Ask The Biologist

Your Buck Is Different, Mr. Gump

Your Buck Is Different, Mr. Gump

By Bob Humphrey

Why you might not be seeing 4.5-year-old deer on your trail cameras.

QUESTION: I’ve asked to several seasoned deer hunters this question, and none have been able to give much insight. I hunt in Plantersville, Ala. (20 minutes north of Selma), and run several game cameras. Over the course of two years of running cameras over feeders during the season and out of season, I have yet to capture a mature 4.5-year-old or older buck on camera. I have several good 3.5-year-olds that come religiously to the feeder, but I’m missing the older bucks.

I heard one older deer hunter’s theory that mature bucks in Alabama know to stay away from feeders/food troughs, which I could understand if you visited the site regularly to fill it. What is your opinion on why people get mature bucks on camera much more often in the Midwest than they do in the South — and yes, I’ve placed cameras over corn in the most remote parts of our 2,000-acre property.

ANSWER: Based on the wording of your question, I suspect you already know the answers but are looking for some reassurance, which I’ll gladly give.

We’ll start with numbers. Mature bucks are simply less abundant anywhere, but especially in heavily hunted areas, and where most of the hunting pressure is directed toward bucks. They tend to be more common in the Midwest because populations have better age structure. They’re also more visible because habitat concentrates them into relatively scarce pockets of thick cover. Also, Midwestern deer are bigger-bodied, so younger deer might look older to the untrained eye. And some folks cheat and call 3.5-year-old bucks mature.

Still, if you have a solid management plan that includes protecting younger bucks, and hunters are adhering to it, you should have some mature bucks present. Then the issue might be behavioral. With each successive hunting season they survive, a whitetail buck learns and adapts. That’s how they get old, and it is sometimes said when a whitetail buck reaches age 4, he becomes a completely different animal.

It’s not so much the human disturbance or odor around feeders they avoid. If it was, few or no deer would visit the feed stations. It’s more subtle. Artificial concentrations of food create unnatural concentrations of deer. While they don’t comprehend why, mature bucks tend to avoid anything unnatural or unfamiliar. That way there’s less chance of encountering danger, which could come in many forms, including encountering a bigger, badder buck.

It takes a great deal of discipline because you’re going to see fewer deer and have far fewer encounters, but if you back off the food plots and feeders and set up 100 to 200 yards downwind during the rut, you’ll have a much better chance of seeing and possibly killing a mature buck. The same is probably true even if you only want to shoot it with a camera.

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