If you think the only time to kill a record book buck is during the rut, think again. Winchester’s Whitetail Revolution co-host Steve Stoltz admits, “The rut will definitely get you shots at mature bucks who wander in checking for does, but the rut might actually be the toughest time to kill a buck on top of your hit list,” says Stoltz.
He also believes early season offers the best chance of taking a particular buck. Sure there are bugs and plenty of hot weather, but Stoltz, a Captain with the Mehlville Fire Protection District in St. Louis, Missouri, knows how to turn up the heat on big whitetails.
Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome
Successful hunters improvise to make the season happen, adapt to the situation and overcome obstacles. This season the drought and its far reaching affect is the obstacle hunters must overcome.
“The drought is going to affect this year’s bow season; in two ways and not all of it is good,” states Stoltz. “The drought will reduce average overall antler size perhaps as much as 10 percent in many areas, but much worse, disease is more likely to be spread during the drought since the deer are concentrated at the same water source in a given area. On the flip side, with so little water available, if this source is close to a buck’s bedding area, hunting could prove deadly for that buck,” continues Stoltz.
Find the Food
Stoltz recommends finding the food source. This year corn, affected by drought, is nearly non-existent, oak mast is stunted and dropping much earlier than in non-drought years. The deer still need to feed, but this year’s food source may be very different than normal – more improvising and adapting.
“Early season the deer are slaves to their stomachs and are very predictable. With little pressure for the past eight months the deer are on their feet more in daylight hours during the summer feed pattern than at any other time of the year,” says Stoltz. “Mature bucks are putting on fat stores for the upcoming rut. They arrive at their food source well before dark in the late afternoon or early evening and head to their bedding area at daylight or sometimes well after. Set up on the edge of the food source or just off the food source on the buck’s travel corridor. Small green food plots between bed and destination feed fields should produce great results this fall,” continues Stoltz.
The Path to Early Season Success
According to Stoltz, the key to harvesting early season bucks is preparation.
“Most consistently successful early season big buck hunters spend 90 percent of their early season hunts scouting, observing food sources and patterning. Often the first time in a particular stand, they shoot the buck that they spent so much time patterning.”
Use Trail Cams Wisely
Trail cams are a boon to deer hunters. They can play a huge roll in patterning big bucks. However, too many visits to the trail camera can backfire.
“Personally, I mainly use my trail cameras to take inventory of my bucks during the early season. Once I locate one on a trail cam during early season, I leave the area alone figuring that he is probably bedding within a couple of hundred yards from that camera. Even if the pictures are in the middle of the night, he won’t be far,” says Stoltz.
Don’t Let the Deer Now You Are There
Mature bucks won’t stand much pressure. Stoltz believes most hunters don’t know how small a buck’s home range is during this period. The slightest people pressure will cause these bucks to go underground; traveling under the security of darkness.
During the rut any time spent on stand can produce a good buck, but early season Stoltz recommends foregoing morning stands.
“The most effective method of hunting early season bucks is to focus primarily on evening hunts,” he said.
Don’t risk alerting a mature buck that you are hunting him by hunting him in or near his bedroom in the morning. Chances are he will already be bedded or heading to the bedding area when you get to your stand, even if you arrive an hour or so before daylight.
Up Close and Personal
“Most mature bucks live within a football field length range during the summer months and pre-rut period,” says Stoltz.
Because of this Stoltz doesn’t even consider hunting a stand unless he’s confident he can get in and out of it without being detected.
“Many hunters will come up to me at a show with a trail cam picture of a big buck taken at 2 a.m. and write it off; this deer is long gone. Truth is this deer lives within a few 100 yards of the trail cam. This should tip off the hunter to hunt the area, most hunters will search out a travel corridor 500 yards away, but that deer won’t be there at least not during this period. Of course, once the rut starts up, the deer will extend their range, but that buck might never show back up while you are on stand in the area.”
Playing the Wind
Stoltz cannot stress enough the importance of paying attention to the wind – no matter if you are on stand or going to or from your stand. He claims this is often overlooked by hunters.
“Glass from a distance with the wind in your favor so as not to tip off the buck and using the wind direction and complete scent elimination techniques are paramount. You must make sure that the smaller bucks and does which always arrive first; they must get past you without detection,” explains Stoltz.
Whether or Weather Not
Weather is an interesting phenomenon Stoltz has noticed when hunting during the early season.
“I have never seen weather fronts affect big buck movement more than during the early season. Pay attention to weather.com, when a cold front moves in and temps drop anywhere from 15 to 20 degrees, the big bruiser bucks get up on their feet,” he advises. “Even if it was 80 and it drops to 60, they get up and move. It is almost scary how predictable this is. Take advantage of it.”
Wanna take a record book buck? Improvise, overcome and adapt to your hunting situation.
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