By now, most of us are feeling the pre-game anticipation of archery opener. Like a bunch of NFLers on game day, we anxiously anticipate hitting the timber for the first time and kicking off the 2017 season. But we need to remind ourselves that throwing caution to the wind early on will have a direct impact on our hunting land for the remainder of the season. As the calendar ticks down to October, whitetail movements become much less predictable due to rising testosterone, pressure, and shifting food sources. The first week of the season can be a great time to target bucks near food sources before outside influences alter their daily routines. Here are 7 early season whitetail tips to better your odds of tagging out early,
Food Is King:
As mentioned above, food is king right now. Some groups of bachelor bucks are still intact and will often hit food sources together, but this will not last too much longer. Bean and clover fields can be dynamite this time of year, but if you have a mass acorn drop, that will likely trump all else. Some acorn crops are larger than others but regardless, when they start to fall, find a White Oak and set up shop. Often if deer disappear from crop fields, it means that acorns are falling somewhere inside the timber. If that is the case, it may be time to change up your strategy as lush clover and beans will be put on the backburner to white oak acorns. If you are lucky enough to have a stand of white oaks on a treeline that opens into a bean or clover field, it can be deadly early in the season because deer will often stage up and gorge themselves on acorns before hitting the open fields. Water sources can also have the same influence on deer, and they will stage around small ponds before entering a field to feed. It is also important to remember that deer will bed close to food early so be extra cautious when entering your stand. Bucks will often enter agriculture fields from where they feel most comfortable so pay extra close attention to corners and draws during summer scouting to get a better understanding of which they prefer.
There is no need to get overly aggressive right out of the gates. At the beginning of the season, deer tend to be more patternable than later on and putting too much pressure on them will change their daily routine quickly. If you have spent time watching them throughout the summer or have a basic understanding of how deer move on your property, try setting up on entrance/exit routes near food sources or slightly inside the timberline. Right now it’s as important as ever to hunt areas where you can get in and out undetected to avoid spooking the herd.
Scout and Pattern:
At no other time are whitetails more patternable than the first two weeks of the season. Summer stress levels are low due to lack of pressure and the rut still being weeks away. As September slides into October, bachelor groups will break up, and mature bucks will establish dominance through aggression and territory marking. Look for early scrapes to appear as testosterone levels start to rise. Early in the year you can pattern a buck strictly off of his lazy summer routine rather than hunt him later on and rely on luck.
Trail cameras are worth their weight in gold at this time of year but don’t get too aggressive with camera locations. Try to place cameras in areas that are easily accessible and where you can minimize the impact of human intrusion. Some bucks will be transitioning to their fall breeding grounds so keep a close watch for new bruisers setting up shop in your area.
Another great way to pattern early season whitetails is to set up on field edges and watch. Glassing can often be done from your vehicle and can add insight into how deer enter a field in the evening. Having quality glass is important because the deer will more than likely be entering the field in low-light conditions.
Early season whitetail scouting can pay off big. Play the wind and stay concealed.
Avoid hunting mornings early in the season. It is nearly impossible to sneak into feeding areas in the morning without spooking deer. The window to kill an early season buck is very small and it can be completely closed if you alert the deer to your presence.
Cold fronts are key. Deer will not get up and move early if the temperature is above average; 70 degrees is a good breaking point in the midwest. If the temperature drops 10 degrees or more below average, deer will usually be on their feet earlier than usual, and this can be a great window to get eyes on a target animal.
Trust your cameras and sightings. An awful lot of good hunters will not hunt until they are getting solid daylight sightings. If he is not visible during the day, it may be best to back off until he starts slipping up.
Entry and Exit Routes:
How you get into and out of your stand should be well thought out. Enter your stand with ample time to get in and set up before the deer start to hit staging areas inside the treeline. When exiting, wait until it’s dark allowing deer to fully enter into the field and try to use routes that will not spook them by using trails inside the treeline. If corn is still standing, walking a row out works well. Stand location is very important and when possible, set up in a location that allows the deer to pass and feed out of sight before you climb down. How you exit the field may take you well out of the way but it is important to avoid detection.
The legendary whitetail hunter Myles Keller used to apply a tactic that he called hunting from the outside in. By watching a whitetails summer routine, he would slowly decipher the deer’s habits and put together a game plan to kill him. Early season meant hunting the fringes and slowly moving inside the timber as he learned more about the bucks individual habits. long story short, don’t dive in and try to kill a buck in his core area right out of the gates. Early on, you should be a ghost. Draw as little attention to yourself as possible and focus more on intercepting the deer than calling and being aggressive. Each time you hunt, you are alerting the deer to your presence and a shift if their behavior is possible.
The early season window to kill a good buck is short lived but if you put in some pre-season hours the potential to tag out is definitely possible. After 9 months, we are all anxious to get back in the stand but patience and scouting are the keys to early season success.