DIY: In Pursuit of Velvet Whitetails

When I was growing up, I could never understand the articles I read about hunting early-season whitetails.

Nearly every one followed the same formula, which we've all heard. Find a bachelor group, watch them, hang a stand for opening weekend, sit there and kill the biggest deer in the group.

Simple stuff, right? For me it wasn't.

A few states offer OTC nonresident tags and early-enough openers to give the willing bowhunter a real chance at a velvet trophy.


In fact, no matter how many mature mid-summer whitetails I'd watch through my spotting scope, they never followed the script in my home state of Minnesota. In fact, by about September 10th, they seemed to become a different animal altogether.


It wasn't until I started traveling out of state to hunt deer before my home-state opener that I realized that many of those articles contained more than a kernel of truth if you happened to be hunting early enough.

Velvet Opportunities

Most states open far too late to even have a chance to arrow a buck while his antlers are still fuzzy. Some states open in mid-September and depending on the exact date, might offer a few days with a chance of catching a late one.

I've seen this in my home state, and across the river in Wisconsin where I hunt. I'd never plan a trip to a mid-September-opening state, however. Even if the season kicks off by the 11th or 12th, most of the bucks will be hard-antlered.


Where early-opener whitetails will be on public land is where the best cover and food meet, which usually means river bottoms.

Other states offer a much better chance. North Dakota and Nebraska, for example, both offer nonresidents guaranteed whitetail tags and openers early enough to have a good chance of tagging a velvet buck. Travel farther west, and you'll find a few more states that give you a good chance.

The good thing about the head-west strategy is, at least in my opinion, western whitetails are the easiest whitetails to kill. Their more-desirable four-legged counterparts draw most of the attention, leaving the lowly whitetail largely unpressured. This changes some during the rut, but is a gift during the early season when most other hunters are starry-eyed over elk and mule deer.


The eastern hunter might find a chance at a velvet buck in a state like Kentucky, but opportunities east of the big river are much tougher to come by. No matter what, if you choose to pick up an OTC tag and spend a few days hunting velvet bucks, you'll find that they can be the most bowhunter friendly deer around.

Simple Hunting

The first year I set my sights on killing a mature buck on public land, I did it in North Dakota. After glassing bucks for four days, I set up on one of the more predictable deer and arrowed him the first night I hunted him. At the time, it was the easiest big buck I've ever arrowed.

Since then, I've been back to North Dakota a few times, and other than occasional hunting pressure or poor shooting on my part, it has been a high-opportunity hunt. I've killed two velvet bucks and two that had just rubbed their velvet. Each deer was arrowed while heading out to food in the evening, which is a pretty simple pattern to figure out.

Even though you might have 100,000 acres to hunt early-season deer, most of them will live in a very small portion of that and it's your job to find them.

I've also had some really good opportunities at bucks in the morning, as they left the agricultural fields and traveled back into the thicker stuff to bed. And every single time I've sat in a stand in North Dakota, it has been on public land. That's a big one to me, because I love the challenge of arrowing a mature buck on public land, and I love the fact that I feel like I have a chance to do just that where anyone can.

Where They'll Be

Since I tend to hunt velvet bucks west of the Mississippi I can count on a few things. The first is that most of the public land I hunt will feature concentrated whitetail populations. They'll live where the cover is and where the food is. That also tends to be in creek bottoms or river bottoms.

There might be 100,000 acres of public land in a single area, but the whitetails will occupy a very, very small portion of it. From aerial photos, you'll see the best cover is along the water, and the food that your deer are concentrating on will be easily recognizable as well. These food sources will, of course, be large agricultural fields.

If you see a velvet-racked buck do something today, he'll probably do it tomorrow. Move in and set up immediately if conditions allow.

It's important to remember that when the deer are walking to and from those destination food sources, they'll also be browsing away the whole time. Some of the bucks I've killed in North Dakota were browsing on sweet clover along the river while they waited for lower light to head out to the main groceries.

They'll stage where the browse is good, and in early September, the browse is usually pretty good in a lot of places. This necessitates a bit of scouting, but the good thing is if you see a deer do something today, he'll probably do it tomorrow. Move in on that buck immediately and hunt him as soon as you can.

Conclusion

Of the mounts I've got on my wall, a 150-inch velvet whitetail immediately draws the most attention from our houseguests who hunt (and some who don't).

velvet-whitetails

When the hunting-crowd houseguests find out he was killed on public land, they usually can't believe opportunities to kill velvet bucks of that caliber exist, but they do. There are several states that will sell you a tag right now to give you a chance at your own unique trophy.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Mountain Caribou Hunt

Mountain Caribou Hunt

Curt Wells can't pass up this opportunity to hunt mountain caribou in the Northwest Territories.

Canyon Ranch Roundup Part 2

Canyon Ranch Roundup Part 2

Bowhunter TV's Derek Mleynek and Equipment Editor Tony J. Peterson head to Texas for a late-season mixed bag hunt in a truly target-rich environment.

Early Season Kentucky Whitetail Bowhunt

Early Season Kentucky Whitetail Bowhunt

Christian Berg begins the scouting process in Kentucky on his first whitetail hunt of the season.

Canyon Ranch Bowhunt

Canyon Ranch Bowhunt

Bowhunter Equipment Editor Tony Peterson sees plenty of action while hunting whitetails and hogs in Texas.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

This venison kebabs recipe marinates for a full day to take the already flavorful Asian bulgogi sauce to the next level. Recipes

Grilled Korean Bulgogi Venison Kebabs Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

This venison kebabs recipe marinates for a full day to take the already flavorful Asian...

Don't ruin your chances of tagging a big buck this fall. How-To

Late-Summer Scouting Mistakes to Avoid

Tony J. Peterson

Don't ruin your chances of tagging a big buck this fall.

Curt Wells and Randy Ulmer [video] explain the importance of momentum and penetration when choosing heavy vs. light arrows for bowhunting. How-To

How to Choose the Best Hunting Arrow - Heavy vs. Light

Curt Wells

Curt Wells and Randy Ulmer [video] explain the importance of momentum and penetration when...


What's a hardcore bowhunter? That's hard for me to define—most bowhunters I've met are How-To

10 Best Exercises for the Hardcore Bowhunter

Dan Staton - June 30, 2016

What's a hardcore bowhunter? That's hard for me to define—most bowhunters I've met are

See More Trending Articles

More Whitetail

Use these long-proven tactics on your plots this spring to “design” your way to killing a big whitetail. Whitetail

How to Design Your Food Plots for Successful Hunting

Troy Dankemeyer

Use these long-proven tactics on your plots this spring to “design” your way to killing a big...

To know where you need to be in the rut, re-visit your trail-cam recon from months gone by. Whitetail

Trail Camera Clues That Lead To Rut Hunting Success

Tony J. Peterson - November 04, 2019

To know where you need to be in the rut, re-visit your trail-cam recon from months gone by.

Some deer simply leave the areas they typically frequent in the fall, only to return later. Whitetail

Deer Excursions: Why Bucks Leave Their Home Range

C.J. Winand

Some deer simply leave the areas they typically frequent in the fall, only to return later.

Fat and happy deer don't wander far. Keep them close with minerals, supplements, and quality forage. Attractants & Calls

Deer Herd Health: Minerals & Food Plots

Brian Strickland - April 23, 2020

Fat and happy deer don't wander far. Keep them close with minerals, supplements, and quality...

See More Whitetail

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Bowhunter subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now