Ask some of Georgia’s most successful big-buck chasers, and they will tell you the best time to kill a trophy buck is opening weekend of archery season. There’s long been a conception that the best time to kill a mature buck is during the rut, and that is indeed an excellent time because bucks abandon caution and roam the countryside looking for mates. But opening weekend of bow season may very well be when mature bucks are the most predictable and vulnerable.
Taylor Childers is a pecan farmer from Fort Valley who knows this very well. He has arrowed several huge bucks on opening weekend and has developed a strategy to locate, pattern and have a good chance to kill them.
Taylor used his strategy in 2015 when he had been getting trail-camera photographs of a good buck he nicknamed “Tight Club” because of an odd antler configuration. He had pictures of the buck all summer coming to a soybean field. He had also collected video footage of the buck in the field while observing from a distance in the evenings. Opening day that year was Sept. 11, and Taylor went to the field that afternoon to hang a stand where Tight Club had been entering the field each evening.
“It was a strange spot,” Taylor recalled. “The tree was only 8 inches in diameter there, but that’s all I had.”
Knowing the wind direction was critical, it was consistently blowing 10 to 15 mph, which helped Taylor make the decision to go in and hunt opening-day evening. The hunter settled in his stand in the skinny tree around 5 p.m. and began watching deer filter into the field as dusk arrived.
In addition to numerous does, Taylor had three nice bucks within shooting range.
“One I would have shot, a 120-class 9-pointer, if the other buck had not come out. But I knew there was a good chance of getting him,” Taylor said, referring to Tight Club.
Timing is critical in early season hunting, particularly around fields. In this situation, Taylor knew that if he didn’t get his buck that night, he would likely scare off all the deer in the field as he departed.
“If I didn’t get him tonight, I’d booger up everything. I had no way of exiting without spooking deer.”
Twenty minutes before dark, he spotted the buck coming.
“The first thing I saw was that row of tines, and I knew it was him. I stood up, trying not to shake the tree, and drew back. At 28 yards, I let him have it.”
Using his Hoyt Alpha Max 32, Taylor sent a three-blade Rage into the shoulder and watched the buck run 100 yards into the field, stop, look around and fall over.
“It was wonderful,” Taylor said, of seeing the buck fall.
He got down and walked right up to his trophy, an 11-pointer that grossed 143 inches. The rack was not symmetrical at all, in fact it had a normal left side scoring 81 inches alone, but the right side was still in velvet in the shape of a turkey foot, according to Taylor. The 5 1/2-year-old buck weighed 235 pounds.
The mount of Tight Club hangs on Taylor’s wall because he figured out the buck’s feeding pattern and capitalized on it on opening weekend.
Taylor’s success with this buck and several other opening-weekend bucks centers around a stealthy strategy while using the deer’s late-summer predictability against it.
“Trail cameras and food sources are the two biggest things,” Taylor said. “We basically start the first of June putting out cameras and mineral blocks.”
He runs six cameras on the 1,500-acre tract of land in Taylor County along the Flint River that he hunts with family and friends. It has river frontage and some hardwoods, but the property is primarily regenerated cutover with some food plots.
“I’ve been using trail cameras since they became popular. I love running them—they let you know what’s there,” he said.
His strategy is to put out 50-lb. mineral blocks and whole kernel corn in front of a camera. Taylor believes that the deer hit the mineral blocks better in the summer when they need the nutrition. He’ll set them up along field edges, trails and food plots, and he will begin gathering valuable information.
“I try to find one or two bucks and try to get a pattern,” he said. “I’ll check the cameras once a week on Saturdays and put out more corn.”
His goal is to not only find a shooter buck, but to locate the buck’s core area, travel patterns and bedding area. But of most importance is to capture the bucks on camera during daylight.
As exciting as it is to get pictures of big bucks, if they only move at night, it may be very difficult to kill them. When he’s only getting night shots, Taylor moves the cameras until he gets photos of the buck during daylight.
“I’ll have three or four cameras within a 200- to 300-yard radius to find where he is during the day,” Taylor said.
Like a puzzle, the plan is to keep checking and moving cameras until they capture big boy while the sun is still shining.
To attract and feed the deer on his property, Taylor plants soybeans in his food plots. There are several food plots on the land, including a 16-acre field. He has tried sorghum, peas and corn, and while the deer like them, he finds that they grow too high for him to see the deer feeding in them.
With deer focusing primarily on food this time of the year, it’s imperative to locate their late-summer food source. Agriculture, food plots, grown-up fields and kudzu are prime areas where a hunter might locate a buck.
“My favorite thing to do is to watch deer out in fields,” Taylor said.
Parking several hundred yards away, Taylor will carefully watch fields and edges, looking for that shooter buck. Using binoculars from a distance, he’ll watch and note where they are coming in and which parts of the fields they are feeding in. This, too, will provide him with valuable information of which deer are feeding there, where they’re entering the field, and at what time. Observing fields and food plots is one more of the puzzle pieces to locating and patterning a buck.
It’s also important to learn where the buck’s bedding area is located. This will let you know where he’s coming from and how to set up on him. Your perfect ambush point or stand placement will be between his bedding area and the food source, and you want a setup on the downwind side of that travel corridor. The best scenario, according to Taylor, is when the bedding area is close to the food source.
Mature bucks are hard to figure out, period, but summer is the best time to locate and catch them on a consistent feeding pattern. Early September is when mature bucks drastically change patterns and ranges. A buck that has been consistently coming to a field to feed every summer evening will suddenly disappear. When they shed their velvet and have hard bone antlers, mature bucks typically move from their summer range to a fall range. While you may have him patterned all summer, he will change to another range. It’s part of their normal migration to move to another area, which emphasizes how critical it is to get him before he changes. Your best chance to kill him while still on his summer pattern is opening weekend. After that, he could be anywhere, and a new search begins.
When the state changed deer seasons about 10 years ago, opening archery season a week sooner, it opened up a greater opportunity for bowhunters to get on a mature buck while he’s still on his summer feeding pattern.
Taylor was fortunate to catch a mature buck still on the summer pattern in 2009. Running cameras around a 4-acre soybean field, they had numerous pictures of a tall 8-pointer, and he had even seen him once. What made this buck killable was his consistent pattern of coming to the same food source, and his repeated appearances in the bean field before it got dark.
With valuable data telling Taylor that this mature buck was showing up at the same food source each evening, it was a no-brainer to place a stand on this food plot. As is typical for early September in Georgia, opening weekend was hot, but Taylor was optimistic about getting this buck.
“I remember it was hot, probably 90 degrees, and I was pouring sweat,” Taylor recalls. “I thought the deer would smell me.”
But the hunter sneaked in the best he could and waited on the buck to arrive. There are numerous reasons why a hunter would be optimistic about getting a buck on a particular hunt—a good cold front, onset of the rut, fresh rubs and scrapes—will all make a hunter feel he’s going to get a shot that day. But when you have dozens of daytime photos of a particular buck coming to the same location for several weeks, that has got to be the ultimate indicator of great things to come.
“All of a sudden, there he was at 25 yards,” Taylor said of his hunt that opening evening. “I drew back and shot—I didn’t have time to get nervous, it happened so fast. There was a limb in the way, and I had to stand on my tip toes to see over the limb.”
The Rage broadhead hit its mark, and the buck bolted and ran about 60 yards out into a cutover and dropped.
This opening-day buck was an 8-pointer with 24-inch beams, and it grossed 142 and netted 133 5/8. It is the No. 5 bow-buck from Taylor County in GON’s County-by-County archery records, tied with a bow-buck his brother Adam killed in 2012. (Adam is on the cover with a giant buck he arrowed last season).
Taylor’s 2009 archery trophy fell to the strategy of locating a summer feeding pattern and capitalizing on it before the buck changed to a fall range.
Two components are critical.
“Without cameras, you wouldn’t know they were there. Without food, they wouldn’t be there,” Taylor said.
Though opening weekend is his favorite time to hunt, he cautions not to go to a stand with the wrong wind.
“If you can’t go in without spooking them, then don’t go in,” he said. “Be as sneaky as you can.”
Good advice. If a mature buck gets sufficiently spooked, he may leave and not come back, or he may go nocturnal.
The very first time that Taylor figured out this killer strategy was in 2007 when one of his father’s friends let him hunt a 90-acre tract in Peach County. Taylor and a friend scouted the property, a 25-year old regenerated cutover, two weeks before the season opener. While walking, they jumped a buck.
“I knew he was big,” Taylor recalled, “and I wanted to hunt him.”
There was a 100-acre overgrown wheat field near the property, which they figured the buck was feeding in. Opening day, Taylor went to a spot between where they had jumped the buck and the field and placed a stand. Twenty minutes before dark, he looked to his left and saw some long tines, and he knew this was a shooter buck.
“When he was 6 yards in front of me, I drew back when his head was behind a tree. The shot was only 4 yards away.”
The buck tore off toward the overgrown field and disappeared. Taylor returned later with his dad and flashlights, and they found the buck 80 yards away in the tall weeds. They were amazed how big he was, even bigger than he originally thought. The buck grossed 152 inches, netted 135, and is Taylor’s biggest buck to date.
Taylor already has a few bucks located this summer to watch. With the right pattern and fortune, he may score on another opening-weekend trophy.
The pattern of locating a buck coming to a late-summer food source in the evening is a killer tactic, and it can work for you with right setup and strategy.