Stage Directions
Field & Stream|Volume 125 - Issue 3, 2020
When early-season whitetails vanish from open feeding areas, follow this woods-edge ambush plan
Scott Bestul

YOU COULDN’T MISS THIS BUCK, and not just because he was hitting the same feeding area day after day. There was the rack. The landowner described the buck’s velvet antlers, which he could see from the roadside most evenings, as “a chandelier in the sunset.” Huge whitetails inspire all kinds of exaggerated similes, but I got the point. I was dealing with a buck of a lifetime.

It seemed like one of those classic early-season slam-dunk scenarios. Through the late summer, the giant 10-point was a set-your-watch regular at the southeast corner of a secluded beanfield. All I had to do was pick the right stand tree, quietly hang a set, and keep it together when the wall of tines came bobbing in.

But the buck disappeared just before the September archery opener. The landowner delivered the bad news. “I’m mystified,” he said. “Eight out of 10 evenings, I’d spot him in that same corner. But in the last seven days… Well, I just don’t get it.”

HANGING BACK

I wasn’t sure if I got it either, but I had a suspicion. Instead of waltzing into the beanfield like he owned the daylight rights, the buck was now dawdling at a staging area—a safe spot just off the food source, where he stopped to rub and scrape and, most important, not step into the feeding area until after dark. It’s classic big-buck behavior, especially when summer yields to fall.

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