The Early Bird
By Tribe Member Matt Elder
The following originally appeared in the Fall edition of SITKA INSIGHT Magazine 003.
I love the rut as much as anybody, but I killed my two biggest bucks in the first couple days of the season. Here are a few things I do each year to make it happen.
1. CHOOSE ONE
I start scouting in the middle of summer as soon as bucks have enough growth to be able to judge how big they will be. When it’s hot, most bucks live close to food and water, so that’s where I focus my attention. A lot of guys think spotting scopes are just for the mountains, but I find using them to glass bean fields and food plots from a distance is the best way to get eyes on the deer and decide on a target. But remember, choose one. You’ll be most effective if you focus your time and energy.
2. BE A STUDENT OF HIS HABITS
Once I determine my target, I watch to see which trails he uses to come and go from the fields, and that informs my key trail camera placements. I use multiple cameras, both to figure out where my buck goes as well as where he doesn’t go. I pay attention to what time of day he is entering the field, where he’s coming from, and what the temperature and wind direction are. I also take note of his friends. I have had a big buck disappear from my cameras, but his buddies showed up elsewhere. I focused in on their location, and he showed up with them a few days later. It pays to know everything about your deer.
3. GO WHERE HE IS NOT
From my time spent studying his patterns, I have a good idea of where he is bedding during the day. Knowing that, I can check the wind and enter the area to hang stands without him catching my scent. If he hasn’t shown up on a particular trail cam and I’ve never seen him go a certain way, I take these paths to access his area. I hang my stands quickly and quietly on a day with the right wind, and I do so around the same time of day that I have been checking trail cameras.
4. STAY AWAY
Once my buck is patterned and stands are hung, I leave him alone. Whenever I can, I use cellular trail cameras, which give me real-time information on his whereabouts with minimal contamination. However, in areas of poor cell service, I check them every 7-10 days. Any more than that puts unnecessary pressure on the deer, and since the buck’s probably camped out pretty close to my cameras, especially if he’s on a food source, I need to be there as little as possible.
5. BE DISCIPLINED
In the days before the opener, I make my final game plan. If I’m hunting over a food source, I only hunt the evenings. It’s too risky to enter a food source in the morning and possibly spook the deer, and in the early season, the deer in my area bed pretty quickly after sunrise. But above all, it’s a game of wind, especially when it’s warm. So if the wind is wrong on opening day, I remain disciplined, and I don’t hunt. It drives me crazy knowing the buck I’m after could be walking under my stand, but if that buck smells me, he’s liable to go nocturnal or worse, leave and never come back. So I stick to the plan...as hard as that may be.