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Early-season deer tips

September 27, 2011 by Tony Hansen

It is on. Archery deer season, that is. Many Midwestern states have already started; others kick in this weekend.

The good news is that early-season bucks are about as predictable as they get. In some areas, that's a lot more predictable than others. Here in Michigan, where just about every tree that's 12 inches in diameter has likely had a treestand hung on it at some point, that's not very predictable. Why is that? Because the hunting pressure has already ramped up here -- before the bow season even opened.

Scouting efforts are hunting efforts as far as deer are concerned. It happens every year. September hits and folks start flocking to the woods to hang their stands for the bow season. They walk around the woods, tromp through bedding areas and jump up and down over every field-edge scrape they find.

Sadly, those hunters have essentially ended their chances of tagging the buck that made those scrapes before the season even begins.

I'm not an expert. I still have plenty to learn about whitetails. But here are a few tips that might help make you a bit more successful early in the season.

Tip #1: Stay out

The most important lesson I've learned is that less is definitely more. You simply cannot pressure mature bucks.

You must do everything you can to keep the buck you're hunting from knowing that you're hunting him. How do you do that? By taking the long route to and from your stand. By going out of your way to avoid being seen, heard or smelled. And that counts for preseason scouting as well. Mid-September is the absolute worst time to be in the woods unless you're hunting. If your stands aren’t hung, don't hang them until it's time to hunt. Carry that stand in on your back, hang it and hunt it right then.

No, it's not ideal. But if you have a buck on a huntable pattern, you need to take advantage of that opportunity. The best way to do that is to get on that buck early. Hauling the stand in will give you a shot to take the buck before he knows you've been there.

Tip #2: One and done

Early-season bucks are somewhat predictable. But there is only one thing that's certain: That buck will almost certainly know he's being hunted no matter how careful you are. Mature bucks are the ultimate survival machines.

Even in lightly pressured areas, mature bucks are reclusive by nature. They can sense the most subtle changes in activity. Hunting that buck more than once or twice in the early stages of the season can have disastrous results.

Hunt him once, maybe twice, and then leave him alone. Hunt a different area of the property. Hunt a different deer. But do not overhunt that animal.

Giving the buck some time to relax will increased the odds that he'll continue to use the area in daylight hours. Yes, it's hard to leave a good buck alone. But that's the best thing you can do. Keep him comfortable and he'll remain in the area and, hopefully, active in the daylight. Pressure him too much and he'll be gone.

Tip #3: Keep shooting

Once the season begins, most hunters simply focus on hunting. They seldom shoot their bows. That's a mistake.

The accuracy you're enjoying now during the summer wasn't the result of your stellar natural ability. It was the result of muscle memory and repetition. Why do Major League pitchers stay on a rotation? Yes, to avoid fatigue. But also to keep them sharp.

Repetition and routine is the key to just about every physical and mental activity. Archery is both. A few arrows before each outing will make a huge difference when the moment of truth arrives in the woods. Don't shoot dozens of arrows. Shoot three good ones. When was the last time a deer stood around while you launched a dozen shafts its way?

Tip #4: Pace yourself

Deer season, thankfully, is more of a marathon than a sprint. Take your time and enjoy the season. Hunting too hard, too soon isn't good for your stamina and it's not conducive to success either. Remember, too much pressure on an area, especially early in the season, is not going to produce the results you want.

Take the time to enjoy the season. Shoot some does. Take a kid with you. Above all, remember that hunting is supposed to be fun.

Don't make it work. We all have enough of that to do as it is.

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