Beat the Heat for Early Bucks

Understanding how hot weather affects both deer and hunters can help you find more deer in the early part of bow season.

The first week of bow season had been typical - in fact, too typical. The temperature had been as high as the mid-80s during the day and had only cooled off at night a few degrees. But the day was Friday, and after refraining from venturing into the woods all week because of the weather, I had decided to go afield after work.

I arrived at a farm where I had permission to hunt around 4:30, and by 4:50 I had positioned my portable in an oak at the edge of a pasture. I figured I would have to wait several hours until near sundown before I would see any deer. Yet at 5:05 two does appeared and a minute later a nice 7-point came trotting down the trail and toward my stand. Thirty minutes later, I affixed my tag to the buck.

Bowhunting in the heat is something bowhunters have to become used to if they don't want to give up a good part of the early season. Early-season hunts require some strategies we can implement to succeed when the temperatures are far better for sunbathing than stick-and-stringing.

HOW HEAT AFFECTS DEER MOVEMENTS

The most important thing to remember when bowhunting in sultry conditions is that although the weather may alter or delay when and where deer move, it will not totally eliminate the need deer have to travel at least short distances as they forage. Since deer are wild animals that have to eat to survive, sooner or later every evening and morning they will have to move to find food.

But make no mistake, deer do not like overly warm weather during the early bow season. Once they shed their summer coats, whitetails are physically prepared for colder weather, even if the weather is still hot. The more they move, the less comfortable they are, so they tend to arrange their patterns so that they don't have to move any more than is absolutely necessary. The most important constant that I have observed when hunting in the heat is that deer bed very close to food sources.

For example, during the hunt that I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I situated a stand at the edge of a field because my home area that year had experienced a near-total hard mast crop failure. The various white and red oak species had all failed to produce mast, and very little existed for the deer and other game and non-game animals to eat in the forest.

Time after time that season, I noted deer streaming into the fields every evening. I also learned that the deer were bedding down anywhere from 25 to 75 yards inside the woods from the fields. The exact distance often depended on how far thick cover was from those fields. Of course, this knowledge did not become apparent until I had spooked a number of these bedded whitetails when I was walking to or climbing into my stand.

Hunters can take advantage of this tendency for deer to bed near fields when the mast is scarce and the weather is warm. Don't make the mistake, as I did at first, of hunting just any transition zone between field and woods. Make sure that the deer have a secure place to bed far enough away from your stand so that they won't see you entering the area or climbing into your stand.

Although evening hunts can be quite productive during the no-mast/hot-weather scenario depicted above, morning hunts are more problematic. Quite frankly, I have a great deal of difficulty entering my stand area then because the deer are either in the fields or just inside the woods line.

During an average year the mast crop is, of course, average. That means some areas will have considerable amounts of acorns while other locales will generally be lacking in hard mast. Once again, deer will bed very close to these food sources when the weather is unseasonably sultry.

In those years, I have found evening hunts to be quite frustrating because of the difficulty of quietly making my way through the woods to producing oak groves. Most of the time I have alerted deer to my coming, thus ruining my hunt before it even started.

The best bet for the spotty mast crops and hot-weather hunting is to locate hard mast in areas that can be accessed quickly and quietly both in the dark and in the evening. These areas include logging roads that run by oak groves, acorn-producing oaks that border fields and heavily bearing hardwoods that are situated near streams. The noise of the running water can mask a hunter's approach. Use topo maps to learn the location of logging roads and streams. Maps can also aid you in finding potential bedding areas.

While on the subject of water, I have not found that positioning stands near ponds, spring seeps or running water of any kind improves my chances of seeing or killing a deer when the weather is hot. The logical thing to do, or so it would seem, would be to set up near water under such conditions. I have no scientific explanation for why hunting near water has not been productive. The deer seem to be able to gain sufficient moisture from the foods they eat during the early season to preclude them from visiting water sources anymore than they do when the weather is more seasonable.

The third scenario, heavy mast production/hot weather, is without a doubt the most difficult to deal with. Not only do the deer not move very often because of the heat, but they also only have to travel short distances when they do so because of the abundance of food. Deer sightings are quite low in years such as these, and the bow harvest tends to plummet.

The only way to cope with the above scenario is to become a run-and-gun bowhunter. Look for the most recently fallen acorns that you can find, and put up your stands there. If you see no deer the first time you hunt an area, move on to another locale the next time out. Don't erect a stand somewhere because you have had success there in years past. In short, keep on the move, don't be loyal to past stand sites and always look for fresh droppings, recently gnawed acorn shells and newly fallen acorns.

SCENT CONTROL: A REAL MUST

Scent control is a major problem when hunting in the heat. Many if not most bowhunters do an excellent job of washing their clothes in soda or in unscented detergent, storing them in airtight containers and spraying themselves with odor eliminators, more accurately called odor reducers, when they go afield. As important as all those acts are, they are not enough in hot weather.

For example, in the successful hunt mentioned earlier, by the time I had walked to my stand and positioned my portable, I was sweating profusely - although only 20 minutes had elapsed from the time I got out of my vehicle. As soon as I clambered into my stand, I sprayed myself all over with a natural-smelling liquid spray scent. Since I was in an oak tree, I then applied one of the commercial oak cover scents to my clothes. I paid special attention to administer these two concoctions to my head, underarm and groin areas. Before I was finished, my entire body had been covered with the two cover scents, even though I had sprayed myself with both of them when I left the car.

I really believe that this attention to scent control is not excessive and very much necessary for hunting success when afield during hot weather. Throughout a warm evening on stand, I periodically reapply natural and oak cover scents. If you are not hunting in an oak grove, try cover scents that imitate the smell of pines, apples, corn or cedars, depending on the type of habitat you are hunting.

Another way you can keep your body odor under control in hot weather is to wear a backpack with fresh hunting clothes inside. Then when you arrive at your stand, you can exchange your sweaty garb for clean outerwear. Yet another precaution concerns wearing one of the charcoal-based liner suits that are available. Over that suit, don pants and a lightweight long-sleeved shirt. Some hunters like to combat the heat by wearing mesh clothing while others claim that such clothing allows too much of their body odor to escape into the air. Finally, don't wear hunting clothes that are all or mostly cotton. Cotton clothing is very poor at wicking moisture away from your skin.

USING SEX ATTRACTANTS IN THE HEAT: PROS AND CONS

Quite honestly, I don't know whether or not to use any of the various doe-in-heat concoctions during the heat of the early season. I once interviewed two individuals involved in the commercial attractant scent market, and the two men expressed strong disagreements on this topic. One stated conclusively that estrous doe scent was not naturally to be found in the woods of early autumn, especially when the weather was unseasonably hot. He claimed that putting out scent trails or canisters of the stuff then could warn a buck that something was amiss. The more I listened to this gentleman expound on the topic, the more I was convinced he was right.

Then I heard the other gent explain his reasons for laying down a doe-in-heat scent trail in warm weather. He said that bucks are physically able to mate and more than willing to do so any time after they lose velvet. When a buck detects a whiff of a hot doe in hot weather, this man continued, that buck is not going to stop and reason out that it is illogical for a doe to be in that condition. He will search for the source of that scent, and he may just present a shot. After that gentleman's presentation, I saw the logic in what he had said.

Again, I don't know which school of thought is correct. I have experimented with putting out doe-in-heat scent in the early season but have come to no conclusions. Several times, I have seen 1 1/2-year-old spikes and 4-pointers following does during the early season when the weather was overly warm, but I have never observed a mature buck doing so. Doubtless, though, other hunters have.

HOT WEATHER CALLING

Although there may be no conventional wisdom to espouse on the effectiveness of doe-in-heat scents in warm weather, many hunters, this writer included, employ various deer calls early in the season. I have used the doe bleat call several times to lure whitetails in, arrowing a nice doe on opening day several years ago, for example, shortly after emitting the sound. Does especially will investigate a bleat, but my experience is that bucks are much less likely to heed the call early in the season, which leads to the next point.

Open any hunting magazine and chances are that most of the articles about deer hunting will be explaining to the reader how to kill a big buck. Although a few hunters do arrow mountable deer during the heat of the early season, obviously most of us do not. Indeed, the heat of the early fall is probably the worst time during the entire deer season to harvest a broadbeam. Since much if not most of the region has an overabundance of whitetails, the early season is a great time to do our part to reduce herd numbers, as well as put venison in the freezer for the winter. And a doe bleat sound is a super one to imitate to draw in those females.

Several other calls that are options are the fawn bleat and fawn distress sounds. If I have been on a stand for several hours with no deer sightings, I like to employ a fawn bleat call. Mature does especially are very much attracted to this call.

The use of the fawn distress call is not so clear-cut. One call manufacturer I know calls a fawn distress call "the woods sweeper." This sound, which imitates a fawn that is experiencing great misfortune, can entice every buck, doe and fawn in the area - or cause every deer within hearing to vacate the immediate surroundings. This individual told me that the fawn distress call is virtually worthless for luring in big bucks, and that any deer that comes in to this call will likely be on full alert.

If you are of a mind to lure in bucks during hot weather, consider making very soft, social grunts. These so-called contact grunts are natural sounds at this time of year and could possibly lure a buck in.

KEEP A POSITIVE ATTITUDE

One of the hardest tasks for archers to master during the sizzling hot early season is to maintain a positive attitude. When your clothes are drenched with sweat, your face has swarms of mosquitoes swirling about it and you haven't seen a whitetail in what seems like ages, wouldn't it be better to just stay at home? I don't think so.

Deer go through many stages during the bow season. They not only experience different sexual phases, but they often change how, when and where they feed and bed. If we are to keep up with those changes, we need to be in the woods. Spend time in the woods, and keep a positive attitude: Even if you are not seeing deer now, you soon will.

I have three caveats, though. I recommend that hunters should not visit their big-buck places during the early season. We all have our special places where big-buck sign exists and where we have seen or killed nice deer in the past. Given the extreme heat, no matter how careful we are with scent control we will likely leave our odor behind, thus ruining a great stand for later in the fall.

Second, I suggest that hunters not visit any one stand more than once or, at most, twice a week when the weather is warm. This is sometimes very difficult to do, especially if we are limited in terms of having places to hunt. This past season, for example, I kept wanting to visit a favorite stand on a farm where I have had great success in the past. But because of the heat, I decided not to do so until the third week of the season. That initial visit to the site, however, resulted in me hauling a whitetail out of the woods one evening.

And last, if a deer does come by your position, be absolutely sure that you have a perfect shot. The vast majority of us bowhunters are very good about this, but it never hurts to be reminded of this fact. Hot weather is no time to be looking for a deer hours after you have shot it.

Without a doubt, bowhunting in the heat is an often arduous affair, and success rates, especially for trophy deer, are often quite low. But we can take steps to increase our chances for success during this stage of the season, and we can take additional steps that can lead us to success later on. See you in the woods.

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