Tom Nelson, host of Cabela's American Archer on the Outdoor Channel, shares some secrets on early season bowhunting!
I SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME, I TOLD MYSELF.
The heat was more akin to a July or an August day, not early October in Michigan. I was clad in a camo t-shirt and thin camo pants, but I was still overly warm as the last of the setting sun’s rays tried their best to make me uncomfortable. If I was hot and uneasy, I was sure the local deer were feeling the same. Looking at the small thermometer that is always attached to my pack, I was not the least bit surprised to see the mercury pushing 75 degrees. I really was not expecting to see any deer movement until well after the sun had set. With this thought in mind I really was not paying that much attention and not at all observant. It was the barely audible sound of water splashing that drew my attention. 25 yards off to my left was a small creek and wading right down the middle of it was a young forked antlered buck.
He seemed completely comfortable as he slowly walked through the knee deep water. As he entered my first shooting lane he was a mere 18 yards away and totally unaware of my presence high in a maple tree above him. It was at this point that he stopped and glanced back behind him down the creek. He stood staring down stream for some time then once again proceeded forward. Although I could not see anything coming with the thick foliage that still remained in the early fall woods, I surmised that another deer was approaching. I grabbed my bow and positioned myself just in case I was correct.
In a few minutes I could make out the features of a whitetail approaching then I could hear it. I struggled to identify whether it was a buck or doe, shooter or otherwise. Then it cleared the leafy cover that hid it. Big doe, all by herself, exactly what I was hunting for. As she entered my shooting lane, I drew, settled into my anchor point and settled my first sight pin on her vitals. As she stopped in the same place the young buck had, I released and watched my broadhead tipped arrow disappear behind her shoulder. With a kick, then a jump she was up on the opposite bank and heading away. A mere second or two later I heard a loud crash as she hit the forest floor.
It was no accident I arrowed this whitetail on such a warm and uncomfortable late afternoon. Whitetails do not like heat. When the mercury rises, deer movement drops. By October, Michigan whitetails are beginning to transform from thin summer into their heavier winter coats. Moving about in warm to hot temperatures is not pleasant for whitetails and a big reason they restrict their movements when the temps heat up.
Sure whitetails still move about, they just do so closer to sunset or after. They still need to feed but just not as much as when colder temperatures rule and their need for calories increases. One item that they do require, and more so when it’s hot, is water. Whitetails have to water daily, often twice a day. I have been actively bow hunting whitetails near water sources and have been successful at it.
It was over a decade ago when the thought hit me. I was in Wyoming bow hunting pronghorn antelope. It was early September and the weather was hot and dry. Our method of bow hunting was to erect a blind near a waterhole and ambush the antelope as they came in for a drink. It worked to perfection. As the mercury rose so did the antelopes’ need for water.
A month later, back in Michigan, I was hunting whitetails in conditions near that of what we had in Wyoming. I knew of a spot along the creek where the bank leveled out and granted thirsty whitetails easy access to the liquid that flooded down the small creek. I hung a portable tree stand there the next afternoon and was hunting from it that same evening. While I did not arrow a whitetail from it that evening’s hunt, I did observe several deer come and go. All of them came for a drink of life-sustaining water.
From that day on, I was a believer in hunting near or over water sources when conditions are warm. Even into late October and November I have arrowed whitetails from these stand sites over waterholes, creeks and ponds. Hunters oftentimes ask me how they can hunt over water when they have a creek or river running nearby offering whitetails numerous locations to drink from. In this case scouting is a must, Deer have their favorite spots to water. Often they are locations where the river of creek bank levels off or a well-worn trail leading down to the water’s edge. Deer want easy access. They do not want to struggle to get at water. If you scout along a river of creek bank, you will locate these locations that deer prefer to water from. Many times they water at the same places they cross from. A bonus of hunting along a river of creek is that you can wade through the water to gain access to your hunting site, thus cutting down on the scent you leave as you enter or exit your stand.
This fall do not be discouraged when Mother Nature decides to throw you a curve ball and turn a fall day into summer. Locate and place a stand or blind near a water source and enhance your warm weather whitetail hunting.