Differences Between Mature Bucks and Young Bucks

3 Differences in the Behavior of A Mature Buck vs Young Bucks

Mature bucks are different than young bucks.  So much so that they’re like hunting an entirely different species of animal sometimes.  The allure of harvesting an old whitetail buck is the driving force behind many passionate deer hunters across the country but very few truly understand how the behave and how they differ from young bucks.

Now, some of you might not live in an area where mature bucks reside.  Let’s face it, not all states and hunting areas are managed for an older age class of whitetail deer.  However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t apply these principles to your hunting style to harvest the weariest of bucks that call your area home.

In this article, we will dive deep into three differences in the behavior of mature bucks vs young bucks.

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Do mature bucks travel during daylight hours as much as young bucks?

One of the most noticeable changes in behavior is a radical reduction in daylight activity. Any buck that has reached five years of age or older has had sufficient contact with humans to consider them a threat, and nearly all those contacts will have been made during daylight hours. Though deer are incapable of reasoning the same as human beings, they most definitely learn to associate certain times of the day with danger. To most deer, daylight means danger.  Side note, they’ll also correlate other things to danger if they have a bad experience with it, it certain smells, trail cameras, bait piles, and more.  Deer live by the fight or flight theory and the curious ones don’t make it to maturity most of the time.

Some deer do reach an older age by learning to avoid daylight threats or being more nocturnal. If you are hunting a buck 5.5 years or older, you can almost count on him moving much less during daylight than he did at younger ages.  Once a buck learns that they’re more likely to stay alive if they avoid traveling during daylight hours, they avoid moving during daylight hours.

What does this mean for hunters?  Quite frankly, your chances of coming into contact with a mature buck are drastically reduced by nocturnal movements.  Now, you better bet that the intensity of the whitetail rut will put a big buck on his feet during daylight hours, the only problem is figuring out where his lust for love will take him during that time.

That’s not to say that mature bucks never move during daylight hours because they do!  You will just have few opportunities to capitalize on daylight movement for mature bucks, so make sure the conditions are right and you might have to get aggressive and move in tight to his bedroom to catch him during daylight hours.

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Mature Bucks Behave as Individuals and Have Their Own Unique Behaviors

Not all mature deer act the same way.  Luckily, I learned this at an early part to my hunting career thanks to the use of trail cameras.  I had two bucks on camera during velvet, both old, mature bucks but drastically different personalities.  The largest scoring antlered deer pushed into the 170’s, while the other was a big 7 point, maybe 125″.  Both bucks were about the same age, the biggest difference being their antler size, until the velvet came off and testosterone levels increased.

The smaller racked buck was clearly the dominant buck and he pushed the Booner out of the area really quick.  Photo after photo of the big-bodied 7-pointer sparring and fighting with multiple bucks, while the big-framed 10-pointer stood in the background not participating.  Year after year, the big buck stayed the same, very timid when met with a challenge, but his rack towered over most bucks and it was enough for him to find his place within the pecking order of the local deer herd.

Long story short, not all bucks are the same, especially mature bucks.  They develop unique personalities, where some bucks don’t even participate in the rigors of the whitetail rut.  Now, that’s the easy part to figure out because we can visibly read their body language through trail cameras, glassing, and personal encounters.  However, studying their movement patterns will reveal even more curious behavior patterns.  Some bucks will respond to calling sequences like grunting and rattling, while others will turn their heads and walk away every time.

Studying trial cameras might help you reveal when and where the buck will travel.  The majority of deer may enter the field from one direction, while the biggest buck in the area comes in from what seems like an unpredictable direction, only to be revealed that he’s circling downwind of the field before approaching it, to ensure he’s checking the downwind side of your treestand before making sure it’s safe.  The detail matters with mature bucks.  It’s like a game of chess, one mistake, and the game is over before you realize it.  On the other hand, if you’re playing 3 moves ahead of your opponent, you’ll know their next move before they make it!

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Their Core Areas Shrink

The title really sums this one up but first, you need to understand how a buck’s home range changes throughout its life.  As a fawn, they’re only traveling where their mother leads them.  So their home range is actually their mother’s home range.  As they reach adolescence, it’s not uncommon for the doe to run its yearling buck fawn off from the area.  This dispersal helps reduce inbreeding and ensures a healthier bloodline. As the buck searches for a new home range, he’s faced with adversity and must challenge his pecking order of the local deer herd.

As the buck ages, their participation in the breeding cycle peaks around 2.5 or 3.5 years of age and begins to decrease as they age.  At 2.5 and 3.5 years old, bucks travel great distances and rut hard, looking for a suitable mate all over the place, bouncing from doe to doe.  However, if that buck survives a couple of years of aggressive rutting behavior, chances are they’re going to be smarter and more educated on dangers that hunters bring to the woods and they find the best locations to stay out of harms way and they stay there.

Those areas often continue to decrease in size as many big, mature bucks aren’t interested in traveling great distances and having to work hard for their survival.  Just like an old man, they’ve learned to keep to themselves if they want to survive.

Older bucks are similar to older men: fixed in their ways and comfortable with their routines. An older buck knows what he wants, where he likes to be. With age, bucks spend most of their time in what is referred to as “high site fidelity,” a smaller area.

During the rut, any buck in his first few years travels extensively in search of mates and his core area. If he has made it beyond those years, it’s a lot because he found a spot that kept him safe, sheltered, well-fed, and watered.

“I do believe as deer get older, they gravitate to their favorite spots,” Todd Graf said. “They don’t travel as far for a couple different reasons. They’ve learned where the good food is. Where the water sources are. And where the does are during the rut.”

Translation: Old bucks narrow their range to the best areas. They might also get a little lazy, like aging pets.

“If you watch a dog when it’s young, it’s quite active. By the time it’s eleven or twelve it’s slowed down,” said Drury. “They’re sitting on the porch and not moving much during daylight. I think you can relate that to an old buck at age five, six, or seven.”

A smaller core area can make it more difficult to hunt an old buck because they don’t cover as much ground. If you can find that small zone and get on in to him undetected, your chances are great. That requires some serious scouting, clean access, and good timing. The predictability of an old buck is what kills them—literally. Turn the old buck’s weakness into your advantage.

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Understanding how an old buck reached maturity will help you get the big picture.  These bucks have seen it all and survived the harshest conditions and years of hunting pressure.  Factor in the stresses of predators, such as coyotes and black bears and it’s a miracle that any of them survive as long as they do.  With these life experiences, they’ve learned a lot.  They know how to survive and how to avoid hunters along the way.  It’s this game of chess that keeps hunters up at night and obsessed with.

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