- Lynn Burkhead
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It is often said that the early bird gets the worm.
Not ever having found a palpable recipe for earthworms, I cannot say.
But what I do know is that a certain Pope & Young whitetail buck a buck that yours truly unfortunately missed taught me a valuable lesson several years ago.
What was the lesson on that steamy early October morning? Simply this: while the rut is certainly the prime time to be in the whitetail woods, big bucks can and do fall during the warm, lazy, and hazy days of early autumn.
Provided, of course, that a certain knuckleheaded archer beats back the buck fever and uses the right sight pin!
Tom Miranda, globetrotting bowhunter and the veteran host of ESPN Outdoors' "Advantage Adventures" television show, knows all about chasing whitetails during the early season and beyond.
While the Floridian's whitetail advice dispensed this Saturday morning at 6 ET via ESPN Radio's "The Outdoor Show" with Tommy Sanders will focus on all facets of autumn deer hunting, listeners of the coast-to-coast radio show can also expect to discover some early season kernels of whitetail hunting wisdom.
What would that first nugget be? Simple right now, as the early days of archery season approach, hunters should grab their hunting optics, climb into the pickup truck, and head out for a long distance look see for velvet antlered bucks.
Where will those bucks be? Around the early season chow hall, that's where.
"Most of the time, you're glassing from far off trying to look to see where deer are coming out," Miranda said.
The plan, of course, is simple: observe what type of deer are utilizing an area, find out what their daily habits of travel and feeding are, and then plan an early season ambush accordingly.
Often times, bucks that are still in late summer feeding patterns can be somewhat predictable the first week or so of the season. A stealthy bowhunter can then slip in, hang a treestand near a food source or hot travel route, and often tag a big buck early in the season by following this game plan.
What about scouting? As a general rule, Miranda likes to avoid invading a whitetail's home turf this late in the game. Instead, he'll use topographic maps and aerial photos to help him figure out the lay of the land, then slipping in with his treestand to hunt a buck when the season begins.
But in states where deer seasons actually begin a bit later than they do up north, he indicates that it may still be possible to slip into and out of a whitetail's home turf with some careful speed scouting.
One way to speed scout without tipping off a big whitetail buck as to your presence is to slip around the perimeter of a property where drainage areas may hold tell-tale tracks.
"In the early season, it's often dry and you really don't have a lot of tracks in really dry soil," Miranda said. "That's when you want to get close to river systems and places where they're watering."
"When you see more muddy areas with tracks, you can pattern a buck that way. You can see where they're moving (to and from) and the trails that they're using."
As the early season progresses and deer transition from summer to fall patterns for feeding and travel, Miranda says that it becomes very important for a hunter to adjust his or her hunting strategy accordingly.
"In the morning, typically you're hunting closer to bedding areas, but you're still actually hunting a food source," Miranda said.
"It's just that you're trying to intercept them as they're coming back from a food source."
In the late afternoon and evening hours, Miranda said that most hunters will typically move closer to the actual food source itself, be it an oak tree dropping early acorns, a persimmon tree loaded with fruit, a harvested agricultural field, or a food plot.
Be careful, however, that you don't get too close to that food source.
"Typically, I'm rarely hunting the edge of a (feeding) field," Miranda said. "I'm looking for a staging area back in the woods."
"The smaller bucks may hit the green fields before sundown, but the bigger bucks tend to feed more back in the woods and wait until it gets dark (to move out in the open)."
"But you have to be on the hot trail, or you're really rolling the dice (hunting back from the food source)."
Another strategy that Miranda says can pay big antlered dividends in the early fall is for a bowhunter to target waterholes, particularly in drought-plagued areas or the more arid reaches of the Great Plains and western U.S.
Keep in mind that while it is certainly possible to kill a big buck during the early season, it's also less likely according to Miranda, so hunt accordingly.
Put simply, in this woodsy version of Texas hold 'em, don't play your whitetail ace card unless you're certain it's a sure bet.
"The biggest mistake I think guys make during the early season is they get too aggressive (too early)," Miranda said. "This is really a passive hunt."
"Your chances in the early season (at killing a big buck) are 10 percent. Later in October, they're 50 percent, and during the rut they go up to 80 percent."
"If you see a deer and he's not coming out every day, I'd probably wait and not hunt him early in the season, especially if he was a real slug."
In other words, while the early bird or bowhunter can get the proverbial worm, don't become too aggressive, spook the buck and blow an opportunity for a better shot later this fall.
Veteran whitetail bowhunter Tom Miranda offers tips for the period before fall's rutting frenzy kicks in.