John's Journal...

Click to enlargeHow to Know When Bucks Move

The Vietnam Stand Buck

EDITOR’S NOTE: You have no way of knowing what day you’ll see a buck of a lifetime during deer season. But you can pinpoint which days to hunt to increase your odds of sighting one. By hunting on the days when deer tend to move the most actively, you’ll have more deer sightings and a greater chance of taking that buck you’ve wanted all season.

On a trip to White Oak Plantation near Tuskegee, Alabama, my son, John, and I sat at the supper table the night before we planned to hunt. When we arrived early in the afternoon, the temperature had climbed to the 50s. However, by the time we had eaten dinner, the mercury had plummeted to 26 degrees. “We ought to get a buck tomorrow,” Bo Pitman, the lodge manager told me. “If this cold front passes through tonight and we have a clear morning tomorrow, the bucks will move.” Pitman has almost two decades of experience as a guide and has hunted deer all his life. Twice daily, Pitman takes hunters with him into the swamps and woodlands of White Oak and collects data on deer sightings.

Click to enlarge“We pick up hunters after the morning and afternoon hunts and record the weather and wind conditions, the moon phase and the number of bucks and does sighted,” Pitman reports. “We also have learned which weather patterns produce the most deer sightings. The day after a front passes through our area provides one of the most-productive days you can hunt, according to our records.” Pitman cautions that you often will experience high winds the morning after a front, which may cancel out the benefits of hunting on that day. Although deer will move in the wind, you’ll have a hard time seeing and hearing them. If the wind constantly switches directions, the deer will smell you before you spot them. “If we get lucky and have no wind in the morning, we’ll have the perfect conditions to take a deer,” Pitman emphasizes. Pitman assigned John the Vietnam stand as he explained that, “We call this stand the Vietnam stand because it sits in a thick cane thicket. If a buck moves in that thicket, you’ll not spot him unless he comes within 20 to 30 yards of your stand. If the buck appears, he’ll show up suddenly and then vanish. When you have enough light to see, expect the deer.”

As we left the lodge the following morning, the clear, pre-dawn sky held millions of twinkling stars but no wind. When I arrived at my ladder stand in a small stretch of hardwoods on the edge of a lake where deer naturally would funnel through, I found a layer of frost covering the stand. No leaves moved on the trees. The moon appeared as though it rose from the smooth surface of the still water instead of reflecting from above. If a cold, windless, noiseless morning offered our best options for bagging bucks, we had the perfect time to hunt. But still I wondered as I waited on first light whether John would get a shot at a buck on that day. As a father, I knew of only one thrill greater than my taking a buck - watching the joy and excitement of the young man who bore my name when he fulfilled his hunting dream.

Click to enlargeAfter taking a short nap waiting on the sun to come up, John studied the cane patch surrounding his stand. With less than 50 yards of visibility, John quickly became bored. Then John saw a buck’s antlers through the thick cane but couldn’t take the shot because he couldn’t see the animal’s shoulders. The deer stood about 30 yards from his stand. John hadn’t had an opportunity to take a buck for two years. As the deer moved deeper into the cane, John could see his chance to bag a buck slipping away. “I knew I had to get to a place where I could watch the deer or I wouldn’t get a shot,” John said. John quietly stood in his magnolia tree stand and slide the strap of his tree stand harness up the tree. With the skill of a monkey, he climbed on top of the stand and stood on the side supports. Although John knew he risked falling from the tree, he’d already tested his safety harness. He had confidence the harness would hold him if he did fall. As John looked into the brush, he watched the 8-point buck moving away from him toward an opening no more than 2-feet wide. “I knew I had only one shot,” John explained. “If I didn’t shoot when the deer hit the opening, I wouldn’t get the shot. I aimed my .243 at the spot where I hoped the deer would appear. Through my scope, I first saw brown hair and finally the point of the buck’s shoulder at the intersection of the crosshairs. Then I squeezed the trigger.” John had hunted long enough to realize he needed to wait before pursuing the deer. As he climbed down into his tree stand, he replayed the shot again in his mind. The buck hadn’t fallen at the crack of his rifle but instead had bolted. Did he make a clean shot or not? Only time would tell.

After waiting 45 minutes, John climbed out of his tree stand and searched an hour for the buck. However, he found no evidence that he had hit the animal. Disappointed, he slowly walked back to his tree stand. As he came to the edge of a small stream, he found telltale blood. But he didn’t see enough of a blood trail to immediately pursue the deer. Instead, John walked to his pick-up point, met Pitman and rode back to camp for lunch. After lunch, John, Pitman and I took a trailing dog to search for the deer. We began at the stream where John had discovered the blood. The Walker hound barked and moved quickly into and through the thick cane with us in hot pursuit. Because of his years of living in the woods and chasing after wounded deer, Pitman outdistanced John and me. When the woods fell silent and we no longer heard the barking dog, I wondered if John’s buck had gotten away. Then Pitman yelled, “John, come help me.” “I knew I got him Dad, I knew I did,” John told me. In less than an hour, we had dragged the 8-point buck out of the thick brush. I’d never felt more proud of a deer I’d taken than of the one my son had just bagged.

Click to enlargeBo Pitman accurately predicted the weather conditions that caused the buck to move. I wanted to know more about how to determine the best and worst days for sighting a deer. “We got lucky this morning,” Pitman explained late at supper. “Eighty percent of the time, you’ll find a blowing wind the morning after a front passes through our region. This morning, however, the wind remained calm. The light frost also helped us because the cold air caused our human odor to rise. A frost after a front and no wind means your human odor may rise above the deer, and they can’t smell you as well. Most of the time, the afternoon after a front provides the most-productive time to see deer.”


Check back each day this week for more about How to Know When Bucks Move

Day 1: The Vietnam Stand Buck
Day 2: Best Days for Bagging a Buck
Day 3: Times to Hunt in the Rain
Day 4: The Worst Days to Hunt
Day 5: The Deer That Move the Most in Bad Weather



Entry 336, Day 1