Now that fall is upon us, deer seasons are opening in some parts of the United States. We polled some of the nation’s top experts and go their ideas on what they do for early season success. Read on and maybe you can put venison in your freezer earlier.
According to Travis Creekbaum, co-host of The Chase with Leigh and Travis, early season hunts have the misunderstanding of being the most difficult. “The truth is, most people don't do it in the south because of snakes, mosquitoes and 90 degree plus weather. If you can get past your phobias and sweat, it can be your most rewarding part of the season.” 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 and their daily habits are in transition from summer to fall. For that reason, focus on food, cover and patterns.
Food and Water
Early season is usually still hot and deer will still need water. 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.
Food sources can be real deer magnets and great places to plan your hunts and stand locations around. Buddy Groom of BuckVentures suggests that you try to find a destination food source and intercept them in between the source and where they are bedding. "I try to find a pinch point on both sides of the food source for any wind. If I can't find that pinch point, I look for heavily used trails and put up a trail cam. I check the trail cam every couple days in midday, and make sure I have the right wind to check it so I'm not flooding the area with my scent." 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.
Pre-rut is Travis Creekbaum’s favorite time to be in the Whitetail woods. “Bow hunting is 80% of what we do, and in the full-blown rut it can be hard to get them to respond or sit still long enough to get a shot. The pre-rut is when the bigger bucks get moving to control their home territory.”
Starting with the food source, try to locate a trail you believe bucks are using. Follow these trails back into the woods or otherwise away from the food and look for a staging area. The main thing to look for here are a couple of 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 to set a stand for an evening hunt. For a morning hunt, stay far away from the feed and hunt a funnel spot to intercept them on their way to bed. Creek and fence crossings and intersections of well-used trails are ideal.
When hunting with gun or blackpowder rifle, get at the very edge of a food plot or low growing crop field about mid-afternoon, and sit until well after dark. In an active field, you’ll start seeing deer activity well before the sunsets. 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.
In early season states like Missouri, you're 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 behind a food source and catch him before dark.
"No matter where, or how you do it, you have to play the wind, or you may never see the big buck you're hunting. If we get the wrong wind, we don't go in. If we're hunting, and the wind changes where it's blowing our scent toward the deer we get out," Buddy Groom of Buckventures.
Always hunt correct winds and check moon phases so you know these deer will be on their feet during the daylight hours.
BuckVentures’ Daniel McVay feels that the most important thing that he can do to make himself more successful early is run a lot of trail cameras. “I also do a lot of scouting from February and March to determine which trails deer are using, which trees will work for a stand, and most important how I'm going to access them. Everyone loves hunting the rut, but the most rewarding hunts for me are the ones where I found a big buck and harvested him by sweat equity. Mature bucks don't make very many mistakes early season.”
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.
Bucks run along the hill tops with minimal cover during early season. It's cooler up there and there's a breeze to keep bugs off them and to cool them down. The hill tops also offer a good vantage point. Put ground blinds near fence rows that run along the top of ridges and if the fence row has big enough trees, 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. 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.