Early-Season Whitetails--4 Best Ambush Points For Success

Setting up for bowhunting success during September and early-October calls for a much different stand strategy than you’ll use during the rut. 

Early-Season Whitetails--4 Best Ambush Points For Success
Photograph by Tony Peterson

The most natural tendency for bowhunters looking for the best place to ambush a big whitetail in the early season is to gravitate toward the field edges. That’s not a bad strategy as few places more likely to produce deer sightings than the back corner of a soybean field, or maybe a wooded point jutting out into 25 acres of lush alfalfa. And these spots almost always show great promise during pre-season scouting sessions. The downside to concentrating just on field edges in the early season, however, is that they are usually best only during the first couple of times you can sit them. 

Getting into them is easy enough, but getting out tends to be more difficult. Deer are very likely to bust you slipping out in the dark. Once that happens a few times, their education level catches up and deer will be less likely to step into the groceries within the hours of legal shooting light. 

Photograph by Tony Peterson
Field edges are an obvious early-season choice, but don’t forget to set up stands and blinds in the cover as well to ensure you have plenty of options.

This means you must have a plan that stretches beyond simply sitting over an agricultural field or food plot to be successful on deer early in the season. Here are four of my favorite go-to ambush sites for early-fall bowhunting.

1. Think H2O

Photograph by Tony Peterson
There is no food source that is as consistent as water during an entire season. For early-season hunts, water-related stand sites are a must.

I travel to several states each fall to hunt public land whitetails and my strategy always involves water. Ponds, creeks, rivers, you-name-it. If it can satisfy a buck’s thirst, I’ll check it out. It’s not just on the road where I focus on water setups, however. 

Deer need to drink every day. Remember that, and use it to your advantage. While you’re hanging cameras and setting stands and blinds, try to have at least one ambush site that involves water. Unlike field-edge stands, where the soybeans could be a big draw this week and not-so-much next week, water stays consistent. 

Water also gives you the chance to hunt when the conditions say you should stay at home (and most of your hunting competition will). Hot, early-season days are common. These are the kinds of days when most people will find something else to do besides hunt, but that can be a mistake. If it’s unseasonably warm, the deer will move and when they do, they’ll point their noses at the nearest drink. When they do, you should be there. 

2. Focus on Funnels

Concentrating on funnels and pinch-points is a strategy that capitalizes on terrain features that force specific deer movement. The thing is, this happens all year long and not just in November. 

That bottleneck of timber between two woodlots will be a go-to spot on Halloween, but deer will also filter through during mid-September. Setting a few of these stands up now will get you ready for the rut, but it can also be productive from the season opener on. Better yet, while it’s often difficult to find quality ambush sites for morning sits in the early-season, funnels, pinch-points and bottlenecks often qualify. 

Quick Tips
• Mark Trail Turns: If you’re tacking an entrance trail for a morning stand, double tack any spot where the trail takes a hard turn so you’ll be able to follow it easier.

• Look for Pinch Points: Many hunters struggle with finding suitable morning spots for the early-season. This is often where pinch-points and bottlenecks shine, so scout them out and get setup in areas that would traditionally draw a rut hunter’s attention.

• Tack Your Trails: Reflective tacks and flagging tape are inexpensive, so don’t be shy when it comes to marking entrance and exit routes during the preseason.

• Don’t Spare The Brush: You can’t brush in a deer blind too well. Take the time to truly make a blind disappear and you’ll have much more productive sits.

• Watch For Water: Scout all water sources on the property you plan to hunt. Those that are ringed with tracks are the ones you want a stand over to take advantage of warm, early-season days.

3. Try A Ground Attack

Photograph by Tony Peterson
For areas with few suitable stand trees, ground blinds are the ticket. Just make sure to set them up in the pre-season and brush them in really well.

Every chunk of deer ground that is 40 acres or larger will feature a couple of good spots that are simply without good stand trees. This means it’s time to set up ground blinds. 

This strategy is particularly good for early-season hunts, because that is the time when bucks are most likely to be bedding in grassy swales, shelter-belts, and cattail sloughs. If you have a patch of cover that the deer love to bed in, but that doesn’t allow for an aerial strategy, take a hub-style turkey blind in and set it up. 

Make sure you clear out the brush down to the dirt inside the blind, and then brush it in. A good rule to follow is that if you think you’ve got it brushed in good enough, spend about 15 more minutes really working to get the blind to disappear into the greenery. Deer won’t tolerate a camouflage cube showing up in their neighborhood, and they won’t stand for a glowing spot in the woods where the morning sun is beaming down on a flat part of a blind’s roof. Take the time to make it disappear, and make sure to get your blind out at least a couple of weeks before the season opener to give passing deer a chance to accept it. 

4. Hack, Tack, And Backtrack

When you’re setting up stands and blinds in the preseason, you can’t over-mark a trail. Reflective tacks are cheap, as is biodegradable flagging tape, so don’t be shy when marking a trail. If your entrance route takes a hard turn at some point, develop a system to ensure you know when to cut 90 degrees or more. I like to use double tacks in the tree. 

Never assume you’ll remember a route to a new ambush site once you’ve set it up, unless it’s a field edge stand that you’ll only use during evening hunts. If you’re planning to slip in, anywhere, for a morning hunt, mark your trail well. You’ll not only find your spot quickly, you’ll disturb the woods much less and enjoy better action once the sun rises. 

5. Conclusion

Photograph by Tony Peterson
The author arrowed this Minnesota nine-pointer in 2017 on opening weekend. The buck was following a trail that led through a series of pinch-points along a hillside.

There is a world of options for the early-season bowhunter beyond sitting over a field or a food plot. Consider water, funnels, and treeless patches of cover in your plan to arrow an early-season bruiser. Get these setups in now, mark them well, and rest easy knowing you’re ready for the opening bell. 

About the Author: Tony J. Peterson has written hundreds of articles for over two dozen national and local publications. Although he covers topics related to all forms of hunting and fishing, his passion lies in do-it-yourself bowhunting for whitetail deer and western big game. Peterson is an accomplished outdoor photographer and currently serves as the Equipment Editor for Bowhunter magazine and Bowhunter TV.