Deer hunting the early archery season in Mississippi is quite a bit different in some ways than hunting the rut or late-season. Bucks in October won't be fighting for does; rather, some will still be in bachelor groups. It is not uncommon to see several bucks hanging out and traveling together this time of year.

I'll never forget the time I was bowhunting in the Columbus area while attending Mississippi State. I had permission to hunt some private land, and had found a little group of trees and bushes on the end of a long point in an ag field. I stood in this thicket during archery season, and watched as seven bucks emerged from a trail that entered the field. I was awe-struck and couldn't move a muscle as all seven deer walked down the edge of the field and re-entered the woods. They were all within bow range, but the sight of seven bucks walking out on top of me was too much for my brain. I never got a shot.

Now we know that bucks are doing the "guy thing" during early bow season, but what are the girls up to? Most of the breeding-age does will still be tending fawns during October. Mean fawning date across the state is July 10, so when archery season rolls around, most of the gals are tending to 3-month-old little ones.

The doe's primary objectives this time of year are protection of the fawns and finding food. Since bucks are also looking for good things to eat, let's look at important food sources for white-tailed deer during the early season.

I'll never forget the time I was bowhunting in the Columbus area while attending Mississippi State. I had permission to hunt some private land, and had found a little group of trees and bushes on the end of a long point in an ag field. I stood in this thicket during archery season, and watched as seven bucks emerged from a trail that entered the field. I was awe-struck and couldn't move a muscle as all seven deer walked down the edge of the field and re-entered the woods. They were all within bow range, but the sight of seven bucks walking out on top of me was too much for my brain. I never got a shot.

Now we know that bucks are doing the "guy thing" during early bow season, but what are the girls up to? Most of the breeding-age does will still be tending fawns during October. Mean fawning date across the state is July 10, so when archery season rolls around, most of the gals are tending to 3-month-old little ones.

The doe's primary objectives this time of year are protection of the fawns and finding food. Since bucks are also looking for good things to eat, let's look at important food sources for white-tailed deer during the early season.

Chad Dacus, white-tailed deer program coordinator for the MDWFP, suggested several types of early-season deer foods. Early-fall soft mast foods, such as persimmons, blackberry, American beautyberry and plums, are important to deer, according to Dacus.

Nearly all hunters are familiar with the persimmon tree. The bark is dark and furrowed, and the quarter-sized fruit is orange in fall. What most people don't know about the persimmon is that trees come in two types: male and female. This might explain why you never see fruit on some persimmon trees in the woods, because a male tree will never produce any. If you do your pre-season scouting, you will find the female trees long before opening day, and mark their location. When fruit drop begins, the deer will not be far behind.

Blackberry is in the family of brambles, of which there are about 17 species in the Southeast. You may know them as dewberries or raspberries. Brambles grow in a range of conditions, but most can be found along rights-of-way, forest edges and stream banks. The fruits will be gone usually by archery season, but deer browse heavily on the leaves which remain until late fall.

American beautyberry, sometimes called French mulberry or beautybush, is a deciduous shrub that can grow in loose colonies, and is most abundant on moist sites under an open pine canopy. The fruit, which appear as small clusters of purplish berries along the stem, and the leaves are used by deer.

Dacus says hard mast (acorns) and summer food plots like soybeans, cow peas and early-harvested ag fields will also attract deer at this time of year.

White oaks generally grow on moist, well-drained soils on ridges or in lowlands. Their large acorns are usually the first to drop in the fall.

"Clover fields are excellent during early bow season," he said. "Also, freshly planted food plots are great after the seeds have sprouted. In these food plots, deer will select the tender vegetation. If it is dry, hunt around water."

This last point is especially important. Deer may get some of the hydration they need from things they eat, but a source of fresh water can be a magnet during the hot, dry days of October.

Joel Cunningham from Inverness, who is also secretary for the Mississippi Bowhunters' Association, says he keys in first on persimmons and oaks.

"When I find a tree that has fresh sign like multiple piles of droppings, beat down vegetation, lots of tracks, etc., I hunt it immediately," he said. "You have to get on hot areas fast during the early season because the availability of food is changing almost daily. I hunt persimmons the first three weeks of October and then transition on to the oaks."

John Sullivan from Horn Lake uses a bit of technology when scouting for food sources.

"In September, hit the woods with binoculars looking for white oaks that have acorns on them," he suggested. "Not all trees will have acorns, and using the binoculars will allow you to look up into the trees and see how many, if any, acorns that tree is holding.

"My personal favorite is the swamp chestnut white oak for a couple reasons. They produce a larger acorn, making them easier to pick out with binoculars when looking among the leaves, and they make a larger meal for the deer per acorn, less work for more food. The evidence left behind where the deer are really utilizing them is easier to pick out."

Location, location

Sullivan and Cunningham agree that the proper location is vital to hunting success. Both use modern technology with traditional scouting methods when picking the best stand locations.

"Take advantage of the free satellite-image programs found on the internet, such as Google Earth," says Cunningham. "I use Google Earth to find the properties that I hunt, and then I print the aerial map and take it with me scouting. I make notes on the map of places of interest such as persimmon trees, oak trees, funnels, bedding areas, creek crossings, food plots, etc. I also note which wind direction is best for each potential stand sight.

"Once back at my computer, I edit the original aerial map to include all the notes and locations found while scouting. With these maps on hand, I can quickly glance at my notes and decide where I would like to hunt each day based on wind direction or any other number of factors."

Sullivan also uses GPS and satellite images when scouting.

"As I locate trees that have acorns on them, I will mark them as waypoints on the GPS," he said. "Now, when I come back to do in-season scouting, all I have to do is pull out the GPS, and go from tree to tree that was marked in the preseason, leaving the woods virtually undisturbed.

"As I find a tree with a lot of activity, I will set another waypoint, and label it something different like 'hot tree' or 'honey hole.' This waypoint lets me go straight to the most productive tree in real time. I'll end up with one to three really hot trees, and some back-ups that are showing some pretty good sign as well.

"With the advent of many different aerial photograph imaging sites on the web, I can actually go in and pick out which trees are going to be hot before I ever set foot in the woods.

"What I'm saying is, after I do my preseason scouting, I can go home, get on the computer, pick out where the particular trees I had marked are from an aerial photo and, based on findings from the aerial photo, have an educated guess as to which trees will be more productive based on their proximity to bedding areas, if they are in natural funnels, farthest from regular human activity etc."

Funnels, transitions

Cunningham keys in on two types of areas when hunting: funnels and transition areas. Funnels are simply areas that direct deer onto a certain route.

Keying in on these natural "guides" can be very helpful. In the area that I hunt, which is comprised of 20-year-old hardwood CRP and 3-year-old CRP, edges between these two habitats creates a funnel. Old field roads, ditchbanks, mature hardwood treelines and sloughs create funnels by the way they are arranged on the property. Thousands of acres of brush and young trees can be hard to hunt, but by keying in on an old property line marked by mature oaks, and using intersections of turn rows and ditch banks, you can find "funnels" in this type of area.

"You don't find many classic hour-glass shaped funnels in the areas I hunt, but you will find the less obvious funnels such as fence lines, hedgerows, creek crossings, ridge tops, drainages, etc.," Cunningham said. "Any type of terrain feature that influences deer movement can be considered a funnel.

"A transition area is where two different types of habitat converge. Examples would be where cutover meets standing timber or where high ground meets swampy terrain. Deer love these transition areas, and will relate to them in their day-to-day activities."

Sullivan also keys in on these areas.

"My favorite type of location for these are where a cutover meets an area along a creek or low-lying area that wasn't cut," he said. "This does two things: It allows you to hunt from an elevated stand location because there are actually enough trees left that you can climb up and get hidden with relative ease, and it also allows deer to come and go in and out of the cutover, which is a safety zone for them. The deer will readily come out of the cutover, and only have to go 20 to 30 yards into the standing timber and get a tasty snack."

Both hunters agree that no amount of technology can trump a deer's ability to smell a gnat poot at 1,000 yards.

"I will always try to hunt a tree that presents the opportunity to utilize the wind direction to my advantage," Sullivan said. "For instance, if I know I'm going to have a north wind, I will try to hunt a tree that is situated on the south side of the area I am expecting the deer to be coming from that are using that tree. I will set up on the south side of that tree about 15 to 20 yards. This puts my scent blowing completely away from the tree that's dropping acorns."

Sullivan also says that deer don't always come in fast and hot to a good tree. They may meander around a bit, coming from cover areas to the food source in a roundabout way. By being a few yards downwind of the target tree, you can keep your alarming odor away from their sensitive nostrils.

Bonus tips

"In the early season, I hunt feeding areas in the afternoons and hunt the trails leading to bedding areas in the mornings," Cunningham said. "Over the years, I have found hunting feeding areas in the morning is hit or miss, and it's not worth the risk of contaminating the area with human scent. I've had much higher success setting up close to the bedding areas on trails and intercepting them as they meander back after daylight."

Sullivan also makes an important observation about placement of the stand on the tree you will be hunting.

"I also try to hunt from the tree facing directly toward the tree that's dropping acorns. This allows the tree you are hunting out of to block your silhouette and keeps you facing in the general direction you expect the deer to be coming from. This allows you to scan the entire area in front of you with very minimal head movement."

That way, you can save the head movement until your jumping up and down after bagging a buck for the wall.