Early archery season can be a trying time for both seasoned and new bowhunters alike. All too often good deer sign and deer sightings early in the season can be as scarce as hen’s teeth and bowhunters are left scratching their head with the perception that there are few deer in the area they are hunting.
With the leaves beginning to fall, deer tracks and trails can be difficult to locate, buck rubs are usually fairly scarce and scrapes are infrequent. Bowhunters can be left in a quandary over where to hunt but must remember that deer in early October are, for the most part, still in their late summer feeding routines.
They are actively searching out all available food sources trying put on needed fat reserves to carry them through the rigors of the upcoming rut as well as the long Pennsylvania winters. Deer are looking for and spending their time in areas of high food concentrations. Simply put, archers should hunt the deer’s favorite food sources early in the season and deer sightings should increase dramatically.
This time of year I try to find the deer’s favorite natural foods and position a portable stand downwind of that food source. Acorns are one of my favorite hunt locations. Upon finding an area with lots of red or white oak acorns, hunters should see the telltale signs of deer activity. Broken and discarded acorn tops or hulls tell of both heavy deer and squirrel usage and closer examination will show deer tracks, trails and often buck rubs.
If you are fortunate enough to have apple trees or a cornfield on your hunt property, these are also good places to hunt — as are the edges of bean fields, clover or other farm crops.
By later in October, deer habits begin to change with the onset of the rut. I basically hunt a rutting sign as it appears. In an almost frenzied manner, bucks make hundreds of buck rubs throughout the woods and scrapes begin to appear. Scrapes are the pawed-up areas in the leaves under over-hanging limbs in the woods where bucks leave their scent and sign. Scrapes act as active scent posts where all deer communicate and loiter. Bowhunters wanting fast action and increased deer sightings should learn to hunt scrapes as the season progresses.
Watch for active scrapes and rub lines and move portable stands to accommodate buck sign. My theory: If he’s been there once, he’ll return sooner or later! Also learn to set up on trails connecting bedding areas to feeding areas.
As the infamous whitetail rut approaches in a few weeks, bucks will be chasing does sporadically throughout the woods with little care as to where they are and what time of day it is. This is the prime time for archers to be in the woods capitalizing on the buck’s inattentiveness.
During the rut, I utilize a full arsenal of tricks to lure the rutting buck into bow range. The more you experiment, the more you’ll learn. Along the way you’ll spook a few deer, but in the end you’ll find out what works.
Those hunters who learn to interpret where the deer are feeding, bedding and traveling can find success this season. With plentiful acorns and the upcoming rut, hunters that hunt the right areas and the trails connecting them to their bedding areas should see deer.
Cochranton-area resident John Crooks is a longtime outdoors writer.
Tips for a successful hunt
Here are some basics that can spell success this season:
Scouting both preseason and in-season probably single-handedly sets the stage for more deer sightings than anything else. Time in the woods patterning deer means deer sightings while hunting. Find where the deer are bedding and feeding and set up to intercept them. Hunt the trails, bottlenecks and terrain that funnel deer to food areas and deer sightings should be plentiful. Hunt the signs of the rut. Watch closely for rutting scrapes and rub lines. These two items mean the buck was there and will return.
Set up for the close shot. Try to set up for the close, 10- to 20-yard shot. Distance means a lot in the woods. Remember we have to count points now!
Practice. Try to hone your shooting skills as often as possible. Shoot a few arrows before the evening hunt.
Hunt scent free. The whitetail deer has the ability to detect the smell of humans from great distances. Keep body odors to a minimum and use a commercial scent reduction or earth scent cover scent.
Think safety. Always wear a safety belt or harness when hunting from a treestand.