Opening Day Buck – 3 Keys to Success

By Justin ZarrOctober 5, 2020
Learn the 3 steps to early season bowhunting success.

Over the last several weeks, we’ve talked a lot about killing bucks during early bow season.  Whether your season opens in September or October, the same basic principals apply.

  1. Know where the hot food source is.
  2. Have confirmation the deer are there.
  3. Hope for a cold front.

While it seems like a simple recipe for success, it’s anything but.  Preferred food sources seem to change weekly during this time of year, and what’s hot today may not be hot next week.  During early season we typically key in on things like acorns or green fields.  However, if another food source becomes available, it may be time to make a move.

Find The Food, Find The Deer

In Tom and Jack Alford’s case, a soybean field picked in late September provided an abundant and easy source of food for the local deer.  Even though it wasn’t the obvious choice for early season food, Tom had item #2 covered.

Several late evening scouting trips to this field in the days leading up to the season provided visual confirmation that a bachelor group of bucks was feeding before dark.  Even though Tom had a cellular trail camera not far away, the bucks were just out of range.  Had he relied on data from his trail camera only, he may not have hunted this spot.

does feeding in cut soybean field
While it doesn't look like much, this freshly cut bean field proved to be the hot food source on Opening Day of the 2020 Illinois archery season.

Having seen the bucks feeding in this corner of the field, the final piece of the puzzle was a good weather forecast.  With the first good cold front of the year falling over the first 4 days of October, conditions were perfect.

Move In For The Kill

Tom and Jack snuck into the same DIY ground blind where Tom killed his buck last December (watch here), and began the wait.

Over the course of several hours they had multiple does feed within range, but Jack was determined to hold out for something with antlers.  This year, he was after his first rack buck.

Bowhunter on ground
Jack is all smiles as he settles in for his first hunt of the season.

With shooting light fading, the bucks finally showed up in the field.  As the biggest one fed into shooting range, Jack steadied his aim and let the NAP Killzone-tipped arrow fly.  It was a perfect impact and the double-lung shot resulted in a short and easy tracking job.

arrow in flight toward whitetail buck
Send it! Jack's arrow in flight toward the buck. Lighted nock courtesy of the Lumen-Arrow.

Congratulations to Jack Alford on his first archery buck and his first Opening Day buck!  It’s a hunt he’ll never forget and one that will be enjoyed by Bowhunt or Die viewers for years to come.

With the weather warming up to normal temps, it’s time to gather intel and wait for the next cold front to hit.  Find the hot food sources, confirm there is a buck using it, and be ready to move in for the kill when the time is right.

Jack with his opening day buck
The smiles continue as Jack poses with his first rack buck on opening day of the 2020 Illinois archery season.

You can watch the full hunt video on Bowhunt or Die.  (below)

Justin Zarr
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Justin has been bowhunting for more than 25 years, harvesting a number of P&Y whitetails in his home state of Illinois during that time.  He co-hosts the popular bowhunting show 'Bowhunt or Die' and is a frequent guest on numerous hunting podcast.  Justin lives in the NW suburbs of Chicago with his wife and 3 children.
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