Where to go and how to capitalize on this unique early-season opportunity. Photo Credit: John Hafner

The Bowhunter’s Guide to Velvet Whitetails

  Erik Barber   BowhuntingFeatured   July 27, 2023

Some whitetail hunters spend all summer anticipating the opportunity to chase velvet bucks on opening day. A few states offer early-season opportunities for whitetails in velvet, and they’re all great destinations for kicking off a new season. If a fuzzy antlered buck is on your whitetail bucket list, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. And if you haven’t locked in your plans for early September, there’s still time to make adjustments that’ll make this season one to remember.


Where to Start?



Time and hunting opportunity are the limiting factors for bowhunters targeting velvet bucks. Only a handful of states open early enough in September to realistically provide an opportunity at a buck before it strips its velvet. And even if you are hunting in a state with an opener around Sept. 1, time is of the essence. With each passing day, the likelihood that bucks in the area will polish their antlers increases. So choosing a state with an early opening day is an absolute must if you’re serious about a velvet buck. Here are a few to consider:

  • Kentucky: Affordable licenses and available public land make Kentucky a fantastic destination for those who want to hunt east of the Mississippi River. Plus, a nonresident license allows hunters the opportunity to kill four deer, making it a great value for those hoping to fill the freezer.
    • Opening Day: Sept. 2, 2023
    • Available over-the-counter
  • North Dakota: From the prairie pothole region to the Missouri River Breaks, North Dakota is incredibly diverse. North Dakota allows access to unposted private lands (but be mindful of electronically posted lands), plus lots of public-land opportunities.
    • Opening Day: Sept. 1, 2023
    • Available over-the-counter
  • Nebraska: Depending on the area you’re hunting, Nebraska offers hunters the unique opportunity to target both mule deer and whitetails during the season.
    • Opening Day: Sept. 1, 2023
    • Available over-the-counter
  • Tennessee: More than 2.8 million acres of public land, accessible hunting licenses, and an August opener make Tennessee a great choice for anyone seeking a velvet buck.
    • Opening Day: Aug. 25, 2023
    • Available over-the-counter
  • Florida: Most bowhunters don’t think about Florida when it comes to whitetails, but a July opener makes the Sunshine State a prime opportunity for those who want to start their season early.
    • Opening Day: July 29, 2023
    • Available over-the-counter
  • Wyoming: Since most out-of-state bowhunters head to Wyoming with high hopes of elk or mule deer, whitetails are often overlooked. Nonresident hunters must apply for and draw permits prior to hunting.
    • Opening Day: Sept. 1, 2023
    • Not available over-the-counter for nonresidents
  • Montana: As in Wyoming, Montana deer licenses are draw-only for nonresidents, but if you get a tag, it’s good for mule deer or whitetails.
    • Opening Day: Sept. 2, 2023
    • Not available over-the-counter for nonresidents


Identifying Early-Season Food Sources



A late-summer drought annihilated the alfalfa field that had fed dozens of deer every evening just one year earlier, causing me to investigate a “plan B” and “plan C” several years ago in North Dakota. This was a painful reminder of the importance of identifying a reliable food source for consistent early-season success. Depending on the area you’re hunting, the most popular sources can include soybeans, alfalfa, clover and acorns. Be mindful of the condition of the food in your area, as changing seasons can affect its attractiveness. For example, soybeans can lose their appeal after their lush, green color fades to yellow. If weeds took over the alfalfa field you were planning to hunt, it’s time to find a backup plan. Even if your hunting time is limited, spend at least two days before opening day to glass the area you’ll be hunting using binoculars or a spotting scope.


Glass ’em Up!



Scouting is critical for any hunt, but it’s especially important if you want to tag a velvet buck. Fortunately, bucks can be easy to pattern on open food sources like crop fields, hayfields and food plots during the late summer. Take advantage of unpressured deer repeating their late-summer bed-to-food ritual by glassing from afar whenever you can. Long-range scouting provides useful intel about where bucks typically enter fields and spend time feeding. This information is critical for strategically planning an ambush on your first hunt of the season. In most cases, the first hunt provides the highest odds for capitalizing on an unsuspecting whitetail that’s been repeating the same pattern for the better part of two months.



Early season has become my favorite time to chase whitetails. If the gorgeous summer coats, velvet antlers and comfortable weather conditions aren’t enough to get you excited, consider the fact that the first few days provide some of the season’s best opportunities to fill your tag. Pick a state, make plans with your best hunting buddy, and don’t waste another opportunity to wrap an archery tag around the velvet-clad base of an early-season buck.


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