August 01, 2023
For many whitetail hunters, thoughts of fall and dreams of big bucks automatically turn a hunter’s attention to the rut. And indeed, the peak rut--early to mid-November in many places--is undeniably a great time to chase legendary whitetails.
But keep in mind that it is often said that variety is the spice of life, and that’s true in several things from the flavors of Old Trapper Beef Jerky that go into a hunter’s pack—I like Old Fashioned and Teriyaki myself—in addition to what Halloween candy tastes best, what college football team you’ll root for on Saturday, and even the way deer are hunted each season.
While November might get the best Chamber of Commerce press in the whitetail world each year, it’s certainly not the only time to chase big bucks since these bruisers are the old fellas of the deer world, pretty set in their ways and following a standard routine from day to day.
In short, that predictability gives hunters a great time to chase the biggest bucks early on each season. And every year, some great deer fall to early season hunters across North America. That includes Kansas teenager Paslie Werth, who downed a massive southwestern Kansas whitetail during her freshman year of high school in 2020 when she was 14 years old.
Taken on Sept. 6, 2020, with a Savage .270 Win. rifle, Paslie’s early-season buck wasn’t just big, it was world-class big, sporting 42 scorable points, a gross Boone and Crockett Club score of 282 6/8 inches, and a net score of 271 4/8 inches.
Incidentally, that latter number meant that the huge Sunflower State buck—taken during the early youth season—is the largest non-typical buck ever entered into the B&C record book by a female hunter, the unofficial women’s world record (since B&C doesn’t have separate official categories for men and women).
Why Early Season Works
There’s little question that the early season can be challenging for hunters because it’s often really hot—it can still hit 100 degrees in spots that have early deer seasons in early to mid-September— along with being humid and downright uncomfortable. Add in biting and stinging insects (mosquitoes, gnats, deer flies, and wasps come to mind), not to mention rattlesnakes, copperheads and water moccasins still being out and about, and there are ample reasons to stay back at deer camp with the air conditioner humming.
But the tradeoff for the unpleasant early season conditions are whitetails that are in velvet or just out of the fuzzy stuff, along with being as dependable as a Timex watch. And according to North American Whitetail’s Blake Garlock, that’s part of the early season lure.
"As a whitetail hunter, one of my favorite times to chase big bucks is early archery season," said Garlock. "It's a great time because a lot of times, the deer are still on their summer patterns and are very predictable."
Indeed they are, taking life easy, getting up, laying down, traveling, and feeding at pretty much the same time each day. The days are still long, the weather is warm, and deer are relatively unpressured (most hunters aren’t in the woods yet), and hunters are able to use this to their advantage as deer move about on worn trails at about the same time each day.
Lessons from a Kansas Giant
That’s exactly what Paslie and her dad Kurt did during their hunt for a Kansas giant three years ago during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the world. As life drifted back towards normal that school year, Paslie and Kurt were intrigued by trail camera photos of a buck they had watched grow up. With the youth season looming and other hunters knowing about the buck, time was of the essence.
“I told Paslie we had better go hunt him hard early this fall, because I thought everyone else was going to be hunting him, too,” said Kurt.
With that year’s youth season opening on Labor Day weekend, the weather in the Great Plains was hot and windy, hardly ideal conditions. And true to form, on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020, Paslie and her dad saw some does, but not a buck. The next morning was even worse, as they saw no deer at all.
That evening, the Kansas teen and her father went back out, parking a mile away, sneaking through a draw and along a fence line, and settling into a blind near a large grassy field.
For a few sweltering hours, the father and daughter sat patiently on a day when the temperature topped out at a sizzling 102 degrees F. As shooting light began to fade on a quiet evening, Kurt watched the minutes counting down to the end of shooting light and began to quietly pack things up as his daughter continued to wait and watch.
That’s when the giant buck appeared in front of the blind and was well within shooting range. After being bedded down only a short distance away, he had stood up in the late-evening light, stretched his legs, and caught the attention of Paslie and her father.
One good shot later, and the rest is in the history books as Paslie tagged one of the 21st Century’s greatest non-typical bucks weeks prior to the fabled rut.
“When we walked up on him, I was kind of in shock,” said Paslie. “I couldn’t believe that what had just happened had actually happened.”
Why did the big buck harvest happen? For several reasons, not the least of which was familiarity with the land being hunted, the daily tendencies of the giant buck, and what his early season patterns were. The blind was in a part of the buck’s core range he frequented, putting them in close proximity when opportunity presented itself. Food wasn’t far away—it rarely is where whitetails roam in the legendary big buck country of Kansas—as was secure cover the buck could bed down in. And the hunters were as quiet as church mice, slipping into an afternoon blind unaware that the buck wasn’t very far away.
Tagging Your Own Early Season Giant
If tagging your own wall hanger is the goal for your Ultimate Season, not to mention putting venison in the freezer before the college football season is even a month old, there are several things to consider.
First, have all of the gear you’ll need assembled and stowed quietly in your pack. Second, place your trail cameras out early and gather intel on the big whitetails in your area, formulating an inventory of shooter bucks. Third, realize that in many cases, early-season hunts are best in the evening hours as bucks get up to go feed, allowing hunters to target them from stands that are either near food resources or in staging areas leading in that direction.
Also, keep in mind that entrance and exit routes are key—that was certainly the case in the hunt described above—since good routes allow hunters to get in and out of a stand without alerting area deer. A fifth tip here is to control all of the variables you can like noise, scent control, and hunting the wind properly. And finally, be proficient with your bow, muzzleloader, or rifle, able to make a quick, lethal shot that puts a big buck down for the count.
You’ll also want to pay attention to how you’re taking care of your body in the early season heat. To avoid overheating, stay hydrated throughout the hunt, keeping ample liquid in your pack—I like one bottle of water, another of an electrolyte solution. You’ll also want to stay powered up with the right protein-packed fuel.
For that, Garlock and many of us here at Outdoor Sportsman Group depend on Old Trapper Beef Jerky for early-season big-buck pursuits.
"Because of this (early season heat), you want a high protein, high-quality snack in quiet packaging that doesn't spook deer," said Garlock. "For me, I like Old Trapper Beef Jerky. It's effective, it fits right into my backpack, and when I do open it up and eat a piece of jerky to stay on (the) stand (longer), it's quiet and it won't spook any of the deer that are in front of me."
Whether you’re interested in the Oregon jerky producer’s Old Fashioned, Teriyaki, Peppered, Hot & Spicy, or Snack Sticks, there are numerous Old Trapper flavor options that can help ensure you’re giving your body something that won’t lead to a sugar crash, gives steady energy as you quietly sweat in the heat, and makes overnight recovery of tired and strained muscles that much easier.
The buck you eventually have in front of you might not be a world-class monster like the one that Paslie Werth downed three autumns ago, but then again, you never know.
Because early in the season, the living is easy for the bucks on your property, both the ones you know about and maybe even one or two of which you aren’t aware. With a little homework, careful planning, and sweat equity, a warm early-season evening just might give you the shot of a lifetime.
And the first phone call of the year to the local taxidermist, too.