Archery Experts Weigh in On Early Season Tactics
By Mike Lambeth
Now that fall will soon be upon us, deer seasons will be opening in some parts of the United States later this month. I polled some of the nation’s top archers and got their ideas on what they do for early season success. Read on and maybe you can put venison in your freezer earlier.
What do you do in the early season that will lend itself to your success?
Glenn Wheeler (Knight & Hale Pro-Staffer - Arkansas)
In the early season, bucks are still much more interested in food than fun. They won’t lose their minds over does, for a little while. For that reason, I have three main focuses; food, cover and water. Water is obviously important, and even more so during dry periods. But, on the other hand, dry periods tend to concentrate the water at fewer locations, so it can be easier to determine which source to concentrate on.
Cover is almost always an important consideration, especially with big, mature bucks. The only real exceptions are those few magic days when bucks are absolutely on fire and rutting. So, good, consistent cover is a key. Hunting in tight cover is usually not an option since you can’t get in and out quietly (exactly why bucks choose it for a sanctuary), so concentrate on trails leading into or out of thick cover.
Lastly, food sources can be real deer magnets and great places to plan your hunts and stand locations around. Concentrate on transition areas just before open food sources such as crop fields, food plots or pastures. If you are hunting hardwoods and find an actively producing white oak flat with a good acorn crop, you have hit the jackpot. Find stand locations a few yards out of the area, along trails with favorable winds. As usual, early morning and late evening are the best times.
When hunting with gun or blackpowder rifle, I love getting at the very edge of a food plot or low growing crop field about mid-afternoon, and sitting until well after dark. In an active field, you’ll start seeing deer activity well before the sun sets. Once you start seeing deer moving, carefully glass just outside the edges of the open areas, this is where you’ll often see the mature bucks in a holding pattern allowing other deer to commit first. They will often only step out of cover once darkness nears or sets in during the early season.
When selecting a stand location what are your considerations?
Mike Mattly (PR Manager for PRADCO’s hunting division – Iowa)
In late August, I hang my treestands and cut shooting lanes. This gives me a full month for the deer to get used to my stands/blinds. I try to have stands for bow and gun. My gun stands usually are on the far edges of food plots, so the deer can enter the field without detecting me. The bucks usually come out in the fields last, so I try to stay away from the does and let them eat undisturbed. I position my gun stands to be able to cover the greatest distance that I feel comfortable shooting. My favorite muzzleloader stand is on a ridge that overlooks a seven acre food plot. I can cover the entire field, with the farthest shot being 250 yards.
Early season is usually still hot and deer will still need water. I take my son hunting youth season and we concentrate on bean fields that have a pond nearby. Most of the time, the bucks will get out of their beds and go to the ponds to drink, before they feed for the evening. Now that being said, the deer eat on the way to the pond, they don’t run straight there. They will browse as they go, but there is no question, they are thirsty and want a drink before they feed for a few hours.
Bucks around here run along the hill tops with minimal cover during early season. I think they want to have a breeze to keep bugs off them and to cool them down. They hill tops also offer a good vantage point. They also have a good vantage point. I will put ground blinds near fence rows that run along the top of ridges and if the fence row has big enough trees, I’ll hang a stand in one of them. Funnels are always good places to hang stands. It may be a ditch, fence row or bottle neck of timber, but try to put the stand where the deer will get funneled to you. I walk the edges of the block of timber and look for trails. Most of the time, the buck trail will be slightly different than the doe trail. They may merge at the field edge, but they usually are 20-50 yards apart.
What do you look for during the pre-rut period that will lend itself towards your success?
Lawrence Taylor (PRADCO PR Manager – Arkansas)
Pre-rut is all about food and the hours near dawn and dusk. Starting with the food source, I try to locate a trail I believe bucks are using. It won’t be the well-used trails but it’ll be fainter, then I follow these trails back into the woods or otherwise away from the food and look for a staging area. The main thing I’m looking for here are a couple rubs and maybe a scrape in close proximity, to indicate that a buck or bachelor group spends some time there while waiting for the evening to wear on before heading to eat. This is where I set a stand for an evening hunt. For a morning hunt, I stay far away from the feed and hunt a funnel spot to intercept them on their way to bed. Creek and fence crossings, intersections of well used trails, etc. Morning hunts I’m more concerned with getting in without getting busted.
Post-rut is similar but I am more apt to hunt off the wall areas then, off the wall spots too close to a farm house or a remote spot that hasn’t seen pressure. Out of the way small spots are good during the post rut. I’m more likely to swing for the fences in post rut.
How do you hunt and pattern big bucks?
Chris Parrish (Knight & Hale Pro-Staff Manager – Missouri)
When selecting a stand location for early season I look for different things. One a food source that the older bucks are frequenting, since timing is everything. I always hunt correct winds and check moon phases so I know these deer will be on their feet during the daylight hours. Another thing to check is water sources as early season it can be hot and a good hidden water source close to security cover can be magic.
In Missouri, our season starts around September 15 and it is very likely to catch deer on current summer patterns. You also need to know bedding areas as many times the moon phase will be late and these bucks don’t get to the food sources until dark, this is the time to have a stand hung 50 yards back in off the food source and catch him before dark.
You can find where deer bed by long range surveillance, seeing where they enter the fields. If I need to make an adjustment for this I will do it during midday hours as not to disturb anything and then often times hunt that evening, if I do happen to bump a deer I will wait a day or so to let things settle. Bucks 4 1/2 years and older don’t get to that age by making too many mistakes, so the hunter should always err on the side of caution. The best way I have found to consistently harvest big deer is to never let them know you are hunting them.