- Part 1: Top Four Tips To Scouting Now
- Part 2: Early Season Deer Stand Tips
- Part 3: Follow the Moon
- Part 4: Five Top Deer Gear Essentials
- Part 5: Five Top Backpacks
- Part 6: Essential Trail Camera Know-How
- Part 7: Making The Call
- Part 8: Keeping Warm
Nothing forces a bigger change in deer movement and patterns than hunting pressure. Not food, not the rut, not the weather. Hit the fields in late August, before deer have been harried by hunters roaming through the forest on foot and ATVs, and even on a 90-degree day, you’ll catch deer slipping into the open greenery the last few hours of daylight, often by the dozens, to graze and wander. Similarly, hit a property that hasn’t been hunted during the late season, and while the land you and your buddies have hunted for a month may seem barren of deer, whitetails will stroll into open fields and food plots two hours before dark, the same as those deer before the season ever started.
So what’s my point? To have the absolute best chance to kill your best deer this season, hit your hunting property those first warmish days of the season. Get there early and do your best to work the spots receiving the least amount of pressure. Here’s a listing of where you need to focus for the best success.
1.) Work the Edges
This is almost an obvious choice in the first days of the season. With no hunting pressure in the days leading up to the season, deer are more apt to step into the open and feed in the late afternoon in the hours before sunset. Agricultural fields are at their peak nutritional value just prior to harvest. Scout out fields of soybean, alfalfa, cut corn and even peanuts. Pinpoint where deer tend to enter from, and identify the most used and well-worn trails followed into the browse, particularly those used by bachelor groups of bucks.
Considering prevailing wind patterns, set your stand up 25 to 30 yards downwind from the most commonly used trails from the woods. Hang your stand during midday when you won’t spook anything from the field and don’t go traipsing around the woods as deer are likely to be bedded not too far in the woods. This could present your best chance to connect on a bruiser, particularly if you’ve scouted properly and patterned a giant entering the field around the same time and same place each day. Field stands are almost exclusively afternoon hunts.
2.) Water When It’s Hot
It’s hot this time of year and deer get thirsty just like we do. Find an isolated pond with brush and cover around it—or better yet, back in the woods—and you may have found a deer magnet. Walk the edge to confirm deer tracks along the bank and inspect trails leading through the greenery. Like the field edge, hang a stand in easy range. No trees, take a trip from the antelope hunter’s playbook and set a pop-up blind just off the water a few days before you plan to hunt it (so deer can get used to it). These spots can make both a great morning or evening sit depending on where it is situated between feed and bedding.
No ponds, but a meandering creek running through your land? This can make it harder to pinpoint where to set up, but not impossible. Look for worn-crossings along the bank or spots where the bank levels down toward the water to form a shelf mere inches above the water line. Deer will cross at these spots and stop to drink up presenting you with a good standing shot.
3.) Mast Matters a Lot
In years when acorns litter the woods, that is where you will find deer feeding. Acorns, particularly from white oaks, are even preferred over greenery such as soybeans or clover, as the protein-rich mast provides more necessary nutrition as deer build up energy for the rut and to survive the coming winter. Several years back in Virginia, oaks had produced a bumper crop. At the same time, hunters engaged in preseason scouting lamented how few deer they were seeing in the fields. “It was going to be a bad year,” was the collective lament. It wasn’t, however, as the deer simply weren’t wasting time feeding in the open when they had plenty of acorns to feed on in the cover of the forest.
Pinpointing where to set up when acorns are dropping all over can be a challenge. If possible, find a stand of white oaks or an oak flat atop a ridge top where deer will travel and set up there. The closer thick, bedding cover is, or a thick edge of younger trees are, the more apt you will be to catch deer moving among the oaks. Hit these areas in the morning as deer return to bedding areas for the day. In the South, where pines tend to dominate the landscape, a lot of oaks are left standing to mark boundaries. Find one dropping acorns amidst the surrounding pines and you can guarantee a visit morning or evening from deer on the move.
4.) Creekside Highways
SMZs (streamside management zones), those remaining trees lining small ribbons of water winding across your land can serve as cover corridors through young cutovers in the South or portions of the Midwest. Likewise, tree-lined creeks in otherwise open areas of the Southern Plains serve the same purpose. These are among some of my favorite spots to hang a stand. Deer will move along the cover and water these trees provide, while the surrounding open area provides great visibility for making open shots on deer on the prowl. Hang stands along these zones where additional creeks or different aged trees create an intersecting edge. Together these areas form a crossroads deer use to navigate the terrain. Don’t abandon these spots as the season wears on. Bucks will work the natural corridors in search of hot does as the rut approaches. Find one of these SMZs that winds its way between ag fields and deep cover and access this spot morning or evening for equal success.