Bow Hunting Early Season Whitetails
Every hunter is fascinated with and loves to hunt the rut. And why not? With unpredictable old bucks chasing does, it’s an exciting time to be in the woods. However, it’s also a very unpredictable time to be in the whitetail woods. On the other side of the spectrum, hunting early season whitetails is a different ball game.
Early season whitetails tend to still be on a summer feeding schedule, and are often much easier to pattern than rut-crazed deer later in the fall. They’ll often stroll out into food plots or agricultural fields earlier in the afternoon than normal to feed. Bucks may still be traveling in bachelor groups, which may increase your chances of following your target buck. Plus, most hunters tend to ignore early season bow hunting, perhaps because of the heat, bugs, or just plain misunderstanding.
Check out the techniques below for finding and patterning early season whitetails. They could pay off quite well if you try them this season.
Early season whitetails feed consistently earlier in the evening than they do in the fall. This is both good and bad. The good thing is that you can set up near the food source and know that deer will be there before dark. The bad thing is that these stands are often very difficult to exit without bumping deer off the food source. The solution? Hang some trail cameras to scout your small food plots, secluded apple trees, or oak clusters off of the main food sources. That way you can be positive of direction of travel and time of day. Stealthily sneak into these areas from the direction the deer don’t, and hang a stand as quietly as you can. When the deer approach, you’ll have a good chance at your target animal. And if he doesn’t show up, just sit tight, as the deer should move off into the main fields, allowing you to exit unknown.
The tactic above can also be applied to hunting water sources. In the late summer/early fall, deer really require water. If you can locate a stream, pond, or even small depression near a food source, you can be sure that deer will be hitting it. Set up the same way as mentioned above. If you don’t have any natural sources, you can create your own. No, you don’t need big equipment. Simply dig a small hole and line it with a tarp, or toss out your kids’ old swimming pool that’s just collecting dirt anyway. Neither approach is great-looking, but they will hold some rain water to attract deer where you need them.
Pay special attention to rub lines in the early bow season. Mature bucks tend to start shedding velvet and making rubs earlier than younger ones. It doesn’t matter if you find a larger tree that’s been thrashed or a small sapling – early season rubs are likely made by mature deer. Once you find a rub, look for others and note the direction of travel. If all the rubs are made on one side, you know the buck was traveling the opposite direction. Set your stand up downwind of the rub line, and near a food source.
A rut tactic you can use on early season whitetails to great effect involves decoying. Set up on a food source or field edge where you know a certain bachelor group often comes out. Where legal, use a large buck decoy to challenge the alpha male of that bachelor group when they step out. If you use a doe decoy or buck with small antlers, you might invite younger deer to come blow your cover. You only want the largest, most mature buck to come investigate the decoy to give you a shot.
Whether you hunt fields, food plots, or big woods, you will always come up against the challenge to find the right stand placement where a deer can’t detect you. One approach that works all season long is to set up on the downwind side of your plot, where there is a barrier of some sort downwind of your location. This could be a steep river bank, a jumble of downed trees, a beaver pond, or anything that would prevent a buck from circling your stand and getting your wind.
If you’ve neglected the early season before because you were waiting for the rut, try some of these techniques out. You can experience some phenomenal bow hunting action if you don’t ignore early season whitetails. Good luck out there!