In most areas of whitetail country,
a mature buck may be the most elusive of trophies. Just seeing a heavy-antlered
buck during daylight hours can be a daunting challenge. Spend a summer
evening glassing a remote, protected field and you may spot a trophy
buck emerge at woods edge as shadows lengthen. But as summer relents
to the shorter days of autumn, older bucks grow increasingly reluctant
to show themselves during daylight hours. Restricting their movements
to the blackness of night, trophy bucks become ghostlike and invisible.
Seasoned hunters are familiar with this phenomenon. We say "my buck has
gone nocturnal," and our companions nod knowingly. It is among the whitetail
hunter's most frustrating situation - large rubs continue to appear in hunting
areas, scrapes are pawed out and freshened, tracks that could be left by only
one buck taunt us - yet hours of hunting produce no sightings of the deer. We
know the buck has fallen back on one of the whitetail's oldest and most trusted
tricks: waiting until dark.
Why do whitetails exhibit this behavior? Some say bucks "learn" from
the bad experiences they encounter with hunters during daylight hours and "know" that
hunting season is on. Others contend that nocturnal movement is a natural survival
behavior of older deer, that autumn leaf fall exposes cover and makes bucks more
nervous and wary. Whatever the reason, it can be argued that, of the survival
rules a buck must follow, this is undoubtedly one of the most important. A trophy
whitetail can disregard virtually every rule he's learned and, as long as he
breaks those rules under cover of darkness, he will survive.