25 deer-hunting lessons from 25 years of pursuing big bucks


Snort. Stomp. The flash of a white tail. The sound of hooves and snapping branches. Then silence. Did the buck of the century just noisily exit the scene? More likely it was a doe—mature whitetail males are canny, agile, silent types, and you’d be lucky to catch a glimpse of one before it vanishes. But lucky I have been.


For the past 25 years, I’ve had the privilege of hunting, photographing and observing these antlered masters of the woods and fields. Becoming so immersed in the whitetail’s world each autumn has been like attending school, with the bucks themselves as my teachers. And the mistakes I’ve made have inspired me to continually hone my skills and deepen my understanding of these rugged big-game animals. Here are the top 25 lessons I’ve learned from big bucks.

1. Their acute sense of smell is their top defence. Place two stands at opposite ends of an active zone, and move between them as needed to keep the wind in your favour. If you don’t have an alternate stand when the wind shifts against you, call it a day to avoid revealing your secret ambush position to wary bucks.

2. Bucks can sniff out a fake. Keep your decoys scent-free. Plastic is not a naturally occurring odour in the woods. Nor is plastic with additional foreign scents such as ATV exhaust or sweat from human hands. Take the time to properly air out your decoys in a natural environment.


3. The best-laid trail is scent-free. Use waterways to quietly sneak to and from your stand. Whether it’s by canoe or by keeping your boots in the shallow trickle of a stream, sneaking in by water makes for a zero-scent trail. Keep an eye out for such routes when scouting new hunting property.

Buck lure

4. Bucks are picky about scented lures (above). Not all scents work equally, so if you’re trying a new brand, always soak a couple of scent-free wicks and hang them within range of a trail camera. And be sure not to handle the wick with bare hands; clean gloves are a must. I prefer to hang wicks dripping with unproven scents a couple of weeks before the season opener, just in case the deer are unresponsive. Rarely have I seen deer turned off by a lure, but I have been surprised by how often a buck will walk within a few feet of a bait without even twitching its nose. Some products work well all season long, and some work better at specific stages of the rut. Use your trail cam to observe deer reacting to the bait, and over time you’ll discover which scents work best in your hunting area during the pre-rut, rut and post-rut periods.

5. Bucks love their scrapes. Before the first doe bombs the air currents with her estrous love potion, nothing attracts deer like the pawed up, urine-soaked patches of bare earth that territorial bucks covet and routinely refresh.Prior to the rut, hunt the hot scrapes.