Deer Season Strategies Part 1 – The Early Season

by Robert Runnett

   As the weather cools and days become shorter, there is a certain excitement building around the upcoming holidays and the return of football. For many outdoorsmen in the state of Virginia, that excitement comes in the form of anticipation for a long awaited friend, Deer Season. Sleep doesn’t come easy for me this time of year. I can smell archery season when I step outside. The thought of climbing into a treestand and solely focusing on the woods around me consumes my mind. Success in the woods doesn’t just happen, it’s a combination of preparation and luck that can result in a freezer full of meat and, hopefully, a tight grip on a set of antlers. If you’re like me, you break the season down into time frames regarding the rut and develop a strategy.  

   When I predict deer activity, I ask myself, what is the current rut phase: pre-rut, peak rut, or post-rut? The three phases of the rut seem to go hand in hand with Virginia’s deer season. Usually archery season will consume most of the pre-rut, muzzleloader will see the most rutting activity, and general firearms season will consist of the post-rut. This does not mean that peak rut activity will not bleed over into either archery or general firearms season. Allow your eyes and ears to be the gauge by which you judge the rut. Develop a plan that will work for the type of hunting you will be doing and what phase of the rut you will be in. Here are some tips and strategies I use throughout the 3 seasons.


   During the beginning of archery season, deer are in their holding pattern. Does are continuing to feed normally and most are probably still with last year’s fawns. Bucks have just recently broken out of their bachelor groups and are starting to claim territory. It’s likely that a buck you had on camera just a few weeks ago can be miles away. In these first few weeks of archery season you may find bucks sparring. Calling will be mostly ineffective during this time, but don’t rule out a grunt or a light rattle. 

  In the first week of the 2019 archery season, I had a nice 8-point sneak by me at 60 yards, much too far for me to take a shot. The buck stopped about 100 yards away to feed in some open grass. I managed to get his attention with a bleat call but he seemed disinterested. I rattled a few times with the same results, he would look back but he really didn’t care what was happening. Not wanting to let the opportunity pass without my best effort, I went to the last trick I had left. I gave a territorial grunt and brought the buck in on a string. He came in to 20 yards and I zipped an arrow through his ribcage. This won’t work every time, but it can make or break a hunt. My best advice on calling is don’t ever call and not be ready to take a shot.

  In the years I have spent hunting the early part of archery season, I have noticed that the first hunt in a stand location is likely to be your best. It is important to make this hunt count. Like I said earlier, deer are in their holding pattern for the most part right now. With a set daily routine, a deer is much more likely to notice hunting pressure. 

  Right now I am looking to catch a buck between his bedroom and kitchen. Just like a deer, if I were to crawl out of bed one day and notice an assassin in my hallway, I may consider moving. As the season progresses and a buck’s motivation starts to be driven by breeding, he is more likely to ignore pressure as long as there are does in the area. 

  When picking your stand location, consider where the deer are bedded and what their food source is. Knowing the layout of the land will pay off right now. A popular crossing leading towards a cornfield last year may not be as busy if it is now a hay field and the oak trees have dropped plenty of acorns.

   As the month long archery season continues into the second half it is likely that rut activity will increase. Be on the lookout for cold fronts. A buck that has been nocturnal this whole time may feel the need to move during the day-light if he has spent the last few days and nights getting rained on. It’s not uncommon to see bucks chasing does during the last week of archery season. With temperatures dropping, the woods can come alive as if on a switch. As soon as the first doe comes into heat, if you are in the area, you will know it. On a late October morning I have seen as many as seven bucks all chasing the same doe. 


   November is upon us and with it brings the opportunity to take a shot at that buck that may have slipped by out of range when you had your bow in hand. Hopefully that buck you’ve been after is still alive if he’s not in your freezer. This phase of the season is pretty straight forward for me; pack a lunch, get comfortable, and be ready to spend some serious time in the woods. 

  Look for a spot that has plenty of does and you will find the bucks this time of year. When picking a stand location, look around for freshly rubbed trees and scrapes. Scrapes are the more important of the two because they can be more easily assessed for how fresh they are and a buck is likely to return to the same scrape multiple times. 

  Calling can be very effective right now. It’s important to remember when using that grunt tube or those rattling antlers that less is more. I typically only use a grunt or a bleat call if I can see a buck. I rarely rattle, but when I do, I try to make it sound as real as possible. When bucks fight this time of year, it is often violent. Your rattling should mimic that. 

  While calling may be effective, it likely won’t produce results if a hot doe is in the area.  To put it into perspective, if you were out on a date with your significant other, you probably wouldn’t be strained to investigate someone cat calling you from far away. Almost every buck I’ve killed this time of year fell victim to his girlfriend leading him past my treestand.

  A common question people ask me is “Do you use scents?” The answer is “I used to.” Using attractant scents such as doe in estrous can be extremely effective this time of year. The issue is that natural scents have been outlawed in Virginia for several years now. There are several companies that have developed synthetic scents since then. I have used a few different brands and quite honestly, I don’t find them very useful. 

  Best of luck to all those who are hitting the woods this fall. Stick to your strategy and be ready to capitalize when your hard work has paid off.

Related Posts

Woods & Waters Magazine contains monthly features on awesome destinations, new techniques, outdoor personalities, tide charts, our Regional Focus Reports, monthly columns from our staff experts and more. If you want to receive the best hunting and fishing magazine for Virginia, consider subscribing today!

Woods & Waters Magazine is Virginia’s source for hunting and fishing information featuring award-winning articles and photographs by top regional experts intended to inspire you to get out and enjoy life outdoors! Pick up a copy today at over 100 retailers or subscribe here.

Featured Articles

Latest Articles

©2022 Woods & Waters Magazine, LC. All Rights Reserved.