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Bow Hunting Whitetails – Scout Now, Score Early
Summer temperatures are hot and humid. Swarm of biting bugs. Clothes stick. Beads of sweat. Why would bow hunting be on your mind, you ask? Well, if you’re like me, hunting whitetails with archery gear is a way of life. And, part of my life depends on talking about hunting. So bear with me and soon, you may find yourself dreaming of big bucks and the heart-pounding magic of a crisp fall morning.
The changing of the seasons sparks the desire in many bowhunters to head to the nearest hills in search of the elusive whitetail. As the heat of summer surrenders its suffocating forest cover to the deer woods, whitetails become highly visible creatures. A short drive on any country road during the month of August should result in the sighting of at least a decent set of antlers. The problem is finding that set of deer antlers after bow season opens. Therein lies the dilemma of early season whitetail bowhunting. Let’s take a look at some tactics that can increase your chances of scoring.
Low Impact Scouting
Many hunters make the mistake of blindly traversing whitetail habitat in search of the perfect location. Whitetails are extremely sensitive to human intrusion, which makes it very difficult to hide their movements. This is especially true for big bucks. If you’re not careful, you’ll inadvertently announce your future intentions to the deer herd. And, once a mature whitetail feels threatened, it will move to a completely different location or become primarily nocturnal. I don’t need to tell you what this will do to your chances of getting such an animal. So what’s the answer, you ask?
This is simple. Get yourself a good set of high quality binoculars or a spotting scope and do your spotting from a safe distance. Crop fields should be your main focus right now. Rich rows of alfalfa, soybeans and corn draw deer for miles. But before you take a wild ride to the nearest “Back 40,” keep a few ground rules in mind. Keep the disturbance to a minimum. Place in a row of trees or along a brushy fence line to project your silhouette. Also, be sure to keep wind direction in mind when surveying an area of interest. Always apply with the wind in your face or down to avoid contaminating the area with human scent. A few afternoons on a green edge of the field should prove beneficial in locating a spot for your stand.
With careful and persistent observation, you will begin to learn the travel behavior of many bucks. Once you create the daily routine of every dollar, you will be able to plan a strategy. Start your reconnaissance by walking the edges of the fields at noon. Look for well-trafficked trails if you’re interested in tagging smaller deer. A large set of tracks found along a less noticeable trail normally indicates that a trophy frequents the area. A keen eye and a basic sense of deer behavior can lead you to these types of trails. Concentrate your efforts on a location that will have the best chance of getting the class of animal you desire.
There are other low-impact detection methods that can also produce results. Incorporating topographic maps, aerial photographs, and computer mapping programs into your repertoire can lead you to areas you might otherwise overlook.
Pathways and feeding hoppers
Placing a stand along a trail that connects a bedding area to a field or other food source can be deadly in the early days of the early archery season. In fact, the very first week of the season is usually a good time to put in a traveling animal. During the late summer and early fall, big bucks typically travel between these two areas.
If you’re interested in seeing lots of deer around your stand, find a “funnel.” This is any type of natural or man-made structure that continuously forces deer to move through the same section of forest. The operative word here is “powers”. Deer become susceptible to death by broadhead whenever their movement is restricted to a certain part of the forest. It can be as simple as noticing a missing or broken wire fence where deer cross a fence from one piece of property to another. Or, it could be a fallen tree forcing traffic to one side of the trail or the other.
Man also plays an important role in creating funnels. Growth is a common cause of funnel production. A new house, a road, or a drainage ditch are all factors that can change deer movement in one way or another. Basically, deer are lazy by nature. They will seek the path of least resistance when traveling through an area. Committing to these habits can mean early season success.
Here is the Rub
If you have your sights set on a large buck, it would be in your best interest to locate as many fresh rubs as possible. Only antlers rub and usually the bigger the rub, the bigger the deer. No other type of sign is more persuasive of a buck visiting your booth space than a rub.
Spotting fresh friction isn’t as hard as you might think. Crop tops are a good bet. Deer that visit a field at night usually leave a rub on the edge of the forest when they leave the field in the morning. Rubs usually face the direction of travel. The best case scenario is to find lots of scrub along a trail system. Many trees will be clearly marked and similarly damaged if the same bottle does most of the rubbing. This is a relatively easy way to track a single amount. Position your base 15 to 20 yards from the tee line and on the opposite side of the fairway.
If all your efforts to locate deer fail during the open season, I suggest choosing another effective method of detection — placing a stand in a promising area simply to observe deer movement. You can choose to trade your bow and arrows for a set of binoculars and a notebook to track and document your finds. If the spot looks promising, bring your bow just in case. Remember that you are on a serious investigative mission, so be as careful as you normally would be when bowhunting in active locations. Shower, sneak into the stand position, hunt only when the wind is favorable, wear rubber-soled boots, etc. You don’t want to alert the deer to your intentions.
It only takes a few sessions to record and track the travel habits of deer in the immediate area. Be sure to choose a location where visibility is unobstructed. You need to be able to see a long distance to cover as much ground as possible. Pay close attention to how and where deer move when they pass through the area. Your comments will help you in future stand placement.
Okay, I’ll admit it. It’s hard to hit the outdoors looking for deer sign when the season is months away. It’s even worse when the thought of staying at home in front of the TV in air-conditioned comfort comes to mind. But, no one ever said bowhunting was easy. So remember, to be successful in early season whitetail bowhunting, you need to put in the time well before the season opens.
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