Getting Ready for Season Opener

Hunt 365 September 2016-Three Tips to Prepare for the Opener

My hunting partner and I had watched a nice group of bucks all summer and early fall.  They were feeding on two lush alfalfa fields all summer long and the pattern hadn’t changed.  As the alfalfa would get older, or was cut, they would rotate onto another parcel in one of the two fields were the hay was green and lush.  It was now late summer, and the rotation was still intact.  Only two weeks away from season opener and we saw the farmer take one last cutting of hay on the alfalfa field…perfect.  In two weeks we would have a perfect field of the green alfalfa to hunt over.  It had never been this easy to pattern bucks before!

We decided with only a week left until opener and the rotation still going, that we would hang a stand off a draw coming down from the hills.  This was the entry point the bachelors made every night into the prime feeding area.  With any wind from the west we would be able to hunt this spot opening night.  The trap was set.  I was gloating to myself on how easy it was finally going to be this year to hunt early season.  We took the next week off from glassing in anticipation for opening day…big mistake.

We drove to our farm the night before opener in a hurried pace to glass the alfalfa one last time.  To our disbelief, (literal disbelief) we pulled up with spotting scopes in hand to see our food source covered in liquid manure.  “NO WAY”.  We drove to the other field a quarter mile to the west and found the same thing.  Our once field of green gold was now covered in farmer’s liquid gold.  OUCH!  The dairy farmer didn’t much care about our food plot rotation scheme we had been watching all summer.  We never discussed with him our plans.  He was simply planning for next year’s crop rotation.  Our early season hunt was an utter failure.

Scouting 

Scouting for early season hunting is hard for most hunters.  We don’t have unlimited time.  Many of us hunt away from home; some of us driving hours to get to our destinations.  Scouting cameras sure help but they don’t always give us the full picture of what’s going on.  Early fall is also the time food sources can change drastically overnight as alfalfa fields get cut, early soybeans are harvested, and acorns are dropping…not to mention the occasional manure spread!  Rut hunting in many ways is almost more predictable—that’s right MORE predictable.  Why?  Because travel corridors, funnels, bedding areas, etc. don’t change much from year to year.  But early season hunting is all about food and water.

For most hunters, scouting long range is really hard to accomplish.  But, it is a great way to pattern and find good bucks during the lead up to opener.

For most hunters, scouting long range is really hard to accomplish. But, it is a great way to pattern and find good bucks during the lead up to opener.

The early season is also the time bachelor groups can start breaking up.  Some bucks disperse well outside their summer feeding areas and unless you own thousands of acres they might very well move outside your hunting area.  Scouting for season opener is literally day to day.  Glassing food sources for a good buck is only as good as the data.  And the data can change overnight.  Food sources that can hold deer for a longer time period making the information more valuable is something I key in on.  A lush alfalfa field is my favorite.  During a dry summer, a good watering hole located between bedding and feeding might do the trick.  One heavy rain though and the hole will run dry with deer activity.  Green food plots, watering holes, soft mast (apples), and acorns are great food sources for early season deer hunting.  Getting the most up to date information through glassing or scouting cameras is the only way to keep dibs on the local deer herd.  Expect changes and have a plan 2 or 3 ready.  Remember too that older bucks don’t move a heck of a lot this time of year.  If you don’t have a buck you want to harvest on your property early on…there’s not much you can do about it until they start to move a bit more.  Patience and the ability to move in quickly are keys leading up to the opener.

Check Your Sets

If you don’t have the lion share of your sets ready to go by September of each year, you are behind.  Most of my sets are created in late winter or early spring.  Occasionally a late summer stand needs to be hung to take advantage of that data you are currently collecting.  I like chain on “hang on” stands because I’m more comfortable leaving chain out all year over a strap.  Many of my stands are left out year after year…but only because each year I go and loosen them in the winter, and then tighten them back up in September.  I also have 10 ton straps I put around each stand in early fall for added strength and peace of mind.  This late summer stand maintenance is for safety and to make sure all the shooting lanes (that should have been done this past winter) are still open.  A good pair of hedge clippers and pocket saw can clean up any small stuff that grew into those lanes or around the stand site.  Every set I have gets one last inspection this time of year.

 

You must do one last tree stand inspection in late summer if your stands have been out all year.  I will replace any stand that won't pass a visual test...I also put 10 ton straps around each stand, and install full length life lines with prusik knots.  Any trimming is better done now last minute as opposed to doing it your first time in during the season.

You must do one last tree stand inspection in late summer if your stands have been out all year. I will replace any stand that won’t pass a visual test…I also put 10 ton straps around each stand, and install full length life lines with prusik knots. Any trimming is better done now last minute as opposed to doing it your first time in during the season.

I’ve heard over and over that you should stay out of your hunting area as much as possible.  And while I don’t disagree with the concept, I will argue that taking a single day and intruding on every set for safety and inspection is way more beneficial than being so overly cautious that you crawl into a stand in the dark that is unsafe.  Doing some minor trimming now is also better than the day of your hunt.  I find its best to NOT sneak around this time of year when doing this maintenance.  Use an ATV or tractor to get close to your sets.  Drive your truck out there.  I think deer are more used to and accepting of these motor vehicles than you sneaking around.

This is also the best time to complete your entrance and exit routes.  If you are going to walk in to them anyway, make sure you have a good scent free and quiet route.  I like spraying all my routes with glyphosate as I’m backing out.  I use a gallon pump up hand sprayer.  I hear backpack sprayers work great.  This leaves me with a trail that is clean of brush and scent grabbing foliage.  Every winter as I’m cleaning out shooting lanes I also rake the routes clean of twigs and brush…late summer is a good time to clean out any last branches that may have fallen in your path since winter.  I have a 3 point mounted brush mower for my tractor that I will drive to as close as I can get to each stand site…I mow as low as I can get thus removing most of the foliage and debris out of the way.  The point is, winter is the best time to do set maintenance…but you still have to go back each year before season opener and clean things up.

Low Cost yet Exceptional Scent Control

Scent control is big business in the whitetail hunting industry.  Long before there was any scent control soaps, sprays, carbon suits, and chemical generators, good hunters used the wind currents to direct their scent away from animals.  If you were down wind of an animal, it was physically impossible for it to smell you.  No matter the technology, this hasn’t changed.  And as of yet, nobody has the patent on wind currents.  Back in my gadget buying days (when I thought gadgets could solve my problems with seeing big deer) I would spend a fair amount of money each year on all the scent stuff.  I had it all and bought it all.  And yet with almost no exceptions, when deer got down wind of me I got busted.  Maybe I was using the stuff all wrong?  Anyhow, I did notice that when I hunted in a fully enclosed blind there were times, actually fairly often that deer could get down wind of me and not smell me.  The concept I guess is that if your scent is contained in a “bubble”, it is then physically impossible to makes its way to a deer.  That made sense to me.  So then, in practical terms, how could I replicate this enclosed blind concept?  Full chest waders could simulate an enclosed blind for over half my body….a rubber rain suit the upper half….hood pulled over for my head?  Maybe this would work!  So I tried it…once.  It wasn’t practical.  It was so uncomfortable and noisy that it ruined my hunting experience although I still think it blocked the vast majority of my scent.

Today, there are new rain suits out there that are both comfortable yet air tight.  For the best scent control I have ever had; and for a system that is both practical and comfortable, you might want to try this set up.

  1. Wash all your clothes with color safe non-chlorine bleach. Air dry all your clothes outside for about a week or longer if it’s practical for you.
  2. Wash all your hunting gear and boots with baking soda and water, and let them dry outside too.
  3. Never wear clothes that touch your skin for more than one hunt. I keep a week’s worth of under garments, socks, long sleeve tees, and gloves clean using the above method.  If it touches the skin, I change it out every hunt.
  4. I dress in layers for most of the year except very early season when it’s just too warm out. My second to last layer is always my air tight rubber lined rain suit, followed by a quieter outer layer.
  5. When not in use, my clothes are hanging outside. Unworn clothes are stored in a scent free plastic tote.

Other than the one time purchase of the rain gear (which is nice to have anyway) there is very little cost involved with this.  And, this method has gotten me better results than any product I have ever purchased for scent control.  My rubberized rain pants are elastic at both ankles and waist and my rain jacket is elastic at my wrists and waist also.  I tuck the rain jacket into my rain pants and pull the waist cord tight.  I wear the hood as much as is comfortable.  If I could do it all over again, I would buy rain bibs for the bottom half…seems like it would work better to hold in scent.  (I’m too cheap to buy another set of rain gear)  If you can get in the habit of gargling with Listerine every night that seems to help a bit too.  Admittedly, this is not the most comfortable system and won’t work all that well when it’s warm out.  But good rubberized air tight modern rain gear isn’t bad either.  For scent control, I’ve personally found nothing that works better…except those free wind currents!

I’m really excited about this coming hunting season.  As of the writing of this article, Iowa has been getting some timely rains by my farm and the food plots look great.  I will be doing final prep on all my sets as outlined in this article.  I’ve also been planning October’s article for some time.  It’s an all-out assault on everything you may have learned about where to aim at a deer with archery equipment.  If there’s one article you take my advice on, October 2016 should be it.

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