My earliest buck patterning days were full of hope during lazy late Summer evenings. The go-to way to pattern a buck included the necessities of chips, pop, candybars, cheap binos and a folding lawn chair. 1987 is the first year that I recall observing the ag fields of Southern MI, to discover the patterns of the neighborhood bucks. My how things of changed, including the amount of snacks that I can consume as well as the amount of hope that Summer buck patterns once delivered.
During the next 3 decades I learned a few things about deer behavior in general, let alone mature buck behavior patterns. I didn't take many years though, to learn that while scouting bucks during the months leading up to the hunting season was a lot of fun, that particular buck patterning practice didn't carry much water when it came to predicting the patterns that mature bucks would carry into the Fall. In fact those Summer patterns were often down right misleading. Including tried and true methods as well as the latest and greatest, I have come to rely on 5 solid techniques for discovering buck patterns that can help you this season!
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What are the best ways to pattern a buck?
Before we dive right into how to pattern a buck, it will help you greatly to understand when it really matters to do so. Even more so than doe family groups, a truly mature buck often shifts his habitat greatly from their Summer to Fall range, which makes it critical that you do not place too much credibility on your pre-season observations. This is why taking census on small parcels (1000 acres or less) during the season and not before or after the season, is the most reliable timeframe to diagnose your herd management and hunting goals. Afterall, you can't make educated decisions on the herd or the hunt, for bucks that may be exiting your property at the end of the Summer or still yet to enter your land during the Fall. So, for those ready to improve their hunting and herd management practices at a time when it means the most to you, here are my top 5 ways to pattern a buck this Fall:
1. Repeating Patterns
What is the best thing about a highly defined buck pattern for a particular buck? That it is typically only a matter of time before before that pattern repeats itself. That is why whether you are hunting on private or public land, that you learn to recognize (or create) buck patterns that produce over and over again. Mature bucks think and act differently than the rest of the herd, but compared to each other they aren't really that different. Most mature bucks are very reclusive, independant and consistent in their patterns, so they choose the habitat they desire and the level of hunting pressure they can tolerate, often on similar levels. By discovering multiple movement patterns by mature bucks you can learn to quickly hone in, when a new mature buck slots into an old mature buck pattern.
2. Patterns Soon To Come
Bucks often forshadow their movements years in advance, even if for only 1 sighting or trail cam picture. The key is to recognize the few clues that he has left for you, and to correctly predict his pattern. I suggest you use buck patterning software like DeerLab, which is an outstanding resource to help you organize several years worth of buck photos. We have several bucks we have collected trail cam photos of for 2-3 years that we have named and profiled in DeerLab to help us out in 2016, including: Diego, Jerry, Rodney, Roger, Roy and Duke. It is amazing how literally to-the-day, some of these bucks will return year after year, often during the peak of the annual rut, opening day of gun season or during the late season. Some bucks have left us only 3 clues over a 2 year period, but it was enough to pattern them and eventually go in for a successful kill.
We here at WHS are using DeerLab in 2016 and I urge you to try DeeLab's FREE 30 day trial offer.
3. Daily Bedding To Feeding Patterns
This one of the most important deer patterns to recognize on the land that you hunt, let alone mature buck patterns to take advantage of. In fact, this daily movement pattern is the foundation for all whitetail movement during the Fall. A whitetail's need to feed 5 times a day is a pattern that is documented by science and should be a part of your overall hunting strategy in many ways. However, the most important impact to your overall whitetail success, is the just how closely you can take advantage of the afternoon time slot.
In my experience the entire deer herd (including a mature buck) desires to be on their feat and feeding between and hour and two hours before darkness, every afternoon. If your trail cams, scouting missions and hunting activities are not revealing the afternoon feeding movement on your land, you can bet the deer are making that movement on someone else's land. When you create or recognize this buck pattern to hunt and make sure that it continues all season, the scales tilt heavily in your favor. A defined afternoon feeding movement dictates where doe family groups bedding closer to their afternoon food source, bucks behind the does in a more reclusive portion of the habitat, evening food source stand locations, morning bedding area stand locations and cruising stand locations in-between.
What is most likely the #1 way to pattern a buck-even more than during the entire rut? By using his afternoon feeding pattern to tell you where to sit during any time of the season, morning, mid day or evening.
4. People Patterns
Deer seem to have an outstanding ability to pattern us to a much higher level than we can pattern them. The trick is to never let them know you are coming. You have to fool their nose, eyes and ears for the entire hunting season, if you can. However, do your neighbors have the same approach? Often, my neighbors have not and just like a whitetail can, you can also pattern your neighbor's to a very high degree.
During this hunting season there are two bucks that I am hoping to have encounters with and my neighbors will play a large roll. By observing tire tracks, noise, buck sign and trail cam photos, it is pretty easy to see that when the neighbors are present, a portion of the deer herd shifts to the lands that we hunt. It is up to you to recognize those patterns and take advantage of the bucks that are reacting to your neighbor's intrusions to hopefully a higher level than they are reacting to your own. By learning to pattern your neighbor's movements, you are one step closer to the complete picture of buck's pattern that may not include your land the majority of the time. This is why Sunday, Monday and Tuesday can be some of the best times to be in the woods, if you have highly intrusive weekend-hunting neighbors.
5. Buck Patterning Software
Let's face it folks, we are not in the age of our parents and grandparents. The number of latest and greatest food plot seeds, scent control products, deer gadgets and "necessary" deer gear is amazing. Unfortunately though, there is no amount of hunting gadgets and gear that allows you to hit the fast-forward button on hunting experience or skill. Does some of the latest and greatest product trends actually work? Sure, but it doesn't matter if you have the perfect food plot, deer bedding area, scent control product or deer gadget, the way that you actually hunt will still be the lowest hole in the buck when it comes to your success. There is one product though, that can help you manage and organize your potential success that we are using this year: DeerLab.
What DeerLab allows us to do is to profile, organize and prioritize the bucks that we have photographed during the previous and current seasons, to predict the level of our future success. Would you like to see at a glance the hotspot of activity for a particular buck with just a handful of pictures during the last 3 years? Then DeerLab will show you. Would you like to know which bucks are moving during which temperature or moon phase the most? Then DeerLab will show you. Will DeerLab replace hunting experience or skill? No. However, what it will allow you to do is collect and organize buck pattern data that allows you to make more educated decisions when it comes time to go after your target buck(s). DeerLab is also a great way to name and share the buck's that you discover, with your entire hunting party!
Weather Patterns Trump All
Once you know where he will travel during which time of the day and season, you are then left with a major decision: When to hunt! I have experienced over an 80% success rate on my target bucks since the early 90s, by hunting the calmer, colder rising barometric conditions during the backside of a cold front. The 5 ways to pattern a buck above will tell you where he is moving during which portion of the season, however the next step is to let the weather be your guide for determine when to actually sit in your stand.
Are you ready to successfully pattern a buck for this hunting season?
Often a mature buck has already revealed his pattern to you with the intel you have already collected! Past and current trail cam photos, repeating patterns, your neighbors, buck sign and even DeerLab can help you decipher the clues that a mature monster has left you. However, once you have deciphered the clues and have recognized a specific buck pattern to hunt, you still have to hunt him without him knowing that he is being hunted. While patterns change and the latest and greatest gadgets come and go, it still boils down to doing your best to pattern your prey and then ambush your prey, without being detected.
Nearly 30 years have past since I first began attempting to pattern a buck. Although I still enter into each season full of hope, the methods for patterning a particular buck I am after have developed a definitive and proven approach to realize that hope. I encourage you to practice the above 5 patterns this season so that you can find the highest level of whitetail success this Fall.