When I was a young hunter, good deer hunting meant seeing a bunch of critters. That’s understandable for a newbie, of course, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy a day when deer make a steady parade past my stand. But with more than my share of seasons behind me now, I’ll happily trade a high-action day for one where I see only a deer or two—as long as one is the right deer. I get such thrill out of encountering a true, mature giant, a buck that just doesn’t spend much time on its feet during daylight. Well, those kinds of bucks are at their most vulnerable right now. With the stamina to keep going when every other buck is on the sidelines, taking a breather, the oldest bucks in the neighborhood are hard-wired to keep going. If that’s the kind of buck you seek, today is your day.  

Rut Phase: Late Pickup Breeding

If the rut was a novel, this would be the denouement—the tailing-off action after the main event, when loose ends are tied up and most of the characters bid farewell. Peak breeding is surely in the rearview. The majority of does have been bred; the ones that haven’t are tired of being chased every time they emerge from cover; and young bucks are exhausted. It probably sounds like a good time to take a break from whitetail hunting for you, too, right? Well, not if you’re serious about shooting the biggest buck of your life. He’s out there right now, working hard to find those last available does, and the only way to kill him is to keep pushing. You won’t see near the number of bucks you saw only a bit ago. But you could see the sort of buck that gives you no choice but to rack up a taxidermy bill. 

Whitetail buck during the rut
This is one of the few times during the season when you can expect the biggest deer to be on their feet during daylight. Larry Keller, Lititz Pa. / Getty

November 26 Morning Hunt Plan: Macro Funnel Stakeout

Mature bucks are the only ones covering big territory still, as they search for those last estrous does, so it’s time to break out your online mapping app, your topo map, your aerial photo, and take a bird’s-eye look at the funnels connecting major food sources and bedding areas, even those located outside your hunting area. Think waterways, wooded creek or river bottoms, and ridge systems. These macro funnels are going to be the travel routes used by big-running bucks seeking far and wide for does. Hang a stand or set a blind in one of these and settle in for a long wait. If that book or game on your phone keeps you out there, by all means use it. Your mission is to stay in the saddle long enough for a giant to show up.     

November 26 Eventing Hunt Plan: Hidden-Food Ambush

Some bucks, including some really big boys, will take a short break from rutting to fill their growling bellies during this phase, but with gun seasons open across much of whitetail range now, and deer still a bit freaked out from the influx of pressure, you’ll want to find a secluded food source if you hope to see deer during daylight hours. Another good reason to set up on hidden food now is because even those big-cruising buck knows that does are never far from the grub as winter approaches. They will surely swing by hidey-hole food plots, oak ridges (especially ones that serves as a funnel to other oak stands), or a remote clearcuts now.   

Or Stay in the Saddle All Day

I’ve pulled my share of all-day sits over the years, and I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed them as much as I used to. Not only can it get tedious staring at mostly-empty trails all day, but it takes extra effort and planning to do a dark-to-dark hunt from a stand. But I plan on at least a couple each fall, and this phase is reserved for such a hunt.

If you’re going to go dawn-to-dusk, look for a spot that combines the two areas above. That is, a good funnel near a hidden food source. If you can’t find both, lean toward the former. When I know I’m going to sit all day, I pack plenty of snacks (including a good lunch I know I’ll look forward to) and water, and I typically strap more clothes to my pack than I think I’ll need. The key to enjoying an all-day hunt is to spoil yourself a bit; eat when you’re hungry, read when you feel like it, get down and stretch for a couple minutes when your legs are cranky. You can’t sugar-coat the boredom, but it disappears like wispy fog when you hear the heavy shuffle of a big deer heading your way.