The early season is one of those things you either love or hate. On the one hand, the early season months are very hot, the bugs are still out, and the deer hunting can be a little awkward if you don’t know how to go about it. But on the other hand, early season whitetail hunting can very productive if you know what the deer are up to and how to capitalize on that.
About Early Season Whitetails
In the late summer time period, the early season deer behavior is somewhat predictable (if you can ever say that about a wild deer). They are generally still in their summer patterns, which means that bucks are likely hanging out in bachelor groups and feeding on a regular evening schedule. They will also likely bed fairly close to food sources (i.e., row crop fields, clover plots, alfalfa hay fields, etc.), even within 100 yards. They probably form these groups as a form of predator detection (since they are more defenseless without their hardened antlers) and use it to sort out the local social hierarchy (without having to spar and injure one another, like they do during the pre-rut and rut).
As early fall (usually September) approaches, the daylight gets shorter and testosterone levels rise causing the bucks to disband from these bachelor groups. Once they break up, they start to utilize their individual home ranges more and change their movement patterns. This state of confusion is likely where you’ll catch them during the early season whitetail hunting time period. A good way to locate them again is to use trail cameras between heavy cover and food sources to find that hit list buck and where he is going. The trick here is to not check your cameras too frequently, as you don’t want to pressure the deer and have a buck stop using an area.
Best Locations for Early Season Whitetail Hunting
There’s one simple answer for how to hunt bucks in the early season: food. Although bucks have likely broken up their bachelor group, their daily schedule is still pretty consistently about food. You just need to find that food source and figure out the best way to hunt it. There are several common food sources you can depend on for early season deer hunting.
Clover Food Plots
In the early season, most of the green and lush plants of summer are dried out and turning yellow, which means they have lost a lot of their nutrition and water, and are more fibrous. Meanwhile, clover food plots are usually very lush and green still, which can make them really stand out to deer seeking the green forage. The best clover plots are often small ones (about 0.25 acre) tucked into field corners, where bucks feel like they can use it during daylight hours. Back Forty Seed Co.® has a great clover blend that will keep the deer coming back for more.
Natural Mast Trees
Oak acorns (especially white or bur oaks) and chestnuts are absolute magnets for deer once they start hitting the ground. Similarly, soft mast trees like apples, pears, and persimmons are highly sought after. The hard mast nuts are full of protein, carbs, and fat to provide a balanced and nutritious meal for deer, while the fruit species are loaded with sugar and carbs. If you find a group of oaks or a massively productive apple tree tucked into the woods somewhere, you can bet deer will be feeding there in the early season.
Agricultural fields can be hit or miss for early season whitetail hunting. If soybean fields are still green, they will be loaded with deer each night, but if they have already turned yellow and are drying out, the deer typically will stay away from them until the late season. Standing corn fields are still very attractive to deer as they provide some forage and are also prime bedding areas. The deer will really start to feed in them when they have been freshly harvested, but that won’t likely be for a few weeks.
To hunt ag fields effectively this time of year, you need to decide what your priority is. If you want to fill your freezer by hunting early season does, then setting up on the edge of the field is almost guaranteed to get a doe within range. But if you want a mature buck, you should tuck yourself back into the woods a bit (maybe 50 to 100 yards). Mature bucks start to wise up and get cautious this time of year and will let other deer come out and feed first. If you can access a stand along a deer trail back into the woods, you have a good chance of running into one of these mature bucks.
Although deer meet a lot of their water needs by eating lush green vegetation during the summer, that starts to disappear in early fall, which makes water sources very attractive. They’re especially critical in dry, hot weather since deer already have their winter coats and can overheat without water. Another good spot for water holes or even tubs dug into the ground are near food plots since deer naturally will seek water before and/or after they feed. This can be the extra attraction or distraction you need to keep a buck within bow range for a few more minutes.
Early Season Whitetail Hunting Tips
Now that you know what the whitetails are doing and some good hunting locations, let’s dive into some early season bow hunting tips. First, make sure you have the right early season bow hunting clothing that blends in well with the season and isn’t too warm. Badlands® has several early season clothing options for you that are great. You’ll also want to be careful with early season scouting. While it’s important to know where the deer are to inform your hunting strategy, you also don’t want to ruin your hunting area by suddenly putting all kinds of human scent out there and busting deer off the property. It’s important to use early season scent control clothing even when checking trail cams or scouting so you minimize your scent contamination. Try to scout from the road or other non-intrusive places using Vortex® optics to see where deer are feeding. Then while they are bedded during the day, slip in from the food side and see if you can find some clear deer trails.
Try to locate a rub line if you’re targeting mature bucks, because rubs made during the early deer season are generally made by mature deer. Pay attention to which side of the food the rubs are on. If the rubs are primarily on the opposite side of the food, you know they are making them in the afternoon on their way to the food source, which means it would be good to hunt that area in the afternoon. But if you find them on the food source side, they are likely making them in the morning on the way back to their beds, which means you should hunt in the morning.
Generally though, early season whitetail hunting is best in the evenings near food sources, as we mentioned above. This is good because it allows you to sneak in from the food source side and hang a stand within the woods a bit. Early season bow hunting stand placement is important because you don’t want to educate the deer before you can really start hunting them. You should be able to then catch a buck during daylight as he approaches the food. But remember that larger bucks usually let young ones feed before them, so don’t shoot the first buck that comes through! Make sure to use an Ozonics® unit so your hunting area stays as scent-free as possible. After shooting hours, make sure you have a way to leave the woods without going back towards the food source. If you do that, you will bump all the deer off the field and likely spook bucks from using that pattern again.
Hunting early season whitetails is a lot of fun if done correctly. Besides the rut, there’s probably no better time to take a mature buck. Get out there and make it happen.
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