When it comes to hunting no rule is ever etched in stone. But avoid these pitfalls and you’ll become a much more successful early season bowhunter.
One of the best early season whitetail outfitters I’ve hunted with in recent memory is North Dakota’s Chris Jorde. Chris is an avid bowhunter and has fueled that passion into his deer-managed farms at Heart J Outfit- ters near Towner in the north-central part of the state (www.HeartJOutfitters.com).
While hunting with Jorde in 2015 filming content for Deer & Deer Hunting TV, a lot of the tips he provided are common-sense tactics. Many bowhunters ignore or dismiss these when chasing mature bucks during late August, September and early October across deer country.
During our time in camp, Chris and I sat down and outlined what we believe are the three biggest no-nos when hunting early season bucks. Of course, no rule is ever etched in stone. But avoid these pitfalls and we believe you’ll become a much more successful early season bowhunter.
Mistake No. 1: Hunting Mornings
In most cases in farm country, deer are changing from their late-summer to early autumn feeding patterns. Once that happens, they tend to change it up almost overnight, and you have to adjust to that. The best possible scenario is you have a spot in a feeding transition area. An example in farm country would be a wooded corridor between an alfalfa field and a soybean field.
If you have only one or two stand sights, common sense says you’re going to burn out those spots if you’re not careful with entry and exit routes to these stands during the early season.
“You have to stop and ask yourself, ‘When can I hunt this spot and why?’” Jorde said. “If the patterns of that deer change and you haven’t pinpointed what he’s doing, you need to do something else.”
The biggest benefit of hunting afternoons during the early season is you can get to those stands long before the deer show up, and when and if you do bump them, they’re not necessarily going to abandon their feeding patterns. At least not yet. If you bump a buck off an afternoon food source, he might adjust how he gets to that area next time – whether that’s tomorrow, the next day or three days from now. You have to remember that you usually get only one or two chances at a patterned mature buck during the early season. By being patient and hunting him in that afternoon spot where you’ve patterned him, you increase your odds for success.
The key, of course, is knowing where those deer are bedding. With this knowledge, you can set up your stands in locations that allow you to arrive at least two hours before they’ll be showing up to feed. It’s equally important to have a well thought-out plan to exit that stand after shooting hours. Bumping deer off of a food source is a sure way to educate them and have them readjust their patterns in the days to follow. Never exit your stand if deer are in shooting range.
If need be, have a friend or hunting partner drive close to your stand with a vehicle to pick you up after the day’s hunt. The presence of a vehicle will still spook the deer. But it’s a different kind of intrusion, one that’s much less disruptive than a hunter crawling out of a tree and walking across the field, food plot or acorn flat.
Mistake No. 2: Casual Scent Control
This is just a technology I believe in. Seriously, if I’m driving to a stand and realize I don’t have an Ozonics unit in the truck, I’ll turn around and go back to camp to get one. I don’t get paid to say that. It’s just something that I’ve found really makes a difference when hunting mature bucks during the early season.
Ozone units, scent-killing sprays, scent-reducing soaps and shampoos – it’s all part of a total scent-control program I use to stay one step ahead of an early season buck’s nose. The more tools you have, the more productive you are.
The key to any scent-control approach is the common-sense tactic of knowing the precise wind direction when you go hunting. Scent-control products are only tools that help reduce your scent. Nothing will eliminate your scent. You have to be smart with wind direction – sometimes adjusting on the fly after you’ve headed afield. If conditions change, you need to change your approach, even if that means climbing out of the stand and heading back to camp.
Showering before you go hunting is a no-brainer, but during the early season the best tactic is to take that shower right before you head to the woods. Fifteen minutes before you go afield is a good rule of thumb. Taking a shower an hour before you head to the stand isn’t going to help much if it’s 80 degrees outside. If possible, keep your clothes outside, hanging from a clothesline or tree limb and away from any foreign odors (grills, gas tanks, etc). If that’s not possible, keep them in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag.
All of those little efforts to control your scent can add extra days to that window of opportunity when target- ing a patterned mature buck.
“In some cases, a hunter might have five days of hunting before that buck gets wise to his presence,” Jorde said. “If the hunter is super careful with scent control and doesn’t get winded during that first week, the total scent-control approach might tack three, four, five days or more to that window.”
Mistake No. 3: Leave the Stand Early
We all get excited about hunting those first few days of bow season. But how many times have you gotten out there, hunted all afternoon – didn’t see many deer or at least none in shooting range – and then left the stand before dark? We’ve all done it.
It’s really easy to rationalize your way out of a treestand. Shooting hours are over. Can’t see the pins anymore. Honey-do chores at home. Whatever the reason, don’t cave to the temptation if you can help it. If legal shooting hours are done, put the arrow back in the quiver, hang up your bow and wait for darkness, especially if there are deer in front of you. Remember, you might get only one chance at that buck during the early season. Calling it quits early and walking out might be that critical mistake that prevents you from seeing him the next time you go hunting.
“You need to allow a little extra time for those deer to clear, and be ready to sit a little longer than you’d like to sit for these early season situations,” Jorde said. “Those deer will pick up on your location in a hurry. We pick all of our guys up about 15 to 20 minutes after shooting light. We want it to be dark when we come in. By me driving in and picking up a hunter, the deer don’t catch on that the hunters are actually there.”
I agree, and believe most veteran hunters would agree that mature bucks possess some sort of memory mechanism – whether that’s a day, two days, maybe a week – that allows them to remember that a certain spot can be associated with danger, especially if that danger is the sight, sound or associated smell of a hunter leaving a treestand location.
As is the case with most aspects of whitetail hunting, common sense plays a big role in a hunter’s ultimate success rate. Play it by the book and don’t take chances when it comes to the early season. One minor slip up is all it takes to turn a successful hunt into an oh-so-close encounter.
— Daniel E. Schmidt is Editor-in-Chief of Deer & Deer Hunting magazine and co-host of Deer & Deer Hunting TV.