October 04, 2022 By Mark Demko
I don’t play the lottery, spend time in Las Vegas or have any interest in placing wagers on sporting events, but there is one thing I do try to bet on every year, and that’s the best times to be in the woods in an effort to kill a decent deer.
When it comes to bowhunting, there’s no magic formula for pinpointing when everything will all come together and Mr. Right will stroll by your stand. You can come up with some generalizations as far as good timeframes to hunt, like the first few days of the season when the deer aren’t really aware they’re being hunted; the late archery season if you have a ‘hot’ food source and can perhaps pattern a buck for evening sits; and, of course, almost anytime during the rut. But beyond that, it’s tough to nail down in advance specific days for the best odds of success since so many factors come into play, including weather conditions, temperatures, hunting pressure, local deer movement/patterns and so forth.
For example, this past season, Petersen’s BOWHUNTING contributor Clint Casper had one specific buck in his sights. It took him 76 days in the woods — yes, 2½ months of actually sitting in a tree — to pull back his bow on that deer. He finally arrowed the hefty 8-pointer in late January, just days before his state’s season ended.
“‘The Giant 8’ had very strict patterns in October, December and January but was very sporadic in November,” Casper said. “This made him extremely hard to keep track of during the rut, so I focused most of my efforts in the early and late seasons, when patterns are king. Certain moon phases and wind directions were what I keyed in on to put me into a position to catch up to this buck. And on Jan. 26, the stars aligned as a new moon, cold front and snow, along with a west wind, put all of the odds in my favor.”
While some individuals have great flexibility as to when and how often they can bowhunt, the reality is that most archery hunters only have limited hours to get out, or a handful of vacation days to burn. Hence, they want as much intel as possible to help them narrow down when to be in the stand or blind, even if they know that hyper-local deer movement and weather conditions will trump all.
Well, in an effort to assist with your planning for this year, we’ve combed through forecasting data, spoken with our resident whitetail deer hunting experts — Christian Berg, Clint Casper, Eddie Claypool and Bill Winke — and come up with what we believe just might be the best hunting dates for the 2022-23 season.
As with last year, we began our research with the DataSport Fish & Game Forecaster, which predicts daily peak-wildlife movement periods based on a complex computer algorithm. Then, we asked our panelists, who have a combined 135 years of archery hunting experience, to dive into the data while also factoring in their personal bowhunting experiences from over the years.
In the end, we narrowed it down to our Top 5 hunting dates for the season — read on to discover when you need to be in the woods this year, and why!
Bill Winke: One of the most well-respected names in deer hunting, Bill has been archery hunting for four-plus decades, taking numerous trophy bucks during this time. He also owned a farm in Iowa for 18 years, allowing him to observe a number of unpressured, mature whitetails during that span. In 2012, he harvested his largest buck, a monster that grossed 205. Here, he poses with the 11-pointer he took last fall.
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Eddie Claypool: An Oklahoma resident, Eddie specializes in public-land hunting. He has nearly 50 years of bowhunting experience, harvesting more than 80 Pope & Young animals during this time, including several trophy whitetails. His largest buck is a bruiser taken in Kansas in 2009 that scored in the high 180s.
Clint Casper: Born and raised in Ohio, Clint cut his bowhunting teeth on whitetails and turkeys before his love for western game took off. He has been bowhunting for two decades and has harvested some bruiser bucks, including a 191-inch monster he arrowed in 2016 and this big 8-pointer above that he took during the 2021-22 season.
Christian Berg: A self-described whitetail nut who enjoys spending time in a tree anywhere big bucks roam, Christian has been bowhunting deer for more than 20 years. His largest buck to date is a 182 6/8-inch Kansas brute taken in 2017; last season he harvested this terrific 9-pointer at T&C Hunt Club in Kansas.
Early Season: Thursday, September 8 — Deer hunting in early September isn’t for everyone, since the weather is still very warm across much of the whitetail’s range and deer movement is usually confined to the hour or two after first light and before dark. That said, it can be one of the best times of the year to pattern bucks if they are still on their summer routes.
Several states offer early deer season openers, including Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana and South Carolina, making them perfect destinations for bowhunters who can never get too much whitetail action. Of course, if you live in these states, you already know how good the deer hunting can be if you’ve done your homework and everything falls into place. The Fish & Game Forecaster predicts excellent movement Sept. 8, making it our choice for a great evening sit.
Christian: Most of the September attention is paid to the first week of the month, when the odds of tagging a velvet trophy are still pretty high. By Sept. 8, the majority of bucks will be out of velvet and sporting hard antlers; however, that doesn’t mean they still won’t be fairly predictable, particularly in the evenings as they hit preferred food sources such as alfalfa and soybean fields. Starting on the 8th, and really continuing through the 11th, the moon will be rising roughly in tandem with the last hour or two of shooting light. Combine this with the fact that bucks will soon be dispersing to their fall ranges and becoming much less predictable as they transition toward the pre-rut period, and this week could be your last, best chance to tag out early.
Clint: With a full moon ahead and the moonrise at 6 p.m., this day should be a fantastic evening sit. I would concentrate on the hottest field around, and hopefully some prior scouting and/or trail-camera pictures can give you intel on what is hot and what wind directions a mature buck is using. Attention is in the details — bucks should certainly be on their feet well before dark on this day, so take advantage of that.
Pre-rut: Thursday, October 27 —Is October the new November? Perhaps not, but if the conditions are right, such as a cold snap or a front moving through, the hunting can be really good in the latter part of the month. Plus, the first few does start to cycle into estrus, which often gets curious bucks up and moving. The Fish & Game Forecaster predicts good to excellent movement in the afternoons/evenings from Oct. 27-30, so any of these days should be good to sneak in a sit. However, with the new moon on the 25th and moonset shortly after last light on the 27th, we’re going with this date as our pre-rut pick.
Bill: If you get a cold front during the last week of October throughout most of the whitetail’s range, you will see an impressive flurry of early rut activity. The bucks are still mostly at home — where your trail camera tells you they should be — but they are just moving more. That weather front, the day it passes and roughly a day or two after it passes, can produce some of the best bowhunting of the entire season. I like to hunt near bedding areas at this time, but just about any good funnel between bedding areas and feeding areas will be productive. In the evening, the deer will be drifting toward the feeding areas, so favor trails/funnels closer to food. In the mornings, they will be working back toward bedding areas, so look for funnels closer to bedding areas for your hunting.
Christian: November gets more press than October, but Halloween week in many years has produced some of the best rutting action I've ever witnessed. With the first does in a given area likely to come into estrus this week, bucks will be on the move making an eager effort to find them. Combine the kickoff to the breeding season with a cold front, and you're likely to see magic happen in the whitetail woods. If temperatures are unseasonably warm, that could really put a damper on things, but if the weather is seasonable, make a point to spend some time in a tree during this period.
Peak Rut: Monday, November 7 —If you’re a bowhunter in the northern two-thirds of the U.S., there’s no other two-week window like the first half of November. The weather is turning colder, the autumn scenery is gorgeous in many locales and the daytime deer activity usually picks up, weather willing, as the peak of the rut approaches. Historically, Nov. 5-9 or so are usually great days to be in the woods, and this year is no different, with the Fish & Game Forecaster predicting decent periods of deer movement are likely, including some solid midday peaks. If the weather conditions are favorable on any or all of these days, an all-day sit is in order. However, if we need to pick just one day, our choice is Nov. 7, when good movement is forecast for the morning and midday timeframes.
Clint: A lot of giant bucks have fallen on this day and for great reason! With the rut heating up hotter and hotter each day and the moonrise at 4:38 p.m., this would be a great day to sit all day. With bucks cruising and looking to breed, I would be located in a good funnel between doe bedding areas or a good transition zone between timber patches. Buckle in and stay alert — your opportunity can come at any second now!
Eddie: The rut is kicking into full gear and bucks are beginning to move at all times of the day. Go early and stay late; take a lunch and remain on stand all day downwind of thick cover that's near doe bedding areas. Travel corridors where bucks “jump country” can be excellent now also.
Secondary Rut: Saturday, December 10 —Although the primary rut has come and gone, don’t put your bow away just yet, as unbred does and even a few of this year’s fawns might come into estrus in early- and mid-December. Of course, in many parts of the South and Texas, things are just getting started when it comes to the rut.
One important consideration when bowhunting at this time of the year is hunting pressure, since many states’ firearms seasons have just ended or are still going on. That said, if you have places where the deer are lightly hunted, or you have access to spots with good, thick cover where whitetails like to lay low, you can enjoy some exceptional bowhunting this month.
Christian: By now, many of your fellow bowhunters will have left the woods, either because they’ve tagged out or become so discouraged by not tagging out during peak rut that they’ve lost interest. Don’t be part of that latter group! Although the woods are getting pretty bleak at this point, and temperatures are falling, there's still great opportunity for those willing to persevere. Remember, any does not bred during their first estrous cycle will come back into heat roughly 28 days later. Bucks know this too, and they’ll still be moving quite a bit as they compete for a more limited number of receptive females.
Bill: December can be really good for bowhunters, but only if there is food around and the deer have not been chased for weeks leading up to that time. I love to hunt from blinds right near food sources at this time, as it has proven the most productive way to kill wary deer with a bow during the late season.
Eddie: Top-end bucks can be very visible/active now, as they’ve been breeding for a while and have finally let their guard down. Find the primary late-season food sources, thus the doe concentrations, and hunt the thick cover that surrounds the perimeters of said feeding areas — mature bucks will be trolling such areas.
Late season: Wednesday, January 11 — The holidays have come and gone and so has your chance to fill your deer tag. Or, has it? Knowledgeable deer hunters will tell you that January bowhunting, in states where the season is still open, can offer some of the best and most predictable hunting of the year. Yes, there are less deer on the landscape. On the other hand, whitetails can be a bit easier to pattern, especially in afternoons and early evenings as they have one thing on their mind: food. The Fish & Game Forecaster predicts very good movement periods in late afternoon to early evening Jan. 10-12, so any one of these nights, if weather conditions are right, could lead to filling the freezer.
Clint: Late season is one of my favorite times because patterns kill big bucks and late season is all about patterns. The end of a full moon period, combined with hopefully cold and snow, should make this a great day to be on the hottest food source left, or a great staging area between bedding and feed. Pay attention to all your details like entry, exit and scent control, because at this point these deer have been hunted hard for months. Use trail cameras to your advantage during this time and let them show you where the deer are feeding at currently because food is king.
Bill: My (state’s) season closes on Jan. 10, so this timeframe is a bittersweet one for me. It can be really good if it has gotten cold and there is some snow to cover most of the easily accessible food and I have a standing food source to hunt over. That’s the sweet part, and it can be the formula for success. Again, I almost always hunt from blinds during this time, both to stay warm and to keep from being seen by super wary deer. The bitter part, of course, is the fact that whitetail season will soon end for another year.
DataSport Fish & Game Forecaster
The DataSport Fish & Game Forecaster, which has been around for almost 50 years, focuses on predicting peak wildlife-movement periods to assist sportsmen in planning their time afield. The forecast is generated via a complex computer program that compiles data like sunrise/sunset times (light variations), moon phases, the moon’s position relative to the Earth (gravitational forces) and more. The program also factors in other research and historical data, ultimately generating daily tables suggesting the best times for fish and wildlife activity.
Available as both a book and an app, the Forecaster can be helpful for long-range planning, but keep in mind that it’s only one piece of the puzzle when trying to determine the best days to head afield. The most effective way to use the guide is by looking at the data and putting it together with your history and knowledge of your hunting area and local deer herd.
Weather and wind conditions on the days you’ll be hunting, as well as an understanding of available food sources and the impact hunting pressure has, all play key roles in how many or how few deer you see. That said, if the conditions for the upcoming days look favorable, scheduling hunts for the days when peak activity times coincide with sunrise and sunset might indeed lead to increased sightings. Buy It: $11.95 for book; $4.99 for app (available for Apple only);datasportinc.com; 404-252-5544