Can you believe it? If deer season hasn’t already begun for you in your state, it’s surely close. For most of us, early bow season begins in September and with that being right around the corner, it’s time to make sure you’re ready. If you don’t hunt until the gun season, you can still catch a good few pointers from this as well.
If you take your whitetail hunting as serious as I do, there really isn’t any “days off” during the year. I manage over 2,700 acres of property and hunt over 25,000 acres of public land every year. As the hunting memes come back on social media and the mechanical versus fixed blade broadhead questions hit every hunting group again, I always feel as though I’m not ready. Truth is, I have never been and never will be.
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No matter how unprepared I feel, I’ve always been able to capitalize on opening weekend. Whether or not I decide to pass on a big buck or punch my tag on a mature buck, there are several things I’ve learned that contribute to the success on the season opener. For me, it’s a method of trial and error but also a method of repetition, as some things just seem to work year after year. To this day, I’ll never forget September 4th, 2014. I did everything right, but missed my shot on a beautiful opening day buck. A full eight point velvet buck that had to have scored well over 140″. He would have been my biggest buck to date and haunts me to this day. Thanks to him, that day in the soybean field with the other bachelor group of nice bucks, we have a foundation for this article.
Take note of the second word — properly. Whether you are deer hunting on private agricultural property or the public woodlands, scouting is a priority, but it needs to be done right.
When I look at scouting, I am reminded of my high school football days. No, I wasn’t a top pick for any Division I schools, but I was a candidate for Division III. The scouts came to our games, watched our films when they couldn’t be at the games and then came to speak with us. They knew what they were looking for and wasted no time getting the players they wanted.
How does this relate to hunting might you ask? Well, if the scout never paid any attention to films, didn’t truly know his high schools and their players, he may just pick players from the same high school he first ever picked from. He may not truly know what else is out there or understand which player would be best for his college team. The same goes for hunting. If you don’t get out there and scout your deer, you may just become complacent and sit in the same stand you have been for the last 10 years. You may go to the same public land you shot one buck at on opening weekend six years ago and continually try for a repeat. I hate to break it to you, but it’s not going to happen.
Scout properly means first off you have to scout. Get out there several times and when you can’t, look at the films or trail cameras, which we get into next. Treat scouting just like you are hunting, but try to be mobile. Glass from a distance whether you are using a spotting scope like the Maven S.1A or an entry-level pair of binoculars like the Cabelas Intensity HD 10×42. Be sure to stay downwind and scent free. Try not to be noticed, but make sure you are able to get a good look at the way the deer are moving. Be sure to record the times, the exact location and build a strategy for opening day. Do you think Muhammad Ali ever went into the ring without knowing everything he needed to know about his opponent? Not in the slightest bit. Make sure you know everything you can about the buck you want to go after before you step foot in the woods opening weekend.
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Hang Trail Cameras
Much like watching films, trail cameras are used to monitor your deer herd when you can’t be there. They also allow you to get a closer, better look at the deer to help you better decide if you truly want to target a buck for opening day.
When hanging trail cameras remember to be as scent free as possible. You want to make sure to format your card every time to that specific camera to ensure it will be empty and ready to accept images. Batteries are to be checked and when they get under 30 percent battery life, I recommend tossing and replacing.
In states where you can bait, I highly recommend doing this. I will use whole corn for my trail camera analysis however when I want more pictures of my deer and more opportunities at the more mature deer, I’ve found the best product for me has been Monster Meal Attractant. Since using Monster Meal, I’ve noticed a significant difference in frequency and retention at my trail cameras. If you have an attractant that has worked for you, stick with it as there are plenty of great products on the market.
Lastly, keep your trail cameras facing North as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. As we approach winter, the sun will continue to rise lower to the horizon leaving East, West and South all poor choices to aim your trail camera at. You want quality images, not glare or shadows, so keep it North and keep it fresh with batteries, SD cards, and bait.
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Set Up Multiple Tree Stands
If you have only one option come opening day, you are limiting yourself. Ultimately, this is why I love public land hunting so much. I will go further and deeper than any other deer hunters and when I get there, I basically have my own private land as it’s often untouched with much less hunting pressure.
Wherever I plan to hunt, I always make sure I have options. If you hunt private land, you should by now have your stands hung, your shooting lanes cleared and your trails to get to your stands ready to accept new footprints. If you hunt public land, take out your map and mark some locations. Find some trees that will accept a climbing tree stand or a good area for a ground blind and mark it down.
I recommend using onX or Scoutlook to find new public land to hunt. Once you have found it, obtaining a Hunterra Map is key. For those who hunt private property, a Hunterra Map is also very beneficial as it is an indestructible, highly detailed map that will help you key in on those areas to hang your stands.
You will always want to keep the wind in mind when hanging your stands. If you know the food source and the bedding area and the area you know deer often travel between the two, you will want to set up at least two stands over that specific location. Each stand will be optimal for opposing wind directions, again, leaving you options. Through scouting and trail cameras, you should be able to narrow down the where and the when, but come opening day, you will want to have multiple options to answer the “how”.
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Plan For Warm Weather & Control Your Scent
More of a reminder than a secret, but let’s face it, opening weekend is usually warm. No matter where you are, you are bound to sweat, so be prepared. Scent control is a must. Ozone generators like Scent Crusher are a huge plus and are great for your clothes and your gear. You will want to make sure to have your body clean and as odor free as possible as well. This includes scent free deodorant.
Your best bet is to not to eat spicy or smelly foods the few days leading up to opening weekend, you will sweat them out for sure. I will begin showering at least one week before hunting season in scent free soap and shampoo and sometimes even earlier if I am scouting much more intensively. No matter what anyone tells you, even if they say they have killed a buck smoking a cigarette, a deer will deter from unusual odors. It’s not the buck they killed while smoking a cigarette — it’s the buck they didn’t kill they never even knew was there.
I think this goes without saying, but your clothing can make a big difference come opening weekend. You will want breathable, lightweight hunting gear for opening weekend. It’s not advised to show up in September wearing the same hunting gear you plan on wearing late season. This year I will be trying out the new Sitka Early Season Whitetail line. So far during my scouting, I’ve enjoyed it as it’s very lightweight and breathable. I look forward to giving it a try come opening weekend.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Let’s face it, a sports team doesn’t show up on game day without a summer’s worth of practice, you shouldn’t either. Practice everything you would do on opening day now so there are no surprises opening morning. There are three practices in the sub-heading so let’s pick three things you should practice before opening day.
Practice shooting: You can never shoot too much or be too comfortable. Surely, shooting 80 arrows at a time is overkill, but getting out in the morning and shooting 10 arrows then again in the evening is building confidence. When you are confident in your shot, you will be confident and prepared during the moment of truth. If you are a rifle or muzzleloader hunter, same rules apply — practice as much as you can.
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Practice leaving and arriving: It may sound like overkill, but you spent all summer scouting and know the exact moment you need to be in your stand. Deer at this time are often on a bed-to-food and food-to-bed pattern. If you arrive late, you have wasted your entire summer’s worth of time. If you plan to hunt the morning or the evening or both, decide where you will be and what you will be doing opening day. If it is a Friday at 5:00PM in the afternoon and you have a two-hour drive like I do, start to finish, make the drive. Make the drive, walk to your stand, lift your bow and stop the timer. You may find that rush hour, forgetting gear or having to take the long way around because deer are already in the field, can hinder your progress. If you practice leaving and arriving now, you will know exactly how long it takes you to get there and be ready when the day comes.
Practice shooting, leaving and arriving again: Let’s face it there are several things we can practice to ensure we are ready for opening day. Much like a good boss gives your 10 rules to being a good employee, rule number three is to remind you of rule number one and two. Often for a career, your boss may suggest that rule number one is that if you are early you are on time. Rule number two might suggest that being on time means you’re late. Rule three through ten suggest reverting back to the first two rules to ensure you are on time and do everything correctly. This is no different from the opening day of deer hunting season.
If you do everything above, you may be well on your way to a successful hunt on opening day. Deer hunting often comes jammed packed with a handful of gear. If you are filming your hunt, you will have even more gear to bring with you. If you are traveling and camping through the weekend, you will have even more gear to remember.
Make a list. Make a list now and cross off the things you find you don’t need and prioritize the ones you do. Your hunting license, flashlight, hunting knife, bow release, back up release and so on. You do not want to get to your property only to find you forgot your flashlight or hunting boots in the bin in the garage. Make a list early on, update it throughout the last few weeks and be prepared to shoot a buck you truly deserve.
These are all things you MUST not forget come opening weekend. If you have learned anything from this article, it’s about being prepared. No sports team enters their match, game or fight, without being prepared. Hunting is a sport. It’s competitive and it’s about being more prepared, even when you are at the ultimate disadvantage. Don’t wait until the last minute to accept that hunting season is here. There are surely some things you have done in error the previous years that you can use as a reminder of what not to do this year. Be prepared, scout, be scent free, have options and have fun. It’s here ladies and gentlemen — hunting season is finally here.
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