Updated: May 30, 2020
If you bow hunt long enough, you'll likely have some antler envy at some point in your life. Whether it be because another hunter tagged a buck you were after or because others are constantly tagging quality bucks year after year while you're eating tag soup and settling for yearlings. Although states like Iowa and Kansas have reputations of being big buck states, quality deer can be found from coast to coast. Lets take a look at our top reasons why you're not killing big bucks and others are.
1.) You're Shooting Small Bucks
Now, before I'm crucified, let me preface this by saying all hunters should shoot whatever makes them happy, its their tag!
Some hunters hunt to fill their freezers or are just happy to harvest the first legal buck that they see, AND THAT'S OKAY! We all hunt for different reasons and I applaud any successful bow hunt that is done so legally.
That being said, if you are shooting small bucks, you won't be shooting big ones. Seems simple enough right? Simply put, if you're putting your tag on a smaller buck, then you won't be putting that tag on a larger buck because that tag has already been used.
When you are after big bucks you have to be willing to pass inferior bucks in hopes of bigger ones later, which becomes especially difficult on deer that approach 120-130'' (which is plenty big for me in my home state of Pennsylvania).
Some hunters are lucky enough to have their first shot opportunity of the season on a Pope & Young quality deer, but more than likely you'll see and need to pass up several 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 year old bucks before your moment arrives.
Lee Heise with a quality public land buck from Illinois!
2.) There Are No Big Bucks
Sometimes, you're simply limited by the state or part of the state that you live in. I have been a passionate bow hunter for the last 16 years, which includes a lot of scouting and trail camera use.
In those 16 years of hunting central and west central Pennsylvania as well as parts of Maryland, I'd be willing to bet that I've only seen on stand or had on trail camera 5 bucks that would have made the 125" minimum typical net score to make Pope and Young.
There's nothing wrong with this and it makes me appreciate the mature bucks I have harvested in the 115"-125" range, but I understand there's limited big buck potential for me because of geography. Are there 125"+ size deer in my county? Yes. Are they on public land? Yes. Are they easy to find? No, but I'm going to keep trying.
By contrast, I have hunted public land in Ohio for the last 3 years and between trail camera pictures, on stand sightings, and sheds, I have seen several bucks that would have not only made Pope & Young, But the Boone & Crockett minimum of 170" as well.
If you want to kill big bucks, sometimes getting out of your county or even your state is a must for your best odds of success.
Cory Gelhausen of Tenacious Hunter with a dandy Wisconsin public land buck. You can check out the video of this hunt on his youtube page HERE
3.) You're Not Scouting Enough
Sometimes, the area you're hunting has all the potential in the world and regularly produces big bucks. However, if you never scout with boots on the ground and are hunting 100 yards from an easy access point, chances are you'll never tag the buck of your dreams.
Spring shed hunting hunting is an excellent time of the year to find quality sign that you may have missed. The foliage is bare but evidence of the fall rut remains. Scrapes will be open and rubs will be highly visible at this time.
In seasons where I had very little time to scout, my hunting success suffered at times, even in spots that I had hunted and had success in before.
Why? Because things change. If you're not in the woods during the off-season to find these changes then your lack of success falls on your lack of preparation. Life gets us all busy at times, but finding time to prepare for your season is vital for regular success.
Sometimes just a small change in the way you hunt a piece of land can make a world of difference. In the past I've moved setups just a mere 100 yards and went from scant deer sightings to regular shot opportunities. If you suspect that a mature buck is in the area but aren't having the results you hoped for, look at your area from a new perspective or hunt it differently than what you normally would.
Johnny Lin of Rivalry Bowhunting with an excellent late-season public land buck out of Mississippi! Be sure to check them out HERE
4.) You're Not Hunting Enough
Every one knows the old saying, "You can't kill them sitting on the couch!". In the literal sense, it is indeed true that you will (most likely) not kill a mature buck while sitting on the couch. In the more figurative sense, it means you got to go out to have success.
Again, life often gets us busy and there are often many things that take priority over bow-hunting. But if you are able to be up a tree, in your best spots, under the best conditions, then you best be there if you want to have success.
Due to the element of luck (or fate as some would say) involved, in order to be in the right place at the right time, you're going to have to be on stand more times than not.
There's a reason that out of state hunting success rates are so low. It's not that these hunters are necessarily bad hunters in their home state, but they have a much smaller window to "get it done". I'm not good at math, but less time on stand often times means less chance for success, even if we do know that one guy that seem to always have the best luck.
To take this a step further, if you are out hunting everyday hunting and leaving the woods from before lunch to mid afternoon, you're missing out on opportunity. Especially when hunting highly pressured, mature bucks during the best time of the year.
This doesn't mean all day sits are required every hunt, but it does mean that you should rarely leave your stand when everything is perfect. This includes but is not limited to: ideal wind direction, daylight buck activity, and peak rut activity.
Zach Reynolds of Full Draw Aggression with a dandy 8 point taken on Missouri public land, check out him harvesting this buck with his recurve bow HERE
5.) You're Not Hunting Smart Enough
So you've done your homework, have several mature bucks in the area, and your putting quality time on stand but things still aren't going your way. Could you still be doing something wrong?
This is the part of the process where you need to be extra critical of everything you're doing. If you you're doing everything like everyone else, then your odds of success will inevitably plummet.
Often the biggest mistakes are as follows:
Not paying attention to wind direction and thermals- If you are hunting a good spot and the wind or thermals are being carried right into a buck or doe bedding area, you might as well just be announcing yourself with a mega phone because every mature deer knows you're there.
Not paying attention to access- Similar to not watching wind direction, if you're accessing a stand the same way a deer would, something is not right. Killing a mature buck isn't easy. It may be more convenient to walk 500 yards straight to your stand, but it will be more effective to walk a mile out of your way to access it from a different angle if it means not spooking your target buck. Deer become educated to our routines and will change accordingly. Meaning that if you're continually bumping them from their feeding and bedding areas, you run the risk of causing a buck to be increasingly nocturnal or in the very least altering his daily pattern that you so diligently worked to figure out.
Poor stand placement- Don't put yourself in a situation where you stick out like a sore thumb, are too far away from your likely shot scenario, or have to move an incredible amount to pull a shot off. All 3 instances can ruin success so be mindful of them when picking a tree in your perfect spot.
Basically, if you hunt like your average hunter hunts, then your going to have average success as well. Be different, think outside the box, and things will go your way.
Steven Streletz with his beautiful public land mountain buck taken in the unlikely state of New Jersey, proof that big bucks come from all states!
6.) Too Much Pressure
Your could be doing everything right so far
7.) Buck Fever, Keep Those Nerves In Check!
youve managed to be in the right place at the right time, but are nervous as heck