I’m not a video gamer. Never have been, and never will be. However, over the years, I have spent a good deal of time staring at a screen—while combing my need to tinker with HuntStand’s continuous updates and new features. I consider this “purposeful” screen time. There’s a big difference, and the payoffs are large. Especially when the goal is to ambush early season whitetails.
The other day, my youngest, Brody, was staring over my shoulder, watching me drop pins, decorating my Hunt Area, while planning an early-season whitetail assault.
He said, “Cool game, dad. It moves slow, but I like the village you’re building.”
I had to laugh. Brody is a “Clash of Clans” nut—a game where you “build” your village and clan. Though I wasn’t constructing my village or planting crops for a fake town, I was hatching an early-season whitetail master plan, and HuntStand Pro was helping me make it happen.
In 2021, on a small chunk of dirt I lease in southeast Colorado, I killed a solid buck on October 23. No, not an early season kill, but this was the earliest I’d ever killed a mature deer on this particular property. After considering all the notes I poured into my HuntStand Pro app, studying my dropped pins, and using new features like the upgraded imagery of the Monthly Satellite layer, I’m looking to score during the first two weeks of the 2022 October season.
Here are a few things to remember when planning your early season whitetail missions.
Water Wins Early
Wherever you hunt white-tailed deer in this great country during the early season, chances are good you will encounter scorching temperatures. Even in October down here on the plains, mid-day temps can crack the 85-degree Fahrenheit mark.
An adult deer during the early season must consume about three quarts of water per 100 pounds of body weight. When temps are hot, and a water source is close to their early-season napping grounds, they tend to slink in and slurp more often.
Start by jumping on HuntStand Pro, switch to the Monthly Satellite map layer, zoom in, and look for current water sources on the property you’ll be hunting. Rivers, streams, and creeks are great, but if you can find standing water—a dirt pond, stock tank, etc.—all the better.
The Pull Of Standing Water
Many top deer biologists believe deer prefer to drink from a non-moving water source because they can hear while they drink. Running water creates noise. Predators know that water stations can be excellent ungulate ambush spots, and if deer can listen and see (more on this soon) while they drink, that particular water source becomes king.
During my time in the deer woods, I’ve seen this scenario play out time and time again. I’ve watched bucks drink more from a small 50-gallon tank more than any other water source. The water inside was hot, buggy, and covered in algae, dead vegetation, and the like, but they loved it. And they chose this particular water source over a running river less than a quarter-mile away and a running canal system one half-mile away.
Manmade Waterhole Experiment
After spending oodles of time dissecting my HuntStand Hunt Area, looking at various map layers, tilting the earth in 3D mode, and zooming in and out, I took my years of in-the-field knowledge and combined that with my maps. I found a location very close to popular bedding, and an area deer use as a staging area before they head to the ag fields in the evening.
The next day, I took a shovel, some buckets with lids, and an old piece of heavy greenhouse plastic, dug a small trough, and filled it with 50 gallons of water. That was on July 28, 2021. On July 29, 2021, at 6:43 p.m., I had a shooter buck come in and drink. Trail cameras don’t lie, and, by the way, I love HuntStand’s Trail Cam Management feature. I’m not a fan of crowding too much intel on a specific map, and when you start dropping pins for sightings, tracks, stands, blinds, etc., map clarity is reduced because of all the icons. However, with the Trail Cam feature, I can swap from my main map, and quickly add cameras to the Trail Cam map. Switching back and forth between maps takes just milliseconds.
Throughout the 2021 season, I had 11 different bucks, including three shooters, hit that tiny makeshift pond. Yes, it took some sweat equity to keep it full. But the deer loved it, and during the rut, it became a favorite water station for does, which meant bucks were often in tow.
October 23, 2021, was the first time, due to wind conditions detailed by HuntStand, that I could slip into my pond set. With light waning, my target buck—an old, wide eight-point—wandered in. Watching the warrior slake his thirst at a simple modification I’d made to my hunt ground was a nice reward. The buck had just risen from his bed, and needed a little liquid refreshment before hitting the nighttime groceries. The shot was perfect, and the buck expired quickly.
Remember With App Notes
After the harvest, I looked back at all my HuntStand notes. Guys and gals, if you’re not taking time to enter intel into your HuntStand app at specific site locations, you’re seriously doing yourself a disservice. Enter notes and you can look back at years of helpful data. I use the Solunar, HuntZone, and Weather tabs to plug in as much detail as possible. HuntStand offers many advantages, and you can use those advantages to stack the odds of success in your favor.
As good as that 2021 hunt was, I have bigger ambitions for 2022. For starters, I used days of data from HuntStand’s HuntZone to chart dominant wind directions in my area, and hung a second stand. I did this so I could spend more time in this particular early season location. In addition, I used HuntStand’s Tree Cover layer to find areas that offered a good mixture of sun and shade, so I could experiment with a possible food plot.
Another recent addition included ripping out the pond liner—it was too fragile to last—and adding a 50-gallon Rubbermaid tank. Simple and cheap. Again, it took some sweat equity, but I dug the tank into the ground rather than leaving it above ground. Why? For starters, I wanted to give the drink station a natural look. Second, my years of hunting pronghorn have taught me that speed goats prefer to slurp water at eye level and close to the ground. When an animal has to dip its eyes too low below the tank’s rim, they risk predation and know it.
Improve/Funnel Deer Travel
Another early-season tip I want to point out, which will also work throughout the fall and winter months, is improving travel for local deer. Using my HuntStand Pro map layers and spring scouting, I discovered more bedding locales, and followed trails leading to and from all these bedding areas. Some trails were good but others needed brush cleared, cut, and vegetation sprayed. Doing this greatly improved travel. Also, I took the time to block several trails I no longer wanted the deer to use. I took away some options by downing trees, stacking brush piles, and the like. By doing this, I gave the deer fewer travel options, while forcing them to take the trails I had improved, and wanted them to walk. Man-made funnels work.
Don’t think for a second that I stopped with the water and trail improvement. A water source isn’t the only place I feel confident for early-season success.
Mark & Hunt Favored Crossings
If you have a river, creek, or stream where you hunt, check these areas for funnels. Running water also funnels deer movement, and locating superior crossings can be critical to early-season success.
I have one such area on my little slice of Colorado whitetail paradise. The problem: There are zero stand trees. And no matter how good I brush-in a ground blind, or how early in the summer I get a blind set, deer blow at it. The answer: I blocked that particular river crossing. Next, I did a HuntStand map study and found the best path of travel from the original crossing to one of my best rut-funnel pinch-point stands. After pinpointing the best route, I took a pair of loppers and a high-powered weed eater and cut a new trail. This created a whole new travel route from the river crossing. Even better, trail cam images show the deer are already using it. Needless to say, I will continue to monitor this trail’s use as the season draws near.
Sign Posts Lure Deer
One more quick tip, which has helped put bucks where I want them, or at the very least, stop them for an accurate shot, is “planting” a few well-placed marking posts. Don’t think for a second this is a rut-only tactic. Deer are social animals, and signing posts are just another chance for them to be social. During the summer months, I either add new cedar posts (I like to cut them myself) or go in and rough-up posts that have been in the ground for a year or two. Then I take a Hooyman saw and rough-up each post, even the ones that now have a serious hourglass shape from all the antler-rubbing action. This releases the cedar smell, which is very aromatic.
Next, I take some Wildlife Research Trails End #307 scent—which includes doe pee—and sprinkle it on the ground around the post. It doesn’t take long for bucks and does to start visiting the post. I’ve had bucks in velvet come up and lick the post, and even use the posts to strip their velvet. This is another excellent tactic to get early-season trail cam images, and attract early-season deer when you’re hanging in a stand 20 yards away.
Be sure to bury your posts deep—at least three feet—and pack them in tightly. You don’t have to use Quikrete, but it doesn’t hurt. Bucks get very aggressive with these posts during the rut, and you don’t want them wobbling or falling over completely. Later in the season, use a flagpole holder, or similar attachment device, and add a licking branch with a mock scrape under it.
Grow Your Own Or Use What’s Available
My last bit of early-season advice is food. It’s my opinion that we get too hung up on food sources. Of course, if your hunt area holds nutrient-rich, black-as-coal dirt—and you are able to plant an isolated kill plot in your timber near bedding—good things are likely to happen. However, growing lush food sources isn’t an option in my drought-stricken area. Other whitetail hunters may be in the same boat. My advice: Stop worrying about food, and focus on water and water crossings. The effort you put into, and often waste, on producing a crop that will not sprout but rather wither and die, will be better spent on other tactics mentioned in this article.
Learn where the major feed zones are in your area, and then lean on HuntStand Pro. Use the many helpful map layers, and some boots on ground scouting, to help you figure out what routes deer use to enter and exit those food sources. Then prepare your property, and hunt strategies, around those travel routes. Give local deer things they need and want along the way, and you’ll bag more early season deer.