I almost titled this post, "The Best Setup: Early Season", but there is no such thing as "the best" setup, stand, or blind in the early season here in southern Iowa. Your mind might play a semantical battle with your ego, or you just might like this one particular spot over others. Yet, it's really not a correct or valid judgment. It is truly a matter of right versus wrong, and that is usually dictated by what the deer does in the remaining hours of daylight in the evening, or in other words, pure luck.
As an avid bowhunter and outfitter, I like to think that I have a moderately decent understanding of these whitetails, especially mature bucks. After all, mature bucks don't act like most deer. They're very unique specimens to say the least. Furthermore, each mature buck has his own personality, tendencies, awareness, habits, neighborhood, etc. They don't fit into a general mold like most hunters like to think. Once you have that in your head, you can proceed forward with an improved chance to hunt and kill a mature buck in the early season before the pre-rut and rut craze.
Back in the spring or summer, let's assume we identified the food source on the farm being hunted. Maybe there are multiple food sources (not referencing general browsing). We know that deer love green soybeans and corn. Corn is always a player, but beans will eventually not be a player until they dry out, 8 times out of 10. So, what green food sources do they have there? Brassicas? Clover? Both? Alfalfa? All three? Identifying these food sources is very important in the summer months well before the start of the Iowa bow season, October 1st.
Caption: Tilling dirt in Zone 5 for a Rackology Brassica Blend food plot. Thanks, Scott, for the help that day on the plots.
Now, we need a mature hammer to hunt. You can have the greatest food plots, the best farm, and the best access to such, but if you don't have the deer, it's almost worthless. If you don't have a deer to hunt, you're basically getting setup for a pre-rut and rut hunt. Yet, it is important to run trail cameras to try and find a target buck for the early season. These are the cameras that are being checked midday with the right wind. Be scent free going in and out. Be quick. Be quiet. Also, your spot might allow for scouting from afar. Don't sit in the blind. Don't encroach. Keep your distance. Keep your pressure down. Let the trail cameras work for you. Usually, this buck has either A) been frequenting or even living on the farm you're hunting or B) he moved into or nearby your farm from somewhere else when he shed his velvet in early September. September is your month to find these bucks. That gives you some time to plan your attack. Get to work. Find them!
Caption: An example of a summer hammer to try and target for an October cool front.
Now, we need to look at the farm. Literally. Hopefully, at this point you know your farm well enough to not have to intrude it looking around. This is where you'd use an aerial map with the topography lines overlaying the physical elements. Reference, onX Hunt Maps.. hybrid mode. If you're going to be keeping this farm for a while, consider looking at Hunterra Maps. We know the best wind directions for cold fronts during this time of year in Iowa... W, NW, N. Let this dictate your following plans with choosing which stand/ blind to hunt or which stand/blind to setup in respect to the deer's bedding and ideal food source with EASY access. I can't begin to express the importance of easy access.
What is easy access? Clean access! You need to get from the vehicle to your setup without being seen, heard, and most importantly, smelled. You must come in downwind of the food source and setup. If you have something to hide your visual presence like a creek, a ditch, tall CRP, or a timbered fence line. Let the terrain help you. Yet, you can't walk through an area where the deer could be bedded. We know what that leads to... BLOWN OUT. If you can get in clean, you got it working in your favor.
Let me paint a hypothetical here. I have a farm section that has standing agriculture soybeans that are still somewhat green (more than 50/50 green) with a kill plot of clover and/or brassicas on the east side of it. I have a standing CRP field that wraps around the east, south, and west side of the field and plot. The timber and major bedding is along the north edge of the field. I park on the west side of the farm, walk through the CRP using the terrain to my advantage. I'm avoiding bedding areas within the CRP, and I am walking very, very slow and quiet. My blind is setup on the SE side of the beans on the S side of the kill plot. I have 100+ yards to the woods from there. The blind was placed out in early September so the deer had time to get use to it. I get in without blowing anything out. It's still.
Now, let's rewind just a bit to this hypothetical day's weather, especially in the evening. It's mid-October, and a cool front is coming in with a 10-15-degree drop (F). I have a wind of 5-15 MPH out of the NW blowing SE. The most important part of the evening set and the deer's activity is the barometric pressure, which is at 30.10" and climbing. This is an ideal early season evening. This is what your big deer killers (notice I didn't say hunters) are waiting for during this early season stretch: good wind speed, good wind direction, dropping temps, rising barometric pressure at and above 30.10". The farm setups up perfectly for this scenario, and I have buck that has been feeding in this plot & field off and on over the last 30-60 days. He's bedding somewhere to the north mostly, maybe also to the east.
That evening should unfold like this: the does come out feeding earlier than anything. A couple small bucks show up. A few more does show up. Then, there he is. He's at the field edge. He just woke up. He's hungry. There's not enough deer in the plot to cause him to be anti-social. He begins feeding. The deer are meandering throughout the beans. Some have made their way into the kill plot, but about 45-60 yards from the blind. The buck feeds on the beans and works his way to the clover/brassica blend. He's at 50. He's at 45. He's at 40. He's at 45. Dang it. Let's go. The ever slight sound of me drawing back my bow inside the silent blind. I anchor. I'm coming down onto the buck's vitals about 6-8" behind the shoulder. He's at 45-50. I set my 50yd pin low at the heart. He's quartering away. Perfect. I exhale, and begin the squeeze. THWACK! That hit him hard. I saw blood coming out. High heart & low lung. He won't be far. The deer spook slightly, and then stop and look at the blind. I'm shaking but quiet. One deer starts to run off into the woods. The others then follow. The field and plot is clear. The heavy breathing starts. That right leg is just tapping the ground like crazy. Wow! What a rush! I wait 30 minutes. I have only a few minutes before dark now. I go check the spot of the shot to find blood. Arrow must be buried in his opposite shoulder or fallen off in the woods. Blood is heart and lung blood. That broadhead opened him up. I leave my stuff, but grab my wallet and keys out of the pack. I get out the same way I went in. Quiet. I gather up some buddies and flash lights, come back about an hour later to start the hopefully quick track. Great sign. We walked right up on him. He only made it about 20-30 yards into the woods. I thought I heard a crash. Yep. Definitely did. There he is.
Back to reality now. This early season hunting is hard until it's easy. The conditions need to be right. The buck needs to be hunt-able. The buck needs to feed in daylight. It can be done. The right setup is a must. It wasn't the best setup. It was the right setup, and luck needs to be on your side. Is it high odds? Who knows. That depends on the deer. Leave your evenings open during this time of year. You never know when the weather will be right. It might take you 6 sits. It might take you 1 sit. It could take you 12 sits. You just never know. If you have the right setup with a shooter nearby, you at least have a feasible chance, and that is the act of you controlling all that you can control. The rest is up to the brute you're hunting.
Let me know if you have ever killed a stud in the early season in the Midwest, and feel free to share your story in the comments below. I'd love to read them!