Hunting the Early Season for big Bucks

Written by TheDeerwhisperer on Tuesday, July 21, 2015

As hunting season approaches I often get asked the question “what is my favorite time of the year to get after nice bucks?” And without hesitation these days my response is the first FEW weeks of early season. Many look at me surprised or challenge me on my thoughts as they are still believers in the rut being the best time or hate the heat. Then I let them know the heart of the rut is my 3rd favorite time to chase nice bucks, and at that time, they now look at me like I have 3 heads. Early season and the last couple weeks of October are my favorite times to hunt for nice bucks’ period. Toward the tail end of the rut can be good as the bucks are worn out and need food so if you have a good food source like winter wheat for example, you have a great chance then to. Issue there is, not everyone has that late season food source needed. Anyway, back to the early season and why through my experiences I feel it is a great opportunity to harvest a nice buck.

Here are the main reasons I rank the early season as a great time to get after them, and in no particular order:

• More relaxed herd (doe as well as bucks are relaxed, which to me, both are key)
• Predictable patterns (with day light movement)
• Can apply an aggressive hunting approach (hunt more like the rut)
• Less people pressure (Way more fair weather guys out there who hate the heat, then not)

For many hunters, chasing nice bucks is all about tip toeing around until the rut comes and then and only then, do they hunt spots they left unmolested, get in and around sanctuaries/bedding areas, simply put, get in a more aggressive mode of hunting. As during the rut bucks guards are down while focusing in on one thing and one thing only, and they are more apt to make that one mistake we need them to during their time of ecstasy. I still agree with the tip toeing approach during many times of the year and before we had the ability to hunt the early season, it’s how I approached things until the rut came just like many others. Times have changed though and so has our ability to hunt deer differently and that is because the time of year we are allowed to hunt here in NJ (as well as other states) called the early season. I have learned many bucks during the first few weeks of the early season have their guards down and can make the same mistake you need them to make like during the rut with one added advantage, unlike the rut, they can still be easier to pattern. As a buck hunter that is HUGE as If you have the ability to put some reason behind their patterns, it allows you the ability to put together an intelligent strategy on where and when the best time to ambush that deer is. The rut does not really allow us the ability to pattern them as bucks are extremely unpredictable during the rut and if pinned down on a doe, could be gone for 3 plus days as you waste precious hunting time waiting for the buck that never shows.

The rut is about hunting bedding areas and pinch points and getting out as often as you can and sitting as long as you can in the hopes one shows up. I have also seen the rut change in my area to where a lot of the action seems to be taking place at night more than years ago so by day break, bucks are on does already making it even harder. During the first few weeks of the early season however, the bucks are still moving during shooting hours and some of that is due to lack of pressure and do to the fact it doesn’t get dark until 8 o’clock and they are hungry, either way, your odds are better in my opinion to catch a nice bucks’ movement pattern during the day early season. I have noticed that although deer can and will at times change out of their early season patterns starting at the end of August, many will remain in the same movement pattern for the first couple weeks of the hunting season and these are the guys to target. If you find where they are bedding, the task at hand becomes even more promising.

As a side note, I like the last two weeks of October for the same reason as the big bucks are on their feet a lot more making it possible to get a shot on them, but still less predictable even then, but unlike the early season, they respond better to calling and scents in October which can be a blast to! Don’t tell Ron Jones I said that as he likes scents all the time, and he might yell at me!  

Being the deer are easier to pattern (a relative term of course) and still have their guards down, makes the first few weeks of the early season a great time to get aggressive. You have a small window sure, but it’s a great window of opportunity to get in on a nice buck close to where he is feeding or bedding. Many still apply the same old tip toeing tactics needed for the later season and miss great opportunities at nice bucks. I have personally seen it a handful of times in the last few years as I think one of the hardest things for a deer hunter to do is change how we do and think about things, we tend to be old dogs that can only learn certain new tricks, while others tricks scare us way too much to try. In the early season the trick is hunt like you would the rut meaning, get in on them close and fast while their guards are down. For some, that style early is just not something they can do or agree with and that’s fine to as there are many ways to skin a cat I am just sharing one that has worked for me in the hopes it helps someone get a nice buck this season. Sure you have a chance to blow it, but that’s hunting anytime of the year, but you also have the chance to harvest a great buck by applying a more aggressive approach early as they will take some additional pressure and still stay on track, I said “some” pressure as I know some may try and read too far into that one. 

Deer are still in more of a social state early and are not in full survival mode as they appear to get into as the season goes on that allows you some room for error, which I believe is unique only to the early season and rut. 

Another key component to all of this is people pressure, as there is a ton less pressure the first few weeks of the season than any other time during the New Jersey hunting season. The majority of “hunters” are fair weather guys when it comes to the early weeks, bitching about the heat, the early season in general, the bugs, you name it! And I love it personally as it keeps them all at bay while I am out there hunting what I consider some of the best times to be out there. Sure many guys will hang cams or throw bait around, but most are not hunting hard nor did they do any real preseason scouting to pattern a deer. Instead, many will take the ever increasingly popular dump bait and wait style of hunting which is not doing much harm to the deer you are targeting. I also like this new style of hunter as it’s a good thing for guys like me, and we need more of this kind leaving the nice deer alone.

I have been applying these tactics with great success over the last few years and now I'm a true believer in the benefits the early season has to offer. It is a time to where you can apply your skills to kill a nice buck and to where you are less reliant on luck like we are for most of the season after. After the early season it’s all about being in the right place at the right time, but we never know when that really is. In the early season, you actually have a chance to put yourself there when you know he will be and that’s pretty exciting in my opinion! And yes, the rut is still one of my most favorite times of the hunting season and a great time to kill a nice buck, but I believe the first few weeks of the bow season allows us an equal if not greater opportunity at a nice buck.

Good luck this upcoming early season!

About The Author

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

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