Whether you are an experienced bowhunter just learning the sport or enjoy observing wildlife, tree and plant identification is a necessary skill.
There are plenty of gadgets on the market that offer hunters productive solutions for getting closer to prey, but good old-fashioned wood handling is still the best option.
For early season archery hunting, identifying food sources in late summer may be the best time for an archer to be in the woods.
While early November is always an exciting time of year for bowhunting, the early bow season in late summer can be magical.
Deer pattern their movements based on the seasons, and summer provides deer with abundant food sources in a pressure-free environment.
Deer watching in the summer months provides the opportunity to see them in routine and predictable patterns.
Once fall food sources appear on the landscape, summer movement patterns change.
Males are usually in bachelor groups where several of them move together.
Throughout the summer, their antlers are in the growth, or velvet, stages, and during this phase, males often stay in more open areas to protect their vulnerable head from damage.
Once the antlers harden, the stags will change their movements and separate bachelor groups as the final rutting season approaches.
One of my most memorable singles group encounters was an early season hunt in which six bucks fed into my stall.
That meeting lasted more than an hour before harvesting the largest of the group and it was an experience that will remain in the memory for a long time.
Soft mast is the name given to the fruits and berries found in deer forests.
Deer are browsers and like to walk and eat as they travel through their range. Within that range, they know when these food sources come and go.
While early summer offers plenty of grasses and tender budding woody plants, mid and late summer offers soft mast.
Look for concentrations of plants that provide soft masts, such as blackberries, blueberries, blueberries, apple trees, persimmons, grapes, and others, including corn, that might be within range of deer.
While several of these plants are within range of deer, a hunter must know when these plants begin to drop their fruit in order to take advantage of active feeding.
Often heavy rain or wind can speed up this process and make this food source quickly available.
Scouting and knowing the locations of these soft mast areas is crucial, but it’s also important to look at the weather and how availability occurs.
Hard mast is the name given to acorns and nuts. Depending on the season, weather, and tree cycles, hard mast may be present during the early season.
Often it is mid to late season before any hard spars fall and become available for deer.
Why is it so important to keep this in mind early in the season? It is an important factor in changing deer movement from a late summer pattern to a fall pattern.
Autumn mast provides much-needed protein and fat that wildlife requires for a long winter.
Once the mast begins to fall, wildlife will be attracted to these areas.
As a hunter in the woods during the early season, it’s critical to look at what trees are producing in your area.
Learn how to spot these heavy trees and note what type they are.
Some helpful tips are to bring binoculars to view the treetops and watch for squirrel activity to find out which trees they are having.
Knowing your plants and trees and how deer relate to them is key to bowhunting as a close range sport.
Being aware of the moment and using any time in the forest exploring or hunting to learn what is happening is very important.
Without knowledge of habitats and food sources, you can own the best gear and be great with it, but not stand out.
Wood handling and knowledge of the game you are hunting are your best assets.
Being a good bowhunter is seeing the forest through a lens most people never see, and that view is what connects us to both the sport and the game we pursue.
David Whitmire is part owner of Headwaters Outfitters and is active in local conservation efforts such as the French Broad River cleanup and wildlife rehabilitation programs. He is also president of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council.