Probably the most difficult question to answer when hunting deer at the start of the season is where to settle. If you’ve modeled a good looking buck where you hunt and know exactly where to sit, you’re in good shape. But if you’re like most of us still figuring out and thinking about this decision, here are five potential sites that can pay off almost anywhere deer is found.
Water hole. Deer need to drink daily. In hot, dry weather, they often visit isolated water points during the day to fill this need. Be there to wait for them.
Find remote ponds, spring seeps or streams near their daytime sleeping areas or on roads leading to evening feed fields with a cool sign. Make sure there is a safety blanket for their approach – they will not drink in a farm pond in an open pasture.
There is a pond where I hunt in the open field. But the only activity he gets from the deer is at night. A small, hand-made water hole further away near a sleeping area, however, attracts constant use of daylight if there is no pressure.
If necessary, lay down cedar trees or brush for cover when deer approach the water’s edge. Alternatively, create your own water source by digging a hole and using a kiddie or pond liner material. Sit at the water’s edge or on the main trail leading to it, depending on what time your surveillance camera footage shows male activity.
Flat oak. If deer are scarce in the foraging patches and fields, they are probably in the woods eating acorns. The oak mast can fall from late August to November, depending on the tree species present in the area where you are hunting. In my hunting area, Oaks and Sawtooths release their nuts first and provide the best early hunting. Later, the white and red oaks let go of their mast.
Identify the best producer oaks and check them often to see when they are falling the heaviest. Then settle down to the lee on mounds, benches, and ridges of spurs off the hillsides where you see great tracks, tousled leaves, and cool rubs.
Wheat or oat fields. Before the acorns fall off or during years of poor growth, foraging patches and agricultural fields with newly emerging cereal grains attract early-season deer. They like this forage best when it’s just grown – 3 to 6 inches tall. Sow the plots 2-4 weeks in advance so that they are tender and high in protein at this stage when you go hunting.
Other good choices are triticale and rye. Install yourself at the edge of the field in areas with little hunting or downwind on the paths that lead there if the hunting pressure is strong. The corner of the field can be a hot spot.
Watertight funnel in a circulation corridor. The key word is “tight”. You can get a general idea of where males sleep and their evening feeding destinations. But the transition corridors they use to get there can be quite wide.
It helps to narrow things down. Find the funnel in the funnel – the place where a deep river, thicket, or cliff narrows the travel route further, and then maybe a purge compresses things even more.
In the absence of such natural shrinkage points, make one. Cut down a large, low-value tree or chop down several smaller trees to partially block the corridor and reduce the area a male can follow to reach major feeding sites. Assuming you were archery hunting at the start of the season, why shoot 40 yards when you can shoot one 20 yards?
Power line crossing. With their edge habitat and lush food in the form of grasses, clover, shrubs, and saplings, power lines attract plenty of deer activity, especially when passing through wooded areas. But early in the season, you could see a lot of that movement down the line.
To get a closer look at the males, start by chasing the edge of the line just inside the woods where the deer line it for cover. Then increase your odds even further by spotting where this parallel trail intersects a power line crossing point.
This usually happens in a low area or a hollow in the ground where the deer can cross the open line with the least chance of being detected. This trail junction can be a major traffic point for deer traveling along and crossing the line.
It was such a power line crossing that allowed me to harvest two males in two days during an early season hunt in Georgia a few years ago. These spots should also bear fruit in the Shenandoah Valley during early season hunts.
Award-winning outdoor writer Gerald Almy is a resident of Maurertown