By Ricky Kinder
It goes without saying that preparation leads to success, and this couldn’t be truer in terms of bow hunting early season whitetails here in Iowa. If you want to harvest a mature whitetail buck during the early parts of bow season you need to get to work right now! Some of the most serious hunters that I know undoubtedly say that there past early season success stories has been a direct result of the summertime preparation work they put in during some of the hottest and muggiest days of the year.
Below I have compiled a few preparations every hunter should be performing now or very soon to get himself or herself equipped for the fast approaching date of October 1st.
Be Smart With Your Camera/s
The trail camera is undoubtedly one of the best scouting sources ever created. Heck nowadays you can purchase cameras capable of sending you photos directly to your email! No question about it cameras are a must have for the serious whitetail hunter.
During the summer months is when hunters use their cameras the most, and for good reason. As the season gets closer hunters want to see what bucks are hanging around their land, not to mention the size of their antlers.
If you use cameras or even if you are just getting started with cameras there are some things you want to take note of, especially during the summer months. I personally will use cameras from May all the way through Late October. I usually stop when the rut gets kicked off because I am focused 100% on hunting and bucks during the rut are unpredictable anyways resulting in fewer photos of bucks.
During the summer months I only check my cameras once every 10-14 days and follow a pretty strict pattern when doing so. Every time I check my cameras I do so during the middle of the day when deer are not on their feet. I usually just drive as close as I can to them and get in and out as quickly as possible and swap out SD cards. I don’t take time to review any photos in the field. I also take some scent elimination precautions, wearing gloves and rubber boots when checking cameras.
Drive a vehicle to your camera site? That is correct; since I place most of my cameras next to field edges around food sources I typically can park a matter of feet away. This allows me a quick retrieval time. I haven’t seen any negative affects by doing this as deer continue to frequent my camera sites regularly. To me I believe it is a better way to do things than just walking to your cameras from a long distance away. Deer see cars all of the time and will tolerate a quick snatch and grab from a human getting out to check a camera than they will a human wondering all over the place. The main thing is to have a pattern and you should be fine.
Lastly never place your cameras near bedding areas. This is forbidden territory right now all the way through hunting seasons. Bedding areas are for deer only! Like I previously said I place my cameras near food sources, where I know deer congregate and gather for extended periods of time.
Scout Deer From Afar
When I am not checking trail cameras and when time affords me I am scouting the deer on my property from the safety and comfort of my truck. Scouting your property from the road or from a distant ridge is a must in the summer months if you truly want to get a good handle on the deer in the area. Long distance scouting gives you a good idea of what food sources are being used, size and quantity of bucks, what trails are being used, what time of day bucks are coming out and where bucks are staging at before coming to food sources.
High power binoculars and/or a spotting scope are great tools and virtually a must if you want to get good detail on the deer you see. It’s always a good idea to jot down notes when you are scouting, paying particular attention to any specific details you believe are noteworthy. I typically jot down times of the day I see deer, repeat encounters with deer, number of deer I saw at one spot, trails being used, direction deer are coming from, wind direction, what food sources are being used, and physical characteristics of any potential deer I would like to harvest.
When scouting from a long distance the best places to scan are food sources during the early morning and late evening hours. Any other time will not be very fruitful since deer will be bedding during the majority of the daytime hours.
Areas To Locate While Scouting:
Staging areas are places in between bedding areas and food sources where bucks will hang out and wait for the cover of darkness before they head out to feed. A lot of times hanging stands by a food source is a hunters go to stand location, but in reality, especially during the early season finding and hunting staging areas is a better option. The reason being is that bucks, as we know, are very stubborn about entering a food source during shooting hours. In return they hang back and wait for safety in an area where they can still see the food source, yet have the security of cover around them only to enter after shooting light has passed. Having a stand in this hang out area will afford you more encounters with a buck than a field edge stand will.
Finding Staging areas can be done from your long distance scouting trips. If you happen to see a buck present himself just before the sun goes over the horizon there is a good possibility he was waiting in a staging area before coming out into the open. During the middle of the day locate the trail the buck used to enter the food source and walk this trail (don’t walk directly on the trail) some 20 yards back and look for a place to hang your stand. Use and mask your scent as much as possible when hanging your stand. Make sure you don’t go too far into the timber; staging areas can be close to bedding areas so you don’t want to risk bumping deer off their beds by walking the trail too far.
Locating a buck’s bedroom, or bedding area is vital! Not in the sense that you should be hanging a stand next to one, because that is a big no-no. More so for the reason that you want to know where you shouldn’t be hunting. Bedding areas are forbidden during all parts of the year accept for right after the season/s have closed or as a last ditch effort to seal the deal. The reason you stay out of these areas is because this is where deer feel safe and secure on your property. If a deer feels safe on your property they will be more apt to stay put. If you bump deer out of their beds a few times or even once for that matter you run the risk of pushing them off of their routine, which may lead them to leaving your property.
Bedding areas can be tricky to locate if you are glassing from a distance because of the vast possibilities of where they might be bedding. The best tactic, other than walking through the timber after the season has closed, is to view aerial photographs of the property you hunt. Take note of any dense cover areas with food and water sources relatively close by. Also keep a look out for ridges with dense cover that provide a good viewing point for deer to see any approaching danger. Take a mental note of these areas; if you use aerial maps place a big “X” on the bedding areas and write “Stay Out
Find Food Sources
Are you getting a feeling that you are playing a game of connect the dots? If so that is good. As mysterious and intelligent as whitetail are, their daily life, especially during the early fall, revolves around two things, resting and eating. As hunters we just need to be in the area they are doing those two things. Pretty simple huh? We all know better than that! The final dot to connect is locating food sources bucks are frequenting. This in the grand scheme of things is fairly simple this time of year. Simply glass from your vehicle on a roadside or distant hillside to locate where deer are feeding in the morning and evening hours. Obviously the best places to look for are agricultural crops such as soybean and alfalfa fields, as well as any food plots you might have planted earlier in the year.
It’s also important to take note of any mast producing trees in the area. Deer love acorns, and if they are hitting the ground, will abandon previous crop food sources and devour falling acorns. Setting a stand leading into such areas is a proven tactic! As I previously mentioned I like to hang stands further back (staging area) from the food source to reassure me that I will get a shot of a buck during daylight hours.
Find Pinch Points/Funnels
Generally speaking a pinch point or funnel is a term used by hunters to describe a natural land feature that narrows from a wider tract of cover, which leads to another wide tract of cover, food source, or bedding area. Hunters love pinch points because we know that if a deer wants to get to another part of the property the only way they can do so under the protection of cover is to use a pinch point. In return if a hunter has a stand in or around a pinch point deer are less likely to pass by undetected since pinch points are considerably narrower than other travel areas deer frequent.
The best way to detect pinch points is to get an aerial photograph of your property and look for any natural terrain that is narrower than the surrounding cover, yet still provides deer the sense of safety. Also take note of any food sources and/or possible bedding areas that are around the pinch point. Pinch points near those areas are dynamite stand locations! Simply place some stands in the area that allows you multiple wind directions to hunt and wait for that deer to be naturally funneled your way.
Stand Hanging and Maintenance
The summer months are the best time to hang any new stands and check for maintenance issues on any existing stands. Sure I will hang a few impromptu stands during the season, especially if I find a new hotspot, but for the most part any stand I hang or any maintenance performed is done during August. The fall is for hunting the summer is for preparation!
When I hang a new stand I follow three guidelines. The first is know where the deer are bedding and never set a stand right next to this area. Secondly, you have to know the prevailing seasonal winds on your property. What looks to be the best ambush site in the world can quickly turn into the worst if the prevailing winds blow your scent in the direction of approaching deer. Lastly don’t just hang a stand to hang a stand. Take all of the information you have gathered throughout your scouting efforts and look for food sources, pinch points, densely traveled trails, staging areas, oak tree flats, etc. and hang stands there. Finding a killer stand location takes some homework and due diligence, plan ahead by finding great locations and you will increase your odds come this fall.
If you have the luxury of hunting private land in Iowa and leave your stands up all year round now is the time to make any enhancements to the site or stand itself. Many hunters have fallen victim to a squeaky stand or obstructed shooting lanes because of stand negligence. Take the time during the summer months to do some quick maintenance on your stands and you won’t have to worry about problems during the fall. Double check stands for squeaks, shooting lane clearance, and stand safety.
This tip is pretty simple and probably the most important, yet I would venture to say it’s probably the most over looked. If you really want to increase your success rate you must practice daily. All year round practice would be great, but if nothing else you really need to start knocking off the rust during the summer months, well ahead of opening day. Nothing can ruin a hunt quicker than missing a shot at a giant or any deer for that matter, especially when that miss was your own fault. Take away any doubt you have in your abilities and start shooting arrows daily. The remaining days left until season starts will soon be gone, ask yourself “are you ready accuracy wise for opening day right now”? The answer to that question should always be a confident yes.
Plant More Food
Many people will spend hours and hours planting food plots for the spring and summer time and that is great. However, these food plots don’t really hold much value during the fall or winter months because more times than not they have already been ravaged by the deer herd and other wildlife in the area. To counter attack this issue many hunters will plant fall/winter food plots during the summer months to reestablish a food plot for the upcoming months. By doing so not only are you giving yourself a great spot to hunt around, but also you are continually providing nutrition to your deer herd.
Take a Family Vacation!
Shed hunting, setting trail cameras, food plots, aerial photographs, practice, 3D shoots, sports shows, scouting and hunting…what do all of these things have in common (other than whitetails of course)? They all take time to do! Time that the significant other (if they not into hunting) believes should be spent with them. All of this time we spend pursuing whitetail has landed many of soles in the proverbial doghouse and dare I say some really knock down, drag out arguments amongst hunter and significant other.
Most of us have been in that situation time and time again, if not just wait my friend it’s coming. Nevertheless, being a family man I believe that you have to give back to the people you love and that is why I suggest just dropping whatever hunting related plan/s you have coming up for a weekend or week and plan a get-a-way for the family. This gesture will go a long ways during the course of the year and show that you appreciate being afforded the opportunities to pursue Iowa’s most sought after game animal. Who knows a gesture like this might get you out of the dog house and earn a few extra brownie points for the next time the dog house has the vacancy sign lit.
Here Today Gone Tomorrow
So now that you have scoured your land and have tabs on a lot of really nice bucks for the upcoming season I have some bad news for you. Once a buck sheds his antlers and the fall looms near you may never lay eyes on some of these bucks again, at least not during the season. The reason being is that bucks will enter their fall patterns, giving way to the social tolerance of bachelor pads during the summer and moving to a more solitary lifestyle while they prepare themselves for the rut.
During this fall pattern some bucks will disperse from their summer ranges and move on to new ground. They do this to lessen the competition of other bucks in the vastly competitive breeding season. This is kind of a kick to the gut, but it’s just something you have to be aware of and stomach. Don’t let this get you down because there is nothing you can do about it. All you can do is hunt the deer that are still on the property. Keep up your scouting as the fall approaches to really hone in on what deer have stayed in the area to give you a more up-to-date list of potential shooters. Take what you learn in the next couple of months and place your focus on the deer that stay behind. Also, remember that its more than likely you haven’t seen all the deer in the area through your scouting efforts, so the next deer that walks down the trail might be a newcomer that you have never even seen before.
Whitetail hunting takes planning, practice, and execution to be successful; start your summer preparation now and you will be ready to execute come this fall! Use the above information and any other preparation ideas you might have to get a head start on the deer you will be hunting this fall. Who knows you may be standing over a trophy buck on opening day in October! Remember whitetail season never ends!