Without question, the early-season can be one of the best times of the entire year to pinpoint, pattern and connect with a massive-rack wall-hanger. Pre-rut bucks will generally be following a predictable feeding to bedding pattern that hunters can exploit with the right strategies and setups.
This is especially true, if you’re able to identify, avoid and correct commonly-made errors that routinely prevent hunters from hitting pay-dirt during the early pre-rut period. Here are some of the mistakes you’ll want to correct and sidestep this season.
Deer Hunting Mistake 1: Inadequate Scouting
Just because bucks are typically following textbook feeding to bedding patterns doesn’t mean you can slack on doing your homework. The availability of multiple early-season food sources, sudden increases in hunting pressure, and pre-rut pattern shifts are all factors that must be addressed and handled with precision scouting techniques. Glassing early-season food sources, like soybean fields, locating a potential shooter, and throwing up a treestand sounds pretty good in theory, but that kind of effort will not produce consistent results year after year.
Correction: Utilize Precision Scouting Strategies
Glassing early-season food sources during the late evening hours is definitely a good first step. Once you’ve located a target buck, it’s time to roll-up your sleeves and really get into his head. Study aerial photos, such as Google Earth, to locate possible staging zones, travel corridors, bedding areas, watering holes, other transitional food sources and escape routes. Next, monitor these key locations with a series or network of game-cameras. This will help you piece together a complete daily pattern, establish routines, and identify habits and tendencies that can be exploited.
Deer Hunting Mistake 2: Limited Stand Locations
The old saying about not putting all of your eggs into one basket is often true with life, and this advice definitely shouldn’t be ignored when it comes to deer hunting. Only having a couple of go-to treestands and ground blinds is a major mistake that can easily be avoided with a little extra planning. Shifting wind directions, changing patterns and a number of other factors are capable of dramatically reducing your shot opportunities when exclusively hunting a particular spot or area. Overuse of one or two hunting locations makes it much easier for a mature buck to pattern and avoid you altogether, especially when hunting these areas with the wrong wind.
Correction: Have Multiple Hunting Locations
Strategically setting up multiple stands or blinds to account for varying wind directions and pattern shifts will increase both your hunting options and shot opportunities. Setups that focus on buck travel routes, staging points, funnels and preferred feeding areas can be extremely productive. It’s also a great way not to educate a cautious and super slippery shooter buck that has survived several seasons. If you find a red-hot area completely tore up with big buck sign, it’s not a bad idea to hang two different stands to hunt the dominant wind directions. Your ability to quickly adjust and adapt to different hunting conditions and situations will give you an edge and keep you one step ahead of bucks.
Deer Hunting Mistake 3: Not Getting the Shot
Once you’ve chosen several good hunting stand locations, don’t forget to properly prep these primetime ambush sites. Hanging a treestand in a high-traffic area is simply not enough. You need to make sure there are plenty of open shooting lanes available. Having a shooter within range is pointless, if you’re unable to take a clean and ethical shot. We all know seeing a big buck is great, but being able to get an arrow through him is even better.
Correction: Prepare for Multiple Shot Possibilities
In order to avoid making this mistake, always clear more shooting lanes than you think you’re going to need. Remember, mature bucks don’t always follow the plan you’ve scripted and aren’t likely to be standing perfectly broadside where expected. Having a number of cleared lanes open for a variety of shooting angles and yardages will enable you to make your shot count when the moment of truth finally arrives.
Deer Hunting Mistake 4: Lack of Concealment
Coming to full-draw on a veteran buck with razor sharp senses is very challenging to say the least, especially if you’re not completely concealed. Hanging stands too low, getting back-lit or not brushing them in with surrounding cover can cause big-time problems for early-season deer hunters. Sticking out like a flashing neon sign at the end of a tunnel will get you busted faster than a balloon drifting toward a wall of pointy needles. Over the years, these master escape artists have learned to look up for two-legged predators (hunters), so you better make sure you’re well hid.
Correction: Disappear Into the Treetops
The first step is to utilize a good safety vest or harness and hunt higher off the ground when at all possible. Next, make sure you’re not being back-lit or sticking out in the sky-line when positioning your treestands. It also really helps to use small-diameter rope to tie pine or cedar branches above, beside and directly below a stand to help break-up your outline. If you notice squirrels, turkeys, and other wildlife picking you out in the tree when you move, then you’re definitely not concealed enough for mature bucks and need to make immediate adjustments.
Deer Hunting Mistake 5: Poorly Planned Entry and Exit Routes
How you enter and exit your hunting locations can be just as important as where you hang your stand or place a ground-blind. Many hunters choose a great hunting spot, but walk through highly sensitive areas to reach these locations and unintentionally bump deer in the process. Sometimes the shortest and easiest route to your setup is not necessarily the best option for hunting success. Spooking whitetails every time you enter or exit your hunting location significantly decreases your chances of connecting with a mature shooter buck.
Correction: Enter and Leave Undetected
Carefully choose your entry and exit routes to avoid whitetail high-traffic areas such as travel corridors and bedding zones. Try to quietly and slowly stalk your treestand or ground-blind when entering and do the same when exiting. Rake away noisy leaves and dry sticks from your entry and exit trails. Cut overhanging limbs, and remove pesky briars and weeds that can brush up against your clothing and gear along the way. Taking these extra steps to go undetected will ultimately keep your hunting setups productive and active throughout the season.
Deer Hunting Mistake 6: Scent Contamination
The early pre-rut period is often warm and sometimes even hot depending on where you’re hunting, which causes significant scent-control issues and problems. Just walking to your hunting locations or climbing up a tree will cause you to sweat and contaminate the air with alarming odors. Not taking the right precautions to mask and eliminate your scent is another costly mistake that can ruin your hunt before it even starts.
Correction: Take Steps to Stay Off the ‘Nose’ Radar
It is critically important to choose your hunting setups based on the prevailing wind direction. A buck’s super sensitive nose is his most powerful line of defense and having the right wind makes all the difference in the world. However, the breeze always seems to suddenly shift and swirl at worse possible times, so just hunting the wind is no guarantee. In order to avoid being sniffed out, take extreme measures to be as scent-free as possible before each and every hunt.
For starters, always shower with fragrance-free scent-eliminating soap, shampoo and body-wash. Wear scent-free deodorant, rubber boots and light, breathable clothing when entering your setup. Walk slowly to decrease perspiration and carry your outer pre-washed hunting clothing in a sealed plastic bag. Once at the stand change into your hunting clothing and thoroughly spray down with a quality scent-eliminator. These extra steps just might save you when the wind suddenly changes directions or swirls the wrong way.