Jeremy from Georgia asks,
Hi Bill, I am a young bow hunter consistently looking for new hunting ground because each property I gain access on I learn that mature bucks aren’t using those areas often. In order to make my time more efficient in looking for permission pieces, what main land features would you spend time looking for in order to find mature bucks? I hunt out of state as well, so I am looking for possible land features that transcend habit differences from state to state. Thank you for your time and all the effort you put in to help hunters gain more success!
Topic: Finding Mature Bucks:
Thanks for the support and I am excited that you are into deer hunting. We need a lot more younger hunters.
To answer your question, the very first thing you need is an area where the deer get age. In every place I have ever hunted, the number one thing that determines if there will be mature bucks on a property is hunting pressure on that property and those that surround it.
You are fighting an uphill battle if you are trying to find mature bucks in heavily hunted areas. There might be the occasional one, most bucks will get shot before they get old enough to show off their antler genetics.
There are six kinds of properties that have mature bucks on them.
First, is a property in a neighborhood where most of the landowners are not serious deer hunters. It is almost like no one really cares about the deer. Some bucks will make maturity in these areas. Example are areas that are comprised of pastureland, for example, with a few wooded draws and CRP fields. Not typical whitetail country so it doesn’t attract much attention from deer hunters. Another spot would be urban areas where the land is comprised of smaller acreages where the owners don’t hunt.
Second are properties that butt up to large off-limits areas. These could be a farm adjoining a federal wildlife refuge, for example. Or maybe adjoining a large holding owned by a single person that doesn’t allow hunting. Sometimes there are companies that have big landholdings and don’t allow hunting. Bordering those would also be good. You get the idea.
Third are farms in well-managed areas. These are hard to find because in well-managed areas people tend to look for land to buy and lease so finding access without paying money will be really tough. You might consider looking for ways to support one of the landowners by shooting does and helping around the property for limited buck hunting rights. There is some chance this can work. Otherwise, you have to go out on the fringe of the good neighborhood somewhere and see if you can find access away from the center.
Fourth are properties or public land that are very hard physically to access. By doing the work, you can get away from other hunters and that is where you will find older bucks. This is not as common on private land, but should be an option in some public areas.
Fifth, there are states and provinces where hunting pressure is low overall. There are some in the Midwest (Iowa is sort of in that category, as is Kansas, the Dakotas too, for that matter), but in general you will have to go west to states like Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, etc. to get away from hunting pressure. Eastern Washington is also a sleeper.
In most cases, you will be hunting public land in these places, but with some scouting you can find areas that adjoin large ranches that will be really good.
Sixth, you can sometimes find small public land (or even private land) options that border good managed properties. I have seen this throughout the Midwest and this probably exists in the east too. These small public areas get overlooked by other hunters because of their size, but the deer will travel through them, especially during the rut.
As far as terrain or other features, those are very much secondary to just finding areas where the bucks can grow old due to limited or controlled pressure. That’s the way I would look at the quest you are on.
Just keep realistic expectations. Don’t compare your success to hunters who have access to great properties. That will ruin the sport for you. Once you settle on a spot, try to hunt anything that is at least a year older than what most people in that area are shooting. That will give you a realistic chance for success and keep the sport fun. Good luck. (12/11/21)