Pre-dawn on Saturday, Nov. 9, roughly a half million Minnesota deer hunters will don blaze orange and head to woods and fields in hopes a whitetail will waltz into shooting range.
Although most deer hunters will be satisfied to shoot any deer -- including a doe or fawn -- a growing number of deer hunters will hold out for a mature buck: a hefty specimen sporting thick multi-tined antlers, and a bulky neck and body.
In fact, some hunters would rather eat "tag soup" at season's end than shoot an immature buck or doe. Often these "trophy hunters" are looked down upon by other deer hunters.
They shouldn't be.
Each hunter satisfies himself or herself, according to individual standards. Many are happy just to get a chance to be outdoors with perhaps an opportunity to shoot a deer, big or little. Whatever the case all hunters should remain open minded to the ethical hunting philosophies of others.
A natural progression, though, in any undertaking, is for humans to continually attempt to raise the attempt bar.
Who among deer hunters doesn't want to shoot a buck bigger than the one he or she already has on the wall? What angler is completely and forever satisfied with an average catch?
For that matter what bowler doesn't long to someday roll a perfect 300, or a golfer to break par?
So, how do deer hunters who want to bag a mature buck find one? It might seem obvious, but you have to hunt where bucks have a chance to reach their prime.
In Minnesota, unfortunately, a huge majority of bucks are killed when they are 1.5 years of age. So, in many parts of the state, it's difficult to find a mature buck.
Astute big buck hunters look for areas where hunting pressure is limited by being so remote that some bucks survive to maturity.
The opposite can also be true. Find a suburban area, for example, where hunter numbers are restricted, and you'll likely find a greater percentage of the bucks will be mature.
The best way I know to determine if an area is holding a mature buck or two is look for big rubs. Saplings 4 to 6 inches or bigger in diameter with the bark torn to shreds are likely the work of mature bucks. I have on many occasions seen big bucks rub on small saplings, but I've never seen a small buck rub on a big tree.
Trail cameras can also reveal the presence, or lack of, big bucks in a given area. It's fun to check the cameras and discover a heavy-duty buck is living in your hunting area. Knowing that makes it easier to pass up younger bucks -- an obvious prerequisite to bagging a brute.
More and more deer hunters, especially archers, are seeking the challenge of hunting mature bucks. Many Minnesota hunters are spending substantial amounts of time and money to hunt in big buck states like Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Ohio and Missouri. I also know of several Minnesota deer hunters who have purchased land in Canada because they want to see more big bucks.
The peak of the whitetail rut usually falls between Nov. 6 and Nov. 12. The urge to breed will sometimes cause even the wariest of mature bucks to make mistakes.
May a hefty buck walk into your sights this season.
BILL MARCHEL is a wildlife and outdoors photographer and writer whose work appears in many regional and national publications as well as the Brainerd Dispatch. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can visit his website at BillMARCHEL.com.