Early Season Keys

By Bob Robb

You’ve heard all the arguments for not hunting whitetails seriously during the early archery season. And yet, this is one of my favorite times to get a shot at a good buck. This week—the last week of September—I am in northwest Wyoming, where I drew both archery elk and whitetail tags. Before starting to chase elk in earnest, I am deer hunting and the first two days have been excellent. I have seen several good bucks and almost got a shot.

The keys to this early-season game are few, but they are important. The outfitter I am hunting with, Ralph Dampman of Trophy Ridge Outfitters in Carlile, Wyo., is also a good friend who knows his stuff.

Here are his keys to early season success:

• Learn the Patterns: “You need to pattern the bucks, which you can do this time of year,” Dampman said. “We glass fields from long distance and use trail cameras. The goal is to both locate bucks and see where they are traveling so we can put stands up in those travel routes.”

• Low Impact: “While we want to hunt hard, we also do not want to blow the deer out of there,” Dampman said. Hunters need to be able to slip in and out, stay hidden and pay particular attention to the wind. If it is not perfect, don’t hunt that stand.

Evenings Only: Since you’re hunting feeding patterns on or near crop fields, it is virtually impossible to access stands in the dark to hunt in the morning. So, Dampman doesn’t. “We only hunt in the evenings, which lets us get to the stand before any deer have left their beds to come to the fields for their evening meal.”

• Water Works: When the weather gets hot, deer will often water before they go to the fields. That means that hunting small water holes or stock tanks can be very productive, and that the deer will be visible to you with plenty of shooting light left.

Natural Foods: Right now the acorns are just starting to drop, and the deer are pounding them. A subtle stand move so it overlooks a tree dropping lots of acorns can make all the difference.

Egress: “We always drive right to the stand and pick our hunters up after dark,” Dampman said. “I never let a guy walk out. The deer are used to vehicles and this doesn’t bother them a whit. But a hunter walking through a field full of deer right after dark will ruin that spot.”

I am very excited by what I have seen so far. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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