It is now early January and in some states hunting season is over while in others like my home state of Illinois we still have a couple of weeks left. So what are you doing right now to improve your odds of tagging a mature buck? Many hunters have already put whitetails on the back-burner and are thinking about spring turkey season or fishing. For us serious whitetailers that never happens. Our focus remains steadfast on big whitetails no matter the day, month or season.
This is the time of year when I really start taking inventory of the bucks that are still alive and which I may have an interest in targeting down the road. Even with a couple of weeks of hunting season remaining, the odds are good that any buck alive now will still be around next fall when hunting season opens.
There are a few ways to confirm which bucks are still alive – actual sightings, shed antlers and trail camera photos are the ones I put the most stock in. I leave my trail cameras out until early spring when most bucks have shed their antlers. I am looking for not only bucks I will target next fall but also bucks that I hope to hunt 2 or 3 years from now. Any good bucks still alive that are 2 years old or older will be noted.
The buck in the accompanying photo is a perfect example. He is a buck that I first got photos of a few years ago when I got permission to hunt a new property. I knew he was a young buck, probably 2 ½ years old. Even though he was a long ways from being old enough for me to target, his rack caught my eye as it had numerous long tines and a couple of shorter sticker points. When season ended that winter I kept my cameras out and was happy to find that he had survived the hunting season. I kept tabs on him for 2 more years before he disappeared and was presumably killed. Even though I never got the opportunity to hunt this buck, he serves as a perfect example of how I work during the winter months to inventory bucks living on the properties I hunt. Some of them I may go after in the fall when hunting season opens but many are like this buck and still 2-3 years away from being bucks that I target.