Every year, hunters spend countless hours preparing food plots, planning and finding ways to improve their chances to get a wall-hanger downrange and in range. If a mature buck falls into the trap, hunters must tread lightly to close the deal.

When a big buck shows up on a hunter’s property, he or she must prevent spooking the deer and make sure it’s comfortable on the property to get a solid shot at him.

Mature bucks have targets on their backs no matter where they go. Older bucks are at the top of the pyramid, with very few of their kind available each year for hunters and dream about. Even with the best food plots and the most-fertile habitats, only a few mature bucks will take up residence on those grounds, and if something isn’t kosher, if  eminent danger is looming, they will seek refuge in places that offer the best chances at surviving another season. 

Old bucks survive by being smart and eluding the typical hunting club’s antics, but a smart hunter can put one of these trophy bucks in his sights as long as the buck is oblivious to the hunter who’s on its trail.

T.C. Lloyd of Hartsville, S.C., is no stranger to mature bucks. Over the past decade, Lloyd has put several trophy bucks on the dirt, including a 143-inch, 14-pointer killed last Nov. 12, and he makes every attempt to keep a big buck in the dark when he first discovers a big boy is in play. 

“When I pick up a big buck on (trail) camera or see one on the club, I make every attempt to not spook him,” Lloyd said. “I try to hunt the big ones out of the woods in food plots, along power lines and places I can see a long way.”

Typically, when a big buck shows up on a property, it is during the rut, wandering through, looking for receptive does. Even a mature buck is not immune to trailing a hot doe into wide-open spaces during daylight hours. That’s when Lloyd likes to set up along field edges, power lines, and large cutovers. 

“When you hunt in the woods, you have to come back out, and you will often spook deer getting out of the stand or on the way back out,” he said. 

Sometimes, you have to hunting in the woods to get be in places the deer are frequenting and where that big buck is showing up regularly. Scent control is critical in these areas, and Lloyd will make every attempt to reduce his scent exposure, especially when a big buck draws takes him deep into cover. 

“If I am hunting in the woods, I will leave a stand alone on an unfavorable wind. It’s not worth spooking the deer and running him off,” he said. 

Hunters can help keep deer in the dark by keeping their hunting clothes and boots from being contaminated by the scents of civilization. Lloyd limit his travel when wearing his hunting clothes and never puts on his hunting boots until he arrives at his hunting club. Every step to reduce unnatural scents will count towards getting closer to that big buck. 

When hunting in the woods, Lloyd recommends hunters clip overhanging saplings and bushes along the trails he takes to and from stands to reduce scent contamination. 

Strange noises can also send a big buck into the next county. Deer will quickly recognize dangerous sounds and will make every effort to avoid the places they hear them at all costs.

Lloyd’s long-range hunting over fields, power lines, and cutovers makes it easier to mask both odors and sounds that bring him closer to getting a shot at another big buck on his hunting property.  

Limit activity into the woods during the height of the rut, especially when a big buck has moved into the area. While walking gullies, creek bottoms and oak ridges can be exhilarating — looking at new rubs and scrapes, and to check trail cameras — in-season scouting when a big buck is near should be avoided. Mature bucks will quickly move on to the next property if they get bumped from their daily travel corridors or bedding areas. 

When not hunting over a food plot or agriculture field, Lloyd will pile up corn to keep does in the area and tempt a mature buck as well, but he will not check his trail camera unless his is putting out corn. 

“I only put out corn and check my cameras during the middle of the day, but when there is a big buck around, I will check cameras less frequently and will only when I am putting out corn,” he said. 

While big bucks will often show up on trail cameras or in person, they will sometimes slip into stealth mode and surprise hunters when least expected. Sometimes, hunters know about a big buck using their property, but many times, he will arrive without a welcoming party. When hunters have spent hours preparing their property for such high-profile guests, they need to make sure they are prepared for a visit. 

“Always expect the unexpected, because there may already be a big buck around that isn’t on the trail cameras yet,” Lloyd said.