Time is running out to bag a buck (2024)

This is a do-or-die weekend for deer hunters who have yet to fill their buck or deer management permit tags. The regular Southern Zone gun season ends at sundown on Sunday and that doesn’t give deerless hunters much time to score. The skillful and lucky hunters already have their deer in the freezer, while many — including yours truly — are still in the hunt.

I remember ribbing a few guys that killed their deer on opening day, saying that the fun was just beginning and because they already filled their tag, they’re going to miss out on some of the most enjoyable days in the woods. Indeed, sitting in the deer woods at the crack of dawn watching the forest come to life isn’t a bad way to start the day. But I don’t care how much you love hunting whitetails, those 4 a.m. wakeup calls catch up to you after awhile and it doesn’t take long before you begin to envy those hunters who connected early. Now that were nearing the end of the trail, the odds of bringing home the bacon are not good.

Back on opening day the odds against a hunter killing a buck were about 10-to-1. By the first weekend it jumped to 15-to-1. From then on, the odds soared because 75 percent of the bucks taken are taken during the first two days of the season and on the first weekend. There was a good mob of hunters out this past weekend, and a few more bucks were harvested.

So now that were at the end of the line, what’s left?

What’s left are the lucky deer and the smart deer.

Of the lucky deer, those are the yearling bucks with 3- or 4-inch antlers that are hardly noticeable under those big radar ears. Then there are the spikes, fork-horns and four-pointers lucky enough to be bred in antler restriction units where they are off-limits to hunters because of the three-point-on-one-side rule.

The smart ones are the bucks that have been shot at a few times or spooked by all the gun shots and commotion in the woods and discovered they had a better chance at surviving if they got as far away as possible. They’ve learned the art of concealment and make no bones about high-tailing it when they spot anything foreign to their bailiwick.

These are the crafty old geezers around 3 and 4 years old who are quite capable of side-stepping an army of stumble-footed hunters, and right now they’re holding up in areas that hunters don’t normally get into.

The big bucks learn soon that the most remote areas are the safest, so they hang out in the thickest mangles of jungles and brush you can imagine. Even if a hunter could manage to navigate through the area, they’d never do it without alerting the resident honcho whitetail.

The way the game people figure it, about 40 percent of the bucks are taken during the first couple of days of the season and by the end of the first week about 75 percent are converted into steaks and chops. By now that figure is about 80 percent, so your chance of seeing a legal buck on the hoof isn’t good.

Of course, if you have a deer management permit that hasn’t been filled, you just up those odds a little. I say a little, because even the gals aren’t as reckless as they were a few weeks ago. The does are still cautious when it comes to crossing paths with a hunter, so don’t expect them to snuggle up to you.

As for bucks, there have been more big-rack deer taken during the past two years than there have in the previous five, and it has little to do with antler restriction as much as it does about the dwindling number of big-game hunters. But you’ll never get a so-called “trophy hunter” to concede to that. Nor will you get them to admit that shooting only mature bucks is not good for the herd in as much as you are removing the best genes from the pool.

The DEC knows that, as did wildlife biologist Gary Alt when he championed antler restriction in Pennsylvania 14 years ago. For 22 years, Alt was a black bear biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, but in 1999 the commission appointed him to head a group charged with turning around the state’s unbalanced deer population and decaying habitat. He chose AR, despite opposition from his own team.

The way I see it, antler restriction zealots don’t want to hunt for a trophy buck, they want to be surrounded with mature bucks much the same way they see on TV outdoor shows — most of which are filmed on private ranches. Why should they hunt high and hard to earn a trophy buck when they can sit in a treestand or camouflaged ground blind and have the trophies come to them?

Then they have the chutzpah to go around bragging about it.

Most deer hunters purchase a license because they want to shoot a deer. If they wanted to shoot one with a trophy rack, that should be their choice, not someone else’s.

The majority of licensed deer hunters can’t shoot a small buck because the minority wants to kill big bucks. That sounds a lot like the NY SAFE Act, which basically is telling the majority of gunowners who own a semi-automatic rifle with clips that hold 10 or more rounds they can’t own them because the anti-gun minority doesn’t want them to.

Give me a break.

It’s the same reason big-time bass fishing tournaments have been avoiding the Hudson River for the past six years. As soon as the DEC restricted the length to 15 inches, out-of state anglers stop coming. By restricting the size of the antlers, hunters — especially non-resident hunters — are going to stop purchasing a license.

I know of two New Jersey hunters who didn’t purchase a license this year, even though they own property in Wildlife Management Unit 4P.

“Why should I sit in the woods and hope I see a legal buck to shoot? I don’t care if the deer has two, four or 10 points on its head, I hunt for the meat and since I didn’t get a doe permit, why waste my time and money? Besides the way the license fee is set up, I would have to pay an additional fee to shoot a bear,” one of the hunters told me.

A non-resident big-game (deer only) license is $140. A non-resident bear tag is $50.

It’s no secret that 3 1/2- and 4 1/2-year-old bucks are genetically superior, so how it is more beneficial to cull the bucks with the biggest racks and let the smaller spikes and four-pointers live?

In any event, should you happen to nail one with a trophy rack between now and Sunday, or during the late bowhunting or muzzleloading season which runs from Monday through Dec. 17, be sure to have it scored by a New York State Big Buck Club official scorer.

That goes for black bear as well. As of Nov. 25, gun hunters have taken five bruins out of Columbia County, 33 from Delaware County, 27 from Greene County and 40 from Ulster County. The total bear kill for those same counties to date are: seven, 74, 43 and 62, respectively.

Of course, you’d be hard pressed to shoot a bear the size of the 604-pound bruin Paulo Neves, of Swan Lake, arrowed on Nov. 11. The monster was taken in the Bethel area of Sullivan County. But even if the bear or buck isn’t large enough to surpass the state record, it could score high enough to earn you a spot in the Big Buck Record Book (www.nysbigbuckclub.com/record-books.html). Updated every two years, the book publishes the scores of deer and bear taken by gun, bow and muzzleloader. There is even a section that categorizes the county of kill, and another devoted to sheds. There is also information on the club itself, along with scoring instructions and a county-by-county list of official scorers.

Dropping anchor ’til next time.

To contact Dick Nelson email: dncgmedia@aol.com.

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Time is running out to bag a buck (2024)


What is the best time of day to shoot a buck? ›

Conventional hunting wisdom says early morning & late afternoon are the best times to hunt whitetails, but the rut can make midday hunts promising though.

What time are deer the most active? ›

Time of Day: As deer are most active at dawn and dusk, they are typically seen along roads during the early morning and late evening—the same times most people are commuting to and from work.

What does it mean when a deer approaches you? ›

Deer may show up when you want to give and receive unconditional love or when you want to stop being so hard on yourself or others, she adds. Ultimately, deer represent gentleness and heart intelligence. So deer may present themselves to you if you've been hurt and your heart needs tending.

What is the most likely time to shoot a deer? ›

Deer are crepuscular, which is a fancy way of saying they are most active during those twilight hours of dawn and dusk, which is when most deer hunters, including myself, are out trying to bag a deer. We do this because it's the time of day when the odds are most in our favor.

What temperature do deer move the most? ›

And while I've killed a couple whopper bucks during blistering cold days (below zero), anything below about 10° to 15° F and movement starts to decline. Precipitation, wind speed and other secondary conditions also have an influence on deer movement. If it's raining heavy, where do you want to be?

What time are most big bucks killed during rut? ›

That means don't be scared to hang a stand in a buck's core area or even to hunt when the wind isn't perfect during the rut. It also clearly suggests that hunters should get into the woods early—i.e., before dawn—and stay at least until 11:00 a.m. for their best chance of killing a mature buck during the rut.

How long to sit in a deer stand in the morning? ›

During all times but the rut, I like to plan for a solid, 3 hour sit.

Do deer move at 2pm? ›

Most hunters concentrate upon these two times that have been etched into our subconscious. But when excessive hunting pressure and rut intensity impacts deer movements, bucks will surprisingly remain active from late morning through early afternoon (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.).

How long after sunrise do deer move? ›

Deer Move Best 2 Hours After Daylight, and This Study Proves It - Realtree Camo.

How do you tell if a deer is near by? ›

In the woods, detecting the high-frequency sounds of deer movement can be critical. From hearing a doe and fawn quietly walking behind your stand, to detecting the sound of a buck trotting during the rut, knowing that deer is there or coming, can have the hunter prepared and better positioned for a shot.

What does it mean when a deer stares at you and wags its tail? ›

It means the deer is at ease and hasn't detected your presence. When hunting a deer that's wagging its tail, you have time to set up a good shot as long as you don't startle it. A deer wagging its tail will allow its tail to hang as it swings it back and forth. A raised and wagging tail is not a good sign.

What does it mean when a deer nods its head at you? ›

When deer detect movement, they often bob their head up and down or side to side for a better look. Deer have a 300-degree field of view, but lack depth perception. Bobbing their head while staring at potential threats gives them multiple angles for identifying the risk.

Where to never shoot a deer? ›

Where Not to Shoot a Deer
  • The High Chest.
  • The Paunch.
  • The Shoulder.
  • The Ham.
  • The Liver.
Dec 20, 2022

What distance are most deer killed at? ›

Field & Stream tells us that the average shot distance for deer hunting is about 100 yards or less. Still, sometimes, you will want to take a shot at a long range, such as 300 or 400 yards. When Field & Stream experimented with distances, they found that they were threats to deer at distances up to 300 yards.

Should I shoot a doe or wait for a buck? ›

The Science of Shooting Does

Taking does controls impact on habitat more so than taking bucks because each doe killed also eliminates the potential to produce future deer. Conversely, taking a buck eliminates only that deer and not necessarily potential offspring because other bucks will breed in its place.

Is it better to hunt bucks in the morning or evening? ›

Evenings provide more predictability because of the food factor. Even when the rut is rocking hot and heavy, deer still have to eat. Food sources are the go-to location for evening hunts. They attract does, and those does attract bucks.

Is it better to hunt deer in the morning or afternoon? ›

Deer are habitual animals, though, and unless something like the rut or other pressures change things, they will maintain a rhythmic feeding schedule that includes feeding during the day, in the afternoon, and at night. The best time to hunt deer around their feeding schedule is one hour before dark.

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