Finally, on the fourth evening the wind shifted, I hunted the stand, and I killed the 10-pointer. The 12 showed up before I climbed down.”
6 TAKE THE LONG WAY
BEN PLATTNER CASS COUNTY, ILL. Timberland Outfitters Inc. (timberlandhunts.com) YEARS HUNTING: 30 BIGGEST BUCK: 214 nontypical
Ben Plattner takes a circuitous route to big bucks. According to the Illinois guide, the key to tagging trophies is a strategic access route to your tree stand. “You can put in all the food plots you want, but none of them will make a bit of difference if you don’t get to your site inconspicuously,” he says. Once Plattner finds a buck’s core area and sets up, he never walks through that zone again–not even to place scent. Instead, he works out a path that lets him reach his spot without any risk of spooking the buck, even if it means walking an extra half mile. “When I finally do hunt the stand, the buck has no idea I’m around. You haven’t got a chance otherwise.”
7 CREATE A SANCTUARY
KEVIN SMALL RUTLEDGE, MO. KT’s Trophy Hunts (ktshunts.com) YEARS HUNTING: 30 BIGGEST BUCK: 168
According to guide Kevin Small, one great way to increase your odds of encountering a trophy buck is to create a sanctuary on your own property. “You don’t need a lot of land. Even a 10-acre reserve can make a huge difference.” He recommends setting aside about 10 percent of your land, preferably toward the middle of the property, and making it completely off-limits to hunting. “I try to pick a spot that’s tough to hunt to begin with, like a thick area or hilly terrain with swirling winds,” Small says. “Once you stop going into these spots, you’ll be amazed how fast they fill up with good bucks.” He leaves the sanctuary proper alone, hunting at least 100 yards off of it. “It works phenomenally well.”
8 CHASE A SPOOKED BUCK
RANDY FLANNERY DANFORTH, MAINE Wilderness Escape Outfitters (wildernessescapeoutfitters.com) YEARS HUNTING: 35 BIGGEST BUCK: 234-pound (dressed) 10-pointer
Too many still-hunters think their luck is up when they see a flag, according to this North Woods guide, who’s tagged more big deer than he cares to count without ever putting his butt in a tree stand. “They figure, ‘I blew it,’ and go to another spot,” he says. But why go somewhere else when a deer is close?
“First off, I guarantee you’ll improve your luck tenfold if you crosscut the wind instead of still-hunting into it, whether you jump a deer or not. But if you do jump one and he doesn’t blow, open the action on your rifle and run forward at a 45-degree angle toward the downwind side about 75 to 100 yards. Then drop to one knee and wait 10 to 15 minutes. When that buck circles downwind to see what spooked it, you’ll often get a shot within 30 to 60 yards.”
If the buck does blow, Flannery says, run right at him 100 yards or more. “He’ll be running at the same time, so he won’t hear you. Then, usually somewhere between 75 and 200 yards, he’ll slow and swing downwind. There’s a good chance you’ll tag him.”
9 HUNT WHEN EVERYONE QUITS
REAGAN SHEPPERD BUDA, TEXAS YEARS HUNTING: 30 BIGGEST BUCK: 131; guided client to a 150
Big deer know when hunters leave the woods, says Shepperd, who loves to rattle up Texas bucks during the late morning and at midday. “That’s why while you’re at camp wolfing down a late breakfast, these deer are on their feet, especially when the rut is on.” No matter what your hunting method, he says, one of the easiest things you can do to kill more big deer is to keep going when others are taking a break. And the stats bear him out: Over 25 percent of all P&Y record-book bucks were taken between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M., despite there being fewer people out hunting in those hours.
10 MAKE A HOTSPOT WITH A DECOY
TED MARUM MONDOVI, WIS. Buffalo County Outfitters (buffalocountyoutfitters.com) YEARS HUNTING: 30 BIGGEST BUCK: 165
“A lot of hunters think they have to sit right on a trail leading to, or right on, a feeding field, but that’s not always the best place,” says Ted Marum. “The wind may be unpredictable, or does can bust you.” But, he explains, using a decoy allows you to put all the factors in your favor and to dictate your own hotspot. Pick a spot near the food source that you can access stealthily and that has a true wind. Then set up a decoy where it will be clearly visible. “When a buck comes into the field,” Marum says, “give him a few seconds to settle down. If he doesn’t come over on his own, tickle your rattling antlers. He’ll snap his head up, and then it’s usually a done deal.”
11 FORGET EVERYTHING ELSE
MIKE REX ATHENS, OHIO YEARS HUNTING: 28 BIGGEST BUCK: 218 6/8 nontypical
“You just aren’t going to be a very successful big-buck hunter if you can’t go hunting because you have to polish the dog,” says Mike Rex, former president of the Buckeye Big Buck Club. “Take a look at anyone who consistently kills big bucks. Their yard is unmowed. Their garage is a wreck. Their wife is angry. They put in a ton of time and effort to get it done.”
12 BE A FREAK ABOUT THE LITTLE THINGS
ANDY NEVAR RIO, WIS. YEARS HUNTING: 22 BIGGEST BUCK: 205 5/8 nontypical
This local legend leaves nothing to chance. Take scent, for example. “I’m a real stickler about that,” says Nevar. That may be an understatement. A lot of guys shower with no-scent shampoo and soap before each hunt, but Nevar also avoids putting anything scented–cologne, deodorant, aftershave–on his skin for three months during the hunting season. He washes everything that might touch his skin (towels; hunting and other clothes) in no-scent detergent. “I think big bucks are supersensitive to the slightest whiff of a foreign odor and are too smart to be fooled by cover scents. Sure, there may be situations where a buck busts you no matter what, but I do everything I can to prevent it.”
13 LEARN HOW TO STAY PUT
MICHAEL WADDELL FORTSON, GA. YEARS HUNTING: 21 BIGGEST BUCK: 162
“I’ll be honest with you,” says Waddell, the host of Realtree Road Trips and hunting’s closest thing to a movie star. “One of my biggest liabilities as a stand hunter is impatience. I mean, if you can sit up there all day, eyeballing every twitch and hearing every twitter, that’s great. But I can’t.” His secret solution: handheld Yahtzee. “I was at a hunting show when I asked a kid if he ever gets bored sitting all day, and he told me about this little pocket-size game. I thought, ‘Man, that ain’t stupid.'” Since then, Waddell has been sitting pretty. When his mind drifts to reasons for leaving, he busts out the game. “It’s really helped me kill big deer.” You can have all the strategies you want, Waddell says, but for big deer especially, it often boils down to picking a good spot and staying put. “Some guys don’t need this–and some will say games are for the living room. But I’m not out there to count up my punched tags. I hunt to have a good time, and I find that if you go out and have fun, the rest takes care of itself. My high score, by the way, is 896.”