When You Surprise a Buck

By Bill Vaznis

Of all the questions you should ask yourself when you jump a buck, what’s the most important?

Sooner or later, it happens to every deer hunter. You jump a good buck from his daytime lair, and before you can react he disappears in a shower of dead leaves or a spray of snow. You’re so caught off-guard by the explosion that you fail to shoulder your rifle, much less line him up in your sights!


Yearling bucks are more apt to run a great distance when spooked. Those that stop and hide however are more apt to survive
the gun season.

Once the buck is gone and you’re calmed down, you face a dilemma: Should you go after him right away, or wait a bit before picking up his trail?

To answer that question, consider a number of factors. After all, it is not every day you’re a step or two away from filling a buck tag, and you certainly do not want to blow it now!

Ask yourself these questions:

1. The first question to ask yourself is just how badly was the buck spooked? Did he snort and then hightail it out at break-neck speed? Or did he lope away, head low and tail tucked between his legs, leaving you to stare at his last known position in the hopes he might have stopped close by?

2. Your next consideration is the time of day. Early morning gives you plenty of time to go after the buck, but if it is late afternoon the approaching darkness could soon curtail your legal time afield. Just how much time do you think you will need? Thirty minutes? An hour?

3. Similarly, is this the last day of your hunt or do you have several more days to be afield? You could decide to pass on this buck and go look for another one if you are not pressed for time.

4. Will dry leaves or crunchy snow make a quiet stalk difficult? Or will fresh snow on the ground let you quietly follow his trail, and maybe even see him silhouetted against that snow and looking back at you?

5. Another concern is how many hunters share the woods with you. Is there a lot of hunting pressure, increasing the likelihood the buck will bump into another deer hunter if you jump him again? Or do you have the woods all to yourself, allowing you to pursue the buck one-on-one and on your own terms?

6. Also consider where you are hunting. Are you hunting a small parcel of land? Is it likely the buck made good his escape by crossing onto posted property? Or are you in a wilderness setting where the buck could lead you into unfamiliar terrain, and if so do you have the woodsmanship to go in after him alone? How do you plan on getting your buck back to camp if you are successful?

7. These are all valid questions you must ask yourself, but the most important factor on whether you should go right after the buck is the age of the buck. That’s right. Was he a mature buck, an animal 2½, 3½ or more years of age, or was he merely a yearling buck, this being his first season with a hard rack? Let me explain why this is so important.


Mature bucks often do not run when jumped, and if you wait a bit before giving chase you might just get a second chance at him.

A Mature Buck Behaves Differently

It makes little difference if you are buck hunting in a heavily hunted area, or the vast north woods. Mature bucks when surprised will skedaddle out of immediate danger, but they will not run far. They have long learned that running pell-mell through the forest only increases their chances of running head-on into danger.

A mature big-antlered buck does not want to expose himself to peril any more than he has to. So, when spooked he will soon stop in thick cover to see if you are in hot pursuit. He will often stand still ten or fifteen minutes to be sure he is safe, and then bed down nearby where he can watch his back trail.

On the other hand a yearling buck may run off an additional hundred yards or so, stop to briefly check his back trail, and then hightail it again to parts unknown. Eventually he will bed down – if another hunter does not shoot him first.

Thus when you jump a mature buck the best course of action is to refrain from going after him immediately, for you will very likely push him out of the county. If other conditions are to your liking, wait 20 minutes or more for the buck to calm down and realize you are not hot on his heels. Then play the wind and sneak forward in the direction you last saw the buck. Indeed, he may be only a few hundred yards away bedded down in thick cover.

One last bit of advice – he will be looking for you too, so be extra vigilant in your search!


About Bill Vaznis

bill-vaznis-head-shot-120x160A lifetime of hunting and outdoor writing has put Bill’s byline in every major outdoor magazine in North America. He has published over 1,000 articles and columns plus thousands of photographs on bowhunting, big-game hunting and freshwater fishing. Today he owns and edits a rapidly growing digital magazine for bear hunters named Bear Hunters Online. He has also published three how-to hunting books: Successful Black Bear Hunting, 500 Deer Hunting Tips and Still-Hunting Trophy Whitetails. He lives on a farm in upstate New York with Grizz, a 30-pound woodchuck with a voracious appetite for the neighbors’ gardens.

For more articles by Bill Vaznis, click here.
And click here, for the best deer skinning knife.

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