In The Crosshairs: The buck doesn't always stop here

May 10, 2011 

It's a common notion among hunters that if you make too much noise and don't control your scent, you'll push any bucks out of your hunting area before you even get a look at them.

You can always count on that to be true, but it's important to keep in mind that not all deer respond to hunting pressure in the same way, and the older bucks have a lot more tricks at their disposal than outdoorsmen might realize.

Most hunters would be shocked if they realized how many bucks they've walked by when making their way through a field.

There are several clues I've come across while hunting in the Sierra Nevada that have led me to believe experienced bucks will often be patient and let you walk by.

It was nearly 10 years ago when I was walking across some rugged rim rocks with my dad. We hadn't seen much that day, but that suddenly changed when I spotted a doe standing in an alcove between two boulders.

I knew what was coming next, but before I could raise my rifle, the trophy buck she was with stood up, spun around and headed down the mountain side.

I immediately gave chase, hopelessly slipping and sliding down the steep terrain behind the two deer.

My dad was still on top of the hill, meandering his way to where I started my descent.

Without warning, a second monster buck leaped up from another recess in the rocks and headed down the mountain.

Despite all the commotion I made when I ran by, that buck held tight and didn't move until my dad made him uncomfortable by slowly walking up within yards of him.

Though we didn't get any shots off on that hunt, it was a good lesson on how tightly deer can hold when they're pressured.

However, I've never seen a deer hold tighter than I did three years ago. I was hunting in the same region, but lower on the mountain.

While leaping across some boulders lining the bottom of a canyon, I nearly choked on my gum when my feet landed on a rock right next to a doe, which was holding so tight in the boulders she was wedged in, she almost couldn't get out.

After a couple minutes of bucking and flailing, she finally escaped.

While it's possible to get lucky and find a buck's hiding spot, there are ways to improve your chances.

You can find out where the deer are hiding by doing a little investigating once you finally bag one. Look at the horns and hide, which may show certain types of vegetation on them, giving away the deer's last location.

The buck I harvested last season in the Sierra Nevada was in an area I'd already walked through that day.

But after circling back less than an hour later, the same hillside produced a forked-horn that was covered in mountain cabbage from horn to hoof -- leading me to believe he'd been hiding in the vegetation there all along, letting me walk past.

While it may be nearly impossible to out-think a buck in his territory, a little more attention to detail may catch him off-guard.

Take a closer look between those rock formations you come across in the mountains and throw some dirt clods in those brush patches that are too thick to walk through ... you might kick out the buck of a lifetime.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsun-star.com.

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