One Buck Tag To Fill? Hedge Your Bets With Multiple, Season-Long Game Plans

Consistent success on mature bucks doesn't just happen. Start by formulating a series of season-long gameplans with help from HuntStand.

by Josh Honeycutt

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Josh

Consistent success on mature bucks doesn’t just happen. Start by formulating a series of season-long gameplans with help from HuntStand.

The sweet-sounding crack of a rifle and the subtle twang of a bowstring are audible signs that a plan came together. Although these are very real, consequential moments, they are the most microscopic portions of hunting deer. The hardest work is everything that leads up to that moment. It takes grit if you wish to consistently kill giants. OneTag7 900The Game-Planning Mentality. Those who procrastinate rarely succeed. And of those who do both, usually bank on luck to do so. That’s not me. And that’s not you. Consistently killing mature whitetails requires more than good fortune. We create our own luck through hours, days, weeks and months of sweat.

Of course, part of this process requires analysis and critical thinking. Each mature target buck is an individual, and hunters would do well to remember that. While deer don’t have personalities in the humanistic sense, they do exhibit unique behaviors and tendencies.

Creating game plans for each available target buck is important. It’s a process, though. There are things to remember. OneTag8 900Factors To Consider. First, hunters must take pre-season inventory of the properties they plan to hunt. This involves capturing as many deer on camera as possible. You can’t efficiently hunt a deer if you don’t know it’s there.

Once a roster is in place, create an early-season, pre-rut, rut, post-rut and late-season game plan for each target. Overkill? It might sound that way, but it isn’t. You only have one buck tag, but the odds of any one game plan working are very small. However, the likelihood of one of many game plans coming to fruition is much greater.OneTag6 900This planning process takes significant thought and foresight. You have to anticipate the future habits of each given target buck. That might sound impossible, but it isn’t. There are surefire, proven ways to accomplish this goal.

First, analyze all available historical data. Flip through target buck trail camera photos from past seasons. Multiple years of history is very beneficial, in that bucks often carry over land-usage habits from year to year.

Next, consider in-person encounters you’ve had with—or at least realizations you have for—returning target bucks. Already know what bedding area a specific deer prefers during a particular time of season? That’s money, and very helpful for future planning.OneTag5 900Whether you know what deer generally do or not, pore over the mapping layers found in the HuntStand app. This is important for all aspects of the season. While we can’t cover every advantage for each terrain type, it’s important to understand there are many great options. Especially good during the rut are funnels, pinch points, saddles, routes between known doe bedding, and trails along the downwind sides of doe bedding. North-facing slopes, along food-source field edges, and waterholes are solid early-season spots. South-facing slopes, and other spots that provide solar and thermal cover are great during the late season. And leeward (downwind sides of) ridges, inside field corners, hillside benches, thick bedding cover, and many other locations are great all season long. These are but a few examples of why you should have detailed knowledge of the places you hunt.

Once you’ve identified key hunting spots, consider the remainder of the property layout. Depending on the tract of land, deer may or may not have significant visual, audible and winding advantages. This is mostly impacted by topography, terrain and available cover. Still, including this factor in the equation is part of building game plans. You can’t kill a deer if it sees, hears or smells you coming.

OneTag10 900Then, drill down on key bedding areas, food sources (like the lush field above) and watering locations. Creating each game plan will center on these three basic needs. Think about what foods are in the area, and when deer will be hitting those. For example, white oak acorns generally get cleaned up during the early season. Red oak acorns last much longer. Soft mast—such as persimmons, apples and pears—are big during September and October, but usually don’t last much later. Cut corn, standing soybeans, certain food plot species, general browse, forbs and other cold-weather feed can last throughout winter and into early spring.

Of course, these are random grub-based thoughts, but these are a few examples of what to keep in mind when devising your approach. It’s all about creating opportunities, and if you can put together at least 10 to 15 plans (five plans for three target bucks), chances are good one of those just might work. A winning plan might not work to perfection, but it’ll get you close enough. OneTag4 900Big Buck Reflections. Convinced that some of you still think I’m crazy, let’s reflect on a few of my bucks from the past five seasons. The following instances weren’t happenstance or pure luck. These opportunities were created, even anticipated, you might say.

In 2016, my Kentucky season started off fairly disheartening. I spent the better part of the early season chasing a massive 4-year-old 8-pointer. After botching an opportunity and making a non-lethal shot, I missed my chance. The plan almost worked, but it didn’t.

Disheartened, I moved on to another plan I’d crafted. A 6 ½-year-old giant used a certain part of the farm during the pre-rut, and I knew that from past seasons. His old bedding area and travel route patterns held true, and in mid-October, I cashed in one of my pre-season plans and filled my tag.OneTag3 900The next season, in 2017, one of my early season plans worked in Kentucky. I had a beautiful 9-pointer with a droptine and a really swollen foot that festered all summer long. I knew he was in bad shape, and he’d probably hit the easiest food. That held true into the early season, and I tagged him in a food plot I planted near one of his preferred bedding areas.

My 2018 Kentucky season looked similar. A giant 8-pointer frequented a particular area, and I’d decided it was that buck or bust. I’d received photos of that deer throughout the entire 2017 season, and spent the off-season studying trail camera photos, observing aerials, and created plans for each phase of deer season. Fortunately, a slight alteration to my early season plan worked, and I killed my best deer ever.

Fast forward to my 2019-20 Ohio buck. I hunted hard all season long, but never connected. Plan after target buck plan failed. Then, in January, one of them finally worked, and I tagged a stud 8-pointer during the muzzleloader season. (Spoiler: It’s the successful late-season plans that always taste the sweetest.)OneTag2020 900Finally, my 2020 Kentucky buck (above) was another prime example of implementing this practice. I spent the early season chasing three different bucks. Numerous plans failed, and by mid-October, I shifted to a new target buck we’d watched all summer. Like all of my targets, I’d created a rough set of plans for that deer, too. Fortunately, he did as I expected, and I was able to move in and tag him on the first sit.

You see, all of these instances—and many more we don’t have time to cover here—weren’t by accident. These encounters were anticipated, and plans were made long before each one played out. That’s what it takes to consistently tag mature bucks each year. It takes year-round dedication.OneTag12 900HuntStand: An App That Gets It. Compiling all of this information is hard enough, but keeping all of it organized in a cohesive, legible format used to be the challenge. Thankfully, these days, utilizing HuntStand, that’s now a non-issue.

For starters, I have traditional “Hunt Area Maps” for each farm, with all of my treestand, ground blind and trail camera locations charted. I even use these for scouting notes, in-the-field sightings, etc.

It’s also simple enough to create a “Hunt Area Map” for each target buck. Then, use these to map out and keep track of your plans for each deer. Do this and you’ll end up with a “Hunt Area” for each deer you might hunt, and all relative information is in one handy place.

To keep everything organized, my primary maps with stands, blinds and cameras are titled by property name only. However, game plans are titled by the property name, followed by the target buck’s name. (I know, not everyone is into naming deer, but it helps keep track of things.) Doing this keeps everything neat, organized, and in sync with my OCD.OneTag2 900Remember—never stop devising plans, even if you’ve already tagged out. This type of preparation can, and often does, carry over to next season. Sure, you won’t know every deer you see each year. Deer come and go, and you won’t have the luxury of taking pre-season inventory of every deer you’ll see. Some bucks you capture on camera during the summer and early fall might not even stick around for the long haul. But that’s why it’s important to continuously devise these game plans. Generally, by the end of the season, one of them will work. And those that don’t, might just work to perfection come next season.



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