August 31, 2021
If there is one thing I've learned over the 16 years I've been bowhunting, it’s you can never be “too prepared” for the upcoming hunting season. Just when you think you're ready, once season opens, you realize all of the things you should have done differently or did not do. Getting your hunting areas well-prepared ahead of time can be the difference of putting an arrow through that giant buck you've been watching or seeing your neighbor drive by with him in the bed of his truck.
Food Is Key
Food is probably one of the most important factors when it comes to killing whitetails. Whitetails spend most of their lives feeding and bedding, besides of course those magical couple of months out of the year when bucks are travelling in search of does. If you don’t have food on your property that really lowers your chances in the early and late seasons. Whether you have tillable ground or complete forest cover, there is always a way to get food onto your property.
Ideally, having a property that has wooded cover and tillable ground is the best scenario for a whitetail hunter. If you have tillable acreage you need to get some sort of food planted in those areas. Smaller tillable acreage is great for planting food plots, such as clover or brassicas. Most food plot seed can either planted in the spring or late summer. Having your food plots established before the opening of season will really give you an area of focus when bowhunting.
If you're lucky enough to have larger tracts of tillable acreage, planting crops such as corn and soybeans will really give you an advantage — especially if you are able to leave them standing for a fall and winter food source. Sometimes planting crops can cost a lot of money by the time you buy or rent equipment and pay for all the seed, lime and fertilizer. However, if you’re able to find a local farmer who needs more acreage to crop farm then that’s your ticket. This is exactly what I do. You can make an agreement with a local farmer to either just plant and harvest come fall or help pay for some of the cost and they can agree to leave a portion standing all year round for hunting purposes. Regardless, having the planted crops on your property will draw deer, keep them close, and give them the extra nutrition they need.
If your property does not have tillable ground, the next best thing is running minerals all year round and using supplemental feeds if allowed by your state. I run minerals, feed, and plant food plots and crops. Nutrition for your herd is extremely important. Having these things established way in advance allows you to not only get an idea of deer in your area, but also where to set stand locations ahead of time.
Setting The Stage
Sometimes these few tasks slip right by hunters. Mowing, creating trails, trimming shooting lanes, and creating edge cover are super important to accomplish in advance.
Keeping your property or hunting area properly mowed throughout the spring and summer are important in keeping invasive weeds and unvalued plants from seeding and allows beneficial grasses and clover to thrive. This also keeps your areas more attractive to the wildlife. Whitetails love to forage on new growth.
Creating trails — whether it be in the woods through thick brush, through tree tops from a recently timbered property, or through thick, brushy fields you're wanting to leave standing for cover — are really good ways to produce travel corridors going to and from food, bedding and right past your stand. Most deer will travel the “easy” trail if it is available. Hanging your stands around these mowed and cut trails will give you a good idea of where a buck will walk by your stand.
Trimming shooting lanes is something you definitely want to have done prior to the start of the season. There isn't much worse than having a buck walk by on opening day and realizing you have no shot because you failed to cut proper shooting lanes! Keep in mind, however, that it is very important to not overcut your lanes and leave yourself with little cover. Look for the your key areas of travel going by your stand and be sure to get them trimmed a few weeks before the opener.
If you've watched a big buck travel around before you know they tend to travel more comfortably with cover. Most of the time when I’m in the stand a buck will do everything in its power to avoid walking through a wide open field or in wide open woods. They like to hug edges and travel close to cover where they feel the safest. Creating a screening around your food plots and fields — whether it be with a tall crop, planting pines, not mowing the edges to create a brushy screen, or by planting a special perennial screening — will make bucks feel more comfortable and give you a good location for a camera or stand.
The last several years I’ve learned that hanging stands in the dead of summer with smoldering heat and full leaf foliage is not ideal. Repeatedly when hanging stands in the dead of summer, once fall and winter arrived I realized how little cover I actually had and how completely different the terrain appeared. This lead to having to readjust and move stands once season arrived. Hanging your stands in the spring before the foliage is full gives you a view of what you will actually be seeing once fall and winter arrive, and will help prevent having to make adjustments during the prime time of the season. Getting your stands hung in advance also eliminates the issue of spreading too much scent come close to season.
Get Your Eyes Out There
Scouting is a big factor in having a successful season. Getting eyes out there and learning how the deer on your property move and react — and what bucks are in your area — really determines what a lot of your actions going into season will be. Whether you prefer to scout by hanging trail cameras or physically putting eyes through a spotting scope (or both), understanding how and where deer travel to and from food and bedding is super important.
There is so much technology out there in today’s world with trail cameras that there is no reason not to get a good feel of the deer’s patterns and behavior on your property. Placing cameras over active trails, food sources, and over mock scrapes/licking branches are all exceptional ways to get a lot of activity on your cameras. Setting multiple cameras up in a given area once you’ve laid your eyes on a target buck will really allow you to put eyes on that buck’s every move, and hopefully allow you gain enough knowledge to put an arrow through him come fall!
With that being said, you have to put in the time and the work to be successful. The more time you put on your property the more knowledge you’ll have. The more prepared you can be and the earlier you get things done the more confidence you’ll have going into opening day. Good luck out there!