10 REASONS STUBBORN GOBBLERS WON’T COME

by Steve Sorensen

The mental image turkey hunters have at daybreak is almost always the same. The way it plays out is almost always different.

At the start of every hunt, the hunter’s mind pushes the play button on a mental videotape, and his mind’s eye and ear watch the drama as he expects it to happen. The big bird gobbles incessantly on the limb. His broad wings pound the air as he drops to the ground. The hunter makes his best effort to sound like a pretty little hen, the big bird hammers out more gobbles, and struts toward the hunter. When he closes to about 30 yards, and stretches his neck hoping to see that inviting hen, a swarm of shot penetrates his head.

More often than not that mental videotape breaks, and the gobbler lives another day. And another. And another. That’s because gobblers are stubborn. You wonder why you waste your time hunting them. And then one day the magic happens. Maybe you don’t even know why, but it happens. You are at your wits’ end when the gobbler surrenders and marches to his end.

Why didn’t he come all those other days? What made him “hang up,” and give you so much frustration? You threw every call you could at him, and he wouldn’t budge. Why didn’t he come all those other days, and why did he finally come? What were you doing wrong, that you finally did right?

1-Seven-DayGobbler

The author worked this gobbler every way possible, but he was always with hens and a couple of other gobblers. One day, when he was all alone, he came to the call. (Steve Sorensen photo)

That’s indeed one of the mysteries of turkey hunting. Although we know what we’re doing, sometimes we lose confidence. We give it our best shot, but that crazy gobbler doesn’t seem to understand how the game is supposed to be played.
I’ve compiled a list of 10 reasons why gobblers don’t come to the sweetest calls we make, at the best time, from the best set-up. We can categorize the first four as conventional wisdom. The next six happen just as often, but may not be the first reasons we think of.

1. The first reason gobblers don’t come, and often the only reason, is that we’re trying to reverse what is normal. In the human world, men chase women. (That seems normal for us, though sometimes women do chase men.) In the turkey world, the natural order is switched. It’s normal for the hen to go the gobbler, and we forget that we’re trying to reverse that. If she doesn’t come, she’s the one not playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played, and he simply stays put.

2. Turkeys are wired to be nervous creatures. They’re not very trusting, and when they have a bad experience they may not respond well to your calls. Perhaps he has been called to before from the spot you’re calling from. Maybe he got stung by a load of Number 6 shot — an experience that was a little rough on him. He might do that again, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t.

3. Maybe some obstruction is in his way — he doesn’t want to cross a ravine, or a fenceline, or a logging road. Or maybe he doesn’t want to come downhill. My thought on that is that these situations pose threats for turkeys. A predator can lie in wait at a ravine, or a fenceline, or along a logging road. And when going downhill, a gobbler’s easiest escape route is a risky one. His best defense is flight, and he may fly right into a predator if he’s headed downhill when he goes airborne. His avoidance of those situations is bred into him.

4. Can you see him? If you can’t, maybe he has hens with him. He’s not going to leave a sure thing for a hen he can’t even see — think “bird in the hand” literally. That’s why it’s sometimes better to call to the hen, to get into her head and make her think you’re a threat. If you get her to come, most likely he will follow (although that’s easier said than done).

5. Most gobblers are not the dominant bird in the flock, so we’re usually calling to a sub-dominant tom. By the time turkey season rolls around these birds have had some good times and some bad times. Some of those sub-dominant birds have been beaten up by the boss. They act like the junior high kid who enters the lunch room, checks out where the bully is, and stays as far away as he can.

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This gobbler was stubborn for several days, but when I approached him at a different time, and from a different place, calling him in was as easy as falling off a log (Steve Sorensen photo)

6. Turkeys often prefer certain spots where they can see and be seen, hear and be heard. Those are the places where a gobbler prefers to meet hens. He expects any hen calling to him to meet him there, so he’s wondering why you don’t come to him. In fact, I’ve seen hens and gobblers meet up in these preferred spots, and neither of them ever made a sound.

7. Don’t forget that turkeys hear a lot better than we do, so maybe he hears a hen you don’t hear. Remember, he’s only two, three, or four years old. His hearing is pristine. He hasn’t damaged his hearing by riding a motorcycle, working in a machine shop, firing up a chain saw, or sighting in a deer rifle. We’ve lost some of our hearing. He hasn’t, and he may hear a hen you don’t hear. He’s just waiting for her to show up.

8. Like people, turkeys have personalities. (Or gobbler-alities. Turkey hunters spend their lifetimes learning to psychoanalyze gobbler-alities, and only a few earn a PhD equivalent.) Some personality traits are easy to explain, and some aren’t. Maybe the turkey you’re calling to is the guy who is all talk and no action, the guy with the big mouth who never follows through.

9. We tend to think that when turkey season starts the breeding begins and gobblers are just as excited as we are. But most gobblers have spent weeks in the company of hens. Maybe the bird you’re working is a little tired of the action. (Yes, hard to believe, but true.) Gobblers spend most of the year in the company of other gobblers, and by the time turkey season begins some gobblers are starting to trend that way. They may visit hens only one day out of three or four.

10. Calling turkeys is always a balancing act. Some turkeys like aggressive sounds, some like quiet calls, some respond well to lots of calling, some to very little calling. The reason he doesn’t come might be no more complicated than he doesn’t like the way you to talk to him. If you fail today, try something different tomorrow.

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After another hunter gave up on this gobbler, the author got permission to hunt it, went in and closed the deal. (Steve Sorensen photo)

The good news is the turkey woods has lots of tomorrows. When a gobbler won’t close the distance to your calling, you can try again tomorrow. So if he talks a good talk but won’t walk your way, have hope. You know where he is, and you can try again. Learn from what he taught you, set up a little differently, and sooner or later he’ll probably forget whatever reason he had for not coming to your call.
***

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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TURKEY HUNTING: HOW TO STAY OUT OF TROUBLE WITH HENS

By Steve Sorensen

If you can’t beat the hens, here are three ways to join them.

It happens every season – too many hens for the gobblers to get lonely. Hunters complain year after year that gobblers are “henned-up” and won’t respond to a call.

That can be a problem, but it doesn’t need to be. Here are three scenarios that taught me a lot about how to deal with hens when you’re trying to take a tom fresh off his roost.

Scenario One: I was reeling in a nice gobbler just after daylight. He had been roosted about 80 yards away. When he had almost halved the distance a hen dropped from a tree and landed smack in front of him. “Nuts!” I thought. But he walked right by her and continued his full strut approach. Then another hen touched down in front of him, this time at 35 yards, and he walked by her, too. At 30 yards I introduced him to a load of Number 5.

Why would he bypass two hot, flesh-and-blood hens for a bird in the bush he couldn’t see? He probably wanted to round up all the hens, even the one he couldn’t see.

gobbler-and-hen-on-ground-together

When hens and gobblers are on the ground together, the gobblers usually stay pretty tight with the girls and it’s tough to pull him away. So get his attention before he devotes himself
to her. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Scenario Two: A gobbler sounded off at 5:40 AM, about 60 yards away. I waited for him to gobble the second time and quickly answered with a couple of quiet tree yelps. He gobbled right back and flew down. Then I heard a couple of hens as I called their suitor to shotgun range. One flew down from my left, walked by me at about 20 yards, and strolled into the field on my right. Then a second hen flew down a little farther away. When she was at 30 yards the gobbler was at 45 yards and coming to my call. I worried that the hen would enter the field too quickly, and he would follow her before coming into range. So I sent a couple of clucks her way, and she stopped.

She became a live decoy, and the big boy kept coming. He fanned out, then stepped behind a tree. That second hen entered the field and I raised the gun. He came out from behind that tree to follow her, and that’s when it turned into a bad day for him.

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This gobbler was roosted near my calling position with hens nearby, so I simply became one of those nearby hens. This gobbler was one of two mature birds that flew down and landed 22 yards away. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Scenario Three: Last year I was scouting a spot with almost three girls for every boy – 11 hens and four mature gobblers. I was expecting hen problems.

I got to the woods at 5:00 on opening day, found a tree to sit by, and settled in. The birds had to be somewhere close. I peered into the treetops and could see four turkeys. Gobblers? Nuisance hens? If they were gobblers, the hens couldn’t be far away.

At 5:35 a gobble shook the treetops and a hen answered with a lurid tree yelp. Once again, it was shaping up to be a contest between real live hens and me. As soon as I heard his next gobble I answered with the exact same call the hen made. A minute went by and he gave another shout-out. I answered simultaneously with the hen. Next gobble, same thing.

I didn’t want to act too committed and make him wait for hens to arrive under his tree where he could fly down to meet them, so I didn’t answer every gobble, but my invitations were good enough to get two gobblers to investigate this hypothetical hen in the bush. They flew down from trees about 60 yards away and landed 22 yards from me. A few minutes later I zip-tied my tag to the leg of a mature gobbler.

Is it always this easy? No, especially not if a gobbler hits the ground and immediately hooks up with a hen or two. Good luck prying him away because he’ll follow the girls anywhere, even if they don’t let him breed. Calling is one way you mimic a hen, but when real hens are ready and willing, calling by itself may not be enough.

The three scenarios I’ve described have taught me a lesson about dealing with hens. Be the hen.

“Isn’t ‘being the hen’ the whole idea behind calling?” you ask. You hear about hunters calling gobblers in from 200 or even 300 yards. Yes, and I’ve done it. But don’t settle for that distance. With every step he takes, something can go wrong. And four out of five times something will go wrong. A bobcat comes between you and him. I’ve seen it happen. A silent hen intercepts him. He stops at a barrier he doesn’t want to cross, or arrives at a strutting area where he frequently gathers hens. He hangs up and you sit there frustrated.

So sounding like a hen is one way to be the hen, but it probably isn’t enough. You need to make him think you really are a hen. How do you do that?

Think about it. Calling is only the first way you mimic a hen. Position is the second. Hens might not be roosted in the same tree he is in, but they probably won’t be far away and he knows it. So, you need to get close. 80 yards. 70 yards. 60 yards. Even 50 yards or less is sometimes possible. If you can get that close to a roosted gobbler, he will think you’re a hen not just because of the sounds you’re making, but because you’re right there with the others. To him, you’re a bird in the hand.

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Calling is only one way to “be the hen.” If you set up close to the roosting gobbler you can convince him he has a friendly hen nearby, and increase your chances of tying a tag to his leg. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Getting close is not easy. Suppose the gobbler is roosting in a tree at the edge of a field you must cross, and the moon is full and bright. Good luck with that because the moon will cast a strong shadow. Or suppose the path to the spot where you’d like to set up 60 yards from him is no path at all, but is littered with sticks and limbs and there’s no way you can be silent.

I have two pieces of advice to help you overcome these issues. First, get into the woods early. If you have to wait for an hour to hear that first gobble, it’s worth it. My second bit of advice is that if you lightly snap a stick or two in the darkness, you probably don’t need to worry about it. Turkeys hear animals on the ground all night long. Deer and raccoons can make a lot of noise with their nighttime activity. Light tan coyotes and white-striped skunks are visible if a gobbler wants to pull his head from under his wing, but most times they sit on a limb relaxed and without fear, knowing they’re safe.

Back to Scenario Three. Before the game began I had slowly worked my way toward the spot where I thought the turkeys—hens and gobblers—were roosted. I broke a stick or two and moved through the ground litter lightly crinkling the dry leaves until I found a tree where I could set up. I waited and watched the treetops. I became a hen among hens, and if I played this game well a gobbler would want me just as much as he would want a real one.

And I did play it well. I sounded like a hen, I was close enough for him to expect me to be a hen, and in his walnut-sized mind, I was a hen. That’s why he was headed for the freezer.

When hens and gobblers are on the ground together, the gobblers usually stay pretty tight with the girls. Sometimes they won’t even gobble, or just give you an occasional courtesy gobble. My only solution then is to wait them out. Around mid-morning the hens will escape the gobblers to go lay an egg. That’s when the advantage turns to you. The gobbler knows where you are, and he’ll probably come looking for you.


hunter outdoor writer steve sorensenSteve Sorensen is the author of Growing Up With Guns, and The Everyday Hunter Handbook Series. He also writes an award-winning newspaper column called The Everyday Hunter®, and edits content in the Havalon Nation. He has published articles in top magazines across the USA, and won the 2015 “Pinnacle” Award for magazine writing. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, and follow him at www.EverydayHunter.com.


 

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A Doe Is A Trophy

Four Reasons Why a Doe is a Trophy
Steve Sorensen

So you got skunked this year? You didn’t even get a doe? Your buddies are posting their grip-and-grin buck photos on Facebook, and you don’t even have meat for the freezer? One of them probably even gave you the business over it! It’s embarrassing, so you don’t want to talk about deer hunting. Maybe you even disappear from social media until a month after the season closes. By then everyone forgets you feasted on tag soup.

Many years ago in my state (Pennsylvania), a hunter could take one buck on his license. To take a doe he had to apply for an antlerless tag, allocated on a county-by-county basis. If he was successful getting a buck, his antlerless tag became void. Many hunters (though they couldn’t have been more wrong) considered filling a doe tag as a sort of consolation prize.

Times have changed. The deer population exploded — in many places enough to negatively impact the habitat. In Pennsylvania deer are no longer managed by county but by Wildlife Management Unit. We can still take one buck, but deer management tags (antlerless tags) have increased and with the proper tags we can take multiple does. Deer hunting has entered a new day, but getting a doe when firearms season finally rolls around isn’t always easy.

The last time I killed a doe in the regular Pennsylvania firearms season was 2011. It’s not that I don’t try. Most years I shoot a buck, but I usually walk out of the woods at the end the season with an antlerless tag in my wallet.

Since I live a few miles from New York’s southern border, I’ve been hunting deer in the New York firearms season for more than ten years, always with an antlerless tag. I’ve shot some good bucks, but I’ve yet to harvest a New York doe.

That lack of success on does has made me think long and hard about why shooting a doe can be harder than shooting a nice buck — especially a mature doe. Here are four reasons it can be easier to get a buck than a doe. Even though, a doe lacks antlers, she can be a real trophy.

1. Young and middle-aged bucks aren’t all that smart.
Although we think of mature bucks as loners, the truth is that all deer are social animals, When a buck is part of a bachelor group through the summer and early fall, his buddies “watch his six.” A bachelor buck relies on other eyes, ears and noses in his party to watch his back and catch signs of danger. He notes the reaction of other bucks when threats are near. And when he’s alone, he needs only to look out for himself. And when the rut comes, his behavior turns risky and reckless. Even stupid.

A 2½ or 3½ year old whitetail buck is not the smartest animal in the woods. It takes him longer to earn his advanced degree in survival than it takes the doe. In fact, as a fawn he learned from his mother that someone else will watch out for him, because that’s what Mama did for him. And Mama is never stupid.

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Mama’s little ones focus on Mama, while Mama focuses on every potential danger. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

2. A mature doe is one smart deer.
Once the shooting starts, taking a mature doe isn’t easy because a mature doe is one smart deer. What do I mean by a mature doe? I won’t deny that 5½ year old buck is cagy, but that’s about how long it takes for him to become as smart as the doe that has successfully raised fawns. Motherhood makes her a quick study. For the buck, fatherhood is irrelevant to his learning curve.

Sometimes we refer to certain parents as “helicopter parents.” That’s what a doe is. Otherwise deer would die out as a species. Immediately after birthing her fawns, she must put them where coyotes and bears are unlikely to find them. She leaves them alone for periods of time so that her scent doesn’t draw predators, but she’s ready to come to their rescue if she hears any disturbance. She must look for a safe place to nurse them where danger doesn’t lurk because during their first few weeks of life predators are transitioning their own young to a diet of meat. That’s when meat-eaters are most aggressive — and fawns are most vulnerable.

3. A mother’s work is never done.
We put a lot of responsibility on bucks for carrying on the species, but the truth is that his only responsibility is to make a quick genetic contribution during a short rutting period, and then he’s finished. Her responsibility is never finished. Give your mother her due — “A mother’s work is never done” is about more than dinner prep, household chores, and bedtime stories. Give the human dad credit too — his role is also vital. In a doe’s world, “A mother’s work is never done” is about 24/7 survival of her young. The buck has become irrelevant.

As the little ones begin to be weaned, she must lead them to feeding grounds while avoiding dangers that may lie in wait. Mama with her fawns in green pastures is never totally engaged in filling her stomach. She’s also on the lookout for any threat to her precious babies.

AlwaysOnTheLookout

Does make it a habit to notice everything. They’re usually in family groups, and they watch out for each other. Notice all the girls are watching out for the little guy. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

4. Motherhood responsibility leads to greater intelligence.
By firearms season the survival of a doe’s mini-me clones has been her top priority for six months. They’ve learned the lessons of trust and obey as Mama tested every breeze, watched every movement, and heard every unexpected sound. We think of deer as curious creatures, but a mother deer has little curiosity when she has babies. Her instinct puts more weight on safety than on curiosity — when fawns are with her she doesn’t stick around to figure out what that thing is that seems out of place. Survival means vamoose — get the kids outta there!

Back when I started hunting, old-timers told me the smart old bucks let the doe go first to make sure there wasn’t any danger. It was foolish speculation based on their own machismo. They assumed bucks were wiser in the ways of the woods than does — just as they assumed they themselves were wiser in the ways of the world than the women in their own homes. Balderdash… poppycock… call it whatever you want, but it has never been true.

Being keenly aware that bucks have reasons (or shall we say, urges?) to follow does, men should know better. The truth is that those old-timers were looking at does whose nature it was to worry about safety. They were looking at bucks whose nature it was to obey their raging hormones — to follow the doe until she stopped.

This past season I shot an eight-point on New York’s opening day. On several other days I hunted does without luck. In Pennsylvania I shot an eight point at the end of the first week, and spent the second week hunting for a doe. I was not successful.

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This doe tried to outsmart the author by circling around a big pine thicket to get behind him. That probably worked for her many times, until she became the author’s trophy. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

After more than 50 years of deer hunting, I’m convinced we should never underestimate Mama. Plenty of does are smarter than the bucks your buddies are so proud of. And that’s why a doe is a trophy.
***

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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Why Doctors Who Hunt Prescribe Havalon Knives

Why Doctors Who Hunt Prescribe Havalon Knives (When it’s time for the post-mortem work…)

by Steve Sorensen

You’ve tied your tag on a deer and it’s time for field dressing. What will you use? A heavy, over sized survival knife? A cheap folder you got at the big-box store? An expensive fixed blade with Damascus steel?

If you’re a doctor or a taxidermist, I’m betting you’ll wield a surgical scalpel with skill and dexterity. To everyone else, my best advice is to follow the lead of those knife pros, and use a scalpel.

Why a scalpel makes sense.
The Havalon knife is actually a folding scalpel, and it makes sense for a number of reasons.
• First, a scalpel is the sharpest knife you’ll ever use. The medical profession can’t settle for inferior sharpness, and neither can taxidermists because time is money.
• Second, field dressing is post-mortem work, just like an autopsy. (Yes, so is taxidermy).
• Third, a surgical scalpel is inexpensive, readily available, and the right tool for gutting.
• Fourth, it’s the lightest, sharpest field dressing knife anywhere.
And you’re in luck. Havalon offers doctors, taxidermists, and you the best replaceable blade folding scalpel on the market.

TwoKnives

Pick one. Havalon offers a variety of folding knives featuring their #60A autopsy blade — it’s thicker, stronger, and does a better job than any other surgical scalpel. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

When I was a kid I saw a hunter with a giant Marine Corps fighting knife on his belt. The bottom of it was strapped, gunslinger style, to his thigh. I must have thought big game needed a big knife, or maybe I thought it looked cool, because I remember strapping my uncle’s World War 2 U.S. Navy K-Bar knife to my little prepubescent thigh. I guess I thought I was prepared for whatever cutting job (or fighting job) I’d face. My dad told me I’d never need such a big knife for hunting. Then he showed me his field dressing knife with a blade not much bigger than the blade on a Havalon knife — though the Havalon was still far into the future.

Small is beautiful.
Dad was right. All I needed was a small, lightweight knife with a razor sharp blade, but since the Havalon knife wasn’t invented yet Dad’s mission was to teach his young hunter to put a wicked-sharp edge on a knife. (I learned how, but in recent years I’ve noticed that sharpening knives is becoming a lost art — another good reason to buy a Havalon knife!)

Dad’s field dressing knife had a blade not much bigger than the Havalon surgical scalpel. Over the years, he sharpened his knife so many times he wore out the blade. As those same years rolled by I noticed hunting knives becoming smaller. A scalpel blade is the logical outcome of that downsizing trend. When it comes to field dressing knives, small is beautiful!

More benefits of the surgical scalpel.
When I first discovered the Havalon knife, I was amazed at how sharp it was, and how it made field dressing fast, easy and clean. I thought I’d be smart and clue in a couple of my doctor friends about what I had found. It didn’t occur to me that doctors who hunt already had it figured out — they were already using a scalpel as a hunting knife. Same with taxidermists.

DoctorJill

Neither medical school nor an operating room are prerequisites to using a scalpel, but whether you’re a doctor, a lawyer, an Indian chief, or an everyday hunter, your best tool for field dressing your deer is a surgical scalpel on a folding handle, and Havalon makes the best. (Jill Sorensen Motl photo.)

Scalpels come in many sizes, but the perfect size is the one the medical industry calls the autopsy blade, (#60A). If you’ve ever had surgery, and you’re reading this, that’s probably NOT the blade the doctor used on you. But there’s a good chance he did use a smaller scalpel from Havels, the parent company of Havalon Knives. That’s because Havels is the leading company in medical cutting tools.

Havels was in the perfect position to pioneer the folding surgical scalpel as a serious and effective field dressing knife. Their scalpel holds an edge (remember — surgeons depend on it), and even better, you never need to sharpen it (unlike the knife my dad wore out). When a blade gets dull, do like a doctor — just unwrap a new blade with a fresh, crazy-sharp edge and swap it out.

No stopping to sharpen. No rooting around in your pack for your second-string knife. No messing with inferior sharpness. And you’ll never need to spend the night before the deer season opener putting a last-minute edge on a knife you’ve neglected since last season.

Little knife, big value.
Because Havels blades are made in volume for the medical world they cost very little. Hunters are beneficiaries of this high-capacity manufacturing. So, when you’ve shot your deer and it’s time to do the post-mortem work, I recommend the Havalon knife, the most innovative folding knife with a super-sharp surgical scalpel.

Of course, good ideas are always copied, but no other replaceable blade knife measures up to the Havalon. No one makes a scalpel as sharp and as strong. Some offer replacement blades that are much more expensive, or are much harder to clean after the work is done.

Havalon makes several handle designs in different materials, plus some impressive two-bladed knives and a multi-tool. Whichever you choose, you’ll do your fastest, cleanest field dressing job ever, and you’ll see why Havalon knives are preferred by doctors and taxidermists.
***
1-SmarterBucks
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He’s a frequent contributor to the Havalon website, writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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The Smartest Bucks That Have Ever Lived

The Smartest Bucks That Have Ever Lived
Steve Sorensen

Twenty years ago the deer population was high, bucks were everywhere, and it wasn’t hard to get one. Most were a year and a half old, with their first set of antlers. Spikes, 3-points, occasionally a 6-point or a small 8-point. All a hunter needed to do was station himself along a trail, especially an escape route, and wait. With a little luck he’d have a buck on the ground by mid-morning.

I used to call them pinball bucks. They were confused by the influx of hunters into their world, and bounced around until a hunter’s shot connected.

Hunting is different now. Most yearling bucks are off limits in states with antler restrictions, and in other states many hunters are voluntarily passing on them. Older bucks are smarter and more challenging, and hunting them isn’t the almost sure thing that hunting yearling bucks once was.

But what is a mature buck? A yearling has reached reproductive maturity, but he’s not fully mature. He’s equivalent to a boy in his early teens. A two-and-a-half year old buck has been through one season, and is considerably better educated. He’s more like a boy in his late teens.

Some people say a two had a half year old buck is twice as hard to hunt as a one and a half year old. That seems likely, given the difference between an eighth grader and a senior in high school. The senior has coped with more challenges and has begun to learn the ways of the world.

By the time a buck is three-and-a-half years old, hunting him is a serious challenge. He is the equivalent of a man who has been in the workforce for a few years, or perhaps a military veteran. He has enough experience with human scent to know when and where danger lurks. When these older bucks are in the herd, young bucks that play follow the leader wise up quickly.

That’s not to say a three and a half year old buck has reached the pinnacle of deer intelligence. That happens at around five and a half. That’s also when his body is fully mature and his attitude is more independent of other deer. He is, in a sense, above it all. He will do what other deer don’t do, go where hunters don’t go, and stay there for the duration of the season. He’ll tend to move at night, and won’t venture in front of trail cameras as often. He’s the buck hunters think has disappeared, only to show up again the next year.

Fully mature deer are exceptional. They are trophies not just because they may have big antlers (they don’t always), but because they are very hard to find.

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The author’s best “trophy” doesn’t have the biggest antlers (a 6-point, but a big one). He was probably four and a half years old and field dressed at 190 pounds. Judging by the slack skin around his jowls, he lost a lot of weight during the rut. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

Mature deer have learned to avoid humans even when in close proximity to them. If they know they are likely to run into another hunter, they will sneak away as though they were crawling. They will run like lightning if it’s safe to run. Or they will melt away into the trees by walking quietly, slowly and softly. They are masters at knowing how to escape man’s intrusion.

In the last half of the twentieth century, whitetail deer became the driving force of the entire hunting industry. They are hunted in 44 states, and the pursuit of them has led to more products, more taxidermy, more firearms, more money spent that any other game animal. They are the most accessible big game animal in the world. Hunters have chased them from time immemorial, and very aggressively the last two hundred years. They are conservation’s chief resource.

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The experienced hunter gets a sense of satisfaction from field dressing a buck that’s three and a half years old or more. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

The instincts of fully mature whitetails have been sharply honed, making them the most adaptable, intelligent, and cagey animals out there. It’s safe to say that today we’re hunting the smartest whitetails that have ever lived.
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When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He’s a frequent contributor to the Havalon website, writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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