_by Karl Miller
It’s a week before the first whitetail season, and the guys at deer camp have been busy glassing fields and checking trail cameras. Every day after work, they hit the property to spy on one of the several groups of bucks that have been showing up in the same places like clockwork.
The last few days, however, have been a disappointment. A lone deer has appeared here or there, but those bunches of bucks seem to have vanished like smoke. What happened here?
Seasonal social dissociative behavior exacerbated by altered food preferences. In other words, the bachelor party is over.
All summer, bucks hang out with their buddies, mainly resting and feeding, in what are commonly called bachelor groups. But as summer turns to fall, shrinking daylight brings dramatic changes in their physiology and behavior. Testosterone levels rise, antlers harden, necks start to swell, and bucks get increasingly intolerant of one another. They begin sparring to work out who’s the toughest guy on the block. Ultimately, each bachelor goes his own way.
Food supplies are shifting as well. Deer that have been frequenting certain fields through the warm months are finding new options in the woods. Acorns, persimmons, apples, and muscadines (in the South) are falling–and whitetails know it.
You must change gears. Get out and speed-scout diverse areas just ahead of the season.
The bucks you’ve been observing are likely still in the area. You just have to relocate them. Start by finding current food sources, such as soft mast and white oak acorns, which tend to drop early in fall and are deer favorites.
Move your trail cameras from field edges to natural funnels and trails between thicker bedding areas and the potential new grub. Keep a keen eye out for fresh rubs. This sign is a good indicator of where the bucks are traveling now, and we know from our research at the University of Georgia that early rubbing is generally done by the more mature animals.
The same holds true for early scrapes: Young bucks don’t start pawing the earth in earnest until much later in the season. Set up on the freshest buck sign near favored autumn food sources, and some of those big deer you watched all summer will likely reappear right under your tree stand.