Bucks are easier to pattern–and hunt–during the early season than at any other time of year. Rut included. If your bow season opens next month, now is the time to find your buck and start planning an ambush. Here’s how:
Step 1: Take a Trail-Cam Inventory of Bucks
I’m not wild about the popular use of the term “inventory” here, as if deer were a commodity on the shelf, but for better or worse, most of today’s deer hunters know what it means: a trail-camera head count of the bucks using your hunting area. You’re not patterning bucks at this time; you’re simply confirming that they exists. To do that, you need to point your cameras at specific spots where deer congregate and will stand still for photos. Good bets include a mineral lick, corn pile (where legal), or a small, secluded water hole. Get lots of pictures, then count up your bucks and identify the one(s) you want to target when the season starts.
Step 2: Glass Fields
Bachelor groups of bucks are highly visible in the evenings this time of year, provided you know where to look. Think green. Lush soybean fields, with few or no yellow foliage, are a top pick. Hay fields and large food plots planted in clover or alfalfa are also good bets.
Bring a good pair of binoculars (or a spotting scope), find a hidden vantage point, and settle in to watch. You have two goals. The first is to carefully observe bucks, especially the biggest ones. Where do they enter the field? Which part of the field do they prefer? Are there any suitable trees for a stand nearby? What wind direction will you need?
The second goal is to remain undetected. Although glassing is fun and effective, it’s risky. I often use treestands to get a good view from several hundred yards away. But with small, secluded fields where it’s virtually impossible to glass without getting busted, try setting up a time-lapse camera, like a PlotWatcher (day6outdoors.com), at midday and let it do the glassing for you.
Step 3: Fine Tune
Assuming you’ve picked out your target buck, and it’s crunch time now. A few evenings’ worth of glassing or camera information should give you a good idea of where to set up your ambush. If the buck is using the same path every night, and there’s a good tree on the edge of a field 20 yards away, you know what to do.
But if there is no such tree, or no good wind, or the buck is using a different path each evening, you need to think beyond the field. Chances are he’s bedding no more than a couple hundred yards from the food, so pull up an aerial map and study the likely bedding areas and the ambush spots between them and the food. Maybe it’s a creek bottom, a downed fence, the head of a thick fencerow, or a saddle between two ridges. You’re simply looking for a terrain feature that’ll steer his movement to within bow range. Then sneak in at midday and hang one final trail camera. All you need is one picture of your buck passing through in the daylight–and you’ll know where to intercept him on the opening afternoon.