Two deer in the field

Secrets for Taking Big Buck Deer Day 1: Locate...

A deer in the field

Secrets for Taking Big Buck Deer Day 3: Use...

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Secrets for Taking Big Buck Deer Day 2: Develop Game Plans – Create Places for Deer

A deer in the woods
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Editor’s Note: You too can have an opportunity to harvest a big whitetail by learning 10 secrets to better deer hunting this week. Although these aren’t all the secrets you need to take big bucks, these 10 make up the best ones I’ve learned in more than 50 years of deer hunting with some of the nation’s best deer hunters. If a big buck lives where you hunt, and you haven’t bagged him yet, try one of these tactics.

A hunter poses with antlersSecret #3: Develop Game Plans for Deer in the Off-Season

To consistently take big bucks every season, you’ll have to scout more in the off-season than you hunt during hunting season. You’ll most likely see a trophy buck and learn the most about his habits and haunts before or after hunting season than at any other time of the year. When hunters leave the woods, the bucks will expose themselves more often in open areas. They’ll use well-established trails, come out into agricultural fields more frequently and move out of thick-covered areas in daylight hours.

Mark Drury, founder of M.A.D. Calls and Drury Outdoors (, once told me, “You can go into the deer’s bedding area after hunting season and not worry about spooking bucks because they’ll have a full year to re-establish these bedding areas. Once you get inside that bedding site, you’ll often find shed antlers and discover trails you’ve never seen before. The hunters who take big bucks hunt all year long scout intensively during the off-season. Then, when they go into the woods with their tree stands and either their bows or their rifles, they’re prepared to harvest the bucks they’ve already pinpointed and learned how to hunt.”

A deer in the fieldSecret #4: Create Places to Take a Trophy Buck

Most big bucks stay in thick cover or hard-to-reach places during hunting season. To have an opportunity to bag one of these trophies, use the off-season to create a place to hunt them. Make sure you have the landowner’s permission; then move 8-10 yards inside a thicket, and cut a trail 4-5 feet wide that will allow you to walk into the center of that cover and set-up a ground blind. Cut shooting lanes that spoke out from your ground-blind site. Now you not only have a place to hunt, you’ve created a path for big bucks to use.

Freddy Smith from Birmingham, Alabama, told me how he made a place to hunt the big bucks on his family farm. “We had a high sage field between my family’s garden and the woods. The deer would get into the garden and eat the vegetables every summer. We often saw some really-nice bucks feeding there in the afternoons. However, the bucks always seemed to vanish each hunting season. I really wanted to take one of those big bucks with my bow. So, I set-up a tripod stand about 30- yards from the woodline and used a lawnmower to cut a path through the sage to the vegetable garden. The deer could get into the garden anyway, but I just made a nice, clean path for them to travel. I used the lawnmower because it had a very-narrow cutting radius, and I knew the deer wanted to feel like they were still in the thick cover of the sage while walking down the cleared path. This tactic worked perfectly for me. The first day of bow season, I climbed into my tripod stand at about 2 pm, and before dark, I’d bagged a buck that scored 142 2/8-points, a nice buck for central Alabama.”

A hunter with his downed deerYou can take bucks by creating mock scrapes. Derrick Jones creates an effective mock scrape in 2 minutes or less. “I use my boots to clear away leaves and debris to expose the ground on the edge of a terrain break – an old road, the edge of a pine thicket that adjoins CRP land or a deer trail along a creek. Then I urinate on that exposed ground and walk away. Biologists agree that the ammonia in the urine – humans or animals – attracts deer. Within a week I’ve gotten trail-camera pictures of bucks and does working my scrapes. An advantage of creating these quickie scrapes is I can put a trail camera nearby and get the deer’s photos. I usually see several different bucks and does coming to my quickie mock scrapes.”

I interviewed Kyle Hooten of St. Mary’s, Kansas, a couple of years ago who had read numerous articles about other deer hunters who had created mock scrape trees and been very successful with them. For three years Hooten and his dad had used this almost surefire tactic in their region of the U.S. and had taken several 150-160 point bucks using a mock scrape tree. Here’s what Hooten did in his own words.

“I’ll cut down either a big limb or a small oak tree – 3-4 inches in diameter at its base – dig a hole and put that tree where I want it to be,” Hooten reports. “Then I use ScrapeFix powder ( on the limbs and under the tree on the ground and place other types of deer lure and deer scents under the tree. We’ve found that these mock scrape trees work best during the prerut in our area when the bucks are searching for that first estrous doe. If the bucks break limbs on the mock scrape tree by rubbing their antlers and their foreheads there, I’ll simply screw a new limb into the trunk of that tree, and the deer can work it again.”

Cover: How to Hunt Deer Like a ProCover: 13 Chili Recipes You Can't Live WithoutTo learn more about hunting deer, check out John E. Phillips’ book, “How to Hunt Deer Like a Pro,” available in Kindle, print and Audible versions, at (, and “13 Chili Recipes You Can’t Live Without,” available in Kindle at You may have to copy and paste these links into your browser. (When you click on this book, notice on the left where Amazon says you can read 10% of the book for free, and you can hear 10% for free). On the right side of the page and below the offer for a free Audible trial, you can click on Buy the Audible book. To see more of John’s deer-hunting books, visit John’s latest book, “Elk: Keys to 23 More Hunters’ Success,” was just published in Audible on November 15, 2021, and is available in Kindle, print and Audible at Keys to 23 More Hunters' Success

Tomorrow: Use GPS and Hunting Aids for Big Bucks

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