Early Season Whitetails

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If the early season passed you by and your tags went unfilled, read below to find out how to do better next year:

It was the first week of August as I sat in my familiar haunt, scanning the oat field’s edge in the setting Saskatchewan sun. Suddenly, two spectacular whitetail bucks magically appeared out of the woods, and a quick look through my binoculars revealed their massive antlers in all their velvety splendour.

I knew in an instant it was the same buck I had been after last year, recognizing the stickers off his G-2s. Although the velvet gave him a deceiving appearance, I could tell he had put some length and mass onto his already impressive frame. This was, once again, the buck I would be concentrating the majority of my time on. Just like the wily ol’ character I knew he was, he held up on the field’s fringe, lurking in the shadows of the timber, patiently waiting for the safety of darkness.

Some would think that is when scouting season starts, when you find bucks like these two, but my scouting season had started months prior when I had picked up a fresh shed off of one of these two bucks that my eyes were now locked onto. The shed-hunting season is actually the start of my early season, as it really helps to cast a little light onto which bucks have snuck through another season unscathed. There is nothing like finding that big, shed antler off that monster buck you have had on your hit list, just knowing that he’s going to be there to pursue again in the upcoming fall. I’m just like a kid at Christmas, chomping at the bit in anticipation to see what he will grow and how his rack will change.

It is not only the shed antlers that I’m after on these early scouting missions and whenever I am in the woods, but also I’m taking note of all the trails, bedding areas, rubs and scrapes. It is here that they patiently wait, day in and day out, before heading out to their feeding grounds in the late afternoon and continue to feed into the safety of the evening darkness. Although they may frequent a little different area as they travel around during the rut, paying special attention to these areas will pay off in the end. I either make a detailed map of the area or plug the areas of interest into my GPS, to return to in the early fall months, during the archery season.

I’m also looking for good locations for ground blinds and treestands, which will provide me with good shooting lanes and visibility as far into the distance as possible. I try to hang my stands or place my blinds as early as possible, leaving ample time for the area to settle down before the start of the archery season. I also try to clean some branches away to open up shooting lanes, while trying to leave enough to keep me completely concealed from these elusive bucks.

I like to start putting my trail cameras out in late July, as by then these deer will be frequenting the area where they will be found during the archery season, as long as they aren’t disturbed. These cameras are amazing tools to help reveal what treasures are in your area, giving you concrete times and dates when and where the bucks are travelling.

I’m starting to think I either have an addiction or should have my head checked, but I start out in the summer months running several cameras, spread from five minutes from my front door to Timbuktu. It’s not easy to keep up with checking them and there is no doubt that it is hard work, but it pays off by learning where the bigger bucks are travelling. But most importantly, it shows where they are during the daylight hours. You can’t kill a nocturnal buck – I mean, eventually he will hopefully make some daytime appearances, but you have to focus on the ones that are cruising the trails before sunset or shortly after. The whitetails in the more heavily pressured and agriculture areas will most likely not hit the field’s edge until the witching hour, so you need to head into their bubble, closer to those trails they will be using as they make their way to their feeding areas.

I prefer to hunt from the ground whenever possible and also like to have my blinds in place by mid-summer, this way I can add all the foliage and cover to my blind, making certain it blends into the surroundings perfectly. Try your absolute hardest to do this without disturbing the unsuspecting whitetails, which helps them to grow accustomed to the change well before the season rolls around.

There are many challenges one is faced with when hunting the early season for whitetails. These big bucks can pattern a hunter quickly, so make sure you don’t spend too much time in one area. Having a few stands or blinds in numerous locations will help to spread your time in the various areas, also increasing your odds on a number of different bucks. These big, wily old bucks can change their habits quickly and will if you put too much heat on them or they feel they are in danger. They can become nocturnal or vacate the area in a heartbeat if they feel they are pressured at all.

Whitetails usually like to follow some sort of a routine, so as long as there isn’t a major change in the area you’re hunting, such as crop failure, a change in food sources, drought or something as drastic as the removal of their bush and cover, they will usually frequent the same areas and trails year after year. Although this may not help you in the first year or two, the more time you spend in an area, the more you learn to help you pattern these smart bucks.

The bucks are usually pretty lazy and relaxed this time of year, so they generally don’t travel too far from their primary food and water sources, often bedding close by and using their staging areas to go back and forth. These areas give the larger bucks a sense of security and they will usually hang tight there until close to dark before heading to feed. It is in a place like this where you will quite possibly have your best chances at an early season buck.

But remember to tread lightly and keep your eyes peeled at all times. These staging areas and the whitetail’s primary food sources will often be within spitting distance of each other. When you have found the area you plan to focus on, don’t spend too much time there before the season or you will likely bump the older, more mature bucks out of the area for good. So get in, do what you need to do and get out.

If it happens that you find a giant buck and can hunt him almost immediately, then I prefer to hunt from a stand, whether it be a treestand or a ladderstand. That way, you can sneak in and get into your stand without disturbing or changing anything that the buck you are after will immediately notice as out of place. The less you can disturb the elusive whitetail’s backyard, the better chance you will end up having.

They will still be travelling in their bachelor herds at the start of the season, so you may just want to be a little choosy and careful not to draw on the first buck that comes your way, as the majority of times the biggest buck will be the last one of the group down the trail. Once in a blue moon the biggest will lead the group, but more often the leader will send his scouts or “suckers” out ahead to make sure everything is good and safe before he commits himself.

Wind is one of the key factors as well, as I try to have a few different set ups to choose from just to be able play the wind direction in choosing the location I will focus on during that given day. Ensuring your scent is headed the opposite way the whitetails travel to their feeding areas will be a key to your success. Use scent elimination sprays whenever possible, as we need every little advantage we can possibly pull out of our bag of tricks when pursuing these elusive critters. They have the upper hand as it is, so the more we can do to make sure we don’t give them any extra advantages, the better off we will be.

One of the worst mistakes hunters make is only hunting one location, oblivious to the wind. This is a crucial slip up that most likely will end in any mature buck in the area pulling the classic “whitetail Houdini” trick, which will result in a disappearing act for the remainder of the season. This is something that has happened to the best of us and it is one of the worst feelings there is, as we definitely don’t need to educate these smart critters any more than they already are.

A little word of wisdom, depending on what area you are planning to hunt. Those pesky mosquitoes can end your early season hunt in a hurry and if you’re blessed to live in an area like I do, here in central Saskatchewan, the little beggars can come right into your blind and carry you away! I never go anywhere without my trusty Thermacell and I would highly recommend adding one to your arsenal if you haven’t already done so. It is truly an early season lifesaver. The Thermacells can also be used in the late season as a scent warmer in the cold weather our Canadian climate blesses us with almost every fall. Just keep your old repellent strips and turn them into scent mats and they work like a charm.

It is during this early season that these bucks will shed the velvet coating off their antlers and begin the polishing process as they rub on trees, small bushes and even fence posts. Some say the sounds of a buck rubbing his antlers on a tree can attract other bucks and trying this rubbing technique with a shed antler can even lure a big buck right into your stand. Almost instantly upon shedding their velvet, they become a little more playful, often sparring lightly with their buddies, where you may witness a match or hear the distant tinkling of antler tips from your stand or ground blind.

If all else fails, just remember to think like a whitetail, paying attention to every detail. Be sure to take advantage of food and water sources, as well as the elusive whitetail’s staging and bedding areas. Play the wind, try your best to keep your scent to a minimum and with some hard work, all the rest will fall right into your lap.

This added time afield provides you with valuable tips and added information on the actions of these big bucks. When it comes to a wily old whitetail, we need all the help we can get. I love being outdoors in the early season – the days are long, the weather is warm and the wild whitetails we all love are still in their summer habits, leaving some great opportunities to put an early season giant on the ground. Hunting pressure is minimal and we have so much more country to take advantage of, with little to no competition.

If the archery season manages to pass you by without any luck, you will have that extra edge and hopefully a slight upper hand during the October muzzleloader season.

Hopefully all this will help give you a little extra edge and you can make the most of the early season whitetail advantage.

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