Celebrating Summer Whitetails

If you want to take an inventory of mature whitetail bucks in your area, then cover some ground in a vehicle during summer and glass green fields at sunset.

Celebrating Summer Whitetails

Photo from Wisconsin DNR Facebook/Linda Freshwaters Arndt

As a kid, one of my favorite pastimes was hopping in the back of Dad’s pickup (no topper) to go looking for deer during the last hour of the day. My brother, Steve, and I would stand in the bed of the truck with elbows leaning on the truck cab. Dad would drive dirt roads (not fast) and visit numerous green fields within 5 miles of our western Wisconsin cabin. He’d slow the pickup to a crawl as we approached a likely field. (I’m sure Dad would be arrested for child endangerment if he did it today.)

Because Steve and I had better visibility due to our higher vantage point, we’d drum the metal cab as a sign that Dad should stop the truck. We didn’t carry binoculars back then, so it was tough to see the size of velvet bucks in the distance. And now that I think about it, we were far more interested in quantity than quality. It was all about how many total deer we could see during our 45-minute adventure.

I was reminded of these good times when Dad, Mom and I went looking for deer over the Independence Day weekend. We drove the same gravel roads we traveled 45 years ago, and the same fields were home to numerous whitetails. That said, not everything was the same. For starters, I wasn’t standing in the bed of the pickup! Instead, I sat in the passenger seat while Dad drove; Mom occupied the back seat of the Ford Crew Cab. And yes, we all wore seatbelts.

Another difference is we all had binoculars, and Dad and I were more interested in quality than quantity. Mom began keeping track of the total number but stopped counting when we topped 100 whitetails.

I also don’t remember a time when we saw so many mature bucks. In fact, I’d say 20 of the first 100 deer we glassed were bucks that will grow racks scoring at least 120 Pope and Young Club points this fall. 

We didn’t spot any giants; our area isn’t a hotbed for world-class trophies like famed Buffalo County and other well-known destinations. Our county receives tremendous hunting pressure during the annual 9-day firearms season (centerfire rifles are legal; tags are over the counter, even for nonresidents), and the patchwork of woods and farm fields are relatively easy for teams of orange-clad hunters to conduct deer drives. Simply put, in the past several decades not a high percentage of bucks survived to 3.5 years or older.

In my opinion, the reason our area has more mature bucks this year than usual is we had a massive storm hit during July 2019. A couple tornadoes accompanied straight-line winds of up to 85 mph. The severe straight-line winds lasted nearly 20 minutes, and combined with torrential rains, leveled a high percentage of trees throughout the county. The devastating storm made it all but impossible for deer hunters to walk through the woods, which means the whitetail harvest in the wind-damaged areas was much lower than normal during the 2019 and 2020 firearms seasons. Bucks born in spring 2018 that would have made up most of the gun harvest in fall 2019 survived. And they didn’t get shot in 2020, either. And now, in 2021, they will be 3.5 years old by deer season. In other words, at no time in my life have so many mature bucks walked the woods in my hunting area. Exciting!

In the author’s hunting area in Wisconsin, straight-line winds up to 85 mph that lasted nearly 20 minutes combined with a couple tornadoes and torrential rains uprooted or snapped many large trees. The storm, which hit in July 2019, has provided whitetails with limitless security cover.
In the author’s hunting area in Wisconsin, straight-line winds up to 85 mph that lasted nearly 20 minutes combined with a couple tornadoes and torrential rains uprooted or snapped many large trees. The storm, which hit in July 2019, has provided whitetails with limitless security cover.

I almost titled this article “Scouting for Summer Whitetails,” but driving around at sunset and looking at whitetails feeding in alfalfa, clover and soybean fields isn’t really scouting. Bachelor groups of bucks that hang out together during summer will break up after the velvet drops in early September, and many of these bucks will drastically change their diet when soybean leaves turn from green to yellow, and acorns start hitting the forest floor. Even though I know these bucks will relocate, I am encouraged by the total number of bucks sighted. Some of these big boys will leave, but others will likely slip in to take their place. And during the rut, of course, anything is possible as bucks travel widely looking for a doe in heat.

This summer, take the time to drive dirt roads in the country and glass green fields at sunset. At no other time will you see so many mature bucks. And while these bucks will soon perform their disappearing act, just knowing these bucks are out there should give you incentive to hit it hard this deer season.

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