Early Season Success
Are you waiting for the rut before you start hunting? My advice is don’t wait. Preparing your property to capitalize on an early season buck can and will pay off. I was able to connect on my biggest buck to date this year on the second day of the Ohio archery season at 8 yards.
This is a buck I had a little bit of history with. Last year he showed up toward the end of October and I named him the Junkyard buck due to all of the crazy tines he had around his base. I aged him at only a really nice 2.5 year old with a lot of potential. I never had an encounter him until the late muzzleloader season when he had already lost one side of his rack.
Fast forward to the 2017 off-season when I started to get velvet pictures of a unique buck that had a tine that hooked on his brow tine and was showing some potential. He was on the hit list but wasn’t one of the top bucks that I was after so I didn’t pay him a ton of attention.
I went down a week before the season opened and checked a few camera cards to get a game plan for the opening weekend. The camera in his core area showed that he was visiting an apple tree and a mock scrape regularly, actually almost every night within legal shooting time. He definitely caught my attention this time and I was excited to get the opportunity to hunt him. I figured he was hitting the food plot front of the apple tree to the south and transitioning to the ag fields north at night.
The game plan was simple; I had a stand on both sides of the apple tree (orange circle below). The stand to the east of the apple tree I could hunt with a west or southwest wind. The stand on the west side of the apple tree I could hunt with south or southeast wind. The wind on opening day of the season was northeast therefore I couldn’t hunt this spot at all and decided to sit another stand on a different property (I don’t hunt mornings during the early season for fear of spooking deer and doing more harm than good). The second day of the season the wind was ESE and would work for the stand on the west side of the apple tree. I had to be creative on my approach as I figured if I walked up a trail that entered the food plot from the west, the buck would either see me approaching the stand or cross my path on his way to the apple tree. So I decided to walk the yellow path below to my stand.
I narrowed down the Junkyard’s bedding area to the blue square area identified in the photo above. Junkyard got up out of his bed and walked the green path to my stand and at 6:38PM at 8 yards I wrote the final chapter in this buck’s legacy. If I had walked the trail into the food plot his last 50 yards to my stand he would have been walking the same trail and potentially winded me.
Here are the things that I believe aided in my success:
- Preseason preparation – all my stands were in place and ready to hunt by the beginning of August. If had to go prepare stand in Junkyard’s core area after I saw the trail camera pictures, I believe that I would have blown him out of the area prior to opening weekend of bow season.
- Listening to the landowner – the landowner told me to put my camera over the apple tree, he had always gotten his best trail camera pictures in the past over the apple tree. I learned from previous mistakes that the landowners know the land better than I do and to listen. It obviously worked this time.
- Early season food sources – if you can find an early season food source like an apple tree, food plot, or acorns it can prove to be a deadly find.
- Be aggressive but not too aggressive – I didn’t hunt the spot the first night due to the wind not being good. I could have hunted the other side of the bedding area in hopes of connecting on the buck but I decided to leave the area alone until I could hunt one of the apple tree stands. The first night of the season the wind was good, I made sure I was in one of the stands.
- Make mock scrapes – I move my cameras to scrapes toward the end of August or during my early August visit to my properties. If my camera locations don’t already have a scrape I make a mock scrape using WindPro buck scent. This brings the bucks in front of my cameras to help get better inventory and makes the dominant bucks feel like there is a new intruder in their core area.
- Game plan – think your game plan through. Use your hunting partner or buddies to bounce ideas off of to solidify your game plan prior to hunting. All week leading up to opening weekend I was discussing where I thought Junkyard was bedding and entrance routes with my hunting buddy Dan and my dad.
After over a week it is still all kind of setting in that I was able to tag out in Ohio on the second day of the season on a 168” 11 point. I feel blessed that I was able to kill this mature whitetail and notch another memory with my hunter partner known as “Dad”. Go hunt and be safe!