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Timing a diy hunt.

When planning that big trip to hunt whitetails on your own, one of the primary questions to answer concerns timing. With no outfitter or guide to consult, pinpointing the best time to go is up to you--just as is the case with every other detail of the hunt.

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In most regions, there are four weeks I believe offer the best odds of success. Let's examine each, hopefully providing you with some ideas about planning your own do-it-yourself whitetail adventure.

1 OPENING WEEK OF BOW

Regardless of exactly when it falls, the first week of archery season offers the rare opportunity to catch deer totally off guard. Their daily patterns are somewhat predictable in late summer and early fall. Bucks are often still in bachelor groups and are relatively visible during daylight hours. They're focused on feed and water at night, then finding cool bedding cover in daytime.

Another important factor working in the early hunter's favor is extreme daylength. Whitetails head back to their beds so early in the morning that well before dark their stomachs start growling. Hunger can put them back on their feet and heading to fields or other feeding areas earlier than they otherwise might begin moving. .

In many areas, pleasant weather is often another advantage to early-season hunting. With no worries about getting cold on stand, you need not put on heavy outerwear or even carry it to the stand with you.

Of course, even if you aren't lugging a load to your hunting spot, overheating can be an issue with early-season hunts. That means odor control can be as well. In many places, insects are another negative at this time of year. Until the first frost knocks the population down, mosquitoes in particular can make a hunt miserable. That's why I never leave home on an early-season hunt without a ThermaCELL. These handy units have forever changed my hunting in warm weather.

Another warm-weather challenge is caring for game once it's on the ground. Forget about hanging your kill for a day, then skinning it out and processing at your leisure. With temperatures in the 60s or higher, you have a few hours to get the meat cooled. And if you don't get the cape off and cooled, the fur could slip, resulting in a poor-looking mount.

The heat also puts some pressure on you to recover your deer with as little delay as is practical. A questionable shot must be followed up more quickly than might be the case in cooler conditions.

2 LAST WEEK OF OCTOBER

In the Midwest in particular, late October means the pre-rut, and it can be a great time to be in the woods. Bucks seem to be on their feet later into the mornings at this time of year. They're checking scrapes and cruising between doe bedding areas. This is when hunting scrapes and rubs has a reasonable chance of paying off.

Several studies have looked at how many bucks visit scrapes and when they do so. Most of these studies have been done by counting tracks in the evenings and mornings or by using trail cameras. These studies have consistently shown bucks--especially mature ones--visit scrapes far more at night, with very few daytime visits.

In my view, this premise is flawed. These studies only counted bucks that actually left tracks in scrapes or at least approached to within detection range of cameras on scrapes. I believe a lot more bucks actually check scrapes from downwind, using their noses. Rather that walk right up to every scrape, a buck can easily check it from 30-50 yards downwind as he moves through. If he smells something that intrigues him, only then might he actually approach the scrape. Keep this firmly in mind when selecting stand sites near fresh scrapes.

Calling and rattling work well at this time, too. The bucks aren't yet totally focused on breeding, but they're actively looking for love. With hormones surging through their veins, they're vulnerable to any simulated breeding activity or interaction, whether vocal or through scent.

3 SECOND WEEK OF NOVEMBER

As long as I'm physically able, I'll be hunting whitetails somewhere in the Midwest Nov. 5-12. I look forward to this time not necessarily because it's the best for shooting a buck, but because I feel it's the best time of season to see a true giant whitetail and have a realistic chance to wrap my tag around his antler.

During the rut, all deer tend to move more than normal. So there's no better time to park yourself in a stand and stay put for long periods. Find the right spot and stick it out. You want to pick a high-traffic area bucks will be passing through. Seek pinch points and other locations that cause traveling deer to be squeezed into small areas, due to their unwillingness to cross wide-open country in daylight.

Ridges are good places to look, especially those that have established trails already on them. If you can figure out where the does tend to be bedding during the day, find trails downwind of bedding areas or trails between known bedding areas. Bucks will be on a "milk route" of sorts, continually checking these spots.

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Find where the does are feeding in the evenings. The bucks won't be far away. If does are feeding in open fields, bucks are most likely back off the field edges in thicker cover, waiting until full dark to come out. They might be using trails that parallel the downwind side of the field, letting them scent-check does in the field.

4 LAST WEEK OF SEASON

Most areas have deer seasons that run at least until the end of the calendar year, and many offer hunting well into January--a few even later. Gone, for the most part, are the helter-skelter movements of rutting activity; the deer have settled back into a normal routine. In fact, this might be the best time of year to find a buck in a predictable daily pattern.

The key is understanding that deer have different needs during cold weather than they do earlier in hunting season. High-carbohydrate foods, such as corn, are magnets at this time. All whitetails in the area might be bunched up in a small zone around the best food source. Find that food and you'll find the deer.

At this time, they'll spend their days in predictable spots. The trails between the available food and daily bedding areas are often very visible, particularly if snow is present.

On sunny days in bitter weather deer tend to look for south-facing slopes with more open timber or tall grass, in order to take advantage of the sun's warming rays. I call these "solar bedding areas." On cloudy, windy and/ or wet/snowy days, they seek out the thickest stuff they can find to protect them from the elements. Such places afford them more thermal cover.

Because the deer now are hungry and run down from the rut, they often reach the best remaining food sources well before dark. That makes the last few days of season a great time to get on a deer quickly, even if you're far from home. Bundle up and go get one.
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Author:Barringer, Bernie
Publication:North American Whitetail
Date:Sep 15, 2014
Words:1206
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