Strategies For Hot-Weather Bowhunting

Many early archery deer seasons open to intense heat and humidity, well before the rut begins. There are ways you can beat the elements to find big bucks. Our expert explains how. (July 2008)

Photo by P.J. Reilly.

Only a bona fide, dyed-in-the-wool whitetail fanatic would sit in a tree stand on an afternoon when the mercury is clinging to the century mark. Sweat pours out of every pore in your skin. Mosquitoes gnaw at you like a dog chewing on a soup bone. It's downright miserable out there.

Welcome to the early bow season!

But whitetail fanatics will gladly brave the late-summer elements because they know this is one of the two best times to tag a trophy buck all season. The other time, of course, is during the rut, when things typically are much cooler.

Hunters chasing deer in the early season will find bucks that are very predictable, in terms of where and when they move from feeding to bedding areas and back again. Also, if you find one buck in the early season, odds are you'll find several because at this time of year, the boys tend to hang together in bachelor groups.

It was a group of nine bucks that lured me to my stand on the edge of a soybean field for the opening day of the 2006 archery deer season. During the week before opening day, those nine bucks would wander into the bean field every evening and feed within spitting distance of my stand.

Among those nine bucks, there were three fairly nice 8-pointers, but there was only one buck in the herd I would shoot. It's going to be the wide, mid-140-class 10-pointer or nothing, I told myself.

About 5 p.m. on opening day, I climbed into my stand. It was hot and humid. Sweat quickly drenched my face, but I was determined to stick it out until nightfall.

About an hour before my quitting time, does and fawns began filtering out of the woods behind my stand, heading into the field on the trail that ran directly beneath my perch.

About 10 baldies were munching on soybeans before I spied my first set of antlers. It was one of the nice eights. He came out of the woods behind me and wandered into the field along a trail on the opposite side of my tree than the one taken by the does and fawns.

Please let all the others be with him, I thought as he passed through a shooting lane 10 yards from me.

Dutifully, two other 8-pointers followed him within seconds. I had easy shooting at all of them, but I wanted Mr. Big. The third 8-pointer had just entered the field when my attention was attracted to a group of deer in the middle of the field that I hadn't noticed before.

I grabbed my binoculars and looked out to see the big 10 chowing down alongside three smaller bucks, about 200 yards from my position.

He stayed there until dark, and I never got a shot.

Though I failed to connect on the buck I wanted that night, I saw seven different racks from my stand and had three decent bucks within bow range. Any day of the week, that's a successful outing in my book.

SCOUTING IS THE KEY
When it comes to taking a buck in late September or early October, the work you do weeks before the season opens will determine your success once you're finally on stand. Scouting missions will teach you what's going on in those woods you plan to hunt come opening day.

When you go out scouting, be sure you scout smart. If you go trudging through the woods every day, the deer living there are all going to know you're invading their territory. That could encourage them to leave the area, or at least force them to change their habits.

Do as much scouting as possible from a distance. Find high vantage points that lie away from your hunting area, but offer a bird's-eye view of the landscape, and spy on the deer with a spotting scope or binoculars.

Once you've located an area that's rife with deer activity, you can enter the woods to find a tree for your stand or a good site for a ground blind near a hot deer trail.

If you've got your heart set on tagging a big buck in the early days of our bow season, identifying the animals in a specific herd is crucial.

At this time of year, the bigger bucks generally don't run with the does and yearlings. They're typically loners or else they'll travel with other bucks before the rut kicks in.

A group of bucks might end up feeding in the same field as a big herd of does, but the two packs probably entered the field from different locations, and they'll have different bedding areas. In the early season, your best bet is to find a buck or group of bucks and then spy on them to pinpoint where they feed, where they bed and which trails they use to travel between the two locations.

Find likely deer haunts by determining which foods the deer in your area prefer early in the season. Whether you hunt in agricultural areas or dense forest, the resident whitetails' preferred foods are likely to change as the season wears on.

In farm country, for example, soybeans are always a favorite food when they're green and lush in late summer and early fall.

In the area where I live and hunt, white oak trees usually begin dropping acorns sometime within the first two weeks of our bow season.

No matter what other foods are available in the area -- corn, apples, green leaves, for example -- I can always bank on deer coming to the white oaks as soon as the acorns hit the ground. When they start falling, I abandon all my other hunting sites to focus on white oak groves.

If you're hunting an area around a stream, find places where the deer cross it and plan on placing your tree stand or ground blind nearby. Or plan on hunting near a pond or livestock watering tank that's surrounded by deer tracks. Since the early part of archery deer season can be downright hot, you can count on deer regularly visiting local watering holes.

When it comes to taking a buck in late September or early

October, the work you do weeks before the season opens will determine your success once you're finally on stand.

Don't pay much attention to buck rubs at this time of year. An early-season rub doesn't mean the same thing as a fresh rub you'd find during the rut.

Rubs made during the rut are more likely to be sign posts that mark a buck's home turf. When you find one, you're likely to find several in a distinct line. You can be fairly certain that at some point, the buck that made those rubs will return to the area.

Early-season buck rubs tend to be scattered all over, in no distinguishable pattern. Rubs made at this time of year seem to be the result of a buck simply walking past a tree and deciding to work out his neck muscles for a few minutes. That buck might not ever walk past that tree again during the entire season.

I do 99 percent of my bowhunting from elevated stands, and the early season is the only time I'll even consider hunting from a ground blind. Because the trees and bushes are still carrying leaves during the early days of the season, usually there's plenty of cover to conceal a bowhunter on the ground. Just be sure you're hunting downwind from where you expect a deer to show, or they'll pick up your scent for sure.

To early-season tree-stand hunters, this heavy foliage is both a boon and a curse. It offers great cover to hide your silhouette, but it also blocks shooting lanes. I'm always amazed at how a deer standing less than 10 yards from my stand can be totally hidden by a small tree that's heavy with green leaves. In areas where you expect a deer to present a shot, carry a small pair of hand-clippers to cut shooting lanes around your stand site.

During the early season, whether you hunt from a tree or on the ground, focus your hunting efforts in the earliest and latest hours of legal hunting time. These are the best times to intercept a buck traveling to and from his feeding and bedding areas.

When the rut kicks in, you can hunt all day and have a good shot at catching a buck on the prowl at any time. At the beginning of the season, however, hunting during the middle of the day is largely a waste of time.

Scout early, scout often and scout smart this year, and you'll be on your way to unlocking the secret to bagging your buck in the early days of your state's archery deer season.

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