LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015
As my alarm clock rang I was nearly half way through the morning hunt. Sleep was not an option the night before opening day. I had spent the night ironically daydreaming about the events that were about to take place. My gear was prepared and my plan, well it was failsafe. I had been watching a giant mainframe ten point with three kickers off the base of his majestic, yet intimidating rack all summer and into early fall. The West Virginia leaves were still clinging to the trees and the air had yet to transform to the smell of deer season.
Early season success can be achieved…..it just takes a different approach.
Climbing into my stand my heart pounded with anticipation of finally getting an opportunity at my dream buck. It turns out his pattern was right on cue as I stood with my bow at the ready position. The monarch whitetail closed the distance to 25 yards as he made his predictable journey back to his bedroom. Unfortunately, my lack of bowhunting knowledge at the ripe old age of 14 cost me that Mountain State giant. To this day I still remember that cold stare into his eyes before his hasty departure. It took me a few years to realize how important that hunt was. The early season can be the best time to pattern and harvest the buck of a lifetime. In this article we are going to look at a few simple ways you can tag a mature buck before the fresh smell of fall makes its arrival.
Slipping an arrow into a mature whitetail buck in the early season can be determined much like the real-estate market, location, location, location. This is where you may be required to spend some time in recon mode. Scouting is crucial to establishing a game plan for ambushing a buck that may be on a predictable pattern. Scouting in today’s world is much easier with the use of trail cameras but laying your eyes on a mature buck provides a sense of accomplishment and can give you the added confidence needed to create a calculated plan of attack.
You have to hunt where mature bucks live or it doesn’t matter what tactics you use…you won’t slip an arrow into one.
The Big Three
Personally, I look for three basic circumstances for locating and hunting early season bucks. The first and foremost ingredients are food and water. Mature bucks at this point in the year are concentrating on nutrition and establishing a solid balance of various food sources needed to tackle the impending winter. Today food plots and mineral stations are commonly used throughout the Nation to provide deer herd health and stability. However, if you do not have the luxury of food plots you will need to focus on the natural habitat surrounding your hunting area. Look for fruit bearing trees such as apple, persimmon, and even pear trees can be a target for early season bucks. If fruit trees do not exist white oak trees can be a major draw to deer.
Food and water are major factors in where deer will travel in the early season (before the rut). Therefore, it should certainly be on the early season bowhunters radar.
One of the most overlooked areas for taking an early season wall hanger is near a water source. Deer need abundant water to survive the early season heat and will often visit water sources multiple times a day as well as before venturing to their feeding area. Watering holes can be great places to utilize trail cameras as well. Study your area and know the various H2O locations. It may be your best chance at early season success!
The Path Most Traveled
The second critical element within the location category is finding game trails leading to and from the food source you have located. This is where your game cameras are priceless. Normally in the early season major trails leading to food sources are not hard to find. Personally, I look for secondary trails that may be in heavier cover which can provide a mature buck an easy escape route but still offer a bowhunter an opportunity to punch an early season tag.
Look for areas where trails converge on one another. This will most likely be the highest odds location for getting a shot off at a deer.
Process Of Elimination
There are two good ways to hunt a food source. One is to place your stand or blind directly next to the feeding area. The second way is to place your setup in the transition area leading from the bedding area to the food source. This is my preferred method due to the fact that it often cuts the distance I have to cover in order to get a quality shot on a mature buck. Feeding locations can be vast but normally the travel routes are small and precise; offering the archer a more predictable and high percentage shot opportunity.
Another reason I hunt the transition area and not the feeding area is you do not want to spook deer that are feeding by climbing out of your setup. This can deter a mature buck from using that area for the rest of the season. You want the deer to feel comfortable in their feeding area and comfortable in their bedding area.
After you have narrowed down the feeding areas and proven trails it is time to factor in your setup. This can be the most difficult to accomplish. The most important consideration is the wind. Mature bucks and even mature does can tolerate some movement and noise, but they will under no circumstance tolerate human odor. If you choose an area that you want to hunt on multiple winds then you have to create multiple stand locations. Personally, I try to narrow down the best possible wind direction for each stand site I have and only hunt that stand during that wind.
Scent control is paramount when pursuing big, mature whitetails. Take the necessary precautions to remain as scent free as possible.
Early season bucks can be predictable but it only takes one mishap for them to change their pattern or go completely nocturnal. Your setup should also give you easy ingress and egress if at all possible and try to never cross the path that you know the deer will travel. This increases their chance of detecting a scent that will send them off to the races.
Make It Count
The last element to your setup that can make you successful is your shot opportunity. Picture your shot selection based on the travel routes and plan your shot opportunities accordingly. Having multiple shooting lanes will increase your ability to draw and make the best choice when a shot presents itself. Make sure your shooting lanes are clear and the shooting lane offers the best angle when that giant steps into view.
Lures and Calls
I typically do not use calls or scents during the early season. I feel that in order to take advantage of the early season patterns I need to let the natural movement and social standing of the deer create a platform in which I can capitalize on. Whitetails have a strong social structure during the early season. Bucks tend to socially vocalize within their bachelor groups at this time when much of their concern revolves around food.
Cover scents can be a productive avenue in the early season. Hunters tend to be more susceptive to odors during the early season so we need all the help we can get. The number one rule to follow in the use of early season scents is to use what is natural. Foreign odors can not only alert the deer you are pursuing but it can make mature deer curb their travel routes or habits.
When hunting the early season, try to introduce odors that are naturally occurring during that time frame.
If you choose to incorporate scents into your early season hunting make sure they are natural to what the deer may encounter during that time of year. Tink’s, home of America’s number one deer lure, makes some fantastic early season scents that may interest you. Their new Hot Shot #1 Doe P Non-Estrus Mist can be a great choice for early season scent tactics as well as Tink’s #4 Fresh Tracks which uses the scent of the interdigital gland which whitetails use to track each other. Either odor is a naturally occurring one and should not spook deer or alter their travel patterns.
Beat the Heat
Archery season normally starts when the temperatures are still unaware that hunting season is in session. In order to beat the heat in the early stages of archery season you must consider a few options. First, dress in a capacity that allows your body to breathe while soaking up moisture such as sweat. I do much of my early season hunting in the south where temperatures can reach the 90’s during archery season. My choice of clothing consists of material that will wick moisture from my body as quickly as possible; keeping me cool during hot conditions. As much as I hate to, I still wear knee high rubber boots to control scent when walking to and from my hunting area. My philosophy during this time of year is that I am going to sweat no matter what I wear so I need to control my scent at all costs.
Utilize Travel Times
Hunting early and late is another way to help beat the heat in early season. If you know the deer patterns are extremely early and right before dark then you can eliminate the hot late morning and mid afternoon sits. One tactic I use is soaking a small towel in water and scent eliminator liquid and laying it across my neck. This can add a cool feeling to your body while fighting human odor. Hydration is also a key factor. I spent three hours at a local hospital one evening after a hunt because I did not properly hydrate before hunting in extreme heat.
Early Season Gear
The early season is often a time when I carry nothing but the necessary items to the treestand or blind. However, here is a list of things you may want to consider.
• Safety harness (For treestand hunting)
• Tink’s B-Tech Odor Eliminating Spray
• Small towel
• Hot Shot #1 Doe P Non-Estrus Mist, Tink’s #4 Fresh Tracks
• Tink’s Wind Chaser, Wind Detector
Other considerations when discussing gear are to make a conscious effort to eliminate odor from other items like your release and bow. Take the strap off of your release and scent wash or spray it down and let it air dry. You do not want all those sweaty practice days to cost you a chance at a buck of a lifetime. Also wipe down your bow with a scent eliminating wipe or cloth. I also take the extra time to spray down my safety harness after those hot early season hunts.
By utilizing an early season plan you can score when most hunters strike out.
If you are like me your pre-hunt ritual has you scrubbing with scent eliminator wash and shampoo. I highly stress this extra step as well as washing your clothes in scent eliminating wash. I have come to the conclusion that I am going to do everything possible to eliminate what I can control. Mature bucks are extremely hard to hunt and even more unforgiving to a hunters mistakes.
I hope your early season adventures afield are productive and I truly believe you have a great opportunity to harvest a mature whitetail buck if you utilize these simple steps. One thing I have learned is to let the deer speak to you through their actions. The encounter I shared with that giant Mountain State buck will forever be planted in my mind, but through that cold stare he gave me I learned even giant bucks can be predictable. Enjoy the early archery season, it may be your best opportunity to visit the taxidermist!