Remembrance Day Buck

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November brings about a season of change for whitetails, as well as a chance to give thanks

On Nov. 11, 2011, I had attended the Remembrance Day ceremonies in the morning and was enjoying a late lunch amongst the veterans at my local Legion.

The whitetail rut was starting to heat up and I had been hunting a good 5×5 buck that had given me the slip several times during the archery season. But things were changing. He’d been pestering a small group of does for the last few days and, up to this point, I was unable to get a clear shot at him. However, the does were starting to show interest in the buck’s advances and I knew it wouldn’t be long before I got my chance. So, after we finished lunch, I quickly geared up and headed to the field to take advantage of the rest of the afternoon and evening hunting whitetails not far from home.

During the early stages of the rut, whitetails can cover a lot of ground in search of a hot doe and, in many cases, they can be very hard to pattern. But I was confident the 5×5 wouldn’t venture far from his does, especially if they were showing interest. Every white-tailed deer hunter knows that a buck will work a variety of scrapes and even form one or more scrape lines that he will check on a regular basis for an active doe in estrus.

Experience and time in the field has also taught us about the importance of the licking branch hanging above a buck’s scrape and how they will use them. However, over the last 20 years in the areas that I hunt whitetails, I’ve found that a buck’s scrape line is active until the first one or two does come into estrus and then a buck’s visit to his scrape line becomes less frequent and, at times, even non-existent. Instinctively, the does, even young does, are aware of the changes going on in their body and they will find and leave scent through urinating on their scent glands and at the buck’s scrapes. The buck continually checks his scrapes and once he picks up the scent of the hot doe, he puts his nose to the ground and follows the scent, leading him right to the hot doe.

Thus, the rut begins!

At this time, big mature bucks that are rarely seen will let their guard down and be seen more often. They will not stray far from a prize doe. Now that the buck has a doe in full estrus, the breeding cycle will begin, lasting anywhere from two to four days. However, over the years, I’ve also found that the first doe to come in estrus will often trigger other does within the herd to come into estrus. The herd of does could be as few as two or three does, or I’ve seen as many as 30 does running together. An abundance of hot does may be a whitetail buck’s dream come true, but this is what can throw a whitetail hunter off his or her game plan, including me in the past, and cause a whitetail tag to be hung on the Christmas tree instead of on a buck.

If you’re set up to hunt a buck’s scrape line and he’s off with a doe that’s in heat, he will often stay for long periods of time with the herd of does. The reason being, the first doe to come into estrus will often trigger a second doe, the second doe triggers a third doe, and so on. With multiple does ready to breed in one area, the buck may not return to his scrapes for weeks, leaving a whitetail hunter scratching his or her head and thinking the buck has moved out of the area. When in fact he hasn’t, he’s just off doing the only thing that’s on his mind at this time of the year. A whitetail buck will even put feeding and sleeping on the back burner for the right to breed and it’s not uncommon for a buck to lose up to 25 per cent of his body weight during rut.

When a buck and doe are in the breeding cycle the buck will usually move the doe to a secluded area for this time period, until the doe is bred, usually several times, and begins to resist the buck’s advances. The doe will then return to the rest of the deer with the buck still in hot pursuit. However, the next doe within the herd will often come in estrus and the buck quickly turns his attention to her. I watched a particular buck stay with a herd of 11 does for the whole month of November. All 12 deer stayed in the same area for the entire hunting season. The only reason I knew they were there was because each day I went hunting for a different resident buck, I would carefully pass by the area they were in, never disturbing them. They were unpressured, the does were content and the buck was having the time of his life. There was no need for the buck to go looking for more does and risk injury fighting when he had all he could handle where he was. I also know this particular buck’s scrape line was more than three kilometres away. But he had no need to return to it.

During the rut, many hunters will often turn to rattling to try and draw a buck in. To be honest, I’ve had minimal success rattling during this time frame. I’m not saying rattling doesn’t work and within the pages of this magazine there are some rattling masters. However, my experience in the areas I hunt whitetails have proven otherwise. We are blessed in the western provinces with an abundance of white-tailed deer. White-tailed deer are the most sought after big game animal in western Canada and, on average, the western provinces have a buck to doe breakdown of approximately 15 per cent bucks, 50 per cent does and 35 per cent fawns. Total whitetail counts from each province show an average of a little over three breed-able does for every buck. Therefore, if a satellite buck knows he’s not the dominant buck, he will often move on and find does of his own, as there’s enough to go around. I know there’s a fine art to rattling but I’ve had, and have watched, rattling have a negative effect on deer. If a challenging buck doesn’t present himself to the breeding buck, then there’s no need for the breeding buck to go looking for a fight when there’s does to breed. From hidden locations while rattling, I’ve watched bucks gather their does and move them in the opposite direction, similar to what herd bull elk will do. If a buck pursues the breeding buck and his does, he’s more than willing to turn and lock antlers with the pursuing buck and fight for his does, but if a buck doesn’t present himself, again, no need to go looking for a fight.

In the past I’ve had some success rattling during the pre-rut, but my greatest successes rattling have come during the last week of November, or post rut during the month of December. Some provinces have whitetail seasons that run into mid-December and this is when I never leave home without my rattling antlers. If a doe doesn’t catch during the November rut, she will come into estrus a second time 28 days later. Unlike the November rut when there’s an abundance of does to be bred, during the late season there’s only a handful of does in estrus and every buck in the area will fight for the right to breed one last time. I’ve had friends spend less than half an hour on stand during the late season and rattle in a buck.

Two seasons ago I set up under the low hanging braches of a spruce tree and began to rattle. Within an hour I had two smaller whitetail bucks and a 4×4 mule deer buck come in, looking for the commotion. I only rattled three times for about 30 seconds within that hour and it drew in three bucks that were willing to fight for the right to breed. One buck stood in the open for a long time as if he was calling on any challengers, but it was a respectful 4×5 that came running in and chased off the three smaller bucks that I ended up taking. After the 4×5 cleared the area and was somewhere in the trees, I lightly rattled and it only took about 20 seconds for the buck to show himself. I took him only 65 metres from my hidden location.

My go-to strategy for hunting the rut is to find and set up on the does. I’ve heard it said many times in the past, “I’m not worried about the does, I’m looking for a buck.” However, if you find the does during the rut, a buck is sure to show himself. And that’s exactly what I was doing on Nov. 11, 2011.

As I sat hidden in the trees, watching several does feeding on a cut grain field, I couldn’t get the stories out of my mind that many of the veterans told at the morning Remembrance Day ceremonies. The stories and sights that the elderly veterans told still brought these hardened men and women to tears. They spoke of the good friends they made and how many of them never made it home and that they died proud Canadians on foreign soil.

I was recalling the terrifying stories that I heard that morning and wondering if I could hold up under such harsh conditions when my thoughts were interrupted by the presence of a 5×5 buck standing at the edge of the tress, looking at the does feeding on the field. The does were a mere 100 metres from my location and I stayed still as the buck proudly walked in their direction. He was the buck I was after and he was quickly closing the distance between himself and the does. Neither the buck, nor the does, knew I was there and I let him close the distance. I glanced at my watch to check the time. I still had 40 minutes of legal shooting light so I slowly raised my rifle to my shoulder and placed the crosshairs of my scope on his vitals and waited for him to stop. He stopped just short of the does and raised his head to smell the air, presenting me with a clear shot. I squeezed the trigger and with the tell-tale sound of my bullet finding its mark, I knew my whitetail season was over for another year. The does scattered in all directions into the trees as my buck lay in the field. I waited about 10 minutes until the excitement of a successful hunt had simmered and I made my way to my downed buck. It was then that I realized I have the freedom to hunt and fish and spend time in the outdoors because of the sacrifices our Canadian soldiers made for our country in the past, and what they’re willing to do if need be in the future. I quietly said a few words, giving thanks to no one in particular, and dedicated my Remembrance Day buck to all the fallen sportsmen that gave their lives so I can be in the field hunting, not fighting.

Our Canadian soldiers have and are willing to sacrifice so much so we can enjoy the simple pleasures in life. This Nov. 11, take a day out of your whitetail season and attend one of the many Remembrance Day ceremonies held across the western provinces and give thanks to those that gave all.

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