MATURE BUCK BEHAVIOR: A Different Breed of Whitetail
I casually checked my MDL Outfitters Instagram today (@MDLOutfitters), and I saw a new story update from Midwest Whitetail, the 13-year old TV/Online hunting show out of southern Iowa by none other than the man himself, Mr. Bill Winke. From about 2008 through 2014 or 2015, I was a HUGE fan of MW and Bill Winke. I was arguably a bigger fan of MW and Bill than I was of the Drury's or Lakosky's. Why? The content from Bill and MW was always educationally informative, and since I was hunting in Iowa and southern Iowa more specifically, I really opened my ears to what he was preaching.
Life has gotten busier since 2014/2015. I have an outfitting business that I solely manage and operate. I have two kids and a lovely wife. Life is just busy! I have lost track of most hunting shows that I use to love and watch, which is probably because I only have Hulu Live, AppleTV, and free YouTube videos. No more Outdoor Channel, Sportsmen's Channel, MyOutdoorTV, etc. I lost touch with the shows primarily because I lost interest. I wasn't being delivered content that was relevant and valuable to my business, my time, or just me in general.
So when I started watching the newest Midwest Whitetail episode, I knew quickly that this was up my alley. @MidwestWhitetailOfficial: "This week's show is all about the coolest lesson Bill has learned about Whitetail deer..." I thought, this must be good. I watched the 20+ minute episode and took away a reminder that I have somewhat neglected in my planning of our hunts in years past. It is entirely true. Mature whitetail bucks have individually unique behaviors. Bill didn't like to use the word "personalities", but that is exactly what it is to me. A deer's personality, like a human's personality, is what causes the brain to make specific decisions. Obviously, deer do not have the same capacity as humans, but someday's you might feel like that's debatable. For all intents and purposes, I will use the term, "personality" here below as I put my own spin on this topic.
Each year in southern Iowa, I find myself somehow knowing of a specific mature buck or ten. It would be one thing for me to try and hunt one, two, or even three of them, but ten? Wow. That's a full plate, especially if I am trying to do so correctly. I am not the one in the tree, on the farm, tied into the stand. I'm just the guy with the aerial maps, the mental imagery and logic, the gameplay, and the authority directing my clients into the farms in hopes of killing these big deer. I would literally need to spend 20+ hours each week on the phone with these clients explaining the specific deer that we do know of, you know, the ones who are local during the summer and early fall before the rut craze. Usually, like 60-80% of the time, we end up hunting and killing new bucks that have just gotten into the area due to the rut. So, I just keep it all to myself. I might get into a bit of a detailed dialogue on a specific deer with a specific farm, but it's in a much abbreviated form.
Like Mr. Winke did on this episode referenced above, I will talk about two different deer who were on the same farm and in the same neighborhood in the same year. I will cover each deer individually, and then I will break down a compare & contrast breakdown regarding their known behaviors and assumed behaviors.
THE 200" GHOST
This is a photo that isn't mine. I just googled and found it fitting. See that fog? That's basically what I'd expect if I ever got a trail camera photo or video of this buck. This deer is a professional avoider. Over the two years of knowing hunting him, directly and indirectly, we have never gotten a trail camera photo of him. I've never seen him. Yet, I have had two hunters, one in 2018 and one in 2019, that didn't know each other nor each other's encounter. This whitetail could have been nearby all year. Maybe he was just passing through. It wasn't until 2019 that I learned he wasn't just passing through but actually living nearby. I know of too many 200" bucks who avoid cameras in Iowa. They make mistakes only a few times a year at best. I wouldn't say he's nocturnal because we have had two very different daylight encounters with him. One was in mid-November. One was in late December. One was focused on breeding. One was focused on eating.
This buck has unique personality traits. He's possibly the smartest deer we have ever had the chance at hunting. He knows where to avoid. As far as we know, he's only been within shooting distance of anyone once. I know of three neighbors that do NOT know of his existence. Seriously. They have no clue of this mystical giant. THANK GOD! This buck showed an avoidance skill in late December when we saw in downrange in daylight. This buck came no more than 20 yards from the timbered field edge. He was tucked in between two massively thick timber fingers that block view from both the east and the west. We would have not seen him if we were 50 yards to the west or the east. He fed right there. Never came out further. Then, he went back into the darkness of the thick timber where he was safe. He didn't know we were about 100-150yards too far away from a shot being made from a Remington muzzleloader. Then again, it is like he did. This buck has survived because of his behavior. He lives in arguably impenetrable timber that connects to the same density timbered river. Guys go in during shotgun season and he knows the way out. He comes out during the rut and roams, but in arguably 3-4 years, he hasn't been caught except for the 40yd encounter we had in 2018. This buck is very mature, not just in age but also behavior. He is a loner. He does his own thing. He stays away from most other deer. He's been alone both encounters. Odds are we won't kill him next year, not because we won't try but because he is that good at avoidance. The one chance that we could have is the rut, and we will be ready for him.
THE SHORT-TINED 10
Look at that hog! This deer ties for 1st Place for biggest bodied whitetail we have seen on camera. He's just a tad bigger than the 200" buck we killed in 2017. This buck is old. I wish I would have gotten a picture of this buck a few weeks later in the rut when he would have been even more swollen, but one of my hunters accidentally broke my cameras on this farm. So, I am left to assume he only looked bigger, which is a true feat. This buck was on the same farm as the 200" Ghost buck mentioned above. Yet, this deer lived on this farm. I had picture after picture of him in September and October. He was always there, and it was always at night. I didn't get my first daylight pic of him until October 21st, and it was a blur due to fog on the lens of the camera. He was always moving to & from on our cameras. I knew where he was going or coming from... one end of my little chunk of timber to the other side, then back again. This buck made his rounds consistently. This buck was my #1 target buck just because of his age and size. Mind you, I didn't know the 200" was even around yet alone alive.
This buck came into the area of my hunter with a couple of does on their first morning, but because I failed at getting the stand in the right spot, the does picked him up, and they took him away. We should have killed him. We never saw him the rest of the year. He might have been one of the bucks we saw during late muzzleloader season, but we couldn't confirm due to distance. This deer was very mobile in his core area. I caught him on all of my cameras. Unfortunately, it was always at night. His frequency of travel is what made me believe he was killable, and yes, he was.
COMPARISON OF BUCKS
The short-tined 10 buck was much more visible, and I compare that to a macho person making rounds socially to keep his clout at a superior level. He was very involved and always with deer. This was the polar opposite from the 200" Ghost buck who was docile, a loner, and hardly moved. I actually think the short-tined 10 buck was much more dominant and kept that 200" Ghost buck away in the summer months into the fall months. It's possible. These two super mature bucks were in the same area, but they acted much differently. Aside from luck, I could only pursue the short-tined 10 buck, even if I would have known the 200" buck was around. As a guy strictly focused on maturity, I'd have to hunt the bird in the hand versus the buck in the bush, the short-tined 10. His behavior was much more telling of him. The 200" Ghost was a ghost in all forms of the word.
Mr. Winke went into detail on how he hunted each of the bucks. Bill also has 1200+ acres to hunt in one continuous tract. This is uniquely different from us being all spread out across southern Iowa. Our strategy really favors the pre-rut and rut craze. I'm lucky enough to do what Bill can't do, be in two places at once. So, my hunting strategy is much simpler in nature than his because he has to really calculate which stand to hunt. We just hunt. Yet, each of these mature deer known in our areas of 2019 taught us a lot about themselves. We will try and utilize such knowledge as we work on our strategy for these farms in 2020 and our other farms and target deer. Time will tell if it works!
We hope you all are surviving the social distancing trend. It sure is fun! Ha! Blessings from us in Iowa to all of you.