I’m just old enough to remember when Indiana’s bow season opened the second week of October. Fall was in full swing when hunters hit the stand back then, and it just seemed like hunting season.
Today, urban hunts and special youth seasons open in September, with regular bow season right behind on Oct.1. As a result, our opening day fall tradition has become nothing more than a scattered summer event.
Nevertheless, early deer season can be productive if approached with realistic goals.
If the goal is to tag the biggest buck in the woods, it’s a waste of time to hunt the first three weeks of Indiana’s regular bow season. For that matter, if the goal is to kill anything other than does and yearling bucks, it’s a waste of time.
Of course, every year someone kills a monster buck somewhere in Indiana on opening day, but the odds are against it.
Deer hunting is often a lot like playing the lottery. Someone wins the lottery every week, but I sure wouldn‘t plan my vacation time around the number selection show.
Early big buck kills are usually random and not usually the result of any grand scheme. It’s just bad odds to hunt big deer during summer weather and summer deer patterns.
They move very little in early October and are as nocturnal as during any time of the year. They hang in bachelor groups and move very little, even at night.
Most of their movements during the summer weather that is typical of Indiana in October, consists of short strolls between a secure bedding area and easy food. They only make those short jaunts because they need to build energy for the upcoming mating season.
For the hunter who wants to try and tag a big buck early, regardless of the odds, there are a couple things he must do. The first is get lucky.
Check the story behind any mature kill in the first weeks of October, and the majority will reveal the meeting between the hunter and his prize was na complete surprise.
It is also necessary to sneak into a hunting stand almost on top of the big buck. This is risky since it often results in bumping the deer and moving him to another area for the rut in November.
A more realistic early season goal is to focus on putting meat in the freezer. This is best done well before the rut, at which time, it’s actually a bad idea to shoot females.
Removing a doe from a field in early October gives another doe enough time to take her place. If left alone, the new doe should drag a buck to you in November.
Opinions vary regarding shooting yearling bucks in early October. They certainly are as conspicuous as does this time of year, but many hunters won’t shoot them.
I’m one of them. I see value in the aesthetic beauty of a mature buck and thrill at the site of one. I unapologetically admit I am a trophy hunter who also enjoys eating all the hoofed animals I kill.
For some, including the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, all deer are nothing more than a bunch of meat on four legs. By that definition, any deer is a trophy, they reason.
The good news for strict meat hunters is that yearling bucks are, on average, larger than does. Hence, they provide more meat per tag. They are also the first bucks to respond to the rut and are the first males to show themselves.
By the third week in October, yearling bucks are separating and starting to make scrapes. They start roaming and wandering along fencerows when mature bucks are still waiting for dark to move to feeding sites.
For unrepentant trophy hunters like me, early season is important for yet another reason. We don’t expect to kill a buck this time of year, but head to the stand anyway. We do so solely to observe and create a game plan for the upcoming rut.
If a hunter is lucky enough to have more than one place to hunt, early season is the time to decide where to be in November. Once it’s established that one area has better potential to produce a trophy buck, early season outings also help determine how to hunt the chosen area.
Trail cameras, hours on stand, spotting scopes, binoculars and patience are important tools this time of year for the selective hunter. The only factor potentially more important than these for all hunters, is pure dumb luck.
Don Mulligan writes Outdoors with Don for this newspaper. He can be reached at