10 Early Season Deer Hunting Tips from the Pros

Picking the Brains of Top Deer Hunters from Across the Country

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap
Preparation is Key — Phillip CulpepperScout from Afar — Randy BirdsongDictate Food Sources — Kandi KiskyFinding the Food — Jake MillerTarget White Oaks — Phillip VanderpoolFind Staging Areas — Bernie BarringerApproach the Bedroom — Mike StroffThe First Sit Is the Best — Daniel McVayBeat the Heat — Kevin KnightonWait for the Right Wind — Michael Lee

1 | Preparation is Key — Phillip Culpepper

Phillip is our very own resident Realtree man. And he’s been hunting deer for a long time.

“I think regardless of what time of year it is, preparation is the most crucial element to being successful,” Culpepper said. “Practicing and being familiar with your equipment, in my opinion, trumps any other preparation. Knowing your limitations and making sure you choose to live within those means can make all the difference in the world. As a good friend, Sam Klement, once told me, ‘Let the hunt develop. Don’t force a questionable shot.’”

2 | Scout from Afar — Randy Birdsong

Randy Birdsong, cohost of Headhunters TV, talks about how important scouting from afar is.

Scout from afar to avoid any kind of intrusion until the time is perfect to hunt the deer you’re after,” Birdsong said. “I watched this buck for a week from a mile away before killing him on the first night in the tree. Deer can be on a consistent pattern this time of year, so patience is key.”

3 | Dictate Food Sources — Kandi Kisky

Anyone who knows anything about the outdoor industry knows who Kandi Kisky is. She’s a cohost for Whitetail Freaks. And kill freak whitetails she does.

“Early season can be tough getting the bucks out into the food plots before dark,” Kisky said. “Because the acorns are everywhere and since I don't have much luck hunting the acorns we use a different strategy. We go in as tight as possible to the bedding areas and plant food plots. I'm talking you need to be within 60 to 70 yards from the bedding areas so you can get them into the field before dark. We stand back at a distance with our Nikon spotting scope and watch these fields to confirm there is a shooter buck coming in before dark. At this time of the year, if they enter the field at a certain spot and time, they will do it again the next night. By [using] this strategy, you don't have to guess as you may only have one chance at that buck.”

4 | Finding the Food — Jake Miller

Jake Miller films for The Hunt along with his father, Greg. And he knows a thing or two about early season deer.

Pattern early season bucks by finding the popular food source,” Miller said. “Food sources change quickly during early season. One week it's beans, the next it's acorns, the next it may be alfalfa. Stay tuned into what the deer are craving during that time frame. Also, as it gets later into the early season, big bucks may arrive later to the food source. Oftentimes, bucks will hang up short of the food and wait until dark or close to it before entering a field or open area. My dad and I were able to use this tactic to take down a pair of Oklahoma whitetails that were easily patterned to a food source, but weren't quite getting there until after dark. I found a grove of trees between the food and bedding that was loaded with deer sign and I knew this big buck had to be walking through it on his way to the food.”

5 | Target White Oaks — Phillip Vanderpool

Phillip Vanderpool is the host of The Virtue, and has killed a many early season deer.

“Concentrate on your food sources, and water sources,” Vanderpool said. “This time of year the acorns are starting to fall and I always look for white oak trees early season that are in open areas that have very little competition. The deer seem to target them [better] as the acorns are sweeter. [That’s how] I took the big 8-point buck I had targeted with my Covert trail camera pics.”

6 | Find Staging Areas — Bernie Barringer

Bernie is an experienced DIY deer hunter. He’s like many of you who hunt public land and highly pressured private land. And he still manages to kill deer.

“During the early part of the archery season, deer can be quite visible feeding in the clover, soybeans and alfalfa at last light,” Barringer said. “It’s tempting to set up a stand right on the edge of the field where you can observe the deer already out in the open. But the older bucks are often hanging out 30 to 50 yards back in the trees while they observe the behavior of the deer in the open and wait for darkness to expose themselves. Many times a better stand placement is back off the field a little. Find an area where the mature bucks are staging. You have a better chance of having an opportunity to shoot one during legal shooting hours if you do so.”

7 | Approach the Bedroom — Mike Stroff

Mike is the host for Savage Outdoors TV. And he has stacked up the early season deer over the years.

“When the mature bucks are just coming out of velvet and starting to prepare for the fall and the rut, they typically still live in their home ranges and do not move great distances to food and water,” Stroff said. “In many cases, they move a lot at night and you might even think they are not there anymore. I like to get as close to the bedding areas as possible to hunt during this period. Your approach is critical, so they don't know that you are there, but if you can get [close] to their bedroom, you have a much better chance at getting a shot at a mature buck in daylight hours during this period.”

8 | The First Sit Is the Best — Daniel McVay

This guy — cohost of Buckventures TV — has killed more deer than most people have seen. And he stresses the importance of being low key.

“Be patient, after a long off-season and usually months of looking at trail cam pics, too many people rush in too close or too quick,” McVay said. “You have all season, so don't go unless wind and conditions are perfect. The first time in is usually the best. So don't push or bump that buck you’ve been dreaming about for a year.”

9 | Beat the Heat — Kevin Knighton

Kevin Knighton also is a cohost for Backwoods Life TV. He loves getting after those early season bucks, too.

“If you hunt anywhere in the south, then the best early season advice is to be prepared for heat and mosquitoes,” Knighton said. “Thankfully, this year I'm ready with a new bug spray that won't spook deer. Lethal's Bug & Tick Repellent is what I use. Finally, I have a product that I can spray on and keep mosquitoes and ticks at bay while not stinking up the woods. For the heat, find some well-made lightweight clothing. Don't get stuck wearing the hot stuff that you'll be glad to have in December. I wear the Ultra-Lite gear from 10X in Realtree Xtra Green for early season hunts. It blends in great and it's the most lightweight, cool camo I've ever owned.”

10 | Wait for the Right Wind — Michael Lee

Michael Lee is a cohost of Backwoods Life TV. And he has experienced loads of success in the deer woods.

“You may not get many chances on that mature buck,” Lee said, “So I check the wind for each stand location religiously. The big boys aren’t rut dumb yet. They are on high alert at all times. One whiff of you in their house and they may move to another spot for the rest of the season. The last thing I want to do is work all through the pre-season to pattern a shooter and then have all that work go to waste on opening day. If the wind is wrong, I don’t hunt it. I wait until the perfect conditions to go after him. It’s very hard to do that but can be well worth the wait.