5 Early Season Mistakes Deer Hunters Often Make

One of my favorite late-summer activities to do with the family is driving around looking for deer just before sunset.  We make a game out of it, to count as many deer as possible during the drive.  This keeps everyone in the vehicle actively involve in the pursuit, while I’m secretly looking for a target buck to start the season off, as well as taking inventory for the overall buck quality in the area.

The early season presents unique challenges and opportunities, the best of which being predictable patterns for big bucks.  Each year, I find myself watching trail cameras closer and closer as the start of bow season grows near.  Bucks that I’ve had on camera for months start to slowly fade away around the start of hunting season.  Months of preparation give you a short window of opportunity to capitalize on the intel that you’ve gathered the previous couple of months.

So why is it that so few of those mature bucks are actually taken by bowhunters in the first few days of the early archery seasons? I believe there are four primary mistakes many bowhunters make which ruin their chances of bagging one of those bucks during the early fall. Let’s take a look at these so you don’t make the same mistakes.

deer only hit scrapes at night

Hunting Just Because It’s Hunting Season

One of the biggest mistakes hunters make is jumping into the treestand too early, ruining their chances of capitalizing ont the early season pattern that they’ve spent all season developing.  Let’s face it, we never have enough time on our hands to venture out and hunt as much as we’d like to, so any free time we have, you have to take advantage of it.  However, jumping in your best stand on opening day might not be the best solution.

If the conditions aren’t perfect, stay out of the stand.  This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be glassing and putting in the work, it simply means that you can’t blow the stand out the first couple of days of the season and expect positive results.  If the wind is bad, it might be best to focus on the Honey-Do list or spend time glassing and preparing for the next chance you have.

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Wait Until the Wind is Right

Weather and hunting apps give us the upper hand when it comes to predicting deer movement and the direction of the wind.  So use this technology to your advantage and map out each stand location by the best wind direction to hunt it.  Pushing into a treestand because you’ve had photos of a big buck nearby this week doesn’t mean you’re going to have a chance to kill him.

If the wind is wrong, you’re not only going to ruin your hunt, but you might blow that buck of the area altogether.  It’s tough to stay scent-free during the early season as temperatures are higher and we sweat more, therefore we stink!  You’re most likely only going to get one chance at a mature buck, so you better make sure all of the cards are stacked in your favor!  Taking risks with bad wind during the early season is a recipe for disaster.

Try to have a treestand or hunting location for every wind direction so that you always have a place to hunt.  However, there are some days that you’re better off scouting instead of hunting.

Field Edges Become Less Productive

In the weeks leading up to opening day, deer can be found in large groups and numbers in open fields of soybeans, clover, and other food sources that deer like to eat.  The timing of opening day varies across the country, but for many hunters, it coincides with the start of acorns falling and soybeans turning yellow, therefore they’re less palatable.  As the food sources change, deer seek the highest quality food, oftentimes found in the cover.

Another reason that hunters see fewer deer in open fields during the start of hunting season is simply due to human pressure.  It doesn’t take long for deer to notice that hunters are in the woods and they respond by staying in the safety of cover longer during daylight hours.

Field edges can be extremely productive during the early season and that’s typically how I start my hunting season, but you better have a good plan in place to get to and from the field without getting busted.  I completely ruined a spot one season because I climbed down from a field edge treestand with deer in the field after dark.  Then I made an even dumber move by walking to a pinch-point treestand on a mid-October cold front, thinking that I could walk through the field before daylight without messing up my hunt.  Boy was I wrong.  I walked right into my target buck and it took me two months to see him again in person.

If the field edge doesn’t produce during daylight hours and your trail cameras are showing deer in the fields at night, you should consider where these deer might be staging just before dark to have the best shot at filling your tag.  This might be oak flat, persimmon grove, or other secluded feeding area.  Finding these staging areas is more difficult and most hunters never figure it out, however, moving your stand back to these areas instead of staying on field edge can be the difference in a successful season and eating TAG SOUP.

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Trim Small Shooting Lanes

There are two types of hunters when it comes to shooting lanes.  One that clears out every tree, bush, and branch around their stand and one that doesn’t trim any.  On hang and hunts, I don’t trim shooting lanes in hopes of not spooking deer in the area.  However, if you are hanging stands weeks or months prior to the start of hunting season, it’s ok to trim shooting lanes. Just don’t trim highways!  You only need enough clearance to release an arrow, not drive your truck through it.

When trimming shooting lanes, I’ve found that a battery-powered pole saw is the best investment to save time and energy.  Keep in mind that your arrow flies to a deer from your bow in an arch, meaning it’s not a straight line so you’ll need to trim limbs higher than your shooting lanes between you and the deer you’re shooting at.  It’s impossible to predict every trail that deer will take as it passes through your hunting area, but try to have at least one shooting lane at each possible intersection and leave limbs and trees to conceal your movements as you draw your bow.

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Limited by Time

Did you know that days are getting shorter and nights are getting longer as hunting season approaches?  Summer days are longer than fall days, and you might notice a decrease in daylight activity as a result the reduced amount of daylight.  Throughout the start of hunting season, we lose nearly half an hour of huntable shooting light per week.  That buck that starts coming out 30 minutes before dark this week might be coming in after sunset next week simply because his internal clock tells him when to move.

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