While enjoying the beautiful days of summer bonfires, lake excursions, and hotdog roasting, it’s sometimes hard to see that chasing whitetails through the brilliant fall woods is just a few short months away. But it is. Focusing now on a few key things will really help in preparation for a good whitetail season and keep costly mistakes that could have been prevented to a minimum or eliminated. Although the list could be long, I’ve narrowed it down to five actions to take right now to maximize your success in the fall.
1. Taking Inventory
Now is the time to see what kind of bucks are growing in your hunting areas. These bucks will shift and move as the season approaches and may disappear altogether as summer patterns shift and bachelor buck groups break up. However, knowing what is generally out there will help you make decisions throughout the season and year after year as you track certain bucks. By using glassing and trail cameras, it is possible to identify certain bucks, their core summer and fall patterns, and then hunt them accordingly based on this seasonal information. So, start glassing now and put trail cameras out to gather this intel and log it based on where and when this information was gathered.
Trail camera strategy can be placed in two categories: short-term and long-term intel gathering. Short term is when you place a camera in a specific location and don’t plan on leaving it there more than a few days or weeks. Early in the year, field edges are best for this, as you can check and move them with little intrusion. Just pay attention to the wind and check or move them midday. This will allow you to get information from a wide range of locations without taking a loan to invest in trail cameras and SD cards. When checking often, do not put them in areas that you have to intrude into, as deer are often bedded close to fields or food sources during the summer and early fall.
Long-term trail camera placement should be thought of as the “crockpot” method. These need to simmer and stew throughout the year for months at a time. They could be put close to, or in, bedding areas, but you don’t want to disturb these areas while hunting if possible. Have a plan of when and how you will retrieve these, if you will, during the season, like during a rainstorm or high winds where you can easily slip in and out. Another option for these high-impact areas is a cellular camera. This way, you know what is going on, say a bedding area, without any intrusion, and hunt accordingly if pictures tell you to do so. For example, your bedding area camera tells you a good buck is cruising for does in daylight, so you sneak in downwind to a stand on the edge of this.
2. Establish Routes/Routines
If you haven’t already, now is the time to set stands and establish your routes to and from these locations. If you can, prepare your trees or ground blind areas by trimming, setting stands, marking, and trimming your approaches to and from them. This will require some work and sweat in the summer months but is well worth the effort. Identify which locations are best for early season, lull, pre-rut, and rut hunting. Think about where deer will most likely be as you enter and exit, and then plan accordingly for these spots. Make sure you determine which locations are best for morning or evening as well, as not all are good for both. As you do this, you can also figure out good locations for deeper set trail cameras that can be checked as you come and go to hunt these areas.
3. The Power of Attraction
By this time, hopefully, you’ve been developing attractive elements in your arsenal. If you haven’t, you can still start now. Two of those I want to address are food plots and mock scrapes. There are plenty of mixes for food plots that can be planted in August and September if you haven’t at this point, as these can be a crucial weapon to keeping deer on your property and establishing travel routes and ambushes. Ensure your ambush points are planned thoughtfully so that they do not interfere with deer patterns and put the least pressure on your plot. This way, you can hunt it repeatedly without having a negative effect on deer movement.
Mock scrapes can be made on both private and public ground and can be another good way to take inventory of bucks in the area as the season progresses. Think about how these are located relative to your stands and also entry and exit routes as you establish them, for both checking trail cameras you may have on them but also for hunting over them. You’ll want to be downwind and near thick cover if possible for best results and daylight movement. If established early, these can be great attractors that will keep deer checking them all season and a great spot to harvest a buck later in the fall.
4. Hone Yourself
If you haven’t been staying in shape, you need to start to get in shape now. Even though we’re not hunting mountains in Michigan, the better in physical condition you are, the less this is a limiting factor in your success. Don’t let your shape keep you from opportunities. Be agile, light, strong, and have good endurance. This will keep you safe when climbing and situating stands, help you be quieter in the woods, and also, being in good physical condition will help you stick to it when the season gets long and grinding. I suggest getting in a good routine of lifting weights (or using bodyweights) and doing cardio routines. There are many options out there for these, so there is no one set workout regimen; however, doing something to build and keep your agility, strength, and endurance is critical.
Also, practicing with your gear is an important part of preparation. For bowhunters, make sure you shoot daily at least a month (or more) before the season starts. Practice with your field setup and broadheads, making sure they fly true, and no adjustments are needed. I’ve found fixed blades with a shorter front-to-back profile to fly the truest. This year I’m trying Muzzy’s Trocar and the new addition, the Merc. They are both solid construction, and from previous experience, I know the Trocar flies very well even at long distances, putting a lethal 1 3/16 inch hole in the ribcage. The gear list is long, but make sure to practice with and check over everything on your list long before it’s time to hit the field.
5. Gearing Up
Now is also the time to refine your gear for different situations you’ll be hunting. Depending on how you hunt whitetail, you may have several different packs and arsenals to hit the woods with (run-n-gun setup, ground blind, saddle setup, etc.). Go through and refine these now. What did you need last year, and what didn’t you need? What can you eliminate from your list to drop weight? What do you want to add that will make a difference? The key is to only really include things you will benefit from and get rid of those you will not. Go through clothes and wash them all with unscented detergent. Get a system of totes and garbage bags to store and
organize your clothes so you can easily grab what you need for the weather conditions and time of year. This will make your life much easier at 4 a.m. the morning of the hunt and keep you from scrambling for that one glove you can never seem to find.
It seems like such a little thing, but preparation is your big key to success for this fall in the whitetail woods.