"A good deer hunter hunts where the buck is. A great deer hunter hunts where the buck is going to be."
As night begins to fall, the coyotes howl, the owls hoot and the deer begin to move. Have you ever wondered what is really out there in the dark?
Every trophy hunter owes it to himself to go out and do a little late night surveillance and reconnaissance. It’s a whole different world at night. There is an abundance of wildlife out at night. Animals rarely seen during the day come out into the open under the cover of darkness. It will be a real awakening for you. You’ll see things that you never knew existed.
While most animals that are thought of as nocturnal are in fact crepuscular. Crepuscular animals are most active during twilight: both at dawn and dusk. Dogs, cats, rabbits, bears, and deer are considered crepuscular animals. This makes complete sense. Deer feed most heavily a few hours after sunset and again right before dawn and are most commonly seen at those times.
Anyone who seriously scouts bucks goes at dawn and dusk.
Scientists believe that deer are more active at twilight and night to reduce their risk of predation. They are able to protect themselves as well as their offspring better due to this pattern of activity.
Nocturnal and crepuscular animals have highly developed senses. Their sense of hearing, sight and smell are specially adapted, to make the most of night-illumination. Deer have vision that is easily adapted to both night and day illumination. They have large pupils and a large amount of "rods" in their eyes to help them see in the dark. With a white membrane, the tapetum, in the back of their eyes to reflects light back to their retinas, deer are perfectly adapted to a nocturnal lifestyle.
Generally speaking, deer also benefit from scents that linger in the air longer at night. Since the air is still, it becomes easier for the deer to pick up and track scents, and to find food.
Sounds are more acute at night and deers extra powerful sense of hearing allows it to better determine the distance and direction of a noise.
Years ago I had a small farm at the base of the Selkirk Mountains. I borrowed a tractor from a neighbor and planted the pastures in deer feed. Every evening we would have a dozen or more does and a couple of smaller bucks come into the pastures to feed. After several months I thought I knew every deer on the property.
On day, just for giggles, I moved the spot light showing on our driveway and pointed it out into the pasture. A couple of hours after dark I happened to look out at the pasture. The big bucks were just starting to come in. And when I say big bucks, I mean big bucks. In total 14 bucks came in that night, of which, 9 were in the 130" to 150" class. I had only seen one of these bucks before and I had lived at that farm for 5 years.
While deer may be crepuscular, I can tell you big bucks are nearly totally nocturnal. It’s true, they only come out at night.
I’ve spent countless nights driving around with a spot light and I’ve seen literally hundreds of bucks I wouldn’t have ever seen otherwise. They are every where. From inside the city limits to remote alfalfa fields.
Nowadays most hunters rely on trail cameras to do their scouting for them. One drawback to these cameras is that the deer has to move within 10 to 15 yards of the front of the camera in order to get it’s picture taken. This leaves a lot of uncovered area. The other drawback is the vast majority of bucks captured on film are at night. This does us little good. We need to know where the deer is at during the day.
The question has always been: "Does spot lighting bucks really improve you odds at successfully harvesting a big buck? "
Sadly, the answer is: "No." But it's a lot of fun.
95% of these bucks I saw at night were unhuntable. Either I couldn’t get permission from the land owner or more likely the wind thermals didn’t allow a set-up. The biggest benefit from spot lighting is the confidence gained in knowing a monster is in the area. It’s a lot easier to stay in the field all day when you know Mr. Big is close.
A great hunter hunts where the bucks are going to be. Knowing where the buck was the night before gives us some indication as to where he will be come day light. He should be within a mile. That’s a big area. But at least it’s a starting point.
Regardless, just seeing those bucks is reward enough.
I feel very fortunate to have been raised in a rural community nestled in the rugged mountains of Idaho. In my youth, the locals paid little attention to game laws and seasons. Back then everyone hunted for meat. There was a certain amount of red meat that was needed be brought in to get everyone through the winter and we hunted until that supply was met. Hunting wasn’t for sport. It was for survival. We killed a lot deer. Those were the run, gun, and grin days of hunting here in Idaho. I loved every minute of it.
Times have changed. Those days are gone. But I would like to thank all the old-timers who so freely shared their hunting lore and secret spots with me. The lessons have not been forgotten. Thank you all.