Probably the toughest question faced on early-season deer hunts is where to set up. If you’ve patterned a nice buck where you hunt and know exactly where to sit, you’re in good shape. But if you’re like most of us, still figuring things out and mulling over this decision, here are five potential sites that can pay off almost anywhere whitetails are found.
Water Hole. Deer need to drink daily. During hot, dry weather they’ll often visit secluded water holes during daylight to fill this need. Be there waiting for them.
Find remote ponds, spring seeps, or creeks near their daytime bedding areas or on routes to evening feed fields with fresh sign. Make sure there’s some security cover for their approach–they won’t drink at a farm pond in open pasture.
There’s a pond where I hunt in an open field. But the only activity it gets from deer is at night. A small handmade water hole further back in cover near a bedding area, however, draws steady daylight use if it’s not pressured.
If necessary, lay some cut cedars or brush for cover as the deer approach the water’s edge. Alternately, create your own water source by digging a hole and using a kid’s pool or pond liner material. Set up on the water’s edge or the main trail leading to it, depending on the time your trail camera images show buck activity.
Oak Flat. If deer are scarce in food plots and fields, they’re probably in the woods eating acorns. Oak mast can fall from late August into November, depending on the tree species present on the land where you hunt. In my hunting area pin oaks and sawtooths drop their nuts first and provide the best early hunting. Later, the white and red oaks drop their mast.
Pinpoint the best producing oaks and check them often to see when they are dropping heaviest. Then set up downwind on knolls, benches, and spur ridges off of hills where you see large tracks, scuffled leaves and fresh rubs.
Wheat or Oat Fields. Before acorns fall or during poor mast years, food plots and farm fields with freshly emerging cereal grains are magnets for early season deer. They like this forage best when it’s just coming up — 3-6 inches tall. Sow plots 2-4 weeks ahead of time so they are in this tender, protein-rich stage when you are going to hunt.
Triticale and rye are other good choices. Set up on the field’s edge in lightly hunted areas or downwind on trails leading to them if hunting pressure is heavy. The field corner can be a hot spot.
Tight funnel in a travel corridor. The key word is “tight.” You may have a general idea where bucks bed and their evening feed destinations. But transition corridors they use traveling to them may be quite wide.
It helps to narrow things down. Find the funnel within the funnel — the spot where a deep river, thicket, or cliff narrows the travel route tighter, and then maybe a blowdown compresses things even more.
Lacking such natural stricture points, make one. Fell a large low-value tree or hinge cut several smaller ones to partially block the corridor and narrow the area a buck can follow to reach the major feeding sites. Assuming you are bow hunting during the early season, why take a 40-yard shot when you can take one at 20?
Power line crossing. With their edge habitat and lush food in the form of forbs, clover, shrubs, and saplings, power lines attract lots of deer activity, especially when they cut through forested areas. But in early season, you might see much of this movement a long ways down the line.
To see bucks in closer range, start by hunting the edge of the line just inside the woods where the deer travel along it back in cover. Then increase your chances even further by pinpointing where this parallel trail intersects a power line crossing point.
That typically occurs at a low area or dip in terrain where the deer can cross the open line with the least chance of being detected. This trail juncture can be a major traffic point for deer both traveling along and crossing the line.
It was just such a powerline crossing that allowed me to harvest two bucks in two days on an early-season hunt in Georgia a few years ago. These spots should also pay off in the Shenandoah Valley on early season hunts.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident