Focus On Food: Four Locations For Early-Season Bucks

My college roommate Danny Rollins was a lot like a big ol' nasty buck. At the very least, he could be patterned like one in the early season when much of the focus is on food. Early in the evening, Danny was either at a friend's house scoring on his cheap beer and whatever food he could scavenge or hitting the bar with the best happy hour deal--particularly one that included grub. I knew exactly where he would be by the advertised bar specials of the week. To a whitetail, that part of Danny's evening would equal early season when the bucks are still hanging together in groups and more focused on filling their stomachs. For the deer hunter looking to start his season right, there are more than a few lessons Danny's life can teach them.

With bow seasons opening up very soon in many states, take a lesson from Danny's early-evening ritual and focus on food for early-season bucks. But don't plop down in a stand alongside a big field. Do that and you'll see deer, but you're less likely to actually connect on one. First identify which food sources bucks are hitting, then determine exactly how they are accessing them. With a bow, setting your stand just 10 yards too far from where a buck walks can mean the difference between filling a tag and never getting a shot.

1. CROP FIELDS

Before hunting a crop field, spend a few evenings glassing when and where a bruiser enters to feed. Hopefully, you've identified a couple of likely spots to scout out with the help of trail cameras prior to the season. Deer shouldn't be pressured yet, so providing that the weather and wind remain consistent, bucks should show up in the same spot most afternoons. After pinpointing from which trail a nice buck enters the field, slip in early one afternoon and set up within 20 yards downwind of the spot. Try to keep the sun at your back.


With pressure light and the weather still fairly hot, if there is ample cover near the field, be careful about venturing too far into the woods. Deer are apt to bed close, and walking in will just blow them out of the area. Never walk down the edge of a field to access a stand. Go through the middle, where if deer step out and begin browsing the edge, they are less likely to cut your scent trail and spook before they've had a chance to filter your way.


2. MAST IS THE MAINSTAY


When white oak acorns are dropping, little else matters to whitetails. These acorns are among the most preferred whitetail foods in the forest. Check wide-topped white oaks before the season to identify whether acorns are present. Sometimes only a few oaks will be laden with the tasty nuts, so don't just set up under the same oak you've always hunted.

Monitor when acorns begin to drop, and when they do, that's where you need to be. Even if Farmer John just cut his corn field and littered the ground with waste grain or the soybeans are lush and green, the cover of the forest and the protein in the acorns will keep bucks hidden from sight unless you're there to watch. Think about it: If I called Danny to tell him I was making grilled cheese sandwiches and then someone else invited him over for pizza, where do you think he'd go?


3. NATURAL BROWSE

If you hunt an area that is devoid of fields or any sizeable food plots, particularly areas such as the expansive pine plantations in the South, focus on natural browse that deer will seek out for food. The wild greens shooting up throughout these otherwise nutritionally barren forests can provide a succulent feast for whitetails, but you have to know where to look. Because most green stuff looks the same to the average hunter, you can spend your time with a Petersen's Field Guide to Plants or you can go where plants are going to shoot up with the most verve and nutritional value. That would be in a first-year clear cut or recent burn.

In the former, ample sunlight allows new plants to grow quickly and produce more nutrition. In the latter, the fires that clear the understory also regenerate the nutrients in the soil, giving rise to heady growth. Find these spots bordering areas that provide ample cover and you have yourself a jackpot of possibilities. It's kind of like that grilled cheese sandwich when there is no pizza to be had--it sounds pretty good. Likewise, if you know where natural fruits such as wild scuppernong or muscadine grapes are growing, or, even better, persimmon or old apple and pear trees from a former orchard, set up on those once the fruits begin to ripen. Deer will be on those like my friend on a free beer.


4. WATERING LOCATIONS

Last, remember that, like man--and my buddy Danny--deer do not live on food alone. They require liquid refreshment, and when it's blazing outside, fair amounts of it. In a whitetail's case that translates into water. Seek out isolated ponds or water holes that may provide the only water in an area, or look for abundant tracks along creek banks and swamp edges where deer are crossing and/or catching a sip. Deer will move in the cool of the shade along these natural traffic corridors and drink up before heading out to eat in the evening. Think of it as happy hour for deer. Set up along a beaver dam (deer will often walk across that rather than swim deep water), a shallow crossing or a track-pocked pond edge and it could well be happy hour for you as well.

Recommended for You

Here are our top choices for hunting this fall! Guns

Top Precision Rifles for Hunting in 2019

Joseph Von Benedikt - April 22, 2019

Here are our top choices for hunting this fall!

Companies in the outdoor industry know how to get our attention. We know, it might seem cheap, but SHOT Show

Booth Babes from the 2012 SHOT Show

PH Online Editors - January 18, 2012

Companies in the outdoor industry know how to get our attention. We know, it might seem cheap,...

Boost antler growth on your deer property with these food plot tricks. How-To

How to Supplement Antler Growth with Food Plots

Jeff Johnston

Boost antler growth on your deer property with these food plot tricks.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 10: Snowbound Chamois

Host Brittany Boddington gets more than she bargained for on what turned out to be a grueling, snowbound and extremely physical hunt for chamois in Romania's Carpathian mountains.

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 14: Swamp Bulls

With his Mozambique forest bull in the salt, Craig Boddington sets his sights on the Marromeu grasslands in pursuit of a swamp buffalo.

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 9: Aloha Axis Deer

Host Mike Schoby joins his buddies Jon Dubin and Jeff Johnston on the island of Lanai for a deer hunt Hawaiian style!

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Since the first explorers and pilgrims landed, the inhabitants of this glorious country have been Shooting

7 Favorite Truck Guns

Joseph von Benedikt - May 11, 2015

Since the first explorers and pilgrims landed, the inhabitants of this glorious country have...

These rounds have proven themselves most worthy in the field. Ammo

America's Top 10 Big Game Cartridges

Joseph von Benedikt

These rounds have proven themselves most worthy in the field.

My deer-hunting seeds were planted and nurtured as a youngster on my family's small farm in North America

Best Units for Hunting Western Mule Deer

Josh Dahlke

My deer-hunting seeds were planted and nurtured as a youngster on my family's small farm in

See More Stories

More Whitetail

Follow Craig Boddington's pursuit for an elusive Coues deer south of the border! Whitetail

A Coues Deer Hunt in Mexico

Craig Boddington - September 12, 2018

Follow Craig Boddington's pursuit for an elusive Coues deer south of the border!

A primer to hunting white-tailed deer and other wild game on military bases

 Many military bases Whitetail

Hunting Inside the Perimeter

PH Online Editors - June 05, 2018

A primer to hunting white-tailed deer and other wild game on military bases Many military...

Here's why hunting with a deer-specific cartridge is a smart move
What do we want a whitetail Whitetail

Whitetail Ammo — Why it Makes a Difference on Deer

Keith Wood - November 22, 2017

Here's why hunting with a deer-specific cartridge is a smart move What do we want a whitetail

See More Whitetail

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Temporary Price Reduction.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.