Even though we can see the date coming months in advance, it seems to happen in a blink of an eye! Steamy, hot summer days transform into sweatshirt wearing fall mornings and before you know it, it arrives: early season bowhunting begins! However, should it begin for you?
Even though many are decades old, the annual anticipation of another bow season is ripe with some of my fondest memories. The scar I received on my finger in 1987 from over tightening my broadheads the night before Michigan's bow season opener is still fresh in my mind (although faded on my finger). The pull towards climbing into my favorite archery ambush on opening day has been strengthened throughout the years, but an extreme level of patience has grown along the way.
Often I find myself waiting for early season bowhunting opportunities that are based on quality instead of a specific day on the calendar. There are 3 important factors to consider before heading into the woods for the first time this archery season.
Soaked with sweat and constantly buzzed by mosquitos is not a fun way to begin the early archery season, but often a bowhunter doesn't have a choice. However, what you have a choice about is hunting during the hottest days of the year.
My bow season opening day rarely begins on a particular day of the calendar because I choose to hunt only after a cold front has passed by. In southwest Wisconsin, that cold front drop may only be from a high of 81 to a daytime high of 72. Even a moderate drop of 8-10 degrees will cause whitetail activity levels to increase. With moderate cold fronts taking place often every 7-10 days throughout the fall, my opening day begins within 3-5 days of the actual opener almost every year. In 2015, I was able to take advantage of outstanding opening day cold front conditions to pass on a beautiful 4-year-old I was hoping to get a better look at. The weather and timing were perfect. I wasn’t disappointed and experienced my best bowhunting opener ever.
Countless publications reveal the first time into a stand is always the best time to shoot a mature buck. My harvest records reveal the same! In fact, almost 70% of my oldest 25 bucks have been shot the first time into a particular location for the year.
It is critical that if you expect to shoot a specific buck, he is already there. Mature bucks often shift into their preferred fall habitat at some point after the beginning of most bow season openers and that shift can be a mile or more. I recommend that if you are going to use your favorite big buck blind location, you make sure that the first time that you do so is set up for success. Lingering scent and deer that you spook during the entrance or exit of your blind can spoil a future high quality sit at least 2 weeks or more before it happens.
By using trail cams, observation tree stands or buck sign, you can make an educated decision that the particular buck you are after is there to go after in the first place. When you factor in the addition of some quality weather during a hunt for a buck that you know is already there, you can create an extremely high level of precision for an early season bowhunting sit. However, mature bucks on the trail cams and great weather aren't the only considerations!
Do you keep tabs on your hunting neighbors? I do! Often hunting neighbors are there for a weekend and gone for another week or two, especially during early season archery opportunities. Could your neighbor's efforts potentially hinder a particular mature buck movement that you would like to take advantage of? Maybe you should skip the opener.
Have you ever considered that high levels of hunting pressure on your neighbor's land could help you greatly, especially when it comes to neighboring weekend warriors? One of my favorite times to hunt are the Monday and Tuesday following a heavy weekend of neighboring hunting pressure. Mature bucks greatly avoid hunting pressure and when your hunting grounds are allowed to sit idle during high pressure days, you can experience great rewards. The risk of not beating someone to an opening day buck can be outweighed by the rewards of patiently waiting to hunt your land during quieter conditions. Some of the best pictures I have collected of bucks from other areas have been taken on Mondays and Tuesdays. Often it pays to time your early season bowhunting opener with your neighbor's level of hunting opening day pressure.
I still get pumped each season when the bowhunting opener rolls around. However, as the years tick by, I have learned to determine my personal opening day by keeping my eyes on the weather, my neighbor's success, and my trail cam pictures. You only get one chance to hunt a bow season opener each year, so I recommend that you do your best to make it count!
Jeff Sturgis of Whitetail Habitat Solutions is a whitetail habitat consultant and author of several whitetail strategy books.
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