Killing Mature Bucks: Do You Have What It Takes (or the Land it Takes)?

This topic is complicated in many ways, but it is very important. In my opinion it is probably the most important topic a serious buck hunter or someone who is getting serious about hunting mature bucks needs to look into. Examining this topic allows a determined hunter to decide what lengths they’re willing to go to in order to harvest a mature buck and if the sacrifice is worth the time and possibly even the money.

Time and effort will only take a hunter so far, when hunting in a location where mature bucks aren’t present. Money can take a hunter a long way towards getting a mature buck by leasing land, using an outfitter (I’m not recommending this), or actually buying land that holds mature bucks. But not everyone is willing to pay to get in front of a big buck, at least not pay serious dollars to do it. Regardless of the approach taken it always comes back to location. Big bucks are only found where bucks can live to an age of maturity 4 ½ years or older. This could be in your backyard, this could be on the local state land, this could be on the farmer’s large farm, this could be in Iowa, or this could be in Pike County Illinois. The important thing is to find the right location. Certain states or better yet certain locations allow big bucks to mature much better than others. Finding those states, counties, and even individual properties or state land lands is what it takes to get on mature bucks. If you are serious about harvesting a mature buck or multiple mature bucks commit to yourself to find a location that holds mature deer.

This entire article is inspired by Wired to Hunt. The topic is so complex and has many rabbit trails depending on what avenue is taken in an attempt to kill mature deer. This article does everything possible to at least address those rabbit trails. Here are a few important links to check out to understand background on this topic. Much thanks to Wired To Hunt and Mark Kenyon for starting this discussion:

Clearing the Air…Hunting on TV: They have access to great property or buy their way to it. That’s what it takes to be consistently successful.

It’s not all bad. Many people have issues with hunting on TV, but by turning the shows on we subject ourselves to whatever the sportsman channels display. Some of the hunters on TV work very hard and should not be discredited one bit. Some travel from outfitter to outfitter and kill deer that way, but in actuality many of the big shows name shows take place on private lands. Smaller level productions or hunters working there way up in the major productions may use outfitters to film kills. Big names may get invited to hunt at some outfitter locations due to their status or industry connections, but it appears most often these hunters will hunt their own private grounds or private grounds of their connections. Some of the shows seen on TV may be on high fenced grounds, but I’d actually like to see clearly which shows are. I think many people like to say this, but in fact many of the shows on TV are not in high fenced properties. We all know that would be a game changer and very few people truly want to hunt in those types of situations. I like many other hunters frown upon killing bucks in high fenced properties. That is taking things way to far in my opinion. But in the end it’s just my opinion.

Part of dealing with hunting on TV is that all the shows are filled with ads. This is part of the industry; it’s how virtually all of these professionals make the majority of their money. Unfortunately mature bucks don’t pay us money after we kill them. They simply provide satisfaction of successfully hunting a cunning creature. It is with this money that big name productions often purchase their own hunting grounds. If you and I earned that type of money I’m rather certain you’d buy the types of properties these hunters are buying. Bill Winke of Midwest Whitetail actually took a big risk with a loan to buy his main hunting property when he got started in the business. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case for other professional hunters as well. If you want to have a successful business you’re going to have to take risks. Mark Kenyon who inspired this article left his great job at Google to pursue his career in the outdoors industry. It’s part of the risk of trying to become a professional hunter. I’d venture to guess it’s a risk many of us are not willing to take. So while we can’t compare ourselves to the opportunities that professional hunters often have we should take time to appreciate the risk many of them took to become professionals in the industry. I can nearly guarantee you the majority of these professional hunters put a ton of effort into hunting and hunt quite often. These professionals put a ton of pressure on themselves to harvest mature bucks on a regular basis. And if they don’t hunt a crazy amount of hours, they are very smart about when and how they hunt for mature bucks. You might argue they have it easy compared to what you and I have. But while they may have better land than you and I they often spend countless more hours in the woods then the average hunter and even some of the above average hunters. Most people don’t have these times professional hunters have to spend in the woods. We have to work and that is their work. Nevertheless they took a risk to become a professional hunter and you and I mostly likely didn’t.

Focused effort and persistence over time often leads to success. Obtaining success in TV or Online hunting productions will often allow individuals to obtain sponsorships. Sponsors seek successful hunters who are also good at marketing products. Sponsorship generates money and that begins to separate the average hunter from the professional hunter. Obviously to be a professional TV hunter you have to consistently put mature bucks on the ground. It is part of the industry. Therefore TV hunters do what it takes to get this done.  And sometimes you and I aren’t happy with the methods it takes to get this done by using outfitters or high fences (again I’ve seen very few shows taking place in high fenced areas). If we don’t like certain shows or programs we don’t have to watch them and for that matter support these shows. On the other hand, if you actually believe in Drury Outdoors, The Bone Collector, Driven TV, Crush with Lee & Tiffany, or any of the other big names then you have every right to support them if you so choose. The best part of all of this is we have free will to approve or disapprove of all of these shows. In the end I think the majority of hunting shows on TV chase free range deer and even the hunters that use outfitters are not cheating (as many might frame it). Yes if a television hunter chooses to go with an outfitter they didn’t do all the work, but the outfitter did. The outfitter puts tons of blood and sweat into having a successful operation. He is trying to pay his bills just like you and I. Not to mention many outfitters are incredibly knowledgeable about deer and property management. So take notes from the outfitter in that instance and not from the professional. The professional may however have some good insights into what the outfitter is doing well. Its always important to frame the situation and figure out how and why these professionals are doing what they are doing. More often than not something might be able to be gleaned from the situation. If you feel that there is nothing can be related to your situation or at least learned then maybe it is time to stop watching that show. Unless of course all you want to see is bucks hit the ground.

Without hunting TV we wouldn’t have half of the products we find at sporting good stores. Hunting professional on TV have made product companies tons of money and they’ve made themselves a lot of money too. They do an excellent job of promoting products. No one forces any of us to buy any of these products. It’s a choice we all make. Just as we all make a choice to turn on the TV to watch these shows. I’m very thankful for all the advances in hunting equipment. Much of it is due to the money that hunting television has done to promote these products and grow the companies that provide the products. I’m sure the ads have convinced us to buy a product or two that didn’t work well. Yet that is part of being American. We are bombarded with ads all the time in every avenue of life. The smart consumer simply has to determine which products work for them. Online reviews have made this process quite a bit easier. Do I believe you need all the latest technology to get a mature buck on the ground, not at all, some of it helps and some doesn’t. In the end you’re going to need to hunt property that mature bucks are on and then you’re going to have to be cunning enough to convince the buck to come to you or you’re going to have to place a stand in the proper location to tag that animal during the early season, rut, or late-season. Shift through the information. Find out what works for you and what doesn’t. There are numerous ways to put a mature buck on the ground, but it’s rarely an easy task. Sometimes luck does turn in your favor, but more often then not skill will be required.

If any of us has the desire to come up with a show that is more realistic (of course this is relative to just about every hunter, each hunting situation is very different) then we should set out to make that show and get it out for TV or internet viewers to see. No one is stopping us from making our show, but my guess is many of us don’t have the desire to make our own show. In that case we’re left to deal with what’s already available. Hating on TV shows over and over again doesn’t do anyone a whole lot of good. Becoming a public land master like Dan Infalt and gaining notoriety for doing something many TV hunters never aspire to do and possibly couldn’t do even if they tried. Dan was recently featured in a Field and Stream magazine for his remarkable accomplishments. Dan is a professional hunter for the public land hunter, but he actually works as a machinist professionally. Dan simply doesn’t appear to want to market tons products. He wants to kill mature bucks in difficult locations and do it on a regular basis. More hunters respect this and can relate better to a guy like Dan. I’m quite thankful that Dan has made his techniques public and in fact tries to make some money from his hunting strategies and information. It’s important to see and hear of a hunter who hunts the hard way and still gets it done. It’s equally if not more important to hear of a hunter that doesn’t market products like the majority of professionals in the industry. Dan shows that it’s necessary to have a balance between hunting strategies and products used. Products are certainly a small piece of the puzzle. Dan’s website is TheHuntingBeast.

Take away whatever good you can from TV shows and forget the rest. Don’t worry too much about it in the end. You determine the outcome of your hunting season more then they ever will. If you think these shows are creating false expectations then be sure to let your friends and hunting buddies know that so they are left thinking Boone and Crockett bucks should be taken by every hunter.

What it takes to Kill Mature Deer…Can you do it?

Yes you can, but it will cost you. It will likely either cost you plenty of time and effort, or it will cost you money. The choice is yours. Regardless of the direction you take you’re still going to spend some money in the process. As stated earlier you’re also going to have to do what it takes to gain access to land that holds mature deer. This is the most important variable in the whole equation.

And for some of you, you already have the private land you’ll need to harvest mature bucks and maybe even harvest them on regular basis.

Private Land

For those who have private land or have worked to get access too private land the probability of killing a mature buck typically increases. Depending on the size of the private land it may very well be possible for a buck to mature without getting over pressured. Pressure is the enemy of a mature buck. The buck will do everything in its power to avoid pressure and human presence. Some bucks move almost exclusively at night during the hunting season simply to avoid humans. Bill Winke (mentioned earlier) believes that it is critical not to spend countless hours focused on bucks that move at night and it is important to hunt bucks that show some daytime activity. This can be very helpful when pursuing mature bucks.

People with private land pay taxes on that land and bought the land with hard earned money. Private land is a very important part of hunting. Imagine if all hunters were forced to hunt on government land. There would be no type of land management and QDM truly possible. Other then what the government chooses implanted by its own laws, regulations, and efforts to improve habitat on the governments behalf. Private land can be altered to improve chances of holding and even killing mature deer.  Private land gives land owners much more freedom to do as they please without having to worry too much about another hunting walking past their hunting location as could happen on public land. This is one of the major positives of private land.

Private land and lots of it is a great thing. Those with it should greatly appreciate the blessing they have. If a hunter obtains private land in states that often produce trophy bucks the potential for large bucks should eventually show itself if it hasn’t right away. Sometimes it takes time to let mature bucks grow in age. Managing private property to hold and possess mature deer is not an easy thing to do. With time and effort this can be done. It will be very rewarding if this is accomplished. The more acres possessed the more this is possible. Owning or having access to hunt 100 acres or more of private land is ideal. I’m well aware it is quite difficult to find this sort of acreage if you don’t own the land yourself. Farmers are the best route to get access to large tracts of land for those who don’t own land themselves. Regardless of the size of the property it is important to keep pressure and human presence at a minimum to hold mature bucks.

Don’t count yourself out of getting access to good private land. While 100 acres or more is great. Small tracts of land can be dynamite as well. What it really comes down to is whether or not a mature buck uses that piece of land. Scouting and cameras are a hunters best tools to determine if this is the case. Remember that knocking on doors and networking are going to be critical in acquiring private land if you own any land or have good hunting buddies that do.

Private land is probably the best option for someone looking to tag a trophy buck.

Public Land

This is a whole different animal. Depending on the state that you hunt, your chances at mature deer on public lands can go from good to extremely difficult. Keep in mind those who choose to hunt state land must deal with the realties of it. It’s not easy and the rules on state land make it much more difficult to hunt these grounds. The rules vary from state to state on what you can and can’t do. Probably an even bigger factor on state land is the numbers of hunters you start to have to deal with. It becomes much more difficult in states where hunter densities are high on public lands. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, in fact you could argue that killing mature bucks on state land is the ultimate accomplishment.

Dan Infalt of Wisconsin is certainly an X factor in this equation. He has proven that it is possible to kill numerous mature bucks on state land. Dan does a good job of determining what is trophy in the public area he is hunting. He then chooses to harvest the first trophy caliber buck in the public land area he is hunting. He scouts hard to make this possible and he has the technique of hunting state land down pat.

One positive of hunting state land is that hunters don’t have to worry about getting permission each and every year. These hunters also don’t have to worry about losing that land to a lease or some other reason. State land will virtually always be there and it is likely that over time there will be more of it as the government purchases more land.

Again I’ll reiterate that the state a hunter chooses to pursue public land bucks can have a big influence on the outcome of his season. Hunting states such as Kansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin should increase the odds of success for the public land hunter. This is not to say public land success can’t be had in other states. It’s simply that certain states are better than others at producing mature bucks. Wisconsin has obviously been a very good public land state for Dan Infalt.

Another benefit of state lands is that they’re often open to out of state hunters. So a Do It Yourself hunter can travel to most states and hunt state lands if he is willing to travel and able to obtain tags.

In the end scouting and working hard will be difference between success and failure when targeting mature buck on state lands. More things are out of your control on state land. Others are going to mess up your hunts, that is just part of it. Finding isolated or difficult to reach areas will often be most beneficial. The hunter that seeks to master state lands must be resilient, but success can eventually be found for those who are.

Land Leases

Hunting access is often determined by money this day in age. Leases have quickly changed the hunting landscape on prime hunting grounds. Outfitters lease numerous hunting grounds in prime hunting, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other leases to be found.

The benefits of a lease is similar to that of private land. The kicker is that land is acquired at of tiny tiny fraction of a price that it would cost to own the land yourself. Many leases will allow for land alterations such as food plots. Leases also allow a hunter to pick a prime location to hunt from. Whether that is a great hunting state or a prime county. Be sure to take ample time researching lease locations. The better the location the more likely the hunter is to have a chance at mature bucks. If possible even consider researching neighboring properties to know what type of pressure is in the immediate area.

For the serious hunter who is willing to spend some money and has the money to spend leasing can be a dynamite option. Do be prepared to be outbid on a lease or lose a lease to a higher bidder. This is probably the biggest downside of leasing. At times you are going to lose your properties.

All things considered leasing is a great option for those who have some money and don’t wish to purchase the land themselves. The same states listed above to hunt public land are equally as good of options for looking for leases. Expect to higher rates if the local hunting produces great bucks or if farm land value is very high in that area.

Land Owners or Purchasing Land

For the serious hunter with deep deep pockets purchasing property exclusively for the purposes of hunting is a fine option if hunting is truly your greatest passion. I’d suggest doing much more extensive research then if you were going to lease land. Serious consideration should be given to the distance you’d need to travel from your primary residence to access the land. The more time spent traveling the less time will be spent in the woods.

When going through this endeavor to purchase land simply for hunting be sure you’re willing to make land alterations, establish food plots and mineral sites, dig water holes, obtain equipment needed, and do the full works to the property. If you’re willing to spend this kind of money on hunting land it makes sense to put in the work to keep whitetails on your land. Furthermore consider what it takes to be an exceptional land manager. Consider what it will take to harvest mature bucks on a regular basis and seek to develop a property that will allow for that.

There is a tract of 123 acres in my town that is great hunting property. It is listed at $650,000. The land is pure swamp. It’s a dream of mine to own property like that, but I realize it will probably always be just that a dream. For the hunter that can purchase land with this value or even properties that run into millions of dollars let’s just say the possibilities are endless for making a hunting paradise.

If by some chance you come across a tract of land that possess mature whitetails and you get the land at a bargain price it may be certainly a rare find. In this case implanting all sorts of improvements to the property may not be necessary. Proper scouting, stand location, and hunting at the right time may be all it takes to pull mature bucks off your great find of a property.

Keep reminding yourself location, location, location when considering a purchase for hunting land. Whitetail properties is a fine website to consider when looking into lands that are already ready to be hunted as soon as the land is purchased.

Hunting Out of State 

This options combines many of listed avenues from above. Out of state hunting can take place on private land, public land, or even through outfitters. The choice is up to the hunter and the opportunities the hunter has. Connections are obviously vital to hunting private land out of state. Money is obviously vital to getting a lease in another state or if a hunter chooses to go with an outfitter (I simply don’t want to endorse using an outfitter while it can be a good option for some hunters). Public land offers the most flexibility for those looking to hunt out of state again the important factor is being able to obtain tags.

If you’re going to pursue out of state hunt be prepared to spend more money on tags. Expect to spend alot more money than you would pay for your in-state hunting licenses. Also take the time to research states that friendly toward out of state hunters. This is a great option for the hunter looking to tag a mature buck, but it is critical to do your research.

Outfitting

For the busy hunter will money in their pockets this is a option if you simply know you don’t have the time to put in to learn the habits of mature whitetails. The outfitter will certainly show you about what it takes to harvest mature deer. The location of the outfitter service will play a major factor on the size of whitetails you’ll have chances at.

I’m not going to endorse this option, but I completely understand the busy workingman who doesn’t have time for other options. I also understand that some people want to kill big bucks now. If this is you and outfitter may be your choice. My main reason for not endorsing outfitters is the thrill of the accomplishment starts to be diminish. Outfitters either make or break the hunt for those paying for the service. For the most part the hunter needs to show up and hunt as much as time allows. Then when the moment of truth arrives the hunter must make a good kill shot. If the hunter can do those two things the odds of success are rather high because of the work the outfitter has put in. I have a ton of respect for outfitter and even spend time reading the techniques they use. Despite this my recommendation to nearly every hunter out there, do it yourself there is much more joy in that process and it is much more challenging.

Again if this option is for you it is my hope you have success and find yourself a good outfitter. Expect to pay in the thousands of dollars.

 

Location, Location, Location and How Hard it Is to Get the Job Done

After covering nearly ever option possible to pursue trophy bucks on different types of land both private and public I believe I’ve made it clear that there are many avenues to pursue mature bucks. Yet none of these options are even close to guaranteed. Hunting mature bucks is extremely difficult. Dan Infalt and the professionals seen on TV are certainly not the average hunter. Earlier in this article I referenced a Wired to Hunt article: “4 Average Joes Killing TV Quality Bucks and How They Do It.” I’d define those guys as extreme hunters with normal day jobs that aren’t in the hunting industry. Are they experts or professionals, no they are not, but they’ve certainly put in the time to learn the craft of killing mature bucks. Some will set out on a journey to kill a mature buck and never succeed. So while I firmly believe you can kill a mature buck, I am not here to guarantee it. I want you to know it will be hard. I think those who sincerely want to kill mature bucks on a yearly basis need to be willing to put in tons of time and make extreme sacrifices. Hunting one of the most elusive animals is a great challenge for anyone to pursue. Don’t let TV fool you. You’re often only seeing the actual harvest of the buck on TV. They’re not showing the food plot and habitat manipulations that took place. They’re not showing the countless hunts that the hunters has been on stand without even taking a shot. The shows that do show you the work put in, the slow hunts, and even the failures are the shows you ought to take notice of.

Probably the most important thing to take away is this: hunting mature bucks is a tough sport that can learned effectively after countless hours of practice and hunting but you can never guarantee success even with the right location. You must work to succeed and above all you must find the right location where taking a mature buck is even possible in the first place. Trail cameras and proper scouting will eventually make it clear if an area has a mature buck worth pursuing. Bill Winke’s tip that a buck that never shows up on camera during daylight hours is going to be extremely difficult to harvest should not be forgotten. Dan Infalt will tell you that in order to harvest a buck of that nature you’re going to have to get rather close to that buck’s bedding area to take it down. Doing what Dan does is possible, but it’s going to take trail and error. You’re going to have to learn how to get close to a mature buck without spooking it. Winke’s approach is that of a property manager. Don’t spend to much time chasing bucks you can’t kill and focus on the mature bucks that are moving during daylight hours. Winke rarely pushes right into bedding areas to hunt with the purpose of trying to keep deer on his property. Mark Kenyon appears to hunt in the property manager fashion similar to that of Bill Winke. Dan Infalt on the other hand hunts highly pressured land and has mastered the technique of getting into a bucks bedroom and not letting him know he’s there. Dan strategy is great for a hunter that has countless hunting locations on public or private land. Each approach should be considered depending on where you are hunting. A safe rule of thumb regardless of where you are hunting is to consider that your first hunt in a stand will often be your best chance at killing a mature buck and always be mindful of the wind when setting yourself in your stand.

Use these tactics to increase your odds, but be prepared to fail and learn in the process. If and when you harvest a mature buck a congratulations is due for your efforts and persistence. You’ve just accomplished a task that majority of hunters will never do. So in order to harvest mature bucks be prepared to be above average. Average tactics will not get you there. Make a concerted effort to be above average. Each of the hunters mentioned in this article and the majority of TV professionals are above average I think it’s foolish to consider yourself at their caliber until you’ve harvested numerous mature bucks. Keep learning, keep growing as a hunter, and never give up if your goal to harvest a truly remarkable trophy whitetail. Hoping and dreaming of the day you harvest a trophy whitetail are incredibly powerful motivators.

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