White-tailed deer hunting seasons vary across the country. But in most states, bowhunters can target bucks at various points throughout the fall and winter months. What time of year you hunt could determine the tactics you use.
Scout Before the Season: Around the end of summer, deer movement often shifts as bucks move toward the breeding season, which roughly takes place in October and November. If your hunting season opens in September, patterns may remain the same for a few weeks. Glassing or using trail cameras before the opener gives you excellent insight into habits. During the season’s first few days, hunters stand a good shot at catching a buck in a pattern or getting to it before it’s faced much pressure.
Hunt Over Water: Early season frequently takes place while temperatures are still warm, or even hot. Hunting over water sources like ponds and creeks makes for excellent setups. Bucks will typically venture to water sources before feeding in the evening. Hanging treestands or setting up ground blinds on these sources can provide a good opportunity.
Find the Food: Toward the end of summer, whitetails begin to switch up their diet as vegetation changes and they prepare for winter. Understand what the deer are eating in your area. Many whitetails will frequent crop fields. Look for heavily used runways in these areas to hang treestands.
Mock Scrapes: Whitetails use scrapes to communicate with both does and other bucks. During the rut, bucks use scrapes to alert does to their location. Earlier in the season, however, bucks use scrapes to communicate with each other. Some biologists believe these scrapes serve as a statement of domination. Think of it like a territorial challenge. Some bowhunters take advantage of this behavior by creating their own scrapes to trick bucks into thinking there’s a challenger nearby.
Play the Field: Early-season conditions can change overnight. The first real cold front can trigger changes, or hunting pressure can affect deer movement. Be prepared to throw the plan out the window and adapt. Set up multiple treestands or prepare to move stands if necessary. A ground blind can make it easier to switch locations.
Be Aware of the Heat: Bowhunters should always keep an eye on the weather. During the early season, this means tracking warm temperatures. Hot weather can cause dangerous conditions for hunters and meat. Always pack enough water and stay hydrated. Keep temperatures in mind when deciding whether to harvest an animal. Meat spoils quickly in hot weather.
Find the Does: Does and bucks must find each other during mating season. When the rut arrives, if you find the does, bucks shouldn’t be far behind. Search for areas where does bed and travel between food sources. You may be able to catch a buck while it’s on the hunt for does.
Rattle: The rut triggers aggression among bucks. They don’t want other bucks hanging out with does in their area. Bucks frequently brawl when they bump into each other. Rattling antlers simulates two bucks fighting. The sound travels and can entice other bucks into the area by making them believe two bucks are fighting over does.
Grunt: Aggressive bucks may also come to the call of another buck. Grunt calls are associated with bucks breeding does. Using a grunt may get a buck to come to you.
Sit All Day: Many hunters break midseason down into several phases of the rut. Two of these phases are the seeking and chasing phases. Both keep bucks on the move as they search for does. Most of the year, whitetails are crepuscular, meaning they move during twilight hours. However, during this time of the rut, bowhunters may find a buck moving at any hour in search of does. If you’re taking days off of work to hunt or planning to hit the woods for some long sits, peak rut isn’t a bad time to hunt hard.
Find the Food: Bucks are worn down after the rut. They’ve been pressured for several weeks by hunters. Plus, they use a lot of energy during the breeding season. They’re also preparing for the harsh winter months. Focus on any available food sources in the area. Bucks may not travel far from food. Also, keep an eye on the weather. If a storm is approaching, deer may be up and feeding more frequently. During storms and days with strong winds deer will likely stay bedded until it’s calmer.
Play the Weather: Late-season weather can bring dangerous conditions. Bowhunters may face blizzards, slick roads, bone-chilling winds and deep snow. Always check the forecast before committing to going hunting. It’s also important to dress for the weather. Alert people to your location and approximate return time. Bring water, food, layers and survival supplies. Know the signs of hypothermia.
Don’t Give Up: The late season can offer some interesting opportunities. For example, with fewer does in heat, bucks must travel a larger range to find potential breeding partners. This means the patient bowhunter may catch a buck on the move. Any does that did not become pregnant during the rut’s peak may come into estrus about a month later. If this coincides with late-season hunting opportunities in your area, you may be able to target bucks looking for does.
Whether you’re hunting the first day of the season or the last, getting out is the only way to fill a tag. If you’re not finding success the traditional way, try something new.