Are Mornings or Afternoons Better for Early Season Bow Hunting?
Deer hunting seasons are opening across the country, which means more hunters are finding themselves perched in a tree stand every day. Early season bow hunting is a special time for many people for several reasons. The weather is usually gorgeous, with moderate to warm temperatures and fair conditions, and the fall leaves are just starting to show their true colors. Not to mention that there is usually far less hunting pressure early in the year versus when the rut really ramps up or firearm seasons open. But despite this, one question is still debated fiercely by hunters: are mornings or afternoons the best time to hunt early season deer?
Best Time of Day to Hunt
The best time for bow hunting early season whitetails is a very subjective topic, and different people have widely different opinions on it. Some will swear up and down that mornings are THE ONLY time to consistently take a buck with a bow, while others will bet their lives on afternoons as the best time to hunt. Clearly, you could make an argument for either one, especially if you use the early season whitetail strategies here. Let’s look at the benefits and problems with each approach.
Mornings: The Early Bird Gets the Worm
Or should we say the early hunter gets the “booner” buck? Typically, this scenario would require the hunter to sneak into their tree stand under cover of darkness, well before the sun rises. They would then hunt until at least 10 AM or lunch time (whichever comes first). There’s a lot to be said for the morning hours when it comes to early season bow hunting.
First, since deer are starting to put on their winter coats, the early season can get pretty hot for them. In order to stay cool during especially warm weather, deer may prefer to move in the morning hours when it is cooler than the afternoon. Hunting early season whitetails may also be helped in hot weather by hunting near a stream or water source.
Since early season bow hunting doesn’t receive as much hunting pressure as later in the year, deer don’t necessarily feel harassed and cornered quite yet. That makes it a perfect time to sneak into the woods with your Hoyt® bow to put some meat in the freezer. Because they’re following a more relaxed, summer pattern, they usually take their time wandering back to their bedding areas in the morning. This means that a normally reclusive, nocturnal buck during the rut might actually show his face during the morning hours in the early season.
Third, mornings are many hunters’ favorite time to hunt because it allows us the rare glimpse at watching the woods wake up and come alive. From watching the sun slowly creep above the tree line to listening to all manner of birds and small critters emerge, it’s a wonderful time to be in the forest.
The downside to deer hunting in the morning is that you typically need to enter your tree stand area with the aid of a flashlight so that you don’t stumble around, breaking branches (or bones). Even if you take the time to thoroughly clean your access trails of debris and it’s a full moon, it can be really hard to see in the early season woods, making flashlights necessary for longer treks in the morning. Deer can spot this light through the woods unless it’s a really dense forest with hardly any visibility, which could bust your plans before they begin.
Afternoons: Use Their Stomach Against Them
Throughout the summer, deer have a pretty consistent lifestyle, which revolves around food and sleep. They get up from their beds in the early afternoon and wander out to agricultural fields and food plots to graze away until they’re full. This feeding pattern continues for early season bucks, but only for a short while. Once bucks start to shed their velvet and seasonal hormonal changes occur, they tend to get more reclusive and stealthy with their movements. Nevertheless, hunting early season bucks can still be productive. Here are a few reasons hunters prefer the afternoon shift for early season bow hunting.
As mentioned, bucks are pretty predictable in the early season and often travel in bachelor groups from bedding areas to feeding areas. This consistency is something that you can take advantage of. If possible, you can glass fields or pay attention to trail cameras throughout September to watch where the bachelor group bucks are entering fields. During the mid-day time frame, you can sneak into the field and hang a tree stand near one of these trails and be reasonably sure that you could see the same group of bucks within a few hours.
Speaking of access, deer travel to feeding areas as evening fades into night. Since they won’t typically be near the feeding area during the day, hunters have a distinct advantage to use the field as an approach without spooking any deer. You can confirm with binoculars as you approach and adjust your course if needed. As you sit in your tree stand, make sure you’re thoroughly camouflaged with Realtree® camo, since many eyes could spot you.
Of course, there is also a flip side to this coin. Hunters can get to their tree stands on the field edge with no problem, but when it’s time to leave for the night, these fields are usually full of deer. If you try to sneak out of your tree stand with all eyes on you, that location is going to be pretty worthless going forward.
Which is Better for Early Season Bow Hunting?
As you can see, there is a case for both situations and it really comes down to your specific hunting location. As a general rule, if you hunt in an area dominated by agriculture, afternoon bow hunting sits will probably be better for you. To avoid getting busted when you leave, here are a few early season deer tips. You could hang your tree stand further back into the woods along one of the main trails, so that after the deer feed through into the field, you can sneak out without them knowing it. But you’ll have to have a very sneaky access trail that skirts around the field edge. You’ll also need to pay attention to scent control using Bone Collector clothing since you’re so close to the action. Another option is to hunt until dark and have a hunting buddy or family member drive an ATV or truck towards your stand to pick you up. This will bump the deer off the field and allow you to get down without any eyes watching you. Deer are pretty forgiving of this type of disturbance in farm country anyway.
Whereas if you do most of your early season bow hunting in a thick, forested area, morning hunts will be a better bet. Specifically, if you can find a location between a feeding area and bedding area that’s got mature canopy trees and a few habitat edges, you could be in business. Deer will start to make their way from fields or feeding areas as the morning rays start to shine, so you’ll need to be situated in your tree stand well before sunrise. You should also be able to sneak into these areas with a flashlight since the cover is so thick. Use one of these tactics to hunt early season deer this year and see how it works out.