10 Keys to Early-Season Deer Hunting

10 Keys to Early-Season Deer Hunting

Taking steps to accurately pinpoint and pattern mature bucks is what separates deer hunting legends from the hunters who occasionally get lucky. This is especially true during the early days of the season when excessive heat can drastically decrease daytime deer activity.

Bucks commonly escape the hot temperatures by moving primarily at dusk and throughout the night. Unfortunately, many of these nocturnal bucks will also hit their beds well before daylight and stay locked-down until dark.

To make matters worse, whitetails enjoy almost unlimited access to food throughout the early season. As you can imagine, focusing on a preferred food source can really be tough any time of year when bucks have multiple snack options. Early-season foliage also creates an abundance of thick cover and green browse that can be exploited by deer. In this situation, textbook feeding to bedding setups are basically obsolete because bucks can bed down just about anywhere they like. This is why it's so important for you to take your early-season scouting skills to a whole new level. Here's how.


Monitoring the daily habits of deer will enable you to pattern a shooter and capitalize on the prime times to hunt a particular stand or setup. One of the quickest and most efficient ways to nail-down a buck's timetable is strategically hang several trail cameras near high-traffic areas. Camera stations should be placed over possible big-buck travel routes, bedding locations, staging areas, mock scrapes, rub lines, watering holes, and available food sources.

Setting up numerous trail cameras within a given hunting area can be very expensive. Fortunately, the boom in trail cam manufacturing has produced some very affordable compact trail cameras that are loaded with features with descent trigger speeds. Basically, hunters can purchase several of these cameras for about the same price as one of the high-priced models and cover a lot more ground.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt


With any type of hunting, how and where you set up will ultimately have the biggest impact on your overall success. At the beginning of September, setups directly overlooking or near preferred food sources like green fields, ripe agricultural crops and fruit-tree groves can be very productive.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt


Isolated watering holes that are surrounded by cover can also draw the big boys into range, especially during excessively hot and dry periods in the early season.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt


As the weeks progress, major buck travel routes that connect bedding to feeding or watering locations can be excellent choices. When these hotspots begin to cool down, you will need to drop back and start hitting those secluded little staging areas that bucks love to visit. These small pockets of cover that are located between bedding areas and primary food source are sometimes the perfect location to intercept a skittish buck that is waiting until nightfall to feed.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt


As hunting pressure intensifies, switching gears and moving closer to known bedding areas will be a better option. Hanging stands right outside of a nocturnal buck's bedroom can be about the only way to create a shot opportunity. Under the right conditions, even hardheaded bruisers will sneak out of their protected sanctuaries to stretch and kill some time before moving after dark. It can be tricky approaching and hunting these highly sensitive areas, but you can definitely pull it off with a little extra planning.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt


In order to keep from educating veteran bucks, exercise total scent control strategies when hanging stands or setting up ground blinds. Always shower with scent-eliminating soap and wear knee-high rubber boots in the field. Spray down with an odor neutralizer and throw on a pair of latex gloves when preparing your hunting location. When cutting shooting lanes and clearing entry trails, be sure to carry all excess limbs and anything else you have handled away from your setup.

Next, thoroughly air out and spray down all treestands and hunting blinds with an effective scent-neutralizer.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt


Completely clear your entry and exit routes of any obstructions that can potentially cause noise or hold alarming odors after being touched. This includes overhanging limbs, pointy briars, weeds, leaves, and dry sticks. Taking these painstaking steps will enable you to quietly move in and out of any stand location without bumping or spooking deer.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt


You should always avoid overhunting a particular location by having multiple setup options and back-up plans that will enable you to adjust to a variety of wind directions, big buck behavioral changes, and different degrees of outside hunting pressure. Having several different early-season stand locations and monitoring these sites with multiple trail cameras will help keep you right in the middle of all the action. Over the past few seasons, hanging trail cameras over primary travel routes near my setups have allowed me to consistently hunt the hottest stands.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt


Create mock buck trails that lead directly through prime ambush sites. You'll be amazed how simply clearing out one narrow path through thick cover can help create a major whitetail travel route practically overnight. Carefully directing these newly constructed trails past your stand can place a shooter right in front of your first sight pin.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt


One of the quickest ways to convince bucks to start using these handmade trails is to create a series of mock scrapes along the routes. As a general rule, spacing each mock scrape out about 30 to 35 yards apart will get the job done. During this early transitional period, try to use straight buck urine and avoid rut-based scents until at least the beginning of October. You will also maximize your success by leading these mock trails and scrapes into thick-covered locations that can serve as potential bedding areas.

Photo by Travis Faulkner

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