Patterning Big Bucks on Small Parcels

By Mike Koper

food plotWith under sixty days to opening day, 3 mature does enter the fog covered field, full of whitetail mix, a food plot made up of greens, forage oats, and clover. They filed in from the West some 80 to 100 yards from my posted position. The wind is all silenced and still. The entry point to the field was from the major trail leading from the swamp to the northwest toward the field for grazing. Luckily their distance to me wasn’t a factor. After all, it’s early August and I am entrenched in my preseason scouting. This year I have stepped up the technology to include a digital video so as to capture all of the footage necessary to identify the summer patterns of the deer that I will seek in the Fall. It also allows me to have a visual of the bucks I’ve seen in the area and watch there every movement. It’s a thrill like no other to catch a glimpse of a big buck cruising the field’s edge at dusk without a care in the world, so much will be different once Fall rolls around and the 24 hour red alert radar comes on. But all is calm in the whitetail world.

My preseason scouting was coming to an end as the sun started to drift down over the tall dense evergreens that dotted the West edge of the field. Then it happened, as I watched the two does bob their heads up quickly and suddenly they were on alert… what was it. I couldn’t reveal any movement with my 10X35 binoculars or in the lens of the video camera. They settled down and returned to munching on the greens then with heads up again and all the jitters came back. Their legs prance in a high stepping fashion to clear all of the tips of the food plot foliage. I looked intently to see any movement, but none whatsoever, the light began to fade quickly. Just then, there he was coming from the East out of the chest high grass, the head of a buck peaked out with his nose to the sky. With sleek agile finesse he entered the field, the antlers were still in velvet but they were nearly full grown. The G2’s were 8 to 10 inches above the base of his antler beams. A real trophy in any book. The buck stayed on the short sloped side of the field closest to the tall grasses from which it came. With a few robust steps his body came out into full view as he worked his way in a browsing-like manner to the does in the field. He was a brute in body size, trying to get all the tender greens the plot had to offer. Broad shouldered in look, with a crown of antlers resting on top of his head, a picture of a perfect summer buck. In a matter of minutes the buck had vanished back to the exact point he entered the field from. The quirky thing was that my hunting position, which I could see all the time I filmed was located near the major trail, that being the place the does came out in single file.

I reviewed the film that night over and over, could it have been I missed a trail that emptied from the swamp into the field. I was mystified with the buck’s travel pattern. The very next day turned out to be a low level cloudy day with off and on showers. “No better time than the present” I said to myself, so I put on my knee high rubber boots and headed out to walk around the field’s edge. I searched and searched to find the trail the buck had traveled. But no luck, all I found was the tracks on the edge of the field and an approximate trail, not well exposed. This definitely was not a normal trail but a secondary trail used very infrequently and only by the buck and maybe one other deer some time ago. Small crushed grass on the fields edge that never made my fieldnotes was the tip off. Not much to go by, but as October nears the buck’s summer patterns will become somewhat altered and the trail I saw the buck use will be my point of focus to set up the tree stand and attempt to ambush this big fellow.

When finding a secondary trail, circle around the trail by twenty to thirty yards and walk into the cover, whether it be in woods or thicket cover. Look for a tree by which to post a tree stand, some ten to fifteen yards in from the edge of the field and upwind from the identified secondary trail. This is sure to be a staging area that mature bucks will make a destination before taking any convincing steps toward the open field for feeding.

Pre-season scouting with a video camera has lead me to find the unique spots of deer traffic that seem to be overlooked in places I normally would pass on under hunting conditions. One point of interest in my research is how great the deer traffic varies from the summer to late Fall and early winter. Because food in many cases is on the mind of deer, food plots offer an excellent test for observation in a way that concentrates the deer to that particular area until hunting pressures mount. When patterning these deer the daily routine is a key for both bucks and does as they go from their beds to places of food and water. Summer patterns also demonstrate that bucks are edge creatures and seldom deviate from close cover. Once mid-October arrives these bucks become highly cautious and form staging areas to wait and see, before exposing themselves to the open spaces. With or without inducement, deer especially bucks, in early October deer need to eat. The summer trails become excellent spots for an early-season ambush. Then as hunters we must switch to the less traveled secondary trails for hunting. In as so much so, I have observed were almost over night or in a day or two deer patterns change to not only focus on natural foods, but also bait piles.
And yes, even good o’le bait piles of other hunters can influence a deer’s travel pattern. But bait piles have been associated with human presence and danger. It’s what I call “DOE” or “Deer on Edge” syndrome. Deer, generally does and fawns will enter the bait areas on high alert. With this condition most mature bucks visit the piles after light has faded away.

I’ve had an instance that when another hunter had put a bait pile some 75 yards from my tree stand, where I would literally watch the deer that would dart to and from the woods thru the open field to the fence row where the bait pile was set.

This forced the deer away from my position, they would switch to being on high alert while trotting across an open field. Needless to say the six pointer I saw would move at hyper speed, eat and high tail it out of there. Unfortunately, this particular hunter wouldn’t get to see the buck, due to the fact that he arrived too late in the morning to witness the buck’s eating habits. As the sun broke over the horizon he would end up spooking the deer that ate from the bait pile. It did teach me a valuable lesson, if it happens to you, move your stand immediately at least 100 yards away. Once spooked a few times from the bait piles, their patterns adjust greatly and bait piles become less of a point of destination. Plus the deer that return to the bait piles, are usually cautious and bring their ‘A’ game nose.

My notes have indicated that during this feeding change, few bucks are repeatedly seen and only an average number of does and fawns expose themselves.

As food goes, the natural apples and greens evaporate through consumption first and the move to plots takes the place of green browsing. One method I have employed to guide deer to my location is through the use of a diamond ‘X pattern” (collapsing style)stacking of trees and brush. Each diamond pattern is smaller and smaller, by placing the smallest diamond at the end of your hunting parcel or centering it with two larger diamond “X” patterns adjacent. This type of strategic trail funneling is applicable to many of the hunting parcels found in Michigan. Most are narrow and long usually, 330’ by 1326’ in size, a standard ten acre parcel, representing a split from an original forty acre piece. At the points of the Diamond a natural funnel is created. However, trees can pose a sign of danger to deer when improperly removed. But used right and used to funnel in deer traveling, trees can be placed to lead in the deer to close range.

Patterning deer can be an effective way to increase your odds of success this season. The alternative is to be patterned by the deer and once this happens your season may be filled with watching the wind blow leafs to the ground. No matter what your method of hunting, deer are slaves to their stomachs and the pattern or traffic flow a deer makes will be greatly influenced by food.

The author offers a free buck tracking flowchart and fieldnotes pocketguide to those who request it by email at
D.O.E. TM = “ Deer on Edge”

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