Hunting Bucks in the Western US – go to the Grass!

Ron Spomer |

Grassland whitetails don’t play by by woodland whitetail rules.

Once you get west of classic forest, woodland and Mid-West farmland whitetail country, you’d better be prepared to think outside of the box — because the deer you’re hunting do.

In the Dakota’s south to Texas and west to the Rockies, whitetails have learned how to take advantage of big, open, grassy landscapes. This keeps them thriving while eastern whitetail hunters sit in the trees wondering where all the bucks are hiding.

In the grass, folks. In the grass.

I learned this again and again and again this fall during hunts in Nebraska, Kansas and eastern Colorado. In each case we faced a grand mix of habitats: wheat, milo, alfalfa and corn fields; extensive pastures and grasslands with vegetation varying from ankle-high to head-high; brushy thickets of plum, chokecherry, sage and willows; bottomland woodlands of oak, cottonwoods, willows and cedar.

Whitetails use all of this, but we made a mistake by assuming they’d be in the thick, protective bottomland woods. Morning after morning outfitters would stick clients in stands and blinds overlooking heavily used bottomland woods. Morning after morning those clients would see does, small bucks and frustration. Meanwhile, the big bucks were enjoying peace and quiet up in the grass.

Each time we abandoned our woodland blinds and ventured into the grass, we found bucks, lots of bucks, mature bucks and big bucks. In late morning, with the sun shining bright, we scouted our first upland pasture in Nebraska and watched three 4×4 and 5×5 bucks walking right in the open. That was three more than we’d seen in 12 hours of sitting in woodland blinds.

After four days sitting in Kansas, we finally climbed out of the trees, spotted a 150-class 4×4 relaxing on a grassy ridge, stalked it and wrapped our tag around it in less than an hour.

Again in Kansas we sat on a high grassland flat 700 yards from a wheat field, thrilled as six does and fawns passed calmly at less than 200 yards, glassed eight bucks and stalked two. My friend shot one — an old, fully mature 5×6 — at 150 yards under clear skies at 10:20 A.M.

In Colorado on a lovely winter day with clear skies and light breezes, we spotted heavy antlers protruding from waist-high grass at 10 AM. My guide and I walked within 40 yards before the buck beneath those antlers jumped and ran. That deer, like most grassland bucks I’ve encountered over 40 seasons, fled toward the creek bottom woods. But only after we’d found him and jumped him — in the grass.

Should you ever make the pilgrimage to the Plains States to hunt, give a nod to the woodlands and brushy creek bottoms, but spend most of your time searching for mature bucks in the open grasslands. Because that’s where they like to bed.


Popular Tags