The best times to be in the whitetail woods
“We need to get a stand in that tree,” my brother and I said at the same time. We were on our way home from work, talking about killing the 130” buck we let walk the year before. We hadn't seen him yet this year but we knew he'd be back if he was still alive.
A few days later while driving to work, we saw him. All by himself, feeding in the beans. He didn't have a care in the world that we stopped to look at him. That was not what we wanted to see. He was way too visible last year and was drawing quite a bit of attention to himself. We felt certain he wouldn't last very long living such a carefree life. Too many people knew about him and as a buck pushing the 150” mark, someone would throw a bullet at him from the highway or housing development two fields over. Killing him early in the season was the logical answer to keep him from getting poached.
Today's typical client dresses in the latest and greatest; Kuiu, Kryptek, Sitka, Kenetrek, Danner and Crispi to name just a few. Don't forget Badlands, Alps and Slumberjack. No one goes afield without a rangefinder. Scopes can be dialed up or down depending on the range.
The group of three trees that sat in the middle of two cornfields was hopefully the answer.
Easy, undetected access in and out, gave us confidence in the set. The only wind we couldn't hunt it on was a south wind. The other great thing was the ability to hunt it in the morning. Morning sets are hard to come by in crop country but this was one of those exceptions.
The stand was hung 20’ high in the pin oak furthest to the north in the clump of three trees. Brian would be in that tree on opening morning, if the wind cooperated.
Of course, opening morning came and the wind didn't cooperate. Mid-day however, brought a westerly wind, making the evening hunt possible.
Brian was in the stand early and by 4 o’clock he heard bucks feeding in the standing corn. By 5:15, the 148” 11pt was lying dead 100 yards from the newly hung stand.
Why did this set work so perfectly?
First and foremost, the deer did what he was suppose to do. Secondly, the corn fields provided safe entry and exit routes for morning or evening sits. Not hunting this stand on a southerly wind was all we had to worry about. Make sure you understand how the wind affects your hunt and you'll be better off. It could have been hunted time and time again, until the corn was harvested, without being burned out. It's just one of those “strike gold” sets. Finally, the standing corn gave the buck a feeling of security. If one of those fields would have been soybeans, this story would have never been written and the stand never would have been hung.
This same stand is being hunted only for the second time this year and the first morning sit as I write this. It's October 14th, temps are in the 60’s with a troublesome NE wind. Not a good morning to be hunting but my 14 year old needs to be in a tree. I will update at the end of this article.
I have written many times that I'm not a big fan of morning hunts. Bumping deer in the dark is my main reason for concern. However, we are getting ready to enter one of the best time frames for morning hunting and that's the rut.
Let me back up a second and breakdown a whitetail season into three sections. Early season will be September 1st through October 15th. Mid-season will be October 16th through November 30th. December 1st, on, will be considered late. In reality, this should be broken down even further and these dates can change by more than a week given the year but it gives us an overview of what's going on during the course of a hunting season.
The early season is over by now, so I'm not gonna say a whole lot about it. A few key points are evening sits on food, unseasonably cold mornings to stands that are accessible without much risk of bumping deer on the way in and waterholes if it's hot and dry.
In my opinion, this is the best time to kill a big deer.
We're past that time frame so let's get into what the future holds.
Frost covered leaves, paired with the sounds of heavy “hooffalls” is the excitement of mid-season hunting. You never know when or where he's gonna show up but one things for sure, the rut gets big bucks killed. I will still put my money on evening hunts during the first and last weeks of this segment.
During the week of October 16th till about the 25th, I hunt food and scrapes. This is the time to learn how to fully take advantage of mock scrapes. If you can find a secluded food source that is also in view of a scrape line, all the better. Cold fronts seem to jump start buck movement making mornings a possibility if you have a stand tucked away on the fringe of a bedding area. This is also the time when a buck is most susceptible to a grunt tube or rattling antlers when used properly. Learn when and how to speak the whitetail's language.
Moving toward the 26th of the month, I like to start hunting mornings. This is the time to change your hunting tactics during the whitetail rut. Funnels, pinch points and the downwind side of known bedding areas are favorite spots. Bucks are generally in a full fledge scrape and travel mode, marking territory and and trying to get a nostril full of that first scent of estrous. This is the same morning strategy that I use for the month of November, with a few more stand locations thrown in the mix.
I will hunt ag fields in the morning during November if I can access them without major risk of spooking deer. If it's a good area for rut movement but not accessible, I will wait until daylight to walk to my stand. This can be an ideal time to hunt closer to a whitetail's bedding area if you can sneak in and out without being detected.
I also recommend setting up in places that are out of the way. Said places would be patches of brush in the middle of a wide open field or maybe an old barn that has been let go for some time. These are perfect places for a buck to carol a doe until he's done breeding her.
If you've noticed bucks in unusual places in past years during the rut, get a stand or blind in there before the rut arrives. You can bank on these spots producing year after year during this timeframe.
Evening hunts will once again be on food sources. The bucks are not that concerned about eating but the does are. Find the does and sooner or later, a buck will too. In my experience, evening hunts during the rut can be very unproductive. Evening after evening may show little buck movement. The reason for this? Bucks like solitude when breeding. Eventually though, he will need to find another doe and the food is where she’ll be.
Late season hunts, in most regions, again rely on food. Therefore, most of my hunts are during the evening and around food sources. Standing corn, when available, is one of the best places to find late season deer.
The utmost importance to detail is critical. One small miscue and you could send the entire herd toward new ground. Late season hunting can be great but only if you put forth the effort to be invisible.
Morning hunts are pretty tough endeavors. Deer are bedding early and cold frigid weather can make sneaking into a stand undetected, next to impossible. I prefer to glass during the mornings from afar. Occasionally, you will find a buck bedded in an ideal spot for a stalk. If he's not, then you'll have a solid play for the evening hunt.
Evening hunts are usually better. I know most folks are on a very limited timeframe when it comes to hunting and want to spend as much time in the woods as possible. Keep in mind though, that too much of a good thing is often bad or counterproductive. It's easy to overanalyze a situation and before you know it, you will have wish you read how a whitetail obsession can lead to failure.
My sons morning turned out to be a bust. He saw no deer. More importantly, he didn't bump any deer on his way in or way out. And oftentimes, that's the next best thing to actually killing one.