Probably the toughest decision you have to make on early-season hunts is where to set up. If you’ve patterned every big buck on your hunting property and you know exactly where to sit, good for you. But if you’re like most of us, still figuring things out and mulling over options, here are five potential sites that can pay off big-time almost anywhere whitetails are found.
1. Water Hole
Deer need to drink daily. During hot, dry weather they’ll often visit secluded water holes during daylight to fill this need. Be there waiting for them.
Find remote ponds, spring seeps, or creeks near their daytime bedding areas or on routes to evening feed fields with fresh sign. Make sure there’s some security cover for their approach—they won’t drink at a farm pond in open pasture.
I have two ponds in open fields on my land, but the only activity they get is at night. A small, handmade water hole farther back in cover near a bedding area, however, draws steady daylight use—even from mature bucks.
If necessary, lay cut cedars or brush for cover where the deer approach and at the water’s edge. You can create your own water source by digging a hole and using a kid’s pool or pond liner material. Set up on the water’s edge or the main trail leading to it, depending on the time your trail-cam images show buck activity.
2. Oak Flat
If deer are scarce in food plots and fields, they’re probably in the woods eating acorns. Oak mast can fall from late August on, depending on the tree species and where you hunt. In my hunting area, pin oaks and sawtooths drop their nuts first and provide the best early hunting.
Pinpoint the best-producing oaks and check them often to see when they begin dropping heavily. Then set up downwind on knolls, benches, and spur ridges off of hills where you see large tracks, scuffled leaves, and fresh rubs.
3. Wheat and Oatfields
Before acorns fall or during poor mast years, food plots and farm fields with freshly emerging cereal grains are magnets for early-season deer. They like this forage best when it’s just coming up—3 to 6 inches tall. Sow plots two to four weeks ahead of the season so they are in this tender, protein-rich stage on the opener.
Triticale and rye are other good choices. Set up on the field’s edge in lightly hunted areas or downwind on trails leading to them if hunting pressure is heavy. The field corner can be a hotspot.
4. Tight Funnel in a Travel Corridor
The key word is tight. You probably know in general where bucks bed and their evening feed destinations. But the transition corridors they use to reach them may be 75 yards or wider in places.
You need to narrow things down. Find the funnel within the funnel—the spot where a deep river, thicket, or cliff narrows the travel route, and then maybe a blowdown compresses things even more.
Lacking such natural stricture points, make one. Fell a large low-value tree or hinge-cut several smaller ones to partially block the corridor and narrow the area a buck can follow to reach the major feeding sites. Why take a 50-yard shot when you can take one at 20?
5. Power-Line Crossing
With their edge habitat and lush food in the form of forbs, clover, shrubs, and saplings, power lines attract lots of deer activity, especially when they cut through forested areas. But in early archery seasons, you might see much of this too far down the power line to shoot.
To find bucks in bow range, start by hunting the edge of the line just inside the woods where the deer travel along it back in cover. Then increase your chances even further by pinpointing where this parallel trail intersects a power-line crossing point.
That typically occurs at a low area or dip in terrain where the deer can cross the open line with the least chance of being detected. This juncture can be a major traffic point for deer both traveling along and crossing the power line. It was just such a crossing that allowed me to take two good bucks in two days on an early-season hunt in Georgia.