By Jeff Sturgis:
When Summer mornings begin to cool down, the anticipation for most bowhunting whitetail openers is heating up. Are you feeling the heat right now? I sure am! By the time September 1st rolls around the annual build-up of excitement, practice, planning and scouting is exploding across the whitetail range. However, don't be tempted to let the level of excitement influence your opportunity for the following highly strategic bowhunting practices!
Bowseason Opening Day Decision
Seriously, should you sit or not? During the first decade of my bowhunting pursuits my bowseason opener fell squarely on October 1st, which was and still is, Michigan's hallowed starting date. During the last 2 decades though, my personal archery opener has taken a different path. Instead of a date on the calendar, I purely focus on a great day to hunt. I have experienced that you only get 1 day each season to call your opener, so you might as well make it count.
Time is on your side, when it comes to early season bowhunting pursuits. What's the rush? The October Lull is the period of time that features a slow down in hunting opportunities between the bowseason opener and the annual rut. Although the annual shut down of deer activity does seem to occur, it has a lot more to do with hunting pressure, than a particular time of the year. Most of the lull in deer movements is directly caused by hunting pressure, which begins for most folks at the exact same time they first enter the woods to hunt during the early season. Lazy daylight Summer patterns are turned into mid-October vanishing acts in a hurry! Patience is key, when making your decision of when to hit the woods during the early season. By waiting for the perfect time to climb into a stand, you can at least make sure that you are choosing a high value sit opportunity, because the lull may rear its ugly head soon after. Sacrificing a potentially poor hunt on the 1st day of the season to wait for a perfect weather opportunity on the 5th day, could yield you huge rewards. I have experienced that waiting to apply the first dose of hunting pressure to your land on the best day to hunt -which may or may not be the first day to hunt- is a wise choice!
Morning Bowhunt Forgiveness
There is a period of time in the whitetail woods that most never get to experience until after the season, that I refer to as "Weeks of Forgiveness". The weeks of forgiveness refers to the number of weeks it takes for a deer herd to calm down on a parcel that has been overly pressured. In my experience it takes 3-4 weeks for a herd to settle back into a level of daily comfort, but how many hunters leave their land alone for that long, after the season begins? During the early season time is on your side!
Risking a morning hunt into the downwind side of a mature buck's daytime bedding area may sound like a risky move during the first week of the season, but even if you spook a monster out of his hidey hole, you have plenty of time left before the rut for him to ease back into your land. The key is to pick a great weather day before taking that initial move towards a bedding area stand during the early season, and expect success! If a morning stand you are considering relates to a solid evening movement you can take advantage of, I would pass on the morning sit while opting for the higher value evening sit over a quality food source. However, if you have the opportunity to hunt a bedding area that you suspect a mature buck to be located in during the first week of the season, don't hesitate to take a chance. Afterall, you will have the luxury of several weeks to pass prior to the peak of the rut, for the local deer herd to forgive your intrusion.
Early Season Food Rules
Food is king when it comes to a successful early season bowhunt. Dependable movements that have been flaunted by mature bucks all Summer long, are typically fairly easy to take advantage of if the food source is still a great draw. This helps you place a premium on food plots, that often hold a much higher level of diversity than an ag field, let alone native vegitation. While I enjoy climbing into an early season morning stand, it is hard to beat the level of precision that you can experience with the defined movement by a mature buck to his early season evening food source. A high priority should be placed on hunting food during the early season. If you have the choice of hunting a morning or evening stand that are part of the same line of deer movement during the first week of the season, you may find yourself highly rewarded by choosing the evening stand location, which tends to be more reliable than a morning opportunity.
Which early strategy is the best? Try all of them at the same time! By choosing movements that relate to food and making an accurate determination of using morning or evening stand locations during high value weather days, your opener can be highly successful. You can even find great success by being patient and not actually hunting on opening day, if there are better days that follow. Best of all, if you blow every deer in your hunting grounds off of your land, you still have plenty of weeks for the entire herd to forgive your efforts.
Jeff Sturgis is a whitetail deer habitat consultant and writer of the whitetail series "Whitetail Success by Design". For more information on Jeff and to read more of his posts, visit www.whitetailhabitatsolutions.com!