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Monday, June 11, 2012

Michael Waddell’s Strategies for Early Season Deer Hunting

I love to bow hunt probably more than just about anything, and this is the time of year many of us live for. But we need to approach early season much differently than the rut. Bucks aren’t charging around reckless like they will be come November, but that’s okay. If we play our cards right, the early season could pay off much better than even the rut, simply because we’re getting the first crack at these big boys. Here are six tips that will have you driving a wallhanger home in your truck.

Scout It Out

Even if you’ve hunted a place a million times, scouting is important. Deer will stick to traditional patterns from year to year. However, food sources change, plots and crop fields might be planted differently, woods get cut, and swamps dry out or flood depending on the rain. All of this can affect where deer are bedding and feeding, the latter being the most important. In the early season, you’re going to focus on food sources as bucks try to beef up and prepare for the rut. Identify these spots and hang stands well before the season. Set up trail cams and spend time glassing where deer routinely enter a field or food plot. It’s hot, so deer will bed near food, which is everywhere at this time of season, so it’s important to have multiple locations pinpointed.

Know Your Food

You need to identify all of the potential early season food sources and hunt them as deer hit them. Woods will be greened up meaning there’s plenty for bucks to browse; however, they will still seek out the most nutritious foods. If acorns are plentiful, particularly on white oaks, deer will be there when they start dropping over any other food source. Plots planted in clover are good September or early October magnets; however, if agricultural fields of soybeans and corn are nearby, it will trump most small food plots hunters plant, particularly as the weather begins to cool.

Water Wonders

Deer get a lot of the moisture they need from the late-summer foods they eat, so if you live in an area with abundant flowing streams, flooded swamplands, or near large creeks and rivers, you’ll be wasting your time trying to set up along the edge of a creek, hoping to catch a big buck coming to drink. Odds of catching a deer in one drinking spot are thin. But if you hunt in drought-stricken areas such as Texas and Oklahoma or other dry areas, a stock tank or isolated pond can be a great spot to hang a stand. Scout the travel routes around the water source, identify where most of the tracks are made, and set up there to catch an antlered monster coming to the drink.

Don't Force It

A lot of stands are accessed by fields, which is where the deer will be feeding at dawn. If you’re hoping to score on a buck as it goes to bed in the morning, but the only practical way you have to get into your stand is through the field where he’s likely to be feeding, don’t go. Wait and hunt the spot in the afternoon.

Hold Your Shot

Bucks are likely still in bachelor groups the first week or two of most bow seasons. That means you don’t want to shoot the first buck that steps into view since a bigger dude might be right behind him. Note the make-up of these groups from trail cam photos and scouting. Identify the one you want in the bunch and try to hit him when he shows up with his buddies to feed. If you see one of his partners, you know your target buck is likely nearby.

Make an Evening Exit Strategy

Remember, if you walked through a field to your stand in the early afternoon, deer will likely be feeding in that same field when it comes time to go. Just blowing out of there after dark can spook that buck you’re targeting and run him from the area. Instead, mark an alternate trail that loops you deep through the woods and gets out without going near the field. Or, if nothing else, be prepared to sit tight until it appears deer have fed out of the field and moved on.

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