Maybe this will be the year I shoot a buck on opening day of the archery season. I've been saying that for a couple decades but so far, it has never happened.
I've come close, having filled my tag on the third or fourth day of the season a couple times, but never on opening day. Partly, it's because I refuse to make a move on a favorite stand location until the conditions are right, and partly because no matter how much you pattern a buck, he rarely does exactly the same thing every single day leading up to the early season.
I have found, however, that there are several things I can do to improve my chances for early season success by following a strict set of guidelines for locating bucks prior to the season. Without question, bucks are at their most visible during the month of August and here's how I take advantage of it.
I'll give you three reasons the bucks are so visible during the month of August. One, the food is right there and they are getting hungry while the daylight hours are still long. They are compelled to move out into alfalfa, clover and soybeans fields to feed before it gets dark.
Secondly, they feel little to no pressure from hunters while the living is easy. They let their guard down and appear during daylight.
This begins to change around the first of September when the velvet comes off and the testosterone begins to flow. Over the month of September, they become more cautious with each passing week.
The third reason these bucks are found out in the open during daylight is one you probably haven't thought of: Bugs. Deer flies, gnats, mosquitoes and black flies that torment the deer during the summer can be escaped by getting out in the open where there's a little breeze. Bothered by bugs, they move into the open many times before they would like.
For these reasons, August is a great month to get in a blind, on a high point of a road or a hilltop and camp out with a spotting scope. You can glass surrounding fields and take an inventory of the bucks in the area, and you can spot their patterns and preferences. Take note of wind directions and sky conditions when you see them enter the fields. They prefer certain paths with certain wind directions and they will often change if the sky is clear and the sun is low versus overcast conditions.
Tracks & Trails
Once you find the areas the bucks prefer to enter the fields, it's time to scout it out. I spray Scent Killer to reduce my scent intrusion on the lower half of my body, anything that might contact the ground or brush before walking through these areas.
Additionally, I like to scout right before a rain whenever possible. I observe tracks on the edges of fields and I will follow trails by walking along them on the downwind side. It's important to determine where the deer are coming from, this is critical information you will need when you set your stands up for the various wind directions.
Find the Water
During the late summer, bucks need water every day. Small secluded ponds on their way to the fields can be some of the most dynamic areas for deer activity in the evening. These are rare, but if you find one, they can be golden for years of good hunting.
They may even bed in swamps and lowlands so they have water available to them during the day. Cool, low-lying areas are deer magnets for bedding during the month of August. Often the deer will cross a small creek or drainage ditch on their way to feed, these should also be checked. These should be covered with a scouting camera.
Speaking of scouting cameras, they are some of the best information-gathering tools you will find for patterning deer. They not only give you a good look at the buck so you can identify them and learn them for sight, but they offer you important clues as to where and when they move. Scouting cameras should be placed on the water, on well-worn trails and on the fields themselves.
I like to take one camera and place it well up off the ground, 10 feet or so, where it can cover much of the feeding area. I will carry in one climbing stick and mount the camera then take the stick back out with me.
Resist the temptation to check the cameras too often. Every time you do, you leave signs of your presence and risk spooking deer. Check the cameras at midday and no more than once every week to ten days.
Find the Staging Areas
By the time the first of September rolls around, the bucks are becoming more cautious. They will often hang up just off the field and observe the behaviors of the does and younger bucks who are already in the field, or scent check the field if the wind permits. These hangouts are excellent places to set up your ambush.
Get your treestands in place as early as possible and use the weather to your advantage. Just as in scouting and checking cameras, I like to hang stands right before a rain comes in. Get a good weather app with radar and watch for the right time.
Once you have a couple bucks sighted and have some good information about how they are using the terrain, water and food, opening day arrives. You can't wait to get into the stand. Be patient and wait for the exact right wind and weather conditions. You may only get one chance, so make it count.