The Bowhunter's Edge

If you figure out summer patterns now, take your pick of the herd on Day 1.

The author figured out this deer's pattern before the season started. The buck would pick one of two fields, depending on the wind direction. It took less than a week to tag him.
Photo by Steve Bartylla.

There he was, coming in at full trot. The mature 10-point I'd targeted in the late summer months was following the script to perfection.

Positioning myself, I came to full draw. As if he knew his lines by heart, he stopped in the perfect position to chow a few acorns. No doubt his next move would be a walk to the crops in the valley below, if I let him.

I placed the pin behind his front shoulder and squeezed off the shot. A week into season and my bow tag was already full.

As bowhunters, we have a significant advantage over firearms hunters. Sure, we are limited by our weapons' range and are forced to deal with more insects. That said, getting the first crack at filling our buck tags more than makes up for it. Of course, that assumes we know how to take advantage of it.

Though everyone gets amped up about the rut, early season offers advantages that no other seasonal phase can provide. You often hear bowhunters talk about how they wait to hunt until it gets better later in season. This is a huge waste of a prime opportunity, in my opinion.

The obvious advantage is that the woods have been left pretty much alone all summer. Nearly every hunter realizes that hunting pressure can have an adverse impact on deer movement. The more hunting pressure, the less deer move during daylight hours.

Furthermore, deer aren't smart enough to realize that the guy squirrel hunting isn't a threat, but the one bowhunting is. Let's face it. The open week of bow season isn't the perfect time to be in the woods. It can be hot, and the bugs can be horrid.

Still, the midsummer months are even worse. Because of that, most people need a darn good reason to go out in the woods, and generally avoid it as much as they can. This helps encourage deer to move more freely during daylight.

But as bow season opens, so do other seasons. Still, at the same time, it's getting more enjoyable to go for a walk in the woods. Toss in other bowhunters hitting the woods and it all adds up to deer starting to feel pressure in a hurry. The result is rarely good.

So bowhunters have the advantage of getting the first crack at the bucks.

In the majority of cases, in that first week or two of bow season, deer will be more relaxed than they are for the entire season. Once they realize they're being hunted, their guard goes up and, outside of the rut, they get much more cautious.

The other significant advantage is that bucks are more patternable during early season than any other phase, with the possible exception of late season. For those wanting to get the edge on a truly mature buck, this is invaluable.

The late summer, early fall life of a buck is a simple and lazy one. You can really boil it down to eating, drinking, sleeping and the movements required between those three activities.

Intercept Mr. Big at water sources near food sources or between food and bedding in the early season.
Photo by Steve Bartylla.

Unlike the peak scraping, chase or the rut phases of season, there isn't a lot of wasted movements during late summer. Though there are exceptions, the majority of travel is between food, water and bedding.

The fact that bucks aren't running wild may seem like a disadvantage. It is, if you are hunting random stands.

Luckily, once you have his routes determined, odds of intercepting Mr. Big increase dramatically. At this point, his limited travels become an advantage, since it's now far easier to predict where he'll be!

The buck that began this article and is pictured on the previous page was a great example of that. For several weeks before season began, I'd been observing a farm. A north-south wooded ridge split the farm down the middle, with identical crops in both valleys. I'd been observing the buck more in the east field, but also occasionally in the west.

It was obvious that the buck was bedded on the ridge, working his way down the side in the late afternoon to feed. What wasn't obvious was why he occasionally swapped which valley he fed in.

It wasn't until the end, when noting the wind direction in my observation logs, that I really nailed him. On the days with winds coming from a westerly direction, he selected the west valley. When the wind came from any easterly direction, he fed in the east field.

He was using the wind to his greatest advantage. By following that logic, he could keep the wind in his face as he dropped down the valley to feed.

All I had to do was follow his trails up both sides of the ridge, setup two stands and let the wind tell me which stand to hunt.

Though it's often not that cut and dried, that's the type of advantage you can gain during early season. That's simply not possible when bucks are running wild.

The most challenging aspect of patterning a buck is knowing where to start. With a starting point, it really isn't that hard. Without one, it can be like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Luckily, we already know what bucks want right now: food and water. So it stands to reason that we begin there.

In the food area, various forms of greens are heavily favored. This obviously includes farm crops, such as alfalfa, clover and hay. However, in bigger-woods settings, don't overlook meadows, clearcut regrowths and concentrations of vines and tender weeds. Another favored early season food is mast, such as acorns and apples.

Water sources are often easy to zero in on. In-woods ponds, creeks, rivers and lakes are all good places to start. To narrow it down even further, target these water features that are located near prime food sources or that set between the bedding and feeding areas.

These locations are your starting blocks to pattern and eventually intercept the deer you want to shoot.

Early season offers advantages that savvy bowhunt

ers harness. The opportunity to hunt patternable bucks that are yet unaware of being hunted is really about as good as it gets. So, get out there now, find that buck and take him early! It really can be just that easy.

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