It was just a matter of time with G4. I hunted him carefully because it made no sense to hunt him aggressively—his behavior and history suggested he wasn’t going anywhere. After missing him from a blind at 30 yards in late October (I thought it was 40 yards), I killed him a few days later on Nov. 3 about 200 yards from that spot. I won’t say he was easy to kill—you still have to be careful to keep them from knowing you are hunting them—but he was the easiest buck to hunt that I have ever encountered.
I doubt G4 was actually dumb; to my knowledge, we never bumped him. So he never had a decidedly negative experience with people. It pays to be careful, but it pays even more to be lucky enough to have a buck with that kind of personality living on your farm.
Now back to Loppy. He was showing up on trail-cameras regularly but always at night. On Dec. 20, a big snowstorm came through and the next day was very cold—the perfect recipe for late-season success. I headed right to Loppy’s area and was very lucky when the buck came out an hour before the end of legal shooting time. It took him 30 minutes to feed his way to me, but I finally got a nice, clean, 25-yard shot.
It was the first time I had seen Loppy in daylight since 2009. Compare that to the changes that took place in G4’s personality over those years and you can clearly see one of my main points: Every mature buck has a unique personality: you have to hunt them as individuals.
Finding: Nocturnal is More Than a Learned Behavior
Big came up through the ranks at the same time as Loppy and G4 with the notable exception that he got hit by a car during the fall of 2011. That was disappointing to be sure because at his largest (in 2010), he was pushing 190 inches as a 5-year-old.
Big’s personality evolved in much the same way as G4. He was nocturnal even as a young buck. I got hundreds of photos of him in 2008 when he was a 3-year-old, but every single one was at night. That year we saw him once in daylight. We saw him twice in daylight in 2009—once when a hot doe pulled him out of cover on Nov. 5 and again in early January when snow and cold compelled him to feed early one evening. We recorded no daylight photos that year either.
Though I hunted Big relentlessly (but carefully) in 2010, when he was a true giant, I never saw him once. I think Big was born with nocturnal tendencies. He didn’t learn them because we don’t pressure deer hard on this farm. Even as a youngster, he was nocturnal.
I think killing him in 2011 would have been a piece of cake. I probably could have done it one day in late October while checking cameras. I went in at noon to pull the card and there was old Big making a scrape not 20 yards from the camera. He never even looked my way as I stopped short, dropped to the ground and snuck back out.
I sure wish he would have lived another year. He would have been fun to hunt. We can take at least two points from Big’s story. One, some bucks are born to be very nocturnal. Two, most bucks become daylight-active when they get old.
Now we can contrast Big’s life with that of another big buck that lived on the farm at roughly the same time. I nicknamed this one G5. He was very, very daylight-active as a young buck. We saw him everywhere as a 2- and 3-year-old and I finally killed him in November of 2011 when he was a 4-year-old—a big 4-year-old. To my way of thinking, G5 was born to be daylight-active.
These two bucks with completely different personalities (along with others I have hunted) have caused me to think that nocturnal behavior is both learned (from heavy hunting pressure) and genetic (a product of personality). In areas with heavy hunting pressure, you end up with only nocturnal 3-year-old bucks for both of these reasons. The bucks get educated quickly when younger, while the daylight-active bucks simply get shot when they’re young.
In less pressured areas, you can actually see mature bucks moving during the day.
Finding: I’m Not a Genius, and Old Bucks are Not Impossible
I realize there is a lot in this article to absorb, but even at that, I had to cut it short. There are many other lessons I have learned from these multi-year quests for these, and other, bucks. We will have to save those lessons for another day.
I am blessed by my situation. I get to hunt old bucks every year, and I realize many people do not. But you can take away several things from this article, such as: Be realistic. If you hunt areas with heavy hunting pressure, you may never see these behaviors in the bucks you hunt.
Whitetails are fascinating, but if you pursue just one buck long enough you realize that there is nothing truly mystical about them. That doesn’t diminish the thrill of the hunt. If anything, it makes the hunt even richer as you get the privilege of learning each buck’s individual personality. That’s a lot of fun and extremely educational.