With nearly a decade of whitetail hunting content production under our belt here at Exodus, we've been blessed to talk with some of the best whitetail hunters on the planet on a regular basis. With that, there's a question that we ask often:
"If you only had 3 days to hunt this year, what 3 days would you pick?"
A large percentage of answers come back with dates in November, like one would imagine, but an equal amount of answers come back as the first 3 days of season!
In this article, we'll take a look at why the first few days of season can be underestimated and what guys are doing now to capilizing during their whitetail opener.
If you're lucky enough to have a whitetail tag in a state with an early opener you're ahead of the game. As whitetail hunters, we often crave those cool crisp November mornings but if you're focused on being efficient and less romantic about fall there is no better time to pattern a buck than summer.
It's no secret that throughout the summer months, whitetails can be much more patternable versus other times of the year. And it makes sense. For the most part, food sources are consistent, bedding is consistent, pressure is consistent, and whitetails are strictly on a bed to food pattern.
With consistency also comes time. Great whitetail hunters often talk about MRI when scouting in the fall because variables are changing at a rapid pace during the October and beyond. While MRI is still important, it's less important during the consistency of summer which provides hunters with an often overlooked advantage...TIME. We have time to find deer. We have time to prepare. We have time to develop a plan to execute.
The caveat here, again, is having the opportunity to hunt a buck while he's still on his summer pattern. If your new to the whitetail game don't get "early season" confused with the opportunity to hunt summer patterns. The further we get from September 1st the more likely we'll see some type of change to summer patterns. Foods sources are beginning to shift. Bedding is beginning to shift. Human pressure is starting to increase. Testosterone is on the rise. All four play a vital role to how and why whitetails move in their environment and you'll need to understand this to implement any strategy around your opening dates.
While there are always folks in and out of the whitetail woods, the influx of whitetail hunters definitely starts around the season opener but continues to climb as weather cools, reaching its peak during November. Talk to any great whitetail hunter and at some point they mention pressure. How to avoid it, how to beat it, how to manage it, and/or how to use it to your advantage. When it comes to hunting the first few days of the season, the decision is often driven around taking advantage of hunting "unpressured" deer.
The truth of the matter is this...the vast majority of folks who hunt the season openers are also the same folks who are hunting simply out of tradition. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the great outdoors as a pastime and tradition, very few of those hunters are combining their tradition with purpose. Regardless of the time of year, encountering a mature whitetail is no easy feat and you can't expect to find success through luck. You need to have a plan to execute against, you need intent.
Knowing a large number of season opener hunters lack intent, do you best to leverage that behavior.
If you're hunting public:
- Identify those easy access spots from parking areas.
- Identify those field edge setups on destination food.
- Identify those left over stands from previous season.
- Identify those terrain features on OnX that draw early season pressure.
If you're hunting private:
- Communicate with neighboring hunters. You'd be surprised what a "good luck" text will reveal.
- Pay attention on who's glassing what fields in late August.
- Pay attention to property lines. Are there cameras, stands, etc.
Find Bucks Now
While I mentioned summer patterns afford whitetail hunters time, sitting here in August, we should also understand time is almost up. If you haven't located a target or targets for the first few days of season, you need to do it know.
While trail cameras certainly play a big part of target acquisition, they also deserve a section to their own. With the clock ticking try to implement everyday items into your search.
Running errands in town? - Drive back roads.
Normally workout in the mornings? - Start jogging or riding your bike in those less populated areas.
Ditch the evening TV/Phone sessions and start glassing.
Strike up conversations with your mail carriers, neighbors, friends...really anyone you bump into that lives in the proximity to your hunting grounds. Be tactful and strategic.
Trail Cameras Tactics
If you've failed to have cameras out over the summer, it's ok but you don't want to wait any longer. Getting cameras out in August buys you enough time to lock in important data into your plan of execution.
If you're only using SD card cameras, just know that you'll need to pull those SD cards to have anything tangible. With checking cameras comes pressure so plan accordingly. Limit those SD card trail cameras to low impact areas like destination food sources and/or other areas that offer good low intrusion/low impact access.
If you are leveraging the power of cellular trail cameras you'll also need to be smart around where you're spending your resources. While cell cameras are now widespread, most hunters still are not running more than a few every season. Utilize your cell cameras in those harder to access areas that also tie into your plan of execution for the season opener. Get these out in early August with the focus on areas like bedding, staging, and/or planned stand sights. Once deer move off the pattern you're executing against you can reallocate your cell camera arsenal.
Strike While The Iron Is Hot
All this talk about preparation is fantastic but without execution it's meaningless. If you have your plan laid out, get the time needed to execute. Over decades of hunting content, we've been brainwashed to think we need to save our PTO days for November. Smoke 'em if you got 'em. With that said, if conditions are flat out not conducive you'll need to make a judgement call. Below are a few things to things about:
- Confirm your intel with consecutive days leading up to your hunt
- Beating a buck back to bed might not offer you the greatest odds
- Focus on evening, bed to food movements
- Look and plan according to the precipitation forecast
- Take your first sit observations into account for the next day
The reality of any whitetail hunting strategy is it's always easier said than done. However, without learning from failure there is no growth. It's no different with early season hunts. While so many talk about increased odds in the early season, the overall odds of success are still low. When we look at the elite hunters, from any demographic, they all have had enough failures to become true students of their whitetail craft.
Author: Chad Sylvester, Co-Founder/Owner of Exodus