How and Where Big Bucks Move in September

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Here’s how to get the drop on a bruiser during opening week, including an option for a morning hunt

Knowing how deer move in September is an important part of the scouting process. Image by Jim Cumming

One September day Kevin Jaegers checked his trail camera and about fainted — there were multiple images of a 200-class giant with massive drop tines! Jaegers picked a spot and hung a treestand for the bow opener.

“I figured if I was ever going to see this buck, the first days of bow season would be best,” he said. “After that, pressure all around would turn him nocturnal.”

On Sept. 15, opening day in Missouri, the wind was wrong for the stand. And with leaves thick as a green quilt on the trees, he couldn't see 20 yards in the woods. Jaegers’ confidence was low, until he saw a deer, and then its head … with two drop clubs hanging off either side of it!

He drew his bow and let fly. The rack grossed 201 and netted 194 5/8. “I can't believe I was in the right spot at the right time on opening day!” he said.

Believe it. If your archery season opens in September, those first days are second only to the peak rut for the best opportunity to kill a big deer. Bucks have not been pressured for almost a year. They’re hanging out close to feed and walking a somewhat predictable bed-to-feed pattern. Here’s how to take advantage of it.

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Think Small, Hunt Small

When you scout and locate a shooter in early September there’s a high probability he will be living and traveling right there on opening day. Biologists say that in late summer whitetails are genetically programmed to set up in small core areas near the best available food with heavy bedding cover close by. While moving only short distances, bucks can pack on the pounds, increasing their body weight by 10 to 20%, throughout September.

Alfalfa, soybeans, corn, or clover plots ... if you have these fields on your land or close to it, you will probably have multiple bucks bedding within a few hundred yards of it and moving out to feed in the afternoons.

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Which Trail to Watch?

“An old buck will use several different trails into a field, depending largely on the wind each day,” says Lionel Strong, an expert archer who hunts the alfalfa and barley fields along Montana’s famed Milk River.

Strong says to keep scouting and glassing a big buck while constantly monitoring the daily winds, until you know how and where he travels on a west wind, which trail he uses on a north wind, and so on. Then slip in and hang a couple treestands near the trails bucks use most on the predominant September winds. When you come back to hunt, sneak into the correct stand early in the afternoon.

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A Morning Option

In a fascinating study in Oklahoma, researchers fitted bucks with GPS collars and monitored their movements using a technique called “fractal dimension,” which describes the complexity of travel patterns used by whitetails at various times of the season.

Scientists found that in late summer and early fall, bucks stick to small home ranges (300 to 400 acres on average) and have complex mazes of movement, which are the result of many short-distance trips during which deer frequently circle, backtrack, and change directions as they move from feed back to bed in the woods and thickets.

Using that science to your advantage can open up a morning option for the early season.

Since bucks are moving shorter distances now, and in more confined habitats, scout for the first rubs and the most heavily used trails on an oak ridge or back in a creek bottom. Be careful as you probe the woods, being as low-impact and scent-free as possible.

Based on the biggest rubs and freshest sign you find, hang a stand near a high-interaction spot that deer appear to frequent a lot. When the wind and access allow it, slip in the back door early one morning and hunt the stand. While other people are sleeping in and waiting for the afternoon hunt, you might score big at sunup.

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