Predators & Small Game
The Ultimate Whitetail Plan: Early Season
Author’s note: This is the first of a four-part series that we’ll post this fall covering all four phases of whitetail season, from the first day of archery through the rut till the bitter end in December. We’ll be highlighting the best stand locations on the same farm with each installment. No matter when you take off to hunt, we’ve got you covered. Good luck!
For two years there was talk of a mysterious buck with massive drop tines roaming the part of Missouri where Kevin Jaegers’ father-in-law owns a farm. When trail-cam images of the 200-class freak started popping up – finally some hard evidence – Jaeger got serious. He hung a treestand on the farm last summer and vowed to hunt the monster hard in September.
This was a departure for Jaeger, who normally doesn't hunt that much in the early bow season. But he figured that if he was ever going to see Drops, the first days would be the best. After that, pressure in the area would likely turn the buck nocturnal.
Opening day came, and the wind was wrong for Jaeger’s stand. “I tried to talk myself out of going that evening because the wind was blowing where I thought deer would bed and travel,” he said. But Jaeger knew “the” buck was out there somewhere, and so he went.
With the leaves green and thick on the trees, Jaeger couldn't see far. He spotted a few does and then a small 8-pointer. “I looked behind him and there he was, I saw those drop tines!” Jaeger said. Funny, he wasn't that nervous. “Probably because I didn't know he was there until he was 30 yards away. I didn’t have time to think.”
When Drops walked behind a tree, Jaeger drew his bow and let an arrow fly. The cam images didn’t lie. The rack grossed 201 inches and netted 194 5/8 inches, making it the top buck of early archery season 2011 and one of the coolest bucks killed all year. “I can't believe I was in the right place at the right time on opening day,” he said.
Well, believe it. The first days of your bow season in September or early October are second only to the rut for best time to kill big deer. The bucks have not been pressured for a year; they’re using small home ranges; and they’re walking predictable bed-to-feed patterns. You might not whack a 190-class titan like Jaeger did, but a gnarly 8- or 10-pointer might be in your future if you bowhunt hard and smart in the next few weeks.
Food is the Key
Hang at least one treestand on the edge of alfalfa, corn or beans where you’ve been seeing some bucks come to pig out the past few weeks. You have been scouting and glassing right? If not, get out there. You’ve still got time.
Watch a field from several hundred yards away for several evenings in a row. If you see a shooter pop out the same spot – for example, through the same corner or beside a round hay bale or big tree – move in one day at midmorning and set a stand right there on the edge by your landmark. Forget what you might have read about big deer not making it to the feed before dark. Right now, the animals have not been pressured, and they are fairly lackadaisical on their patterns. A 140-class shooter or even a giant might stroll out into the field feed in the last minutes of light.
Pick an afternoon to hunt when the wind is not blowing anywhere toward your landmark and into the woods behind it. Sneak into your stand three hours before dark, climb up quietly and wait patiently for the action to begin, likely in the last half-hour.
Working water into your early season routine is smart any year and especially this fall with the epic drought. The hotter it is, the more deer drink and linger in the shade around water. A river or creek, or pond or swamp that isn’t too stagnant is best. Sneak to a water hole from downwind and set up quietly, because some deer are sure to be bedded close in the cover. During a hot spell you might score from a water stand morning or afternoon.
Sidebar: Warm-Weather Meat Care
- The first weeks of bow season are too hot to leave a deer overnight. If you stick a buck late, round up a buddy, get powerful lights and go find your deer before it spoils. Look all night if you have to.
- Field dress a deer quickly, and hang it in an open shed or in a shade tree and skin it. Carry the carcass to a cold-storage facility, or bone out the meat and store in a fridge or pack on ice.
You can never go wrong by setting a bow stand near acorns that fall 100 yards or so off a field, food plot or water source. Some does and bucks will stop to stage and gnaw the nuts before heading out to a field later in the afternoon. Try to find white or red oaks that are just beginning to bear acorns, and set a stand that is easy to access on the downwind side of where you expect deer to appear.
Every time John Schmucker spotted the 36-point giant in the summer of 2006, he was traveling with three smaller bucks. When Schmucker went out hunting with his crossbow on Sept. 30 that year, the first deer he spotted was one of those little guys. He knew the monster was close so he got ready. A few minutes later there he was! Schmucker’s bolt was spot-on. The Schmucker buck, with a non-typical net of 291 2/8 inches, is the largest buck ever shot with a crossbow in Ohio.
Schmucker killed one of the nation’s all-time monsters largely by thinking and being smart. He remembered the makeup of that summer bachelor group and used that knowledge to his advantage. The lesson: As you glass and/or study trail-camera images of a buck group in late summer, study the makeup of it because most of those deer will run together into October. If one of the bucks comes close, the others are probably close, too.
Sidebar: Early Season Must-Have Gear
- Depending on where you hunt, the gnats, black flies and mosquitoes will be bad to miserable. After settling in your stand, set out a ThermaCELL to keep the bugs away. New models emit an earth cover scent.
- Rugged YETI Coolers are the best we’ve used for packing back straps and boned venison on ice for days.
Submitted on September 07, 2012