4 Steps to Harvesting an Early Season Buck

By Alex Comstock 

A month and four days until bow season opens where I’m located. The anticipation is growing with every passing day as I'm counting down until September 2nd. Early season can be a great time to arrow a mature buck. In fact, it may be the best time of the year to do so. If your archery season opens in September, you have ample time to put these four steps in play to harvest a shooter buck. For those of you that live in a state that opens October 1st, the first few days of the season can be really good, if the right conditions apply. Here’s how you can go from no target buck to a shooter on the ground between now and opener.

1. Locate a Shooter. The first step to downing an early season buck is to find one. I’ve talked about this before, but it applies the most now. If you truly want to arrow a buck in the first week or so of season, you can’t expect one to show up on your hunting property if you haven’t already identified one. If you’ve got a shooter showing up on your property already, you’re ready to move on to the next step. If you don’t have a shooter showing up yet, it’s time to go out and find one. This is the best time of year to scout from a distance. I like to drive the back roads in the evening and cover ground if I don’t have a specific deer I’m looking for. This allows me to glass multiple fields, and the goal is to keep doing this until you find a buck you want to hunt. Once you locate one, you need to get permission to hunt the property you find him on if it’s private land. If you aren’t able to get permission, I repeat the process until I find one that I can successfully get permission to hunt.

2. Determine if he’s killable. This is a very important step to successfully harvesting an early season buck. It can be extremely disappointing to hunt a buck that’s not killable. A buck that is killable in the early season needs to fulfill two requirements in most cases. One, you have to be able to put together some type of pattern that allows you to hunt him. Between glassing and trail cam photos, it is critical to be able to pin down when he shows up on your property. Whether this is when the temperature gets below a certain number, or when there is a specific wind direction or speed. A deer that you can pattern, instantly becomes an easier target, especially during the early going in the season. Keep in mind that during the early season, a buck is still mainly on a bed to food pattern. Once you gather enough information to get a fairly predictable pattern figured out, your chances of killing go way up.

I haven't determined if this buck is going to be killable enough to be a top early season target. There isn't a clear pattern I can get him on yet. The last month leading up to opener will be telling. 

I haven't determined if this buck is going to be killable enough to be a top early season target. There isn't a clear pattern I can get him on yet. The last month leading up to opener will be telling. 

The second requirement is for a buck to be visible in daylight. Too many times, I see guys that set their sights on a giant and go after him the first weekend of season, but the only trail camera pictures they have are between 11:00pm and 2:00am. The only times that I will actively hunt a buck that I have no daylight pictures or sightings of is during the rut. But during the early season, if you only have nighttime pictures of a deer, it usually means one of two things. Either he doesn’t live on your property, and he just makes his way through every so often during the middle of the night or he simply waits for the cover of darkness to get up and move. When you do have a buck that is visible in the daylight, your in business. The most killable early season bucks are ones that are active on your property in the daylight, and you can pattern when they move.

3. Figure out your entry/exit route. Alright, so you’ve located a shooter buck on your property and have determined that he’s killable. You know you want to go after him the first chance you get. Before jumping right in, and hanging a stand, figure out a good entry and exit route first. During the early season, I find that an effective exit route can be the most tricky, especially if your hunting over a food source. How are you going to get out of a stand without spooking deer if a field is full, or you have deer close to your proximity? If you are able to coordinate it, a very effective method is to have someone pick you up, and drive into the field to clear it out. Deer are much more forgiving to this type of behavior opposed to you trying to sneak out of a stand, and having a deer see you in the tree. Once deer associate your tree with danger, your in trouble. If your not able to have someone clear the field for you, try identifying the area of the food source that the deer enter in. In most cases, there is an area most deer enter the field and an area most deer work their way to. If you can hunt where the deer enter, and have them work past you, getting out of your stand without being busted will be much easier.

If you can figure out how your going to get into an area and out of it before hanging a stand, you will run into less problems than if you hang a stand first, and then try and figure out how to access it and get out of the area.

Utilizing things such as railroad tracks can make for a great entry/exit route. 

Utilizing things such as railroad tracks can make for a great entry/exit route. 

4. Aerial Strike. The last piece of the puzzle to killing an early season mature buck. I call it an aerial strike, and what I mean by this is simply waiting for the perfect conditions to strike and go in for the kill. This doesn’t mean jumping into the stand on opening day if the conditions aren’t right. It can be the hardest thing to do, but the most beneficial to your efforts of bringing down your shooter buck. Don't hunt if the conditions aren't right.  

You've put so much work into locating a buck, figuring out his habits and pattern, determining if he's killable, and finding a great stand location. Don't ruin that by hunting the wrong conditions. For example if you know that your target buck is coming into a certain location almost nightly, but you can't get away with hunting him unless you have a westerly wind, wait until you have a westerly wind to execute your strike. If the first three days of the season are an east, east, and then northwest wind, wait until that third day to make you move. 

Once the perfect conditions present themselves, perform your strike and go in after your buck. Your odds of harvesting him will be as high as they ever will be.