Don’t Wait For Cooler Weather…
Hunting the early season is much different than tackling a rutting buck. Not only is the whitetail core area different, but the rising temperature keeps them sleeping away most of the day. Over the years several strategies have put me in the driver’s seat during early season.
1 — Apple a Day
Apples are a delicacy to deer. And because they are not overly abundant, deer congregate around them. Deer rummage for their food, switching to the best available food around. With many of the apples being above their reach in the tall branches they must wait for the few apples to fall each day. Those few which fall to the ground each day are eaten on a first come first serve bases. You can guarantee this delicacy will be visited on a daily basis.
2 — Clovers
Early in the season there is so much food available. But before the frost kills the grasses, different clovers and chicory are a delicacy. I hunt near a well maintained hay field; the farmer fertilizes and sprays regularly making his the greenest crop around. This makes a difference; both does and bucks flock to his fields during early season.
3 — Acorns
As the summer nights begin to get cooler, deer know it’s time to bulk up for the long winter months. Acorns fit the bill with their high levels of protein, carbohydrates and fats. White oaks are preferred over red oaks because of their sweeter taste. Find those trees producing big succulent white acorns and make sure the whitetails are visiting them. It will be easy to see all the trails and feces in the area.
4 — Water
Just like humans, on hot days whitetails also need to drink more water. Situate yourself near a watering hole during hot falls days. Just make sure there is enough cover in the area for a whitetail to feel comfortable visiting during daylight. Think small, streams or mud holes.
5. Isolated Crop Fields
Location, location, location. Almost more important than the food is the location of the food. Hidden fields in less pressured areas always produce better. If the field cannot be seen by others, the average hunter may never know they exist. Sometimes it just takes a small fence row to seclude a field.
6 — Contact Grunts
Grunt calls are not just for the rut, deer communicate year round. Soft contact grunts and doe grunts pique deer curiosity. In most cases, a buck may not walk directly to you but meander in your direction. But just because they are meandering doesn’t mean they won’t pinpoint your exact location. Be patient and keep the calling subtle.
7 — Tickling Antlers
It’s hard enough to convince hunters that rattling works in Michigan let alone convince hunters that it works in early October. This is the time when whitetails are just pushing each other around to determine dominance. If you hear bucks rattling definitely tickle the antlers back. Keep it soft; imagine two teenage boys just joshing around on the playground.
8 — Bad BO
Even during 90 degree days you must worry about scent control. These are the days you’ll need to carry all your hunting clothes into the woods and change when you’re within 100 yards of the stand. Extra scent killer spray and wipes also help. Keep the pace slow and avoid sweating. Once you sweat, it’s too late.
9 — Weather Watcher
Weather fronts are the biggest determining factors to movement during the early season. Hunt hard on trails leading to your best food sources before and after the weather front. Since you only get a few big frontal systems during early season, take advantage of them at all cost.
10 — Downpour
Don’t be afraid to hunt right through the rain. Any drizzling rain dramatically increases deer movement. A hard downpour, the kind that soaks you right through will decrease doe and yearly movement but my hunting logs indicate a dramatic increase in mature buck movement. I think they’ve been trained over the years that hunters hate sitting in the rain.
11 — Observation Stands
If you’re not honed into a big buck by the opener sit back and watch. Sometimes taking a day off hunting to see the big picture allows you to pinpoint buck travel corridors. I still cut shooting lanes in my observation stands, just in case. Set yourself up high so you can see if anything is moving where you did not suspect.
12 — Stay Undetected Prior to Season
The element of surprise is our biggest advantage. Once the woods are flooded with hunters trampling around it doesn’t take long for a whitetail to head for their best hiding spots. Keep this element of surprise and precut all your hunting stands. Deer don’t have a calendar. Whether you’re scouting on September 15th or hunting on October 1st you’re viewed as an intrusion. In the heavily pressured state of Michigan it takes very few intrusions before your element of surprise is gone.
13 — Archery Ready
Be ready for anything. You should have practiced months in advance to become deadly with your equipment. Don’t expect to pull out your bow a week before season and be hitting bullseyes. Hunting with archery equipment is an honor that takes a great deal of practice. I’m proud to have taken many whitetails with my bow. It offers me the up-close and personal hunting I desire. But it also takes practice to become deadly.
14 — Map It Out
Some spots are good all the time, whether it’s early or late in the season. Don’t be afraid to catch a buck flat footed. Overlaying topographical maps with aerial photographs will help locate the best locations.
Funnels, saddles, edges, and new growth are just a few of my favorite locations. Additionally if you pinpoint big buck movement from sitting in your observation stand, then pull out your maps. This will often give you an indication of where he is headed.
15 — Stay Hidden
Just because it’s early doesn’t mean you can throw caution to the wind. With the foliage on the trees a lighter, green camo works better. Avoid being silhouetted by staying hidden among the tree branches.
16 — Small Openings
Recent dried up mud holes often produce lush, tender grasses. Once the water is gone by late summer it doesn’t take long for these locations to become sweet delicacies. I’ll often find these secluded within the forest which makes them similar to mini food plots.
Understanding what makes the whitetail move will put you one step closer to success. Try using several of these tips in the upcoming early season. Ambushing a whitetail during the first several days of the season will often provide you with some great hunting opportunities. Use these sixteen tips this year to capture an early season buck while others sit out and wait for the weather to cool.