Early-Season Whitetail Hunting Tactics
Author: Chad Jones
The time of year that whitetail hunters have been waiting for is finally here! Although, you may be chomping at the bit for that opening day sit, you also don’t want to ruin a great opportunity at tagging an early season buck by hunting at an inopportune time and place. Below are my tactics for increasing your odds.
I believe pre season scouting is one of the MOST critical parts of being successful during early season. I look at it this way; “don’t show up the day of the test and expect to be successful if you haven’t studied at all”.
Where to start?
- Map it out - A good starting point is to map out your hunting area. Make notes of potential food sources, water sources, bedding cover, funnels, pinch points, fence crossings, river crossings, and terrain features that funnel or dictate movement.
- Boots-on-the-ground - Boots-on-the-ground scouting is the next step, because what may appear to be a point of interest on an aerial map may not be the reality once you physically see it. So get out there and get the intel that you need to either mark areas off of your list or potentially add some that you discover in the field.
- Understand the property - Look at the cover as it exists now and where are the deer hiding. What does the entire property offer the deer, regarding food? You can’t know everything just from walking the woods in the summer, but you can start to build a real understanding of a property and how the deer are using it. The goal is to learn everything you can about what the deer are doing now and not waiting until opening morning.
Get Intel and Develop a Plan
Once you’ve identified multiple food and water sources, now is the time to put out some trail cameras to capture what bucks are in the area especially while still in bachelor groups. I prefer using cellular cameras to give me instant feedback of what is roaming out there and when.
What to do when you find a pattern?
- Where can you put a stand? - Once a pattern reveals itself, look for setup locations along the travel route that will stack the odds in your favor (such as a terrain feature that funnels movement to a spot that won’t allow them to catch your wind).
- What are the access points? - When trying to find a stand location, always look at all of the possible access points to the property if you are hunting public land because you don’t want the first thing that you see opening morning is another hunter walking beside you because you set up near an access route.
- Have more than one stand - When putting together your plan, it’s imperative to have multiple stand options for differing wind directions. You might only have a couple days before the buck changes his pattern, so ideally you’ll have different setups for differing wind directions or if another hunter is also hunting the same area as you, you will have a plan B.
Put your Plan in Action
After studying the deer movement and identifying ideal stand locations, it’s time to execute your plan. In the early-season, bucks are sometimes on a fairly predictable pattern and they have their guard down more than any other time for the remainder of the season besides the rut. The first week of the season is probably the best time to kill a good whitetail, until the rut arrives. Below are the key factors that I use to increase my odds of tagging an early season buck.
- Hunt Food - I recommend hunting over food sources during early season as deer have to eat and you may be able to capitalize before the hunting pressure affects the deer herd. Ag fields or food plots are ideal to hunt if available but if you are hunting public land, find oak trees that are dropping acorns and get set up.
- Hunt Afternoons - hunting afternoons allows you to quietly set your tree stand up the day of your hunt, the deer shouldn’t notice your presence until it’s too late. The reason that I don’t recommend hunting mornings is because you would be trying to set up your stand in the dark and more than likely you will spook the deer that are on their way back to bed or still feeding on the food source that you are setting up next to. Morning hunts just have a much bigger risk of making the deer aware that you are around, and that is exactly what you need to try and avoid.
- Hunt the BEST Days – Don’t just go sit because you just want to get out in the woods. Hunting more does not always mean more changes to kill a buck. Pick days that will generate better deer movement such as a cool front, right after heavy storms, high barometric pressure days, or the first calm day after having multiple days of high winds. You want to make sure if you are going to go in and hunt your perfect stand then you need have weather conditions that help increase your odds of seeing a shooter on its feet. If you just go hunt everyday you may be lucky and get an opportunity to fill your tag but you also run the risk of burning out a perfect stand location, with getting your scent in the area constantly and slowly educating the deer. Once a mature bucks sense that pressure they will go nocturnal quickly and that is never good!
I hope you guys can take some of my tactics for early season and make good use of it this year. Good luck out there!