Get Ready Now For Carolina's Deer Season

Get Ready Now For Carolina's Deer Season

Unlike some opening days, the deer season in South Carolina has different opening days in different parts of the state. Here's how to get ready no matter where you hunt. (August 2006)

PHOTO BY DUNCAN DOBIE

For a serious deer hunter, the deer season never ends. Yes, there's a long period of time when we can't tote a gun. But scouting, stand preparation, deer movement knowledge and other factors are all part of the recipe for venison steaks in the freezer. Just because it's the dog days of August and the season doesn't open in your neck of the woods for a few weeks doesn't mean you don't have plenty to do.

Moreover, if you are a Lowcountry hunter, you'd better already be prepared to hunt. You should be done with about everything except the final sighting-in of the rifle and letting the wind direction on opening morning help you determine where you'll hunt opening day.

The more you accomplish in advance of the season, the better your odds of success will be when the opener arrives.

A good friend of mine is one of those year-round hunters. Even during turkey season, he's scanning the woods, dirt roads and fields for deer sign. He'll usually find some antler sheds of a buck that made it through the previous year that will become a focal point for the next season during this time. As summer progresses, he repairs stands, builds new ones, limbs trees where he may want to use climbers later in the season when the rut kicks in. In short, by mid-August when his season opens, he's got a strategy for the entire season ready to be implemented.

Granted, things change as the course of the season progresses. But his "homework" allows him to compensate for the ill winds that Mother Nature may blow in or a simple change in deer movement patterns. The key is to always be thinking about two steps ahead of where you are actually at during the course of the season.

Whether you have an opportunity to harvest a buck on opening day or opening week is usually not a factor of luck, it's how much and how well you prepared for the season before opening day. Granted, we all know of a few hunters that have lucked out by slipping into the woods for the first time of the year on opening day and bagged a nice buck. And there will be some hard-working hunters who don't connect on opening day.

But over the long haul, I'll put my money on the guys who log in the pre-season time. If you want to have success early in the season, you need to be doing the right things at the right time well in advance. While Lady Luck can smile on anyone, she tends to favor the hunters who prepare the best and work the hardest.

In our situation in South Carolina that means doing vastly different things in different areas of the state in preparation of that opening day and week.

For example, we're into August now and the deer-hunting season opens in the Lowcountry midmonth. For those hunters, it's crunch time and they need to be finishing up final preparations. For hunters in the Piedmont and Upstate in the mountains, there are still a few weeks of time before the season opens, but there's plenty that must be accomplished between now and then if you're keen on upping your odds of success.

Get the 2006 SCDNR deer hunting regulations and check the specific season openers for your area. It's simple to determine in the regulations, but far too complex to try and detail here. Suffice to say, there are gun season openings on Aug. 15, Sept. 1, Sept. 15 and Oct. 11 in different parts of the state. There are some muzzleloader opportunities available at different dates and often archery openers will be before gun season. Figure it out for your area and get busy now.

Since the Lowcountry gun and bow season is upon us, we'll first take a look at some of the factors hunters in this area can focus on now to improve their odds. If you're hunting upstate, as your season-opening, crunch time approaches, you, too, will need to be considering these same stages of preparation.

First of all, hopefully, most (or all) of your pre-season scouting should be complete by now. In fact, except for short, quick checks of your specific hunting area to fine-tune your exact location for hunting, you need to be avoiding the woods now if you're a Lowcountry hunter. Excessive human intervention can and will cause the deer, especially mature bucks, to leave the area or change their habits. This rates right up there among the last things you'd want to have occur a week or two before the season opens.

Granted, a lot of folks in the Lowcountry legally use corn as a drawing card for the deer, so that's a process that will be continued. But it's likely that's been ongoing and already a part of a pattern and not alarming to the deer. I'm talking more about deep-woods intrusion now: randomly scouting and walking around, bumping or otherwise disturbing deer.

By now, your stands are either built or, if you use climbing stands, your potential tree sites have been selected based on prevailing wind, terrain and deer patterns. Many hunters will have already placed the stands on trees, again just to ensure the deer have plenty of time to get back in a normal routine.

One buddy by now has his opening day and opening week stands set and ready. The specific one he will hunt will be selected right before the hunt based on wind/weather conditions. He will also have stands set for normal early-season patterns during the next few weeks.

Other stands will be in various stages of preparation for when the weather and deer change their habits to get into a pre-rut and rut mode. Essentially, the entire season is a series of change and never-ending scouting, preparation and hunting. Which is what every red-blooded deer hunter lives for anyway.

One thing you need to do is some spot-checking on deer activity during the days immediately before the opening week of hunting. Again, you're not going for a deep intrusion into the home range of the deer; you're simply checking to see that the deer are using the area and that their patterns haven't abruptly changed.

Check for recent sign, or if you are using corn, check on the status of that. Quickly scout the areas you intend to hunt. A midday check for sign when the deer are most likely bedded down away from the feeding areas is apt to be the least intrusive method.

When I do this, I'll check for any type of deer sign, especially big-buck sign. I mentally mark the ones that are the most impressive. Check ingress and egress routes the deer are using to be sure your stand location is still right.

One pattern to watch for: At some point each year, deer

will shift from summer feed to acorns. This will happen everywhere eventually, but it will start at different times in different counties. Often the Lowcountry deer will, almost overnight, abandon the corn piles you've been supplying them with for weeks.

You'll be well served to have a good stand or two ready near the oak trees when this happens. When the deer are done with the acorns, it's back to the corn. The same processes are true in areas where corn is not legal to use. Just substitute the natural foods (or food plots or agricultural crops) they're using for planning purposes. But when the acorns become available, regardless of where you hunt, I'd have some places ready to take advantage of that strong tendency of the deer.

Once you've got a handle on the above, get the heck out of Dodge so to speak. You can spend just a few minutes in the immediate area where your stand is located and still learn a lot about the up-to-the-minute deer status. Then on opening day, based on wind, weather and the location of your various stands, you can make a really good assessment of where to be that gives you the best odds of success.

The key here is to simply fine-tune your effort. As my buddy does, you should have done the primary, deep scouting long before the beginning of the season. A quick update on the latest tendencies of the deer is all that remains.

These are things you need to be doing now if you're going to be hunting in the next week or two. To spot-check an area, simply park far enough away so deer won't be spooked. Arrive in the middle part of the day to avoid "personal" contact with deer. Bumping deer still occurs occasionally, but generally, on a hot August day, deer will be bedded down. Check out the sign you're looking for, then slip back out.

Also, and this is important, never walk into the area from the direction the deer may be bedded. Even if you have to walk a long way around, you need to come in from what some hunters call the "back door." Again, the less human scent or activity the better, but you do need to spot-check to see what areas are hot with fresh deer sign and which ones are not. Deer hotspots can and do change rapidly during the early season and you've got to keep tabs on their activity without blowing them out of the area.

One tactic to remember about Lowcountry hunting is that placing stands near the swamps is always a good bet for early-season hunting. Deer love to hang out in these dark, watery areas during the heat of the day and thus, when they do begin to move around in the evening, they don't have as far to travel to reach your stand site. That's why it is imperative to set up near their bedding area. If you set up too far away, you may still see plenty of deer sign, but it may be from deer activity that occurs long after legal shooting time.

So, put a lot of forethought into your stand selection site from that aspect, not just the total amount of deer sign seen. During the rut, it may not be as important to locate a stand in this manner, as deer will be moving much more throughout the day.

Another item that I noted earlier is that many good Lowcountry hunters are now also working on other stands in areas where the deer will be when the rut kicks in later on in the season. Plus, they're looking for the best sites for late-season hotspots during the post-rut. What they do in August in terms of locating good potential rutting areas for October hunting will be very important to success at that time.

Thus, there's more to be done in August than sight-in your rifle (which is a great thing to do by the way) if you want to continue harvesting deer in the mid- and late-season period.

For a large part of the state, the opening of deer season, either bow or gun seasons or both, will actually occur during the month of September. If you're going to be hunting in these areas, then you've got a bit more time, but you've still got plenty to accomplish. You need to do all of the above, but you're not tardy yet if you don't have it all done.

I'm a big believer in doing a lot of my major scouting even earlier in the year, but if you know where you intend to hunt but haven't become very familiar with the land, then now is the time to finish up in these areas and in the Upstate. You can drive through the areas, get out and walk, looking for fresh deer sign as well as any tell-tale sign left over from last year, such as old buck rubs.

If a buck used an area the previous year, odds are good the area has the needed requirements to attract him again the following year, assuming he survived. That is unless something major -- like a clearcut -- has left the area void of timber or has otherwise changed the habitat drastically. Now is the time to be discovering any major impacts to your hunting lands if you have not already done so.

I know of one guy who did not scout, went to his favorite tract of land on opening morning (he knew exactly which tree he was going to hang his climber on) only to find the woods had been clear cut about two months earlier. Oops.

If you have a large club or own your own land, then taking the four-wheeler for a spin is always an enjoyable and productive effort during August. Generally, I'd stay on the main dirt trails, but look for heavily used deer crossings. If you see something that looks particularly promising, wear rubber boots to leave less scent and take a hike to check it out. I've found some exceptionally good places like this a few weeks before the season opener.

Although I've been preaching early preparations in this feature, continuous preparation is actually a better choice of words. Be ready and willing to refine your hunting locations and tactics at any given time. I'm also a big believer in walking the roads, again with scent-reducing footwear during the midday hours. Sometimes when walking instead of riding, you notice the more subtle sign of big bucks.

Hopefully, you're familiar with the woods and have already selected stand sites. If you're hunting from permanent stands, you need to get them up early in the month. Any type of human activity, such as building a deer stand, will have an impact on the deer, but it doesn't always have to be a negative one in terms of hunting.

Often, once all the work is finished on a deer stand and we're gone from the woods, deer will walk all around the new "facility" and check it out. Many times, I've returned to a newly constructed stand a day or two after it was built, usually during the midday, and seen many deer tracks around it. If I'm careful to leave no scent and stay out of the area, by the time the season opens, it seems to simply be a part of the landscape and they pay it no heed. That is, of course, unless you make major sounds or movements once you climb into that stand opening morning. No amount of preparation can overcome noise, movement or scent at the wrong time.

Most Piedmont and Upstate hunters love to hunt in hardwood areas during the early part of the season. If there's a good mast crop and acorns are falling, then by all means this will be the primary area to hunt. Whether you set up a bow stand or a place to gun hunt, a good hardwood bottom

will be hard to beat during the early part of the season. Find one with a good thicket meandering along the creek bottom and you will be on to something potentially outstanding.

In areas that open in October, you've got ample time, but I'd get into the stand building and placing stage now. The earlier you can get the disturbance over with, the better. You may even be placing stands based on historical knowledge; there may not be a lot of sign there right now. And, of course, you may have to make subtle adjustments to the stand location later on.

Based on numerous conversations with deer biologists in South Carolina, the mast is even more of a crucial factor in the mountain area. There is often less diversity of food sources here than is sometimes found in the Lowcountry and Piedmont. Acorns are such a critical part of the nutritional needs of deer in these regions that once the acorns start falling, the mast will be a focal point for deer and for hunters.

Of course, food plots planted by hunters can be another deer magnet and are always a source for good stand sites. Regardless of where you're at, you can get the ground worked up in August and September, and usually by late September or early October, plant some wheat and rye. By late season, the succulent green tidbits will be almost irresistible to deer and hunting in these areas will improve your odds of success.

Whatever your plan of attack this season, don't overlook the month of August in terms of preparation for deer-hunting season. Whether you begin the actual hunt, or make detailed preparations, the sweat you spend in August will likely have a profound positive impact on your entire season of deer hunting.

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