10 Opening Day Mistakes to Avoid

By Josh HoneycuttSeptember 11, 20146 Comments

LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015

You think about it during the day. You dream about it at night. You look forward to it all summer long. It’s opening day. And if you have to wait any longer, you might lose your job from all the daydreaming. Good thing is that, in many states, deer season is just around the corner.

I don’t care if you’re a beginner or a veteran everyone is a little rusty on opening day. It takes a little time to work through the kinks and bad habits picked up during the offseason. Here are a few to avoid altogether.

1. Hunting The Morning

Morning hunts aren’t as productive during the early season. They just aren’t. Some even say that morning hunts do more harm than good. I don’t fully agree with that but I will agree that they do harm if went about in the wrong manner.

If you are hunting the morning on opening day don’t get right on the primary food source. You will push deer on your way to the stand and put pressure on them from the get go. But you don’t want to hunt the bedding areas either. Now is the time to focus on secondary food sources. Deer will likely leave primary food sources well before daylight but you might catch them moving back to bed on a secondary food source like honeysuckle, sumac, soft mast, hard mast and other browse.

Deer hunting food sources
Hunting primary food sources such as corn fields is a great tactic for opening day, just not in the morning.  Stick to secondary food sources or transition areas for better luck.

2. Late Arrival

I’m not saying you’ll oversleep. You probably won’t even go to bed from the excitement. But you might still be late if you don’t fully prepare. Make sure all your camouflage and gear is laid out and ready. Know exactly how long it will take you to get to the stand. And be sure you know when the sun will start peeking over the horizon. You want to be in the stand and ready to go at least 30 minutes before the first hint of light. For the evening, make sure you get in the stand at least two hours before you suspect movement will begin.

Bowhunter walking in forest
Be sure to leave yourself plenty of extra time.  Your first trip to the stand will undoubtedly take longer as you iron out the rust from 9 months of off season.

3. Bad Entry Route

Your entry route is everything. The route from the truck to the treestand has to be one that doesn’t take you close to deer. It also needs to be downwind of any deer. The third component of a good entry route is silence. It needs to be quiet.

It’s important to remember one thing. More times than not, the short route is not the best one. Either way, make sure your responsibly make your way to the stand.

Bowhunting entry route
Be sure to avoid areas where deer may be bedded on your way into the stand.  Even if it means walking well out of your way, this can often times be the best plan.

4. Poor Scent Control

I’ll harp on this all day long. It’s my pet peeve. His nose is a buck’s first and foremost line of defense. So why is it hunters sometimes think they can cut corners and still be successful? It doesn’t make sense.

There are certain things that have to be done. Take scent-reducing showers. Use scent-reducing deodorant. I’ve taken this as far as to brush my teeth with baking soda – it isn’t fun and there are products on today’s market to substitute for this. Keep camouflage in an air-tight box and only wear them in the field. Wear rubber boots that are only worn when hunting. Spray down with a scent-killing spray to top off your scent control system.

Scent control for bowhunters
Early season generally means warm temperatures which makes scent control even more critical.

5. Being Too Aggressive

I know, I know. It’s opening day and you’re salivating like a rabid dog. However you are better served to check your aggression and keep your wits together. Just because you see him out there at 100 yards doesn’t mean you have to descend the tree and put the Rambo sneak on him. Just be patient. Tomorrow is another day and the hunting will get better before it’s over.

6. Calling Irresponsibly

This goes hand in hand with being aggressive. I know you want to call that buck within range but now isn’t the time for it. Deer are vocal all year however most bucks aren’t responsive to grunt calls and rattling like they will be in a month or two. Be responsible. Don’t do anything that could raise suspicion. Lay low and stay off the deer’s radar.

rattlign antlers
It’s opening day.  Leave the rattling antlers at home.

7. Hunting the Does

Now is not the time to hunt the does. That will be the tactic in November. Now is the time to hunt food sources. The bucks will be hitting the best food source that is in a location they feel the safe. This is the place you need to focus your efforts.  If you focus solely on doe areas you’ll likely see only does.

8. Hunting Your Best Stand

Don’t rush in and hunt your best stand right off. Save your best spot for the right time. That right time will be different for everyone. Obviously, the rut is the best time. But other times to key in on are: fronts, rain events, temperature swings, etc. The last thing you want to do is hunt your best spot when odds of success are low. Keep those honey holes in your hip pocket for the right time.

9. Bad Exit Route

This is on par with entry routes. Having a bad exit route is just as bad as having a bad entry route. Make sure you follow a path that does not pressure deer. Even if that means walking much further than you want to. It will be better in the long run. And it will save your next hunt.  Keep in mind that exit routes may not always be the same as entrance routes as deer will likely be in a different location on your way out than when you walked in.

10. Ignoring Your Gut

This isn’t a mistake tactically speaking. But it is a mistake strategically. I think this is something you learn over time. It isn’t something that just happens overnight.

Life lessons teach you to listen to your gut. Hunting doesn’t do that for you. But it can be applied to hunting if you allow it to. Listen to your instincts. If they tell you to do something, do it. Follow your gut. It doesn’t play tricks like your mind does.

Bonus Tip

Don’t get discouraged and move to another location if you don’t see your target buck after the first couple of days. Bucks – especially mature bucks – are generally on a three-day pattern. Don’t abandon a good spot just because it doesn’t produce right away.

Opening day buck
With a careful planning, patience and a little bit of luck an Opening Day buck may be in your fortune for this year.

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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