It's been a hot, dry season across much of the whitetail's range, but the summertime blues have done little to dampen the enthusiasm of deer hunters anticipating fall. With the first high-mercury days of bow season starting to give way to cool mornings and increasingly-on-the-move bucks, it's time to put your game face on and get serious about the quickly approaching rut. While November is considered primetime for many rut-focused hunters-most of them toting firearms-October is like the special preview for members only, providing serious whitetail chasers with that first true crack at a trophy on the hoof and an opportunity to make this the season of their lifetime before the bulk of hunters have even stepped into the woods. The following tips will give you that edge at this unique time of year and ensure that your chance to jump-start the 2012-2013 deer season isn't squandered.
Hunt Fields Early
As a buck's attention transitions from feeding to breeding and the summer heat lingers into fall, food will still be on does' minds, which means bucks will still head for the fields. You should, too. These hunts are most productive in the afternoon, and with daylight savings time still in effect, you can still catch quality stand time even after putting in a near full day of work. Soybeans, alfalfa, and peas are great, as is corn if it's cut (or even better, only partially cut with some rows standing), as the availability of high-protein forage will draw deer better than any food plot or natural browse (except maybe white oak acorns). Spend a few days before your hunt glassing open areas from your truck so as to not disturb the natural patterns of the deer. If you can't be there or for smaller openings, set out a trail cam with a time-lapse trigger, such as the Moultrie Game Spy M-100 or Bushnell X-8. Photos snapped at regular intervals (say every five minutes during daylight) don't need a deer to be close enough to trigger a motion sensor and will let you know when and where deer enter a field even at a distance. Wait until the wind is right, make sure the sun is at your back, and hang and hunt a stand where the biggest buck prefers to make his grand entrance each afternoon. Note when the first deer enter the field and be settled at least an hour earlier.
Work the Water Edge
With dry conditions predominating much of the weather to this point (see sidebar), isolated ponds, still-wet deeper holes in dried-up swamps or stream beds, a stock tank, and even a small, flowing creek or water-filled ditch can attract deer to stop and drink in the mornings before going off to bed or in the evening before beginning their feed. Scout the water edge to confirm ample hoof marks in the mud and hang a stand within bow range, mindful of prevailing winds in the area. A pond or single isolated water source is easier to target, particularly if surrounded with cover. If a winding creek or ditch is what you have to work with, walk its length, find where the muddiest, most worn deer trails intersect the water, and set your stand off the most visited spot.