By Chris Eberhart
Believe it or not, it’s already mid August and deer season is right around the corner. If you’ve prepared well, your stands have been ready to go since spring. You know which bucks are around your hunting areas, and your fitness and shooting routine are in full swing. Apart from actual hunting most of the work is done. The key word here is “most”. There are still a couple of things to take care of before the opener that you need to do towards the end of August, or beginning of September.
I recommend taking a couple days and making a speed tour of all of your stands. When I say speed tour, I mean just that: Get in and out of the woods as fast as you possibly can. The concept here has three principle aspects. The first is to inspect your stand locations for new growth that could block a shooting lane, or get in the way. The second is to very expediently scan your spots for obvious buck activity. The third is to develop a hunting plan for the opening portion of the season.
Your tour should take place when it is most uncomfortable for the deer, which is usually during the middle of the day, when it is hottest outside, and of course most uncomfortable for you. A little discomfort is worth it if it means wrapping your hands around the antlers of that buck that has been haunting your ground for several years. Because it is getting so close to season it is also important to attempt to implement strict scent control while you are cruising your stands. This means wearing rubber boots and a light weight activated carbon suit. You will be uncomfortable, but you want to make sure all your setups are just right without informing all the deer in the woods that hunting is about to begin. By doing this in late August or early September you also give the deer a chance to overcome any disturbance you might have caused. Plan your route carefully so you basically do a circle and go from spot to spot. If everything looks the way you thought it would just keep walking. If there is a branch or two that must be removed to open up a shooting lane, do the work as quickly as possible and move on. This is no time to be exploring long ago scouted areas.
While you are moving through keep your eyes open for buck activity. If you find a late summer active scrape at a traditional primary scrape area for instance, note the find. This is a sign that a mature buck is using the area, possibly spending most of his time there, and that it could be central in his summertime core area. This spot should then move up your list as a spot to hunt early. Note any obvious signs of heavy activity.
When you’ve done your tour you can be sure that all your spots are ready to go for the opener in a few weeks. Also, along the way you should have been developing a hunting plan for the first week or two of the season. During your spring scouting you hopefully prepared trees especially for the opening week. Some examples of these might be funnels between bedding and feeding, points of woods that interface with a big cornfield, or an escape route into a cattail marsh near a tract of heavily hunted public ground. I have arrowed bucks during the early season at each of these kinds of locations. The idea is to develop a solid plan. Apart from the rut, the first few days of season is the best time to get a crack at a mature buck, but you have to have a plan, and have everything ready in advance. That is why you need to get out and tour your stands soon.
Acorns and You
The other aspect of your tour is the search for acorns. Acorns change everything. No matter what kind of food plots or bait piles the neighbors have, deer will feed on acorns, particularly those from white oaks, when they are available. This is a great opportunity for guys who don’t own, lease, or have access to great private property. During your spring scouting and through experience on different pieces of land you should know where all the oaks are. I keep a notebook with good oak patches and individual trees highlighted. At the same time you do your stand tour, you should also do an acorn tour. Some of the best spots I have to hunt are only good in years that particular trees carry mast. There isn’t a much better hunting location than a big mature oak dropping acorns in, or along the edge of, a bedding area. And spots like this are almost always best during the early portion of the season. Sometimes I will do early season all day hunts in such oaks. It is incredible to see a mature buck stroll out of a bedding area late in the morning or right in the middle of the day in late September or early October. Along the same lines, don’t forget to check on those big oaks that you sometimes see out in the middle of large cornfields. A spot like that is a bit unorthodox, but I have seen the occasional mature buck stop in for an acorn snack late in the morning, feeling completely safe in the shelter of the corn. Acorns level the playing field for killing mature bucks, you should always know where they are dropping, and use this knowledge to your advantage
– Chris Eberhart, BowhuntingWildFood.com