August scouting is often a tease. One week you’ve got half a dozen bucks visiting a field as predictably as teenage boys hitting the town pool in summer. Two weeks later, finding even one buck becomes a challenge. So what gives?

It’s early-fall dispersal: As antlers harden, bachelor groups break up. Individual bucks relocate to different habitat. And while understanding this behavior may not reveal a buck’s new address, it can help you focus your scouting to find the neighborhood.

First, take young bucks out of the equation, because there’s no telling where these social outcasts will end up. Most of us, of course, are more interested in the older ones anyway, and they seek out the best habitat. Dominant males get the choicest spots, which provide all the requirements for easy living: food, water, and cover. But being both lazy and cautious, these deer prefer to move as little as possible. So find areas where all three basics are in proximity.

Two years ago, for example, I spied a bachelor group of five bucks, including a huge 10-pointer. Once they broke up, it took me a while to relocate the big one. But when I did, I had to admire his choice of real estate–a small oak ridge that extended into a lush, green field. The tangled cover at the ridge’s edge made for a perfect bedroom, and in only a short walk, the deer could feed on acorns or alfalfa, or drop into a small nearby valley to drink from a stream. It couldn’t have been better big-buck habitat.

Locating such places can pay off richly, both now and later. First, bucks do not typically stake out territory and ban intruders. Where mature buck numbers are high, a choice spot can hold more than a single good buck. Second, when one is taken from such an area, another is sure to move in, keeping your hotspot hot year after year.

BOYS’ CLUB: When these bucks disperse, the biggest will claim the best habitat.