When Should You Hunt Early Season Bucks?
If you're committed to hunting smart, pulling off a successful early-season whitetail sit is certainly possible!
I’ve heard and read a lot about not hunting early-season whitetails in the morning. I’m planning an early-season road trip to hunt some public land. Should I only hunt evenings? R. Christy, via e-mail
Evening hunts for early season whitetails (September 1-October 20) are the norm in the whitetail world. Those who own or have access to vast acres of whitetail nirvana preach it as passionately as a preacher delivering a fire-and-brimstone sermon. I don’t disagree. Evening stand and blind vigils reduce the human footprint, and because early season deer are often hunted over food sources, morning hunts over groceries usually do more harm than good. That said, not all bowhunters have access to acres of prime whitetail real estate. Most of my hunts take place on public land, and small tracts of private ground I share with other bowhunters.
When I have limited days to hunt during an early-season trip, I hunt mornings. Period. The key is being smart about your approach. During your scouting, take note of water sources in the woods. It’s very common for a buck to stop and slake his thirst on his way to bed.
Should you stumble upon a water source, take note of the coming and going trails. Next, pull up its location on onX Maps or Google Earth. Use the topography, as well as the trails leading in and out, to tell you how the deer are accessing the refreshment stand. It’s also a good idea to pinpoint likely bedding areas. This will all impact where you set your stand or blind. If water is scarce, early season bucks won’t be bedded far from water sources, and more than once I’ve had a buck come in to quench his thirst at 10 a.m.
When planning your morning approach, be sure to avoid any agricultural fields. This may mean a long walk in and a very early morning, but you’ll want to be situated in your stand long before daybreak.
Besides a good waterhole, I’ve also had good morning success hunting natural food sources. White oaks are an early season food deer crave. Deer will typically devour white oaks first, as they are lower in tannic acid than red oaks. Locate areas in the timber where white oaks are dropping, and you’ll find copious amounts of deer sign. Again, take a look at your possible stand or blind location on an aerial map. Take note of likely bedding areas, and plan your morning-to-midday sit accordingly.
I’ve stumbled upon more than one fruit-bearing tree during my whitetail-hunting tenure, and when I do, I take special note of it. Deer love fruit. If you happen upon some trees with low-hanging apples, or some that are putting fruit on the ground, you’ve uncovered a whitetail gem. As with a pond, deer will often stop and snag a bit of fruit on their way back to bed.
If your area has no water, oaks, or fruit, look at an aerial image of the property and note any woodlots that appear to be semi-open. You’re looking for a location that offers just enough cover to make the deer feel safe, but allows in enough sunlight to produce shrubs, forbs, and low-growing plants. It’s not uncommon for a semi-open woodlot to produce nearly 1,000 pounds of deer-friendly browse per acre.
I often go against the grain, and have found hunting early season bucks during the morning to be very rewarding. Most bowhunters roll their eyes at the thought of a morning sit which means I have the woods to myself.
If you hunt smart, and don’t bump the deer off food sources or set up in a location that sends human stink into their bedding areas, pulling off an early-season morning dupe is very possible.