large whitetail buck in full velvet
Early to Bed: A 140-inch Ohio buck in full velvet heads for the woods after a morning feed.. Lance Krueger

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Most bowhunters write off morning hunts during the first few weeks of the season, believing they haven’t got a chance of catching an a.m. buck on its feet until a little testosterone takes over. But that just isn’t true. There are opportunities to kill early-season bucks at sunrise by hunting morning staging areas—it just requires careful planning and plenty of sweat to get it done.

Step One: Identify Dawn Travel Routes

Work backward to pinpoint a buck’s routes from a destination food source to his bed. The best strategy is to glass prime soybean, alfalfa, and just-cut cornfields in the evenings; if your buck is hitting these spots at dusk, you can bet he’s there at dawn too, and trail cameras set on major trails can verify it.

Also run cameras in spots that aren’t conducive to glassing, like a distant grove of oaks whose acorns are dropping early or on trails leading to the neighbor’s food plot. You want to set the cams to burst or video mode to capture all of the members of a bachelor group, not just the lead buck.

Step Two: Map the Neighborhood

Identifying key food sources and morning travel routes should give you a solid idea of where your buck beds. Use satellite imagery to examine the space between the grub and the lair. This is where a buck will browse, make a few rubs, and generally kill time as he basks in the day’s first rays of sunshine. It might be the same staging area deer use in the evening, just off the food, or it might be 500 yards deeper in the woods. It probably features a secondary food source, secluded water, or a hard edge with browse. Regardless, there will be a place where bucks linger, because they rarely go straight from food to bed without stopping.

Step Three: Hunt Early and Often

Once you’ve nailed down a likely staging area, you’ll need to find a back door to the spot. This should be opposite the groceries, and might mean a serious hack-and-tack job in the timber or a long, circuitous route through a standing cornfield. Hang a stand at your ambush site and mark your trail well to avoid taking a wrong turn in the dark.

When the season opens, check the forecast and pick a morning with a little wind or pre-dawn rain, which will help you slip in undetected. Hunt your staging spot as early in the season as possible, while your buck is on a steady feed pattern. Carry tacks and a handsaw on your first hunt in case you aren’t right on top of the action. If you spot deer ghosting through the woods 80 yards away, move your whole setup once the sun is high overhead. Repeat this every morning—when the conditions cooperate—until the deer movement dies or you’re pulling on a pair of gutting gloves.