No one wants to jump a buck. But it happens, nonetheless. One of the top questions I get? What should you do after spooking a buck? Here’s the long answer.
Assessing the Damage
Bucks respond to danger in proportion to their level of fear. Bucks that are bad scared alter their behavior more noticeably than bucks that are casually spooked. Not every scare is the same. There are bad scares and casual spooks. Deer will react differently based on which category they fall in.
A badly scared buck is one that really busts out of there. He’s running flat out and low to the ground. His No. 1 goal is to put as much distance as possible between you and him. Maybe you nicked him. Perhaps he caught you moving in the treestand. Maybe a heavy dose of your stink slapped him in the face. Regardless, he’s hoofin’ it to the next farm. He immediately alters his behavior.
In contrast, casually scared means a startled deer. This is not the fight-or-flight kind of fear. A casually scared buck bounds off. He doesn’t blow out like a rocket. He knows something is wrong, but the danger isn’t imminent. He takes notice, adjusts his movements a bit and go on with his lives. That said, if persistent danger reinforces these casual scares over time, he’ll eventually stop using a certain area or become nocturnal.
So, figuring out what to do after spooking a buck starts with figuring out how badly he is spooked in the first place.
Threat Level: Irrelevant
Bucks often spend time outside of their normal home ranges during the rut. If you bump one of these bucks — a buck you don’t recognize — he may well be a transient (here today and gone tomorrow). In that case, don’t give it a second thought. Go right back in there again as soon as it makes sense. There is no sense wasting a good stand waiting for a buck that may never return even if you hadn’t spooked him.
Threat Level: Casually Spooked
Every situation is different. But some things remain the same. These are the most common ways to casually spook bucks:
- Bumping a buck in heavy cover while walking to or from your stand or blind
- A deer hitting your ground scent during or after a hunt
- Leaving scent on objects in the field, such as: gear, trees, etc.
Casually scared bucks certainly become harder to kill in areas incidents occur. That’s why the first time you hunt a new stand is usually your best chance for success. Success odds decrease with each subsequent hunt. But this isn’t insurmountable.
First, determine how often the buck gets casually scared by people in that area. For example, in residential areas, hikers often come through walking dogs or exploring the woods. In such cases, bucks grow accustomed to the normal level of human interaction for that area.
Let’s say a buck catches your scent where he’s used to smelling people. That might be a walking path or trail. Or, perhaps you bumped him near a roadway where he often encounters humans. That’s no big deal. Continue with your regular routine.
However, he won’t be so forgiving if the scare occurs in a place or fashion that’s out of the norm for him. Let’s say you jump him from his bed in an area the buck rarely sees people. Deer don’t like changes or surprises. He’ll remember and see it as an invasion. In that case, they’ll change their behavior in the short-term. It may be a couple of days before the buck comes back. When he does, he’ll likely be cautious. Don’t hunt that stand again for a while.
Threat Level: Bad Scared
When a buck is scared badly at a particular stand location — especially if he saw you up there — you might as well stop hunting it for several weeks. I don’t know the exact length of time it will take for that buck to come past that tree again during daylight without looking up. It might not happen again until next season. It could take that long to investigate and consider it safe before subsequently forgetting the incident.
In other words, it’s best to just move on. That’s the safest bet. While he probably won’t totally leave the area, he will be much more cautious near where you spooked him. Move at least a couple hundred yards before hunting again. Even farther is better as long as you’re still within what you believe is the buck’s core area.
My best and final advice? Knowing how to adjust your strategies depends on two things. First, what it was that spooked the buck. And second, how spooked he was. Read each situation carefully, and respond appropriately, so you don’t waste valuable stand time this deer season.
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