QUESTION: My wife and I hunt on public land here in Kentucky and enjoy great success in the limited time we can hunt. During the off-season, we set up trail cameras and capture thousands of deer photos of all shapes and sizes: from does and spikes to huge 13- and 14-pointers.
But we rarely see the big boys when we hunt, and usually take smaller deer to fill our freezer. We are very careful with scent control, noise and stand placement. Furthermore, very few people know of our site. Our question is: what can we do differently to better our odds at a big one? We know they're there! - Todd & Patti B.
ANSWER: You're probably hoping for some closely guarded trade secret or radical innovation to tip the scales in your favor. Unfortunately, those things rarely exist in the real world. In the end, success usually comes down to time, hard work and discipline.
To a large extent, you might've answered your own question. Rarely seeing the big boys is to be expected, first, because there are far fewer of them, and second, because they matured by learning not to expose themselves to danger by walking around in daylight.
Like many hunters, you opt for smaller ones. If you only have one tag that takes you out of the game early.
Even if you have multiple tags, the disturbance created by shooting, tracking, field dressing and dragging out the smaller bucks further alerts other deer to your presence. And lastly, shooting smaller bucks reduces the number remaining to grow bigger.
The simplest, though maybe not the easiest solution is to increase both your time in the woods and your patience.
The more time you spend afield, the greater the chance you might see one of those big bucks.
There are never any guarantees, even if you're meticulous with scent control, able to sit still and hang your stands in appropriate places.
Then you have to be disciplined. If you need meat for the freezer and are satisfied with any buck, shoot any buck. But if your goal is a big boy, you'll likely have to pass up several smaller bucks.
Sometimes the hardest of all to resist are the tweeners; those healthy, 2- and 3-year-old bucks that sorely tempt you. And if you've never taken one, that might be a good stepping stone to something even bigger.
The experience will certainly give you confidence, and perhaps the necessary patience and discipline, to take it to the next level.
You might also consider running cameras throughout the hunting season. This will help you figure out where and when those bigger bucks are traveling. They might simply become more nocturnal with increased human presence, or they might've shifted their core areas from where you originally found them. Your trail cams will tell the tale.