Big Buck Stories Start with the Moon

Big bucks begin the ritual of searching for hot does in their mating cycle ahead of when the female deer are ready. According to predictions, the 2016 rut will be late this year, after November 14th. Joe Forma Picture

Ever since I was a little kid, watching the sky for the moon, the stars, and now satellites and the space station, has always been an exciting encounter. Getting older, when it seems I need fewer haircuts, has allowed me to connect that deer and the moon are synchronized through a master system that some experts say they understand. According to experts that follow the moon, the rut for 2016 will be a late event, set to occur about one week after November 14th, the date for the traditional rutting moon.

Yet, regardless of the 2016 moon cycle right now, whitetail deer seasons across the country are either open or are set open very soon based on calendar dates. The reality of big game archery hunters afield will be noted by vehicles parked along traditional hunting areas wherever they exist.

Deer will usually not be “fast on the move” this early ahead of the main rut, but no matter, it is always great to be in the deer woods. The fresh air, the silence, the time away from modern life, allows hunter folks to hear crispy, outdoorsy, none-essential sounds that are hard to describe any other way, and they are somehow appealing.

Crunchy autumn leaves as they gently break off from tree limbs make a distinct departure sound and again a distinct landing sound, as they meet the earthen floor. With a gentle wind and enough leaves are falling, a hunter can be moved to think there is something walking in the woods. Something like a deer. So it’s a special and uniquely exciting experience as we begin to hunt this fall.

Summer to autumn is a time of year that marks a normal change for all of us. Starting with the shortened hours of daylight, the first week in October is when the hours of daylight actually become less than the hours of nighttime. Hence, while most of us think of this phenomenon as simply – “winter is around the corner”, the tilting axis of our Earth in this annual position of orbit around the sun comes into reality in this manner. Without additional explanation, the change in daylight hours is real and that causes deer (and other critters too) to begin their hormonal trigger to transition toward their mating mood.

Traditionally, the first full moon after the autumn equinox (September 21) is called the farmers “Harvest Moon”, it will occur on October 16. It’s late this year, most farmers will already have made their harvest. With the increasing hours of more darkness than daylight, nocturnally-minded deer become instinctive to mate. The problem is, a majority of the doe’s (female deer) are usually not ready until at least another month passes.

Between the Harvest Moon and the next full moon that occurs on November 14, said to be known to the Indians as the “Hunters Moon” (for good reason), hunters will find areas in the woods where hot bucks mark the domain of their territory. Scrapes on the ground below favored licking branches, with accompanying antler rubs on nearby trees. The cycle of bucks and doe’s is fun to watch from a tree stand.

Studies show that really big dominant bucks can roam a rather large area of five or six miles and call it “their territory.” Smaller bucks always bow to the giants, so being on stand to even see a giant buck is really a simple matter of timing and luck.

To properly attach a Hunter Safety Systems full body harness and restraint to the tree, it’s got to be high to perform properly. Photo courtesy of Hunter Outdoor Communications LLC

Look for larger scrapes and rubs on giant trees to put yourself in an area of larger deer, then use your portable climbing tree stand to elevate to a vertical position where you can situate yourself downwind from the scrapes and rubs and be in a favorable position to make the perfect arrow placement.

Use of a trail camera will confirm the size of the bucks and does that visit the scrape you are monitoring. Since many deer are more active after dark, the new ultraviolet sensing cameras work to record all the deer activity without being detected by the deer. Many hunters use a Stic-N-Pic mechanical camera stand to hold the camera at an exact position or angle (see, I have one of these and they work very well.

While trail-cam technology can offer some advantage, just hunting the scrape is sufficient to provide you with a hunter awareness advantage. The problem with a trail cam is that hunters want to check them regularly “to see” what has come through. Doing that will leave hunter human scent in the stand area and work against the hunter, so smart hunters with trail cam’s get the memory chips and switch in new chips to review when it’s raining.

For tree stand hunters, portable or fixed, please be sure to use a full body harness that is designed to assure your safety. Don’t go vertical without a proven full body harness (visit

Large bucks or small, hunters with arrows still have to calm their nerves and make the perfect shot to succeed. One thing most successful hunters share is that they have learned never to look at the horns. Experienced hunters say that you really need to train yourself into that mental mode and it is hard to do.

After first noting that the deer you have spotted is a buck you would like to harvest, look only at the perfect target spot. From then on – in your mind, many make believe they are target shooting. Your nerves will be more in control, so say experts. My heart starts pounding a bit with any deer I see during bow season, but after hunting with arrows these last 50 years or so, the tremble and shake is better, but not gone. It’s still exciting!

Keep in mind, during that one week period after the Hunters Moon, bucks will run across roads and only care to chase the scent of a doe in heat, forgetting about their scrapes and rubs, and anything else including the scent of a hunter. It’s a good time to be hunting. The bucks simply chase the does that are ready to breed and stay with them until they succeed. When the does are ready and not one minute sooner, that is usually the week that many big bucks are taken.

The bucks are only looking for doe’s in heat, hence, they ignore just about everything else. So to become part of that chemical scent message telegram in the woods, that is the time for hunters to use “doe-in-heat” scent with a dragging line to their stand, put up a few odor canisters (check your state laws), and try to mimic the smell of a female deer that is trying to find a buck.

Stay calm, shoot straight, enjoy the harvest.