We’ve all read the headlines claiming that opening day is your ticket to filling that buck tag. This can definitely be true, especially if you’re hunting a state with an early archery opener. Bucks are visible during daylight hours and are likely still exhibiting their day-in-day-out summer feeding patterns.
But the harsh reality is that the overwhelming majority of us will go home on opening day with a tag still in our pocket. If there was one secret to killing bucks on opening day, he or she who is the most prepared and well-rounded will be the first one to punch their tag. If that sounds like weak advice, be honest with yourself, how prepared are you?
It’s opening day, and deer season is finally here! You set your alarm three hours before sunrise and plan to hit a public spot that you’ve been scouting all summer. Much to your surprise, there’s already a truck in the parking lot. It’s still two hours until sunrise and you’re already forced to throw Plan A out the window and move on to Plan B.
You load up your mobile tree stand and head for a place you’ve had success in years past. Go figure, as you approach your second-choice setup, you see the headlamps of two guys who have the same idea as you. Before you know it, you’re on to plan three and scheming how you can afford to buy 40 acres of your own before the next deer season.
The moral of the story is, if there was ever a time when our best-made plans need to be scrapped, it’s opening day. Whether the wind is out of the wrong direction, other hunters beat you to the punch, or your truck gets a flat on the way, success is often imperative to adapting to the changing conditions and having solid backup plans. Having an inventory of backups that you’re just as confident with as Plan A will net you more bucks than you’d ever imagine.
If you truly want to kill a buck on opening day, you often need to roll the dice and hunt like it’s day nine of a ten-day hunt. Preserving your best spots for the rut and hunting an observation stand on opening day doesn’t typically get the job done. I’m not advocating for blowing out your exclusive 20-acre property on opening day, but if you want to shoot a buck on opening day, don’t hunt like you have all year to fill your tag.
A common opening day scenario finds us hunting destination food sources, in which we’ve seen bucks at last light during pre-season scouting. The typical move is to put a stand right where you saw him last night and hope that he does it again on opening day. It never seems to fail, he will probably find a way to hang up just out of range. Maybe he does walk right past your stand, the only problem is, it’s shortly after shooting hours, and you can’t see your pins.
Now you have to sneak out of the stand in the dark and pray you don’t unknowingly bump the buck on your way out. Despite your scent control regimen, there’s still a bunch of ground scent in the area. When that wiry ol’ buck comes through in the morning, all it takes is a trace of your scent, and you can kiss his summer pattern goodbye.
If you want to punch your tag on opening day, oftentimes it means that you can’t play it too safe and work your way closer to his bedding area. The moral of the story is, hunt opening day like you only get one hunt at this buck. If it doesn’t work out, then move on to Plan B.
When it comes down to it, you simply need to be able to hit the mark with your weapon. Most bowhunters I know will dust their bows off a week or two before the season and feel confident enough to hit the woods on opening day. After all, we’re rock stars in the backyard shooting at a stationary target. As common as this is, it’s equally as common to hear about the big one that got away.
Executing a perfect shot while your knees are knocking is no easy task, but it can become manageable when shooting your bow is second nature. With consistent practice, your form and shooting process can become muscle memory, which is essential in the heat of the moment when a fog of adrenaline makes the encounter a complete mental blur.
We place so much emphasis on scouting, prepping tree stands, dialing in our gear, planning entry routes, you name it, that it becomes far too easy to overlook other aspects of our craft. Over time we learn to become well-rounded hunters and focus on our weaknesses rather than spending all of our time practicing one facet of our pursuit. This might be the season you get the encounter of a lifetime, best be ready.