Whitetail Deer with huge rack

Early Season Big Bucks: Withstand the Heat and Bugs and You Could Intercept a Trophy!

It was early October and the Illinois archery deer season was underway. The temperature was about 80 degrees and the dew point was near 70. Combined with gnats, mosquitoes and a few horseflies, conditions were less than favorable. It was hard to believe a deer would get up and move, let along come within bow range. But, please read on!

My husband John and I had relatively short walks to our tree stands; however, we paused at a clover field long enough to cool off. We also needed to check wind direction before making a final decision on which stands we would hunt that evening. As we stood there, John had sweat dripping off his brow and a mosquito that was bound and determined to bite. The more he swatted, the more he sweated. John muttered “welcome to the Midwest heat and humidity,” and we headed in separate directions to our blinds.

Not long after John settled into his blind, dried off and applied insect repellant, things suddenly appeared brighter. When we talked on the two-way radios, he told me that he spotted movement in the brush approximately 50 yards from his stand. In less time than it takes to tell, a beautiful 10-point buck stepped out of the thicket and walked broadside, within range. John released the arrow and the buck went down within 80 yards of his stand!

The author's husband's early season Illinois buck.
The author’s husband, John, took this dandy buck
when the sun was far from setting and the temperature
was 80 degrees! (Photo by John and Vikki L. Trout)

Some hunters claim they avoid hunting in early season because they do not want to spook deer out of the area prior to the rut. Some just prefer to wait until the weather breaks. However, there are some veteran hunters who do get out in early season, knowing a great opportunity exists.

Early-season bucks are easier to pattern prior to the rut simply because they are more prone to stay within the safety of their home range. They have no reason or desire to travel great distances from the bedding area to the feeding area – unless of course they are pushed out of their comfort zone. I sincerely believe that mature bucks are creatures of habit early in the season – long before the breeding begins.

It is a well-known fact that bucks prefer dense cover to bed down. They like to be secluded and close to a food source. Food sources vary from mast-producing trees to farm fields, including soybeans and corn. Whitetails are comfortable dining on both with regularity.

Acorns are a favorite food source in early season. However, ambushing a big buck near oak trees requires smart hunting techniques. In other words, it will do you no good to hunt near a tree that had deer previously visited because acorns often vanish quickly in early season. When you find a tree producing mast, and it has fresh deer sign around it, the time to hunt it is now!

I recall one occasion last season when we found a white oak dropping acorns. There was fresh scat and new rubs near the tree. We wasted no time in setting up a stand and hunting. The first evening I hunted the location, several deer, including a good buck showed up. Unfortunately, a shooting opportunity never presented itself.

Soybeans attract deer until they mature and begin turning brown. Harvested cornfields could attract big bucks, but only for a short period, and often in the dark hours. We occasionally hang stands on the fringes of crop fields, but we have more faith in ambushing a trophy buck near secluded food sources, such as oaks.

All hunters are aware that placing a stand between bedding and feeding areas can help them intercept a trophy buck. However, one important factor to remember is penetrating too deeply. It is never a good idea to penetrate a potential bedding area. Once a mature buck senses your presence, he rapidly vacates the area for safer refuge elsewhere. If there is a funnel or fenceline connecting the bedding and feeding areas, this is an awesome ambush location to hunt. Funnels and fencelines are natural travel corridors.

Insects are perhaps the biggest obstacle the early-season hunter will endure. Some say insect repellant odors stink and will repel deer. However, swatting bugs will not go undetected by any deer, and especially a big buck. There are many insect repellants on the market today – from spray to those that work off butane and have an earthy scent. It is my opinion they do a wonderful job keeping insects (not deer) at bay. Moreover, the less you are swatting, the less your body will sweat, making for a more enjoyable hunt.

If the temperature is warm, sweating on the way to the blind is inevitable. Even though we carry additional clothing, ambulating in the sweltering heat of late afternoon will cause even the coolest individual to perspire. For this reason, I carry field wipes in my fanny pack. They not only refresh, they help eliminate a lot of the human scent exacerbated by sweating.

As I sit in my office writing, I cannot help but think about the upcoming deer season and the challenges it will bring. Although it may be hazy, hot, humid, and buggy, I can hardly wait to get in a tree to see what lies ahead. It will all be worth the effort if a big buck suddenly appears out of nowhere!

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