Early season tactics for South Carolina deer

Part Two of Two
It’s early season and a lot of small bucks are moving and are legal, but many hunters are looking for big bucks right now.
Terry Madewell/Clarendon Citizen - It’s early season and a lot of small bucks are moving and are legal, but many hunters are looking for big bucks right now.

Last week we began a look at early season deer hunting. This week we continue with things that you can do to enhance your odds of early season and pre-rut season success.

By now, either your stands are built or if you use climbing stands, potential trees have been selected based on prevailing wind, terrain and deer patterns. Many hunters will have already placed the stands on trees, again just to ensure the deer have plenty of time to get back in a normal routine. Let me stress right now, that if you are not at this stage, then stop reading after this paragraph, go to the woods and do it. When you return, pick up reading here where you left off.

What some hunters like to do is actually have different stands being worked for different stages of the season. They will have some stands prepared for opening day and the normal early season patterns we are currently in. Other stands will be in various stages of preparation for when the weather and deer change their habits and the preferred stand locations change. Essentially, the entire season is a series of change and never-ending scouting, preparation and hunting – which is what every red-blooded lowcountry hunter lives for anyway. But the stands being hunted the first month are essentially ready by this time.

The one thing you can do is some spot-checking on deer activity during the days immediately prior to your hunts. Food sources change and so will deer movements and even slight movements can require adjustments on your part. Thus, the beauty of multiple stands or the ability to use climbing stands. This is true for bow or gun hunters. The biggest exception may be hunters that have access to large bean fields and are capable of making long-range shots. Deer will come to the beans, and if they come from a different place and your gun is sighted right, with a steady hand, you’re still in business.

For others, scout the areas you intend to hunt, usually passing through during the mid-day when the deer are most likely bedded down away from the feeding areas. Check for any type of deer sign, especially big buck sign and mentally mark the ones that are the most impressive. Check for ingress and egress routes the deer are using so you’ll know which way the deer are likely to enter and leave the area. See what they’re eating and note where those food sources are located. Then get the “heck out of dodge,” so to speak. Spend but a few minutes in the immediate area where you have placed the stand, but if you pay attention you can learn a lot about the up-to-the-minute deer status. Then when you hunt, based on wind and weather, and the location of the various stands, you can make a really good assessment of where to be.

These are things you need to be doing now if you’re going to be hunting in the next two or three weeks. To spot-check an area, simply park far enough away so deer won’t be spooked. Arrive in the middle part of the day to avoid “personal” contact with deer. Bumping deer still occurs occasionally, but generally, on a hot September day, deer will be bedded down when it’s so hot. Check out the sign you’re looking for then slip back out.

Also, and this is important, never walk into the area from the direction the deer may be bedded. Even if you have to walk a long way around, you need to come in from what some hunters call the “back door.” The less human scent or activity the better, but you do need to spot-check to see what areas are hot with fresh deer sign and which ones are not. Deer hotspots can and do change rapidly during the early season and you have to keep tabs on their activity without blowing them out of the area.

One tactic to remember about lowcountry hunting is that placing stands near the swamps is always a good bet for early season hunting. Deer love to hang out in these dark, watery areas during the heat of the day and thus, when they do begin to move around in the evening, they don’t have as far to travel to reach your stand site. That’s why it is imperative to set up near their bedding area. If you set up too far away, you may still see lots of deer sign, but it may be from deer activity that occurs long after legal shooting time. So, put a lot of forethought into your stand selection site from that aspect, not just total amount of deer sign seen.

Another item that I noted earlier is that many good lowcountry hunters are now also working on other stands in areas where the deer will be when the pre-rut and rut kicks in later on in the season. Plus, they’re looking for the best sites for late-season hotspots during the post-rut. What hunters do in September in terms of locating good potential rutting areas for October and November hunting will be very important to success at that time.

You can drive through the areas, get out and walk; looking for fresh deer sign as well as any telltale sign left over from last year, such as old buck rubs. If buck deer used an area the previous year, odds are good the area has the needed requirements to attract them again the following year. That is unless something major – like a clear-cut – has left the area void of timber. Now is the time to discover any major impacts to your hunting lands if you have not already done so.

Of course, food plots planted by hunters can be another deer magnet and are always a source for good stand sites. For mid-to-late season hunting success, you can get the ground worked up in early September and usually by late-September or early-October, plant some wheat, oats, rye, turnips and other greenery that will attract deer. By late season, the succulent green tidbits will be almost irresistible to deer and hunting in these areas will improve your odds of success.

Whatever your plan of attack this season; don’t overlook the month of September in terms of preparation as well as for hunting. Whether you hunt, or make detailed preparations, the early season spent correctly can turn a season with average potential into the season of a lifetime.