Get The Drop On Early Season Whitetails

Here are 15 steps to tagging the buck of your dreams, during the first magical weeks of the season.

by Josh Honeycutt

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Josh

Here are 15 steps to tagging the buck of your dreams, during the first magical weeks of the season.

EarlyWhitetails-10 900You’ve watched him on game cameras all summer. Perhaps you’ve glassed him a few times out in big, lush bean fields or food plots. And you want him—badly. After all, this is the opportunity you’ve been working for, and it’s time to execute the plan. But what is that, exactly?

Fortunately, a common thread runs through the early season, regardless of where you hunt. The general similarities of early season whitetail behavior are virtually the same throughout the whitetail’s range. Luckily for bowhunters, the biggest thing you must do is spend time patterning deer. So, here is how to approach an early season hunt, especially the opener, with 15 steps to success.Early-Season-16 9001. Conduct In-The-Field Scouting. The most important factor in tasting deer hunting success is knowing the property. Understand the lay of it, how deer traverse it, and where you can set up to intercept deer without them picking you off. “Finding the X” is a duck hunting term, but it applies to whitetails, too.

Some hunters aren’t as knowledgeable about their hunting grounds as they should be. If that’s you, it’s better to move in and walk the property at least once, rather than hunting it blindly all season long. It’s worth that little bit of pressure.

HuntStand App Help: It’s always best to e-scout before scouting in person. This can help you home-in on potential hotspots and avoids wasting time by walking bad ones. HuntStand helps with that.EarlyWhitetails-8 9002. Locate The Grub. Deer activity revolves around food sources all year, but during the early season, whitetails are more predictable. Most are on regular patterns that center on bed-to-feed patterns. Prepared hunters scout, determine these patterns, and hunt accordingly.

Whitetails eat hundreds of plants nationwide, including plants some of us have never even heard of. However, they eat some of these more than others, but the typical food sources commonly touted are mentioned for a reason—deer use these as primary sources at some point in the season. That said, remember agricultural fields, such as alfalfa, corn, milo (sorghum), soybeans, etc. Also, for those who like food plots, clover, cowpeas, iron clay peas, lablab, and other early-season options are great, too. And certainly, don’t forget about soft mast, such as apples, pears, persimmons, plums, etc., or hard mast, such as white oaks, pin oaks, post oaks, red oaks, etc.

HuntStand App Help: Thanks to HuntStand’s exclusive monthly aerial updates layer, you can see what’s growing in agricultural fields in virtual real time. Use this to gauge what’s growing, and where.EarlyWhitetails-12 9003. Glass From Afar. After walking the property (if you haven’t in past months or years), glass from afar. Watch big fields for an afternoon and see where deer are entering the open. Reverse engineering their behavior provides clues as to where these animals are bedding, which is vital information when trying to intercept them between beds and food sources. Staging areas between points A and B are great places to accomplish this.

HuntStand App Help: Use topo or hybrid layers to identify high ground, and other potential spots to glass from.MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA4. Run Trail Cameras. Trail cameras are excellent tools to pin down early season patterns. When placed in the right locations, the data cams produce is invaluable to hunters. Use the info you gathered from in-the-field scouting to place your cams in quality areas. This is an important step in the scouting process.

Use cams correctly, though. Checking these frequently is a good way to pressure deer. They can’t distinguish the difference between you checking cameras and actively hunting. They chalk up both to human intrusion and react accordingly.

HuntStand App Help: Mark your trail camera locations so you never forget about one again.MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA5. Study Past Intel. Those who have hunted bucks for multiple seasons have a treasure-trove of info to help in their pursuit. If these deer tend to repeat similar behaviors over the course of multiple seasons, they just might be able to use that to their advantage. Study old trail camera photos and in-person sightings logged in HuntStand. These datapoints can help predict the future.

HuntStand App Help: Use the monthly updates aerial layer to see how the property looked in the past, compare that to trail camera photos, and use that to identify how deer will likely use the property again this season.EarlyWhitetails-3 9006. Find The Weak Link. As previously eluded, knowing where the “X” is located—which is where you’ll attempt to tag target deer—is important. Deer are adept at staying alive, and they rarely make mistakes. But there are weak links in their travel routes, and chinks in their armor. Finding these habits and locations is important.

HuntStand App Help: Often, the “X” is influenced by terrain, such as pinch points, saddles, inside field corners, etc. HuntStand can help identify these areas on a property quickly and easily.EarlyWhitetails-9 9007. Create Your Own Luck. It pays to be proactive to improve your odds of success. Oftentimes, the best stand locations are staging areas that see a high degree of daylight usage. Sometimes these areas are close to food sources, and sometimes they are closer to bedding areas. It depends on the property, hunting pressure, and more. Regardless, these are things you can do to impact deer travel patterns and increase the likelihood of success.

Planting micro plots is one example of this. Strategically positioning scrape trees, watering holes, and other things that position deer for shot opportunities are good practices, too. Silencing treestands, clearing entry and exit routes for reduced sound and scent, planting screens (like Egyptian wheat) along access routes for reduced pressure while walking in and out, and blocking deer from walking downwind of stand locations, all help improve hunting spots.

HuntStand App Help: Keep track of all your hard work with associated icons in the HuntStand app.EarlyWhitetails-11 9008. Focus On Greens. Some states allow baiting. In these, ear and shelled corn are commonly used, and it’s helped fill a lot of deer tags. However, during extremely hot spells, corn isn’t as attractive to deer. Corn is a source of carbohydrates, which are necessary to create energy and body heat. Deer don’t need that when it’s warm, which is why they tend to focus more on greens. That said, deer will still come to a corn pile when it’s warm, just not as much or as often.

HuntStand App Help: HuntStand is great for marking food plots. It can even measure the precise size of these, which helps determine how much seed and fertilize are needed to get the job done, potentially saving you a bunch of money.EarlySeason-15 9009. Time Your Strike. Knowing when to move in to hunt is important. Most hunters assume that’s opening day, or just any time they can hunt. And if you have limited time, and you just want to get out there and enjoy nature, go hunt. But if your goal is to tag a target buck, it’s a delicate balance between being aggressive enough and too aggressive.

So, study all necessary factors, and determine when you should head afield to hunt that buck. Reading the HuntStand forecasted wind directions is important. However, terrain impacts these, and certain areas might be slightly different than the wind direction for the general area. Also, study past trail camera photos and determine when deer used given areas, and what the wind directions were then.

Beyond that, it might not hurt to wait for high-odds situations, such as heavier wind (rather than light and variable, which can lead to swirling winds), cold fronts, rain events, etc. And while afternoons are best this time of year, don’t completely forgo the morning sit, especially if you can get in and out of a stand location without pressuring deer.

HuntStand App Help: Use HuntStand’s HuntZone scent cone tool to monitor the wind for potential stand locations.EarlyWhitetails-5 90010. Go In Light. When it’s time to hunt, go in as light as possible. More gear typically means a clumsier, louder approach. Stealth is impacted by how much stuff is in your hands and on your back. Take the necessities but leave non-essential items in the vehicle. Beyond your bow and arrows, things you certainly want to take with you include a release, pack, binoculars, rangefinder, ThermaCell, flashlight, and other must-have items you can’t hunt without. But take time to evaluate every piece of your arsenal for maximum efficiency.

HuntStand App Help: HuntStand in your smartphone is much lighter than toting physical maps. You’re welcome.EarlyWhitetails-13 90011. Follow Good Entry Routes. Once heading afield, take routes that won’t alert deer. Think about your approach in relation to deer seeing, hearing, and smelling you. Choose paths to stand locations that eliminate these three things from happening. Yes, you’ll bump deer from time to time and might push a deer or two out along the way, but if you can’t get there without busting numerous deer (especially in the area you’re hunting), it’s best to find another path.

HuntStand App Help: Using the app to determine exactly where you are, and where you’re going, is an entry-route-planning game changer.EarlyWhitetails-6 90012. Survive The Waves. If hunting only for meat, you have the luxury of arrowing the first legal deer that presents a shot opportunity. This step isn’t for you. If a mature buck and meat are simultaneous goals, you’ll likely have to survive several “waves” of passing deer before seeing the right animal. Generally, mature bucks are the last to walk out, especially in areas with higher deer densities and hunting pressure. This means the quality of your setup, and ability to remain undetected, are critically important.

HuntStand App Help: Put your phone up while hunting. Scanning the woods while in your stand or blind—not your phone screen—will keep you ready for quick-developing opportunities that can make or break your season.EarlyWhitetails-4 90013. Use Low-Impact Strategies. Once in the stand, I prefer low-impact hunting tactics. That means I don’t like using calls, decoys, or scents during the early season. These things can work, but I prefer not to use them. I’d rather stay completely off the local deer herd’s radar, but if you see an opportunity where one or more of these tactics could work, do your thing.

HuntStand App Help: Again. You’re in the timber to hunt, not play on your phone.

14Find Good Exit Routes. If you haven’t launched an arrow by the time legal shooting time ends, quiver the arrow, hang up the bow, and wait until pitch dark. Then, climb down and sneak out. If you can’t get back to the vehicle without bumping deer, consider an alternate route that applies less pressure. If that isn’t possible, and you must walk through deer, consider having someone drive to the stand to pick you up. It’s better that a truck, tractor, or ATV softly pushes deer out of the area than you. If that isn’t an option, consider using a 2D deer decoy for cover as you walk out.

HuntStand App Help: The app helps you navigate, especially in the dark when things look much different.Early-Season-14 90015. Do It All Over Again. I’ve killed some pretty good bucks, but never one on opening day of archery season. (Or the first day of a hunt.) Most of the time, you won’t either. That means you’ll likely have to hunt again to get the job done. Therefore, it’s so important that hunters preserve the quality of their spots, and don’t overhunt them, or hunt them when the conditions aren’t right. It’s alright to be aggressive, but being too aggressive isn’t good.

HuntStand App Help: HuntStand is an all-inclusive hunting app that helps with much more than what’s mentioned here. Unleash its full potential with a highly recommended upgrade to HuntStand Pro.



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