Lucky 13: Looking for Daylight Walkers in the New Beginnings of Phase One
As whitetail seasons gear up across the land, the first of Thirteen different deer hunting phases is about to begin as hunters take to the woods. During Phase One, members of Team Drury caution that early season success is all about finding a daytime walker buck and carefully getting into position without spooking that buck for weeks to come.
With the beginning of whitetail deer hunting seasons quickly approaching across the nation, bowhunters and early muzzleloader enthusiasts are anxiously chomping at the bit to don their camouflage clothing, grab their hunting weapon of choice and to climb into a tree to begin the annual and ancient chase of big bucks.
After all, it's the season of Thirteen and time for Phase One of the whitetail's autumn rituals, a time of new beginnings for hunters and their quarry that occurs somewhere between Sept. 15 through 24, according to Mark, Taylor, Terry and Matt Drury.
Editor's Note: The dates of the various Thirteen phases as presented by Team Drury are based upon the particular ground that they hunt each year in the Midwest. These dates will vary slightly from region to region across the nation's whitetail country, so adjust accordingly based upon the time and conditions where you live and hunt.
But while hunters have plenty of enthusiasm right now as another round of hunting begins, the key is to realize that success revolves around finding a daylight big buck walker to target.
And no, we're not talking about the Zombie Apocalypse. Instead, we're talking about being able to get into and out of the woods to hunt a monster buck without him becoming any wiser as to a hunter's plans.
"This particular phase is one of the toughest," said Mark. "Your anticipation is high because it is a new beginning, it's the start of a new season.”
"But success with whitetail bucks, particularly mature ones, is dependent upon daylight activity. Well, when you break this phase down, there's not a lot of walking daylight activity," he adds. "They are literally bedding and feeding in almost the same place."
And just where is that place located?
"They're usually bedded close to a food source, particularly if they're a daylight walker, so you've got to be cautious about not bumping them out of that bed when you go to and from your stand," said Terry.
The two Drury brothers say that as summer temperatures linger - sometimes with dry weather and even drought rearing its ugly head - it pays to remember that the windows of opportunity are often small and limited during this first phase.
Why is that? Because life is still relatively easy for a big buck strolling through the local woods.
"In the Midwest, the thing that we compete with during this phase is that most of the bean fields are still green, so there's bucks and does just spread out all over the place and they are not coming to a known green plot, which we depend on greatly," said Mark.
"The fact that food is everywhere, it's very difficult to get between where a buck is bedded and where he is feeding."
Adding to the difficulty presented by the abundance of agricultural food resources dotting the countryside is the coming sound of acorns - especially the big sweet nuts of the white oak tree - about to rain down on the forest floor.
"In an area where there is a mast crop and you've got a lot of acorns on the ground, or they're beginning to fall through this period, sometimes, that can suck them into the timber right off the bat," said Terry.
"So you really have to study those cameras very, very diligently. And we do that in this phase (because) it can be make or break (stuff)."
What tactics can a hunter employ during the difficult yet exciting days of Phase One and its new beginnings?
"The tactics we use to succeed in this phase, number one, is paying attention to thermals," said Mark. "Sometimes, those are more important than wind direction and speed, as winds are very light during this phase."
Monitoring thermal downdrafts is of particular importance to a hunter sitting high in a stand on a breathless, early autumn evening during Phase One.
"On these really calm, still evenings, it's almost impossible to not get busted a time or two because of does," said Terry.
"The temperatures are cooling down, the earth is still warm, so the thermals are dropping," he adds. "We pick a low lying area because of that."
A case in point was a low lying creek bottom utilized during the first season of filming the Thirteen series, a low lying spot where a little deer management was practiced as several does walked through on their way to a green field.
"The bottom along this creek is as low as we can possibly get," said Terry. "It worked out perfect."
Which leads to the second tactic practiced by Team Drury during Phase One of the Thirteen season - shooting does for management purposes when herd numbers dictate the necessity of such work.
"The second tactic we use, is that I'm always out there shooting does," said Terry. "If you're not on a mature deer (yet), it is the perfect time of the year to start your management practices."
It's also a time to practice real world bow shooting from a treestand complete with all of the inherent difficulties of being camoed up high. The various wind issues and the tough shot angles that can arise and keep a hunter from tagging a bruiser buck later on in the fall should be addressed now.
In other words, practice can make perfect, especially later on in the fall when Mr. Big comes calling.
"We always look at this first phase as a new beginning and if we're on a good deer, a daylight walker, you've got a chance of taking him if you get the right weather event," said Mark.
"But more often than not, Terry and I generally use it to hone our skills, to get ready for the season that's in front of us and sometimes we do a little doe management."
Speaking of weather events, one thing that can shuffle the deck for a hunter in Phase One is the appearance of a powerful early season cool front that brings good rain and a north wind.
Such an event happened during the filming of the first season of Thirteen and led to the harvesting of a magnificent 13-point giant buck tagged by Team Drury member Brandon Jennings.
"You've got to love these weather fronts," said Mark. "In this early season, it's feast or famine. You're either going to see a bunch or you are not going to see any because they are still grouped up."
On the hunt mentioned above, a mid-September cold front brought heavy rain after weeks of dry weather along with a north wind and a 20-degree temperature drop on the opening day of the 2013 season in Missouri.
The result was Jennings's PSE bow quietly speaking with an unleashed arrow as Team Drury enjoyed an epic opening day hunt captured on video.
"What an opening day buck," said Mark. "That was sweet. He said he had a big one patterned and obviously he did."
Which leads to the third tactic employed by the Drury gang during Phase One of the Thirteen season, the use of trail cameras to help pattern early season buck movement.
"Summer pictures leading into the early part of the season are important," said Matt. "If you've got your Reconyx trail cameras out, that summer time information is going to lead to success in the early season if you've got a daylight walker."
Case in point was Mark's opening day hunt during the 2013 season mentioned above when a good buck appeared in the gathering weather front of his blind - just out of bow range - at precisely 6:01 p.m.
"That was the first deer of the year," said Mark. "That movement started right at 6 p.m. just like the pictures had showed."
And that brings us to the fourth and final hunting tactic of Phase One, the realization that most - if not all - hunting opportunity at this early stage of the season is restricted to the late afternoon and evening hours only.
Why? Because the whitetail's daily chow hall and their nightly bedroom are in practically the same spot, meaning that it is all but impossible to get into a stand during the morning hours without getting busted.
"During Phase One, I seldom, if ever, hunt in the mornings," said Taylor. "Dad and Uncle Terry have always taught me that where a deer beds and where they are feeding are closer than ever during this phase.
"This is why it is so challenging to get in there in the mornings without spooking them, especially an older buck," she added.
And since that's the aim of another Thirteen season unfolding each fall, sometimes a hunter has to be willing to exercise a lot of patience during Phase One.
Because when it comes to tagging a big old gnarly whitetail like the Drurys often do, success in the woods is often a process of delayed gratification.
"It's a long season," laughs Terry. "There's no need to get in a hurry."
"It's the start of a four-month grind, 120 days’ worth of hunting action," grins Mark. "It's Phase One and it's coming at you right now."
Hopefully, with a good early season cool front, some dust settling rain, the use of sound hunting strategies will provide an opportunity for Thirteen fans and deer hunters to make their own early season big buck splash.
Because another year of the Big Show is finally front and center in a patch of deer woods somewhere near you.