Strategies For Carolina's Early-Season Deer

Strategies For Carolina's Early-Season Deer

For successful deer hunters, the work behind the scenes in hunting never ends. Here's what you should be doing now before the season starts. (July 2010)

Successful deer hunters in South Carolina have learned there's always something to do, regardless of where you live, if you want to open your deer season with a literal bang.

The opening day of deer season in South Carolina is one of the most anticipated events in all of the outdoor hunting sports in the Palmetto State.

However, opening day is not just a single event in our state. For gun hunters, for example, it's a series of opening days that are staggered from August until October. The special opening day will vary considerably depending on where you live or hunt.

For those who hunt with rifles, the season can open anywhere from August 15 in the lowcountry to the last rifle season opener on the 11th of October. And there are other game zones in South Carolina with season openers in between those times. There is even a 10-day muzzleloader season in portions of the state from October first through the tenth.

It is all based on the specific game zone you hunt. While a complete rundown of each opening is far too detailed to explain in this feature, check the SC Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) Rules and Regulations for specific season opening dates. It will be broken down into easy to understand guidelines and locations.

But regardless of when your season opens, you need a game plan for preparation. Some hunters are energetic and take advantage of more than one opening day hunt in more than one game zone with the varied opening dates. That is a good tactic because hunting deer before they have been hunted by others is a distinct advantage.

There are specific things you can be doing right now to help improve your odds of success when your opening day and week opportunities arrive.

For lowcountry hunters, deer season opener is almost here. In addition, in other areas bowhunting opportunities will also begin mid-August. For hunters in other areas the season opener may still seems a long way off. But in either case the hunters in all parts of South Carolina should have one thing in common: They should be busy as heck right now getting ready for their season opener.

Getting ready for deer season in July and August, even if you have a later opening date, is not at all "jumping the gun" and is a critical step in improving the odds that your season will be a good one. While you do have time to plan and implement a good strategy, there's no time to waste.

We'll start in the lowcountry and look at planning strategies for the season opener for gun and bow hunting. That first season opener is August 15.

It's almost time to be pulling the trigger so hopefully you have done some of your homework already. While the SCDNR has pursued a purposeful and reasonably successful emphasis on harvesting more doe deer in recent years to balance the herd, at this early point of the season only bucks can be harvested.

That should influence your strategy in terms of where you hunt. During the early season in the lowcountry, both does and bucks are primarily interested in food, cover and water; bucks are many weeks from altering their patterns to search for does. That means on opening day, seeing a lot of doe deer will not necessarily mean you'll see a big-racked buck slipping along with them. Later on, during pre-rut and rut, hunting where a lot of doe deer are present is a great idea.

The key is to scout for is buck sign. Included in this are areas where there are numerous antler rubs and maybe even what are referred to as 'line scrapes" or territory markings, as opposed to scrapes made during pre-rut and rut. Also, simply looking for huge tracks is a good bet as well.

Finally, water sources are important during the August heat for bucks and does, so ensure you inject that into the planning process.

Because you don't want to 'bump' big bucks this close to the season opener, using quality binoculars to scout the far corners of fields and pockets along the woods can be very helpful. After all, the best deer sign of all is to see a big buck. Spot him at 400-plus yards with a set of binoculars and then leave the area so you won't spook him. Return to the general area at a different time to plan strategy for a good stand site.

At this time of the year, if a buck is spotted in a specific area, he's there for a reason. Unless you bump him, odds are good he'll be in that area when the season opens.

Trail cameras are very popular and productive for locating buck hangouts throughout the state. The more I use them, the more cameras I buy and set up in the woods prior to deer season.

The next step is appropriate for other season openers as well, but crucial for this first season. You need to identify two major habitat elements: the bedding area and the food source the bucks are using.

In much of the lowcountry, it's a good bet that deer, bucks included, will be working toward agriculture crops from the bedding site.

While there are certainly other types of food sources, soybeans, corn, peanuts and other agriculture crops common in the lowcountry are very high on the list of places for deer to feed. Identify one or more of these types of food sources, or the best available on the land you hunt.

Next, using a topographical or aerial map, figure where the best bedding areas should be located in the vicinity for the food source. Slip into the area and look for direct sign indicating where bucks are living and moving and place your stand nearby, or identify the trees you can use with a climber. Be sure to select backup sites for varying wind conditions.

Last season, hunting over big soybean fields early in the season was a good lesson for me. We had pinpointed a few high-use deer ingress and egress points on agricultural fields and placed our stands accordingly.

When the season opened, it was very interesting to note that in the case of most trails, the deer using them were almost exclusively does or small bucks. But in a couple of distinct places, the deer moving were primarily big bucks. We had done our homework and were within range of the early season buck hotspots.

In a couple of areas both bucks and does used the same bean field, but they entered the field and fed in different locations. Without the preseason scouting for buck sign we would likely have been sitting where the most deer sign was located -- sign ma

de by does that we could not shoot at that point of the season.

If you're a bowhunter, you'll have mid-August opportunities too, but you may have to get a little deeper into the planning process to lock onto a buck for a good shot.

Some good strategies for the season opener are to get tight to staging areas just inside access to food crops such as beans or corn. If you figure this early enough you can even have time to work on clearing some shooting lanes and even use brush to get deer moving down a known trail to step around an object so that you have a good angle for your bow shot.

Needless to say, the prevailing wind is a crucial consideration for bowhunters.

The next opener we'll consider are those with opening dates of early and mid-September.

There's not going to be a lot of difference in what the deer are doing in mid-August compared to what they will be doing the first of September, but you do have more time to prepare. It's a big advantage to have an additional two weeks to a month to scout thickets, swamps and river bottoms as prime habitats for large numbers of deer.

Backup stand sites are always important, but can be critical in September as we begin to experience a bit more unstable weather and changing wind conditions. In fact, by the second half of September, we'll usually have some cold fronts pass through and with those fronts you'll encounter varying wind patterns on several consecutive days. With the additional time to prepare, you need to be planning for additional sites to hunt depending on wind conditions.

This is one scenario where I really like having trees pre-selected for a climbing stand. If I've located an area where there is a lot of buck sign, I can still hunt the area by hauling in a climber if the wind direction is wrong for my preferred permanent stand site. You still have ample time to have trees pre-selected, limbed and ready.

The major plan for a September opener is not unlike that for August openers: find the right food sources and bedding areas. Agriculture corps fields are still a high priority; however, the land use in the mid-sector of the state does being to transition some.

Depending on your hunting area, you may have to scout out alternative food sources.

While there are many food sources in the different parts of the state, one common high quality deer attractor is the persimmon tree. Persimmon trees can be outstanding places to hunt, but seldom worthy of having a permanent stand if it's the only drawing card for the deer. But, for example, if the persimmon tree is located in an area where there is usually plenty of mast, and the acorn crop is good that year, and it's located along a natural travel corridor, then it's a potential hotspot for the long term. If you've had the foresight to plant a food plot in that area, you may have a real good opportunity for any of the later season openings.

Acorns begin to drop at different times depending on the specific type of tree, white oak or red oak, and the portion of the state where the tree is growing. But one thing is for certain, when they start dropping, that's where you want to be. Either be where the acorns hit the ground or between the bedding area and the feeding area.

Later in September and into October, access to acorns can be crucial for hunters throughout the state. The later the opening of the season, the more impact this food source will have.

The muzzleloader season from October 1 to October 10, and the final open gun season opener on October 11th offer lots of potential at this early stage of the season.

You still have time to do plenty of scouting, stand site selection and even stand building to get ready for these openers. You can even plan and prepare food plots that will be full of greenery when the season opens in October. While the food source will not be as important in early October as it will later in the season, it will draw deer from the time the food spouts though the surface.

During these later openers, both bucks and does can be harvested. Plus, in some of the areas the deer will be beginning to get into a pre-rut mode. That means where you have a lot of doe deer, the bucks are likely to be nearby.

The terrain in the upper part of the state will also begin to change quickly at this point of the season. While most of the leaves may still be on the trees in mid-October, the hardwood ridges and bottoms will begin to become more open.

The thinner cover will be less favored by bucks during daytime as long as they are primarily focused on food and bedding areas. However, their patterns can quickly change again once the rut begins.

Before any gun season opener, even if it's the day before, get out with your rifle and ensure you are sighed in properly. All the scouting, planning, and effort to get in the right place at the right time is for naught if you don't hit the target when you pull the trigger. It's sounds so simple, but so many hunters are guilty of not checking.

I have checked my rifle and found it was well off target and needed to be sighted in, even though it had been dead on target at the end of the previous season and had spent the off-season in a gun cabinet. I don't know how that happens, but it can, so take the time to check your gun.

Also, regardless of how many times you have shot your weapons, a little practice, simply getting the feel of the gun, will be important if you have to shoot from an awkward angle on that big buck.

This season, take the time to be ready for the season opener, and the rest of the days that follow.

Your deer hunting success will likely mirror your effort in terms of preparation. And getting that big buck on opening day or opening week of the season is a great way to begin the hunting season.

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