Mornings or Afternoons in the Early-Season?
Photo by NextBuk Outdoors
Early-season deer hunting can be some of the absolute toughest, especially if you have big bucks on the mind. Everything tells you that it's go-time. Hunting season is here and it's time for action, but the deer have other plans in mind.
It can be hot, deer can be on summer or transitioning patterns, and you may be hunting the wrong way. Yes, you may be hunting the wrong way.
So many deer hunters are great at hunting the rut and the late-season because that's generally the time of the season where most folks focus their efforts. It's when we all take vacation time or call off of school to hit the woods. So, a lot of people naturally adopt a mid or late-season hunting style.
Hammering the timber, getting in there before daylight, and even sitting all day. Those rut and late-season strategy pillars. However, those pillars may let you down a bit in September or early-October. Not always, but there should be an adjustment made in the early-season.
First, set your expectations straight. You have to put your finger on the early-season deer hunting in your neck of the woods. September and early-October may yield giant bucks in states like Kentucky or Montana, but the mature bucks in my area of Ohio may be heading toward the October lull by the time I can hunt them on September 29.
Second, and arguably most importantly, know when to hunt. This is the main premise of this post, and it's for good reason. I would venture to say that more early-season struggles are had by those folks with a rut or gun season mindset than any other. They trudge in at daybreak, bust deer off of food sources en route, and subsequently watch deer movement dry up extremely early. Believe me, I've been there and done it before myself.
Now, this is not to say that mornings are never productive in the early-season. Far from it. If you get that first cool morning during the end of September or early-October, you can have success while hunting mornings. But there is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of early-season mornings are less beneficial than the afternoons.
We have to look to the deer and their movement patterns, and this will vary greatly regionally. When deer have yet to buck that summer pattern of feeding all night long and heading to bed early, we have to hunt accordingly. Sure, you could try to slip into a transition area to catch them heading back to bed, and a lot of folks have huge early-season success doing that.
But more times than not, you're going to bump deer trying to slip in early. Not to mention that they can even beat you back to the bedroom before you have decent shooting light. I don't know about you, but I would personally prefer to catch deer on the flip side of that early-season movement pattern. That being the beginning of that nocturnal feeding journey during the afternoon and evening hours.
After being the typical early-morning hunter for the first five years of my hunting career, I saw the light on afternoon hunting following years of hating the early-season. You learn to adapt when slow hunts are all that you come to know.
I switched to afternoons only during the early-season and saw fantastic results. Not necessarily in the way of huge bucks, and that's more on account of our late opener here in Ohio. But that's also a conversation for another day. I saw the number of deer that I spooked drop significantly, I saw more deer, and I simply enjoyed the hunt more than I did when I was hammering those early mornings.
Keep in mind that I am looking at a two or three-week window of this afternoon-exclusive mindset for my season here in Ohio. By the time mid-October rolls around, I'm never afraid to jump in and hunt a morning. So long as that morning is prime when it comes to weather, the moon, and most importantly in deer movement.
If the deer in your neck of the woods are still holding tight to that summer type of nocturnal feeding pattern, I'd always recommend sleeping in and hunting the afternoons. That's just me.
Also remember to let the deer dictate your game-plan, especially if you're a mature buck hunter. If that big boy is moving just after daylight and you feel as if you know his travel route, jump in and try to slip an arrow in him. Don't project my human thoughts onto wild whitetails. Always let the deer tell you when you should be hunting.
I am simply speaking in generalities here.
When it comes to early-season deer hunting, I always prefer afternoons, I prefer hunting field edges and generally low-intrusion areas. Remember, we have the entire season ahead of us. Unless that big buck is on a set pattern and you feel as if you can kill him early, don't gamble on the better days ahead.
I like to sit back and enjoy some old fashioned doe hunting until things get good, but I'm always ready for that early-season buck with an afternoon appetite for clover or acorns.