Woods & Waters with Zack
Bowhunting whitetails during the warm and buggy early days of the season is a challenge. Temperatures are usually warm enough to send beads of sweat rolling down your back. Swarming, buzzing mosquitoes can make staying
motionless on stand virtually impossible. On top of dealing with sweltering temperatures and biting bugs, another problem is that deer are mostly nocturnal, with their daylight movements limited to very early and very late in the day. Hunting conditions are tough, but the incentive is the chance to hunt unmolested deer moving in predictable patterns. Often, the deer are in bachelor groups containing multiple bucks. It takes a cautious approach, but hunting the early season can prove
beneficial. Here’s a look at some tips for making the most of the early season.
A bowhunter has a list to check off before he heads to the woods for an early-season hunt, whether he’s seeking meat for the freezer or looking to arrow a trophy buck. First, where are the deer bedding? Second, what are they eating? Third, how are they getting from Point A to Point B? And if you can figure these things out, is your shooting eye good enough to put the arrow on target? If you can answer all of those questions intelligently — and shoot well enough, this bow season may be a profitable one for you.
Knowing how to pattern early-season deer movements is key. The trick to figuring out where deer are bedding during the daylight hours is a matter of looking for two kinds of places — depending on the kind of habitat or geography where you’re hunting. A bedding area is pretty much going to be either in a super-thick spot, or on top of a ridge, a high spot, with a water source not too far away. If you’re hunting in a place with high ridges, a buck may bed on top where he can see everything coming. Anywhere else, it’s most likely going to be in the heaviest cover around.
I do most of my pre-season scouting at the end of the previous season, during the winter or early spring, when trails are easier to see and find because of the lack of vegetation. I like to check out potential bedding areas during this time, and I look for the depressed ovals on the ground that indicate beds.
Once I have located the bedding areas, the next step is to locate the trails leading to the food sources. Early season will find deer feeding on acorns and soft mast, like persimmons and muscadines. Even manmade
groceries such as food plots serve as excellent feeding locations for early-season deer. However, if you can find white oak acorn trees on your property, you have hit the gold mine. To identify a white oak tree, look for light colored and slightly shaggy bark and leaves with rounded lobes rather than pointed ones. A quick look with binoculars will tell you if these large, green acorns are present. White oaks don't bear every year, so you'd be wise to check them in early September for acorns.
After I have determined the feeding areas, I try to pick out spots where I can find several trails merging together after leaving the bedding area…as long as they’re not too close to the bedding area. Also, I like to hunt trails where all the tracks are going in one direction, rather than in both directions. You can set up on a place like that and increase your odds because you know they’re coming from a certain area.
It’s no secret that the whitetail’s greatest defense mechanism is its nose. To put your tag on a big buck, you have to beat that deer’s sense of smell. And that task begins at home. Wash your hunting clothes in
unscented, bacteria-killing detergent, hang them outside to dry and then seal them in a plastic tub or bag to keep household odors from seeping into them. For added protection, you can buy hunting clothes lined with carbon, which prevents human odors from escaping into the air. In the container with my clothes, I like to put something that will smell like the area I’m going to hunt — crushed pine needles and acorns or some other earthy scent — to impregnate the cloth with a cover scent to mask my own odor. Then, I don’t take my clothes out of their protective container until I'm in the field and ready to hunt. Once I'm dressed and ready to go, I spray myself down with a scent eliminator. There are dozens of brands of scent-killers on the market. I wear tall rubber boots, so that I don't leave any human scent on the ground when I walk to my stand.
When I choose an area to hunt, I always pick multiple trees for my stands, so I can hunt effectively no matter which direction the wind is blowing. Remember, you want to always be downwind of where you expect the deer to come from. If a deer gets one whiff of you, they're gone. And if I'm in a stand and the wind shifts, I quietly climb down and relocate.
Silence is critical when bowhunting. I once heard a guy say, "Bowhunt long enough, and you’ll swear deer can hear you change your mind." Have an arrow fall off your bow’s rest and hit the riser, or shift your weight on your tree stand so that it squeaks, and you’re likely to send any nearby deer high-tailing it out of the area.
Regularly check your climbing stand at home to see if any of its moving parts create any sounds. If they do, spray them with a shot of silicone gel. Also, cover your bow’s riser and shelf — the places an arrow might hit — with felt. Most archery shops carry patches of this quiet material, which has one sticky side so you can affix it to your bow. When it’s cold, fabrics like nylon and cotton can get stiff, making noise when you move. Stick to fleece or wool materials, which are extremely quiet.
Sitting still is equally important. With mosquitoes being very active during bow season, I consider the Thermocell mosquito repellant device a vital piece of equipment for me, and I cannot imagine bowhunting without it. A Thermocell keeps the bugs away completely... so much so, that you can listen more effectively for approaching game without the nagging sound of mosquitoes swarming around your head.
When you’re hunting with a rifle, the difference between 30 yards and 40 yards doesn’t matter. Aim dead-on, and you’ll get your deer at either distance. If you’re bowhunting, however, and you guess it’s 30 yards to a deer when it’s actually 40 — or vice versa — then you’re going to miss. Bowhunters must be able to judge distance precisely in order to be effective. And today’s archers are fortunate to have laser range finders available to take away the guesswork. Simply point one of these devices at your target, press a button, and you’ll instantly know how far away that target is.
But to avoid having to pull out my range finder, put it up to my face, take a reading on a deer, put it away and then pick up my bow, all while a deer is standing 30 yards away, I like to use my range finder to mark objects around my stand long before any deer show up. I'll range trees, bushes and stumps out to 40 yards. That way, when a deer walks in front of one of my ranged objects, I’ll know exactly how far away it is.
Next month, gun season comes in on the 23rd. We’ll take a look at some ways to help improve your chances for getting that trophy buck. Until then, have a successful bow season and remember, be safe in the woods. Always wear a safety harness when hunting from an elevated stand, be sure of your target at all times and if you are going to hunt alone, let someone know when to expect you back. If you get the opportunity, introduce someone to hunting this fall.
*NOTE - This year, you must report your deer or turkey harvest through the Game Check system within
24 hours of harvesting it.
There are three ways to report your harvest:
1. On your smartphone through the
Outdoor Alabama app
Download the app at
2. Online at http://www.outdooralabama.com/gamecheck
3. Call 1-800-888-7690
At the end of the check-in process, you will receive a confirmation number to write on your Harvest Record.