That grumpy old guy is laying there, chewing the cud and wasting away the day. Then, about 20 minutes after nightfall, he gets up, stretches, and heads for the distant fields. As a result, this buck is never seen during the day by human or camera, making it a true nocturnal buck.
Deer hunters seem to have it in their heads that this is what a few mature bucks do. Of course, everyone has that hunting buddy or friend who says, “Yes, I have so many bucks on camera, but never in the light of day. It must be night.”
Rarely, if ever, is money really night – although it may appear to be. We spoke with Kip Adams, biologist and chief conservation officer for the National Deer Association to find out where the seemingly nocturnal bucks go during the day. According to Adams, if you only see a buck after dark and before daylight, it’s usually due to one of these seven possible reasons.
1) Your posture is too far from the bedspread.
The main reason hunters don’t see deer during the day is because they are sitting too far from cover. The deer get up and move around, but don’t reach the hunter before nightfall – or they’ve already left the area by dawn.
Inch closer to where your target buck is the bed. If you have camera shots after dawn or dusk, pay attention to the first and last shots in the sequence. In the evening, the orientation of that first photo can sometimes reveal where a deer came from. In the early morning, the last picture can show where you are going. Either scenario can signal the direction of a bed zone.
2) The budget you are looking for has a small core area.
If you are relatively close to where a buck beds and still aren’t seeing him during the day, he may have a very small core area. Such a buck does not travel very far, except on the road, because he has everything he needs. Small-area behavior is more common in areas with good habitat. “If there’s food and shelter nearby, some bucks just don’t move very far,” Adams says.
This is a good problem to have. This means there is less chance of another hunter hitting the deer you are looking for. Consider pushing deeper into the indoor area and placing between the buck’s bedding and feed.
3) Your position is far from the favorite travel routes of a dollar.
Deer do not always use the same travel routes. They have different paths they follow depending on different conditions. If the intelligence you’ve gathered for a buck is focused on an area you don’t use often, you could be wasting your time while traveling during the day nearby.
Figuring out the travel routes bucks use and positioning accordingly is part of modeling deer. “The property you’re looking for is likely standing somewhere,” says Adams. “It’s just a matter of figuring out what cover you’re using and when it’s going to go away.”
4) Poor habitat structure is driving deer away.
If you have a neighbor with a property that is optimized for bedding, that’s where adult bucks are likely to spend their daylight hours. If your property doesn’t offer something better, or at least equivalent, it’s time to get to work.
Enhance your property with more bedding. Overhanging trees and clear ground for growth of early successional habitats (young trees and brush). “Habitat improvement takes time,” Adams says. “But if you want to keep more bucks during the day, you have to encourage them to sleep closer to where you have a chance of a shot.”
5) You are applying too much pressure.
Hunting pressure definitely makes deer think twice about moving. While some deer are willing to travel during the day even under pressure, most are not.
“Look at the unhunted deer populations,” Adams says. “These deer move around all day. It’s not that the hunted deer are different animals, they’re just reacting to the pressure we put on them.” If you’re only seeing deer on camera at night, put less pressure on the area you’re hunting.
6) You don’t know a deer’s personality.
According to Adams and other experts, deer express personality through their behavior. “Some just tend to move a lot more than others,” he says. “Some deer may move more within a small home range, while others may have larger home ranges but tend not to move as much. Every deer is different.”
Recognize deer for what they are and respond accordingly. If a deer tends to move more during the day, consider being more passive in your approach. If he moves less, sink deeper into the cover closer to his bed area.
Read more: 4 things your cameras aren’t telling you
7) He barely moves from his bed during the day.
Very few, if any, money is really night. In worst-case scenarios, bucks may only move 50 to 75 feet during the day, leading many hunters to think that these deer only come out at night.
If you’re dealing with a buck like this, it calls for some seriously aggressive play. You have to shoot the edge of his bed area, or even just sneak into it, to get a hit. Push yourself closer to his bed and you’ll increase the chances of a hit.