Monday is opening day of buck season; it seems to be almost a holiday here in West Virginia as thousands of hunters hit the woods first thing Monday morning with hopes of tagging a trophy buck. I will be out there as well hoping to redeem myself after a good skunking last year. The good news is that the DNR is predicting a better harvest than last year with good numbers of bucks this year due in part to the poor weather conditions during the first week of the buck season last year, so the bucks that survived are another year older with bigger racks.
At least the weather seems like it is going to cooperate this year with temperatures that are more seasonal and maybe a little to warm causing the deer to be more active at night and rest in cool shaded places during the day. However, the rut is still going on and bucks that are not with does will be on the move looking for does ready to mate. Bucks that are with does will bed down in thick shaded areas to escape the warm temperatures and avoid the influx of hunters into their woods. Good places to find deer in warm, dry weather are along creek bottoms and around ponds and springs, particularly those with dense sheltering cover such as spruce, rhododendron, greenbrier, and other evergreens. Bucks searching for receptive doe will travel the same areas where they can quench their thirst and check on the readiness of any does bedded nearby.
Bucks normally stay with does for about a day and a half during which time they travel together feeding and bedding in the same area while breeding several times in that period. Once the two have mated, the buck will move on in search of other does that are receptive and ready to breed.
Of course, starting Monday morning hunters will have the biggest influence on deer movement and knowing how deer react to this pressure is a great way to put a nice buck in your sights. The best thing to do is get in well before first light and plan to stay all day if you can. If you know of several escape routes the bucks will take once the droves of hunters enter the woods you can set up and be waiting when other hunters push the deer your way. On public land in particular, being on stand well before daylight can give you an advantage as the deer are moving frantically trying to evade all the hunters entering their territory once day breaks. The deer usually head for the thickest nastiest cover available; during your scouting, you should have found areas of dense secluded cover (clear cuts, greenbrier, laurel, hawthorn, etc.) and located trails that follow the most sheltered path to reach this cover. Find a stand that gives you a good view of one of these trails or better yet, where two or more trails come together; these are the trails the deer will be using to seek refuge from the encroaching hunters. Be there early and have a few stand locations picked out in case another hunter is in your first choice, then wait and be patient.
Thick overgrown funnels, saddles on ridge tops with thick cover, the corner where two ridges intercept, where two or more ridges drop into a valley, creek bottoms, and secluded hollows, are all prime travel corridors for bucks trying to put distance between themselves and hunters. Set up downwind of these areas and be patient eventually deer will be using these routes to avoid hunters and be alert for deer coming from any direction. Be sure to watch the body language of any does you see, if a doe keeps glancing behind her there just may be a buck trailing her and pay close attention to her tail, if it is raised about half way up and she is not spooked she is most likely coming into estrus and almost ready to mate.
Midmorning to midday is when many hunters take a break and head back to camp or the truck for lunch and take a rest before heading out for the afternoon hunt. However, this can be a great time to stay in the woods and take advantage of other hunters moving around and pushing deer. Some of the largest bucks I have taken came after 10 a.m. and I know two of them were pushed to me by other hunters, one of them a very nice eight point at 11:30. Between the rut and the numbers of hunters in the woods you just never know when a buck will show up, I don't know many people that can sit in the same stand all day so have a few spots picked out, walk around, take a break, have lunch but stay in the woods.
One year I was having lunch on a small log landing with my hunting companions and we were sitting there on a log with our guns about ten feet away when a magnificent buck just appeared on the opposite end of the landing, at least eight points, heavy and wide. He just stood there and watched us for a few seconds maybe a minute, plenty of time for several shots if any of us had a gun nearby. He eventually wondered off over the hill, we immediately got our guns and went to the edge of the landing but the buck had disappeared. Just goes to show, you never know when an opportunity will arise in the deer woods and now I always keep my gun nearby when eating lunch or taking a break, just in case. I wish everyone the best of luck for a safe and successful hunt.