By Cody Altizer
Like it or not, folks, (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t like it?) bow season is right around the corner! By now, our bows should be finely tuned, food plots planted, stands hung, minds sharp and our bodies in tip-top shape. The three month marathon that is deer season is about to begin very soon!
Admittedly, the early season is one of my favorite times of the year to hunt. I love the crisp, cool weather and the innocence of a brand new season. The fall colors pop beautifully with each sunrise and the deer are relatively calm and still in somewhat of a summer feeding pattern.
However, as much I love the early season, it’s been my most unsuccessful time in the woods as a bowhunter. The earliest I’ve ever harvested a buck was October 30th, and the earliest I’ve ever harvested a doe was October 11th. It’s always my goal to tag a deer opening day, and every year I have failed. I had a golden opportunity last year, but my arrow hit the doe a little far forward and I never recovered her.
Nevertheless, I do believe the early season is a great time to score on a big buck. I just haven’t done it yet. In fact, in some cases, the early season may be your BEST chance to score on Mr. big. Here’s how and why…
I read and hear many big buck hunters preach, “Less is more when it comes to hunting big bucks.” I agree wholeheartedly. More times than not, I believe waiting until just the right opportunity to dive into your best spots to ambush an unsuspecting buck. I also hear them say, “Wait until late October to make your move. He’ll be on his feet and more vulnerable, but still be following somewhat of a predictable pattern checking doe bedding areas.” Again, I completely agree.
However, I am an opportunist and believe that sometimes your best chance for bagging a buck may be during the first two days of bow season. I believe that because as wary as I am about pressuring big bucks, I do believe that if you’ve kept the pressure down on your property for an entire offseason, that a buck will tolerate a little intrusion in early October. If you don’t kill him, then move out and wait until late October / early November. He’s not going to go anywhere.
Bucks are very calm, lethargic, and lazy during the early season, and this makes them very susceptible to being patterned. If you can identify a mature buck regularly using a food source and you know where he beds, then I say go for the kill opening morning.
When I try to kill a buck in the early, early season, I try to do so in the morning. I hunt the morning because of how I can access and get close to bedding areas without bumping deer. To arrow a mature buck on opening evening would be extremely difficult because of how my property lays. However, there are several factors that must be perfect for me to hunt one of my best stands right off the bat.
First, I need to have a buck targeted. One that I know is feeding in my food plots at night and one that beds in our neighbors sanctuary to the northwest of our property. If I don’t have a target buck, then I may as well be hunting does because you simply can’t kill what’s not there.
Next, I need the weather to dip below normal temperatures. If the temperature is around 40 degrees or below on opening morning, I’ll head to one of my better stands. The below average temperatures are likely to keep a buck up on his feet longer than normal and he’ll be a little late getting back to his bedding area. If he is late, then I’ll be there waiting for him. If he’s not, then he’s already made it back to bed and nothing is lost.
Finally, I’ll need a southerly wind and the temperatures to rise so the thermals will carry my scent above a buck’s nose. I want to hunt downwind of the bedding area, obviously, but if said buck hasn’t made it back to bed yet, then he’ll access his bedding area not only downwind of the bedding area, but downwind of me as well. A southerly breeze and rising thermal means the buck will enter his bedding area without a chance in the world of smelling me.
If not one of the three above factors is present, then I won’t put much effort into killing a mature buck during the first couple days of the season. However, if I get these “perfect” conditions, then you can bet your last arrow then I’ll hunt that mature buck very aggressively. If I kill him, then I become a deer expert! If I don’t and for some reason he does become wise to my presence, I don’t believe he’ll be tipped off enough to completely leave the area, and I’ll just have to be patient and wait until the rut for my next crack at him.
Keep in mind that these wind directions and factors are what I need for how I hunt my property, they are likely totally different for your hunting strategy and property. That being said, the early, early season can provide some great hunting for the opportunistic bowhunter willing to push the envelope just enough to arrow a shooter buck.
– Cody Altizer