Why You Won’t Kill a Buck on Opening Day

By Dylan HaywardSeptember 21, 20221 Comment

You’ll often hear stories about how opening day is your best chance at harvesting that trophy buck you’ve been dreaming of. Bucks for the most part are still in their summer patterns, they haven’t felt any hunting pressure in several months, and they’re relatively predictable based on the local food sources.

However, year after year, most of us won’t even lay eyes on a shooter buck until sweet November shows its wonderful face. This all may sound negative, and may sound like I am suggesting skipping out on opening day, but that’s the furthest thing from what I am saying. Opening day is great. There is a feeling of joy that accompanies it with the thought that our dreaded off-season is over, and the days of treestand sits are abundantly available for the next few months.

Why You Won't Kill A Buck On Opening Day
What will you find on opening day? Your target buck or disappointment?

But I think it’s important to not place all of your eggs in one basket – that basket being opening day. More than likely your deer tag will still be in your pack as you drive home at the end of the day. Were you underprepared? Did he already get harvested? Several factors can come in to play that will keep us from punching our tag early on that opening day buck. Here are some of the top reasons you won’t kill a buck on opening day. 

Hunting The Wrong Area

As opening day rolls around, people can often become stuck on what their summer trail cameras were telling them. Your trophy buck was coming into the soybean fields every evening during the entire month of August, so he will likely do that on opening day, right? Wrong.

Whitetail deer have varying feeding patterns that change multiple times throughout the year, and one of the biggest changes, unfortunately, happens right as the season begins. Bucks will slowly begin to phase out large agricultural fields and focus more on woody browse and acorns. If you can find any dense oak ridge in between bedding and an ag field, this is great place to set up. If not, your chances of harvesting a buck over bean and corn fields can often be pretty slim.

We climb into our stands with great anticipation, but sometimes we're just not in the right spot.

Not Paying Attention To The Wind

Nothing will ruin your chances of harvesting a buck on opening day like ignoring the wind. We tend to get overly confident in the predictability of summer deer, so we throw caution to the wind, quite literally, come opening day.

Avoid this at all costs, as it could potentially ruin your season altogether. Regardless of how active your opening day spot has been the past few weeks, if the wind isn’t perfect, find another spot. The wind can be your best friend, or your worst enemy depending how you use it. Don’t risk it.

Too Intrusive With Your Scouting

Scouting is a great tool to use, especially during the offseason when you’re attempting to pattern mature bucks. But the manner in which we often scout can be much too intrusive, creating more problems than we are solving.

Scouting too heavily, and with too little caution, keeps people from harvesting bucks on opening day more than almost any other factor. Once bucks start noticing human intrusion, whether through their sense of smell, seeing you, or hearing you as you walk through the woods checking trail cameras, they will begin to switch to nighttime feeding patterns, turning your opening day sit into what could be an evening of bird watching.

Why You Won't Kill A Buck On Opening Day
Low-pressure scouting is important when it comes to keeping your buck around.

Poor Entry and Exit Routes

You could have the most lush food plot in your county, and a big buck showing up on camera in it every evening, but if your entry and exit routes are terrible, you’ll never be able to harvest him. In fact, the most common issue I see when I am helping people out on their farms is that they put little to no effort in constructing their entry and exit routes. You’ll never kill an opening day buck that way.

As you walk into every sit, there should be no brush, overgrown grass, or any other leafy vegetation that will rub up against you and risk leaving behind your scent. There needs to be a clear path with no obstacles in the way such as fallen down trees, steep drop offs, or rocks. These will all create unwanted noise, alerting every deer in the area of your presence. Ensure that your wind will not be taking your scent over common bedding areas. Without these entry and exit routes in place, harvesting a buck on opening day isn’t very likely.

You Read The Data Wrong

So you’re getting constant pictures of a shooter buck on your trail camera – now what? Checking SD cards and seeing booners is a great feeling, but without the proper execution on this data, you’re better off just googling images of trophy whitetails.

A common method for hunters is to see that a buck showed up on camera the evening before opening day, so they sit in that exact spot, assuming the harvest is guaranteed. Wrong! You’re not seeing the bigger picture.

Modern trail cameras offer so many technical features that I often feel we overlook. Next time you see that buck show up on camera next to your treestand, look at the data. What was the wind doing? Which way did he come from? What was the moon phase? What was the barometric pressure on that day? Was there a cold front? Looking at these analytics gives us another piece to the massive puzzle that is whitetail hunting. Look a little closer at the data. Without it, you’ll likely still have that deer tag in your pocket at the end of hunt.

Why You Won't Kill A Buck On Opening Day
Making moves according to intel and trail cam data collected can make or break your hunt.

Not Shooting Your Bow

Did you spend these past summer months lounging on the beach, hanging with your buddies, or catching up on work? Or have you been shooting your bow, ensuring your groups are solid, arrows are in check, sights are dialed, and form is perfect?

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with enjoying your summer break, but it’s easy to procrastinate during the off-season and forget to brush up on our shooting skills. I have heard too many stories to count of where hunters were too confident in their abilities that they took the whole summer off, and by the time deer season rolled around, they couldn’t connect with anything.

Bowhunting offers very little room for error. This is one of the things that makes it so great. It demands perfection. Summer is a great time to relax and enjoy time with friends, but you shouldn’t expect to be shooting tight groups just because you were last year. Without practice and the proper bow preparations, harvesting that giant on opening day is going to be a real challenge.

We often put a great deal of pressure on opening day, and rightfully so. We’re eager to chase that trophy buck that’s been on our trail cameras all summer. However, we tend to forget that mature bucks are survival experts that are extremely difficult to outsmart. Be well prepared for this season’s opener. Have a good strategy in place, scout appropriately, analyze the data, and shoot your bow. Otherwise, you might be waiting until November for another shot.

Dylan Hayward
Dylan Hayward travels the country each year selling outdoor gear and chasing big game. He lives in southern Ohio, and when he's not hunting or fishing, he enjoys spending time working on his farm.
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