Scouting: You lost your buck. Now what?

Setting a trail camera
It’s summer. You have a 180”+ buck found -- maybe from trail camera photos or from using your glass on a scouting day. Through early and mid-summer you continue to have regular sightings of your shooter buck, but as hunting season approaches, that buck you have got your heart set on is nowhere to be seen for days, then weeks...

What do you do? Have you just sunk in weeks of scouting one buck for nothing?

Instead of giving up hope, use these scouting tactics to turn up that lost trophy buck. 

What to do if…

…It’s been less than 1 week: Find and pattern his bachelor group.

It’s hard to pay attention to the smaller bucks in a group when they are in the company of that 180”+ buck you are after, but that group can be a telltale sign if you’ve lost your buck. With his  years of experience, that old buck is much wiser and understands the dangerous consequences of being lax in his daily patterns. He may only water once or twice a week while the younger bucks in the group could water as much as once a day. This is where paying attention to those two-point bucks comes in. If your buck stops hitting your trail cams once a week or you can't pick him up with glassing, but the two-points are still hitting the cams daily and you regularly lay eyes on them, don't be discouraged. That bruiser is still there and will be in close proximity to the bachelor group. Just keep patterning those smaller bucks because your hit list buck should show up again soon.

Lorenzo Google Earth scouting
Pro tip: Plan out your glassing strategy in advance of your boots-on-the-ground scouting with tools such as Google Earth. Then head to that ridge or peak that will give the best glassing opportunity. Being in a key elevated glassing position at prime times such as the first and last hour of daylight makes all the difference.

Now… It’s been 2 weeks: Start thinking about pattern-breaking events.

All first week strategies still apply, so when moving onto this next tip continue to keep the bachelor group in mind.

Predators, heavy rain, fires, surveying aircraft and even just general commotion can disrupt an old buck’s normal summer patterns. If one of these events has happened, go back to your original trail camera pictures when you first turned up that bruiser and compare it with what animals are currently showing up. Are there new bucks on your cams? Are the smaller bucks he was with no longer showing up? If so, there has likely been a pattern-breaking event. 

Mule deer trail camera
Photo Credit:

In some cases, this could be good news. You might find a new hit list buck on your trail cameras even bigger than your initial bruiser. If you are glassing and seeing new deer in your scouting area, it’s likely that your buck has been pushed out of his usual pattern. Mule deer in particular don’t change their habits for no reason, they were pushed there by a pattern-breaking event and now likely settled into new routes -- your buck included.

Oh boy… It’s going on 3 weeks: Locate all water sources and dedicate some serious glassing time.

Find every realistic piece of water in a 2-mile range, set new trail cams, and glass all transition areas between the waters. Mule deer will water 1-7 days a week, depending on the moisture their food is carrying.

Water source
Low land food sources tend to be dry, especially in the summer heat, so bucks living in that terrain will tend to hit water sources 2-5 days a week. In higher, more humid terrain, bucks can go a full week on one water session due to the amount of water their food sources carry. 

Understand the conditions your buck faces, and you already have an advantage for your overall strategy. In either situation, work in a systematic pattern to cover the most ground effectively. Using your eyes behind the glass for longer periods tends to be far more effective than just hiking from ridge to ridge.

Binoculars on tripod
Pro tip: Prop your optics on a tripod for lengthy glassing sessions. Fewer shakes makes for a better chance you’ll find what you’re looking for. If you don’t have a tripod, lean against a tree or sit with your elbows propped against knees.

How do you find a 180”+ buck that’s gone missing in summer scouting? Leave your tips in a comment below.


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