IT SEEMED MORE like an erup­tion of dried brush and leaves than the classic flight path of a flee­ing buck. I’d blown it big time, and by the time I’d re­gained my wits, the big 8-point had jumped a creek and was zigzag­ging his way up a wooded hill­side be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing into a thick stand of hem­locks. The un­mis­tak­able noise of his wide rack snap­ping dead branches sud­denly stopped, how­ever, as if the buck had ei­ther bro­ken into an open­ing or had stopped dead. But I knew that there were no open­ings.

I im­me­di­ately dropped to my knees and slowly brought my binoc­u­lar up to my face. The buck had in­deed stopped be­hind a fallen tree and was star­ing at his back­track. He re­mained still as a statue for sev­eral min­utes, then looked left to right mo­men­tar­ily, giv­ing me just enough time to put a .30/06 round through his chest.

What I learned that morn­ing con­vinced me that spook­ing a buck does not nec­es­sar­ily mean game over. In fact, in some cases it means the game has re­ally only just be­gun. You can pull out all the stops. Be­sides, what have you got to lose?


Bucks are fairly pre­dictable in late sum­mer and early au­tumn. Spook a buck early in the sea­son, how­ever, and you risk pushing him onto a neigh­bor­ing farm for the rest of the sea­son or caus­ing him to go noc­tur­nal. So what should you do?

Be­gin by care­fully read­ing his body lan­guage. If he makes a few short bounds only to stop within sight be­hind a blow­down, he prob­a­bly does not know ex­actly what scared him. Drop to your knees and wait him out. You could get a sec­ond chance.

If the buck seems quite ner­vous and high-steps away with his tail erect, try to make him think that you’re a fawn. In­stinct tells bucks that fawns can be ram­bunc­tious. Don’t move a mus­cle, but bleat at him a few times to calm him down.

In those cases where the buck bolts as if his life is in mor­tal dan­ger, the jig may be up. Fol­low him with your eyes and ears for as long as pos­si­ble to learn his es­cape route. File it away for fu­ture ref­er­ence.

If you jump a buck while get­ting to your tree­stand or ground blind be­fore first light, ad­just your lo­ca­tion. Move your stand closer to his sus­pected bed­ding site or to a more pro­tected feed­ing area, such as an over­grown orchard or a small oak grove.


As the rut is about to break loose, the risks and re­wards of spook­ing a buck—or mul­ti­ple bucks— climbs. There have been many oc­ca­sions when I’ve found my­self amid a pack of bucks in hot pur­suit of a sin­gle doe near­ing es­trus. If you mess up, don’t de­spair. The abil­ity to re­gain con­tact with the buck has ac­tu­ally never been bet­ter.

A rut­ting buck that is scared off an es­trous doe will be tena­cious about pick­ing up her scent up again. He’s likely to circle about, pe­ri­od­i­cally drop­ping his nose to the ground to catch her trail.

Hang tight for 30 min­utes or so to let things set­tle down be­fore mak­ing a move, whether you de­cide to head off in the di­rec­tion he fled or circle around him.

Give the buck what he is look­ing for. Try some vo­cal­iza­tions such as an es­trous doe bleat, or a series of es­trous bleats fol­lowed by a series of mod­er­ately toned tend­ing buck grunts. He will hope­fully in­ter­pret your ren­di­tions as that of a doe be­ing se­ri­ously courted by an­other buck. Stomp the ground and shake some brush or even snap a nearby dead branch to add re­al­ism to the ruse. Light antler rat­tling can also work

Break out the scents. At­tach an es­trous-scented drag rag to your boots and keep a can of aerosol scent in your pocket. As you move along, oc­ca­sion­ally spray the es­trous scent, keep­ing a care­ful eye down­wind as well as ahead of you.


When the rut is at its peak, it’s com­mon to jump a buck that is bed­ded with an es­trous doe. Here’s when tak­ing a tip from the fall turkey hunt­ing hand­book can pay div­i­dends. If it’s pos­si­ble to some­how in­flu­ence the es­cape route of the run­ning deer, try to split them off in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. I’m not ad­vo­cat­ing a hard chase through the woods by any means, but some­times a few quick steps one way or the other can help bust the deer. Re­sist your im­pulse to give chase.

Stay put be­hind a blow­down that af­fords a good 360-de­gree view. The buck will leave the im­me­di­ate area for 10 to 30 min­utes, but he will even­tu­ally re­turn to where he last saw the doe. Wait in am­bush down­wind from where you last saw her. Your chances of get­ting a shot at that buck are ac­tu­ally quite good.

If you’ve got a por­ta­ble doe sil­hou­ette, use it. A re­turn­ing buck will be ex­pect­ing to see a doe.

Oc­ca­sional es­trous doe bleats work great, but don’t overdo the call­ing.

A spooked buck races across an open weed field.

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