The months of September and October are considered by many deer hunters to be the pre-game warm-up for the “real season” when the rut begins. At that point the mature bucks drop their guard and go into search mode for does in heat. If the truth be known many a trophy has been taken in the early period before the rut ever starts and it can be persuasively argued that during these two months quality deer can be taken because they are less wary (especially during the first two or three weeks) and because their patterns are more predictable. Let’s take a look at some things to consider in this early portion of white tail season.
From summer to early fall deer get into routines and pretty much stick to them until conditions (including weather, food sources, the rut and hunting pressure) begin to change them. It all revolves around what they are eating and convenient places to bed down. One of the problems we have to deal with is that there are lots of different food sources and plenty of thick bedding areas for them to use in the early part of the season so scouting and trail cameras are indispensable tools at this point. The more you are out there looking the better chance you have of discovering where their favorite places are located and then establishing patterns.
A couple of things that might help are to consider that nature plays a role in the travel routes of deer. They often follow the path of least resistance and thus a pond, steep hills, or a beaver swamp may influence the way they go and will often funnel them in a certain direction. Another thing to look for is a narrow neck of woods between bedding and food sources that provides the only cover. As you continue to scout you will also run into a few rubs and scrapes to help you evaluate whether you have mature bucks in the vicinity.
One other tidbit that helps whether scouting or hunting in the early part of the season is to keep track of the weather. Rain and cool fronts (especially those that send the temperature downward a few degrees) have a tendency to get deer moving. These are excellent days to gather information or take that trophy you are in pursuit of.
The only thing I can figure out about bedding areas for bucks is that they are either in the thickest stuff they can find close to their food source or in weird places we never think of. I’ve seen one that bedded down in tall weeds behind a convenience store.
That makes me think that the food source is the dominant factor. At any rate you have to put in the time looking to figure it out.
Another thing to remember is that when scouting try to remain scent free and once you have determined where you want to hunt don’t keep going in the area. It is really easy to alarm deer and especially mature bucks into moving if they think there are being crowded.
Once you have the location of these two key components the next thing to establish is their normal route between these two points. If you can find the path they favor you are in position to figure out where to put your stand. When it comes to deciding where to put that stand consider having at least two places and preferably three in mind so that you won’t be put at a disadvantage with wind direction.
The same is true when considering how you are going to approach and exit your stand each time you hunt. You don’t want to spook the deer on your way in and out so put some thought into this factor.
As the season moves along some things are going to change and you have to adapt and be ready to switch strategy. Major changes include falling acorns and falling temperatures. Those acorns are likely to be in wide variety of places so look for the biggest and best ones close to where you have been hunting. White oak and red oak trees are really good ones to look for. The falling temperatures are going to tell the bucks that the rut is near and their behavior is going to begin to change.
With those acorns on the ground the big bucks will likely fall into a pattern of using bedding areas close to their favorite oak trees and thus may not have to travel very far. This may be the toughest time to bag one but it’s still possible especially if you can nail down their honey hole. At this point they are storing up energy for the rut and staying tight to cover.
That will all soon change. The bucks will start to get antsy as their testosterone levels kick in and at that point the primary focus for the hunters and the hunted will be to find the does. All bets will be off at that point as pandemonium breaks out in the woods and the only pattern you can count on is to be where there is a concentration of does.
Early season deer hunting can provide some of the best adventure of the year if you look for and take advantage of the patterns your quarry will almost surely fall into.