Ever notice how the same guys or gals seem to kill big bucks every year? What's their secret?
For most super successful whitetail hunters, it is a year-round commitment to scouting, land and herd management, and staying prepared to make the most of those all too rare opportunities to kill big bucks.
Here's a few ways you can tip the odds in your favor for next hunting season. Who knows? They might help you get through your late winter doldrums.
1. Post-season scouting
Scout now to kill big bucks later. The biggest advantage of scouting in the post-season is that you don't have to worry about spooking the deer you'll be hunting next fall. This allows you the freedom to locate and move through bedding areas, and pick apart rut sign from the last breeding season.
You may be asking why you should spend time assessing signs left by a buck that may already be dead. The answer is simple. Whatever factors attracted that buck to the area (i.e. cover, food, does) will typically remain unchanged from year to year. Even if the buck that left the sign is hanging on someone's wall, these factors should attract another mature buck to the area next fall.
Don't rely on your photographic memory to document your post season scouting finds. Take a notebook, a GPS unit, or make notes on your smartphone to pinpoint locations next hunting season.
2. Hunt shed antlers
Hunting shed antlers can be tedious and time consuming, but knowing that a bruiser made it through the season in your hunting area can give you the persistence that's often required to kill big bucks. It's also fun to gaze at your collection of sheds and daydream about what the bucks that left them will turn into next year.
Finding shed antlers can clue you into a buck's favorite hidey-hole and give you a crack at him the following season.
3. Find new hunting ground
The most important element in killing big bucks is their presence in your hunting area. Sure, the rut makes some bucks do crazy things, but for the most part, you'll never kill a buck that's not there. If your current hunting location doesn't hold the quality of bucks you are looking to kill, don't mope, do something about it.
Finding new hunting ground could mean heading to a tucked away corner of public land, leasing a new property, or getting landowner permission. However you gain access, doing it now gives you a head start to figuring out the lay of the land and the location of important elements like food, water, and bedding cover.
4. Hang stands and trim shooting lanes
Ever hang a stand and trim some conservative shooting lanes in August only to find that those "conservative lanes" are gaping holes when the leaves drop? Yeah, me too. The solution to this classic conundrum is to cut shooting lanes now.
Cutting your shooting lanes now also gives the deer time to get used to them and keeps you from leaving a bunch of human scent near your stand as hunting season approaches. The woods look pretty much the same now as they will in November when the bucks get crazy, so cut your lanes and get a head start on next season.
5. Make habitat improvements
Late winter is the perfect time to improve your whitetail habitat. Create bedding areas through hinge cutting, revitalize a fallow field with a controlled burn, frost seed some clover over your worn out food plot, or establish trails to your treestands for quiet entries and exits. Making these improvements now will help you next fall.
6. Establish a practice regimen
Whether you hunt with a bow, rifle, or shotgun, your ability to kill big bucks is directly tied to your shooting ability. Archers should set up a backyard practice range or join a club to shoot 3D targets, while gun hunters should make weekly or monthly trips to the range and practice from hunting positions.
Practice at ranges longer than those you expect to encounter in the field and when a buck steps into your shooting lane, you'll be ready to close the deal.
Everybody wants to kill big bucks, but it's preparation and planning that separate those who do it regularly from the rest of the crowd. Apply these tips and you could join the ranks of the consistently successful.