Tried and Proven Opening Day Strategies
September 06, 2016
Many states offer early bowhunting season openers. This is a chance to tag a buck in velvet or take an additional whitetail before the season opens in your home state.
More than a dozen states have archery seasons that begin either on September 1st or the Saturday closest to September 1st. These early bow openers offer whitetail enthusiasts an amazing opportunity to tag a buck long before hunters in other states even have their hunting gear unpacked.
But these early season hunts come with a price to pay. To be successful, you must hunt aggressively, hunt with a sense of urgency, and drop everything else to make hunting the first couple weeks of September a top priority. Here's why.
Around the first of September, changes are taking place in the bucks' body as testosterone increases. The velvet is being torn off and the bucks are no longer as social. Bachelor groups begin to break up and the bucks become more nocturnal as the month of September wears on.
Secondly, food sources are changing as the acorns drop and the soybeans and alfalfa on which these bucks have been feeding matures or is cut. Those late summer visible patterns where you see bucks out in the fields well before dark are falling apart by the day.
And third, these bucks are beginning to feel hunting pressure, which will cause them to alter their patterns.
They see a stand hung, some brush trimmed and they smell fresh human scent where they haven't smelled it since last hunting season. Mature bucks in particular waste no time in responding to hunting pressure and changing their patterns.
These three factors add up to one thing for hunters: you must act quickly but with precision during the first weeks of the season. Here are some ways to make the most of it.
Killing a buck during the first days of the season is often the result of making the right moves before the season even starts. It's one thing to sit in your truck with a window-mounted spotting scope enjoying the view as the buck of your dreams fields in broad daylight.
It's another thing entirely to carefully observe where he enters the field and how he alters this pattern based on wind direction and weather conditions.
Each buck is an individual, and the more you know about him the better. Some like to enter the field through a ditch or low spot and others prefer to enter the field where they can see their surroundings well. Some do not like to move with the low sun in their eyes and they will enter the field with a different approach when it's overcast.
Use those scouting cameras effectively. Get them in the staging areas, along the trails and at any point the deer tend to access their feeding areas. Use Scent Killer to reduce your scent impact and if possible, check the cameras during or just prior to a rain.
Also pay special attention to which bucks hang out together. Often you will see 2-4 bucks that seem to be together a lot. If you only see some of them that day, the others are likely in the area, but reacted to some environmental factor. You may be able to figure out what that factor is and learn from it. Take note of all these tendencies; they will be invaluable when the season opens and you are ready to hunt.
Hang Multiple Stands
Because you have such a short time to make things happen, you need to hunt every day you can. Take off early from work, cancel an appointment, do whatever it takes to hunt as often as possible. It's nice to be patient and wait for just the right wind, but that may not be an option as the habits of these deer change as the days tick away.
For this reason, it's a good idea to have a backup stand in place at your best locations. Hanging two stands only a few yards apart seems like overkill to many hunters, but it might just be the ticket to hunting on a day when the wind direction would otherwise cause you to stay home.
Hunt the Staging Areas
Like most hunters, when I determined where the deer were entering a field, I put my stands right on the edge of the field. I like to be able to see a large area and observe deer activity. But over time, I have found that most bucks prefer to hang out back off the field before entering. Some will stage 15-40 yards back into the timber for a while before exposing themselves at last light.
Sometimes they will hang out until full dark to come to the edge of the field which puts you in a bad spot, not only do you go home without a shot opportunity, but you may well spook the bucks upon your exit, which will most likely make them change food sources. Better to hang a stand back in their late-day hangouts.
The mature bucks will occasionally move to where they can observe the behavior of the does and small bucks in the field. Once they feel all is clear, only then will they commit. In the right situation, faint trails will develop where they pace the edges of the openings, and these trails that parallel the field edge can be dynamite when you find them.
Any time you can get above the sight and smell of a deer, you have some advantage, but sometimes there simply isn't the right tree in the right place so a treestand isn't an option.
Ground blinds can work in these scenarios, but make sure you have them in place at least a week before you plan to hunt. A new structure such as a ground blind can freak the deer out for a couple days and it takes time for them to get accustomed to them, even if they are well blended.
Or you can get really offbeat and just plop down on a bucket behind a small blind of branches. I killed one of my best bucks that way many years ago, but it wasn't nearly as big as the 195-inch velvet buck Tim Young killed in Kentucky during 2014.
He travelled from his home in Iowa for the early Kentucky bow season during the first week of September. He watched the giant buck for two nights before making his move. Sneaking out the edge of the field, he sat himself down on a small folding chair and surrounded himself with brush trimmings. The giant buck came through right on cue and Tim took home the buck of a lifetime.
To be successful during the first days of early bow seasons, you must be willing to make hunting your priority, scout the deer well and strike aggressively when the conditions are right. Always have the mindset that today is your best chance to shore and tomorrow it will be a little harder. This will motivate you and hopefully lead you to your next or your biggest buck.