Thinkin' about bucks

This is a big week for me and it has nothing to do with fishing.

Thursday was the opener of our deer firearms season and the bucks are chasing does.

Although it’s the gun season, you can still hunt with a bow, something I really love. I went with my sons a few times during the early archery season. We saw some deer but didn’t take a shot.

We’re not seeing the deer we saw a few years ago. Our numbers are down here in southern Michigan due to the EHD virus that has hit us the past couple of years.

It’s infected several other states around us. Deer get it from the bite of a small midge that carries the virus. While it doesn’t affect humans, it’s deadly to deer.

Thousands have died this fall from the virus. It’s a strange disease; it can affect one pocket in a county but not others.

Fortunately, we’ve not found any dead deer on my property and my trail cameras have revealed some nice bucks passing through.

I’m a full-season armchair whitetail hunter; I think about it a lot but don’t get to invest as much time in as I’d like. I’m so busy with my career that I can’t spend enough time in the woods, planting food plots, cutting trees or doing other conservation-minded things for all wildlife.

So, the trail cameras have become essential to me and an enjoyable part of the experience because they are hunting for me when I’m not there. And just knowing that the deer are there gets my heart beating.

By monitoring the trail cameras regularly – even during the off-season – I’ll see how many turkeys, coons and coyotes are on my land.

I did spend a day or so last week clearing leaves off the trails leading to our stands so that our entrance into the woods will be quieter. Stealth hunting is critical because our land tracts are so small and the deer are hunted hard by everyone.

I’ve enjoyed teaching my teenage boys the ways about wildlife, explaining the whitetail rut, how to read the scrapes and rubs, call and rattle in deer and how to play the wind. They’re soaking it up and really excited about hunting.

They aren’t as selective as I am and that’s ok. I prefer to hunt the older class of deer which is why I haven’t shot a Michigan deer for the past few years. I’m looking for that rare buck, the 4 to 5 year old; the kind you might see once a year.

In fact, when you see a 3 year old here, he’s no dummy. He’s been around the block and shot at before.

Those big mature bucks you see on TV aren’t everywhere. To grow that big they become almost entirely nocturnal, so you have to be smart in how you hunt them.

If you spook a mature buck, he’s going to change his pattern and you probably won’t see him again. It’s not like when you spook a school of bass off a point; they’ll come back because the shad are there.

Deer require a more cautious approach and another reason I enjoy the sport so much. I love the challenge, whether it’s a big deer, long-bearded gobbler or a big ol’ bass.

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!

Kevin VanDam's column appears weekly on You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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