Nocturnal Bucks

THE “SO-CALLED” NOCTURNAL BUCK By Peter Feduccia How many times have you heard the phrase, “He went nocturnal”? If you have been hunting deer for any length of time, you have probably heard it at least several times. The term refers to a buck, that for a variety of reasons, never moves during daylight hours at all, not even during the rut. Deer that fit into this category supposedly never leave the safety and security of their bedding areas during daylight hours–not for any reason! It doesn’t take much sense to figure out that these “nocturnal bucks” are therefore impossible to kill. OK. At the risk of being controversial, let me say that is a bunch of hog-crap. You can go to the deer bank with the fact that there isn’t a single buck alive that moves exclusively at night without any movement whatsoever during legal hunting hours. To believe that, you are limiting your potential not only as a deer hunter, but also as a successful deer hunter and that is a fact. With that said, however, there are bucks–usually mature deer–that live in heavily hunted areas and restrict their movements to the cover of darkness. Most of their daylight travel is limited to moving during the first few minutes of dawn and the last few moments at dusk. Or, at least that is what we are told to believe. Trust me, that simply is not the case. At least part of the time during daylight hours, even the most cautious buck will move about. Many other whitetail experts agree that nocturnal bucks (deer that do the majority of their movement under the cover of darkness), travel during daylight hours sometimes–making them susceptible to being taken by hunters. I’ve learned time and time again there are bucks who adapt to various degrees of nocturnal behavior. I have also seen hunters suspect that a buck has gone nocturnal when he really hasn’t. The problem with believing that bucks go totally nocturnal, is that it provides many hunters with an unconscious reason (notice I didn’t say excuse) to give up on hunting a particular buck in a given area where they have become less visible during daylight hours. This one factor is a major reason why many hunters end up not killing a buck during the season. They are convinced they have no valid chance of taking a buck that is nocturnal in his movements. They end up missing terrific hunting opportunities for all types of bucks including mature deer. My advice is to take the phrase “nocturnal buck” out of your deer hunting vocabulary or at least take it with a grain of salt! Off-Hour Movement Patterns Several years ago while in Saskatchewan, Canada, I shot a 16-point trophy whitetail buck that ended up scoring 198 5/8 Boone and Crockett (B&C) points on a hunt. I saw the buck three times during that hunt and all three times it was between 11:30 A.M. to 2:30 P.M.! Despite the fact that I was in my stand before daylight and hunted until legal light was over, I only saw the buck during off-hours instead of the prime times of dusk and dawn. On this hunt, I was using an estrus doe blat and I managed to call an estrus doe in all three times. Each time the doe came in, the buck was close behind her. It wasn’t until the final day of the hunt–three days after I had seen the buck for the second time–that I called another hot doe in. She ran across an overgrown field that was about 200 hundred yards long. As she got to my position, she passed me and went down an embankment behind me looking for the other doe. As soon as the doe was out sight, the huge buck instantly broke out of the woods. On a dead run, he chased after the doe across the open field. With a loud alarm blat, I slowed him up enough to take my shot. I shot this 6 1/2 year old, 16-point buck in the middle of the day. So much for the theory of big bucks moving only at night. Researchers have discovered that mature does and bucks have three peak times they seek water and browse. Those times are 7 A.M., 11 A.M., and 6 P.M. While they may only move short distances for short periods of time to drink and browse, during the rut (when they get dehydrated from chasing each other) they may move to water more often and end up moving for longer periods during these times as well. Deer remain bedded most of the day chewing cud. But they are instinctively motivated to stand up, stretch, and move short distances several times a day which is directly tied to their metabolism and cud-chewing habits. Being in the right spot during these movement times can pay off in big dividends. Of course, many hunters fall into the trap of hunting pressured deer at the edge of fields along a planted agricultural field or a food plot (which is always a no-no). The problem here is that it only takes a mature buck or doe one bad encounter to figure out that they can’t go to the field during light. If you want to ambush a deer in a heavily hunted area leading to a field you must plan to do so from inside the woods. Post in a position that will allow the buck to reach you before darkness falls. Move your stand further back from the field by 100 or more yards into the thickest cover available to you. Many times, this means setting up just outside of a bedding area. If it is done correctly, this can be the most lethal of all ways to take a buck that is traveling during the low light of dusk and dawn. It can also be a deadly tactic to ambush a buck that is moving only during the off-hours mentioned above. Creative Strategies for “Nocturnal” Bucks Many times the area that a buck uses is small and difficult to approach without spooking him or other deer. When this happens you may want to try a tactic that has worked for me. Enter the area in the middle of the day and set up your stand. Most times you will end up spooking the deer from their beds. Then, don’t hunt the stand for a few days. Return to the stand long before daylight when you decide to hunt it. Now, it all boils down to whether or not the buck returns and beds down in the same spot as it did before. If he does you are in the perfect setup for a shot. An alternate strategy is if he doesn’t return at the crack of dawn, hunt until you want to leave and then don’t return to the stand for at least several days. The next time you go to it, however, arrive no earlier than 9:30 A.M. Still-hunt in to the stand as quietly as you can. Then hunt it until 1:30 P.M. I’m going to bet that if you try this plan you will see a good buck moving off-hours during your post. The key factor to taking a so-called “strictly nocturnal buck” simply means pinpointing exactly where that deer is bedding and trying to call, rattle, decoy, or ambush him during off-hours. A crucial element to taking a buck like this is to not only to arrive at your stand without being detected, you must also take every precaution not to leave any evidence that you’ve penetrated his sanctuary. Before entering, clean the soles of your boots (rubber or leather) with a non-scented soap. Wear clean clothing and spray it with an odor eliminator. Take a shower with unscented hunters soap before you leave and cover your approach ever so slowly. Remember you only get one shot at fooling a mature buck in his core area. If you blow it, you better not plan on going back for at least several days or more. If he detects you the second time the hunt is over. Go look for another buck in another area. This buck will really give you nightmares now. Call or Rattle During Off-Hours Trying to kill a sly semi-nocturnal buck (that’s a more practical term) can be done but it takes a little more planning. You will have to take all the same precautions I mentioned above and then some. Now is the time to employ my favorite tactic by creating the entire illusion! If you’re hunting a buck who is moving only during the start and finishing minutes of dawn and dusk or during the off-hours, he obviously isn’t going to come trotting out of his bedding area with his guard down unless you make him do so! So how do you make a daylight shy buck leave his bedding area? Create the illusion–that’s how. Often that means using a decoy tail, rattling antlers, or a variety of deer calls other than a grunt tube (if you have any of my other books you can read the detailed chapters on using deer calls or you can order my deer calling DVD Tactics for Talking to Deer–How to Effectively Use Grunt, Blat, Bleat, and Snort Calls here on my web site). As I mentioned, don’t start by using a grunt call. Begin with a soft, guttural doe estrus blat. Make the call from several different directions. If you don’t get a response, then add a soft grunt vocalization (never make an aggressive loud grunt in this situation). You can also make a mock rub or scrape near the bedding area. Sometimes a buck will be lured out simply by the sounds of rustling leaves or a visual sighting of a fresh rub in his bedding area. To create the entire illusion here, use appropriate scents as well. But regardless of whether you choose to use rattling antlers, grunt calls, bleat calls, or any combination thereof, your basic strategy for attempting to call in a nocturnal buck should remain the same. Always use extreme care when approaching your stand. Take every possible preventative measure to avoid spooking other deer. Also, avoid making any unnatural noises like clinking metal on metal, or coughing, talking on your walkie-talkie, etc. That last one should have been a no-brainer–yes? Before making any deer vocalizations, let things settle down for awhile so the natural behavior of squirrels and other wildlife has returned to normal. When you are dealing with a mature buck, it is wise never to over-call. When you’re trying to call in a semi-nocturnal buck, you can bet your deer stand you will definitely lose him if you over-call to him. If there’s one place where calling, rattling, or decoying too frequently can be disadvantageous to your chances for success, doing it near a bedding area is the place! If a buck is in the mood to come in, he’ll respond to your first good effort or he’ll ignore it. You should also remember that you’re dealing with a buck that has inherited the “nervous wreck gene.” That is probably why he is mostly nocturnal to begin with. Anything you do to make him even more spooky than normal and will cause him to leave the bedding area post haste. These types of bucks are inclined to move around during daylight but they do so very cautiously. But once these deer sense the slightest bit of human pressure, their behavior quickly changes. Lastly, there is always a chance that a buck you think has gone into a strict nocturnal movement pattern actually really hasn’t. I promise you this happens more often than most hunters care to believe. Misinformation regarding nocturnal bucks and their bedding areas often the results in not filling your buck tag for the season. Selecting a certain buck and ending up killing it whether he’s nocturnal or not can prove to be a tough ordeal. I can promise you this, if you are hunting in an area where the deer is not bedding it may prove to be impossible!