Lynn Burkhead — Early hunters can get big bucks, but don’t overdo it

Herald Democrat
As the Grayson County whitetail record book shows, hiking out of the deer woods with a big buck is certainly possible in early October. But the best chances to tag a record book contender are in a few weeks, so don't be overly aggressive right now when many bucks are nocturnal, temperatures are warm, and native food sources remain plentiful.

Unless there’s a big weather change and a powerful cold front sometime soon here in Texomaland, don’t be surprised if the early archery deer seasons just underway on both sides of the Red River prove to be a little bit on the slow side.

Why? First, the weather is unseasonably warm and for the most part, dry. And given the fact that the temperatures are mild and natural food remains abundant in these early days of fall, bucks, does, and yearlings have little reason to get up and get moving while the sun is still shining.

Put simply, when you get ready to head to your mailbox and discover that there’s no mail in it early next week due to the Columbus Day holiday, your odds of seeing a record book bruiser buck aren’t too terribly good either.

Do note that those odds aren’t impossible, however, as long as you play it safe, hunt smartly, and don’t overdo things in the October archery season known for warm, sunny days and unfilled deer tags thanks to the month’s infamous lull.

As the early season progresses over the next few weeks and deer transition from late summer to fall patterns for daily feeding and travel, Outdoor Sportsman Group television show host and bowhunting expert Tom Miranda notes that it becomes very important for a hunter to adjust his or her hunting strategy accordingly.

And what’s the bottom line with that early season strategy? According to the information that Miranda gave me a few years back, it’s better to play it safe right now, rather than end up being sorry as you hear a big snort, watch a big buck throw his whitetail flag up high into the sky, and hook ‘em for the next county.

What’s Miranda’s game plan? That depends on the time of day.

"In the morning, typically you're hunting closer to bedding areas, but you're still actually hunting a food source," he said. "It's just that you're trying to intercept them as they're coming back from a food source."

In the late afternoon and evening hours, Miranda said that most hunters will typically move closer to the actual food source itself, be it an oak tree dropping early acorns, a persimmon tree loaded with fruit, a harvested agricultural field or a planted food plot.

Be careful, however, that you don't get too close to that evening food source.

"Typically, I'm rarely hunting the edge of a (feeding area)," said Miranda. "I'm looking for a staging area back in the woods.

"The smaller bucks may hit the green fields before sundown, but the bigger bucks tend to feed more back in the woods and wait until it gets dark (to move out in the open)."

"But you have to be on the hot trail, or you're really rolling the dice (hunting back from the food source)."

Another strategy that Miranda says can pay big antlered dividends in the early fall is for a bowhunter to target waterholes, a particularly useful tactic in Texas and Oklahoma.

In fact, the former Texas state record Pope & Young Club typical came as a result of this tactic more than two decades ago. That whitetail, a monster nine-point buck that net scored 173 7/8 inches and fell to Vernon area bowhunter John Wright as he guarded a Wilbarger County waterhole, went down on the first weekend of the October 1998 early archery season.

In addition to serving as the fuel for some of my early statewide and national writing about deer hunting, the “Wright Buck” taught me an important lesson about October bowhunting.

What’s that lesson? Simple, that when the heat is on, big bucks get thirsty too!

I’ve also learned down through the years that big bucks like to visit the chow hall during the early season, a lesson that Brock Benson’s big 200-inch plus bow buck from Grayson County taught yours truly back in 2007. If you’ll remember, Benson took that 201 2/8-inch Boone and Crockett non-typical on opening weekend that year, right before he left town to go elk hunting in the Rockies!

While both the Wright Buck and the Benson Buck prove that early season giants can fall to October bowhunters, it also pays to remember that this isn’t the best time to target the big bruiser bucks roaming your hunting property.

Because life is easy, food is still plentiful, and the rut is still weeks away in the local deer woods. Put simply, in this woodsy version of Texas hold 'em, don't play your whitetail ace card this month unless you're certain it's a sure bet.

"The biggest mistake I think guys make during the early season is they get too aggressive (too early)," said Miranda. "This is really a passive hunt (this month)."

"Your chances in the early season (at killing a big buck) are 10-percent,” he added. “Later in October, they're 50 percent, and during the rut they go up to 80 percent."

"If you see a deer and he's not coming out every day, I'd probably wait and not hunt him early in the season, especially if he was a real slug."

In other words, while the early bird — or the early bowhunter — can get the proverbial worm during the warmth of early autumn, don't become too aggressive, spook the buck, and blow an opportunity for a better shot later on this fall.

Because if you do blow it all up in the first quarter of the 2021 deer season, then the only big buck sighting you might have later on in the pivotal third and fourth quarters is watching everyone else from the sidelines.

And while I like watching Tom Miranda as much as anyone as he hunts big whitetails for Outdoor Channel and Sportsman Channel TV cameras, I’d prefer to have my own taxidermy bill this fall.

Thanks to playing it safe now, and not being sorry later on.