Early Season Whitetail Reports
By Ryan Graden
October is finally here and you know what that means? THE SEASON IS NOW OPEN! That’s right, cabin fever is over and you can now pursue that trophy that you’ve been eyeballing through the Spring and Summer. Or maybe you don’t have anything picked out, but you are ready to have an encounter with something. Whatever the case may be, early season is here and it’s time to hunt!
I’ve been a bowhunter now for a good many years and I’ve noticed that there are a good number of bowhunters who will not waste too much time with the early season. They may venture into the timber here and there in the early season, but you will not see them spend large amounts of time in a stand until the rut hits in November. Now, I understand that there are reasons for this and they are valid. Maybe there’s too much cover. The deer are still nocturnal. Bucks aren’t “stupid” yet. The bugs are too bad. Whatever the excuse may be, they have settled in on that reason and will not easily change their mind.
I also know that in the years that I have been a bowhunter, I’ve seen some monsters killed during the early season! Deer in the 180’s to 200’s taken in the early part of October. It can be accomplished if you have done your homework and know what you’re doing. So why are many of us reluctant to take the chance? Why are we putting all our thoughts into November and later when we have October at our disposal? That’s a good question. Maybe our chances are good in October too. Here’s some advice to help you gain the edge on an early season trophy.
Do Your Homework
To be an early season hunter, you have to put a little more effort into your hunt. In November, during the rut, you could put a stand in any area with deer traffic and have a good chance at seeing a big buck. Their territory gets much larger during that month and they will cover lots of ground in their chase for a doe in estrus. But to hunt the early season, you have to know who’s around and when and where they will be making a visit.
I’ve written on this topic in a few other articles that have been published in previous issues, but taking the time to scout is HUGE for filling a tag in the early season. Spend some time out in the timber and fields to put together your plan considering the following things.
First, food sources are vital to getting yourself into the right spot for an encounter with a trophy. If you don’t have the privilege of hunting over food plots, figure out what the deer are eating. Acorns, favorite greens, or maybe the neighboring field. Regardless of if they are eating on your property or somebody else’s, know what and where they are eating.
Second, know their patterns and trails. This is something that I pay attention to in the late winter and early spring. I make a mental note of the trails deer are using to access these food sources. Deer are creatures of habit. Unless something drastically happens to change their pattern of travel, (a tree falls across their trail, erosion, development of some sort) deer will continue to use the same trails year after year. Take time to know where the trials start (sometimes hundreds of yards away) and where they end up (hopefully where you’re hunting)
Third, begin to notice the time. This might mean you have to find a place to watch from a distance. Maybe find a high point on a hill a few hundred yards away. Alternatively, put a temporary stand up a few hundred yards away that will allow you to see the food source. Start sitting and watching the deer come into the area that they are feeding in. Make a note of what time they begin to show up and what deer you are seeing. Typically, you’ll see does and fawns earlier in the evening hours. Then, right before sundown the bucks will begin to show up. If you don’t bother the “scene” at all, these deer will continue this regular pattern until the rut begins to kick in. Use this to your advantage!
This is going to be key to your success. It also depends on what you are looking to fill your tag with. If you are content with a mature doe in the freezer, I’d just make sure your stand is hung in the high traffic areas that you have already scouted. My advice is a bit different if you are looking to bag the big guy you’ve seen showing up at dusk on a regular basis. You see, he is not always going to show up before shooting hours are closed. Therefore, you need to be a bit sneaky and “create” some time for your hunt.
If you know where this buck is coming from, I would suggest carefully setting up an “ambush” and instead of pursuing him in the area where he feeds, catch him on his way there.
Take your stand and carefully find a good setting further down the trail that he’s most likely to use. A trail camera can really give you an advantage here! Moving the camera further and further down a trail could give you more accurate information as to where he’s coming from.
However, if you can’t do that, just 50 yards down the trial could give you a ten to fifteen minute advantage in getting a shot at this trophy before shooting hours come to an end.I’d also suggest to look for a good “pinch point” in setting up your ambush. Following a trail deeper in to the timber could actually make it harder to guarantee a shot within a reasonable distance for a bowhunter. Nevertheless, if you follow this trail to a pinch point, this deer will follow the contours of the terrain and naturally come closer to you for a shot. This has been one of my greatest tactics in shooting mature bucks.
When hunting the early season, you are going to have to deal with more cover. This brings me to my next suggestion.
There are two things that I want to mention here. The first thing that I want to touch on is the “cover” that you have around your stand. I’ve met some guys over the years who will entirely clear out anything that might be in their way of a shot from their stand. No kidding, they will literally cut off and cut down anything that would be in their way of 180+ degrees of shooting capability!
Now, I know that this makes it able for you to take any shot that you might have, but think of what you are doing here! You’ve just totally exposed your hiding place! Any cover that you’re hoping your camouflage will blend in with is gone! All that you have is the tree bark you are standing near and the skyline behind you. If a passing whitetail decides to take a glace up the tree, you’re in trouble!
My best suggestion, trim a series of lanes. Keep your cover, but give yourself three to four different cleared lanes of shooting. With any luck, when a buck comes walking by, you can get him to stop in at least one of those lanes for you to take a shot without sacrificing your cover. Remember, you want to blend in like a part of the surroundings. If you eliminate the surroundings, you’ve taken away your greatest advantage!
The second thing that I wanted to talk about with stand preparation is your shooting. Think of this when you are preparing for your early season hunt. Truthfully, this probably goes for anytime of the season you are bowhunting in. Practice shooting from an elevated stand, with cover around.
Think of it, most guys when they are out taking some practice shots with their bow, are shooting in a straight, linear position. They are standing on the ground aiming at a target twenty to forty yards away hoping to hit the center of the ring. Realistically, how many deer have you shot standing on the ground twenty to forty yards from them. It’s only ever happened to me once and that was a totally lucky situation.
You need to practice from an elevated position. To take the proper shot and know that you are going to hit the mark, you need to be doing the same in practice. It’s certainly not the most convenient thing to practice. To set up a stand. Go up and down after every so many shots. I know that it’s a lot of work, but, what’s it worth to you? When you are looking through your peep site at a mature buck, you’ll want the confidence of a practiced shot in your mind.
As the early season matures onto the rut and then on to the late season, all of your preparations will not be wasted. Scouting properly should let you know where to find the deer no matter what the month may be.
Placing your stand in the right place should continue to give you opportunities as the season continues too. However, if you see travel patterns change, don’t be afraid to make a quick stand move if needed. I’ve done this on a few occasions and had success. Make sure you don’t disturb the scene too much and be quick about it.
Practicing your shot over and over again from different angles and in different cover is always a good thing to be doing! We’ve probably all heard the saying, “Practice makes perfect.” A good archer is confident in their shooting ability and is able to handle many situations that are presented to them. Take the time to ensure that you are making a good shot. It will relieve you of the frustration of a missed shot. It is also the right thing to do for the respect of the animal you are pursuing.
So as the bow season continues, enjoy the time in creation! The chase is on and hopefully you will have the upper hand! Good luck!