One of my past Iowa archery clients is in Kansas hunting during the early muzzleloader season, which is one of the most well-known seasons for hunting big whitetails in Kansas as bucks are still on their summer patterns and not dispersed with the pre-rut and rut action. Also, my boy and I will be hunting southern Iowa to try and fill his youth season buck tag on a bully buck that is patrolling the farm too frequently. As different Iowa and Kansas are, there are valid similarities that must be noted when trying to understand what the early season can produce, what are the odds of such production, and what else can be expected between the high and low range. Hunting is just that, and it is rarely easy.
As you've seen in prior blog posts, we have some farms in Iowa that are visited by a ton of 3-5+ year old bucks in the summer months of June through mid September. Other farms, not so much. Heck, some farms don't even have bucks on them until October. At this time in the year, the bucks are already splitting up into their own respective patterns. Some bucks have disappeared. Some have stayed put. Some come and go randomly. It's a complete toss-up. It remains a guessing game. That's free-range whitetails for you.
Also, I forgot to mention that bucks are currently or already have been transitioning to being very nocturnal, which usually increases between mid September to mid October, and with almost all bucks being nocturnal in mid-October, the pre-rut and rut will bring them into the light. The testosterone mixed with the smell of estrous in the crisp fall air makes these bucks stupid. As for this time in the year, they still have their wits about them. If you catch a big buck in daylight, it's either a fluke or you're inside his tiny, very tiny bedroom. That bedroom is probably around or under 10-acres in size. Each buck is uniquely different. Some roam far daily. Some don't.
As for my past Iowa client that is early muzzy hunting in Kansas, he has been there since Sunday hunting morning and evening, but has yet to lay eyes on more than 2-5 deer per day. That is including mineral sites, corn sites, travel routes, bedding areas, etc. These neighborhoods are somewhat more rural residential than truly remote rural. I guess that is to be expected. Deer seem to be much more scattered out in Kansas, especially the mature bucks. Talking to some locals who consistently hunt and kill big bucks there, they say that most of the big ones are tucked away next to some watering hole, in the standing corn, or hiding in some unique fence row away from the common areas. I believe that. Are guys killing big deer in Kansas right now? Yes. Why? Luck. They have a big deer on camera and have found him in his bedroom, or they're in western Kansas where it's much more open where deer are forced to travel more frequently to get from cover to food to cover. As for our cameras, bucks are not roaming and they're either sticking tight to their thick cover and mostly moving at night with a margin of error being early morning light or last light. Yet, it just takes one second for a shooter to slip up in daylight hours. It is possible.
As for my boy and I in southern Iowa, we are limited to certain setups that are not too hard to access, have food, have the right wind, and are focused on select bully bucks. The cell cameras are showing me some action, but of course, a camera only catches so much. Bucks have definitely become less frequent since September 1st and more nocturnal. Most hunters would say that it is not a good combination that screams, "go hunt!" Yet, the only way to see if a buck is somewhere in daylight is to go out there and hunt. Go cover ground. Go see what the cameras can't see.... or go buy 200 cell cameras for $20,000 plus the data packages for $2,000 to $5,000. It's cheaper to just go put boots to dirt and hunt. You have a higher chance of moving around spotting and stalking than you do sitting in one stand. Yet, it could be that one stand where he messes up by arriving too early in the evening or too late in the morning.
You just never know until it happens. Guys seem to forget that. I talk to A LOT of hunters who believe that if a deer isn't on a camera than he is either way gone or doesn't exist, and such just isn't supported by facts. Their thought is more based on emotional spontaneous thought versus the logic and facts above. This is why when I book a hunter, I reiterate to them to please try and get as many days free to hunt as they can. The more time they put in, the higher their chances go up. I guess that is a simplified statement. Overcomplicating things with hunting is done by all of us, but really, it's a simplistic logical thought process. Get ready to hunt. Make an educated guess to the location of where the hunt should be. Make sure the wind is good or at least marginal. Spray down. Ozone the heck out of your stuff. Go hunt. That is all you can do.
So, my boy and I are going to wait until Friday night to make a decision about our morning setup, and we will wait to see how that unfolds before making a plan for Saturday night. It's a sit by sit analysis. The same is for my Iowa client in Kansas. Sit by sit. Analyze the info. Make as much sense of it as possible. Make a decision. Evaluate the decision. Repeat. Now, this process is much different in the pre-rut and rut. With those being so unpredictable, if they were even predictable at all, you just have to go sit and wait. Give a stand time to produce. Deer obviously cover much more ground during that time, so you're more likely to succeed by staying put versus moving (stand-hopping). We will save that topic for another blog post.
As for the early season hunting for monster whitetails, the individual deer is going to dictate your encounter. I guess that goes for any time of the year, really. Free-range hunting is just that. With its highs and lows, the rollercoaster ride, the best thing you can do is make a sound decision that you're confident in, and go out there and hunt. Don't second guess yourself as that's usually when you'll make the mistake. Let your gut work in your favor. Listen to it. If you can find a buck on camera in daylight or by seeing a buck in person that is in daylight, hurry up. Get after him. That might be the only chance you get. If you're blessed with a second daylight sighting or encounter, consider yourself lucky and capitalize on it.
Best of luck to all of you out hunting early. If you're hunting the pre-rut and rut, don't worry about a bunch of big bucks dying early. They tend to win against the early season hunters. It's surely a challenging hunt.