Sweat, bugs and extra effort aside, you can take big bucks when the weather is hot.
Sweat poured from my face. The thermometer read 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and the mosquitoes just wouldn’t relent. Of all the places I could be in such conditions, I found myself trudging along the border of a standing cornfield.
My destination was a hang-on stand situated near a heavily worn creek crossing that separated the field from a known bedding area. Yes, I was whitetail hunting in this dreadful weather. Sounds like misery, right? Before you answer, read about the outcome.
Once on stand, I ignited my ThermaCELL, which eliminated the majority of the insects. Repeated mists of Scent Shield converted my sweat into nothingness.
As light began to give way to darkness, a fawn moved through the thick September foliage.
As if on cue, the sound of quiet footsteps splashing in water signaled the approach of a deer.
Then, like a ghost, he was there. One glance at his rack made me tighten my grip on the bow. He was alert, taking care with each step.
Sensing something wasn’t right, he took two bounds away from me. I stopped him from running any further with a swift, Maaaap. Turning broadside, he offered an easy 30-yard shot.
After the arrow passed through his vitals, he crashed through the creek and lunged up the opposite bank before his legs folded from underneath him.
That hunt turned from utter misery to overwhelming satisfaction in the blink of an eye.
Some might say the hours of sweat and biting insects aren’t worth it, but I will take a record-book buck any time the opportunity arises.
I climbed down and met my brother, Brad, and we returned to recover the deer.
The rack was jagged, a sure sign that he had shed his velvet within the last few days. Matter of fact, there were still a few chunks stuck to the bases.
The following evening in the same weather, Brad put his tag on a big buck.
Right now you’re probably thinking, “Private land, guided hunt, no big deal.”
We were hunting new turf on public ground, so self-guided best describes our situation.
Now that you know the circumstances, let me introduce you to a method that Brad and I often use to score on deer in scorching hot, early season conditions.
Scouting is the number one factor in the successful outcome of early season bowhunts. If you are not hunting a big buck’s travel route, you will neither see nor arrow that buck. Big bucks never travel far when going from bed to food in hot weather. Hence the importance of precision stand placement. You have to know and understand why a buck is bedding where he is, along with where he is dining on a regular basis in order to put your tag on him.
You might be able to kill a big buck right on a food source, and I have, but that leaves too much up to chance. You are better off placing your bet somewhere smack dab between his bed and chosen food source. If you can combine a food source, a bedding area and a river crossing or pond, get ready for some action.
I like to inspect tracks. You can quickly distinguish a mature buck track from other tracks. When you find one, backtrack the buck toward his bedding area. Never go farther than you have to. Doing so will lead you right to his bedroom, which will jump the deer and cause him to go nocturnal. The goal is to find a good transition point where a buck might stage before heading out into a field. That is where to hang a treestand.
Matthew Katzfuss, a sales rep for a national archery company, hunts bucks as soon as the season opens, regardless of temperature. In fact, his biggest buck was harvested on public land on a hot September day. The 165-inch whitetail jumped out of a sunflower patch and strolled right past his stand.
When crops are still standing, whitetails often utilize the extra cover, and most bowhunters don’t expect to find big bucks in such unlikely places.
You can learn a lot by studying aerial maps. I prefer to use Google Earth. This free Internet service allows you to zero in on a given area and identify possible bedding and feeding areas. By decreasing your on-foot scouting time, you disturb the area less and reduce the amount of scent you leave behind.
You can get a good idea about the number and quality of bucks using a food source by sitting several hundred yards away and watching through binoculars or a quality spotting scope. It’s important to identify where they are entering a field, along with any travel patterns in the field itself.
While this information is important, I believe a majority of the bigger bucks typically hang out in staging areas and don’t wander out into the open until after dark.
Trail cameras can show you the size and number of bucks using an area. The best thing about cameras is they are active 24/7. I use infrared cameras with quick trigger speeds, and I try to put them on worn travel routes or crossings.
Where possible, put out your cameras as soon as bucks begin to develop antlers. You can quickly distinguish a mature deer, even that early. The antler bases as they emerge from a big buck’s head are a dead giveaway. Body size also can indicate a mature buck.
Once you locate a prospective shooter, continue to photograph that deer. The more you get to know his daily routine, the better your chance of taking him on opening day.
Avoid checking your camera too often. It’s exciting to see new pictures of big bucks, but it’s more exciting to put your tag on one. With today’s large memory cards and cameras that last 6 months or more on a set of batteries, there’s no reason to stumble into the woods every few days to check a camera. Big bucks will not tolerate human intrusion, so be patient when it comes to checking your cameras.
Once you settle on a good staging area for your stand, find or create an access route that is easy, even if it involves going a roundabout way. Difficult stand access results in unnecessary sweat, excessive noise and spooked deer.
During the hunt outlined above, my brother and I had to hang our stands just days before actually hunting them. Because we were hunting public land away from home, our entire scouting/stand-hanging process compressed into a few days.
Everything about our preparation was crucial, so we used extreme scent precautions and selected access routes with the least resistance. Our goal was to minimize scent and noise.
Clear a path, but avoid touching sticks and live branches with your bare hands. The more things you touch near your stand, the more scent you leave, especially in hot weather. Use a rake or a sturdy stick to move debris, and ratchet pruners to trim branches (where legal).
Climbing into your stand should be nearly effortless, too. If you struggle getting into your stand, you will sweat. Cut any branches that hinder your climb, and make sure your climbing sticks or tree steps are within easy reach of one another.
Always remember that whitetails don’t usually bed far from their food sources during that time of year, so it’s likely you’ll have bedded deer within hearing distance. The quieter you are, the better.
When hunting in the heat, human scent is even more a factor than usual. Waste from the bacteria caused by sweat quickly creates a strong odor that deer will not tolerate.
You cannot avoid sweating when it’s 70 to 80 degrees outside, but you can reduce odors by showering with scent-eliminating soap and shampoo. Use a scent-free antiperspirant, and apply scent-eliminating spray before, during and after your walk to the stand.
Are the results enjoyed by Brad and me realistic? The answer depends on a plethora of factors.
I believe moon phase has a big effect on early season hunting. If the moon is bright and full, it could be much more difficult to find a mature buck.
If you’re hunting new land or haven’t been able to scout well in advance, you might have to hunt a few weeks before you get a shot.
On the other hand, if you prepare as outlined above, your odds for success go way up despite any weather.
You will never kill a big buck in hot weather if you don’t try. I am sure glad I hunted the July-like weather to harvest my buck, and Brad would agree.
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• Food Plots and Antlers: There are plenty of reasons to plant food plots, but keep your expectations realistic. This article was published in the July 2012 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.