Whitetail hunters live to die on hills. Fixed blades versus mechanical. Doe bedding versus rut funnels. The list goes on and only gets more trite and obnoxious. One of those dead horses includes the morning versus evening debate, especially in the early season.
I’m biased because I’ve killed a majority of my bucks in the morning, but they can be just as effective as evenings. Those opposed to hunting mornings typically cite access and spooking deer as the main deterrent. This might be true if you have to cross a wide-open beanfield or food plot to get to your stand, or if you hunt areas with high deer densities.
And while those hunters aren’t entirely wrong, whitetail hunting carries few absolutes, and your hunting style probably has a lot to do with your success (or lack thereof) during morning sits. It might take some creativity, but changing your approach to mornings just might change your mind about hunting them as well. Whether you hunt the big woods, farm country, or the mountains of Appalachia, there are ways to notch your tag during the dawn hours.
Every November you’ll find a dozen or so articles that will implore you to sleep in and hunt the best time of day (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) to find a cruising buck during the rut. A similar approach can, and should, be taken during October, though this window will be shorter and earlier.
While deer typically feed back to bed around first light, there’s also a good chance that they’ll be up feeding just a few hours later, especially during the morning hours when temperatures haven’t peaked. If you can’t slip into your spot without getting busted before first light, give it a few hours and glass your way to your stand. If legal shooting light falls somewhere around 6:30 a.m., then plan to be in your stand just before 8.
I have a go-to spot where I take this same approach. Deer feed along the side of this ridge right before dawn on their way to a bedding area. About two hours later, they feed right back through. Instead of going in with a headlamp and blowing the place in the dark, I glass my way into this location without spooking deer, and I get an extra hour of sleep. This setup eventually led to a shot on a deer at just six yards.
If you can “save” your best spots until conditions turn perfect, great. But if you’re duking it out with competition on public land in a limited time, then going mobile—and I don’t mean in a tree saddle—might help you punch your tag. Still-hunting whitetail deer might not sound as sexy as hanging from a butt hammock fifteen feet in a tree, but it’s a proven tactic and sorely underutilized.
Instead of reverting to traditional spots or skipping mornings altogether, try slipping through the timber with your bow in hand while occasionally scanning for deer. This can be a great opportunity to cover some new ground or enlighten you on how the deer actually use the terrain.
I honestly believe if more hunters used this tactic, myths about the October lull would slowly dissipate, and we might change our minds about how deer move during shooting hours. Last year during opening week, I was travel hunting with a buddy. We only had four days to hunt, and after coming up empty on the first two days I decided to still hunt on the next to last morning. About two hours into that hunt, I was surprised when I spotted a doe browsing in my direction. I watched her feed for about five minutes before she gave me a thirty-yard shot. No, it wasn’t a huge buck, but it was one of my most exciting hunts from last year, and I didn’t go home empty-handed.
If you’re still not convinced that mornings are worth hunting during October, then you should at least consider using that time to scout for more potential evening spots. No, this isn’t the same as still hunting. Scouting trips should be more efficient.
You won’t be sprinting through the woods, but this won’t be as calculated as a still hunt either. Oh, and I wouldn’t recommend scouting in-season without a bow in hand. It also might be a good idea to carry a tree stand if you find a spot that looks promising enough for an evening sit. If you can, take a trail camera in case you want more intel on that area. If you can’t hunt the spots you want to, finding more potential areas only increases your odds of success.
While you’re not sitting in a tree with your bow at the ready, purposeful scouting is way more effective than sitting at home. Ask any consistent big buck killer, and they’ll probably tell you that scouting plays a major role in their success. But even if your goal is to fill the freezer, getting boots on the ground will help you do just that.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.