You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t proclaim Christmas as their favorite holiday, and I’m right there with them. That said, despite being born on Thanksgiving Day, Labor Day is definitely the second biggest one to me and there’s several good reasons for it.
Diehard football fans, such as myself, see Labor Day weekend as the “official” start of the season, since this Saturday is when things get underway for the majority of teams in the country.
But those of us who are hunters have a couple of other good reasons to love it as well.
First would be the dove season opener, which is widely celebrated as the first hunting season of fall and comes Sept. 1.
Right along with it, many hunt clubs pick this weekend to perform tasks that are needed before the start of deer season, which begins with archers hitting the woods in the middle of the month.
This traditional “work day” normally consists of preparing food plots, cleaning out and repairing old permanent stand sites and placing new ones. Most see fit to place these stands directly over the planted food plots in hopes of enticing the deer into them, granting a shot opportunity.
But, is it really that simple? Just plant the plot, hang the stand and sit in it when the season opens? Well, not if you really want success.
Sure, many hunters take this approach to deer hunting and it works for taking younger deer that haven’t been around long enough to know better than to walk out into the great wide open in broad daylight. However, the reality is that those older deer we consider trophies are far too smart for that.
The best opportunity for harvesting that big buck that we all dream about doesn’t involve sitting over a food plot at all.
With a little extra thought, a tad bit more effort and a better understanding of how deer live in the wild, greater success can be found.
When it comes down to it, deer aren’t that much different from us. We have kitchens and bedrooms in our homes and, in a sense, they do as well. Sure, there’s a living room somewhere in between but when you break down all of the hours of our day, you’ll see that we tend to travel between the kitchen (our food source) and our bedroom in a regular pattern. The critters we’re after do the same thing.
Deer typically rest in bedding areas of thick brush and woods that provide a sense of safety and security. When prompted to move, it’s usually because it’s time for food, which you’re providing in the way of a planted food plot.
I realize that makes it sound as if sitting somewhere on that food plot would be perfect, but there is a bit more to it.
These are extremely cautious and complex animals. They have to consider that, at all times, there’s something in those woods that’s out to get them.
It may be a pack of coyotes or hunters, but deer are always aware that danger lurks with every move they make. This impacts the ways they travel and live their lives and this is what makes the odds of harvesting a good deer in a wide open food plot so tough. It’s also what makes the sport such a challenge and definitely worth it.
I’ve used the following scenario before, and it’s worth repeating since it’s a good way to gain a good understanding of how deer operate.
Let’s say your house is nestled in a nice, thick patch of woods but there’s a 50-yard stretch of sparse vegetation and open land between those woods and your mailbox that sits out by the road. Now, what if you were forced to retrieve your mail while naked?
How would you do it with the least chance of being seen? Odds are, you’d make your way slowly through those woods but, when the space widened, you would gravitate toward the inside edges of the vegetation that provide some cover.
Only at the last second would you step into the clearing and take any chance at all.
Starting to make sense?
What if you were going to get that mail at dusk? Let’s say that you reach that open area a few minutes before dark. You would do the exact same thing the deer does. You’d wait for the cover of darkness so that you could prance your naked self right out to that mailbox with much less worry.
In hunting, that area just inside the woods from that wide open food plot is known as the “staging area.” The deer, having made their way from the bedding area to the food source, are going to wait right there for the cover of darkness to provide that sense of security. Sure, you will get lucky from time to time but you can count on the fact that the biggest and best deer are always “waiting in the wings.”
The only time that you can toss all of this out the window is during the rutting period.
Bucks tend to throw caution to the wind when chasing does for mating, but does it make much sense to plan an entire deer season around how they’ll behave for just a few days of it?
Even then, the does are still holding to their usual schedule. Your best hope would be that a love-crazed buck enters that “staging area” and pushes an estrus doe out into the open food plot. Always remember that the buck isn’t there to eat. During the rut, food is his last consideration.
The absolute best spot for placing your stand lies somewhere in the deer’s transition area. That, of course, would be the space between the bedding area and the food source.
Your first move is to wear rubber boots and spray down with one of the many scent-eliminating products on the market. Next, back off of the food plot and look for active deer trails leading to and from it.
To determine whether or not it’s an active trail, look for sign such as fresh rubs on trees and deer droppings. Often, hunters make the mistake of concentrating their search on deer scrapes, but it’s a bit early for that at this point of the season.
Once located, an active trail will lead you directly to the bedding area. Whatever you do, don’t enter it. Double back and start looking for the perfect spot to put your stand along that trail.
Remember to keep wind direction in mind when hanging that stand. Take a compass and make a note of the direction that your stand is pointing and also the directions that the trail is following.
Never, ever hunt that stand in a wind direction that carries your scent toward the deer and you’ll be amazed at the numbers that you’ll now see.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.