Preconditioning in the early season

Written by TheDeerwhisperer on Wednesday, February 11, 2015

So I have heard all kinds of theories around if people bait too often or check trail cams too often, it spooks the bigger deer, but I would like to challenge this theory some, and I know this is a little outside of the box for some so they may shake their heads and disagree and that is expected as it goes somewhat against the grain of what many bow hunters believe in. My belief now through personal experiences, is you can precondition deer to your advantage regardless of age and size. 

Growing up on a farm and working the fields you quickly learn big bucks don’t fear farm equipment and they will sit within feet of a tractor, combine, lawn mower, Gator etc. as long as it’s going about the normal routine of noise and motion, but as soon as that piece of equipment stops…bam, that deer is gone! How many of you have seen a beautiful buck near a road way standing there without a care in the world until you stop and hit reverse, then it took off in fear? Or were on a golf course, in a park or scouting in the woods and the deer didn’t mind people interaction, but as soon as someone tries to approach them, places too much attention on them, or goes where they are not usually seen, the deer will take off. They don’t mind certain levels of people interaction in areas to where they have learned to pattern our behavior. Deer pattern us all the time and they learn our habits and are comfortable around us when we act in the manor they expect us to, but as soon as we change the slightest behavior, their flight instinct takes over. I think most hunters realize they pattern us but very few take advantage of it, in fact most try to avoid being patterned. I hear guys all the time say they purposely walk in different ways each time, different hours of the day, don’t check their cams too often, only bait when wind is right or change how they enter based on wind direction, as they don’t want the deer to pattern them, I was doing a lot of the same and to be honest I still do when the deer are heavily pressured later in the year, but when hunting the “early” season, and even more so when hunting small pieces of woods, or close to a bedding areas, I now believe based on experience and recent success, you can also be hurting yourself by not letting them pattern you, as those deer never get preconditioned to human interaction and they remain on their toes and they never relax as you are always sneaking around. They may feel pressured sooner because of this and change out of their normal movement patterns quicker. A preconditioned deer in my opinion looks at pressure differently and will accept more of it therefore, can remain in a predictable pattern longer making him easier to kill.

Formed from my own experiences, I believe deer can be preconditioned to your advantage. In fact, one of the greatest ways of doing this is setting up on the edge of a bedding area and allowing them to feel comfortable with your actions over a long period of time. Be as consistent with your schedule as possible and be deliberate in your actions. In other words, try and mimic your actions the same way each time for example, enter down the same path, act the same way when dropping the bait, sit in the same spot when checking the film, and walk out as deliberate as you came in, create a cadence when working a stand area and allow the deer to pattern you. If you get deer use to a certain routine and you do this starting early in the year well before the season starts until go time, I believe the potential at killing a good buck early season goes up in certain scenarios. I have cam pics of deer coming to the bait within minutes after it was placed and very relaxed and I know they had to of been watching me based on how soon after they were eating. They didn’t spook as I went about the routine they are accustom to.

I am convinced deer are far more comfortable when they learn you and your habits and as long as we act as they expect us to, even in their house, they can get comfortable allowing us to be more aggressive early, and even hunt in small areas once considered not hunt able in the past as it was a no no to bump the deer out of them. Most hunters like to stay conservative during the early season as they feel like if they bump their target buck he is gone. They would rather not risk it and wait until he puts his guard down during the rut to get aggressive in their tactics. Through my experiences, I have found deer to be way more predictable and relaxed during the first few weeks of the early season allowing me to get more aggressive in my hunting approach while getting away with more. During the rut bucks become very unpredictable in their movements as they have their minds on one thing and one thing only and none of us (as great as we think we are) can predict where and when a doe may come into heat so knowing where he will be any given day is nearly impossible, not to mention does are very jumpy and on high alert during the rut for obvious reasons making it harder to sneak around as well. I mean the record book doesn’t lie and I get most big bucks will get killed during the rut, many by luck as you cannot predict their movements, all you can do is put yourself in a good spot and pray. Early season now for me is the most exciting though, as I have learned over the last couple of years, if I allow them to pattern me while in their relaxed state for months before the season starts, I can be way more aggressive in my tactics and get right in on them while they are still predictable…this changes the cat/mouse game for me and adds a level of excitement.

Gimpy mounted

Many of you that have been on since earlier in the year have seen or heard about the buck I shot nicknamed Gimpy who scored 130inches, which is not a monster, but what I consider a solid trophy for the state of NJ. I killed this buck by preconditioning him. I knew I could not sneak in on him as he was bedding in a very tight spot so I decided to start early in the summer driving the gator up the edge of the woods, walking in on one specific trail, and beginning the process by dumping some bait and I wasn’t concerned about being ultra-quiet or which way the wind was blowing while baiting. Now early in the summer or even late summer, there is so much other food sources they barely touched the bait, but that wasn’t the point of this, the whole point was to make my presence known and allow them to pattern me. I would check the cam once a week, and at first Gimpy didn’t show, but a week into the process he began to show. I could see that Gimpy settled in and was getting comfortable/preconditioned as he was working the area in daylight hours and seemed relaxed…so I kept the process going and it was cool to see him coming to the bait on some days not too long after I had left. When the day came to go after him, I called my dad and asked him to be my stunt double. We drove over the same way on the gator, walked down the same trail, baited the same way, and as we walked out my dad headed to the gator as I veered of and climbed my tree…as the sound of the Gator faded into the distance and sometime had past, I could see movement in the thicket and slowly but surely Gimpy popped out at 15 yds. He was looking in the direction we entered and left, walking slow and cautious, licking his nose checking the scent levels, and just standing there for what seemed like forever, but since he was use to our routine and some human scent was accepted, he decided all was fine and the rest of the story is history. Gimpy was bedded maybe 40yds away that day as the spot he was hiding was only about 40yds wide by 75yds long so he knew we were there that day, but he didn’t run off, as he fell victim to Preconditioning. 

Important to note here, this is one tactic that can work done properly, but as with any big buck, most times you get one chance at your target deer…so don’t let your guard down and get lazy and start changing up your routine here and there, or he will bust open your plan and most likely live to see another season. You have to be disciplined in your routine it’s crucial.

So if you know where a target deer is hiding out, come June, get after him!

About The Author

A master of finding and harvesting big New Jersey whitetails with 5 NJ Pope & Youngs to...

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