It’s the pre-rut and whitetails are beginning to log some serious miles, but after their roaming missions they still tend to come home and utilize known refuges in their home territory.
You might not find this simple theory in play in another week when does begin coming into estrus. When a few does come into heat, all patterns go out the door and it’s every buck for himself. Every hunter has to be ready for long stretches of disappearing bucks as they extend their home-territory boundaries.
That’s what happened to me a few days ago. I was hunting with my good friend, Levi Duncan, in north-central South Dakota during an early firearm season. Duncan manages for mature bucks, so typically it's not a matter of whether you’re going to get a buck ... it’s how long you’ll hold out before shooting.
After a couple of days we saw plenty of mature bucks, but several huge bucks that Duncan told me about were hiding out. Darkness was closing in one evening when I spied a doe and buck high in some adjacent breaks. The chase was on. The buck we targeted was wide and tall, but also sneaky. By the time I finally had an opportunity, the shot was long—more than 300 yards—so my cameraman, North American Hunter Producer Lonnie Garland, called me off.
With the buck suspicious and on the move, we were all a bit nervous where he would show up again in the morning. I used past experience and hedged a bet he’d come home. A foggy, drizzly morning greeted us, but as dawn broke I spied a big buck through my Nikon spotting scope leaving a cornfield nearly a mile away. Duncan, sitting high on a hilltop above me, was also watching the buck. We regrouped an hour later as the buck made its way toward us.
To make a long story short, we started slowly sneaking into several brushy draws and one gave up the big buck as he hounded a group of does and chased away competitive bucks. Using my “Kayser Krawl,” I slipped up on the group and was ready to shoot when the buck bolted. “What the ____?!” Apparently the buck didn’t want to be on TV. But knowing that numerous coyotes pester this deer herd daily, I barked like a coyote and the buck stopped to look long enough for me to anchor him permanently.
I was speechless as I walked up to the big dude. His frame was incredible and his age showed in the gray, Roman-nosed face. He’s my widest whitetail to date, with an inside spread that spans nearly 2 feet. You have a few more days to find a big buck at home, and then chaos will ensue in the whitetail woods as bucks hunt for every available doe in estrus. Good hunting!