On Friday hunters take to the woods in their blaze orange with the goal of coming home with a big deer with a wide rack of antlers. All have that dream, but only a few will be satisfied when the first Illinois shotgun season ends at sunset Sunday.
Hunter, taxidermist, outdoor videographer and guitar amplifier "tone chaser" Skip Sims of Nashville, Tenn., has some advice for those wanting to bag the big one.
The tracking of the big buck begins in bow season. During bow season the stand should be placed strategically in an area where the deer must be at a certain spot, hemmed by vegetation, for the shot to be successful. In shotgun season the precision is not as vital.
"Now you can open up your stand area and get more eyes on the ground," Sims said.
"Shotgun season allows hunters to expand their view of the woods."
The peak rut is important. During the early rut small bucks will be chasing after does and clattering their antlers together in an instinctual play for dominance, but the older deer typically do not participate and will be difficult to spot.
"The rut is almost in full peak right now," Sims said Wednesday.
"It's a good idea to still stick to your hunting area."
The big bucks betray their locations by their rubbings on the trees. The larger the rub on the tree, the larger the animal. Sims said he is waiting on a buck that rubs on a tree the size of his leg.
Human smell is key. The deer — especially the large, older ones — are keen to the smell of humans.
"Go into the woods as clean as possible and free of human scent," Sims said.
His method is smoke, a method also used by American Indians. He hangs his hunting clothing over a smoldering fire. Deer are accustomed to the smell of fireplace and campfire and do not associate it with humans in the woods.
"Gather some leaves, get a good smolder and smoke yourself up from head to toe," Sims said.
Scented detergents are an alien smell to deer. Brightening detergents create ultraviolet light deer can see and cause the hunter to appear to glow.
Most successful deer hunters stick to a stand.
"There is an old saying about two moving objects. If you are stationary and the deer is moving, he'll eventually come by you," he said.
During the rut, the does are the best indication of the big buck's location, but the buck will not typically travel the well-worn trails created by does. The buck's trail parallel the does'. If there is a deer trail worn to the dirt on a ridge, it
Page 2 of 3 - is probably a doe trail and the buck's trail will be more faint, likely lower in the hollow.
Morning hunters should stick to the ridges, according to Sims. Thermal updrafts carry scent upward. Hunters in the hollow may give away their presence due to atmospheric pressure.
"Thermals rise in the morning. It's always best to hunt high in the mornings," he said.
Conversely, later in the day the air tends downward, so the hunter in the hollow is not as likely to spook a deer by scent if he is down in the hollow and the deer are higher.
"Hunt low of an afternoon. It keeps the scent from being blown up on the ridges," Sims said.
Hunters can expect the big bucks will be laying low during daylight hours whatever the conditions.
"During daylight hours they are not ridge runners, they are bottom trawlers. They are down there and they already know," Sims said.
"Don't underestimate the wise and wit of a buck. He already knows what you don't know. The older they get the more stubborn they get and the more nocturnal they get, so that's why rutting is such an interesting period."
As of Wednesday, Sims believes the big bucks are still laying down and not many are revealing themselves, but that may change any day.
A small amount of doe estrus scent from a local farm may give the buck something to be curious about. A tickle of antlers together or a blow on a grunt tube could cause the buck to become curious enough to advance on a deer stand.
Ever the safety advocate, Sims asks hunters who come upon each other in public land to move far apart.
"Abide by the laws, be courteous and if you see another hunter and you've got another place give them space and respect if they beat you there," he said.
Sims has a prediction there may not be as many big bucks around this year due to the drought. Epizootic hemorrhagic disease comes during times of drought and this summer's drought made the history books.
Does and young bucks will fight the flies and mosquitoes that seem to thrive in droughts with flicks of their ears and movement. The big bucks sit down and endure the bug bites, causing them to be more susceptible to the blood-borne disease, Sims said.
"The buck is going to lay there until it's dark to get up," he said.
The disease causes dehydration, weight loss, brain damage and blood clots that affect the lungs. The deer develop an insatiable thirst and are found dead by the side of streams and ponds.
Sims believes every hunter has an obligation to conservation. Each animal has the chance to make the population healthier. He determines a certain deer he wants and stays with the hunt until he kills that deer. A younger deer may become a large buck and he has let a few bucks pass beneath his stand this month. He holds each kill as important and taking a lesser deer than the hunter anticipated is a disrespect to that animal.
Page 3 of 3 - Some late in the season may opt to take a doe, but Sims says there may be a big buck right behind that doe and to not give up quickly.
"If you have no luck with a big buck you might take a doe, but you may want to hold out as long as you can because there might be the big buck of your dreams right behind that doe. If it is the buck of your dreams, be proud of him. But we can't kill big bucks if we kill little bucks," he said.
Regardless of a kill, there is a joy in being alone in the woods, watching young deer, passing them up and anticipating their growth the following year.
"Better than a harvest is coming out of the stand and saying, 'Now, that was fantastic,'" Sims said.