The bow season opener should be a magical time of the year, but what day should you choose to enter a stand for the first time each year?
In the past, the statewide opener produced some of my fondest memories. It didn't matter if it was the tradition of MI's October 1st opening day, or WI's 3rd Saturday of the month, I couldn't wait to get into my treestand. In fact in the late 80s I can remember completing last minute equipment checks, watching a hunting VHS or two, and then barely being able to sleep what seemed like an hour on the night of September 30th. If you have an elusive monster scouted and stands prepared, should a day on the calendar dictate when you actually hunt him? Somewhere around 2003 my opening day strategy began to change completely, and here is why I believe that you may want to adopt a similar approach.
*Make sure to check out my whitetail book series including, "Whitetail Success By Design" and "Food Plot Success By Design", to help you find mature bucks this hunting season!
The Risks of the Bow Season Opener
When does the "October Lull" officially begin on most hunting lands? After the beginning of bow season, and the added hunting pressure that comes with it. In some states the October Lull actually begins in early September, which coincides with several September 1st bow season openers. Hunting pressure is the cause for most of the major mature buck pattern changes of the year and there is no amount of quality food plot acreage or well designed hinge cut bedding area that can overcome it. This brings up a couple of important questions:
1. Is there anything that you can do to reduced the hunting pressure applied during your own opening day?
2. Is your state's opening day, the best day for your own personal opening day?
Now while I am not suggesting that you hunt before the season actually begins, or that you don't hunt at all for the fear of over pressuring the land, I am suggesting a little flexibility for the potential of waiting for your season to begin until the conditions are just right.
*Do you have a great herd of bucks you are after on opening day? Try the approach that your bow season is more of a marathon than a "bow season opening day sprint". You should have many quality opportunities spread out over the entire season if you practice hunting pressure reducing tactics designed to preserve your deer land, and deer stands. To learn why unhunted lands often hold hunting season monsters, try reading "Reducing Hunting Pressure: Following a Non-Hunter's Example".
Solid Opening Day Conditions
Outside of the opening day of gun season, I hunt the same exact way all season long; by the weather. For example, even though November 6th may be one of the best dates in most states to consistently shoot a mid rut monster, I will not hunt if the conditions are 75 degrees and windy. I just wait for the weather to change and time my hunts either before or after poor conditions. I practice the same strategy for the bow season opener and here is why:
1. You get one chance to hunt a mature buck in his Summer patterns. Once he feels the pressure in any way...site, sound or scent, the October Lull begins.
2. I have to be efficient with my time, knowing that the conditions I choose to hunt with are the best for the period of time. "Perfect" conditions are not my goal, but instead "solid". There is no need to take a seat on a Saturday during poor conditions, when within a few days there are great conditons.
3. Stand preservation. My consistent stand use strategy throughout the entire season is to make sure I am not applying hunting pressure during poor conditons. I expect each sit to be a high value sit, and do not want to jeapordize a high value sit by burning that same potential sit several days prior under poor conditions.
4. Do live within a high pressure bow season opener region? Then allowing your land to collect and hold bucks that have been pushed into your carefully created deer habitat during poor conditions on opening day, can be one of the best tactics for going in for a predictable harvest a day or two later. I suggest letting your neighbors pressure their own habitat during undesirable conditions, while your land offer's safe refuge until the time is right.
Although the criteria for the conditions I look for tighten as the rut approaches, I still look for calm and seasonably cool conditions if I can find them within the immediate forecast. Although I would rarely wait 2 weeks for my personal bow season opener to begin, I will wait up to a week for the conditions to offer a solid sit. If the forecast for opening day was 87 and sunny but 3 days later the high was going to be 72, I would wait to hunt in particular if I was going after a mature buck. If my goal was to harvest a doe, I typically forget the weather and just hunt but when going after an old monarch I have found that the conditions need to be much better to realize consistent success.
*Do you have the perfect bow season set-up? Than give the location a chance by hunting the stand under the conditions that match the quality of the potential hunt. For a solid strategy for managing your stand locations the entire season long, check out the "Spook Proof Deer Stand Rotation Guide".
There are some risks associated with a bow season opener, but there are certainly some rewards! Catching a mature monster who is still traveling through his predictable Summer patterns is hard to beat! But would you believe that some of my best bow season openers have come nearly 3 weeks after the actual date on the calendar? I believe that you get one shot a year, and it pays to carefully craft a potential sit that allows you to hunt with highly predictable level of success. Although my sleepless anxiousness caused by a hallowed opening eve may not have changed since the mid to late 80s, the exact evening I choose to lose my sleep, changes nearly each and every year.