By Josh Boyd
With early archery season comes a wealth of opportunity. Deer in most areas are still holding tight to their summertime bed to feed patterns, and bachelor groups of bucks can still be observed feeding in grain fields as the sun sets low over the horizon. However, the earliest days of season are also a time when the deer of a given area are heavily tuned into their surroundings, and the rut has not yet caused bucks to throw caution to the wind.
During this period, it can be quite easy to inadvertently impart excess hunting pressure, to which deer quickly become keen. As a result, the bucks that you have monitored throughout the summer disappear, deer suddenly grow nocturnal in their movements, and encounters while on stand dramatically decrease.
While this scenario plays out all too frequently, those who exercise caution when hunting during the early season can break this cycle and punch their tag well before many hunters ever set foot in the woods.
The following are several of the most vital missteps to avoid when seeking early-season success.
Falling Victim to the Wind
If you have ever been sitting motionless, only to be serenaded by the sound of deer blowing as they head for the next county, you know all too well that the wind can make or break a hunt. This is never as true as during the early archery season, when much of the nation is still in the midst of an aggressive heatwave.
During the earliest days of season, it can be almost impossible to reach your stand without working up a sweat. In the process, odor-causing bacteria is produced, which deer can easily key in on from even distant locations. During this portion of season, high humidity also makes it harder to escape the detection of a whitetail’s nose, as this presents the perfect scenting conditions for deer.
While some hunters rely solely upon a strict scent control regimen to minimize their human odor, the only foolproof way to avoid detection is to play the wind. It is immensely important to understand the prevailing wind direction for any location that you intend to hunt, as well as the role that thermal currents play in scent dispersal.
Hunting Bedding Areas Early
While it can be tempting to push deep into cover in pursuit of the buck that you have watched all summer, this can often do more harm than good. Deer frequent an area because it offers the three main elements that they require for survival, food, water, and secure bedding cover.
While deer typically have little to no issue locating food, and even water, during the early season, they tend to cling tightly to favored bedding areas. As a result, when deer feel that a bedding area is no longer safe, due to repeated encroachment and excessive pressure, they will often shift their daily movements to allow timely access to more solitary bedding.
When this occurs, a hunter will typically notice that deer sightings begin to dwindle, and daytime trail camera pictures become far less frequent. There is typically no immediate fix for this situation, as it can take some time for deer to return to their prior patterns.
Taking the Easy Way In (Or Out)
Walking to the stand during the earliest days of season can be a sweaty affair. The warm sun beats down on the back of your neck, and swatting mosquitoes quickly becomes a chore. For this reason, many hunters choose to take the most direct route to their stand, even if it risks bumping deer in the process.
There are few better ways to educate deer, and make your intrusion known, than to repeatedly, and indiscriminately travel to and from your stand without any concern over the pressure which you are imparting. Deer quickly wise up to this intrusion, and time their movements as necessary to avoid what they perceive as a threat.
It is advisable to always choose your route of entry and exit in a manner that will minimize the chance of bumping deer along the way, even if this means taking an indirect route. Ditch lines and cover breaks can make excellent travel corridors to avoid detection.
Hunting Agricultural Fields of a Morning
When you have watched the buck of your dreams feeding in a field of soybeans on a near-daily basis, it is only natural to want to hunt in the same location at every available opportunity. However, you must time your hunts in a way that minimizes the chance of being busted, which often means avoiding known feeding areas during the morning hunt.
Deer often flock to large agricultural fields or food plots under the cover of darkness, and return to bed only when the sun begins to make its way above the horizon. Because of this, trying to traverse such open terrain to reach your stand in the predawn darkness without spooking deer, can be like trying to navigate a minefield.
If you intend to target a particular deer, or group of deer, during the morning’s hunt, you are often far better off staging up along trails between a favored food source and a known bedding area. This allows a hunter easy access to their stand, while deer are still actively feeding, and presents a unique opportunity to ambush deer as they travel back to their bedding areas after first light.
Over Hunting Stands
If you have reason to believe that deer are frequenting a particular area, it can be quite tempting to repeatedly hunt a single nearby stand site. However, you can unknowingly impart pressure on these same deer, and simultaneously hinder your odds of success.
Each time you hunt a stand, scent is departed, the area is disturbed, and the chance of bumping deer upon your entry and exit always exists. Deer become aware of this repeated intrusion in short order, and act accordingly to avoid the threat which is at hand.
Rather than overhunting a single stand site, it is advisable to regularly rotate between stands, thereby resting an area which has received pressure in one form or fashion. Time your intrusions into areas of high deer traffic to coincide with favorable conditions, such as passing cold fronts and days where the wind direction is perfect for that particular stand.
Finding Early Success
Much like any portion of season, early season hunting can be closely described as a chess match between yourself, the deer of an area, and a myriad of environmental factors. Those who proceed haphazardly rarely emerge the victor, while those who are concise in their strategy often find success at every turn.