Depending on where in Louisiana you bowhunt, it’s true that the early bird gets the worm.
I can look back over the last two seasons here on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain and see the truth behind that old idiom.
Two seasons ago, I hung a stand over a pile of rice bran on the edge of an abandoned food plot and jacked up the tree.
With at least an hour of good light remaining, three decent bucks strolled out of the woods and headed straight for the feed.
I had never seen bucks act like this. It was as if they didn’t have a care in the world.
That was until one of them looked directly my way and realized whatever that giant glob was on the tree trunk wasn’t there yesterday.
That buck wasn’t having any of it, so he signaled his bachelor buddies that it was time to put as much space between them and the pile of rice bran as quickly as possible.
It was opening day of bow season.
Last season, my nephew Zach hung a stand overlooking a pile of corn on the edge of a slough at the northern end of one of our rifle lanes.
Every day for at least a week, he texted me after he got down in the evening to tell me all about the bucks he had seen.
Of course every story was followed up with an excuse — some of which seemed legitimate.
It was the first week of bow season.
Like I was two seasons ago, he was amazed at how the bucks were traveling together and at how they didn’t seem to be bothered at all about stepping out into the open before the sun had set.
What we have learned — but as of yet not been able to take advantage of — is that there is a tremendous opportunity to kill a buck or two in October before they break up and go into hiding until the rut.
Know when to go
Depending on where in Louisiana you hunt, you may have just as good of an opportunity to arrow a buck the first couple days of bow season.
“It all depends on when your rut is,” said Curtis Simpson, an avid bowhunter from West Monroe. “If you’ve got a late rut, you can score a buck early in October. But if you’ve got an early rut, you may be better off waiting a few weeks before you hunt your bucks.”
Where Simpson hunts in Union Parish, the rut kicks off in November, so the bucks have already broken from their bachelor groups before bow season begins.
Rather than mess up an opportunity at killing a good buck, Simpson spends the early part of his bow season filling his freezer with a couple does.
“I just don’t see daylight deer until the end of October when the scrapes start showing up,” he said. “But if you’re seeing daylight deer early on, then get after it. As long as you set up right, you should be able to get a shot off.”
If you hunt a part of Louisiana where the rut begins as early as November, Simpson said the simple answer to scoring a bow buck in October is to not even hunt your best spot the first couple weeks of the month.
“Only once or twice in all the years I’ve bowhunted have I even seen a good one before the third weekend of October,” he said. “I don’t even get any daylight pictures until then. What I’ve learned is scrapes start showing up around here about the third week of October. That’s when I’ll finally make my way in and give it a shot.”
By the time he hunts his bucks, he is focusing more on rut tactics than he is food sources.
But if you’re hunting a part of Louisiana with a late rut, Simpson says your best bet for scoring an early buck is to hunt the food sources.
“Deer, even your bachelor-bucks, are still pretty stupid early on,” he said, “and they’re still showing up on corn piles and rice bran during daylight because they’re still in their summer patterns and not worried about hunting pressure at all.”
Running game cameras is the best way to figure out when bucks are visiting your food sources. If they’re coming in 30 minutes before dark several frames in a row, then it’s just a matter of finding a good tree and being there when they decide to make a visit.
“The first or second time you hunt that stand is going to be your best chance to get a buck,” Simpson said. “The more times you go in and out, the more they’re going to start figuring you out. You’re leaving scent every time you go in, so by that fourth or fifth hunt, they’re going to be acting a lot different.”
Besides getting a feel for when bucks are visiting his rice bran pile, Simpson uses his trail cam pics to get an idea which direction bucks are coming from and sets up his stand accordingly.
I told him about the buck that busted me in the tree two seasons ago, and Simpson urged me to figure out a way to get on the side of their entrance trail rather than directly in their path.
“Setting up right in front of them is going to make you stick out like a sore thumb,” he said. “You learned that lesson didn’t you? When they’re coming in, you can bet they’re looking. A better idea is go find a tree so they have to pass right-to-left or left-to-right in front of you. That’ll give you a better chance of going unnoticed.”
Play the wind
Of course, the prevailing wind also comes into play. With much of our wind from the south during October except for when we get an early cool front, the best thing to do is find a tree that allows you to hunt from the north side of your food source.
“Take their line of sight and the wind into consideration and figure out how to get into and out of your stand without getting busted and you’ll have a great chance of killing an early buck,” Simpson said.
Killing a buck with your bow in October doesn’t have to be such a challenge. Just determine whether you need to hunt the very first day or a later weekend based on the timing of your rut, make sure you’ve got the right tree picked out and be ready to make a shot on your first or second sit.
“They haven’t been pressured, and you’re just going to see more deer in October,” Simpson concluded. “It might still be a little hot. You may have to carry a couple Thermacells, but if everything goes right, all you’ll have to do is make the shot.”