The average bowhunter spends a significant amount of time thinking about the factors that go into a hunt. Shot placement, stand setup, clothing to match the conditions, and intel from a specific location. All those things matter, but don’t forget your access plan. Navigating the best access points far before the season will help you enter the woods with total confidence.
Access planning is crucial. However, it’s frequently forgotten until the night before or the morning of a hunt. Flexibility and rethinking a plan on the fly are good skills. But having a foundation will eliminate errors.
Be creative! Deer adapt well to living with people, so out-hiking the competition isn’t always a solution. You may need some ideas to start, and these might get the creative side of your brain turning. And if you need a little extra juice, check out this podcast all about access
1. Early Season
Some states have bow seasons that open in early September. But early October openers also follow early-season patterns. Muggy, buggy, and thick are all common themes. It’s a good idea to utilize recreational trails this time of year. Exit the main trail, then approach your hunting location directly. Zig-zagging will leave a much higher scent signature because of spreading your odor over a greater area.
Consider re-evaluating access with sparse cover during the summer. Doing this will help you avoid being surprised by regrowth that may obstruct your travel.
2. October Lull
Proven evidence shows that deer activity increases through the fall months, debunking the October lull theory. Food sources change, causing deer to wander randomly. The herd then spreads across a broader landscape. Deer enter a fall transition stage. Bedding and feeding will be similar to a late October pattern. Still, some deer will be feeding and bedding like they did in early October.
Using ditches, creeks, or whatever low spots you can find is a good strategy. Also, take notice of debris like fallen trees and large rocks. They may obstruct your path and make navigation difficult when it matters most.
Bucks are beginning to use the most desirable terrain for bedding. The sign that was moderately fresh during your post-season scouting trips is now the target. These are the bucks you’ve captured on camera and the ones you’ve probably been hoping to encounter.
While waiting for ideal weather (i.e., cold fronts) is a plus, deer are still moving. Don’t talk yourself out of hunting if you have the time to go!
It may be necessary to arrive at your destination an hour early to avoid kicking a buck out of his bed. Knowing how the deer activity has been in your area may indicate how early you should arrive at your stand.
Deer activity is erratic, but it doesn’t mean your access should be. Early morning access won’t matter as much here because you will often be sitting on travel routes. When planning your access route for the rut phase, ensure that you’re not crossing scent over a trail that a mature buck might use to chase does. If crossing a travel route is unavoidable, this would be an excellent time to apply a cover scent. Synthetic spray estrous urine, or even scent-killing aerosol, can help.
The rut is also a great time to access old logging roads or drainages to still-hunt. This method has an advantage because you can actively respond to what deer are doing. You can also have the benefit of real-time wind and thermals.
At the beginning of this article, I stated that it’s not always about out-hiking the competition. We’re a lot alike if you go as far as your legs can carry you. But that’s more for pure enjoyment than it is about outsmarting a crowd and a big buck. It is essential to determine what barriers will place you apart from other hunters.
Water utilization for access used to be an easy way to get away from a crowd, even if it was by using knee-high boots. In this day and age, decreasing the likelihood of someone being where you want to go may require the use of a boat, kayak, or chest waders. That said, water is still an excellent access barrier.
The size of the hill may not matter to many hunters. Big bucks have significant drawing power. The general hunting crowd will be apt to work harder than you think. Consider the slope when using a hill or mountain as a terrain barrier. The steeper the incline, the better. You won’t outwork the willingness of someone else who loves to hunt. But you might outwork their stamina.
Heavy cover is a shared feature of the most commonly overlooked locations closest to parking areas. Maybe there’s a dumping area nearby; perhaps new cutting has thickened the area. But the thing about heavy cover close to parking is that it doesn’t look like a location deer will likely use. Regardless, we still hear about these areas producing big bucks for new hunters. Undesirable doesn’t always equal unhuntable.