Gun World - - Hunt -

My good friend, Chad McKibben, hasn’t been hunt­ing all that long, but dur­ing his deer hunt­ing ca­reer, he’s taken some re­ally im­pres­sive deer. Part of that has to do with the area in which he lives; south­ern Ohio is big buck coun­try.

But McKibben is a stu­dent of the game, and he’s a per­fec­tion­ist. In his decade-long deer hunt­ing ca­reer, he has taken free-range wild deer in the 140-, 150-, 160- and even the 170-inch range.

Ev­ery hunter gets lucky now and then, but those like Chad who con­sis­tently take big deer have fig­ured out how to pat­tern them; and, per­haps most im­por­tantly, they adapt and per­se­vere when the go­ing gets rough.

Across much of the coun­try, this is the midst of deer sea­son, and if you haven’t taken that buck you’re af­ter, there’s still plenty of time to fill your tag.

Here are three of the top tac­tics I’ve learned from Chad and other hunters who con­sis­tently take big bucks.


Ide­ally, you’ve been scout­ing deer all sum­mer long. But if you haven’t, now’s the time to start gath­er­ing as much in­tel as you can—and as ef­fi­ciently as pos­si­ble. Most hunters un­der­stand that scout­ing is a key el­e­ment to suc­cess as a deer hunter, but find­ing tracks and rubs and see­ing deer in the field only tell part of the story. Hunters are good at gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion, but they’re not al­ways very good at or­ga­niz­ing that in­for­ma­tion.

One tac­tic I’ve seen suc­cess­ful hunters em­ploy is area map­ping. With satel­lites fill­ing the Earth’s at­mos­phere, there’s never been a bet­ter time to use tech­nol­ogy to kill a mas­sive buck.

You’ve prob­a­bly scouted your hunt­ing area, but where are you keep­ing records of what you’ve seen? If you just scratched your head, I sug­gest you take your re­con­nais­sance work to the next level. Print a satel­lite view of your hunt­ing prop­erty and be­gin adding notes. Sketch in heav­ily used trails, add thumb­tacks to ar­eas in which you’ve seen a big buck or cap­tured him on cam­era, and high­light food sources. This way, you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of what’s re­ally hap­pen­ing in your hunt­ing area, and you’ll be able to men­tally piece to­gether a pat­tern of deer move­ments. Tech­nol­ogy has changed the face of deer hunt­ing as well. Most hunters use trail cam­eras, and that’s a very good method for ob­tain­ing crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion. Re­cently, many hunters have be­gun us­ing ther­mal imag­ing cam­eras such as FLIR’s Scout TK (where le­gal) to fol­low deer move­ments at night. You’d be amazed how much valu­able in­tel a ther­mal cam­era of­fers.


Your hunt­ing area might be sev­eral hun­dred or even a thou­sand acres in size. In truth, most deer only uti­lize a por­tion of the hunt­ing area, so on a 30-acre prop­erty, you might only need to fo­cus on 10 or 15 acres of prime habi­tat.

Re­mem­ber that big bucks pri­mar­ily con­cern them­selves with three things: cover, food and wa­ter. The value of each of these de­pends upon the par­tic­u­lar area in which you are hunt­ing.

Wa­ter. For ex­am­ple, in the east­ern United States, where wa­ter is abun­dant, bucks won’t de­vi­ate from their cover-to-feed-and-back rou­tine very much, be­cause wa­ter sources are widely avail­able. In the drier por­tions of the western states, how­ever, wa­ter points are more crit­i­cal, and wa­ter re­sources play a more vi­tal role in your hunt­ing strat­egy.

Food. The same goes for food sources. In ar­eas where food is abun­dant (say, an oak for­est over­run with acorns or on the bor­der of an agri­cul­tural area), bucks are less re­stricted in their food choices and will, there­fore, uti­lize what­ever food source is clos­est to their bed­ding area. In most in­stances, pro­tec­tive cover is the most crit­i­cal habi­tat for bucks, and they’ll uti­lize pro­tected travel cor­ri­dors to reach nearby food sources.

Cover. Iden­ti­fy­ing a big white­tail’s fa­vorite bed­ding sight and the ra­di­at­ing series of trails he uses to reach food and wa­ter will help con­cen­trate your hunt­ing ef­forts and will pro­vide the best op­por­tu­nity at a big deer. Re­mem­ber, though, that bed­ding ar­eas should be left alone. Your best chance to kill a big buck is to pat­tern him and fa­mil­iar­ize your­self with his rou­tine. Traips­ing into his sanc­tu­ary of pro­tec­tive cover can ruin all that.

Does. Dur­ing the rut, a fourth thing is added to the list of items bucks are con­cerned about: does. You’ll need to fo­cus on the fe­males if you want to find a ma­ture buck. If you know where a buck is bed­ding, you can in­ter­cept him as he makes his rounds in search of re­cep­tive does. Fo­cus on habi­tat edges such as tree lines, cot­ton­wood draws and over­grown fence lines. Bucks will use habi­tat edges as they move from one area to an­other, and this is the rea­son these are the ar­eas where you most usu­ally find scrapes and rubs.

There’s a com­monly held be­lief that big bucks travel miles and miles out­side their home range in search of does. Re­search, how­ever, shows that ma­ture white­tails tend to stick close to their home turf. They might range far­ther than nor­mal, and they might cover a dozen or more miles dur­ing the course of a 24-hour pe­riod, but your best bet to kill a buck is on his home turf.


When you see a photo of a big buck in a mag­a­zine or on so­cial me­dia, you rarely hear about the long, fruit­less hours the hunter spent on stand prior to shoot­ing the an­i­mal. One thing that im­presses me about hunters who kill big deer is how much time they in­vested in the woods not killing big deer prior to pulling the trig­ger.

Don’t lose fo­cus, and don’t be afraid to change tac­tics. For ex­am­ple, McKibben hunted a very large buck he called “Gnarly” through­out the en­tire bow sea­son with­out killing it. In Jan­uary, a bit­ter po­lar vor­tex brought sub-zero tem­per­a­tures and howl­ing winds to south­ern Ohio, and McKibben rec­og­nized this as an op­por­tu­nity.

He set up over a food source and caught the buck com­ing to feed on a frigid morn­ing in Jan­uary. That’s the type of adapt­abil­ity that sets the top hunters apart and helps them con­sis­tently kill old, ma­ture white­tail deer. GW

Bucks use mul­ti­ple bed sites within their home range, and iden­ti­fy­ing these sights helps sea­soned hunters home in on deer. Find the ra­di­at­ing trails that deer use as they leave these ar­eas. Then, set up on those travel cor­ri­dors.

Un­til the last: HunterChad McKibben pur­sued this buck through the Novem­berrut with no suc­cess. How­ever, when a bit­ter po­lar vor­tex dropped tem­per­a­tures to well be­low zero, McKibben took ad­van­tage of food sources to in­ter­ceptthis deer.

Gath­er­ing in­tel isone of the keys to any suc­cess­ful deer hunt. Trailcam­eras are use­ful tools, and they of­fer 24-hoursur­veil­lance of your hunt­ing area.

Lo­cat­ing deer sign is crit­i­cal to bet­ter un­der­stand­ing your hunt­ing area—but what story do these tracks tell? Hav­ing the abil­ity to un­der­stand a deer’s nat­u­ral move­ments and how it re­lates to its en­vi­ron­ment is cru­cial for suc­cess on big bucks.

Dur­ing the rut, does are the pri­mary draw for bucks. Be­cause does have smaller home ranges, you can zero in on a herd and wait for a big buck to show. Hope­fully, he’ll do so dur­ing le­gal shoot­ing hours.

The war room: The best hunters use aerial photos to map deer move­ments. This is far more ef­fec­tive than sim­ply walk­ing the woods and try­ing to re­mem­ber where you’ve seen deer sign.

Chad McKibben with a 170-inch buck he har­vested dur­ing the rut. Photos such as this don’t tell the back­story, though: McKibben scouted this deer and spent many fruit­less hours on stand. Never los­ing fo­cus is crit­i­cal if you plan to reg­u­larly har­vest big deer.

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