Bag him before the first frost
Sure, hunting is more pleasant in October — but the deer are smarter
Bowhunting during the first few days of the archery deer season, which opens 30 minutes before sunrise Sept.15, is usually excellent. Not only will you typically see quite a few deer from your stand during that first week or two of the season, but there is a very good chance that some of those deer will make the mistake of wandering within bow range.
What makes the early season so good is the fact that deer have not been hunted for the past nine months, and they have let their guard down. The deer have become accustomed to the good life, which in the whitetail’s world means, eat, bed down and chew your cud, eat again, lay around and chew your cud some more, get up, grab a quick drink, eat again — you get the idea. The whitetail’s world revolves around food, and at no other time is good food as easy to get to as it is during those first few days of the archery season. Which is why you want to concentrate your efforts on hunting near the best food sources.
Most years, I would suggest concentrating your early season efforts near soybean fields, because deer feed very heavily on the new growth on the tops of the soybean plants during that first week to 10 days of the season.
But this is not most years. Probably because of the dry conditions through much of the growing season, soybeans have matured earlier than normal. You can tell, because the plants turn yellow when they are done growing. Drive around out in the country and you will see a lot of yellow soybean fields.
When the plants quit growing, the deer will still do some feeding in the soybean fields, but nothing like they did when the plants were green and growing. That is why hunters with their own land often plant food plots to soybeans in mid-June or even July, so that their food plots are still young and attractive to the deer when the season opens.
Unless you have such a plot, your best bet is to find a soybean field which was planted late. If that isn’t an option, check out the alfalfa fields. Many deer will change over to alfalfa for their primary food source when the soybeans mature, and if you have an alfalfa field in proximity to a soybean field in which the deer were feeding, that is the first place I would look.
If deer are not hitting the alfalfa fields, the next place to look is under the oak tree‚s. White oaks, to be specific. Whitetail deer will eat any acorn, but they prefer the acorn of the white oak to all others. White oaks have rounded lobes on the leaves, while red oaks, the other predominant oak species in our area have pointed lobes.
From what I have seen this summer there is a good acorn crop over much of our area. Some of these acorns will be hitting the ground when the season opens. It takes some detective work to determine if deer are feeding on acorns, but the time spent deciphering that information is well-spent. Look for tracks, droppings and cracked or broken caps under individual oaks. Use binoculars to search the branches of the tree to insure that there are still plenty of acorns left to fall. The nice thing about hunting the oaks is that these stand sites are equally good morning and evening.
Normally I hunt over waterholes quite often during the early season, but I won’t waste my time there this year. After the heavy rains of Aug 18-19, there are just too many places for deer to drink. When deer have so many places to choose from, your odds of picking the right pond, creek or puddle are fairly remote.
And those same puddles have quickly become prolific breeding grounds for mosquitoes. If you have been out in the woods hanging stands the last couple of weeks, you know what I’m talking about. Barring an early hard frost, you can figure on having to deal with more skeeters than usual during the early weeks of this year’s bow season.
The best remedy I have found is a Bug Out suit. If you don’t want to spring for the entire suit, buy the hood, gloves and gaiters and use duct tape to secure the gloves to your shirt sleeves and the gaiters to your pant cuffs. The constant buzzing around your ears will still be an irritant, but at least the little buggers won’t be feasting on your blood while you wait for that first whitetail of the season to make a mistake.
Gary Clancy has been a full-time freelance outdoor writer for 25 years. He writes for many national publications, is a long-standing columnist for the Outdoor News and has written eight books. To order autographed copies of his books, go to www.garyclancy.com.