John's Journal...

Hunting Hot-Weather White-Tailed Bucks in South Carolina

How to Hunt Summer Bucks

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: Deer hunting during the first week of September feels strange and uncomfortable. Swatting mosquitoes and picking ticks off your hide as sweat traces down the squint marks into your eyes isn’t the normal picture we see of a deer hunter. But on the Bostick Plantation in Estill, South Carolina, deer season comes in during hot weather and lasts through January 1. And in this place and at this time, a sportsman has the rare opportunity to try and take a velvet-antlered buck. In most states, deer hunting is an autumn and winter pursuit. Let’s learn how to find and take the bucks of summer.

I was waiting in the drizzling rain for the first rays of the sun to peel the dark covers of night away from my tree stand and the woods where I was hunting. Although hunting in the rain wasn’t enjoyable, the wet weather was a pleasant relief from the torrid heat of the afternoon before. I had already made the decision to bag either a velvet-antlered buck or a buck out of the velvet – really preferring the velvet-antlered deer. However, a buck is a buck, and that’s what I had come to hunt. Another reason I’d chosen to settle for any buck at the Bostick Plantation was because of the plantation’s strict deer-management program for the past 25 years. To harvest a buck, the buck had to have at least a 16-inch spread. Therefore I knew any buck I bagged would be a nice buck. Using this system of deer management, the hunters at the Bostick have seen the overall size as well as the antler development of their deer dramatically improve. The Bostick tries to protect the younger bucks so they can grow-up to be trophies. Click to enlarge

As the sun came up, and the rain left for the day, I looked up and down the woods road for any sign of a buck. Hunting summer deer is quite different from hunting winter deer, because there is no natural attractant to lure deer to the hunter. Too, the woods have plenty of food and water, and the bucks aren’t in rut. Therefore I was sitting on a woods road with a 100-yard view in either direction – hoping to get a deer moving to bed-down in the thick planted pines behind me after a night of feeding. Suddenly a deer appeared about 60 yards from my stand with his back to me and moving away from me down the edge of the road. I could see ivory-colored antlers on either side of the deer’s body. After studying the animal carefully with my binoculars, I realized I had better get my rifle to my shoulder and do the rest of my looking through the scope – just in case the deer was large enough to bag. I had the variable scope set on 9X, which magnified the animal. I had pre-determined not to take a shot – unless the deer presented the opportunity for an instant kill. Finally when the buck was at about 100 yards, he stepped into a large mud puddle in the middle of the road. As he threw his ears forward, I spotted plenty of antler outside the ear tips. “I can take him,” I thought. I hesitated an instant, found the crosshairs in the scope and made my sighting point just in front of the front shoulder of the deer in the neck region. I knew a neck shot would drop a deer instantly and prevent my having to blood-trail the animal. Another reason I’d chosen a neck shot over a shoulder shot was because I was hunting in a swamp where trailing deer through water would be extremely difficult. In the second before the shot, I also noticed the deer had white antlers instead of velvet antlers. But he was a nice buck, and I was now ready to bag him. However, just as I squeezed the trigger, the buck stepped forward. I couldn’t believe what happened next. My .243 Mannlicher knocked the deer off his feet. But in less than a heartbeat, the deer was up again and running. Since the deer had taken that step just as I squeezed the trigger, evidently I hadn’t placed the bullet at the spot I’d planned. Click to enlarge

Some years ago I’d learned that the most-important thing a hunter could do after the shot was to listen for the deer as the animal ran off. I heard the deer fall. Next I heard him on his feet again, and then I heard him splash as he fell the second time. The woods became silent. As I waited, I realized I couldn’t trail the deer far, because I was in unfamiliar territory, even though I had my GPS receiver with me. I was concerned about getting lost in the Savannah River swamp and what I might find there. I looked at my watch and decided not to come out of the tree for 20 minutes, so that I wouldn’t push the deer too hard – if he wasn’t mortally wounded. Finally I climbed down out of the tree and paced off the distance from the tree stand to where the deer had been standing in the mud puddle. I covered 98 paces before I reached the spot where the bullet had bitten the buck. The deer had crossed the road and run into a flooded pine thicket with water about 3 inches over boot top-high. As I waded into the pines, I looked behind me to try and pick out landmarks that would help me come out of the thicket. I’d gone only 30 yards when I spotted the fat, 175-pound, 8-point lying dead beside a line of pine trees. The bullet had entered the animal right behind the shoulder blade.

There are basically three easy ways to take a buck. Hunt around his food source, hunt him when he has mating on his mind during the rut, or try to take him near a watering hole when there’s very-little water available. Bucks are easiest to bag when food, water and/or sex is in short supply, and the bucks have the greatest need. However, when you’re hunting summer bucks, food is abundant, mating is the last thing on a buck’s mind, and water is easily found, unless there’s a drought. At South Carolina’s Bostick Plantation, in the summer, the deer will be feeding on the plentiful vegetation in the woods. They don’t have to feed on green fields like they must in the wintertime, and they don’t have to eat crops – unless they prefer feed on the crops. The deer in the summertime just aren’t required to move very far at all to get food and/or water. Generally in the summer, the bucks will all be running together, and many South Carolina hunters think the deer seem smarter – making fewer mistakes than they do in the winter – when the need for food and sex supersedes their natural wariness. And since there is still plenty of foliage on the trees and bushes, a hunter’s visibility is also cut drastically when hunting summer bucks. Click to enlarge

Two or three factors to key-in on when stalking hot-weather deer are their bedding areas and travel lanes. Deer like young crops, particularly soybeans, and will come to acornfield that has just been harvested. But they won’t move in those fields until well after dark and will be gone from those fields before daylight. Many experts on hunting South Carolina’s hot-weather bucks are convinced that the best places to intercept bucks there are well away from the fields in the woods. Try to hunt woods roads that are close to bedding areas in the mornings, hoping to see a buck coming from the field or a feeding area and going in to heavy cover to bed-down. Or, hunt the same type of regions in the afternoon in hopes of seeing a buck leaving the bedding area headed toward the field.
Also consider the wind. If the wind’s blowing so that it will carry your scent into the bedding area in the afternoon, don’t hunt that stand. When the wind blows the hunter’s scent away from the bedding area and toward the field in the morning, then don’t hunt that particular stand in the morning. Two other key factors that influence hunting the bucks of summer are water and habitat. “If the plantation has a dry spell, and many of the potholes and creeks dry-up, then we hunt around water during the hot-weather months,” Joe Bostick explains. “If the water becomes scarce, the bucks will concentrate on water holes, making them much easier to hunt. Deer are also easier to pattern during the warm weather than in the winter, even though summertime deer don’t move much. If you see a buck in an area one day, the chances are good that you will observe that same buck in that same place the next day. Except for opening day of deer season here in South Carolina, the deer don’t have nearly as much hunting pressure on them during the summer months as in the winter months. Therefore the animals are much-more predictable. If we see a buck running across the road as we drive through the property, we note the time. Then we know that there’s a good chance that we’ll see that buck at about the same time any day we want to hunt him.”

To learn more about deer hunting at Bostick Plantation, visit

Tomorrow: How To Find Wounded Deer In the Summer

Check back each day this week for more about "Hunting Hot-Weather White-Tailed Bucks in South Carolina"

Day 1: The Bucks of Summer
Day 2: How to Hunt Summer Bucks
Day 3: How to Find Wounded Deer in the Summer
Day 4: Warm-Weather Bucks are Some of the Biggest of the Season
Day 5: Why Hunt For Velvet Antlers


Entry 524, Day 2