Hunting in the Heat
Hunters, who chase early season whitetails with a bow, know they are going to be hunting in the heat. The type of heat that makes you question your sanity and beg for mercy. We battle mosquitoes and ticks, fight for the dwindling shade in our stands, and attempt to stay hydrated. These can be difficult challenges, but we realize deer have the same struggles. This knowledge is the foundation for arrowing a deer in weather that is best suited for the beach. Three decades of hunting whitetail deer has established certain guidelines to increase your odds of tagging a whitetail when the earth is being scorched. Afternoon hunts, field edges, and watering holes are the keys to success.
In the early season, I hunt the afternoons only. In this kind of heat, the odds of finding a mature buck on the move at daybreak are so slight it is almost a waste of time and effort, and you take a bigger risk of spooking deer from their bedding areas as you approach in the dark. Many deer bed down to digest their food after a night of feeding and to rest as the sun breaks the darkness. I reserve my mornings to work around the house or scouting new areas.
Afternoon hunting offers a couple of prime stand locations. The most common stand location is near or at the edge of crop land. During the late afternoon, deer often leave their bedding areas to feed at the nearest cultivated field or food plot. As sundown approaches, does and yearlings will begin arriving, and young bucks will follow. Mature bucks will usually wait until it is almost too dark to shoot before they show themselves.
This means choosing the correct stand location is critical. Your time will be limited if a mature buck appears. Therefore, you want him to appear well within shooting range. This is when your scouting pays off. Using trail cameras positioned to photo deer activity on the trails leading to the cultivated field or food plot will reveal which trails they prefer to use. Instead of just hanging my cameras on random trees and hoping they will capture deer activity, I clear openings on several worn trails and then scan for large deer tracks that reveal mature bucks are utilizing it.
The second prime stand location for the sweltering heat is next to a water source. A water source can include anything from a small creek to a large lake. In the hot afternoons, deer will leave their bedding areas and slowly make their way to their feeding areas. Many times, the deer will stop at a water source before feeding.
To hunt next to a water source, you have to determine if the deer are actually using the area. Fresh tracks are the best indicator and mean deer are currently using the water source. If all you find are old tracks, look for another water source. Just like before, trail cameras observing deer trails leading to the water will reveal what deer are using it. Most importantly, your trail cameras will reveal when the deer are using it. If the greatest activity is after dark, you know this area offers little opportunity, and you will know to look somewhere else. However, if the greatest activity falls during shooting hours, I will spend considerable time hunting this area.
Regardless of my chosen area, I follow certain constraints for stand location. The most critical constraint is wind direction. For me, shade is just as important. If your stand is highlighted by the sun, you will shine like a spot light. Also, the heat will make you miserable. To counter these negative factors, start off by positioning your stand under leafy cover to provide shade and allow a breeze to cool you down.
During this time of year, I place my stands higher off of the ground. This helps your scent leave the area, as well as, using plenty of scent eliminating products. Ground blinds are good options, especially if the area is lacking adequate trees to hang a stand. The drawback to a ground blind is the increased heat, so make sure you bring plenty of drinking water.
One of the biggest constraints for this time of year is mosquitoes. Insect spray stinks to us as well as the deer. Aside of letting the little vampires feed on you all afternoon, your only real option is an electronic or thermal insect repellent, like a ThermaCell. They are virtually odorless, convenient to place, and easy to use, and they actually work.
As you prepare to hunt in the heat, a crucial element to remember is meat preservation. As temperatures soar during the early season, meat can spoil quickly. It is extremely important to field dress your deer immediately. Take extra precaution to avoid the digestive tract and bladder. If not, you are taking the fast lane to ruining all the meat. As quickly as possible, skin the deer, quarter it, and get it on ice.
There is no argument that early season deer hunting is less productive than hunting in colder weather during the rut. However, early season hunting is a great way to locate potential stand locations and educate yourself about the area for use later in the season. The early season is also the best time to harvest any antlerless deer on your property. These deer are prime for the taking, and you reduce the risk of ruining a stand location by harvesting them before the rut.
As a final note, make as little impact on the land as possible during early season hunts. You do not want to alert the deer to your presence or inform any mature bucks that a strange animal is in their area. This means avoiding your best rut stands for early season hunting. Using stealth tactics can create lots of fun, and if things progress the way they should, the results can be astounding.