Early Deer Season Hunting Tips with Dan Johnson

By: Dan Johnson 

Early Season

October 1st is almost here and that means thousands of us will be hitting the timber in hopes of either filling the freezer with organic venison or chasing big old nasty bucks in the fingers, draws, and river bottoms throughout this great state. For me, this year will be a little different as my third child is now here and as any hardcore hunter with young children knows, my time in the woods will more than likely be restricted due to parental duties.

In the past, as soon as October hit, I was full throttle for the next two months. I would try to hunt as much as humanly possible and that was just fine and dandy. But little did I know by hunting that much that early in the season, I was doing more harm than good. Then I got married… I had my first child… and then had two more kids. Over the last 5 years, my time spent in the timber has been greatly reduced due to my growing family and those father and husbandly responsibilities. Now don’t get me wrong, I still get time to hunt, but I have to do a lot more planning as well pick the best possible days to be in the timber. The hunting seasons where I spend 40 consecutive days in the tree stand are over for now. But that’s not all bad.

Early Season Warning


In 2016 I decided to put out additional trail cameras throughout the properties I hunt. I let those cameras soak for the entire month of October in a variety of different location including pinch points, fence crossings, scrapes, staging areas, and inside corners of field edges. The first picture I received of a mature buck during hunting hours (daylight) was on October 28th twenty minutes before the sun went down. So what did I take away from that information? I was seeing fresh rubs and scrapes on a daily basis, even having pictures of mature bucks in the middle of the night. But still, nothing while in the stand. I learned that if your goal is to harvest a mature buck, it is best to wait until the best possible time of year, and that is NOT the first three weeks of October. Are mature bucks still killable this time of year, absolutely, it’s just harder to do.  More than likely these deer are in their still in their beds long after you leave your stand or blind and are already back to their beds long before there is any shooting light during a morning hunt. By the way, I am a huge fan of hunting morning during the early archery season if, and only if there are trail cameras evidence to help support that decision.  With all that said, over the last several seasons I have reduced my tree stand time in October.

Filling The Freezer

photo via Bearded Buck 

For me, the early archery season is for filling the freezer with a one or two does. This allows me to get my hunting fix until the rut hits. Like I eluded to in the previous paragraph, the first mature buck didn’t even start moving in daylight until one of the last days in October. Knowing what I know now, it would be dumb for me to jump into some of my better stand locations that early in the season. I would be doing way more harm than good. The goal when hunting mature bucks is to not educate them with threating pressure. This can come in several forms; scent, sound, and sight. Any one of these, at any time, could have negative effects on your hunting properties. If you have ever heard me say, “First time in, best time in.”, I wholeheartedly believe that to be true, and that can’t happen when you are stomping through the woods every weekend.

I had someone tell me once “A trail camera picture of a mature buck at night is the same not have a picture of them at all.” Once I let that sink in, it hit me like a ton of bricks. In the past, as soon as I would get a picture of a big buck on cameras, I would jump in the timber… even if that picture was taken at 3:30 in the morning. I would go in a hand full of times and after a while that buck would stop showing up. What do you think was the reason? That’s right, me. Even though I was gone, my scent stuck around, and my guess is that that buck caught a nose full of my scent, had enough and relocated.

If the does aren’t ready, neither are the bucks.

As we all know cold fronts can really get the deer on their feet and moving. But, the largest determining factor for deer movement is the breeding cycle. I feel that cold fronts in early October are less effective than that same cold front coming through later in the month or in November. Because cold fronts don’t make does come into heat. I don’t feel that a cold front in early October has so much influence that the mature bucks are up on their feet two hours before the sun goes down and the going back to their beds at 9:00 am.

In closing, time of year is everything. If your goal is a mature buck, don’t shoot yourself in the foot opening weekend blowing your scent all over the county. Use your brain, save your brownie points, and wait until the conditions are optimal to attack. Good luck!

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