If you have spent much time on social media you already know that there are millions of “experts” on every topic known to man. Deer hunting is no exception. For the record, I don’t consider myself an expert at anything and when it comes to hunting mature whitetails I am simply a student looking to learn more and get better.
While I find great satisfaction in putting together the pieces of the “whitetail puzzle”, I also find myself dissecting the mindset of various deer hunters. I think the two go hand in hand as some deer hunters have found a “method” to consistently kill mature bucks. While I always examine the methods of the highly successful big-buck serial killers, it is their mindset and cerebral approach that intrigues me just as much as “how” they are getting it done. When it comes to big-buck killers I have found that for every “real-deal” there are at least a thousand pretenders who don’t even realize how little they actually know. So just what is it that separates the guys who tag giants year after year from the wanna-bes and dreamers?
Things have really started falling into place for me in recent months regarding this topic. I have come to the conclusion that some hunters’ success has actually prevented them from reaching the next level and becoming even better. They have killed some nice bucks and maybe even a giant or two but they just haven’t reached the level where they do it year after year. Why is that? Well, I think their success has caused them to confirm in their own minds that they have this game pretty much figured out and thus they stop learning and refuse to admit that maybe someone else knows something they don’t. Ultimately they refuse to change what they are doing because they think they are already doing everything right.
I shot this 170″ stud over 20 years ago. Even though I was starting to figure some things out in regards to hunting mature bucks, I kept pushing myself to learn more and today as I look back at this old photo I realize how little I knew back then. Age and maturity has a way of tempering how much we think we know and how smart we think we are.
Long ago I wrote in a magazine article that there are no “intermediates” in deer hunting; everyone is either a beginner or an expert. Most novice deer hunters get a few deer kills under their belt and … BOOM! … they are now an expert. This is where they stop learning and stop getting better. They are no longer students eager to learn but instead are experts willing to tell the world just how much they know. Let me share some recent examples that have helped lead me to this conclusion.
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about hanging trail cameras to get photos of velvet bucks in the summer. I suggested that instead of hanging cameras too early, it is better to wait to hang those cameras in July once a buck’s rack is showing its full potential. My reasoning is that often I only get a buck’s photo at a location one time. When I get that one photo I would rather it be when the bucks rack is developed to the point that I can get a good idea of how big he will ultimately be.
There were several comments made about that blog by hunters that totally disagreed with my approach. As someone always looking to learn and get better, I investigated those folks who disagreed with me by checking out their Facebook pages to see what kind of bucks they were tagging. Not surprisingly, NONE of them were consistently killing mature bucks. In fact from what I could see, most did not have a single photo of a mature buck they had shot … and you can bet your last dollar that if they had one, photos of it would certainly be posted! These critics refused to even consider my suggestion because one time they got a bucks photo at the same location all summer long.
I made another social media post recently about how most mature bucks often will not followed mowed paths as they would rather have some vegetation rubbing their sides and again was blasted by the “experts” who disagreed. Again, investigating these critics Facebook pages revealed an obvious lack of deer hunting success with regards to truly mature bucks. (I have come to expect this by the way) These folks had seen and had photos of bucks using mowed paths so by-golly they are gonna keep on mowing paths and keep hunting over them! Well, to counter that logic, I have seen plenty of mature bucks in the middle of wide open ag fields but I am not going to pin my hopes of tagging one by hunting there! JUST BECAUSE SOMETHING “WORKS” DOES NOT MEAN SOMETHING ELSE CAN’T WORK BETTER!
The purpose of this article is not to blast my critics but instead is meant to offer some sound advice to the numerous others who follow my writings to learn and share. Have you reached a certain level of success as a deer hunter and are struggling to take it to the next level? If so, it could be that your success is what is holding you back. Did something work for you once so now you can’t stop doing it?
What separates big-buck serial killers from those who only occasionally dabble in success is the small details. The consistent big-buck killers are open to learning more instead of thinking they already know it all. They may have gotten lucky once with a certain tactic but they know that luck does not ever lead to consistent success on mature bucks. They recognize things for what they are, like the fact that some bucks will walk in front of the same trail camera every day for weeks and some bucks will walk right down the middle of mowed paths. They will kill those bucks with ease. They also realize that a lot of mature bucks won’t do these things and they want to be able to kill those bucks also. Thus they change their approach to make themselves better hunters as they learn little things here and there along the journey.
For decades now my goal each hunting season has been to learn something during the season that would make me a better hunter. I want to end each season as a better hunter than when the season started. After more than 40 years in the whitetail woods, that never means hitting on some big new discovery. It means just picking up on a very minor thing that I need to do slightly different. It is the minor details that add up and become compounded over time that can take ones success to another level. It isn’t instant and it isn’t for everyone. Furthermore, much of what I learn about whitetails I actually pick up from other hunters, not from my own experiences.
Believe it or not, I don’t openly share everything I have learned about chasing mature bucks. There are certain things that I just don’t want other local hunters to know. It’s not that I have anything against local hunters; I just don’t need them educating the bucks I am after by mimicking some of my methods. When I do share something however, you can rest assured that the info is genuine and merit-based on over 40 years of chasing mature bucks. I am a student, not an expert, and by trying to always learn more and be better tomorrow than I am today, my hunting success has slowly grown along with my whitetail knowledge. Having an open mind has been paramount to my success. Hopefully I can occasionally share some info that helps others as they also chase these special critters.