All summer long you watch deer; they seem to be everywhere. Then the season starts and there you are, alone and not a buck to be found. For years, I wondered whether the deer had received a copy of the hunting regulations and simply knew when to go underground. Later, it made sense. Scouting is heaviest in the days and weeks before the season starts. The deer feel the pressure just before the hunt begins. That is simply the nature of the game, but there are a few strategies to up your odds on opening day.
Archery season marks a special time for the hunter and bucks alike. The hunter is ready to harvest the fruit’s of his or her labor. The time when all of the food plots, scouting, lane clearing and practice are supposed to result in meat for the freezer and bone for the wall. For the deer, well, the chase is on and a hunter with a pointy thing is likely hiding in every bush or tree. While true, the bucks are also going through a transformation.
This is the time of the year when bucks are going to scrape off their velvet. A light ticking of the tines adds to the forest sounds. The days of hanging out with boys in bachelor groups are over, and food sources will change with the season.
Fortunately, this makes food a primary source to find a buck. The bucks’ patterns are still fairly predictable. However, the pattern will change with the food source, so you’ll need to be flexible in your planning. Here are a few of my favorite opening week strategies.
Find an area where whitetail roam, and you will likely see hunters out scouting during the late summer. They are hoping to catch a glimpse of the local talent in the area and determine travel routes and fields frequented by a buck. It is a good plan when attempting to pattern your next wall hanger, but it has its limitations too.
Not all fields are glassable from a distance. The field may be uneven and the buck’s entry point may be down in a low spot or on the far side of an outside corner. Likewise, a big buck is unlikely to come out before the last few minutes of light. The more distance between you and the buck, the less detail you will be able to make out with waning light.
You do not want to alert the deer to your presence by stinking it up, but finding a vantage point that overlooks your intended field or stand site can yield significant benefits come opening day. It’s more work than sitting in the truck with your binos and coffee, but no one ever said whitetail were easy.
Another great strategy for opening day (evening) is to sit on a high outside corner allowing you to view two fields. Face your stand back into the woods for a deer in cover and a better shot opportunity into either field.
As already mentioned, bucks like to come out at last light or after dark. However, they move from their bedding area and mosey toward a food source much earlier. Once near the field, a buck will most often hang back and let the does mill about. Better to sacrifice a doe than be a trophy on some hunter’s wall. To outsmart him you’ll have to move back 15 to 50 yards. Watch the wind to defeat the deers’ noses and catch him off guard while focused on the deer feeding in the field.
Finding these loitering zones is not hard. However, it’s not hard to get busted either. Bucks will leave signs, tracks, scat, rubs, etc. while loitering. Look for these telltale signs. Then plot the direction of travel and your entry. If an old nanny catches wind of you, she’ll never settle, and he will never show. You’ll need a stand site where the deer can slip by, but you’ll be in position for a clear shot.
Find the right setup with a good entry point and your chances are about as good as you can get early season. While hunters on field edges will only have a few minutes of legal shooting light, you may be in position to have a buck cruise by for a good hour before the end of legal shooting. I cannot stress enough; the wind has to be right. Don’t gamble; you’ll lose and blow a good opportunity for the coming days.
Parallel the Field
Walk the treeline seven to 15 yards from the field edge. Look for trails that parallel the field. These will be faint, as they do not get much traffic. Does and smaller bucks will beeline in to the field, and all of the deer will exit with a direction and purpose. However, the faint parallel trails are caused by deer pacing or surveying a field before heading out of the safety of cover and exposing themselves.
Depending on the density of the woods and brush, you will find these trails anywhere from about five to 25 yards from the edge. Look for telltale signs such as scrapes and rubs of broken foliage. During the early preseason, you may want to identify a depression where water will pool in the rain; this may provide tracks.
Scent will be a challenge. These trails are most often on the downwind side of the field, so the buck can wind the field while he waits. Your scent stream will be headed back into the woods, which is less than desirable. My best advice is a strong scent-control strategy and to get as high as possible to dissipate your scent. Find a parallel trail that intersects one or more main trails into the field and clear a spot on the wall.
The key to your success in all of these strategies, as well as any strategy with whitetails, is defeating a whitetail’s nose. Don’t push a bad position, or hope the deer just won’t notice. Big bucks got big for a reason—normally a wary old doe! However, put these tips into play and you’ll significantly increase your early season success.
Do you have any opening day tips and suggestions? Post them in the comment section.
Growing up in Pennsylvanias game-rich Allegany region, Dave Dolbee was introduced to whitetail hunting at a young age. At age 19 he bought his first bow while serving in the U.S. Navy, and began bowhunting after returning from Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Dave was a sponsored Pro Staff Shooter for several top archery companies during the 1990s and an Olympic hopeful holding up to 16 archery records at one point. During Daves writing career, he has written for several smaller publications as well as many major content providers such as Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Outdoor Life, Petersens Hunting, Rifle Shooter, Petersens Bowhunting, Bowhunter, Game & Fish magazines, Handguns, F.O.P Fraternal Order of Police, Archery Business, SHOT Business, OutdoorRoadmap.com, TheGearExpert.com and others. Dave is currently a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!
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