Finding Trophy Bucks

By Stu Bristol

One of the most common cop-outs among deer hunters is the statement, “Every deer is a trophy, regardless of size.” This is true in most cases. However, under their breath they still consider a real trophy begins either with extra wide antlers or over that magic 200-pound weight.

I get asked more times than I can count, as a guide, will you find me a “trophy” buck. No guide in his right mind will ever flat out say I’ll find you a scorable deer/turkey/bear or fish. That would be flat out professional suicide. What I and other guides promise is an enjoyable experience with a “chance,” just a “chance, of the client bagging what is in his or her mind a “trophy.”

So, the real answer I give those who ask consists of a few simple questions. In your mind what is the trophy you are looking for? Second, will you pass on anything less than ideal or will you take the next best deer that comes into gun range? Last, I ask if it is really the outdoor experience you seek.

Which Trophy

Actually, if a guide doesn’t provide a safe, enjoyable outing, never use that person again. The best guides are the ones that are there for you and speak up when needed and quiet when need be.

In my childhood men and boys (and many girls) grew up in the woods but in modern times there are many men and women in their 30’s and older that rarely if ever set foot in the forest other than to jog or hike. They need to be guided or taught to be woods-wise.

My curriculum is to educate the client as much as possible without being a “know-it-all.” I am constantly surprised at how little many of my clients know about the workings of a forest. Just as I do when guiding fly anglers, I let the client show me what he or she knows then add information they obviously don’t know. Tracks, droppings, tree rubbings and buck scrapes are all on the menu as are tree identification and game funnels.

Southern Maine is home to mostly red oak trees. Find a white oak in their midst and you will find a great deer attractant. White oak acorns are larger and have more fat.

Major League Whitetail

Finding a major league whitetail can take a lifetime or it can be done in a few days if the proper amount of pre-hunt scouting is done. Several givens are noted to each hunter I take out. “Big deer may scrape the bark off small trees but rarely will a small deer take on a 6-inch or larger diameter tree. Mature bucks stick to heavy cover and, in southern Maine these bruisers will spend their entire lives within a 500- acre property. Northern Maine deer run the ridges for miles and more often can be seen in clear cuts and open hardwoods.

Forget about tree rubs after October in southern Maine and look for scrapes. Tree rubs are made when bucks begin their pecking order or test their strength, not to rub off velvet. Bucks paw the ground raw then urinate in them and reach up and leave eye gland secretions on softwood trees.

Once you find a scrape, look for another softwood tree where another scrape is likely. Pay attention to this pattern and you will learn the routine travel of a mature buck. Also look a few yards either side of a major scrape for subordinate buck scrapes. Be aware that mature bucks will follow edges, where softwood and mixed hardwoods meet.

Next, look for signs of doe feeding activity. “Find the does and the buck will come” is a safe motto. However, it may visit the does during the night.

In heavily hunted areas you will need to find wooded marshes. (higher ground within a wooded marsh is shown with a green background on topo maps.)

Trail Cams

Your guide will probably use cell game cameras to locate mature bucks. States are slowly over-regulating these devices so check the regs. I support their use citing the limited opportunities for abuse or taking unfair advantage of game. I argued support many times for their responsible use.

Final bit of advice for “trophy” buck hunters is to be in great physical shape especially if you are after a northern ridge runner. Southern Maine hunters need an extreme amount of patience. Staking out heavy cover can get tedious at times and right after you give up the big guy will put hoof marks in your boot prints.

Hiring a guide can increase your odds of bagging a big buck but can also deplete your vacation funds very quickly. Finding the “patch” buck of your dreams is always sweeter when you get educated on mature deer hunting and become successful on your own.

Stu Bristol is a Master Maine Hunting, Fishing and Tidewater Guide and Outdoor columnist. He is a former Vermont Game Warden. His columns and features have been printed nationwide for nearly 65 years. He was inducted into the New England Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame in 2019. He operates Orion Guide Service and is a game call maker,

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