By Bernie Barringer
The month of September means archery deer seasons are opening across North America. From September 1 until the end of the month, new seasons are coming in every week. But a surprisingly few hunters take advantage of these early hunting opportunities. If you are one that has been missing out, consider this your wake up call.
The earliest days of the hunting season are some of the best days to catch a mature buck totally unaware. As the season moves on, bucks are apt to see a new treestand, smell some human scent where they haven't smelled it since last season, see some trimmed shooting lanes and get bumped from their beds. Any of these things will trigger them to change their patterns.
Here are eight tips for getting out there and taking advantage of the early season opportunities.
Lay Eyes on Them
The last days of summer into the early fall is one of the best times of the year to get a good look at a buck in person. The use of a spotting scope or a good pair of binoculars while observing feeding areas during the last hour of the long daylight hours can give you lots of clues as to where the deer are feeding and entering the fields.
Find a high vantage point where you can overlook alfalfa, soybeans or other crop fields where the groups of bucks are feeding and pay special attention to where they enter the field based on wind direction. This information will be very valuable when it comes to setting up stands.
Get Your Cameras Working
There is no way to overestimate the value of getting photos of bucks with time and date stamps on them. They show you what time the buck was in the area and which direction he was moving. Combine that with the weather and wind conditions at the time and you have valuable clues to his daily habits.
The value of using cameras is huge, but the potential for tipping the buck off is just as big if you do not choose carefully the times you will put them out and check them. Avoid allowing your scent to blow into an area where the buck may be, never check a camera at a time when you may spook the buck and use some spray to reduce your scent impact.
I watch the weather radar and take advantage of incoming rain to get the cameras out and check the cards, trying to do so right before a rain really helps reduce potentially damaging human scent intrusion.
Hang Stands in Secret
Speaking of watching the weather, the clandestine hanging of treestands can be enhanced by getting out in the woods and doing the job right before a rain as well. If you don't have that opportunity, spray down and get in and out quickly. Two people can do it far faster than one, but keep a low profile and clean up after yourself. Try to avoid too much obvious cutting and move the trimmings off to the side at least 20 yards.
In some situations, you'll want to hang two stands close together to take advantage of varying wind directions. I have hung stands as close as 20 feet apart when bucks are using the same trail with more than one wind pattern.
Utilize Observation Stands
I define an observation stand as one that allows you to see a large area when in the stand. I use these often on DIY road trips when I am scouting as I hunt. The odds of shooting a buck out of an observation stand may not be high, but it can allow me to observe an entire field in order to make a better decision about where to move in for a more precise attack.
Don't Overlook the Importance of Water
In hot, dry weather, a buck's first stop may not be the edge of a crop field, it may be at a secluded waterhole or creek between the bedding and feeding areas. These are excellent places to waylay the buck well before dark.
Follow trails back from the feeding areas to where they cross a creek and set up there. If you know of a waterhole surrounded by goo cover where the deer can feed without exposing themselves, get a stand on it, or at least a camera. Tracks — or a lack of them — will tell you how much use the water is getting.
Hunt the Staging Areas
While your observation stands on the edge of the field may help you learn more about deer movement patterns, the most likely place to kill a mature buck is just off the field. While does and smaller bucks may arrive and move into the open well before dark, the bigger bucks are likely to hang back and observe the deer in the field for a while, only entering during the final minutes of daylight when the indications from the deer already in the field show that things are safe.
These staging areas will be from 10-30 yards back off the edge of the field and be characterized by rubs clusters of tracks and nibbled brush. Set up downwind of these areas and you're more likely to shoot a buck there as the days get shorter and shorter.
Like staging areas, some bucks will pace back and forth inside the cover along the edge of the field for a while before exposing themselves in the open. These trails can be on any side of a field, but are most commonly found on the downwind side of prevailing winds. You will not find stomped down muddy trails, as these are indistinct and difficult to locate. With some work you can recognize them.
Be Aggressive and Stay Mobile
Things are changing by the day as the testosterone ramps up in the bucks' systems. When the velvet comes off things begin to change. Patterns begin to break down and bachelor groups begin to break up after the first of September. You must move fast and aggressively to take advantage of this short window of opportunity. Move quickly when you see changes and stay on top of the patterns day by day and you will have a chance to put your tag on a nice buck while others are still dreaming of November.