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5 Steps To Early-Season Whitetail Success

Just because the rut hasn't started yet doesn't mean you can't kill a nice buck. Follow these tips to vastly improve your chances.

5 Steps To Early-Season Whitetail Success

September is a big month for bow openers across the country, with a few states bringing up the rear and kicking off some time in October. No matter where you reside, the first month of bow season can be your best chance for tagging out on a good buck. After that, all bets are off until about Halloween when the odds start tipping our way once again as the pre-rut settles in. For now, the opportunity is real but it takes the right plan, and obviously, proper execution of that plan.

Following is a five-step strategy for wrapping up your season almost as soon as it begins.

Step 1: Options, Options, Options

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Relying on one buck, or one bachelor group to make your early-season dreams come true, is a dicey proposition. It’s better to give yourself a few options if at all possible.

A lot of bowhunters who scout hard throughout the summer end up focusing on either one buck, or one bachelor group. This, if you’re on a small property, might be all you have to work with on a given parcel. I’ve been there, and it’s a dicey proposition because a lot of things have to go right to make an opening week setup really hum. It’s better to have backup bucks in backup spots. This is one of the reasons why, even if I have private land to hunt somewhere, I also spend a lot of time scouting public land. Having at least two or three places to hunt where you have a legitimate shot of running into a good-enough buck during opening week is important, but not as important as understanding the details behind their travels.

Step 2: Nit-Picky Details

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Trail cameras are a good source of intel, but they won’t provide the full summer scouting picture. You’ve got to watch bucks, if at all possible, to really key in on their travels.

I love trail cameras, I really do. But hundreds of pictures don’t provide me with the same kind of intel as a couple of nights of sitting behind the spotting scope. Sure, a camera on a soybean field might tell me every buck that is hitting up the legumes, and even what trails they frequent, but the puzzle is always missing a few pieces. I want to know not only how they get into the food sources, but what trails they prefer and what winds they prefer them on. I also want to know if they tend to feed straight out into the field or take a hard right and spend some time tucked away in a lower, lusher portion of the destination food source. Trail cameras can get you close to this knowledge, but they won’t get you all of the way there. If you want to have a few really good options for opening week, you’ve got to get out and watch if it’s at all possible.


Step 3: Ambush Absolutes

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Finding destination food sources and identifying how bucks use them is only part of the puzzle. You’ve also got to nail down the absolute best ambush sites for each spot.

Let’s say you watch a bachelor group entering the corner of an alfalfa field a few times right about when they are going from velvet to hard-antlered. You know then that the pattern is likely to hold into the earliest parts of the season, which is perfect. You also know the wind they prefer and even the route you’ll take to get back there. So on opening day, you slip in and start looking for a tree to hang a stand in, or saddle up in. That’s when you notice the trees are too small, or too crooked, and the best options would require an hours worth of trimming. You’re also on public land and not allowed to cut a thing. Execution on killer ambush sites is always easier to pull off if you know exactly what tree will work for your setup, or if you need to make a natural ground blind. These are the little pieces of the puzzle that absolutely kill the best laid plans.


Step 4: Deer Discipline

Patience is tough to come by when you know a 145-incher is visiting a specific food source every day and today just happens to be the first day you can hunt him. But what if the wind isn’t right or you’re just not confident in your approach? What if you can’t get away from work until pretty late in the afternoon, and will have to rush the setup? It might be better to get in and watch, again, instead of risking all of the preseason effort for a hasty hunt. On private land this decision might be a bit easier to stomach, but on public it’s brutal. It’s also, sometimes, necessary.

Step 5: Be Aggressive & Kill

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Take note of all deer sightings and move with them. If you’re can’t-miss summer spot suddenly won’t produce, but the deer are all visible in the far corner of the field, get in there as soon as you can.

Here’s the thing about summer patterns as they stretch into September — they're like spawning salmon in that they are both beautiful and dying. When the buck you’re after — or maybe a newcomer to the scene — shows up 200 yards from your stand and feeds away, take note and get ready to move unless your original spot produces. Something might have changed recently, like yellowing soybeans or a ramped-up acorn drop, and the best spot in the field might suddenly not be the spot you’ve watched all summer. Where deer are today, they are likely to be tomorrow. Move on them, reset your strategy and keep up with them until you kill.

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