How to Kill a Morning Buck in the Early Season

By Josh HoneycuttOctober 2, 2023

Deer hunting a morning during the early season is a heavily debated topic. And I’m still not completely sure where I stand on it. But I will say this: I hunt mornings during the early season, but only when it makes sense to.

Of course, afternoons are usually better (and safer) than mornings during the early season. But does hunting mornings do damage and pressure deer? Absolutely it can, especially if not done correctly.

Bucks moving during the afternoon and feed all night. They usually move back to their bed well before daylight. But there is a time and a place to capitalize. Rain events just before daylight, fronts moving in around lunchtime, and when it’s so hot that bucks refuse to move far in the afternoon. These and more are reasons to hunt mornings.

How To Kill A Morning Buck In The Early Season

Of course, sometimes, hunters just don’t have an option to kill a buck in the afternoon. Maybe work prohibits it. Perhaps a buck is only killable on a morning pattern. It might spend afternoon daylight hours on a neighbor or in a designated sanctuary. Whatever the case, determine whether it makes the most sense to try a morning hunt.

If you have the right access and can get into the chosen stand location without alerting deer, don’t overlook the power of a morning hunt. It can certainly pay off.

Still, it takes a different approach and skillset to kill early season bucks, especially in the morning. Here’s that game plan.

Find a Target Buck

It takes a lot of scouting to kill mature bucks. But you must scout in the right manner. Scouting from the computer is the first step.

“Obviously, the first three things to look for are: food, water, and cover,” said Phillip Vanderpool with The Virtue. “Locate what your food source is during the early season. I look for aerials and the lay of the land. They don’t move much. Stay close to food sources.”

The second rung in the scouting ladder involves scouting from afar. Get back off the deer and watch what happens.

Best Time To Begin Trail Camera Inventory For Deer

“My favorite method of scouting for early season whitetails is by playing it safe and keeping my distance until the conditions are right to take a particular buck,” said Chad Schearer with Shoot Straight TV. “Trail cameras are great, but I also like to cover a large area looking for bucks at first and last light on food sources—especially in open country or in agricultural areas where they are feeding.”

Scouting from afar takes good optics. A good pair of binoculars will work. But a solid spotting scope is best. “I use my spotting scope,” Schearer continued. “I like to watch bucks without them getting uncomfortable or nervous. I can also see their entrance areas for stand placement.”

Best Optics For Long Distance Deer Scouting

Home in on That Target Buck

You must know where big deer spend time to kill them. Carefully figure out this portion of the equation.

“I would say some of the best advice is to really try to pattern your deer by running your trail cameras, narrowing them down to a home core area, and then wait for the right cold front,” said hunting personality Chris Propst. “Most of the time, big bucks that are killed early season are on food—and with the right cold front—that can get them on their feet more in the daylight hours. We try to hunt the fringes.”

Once you get a decent idea where bucks are spending their time, home in on specific habits. Finding core areas tell you where to hunt. Patterns tell you when.

“Big bucks are most patternable during the early season,” said Jake Miller with The Hunt. “It’s critical to refrain from being overly aggressive and disrupting these patterns. Deer live through their bellies, and finding the hot early season food source will help you pattern those big bucks. Here’s a secret: A green soybean patch, or ripe acorn crop, will win out over any other food source.”

The “more” and “now” mentalities aren’t always better, though. Sometimes, less is more, and waiting is better. Keep that in mind when deciding to hunt, or not.

“When hunting early season western bucks, less is better…sometimes,” said Randy Birdsong with HeadHunters TV. “If I have five days to hunt, I may only sit two to four times that time of year. Deer are patternable during that phase which makes them very killable. Scouting from afar, picking the right tree, and waiting until the wind is perfect will up your odds tenfold. Wait until that target buck starts showing up in daylight hours.”

Understand Key Components

First, don’t forget about the food. Food sources are key throughout the entire season. But right now, they trump all else. So don’t write them off as a prime advantage. The early season is driven by one thing: food sources. If you don’t have the food, chances are, you don’t have the deer either.

During early season scouting trips, focus your efforts on local food sources. Whether it be acorns, soybeans, fruit trees, food plots, or other browse – do your homework. Find out what your whitetails are feeding on and formulate a game plan.

How To Take Inventory Of Velvet Bucks On Your Property

The best way to see what food sources deer are hitting is to scout; and to do so from afar. Agricultural fields provide excellent opportunities to do this. Grab your binoculars, spotting scope and get downwind. Then, sit back and enjoy the show.

One advantage to glassing is it tells you where the deer are entering and exiting the field. It also gives you a chance to lay eyes on bucks that your cameras might be missing. Plus, you can’t beat an evening spent in the field when cabin fever has kept you down all summer long.

 Next, locate heavily used trails leading from bedding areas to food sources. Focus on the feed. Reverse engineer it’s paths to determine where it’s bedding. That’s going to be key for a successful morning hunt.

Understand Good Access

Whether you hunt public land, private land by permission, or land you lease or own, deer hunting is about having the right access. Have that one piece of the puzzle and you’re likely going home with a freezer full of venison. Neglect securing necessary access and you might just eat tag soup.

I’ve harped on entry and exit routes a lot throughout the years. You can’t kill a deer if you spook it while walking to the stand or ground blind. Stay away from food sources when walking to your hunting location of a morning. Make sure the wind isn’t blowing your scent toward where deer are at that time.

Likewise, you can’t kill deer that you blow when leaving the stand, either. Why? Because the pressure you apply can impact future hunts. Stay away from bedding areas when leaving your hunting location of a morning. Make sure your routes help shield you from whitetails’ prying eyes. Creeks, ditches, drainages, and other similar terrain types can help accomplish this.

The Morning Hunt

The objective for a morning hunt is to intercept where the deer is during daylight. It’s best if that ends up being a staging area between destination food sources and the bedding area. Of course, that requires a target buck that’s moving outside of the bedding cover during daylight. And if it is, this is a safer play from a stand location perspective.

If deer are making it back to bed earlier, and you plan to hunt the fringe of the bedding area, leave the interior alone. Do not penetrate sanctuaries or bedding areas. The only time to invade these areas is when retrieving a dead deer, after the season has closed, and during shed hunting season.

Leaving the thickest, most inaccessible areas untouched by humans is one of the best ways to attract mature bucks. Knowing they have a secluded retreat where they can find refuge is just as important as having adequate food and water sources. The only time to hunt close (not within) is right before the rut kicks in when mature bucks are up cruising for does.

There are times to ignore the above rule and push deeper into the bedding, though. First, if hunting public land, and other hunters are likely to do this, go ahead and beat them to it. If there’s a high risk of another hunter killing your target buck (on private or public), this high-risk tactic might help you beat them to the punch. This includes the early season.

The Afternoon Alternative

Some folks say hunting the first half of the day does more harm than good. “Don’t hunt mornings,” said Dave Skinner with Whitetail Properties. “Save mornings for later in the season (rut) when deer will move later. Guys try to hunt right on a food source in the morning and wonder why their bucks disappear. Even hunting close to bedding early on is risky because deer bed up so much earlier in the day.”

Afternoons are when you want to go for broke. “Focus on evenings for most parts of the country,” said Daniel McVay with Buckventures. “Big bucks generally are in, or close, to bed by the time the sun comes up. Maximize your chances by sleeping in.”

But afternoons can be dangerous to hunt, too. Be aware of exit routes after the hunt is over. “Access is key,” McVay continued. “Most people think about getting in but not getting out, too. Big bucks are so sensitive early that a lot of people don’t realize how many deer they spook getting out after dark. If you bump them just once, it’s usually over.”

All things considered, the early season morning hunt isn’t a black and white discussion. It’s shades of gray. And if you determine that it makes sense for your situation, give it a shot. It just might work out.

Josh Honeycutt
Josh Honeycutt is an avid deer hunter. He's hunted whitetails from South Carolina to South Dakota but spends most of his time hunting in Kentucky. Honeycutt has written and created other forms of media for more than 60 media companies in the outdoor industry, including: North American Whitetail, Whitetail Journal, Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Deer & Deer Hunting, Rack Magazine, Inside Archery, Game & Fish, Fur-Fish-Game, and others. He's also very active in digital content, specializing in writing, editing, photography, videography, podcasting, and more. You can see how his deer season unfolds each year on Midwest Whitetail and Chasing November.
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