Idaho Early Season Success
by Tim Neal
Being from Arizona when someone says whitetail, I immediately think of our little gray, desert whitetail, the Coues deer. The Coues deer is one of my favorite species to hunt, but spending portions of the last several summers and falls in Idaho, I now pay more attention to our other whitetail deer. I don’t claim to be a whitetail expert; actually, I don’t claim to be an expert at anything. I have hunted whitetail in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and eastern Colorado. So, I have a little experience with hunting them in the traditional agriculture/wood lot areas and open plains/sand hill country.
I seriously started thinking of hunting them in Idaho as I would occasionally jump them along waterways while fishing or see them in alfalfa fields in early mornings or late evenings. I started to look for them in early summer by cruising roads and glassing. The more I looked, the more I saw. I started walking tree lines mid-day looking for sign. When I found a promising area, I would put up a game camera. Monitoring my game cams, I found a few trails with a lot of daily activity. It appeared the deer would leave the tree cover at about sundown and head to the fields and then head back to the trees at first light. Some of the fields they were using were over a mile from the tree line. One spot in particular that seemed to have the greatest activity was where there was a shallow crossing of an irrigation canal with a grown over fence line that gave them some cover along their route. I had several different bucks on the camera I had set up there. No monsters but a couple of mature 8-point and a younger looking 10-plus, palmated non-typical. I decided to set up a tree stand there along with a couple of others where I had a picture of a good buck or two. I didn’t check my cameras often as I noticed deer activity diminished for a few days after I had been there. I started glassing from far away to make sure they hadn’t changed patterns. Things looked good for opening day.
Opening morning came, but the wind was wrong. My stand was in the one good tree to hang a stand in, with just one good route to access it without leaving my scent where deer would smell it. That afternoon the same, wrong wind. That pattern held for a few days. Finally, the wind was good. I sneaked through the dark to my stand. As it became light, I could see outlines of deer heading my way across the open meadow. They stopped when they reached the tree line milling around. I had several does and fawns along with some small bucks from just a few yards away to over a hundred yards. They moved into the trees using a couple of different trails. Soon I saw two mature bucks walking the brushy fence line towards me. The problem was they were on the wrong side of the fence. They were in range, but I didn’t have a shot due to the brush. They slowly walked behind me jumped the fence and melted into the trees with the rest of the deer. Forty-five minutes after I climbed into my stand, my hunt was over.
That afternoon the wind was wrong again as it would be for the next couple of days. Finally, I had good wind, and I once again climbed into my stand in the dark. As the sun started to rise, it was like a rerun of my first day in the stand; numerous does and fawns along with several smaller bucks headed my way. As they milled around my stand before crossing the irrigation canal and into the trees I noticed the same two bucks coming down the wrong side of the fence line. I was trying to pick a spot where I might get a shot through the brush when they stopped, looked around, jumped the fence, and headed down the trail right toward my stand! As the bigger buck walked by at 20-yards, I sent a Montec-tipped arrow through both of his lungs. The other deer didn’t really know what had happened and just slowly kept filtering into the trees. There were still deer headed my way so I just quietly sat and watched. Not five minutes later, I had a buck—that could have been a twin to the one I had just shot—walk down the same trail. I had another tag in my pocket, but I elected to hold out for something bigger with three months of season left. After waiting 30-minutes for all the other deer to leave the area, I climbed down out of my stand and walked the 40-yards to where my deer laid.
I had drawn an archery elk tag in Wyoming, so I abandoned my whitetail stands for the rest of September. The October rifle and muzzleloader seasons came and went. I thought with all the sightings I had in the early season that the November rut would be unbelievable. My stands were still up and cameras set. What I discovered was once the alfalfa was done these deer retreated back to the river bottoms and wooded areas. I still would get photos and once the rut started, I did get some bigger bucks on camera. However, there was no consistent movement. I put out more cameras with similar results. I hunted off and on for three weeks and could have harvested a few smaller bucks, but I was never in the right spot for one of the big boys. I never did fill my second tag.
The early season is a great time to hunt. The weather is nice and with the majority of hunters in the mountains, chasing elk you won’t have a ton of competition. The bucks are visible early and late in the day. Glass field edges at that time and watch where the deer are traveling to and from. Find a pinch point that funnels the deer to a good blind location. Hang your stands and cameras early. Don’t check your cameras to often. The deer will know you’ve been there, and change their routes for a couple of days. Make sure you have a good route to your stand that won’t spook the deer you want to hunt. Watch the wind and don’t hunt your stand unless conditions are right. Lastly, hunting these edges tend to allow for some longer shots then most whitetail tree stand set-ups. A bow that is easy to handle in a tree yet is still moderately fast and accurate is an asset. My personal set up for this hunt was a Prime Ion with a Spot Hogg 7-pin sight shooting Gold Tip Kinetics at about 300fps. Also, make sure you practice at longer distances than you plan to shoot and only take shots you’re confident you can make.
Try early season whitetail sometime. You can get a morning or evening of hunting in without getting in the way of your fall fishing or grouse hunting.