By Alex Comstock
The following is how you put down an early season mature buck; find one on a food source in the summer, go set up a treestand where you saw him feeding, and make it happen opening day. Works every time, right?
It sounds great, but the chances of it working out that nicely are slim. With that said, hunting during the early season is still one of my favorite times to hunt mature bucks, and it can be a great time to have a chance at getting it done. This season is my third in North Dakota. With season opener coming in the first few days of September each year, I’ve wanted to harvest an early season buck ever since moving out here, but have been unsuccessful in doing so. During the process, I’ve learned some pretty important lessons that should aid me this year, and hopefully can help you too.
The first and possibly most important lesson I’ve learned over the past couple years is that you cannot pressure a mature buck during the summer. If you truly want to capitalize on a mature buck’s summer pattern, the last thing you want to do is to mess it up, and alter how he moves. Thankfully, there are steps and precautions you can take during the summer to avoid putting too much pressure on a mature buck.
What needs to be addressed first is trail cameras. I strongly believe for as much as trail cameras help people, they hurt possibly just as many, and that’s usually because of the user. There is no reason to go in and check a trail camera every week, or even every two weeks during the summer. By getting those trail cameras out early in the summer and letting them soak for a month or so at a time, and then checking them, you’ll get the same information, and won’t put as much pressure on deer in the area. Long story short – resist the urge to check those cameras often, and you’ll help yourself out. The same goes for once the season actually starts – be careful not to over-pressure the area with trail camera checks.
There is a plethora of other things you can do during the summer/early fall as well that will reduce the amount of pressure you put on a mature buck. A few other things I’m being more conscious of this year in hopes of finally tagging an early season buck include checking trail cameras with waders on, trying to wait for rainy conditions to check them, and staying out of my properties as much as possible.
Combine Scouting from a Distance and Trail Cameras
If applicable to you, I highly recommend scouting from a distance. This could be strategically sitting over a bean field in search of a particular buck, or it could be going for a drive on the backroads around dusk looking for bucks. What I’ve learned over the course of the past few years is that information gathered this way can be highly valuable. What has helped me take that scouting to a new level is when you do observe a buck you think you’d want to hunt, is to slip in there and put up a trail camera. That way you can learn even more about how that buck moves, or how the property is used. Being able to combine both sets of information can be valuable, and can help you piece together the puzzle to give yourself a better chance of crossing paths with a mature buck come opener.
Seek out a Buck to Hunt
A major lesson that I’ve learned between the last two seasons is that sometimes actually seeking out a buck to chase in the early season can actually give you a better chance of making it happen, rather than hunting a “known good spot”. The reason being is that food sources change every year, crops rotate, and bucks will often feed in different areas every year. A buck that you were chasing last September might be feeding in a crop field a half mile away this year, but if you don’t get out and scout for him during the summer or early fall, you may never find him.
The Wind Dictates Everything
There’s varying opinions out there on how to play the wind throughout the season, when you need to worry about it the most, scent control, etc. From what I’ve learned, if you pay attention to the wind, and hunt based off it, early in the year is when you need to pay the most attention to it. If you hunt a wrong wind, and spook a buck, your odds of having a second encounter with him go way down.
Just as we play the wind, sometimes a mature buck will as well. There’s no guideline to how each buck uses the wind, but this is where you doing your homework comes in. If you are able to glass a buck in an area or get him on trail camera and it seems random or sporadic, that really may not be the case. Maybe that buck is only using that area with a certain wind. A great way to diagnose this is to go back and cross reference the sightings or trail camera pictures with the weather.
You Get Limited Chances
An early season whitetail doesn’t stand for much. If you spook him, you may not get another chance. If I’ve learned anything from chasing mature bucks in the early season, I’ve figured out that more often than not, you only get one chance. Deer, and especially mature bucks, are particularly sensitive in the first few months of the season. Every little detail matters. You need to cross every t and dot every i. If you don’t, that could ultimately be the difference between having an encounter with a mature buck, and sending an arrow through him.
If you’ve been hunting mature bucks during the early season, and have been struggling to get it done, hopefully one of the lessons I’ve learned can help you. A few weeks into my season, I have yet to get it done, but have come close. Stay persistent, hunt smart, and I hope there was something you were able to take from this in your pursuit for an early season mature buck.
-Alex Comstock, WhitetailDNA.com