When archery deer season opens on Sept. 23, hunters that have put in their time scouting will have the best chances of success.
Hanging a stand at a place where you know deer travel will afford you a higher degree of success than hanging a stand or erecting a pop-up blind at a random spot in the woods.
You will increase your odds exponentially by finding trails that deer are using right now in their search for food. That will almost guarantee that you will encounter does, and probably young bucks.
If you want to kill a mature buck, you can increase your odds further by erecting remote cameras along trails. This passive style of scouting will tell you which deer are in an area and if a mature buck is traveling in the area you want to hunt. A camera will also tell you what time of day deer travel through a given area.
You can improve your odds even more by refining your search criteria. In September, food is the primary influence on deer behavior. Pre-rut activity will not begin for several more weeks, so a hunter at this time is not concerned with finding a doe in estrus. Instead, a hunter will search for food that deer are eating now, but also for food that deer will eat several weeks from now. Soft mass like muscadines and persimmons will attract deer in early October, but those items will not be available for very long. An astute hunter will also search for white oak trees bearing a lot of acorns. When white oak acorns fall, deer will devote most of their attention to acorns.
Even if your goal is to kill a mature buck, you will essentially still be hunting does. Driven by hormones and pheromones, mature bucks will always shadow does. You might not see him, but he’s always near. From mid October through early November, does will leave “social media” posts by scraping openings in the leaves with their hooves and urinating on the scraped areas. They will also leave scent on low-hanging limbs over the scrapes.
Bucks cruising through will inspect these scrapes and reply to the “thread” by leaving their own scent.
Also, starting about now, bucks remove the velvet coating from their antlers by rubbing their antlers against trees. This is a different kind of social media post through which a buck marks his territory. Bucks that have wide antler spreads prefer to rub against trees with large diameters. If you see the the bark rubbed off of a thick tree, it probably denotes the frequent attention of a mature buck. This behavior will intensify as fall progresses.
Also as fall progresses, deer increasingly emit scent from their tarsal glands. It is a pungent, musky scent, and it is unmistakable. As the peak of the rutting season approaches, you will often smell a deer even if you don’t see it.
Mature bucks don’t move much. They spend most of their time in thickly concealed and protected bedding areas. They leave near dusk and feed all night and return at dawn to their bedding areas.
Again, placing remote cameras in an area will tell you what deer are using an area, where they travel and when they travel. A camera will give you a fairly accurate schedule about when you need to be on your stand and when you need to arrive. If you arrive too late and spook a buck, you might never see him.
Also, remote cameras allow you to monitor an area without making noise and leaving your own scent. If you have a modern camera that sends images to your smartphone, you can monitor an area for months without entering the woods and taking an unnecessary chance of spooking a buck.
A buck that is aware of human activity probably won’t abandon an area, but a hunter’s frequent presence will enable him to adapt his schedule and move at times when a hunter is least likely to be present.
While scouting, a hunter will carefully note which wind patterns are most advantageous and least advantageous to hunting a spot. If a northeast wind will carry a hunter’s scent into a bedding area, an astute hunter will not hunt that stand on a day when the wind blows from the northeast, for example. Likewise, he will abstain from hunting a stand on days when any kind of wind compromises the effectiveness of that stand. A hunter that has thoroughly scouted will have multiple options depending on the wind, and he will pay attention to weather forecasts so that he can plan in advance which stand to hunt.
The rut complicates all of this. Bucks move less cautiously during the rut, and that is when they will most likely make a fatal error, like leaving a bedding area before dark or returning to a bedding area after daylight.
A hunter that has scouted will be able to isolate as many of those factors as possible and put himself in the most advantageous position for success.