Whitetail nuts! By this time, you’ve probably seen and read a half dozen articles detailing how to arrow a buck on OPENING DAY of bow season. But if you’re reading this on October 2 or after, it didn’t happen! Chin up! There’s still hope in putting down an early-season stud before the frenzy of the rut and we’re happy to share some strategies that help us make the most of early season.
Autumn’s best days of hunting can often be found within the first 15 days of October. Long days, milder temps, and fall’s rainbow of color all make for excellent reasons to spend time in the field. Bucks are still on summer patterns, have yet to succumb to the rigors of rising testosterone and limited human pressure has staved off the heightened sense of awareness to the danger of man. You! Should be! Hunting! Now!
However, just because the aforementioned tenants exist doesn’t mean that hunting this time of year is a slam dunk. In fact, it’s anything but. Unlike during the rut, the leaves still remain on the trees, biting insects can be present in almost of all the whitetail’s range, food sources transition quickly and deer movement can be unpredictable as bucks are not moving much during daylight hours. Laying eyes on and a mature whitetail takes more than just skills and luck, never mind running an arrow through one. This takes strategy, but it can be done with greater consistency than you can imagine. Over the years, myself and my hunting partner have consistently arrowed more bucks in the first 10 days of October than any other time during the entire deer season.
Observing deer behavior this time of year can be critical to success. In general, deer will have a rotation of how and when they’re visiting certain locations. Before these patterns become interrupted by changing food sources, human intrusion or overall changes in deer behavior, take the time to observe how and where bucks are using food sources, where they’re coming from before feeding and where they’re going to. Often times this will reveal their early season bedding and staging areas giving you an edge for years to come. As hard as it might be stay back and hunt stands that allow you to observe a large area or burn a couple days glassing from the truck to limit your impact. Once you’ve located where or how a buck might be using a food source set up a stand or blind inside just inside the timber and take up vigil until the pattern appears to have changed. Sometimes it make take a few sits before you have an opportunity so be patient and make sure to only hunt these spots when the wind and conditions are right.
Finding early season food sources outside of large crop fields can be one of the deadliest ways to kill a relaxed buck. In both agricultural country or in big woods situations, these hidden gems are often found in the timber or close to edge’s or transition areas. This time of year hard mast like acorns from the white oak family are highly desirable and will get consumed with vigor often with preference over agricultural crops. The same holds true for apples, pears and persimmons – if you can find fruit-bearing trees set up shop. If you’re in an area with late-planted soy beans or buckwheat that hasn’t dried out these can also be deadly attractants along with lush fields of clover and alfalfa. In dyer climates or if there are unseasonably warm temperatures, water sources should not be overlooked. Although deer don’t have the need for water consumption like antelope or elk, they still require hydration and hunting water can be deadly under the right conditions.
Interruptions in the weather patterns can also present fantastic opportunities. This could be in the form of a significant storm, a cold front blowing through or even the presentation of cooler than average temps. With that in mind, events such as this have the opportunity to also change what time of day the deer move so be prepared to find yourself experiencing movements beyond the normal primetime, dawn and dusk travel.
Call us crazy but in the last two years we have completely stopped using scouting cameras during the summer months? Why? Well, it’s only a theory but we felt as if checking the cameras was starting to have a negative effect on our deer sightings and the overall deer activity on the farms we hunt. We have transitioned to more of an approach of using our cameras as in-season tools to help us collect data to be used on-the-fly or the following year if we see perennial trends. For example, if we see that deer are consistently using a certain area as an early season travel corridor through to another area and then eating at a final destination with consistency year-over-year we will develop an overall strategy to capitalize on those behaviors. As an alternative strategy we will try to avoid an area if we feel that we can’t make the most of the situation and our presence at any level will have a negative affect hunting later in the season. With all of this in consideration, if you have consistent movement on a camera in the early season, capitalize on it! This is exactly why scouting cameras are such a deadly tool, especially if you’re able to use a cellular-based device that sends images to your phone or email in real time.
With longer days and mild temperatures, it’s easier to get out into the field. If your schedule permits find a way to get yourself into the whitetail-woods as much as possible, including the weeknights. Luck tends to favor both the prepared and those who show up. Even if you’re only able to make the most of the last hour or two of daylight during the week, the more you’re in the field, the higher your opportunities for success. You can’t kill a deer if you’re sitting at home watching sports or mowing the lawn so make the most of every day that you can. The more hours you log, the greater your chances that a buck will walk by, but don’t forget, you can’t just be out there willy-nilly, do it with strategy and you’re sure to find more opportunities this season and for years to come.