Hunting > Whitetails

What To Do With a Spooked Buck

We occasionally spook the bucks we are hunting, but knowing what to do after they’ve split is one of the most important decisions of the season.


It is a reality that we occasionally spook the bucks we are hunting. Figuring out what to do after they’ve split is one of the most important decisions of the season. You must decide whether to move on and try to find a different place to hunt the buck or to keep sitting in the same stand.

Assessing the Damage

There are two types of scared. When a buck is badly scared, he knows that the source of his shock is a human and he knows exactly where that human was positioned at the time of the scare. He now associates that location with danger. Often he will turn inside out and bust out of the area. Maybe he saw you in the stand and realized you were a human. Possibly, he picked up a heavy dose of your scent that hit him like a slap in the face. He knew you had to be very close. Or maybe you shot at him and nicked him. Either way, you nearly scared him out of his skin. 

The second type of scared is a lot milder. This is not outright fear, but something that suggests caution. A mildly scared buck will bound off rather than blow out like a rocket. Maybe he heard you walking to your stand or saw you from across the field. Possibly, he smelled you but was not close enough to get a real heavy dose or maybe he saw you in the stand but was not able to figure out exactly what you were. He knows something is wrong, but in his mind, the danger isn’t imminent. He hasn’t tied true danger to a specific location.

Why It Matters

Bucks adjust their travels when they casually encounter humans, but only after they do so on a regular basis. It is not something that causes them undue stress. They are constantly adjusting their daily movements to avoid human activity. It is part of their daily lives. A single mildly threatening incident is no big deal. However, if the buck is badly scared—shocked, frightened—and pinpoints the source of the danger to a specific location, the buck will not soon forget what happened nor will he soon return to that location. Every time he is near that area, he will be cautious, probably for weeks to come. So figuring out what to do after spooking a buck starts with figuring out how badly he is spooked in the first place.

If They Are Mildly Spooked

Mildly scared bucks certainly become more cautious and harder to kill in that area. You have damaged your chances for success. That is the main reason that the first time you hunt a new stand is usually your best chance for success. However, you may not have completely dashed your hopes.

There are two levels of mildly spooked. The first one is when the buck encounters you, or your scent, where he is used to running into humans. If you alerted the buck in a way that he might consider normal for that area, you can expect little negative reaction. For example, let’s say he hit your scent where he is used to finding human scent, on a walking path or a woodland trail near a park, for example. Maybe you bumped him near a roadway where he often encounters people. Or he saw you in an area where the farmer often walks to check fence. It is not a big deal. 

If that is the case, keep hunting the stand as you normally would, in your regular rotation, resting it as often as you might if you had not spooked a buck. 

The second type of mild scare occurs in a place and in a fashion where human activity is not a regular occurrence. In this case, the buck will not be so forgiving. Let’s say you jump him from his bed as you are sneaking in to your stand. As he bounds off, you think, “He didn’t look too spooked.”

Maybe he didn’t look overly spooked, but deer don’t like surprises in their bedrooms. He will remember it. If they are not used to seeing a person doing what you just did, they will see it as a moderately dangerous invasion. It may be a couple of days before the buck comes back, and when he does, he will likely be very cautious. This is not what I would call a bad scare because the buck won’t pin your presence to a specific tree. You were simply walking through a place where he didn’t expect to encounter a human.

Now it makes sense to wait a few days longer than you normally would before going back to that stand. The hope is that the buck will cautiously pass through the area a few times without perceiving any danger and forget the incident. If you go in too soon, you could reinforce the threat and he may stop using that area.

If They Are Badly Scared

When a buck attributes your presence to a particular tree and shows great alarm at the discovery, you may as well stop hunting it for several weeks. In other words, you need to move on. He probably won’t totally leave the area, so moving to a completely different part of the buck’s range may still produce the shot you have been working all season to create. 

There is one situation where you can ignore a spooked buck. If you bump a buck during the rut that you have never seen before, he may well be simply moving through the area. In that case, don’t abandon the stand. There is no sense wasting a good stand to keep from further alarming a buck that may never return anyway. Go back to hunting the stand as soon as the wind is right.

Every situation is different—you don’t want to needlessly abandon a great stand nor cling too long to a stand that the buck will now avoid. I nicked a buck last season that disappeared off the face of the earth. I never got him on any trail cameras and never saw him again. He knows that spot equals danger. On the flip side, I have seen bucks come back to the same field 15 minutes after a farmer bumped them. They know how to rate the dangers they encounter and they react accordingly. You need to learn to do the same thing.

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36 Responses to What To Do With a Spooked Buck

Terry wrote:
December 25, 2014

I jumped a doe this morning, left for lunch, returned and jumped her again. If they are in their food source, they will return. I knew this was the same doe because she has a messed up ear. tomorrow she will enter the freezer.

cmosley wrote:
December 24, 2014

I was bowhunting whitetail this morning when a gorgeous 10 point but suddenly appeared out of nowhere he was 70 yards out too far for a bow kill,he walked past me and down to my hunting buddies stand about 150 yards away i watched it get 10 yards from him before it caught his scent and ran but not a full sprint just casual trot is the buck spooked badly or will it return

Milly wrote:
November 26, 2014

This week a nice 11 point walked out I've been watchin him on the trail cam since last year I shot at him and barley missed cane out that afternoon he was back out there and finally sealed the deal on him.

Hunter Wagner wrote:
November 11, 2014

I shot a nice buck in the peak of the rut in kansas. But the wind messed with the arrow. So i didn't hit anything vital. He lived. Will he come back in if i use doe estrus sent since thats what i got him to come to the second time or should i just wait to rifle season to try for him. I have been told many times by other people to put out a camera and if he is working threw the ground were my stand is then i should i try to hunt their again. I am 13 do you guys have any advice on if is should try to hunt again when i just shot at him and hit him but didn't kill hum?

joe wrote:
October 18, 2014

I shot at a big buck and missed with my gun he slowly ran off like he was hit I later looked where he was and I hit the brush next to him will he come back

Cole Greeson wrote:
December 27, 2013

Shot at big 8 today. Clean miss. Should i try to go to the stand where he ran torwards or continue to hunt the same onw i missed out of

justin wrote:
November 28, 2013

Saw a nice 8 point this morning. Shot and thought I hit him. Get down no blood. I start looking and find him coming back. So then he got spook and run.

Kevin wrote:
November 15, 2013

One week ago a friend of mine told me I could hunt his plot. While giving me the tour, he,my 9 year old son and I jumped a monster buck from a thicket just feet away from where I need my blind. My plan is to go in tomorrow and set up my blind spray the area and get ghost. Opening day is the following weekend. 2 weeks since we jumped him and one week from tomorrow. Will I have a chance on opening day?

Greg wrote:
November 08, 2013

I have been seeing a ton of does around my stand haven't got a clear shot so I keep waiting for a good one. I've also been seeing huge tracks from a buck and about 2 or 3 weeks back I've been finding scrapes. I have not actually seen the buck until tonight. I finally saw him crossing my field behind me heading straight for me and he is a BIG 10 point! I of course positioned my stand thinking he would be coming from in front of me so I had one single shooting lane cleared behind me. He was so close it would have been an easy shot! I drew back and as he entered the lane I grunted for him to stop but he didn't. I thought about shooting while he was walking but didn't want to just wound him. I've never seen a deer do this he looked at me after I grunted but he never even broke stride! (I guess that's how he got so big) When he finally stopped he was behind a bunch of branches and he only left me with a gut or butt shot. He then went to the other side of the tree so I had to try and get my bow around the tree. In doing so I had to release my draw made some noise and he spooked. Ran about 10 feet away from me then directly to my right into a wood line 30 feet away. He was heading away so I made a few calls and he started back my way but never came back out of the woods. Do you think he will come back? I hope so I have been working my tail off trying to get a shot on these deer. I am SOOOO frustrated especially after seeing this monster and spooking him! What do you guys think? There is a lot of human activity around where I hunt so I hope he comes back!

Briggs Leadens wrote:
November 05, 2013

Hey there. Spooked a big buck out of his bed in a swamp about 100 yards from the stand I hunt. We were walking around looking for sign and found his scrapes and rub line coming up through the swamp where he was bedded. He ran through the woods by my stand. What are the chances he completely leaves the area? This is private land with low hunting pressure

stacey wrote:
October 06, 2013

I was leaving my stand tonight while walking out at dark I came upon to big bucks and I do believe the got wind of me but stood for awhile them darted off not running do you are think they will be back?

Dave wrote:
September 14, 2013

I shot a big doe this morning at 0710; but she jumped the string, and so my arrow hit her towards the back leg area...I could see my arrow sticking out her w/the illumination nock...after sitting for an hour I decided to trailed her...lots of blood! I walked the open marsh, and spotted three of them. They saw me too, and bolted and ran through the woods and into another field, and disappeared. No idea if they'll come back through there, especially after she was hit, spooked, and pushed by me all w/in 2.5 hours of the initial hit. I'm an idiot, and feel bad that I may not be able to recover her now, since she went so far, and the weather report is calling for lots of rain tonight, and early tomorrow morning:( I'm praying that she comes back but it's doubtful.

Brandon wrote:
September 10, 2013

Im n my stand now i just had a doe come in from behind me i didn here her she seen me move and bluw i bunch of times and ran off do u think i will c any mor deer this evening

Zach wrote:
August 08, 2013

Last season I shot at a huge 9 point buck and I missed it. The arrow hit the tree behind him and he bolted! We stoped hunting that stand for about a week. We had been seeing him during the day when we were hunting and on the trail cam. But after I shot at him and missed we have only been seeing him at night on the trail cams! Do u think we will have another chance at this deer again?

bigrack wrote:
January 02, 2013

I was hunting one of my private lands where there are always deer. ( I saw about 25 deer give or take I was able to shoot anyone of them but held off. I was not in a stand I was slowly walking the fence line and up comes a 10 point over the hill 5 feet away. I'm standding there trying to get the horton max200 off my shoulder and as I do and raise up he's in brush. I hold off now he's only 3 feet in front of me I could have took the shot through the brush but I like to be sure I am able to male a clean kill so I held off. He got down wind of me and smelled me he did not dart. But keep was spooked. He did not see me. I can tell by how he was looking around blowing my scent out. This was yesterday I desided to leave it be for today and be there 2 hours before light. I will be putting my climber up on the trails. (There's about 12 trails that lead where my climber will be. Good hunting fellas

Jacob wrote:
December 22, 2012

i had 7 mature bucks in the food plot that come out right at dark. 5 8points a split brow 9point and a monster 10, i took a shot at the 10 point probably a shot i shouldn't have taken but my trigger finger got itchy. needless to say i couldn't find any blood and put the blood hound on him and he didn't come up with anything either. i am sick about it. i couldn't even sleep that night. do you think i will ever see any of them bucks in that plot again?

bill wrote:
November 26, 2012

i got up off my seat at 10:30 and spooked a buck and nice one too he darted into the thicket and i went up saw him and shot quick will he cone back tomorrow?

Britt wrote:
November 21, 2012

me an 3 others tracked for several yards an covered some ground an on into the next day iv recalculated an thought it over from the position i was in, the shot was perfect other than my 1st time ever shooting left handed. Any hunter that has seen big bucks walk up on them if they see a clear shot there gona take it an if you say you have never missed or grazed a deer you would be lying! Now I can understand finding a deer where someone was to lazy to track it an it bein a obvious blood trail leading to its location now thats lazy! from my stand point your absolutly right dont make the shot if your not 100%. That morning to me the shot was dead on an something told me not to try left handed but I went for it an down he went on both front knees an i thought yes good shot an then found blood an for the tail to stop completly an we tracked forever, i was told it very well couldv hit a shoulder bone an come right bck out so theres a million opinions an no one but me an the deer was out there so only I know the whole story an still I made the shot but im bck out there hunting for him everyday he will be taken down so no worrys about having a hurt deer running around! Thank you for the comment.

matt copper wrote:
November 21, 2012

For the questions on hitting deer and recovery the solution is simple don't shoot if your not 100 percent positive your able to make a clean kill nothing ruins your hunt worse then sitting in your stand and seeing your prey working into range and seeing it is injured by someone who don't think there shot through completely I've personally shot 4 deer that have been gang green and had to track down the game warden for a new tag and turn in the rack I've also already had ones where I seen the individual shoot the deer from a few hundred yards out and they track it so far and give up and walk to there location and notify them where I seen the deer drop and there too lazy to go retrieve it BC it was a small Buck

Britt wrote:
November 20, 2012

This past Sunday morning I shot at a nice 8 point buck, using tinks doe in rut he kept pawing an blowing an shaking his head around I reckon I watched him for 30 mins or so an he never would come any further out so I seen my chance to take him only he had come in on my right side an I couldnt move without him seeing me an running off so i shot left handed 1st time ever an the way he went down on both front knees an bolted outa there I done thought I missed so 10 mins go by an I walk over to where I made the shot an no blood so feeling disappointed I walked up the hill where he had quickly paused an there was 2 hand fulls of blood then it turned into drips an then stopped completly after tryin to track an find him 2 days later still no sign an no more blood trails or anything to go by. I had a few questions on if he was limping around would he ever return to the scrape off the trail he was closely shot off of because he was shot on week one of rut so is there hope for me seeing him within the next few days-weeks? Iv always heard rut makes smart bucks dumb an crazy so Im just praying hel come walking back thro Im changing my position an spot completly but its gona be close by to his 2 scrapes an trail. I just wasnt sure on him returning soon or never to be seen again especially because there still in rut??

dustin wrote:
November 06, 2012

I found my buck he was 450 yards from my stand

dustin wrote:
November 04, 2012

I shot a buck today waited like 45 mins tell I got down jumped him he ran 50 yards and lated there so I wait 1 hour went back jumped him.again and wait for 3 hours jumped him again do you think he will die I found Alot of blood on both side of the trail

Karson wrote:
November 03, 2012

Thismorning in my stand at like six thirty it wasn't quite daylight yet but I could see my first pin. I had nice buck come up the hill from behind me and he was messing around making some rubs and I figured well he is gonna hang here for awhile so I miswell take advantage of the darkness and stand up now so when I can shoot I'm ready and I start to stand up and the platform to my climber creaked a couple times ad he jumped a few times then stopped on a gas line opening like 100 yards from my stand and just stood there a sec I don't think he seen me pretty sure it was just the creaking that caused his reaction do you think he will return it's also one of his major rub line trails and he has some scraps on it as well

HarryMoore wrote:
November 01, 2012

Deer are creatures of habit. I stuck a mature 8 pointer 2 weeks ago, arrow made a full pass, haven't seen the deer since. Until I checked my game cameras that I hang near all my stands, and to my surprise the buck has returned with a limp. I though I had lost this deer after tracking him 300 yards with a lot of blood, then the blood trail ended. The deer will return especially with the rut around the corner, the will return to the area to defend there territory.

Shawn Lund wrote:
October 31, 2012

Reuben, Did the same thing Last Sunday. Hit the deer in the shoulder and found the arrow broken off at the insert for the broadhead. Wondering the same thing if these bucks will come back to an area and how long before they do.

Nathan C wrote:
October 29, 2012

I was hunting saturday and jumped some deer right off. They were sitting right under my stand when i went to sit in it. hey ran into the woods and i followed them and sat down 100 yards in. Blew a couple grunts on a grunt call and saw something move close, like 15 yards from me. Waited 30 minutes and figured it was nothing. Stood back up an i was wrong, saw a deer dart out into the woods. It made a loud noise. A buddy said that it was clearing my scent from its nose. Will it be back?

Nathan C wrote:
October 29, 2012

I was still hunting today and followed a deer trail for an hour. I headed back down the trail and for a minute i let my guard down and made a little noise. Right then and there i saw a Huge Buck jump out of sight. It was midday and bedding. This is the first time i've hunted there. Any chance it'll be back at the bed, how long? It didnt make anynoise like it was clearing its nose, like it smelt me.

Ryan wrote:
October 16, 2012

#Speedy Why in the world would you leave your favorite stand 30 minutes before dark, that is the best time of the night. You should leave your stand 15 to 30 minutes after dark. Not legal shooting time dark, but dark dark. That gives all the deer time to leave the area. If you are on a food source you need to have an exit route that will not spook the feeding deer, or have someone to come pick you up and "clear the field" without alerting the deer or where your stand is at. And my guess is NO you will not see that buck again in that location.

Brent wrote:
October 13, 2012

I shot at a buck today around 6 pm and thought I hit it. I came back about 1 hour later to track and while tracking I jumped 9 doe. will those doe return to the field I was in the next day. I am pretty sure they live in this area.

Ruben wrote:
October 03, 2012

Quick question . Last night I shot a huge buck and he was kinda trotting away from me and I was on his left side , I shot and hit him high , almost a spine shot , is there any chance at all I will see him again ? And how long before I can hunt that stand again ??

Speedy wrote:
October 02, 2012

Today I was out hunting in one of my favorite spots I seen 13 does and a basket rack. About 30 min before dark I came out of my stand and walked over to my bike as I was riding out of the woods I seen a huge buck right off the trail. I just kept riding passed him I went a hundred yards and parked the bike I walked back slowly and he was still there when I stood up to shoot him he jumped and I barley missed. How badly is he scared? Is it worth it to go back?

Rick wrote:
January 18, 2012

"# Blair 11/28/2011 11:21:12 AM I shot at a monster buck this weekend. I pretty sure i hit and he jumped straight up and took off. Immediately after I went to get it. Went to where it was feeding and no blood. So we went into the woods found a puddle of blood and a small trail then nothing. Went back to look the next day and found nothing. Are we suppose to go after them after the shot or let them die before we search." Your mistake was going after the buck immediately after you shot it. The best thing to do when that happens is let the buck go, remain in your stand for at least 45 minutes, then go looking for it. Think about it. That buck's adrenalin is pumping hard and the worst thing you can do after shooting it is immediately go chasing after it. He'll just keep running and you'll never find him. It's best to let him run back into the woods for a hundred yards or so, where he thinks he's safe, and then let him die there. Much easier on him and you.

Blair wrote:
November 28, 2011

I shot at a monster buck this weekend. I pretty sure i hit and he jumped straight up and took off. Immediately after I went to get it. Went to where it was feeding and no blood. So we went into the woods found a puddle of blood and a small trail then nothing. Went back to look the next day and found nothing. Are we suppose to go after them after the shot or let them die before we search.

Your Namechris wrote:
November 15, 2011

Comments... I was in my stand this past saturday, I decided to get down on the ground to refill my dripper over a scrape, it was fairly early in the day about 930, as I tied the dripper back up, a doe walked out under my stand weezed and yelled at me, but didn't bolt out of there, kinda jogged off, I let the stand cool down for a few days, but it looks like they are still hitting my scrapes, I'm kinda wondering if I screwed my area up, any advise. I do see deer in that stand every year.

Bard wrote:
October 27, 2010

I think we spook more deer than were ever aware of. Tonight I spooked a big buck and then ended up seeing two more with in shooting range. We'll find out to the severity of my scaring him in the coming days and weeks.

RC wrote:
September 29, 2010

i spooked a couple dear ater i killed my first one.It was a doe but all the doe next to it never came back to that spot R.C.