Hotspots For Early Season Deer

Doug Howlett 

bowhunterwithbuck_400As deer season’s first days open in your area, do you know where you should be sitting?

It’s probably still pretty hot outside, bugs are still swirling around you and, unless you’re in the Low Country of South Carolina or a few other limited places that have early firearms seasons, you’re most likely toting a bow. All of this factors into where and how you should choose and hunt your early season stand locations. Sitting over an open oak bottom or sighting down a long, wide beanfield won’t be your best bets.

Not that there’s any problem with beans right now or acorns for that matter-the bucks are certainly more focused on food than breeding at the moment-but you want to hunt spots that will bring moving deer close. The rut is still a ways off, so focus on the trinity of early season deer success-food, cover and water.

Here are five of the top spots you should be focusing on come those first days of deer season 2009.

Hunt Natural Browse

Depending on when your season begins, some of the best feed in the forest could well be the natural greens shooting up all over the place. And because deer are apt to seek out the highest protein vegetation in amounts that make it easy for them to most efficiently feed. That means you should focus on first-year clear-cuts or a recent burn.

A late-summer burn can really be a draw for bucks feeding the final days of antler growth before rubbing their velvet off. The freshly burned soil supercharges the nutrients there and if performed in a recent clear-cut, can spawn the growth of countless tasty, green shoots in a matter of weeks following the fire. Hang a stand in a mature tree that borders the open areas, preferably in one that is situated in a spot that creates a pinch point, whether between a ridgeside and the treeline or along a creek edge Streamside Management Zone. If the burn was performed to clear the understory in a stand of young pines-too small for hanging a stand-don’t be bashful about going with a ground blind. Place it in a point that reaches into a surrounding open area or along a creek edge or other natural travel corridor as evidenced by the worn trails of deer through the cover and make sure you have created ample shooting lanes.


Another trick for increasing fresh browse is to find a spot where you can get a small lawn tractor or your ATV and a pull-behind mower and cut some strips along a powerline right-of-way, a logging road or edge of a swamp or beaver pond. The cut area will produce fresh green shoots that will draw deer until mid-fall when growth begins to slow.

Find the Fruit

While obvious choices such as an overgrown abandoned orchard of apples or other fruit trees are more common in the Northeast, don’t overlook natural fruit sources such as scuppernong or muscadine grapes and that whitetail favorite, persimmons, throughout the whitetail’s range. Walk your property now to find these natural food sources in time to capitalize on them when the season opens. You can focus your search near old home places Check to see that they are producing fruit that will ripen nicely come late September and early October.

In fact, you may even wish to go into the area (if you have permission) and clear out some of the trash trees crowding around these fruit producers to allow them more sunlight for better growth. The better the trees or vines are able to produce, the more deer they will attract.

Once you identify a producing fruit tree or vine, set your stand along a pinch point in close proximity to it such as along a bend in a creek or in two converging points of thick brush, but make sure you are still within site of the food source. You don’t want to shoot a buck right off the natural feed, but rather as he approaches it.

Work the Fields

As soybeans come in and corn begins to be cut, deer will hit the man-planted crops with abandon. But there’s a right way and wrong way to hunt a field, particularly when using a bow that will give you an ideal range for most hunters off less than 35 yards, and particularly, if your property is more field than forest.

First, unless your club or lease is shared with a bevy of bowhunters (or overeager gun hunters already traipsing all over the property), deer at your place shouldn’t feel overly pressured yet. That means they are apt to still come to the fields to feed. For this reason, at least initially, don’t venture too far into the woods surrounding crop fields. You’re more likely to blow bedded deer out of the limited cover. Instead, keep your stands downwind of heavily used deer trails entering the fields. Better yet, spend each evening glassing a field until you’ve identified a bruiser buck entering the same spot and same rough time two or three evenings in a row. The next afternoon, get out there early and set up within 25 yards downwind of the spot where he’s been entering. This might be your one best shot to connect on an early-season trophy.


Mast Matters Most

Red oak acorns are great, but when white oaks are dropping large, fat acorns, nothing, and I mean nothing, will draw deer in better. Find a wide topped white oak bordering a clear-cut with two or three years growth (enough to provide both bedding and feeding cover for a wide-racked buck, and you’ll be in one of the best spots you could be to find success in the early season. A stand of white oaks in the middle of the hardwoods is also a great place to set up. It also provides a number of options for hanging or climbing stands. Determine from where a warm-weather buck is most apt to approach in the morning or evening to or from his bedding area and make sure you overlook the stand with the wind in your face.

Target Water

With warm weather still prevalent at this time of year, a good morning spot to hunt is a small pool or pond or swamp edge surrounded by woods. These are also ideal spots to set up along for early afternoon hunts as deer will hit them as they stage before entering fields in the late afternoon. Walk the entire circumference of the water and examine tracks in the soft muddy edges to find frequently visited spots. A good deer trail or two should be beaten out of the surrounding brush to the spot. Hang a stand just off to the side of this drinking shelf.

Another water-oriented favorite is along a winding swamp edge or creek. Find a spot where a beaver pond crosses the swamp or creek or even where shallow water provides a favorite crossing for whitetails. This watery crossroads of sorts is an ideal stand location as deer travelling the edges will use these shallow water spots to cross to the other side. Deer sloshing through the water will also give themselves away from the noise easier than ones walking along the lush forest floor.

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