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by Scott Bestul

It’s finally here: the first deer season of the year. Sure, midday may still feel more like summer than fall, but there’s a little color starting to show on the hillsides and a hint of cool weather in the evening air. You’re ready. You’ve done your scouting. The only question left is this: How exactly will you put yourself in position to score? To help you devise a killer game plan, we asked three experts to share their early-season game plans.

#1 – NEIL DOUGHERTY
North Country Whitetails
Steuben County, N.Y.

Secret Spot
“Soft-mast sources like pear and apple trees, as well as berry-producing gray dogwoods, are prime now. Deer are switching from high-­protein foods to high-energy foods–and mast is the ticket. If it’s been a dry summer, north slopes will produce sweeter fruit.”

Secret Weapon
“I always have kneepads and pruning shears. I sit on the ground to hunt, and these tools help me set up a natural blind.”

Tactic
Instead of hanging a treestand over the groceries–which is an all-or-nothing tactic–I simply crawl into a patch of brush or a hedgerow. I don’t care if it’s not a slam-dunk bow shot to the food. When my buck shows, I’m able to adjust to his line of travel or just sneak in for a shot.”

Tip
“Ground hunting requires total silence. Get your gear on, then bring a friend into a dark room and draw your bow. If your buddy can hear you draw, something needs silencing.”

#2 – RON GEHRKE
Flambeau Pro Staffer
LaCrosse, Wis.

Secret Spot
“I like oak stands with thick cedars nearby. I don’t see a lot of big-buck activity near fields, even in the early season. Around here, mature whitetails stick close to thick cover, and I want to be right there with them. Even if big bucks are eventually heading to fields, they’ll be working the acorns during daylight.”

Secret Weapon
“Even in the early season, I bring rattling antlers and an ­adjustable-reed grunt tube.

Tactic
“Since I know I’m close to bedded deer, I’m not afraid to blind-call. If a big buck hears sparring, he’ll probably come over to investigate. Then I use a grunt or bleat call to coax him in.”

Tip
“Watch a deer to gauge its response to calling. If a buck starts lifting his tail, you should back off. But if he keeps his ears pointed toward you, you can keep working him.”

#3 – KEVIN SMALL
KT’s Trophy Hunts
Rutledge, Mo.

Secret Spot
“I’ve been shocked by the bucks I see using standing corn. I’ve watched bruisers munch silk from the ears and the stalk itself. It’s a perfect hideaway for a big early buck.”

Secret Weapon
“Moultrie game cameras are relatively inexpensive, which lets me buy more of them and cover more ground. I also use lots of observation stands.”

Tactic
“I pepper a buck’s preferred food source–such as a cornfield–with five or six stands. We like to think early-season bucks are on a single track to food every day, but they’re not. So I hang one set on the most consistent trail, and then I stick up the rest for alternate approaches.”

Tip
“Don’t give up when the first acorn drop pulls deer off fields. Give bucks seven to 10 days and they’ll be back.”

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