10 Ways to Score on Opening Day of Deer Season!
TIP 1: SIT THE HOT SEAT
Dawn of the gun-season opener may seem like controlled chaos to you, but deer begin to react to hunter movement even before the first shot is fired. When the shooting does start, they’ll be on the move. That’s what makes your stand selection so critical. Escape routes and feed-to-bed trails may be your best bet. Deer that were on a food source during the night will beat a hasty retreat for thick cover once dawn arrives. Select your stand accordingly.
TIP 2: GET TO BED
Most deer, when pressured, are going to head for home. They’ll seek out those thick, nasty areas where they feel safe and secure. And that’s where you must be waiting.
TIP 3: PINPOINT THE PINCH POINTS
Not long after first light—when the guns get to cracking—deer will be seriously on the move. They’ll do it quickly and efficiently. That means they’re going to follow the path of least resistance, so pinch points and funnels located in cover can be dynamite on opening day.
How to Hunt It: Locate your stand downwind of a prime terrain feature that will focus deer movement. Pack a lunch and stay put. When the pressure is on, you could see a shooter buck at any time of the day, either moving naturally (especially if the rut is on) or as a result of being bumped by neighboring hunters. Stay alert.
TIP 4: GET LOST
It’s an old adage, but sometimes you have to hunt where no one else is willing to go. A recent Penn State study of radio-collared deer showed that whitetails change their patterns almost immediately on the day before the general firearms season opener due to increased human traffic.
How to Hunt It: Go for broke and hunt an out-of-the-way location few others would consider. Small, obscure pockets of cover produce some of the biggest bucks each season. They may not look like much, but they are overlooked sanctuaries. A small ditch, a tiny ravine, a patch of grass in the middle of an open field. Hide and sit out the day.
TIP 5: LET THE WEATHER BE YOUR GUIDE
Food-source abundance, hunting pressure, the influence of the rut, and the moon will all affect the action on opening day. Nothing, however, will impact the timing of when you’ll see that action more than the weather. Most of us are deer-season weather watchers, but you’d better pull your best Al Roker if you want to get it exactly right.
TIP 6: MAKE A CHARCOAL MASK
The point of wearing face paint isn’t to provide interesting selfie fodder—it’s to keep deer from seeing your shiny mug.
TIP 7: SWEETEN THE PLOT
Ed Spinazzola is a Michigan legend renowned for his pioneering methods of food plotting. One of his favorite concepts is devilishly simple: Make the forage you’re hunting more attractive than any other in the area. This is done with fertilizers and a basic understanding of plant biology. About two weeks prior to opening day, hit the forage you plan to hunt with a dose of urea (46-0-0 fertilizer). Follow that up with an application of nitrogen. The urea will fuel the root system and the nitrogen will turn the foliage ultra-green. This only works on plants that are still green, of course. Doing this to soybeans makes them seem almost neon in color, and deer will pound them.
This sweetening process works on native vegetation as well. If state law allows it, you can do this sweetening process on public lands and existing natural browse.
TIP 8: ZIP IT UP
Always keep a stash of zip ties in your pack. You can use these slivers of plastic magic to quickly affix your tag to a deer, erect a ground blind, or add cover to a stand.
TIP 9: DON’T KILL YOUR HOTSPOTS
There should be one single goal when the sun rises on opening day: Be where the deer are. There is but one way to give yourself the very best odds of doing just that. You have to scout—but you have to do it correctly. Gun season will bring out more hunters than all of bow season in most places, and, like most of us, they’ve not had enough time to properly do it.
They hit the woods with gusto just days, or hours, before the new season dawns. They prep their blinds, clear shooting lanes, freshen up attractants. And they move deer. Don’t be one of those guys. Your scouting efforts should intensify as the season draws near, but your level of impact while in-season scouting should decrease.
TIP 10: USE YOUR EYES
Long-range surveillance can work wonders in areas of open ground. Even though it’s gun season, this oft-used bowhunting tactic shines here. Jeff Danker, host of Major League Bowhunter, is one of the best observational hunters I’ve ever met. His lesson is worth heeding if you hunt open country.
“I’m not going in to kill a buck until I know I can actually kill it,” he says. “I’ll spend as much time as it takes just watching and observing from a distance. I want to learn that deer. Once I feel like I know what it’s doing, then I’ll move in.”
If you live in an area where cover is thick, like much of the Midwest and South, trail cameras can do the work for you. But check those cameras sparingly and carefully. Remember, as the season draws near, more and more hunters are going to be in the woods trying to find their own hot seat. That pressure will put deer on alert.