Summer velvet bucks remind most hunters of a group of fellas going to a major league baseball game. Festivities start well before the first pitch. The event begins with the drive to the stadium, playing cornhole in the parking lot, and having a few pre-game beers. After the main event begins, the group likely throws down a hot dog or two, a few more beverages, and ends the night with a funnel cake.
Maybe instead of seeing bucks as testosterone-driven meat-heads, we should compare their movements to a five-course meal at a chef's table event.
It's common to see bucks making their way to a destination during mid-day hours. You might catch them browsing and loafing around on their way to that primary food source. The buck's movement may appear random, but it has more purpose than you'd think.
Bucks know how to travel in hot weather to meet their needs. You'll want to keep your eyes peeled for these summer food sources to get an SD card full of velvet-fest bucks.
Course #1: Mushrooms
Patches of mushrooms grow well around rotting trees and dying foliage. Cool hide-outs where deer like to escape the heat is a spot mushrooms also thrive.
Focus on sections of dead falls (fallen trees) between bed and food, largely in lower terrain. These spots will have a good source of mushrooms and can even be a player in the early parts of the archery season.
While mushrooms aren't a top staple, they're a nice appetizer en route to better food. They have a high phosphorus content, making them appealing to bucks growing new antlers.
Course #2: Woody Browse
Woody browse is the next layer of food we'll cover. You may have seen a deer wander through the woods browsing on small shoots of all kinds. Oak, ferns, sassafras; you name it, they'll eat it.
The tough thing about browse is that it's spread all over the woods and is not always the same type of food. To locate the best browse, search for the intel to help nail down a deer's bedding area first. A ballpark idea is good enough if you haven't had the chance to scout a spot.
Woody browse, close to bedding, is the top everyday staging food. That means good daylight pictures during velvet. Watch for steady action through the fall. When it continues, this area may also be a valid hunting option.
Find a well-worn trail through thick browse that shows signs of fresh feeding activity for camera placement. Use that trail as a starting point and if it seems like more movement is coming from a certain path, move your camera that way.
Course #3: Green Briar
A type of browse, green briar is favored all year long. This food source is a velvet-fest king in the big woods setting. In the early stages of spring and summer, the buds of this plant have strong drawing power. The lure is due mainly to its high protein content at that time of year.
The appeal of green briar has lows and highs based on the availability of binge-worthy food like acorns. When a green briar pattern exists, expect a few days to two weeks of consistent movement.
The tricky thing about green briar is that it's usually spread across a landscape. It can be tough to narrow down a dense zone of growth. Green briar that grows in mature timber is easiest because the best growth is where the forest floor gets the most sunlight.
In a three to five-year-old clear-cut, green briar often makes up much of the growing plant life. One patch usually tapers off to the next. The best option for velvet success on green briar in a clear-cut is to find a series of defined islands. Bucks will hop from one island to the other, but the spots for a feeding frenzy are more defined.
Green briar also loves the edges of old thick logging roads. These edges will narrow deer travel and force them to stop now and then for a snack. That makes logging roads and road crossings a great place to get pictures of some giant velvet bucks.
Course #4: Pokeweed
Pokeweed grows well in disturbed ground, so brand new clear cuts or fresh burns are where this food source shines. One advantage to large sections of this plant in new clear cuts is that it is often some of the best summer cover available.
I've mentioned tire ruts made by heavy machinery before, and that feature is vital to productive pokeweed. It's not only good for the plant's growth, but those tire ruts keep an area moist.
Think of a deer's needs; food, water, cover, and cool summer bedding. Not quite the same as their needs in the fall. Pokeweed checks most of those boxes. Because of that, bucks tend to bed in these areas.
As far as health content, pokeberry is packed with all kinds of vitamins that support immune function. Vitamins in pokeberry thickets equal incredible daylight velvet-fest pictures!
Course #5: Blueberries
Blueberry fields are a great summer food source. Maybe they draw attention from a long way off because of their aroma. Whatever the allure, they are a magnet for velvet bucks.
The best growth of blueberries I've found has been in well-drained areas with lots of sunlight. They tend to be a buck's main evening food source during the summer.
Focus your camera placement around entry areas for the best chance at daylight photos. Elevating your camera and pointing it away from sun exposure will also help you get better pictures.
Big woods bucks use berry thickets like a farm buck uses a bean field. Because the area provides little hidden cover, expect entry from the downwind side of the food.
Does and fawns also cling to the berries as a summer staple. If you've been tuning into the Exodus Youtube channel, you'll find out why it's crucial to know about the does and fawns in your area.
These are just a select few of hundreds of food sources available for big woods bucks. Match a buck's needs to your targeted time to hunt to collect useful data from your cameras.
Also, while capturing velvet photos is nice, packing a buck out is way better. From those pictures, key in on things you can build into a hunting strategy.
In what type of funnel is that food? Does it make sense for a buck to use the area even if the food is gone? Will the food create good shot options, or is it better to hunt the travel route from bed to food?
Keep asking yourself questions linked to the area you're hunting. Compile the intel, and review the intel with a fine-toothed comb. Avoid overlooking the smallest details. Velvet bucks will be a factor as far as your hunt is concerned.
AUTHOR: Aaron Hepler, Exodus Black Hat Team Member