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How to Turn Summer Intel into Successful September Results

Scouting summer feeding sites and travel corridors will help you make a habit out of tagging early-season whitetails.

How to Turn Summer Intel into Successful September Results

In early season, look to find mature bucks on the move between bedding areas and preferred food sources. Morning and evening daylight activity of shooter-class bucks will vary throughout the country, but you can bet that all deer will be traveling daily in search of food and water. Photo by Rick Small

I’m going to be very honest here. I’ve been extremely blessed in that, during my years as a bowhunter, I’ve had more than a fair share of success on trophy whitetails during the early season period. Along those lines, I well remember my good friend and long-time hunting partner, Stan Potts, once tagging me with the nickname, “The Velvet Master.” I’m assuming it’s because I’d arrowed several velvet-antlered whitetails while he and I were hunting together years ago. I truly believe my success on early season bucks can be traced back to something I learned long ago. That being, a person needs to gather as much information as possible regarding the travel routes and feeding patterns of the whitetails they’ll be pursuing once archery season opens.

And speaking of this, I’d like to add that my initial successes on early season bucks took place well before scouting cameras arrived on the scene — which meant I had to spend a fair amount of time personally studying the deer I’d targeted. Interestingly, this entailed doing a lot of long-range observation of my hunting areas in an attempt to zero in on the most preferred feeding areas, and also the exact routes the resident bucks were using to access those feeding areas. Just as importantly, I knew that if I could find preferred feeding areas, I stood a very good chance of finding early season bucks. I should add, however, that there often was a difference between finding feeding areas that the general deer herd was frequenting, and pinpointing feeding areas that mature bucks were utilizing. But, there also were times when I’d find mature bucks feeding right alongside does, fawns and immature bucks.

CASE IN POINT

I well remember a South Dakota whitetail I arrowed on opening weekend of the state’s archery season. My good friend and longtime videographer, Matt Tande, had accompanied me on the hunt. And since neither of us had ever set foot on the property before, we decided to spend the first evening sitting back and observing deer movement. That decision proved to be very wise.

The ranch we were hunting was a couple thousand acres in size and boasted a lot of pasture ground and open cropland, which consisted primarily of huge wheat fields that had recently been harvested. But most interestingly, as the landowner was giving us a personal tour around his property, we happened to notice a small and very lush alfalfa field located just a couple hundred yards from his homestead. The field was bordered on its west side by a wide and very thick shelter belt. I just had a strong gut feeling that the shelter belt might well be serving as a major bedding area for some resident whitetails.

Long story short, Matt and I decided to spend opening evening of the archery season sitting back a safe distance and watching the field. It turned out to be a very wise decision, as a number of deer exited the shelter belt well before dark to feed on the alfalfa. And then, approximately 30 minutes before dark, a shooter buck made an appearance. With no other options at our disposal, Matt and I hurriedly came up with a game plan to attempt to sneak within bow range of the big deer. Thanks to some farming equipment that was parked in strategic positions, we managed to close the distance to right around 40 yards. My arrow found its mark, and our hunt was over.

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Thanks to the perfect location of some farming equipment, Miller was able to stalk to within 40 yards of this hog-bodied South Dakota buck. Photo courtesy of Greg Miller

That unique-looking South Dakota whitetail is one of my more special trophies. While his rack couldn’t be considered huge, it’s more unique looking than a lot of the mature whitetails I’ve taken over the years. And the buck’s body size could most accurately be described with one word—HUGE! However, the fact that we’d been able to sneak within bow range of the mature whitetail is what made the hunt extra special.

ADAPTING TO THE ENVIRONMENT

As I quickly learned, there’s a vast difference between the topography and overall makeup of the country in west-central Wisconsin (and most other midwestern states), and the topography and overall makeup of the country in places like western South Dakota, western North Dakota, northeast Wyoming, southeast Montana, western Kansas, central Nebraska, western Illinois, and so on. Also, as many of you reading this already well know, whitetails often relate to different environments in very different ways. It’s also a fact that whitetails residing in different parts of the country often display totally different behavior patterns. And the most interesting aspect of their behavior concerns the amount of daylight buck activity I was seeing on my out-of-state hunts. Put simply, it sometimes bordered on being unbelievable!

But it didn’t take long for me to figure out why mature bucks were so much more daylight active on other lands. And the main reason was that the deer in those places hadn’t experienced anywhere near the amount of pressure our Wisconsin whitetails had been subjected to for years and years.

I’ll never forget an early season North Dakota bowhunt from some time back. My good friend, Scott Swanson, had secured a great chunk of property in the western part of the state, and he’d asked me if I’d be interested in joining him for a hunt sometime in early September. I immediately said: “Absolutely!” Now, I should point out that this was a 100 percent do-it-ourselves situation. Thankfully, the guy we’d be hunting with owned close to 1,000 acres of property, which meant we’d have a lot of room to roam and, hopefully, be able to pinpoint the location of several shooter-size bucks.




My cameraman at the time, Lance Tangen, and I had just ended a successful early season hunt in northeast Wyoming. We’d arrived at our North Dakota destination a couple hours before sunset, and the landowner offered to take us for a quick tour of his property. I’d guess there was maybe 30 minutes of daylight remaining when we finally returned to his ranch.

Anyway, just as he was about to turn into his driveway, I happened to glance at a very lush alfalfa field located directly across the road. I immediately noticed that several deer were already feeding in the field. As you might expect, the first thing I did was to ask him who owned the field. I’m sure you can imagine my joy when he replied, “I own the field, and the brushy creek bottom that borders it on the west side. It seems there’s always some good bucks hanging around the field, but there are only a few trees big enough for your stands, and they’re on that fence line on the east side of the field. Those trees are quite a way from the creek bottom where they’re bedding, but it might be worth it to set up there initially.”

Based on the landowner’s advice, Lance and I did put our stands in one of those larger trees. And as it just so happened, I did end up arrowing a somewhat atypical and gorgeous 10-pointer the very first time we hunted from that position.

Recommended


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The author arrowed this early season North Dakota whitetail back in the mid-2000’s. He’d spotted the buck feeding in an alfalfa eld the previous day, and then put together a game plan for setting up on him. Photo courtesy of Greg Miller

The buck had followed several antlerless deer out of the creek bottom while the sun was still up, and then had fed with those antlerless deer to within 15 yards of our stand site. I put a good hit on the big whitetail, and he just barely made it back to the creek bottom before tipping over. It was one of the coolest and most rewarding early season bowhunts of my career!

LET’S TRY SOUTH DAKOTA

Not long after my initial early season hunts in North Dakota, I began to learn about the potential of South Dakota’s West River district as a hot spot for trophy whitetails. And as it so happened, I had a couple good friends from that area who were just starting out in the trophy whitetail outfitting business. Those men’s names are Pat and Branden West. Back in those days, the South Dakota archery deer season opened somewhere around the third weekend of September. So, I knew right out of the gate that I most likely needed to concentrate my hunting efforts around primary feeding areas. Almost equally important were areas where whitetails had access to water.

As luck would have it, Pat and Branden had been running some scouting cameras near a large alfalfa field located near the edge of some thick river bottom cover. Over the past month, those cameras had been capturing photos of several good bucks, including one that really piqued my interest. The deer’s rack had a big 10-point main frame that also sported matching double sticker points off both his antler bases. He was just a really cool-looking deer, and one I desperately wanted to get an up close and personal look at.

Anyway, after taking a walk around the area during a midday scouting trip, cameraman Brach Pulver and I decided to hang our stands in a tree situated on the edge of a good-sized stand of thick cover. As an added bonus, our position would also give us a great view of the alfalfa field once daylight arrived. Because of the sensitive location of the stand site, Brach and I knew we had to sneak into the area a good half-hour before daylight the next morning. To our surprise and delight, we managed to climb into the tree stands and get our equipment organized without spooking any deer. And then we patiently waited for daylight.

As soon as there was enough light to see well, I picked up my binoculars to scan the alfalfa field, which was located a couple hundred yards to the north of our position. A brief look showed me that a number of smaller bucks, quite a few antlerless deer, and what I considered to be no less than four shooter-size bucks were feeding in the field. And just a few minutes later, a couple of those bucks began to slowly make their way in our direction. After having concerns that the two whitetails were going to walk into the river bottom cover just out of bow range to the east of our position, Brach and I got a pleasant surprise. Both bucks turned and headed down a field road that passed 15 yards in front of our stand site. While I considered both of the whitetails to be shooters, I’d already made up my mind to hold out for the larger of the two.

As one might imagine, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the lead buck, a legitimate mid-130’s 8-point, cruised right on by us with zero concern. And an instant later, the buck I’d targeted was slowly walking directly in front of us. I voice-grunted him to a stop, and the rest, as they say, was history. The buck remains one of my more special archery kills.

HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE

Without doubt one of my most memorable early season bowhunts took place in my home state of Wisconsin. Over the span of two years, I’d been capturing scouting cam pics of a 10-point buck that was spending a lot of time on a chunk of ground I was leasing. While I’d decided to give the buck a “free pass” the first year I discovered his whereabouts, he was immediately put on my hit list when I started getting photos of him the next year. Making matters even better, a number of those photos confirmed that he might be susceptible to an early season ambush.

Long story short, I ended up arrowing the big 10-point when he wandered to within 15 yards of my stand site the second evening of my home state’s archery season. It was one of my most rewarding hunting experiences, as my son, Jake, was in the tree with me that day and captured the encounter on film.

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While the author is appreciative of all his early season achievements, this big Wisconsin whitetail remains one his favorites, as he arrowed the buck during opening weekend of his home state’s archery season. Photo courtesy of Greg Miller

If there’s one theme that has remained constant throughout this entire article about taking early season whitetails, it’s “find the food, and you’ll find the deer.” That theme remains a constant, regardless of where you’re pursuing trophy bucks.

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