How to Find Your Buck After the Deer Vanish

Think your bucks have gone nocturnal? Our expert has the cure.

The Symptoms
The guys at camp have been hunting hard this season, but their customary stands haven't been very productive. There's plenty of deer sign, including lots of rubs and scrapes, but not one of the hunters has seen a shooter yet. Everybody's complaining that the bucks have gone nocturnal. The big question at dinner is: How can we kill deer that won't move until dark?

Rattling won't help if bucks have pinpointed your permanent stand. So relocate.

The Diagnosis
Stand complacency disorder (SCD). SCD is a common malady that compels hunters to sit in the same spots time after time, year after year, resulting in lower kill rates and decreased mature buck encounters, even when other indicators point to a healthy deer herd with ample bucks. The symptoms are often accompanied by denial ("It can't be us. We've been hunting this way for years") and misplaced blame ("The deer have gone nocturnal").

The Prescription
A healthy dose of self-examination. A trio of studies suggests that you should look at your hunting style rather than blame the deer.

In Maryland, Mark Conner and James Tomberlin of Chesapeake Farms placed GPS collars on mature bucks to obtain their exact locations every hour. As expected, buck movements peaked in the early morning and late evening, with a pronounced lull during midday. Surprisingly, though, when the Maryland gun season began, deer activity patterns did not shift in response to hunting pressure. The deer did not become more nocturnal.

The researchers also looked at buck travel within the study area in relation to permanent hunting stands, most of which were located on the borders of fields. Though active during hunting hours, bucks avoided field edges and rarely came within sight of the hunters' perches. Had their setups been placed farther back in the woods, the deer would have been much more vulnerable.

In an Alabama study, Kevin McKinstry with Westervelt Wildlife Services compared the success rates of two hunting clubs that had long histories of using permanent stands overlooking food plots. One club's hunters were encouraged to abandon the food plots and move their stands into the woods. Buck kill rates, particularly for mature bucks, increased significantly at that club but remained constant at the other.

Finally, Bryan Kinkel, a private consulting researcher, monitored deer movement in relation to permanent stands in primarily forested areas. He found that deer clearly learned to avoid the stands. Bottom line: If you are hunting field edges and aren't seeing deer, move farther into the woods. If you're already hunting in the woods, move your stands anyway. When the action goes cold in either case, it's a good bet that bucks haven't gone nocturnal, as is often assumed. Rather, they have you pegged. To get a shot at one, you have to uproot yourself and come at them from a fresh angle.

"When the action turns cold, it's a good bet that bucks haven't gone nocturnal. Rather, they have you pegged."