Spooking a buck: it’s a scenario that has probably derailed many of us on a hunting trip…
You are wandering around the woods with your guard down, perhaps returning to your camp area after an unsuccessful few hours in the treestand. Perhaps you are even ready to call it quits for the day.
Then, suddenly and completely by accident, you wander right into the bedding area of a monster buck. Before you can even react, the male deer is on his feet and bolting through the woods. He might stop for a moment to give you one appraising backwards glance, but before you can lift and aim your rifle to get a shot off, he’s long gone, sprinting away from the human who spooked him.
Game over. Or is it?
For many of us, “spooking a deer” is almost the ultimate screw up. When we alert a deer – a buck especially – to our presence, despite all of our best efforts and our carefully laid plans, it’s a major blow to our confidence and our strategic plans for a day of hunting.
After all, we are supposed to be stealthy beings, forces that can silently spring a trap for a buck and end his life from 300 yards away. Quite simply, spooking a deer can convince us that we will never see the buck in question again. He won’t let us get close enough to see him, let alone to get a shot off, ever again. He might even hightail it to a new property or adopt nocturnal activity to avoid us altogether.
Precisely how easy it will be for you to track a buck after spooking him will depend on whether or not he gets a good look at you. Sometimes, bucks can be spooked by little more than a rustle of leaves and branches, meaning that, while a buck may bolt while you are nearby, he may not actually know that a human is in the area. If he beats a slow retreat or takes several looks back, he’s probably confused and trying to figure what just happened. Kneel down and keep still or get out of sight: if the buck sees you, you will have more work cut out for you in finding him and finishing him off.
Once the deer is out of sight, there are a few things you can do. Generally, you’ll want to move out of the area where the spook took place, though if the deer showed signs that he didn’t really know what spooked him, you might be able to lure him back by making grunts or doe calls (depending on the time of the season it is).
If he caught sight of you, you’ll have to give chase, but give him a bit of a head start to try to lull him into a false sense of security. Then, try to figure out where he might go next. In most cases, he’ll head to a feeding spot or a water source once he calms down, and you might be able to catch him there if you can read his initial directional movements correctly. Alternate routes, beyond what a deer would actually feel safe traveling on, would be ideal for making your way to these areas.
The act of spooking a buck doesn’t have to put a nail in the coffin of your hopes of ever killing it. On the contrary, when a buck bolts, he doesn’t just evaporate into thin air. Just as wounded bucks can only get so far after we take a shot at them, spooked bucks can only cover so much ground within the hour or so after we saw them. This animal is not hopping on a plane or a car and leaving you in the rearview. In fact, he’s probably staying nearby, and if you exercise some coolness and cunning, you might just be able to parlay his initial escape from you into the trap that lets you end his life.