When it comes to tagging large white deer on public lands, the start of the season goes under the radar of most hunters. By beginning, I am referring to the period between September 1 and October 5. Why ? Most hunters want to hunt rut. I don’t blame them. The rut can tip over when you hit it correctly, but it also attracts legions of bow hunters to open terrain.
At the start of the season, you can have some of the best public places all to yourself, and while the overall movement of the deer may not match the rut, the males tend to be much more predictable. I know public lands generally don’t have alfalfa, clover, and bean fields which currently create relatively easy bed-for-food opportunities for private land bow hunters. But it does offer something else that makes shaping early season males almost as easy: water. If you know how to take advantage of ponds, streams, and rivers, they can make hunting on public land early in the season almost as good as rutting. Better yet, in some cases.
Waterways Create Perfect Funnels for Big Buck
Waterways are important to white deer for two main reasons. First, rivers, streams, and streams allow deer to sip as they travel. Second, they create natural funnels so that they can get from point A to point B. It is virtually impossible to determine exactly where deer will drink in moving water. So what you want to look for instead are areas along streams where natural funnels, pinch points, and crossings occur. You can do some of this with a digital mapping system long before your hunt begins. One of my favorites is where the wood from the bottom of a creek or river touches a high, steep bank along the water, creating an ultra-tight pinch point for deer to cross. .
When putting on boots on the ground, look for a beaten path that slides through such an area, then explore upstream and down, keeping early season winds in mind. Look for shallow points where deer can cross easily, and pay special attention to sandbanks. Big buck tracks are easy to identify in the sand. If you find a junction with tracks, be sure to try those tracks again. At the start of the season, it is common for hinds, fawns and young males to use one cross and mature males to use another. As a general rule, the crossing of mature males will be less defined and will be 80 to 100 meters from the central crossing.
If you can find a good ambush point near the level crossing, this is the place to put your stand. Otherwise, I like to chase the nearest pinch point within 150 yards of a major crossing.
Try your luck on the litter areas of the waterways
Even if you can’t find an obvious funnel, you’re still in the game. Hop on your digital mapping app and look for nearby private crop fields that lead to a public waterway. Next, look for the heaviest litter wood on the public side. Before you dive in and investigate, get a vantage point that allows you to overlook the river and private farm fields and spend an evening watching. If it is not possible to gain altitude, view yourself on a county road with a spotting scope mounted on the window and pay attention to where deer enter the field during the evening . You can repeat this process in the morning, and often you will catch deer leaving the area towards the water and public litter antlers. It is generally better to forgo a day of hunting to do some scouting in the field. Once you’ve set a pattern, pay attention to the direction of the wind and go forward to kill.
Yes, you are making a bold move here. You roll the dice and press firmly on a bedding provided. But don’t panic. You don’t hunt on a well-maintained farm and you don’t have 40 days to hunt. You must strike while the iron is hot. Strap a stand and poles to your back and head early. Find the best tree that offers good shooting routes, and keep an eye out for an area where several trails intersect. If these trails intersect along the waterway, so much the better. Stay on the leeward side of the bedding, buckle up and do it.
Hunt isolated water sources in hot weather
Early season temperatures can be scorching, meaning males often have to quench their thirst. My absolute favorite early season technique for pulling the dupe on a public land buck is to find an isolated waterhole. It can be a small pond nestled in the woods, a large created for game birds, or a breeder’s tank. The tighter this cover compared to litter and natural grazing, the better. Locate these areas on your digital mapping system. Take your time when looking for water sources. Often times you will need to zoom in and study your map. In doing this, I prefer a computer screen to that of an iPhone. Another option, and one that I found very convenient, is a paper map of the area. Most BLM, National Forest, Walk-In Area paper maps show water sources.
Do not enter any water source unprepared. Be prepared to come in and hang out and chase. I like to visit these springs early in the morning, shortly after I feel like the deer have gone to bed. The slopes are king. If you find a water source littered with trails and large male trails are prevalent, climb a tree or build a natural shade on the ground. If the water source appears to be average, hang a camera, if legal, in your area. Hunting cameras let you keep an eye out for a hole you aren’t hunting, and when you come back to check the map and find that a buck gagger is drinking every day, you are now one step ahead of them.
Patience is the name of the game here. As with antelope hunting, you never know when a male will get up from his bed, pull up some brush and swallow it up. Sitting water holes are an all-day affair, so make sure and prepare accordingly. The long wait will be worth it when a public lands murderer shows up for a drink.