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Proceed with Caution: Bowhunting Ghost Bucks

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by Jerald Kopp ∣ Oct 14, 2021 ∣ Lifestyle, Strategies

Have you ever tried to match wits with a Ghost Buck? I have and it’s a bittersweet endeavor, to say the least. Hunters describe ghost bucks in various ways; In their most basic sense, ghost bucks are rare and demonstrate shrewd, solitary, and crafty ways. These lone wolves have minds of their own and seemingly don’t move with the rest of the resident deer. Efforts to hunt true ghost bucks usually are feudal. They very seldom show themselves and when they do, a pattern is almost impossible to determine. In my experience, the best way to triumph over these mysterious animals is to locate their bedding area. It’s then that you can boldly, yet cautiously pursue them. But that’s just it; by definition, it’s extremely difficult to do so as they leave few if any clues. And even if you can, it’s a risky proposition.

Dirty Dozen – A Texas Hill Country Ghost Buck

In the late summer of 2018, I discovered two images of an extremely inhibited ten-point buck. He wasn’t the typical 5x5 though. For the area, true mainframe 10-pointers were hard to come by. And for those that existed, the only trait keeping them from being mainframe 8-pointers were small, unimpressive crab claw points at the end of each beam; even on the mature bucks. This guy, however, had prominent G-4s and dwarfed the other area bucks. He had several traits of a buck of at least 4.5- years old. Yet, he never appeared during actual hunts, only showing himself on late-night trail cam photos. And when he did, he was not only alone but hung around a mere couple of minutes.

He finally reappeared in a couple of night images in early October 2019 – now as a coveted mainframe 12-pointer sporting wide main beams and exceptional tine length. For free-range Texas Hill Country hunting, this was a lottery buck. Still, his entire existence was proven only by a handful of late-night camera shots – and he was always in the corner of the frame. He took on the name of “Dirty Dozen”.

Characteristics of a Ghost Buck

As mentioned, ghost bucks are typically shy and anti-social night-dwellers. But there is much more to them. Though some deny their existence, many whitetail nuts know them all too well. For decades, most deer hunters have reveled in their existence and when one shows up, they eventually take on legendary status. They are mysterious, mythical, and don’t take kindly to hunting pressure. The only predictable thing about them is their unpredictability. Their allure is exceeded only by the frustration they leave in their wake.

Pursuing the Phantom

You’ve decided, “Okay, I’m going in”. Before you do, there a couple of fundamental things to consider. Does he live on your property or a bordering one? Is he truly mysterious or does he simply occupy a different core area? Admittedly with Dirty Dozen, I had no real answers. Either way, actively pursuing a buck of this type takes a careful, non-intrusive approach. If you have little to go on other than the location of the camera he’s visited, you’re at a big disadvantage from the start. This means that if you’re going to hunt him, you must at least ensure that you successfully execute everything you can control. Here are a few tips to consider;

  • Often, the best shot at a wary and mature buck of this type is your first time in the stand. If you want to make a single hunt in a special stand count, avoid all possible pitfalls and maximize your sit. This is no time to cut any corners.
  • If able, arrive extra early and settle in for a long sit(s).
  • Take only what you need and leave any unneeded and noisy gear in the truck.
  • If you’ve got an idea of where he is bedding, find a day with favorable wind conditions and hunt near it (but not directly over it). You never know...
  • Don’t hold out for the rut. Though this popular stage could draw him out, it’s actually a low-percentage alternative. If you’re trying to make your sit count, concentrate on the seeking phase of the pre-rut. Ultra-shy giants are more apt to take a daytime stroll during this period. Evening feeding hours during the late season is also a good choice.
  • In the spirit of contradiction, hunt the peak rut – just don’t make this your main strategy. If you go this route, focus on reasonably adjacent areas with heavy doe traffic – and hope for some rut magic.
  • Whatever you do, don’t taint the woods with a barrage of non-thought-out hail Mary hunts.

Dust-Off the Rifle

While this is taboo for many bowhunters, a long gun may be your only chance at a cagy ghost buck. Though I prefer the bow, I like to rifle hunt as well. This is a personal decision. Whether or not you agree, consider taking off your bow blinders, step back, and hunt the neighborhood monarch from a distance. It will still take hard work and dedicated attention to detail though. After all, the biggest challenge of hunting ghost bucks is still seeing them during hunting hours in the first place. Plus, if you do spot him from a distance, you will have gained some valuable intel regarding his location and travel patterns – information that can help you formulate a plan to bow hunt for him.

Conclusion

Do you have a ghost buck in your area this season? If not, the same preparation is valuable for any mature old buck. If so, you will likely only get one shot at him (if you’re lucky) before he again disappears from everywhere but campfire discussions and your stubborn thought bubble.

Is your resident antlered ghoul a true trophy in your eyes? For me, I know Dirty Dozen is. If the answer is yes, apply logic, plan, and proceed with a sense of urgency. As for me, I’m going to have to make a move on my 12-point ghost soon. Admittedly, he has me stumped. Wish me luck.

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Author

Jerald Kopp

From drop tines to blood trails, sight pins to cross hairs. We not only highlight hunting strategies, but also the lighter side of the outdoor lifestyle – the nuances that make it fun, memorable and part of our DNA.

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