Deer Season's First-Strike Strategies
It's time, time to get out there amongst them, as the old saying goes.
Better yet, it's time to get out amongst them because big bucks are ripe for harvest these days as Deer Season 2015 opens up.
In the northern part of the country, archery hunting seasons have been open for a couple of weeks now. All one has to do to confirm that is to look at the steady stream of big buck success photos beginning to flow from Canada, the Dakotas, Montana and Wisconsin among other places.
Further south, in the Upper Midwest, seasons are opening up as this story is actually being written. And like their neighbors to the north, hunters in the Midwest are making sure that good bucks hit the ground in the Heartland of America.
Over the next few weeks, even more bowhunting seasons will open in the eastern and southern portions of the U.S., finally giving archers all across the nation a crack at tagging an early season whitetail, weeks before the leaves turn and chilly frost begins to gather on the ground.
While many hunters will opt to play their deer hunting cards later on this fall in the final days of October and on through the rut-crazy month of November, that can be a mistake according to Heartland Bowhunter television co-host Michael Hunsucker.
In fact, the Outdoor Channel hunting personality says that when it comes to bagging a big mature whitetail, there's no better time than the present to get out in the field with a bow in hand.
"If you're hunting one specific buck, there's no question that early season is the time that I'm going to be hunting him," said Hunsucker.
"When you've got consistent daylight movement from him, you can have a good chance at a mature buck, especially when he's still doing the same thing every single day."
Hunsucker said that early on – from very late August through a good portion of the current month of September – bucks are shedding velvet, lolly gagging in bachelor groups and are still creatures of habit as they move from bedding areas to food sources and back to bedding areas.
"They haven't been hunted for several months, so they start the season with their guard kind of down," said Hunsucker.
But as September deepens and moves on towards the month of October, things will begin to change in terms of mature-buck behavior patterns.
"Here in Missouri, most years, you've got about five days (after the start of the season) before they start to get out of that early season pattern," said Hunsucker.
"It varies of course from state to state, from farm to farm, from deer to deer. But in general, regardless of where you hunt, in my opinion, early season is the best time to hunt one specific buck."
How does a hunter go about actually doing so?
It’s simple, by targeting their belly instead of their urge to reproduce. Meaning that knowing where the local whitetail chow hall happens to be is of paramount importance now, whether it's a food plot or a harvested agricultural row crop or a white oak tree raining down the sweet nuts by the bushel.
"When it's early and they've still got their guard down, the best way is to guard food sources, especially in the evening," said Hunsucker.
"Of course, the key is to be able to get in to your stand and out of your stand easily, where you don't spook them," he added.
One key consideration that Hunsucker looks for when hunting whitetails in September is consistent weather patterns, even if the thermometer is still soaring each day.
"Consistent weather is the deal for me," he said. "I don't mind it being warm.
"I think it's people's natural instinct to think that warm weather means bad hunting. Maybe in November it does, but not necessarily now. Early on, I want consistency, even if it's hot."
Hunsucker points to a big deer he killed on camera a few years ago at the very end of August while the Heartland Bowhunter crew was in the northern Great Plains chasing velvet racked whitetails.
"(One of) the biggest bucks I've taken was in North Dakota on August 29," he said. "It was close to 100 degrees that day and I killed him over water."
If food is a key consideration for early season whitetail success, a second one can be targeting bucks seeking a drink of water, as the example above points out.
With warm and dry weather in some portions of the country right now, there's little doubt that some enterprising hunters guarding a dwindling waterhole will bag a bruiser buck sometime this month.
"In a drought year, there is not a lot of water in place in the natural potholes and water resources that typically have it," said Hunsucker.
"Heat and drought change things, but if you're smart, it doesn't mean that good hunting is non-existent."
As with most whitetail hunting, finding a good spot to hunt early season whitetails over food or near a key waterhole revolves around gathering good hunting Intel.
"The single most important thing for me is scouting," said Hunsucker. "Scouting is the biggest tool for killing big deer in the early season. You can do that by being in the field glassing with optics or by running cameras."
Hunsucker says that at this stage in the game, hunters must be careful however in how they gather their intelligence.
That means such things as carefully controlling human odor when pulling cards (with scent eliminating sprays and clothes laundered in scent free detergents); checking cameras only when it's safe to do so (during rainfall, in the middle of the day, etc.); playing the wind right; and wearing rubber boots and gloves when checking cameras.
The bottom line for Hunsucker now as he gathers last minute Intel, as with his actual hunting strategy as the fall goes along, is to not let deer know that a hunter is in the area checking up on them.
"I'm a huge proponent in scouting and in hunting of being on the outside looking in," he said. "That's as opposed to scouting or hunting hard, alerting deer that you're there and blowing that spot out."
No matter how tempting gathering a few more impressive trail camera photos might be.
"All pictures are good pictures and all information is good information, but you have to balance that with how much disturbance it takes to get those results, especially when running early season cameras," said Hunsucker.
"The best way to use cameras early on is to put them in places that are easy to access with either a vehicle or a buggy. That way you can pull in, check the cards and then pull back out without disturbing too much."
As September continues on, hunters that play this early season game right might eventually make a bit of a disturbance in the early autumn woods.
As they kneel down next to a big buck lying spent upon the ground, felled by a well-placed arrow and broadhead.
Even if the current season is only a few hours old.