How to Find Early Season Whitetails
If you had to pick your favorite time of the year to be bow hunting in the whitetail woods, what would it be? Most hunters would say those precious few weeks of the rut. But there’s another time of year that can be very productive as well. Chasing early season whitetails can be almost as exciting as and definitely more predictable than the rut. Add into the fact that you are getting tired of shooting your PRIME at a foam target, and you can see why it may be a great time to be out. If you haven’t given the early season its fair shake before, read on for some tips and techniques to have more success this year.
First, let’s discuss the optimum environmental conditions and how they affect early season whitetails. Many hunters know that temperature, wind, and moon phase can all affect deer movement. If the temperatures are warmer than average, when early season whitetails are putting on their winter coats, they can easily overheat. Whereas, colder than average temperatures allow deer to move about freely without overheating. Wind speeds above about 15 miles per hour tend to put deer movement down as well, as it reduces their ability to sense predators. There are many schools of thought on what moon phases do to deer movement, but there are many other things that can affect it. For example, overcast skies, fog, or a light rain/snow can prolong daytime deer movement as they are crepuscular creatures (they are most active at dawn and dusk, or low-light times of the day). A rising barometer has also been known to produce good deer movement.
Now let’s discuss ideal locations to find early season whitetails. During the spring and summer, deer really focus on high-protein food sources to help with increasing body weights and growing antlers. However, during the early season, they start to make the switch to high-carbohydrate foods to help increase fat stores and sustain them throughout the lean winter months. This means that clover and bean plots may slow down for a short time, while grains (corn, oats, wheat, etc.) and natural mast food sources (apples, persimmons, berries, acorns, etc.) will pick up. One way to capitalize on this transition is to plant some smaller, secluded hunting plots in cereal grain crops, or plant mini-orchards with apples and berries. This way, deer will feel more comfortable in the smaller plots during daylight hours, giving you a better chance at harvesting a deer. If you have to hunt larger destination fields with these attractive crops, do so on the downwind side of the field, about 100 yards into the nearest cover to catch wary bucks that refuse to step out into the open during daylight. It’s critical to know your setup and what you expected bow shot distance might be. In tight cover, a 20 yard shot may be max, whereas open fields will allow the longest distance you are comfortable shooting.
Water sources are also very critical in the early season. While especially important in arid environments, water sources can be hunted effectively in more temperate areas as well. Early season whitetails tend to visit water sources between feeding and bedding areas. If you can locate and access these areas stealthily and without educating deer in the bow hunting season, they can be a dynamite location in warmer-than-average weather or when the precipitation has been sparse.
If you can magically find a combination of these scenarios (good environmental conditions, access to a small attractive food plot with water nearby), you’d better move Heaven and Earth to get to the woods for bow hunting that day. It could very well be some of the best bow hunting action you’ll ever have.