The Homebody Trophy

Why the real big ones won't come out and play even during the rut.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Big bucks are different, even during the rut. While the majority of bucks abandon their bedding areas during the mating season, cruising large swaths of territory for does and bedding whenever they run out of steam, mature deer stay close to home.

National Whitetail Deer Foundation founder Bob Higgs specializes in hunting the rare, mature bucks that have the potential to grow Boone and Crockett racks. He claims that such deer do less breeding than younger bucks because they travel less. Even as most other bucks turn footloose, these deer prefer the security of their known bedding areas. According to Higgs, some bucks are naturally warier than others. "One pen-raised deer will eat out of your hand, while another brought up in the same environment won't come near you," he says. "It's all in the genes." Bucks with an innate sense of caution tend to survive longer, says Higgs, and in doing so further learn that the more time they spend on their feet, the more apt they are to encounter hunters.

On the other hand, bucks that lack reclusive traits are more likely to run headlong after does in unfamiliar territory-and thus are more likely to be taken by hunters. "Sixty percent or more of the bucks tagged every season are no more than 11/2 years old," says Higgs. "Bucks 41/2 years or older typically make up less than 1 percent of the bucks killed."

The rut is still a great time to kill a trophy buck because, like other bucks, it will be more active during daylight hours. Unlike other bucks, however, it will stay close to home. The key, then, is to hunt near the fringes of this deer's bedding area-just as you would have prior to the rut. Look for rub lines to reveal travel routes, then take a stand along one of them, downwind of the bedding area.

It may seem counterintuitive to use a pre-rut strategy now. But that won't matter when a trophy whitetail walks under your stand.