photo of mourning doves

THE SYMPTOMS: It’s a week before the first whitetail season, and the guys at deer camp havebeen busy glassing fields and checking trail cameras. Every day after work,they hit the property to spy on one of the several groups of bucks that havebeen showing up in the same places like clockwork.

The last fewdays, however, have been a disappointment. A lone deer has appeared here orthere, but those bunches of bucks seem to have vanished like smoke. Whathappened here?

THE DIAGNOSIS: Seasonal social dissociative behavior exacerbated by altered food preferences.In other words, the bachelor party is over.

All summer, buckshang out with their buddies, mainly resting and feeding, in what are commonlycalled bachelor groups. But as summer turns to fall, shrinking daylight bringsdramatic changes in their physiology and behavior. Testosterone levels rise,antlers harden, necks start to swell, and bucks get increasingly intolerant ofone another. They begin sparring to work out who’s the toughest guy on theblock. Ultimately, each bachelor goes his own way.

Food supplies areshifting as well. Deer that have been frequenting certain fields through thewarm months are finding new options in the woods. Acorns, persimmons, apples,and muscadines (in the South) are falling–and whitetails know it.

THEPRESCRIPTION: You must change gears. Get out and speed-scout diverse areas just ahead of theseason.

The bucks you’vebeen observing are likely still in the area. You just have to relocate them.Start by finding current food sources, such as soft mast and white oak acorns,which tend to drop early in fall and are deer favorites.

Move your trailcameras from field edges to natural funnels and trails between thicker beddingareas and the potential new grub. Keep a keen eye out for fresh rubs. This signis a good indicator of where the bucks are traveling now, and we know from ourresearch at the University of Georgia that early rubbing is generally done bythe more mature animals.

The same holdstrue for early scrapes: Young bucks don’t start pawing the earth in earnestuntil much later in the season. Set up on the freshest buck sign near favoredautumn food sources, and some of those big deer you watched all summer willlikely reappear right under your tree stand.