We dug through reams of research by America's top whitetail biologists and called renowned whitetail researchers for the latest intel on scrapes, buck movement and more. We wound up with 15 tactics rooted in science that will help you find and shoot Mr. Big this fall.
Hunt High or Low?
Missouri biologist Dr. Grant Woods says he has some breaking science for us. He explains, "We put GPS collars on bucks and found that the oldest bucks generally bed just over the top of a hill or mountain, usually on the east side. This is probably because most of the time wind currents come from the west. When a west wind goes up and over the top of a hill and swirls, it creates an air cone that picks up and carries scent from all directions."
What it means: "I won't bowhunt in an eddy-like air current just over the top of a hill because I know bucks will smell me," says Woods. You're a lot better off hanging a stand on top, where the wind will consistently blow your scent out over the ridge below, or lower on the east side of a ridge or mountain, or on a flat where you can catch a buck sneaking up to his bed or coming back down from it.
Find "Buck Holes"
Woods' many geographic analyses of hunting properties show that most of us set stands or blinds within a quarter-mile or so of logging roads, crop fields and similar easy-to-access areas. "The other 90 percent of the land is a de facto deer sanctuary," he says, "and that's where you need to hunt."
What it means: Read an aerial photo and scout for thick, rough "buck holes" a half-mile and farther off those pressured roads and fields. The more trails, rubs and scrapes in a spot the better. As a bonus, those other hunters might push a monster to you. It takes work and smarts to get back in there, but it's worth it.
When to Rattle
Mickey Hellickson, chief biologist for the King Ranch in Texas, did the ultimate study on rattling. During one phase of the experiment, his team rattled 60 times on peak-rut days and pulled in 65 crazed bucks for a response rate of 108 percent. Nearly 70 percent of those bucks came to the horns between 7:30 and 10:30 a.m. "Cool mornings with cloud cover and little or low wind speed are best," he says.
What it means: Rattle early to midmorning in the peak of the rut. The less wind there is the better, because bucks can hear your antler-cracking from a long way.
Hunt the Homeboys
Hellickson notes, "Our telemetry studies show that bucks range less as they increase in age, and their summer and fall/winter core areas overlap more."
What it means: Bucks form bachelor groups in the summer and then disperse in the early fall; as a result, just because you see a good buck somewhere in August doesn't mean he'll be there in November. Also, yearling bucks will disperse in early October in the Northeast and Midwest from 2 to 20 miles away. However, if you spot a huge-racked 4-year-old in one of your fields this summer, but he vanishes during the season, don't totally give up on that deer. If he survives to 5 or 6, his range will shrink. He'll come back to summer on your land, and he might never leave again. You might get him yet.
Understand the Buck Shift
Tennessee researcher Bryan Kinkel's trail-camera studies show that the mature "buck shift" from summer to winter core areas generally occurs from August 30 to mid-September, around the time deer shed velvet. This movement may be only 100 acres or so, though some bucks go farther.
What it means: While you will lose a few of those 8- and 10-pointers you've scouted all summer, some equal-size or bigger bucks will shift from adjacent woods and onto your land by October. "Properties usually have no net loss of bucks," notes Kinkel.
Should You Hunt Scrapes?
Biologist Kip Adams notes that a University of Georgia study of free-ranging deer on a hunted property found that mature bucks check scrapes mostly at night and-get this-quite often between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.
What it means: Why sit and watch a spot where a 10-pointer is likely to show up in the middle of the night? "Rather, set up and watch a heavy trail or edge of thick cover several hundred yards off fresh scrapes, where you might catch a buck moving in first or last light," says Adams. Especially avoid hunting scrapes in feeding areas and other open places. If you're going to hunt scrapes, hunt scrapes in travel corridors near bedding areas in the pre-rut. Bucks may check them as they "stage" before going into a feeding area.
Hunt Old Does
Adams says, "Studies show that mature does that have lived under intense hunting pressure are master evaders, and they teach their tricks to other deer."
What it means: An old, dominant doe, usually the lead animal in a group, will bust you quicker than a big buck will, so be careful and vigilant on stand. Just because you "only bumped a doe" doesn't mean you didn't hurt the chances of seeing a mature buck near your treestand.