Let’s face it, archery hunting for whitetails isn’t always easy, in fact most of the time it’s the exact opposite. I mean, sure, sometimes you have great luck and you’re in the right place at the right time. But, those situations are few and far between. (At least for me!) And that’s what keeps me doing this year after year after year!
I have four daughters who are quickly becoming skilled whitetail hunters. As they hunt, they are realizing the same truth that I just stated. Some seasons, you have to work for your harvest. You’ll spend many days in the stand, spend hours with preparations, endure the weather and anything else mother nature throws at you. But, it is all the more exciting when you have to go through all that and finally make a successful harvest. It almost demands a shout in the woods when that’s accomplished!
I have learned over the years I have chased these timber ghosts that there are some things that can increase your chances for being “in the right place at the right time”. In order to make that happen you have to do your homework! You have to make the effort to know your quarry. When you put in the time, you will see that your percentage of success WILL go up! I promise you.
In the following paragraphs, I’d like to take you through a season of bowhunting and talk about the advantages you will gain if you take the time to relocate your sets throughout the phases of the season. Trust me, it’s worth the time!
Let’s start at the very beginning.
Opening Day To Mid/Late October
(October 1 – October 24th)
October 1st is the day that some bowhunters lose sleep over. Seriously! It’s like Christmas day in the fall. And if you know what I’m talking about, then label yourself a diehard!
Hunting in the early season is very different than later on during the rut. It has its advantages though and, if you ask me, shouldn’t be ignored.
In order to make a best guess as to where you should be hanging your stand in the early season, you really need to know the basics about deer behavior and their patterns at this time of the year. Knowing this is going to allow you to put the “pieces of the puzzle” together in order to give you a bigger and better picture of where you should be.
Deer at this time of the season are coming from a summer of no hunting pressure whatsoever. They are relaxed, and unaware (for the moment) of the opening of the season. They are also creatures of habit at this time of year. They know where their food is, they know where the water is, they know where they like to bed, they know where they are safe, and much, much more. That makes them somewhat predictable.
The other elements that you need to think about during this time of season is the condition of the areas you’re hunting. If you’re in the timber, leaves are still on the trees, underbrush is still thick, fields may not be harvested, and sometimes the mosquitoes are absolutely horrible! All of these factors will determine where it is best to place your stand.
For me, I would suggest field edges in the early season weeks. Beanfields, cornfields, and even food plots can be a huge advantage during this part of the season.
As mentioned deer are creatures of habit at this point. They are coming to feed at almost the same time every evening and they are often times using the same routes. If the food source is abundant, you can bet a good buck will not leave that space until the next phase of the season changes his mind! He will often use the same bedding area and feeding area for the weeks of October. That is, if, he is not pressured. The only hiccup to this plan, mature bucks are often times still on a very nocturnal pattern in the early season.
I like to hang my stand around 7-10 yards inside the edge of a field. I do my best to clear 3-4 shooting lanes focusing on the field edge in front of me. I like to leave a certain amount of cover around the chair of my stand as long as it doesn’t disrupt the function of my bow. Deer will “stage up” at the edge of fields before entering into the open. They are also viewing the fields to see who’s out there already. By hanging around the edges of the field, cover is close for a quick bail into the timber if a threat is posed. But, if the wind is in the right direction and the deer are properly scouted, you can create a small window for success.
Late October and Early November
(October 25th – November 6th)
Many deer, up until this point, have had a pattern or a routine that hasn’t been disturbed in months. And unless there has been some intense early season pressure, this might be the first time that you begin to see some patterns in certain deer begin to change. Primarily the young bucks in the area.
Pre-rut is a funny time of season to witness. Young bucks are primed and ready to seek out estrous does because there is the insatiable feeling to breed. Most does aren’t quite ready to yet, but that doesn’t stop the “little guys” from trying.
By this time of year a good number of leaves have fallen from the trees and the remaining hard woods like Oaks and Hickory’s are trying to get rid of their leaves too. The deer are also beginning a feeding frenzy. Does are adding fat for the winter and Bucks are adding calories to burn for the rut. Bucks will begin to switch their completely nocturnal routine into an early evening routine. What this means for the bowhunter is that you will actually have a chance to harvest a mature buck before shooting hours are over in the evening!
Once again, stand placement is vital to harvesting a mature whitetail at this point of the season. For me, usually by early November I have a buck and a doe tag in my pocket. If I’m looking to just fill a doe tag, a stand at the field edge will be just as effective. Again, make sure to play the wind when you are hunting for a “flathead”.
For a buck, you might want to move your stand into the timber a bit further. Even though mature bucks are beginning to come to the plots a little earlier, it still will not guarantee you the shot that you are needing before shooting hours are up. In order to gain the “edge” on that, it’s to your advantage to guess where those bucks are coming from and cut the distance from the field to their bedding area.
For example, if I kept hunting the field edge, there’s a good chance that he may not show up or he might “hang up” on the edge of the timber till dark and I won’t ever get a chance to draw. But, if I moved my stand 100 yards down the trail deeper into the timber, I’ve added 10 minutes to my shooting chances. Catching him “on his way” still gives the element of surprise and the advantage of time!
(November 7th – 25th)
My favorite! In fact, when I am hunting the bucks on my hit list, I sometimes will not enter the timber until the middle of November in order to keep these bucks relaxed and unaware that somebody is after them.
For me, I always take off the entire week that contains Veterans Day. Usually, it’s around the 2nd week of November and notoriously, you will see some action! It may be the beginning of the rut, or right in the middle of the rut. But either way, big bucks are moving and I am moving to different stands to intercept them.
Keep in mind, when the rut in on, mature bucks will not rest! They won’t! I have sat in a stand and watched a buck run the ridge that I was on for an entire 9 hours of daylight! No kidding! He would crisscross the timber and flats hoping to pick up the scent of an estrous doe in the hopes of breeding. So, for me, I’m going to key into those areas of traffic. Think of where the does might be and that’s where you need to hunt. Sounds like a simple process, and it is if you can stop and think about where does like to congregate on your property. That is the difficult part of it, most hunters are pursuing a big buck and focus on where those bucks are at during all phases of the season. Not entirely a bad idea, but do not lose sight of those does. They are the key during the best time of year to hunt…find the ladies and you will find the boys. Pretty simple.
My best rut stand is deep in the timber. It stands in the middle of a deer “highway”. There is a mix master of about a dozen trials in this area of the timber and I promise that deer are using every one of them while I’m in the stand.
I would be putting in a bit more time in the stand at this point of November too! If you have a chance to get out in the morning, do it. If you have the evenings only, get out there as fast as you can! Remember, follow the does. If they are in the timber during the day bedding, you best be in a stand that’s deeper in the timber. If they are moving out to the fields to feed in the afternoon, you best be doing the same.
Wherever you go, I promise you, this will be an exciting time of the season for a bowhunter.
(December 1st – January 10th)
By late season, we’ve come “full circle” and that’s no pun intended. As the Rut winds down, deer are on a mission to feed! Usually the first snow has fallen and the pressure to put on some fat stores for the winter is overwhelming.
Bucks especially will be determined to feed as much as possible in these few weeks before deep winter hits. Corn fields, soybeans, and late season food plots are hot spots during these weeks. Mature bucks have lost tons of calories and weight during the rut in their chase for does. If they are to make it through the winter, they need some high carbohydrate and protein diets.
Logically, hunting fields is where you want to be. But let me challenge you with an alternative to a stand at this point. Why not use a blind?
During the late season, field edges are pretty picked over. The deer, in order to get any of the left seed in the field, are going to have to press deeper into the center of the field. There’s a chance that you might have a shot as they leave the timber, but if you want a “gathering” to choose from, get into that field somehow.
Hay bale blinds come in very handy for these times. If you can’t afford something like that, take a normal ground blind and cover it with left over corn stalks. It will look very much the same. Another alternative would be to get a hold of some square bails and form a sort of “bunker” to sit in. A sheet of plywood or particle board on top will support a few more bales, thus, looking like a stack of square bails.
Just remember, all seasons will present you with chances to harvest a great trophy. You just have to know how much time you have and what’s happening when you are able to get into the timber.
Use your head and make sure that you are being wise in your decisions. Think through things carefully and if possible, give yourself multiple stands to choose from. The deer season is an evolving process, and as hunters we must evolve our tactics as the days go by. It is also important to note that while the dates provided above are a pretty good indicator of what I described that in no way shape or forms guarantees what deer will be doing on any given property. A buck on one property may be dogging a doe on October 27th and on the property 10 miles down the road bucks are still more interested in feeding. Moral of the story is follow the guidelines, but cue in on what the deer on your property are telling you in order to make the best decision.
The more time you can spend in the timber while keeping in mind these tid-bits of truth, should allow you to line up your draw on a buck that you would be proud of. Good luck!