Conventional whitetail hunting wisdom has it that you really should never, ever enter the deer woods until it is time to kill a mature buck, which to me is pretty good advice. Many of the pundits argue that this means hunting only during the pre-rut, rut, and then the late season when the deer have to attack high-calorie foods to survive the winter.
The early bow seasons? Oh, no, many argue. It’s too hot, the bucks are largely nocturnal, and all you’ll do is stink up the woods and scare the does – at least, those you choose not to shoot for the freezer.
And yet, this is one of my favorite times to get a shot at a good buck. Over the years I have taken many a good buck by doing my homework and hunting smart. A good example is a hunt I just concluded. It was the last week of September in NW Wyoming, an area that is loaded with both whitetails and mule deer as well as pronghorn and some elk. I was hunting with my friend Ralph Dampman of Trophy Ridge Outfitters of Carlile, WY
Ralph is a serious hunter and runs as good a deer camp as anybody around. His success rates – virtually every deer hunter he has, whether it is during archery or rifle seasons – has at least one shot opportunity at a mature buck.
Ralph knows his properties, but he also scouts heavily in summer both by glassing and using trail cameras. Therefore, given the prevailing conditions he has a really good idea of where to put his hunters.
The terrain here is rolling hills and deep draws, with large alfalfa fields that draw deer like a magnet. This year the acorn crop is huge and the nuts were beginning to drop while I was hunting. Therefore, we went out and found those trees that were dropping the acorns heavily, combined that information with trail cam pictures, added the fact that it was unseasonably hot (85 degree highs, lows in the 50’s), and voila! A game plan.
Ralph had pix of several nice bucks that frequented a small stock tank that was fortuitously located between a series of deep, cool timbered bedding draws and alfalfa fields. Because of the heat the deer were moving late, so we thought by sitting well off the field edges near the only water within a half mile the chances of seeing a shooter with enough light left to make it happen would be good.
The second evening of my hunt was the first I sat this spot. I saw upwards of 30 deer total, including one really good 8-pointer that just never gave me the shot I wanted. But surveying the set-up, I told Ralph I thought moving the stand to a big cedar just 15 yards to the north would allow me to cover the entire tank without getting picked off. So I dug out the little 10 lb. Ameristep Avenger and set of Rapid Rails climbing sticks from the back of the truck.
Right after lunch the next day Corbin and I got the stand set and I climbed up about 2:30. It was 85 degrees and, figuring there would be no action for hours, I opened a cold Diet Coke and broke out a trashy paperback to help pass the time.
At 4:10 p.m. – with a full 3 hours of daylight left — I heard a rocks clack to my left. Holy smokes, there he stood, one of the same bucks Ralph had showed me a picture of! He trotted to the water, waded into the tank, and started drinking. I quickly (but cautiously!) grabbed the bow, hooked up my release, drew, put the 20-yard pin right behind the shoulder, and cut the shot. The deer ran about 100 yards before piling up under a stand of small oaks just in front of me.
Man on man, does it get any better? On an 85 degree afternoon September 23, a full month before the bucks would be chasing hard, I’d killed a 3 ½-year old 10-pointer that tapes out at a gross 143 Pope & Young points – a pretty dang good buck for an area where anything over 160 is considered a giant.
Can there be any doubt why I love early season bowhunting for whitetails?
Bow: Hoyt Carbon Element, 28-inch draw, 70 lb. draw weight
Arrow: Gold Tip Pro Hunter 5575, NAP QuikSpin vanes
Broadhead: NAP Thunderhead 100
Release Fuse Clinch CFT
Sight: Sonoran Bowhunting Products
Rangefinder: Nikon Archer’s Choice
Scent Control: Wildlife Research Center Scent Killer
Treestand: Ameristep Avenger, Rapid Rails climbing sticks