By now, bucks have most likely shed their velvet and are breaking apart from their bachelor group. They are becoming more territorial of their home ranges. It’s part of the natural process of things, although it may be having a negative impact on your trail camera inventory.
We’ve all been there, you have this giant, trophy whitetail on camera all summer, and just weeks before the season starts, right when you think you have him completely patterned, he disappears like a ghost. This has happened to me more times than I would like to admit, and more than likely, it has/is happening to you.
The question remains, where did the bucks go? Well I can tell you this much, they didn’t disappear. And your odds of harvesting them didn’t go to zero, however, you may need to adjust your strategy. Here are some reasons why your trophy buck might have left, and how to get him back.
Food Source Change
Whitetail deer go through many food source changes throughout the year, but unfortunately for hunters, one of the biggest changes happens right before the season starts. The bucks have been feasting in ag fields all summer, filling up on soybeans, but as October approaches, deer tend to switch back to acorns and woody browse.
It’s likely that your buck isn’t very far off his summer range, and rather is just enjoying another food source a few hundred yards away. If you’re able, this might be a great time to change trail camera locations and try to hone back in on him in different areas.
Sometimes food doesn’t play a factor at all, it’s just simply that a buck spends his fall in a different area than where he spends summer. It might sound too simple, but it is the truth sometimes.
On average, a buck will relocate 600 yards away from his summer range in the month of October. For hunters with smaller parcels of land to hunt, this might sound discouraging, but it shouldn’t. It’s quite possible that your target buck only relocated a couple hundred yards away, and there’s always a chance that a bigger buck will relocate onto your property from another property. There is always a silver lining.
He Spooked/Got Wise
This is a very common reason why your shooter buck might not be showing up on your trail camera anymore, and it’s a reason that few hunters are willing to admit. Did you forget to scent down on your way to check cameras last time? Were you overly loud or intruded near evening hours?
Whatever the case may be, nothing will push a buck away quicker than human intrusion. Bucks become mature by being overly cautious, and if he smelled or spotted you, odds are he relocated. Give that area time to rest, while still monitoring your cameras, preferably cellularly. I have spooked bucks away in the summer only to have them reappear in the early fall. There is still hope.
Some hunters take predator control seriously, while unfortunately others don’t, but it’s a real issue. I was helping my friend check his trail cameras this summer, and as we were going through the SD cards, he kept asking why there weren’t any shooter bucks on camera yet. Meanwhile, roughly every other picture was of a coyote. I don’t blame the deer for not being there.
While it might be cutting it close at this point, use the offseason to practice good predator control. Check your local regulations, but trapping is a fun and effective way to eliminate these fawn killers and big buck spookers.
Camera Not Picking Him Up
This one might sound crazy, and more than likely it isn’t happening. However, two years ago one of my friends had a nice 180” buck on camera, and then randomly he stopped getting pictures. Weeks went by without a single picture, so he decided to get some binoculars and glass the bean fields right next to his camera. Sure enough, the buck was there. So he tried again the next night. For five days straight that buck showed up. Moral of the story, trail cameras don’t always tell the whole story.
“What’s a bully buck?” This is a great question, and the answer is something I have experienced several times. There is a dominant buck in the area, not necessarily the oldest, and not necessarily the biggest, but the one with the worst attitude. And this buck has a tendency to push all of the other bucks out.
Bucks become extremely territorial as the summer comes to an end. Does will be going into heat in a few weeks, bucks are trying to claim their territory though scrapes, strengthening their necks with tree rubs, and sparring wildly. It is not at all uncommon for a buck to get aggressive earlier than the rest and start bumping deer out.
Unfortunately there isn’t much you can do about this one, other than wrapping your tag around the bully buck. Usually it is an older deer, which might make harvesting him that much easier. However, I have seen it where the bully buck is only 3 ½ years old and I just had to sit and watch him chase away my trophy bucks. What a sad sight.
He May Have Died
No hunter wants to accept this possibility, however, it very well could be the answer. Nature is rough, and sometimes animals just die. Whether it be from a predator, a car, or illness, I typically find at least one unexplained dead deer every season, and each one hurts just as much as the last.
While I don’t believe giving up is an option, I feel it’s important to always keep in the back of your mind that if you can’t seem to get a picture of your target buck, and you have tried every solution, it’s quite possible nature got him before you could.
To sum it all up, there are many factors that could lead to your target buck disappearing. Whether he’s just a hundred yards away, a mile away on a different farm, or possibly even deceased. Trying to solve the puzzle that is whitetail hunting can be a daunting task, but that’s what makes it so exciting. With the season just around the corner, the cat and mouse game really begins. Good luck!