I’ve been told more times than I can count, you can’t kill summer bucks in the fall cause of the summer shift. Many hunters strictly avoid summer scouting because they have no confidence in killing bucks that they locate in the summer. The summer shift is definitely real, but what takes place is mainly a misunderstanding.
The summer shift is probably the most extreme shift a buck will make during the entire year. This generally happens late August or sometime in September. Somewhere in that window of time, a buck becomes an entirely different specimen. The reason the shift is so drastic is because there’s all kinds of changes happening as fall starts to arrive. Testosterone starts to flow through a buck’s body, food sources begin to change, weather often becomes colder and it’s time for bucks to prepare for breeding season.
I’ve monitored hundreds of bucks over the years during the summer shift, and most don’t shift as far as what many of us think. A lot of bucks still live in the same general area they spent the summer, but they use that area differently in the fall. If a buck was part of a bachelor group throughout the summer, then breaks from it during the shift, he likely will change a lot of his travel routes when he becomes a loner. When deer are grouped up, they use each other for security. Whenever I come upon a group of deer beds, whether it’s bucks or does, I’ve learned that usually every deer is watching a different direction. Summer bucks don’t often bed in as thick of cover as they do in the fall. They rely on each other more than the use of cover, often bedding on the edge of cover. Much like a pack of wolves, each deer has a role to help protect the herd. When the herd splits up, each buck will tend to be more selective on where he spends his daytime hours/bedding. This is why it’s crucial to know exactly where isolated buck bedding is in the areas you hunt.
As soon as a buck loses all of his summer buddies, he tends to bed in thick cover. Unlike summer activity, you won’t see him out of the cover in the daylight as often during the early fall. Bucks typically stay in cover much of the day until closer to the rut. A lot of hunters struggle to get daytime pictures on their trail cameras during the early fall because most hunters choose to set up on the edges of cover vs. going in it. By all means, if you can get in the cover without being detected, that’s where you should be.
Keep in mind that a mature buck is preparing himself for the rut at this time. He is building up as many preserves as he can, because in the months ahead, he will rely on his body fat to get through the breeding season. Most of the mature bucks I have had history with often had access to a good food source inside the bedroom. These bucks don’t want to lay all day. They want to eat all day. They get up and feed, fill their bellies and lay back down. And it goes on until sunset. When we think of bedding areas, we tend to throw out food sources within the cover. Knowing areas that are thick and full of food are prime locations for mature buck bedding and exactly where you will find a big buck living right after the summer shift.
KNOW THE FOOD SOURCES
When mast crops start dropping, bucks will often shift closer to them. In areas where there’s an abundance of oak, I’ve seen bucks shift several miles to be closer to acorns. Summer browse sources slowly die off as the air gets colder and daylight decreases. Bucks will stick close to browse sources the entire summer, but once it becomes less available or a more preferred food source develops, many bucks will shift for food. However, if they don’t feel secure in these feeding areas, the majority of the activity is at night. Bucks will then bed near a secondary food source where they feel safer. It is not uncommon for a big woods buck to spend his days over a mile away from a primary food source that he only visits at night. Safety comes before food in the mind of a mature buck.
SHORTENED DAYTIME TRAVEL
In my opinion, the most challenging part of early season hunting mature bucks is their lack of travel during daylight hours. This also makes it extremely hard to relocate them after the shift. Even though bucks get up and feed in the bedroom throughout the day, this is all taking place usually inside a few acres. They don’t start putting on miles until the sun goes down. You have to be close to the bedroom in the early season for consistent success. As close as you can get to actual bedding, the better your chances go up. Bucks never leave the bedroom door wide open though. You have to know your limits. You still have to avoid triggering any of their senses, especially their eyes and noses.
I’ve lost track of a lot of bucks over the years after the shift only to find them showing back up right after the first early season cold front. Whenever you get a cold front, bucks break out of their sluggish, early season patterns. This is when they will roam around the perimeters of their core areas making rubs and working scrapes. This is why it’s so important to cluster trail cameras in areas where you believe are holding the bucks you want to hunt. A quick camera check after a front rolls through will often show you those bucks that seem like ghosts after the summer shift.
The video below discusses how to pick out the best hunting days based on weather!
Remember, most bucks don’t generally shift miles away once fall arrives. It’s the changes in their behavior and habitat that are making it difficult to find them. The key is to not give up and be patient. As the rut nears, the overall movement will start to increase and the boys of summer will start showing up again.
Author: Steve Sherk of Sherk's Guide Service, Exodus Black Hat Team Member