Advanced Tactics For Mature Bucks Over Bait

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I shuddered as the cold water landed on my head and ran down my back. I felt kind of silly dumping water on my head, but it was a 97-degree day, and I didn’t want to sweat too much. I eased my way down the logging road before turning off and ever so slowly slipping about 20 yards into the woods to the cluster of small trees that concealed the blind I had brushed in a few months prior. I painstakingly opened it, as quietly as possible and set my bow and camera gear inside. I was after a nice 8-point with some kickers, and I believed he was bedded close enough to hear any noise I may make.

Around 7:30, I began to hear footsteps and looked over to see a 12-inch G2 making its way through the trees. As luck would have it, that G2 ended up being connected to a whole deer, and he was big! He seemed to be slowly headed my way. He made a big circle around me, taking his time to ease his way downwind of the bait I was watching. However, the old brute stopped just shy of ever getting downwind of me, decided he was safe, and made his way in for a meal. SHWACK! Just like that, he became a meal.

• • •

Every year since baiting was legalized, the same perennial myths have been heard in Waffle Houses, hunting clubs and internet forums around the state. Ideas like “baiting makes deer nocturnal,” and “mature bucks aren’t killable over bait.” I have found this to be anything but the truth, especially in the months of September and January. In fact, the Georgia bucks I killed last year were 6.5 and 5.5 years old, according to cementum annuli aging, and I killed them both over bait.

Another myth is that baiting is “cheating” or the “easy way out.” That’s just not true. You can’t just throw down some bait anywhere and expect to kill the biggest deer in your woods over it. Hunting mature bucks over bait requires as much or more effort and attention to detail as hunting him any other way.

Contrarily to the majority of people who hunt over bait, I rarely if ever hunt over feeders. They are great for supplemental feeding, and they make feed last longer than pouring it on the ground, but there are some disadvantages when it comes to hunting. They take a long time for mature bucks to acclimate to, and if you ever bump a deer at a feeder you don’t have an easy way of changing the setup on him. Feeders do not in any way resemble a natural food source, and my main objective is to get in tight to a certain buck’s bed and make my bait resemble a natural food source as closely as possible.

FIND WHERE HE BEDS

Bedding location may well be the biggest factor in whether or not a buck will hit a baited location in daylight or not. Very early season, bucks may come to most anywhere, but once those bachelor groups break up and bucks begin to bed on their own, you need to figure out where a particular buck is bedded and get as close as you can without bumping him.

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I’m a firm believer that almost no deer is nocturnal, he just doesn’t move far from his bed in daylight. This makes him seem nocturnal to anyone who isn’t in that small area. Thus, it’s very important to be in that small area. The quickest and easiest way I have found to locate the general area where a buck is bedded is with small amounts of corn mixed with Antler-X-Treme and trail cameras.

Here’s an over simplified example that will get the general point across. Say I had corn out along the edge of a cutover next to wide open hardwood creek bottom, and I got pictures of a buck I wanted to hunt, but only at 10 p.m. at the earliest. I might wait a week and see if he showed any sooner, but if not, it’s time to make a move. I’d take the original camera and move it 200 to 300 yards down the edge, taking care to look for rub lines and/or big tracks coming out of the cutover. Then, I’d take an additional camera and go 200 to 300 yards the other way. I’d put 20 or so pounds of my corn and Antler-X-Treme mix at each spot, enough to feed a deer for a couple days but not enough to dilute the effectiveness of a new location should I decide to move again. Suppose four or five days go by, and the camera to the north gets pics of him within an hour after dark, and the one to the south doesn’t get him, or only gets him in the middle of the night. I would now assume that the north location is likely closer to his bedding area. I’d probably move it another hundred yards or so north, and put the other camera on a trail or scrape near the north camera.

Ideally, you want to get close enough to his bed to where he will visit in daylight, but far enough away to be able to sneak in without him knowing you’re there. This is a fine line. Truthfully, there are going to be times every season where I am too aggressive, and times where I am not aggressive enough. Such is life.

There’s tons and tons of information online about locating buck beds. Information describing areas where hills come to a point in big open woods, or fencerows in between fields, etc. In most of the South, you can just about disregard the majority of that information and assume he’s going to be in some thick, nasty stuff where he isn’t being bumped. I’ve had out-of-state leases where I could pick a spot on a map that looked like it would be a good spot for a buck to bed, and then go scout it and a lot of times there would be a bed there. But this has rarely been the case back home. In fact, I’ve only found the actual bed of a Georgia buck I was hunting one time. However, figuring out the general area is good enough, and you’d do more harm than good tearing through the thick stuff looking for the exact spot he beds.

Keep in mind that bucks move around several times throughout the season. If a spot looks ideal for a buck to bed, it’s worth checking it several times throughout the season with bait and a camera. Also keep in mind that rubbing and scraping slows down as the season draws to a close, so it’s likely that a buck moves in late season and doesn’t leave a whole lot of sign.

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Also, bucks will adapt their bedding habits to a food source more late season than any other time. I’ve had success late season hunting a small property that doesn’t typically have much deer movement, provided that it is next to a big piece. It may take a few weeks for deer to find the bait, but since food is limited that time of year, they will sometimes move in and set up shop close by. The 13-point that I killed Jan. 25 last year was sporadic the last three seasons, but he moved in and got comfortable late last season.

SCENT CONTROL

There are countless articles on scent control, and I’m not going to dive too deep into that now, because it deserves an article of its own, truthfully. A good wind direction is worth all the scent control in the world, but understand that proper scent control and a good entry and exit route are more important when hunting over bait than any other time. You can get away with far more when hunting a trail or natural food source than you ever will hunting a baited location. Those big bucks know something is a little fishy about a big pile of free food, and they will investigate it and the area around it each time they visit. How thoroughly they investigate is dependent open the individual deer, and what precautions you have taken up to that point to allow him to feel comfortable visiting the location.

WIND BLOCKING

Of course you always want to play the wind, but the problem is a mature buck loves to circle downwind of a baited location before he will commit to coming in. This is where a technique I like to call “wind blocking” can be extremely beneficial. There’s a couple ways of doing this.

Here’s an example using the same cutover and hardwood creek bottom described earlier. Say you’ve located the general area you think the deer is bedding and have pics in the fringe of daylight or close to it. Set up on the opposite side of the creek from the cutover that you believe the buck to be bedding in, with the bait on the other side. Whenever you have a wind blowing straight from the cutover to you, there’s virtually no chance of him smelling you from his bed, and it is less likely that the buck will go through the trouble of crossing that creek just to circle the baited location. He may go through the motions of circling, but he will often just circle to the edge of the creek bank on his side and call it good.

The same principle can apply to a variety of terrain or manmade features that a buck may opt not to cross. A logging road, powerline, open field, yard, steep drop-off—these all have aided me in keeping a buck from fully circling a baited area and catching my scent. The 10-pointer I killed in the opening paragraph circled downwind, but I was situated in the corner of a block of woods sectioned off by one logging road behind me and another to my left. Yes, it was possible for him to circle downwind of me, and he wanted to do it. But he was comfortable enough there that he’d rather do a poor job of circling downwind than expose himself in the old logging road.

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However, I have found that some bucks, most commonly the ones well into maturity, will not visit a bait sight when the wind is dead wrong for them. This is when an “almost wrong” wind can be absolutely deadly. Suppose you wait for a wind that almost parallels the creek but is blowing to your side of the creek ever so slightly. In this scenario, the buck can circle downwind, inspect the area to his satisfaction, and maybe even get downwind of the bait, without ever getting downwind of you. This can be a little risky, since the wind isn’t always predictable, however the times that it works out can pay dividends.

The key is to let the deer get comfortable enough to be more or less going through the motions when he does his pre-feeding inspection. A nervous deer may not come in at all in daylight, but if he did he’d be more likely to cross the creek or other feature, check all over downwind, and eventually bust you. Whereas a relaxed mature buck may walk straight in, or more commonly make one lazy little circling effort, and then come on in.

In a situation like this, you may have to drive to your hunting location and physically check the wind to see how it compares to the forecast before deciding whether or not to hunt. I actually showered and drove to where I wanted to hunt the 8-point from the opening paragraph two or three times before I ever hunted him. The wind ended up being wrong instead of “almost wrong,” and I decided to back out. And then I hunted him once when the wind was 100% right, and I didn’t see him.

But when the stars finally aligned and I had a perfect “almost wrong” wind, it was a bad day for one big ol’ Bibb County buck, and a great day for this ol’ Jones county boy.

If you’d like, you can check out the video of this hunt and many others on my Youtube channel Tanner Edenfield Bowhunting.

CONCLUSION

Like any hunting strategy, baiting has its pros and cons, and its own unique challenges. However, if you can locate a mature buck’s bedding area and get close to it undetected, you’ve got a pretty good chance at getting him to show up in daylight, especially if you can find some terrain feature to keep him from circling downwind of you. If you find that he is only hitting the bait sight when the wind is totally wrong for you, maybe alter your setup and try to trick him using an “almost wrong” wind direction.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>