Hunting whitetails falls into three phases; early, the rut, and late season. If you break down the rut into its individual stages, there are even more. For this article, we are going to concentrate on the possibilities early season provides.
The key to being successful in an early season hunt is patterning deer at their food source. When you find one buck, you are liable to find an entire bachelor group with as many as 8 bucks in it. Just after bucks shed their velvet, they still remain friends with other bucks. As their testosterone begins to increase in the next few weeks, their bachelor groups will begin to dissolve and then it is a whole new ballgame.
I do not like to hunt directly on the food source on a morning hunt. Deer are probably feeding nearby and what makes an early morning hunt so great is that the deer have not been pressured by hunters. Climbing in your stand that sits on the edge of the food source is likely to alert deer that you are close. This is where knowing what trails deer are using comes into play.
Hang a stand on a trail between the food source and a known bedding area like a swamp or thick ravine. I do not like to hunt much more than 50 yards from the food source. Any further and you run the risk of getting too close to the bedding area. This technique will allow the hunter to sneak in undetected. Another reason that I like to hunt this far on the inside edge is to intercept bucks who want to go to bed a little early.
Travel routes to and from your stand are just as important as where you position your stand. Always keep the wind in play. If walking to your stand is going to spread your scent across the field, do not hunt that stand. Always keep downwind of where the deer are feeding. Never cut across a food source to get to your morning stand. If you have to leave home 30 minutes earlier in order to get to your stand undetected, do it.
On an afternoon hunt I feel comfortable hunting on the edge of an agricultural food source, like a soybean or uncut cornfield. I like to position my stand about 15 yards downwind from the entry trail. Because whitetails are still not feeling pressure they feel safe enough to enter a food source with plenty of shooting light left. You might even get a crack at a deer walking the edge of the field.
Rather than hanging a tree stand downwind of an entrance trail to a standing timber of corn, hunt from inside the corn at ground level. By wearing camouflage that matches your surroundings it is possible to fool a deer by doing the unexpected. Sit a stool downwind of the trail and 2 to 3 rows deep in the corn.
Keep in mind that deer are not always traveling from the woods to the cornfields. The standing corn offers shade that the deer like to bed in. Once acorns start to fall it is not unusual to see deer moving from the standing corn to the oak trees. They also bed in the corn and then travel to lush fields of alfalfa, clover or standing soybeans to eat.
If the ground you are hunting has a water supply, do not ignore it. While the weather is warm, whitetails will get thirsty throughout the day. They will not only visit it at midday to quench their thirst but also in the mornings as they return to their beds and again in the afternoon before they start to feed again. Place your stand downwind of the trail leading to the water supply. It does not take a lot of water to pull a deer in. I have seen deer drinking from a spring seep because that was the nearest water to their bedroom.
If there is a small stream running through your property, find where the deer are crossing it. Whitetails are an animal that likes to do things the easy way. Rather than cross where it is steep, they will walk out of their way to find an easy crossing. Often, before they cross the creek they will usually pause for a few seconds giving you time to get a shot off.
You might begin to notice that the deer are not going to the fields as early as they once were. You can probably blame acorns on that. The deer are still visiting the fields, but only after an appetizer of acorns. Deer prefer the sweet tasting white oak over the bitter red oaks. But, if the reds are dropping fruit and the whites are not, the deer will go to the red oaks. When both the white and red oaks are dropping fruit, the deer will devour the nuts from the white oaks before moving to the red oaks.
The best advice I can give you is to set up close to a hot oak so you are within shooting range. Deer will mill around as they feed on the nuts. Always make sure the wind your scent away from the oaks. And as soon as oaks start dropping in good numbers, be ready. It might only last a couple of days, or it could last for weeks. However, your best chances will be the first or second day. A strong wind could cause all the acorns to fall in one night, which could cause a feeding frenzy.
Apple and persimmon trees produce fruit that is well-liked by deer. If you have either tree on your property, hang a stand downwind. Once the trees start dropping their fruit, deer will walk long distances for the sweet tree.
Knowing where deer are feeding, what the deer’s primary trails are, and alternate stand sites will help you tag a bruiser early in the season. Remember the reason deer hunting is so great at this time of the year is that the deer have not been pressured yet. Do not ruin that in your scouting, your entry and exit routes, or by hunting when the wind is not perfect.