Warm, dry weather, deer growing in their winter coats, and drier food sources all add up to one truth about deer in the early season: a greater need for water.
Consequently, riverbottoms, swamps, and other low-lying water sources attract early-season whitetails. And while you can’t go wrong hunting such places, an isolated water source in a wooded area is ideal. Any pond or spring situated far from other water is apt to lure every deer in the area. To find such hotspots, you’ll need a topographic map, and no small amount of legwork-but it’s worth it.
“I love to hunt ponds in timber,” says Rick White, a Hunter’s Specialties pro staff member who has bowhunted whitetails across the country. “Deer visit water sources in cover more frequently and earlier in the evening than they do those in open terrain.”
Isolated water sources become daily stops for whitetails, according to White, who hangs his stand within bow range of the water’s edge. “Deer usually approach from downwind,” he says. “They walk along the edge of the water, which lets you set up for a broadside shot.” If the buck he wants fails to cross within range, he simply repositions his stand, knowing that the buck will return the following day as long as it hasn’t been alarmed.
Finding a water source in a bedding area complicates matters. If White knows that a big buck is bedding very close to the water, he stays back. But if he suspects the buck is bedded a short distance away, he sets up at the water’s edge just the same, because it’s such a strong draw. “I may jump other deer bedded close by when I come in, but if the trophy I want is bedded some distance off, he’ll still come by later.” Your choice water sources may pull fewer deer when the pre-rut kicks in, but head back to them during the peak of the rut. Bucks must drink regularly when they chase does. A few years ago, while hunting one of his favorite isolated ponds on an unseasonably warm day during the peak of the November rut, White saw a huge 8-point, hot on the tail of a doe. The doe continued past, but the buck detoured to the pond to slake his thirst. It later scored 143 Pope and Young points.